Wednesday, April 16, 2014

From the Book of Life: A Baby Shower

"I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, 
who are so fresh from God, love us."  
~ Charles Dickens

I had the privilege of throwing my sister-in-law a baby shower this weekend.  She is having a little girl in a few weeks, and she and my brother plan to name her Lizzie.  Ah, Lizzie.  Such a wonderful name.  

I set out to throw her a perfectly amazing, perfectly feminine baby shower.  But as a mother of five boys, when it comes to all things "girlie," I feel a bit like a fish out of water.  Or my grandmother using Twitter.  Or a man during labor. 

So I pushed all my creative sparks aside and went with PINK

Yep.  I threw a "pink" shower.  (Lame, I know.  But I panicked.)

In my defense, pink IS a unique color around these parts (unless you are counting the loads of laundry my son does where he inevitably throws his red t-shirts in with his white socks, in which case "pink" is not so uncommon.)

But here is the good news: Somewhere between the refreshment table and the party favors, no one really cares WHAT the theme of the party is as long as they are well-fed and favored before they leave.

So I made sure to offer my guests a tasty brunch, including . . . 

strawberry yogurt parfaits

 Quiche squares with ham, spinach, red pepper, and carmelized onions

 and maple bacon muffins.

The food went fast and mom-to-be was showered with generous gifts.

At the end of the day, I'd have to say I was tickled "pink" with the result. :)


Thursday, April 3, 2014

From the Cookbook: Easy Easter Egg Macaroon Nests

“When we lose one blessing, 
another is often most unexpectedly given in its place.” 

~ C.S. Lewis

I've been thinking a lot about change today.  Unexpected change.  That is probably because it seems to be swallowing us alive around here.

Over the weekend, my sweet baby fell awkwardly (and horrifically) on his right leg and snapped his femur bone in half.  That is a sound no parent should have to hear, and a pain that no child should have to endure.

Instead of tending to weekend chores and errands, my husband and I found ourselves in one doctor's office, two different hospitals, one ambulance, and several waiting rooms.

And we got off easy.

Our toddler woke from anesthesia to find himself in a body cast.

On a normal day my baby would be running about the house in superhero costume while wielding a sword (as is his usual modus operandi).  Instead, he laid in his crib and whimpered, "Oh, dear!  I can't move!  Oh, dear!"

At such times, it is so easy for me to descend into a dark place--one upholstered in doubt and carpeted in fear.  (I love how I have the tendency to decorate--even in my neuroses.)  I worry that my little boy's leg will never be the same.  I worry that he is in pain.  I worry that all this immobility will staunch his creativity and turn him into a screen-loving couch potato.  I worry that somehow the fall is my fault.

And most of all, I worry that this will be his very first memory.

But then I look at the apricot blossoms outside and realize that perhaps the greatest beauty of spring is that it dawns after long, dark winters. Spring wields an alchemic sort of magic: grey turns to grace, branches turn to buds, and death turns to life. The hardest part of this miraculous process is to be patient through our leg-breaking winters and to look for the blessings beginning to bloom around us.

So in honor of healing femurs and abundant blessings, I'm sharing a delightful little cookie that captures the beauty of spring and the joy of emerging through adversity stronger than you were before.

I've seen versions like this one floating around the internet, but I think this one is the easiest version yet.

Easter Egg Macaroon Nests


¼ cup flour flour
⅔ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
3 cups sweetened, flaked coconut
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon almond extract
semi-sweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, salt and coconut in a mixing bowl.
  3. Stir in egg whites and almond extract. Mix well.
  4. Drop tablespoonfuls onto lined baking sheets and shape into even mounds with fingers or a spoon.
  5. Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  6. When macaroons come out of the oven, press down the center with your thumb or a tart shaper to make an indent where the eggs will go.
  7. Immediately fill indents with a few semi-sweet chocolate chips.  (The heat from the cookies will melt the chocolate within a few minutes.)
  8. Smooth softened chocolate with the box of a spoon.
  9. Place candy eggs on softened chocolate center and let cool.
Macaroon mounds on the cookie sheet before baking.

After being pressed in the center with a tart shaper, the cookies are ready for their chocolate centers.  As you can see here, the chocolate starts to melt almost immediately after you put the chips in. 

The miracle of change is that it makes you appreciate things that you've never taken the time to notice before.  Take today, for instance.  Today I am totally and completely and almost tearfully grateful for two-year-old cousins and text messaging.  My sweet nephew (who is just a few months younger than my son) sent a video to our house in a text.  In delightful toddler style, my nephew asked my son if he liked dinosaurs and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and going to the potty.  My son watched this video over and over again, and each time, he would laugh and wave and then give the screen a kiss goodbye. 

