Tuesday, July 30, 2013

From the Design Book: A Bathroom Makeover

"[Dessie's] shop was a unique institution in Salinas. It was a woman's world. Here all the rules, and the fears that created the iron rules, went down. The door was closed to men. It was a sanctuary where women could be themselves- smelly, wanton, mystic, conceited, truthful, and interested. The whalebone corsets came off at Dessie's, the sacred corsets that moulded and warped woman-flesh into goddess-flesh."  

~ John Steinbeck, East of Eden

I have a bittersweet relationship with bathrooms.

On the one hand, I have to clean them.

(And it wouldn't hurt to remind you here that I have 5 boys.)

On the other hand, bathrooms offer me a moment of honest privacy in this very public world. 

The bathroom is where I close the door on the idealized bodies I see on magazines and television and Pinterest, and where I come to terms with my own, very normal, very real woman-flesh.  Here is where I weigh that flesh, clean it, pluck it, shave it, paint it, scent it, dress it, and own it.  That moment in the morning when it is just me and the mirror is a defining one: each day I decide to either live with what I see or change what I see.

Not long ago, I realized I REALLY didn't like what I saw in the mirror---aside from that trouble area just south of my chin and north of my kneecaps.  It was everything ELSE in the mirror that troubled me.  I saw yellow-striped wallpaper, builder-white walls, and non-committal brown cupboards.  Yuck.  It was indeed time for a change, and this time, it didn't involve a diet.


My bathroom decor was doing NOTHING to help me feel confident, happy, or skinny.  So I decided to change it.

Here it is now.

Now my bathroom is soft and serene and sparkly.  And while I may need a heck of a lot more vertical lines to make me look skinny in that mirror, I swear the new surroundings have completely changed my outlook in the morning.

The first thing I did was strip the wallpaper down to the bare walls and paint it a neutral tan color (Gobi Desert by Behr).

 Next, I took those horrible brown cabinets and painted them white and added a brown glaze over top.

To finish off the tub area, I added a topiary and a candle chandelier.

For the sink area, my husband and I framed out the mirror with some inexpensive molding.  This made a HUGE difference for not a lot of work.  (Says the wife whose husband did all of the cutting . . .)

I added apothecary jars on silver trays for a little sparkle . . .

These jars looked lovely sitting across from my vintage toiletry bottles.

And then, as the finishing touch to the bathroom, I decided to use this little garage sale tray as a "towel plaque."  Just a simple swipe of a white-out pen in the center of the tray, and voila!

I wish I could say that my new bathroom is self-cleaning, but it's not.  But somehow cleaning a beautiful bathroom doesn't feel like such a chore.  The boys' bathroom?  Well, that's another story . . .

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Monday, July 15, 2013

From The Book of Life: A Golden Books Birthday Party

A Birthday  
by Christina Rossetti
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me. 
Isn't that the sweetest poem? I'd never read it until today, but it makes me think of the joy of motherhood; that when we are blessed to become mothers, we know our love has come to us. It has certainly been the "Birthday of my life," any time I have met one of these sweet little ladies I call my own.
For my youngest, I wanted to throw a little family party with a Golden Books theme. 
1- because she's still young enough for me to pick the theme.
2- because I seriously LOVE golden books. Especially the old ones.
3- because it's pretty easy, assuming you have a printer and some golden books on hand :)

For the invites, I scanned a golden book cover into my printer, then I modified some of the words on it in Photoshop.  I made the dimensions on my pics 5"x7" but you could go larger or smaller according to preference.

Note: if you want a font similar to the "Little Golden Book" font, and you don't want to pay $90 for it, the free font "Wendy" is a really close substitute :)
Then I scanned the inside cover, and made a fake page with my little one's pic, and a silly little poem with the details of the party. I printed out both pages on separate slips of paper, and glued them together with a glue stick after I cut them out. I folded my little books and put them into envelopes, and delivered them to our family.

For decor (Which was minimal- let's remember that the kid doesn't even realize this is about her until the presents come out), I made a super simple pennant out of pages of my torn up copy of the "Eloise Wilkin Stories" treasury. I cut triangles out of the pages, and folded over the tops, STAPLED (Classy, I know) them over a ribbon, and called it good.

(I definitely have a second, still-intact copy of that or I would NEVER ruin it. EVERY mother of little girls should own a copy. It is such a sweet compilation, and Eloise Wilkins's illustrations are just precious!)
And I made tiny cupcake toppers out of the announcement cover, just printed small. (Also, these totally didn't make it on to the cupcakes because I forgot about em by the time dessert rolled around. But we all got cupcakes, and I am pretty sure that is all that matters. In life.

I displayed a bunch of books.

And made a few cute vases out of book pages wrapped around old soup cans :)

And that was IT! We served Cafe Rio/Chipotle/Costa Vida style salads/burritos, and everyone was happy :) Especially the birthday girl who has a deep love of "Beedos" (burritos). 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

From the Cookbook: Fancy, Homemade Graham Crackers

"To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption. . . . It is to reject the debilitating notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work best done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption."

~ Michael Pollan, Cooked

I try not to buy into TV gimmicks.  I know that it is going to take more than a Swiffer to make my house immaculate, more than Grey Poupon to make me refined, and more than a bottle of beer to make me look good in a bikini.  (I'm afraid an entire distillery couldn't even manage that one.)  

