July 30, 2012

College Essay: A Sister's Love for Her Brother with Autism

When it was time for my daughter, Lauren, to write her college essay she did not hesitate for a moment.  She knew immediately that her personal story would be about life with her brother, Justin, who happens to have autism.  

Suffice it say, Lauren was accepted to a great university where she will study Bioengineering, and she plans to cure autism.  (Update:  Lauren has since interned at Harvard University's Massachusetts General Hospital where she conducted autism researchShe will receive her Bachelor of Science degree in Bioengineering from Lehigh University in May of 2015, then immediately start a Master's degree program).  

I am so proud of her kind heart, brilliant mind and her desire to help others.  Lauren and Justin remain close and talk to each other often.  

I will let her essay speak for itself.

Lauren's College Essay

There are some things in life that you learn from being in school, sitting at a desk.  There are other things that you can only learn from those who surround you.  I was lucky enough to learn a lot of these life experiences early, courtesy of a very unique person in my midst.

My brother Justin was diagnosed with autism just a few weeks before I was born, so growing up I never knew there was a difference.  It was when I started to get older, looking at my friends and their siblings, that I noticed we were not the same. 

Justin lacked the normal motor skills that I possessed, so effortless tasks like brushing his teeth were quite the challenge.  If I wasn’t patient with him and talking him through it, he would be frustrated and have a meltdown.  I needed to slow down, take a step back from the situation, realize that he was not capable of doing things as easily as I could, and help him through it.

Instead of fighting, we helped each other to learn and grow. While I was giving Justin a hand with everyday simple things — though I may not have seen it at the time — he was teaching me about patience, understanding, and advocacy.

One of the most valuable lessons learned because of Justin was to stand up for what I believe.  Between defending my brother at the local pool where kids, ignorant of his situation, would constantly splash him in the face, to watching my mother battle for Justin’s rights, I have learned that if you want something, you have to go get it.  If I wanted the kids at the pool to leave Justin alone, I was going to have to stop them myself.  Just as Justin’s needs in school were special, mine were too and if I wanted to get all that I could out of my education, I was going to have to advocate for myself.

When I was younger, I wished every day that my brother did not have autism, but now that I look back, I would not change him for the world.  Justin made me the person I am today: a patient, understanding, and strong-willed female.  I don’t know who I would have been without him, but I am quite happy with the person I have become.


July 28, 2012

It's a Giveaway!

Everybody loves free stuff!  Here is your chance to win a $25 gift certificate from Ivy Lane DesignsTo be eligible, all you have to do is follow my blog by email.  It's that easy!  -------------------------------------------------------->

★★★ Enter your email address in the "FOLLOW BY EMAIL" box (in the right-hand column, above the photo of me) and click enter.

If you are already a subscriber, do nothing as you are already entered to win!

One lucky winner will be chosen at random and announced on this blogThe $25 gift certificate may be used for any merchandise at Ivy Lane Designs, as well as for shipping.  

Update!  Thanks to everyone who entered.



July 26, 2012

DIY: Handmade Paper Flowers

A new baby ... exciting times!  My near and dear friend Susan, who you read about HERE and HERE, enlisted my help in creating shower invitations to celebrate the birth of her grandchild, Buster (in utero nickname).  My only instructions were to not make anything babyish. 

The scrap paper aisle of a local craft store served as inspiration and aided in defining my color palate.

Since we knew the baby was a boy, I chose muted shades of blue, yellow, green, peach and a touch of red.  I enlisted the help of my lovely daughter, Lauren, and together we cut out hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of flower shapes.  We didn't stick to just scrapbook paper but used maps, vellum, graph paper and pages from old books

We then scored each piece so that the petals curved up a bit and looked more natural.  We used this scoring board which is available HERE, among many other places.

After scoring each piece, we stacked them based on color and shape preference, punched a hold in the center and added a brad like the ones pictured HERE.

The finished product was pretty spectacular!  The invitations fit nicely in the greeting card envelopes that I bought HERE.  I used a fancy font to address the envelopes and ran them through the printer.  Extra postage was required for mailing.

There is a little more to this story in that Baby Buster arrived early so the shower had to be postponed.  Another time... 

Here is my creative daughter Lauren and great friend *Grandma* Susan.

Click HERE to check out all of the goodies in my Ivy Lane Etsy shop, all made from recyclables.


July 23, 2012

Meatless Monday: Low-Carb Zucchini Lasagna (without noodles)

Who needs pasta when there's zucchini!  Weighing in at over four pounds each, we are eating zucchini from our garden eight ways to Sunday.  Tonight we enjoyed a scrumptious lasagna where we substituted sliced zucchini for the pasta.  




