Today I am a crazy person getting ready for my little guy's communion party tomorrow, but I wanted to tell all of my wonderful friends, in real life and in blogland, how grateful I am to you for visiting my little spot over here at Shine Your Light!  I started using StatCounter, a tool for keeping track of how many times a blog is viewed, about a month into blogging (April 10) and...

yesterday I reached 1,000 page views!! 

This is nothing compared to some major bloggers out there, some of whom easily have 1,000 or more hits a day, but for me 1,000 page views in 3 weeks is enormous, and I am so thankful for your support and encouragement! 
I really hope to bring some great DIY home inspirations to you when we land in our next home. 
In the meantime I hope to amuse you with fun crafts, gardening ideas and recipes that you'll enjoy. 

Many thanks for being a part of this journey with me!
Have a wonderful weekend!
xo Lisa


One More Paper Craft And Then I'll Stop The Madness

Am I taking the whole paper pom pom thing just a little too far? 

Possibly, but my little girl and I are on a kick since we learned how to make coffee filter pom poms at Easter, and then went a little wild creating tissue paper pom poms yesterday! 

The kids and I are banner-making maniacs - "Welcome Home Daddy!", "Happy St. Patrick's Day!", "Happy Anything!" - ahh, we've made them all to amuse ourselves on many a rainy or snowy afternoon in New England.

I happened to have a banner we made for a birthday celebration (strangely outfitted with the words "Happy Birthday" - imagine!)  Having recently discovered Martha's clipart (see the labels we put on our Homemade Vanilla Extract) I was inspired to use her cute Festive Garland letters for Sean's First Communion.  The Happy Birthday banner had just enough spots to change the wording.  Now I vascillate between thinking this is cute or kinda sorta cheesy.  I'm still undecided but the little coffee filter pom poms that Hannah and I added today are swaying me. 

There is NOTHING like making a few good coffee filter pom poms while ignoring the enormous pile of dirty laundry waiting patiently for some attention! 

All for the sake of my baby....
but really, isn't this font yummy?

Martha knows how to throw a good party doesn't she?

Have a wonderful day!


Tissue Paper Pom Pom Party!

My littlest is receiving his First Holy Communion on Saturday.  While I don't feel the need to go crazy with decorations for a First Communion party, I do want to create a sense of celebration to make the day special and festive for my Seanie.  I thought I'd try my hand at making white tissue paper pom poms to hang around the house.  Not only were these the easiest things to make, they were inexpensive, quick and so pretty!   Also, they can be flattened after use for storage, and reused again.  They were simply addictive for me and my lovely crafting assistant, Hannah!    Imagine these for a baby or bridal shower, or even at a wedding - wouldn't a ton of them everywhere be spectacular?  Oh the possibilities!

Trust me, even if you are not very crafty, you can make these sophisticated and whimsical decorations for your next party!

First, decide on a size.  For a large pom-pom, stack 8 sheets of tissue paper.  For smaller pom-poms, stack 6 sheets and cut them in half. 

Next, working from the short side, fold up the stack accordian-style, creasing as you go, creating pleats that are about 1-2".

Wrap florist's wire around the center of the flattened stack (scotch tape would probably work here too). 
Tie or tape a piece of ribbon, fishing wire, or even dental floss to the center for hanging later.

Trim both ends of the stack to make them rounded or pointed.

Fan open one half of the stack.

Pull the layers of tissue paper toward you, taking care not to rip them. 

Keep pulling each layer apart on both sides and then tweak until you have a uniform roundness to your pom pom.  The whole process takes about 3 minutes per pom pom.

This photo below shows both pointed and rounded pom poms.  The one on the left only has 6 sheets of tissue paper and really isn't full enough for a big one, but when grouped with others it's less apparent. 
I taped the ribbon right to the ceiling with a couple of pieces of scotch tape.
I love how several pom-poms in varying sizes look grouped together. 
They would also be cute hanging all over the ceiling!

I don't know about you but I always horde the tissue paper when my kids open gifts,
and then fold it up to reuse.  Isn't this a great way to reuse tissue paper from a gift?
Reduce, reuse, recycle, baby!
I see lots of colorful pom poms made from recycled tissue paper at my family's future birthday celebrations!

Give this a try - it's fun, easy and cheap!

I've linked this post to these fun parties - check them out!
Its a Hodgepodge Life
The Finer Things In Life
The Inspired Room
Fingerprints on The Fridge
Somewhat Simple


Hey Good Lookin, What's Cookin?

I'm loving printable labels!

Hey y'all!  I finally packaged up our homemade vanilla extract for Mother's Day gifts and wanted to share with you the final result - kinda cute isn't it?

