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I wrote this last month and wanted to wait to publish it.  There’s never a good time or enough said…or things that we all want to add later on…

I always thought it was unfortunate for women who didn’t get along with their mother-in-laws.  I was lucky.  My husband’s mother couldn’t have been happier to see her son get married.  In fact, when he asked me to marry him, he intended to get a preacher within three days after asking, go to the family home, and get married.  Not one for having a big wedding ceremony, that’s what he had in mind. To our surprise his mother and sister threw together a rather nice wedding within a three day period.   They called family friends, and we were stunned to find out we had guests coming to our last minute event.

We spoke almost daily.  My husband would often be perplexed at the amount of time we spent talking.  I had told him if we had been the same age in the same high school, we would have been great friends for life.  Despite our age difference, we were great friends.  I married into knowing her, but her friends from grade school kept in touch her entire life.

She loved to play bridge with her friends.  My husband often said she was so good at it that she didn’t have to think about it, but she never cared about winning.  She did it to socialize even though she was a born card player.

She always wanted a sister and never had one.  I always thought she related so well to women due to her want of a sister.  It was as though she became a sister to many.  Maybe that’s why God blessed her with a daughter who had a daughter, sons that had daughters, a great granddaughter, and a couple of grandsons who could bring more girls into the family.  Her life was inundated with females in the family.  At the same time, she loved being able to see her husband in her sons and cared so much for her grandsons that her face lit up talking about them.

Sue was a registered nurse.  She was proud of her accomplishments in the field, and I loved hearing the stories of nursing school back when she attended.  You weren’t allowed to be married.  You had to live there.  You went to church every morning.  There were no computerized mechanisms to check blood pressure or heart beats…you had to know how to do things without all the equipment out today, and she believed nurses today should still be taught the old school methods.  She roomed above a funeral home with other future nurses and said they had to be quiet when a funeral took place.  She talked about how she traded clothes with the other girls and how mad her mother became with her when she visited one day because one of her roommates walked out wearing her sweater.  It was her mother’s dream for her to become a nurse, but she ended up loving it and spoke fondly of her experiences with her nursing school comrades.

Sue was told she was the best looking girl in high school.  She was the best dressed.  She loved men, and they loved her.  One even became a doctor BECAUSE of her.  She was caught kissing another one and was told that if she wasn’t going to marry him, she shouldn’t be kissing him.

I use to tell her that she should write a book called, “The Many Loves of Sue.”  She said it would be quite a book..might have a mature rating on it.  That was her sense of humor.

She was raised in the church, singing in the choir, but she would let a curse word pass her lips and would do it in a way that could crack a person up.  Then she’d say, “How do you like that coming from an 85 year old woman?” with a grin on her face.  She told me about a time she was driving, stuck her middle finger out the window at a younger, obnoxious driver, and when the driver and his passenger saw how old she was, they broke out laughing…as did she.

It’s fortunate to have a life filled with people who care about you…a life full of people you loved and lost no matter how difficult it is to lose.

 

The other day, I caught myself wanting to pick up the phone to see how you were doing, but I knew you couldn’t talk to me.  Today, I got the phone call telling me you were gone.  I’m glad the suffering has ended, but I’m sad you were taken from our lives.  I look at my daughters, and I see your love of animals in their lives, a build like yours, hair like yours, and a sense of humor with a firecracker personality along with a love of being social.  They love their daddy like you loved yours, and, now, they both get to be with their father as do you.  I’ll never forget this summer…when Kylie drew a picture of Blaze and Dot for you, and you had to have it hanging perfectly to view it.  If a nurse knocked it down, you wanted it fixed to be perfectly straight and centered.  I laughed when you called a doctor, “Dr. Cutie Pie.”  His face flushed so red, but he was smiling the rest of the day.  You greeted the nurses with, “Hello, Beautiful,” and when I greeted you with that greeting, we went back and forth trying to one up each other with the compliments until someone stopped from laughing.  Most of all, I’m glad we were able to say goodbye to you…even though I still can’t seem to convince myself that it’s all real.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, I bugged  out with an easy dessert using a recipe from Taste of Home’s September/October issue!  The recipe is called Frosted Pistachio Bars.  They kind of taste like a cookie/cake combination…but more like a soft cookie than anything.  I can see a lot of variations could be done with this bar, but here’s one I came up with for Halloween.  Then again, my kids (who aren’t THAT young) loved this, so maybe it’s good for crazy kids who like candy bugs and slugs on their food.