1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning


1 pound large-curd cottage cheese
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (stuff in the can is fine)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


1 1/2 pounds zucchini, ends trimmed and sliced lengthwise, 1/4 inch thick
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 3/4 pounds mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, dried with paper towels and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon flour (can use rice flour, if following a gluten-free diet)

1 pound shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese (about 4 cups)

Four pound zucchinis call for lots of creative cooking ideas.


Preheat oven to 375° F.

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add onions.  Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown, about 6 minutes.  Add garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add tomato sauce, capers and measured salt.  Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat. 

Place zucchini slices in a single layer on 2 cookie sheets, overlapping the slices slightly as needed.  Roast until softened and pliable, about 10 to 15 minutes. Place the baking sheets on wire racks and set aside to cool.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add half of the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until golden brown, about 6 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and repeat with the remaining mushrooms.  Transfer to bowl.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the artichoke hearts, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and toss to evenly coat.

Add 1 1/4 cups of the sauce to the mushroom-artichoke mixture and toss to evenly coat; set aside.

Spread the remaining tomato sauce in a thin layer over the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish.

1.  Sprinkle a quarter of the mushroom-artichoke mixture over the sauce in an even layer. 
2.  Evenly place a quarter of the zucchini slices in a single layer over the mixture. 
3.  Spoon a third of the cottage cheese filling evenly over the zucchini and flatten with the back of the spoon. 
4.  Evenly sprinkle a quarter of the mozzarella over the cottage cheese filling.
5.  Make two more layers of the mushroom/artichoke mixture, zucchini slices, cottage cheese filling and mozzarella.  
6.  Make a final layer with the remaining zucchini slices, then the mushroom/artichoke mixture and finally the mozzarella (changing the order keeps the zucchini from burning under the cheese).

Bake uncovered until the sauce is bubbling around the edges and the top is browned, about 40 minutes.  Remove the pan to a wire rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes before slicing.

Click HERE for all of my Meatless Monday recipes.


July 20, 2012

Recipe: Taco Pie with Mashed Potato Crust

En mi casa, taco pie is enjoyed by young and old alike!  All sorts of veggies can be added to this gluten-free delight.  I included my not-so-secret summer ingredient, zucchini.  I sneak zucchini into every dinner these days, yet we still have over 30 pounds to go --- and there is more on the way.  Yay, gardening!

¼ cup butter
cup milk (almond, cow's, rice, soy ... doesn't matter)
1 pkg. taco seasoning mix, divided
2½ cups mashed potato flakes (stuff in the box - I used the cheap store brand)
1 lb. lean ground beef or ground turkey (personal preference)
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped zucchini (optional, but if your garden is growing like ours...)
½ cup corn  (I used leftover corn on the cob, but frozen or canned are both a-okay)
Whatever leftover veggies you have in your fridge from a previous dinner, just chop them up (optional)
½ cup barbecue sauce
1 cup shredded lettuce
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup sharp cheddar, shredded (4 oz.)
sour cream


1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium sauce pan, melt butter.  Add milk and 2 Tbsps. of taco seasoning mix (NOT THE ENTIRE PACKAGE). Remove from heat and stir in potato flakes. Press mixture into bottom of 10" pan and smush evenly using the back of a spoon.

2. In a medium skillet, cook ground beef/turkey, onions and zucchini until beef/turkey is browned and veggies are tender. Drain off fat and stir in remaining taco mix, barbecue sauce and corn. Cook while stirring until bubbly, then pour into prepared potato crust.

3. Bake uncovered in oven for 30-35 minutes (put a cookie sheet under pie plate if you think it might overflow). Let cool for 5 minutes, then top with cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. Cut into pie wedges and serve with sour cream and salsa.



July 16, 2012

No One Should Go Hungry. Period.

Feeding those in need is not a spectator sport.  What could be more exciting and rewarding than getting personally involved in ensuring that no one goes hungry?  The Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities provides FREE hot meals to those in need five days a week.  Click HERE for a meal schedule and HERE to see how you can help those in the Pottstown community.

Today our band of merry volunteers served over 50 lbs. of macaroni and cheese, 30 lbs. of fresh green beans, 14 lbs. of peaches, rolls and dessert to close to 100 folks who might have otherwise gone hungry.  

As always, I would like to thank Christ Episcopal Church for lending us their home.  

I have my friend and gym partner, Dee, to thank for passing along Paula Deen's Southern green bean preparation pointers.   


First, enlist your beloved in trimming one bushel of fresh green beans.  This task took both of us well over an hour.  Heat olive oil in huge pot over medium high heat.  Add ham hocks or shanks.  I used shanks as our grocery store was out of hocks.  Add two large chopped onions and 1/4 cup of fresh minced garlic.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions began to soften.  Add water to cover and simmer covered for 45 minutes.  Add green beans and fill pot half way with water.  Return lid to pot, reduce heat and simmer until done.  Remove ham hocks/shanks.  Shred meat, discard bones and add meat bits to pot.  Add 1/2 lb. butter or margarine.  Salt to taste and mix thoroughly.  Transfer to extra large serving bowl (or two).  Enjoy!  