Thanks to the one and only Martha, I dressed up the bottles with these pretty labels.  In case, like me, you live under a rock and didn't realize the abundance of downloadable goodies over there, check out marthastewart.com to find lots of fabulous (and free!) labels and clipart for favor bags and boxes.

I had laminating sheets already, so I printed the labels on regular paper, cut out the circles, and stuck them onto the laminating sheet, then cut a square around the circle and placed this on the bottles of vanilla extract.  Easy peasy.  (You can also buy paper for your printer that has an adhesive backing.)

I put a little note on the back, also printed on a medallion clipart of Marty's, but you could also list the ingredients, or how to replenish the homemade vanilla.  (Nana, act surprised when your grandchildren give this to you!)

I handwrote the directions on a gift tag and attached it to the outside of the bottle.

I think we'll bake something delish, and deliver it in a basket with the homemade vanilla and some flowers.
I heart homemade!

Check out these other labels from Marty for all your entertaining needs!
Lace Tag that you can customize!
Thank You, Enjoy and a customizable one!
Single Letter Monogram
Thanks Martha!

Today I'm linking up to these fun parties!  Visit them for fun inspiration!
DIY Day @ A Soft Place To Land
Tuesday Tutorial @ Hope Studios
Tip Me Tuesday @ Tip Junkie
Nifty Thrifty Tuesdays @ Coastal Charm


This Little Light Of Mine, I'm Gonna Let It Shine

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most.
We ask ourselves,
'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?'
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in all of us.
And when we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
-Maryanne Williamson


Homemade Vanilla Extract

I do a lot of baking with my kids and was fired up to come across Ina Garten's steps for making homemade vanilla extract in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. 
I had to give it a whirl!

The recipe calls for letting vanilla beans ferment in vodka.  The Contessa uses a dozen vanilla beans in a tall bottle, but alas, this girl could only afford 2 little old vanilla beans in which to conduct my experiment (if you want the details about whether this is cost-efficient or not, see the breakdown below!) 

You will need:
1/2 c (4 oz.) vodka
2 vanilla beans
Airtight jar or bottle
  • Using a Sharpie, write the date on the bottom of your bottle so you know when it will be done.
  • Split the vanilla beans before placing in the alcohol.
  • Shake the bottle vigorously every day for 30 days (and always shake before using).  After 1 month, your brew should be an adequate strength for use in recipes that call for vanilla extract.
  • When half the liquid is used, add more vodka to existing beans.  The beans need to be replaced when the vodka does not turn amber after a few days.  Bakers report that the same beans can be used for up to three years. The Contessa says "This "brew" can continue for years by just adding more vanilla beans and more vodka.  I've had mine stored on a shelf in the pantry for almost twenty years!"
  • After the extract is properly fermented, you can keep the beans in the extract or remove them and squeeze the seeds out for use in making vanilla sugar, vanilla ice cream or pretty much any dessert recipe by Martha Stewart!  (she always calls for scraping vanilla beans!)
The ingredients....
The Contessa does not specify what kind of vanilla beans or vodka she uses.  I did some research and discovered there are four kinds of beans used for vanilla extract as well as different kinds of alcohol.  As the taste of a cocktail is greatly influenced by the grade of alcohol you use, your extract will also taste better if you use quality alcohol.  You may want to experiment with different combinations of beans and alcohols to see what you like the best. 

Madagascar (you might see this kind of extract labeled as "Madagascar Bourbon") 
The majority of vanilla extracts on the market are made from this kind of bean.

The higher-proof the alchol, the stronger the extract will be.  These different alcohols will vastly differ the taste of your end-product!

Is it worth it to make your own vanilla extract?

I bought Nielsen-Massey beans, 2 beans for $7.49, at our favorite local grocery store (of course that's Roche Bros. for my MA friends!). You can find these same beans at Sur la Table. Other brands can be purchased on Amazon.com, about $7.24 for 5. Also, check out http://www.beanilla.com/ for their beans.

I used Absolut vodka, which we have in our liquor cabinet but don't use for cocktails (we're a Ketel One or Grey Goose crowd). Absolut is considered a mid-grade vodka (vs. premium) and has a decent flavor. Absolut is approximately $20/750 ml which equates to $6.40 per cup. This means for my experiment using 1/2 cup vodka and 2 vanilla beans, the total cost was $10.69 for a half cup (4 oz.)

Now, $10.69 seems like a lot for 4 ounces of vanilla extract - however - good quality pure vanilla extract is expensive to purchase! A premium vanilla extract that is sold at Sur la Table and other high-end baker-supply stores, Nielsen-Massey, costs $34.95/8oz ($17.48/4oz). Based on reviews I've read this extract has an excellent taste.

