DIY Birthday Reminder

Getting a Round Tuit

I had been meaning to do this since high school and finally made it happen. It would have been easier in high school with a lot fewer birthdays and almost no anniversaries! I am really glad I’m done and now I’m working on spin offs for all my daughters, and a few other relatives. Here’s what I learned to make it easier for you.

Levels of Difficulty

I really like my original idea that hangs in my kitchen now. I started with a family-themed plaque. Then I screwed twelve eyescrews evenly spaced along the bottom for the twelve months of the year. Next I wrote the names and the day of each person’s birthday on a heart-shaped base I bought off This was tricky and I won’t do it for the next ones I make, though I do like the final look of these. I searched for something that I could write on that had a hole punched in the top and bottom. These worked perfectly so I could lace them on thin satin ribbon. I wanted to make a difference between birthdays and anniversaries, so I bought mini clothespins from Joann Fabrics (with a 60% off coupon) for the anniversaries. Again I wrote the names of the couple on the front and the day of the anniversary also. On the back of these and the hearts, I wrote the year. That makes it a little less viewable for those of us born long ago.

The plaque was thin, so I held it tightly with my thumb and index finger as I screwed in the eyescrews to keep it from splitting. When the grandchildren came to visit, I put all the hearts in envelopes labeled by month since I couldn’t get them strung in time.
These are called bases. I have never worked with them before.
There was no way the ribbon was going to fit through the holes in the hearts on its own. I constructed a tool. Taking the closest available twist tie, I stripped the paper off the wire on one end, stuck it through the hole, folded the wire around the ribbon and pulled it through. It worked great.
The ribbon tended to twist, but could be easily straightened by pulling some slack through to work out the twist.
It’s a tight fit so the hearts don’t slip and slide around.
I used packing tape to attach extras to the back so I can add new births and anniversaries without having to search high and low for where I put the hearts and pins.

Time Consuming Part

Gathering the dates took me longer than making the whole thing! We’ve had a population explosion in the past couple years and getting my nieces and nephew’s baby dates took some work.


An amazing thing happened as I worked on this. The birthday/anniversary theme transformed itself into a prayer wall. I usually have my quiet time and devotions in the kitchen near where I hung it. What a perfect reminder to pray! I often pray around the items in my home that were given to me. When I see a pillow a friend made, I pray for that friend. Now I can bathe my family in prayer as I walk by my birthday reminder.

Better Ideas

As I worked with the clothespins for the anniversaries, I realized they made the project much easier. Since I wanted to make copies for my girls,  it struck me that I could do it simply with empty picture frames. They came out much neater, though my little tangled flowing ribbons fit my ecclectic kitchen to a T. My daughter-in-law Shallyn was visiting and she helped me tweak the picture frames. I loved her idea of using twine, adding an extra line for blank pins to be used as future babies arrive and marriages happen, and letting the original frame color bleed through the paint.

I did minimal sanding. The spray paint came from a clearance shelf for $1 a can.
As soon as the glue set, the string held. Don’t let go too soon, or you have to start over on that string.
I’ve ordered a bulk amount of mini pins from ebay for all the extra reminder frames I’m constructing.
Once Shallyn hangs hers up at home, she’ll be able to spread out the pins to arrange them more esthetically.


Happy birthday, everyone!


Another Gift from God’s Hand to Me

Praise God for His incredible lovingkindness!

In God’s extravagant goodness to me, He gave me a gift this month that I will cherish forever. It arrived before my friend Jan took off her aged skin, useless bones and made-over dust to change into a shining white robe.

The call

In December my husband called me while I was visiting my daughter in Indiana. Usually on Friday nights we work at Reformer’s Unanimous, but I couldn’t arrange to get back in time. My husband said EMS just arrived at church because my close friend Jan had passed out in her chair. They transported her to the hospital. The diagnosis came back while I drove home. They didn’t know why she passed out, but they suspected cancer. Testing showed a very tiny spot of cancer in her lung which had metastasized to her brain. They could slow it down, but they had no hope of stopping it.  She’d had bronchitis the winter before and also just a month earlier, but the cancer hadn’t been caught or, perhaps wasn’t even there in the x-rays they’d taken looking for pneumonia. She didn’t smoke.

