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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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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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

From the Book of Life: A Tea Party to Share

"Some people imagine that there can be no accommodations, no space in a cottage; but this is all a mistake. I was last month at my friend Elliott's, near Dartford. Lady Elliott wished to give a dance. 'But how can it be done?' said she; 'my dear Ferrars, do tell me how it is to be managed. There is not a room in this cottage that will hold ten couple, and where can the supper be?' I immediately saw that there could be no difficulty in it, so I said, 'My dear Lady Elliott, do not be uneasy. The dining parlour will admit eighteen couple with ease; card-tables may be placed in the drawing-room; the library may be open for tea and other refreshments; and let the supper be set out in the saloon.' Lady Elliott was delighted with the thought. We measured the dining-room, and found it would hold exactly eighteen couple, and the affair was arranged precisely after my plan. So that, in fact, you see, if people do but know how to set about it, every comfort may be as well enjoyed in a cottage as in the most spacious dwelling." 

~ Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility Chapter 36

It's my birthday this week, and I'd like to invite you all to celebrate it with me.  

If you are anywhere near the Mountain West, please feel free to stop on by for some cake.

If not, here is a "virtual" birthday party for you to attend---a birthday tea party.

Now, if you know anything about me and Miriam by now, it is that we were on the "Tea Party Committee" in heaven.  We live for a good tea party---especially a party like this one with beautiful cucumber sandwiches . . . 

and buttery cream scones . . .

And of course, there must be a scrumptious array of sweets, like these colorful pastries . . . 

or these individual chocolate silks . . . 

or these dainty lavender shortbreads (in the shape of teapots, of course :) . . .

The pictures for this party came from a little soiree that my friend and I put together for our book group.  It was a Jane Austen-inspired tea.  Everyone came in their most Regency-looking frocks and enjoyed an evening of refreshment and diversion.  

I wish you could have been there.

But at least now you have attended in spirit.

And if anyone asks . . . I'm turning 29.

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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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