The pure vanilla extract that I have used for years is the McCormick brand: $10.70/4 oz. After doing a little taste test with the McCormick extract vs. my homemade extract - WOW! I couldn't believe the difference in taste. The McCormick was actually VILE to taste on the tip of my finger, whereas the homemade stuff is so delicious you might consider pouring it into a martini glass right then and there. 
(My co-conspirator-friend B and I nearly did this very thing but restrained ourselves for the sake of the experiment.  )

In addition to the homemade version tasting better than a comparably-priced vanilla extract, I can re-use the beans for up to 3 years and therefore just incur the expense of replacing the vodka so
it is, in fact, less expensive to make your own AND it tastes better!

And....one more fun and tasty idea!

If you'd like to pop open your fermenting bottle of vanilla-infused vodka after two weeks and make a cocktail, by all means do so! You can always replace the vodka and let the fermentation continue for your vanilla extract. I'm not even a martini fan, but throughout the fermentation process I did taste tests with the tip of my finger and I'd have to say it was QUITE delicious after only a week or two. I haven't tried this recipe for Vanilla Martinis from foodnetwork.com but it looks yummy, especially if you use your homemade vanilla vodka!
I might have to make a batch of these for a girl's night out!

Later this week I'll show you how I made bottles of vanilla extract with my kids and wrapped them up as Mother's Day gifts for my mother and mother-in-law
(shhh, don't tell them)!


Vintage Prints

A large portion of wall decor in our house is family photos.  To me, photos make a house personal, homey and cozy.  I want my kids to look around their home and know how loved and cherished they are.  When I was in the framing business I naturally framed gazillions of my photos.  However, seeing as our house is on the market we have made an earnest effort to de-personalize, starting with removing photos.  The dilemma is that I am left with lots of blank wall space. 

Stage right, The Vintage Moth.  Stage left, The Graphics Fairy.  Have you heard of these truly awesome  sites?  You can download beautiful vintage images for free
I perused their lovely images and fell in love with alphabets and letters. 
(Yes - I am bizarrely obsessed with fonts!) 
Aren't these so cool?

I thought a few of these might be interesting to hang in my otherwise-colorful family room, in the place of three photos of my kids.  The wall above my computer desk looked like this (there was a photo in the middle of my boys but I forgot to take the "before" photo until I excitedly started framing my alphabets!)
I love this series of photos of my kiddos, and they will definitely be displayed in our next house.
As they get older, I love this one below even more....this was probably 3 years ago and they've already changed so much! 

But I digress.....
I saved the images and printed them out on heavy, flecked paper I had from back in the days of sending out resumes. 
I opened up the frames, and used blue painter's tape to attach my "prints" right over the photo. 
The blue tape has a low tack and is easy to remove without ripping the paper. 
I tried this grouping:
I adore this pen flourishing. 

This alphabet was divided into two prints.

Those are cool, but then....
the botanical graphics caught my eye and I couldn't resist printing these out too!

The final grouping.....

I still like the enlarged "S" and am thinking of doing an eclectic wall of them in different fonts, frames and colors. 

In the meantime, I'm loving my new botanicals - what do you think? 
Not bad for a free, quick and easy makeover!

I'm linking to these great blogs today!  Check them out for fabulous ideas and inspiration!
Tuesday Tutorial @ Hope Studios
Tackle It Tuesday @ 5 Minutes For Mom
Tip Me Tuesday @ Tip Junkie
DIY Day @ A Soft Place To Land


Get Yourself Some Happiness, Girl

This is what makes me happy.

My mother and my husband love each other and laugh at each other's jokes. My kids play with each other. My niece is my friend. I have friends that are like sisters. Peep toe shoes. I have the best mama ever. My husband cooks. Come June I will have more peonies than I know what to do with. My dog snores and makes everyone laugh. My almost 8-year-old baby still snuggles in bed with us in the morning. I can get my niece and nephews to give me hugs when I bribe them with goodies. The sun shines down on my life. My dog weighs 180 lbs. yet we still call him "puppy". I can listen to iTunes while I write blog posts. I have friends, in real life and in blogland, that care to read this. My automatic coffee maker. The ocean, the sand, and an entire day of watching my kids amuse themselves looking for hermit crabs.

I swear some days I think the muscles in my cheeks are going to go into spasms because I am trying to "fake it 'til I feel it" by smiling at everyone, even when I'm super-cranky inside.  This technique surprisingly does work, along with a little deep-breathing now and then!  I loved this little snippet in the January 2010 edition of Parade magazine entitled

How To Get Happy

Act happy - even if you aren't (yet).  It will cheer you and everyone around you.

