woman showing retro photo camera and holding blooming flower

May 2022 Photography Challenge

“…bring May flowers.” Hopefully we see the blooms soon.

I can’t wait to see how you interpret the following prompts for the May 2022 Photography Challenge to #capturemay.

May 2022 Photography Challenge

May Photography Challenge

  1. Powder
  2. Flower(s)
  3. Fruit
  4. Soap
  5. Colorful
  6. Vintage
  7. Doll
  8. Sliver
  9. Straw
  10. Winged
  11. Yearbook Photo
  12. Coil
  13. Negative
  14. Yard
  15. Web
  16. Center
  17. Small
  18. Liquid
  19. Fire
  20. C
  21. Yellow
  22. Feather
  23. Upside Down
  24. Ring
  25. Pour
  26. Mark
  27. B
  28. Lamp
  29. Crack
  30. Hero
  31. Last

Take it literally, take them as suggestions. Play word association, or even photograph the opposite. Go in order, go backward, or randomize!  Whatever you do look for good in the world. Look at things from a different perspective…try a new angle.

If you decide to post your challenge photos on Instagram, I would love to see them – please tag me so I don’t miss your creative shots!

Interested in taking your photography to the next level? Check out Evan Sharboneau’s 295-page eBook on Trick Photography and Special Effects. In this book he shares the secrets of light painting, levitation photography, trick photography, infrared photography, and more.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on these links (and pictures), I may receive a small commission – as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It will not cost you anything. I only share products and services that I truly believe in and think are great.

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happy mothers day card beside pen macaroons flowers and box near coffee cup with saucer

8 Great Ideas for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is still a little way off (12 days to be precise), but I thought of those who are not like me – those who wait until the last minute to think of celebrations and gifts a little help for Mother’s Day.
Me? I had my gift for my Dad’s birthday which is mid-April, wrapped before the end of March; my sister’s (end of May) too!

I really love putting together gifts and care packages (like the Easter basket/care packages I do for the elderly in my church). I tend to shop all year for Christmas gifts, and they end up being a carefully curated hodgepodge of things I thought the person would like – a slightly unusual gift giving technique I seem to have acquired from my Grandma.

Anyway, I’m not trying to brag about my promptness. I know procrastination can be caused by many things, so today I have 8 simple suggestions for gifts Moms will love. They work for any age child (one or two of these ideas might need a little supervision or assistance from a grown up if the child is really young.) I’m posting this ahead of time because some might require practice, or time to compile.

8 Ideas for celebrating Mother's Day

8 Ideas for

Mother’s Day:


ONE

MAKE a card for mom – be sure to include a note about why you love her, or write her a story.


TWO

Cook lunch or dinner for her (and do the dishes yourself).
I have several recipes that are great for beginners right here.


THREE

Put together a scrapbook/photo album of all your favorite photos with or of your mom.


FOUR

If you play an instrument – play your mom a song that makes you think of her or play her favorite song.


FIVE

Give her a houseplant – they last longer than flowers.


SIX

Ask her to teach you something she does well that you want to learn how to do as well – this one is really a gift for both of you, quality time together, an opportunity to share wisdom, and the opportunity to acquire a new skill.


SEVEN

Write your mom a heartfelt, handwritten, letter – be sure to include what you admire and appreciate about her.


EIGHT

Do a chore that is often dreaded, like washing her car, or weeding the flower beds.


Let’s make our moms (mothers, grandmothers, adopted mothers, all maternal influencers in our lives) feel how treasured they are this Mother’s Day.

1652029200

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Mother’s Day 2022


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back view of a woman walking on a log in the forest

14 Cheap Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day was first observed in 1970 – in America; it later went global, in 1990.

With the purpose to preserve and protect the planet, Earth Day brings awareness to the importance of protecting the earth. It is an opportunity to draw attention to education about renewable energy (solar and wind) opportunities, recycling, sustainable farming practices, and more.

14 Ways to celebrate Earth Day - collage of flower photosgraphs

Here are fourteen cheap ways to celebrate Earth Day, not just on April 22nd, but every day:

  1. Plant a flower garden – a great opportunity to help bees and butterflies which are key pollinators
  2. Pick up litter in your neighborhood or local park
  3. Reuse or upcycle things
  4. Plant a tree
  5. Enjoy a picnic out in nature (tomorrow happens to be Pack a Picnic Day)
  6. Join a bird count group (for more information visit eBird)
  7. Make a vegetable broth with scraps from your kitchen (carrot peels, onion ends, etc.)
  8. Exercise outside
  9. Pick and press your favorite flower
  10. Set a goal to travel __ miles by your own human power by the summer solstice (06/21) – run walk, bike, kayak, swim, row…
  11. Enjoy a nice salad starring the vegetable and herbs in your garden
  12. Make “Plarn” from the plastic grocery bags you’ve collected and turn them into reusable grocery bags (check out my post on how to make plarn here)
  13. Take photos of the things you find beautiful on a nature walk and make a collage
  14. List all of the natural things for which you are thankful (plants, creatures, rain, sunrises, places, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, etc.)