I am so grateful for little blessings like these.  I don't know if God has a favorite season, but I'm placing my bets on spring: I simply don't know of a parent who doesn't love watching great things come from small things, whether they be yellow daffodils or baby birds or small acts of kindness from one cousin to another.

Friday, March 14, 2014

From the Design Book: Hankering for Change and a Mountain Home Tour

I know it isn't January 1st, and that the time for making resolutions for the year is long past, but I seem to be going through this "start anew" phase in my life.  I can't get away from it.  Last night I dreamed that I had another baby, a beautiful little girl with red hair and blue eyes. Yesterday, I said a prayer in my heart thanking God for crocus because they are the first flowers brave enough to peek their heads out of the frozen ground around here. And when I'm not obsessing about bulbs and newborns, I'm trying to figure out how to scrap my house and start fresh on a budget of approximately $6.17.  

I love my house.  It's not that I want a different one.  It's just that the rich and vibrant color scheme doesn't fit my life right now. We've grown apart. I'm craving something softer and calmer, something that makes the focus more on the people in the room than the room itself.

I guess that is why I fell in love with this home the moment I set foot in it. 
I normally adore a house whose color scheme gives me a hearty handshake and introduces themselves to me the moment I walk in the door--the exact opposite of this house.  But there is something about the soothing neutrals and earthy textures that makes me want to curl up in a chair and stay a while.

And in a world where white cabinetry seems to be the rage, I was surprised to find how much I actually liked the deep wood tones of this kitchen.  (Surprise!  White cabinetry after all!  Just a splash of white in the corner with a built-in hutch--a perfect compliment to the dark wood.)


It didn't hurt that this house had wallpaper on the ceiling of the entry.  Oh how I love wallpaper on the ceiling . . . 


And how about a mudroom to die for?  Seriously.  Every time I see this room I get all gooey inside and I don't know if it is my heart melting or my vital organs just giving out completely.
There is also a jaw-dropping study with sliding barn doors and old English map wallpaper.  Just look at that herringbone floor!  It weakens my knees every time I look at it.

And just as I was beginning to despair for a punch of color, I walked into the master bedroom with its warm corals, soothing blues, and crackling fireplace. 
 The master walks out to this backyard that is part zen, part untamed wilderness.  (What you can't see in this picture is the mountainside of scrub oak that forms the backdrop for the yard.)

And if whimsy is what you seek, then seek no further.  This house comes with a punchy and bright Dr. Seuss-themed room. 

I realize that I have absolutely no need for a house in the mountains, or for a mortgage that has 7 figures BEFORE the decimal, but sometimes one can't help but dream of a new beginning somewhere on a hillside of scrub oak . . .

Here's to all of your "start anew" ambitions!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

From the Cookbook: Owl Cookies

A Wise Owl

A wise old owl
Sat in an oak.
The more he saw,
The less he spoke.
The less he spoke,
The more he heard.
Why can't we be like
That wise old bird?

~ Edward Hersey Richards

My mouth gets me into trouble.  All the time.  When I was little, my mother called me "frank."  I thought I was being precocious. When my in-laws called me "opinionated," I thought I was just being honest.  And on Sunday, when I offended that grown man at church after telling him what I really thought of his behavior, I thought I was being brave.  

The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to "listen" to others, especially BEFORE we speak.  For example, I have student right now who is testing me to my limits.  This person is disrespectful, antagonistic, bull-headed, and sarcastic.  Yep, a teacher's dream.  I hoped I would warm up to them.  I haven't.  A few weeks ago, I arrived at my breaking point.  I penned a stirring rant in my head that would force this student into humble submission after all the misery they have caused me this semester.  I summoned my frankest and most opinionated and bluntest self for the delivery.  

But then (uncharacteristically), I held back.  

I don't know why, but I just couldn't do it.  Instead, I decided to LISTEN to the student for a few days---and not just to their words, but to the "message" behind the words.  I had to sift through heavy shovelings of attitude and sass, but at the bottom of the pile, I found an individual who was scared and lonely and insecure.  They had come from a broken home, they didn't fit in, and they were starved for attention.  I now realize that the hesitancy I felt in speaking to this person was God and a host of heavenly angels clamping my lips shut so that I would learn the virtues of listening FIRST and speaking last.  This realization hasn't made my semester any easier, but it has made it more meaningful.  When this student makes my day a trial, I can see it for what it is instead of what it is not.