Seek out positive distractions.  Think about what always gives you pleasure and do it.  Don't wait for the activity to come and get you - buy the tickets, call your friend, get on a bike.

Do one thing at a time - at least for one or two hours a day.  Multitasking can make you feel tense.  Focusing on one activity is calming and allows you to enjoy the experience fully.

Spend more time with your friends and loved ones.  Enjoying close relationships is the No. 1 predictor of happiness.

Take action.  Passivity tends to make you feel worse.  Choosing to change, even with a very small step, is itself a mood-enhancer.

I would add to this list:
Get outside every day.  Even if you live in Siberia.  Fresh air is just good for you, plain and simple! 

Make a commitment to exercise several times a week.  Of course it's good for your physical health, but it will also help you to sleep better, and in turn improve your mood.  And your libido.

Do something kind and generous for someone outside your family.  It feels good.  Especially if the person doesn't expect you to do it.

Count your blessings.  Everyone has hardships now and then, maybe even chronically, but consider the gifts you have (can you walk? hear? see? have the ability to laugh?  help others?  have people in your life that you love?) Remind yourself how richly blessed you are when happiness evades you.

Oh, and most importantly: 
Play Rock Band with your kids and sing really loudly. 
This is sure to amuse everyone,
even if they're laughing AT you and not WITH you!
What makes you happy??? 

Share with me and then check out Be Still at One Nutty Girl!


Shaded Garden

We have a little tiny garden at the bottom of our deck stairs that is so pathetic. 
It receives almost full shade and I have floundered with what to plant there with success.
Isn't this a tragedy?

One hearty clematis comes back year after year despite neglect, as do the chives that grow into a wild mass from early spring to fall.  The only other thing that ever grows there is moss, and lots of it. 

Now that's attractive.

Because the deck stairs is at the corner of our house, right next to our driveway, lots of visitors come-a-callin' past this poor little spot.  Never mind that our front walk has a pretty, welcoming garden adorning it, time and again the guests come up the back steps.  Each year I promise myself that I will show this garden some love, but by the time the rest of the gardens are tended to, I have run out of steam.  So this year, I'm starting with this spot. 

I had the big idea to make this little spot an herb garden, considering how well this chive plant does time and again.  Alas, I've learned that most herbs require 6-8 hours of full sun a day (especially the ones I want to grow:  basil, parsley, thyme and rosemary).  Mint does well in shade but is invasive and grows like crazy.  (Corsican mint is a mini version and is not invasive.)  Strawberries grow well in shade but the birds love the red ones, and while they don't like these funky white ones, I find them so unappealing, don't you?

So on to plan B:  color, and lots of it! 
While I get to it, here are some flowering plants that grow well in shade for your perusal:

Foxglove - so pretty!

Begonias - love them!

Primrose - loving the color combination!

Coneflower:  a little height to make things interesting.

Other shade-loving flowering plants:

What have you had success with in the shade? 
Inspire me, I beg of you! 


Menu Book

I want to share with you a great gift idea for a friend or family member who loves to entertain.  A few years ago my friend Betsy gave me this little book. 

It's a journal of sorts, with a pocket inside the front cover for saving mementos.  I use it for recording events that we host.  The book has three sections, which I labeled Holidays, Dinner Parties and Special Occasions.  I record the date, menu, our guests, and any hightlights from the event. 

Recently I have starting noting the source of anything I make, and if a dish was delicious or not popular.

I keep this journal with my cookbooks and sometimes when I need inspiration I'll leaf through this and see what I haven't made in a while.  It's really fun to remember the little details of an event, such as "the best part of the evening was the Red Sox winning a playoff game during the party"  or this one from a lobster bake we hosted in the summer:  "a lovely day with family - except for the kitchen faucet breaking right off during clean up!" (my whole house smelled like lobster by the way!)

At the beginning of each section there are openings for a few photos:

I should have put a photo of every event in the book and have to do this in the future!  Back when my kids were little, we belonged to a playgroup of five families.  We used to have monthly dinners just for the adults.  Each couple would take a turn hosting and the menu was always delicious, as well as the evening being hilarious. 
I wish I recorded those fun nights!
I do have lots of holidays, a few dinner parties (not enough!), and special occasions such as the aforementioned wine tastings, a baby shower and a birthday party.  All fun memories!

Wouldn't this journal be cute as part of an engagement gift? 
It would be a wonderful way to record a life together. 

It's so much fun to look back on fun days we've shared with our family and friends,
and I'm sure in 40 years I will enjoy remembering these times even more,
and so will my family.

Have a party - life is too short to wait for your house to be "done", your kids to be sleeping through the night, or your life to be less crazy!  Make some fun memories with those you love in the here and now and enjoy this one life.