Enjoy our planet. Treat it well. Practice the “leave nothing but footprints” philosophy. Appreciate all the Earth provides for us.

In celebration of Earth Day - a collage of animal and insect photographs
In celebration of Earth Day - a collage of flower photographs (Including the Texas Bluebonnet, Mock orange blossoms, Navel orange blossom, Dandelions, Maroon Bluebonnet, Wild Sunflower, Grape vine Blossom and potato blossom)

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Easy Chocolate Pudding Cake Recipe

This time of year is always a big celebration season in my family; with Easter and a birthday often falling on the same weekend, and lots to celebrate in May we enjoy a bit of cake during these this four week stretch.

A family favorite is a simple pudding cake.

Birthday Cake - chocolate cake, chocolate sugar-free pudding, Cool Whip,  Pistachios, and chocolate curls for decoration

Traditionally this is a poke cake – bake the cake, poke holes in it, and pour sugar-free pudding (of your flavor choice) over it. Let the pudding set up, top with Cool Whip, and you got a tasty treat.

This year I tried to improve on a classic, and it didn’t work out as I had anticipated, but it turned out to be a tasty twist.

I baked the cake, poked the holes, and let it cool. I then mixed up the pudding package as directed, but with a cup of heavy whipping cream instead of milk…I thought it would be extra creamy (sorry for the obvious eyeroll there) and be really rich and decadent.

Alas, the result was seized up pudding that tore the top of the cake as I tried to spread it out. I scooped the pudding back into the mixing bowl and thinned it out with milk. I then replaced it atop the cake and spread it out into an even layer. I still topped it with Cool Whip and then added pistachios and some shaved chocolate and chocolate curls I made by simply using a vegetable peeler on a bar of Baker’s chocolate.

This twist ended up being more like a mousse cake or dessert lasagna. (Yum!)

Below is the recipe for the cake with notes about each option.

Chocolate Pudding Cake Picture Chocolate cake, Chocolate Pudding, Cool Whip on top and pistachios and chocolate curl decorations

Chocolate Poke Cake Recipe

Ingredients

Cake:

1 box cake mix (your choice of flavor)
1 egg
1 can (12 oz) sugar free cream soda

Pudding:

1 box of sugar-free Jell-O pudding mix (your choice of flavor)
1 cup milk (for traditional moist poke cake version) or 1 cup heavy whipping cream and ½ cup milk (for the mousse cake version)

Toppings:

1 tub (8 oz) of Cool Whip
Nuts, sprinkles, chocolate shavings/curls, or just leave it plain

Directions

Combine the cake mix with one egg and the can of sugar-free cream soda, then pour into a lightly greased 9 X 13” pan.

Bake as directed on the box (temperature and time).

When a toothpick comes out cleanly, remove it from the oven and set on a cooling rack.

While the cake is still warm, poke holes in the cake every inch or so.

When the cake has cooled, mix the pudding packet with the milk or heavy whipping cream of your choice. If you go the milk route – pour the pudding over the cake while the pudding is still runny. Heavy Whipping cream option: after the cream and pudding pack are mixed, spread over the top of the cake with a spatula.

Top with the Cool Whip and additional toppings if desired.

Super easy, and really delicious!


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body of water during golden hour

Be the Light

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on these links (and pictures), I may receive a small commission – as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It will not cost you anything. I only share products and services that I truly believe in and think are great.

This post was originally written to be the closing thoughts of the last post (Easter Baskets for the Elderly). But then I realized it was a very verbose ending in included a challenge to Be The Light. I decided it deserved to be a post all its own.

I have read that every blog post is supposed to end with a call to action – something 99.5% of my blog posts seem to lack. This one is different. Don’t click away, I think this call to action will have something for everyone: minimal financial investment, and it has the potential to make this dark world of ours a little brighter.