The doctor predicted she had 6 months. Her family asked her to try radiation. She did, but it didn’t help.

The tumor accelerated at breakneck speed. Six months became six weeks.

Prayer, only prayer

I prayed to God, holding up all that she had done like Dorcas and Peter to the Lord and pleading that He might heal her and spare her to us–to me! But if not, that He would carry her softly through to the end of her journey. She did so many of the background jobs at church, that we won’t know for a year what things we are skipping because she quietly, with her servant’s heart, did them. She did great things in my life, too, pushing me out of my comfort zone to tell others about Jesus.

My church prayed fervently and diligently.

Jan prayed—she prayed for her family knowing that they faced the greatest hardship.

Halfway through the journey. God calls our deaths precious in His sight.


Jan’s true testing began in early January. I can only compare what she went through to what Job went through. Living alone, her family grown and gone, she spent a lot of her days soaking in the goodness of God. She knew how to pray, really pray. Not a few minutes asking God for this or that and then getting distracted. She talked with God. She read and studied her Bible. She pursued His friendship. Now suddenly the devil held up her sacrificial love to God and said, “But take that away and she will turn from You.” And God let him touch the fabric of her life. She couldn’t understand anything she read. She could read, but like a learning disability, she couldn’t comprehend the meaning. Reading her Bible became impossible. The hundreds of verses she had memorized vanished. Her ability to concentrate evaporated. Everything that tied her to God, blew away like a whirlwind. She sat in a chair hour after hour. Yet she didn’t weep or wail or complain. At first she would greet my visits with, “Praise God!” Very quickly it became me saying it and she would repeat it. Then she could only say, “Yes, yes.” Then she could only nod. Then she could only look at me and talk with her eyes.

In the meantime, two other dear friends took falls, one breaking an elbow and one a shoulder. I seemed to go from one to the next to the next. But God gave me strength and peace and hope and I saw He did the same for Jan. Physical pain didn’t touch her at all. Her trials came through the fogginess produced in her brain, cutting her off from communicating not just with us, but with her dear Saviour.

The gift

A week ago Tuesday on my way to Indiana to babysit, I stopped to see Jan. I hadn’t thought about stopping since I had seen her just a few days earlier. I usually have to rush to be at my daughter-in-law’s in time, but the Lord worked out the timing and prompted me to do it.

I still expected months of visiting and a slow good-bye.

As I drove, God nudged me and I knew I should sing to Jan. So I did. When my life’s work is ended and I cross the swelling tide, When the bright and glorious morning I shall see, I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side for His smile will be the first to welcome me. I shall know Him, I shall know Him And redeemed by His side I shall stand. I shall know Him, I shall know Him By the print of the nails in His hand .

I talked with her about our hope, not the maybe hope our language offers today but that sure hope we have because God promises us Heaven. I told her I would stop with my granddaughters for a few minutes on Thursday. She loves children so much and I knew they would bring a smile to her face. I kissed and hugged her good-bye and dragged myself away thinking surely I would see her Thursday. The first call came that afternoon. The doctor thought she didn’t have but a few days. I couldn’t leave to go to her. Thank you, Lord Jesus for that precious last visit in the morning! Thank you for those moments to hold in my heart.

I passed the information along. Then God did more. Since I couldn’t be there, He sent another friend of mine to spend Wednesday morning with Jan and sing more to her. Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand, The shadow of a mighty Rock Within a weary land; A home within the wilderness, A rest upon the way, From the burning of the noontide heat, And the burden of the day.

I kept getting telemarketer calls all day and stopped answering calls without an ID. When the call came at 5:15, I missed it. Later a text came. Jan closed her eyes to the dim light of her room in the convalescent home, and opened them to the glories of a gate made of a single huge pearl rolling open to let her walk through and into the outstretched hug of Jesus’ welcome.

Thru the gates to the city, in a robe of spotless white, He will lead me where no tears will ever fall; In the glad song of ages I shall mingle with delight But I long to see my Saviour first of all.

Poetry from Within

We’re nearing the end of February, and thus far, I’ve kept my New Year’s goal of writing a poem each week! Hooray! I love how this goal pushes me. So, today you get a taste of what I’ve been working on:


Stick by stick we untangle our yard;

Long years of disrepair ravaged bushes;

Dead trees fallen and decomposing in the creek;

Ivy, dripping from trees too weak to bear the weight;

Plastic bags, and fast food containers decaying,

Melded, melting, molding themselves over our waterway.