As a nod to the wisdom of "listening" as the wise old owl did in the famous nursery rhyme, I have decided to share these adorable little owl cookies with you.

I started with a spiced sugar cookie dough like this one and then started to assemble my little creatures.  

  1. Start by cutting a circle of dough about 1/4 inch thick.  
  2. Next, create two small balls of dough for the eyes.  
  3. Press a chocolate chip with the bottom side up into the center of each of the eyeballs.
  4. Take a whole almond, turn it on its side and press it between the eyeballs.
  5. Finally, take a fork and gently press it twice into the bottom of the circle to create the impression of wings or feet.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until cookies are set (not brown).

I will be honest here: I think I would have preferred peanut butter cookie dough for the base.  Without icing, the sugar cookie dough was just too blah.  But holy moly are they cute!

What I suggest you do now is make a batch of these, take them to a neighbor, and then just "listen" to the compliments roll in . . . :)

 Sharing at . . .

Monday, November 11, 2013

From the Book of Life: A Thanksgiving Advent Banner

"I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I've seen it happen all over the blogosphere---where thriving blogs that I know and love just go silent.  Sometimes the blogger will say something about health or family or business opportunities.  Sometimes they just don't say anything at all.  

When Miriam and I started blogging, we never thought we would be "one of them." But a funny thing happens when you load your wagon with a husband and kids and jobs and church and homes and holidays and laundry and life: something inevitably has to fall off the wagon to make room for everything else. Well, Miriam and I decided to keep our husbands and most of our kids, but we had to take the blog off the wagon for a while until everything shifted places and we could squeeze it into the corner. 

Today I finally dug into that little corner of the wagon and found our lovely blog and its readers patiently waiting for us.  Thank you.  We have missed you.

While we probably aren't at full steam yet, I thought I'd give you a glimpse into the holiday hullabaloo around these parts.

Here's the thing: I look at November more as an appetizer to December.  My hubby, however, loves Thanksgiving more than any other holiday.  (I surmise that this is because he doesn't have to cook the Thanksgiving meal.  Just a thought.)  So while I've been playing Christmas music and wearing red all month, my husband has been pondering pilgrims and pumpkin pie and wishing everything Christmas would just wait its turn around here.

I don't always understand him, but I love him.  So I did this.  I dug into my fall bins and found some unused sprays of silk fall leaves.  I snipped them off, wrote "Thanksgiving" on the front with some fabric paint, and clipped them to some twine with some mini-clothespins.  The effect isn't quite as stunning as I would have hoped, but the best part is what you DON'T see.

On the back of each of the leaves, I have taped a piece of paper with a Thanksgiving activity written on it.  Here is our line-up:

T - Do a Thanksgiving Mad Lib as a family
H - Write a "thank you" note to your teacher
A- Give a toy or outfit to charity
N - Do a secret service for someone in the family
K- Play "Build a Turkey" with dice as a family
S - Make pumpkin chocolate chip cookies together and share them with another family
G- Say only grateful prayers today
I - Pilgrim Trivia at dinnertime
V - Say "thank you" 10 times today
G - Read a Thanksgiving Book

As much as I hate to say it, I think my husband was on to something.  I'm glad we've paused for a least a moment or two to celebrate the spirit of Thanksgiving.  Our little advent of gratitude and family togetherness has been nice.  Really nice.  

But so help me, once we've bowed our heads in prayer and tucked into the turkey, I'll be diving headlong into tinsel and ornaments.  After all, you can only keep Thanksgiving on the wagon so long . . .

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

From the Design Book: A Home Tour and Summer Success Story

"It's delightful when your imaginations come true, isn't it?"

~ Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables Chapter 2

My kiddos went back to school today.  I would wax philosophical here about how fleeting our children's youth is and how one must savor the moments we have with them, but I'm too busy singing and skipping around my much quieter house to go into all that.  

Folks, forgive me.  It's been a long summer.    

It STARTED OUT full of ambitious imaginings.  I was going to immerse my children in the wonders of nature, read to them from 19th century classic literature, and stroll them through galleries of modern art.

Instead, we ended up watching the entire series of "Merlin" on Netflix while consuming approximately 14 boxes of corn dogs and 392 otter pops.

Oh, and we killed "Goldie," our beta fish.

It hasn't been my proudest summer.

But in spite of all failings at educating my children this summer, I was a rock star at parading through homes instead of cleaning my own.

Please indulge me as I share with you one of the FEW things I'm happy about this summer . . .

This little gem didn't look like much from the outside, but as soon as I entered the front door, I joined throngs of women gasping with delight.