The dessert is so easy to make, and the fun part is finding new ways to decorate it.

I created the bugs and slugs using a variety of candies.  Tootsie Roll assortments are great because you can use the different colored Tootsie Rolls and form them into things like snails, meal worms, and inch worms.  I rolled the Tootsie Rolls in my hands to shape them and marked them with little marks to make them look more worm-like (you can use a knife just to make little cuts into the candy).  For the snails, I rolled out two different colors, twisted them together, rolled a shell, and let one of the Tootsie Rolls extend further for the snail’s head.  I formed two antennae for the top.

I used Rips candy for centipede legs.  I separated a bit on each side of the Rips.  Then, I put a little leftover frosting from the bowl onto the Rips and stuck them to Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers.  I also used Rips for some antennae on mini Mars candy bars.  Somehow, the Twix disappeared from the bag before I could use them…hmmmm…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For the colorful spiders, I cut up colored Twizzlers and placed Dots candy on the top.  I used Twizzlers for most of the legs.  Rips also came into play for some legs. Twizzlers were great to hold up my M&M’s to make more little bugs.  Whoppers and M&M’s also gave me some great bugs lying in the frosting.  Milk Duds made nice little bugs in the rug of the frosting.  I applied strips of Twizzlers over the top of the Milk Duds because they looked like a pet rock of sorts without anything added to them except eyes.

I sliced some Dots in half and cut pieces for a middle contrast.  They stuck together easily, so they were simply made crawling creatures.

The eyes and legs of some of the bugs were applied using an assortment of Cake Mate writing gels.  You could always make a small amount of frosting and color it to do the same, but it won’t take much to apply eyes and legs.

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There you have it…bugs and slugs.  They taste relatively good too.  I’m surprised the Whoppers made it considering they are one of my favorite, but I held back for the sake of art.

If you have any pictures you’d like to share of your project, send them to me via my facebook page!  Let your imagination run wild!

Tom

My youngest daughter was asked by one of her teachers to interview one of her parents about 9/11.  It’s difficult to express to a child what type of impact all of this had on us that day.  So many lives were lost without just cause.  I remember going to a grocery store the following day.  People were silent as we heard names read off of a long list of people killed.  The images will haunt us forever, but the aftermath of what happened to my husband was even more difficult.  Over the years, we have readjusted our lives.

 I received a letter from the school the other day.  Some sort of portable museum about 9/11 was going to be brought to the middle school.  The letter read that kids today might not remember because they were too young or not born yet.  However, the impact of what happened to my family is known by my children.  We are not alone.  It took years of fighting to get the onslaught of illnesses acknowledged, but there is always a constant fight and a growing list.  My husband may not see himself as a hero to anyone, but in our house, he’s our hero.  I find myself extremely defensive of him knowing all that he’s been through physically due to the aftermath of 9/11.  But, there is a moral of the story today….sometimes, something wonderful comes out of something so terrible.  I told my daughter that I would post her paper today on my site.  I did edit where she wrote out her whole name.

 

On September 11th, 2001, my mom saw the first attack had already taken place on the news. As she was watching the news, the second attack took place. She saw the second plane hit the tower.

 

 

She had just come home from taking her two oldest daughters to the bus stop. At the time, she had a baby. She turned the news on before she gave Kylie breakfast. Her first reaction was that a bomb blew up in one of the towers because the first picture on the news was the first tower on fire. When she saw the second tower get hit by an airplane, she knew it was a terrorist attack.

 

 

The day was horrible for my mother. My father was a NYPD detective, and he was working in the city that day. She tried calling him to see if he was okay, but none of the cell phones were working. It took awhile to get through. She was very worried. When she finally got through, she was the first to tell her husband about the attacks because the police radios weren’t working right. My father said he wasn’t sure when he would see her again.

 

She kept her kids close. Lots of family members were calling them, wondering if her husband was okay. Her girls told her about people in the school who were notified that family members may be dead. It was horrible. She was very, very sad. She knew people that lost family members and friends. One day, while her husband was working at Ground Zero, one of the buildings next to him collapsed right after he left.  He barely got out in time.

 

 

The images that stay in my mother’s mind are of the buildings on fire, the airplanes crashing into the building, the towers collapsing with people inside it, people running from the building covered in dust, people jumping, and photos of people standing within the buildings waiting to be rescued.