Lugging leaf loads up, up, up to the waste pile

Pulls at our shoulders.

Trekking up the towering banks with tree trunks

Twisted into tangles presses in on us.

But, bit by bit the backyard beneath emerges.

A shady grove guarded by Mimosa trees;

Four silver sisters growing grandly from one overgrown and tattered trunk;

The glossy green of Magnolias, Holly, and English Ivy;

A calm pool, serene in its solitude,

Plato’s cave for crawfish

Catching the sharp relief of our shadows against their homely haven.

Brambles, big with sharp self-importance

Brandish their branches, demanding a blood sacrifice for our work.

Poison Ivy, ever the wily woodland witch works its wizardry under gloves and up arms.

And, the dry creek bed, parched and broken after a southern summer

Swears to run only with our sweat,

Tripping up our toes as we carry load after load of debris up to the road.

We work on.

Careening up the creek with bright blue tarp loads,

Heaving trash cans cramped with crumpled leaves up and out.

The sticks, those long and straight, and true,

We weave,

Taking the trees that twisted us and twisting them into a teepee;

No longer left for weathering and wormwood, but welded into a welcome.

And with the last of the leaves from the creek bed

The curse cast by careless caretakers lifts;

The water wakes,

Winding its way from the sleeping pool,

To cascade with curiosity into the crevices of the creek,

Always downward, forward, lower.

From a trickle to a slow but steady stream,

Laughing as it rambles its route,

Calling to the autumn air to rush with it,

Fresh and flushed with its freedom to flow.

Where once tangles and trash, now a treasury of trails to tread,

For slow and steady though the husbanding be,

The silent wonders waiting for unearthing

Came with work.

Our backyard continues to need our attention

Terra’s Composition

Winter timber moans,

January tuning all

Nature’s orchestra

February taps

Its green tipped baton, still

-ing for the concert.

Green thumbs uncurling

Stretch March fronds to the sunshine;

Fiddling earth awake.

April bells begin.

Each drop a different pitch sets

Singing garden rows.

May mist’s decrescendo

Stills all but the solo of (a)

Solitary wren,

The chanting of bees

Marching home with June honey

To wren’s counterpoint.

The summer sun beats

Brilliance, but cannot quiet

July leaves rustling;

Acorn tambourines

Tremble at each syllable

That August utters;

September turns to

Tip the tulip trees with gold,

And sets them clapping.

A glissando glides,

Orange-hued through the branches,

October’s encore

Hail hammers stony

Trails. Terrestrial proof of

November applause.

December dampens

Earth’s auditorium, snow

Hushing heaven’s song.

Into the birch woods

Northern Seas

Beside the shining sea just beyond the red sand

A stand of trees, a forest of white birches swayed

To the siren call of the north wind. New sprung leaves

Glittered, shivering at mid-May’s icy fingers.


A thin red trail bled through the greenery

Running softly past swaying ferns and gold crested flowers.

Flowing along the woodland and the coastline,

Tracing the divide between the wild and the water.


Our feet fell into the path with ease.

Others had traveled this trail before,

Leaving their marks, and here and there

Hints of the sights they’d sought.


Set on seeing the northern sea caves

Promised by the scarlet path

Our backs heavy laden with toddler feet

Bundled into baby carriers, we walked.


Groves of gold crested vegetation gave way

To thickets, cruel and sharp with thorns.

Point after point plunging at us, as woody ligaments

Reached out to grab our jeans, and jackets.


Softening our steps to circumvent the spines,

We walked the heart of the hard packed path.

The low thunder of the surf sinking as the song

Of the birds in the birches rose.


To right and left the great white bones

Of giants lay scattered amid their brethren.

Those grown too immense, struck by the heavens

Or some northern gale flying furiously over the lake.


A birch grove graveyard, with crypts opened wide

Exposed white and gray bark peeling from the rotten hearts within.

How long had these many ringed rulers

Lorded their position over their compatriots,


Lifting their branches high, only to fall

By the same swells that bow all birch boughs at last.