A Stained Glass window in progress - A challenge to Be the LIGHT in this dark world of ours

Be the Light

Love Languages

As I have been ticking off books for my 2022 Reading Scavenger Hunt, I have read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages (a book originally published the year I was born).
The book asserts that love is shown (and felt) in five ways:
1) Words of Affirmation
2) Quality Time
3) Gifts
4) Acts of Service
5) Physical Touch

What if this Easter season we all picked one of the 5 love languages and made an effort to show love to someone? This season is all about God’s indescribable and unfathomable unending love for us, don’t we owe it to Him to reflect that love to others.

Here’s what I suggest:

Pick one of the following ideas to share love with another human being this month.

Words of Affirmation

-Tell everyone that does something for you “Thank You” (things as simple as holding the door for you, refilling your glass at a restaurant, etc.). This is just plain good manners, but it also shows them that you see them, and that you appreciate what they have done for you. Another version of this idea would be to compliment everyone you come into contact with for a whole day. Tell them their smile made your day, that you like their shirt/blouse…
-Write a note to someone who has touched your life. Tell them how they have affected your life and how much you value their impact.

Quality Time

-Volunteer somewhere (nursing home, soup kitchen, etc.) Spend time with people who are often overlooked.
-Become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Sadly, many young people don’t have the benefits of a stable home life and need a role model in their lives.

Gifts

-Make your own care packages or Easter baskets for people in your community (elderly neighbors, single parents, those financially touched by the current economic crisis).
-During your spring cleaning give away the things you no longer need/want. Give things that are in good condition to friends/family/neighbors or donate to your local Helping Hands/Goodwill/Salvation Army.

Acts of Service

-Mow your elderly or laid up neighbor’s lawn for them. Help a friend or family member start a garden. Cook dinner for someone who is sick or just having a tough time. Build or help a friend built a doghouse for their doggo – if you live in a place like Texas, it gets hot, and puppers need some shade.

Physical Touch

-Give away high fives like they are going out of style and you single handedly are working on their comeback.
-Give a hug when needed (and appropriate – how sad is it that, for legal reasons, I feel the need to add that detail). Is your friend or coworker having a terrible, awful, no good, very bad day that would rival Alexander’s? Ask if they need a hug. Or a pat on the back.

I challenge you to try at least one of these and give it a try this month. Perhaps together we can bring light to others – at the very least, light up their faces.


“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

If you are interested in learning more about the five love languages, you will enjoy the books below:


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stained glass

Easter Baskets for the Elderly

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on these links (and pictures), I may receive a small commission – as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It will not cost you anything. I only share products and services that I truly believe in and think are great.

Last year I posted about an annual tradition I partake in during the weeks before Easter… I am a secret agent for the Easter Bunny and bring light and joy to others.

For the past decade or so, I have put together Easter baskets full of goodies for the Sunday School class comprised of the oldest members of the church I grew up in.

The baskets are typically delivered on Palm Sunday – they used to be delivered to their classroom, then 2020 hit and the baskets were delivered to their front porches. This year they are trying a new class time/day so they will be getting their Easter baskets a little earlier than Palm Sunday.

I love putting together care packages for loved ones, and I approach this Easter basket tradition with the same level of excitement.

Instead of just filling a bunch of eggs with candy, I like to include a variety of goodies in their baskets. (Plus, several of them are on restrictive diets…Who wants a goody basket of goodies you can’t eat? Fear not, I DO include some chocolate yumminess.)

Easter Basket made for elderly members of my church - an attempt to be light, and share light and love

This year’s basket includes:

-a book of wordsearches, and a brand-new pen
-a travel-sized bottle of lotion
-a tube of lip balm
-a package of variety nuts (a protein packed snack)
-a package for cheese crisps
-a “stained glass” cross with a bible verse about light (I made these, more details below)
-a small notepad
-a small chocolate bar and three plastic Easter Eggs filled with a variety of chocolate treats

I sourced most of these things from Dollar Tree. I have twelve to make so this helps keep costs low enough to make this tradition feasible each year.

“Stained Glass” Crosses

The one thing that did not come from Dollar Tree this year were the crosses. I always like to include something religious in the baskets – a little reminder of the reason for the season. This year that led me to the wood aisles of Hobby Lobby.

Wooden cross piece from Hobby Lobby (cam in a pack of eight)

I bought two packages of these raw crosses (two packages because I needed twelve and there were only eight in each package) I removed their rope hangers (simply untied them) and proceeded to paint them black – front and back (black acrylic paint).

Wooden crosses for a craft being painted with black acrylic paint

After they were dried, I traced them onto a variety of pieces of scrapbook paper. I then cut well within the traced lines.