 

When my dad got sick from 9/11 working in Rescue and Recovery for nine months, it took a long time for the government to acknowledge that people were sick from 9/11. Something really good came out of all of this. After my dad worked there for over nine months, he saw a lot of sad families who lost their family members. He called my mom up. He said to my mom that he was sad about all the people who died and that he wanted to bring a life to this world. So they decided to have another baby, and gave her the middle name Renee which means reborn. That baby was me.  We always need a new life to this world.

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I was asked to assist in a home that needed a “mini” flip.  There were a few things that needed to be changed and repaired in the home.

The medicine cabinet that had been previously installed had large holes in the bottom of it, shelving that was inadequate due to warping, and broken mirrors.  The mirrors had also lost their silvering on the back and looked terrible.

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I had a challenge in a few areas with this installation because I didn’t have my usual go-to tools available and needed to replace a large medicine cabinet in a short period of time (hence, no waiting for one to be delivered and no desire for a large amount of money to be spent).  Also, the cabinet being replaced had lights attached to it and no electrical box to hook up another light fixture – something that had to be installed in order to attach a separate light fixture.

The goal was to attempt to replace the cabinet and light fixture with one like it.  The cabinet was 48″ wide, and the local hardware store only had one cabinet in stock that would replace the existing cabinet.  The problem?  There was no light fixture attached, and it was a cabinet that was normally placed outside of a wall, not inside.  With the design of this particular bathroom, an outside cabinet placement would have required installing drywall, and the cabinet would have run into a pedestal sink placed close to it.  Time being of the essence led to trying to find a close match to what was originally installed.

I turned the power off to the location in order to remove the cabinet since the light fixture was installed into it.  The previous installer had glued the cabinet and lighting in relatively well, so I had to use caution with the breakage of glass and held a towel over it as I gently pried away caulking.  I paid attention to where the cabinet was installed and noted that the area was relatively empty except a pipe that was in the way of the install.  I capped off the electrical wires and proceeded with the install.

One of the first challenges of the cabinet itself was a pipe that was in the way.  The previous cabinet installed had been cut to fit the pipe.  I removed the mirrors to work on the cabinet and gently laid them down with towels between them.  Using a miter box with a saw, I cut the corner of the cabinet the same way the previous cabinet had been cut to avoid the pipe.  I then cut the small corner piece backing off a bit and fit it back into the corner with glue and permitted it to dry.  This left enough room for the pipe to exist while keeping the integrity of the cabinet.  I had to saw all of this without power tools, and I think I did a decent job.

20140729_183443I used a cover already made from the other cabinet to cover the pipe area, painted it white, and caulked it in with white caulking to match the cabinet after the install was complete.  If you look at the next photo on the left hand side, you can see the pipe cover.

When installing, I used two screws on each side to screw the cabinet into studs and used a level and shims to make sure the cabinet was in level prior to screwing it into the studs.

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I had to place a light fixture relatively close to the cabinet, and I knew with the one I’d use to replace it that there would be gaps on the edges.  I didn’t have a tile cutter or replacement tile for where gaps may be showing.  A gap was going to exist between the top of the medicine cabinet and light fixture that would be covered by the mirrors being closed, but I bought six feet of wood with a large depth than the cabinet, and I cut the wood to fit to the top of the cabinet.  I found some semi gloss white paint in the storage area, and painted it white.

I cut wood and glued it in with construction adhesive on the sides of where the light was going to exist so that I could put some caulking over it due to not having tile or paint to match the bathroom.  I also cut two pieces of wood and used construction adhesive to create a place to put two screws to hold the light fixture up on the wall.  After I let it dry overnight, the adhesion was spectacular.

I installed the lighting using a level.  I caulked around the cabinet and used a caulking tool to smooth it out.  I used a color similar to the tiles.  Then, I “neatened” it up with a razor blade after it dried overnight.  The end result looked very close to the original cabinet installation.

The cost was less than half the price of what it would have cost to order an exact replica of the original cabinet.  It took great measuring skills to make sure the lighting didn’t butt into the top of the cabinet.


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Real estate agents would discourage you from selling your house as a FSBO.  Why?  Let’s face it, as homeowners, we are inexperienced when it comes to rules and regulations of selling a house.  However, there is no need for you to have to hire someone and be kept out of the loop in order to sell your home.