The trail turned, burning our calves with the climb

Staining our hands with the slick red earth


We grappled with the ground, grabbing roots

To heave ourselves, and napping cargo up the heights.

At last the slope crested, curving back

On itself with one last leg wrenching turn


And we stood. Two abreast at a fork in the trail.

To the right, the ample path ambled leisurely on.

But, to the left it dwindled down to just a shoulder’s width

With gorges cut out in sharp relief by some earthen butcher


Plunging down, down to the crashing spume below.

My heart caught a beat then watched it careen down the cliffs

The way my body would bounce with one wrong step.

And what the weather had not touched stood frozen.


My feet grew roots beneath their soles so still I stood

And the air spun, doubling my vision.

But, my husband, with my daughter harnessed to his back

Started for the left hand path at once, beckoning me to join him.


I watched the heart outside my heart walk past,

My second heart upon his back, eyes now wide awake,

And my heart leaped up into my throat blocking the breath

I’d taken from returning. And there they went


Out across the slender vein of blood red earth,

The water pounding, pounding, on each side.

And all in vain my open mouth, I could not even call

For supposing that he turn, and catch his foot and fall.


And then, he was there. Out upon the widening peninsula

Holding fast a slender birch, his camera pointed

Toward the red rock cliffs. He ‘d done it.

He’d crossed the cavern, and caught the caves.


And now, he soaked in the sun,

Bathed in the glittering reflection from the waters,

And shone back, as bright as a solar star

So bright, I bent my hand across my eyes for shade.


Still, I stood, rooted dryad like, to earth.

He started back, tread confident, across the chasm.

And, still my heart choked back my voice.

But, then he stood. Held my hand, and grinned his glory at me.


And, all the long walk back between the birches to the beach,

His triumph set the trail to cheering.

Chickadees chirping their delight, and red-bellied woodpeckers

Drumming their congratulations to the forest.


A glorious cacophony of calling, crowing cheers.

And the red red earth ran beneath our feet

To the pounding of our sneakers,

Till the whole wide wood breathed life.

A thin path out to the sea cave overlook

Review: Newport Aquarium, part 2


The restrooms are on the bottom floor. You pay and enter on the top floor. If you have drunk a large coffee during the last 100 miles before reaching Newport Aquarium, stop at a restroom in the shopping mall area. We were in such a hurry that we missed some of the upstairs exhibits and on the way out, we should have used the restroom again, but didn’t because we forgot it was on the lower level. Fortunately the children made it to ChickfilA.

The tide pool really captured their interest. During the last tour, no one else was there and they had a long conversation with the staff. What great people they have on board there! The children probably learned more there than anywhere else. The questions they had became a conversation.
Splash exchanged places with Bubbles throughout the day. We had to go back to check often.

First Tour

We took tour number one led by Big Bro, which lasted about an hour and a half. The children hopped from exhibit to exhibit, missing some and spending lots of time at others. The smaller fish tanks didn’t  catch their interest much. They moved in on the tide pool, the special Splash and Bubbles Show with its view into the big shark tank, the frog bog with a play structure and a live action Frogger game, the tunnels under the shark tank, the gi-normous, 14 foot, 800 pound alligator, the Shark Central petting area, and the shark bridge.

I’ve got an alligator whisperer! You should have heard the shout out when they discovered the second albino alligator on the second tour!

Second Tour

We didn’t even take a breather before we set off on tour number two led by Li’l Sis and me with Big Bro chomping on the bit, especially in the seahorse room! But this time we found the statues there. We visited all the special places they loved on the first tour and added the albino alligators,  the penguin viewing room, the shark weight comparison chair, the gila monster, the sea turtle life cycle, the shark teeth touch table and the poisonous frogs. This tour also took an hour and a half.

Though the children still did a fly-by on these smaller exhibits, they at least looked at them on the second and third tour.

Feeding Frenzy

By this time we were starving. I had forgotten the lunch we packed in the frig at home, so we went to Sharky’s Cafe and bought a pizza and Slushees which the children devoured like little sharks in a feeding frenzy. There wasn’t a place to eat a bag lunch anyway and we would have probably gone back to the car to eat and keep warm if I hadn’t left our meal behind. The pizza was delicious, but pricey. At least I had plenty of snacks which helped.