Teach your kids by example.  Volunteer and make a difference in the life of another.


July 14, 2012

Christmas in July Sale at Ivy Lane Designs

A Christmas in July celebration!  Everything in the Ivy Lane Designs Etsy shop is 20% off now through July 22, 2012.  Quantities are limited so shop early and be sure to invite your friends.  COUPON CODE:  JULY2012.  {Click HERE} to start shopping!

Happy shopping!


July 13, 2012

Creativity: With Paris on My Mind

It's time to bump that living room redesign up the to-do list.  My motivation?  Fabulous Paris map wallpaper that I spotted on my friend Katherine's Pinterest board.  You read about Katherine HERE.  I am not typically a fan of wallpaper, but this stuff is pretty awesome.  My plan is for the room to be black and off-white.  The Paris wallpaper would accent the wall behind my nonexistent sofa. 

I have my hopes set high for a knockoff Pottery Barn sofa that will be easier on the wallet than the real thing.  No luck as of yet, but I remain confident.  If it were to look something like this one, I would be gai comme un pinson (as happy as a lark).

Huntington Beige by Benjamin Moore would be the couleur parfaite (perfect color) for the remaining three living room walls. 

Thoughts of Paris would not be complete without mention of the Eiffel Tower.  Eiffel Tower recycled crayon sets of twenty (20) are available in my Etsy shop HERE (assorted colors) and HERE (black and pink).  Ils sont parfait!


Mini jot-and-go Je t'aime (I love you) journals made from recycled paper are available HERE (pink and white) and HERE (black and white).

Here is a snapshot from our girls' trip to Paris in celebration of my mother's 70th birthday.  If you can, take your mother to Paris before it's too late.  She will love it and will cherish the memories always.

Au revoir,


July 11, 2012

Creativity: Envelope Doodles

I love to hand letter and doodle.  I often find the envelope more entertaining than its contents.  Sometimes the entire area will be hand decorated, while other times simplicity is the ticket.  This envelope will carry a get well card across the miles to a kind and gentle family friend.


July 9, 2012

Meatless Monday: Fried Zucchini with Creamy Horseradish Dipping Sauce

With zucchinis the size of my calf (leg, not farm animal), the race is on to cook all that our garden is producing.  Tonight was the night to break out the deep fryer and throw calorie caution to the wind.  Panko bread crumbs make a light breading for this delicious fried zucchini.  And the dipping sauce is so lip smackin' delicious that I could eat it with a spoon!


  • Canola oil, for frying
  • 3 large zucchini, cut into large fries or 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan (stuff in the can is a-okay)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves (the conversion is 3:1 fresh to dried or, in this case, 2 t. of dried)
  • 1/4 t. cayenne pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup water


Measure flour into a pie plate. In another pie plate combine panko, Parmesan, parsley, cayenne and salt and pepper, to taste. In a third plate add lightly beaten eggs and water. Dredge the zucchini in the flour, followed by the egg and finally in the panko.  My daughter set up an assembly line.

Working in batches, place the breaded zucchini slices in the hot oil and fry until golden brown, 3 minutes. Drain on a paper towel lined cookie sheet and immediately season with salt and pepper.  Serve with creamy horseradish dipping sauce (recipe follows). 


    • 3 tablespoons prepared horseradish (most often found in the dairy section)
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
    • 1/4 cup and mayonnaise (reduced fat is okay)
    • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 3/4 cup sour cream (reduced fat is okay here as well)


    Mix.  Dip.  Gobble it up!

    Click HERE for more vegetarian recipes. 


    July 7, 2012

    Down on the Farm Barnyard Themed Children's Birthday Party Favors

    Kids love farm animals!  Barnyard farm crayon boxes make PERFECT and unique birthday party favors and gifts (and, are one of my favorite things I make).  I recently shipped 18 barnyard farm crayon boxes to a lucky birthday child in New York City and they were a huge hit!  Available in my Etsy shop HERE.

    Tucked inside each farm box are six recycled, handmade crayons:  a red barn, pink pig, yellow cow, brown horse, orange rooster and green tractor, all nestled in paper hay. 

    Each box is a labor of love; a collage created from 16 little pieces of individually cut colored paper.  Just the barn alone is comprised of seven separate bits. 

    Each barnyard farm crayon box comes in a cellophane bag with a sprinkling of confetti, tied up with colorful ribbon.  All ready for giving.

    Farm crayon boxes are available HERE, from Ivy Lane Designs.


    © 2012 All products, photography, graphics, text and copy are the property of Ivy Lane Designs, LLC.