I sold my own house, and there are a few things I learned that I wanted to pass onto anyone else considering going this route.  First, why is it that you want to sell your own home?  Is it because you’re trying to get more money for the house?  If so, buyers today are savvy, and they may attempt to knock the potential commission that you were hoping to make for yourself off your home.  Is it that you had a bad experience with a real estate agent?  I’ve been there, and this is why I put my own house on the market.  Not all real estate agents are bad, but there are just some (as in any occupation or job) that rubbed me the wrong way to a point where I didn’t want to make a mistake committing to the wrong person.

Here’s a list of things to keep in mind while selling your own home:

1.  Be realistic with your price.  Just because you think your house is worth a certain number doesn’t mean it is worth it.  Be willing to do price comparisons with homes that have sold in the area (not necessarily ones that are LISTED, but comparables of homes that have SOLD recently in your area).

2.  Pay a flat fee to have your home listed on the MLS.  If you don’t get it on the MLS, chances are people won’t see it.  It’s like paying for advertising.  A six month listing might cost approximately $500.00.  It’s well worth it to invest in selling your home.

3.  Purchase a lock box and put it on your home.  I used one made by Master Lock.  This way, if a real estate agent brings someone to your house, you won’t be there….which brings me to my next point.

4.  Don’t be at the house when a real estate agent is showing.  People look at you as a reflection of themselves.  If they see something in you that they don’t like, they might not want to buy your home.  You may say the wrong thing to turn them off.  Point is that even though you are selling your house as a FSBO, the majority of the people who come to see it will use a real estate agent.  In our case, we only showed our house ONCE.  Every other showing was done by a real estate agent which brings me to my next point:

5.  Offer a great commission to the real estate agent that sells your house.  When you have your house listed in the MLS, you have the opportunity to offer a commission to a real estate agent showing your home.  We offered a 3% commission.  Be fair.  After all, someone else is selling your house for you and, when the time comes, they are going to have to put up with you being the person in charge of the sale.  When you offer a great commission, real estate agents go out of their way and show your house more than one time…especially if you have it priced in a manner that makes it very appealing.  Also, keep in mind that because you are selling your home as a FSBO, you can actually lower the price since you aren’t paying a 5% or 6% commission.

6.  ALWAYS BE KIND.  No matter what a real estate agent says to you, remember they are representing the buyer, but also remember, YOU are the one paying them the commission.  You can be kind, but be firm with what you want at the same time.  If you’re a super nice person in life, it can be difficult to stand up for yourself, but when your house is on the market and you start to get offers, you HAVE to stand up for what you want.  If you’re not happy with a purchase deal, compromise until you get what you want.  I’ll cover this in another article.

7.  Don’t talk too much when a real estate agent contacts you.  When real estate agents contact you, some are wary that they are speaking with the homeowner.  Others won’t care so much.  Either way, treat it like a professional transaction.

8.  Ask for feedback after a showing.  Don’t be offended with what you hear.  No house is perfect.  Usually, when someone is interested in your home, they will find things wrong with it to try to get a better deal.  Keep this in mind.  When there are things you cannot change, shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, that’s something I can’t change.”  We had a home with a steep driveway that was in existence for decades.  The driveway was always something that someone brought up.  My reply, “It’s funny how you get use to things.  I had teenage daughters that drove up and down that driveway, and it’s something that didn’t bother us because it gave us privacy.”    There’s a positive to some, so called, negative aspects of your house.  Sometimes, people don’t realize why something like a steep driveway might be great.

9.  Don’t speak negatively of your home or neighbors.  Some real estate agents will ask, “Is there anything I should know about the house?”  This usually means they want to know if something, somewhere, is wrong.  We had electrical work taking place due to a telephone pole going down, and I explained what was happening and when the work would be completed…and that it would be completed by the time the person closed on the home.  Make sure you don’t speak of your home, neighbors, etc. in a negative manner.  Just because you don’t like the person living next door doesn’t mean someone else won’t be the neighbor’s best friend.

10.  Make sure there are CO’s on the house.  Wood stoves, pellet stoves, or anything else that you know didn’t have a CO – get one.  You’re going to need everything to be legit and in place.  If something is wrong, fix it.  The saying, “It takes money to make money,” comes into play here.