The seahorses captivated them and me. I didn’t have time to find out if the mini albino lobster was a cave dweller or a white crawfish. Big Bro kept escaping me and I had to run to keep up. The children couldn’t quite figure out the black light room, but the colors of the fish were incredible.
They would have liked to have hugged the real ones or at least petted them, but seahorses are a bit shy.

Third Tour

After eating, we had an hour and a half left for tour number three. Again we had to hit all those highlights from the first tour. But this time I knew the penguin feeding time was coming up. We arrived at it early, which worked really well since they started early. One of the staff alerted us to the possibility. Two speakers took turns informing us about what was happening. The children didn’t get bored at all and took in a lot of facts even though they are 3 and not quite 5. Very impressive.  We slid past a few missed items such as the chambered nautilus, the sea horse statues, and real divers doing tank clean up and repairs in the shark tank. Wow! They waved at us. We found out that all the divers are unpaid volunteers.

I’m not sure where the sharks are, but I was ready to dial 9-1-1. These divers are something else!
Penguins are hilarious to watch.
Even I learned new things. The penguins eat more than all the other fish and animals combined, and they look so cute doing it!

Newport Faves

Li’l Sis’s favorite part was the tunnel with sharks swimming overhead and all around us. She found the muted blue light and soft waves calming. Big Bro loved petting the sharks and the stinging sea anemone, horseshoe crab and starfish. Being a totally different personality, he found that exhilarating. I was most impressed by the Newport staff. They were well informed and engaging. They obviously loved their jobs–working with the animals and the public. I was also glad that evolution was not force fed at every exhibit. It was there, but not as overwhelming as in many science museums.

The underwater tunnels scared some children, but Li’l Sis could have sat in them for hours.
You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince or princess. I’ll be saving these pictures for their weddings!

The End

Since the grandchildren didn’t return with me, I couldn’t follow up with the books I have about ocean life. We’ll talk about it when they come back to visit and reminisce about our trip to the aquarium.

They both fell asleep for the last leg of the journey home. I suppose they dreamed of the ocean. I hope so anyway.


What to Check for Among the Post Valentine’s Day Sales

Just throwing it out there: today is the perfect day to go shopping! Post-Valentine’s Day sales are the gifts that keep on giving!

If you plan ahead, and have a little bit of storage space, post Valentine’s Day sales are the perfect time to pick up Valentine cards for your kiddo’s friends at half the price- or even less! It’s also and excellent time to check for sales on chocolates, and cute little pink and white stuffed animals. Last year, Christy picked up a couple boxes of Valentines after Valentine’s Day so that she would be stocked for this year. Disney Princesses, cute animals, and Super Heroes seem to be timeless choices that should still be safely in season next year!

When Christy got married, she stocked up on the pink Hershey kisses on Valentine’s Day because she knew they went with her colors. So, if you have a wedding coming up and are looking for decorations for tables, or candy for little favors, be sure to check out the post-Valentine Day sales. But, if you’re wedding shopping, don’t limit your thoughts to just the candy aisle. Vases are often discounted post-Valentine’s Day as well!

Post-Valentine’s day is the perfect time to stock up on Hershey kisses!

What else could you save on after Valentine’s Day? What about watching for red décor that can be repurposed for the Fourth of July, Christmas, and Autumn! A red table cloth, or plain red napkins can be super versatile, and are easy to dress up with other special touches!

Last year, post-Valentine’s Day Christy picked up a few cute chalkboard bunting banners. They were used for every single family birthday we held, and Thanksgiving! Looking for décor that can be easily adjusted to make it work for other special occasions is an excellent way to take advantage of post-holiday sales.

That chalkboard banner bought during post-Valentine’s Day sales was used at every birthday last year!

So, as you do your grocery shopping, or errand running this week,  don’t forget to keep an eye out for the post-Valentine’s Day specials that just might be coming your way!

Review: Newport Aquarium

Using our savings

We save our money to use it for the good stuff, like Newport Aquarium.

After growing up on the Salmon River that led to the Connecticut River that flowed into the Long Island Sound, I now live 600 miles from my beloved ocean. My bucket list includes taking my grandchildren to visit the ocean or some facsimile thereof as often as possible. Of course, that means I get to go, too!

