Friday, June 13, 2014

From the Design Book: A Home Tour Fit for a Sister

“The ache for home lives in all of us. 
The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned."

~ Maya Angelou 
All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes 

Yesterday, I went on a home tour through this house. 

As soon as I walked in the door, my heart began to ache because my sister Miriam (and blog partner) wasn't with me to see it. And this is why: If you took Miriam's heart and shaped it into a 10,000 square-foot residence, I'm pretty sure this would be it.

The house had a gentle and feminine soul.  It was a place where old things were treasured and somehow felt new again.

I loved the antique portraits of the home owner's great-great grandparents in the front room.  And that sofa--also the great-great grandmother's.  Seriously.

I spied these framed family recipes in the kitchen next to Grandma's china.

And anyone who has a teacup chandelier hanging over the sink is definitely a friend of mine!

As if this kitchen needed anything to make it prettier . . .

Tile backsplash?  Cabinet details?  Milk glass?  I can't decide which I love more!

The owner of the home said she wanted a home that combined the "old" and the "new."  I think her buffet and dining area are the perfect melding of these two ideas.

But perhaps the stairway is the best example of blending the old and the new with its Victorian spindles mounted on the outside of the steps juxtaposed with a fun frame collage on the wall.

Each of the stair treads has a fun quote on it.  Do you recognize any of these?  Disney lovers unite!

The great room is a soothing kind of lovely with its robin egg blue, cream, and coral palette.

The adjoining craft room is a fun and fresh compliment to the aged doors that separate the two areas.  And who said you had to commit to just ONE type of wallpaper? I would have never thought to put a strip of each on the wall.  Brave, but beautiful.

 The master bedroom is a simple and soothing space anchored by a two way fireplace and softened with ruched bedding.  Drool.

And just take a look at these gorgeous sliding doors that mark the entrance to the master bath.  I think I'm in love.
And while the ENTIRE house was incredible--all 10,000 square-feet of it--I had to share this teen girl suite from the upper floor.  I knew Miriam would love it with its feminine lighting, Tiffany blue walls, and painted piano!

As hard as it was to walk through this house without Miriam, I think it's going to be harder to convince the owners to hand it over to her so she can live there.

Here's to all of our dream homes . . . even if we aren't the ones living in them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

From the Book of Life: Pregnancy Photos

“It is said that the present is pregnant with the future."

When my sister-in-law asked me to take her pregnancy photos, I laughed.  Inside.  Loudly.

First of all, I'm not a people photographer.  I'm not really a photographer of ANYTHING other than food (and saying that I photograph food is a stretch unless you consider putting food on a plate, telling it to sit still, and snapping photos of it "real photography"). 

Second of all, this pregnancy photo thing is new and perplexing to me.  I guess it is because in all of my five pregnancies, I never thought to "document" my body for posterity.  But then again, I'm not of the "cute-when-pregnant" variety.  I'm more of the "watch-out-she's-gonna-blow!" variety.

Case in point:  When I was pregnant with my first baby (not last, FIRST), I was playing the organ at church for the congregation. This was a true exercise of faith because I could not see my feet and had no idea which pedals I was pressing. After the final hymn, I heaved myself off of the bench and slowly began to waddle home.  A woman at church took my elbow and told me that her elderly father had been visiting with her that day, and when he saw my belly, he exclaimed: "That woman shouldn't be playing the organ! She should be taking a nap!"

He did not say, "Oh, look how cute!  She should photograph that belly!"


Instead, I inspired pity and fear in my beholder, and the best thing he could do for me was to suggest I hide under a very large blanket for a snooze.

But for all you women who ARE photograph worthy while pregnant, my hat is off to you.  My sister-in-law is certainly among your ranks.

So without further ado, here are some of the prego pix . . .

And my favorite of the bunch . . . 

If I looked like a Renaissance Madonna as my sister-in-law does, I would totally jump at the chance to immortalize the scene.

As it is, I think I'd better stay right where I am in these types of photographs . . .

Out of sight. :)

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 . . . :)

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