11. Always have the house ready to show.  If you have moved out, you should leave some furniture in some rooms for staging purposes.  I never believed in staging until I staged and suddenly had offers afterward.  We left a sofa and coffee table, chair, and end tables in a living room with a rug.  We put a small bed with an end table and dresser in one bedroom.  The kitchen was set up with a small round table, two chairs, and it was staged to look like a country home.  There are so many people who can’t picture things being in a room unless it’s set up a certain way.

12.  BE PATIENT!!!  Treat every showing as the one that could be IT.  I heard one real estate agent become so enthusiastic that I thought I had a sale.  It was one that was unassuming that surprised me.

13.  Don’t be offended when you get low ball offers.  I think certain television shows have done some damage when it comes to selling homes in the real world.  First time home buyers are watching first time home buying shows where people want everything for nothing.  There is a dream world created for home buying where they feel the art of negotiation means to offend the seller.  Don’t take it personally when someone offers you $30,000 below a legit asking price.  They are trying to get you to meet them somewhere in the middle.  If you don’t want to meet in the middle, don’t be a jerk about it, just say, “I’m sorry.  We have other showings taking place, and I don’t want to entertain an offer this low.  If you really want the home, please bring up the price.”

14.  Reevaluate your home if it isn’t selling.  If your house doesn’t have many showings, you probably need to lower your price. Don’t lower it $500.00.  Significantly lower it to a price that is more reasonable.  If you are getting a lot of showings and no offers, drop it more if you can.  We dropped the price $15,000 and then got a bidding war bidding it to the price we wanted.

15.  Real estate agents will try to get a feel for you when they contact you.  They want to know what the situation is regarding the home.  If the house has been on the market for awhile and they sense some kind of desperation, it will indicate that you’ll sell for a lower price.  If you’re going through a divorce, it will indicate a lower price.  Don’t indicate desperation.  You’re moving onto another chapter in your life and selling your house – plain and simple.  Don’t give them a reason to think their clients can drop that price on you.

16.  If your MLS listing expires, renew it.  Every real estate agent under the sun will call you and some will be so bold as to say, “Oh, so you didn’t sell your house as a FSBO.  Now, do you realize you need to hire an agent?”  You’ll be told you priced your house too high (because they are told that must be the reason a house didn’t sell).  They will tell you that no one wanted to show your house because it was a FSBO (not true – we had SEVERAL agents show it, and one lucky agent got a 3% commission).  They will tell you that you’re not going to succeed.  Renew your MLS listing.  Don’t even entertain phone calls like this.  Don’t argue with the person on the other end.  Just say, “Oh, we just renewed our listing.  Thank you for your concerns.”  Politely get off the phone.  It’s easy to be angered by certain aggressive people, but don’t let it bother you.  It’s just business.

17.  The first offer is NOT always the best offer.   The saying that the first offer is always the best offer just isn’t true.  We had a low ball offer given to us.  When we asked for a prequalification to accompany the offer, none was given, and the person went away.  There were over three offers before we got what we wanted.  If you’re not in a mad rush to have the house sold, you might actually get a better offer.  Know your limits with how long you can tolerate having your home on the market and be willing to wait for the right person to come along.

18.  Just because it’s a buyers market doesn’t mean you don’t have rights.  You are selling your home.  When someone falls in love with it, they are hoping you will agree to their terms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do everything they want in order for the house to be sold.  Again, this is going back to the “something for nothing” mentality that people seem to have, and you do not have to give your home away if you are being fair all the way around.

19.  Some months are better than others.  We had the world’s worst winter this past year with few showings over the winter months.  When April and May came around, showings shot up like mad.  This is when we received a lot of offers.

20.  Always get a prequalification.  If someone contacts you and no agent is involved, request a prequalification prior to showing the house.  If the person is legit, the person will email or fax it to you.  For the most part, no one contacted us personally.  Real estate agents showed the home.

 

The other day, someone asked me, “So, it’s Memorial Day weekend.  Are you going to the mall to hit up the sales?”

Then, food websites and magazines asked, “What are you cooking on your grill for Memorial Day?”  They continue with, “What are you making for Memorial Day?”  Cute little berry cakes with flags emerge, and families sitting at picnic tables laughing while gorging appear.

We’re expecting great weather for Memorial Day here. The temperatures are suppose to be in the 80’s. The sun should be shining.  However, despite the ability to cook outdoors and catch a few sales, my heart is with those veterans who have lost their lives and the families who have to live with that loss on a daily basis.