Newport Aquarium

When I needed to break up a long trip recently to take Big Bro and Li’l Sis home, I didn’t have many options. In the summer we stop at parks along the way. In the winter, we find indoor play places. But Big Bro especially was having trouble with the long hours in his booster seat. “This is taking too long,” he informed me. As I mapped out the journey with some fun stops, I noticed Newport Aquarium. It was closer to our destination than I had hoped for, but as I crunched the numbers I realized I could leave very early and the children would sleep for several hours.

The Reviews

I started checking the reviews. Several people complained about the price. But the aquarium was running a special–one free child’s ticket with each adult ticket. Good deal! I called to ask about buying the ticket ahead to get the free ticket. I had heard a snowstorm might hit, so I wanted to be sure my tickets wouldn’t expire if I bought ahead and then couldn’t make it. The receptionist with a really sweet southern accent told me that the aquarium was rarely crowded on Monday through Thursday, and since our trip was planned for Wednesday, we could wait and buy the ticket when we arrived with no problems.

Another reviewer said they toured the place in under an hour and a half and thought it wasn’t worth the money.  I checked out the website. Lots of pictures and descriptions convinced me that the person behind the review didn’t know how to take children through an aquarium. We started the training right away.

Getting the most out of the Website

First I showed the children the website We talked about the activities they would do and the animals they would see. The website gave printable coloring pages. We spent about an hour on those.

This was the first contact with the word “bioluminescence.” When I asked Big Bro what it meant the night after we got home he easily spouted off, “A fish that glows in the deep, dark ocean.”

The website also offered two games. I had difficulty limiting Big Bro’s screen time using his favorite one.

We practiced the two-finger petting technique they allow in the tide pool and the shark tank. Yes, shark tank!

They both did a great job with the two-finger petting technique.

Then we dug out all the fish, penguins, sharks, lobsters, frogs, turtles, walrus, seals, whales, snakes, fish, octopi, alligators and sea creatures they owned. I showed them which ones they were likely to see and what they are called. We played with the shells in my seashell collection, too.

This doesn’t even include the stuffed animals.

Heading Out

The morning we set off it was too dark for me to realize how bad the weather was. We drove out of the storm about an hour later, but it slowed the schedule down enough that we missed the first shark feed.

The children woke up at the right exit to see this cool jet and tip me off to a future place to visit.

About two and half hours into the trip the children woke up just in time for me to stop for COFFEE! My sister deserves kudos for calling me and telling me to get this much needed item. First the caffeine kept me awake and then the need for a restroom finished the job. Double duty. We found a bonus when we pulled into the McDonalds right across from the Armstrong Air and Space Museum. We drove about ten feet away from the 4F5D Skylancer flown by Neil Armstrong and replica Apollo and Gemini space capsules. We would have climbed into them if it weren’t so cold and we weren’t already running late. We’ll be visiting there sometime soon!

Important Info

When we reached the aquarium, as I had read in several places, I kept my ticket. I had to pay by credit card at the upstairs landing before we left. The cost, $2. Not bad.

To Be Continued….

Next week I’ll tell about the visit itself.



Tea and Where to Find it

I can’t drink coffee. I’m a mother of young children, and I can’t drink coffee. Think how antithetical that is to the long nights of young motherhood! I know, I know. How do I keep going?! But, I do.  A year and a half ago when we discovered I had Hashimoto’s (a thyroid autoimmune disorder) I also discovered that drinking even a small cup of coffee early in the morning would set me up for a long night of insomnia, and even if I managed to escape that, it would totally make me have a huge likelihood of battling inexplicable rage the next day. Basically, coffee totally messes with my emotions, and my sleep cycle, and is not worth it. Thankfully, tea does not have the same effect, and I’ve always loved tea. And, when I discovered Loose Leaf Tea, the decision to cut coffee became even easier.

When we lived in Minneapolis we loved going to the farmer’s market because there was an awesome little tea stand called Mrs. Kelly’s Tea there.  They sell a variety of loose leaf teas, including a smokey Russian dinner tea I have never found anywhere else, a delicious African Fruit Bowl Rooibos tea, and my personal favorite: Earl Blue (Earl Grey infused with lavender).