Wooden cross being traced on tie-dye scrapbook paper

After I had all the paper crosses cut out, I place the crosses (a few at a time) face down in a shallow empty box. I sprayed their backs with spray adhesive and placed one of the scrapbook paper crosses on each of their backs (face down so the pretty side shows through the cut outs in the cross.

I then added a dab of hot glue to the top of the back of each cross to reattach the little rope hanger. Before tying the knot back into the rope I printed a list of Bible verses about light, then and cut them apart and punched a whole in one end. I strung the paper slip on the rope and tied the knot.

"Stained glass" cross craft made with bible verse tag.

In theory, if I had had this idea earlier, I could have cut out the crosses and used the scroll saw to cut the little “windows” in them – if you are into Do It ALL Yourself projects, that might be a great option for a similar plan.


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Scorch Marker Pro Test

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on these links (and pictures), I may receive a small commission – as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It will not cost you anything. I only share products and services that I truly believe in and think are great.

Thanks to social media I have recently become interested in pyrography. (My first ever attempt was recorded in this post if you want to check it out.) So, when I stumbled upon the Scorch Marker Pro I immediately knew I wanted to try it.

The Scorch Marker Pro is non-toxic, heat activated, made in the USA, invented by a firefighter and avid woodworker. It is a great option for beginners and children.


For the first out of the gates test I wanted to simply try the market on a piece of scrap wood to see how (and how well) it worked.

Trying out the Scorch Marker Pro for the first time

To start, it is very similar to a paint pen (except fairly clear). You shake the marker and then you have to pump the tip on a piece of paper or paper towel to prime the bullet tip.

After that you are good to go. The packaging suggests preparing your piece of wood by sanding it with 220 grit sandpaper. After that you simply draw your design in your desired location and then fan it with your heat gun. The directions on the packaging say to be sure to keep your heat source moving. If you leave it in one spot for too long, it can scorch other (non-marked) areas (potentially ruining your design and piece).

Yes, you do need a heat gun. Before using my heat gun, I attempted to use an old hairdryer…as they say these days – epic fail. I happened to have an old heat gun, but I tried it out first with a hairdryer (because I thought more people might have one of those lying around). After a whole minute of direct heat from the hairdryer there was no color change on the marked areas. Once I set the heat gun to it the marked areas came to life!

Simple wooden heart shaped piece that I used to test the Scorch Marker Pro woodburning marker - burnings of hearts and the word LOVE
Very simple test of the Scorch Marker Pro

Some great heat gun options include:


I made a real-time video of a simple test project which you can watch below.

Some of my favorite things about the Scorch marker:
  • It is made in the USA (a thing that matters to me – we see those words on too few things these days)
  • It has both a bullet tip and a foam brush tip. One is designed to better cover a larger area, the other for more detailed and finer lines.
  • There was no smell. The marker itself did not stink – I was honestly afraid it would.
  • It is overall less dangerous (unless you are the type who eat Tide Pods…) than the traditional pyrography pen – less risk of accidentally burning yourself.
Have you tried the Scorch Maker Pro?

What did you make with it, and what did you think of the results? Let me know in the comments below.


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grey and black camera on green background

April 2022 Photography Challenge

“April showers…”

I can’t wait to see how you interpret the following prompts and #captureapril.

April Photography Challenge

April Photography Challenge

  1. Laugh
  2. Rubber
  3. Can
  4. Sad
  5. Dirty
  6. Rain
  7. Metal
  8. Positive
  9. Lay Flat
  10. Braid
  11. Tire
  12. Glass
  13. Egg
  14. Plant
  15. Dinner
  16. Tape
  17. Blessing
  18. Hope
  19. Landscape
  20. Plastic
  21. Umbrella
  22. Reuse
  23. Hole
  24. Twig
  25. Bud
  26. Supplies
  27. Favorite Color
  28. Rock
  29. Sponge
  30. Band

Take it literally, take them as suggestions. Play word association, or even photograph the opposite. Go in order, go backward, or randomize!  Whatever you do look for good in the world. Look at things from a different perspective…try a new angle.

If you decide to post your challenge photos on Instagram, I would love to see them – please tag me so I don’t miss your creative shots!

Interested in taking your photography to the next level? Check out Evan Sharboneau’s 295-page eBook on Trick Photography and Special Effects. In this book he shares the secrets of light painting, levitation photography, trick photography, infrared photography, and more.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on these links (and pictures), I may receive a small commission – as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It will not cost you anything. I only share products and services that I truly believe in and think are great.