The Memorial Day hype from retail stores, magazines, and foodie places all seem to ignore why Memorial Day exists.  I’m sure if we never explained to our children and just let them read local advertisements, they would think it was some sort of celebratory weekend to buy appliances, clothing, and barbecue supplies.

There is something we can celebrate on Memorial Day –  our freedom, but Memorial Day is for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom so many of us take for granted.

So, this Memorial Day, while you celebrate the freedoms we have in the United States, remember those who sacrificed everything so we could maintain our freedom.  Say a prayer for our veterans, those who are serving, and for the families of those who lost their lives.

God bless you, and thank you for your service.

 

donnamom

The Hudson Valley Handymom with her mom.

Mother’s Day will be here on Sunday, May 11th.  Yes, it’s become a commercialized holiday just like all holidays.  With every holiday, the retail stores jump on the bandwagon of the exploitation of guilting everyone into showing how much they care through a monetary purchase.

If you’re one of those people who look at Mother’s Day, shake your head, and say, “It’s all commercialized,” then, you may not be a mother…or at least not one who feels she deserves a little extra love one day a year.

Would it KILL you to tell your mother JUST ONCE how much she means to you?

As a mom, I know the insurmountable sacrifices we make.  Let’s not kid ourselves here.  So many of us take on more than one job, wear more than one hat, and consume ourselves with making sure everyone is taken care of and has nice, clean clothes while we’re trying to get as much use out of decade old clothing as we can in order for our children to have what they need.  After all, we want our kids to fit in at school, and the last thing in the world we would want is for our children to be teased for wearing clothes like we end up wearing.

Yet, by their teenage years, our very presence in those clothes could be a source of embarrassment.  We’re not cool enough.  We need our hairstyle changed.  We become the world’s biggest idiots and go from being the “go to” person for our children to complete morons who know nothing once our kids catch the “know-it-all” bug (which can extend into their twenties).

Here we are putting up with years of changing diapers, washing dishes, making meals – and, trust me, I’m anti-women having all of this dumped on them when two parties are involved with having children, but let’s face the facts here.  For the men who take on their fair share, God bless you!  I don’t hear these stories too much, but when I do, you’re like the world’s biggest hero.  At the same time, so many mothers have it all dumped on us, and the reward is ONE day a year to celebrate the fact that we’ve taken every job under the sun within our own households to make sure our children had the best possible chance they could get.  We’re not considered heroes.  In fact, we’re often informed that no matter how much we put into everything in our lives, we’re suppose to do more.  Even in 2014, so many of the cleaning advertisements are aimed at women.  We’re suppose to look younger, be thinner, and be able to take on the world.  Yet, a man in the same position, as I stated, would look like a hero.

So, when you utter the words about commercialized Mother’s Day and decide you want to somehow boycott the retail world, I have no objections to this.  However, use caution in uttering the words about Mother’s Day being commercialized in front of the woman who gave so much to you.  Moms deserve a day.  They deserve at least ONE day if not over 100 days of you doing something nice and wonderful.  The work we do is often under appreciated, devalued, and to put little thought into giving your mother ONE day is ridiculous.  If you can’t give one day, you have nothing to give.

There are moms who don’t deserve the mother-of-the-year award.  I’m not saying every mother deserves your undying love, but for the ones who did the right thing by you, they certainly deserve a piece of your heart.

Make your mother a meal.  Write her a poem.  Make a commitment to yourself that you’re going to help her out more or give her a call more often than usual.  Take her out.  Give her the ability to do some things that she may have given up for you.  Most things that you can do to show love cost absolutely nothing, but doing nothing at all when you could do something small that means so much shows your lack of consideration.  Give the woman who raised you and put so much into your life at least one day of joy.

 

 

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Two years ago, my eldest had requested that I cater her senior recital at her college.   Although the reception went nicely, I felt the table looked a little bare.  When she contacted me to cater her graduate recital, not only did I want to fill the table more, but pleasing the masses became more complicated because my daughter had become vegan.

Typically, I don’t like to be the boring cheese and crackers type of server.  In this case, even cheese wasn’t something that could be placed on a vegan menu  – not to mention that some of the crackers weren’t vegan as well.  However, I wasn’t planning on just a vegan menu, so here’s what I did to provide choices for different eating styles.