Tea time remains a favorite time together

When stocked up before our move south… but, inevitably, began to run low on our stock. That’s when I turned to one of the mom groups on Facebook that I regularly interact on. Where could I find loose leaf tea near me that would come even close to Mrs. Kelly’s?

Even young toddlers can enjoy tea.

I was given several suggestions. But, one stuck out because it sounded at least a little bit like Mrs. Kelly’s. The Spice and Tea Exchange in downtown Greenville sounded very similar. So, we planned a family outing.

We walked in, and it did remind me of Mrs. Kelly’s Tea. Not quite as many varieties, but enough to keep us busy. The shop keeper immediately invited us to take down whatever jars of tea interested us and smell them. (One of my favorite ways to decide what teas to try!) We ended up getting a sampler pack, and two other packets. Flavors included: Earl Grey Crème, Coconut Oolong, Chamomile Twist Herbal, International Breakfast, and Hazelnut Cookie. We love them! Each flavor is delicious, but our family favorite has to be the Coconut Oolong. It tastes so creamy! Just perfect! Hooray for loose leaf tea!

We’re trying 5 new varieties. So far Coconut Oolong has our vote!

Building a Ball Pit

DIY Simple Ball Pit

When Big Bro asked to play in a Ball Pit, I thought that would make a fun outing. Then the big picture dawned on me. Taking him and Li’l Sis to the Trampoline Park that had a ball pit for two hours cost one quarter of the price of constructing a permanent one that all eight of my grandchildren and the one on the way could enjoy for years at my house. And I serve free healthy treats and don’t collect goobers from hundreds of other children drooling, licking, coughing, and passing out germs.

Poor Big Bro, he had the stomach bug and slept through the whole construction phase. But Li’l Sis figured out how to do it on her own. One of the reviews had said the tent came with no instructions. None were needed. Even a three-year-old could do it.

So I started to research ball pits. The most expensive part, the plastic balls themselves, could be bought in bulk to help bring down the cost. A friend of mine told me she bought hers a few at a time at yard sales. I’ll be adding more to my pit the same way. The next item, a place to hold them for play, took some time to narrow down.

Weaving the sticks into the correct loops took a minute, but it was not difficult.


I loved the idea of building one from scrap material. I have some material that would work in my garage storage area and I could also purchase some low priced at Habitat for Humanity or even scavenge some at yard sales or on Freecycle. But I decided against that idea because it would take up a lot of room that couldn’t be used for anything else since it would be semi-permanent.

Next I considered the idea of a kiddie pool and looked at several. Inflatable ones would work well, but eventually would pop or tear and often the air valves stretch and no longer stay in place, causing deflation. The price also escalated with the height of the walls, and I knew that to have enough balls to make it fun, I’d need it to be fairly deep. Also, the balls would go flying out and I’d be doing toe touches picking them up all day. Not bad for my health, but it would cause stress on my limited time schedule.

A regular kiddie pool, like the first idea, takes up space, even though it could be stored more easily because it is lightweight and  movable. A hanger on the garage wall would hold it. Unfortunately, finding a kiddie pool locally in February isn’t highly likely. Buying one online is costly because of the shipping price.

Then I discovered indoor popup tents. Wow! Several of them had entries 8 inches or so above floor level. The one I chose has an inside height of five feet,  included 3 windows and a door that can be rolled and tied up and the best part of all, folds and twists into a package about 15″ by 15″ by 3″ for storage.

Ready for blast off!
I love the window in the roof that not only lets the kids view the moon , stars and planets, but lets me take a quick peek at them.
The round windows fit the spaceship theme perfectly. It also added a great vocabulary word: porthole.
Test flight.

How it works

Big Bro and Li’l Sis broke it in. It withstood that test very well. There are no pulls or tears despite the half drop belly flops and attempted cannon balls.

Papa, Big Bro and Li’l Sis all fit in the ball pit together. I could have squeezed in, too, but then there wouldn’t have been room to play with the balls.

One of the children’s favorite activities is hiding the letters we use for our devotion time in the ball pit. As they find a letter, they say the verse that goes with it by memory. When we finish finding all the letters, we pray and then they love to sing our devotional song, The Lord Is My Shepherd, inside it because of the enhanced acoustics.