 This house had the most fantastic mixture of textures, from the wood floors to the brick walls to the sleek kitchen tile.

 I couldn't get enough of this family room with its classic yet comfy vibe.

Bird prints?  I'll take 12.

MUST get those veggie prints and that coffee table!  The prints would remind my children of the virtues of vegetables, and that coffee table would hide the stains left behind when my children inevitable smear said vegetables all over the surface  . . .

Sweet little kitchen with its scrumptious little schoolhouse pendants . . .

Three cheers for the rustic barstools!

And even though I would have never thought to brick a wall in a master bedroom, I love how much more elegant the bed seems against it . . .

Ah . . . the joys of contrast!

And even though the master bath was just a closet compared to some of the expansive bathrooms in the parade, it packed a precious punch with its sparkling fixtures . . .

tiled shelves and shower insets . . .

and serene claw footed tub.

Upstairs was the sweetest little nursery in most perfect pinky peach paint I have ever seen.  Now if only I could convince one of my boys to let me paint their room this color  . . .

Crib?  LOVE.

So there you have it---a peek at one of the only things I have to show for this summer.

Here's hoping for a more productive school year.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

From the Design Book: A Virtual Home Tour for My Husband

"One of the reasons that women writing about homemaking a century ago were so self-possessed is that neither they nor their readers were conflicted about the importance of their subject. A Victorian woman’s home was her eminent domain, and she ruled over it with as much confidence as Queen Victoria ruled the world.

~ Sarah Ban Breathnach, Romancing the Ordinary: A Year of Simple Splendor

One of my husband's many gifts is his enduring spirit.  For example, on Saturday morning he ran 10 miles without stopping.  In a few days, he will have officially survived 17 years of marriage with me with only a few thoughts of "stopping." And if life would allow it, he would watch every-stinkin'-war-documentary-episode that the History Channel ever made, back to back, stopping only for a ham sandwich.

He is my own Energizer Bunny---except when it comes to the Parade of Homes.

Something mysterious happens to my husband when we start to "parade" through homes.  The feet that happily carried him 10 miles in the scorching sun on Saturday morning suddenly become fatigued with all the "walking".  The eyes that can unblinkingly watch a 6-hour documentary on a civil skirmish in 18th century Albania suspiciously glaze over whenever I ask him his opinion on paint colors.  And even though he has filled our marriage with love notes and flowers and thoughtful deeds, he surprisingly has NO feelings when it comes to decor.

So we've made a deal.  He and I go to three homes together.  Three.  No more.  No less.  And we are both on our best behavior for three houses.  I don't engage him in conversations about textures or textiles, and he doesn't puff his cheeks out and exhale bored sighs.

Marriage saved.

Unfortunately, there were 35 homes in this year's parade and my husband somehow dodged seeing my favorites.  So pardon me for a moment as I bend the "Three's the Limit" rule and create a "virtual" house walk for him.  Here is what I would say to him if he had walked through with me:

"Honey!  Look!  There's house 16.  Isn't that paneling great with those shingles?  And I really like the blue of the front door against the grey/green of the siding."

"Oh!  I love all the light in this family room!  And the tufted couches?!  Yes, please!"

"Don't you just love how that reclaimed wood looks above the television?!  It's an art piece!"

"Look at the combination of the beadboard above the cupboards and the glass tiles below.  Adorable!"

"And look, honey!  An eating area other than In-n-Out that can accommodate all of our boys!"

"Don't you think our oldest son would drool over this room with its cool color scheme and private loft?" 

"Fun room.  What a great way to utilize the space with all of those built-in cubbies.  And I've always been a sucker for eaves.  They make rooms so interesting."

"How hard would it be hang pendant lights like that in OUR master bedroom?  And what do you think of that tufted headboard?  Did I mention how much I love all things 'tufted'?"

"Holy Moly!  Look at that shower (on the right).  It's bigger than our garage and has floor to ceiling window slats!  And those mirrors.  Yum.  I could get used to this place---including that walk-in closet."

"So what didya think, sweetie?  What would you rank the house on a scale from 1 to 10?  Wait.  Let's make two separate rankings---one for the floor plan, design, etc., and one for the decorating.  So?"

I'd like to think that after reading this post, my husband will have ABUNDANT feedback for me that will lead to hours of staring into each other's eyes as we discuss the virtues and vices of berber carpet, the craftsman style, and of course, tufted furniture.

Then again, maybe I should just be happy if he reads the post in the first place.  After all, it would mean that I got him to see FOUR houses this year.  

(Cue wicked laugh dripping with gloatful satisfaction.)

Poor thing.  

He never saw it coming.

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