Creating a vegetable tray and a fruit tray were a must.  Both vegan and non vegan crackers were provided for roasted red pepper hummus, a vegan cheese spread I created, and a vegan dip with vegan sour cream and Italian spices.  I also made a vegan lavender cake and vegan key lime bites.  A cake was also ordered for the non-vegan crowd.

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We dressed up the table with a table cloth and a floral centerpiece that had two candles.  On each side, there were chafing dishes with stuffed mushrooms.  We also had a slow cooker filled with cranberry cocktail meatballs to the right.  A ranch vegetable dip was provided for non vegans, and milk chocolate covered strawberries were also set out on the table.  Butter mints were placed on each end of the table.

My mother made small cheese balls called Savory Cheese Truffles and Salsa Bites using recipes from the Pampered Chef. The recipes were never tried prior to making them, and they came out so well that I would venture to say that the Pampered Chef site would be a good source for finding appetizers for your next event:

The Salsa Bite recipe can be found here:  http://www.pamperedchef.com/recipe_search/recipe.jsp?id=12521

The Savory Cheese Truffles can be found here:  http://www.pamperedchef.com/recipe_search/recipe.jsp?id=40798

The vegan portion of the menu:

I served a vegan punch made with strawberries and pineapple juice.  It was really good, and I would recommend it if you’re trying to avoid using sherbet.  The recipe can be found here: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/73113193922668644/

Sweetened frozen strawberries were NOT used for this recipe.  Frozen strawberries without a sweetener were used.  The punch had just the right amount of sweetness to it, but you could always add vegan sugar.  Also, frozen punch was put into the punch bowl to keep it cold.

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Vegan Lavender Almond Cake:

I didn’t get a cake picture before it was devoured.  I decorated it with pansies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I created my own “butter cream” frosting using vegan butter, vegan powdered sugar, coconut milk, and vanilla.  Substitute these items for your favorite frosting recipe to go vegan.   http://www.godairyfree.org/recipes/vegan-lavender-almond-cake

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus – you can find recipes for this by doing a search or create your own with Tahini, chickpeas, lemon juice, roasted red bell peppers, and seasonings to taste.

Key Lime Pie Bites – I used a recipe for a vegan key lime pie, but converted it to mini muffin pans.  They were brought in frozen to the event and kept on ice until ready to serve.  Surprisingly, these went quickly with vegans and non-vegans alike.  Thanks to the minimalist baker for this post:  http://minimalistbaker.com/7-ingredient-vegan-key-lime-pies/

Vegan Sour Cream Dip – Using a container of vegan sour cream, two tablespoons of Italian Seasoning (for Italian Dressing) were used, mixed, and served in a nice glass bowl.

Vegan Cheese Spread – This was a complete accident.  I ended up using two containers of vegan cream cheese, one container of vegan sour cream, two chives chopped up, two tablespoons of Italian Dressing seasoning, and one package of vegan cheddar.  I put all of these into a food processor.  It won’t get completely smooth, but it’s good enough for spreading onto a cracker.  I liked it chunky (prior to putting into the food processor) as well.  Sprinkle with some extra chopped chives.  Serve cold in a glass bowl.

 

closetbeforeandafter

In my world, closet organizers are a necessity.  Nowadays, there’s such a great selection with what you can choose from in the stores.  Two of our bedrooms had fabulously large closets, and, after considering a variety of styles, I opted to install a Closet Maid package that had options I could add.  I wanted to have drawers instead of the shelves that came with the package and added them separately – which resulted in me having leftover shelves.

When I went into the “lavender” room (AKA the room I set aside for my eldest to come home from grad school), I measured out this particularly small closet that originally only had shelves going up the entire height.  As I removed the shelves, I realized they weren’t even secure.  She would have no place to hang her clothes (some consisting of long gowns), and it just wasn’t going to work out for her needs.  I needed to make the most out of a small space.

I went to the local hardware store to see what I might find for her closet.  Surprisingly, nothing existed for the width of this closet.  It was “too small” for the closet organizers on the market.

I knew I could buy some wire shelving and create something for the closet (for those of you with an extreme budget, this is a good option and requires wire cutters), but since two other bedroom closets had been done with the same closet organizer, I wanted the house to be consistent with appearances.

shelves

I decided to use one of the shelves I removed to install drawers from another closet.  I also purchased two more long shelves that could be cut, two rods that were matches to the other closets, and came up with a plan so my daughter would have space to hang a few long gowns and room to hang other items in the closet.