The tent doubles as a great little play area when the balls are removed. I’ll be using it as a quiet place for reading by adding blankets and pillows.

Five stars!

Yep, this gets a thumbs up!

All systems go!

Building a Temporary Bookshelf

All we have

If there is one thing our family collects, it is books. Both my husband and I met working at our university library after having worked at public libraries in high school. We then went on staff at the library. (Well, I went on staff as the Circulation Coordinator, my husband became a Graduate Assistant). We love books.

In addition, my husband is in the process of getting his Master of Divinity so he can Pastor a church some day. So, add to all the normal books as many commentaries as we can cram in.

When we moved into our new home it was obvious we were going to need more bookshelf space. The 4 bookshelves we already owned were woefully inadequate.

Our long range plan is to make the one room that has no windows into it a library with built in bookshelves. But, it’s not in the budget yet. So, I’ve been searching for ways to make our books easily accessible prior to that renovation. A week or two ago we stumbled upon a plan.

We had a nice long plank of wood that had been left by the contractor. And I noticed 3 or 4 cement blocks. Curt helped by cleaning off the wood plank, and I helped set it up on top of those cement blocks in his office. Now, the majority of his commentaries are easily visible, and accessible for study! This temporary bookshelf will probably serve us for at least a year. Hooray for DIY!

All you need:

A Plank of Wood appropriately sized for your space

3-4 cinder blocks

Here you can see how we balanced the plank on the cinder blocks. Even with this long plank we were still running out of space for his theology books.
Another cinder block was needed at the center to support the plank. Without that block it would be bowing in the middle.


The Un-BEET-able Veggie

Each of these beets was equivalent to the amount in a 16 oz. can.

The challenge

That New Year’s Resolution to eat more veggies still challenges me.  So last week when I meandered through the produce section, I noticed beets on sale. I reversed my cart and checked the beets in the organic section. The flavor of organic veggies really helps. They taste the closest to right-out-of-the-garden even though I’m paying for not adding additives which aren’t good for me. This time, the price actually got me. The regular beets cost $1.29 for a sickly looking bunch that weighed a little over a pound. The organic beets weighed three times as much and cost $1.99. The total cost  also came in under an equal amount of canned beets which wouldn’t even include the greens–more about that later.

Beet this!

Prepping beets is really easy.

I brought them home and cut off the greens. Then I tried a new cooking method. I put them in a glass pan with a little water and roasted them in the oven. It took almost an hour because they were so huge. Finally when the fork pierced them deeply and easily, I pulled them out and let them cool ten minutes. Then I peeled off the skins. My fingers turned bright purple, but the skins slipped off with no problem. I cut one of them up and plated it for dinner. I was amazed! Usually beets taste like dirt. These tasted wonderful. The flavor was slightly sweet but not over-powering and very savory. The whole beet disappeared and everyone started on beet #2. I tried to hide it with beet #3 because I had plans for them.

I crammed that fork in as far as it would go.
Peeling them was amazing. It took less than two minutes.

A day later I added a tablespoon of cornstarch to 1/2 cup of vinegar, 1/2 cup of sugar, a tablespoon of butter, and  one whole clove. I heated it slowly to a boil on medium low heat and let the mixture thicken. Then I poured it on a cup of beets I had cut into chunks. Voila! Harvard beets. I don’t understand why they cost so much at the store. They are super simple to make.

Just a couple ingredients needed for Harvard beets.
The grandchildren were willing to try them just because of the pretty color.

At the same time I chopped up the rest of the beets and doused them in 1/2 cup of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sugar, a pinch of dry mustard, salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of olive oil. I covered them and set them in the frig to chill overnight. Pickled beets. Again, high cost at the store and super cheap in my kitchen.

Pickled beets can be cooked in the vinegar-based dressing, but it isn’t needed as long as they soak a good while.

Back to those greens I cut off the top. I cooked them on the stove and then put them in the frig. Later I added them to my yogurt, mango, banana, berry smoothie. That’s nutrition!

The plain beets tasted unbelievable. No dirt flavor to them like I taste in canned beets. But this–this is the best!

These were the tastiest beets I ever ate. I’ve got this New Year’s resolution down!