Media is full of far-fetched ideas, and for the most part, I choose not to buy into them.  

Except for one.  

Until recently, I really wanted to believe that Keebler elves spent their days in a far off tree singing jingles and making fudge-striped cookies and graham crackers.  I mean, I realize that elves aren't real.  Everyone knows they haven't been around since the days of Hobbits.  But sometimes it's just easier to think that some products magically appear at the store.  It is how I avoid the responsibility, initiative, and hassle it would take to produce something on my own.  (I also like to believe that there are ground beef, Coca-Cola, and feminine product elves who are willing to produce these mysteries for me so I don't have to think more about these products than absolutely necessary.)

But then my friend Johanne introduced me to her homemade graham crackers and my "elf theory" came to a screeching halt.  She calls them "Fancy Grahams" because they are more than just graham crackers---they are lacy bits of delight that go uncommonly well with a glass of milk.  She was kind enough to let me in on the "magic" that goes into making these little darlings.

First, you mix up a batch of graham cracker dough and roll it into individual balls.

Then you place the graham cracker dough balls onto a heated mini pizelle iron.  (You can find these on Ebay or at Bed, Bath and Beyond during the holidays.)

After only a minute or so, you'll have golden and delicious graham crackers that are anything but the blase, dry versions you get at the store.  These have just a hint of chewiness that makes them all the more satisfying.

Johanne dolled up a batch of these for the 4th of July with white chocolate and sprinkles.  Just when I thought these couldn't get any better . . .

And all of a sudden, instead of going to bed at a decent time knowing that the elves will be hard at work creating the world's graham crackers, I find myself up into the wee hours of the night scouring the internet for pizelle irons so that I can make my own batches of these babies.  Can you say s'mores?!

I guess it just goes to show you that sometimes the things we see on TV aren't true, sometimes elves aren't the only ones who can cook, and sometimes homemade graham crackers are just plain better than those from a box.  Especially when they are "fancy."

Sorry, elves.  But there it is.   

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

From the Design Book: Updated Farmhouse Home Tour

“There were no clouds, the sun was going down in a limpid, gold-washed sky. Just as the lower edge of the red disk rested on the high fields against the horizon, a great black figure suddenly appeared on the face of the sun. We sprang to our feet, straining our eyes toward it. In a moment we realized what it was. On some upland farm, a plough had been left standing in the field. The sun was sinking just behind it. Magnified across the distance by the horizontal light, it stood out against the sun, was exactly contained within the circle of the disk; the handles, the tongue, the share—black against the molten red. There it was, heroic in size, a picture writing on the sun.” 

~My Antonia by Willa Cather, Chapter 14

What is it about a farm that has such a hold on me?  The idea of living off the land seems incredibly romantic to me---that is, until I actually HAVE to live off of the land and do things like touch scary things like animals and dirt.  But when I read My Antonia, I sigh wistfully as I imagine myself in flaxen braids and calico cottons, standing in a wheat field at dusk.  It's bizarre, and probably hormone related.  All I know is that reading the passage above makes me feel like tying on an apron, gathering some eggs, and bottling something. 

The problem is, I don't live on a farm.  I live in a quiet neighborhood on a fraction of an acre.  I grow children, not livestock (although by the looks of their rooms today, the difference between the species is negligible.)  But luckily for me, I came across this little gem of a "farmhouse" in the local home parade and could imagine that it was mine for 20 minutes or so.

The home is an updated spin on the classic farmhouse.  Set in a field against a lake, this house has all the charm of a turn-of-the-century homestead with all the amenities of modern living.

I immediately fell in love with the pendant lights along the porch and the beautiful brick steps.

To the left of the front door is this lovely entry bench.

The family room is light and bright and comfortable with wood floors, a two-way fireplace, and different textured fabrics.

The breakfast nook is just off the family room and kitchen in this windowed corner.  The dark wood table looks perfectly snug against an upholstered bench and farmhouse chairs.

This room was one of my favorites in the house.  This dining room is adjacent to the breakfast nook, but it is completely enclosed.  The wall of windows opens up to provide open-deck dining in the summertime.  And the fireplace is actually the backside of the fireplace in the family room.  Such a great way to get more bang from your fireplace buck!

The bedrooms were just as charming.  I loved this nautical bedroom with its accompanying pirate-themed bathroom.  Ahoy, matey!

If you look closely, this bathroom not only has porthole mirrors, but wallpaper with little skulls and crossbones.  Adorable!

The girls' bedrooms were just as appealing as the boys' rooms.  I especially liked the cheery color scheme of this room.

Down the hall there was a cozy playroom that was ready and waiting for the kids and all of their toys.

The family room packed a comfortable punch with its orange leather chair and gray tweed couch.

Mom and Dad have a workspace of their own with this office.

And when the rigors of life just get to be too much, Mom and Dad can escape to this lovely bathroom.  I wish I could have fit the whole bathroom into my lens, but my favorite part was the reading rack in the tub. 

I realize that this home is a far cry from the abodes in My Antonia; it has nothing of the the rough-hewn, rustic living of the pioneer prairie.  But for city folk like me, it's at least a step in the right (romantic) direction.

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