For the top portion of the closet, I cut one of the purchased shelves to fit the entire length across and used metal brackets to secure it into studs in both the back and the sides of the closet.

I installed the rod underneath the shelving.  I put the shelf at the same height as other closets I had completed in the house.

For the bottom part of the closet, I purchased braces separately to secure the shelving to the studs on the side and back.

hingesandbraces

I utilized a large shelf that was a discard from one of the other closets.  I felt it would create a space for miscellaneous items.  Books could be placed here.  A basket for storage can also be placed here.  Most of all, it would create a second area to hang more items.

Using metal brackets underneath, I secured the large shelf to hold it in place and also secured it to a shelf that I cut to a height I wanted to be used as support vertically.  Since the expandable rod was a little too big for this section, I cut it with a blade for metal to get it to fit, and put it under the shelf.

closetsideview

If you have a small closet, this type of design can be repeated easily using less expensive items such as plywood or melamine laminated board.  If you don’t feel confident with cutting things to fit, try wire shelving.  It’s easy to cut with wire cutters and you can cap off the edges with purchased caps sold right near the wire shelving.

I know this seems like a “no brainer” when it comes to closet design, but when you want to keep closets looking similar in your home, sometimes, it requires a little thought process.  Think of your needs.  If you don’t need a place to hang anything, shelving in a small closet would work just fine.  If you have a small room with a small closet, find a way to create more storage space to get the most out of it.  I knew my daughter could put a few dresses to the right on this top rod and hang shorter items to the left.  Also, the extra rod below created more hanging space for her.  Her room isn’t large, but she now has increased storage capacity.

Draw out a plan.  See what’s available to you.  Think of how you can get the most out of your little closet.  Just make sure that you have your rods and shelving secured to studs or have good anchors.  When you put weight on these items, the last thing you want to do is hear or see it come crashing down.  Also, ALWAYS use a level to make sure your shelves are…level.  I’d love to see your small closet designs!

 

maplesugaring

maplesugaring

When I first moved into my house, I had plans of owning a lot of chickens.  I had been told the property was originally farmed.  Hardly any trees existed, and it was easy to go from one side of the property to another.

This story was hard for me to absorb when I looked around the tree covered land, but I knew the source was extremely credible, and I was a little frustrated that I had land I couldn’t use because my husband was against cutting down perfectly good trees.  I get it.  I really get it.  I felt bad about the prospect of cutting trees down too.  So, as we’re looking at the property, my (at the time) 10 year old pipes up, “Mommy, there sure are a lot of sugar maples on this property.  There are over 100.”

I asked, “How do you know?”

“We maple sugared at school,” she replied.

Before the summer was over, I bought some plastic pink non-stick tape (sold near the tools at the hardware store) to tie around the maple trees.   Neighbors thought I was marking them to take them down and asked if we might have firewood to spare, but my husband assured them it was for another purpose.  I needed to do this step because I don’t know a heck of a lot about trees, and paying attention to what kind of trees were around me opened up my eyes quite a bit.

The whole amazing part about all of this is that you not only learn which trees are best for maple sugaring, but you also get a feel for which tree is going to be a great maple sap producer after tapping trees.  This is something people can’t tell you.  It’s just something you pick up along the way.

When I ordered supplies in advance, the company I ordered from shipped me a box.  It had everything I ordered except the most important aspect – SPILES.  I had the line that attached to the spiles.  I had gathering buckets.  I had saved milk cartons and cleaned them out for collection purposes.  I thought using a line would make things easier for me since the trees were on a hill, and I could have the line go downward into a collection bucket from different trees.  Without spiles, I didn’t have much to work with for the tree tapping.

I made a little video to explain things.  I left out the part of needing a hammer or rubber mallet to tap the tree.  Certainly, you can use other methods, buckets, or ways of collection.  I’m sure someone will tell me I did the whole process wrong too, but here’s the key – my supplies weren’t sent.  I wanted to make maple syrup.  I needed to figure something out to accomplish the task. Making a simple run to a hardware store and finding things that CAN work can produce the same result as purchasing from an online store. At the same time, the online plastic spiles were a lot cheaper, but I was risking losing out on maple sugaring season due to the company not informing me of their lack of supplies and what time frame the supplies would arrive.

With that, my project worked, and we now have quite a bit of sap despite this horrific winter.  I didn’t even tap 1/4 of the trees on the property where hundreds (more than the 100 my daughter counted) of trees reside.

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