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Ritzy Chicken Casserole

This is a super tasty, fast, easy, comfort food classic.

Who doesn’t love the buttery richness and crispness of a Ritz cracker? They have always been one of my favorites.

This chicken casserole is great for busy weeknight dinners.

"Ritzy (Ritz Cracker) Chicken Casserole"

Ritzy Chicken Casserole

Ingredients

1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1 TBS Italian seasoning (or fresh basil, oregano and thyme)
1 TBS garlic powder
4 cups shredded chicken or diced if you prefer or are running short on time (I love to cook chicken for casseroles on low in the slow cooker)
1 stick of butter (melted)
2 sleeves Ritz crackers

Directions

-Preheat the oven to 350°F.
-In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream of chicken soup, sour cream, and seasonings.
-Fold in the shredded chicken.
-Pour the crackers into a large plastic bag, then use a rolling pin to crush the crackers to a texture between small gravel and sand.
-Add the melted butter to the cracker crumbs in the bag and mix them until well combined.
-Grease a 9 X 13 pan with non-stick spray, then add the chicken mixture to the pan – spread it evenly across the bottom of the pan.
-Sprinkle the butter cracker crumbs on top until they are all evenly distributed.
-Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Looking to get more veggies into your diet? Add 2 cups of frozen broccoli or a cup of green peas to the chicken before topping with the cracker crumbs.


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green plant on brown plastic pot

2022 Gardening

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on these links (and pictures), I may receive a small commission – as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It will not cost you anything. I only share products and services that I truly believe in and think are great.

person in brown shorts watering the plants - 2022 Gardening
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

2022 Gardening

I am really excited about my new garden, so I swung by a nearby Home Depot and picked up a few plants to get me started. Only my green peas, and pumpkin seedlings were big enough to be transplanted, the rest of my seedlings are happily continuing to grow inside for now.

While I was picking up plants I got a few tomatoes, some lettuce varieties, and some herbs (the one’s I had last year didn’t make it through the winter.

A few things I learned from my gardening experiments from last year (you can read about them here) I will be continuing, and some were what I call “learning opportunities” (otherwise known as failures).

  • I will continue to mulch with straw.
  • I won’t be doing raised or container gardening – it just didn’t really work out for me.
  • I will be utilizing eggshells and Epsom salts on my tomato plants.
  • I won’t be attempting to grow potatoes.

Something New I’m Trying This Year

A large part of my new garden space has been designed for tomatoes. I love canning them, cooking them with fresh herbs, and sharing the bounty of my harvests.

After a review of my old garden space (vs the new plot) I realized that all my years growing tomatoes (that have had fairly decent yields) I’ve been growing them on the wrong side of the yard…they were only getting partial sun, and tomatoes love sunshine!

Putting the tomatoes in the sunnier plot will free up space for more greens and herbs (in case you don’t know, I LOVE fresh herbs).

There is an old saying:

“If you grow it for the fruit or the root, you need full sun.
If you grow it for the leaves, partial shade is all you need.”

Along with full sun, this year’s tomatoes are being planted with a whole egg underneath.

I know with rising inflation rates (FJB) some may be thinking, “That’s wasteful! I’d rather just eat the egg.” (My dad told me the same thing.) While eggs are a good source of protein for us, they are an excellent source of calcium and sulfur for plants. Calcium and sulfur are two nutrients tomato plants particularly crave.
If you are interested in more information about tomato crop nutrition, there are several articles about studies that have been done at Yara – just click here.

So…my first few tomato plants were planted on top of an egg (whole and uncracked).

I’ve got my “mater metrics” grid ready to go in my gardening journal so I will keep track of each plant’s production and compare this year’s yield to that of last year to see how these two changes impact my tomato harvest. I’ll keep y’all posted.

Keeping Track of Your Garden’s Production

Last year I got a blank notebook and carved up the pages with a pen so that I had columns and rows to track the harvest of the various parts of my garden… All I really cared about tracking in the end was the tomatoes. I shared a typable PDF document with y’all so that you could keep track too if you wanted. This year I have created a tangible Garden Journal that you can get to keep track of your garden metrics.

It has rows and columns for you to completely customize. I also included suggestions on how to set it up, but like I said, it is completely customizable so you can track what matters most to you – not what matters most to me.

It is available here at Amazon for just $5.99!

The Renaissance Texan's Garden Journal - Now available on Amazon.com (customizable garden tracking workbook)

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