Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Virtual Choir

A lovely friend of mine introduced me to the most beautiful thing, and I can't believe (especially being a musician) that I'm just now hearing about it.

It's called the Virtual Choir. Eric Whitacre is a contemporary classical composer and conductor and he is the musical genius behind the idea. For each piece they perform (they've done a bunch), Whitacre puts out a call for YouTube submissions from singers around the world. He makes his scores available and asks singers to record their part--soprano, alto, tenor, bass--and then the voices are spliced and edited together to form this incredible, 21st century, international choir.

You must watch and listen.

I keep hitting repeat on this video and every time, I get chills and my eyes well up. This is what art is all about. It's transcendent and fundamentally human and soulful and despite the oceans and continents and languages that separate these people, here they are making heavenly music together. It's astonishing, really.

I hope you love it as much as I do.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Musings

I find myself really looking forward to weekends these days. There's something so special about December weekends--cozy, twinkly, not overly planned, full of cider and tea. This weekend I hope to finish up my Christmas shopping and gift wrapping and convince my husband to watch Love Actually with me (a Christmas tradition, and actually, he loves it too). ;)

Now for some Friday Musings...


I enjoyed this insider scoop on Kate Middleton that was published in Vanity Fair this week. How I wish I'd gotten to see her in New York!


I was invited by my neighbor to the most fun event this week--a sing-along to Handel's Messiah. This was the 47th year it has been held at UVA and while I'm not a singer, I had such a wonderful, giggly, time with my neighbor and her friend. There's something so exciting and festive about a bunch of people, musicians and non-musicians, singers and non-singers, getting together to make music and belt out those jubilant choruses.


You can probably tell from some of my past posts, but I'm convinced I'm the luckiest piano teacher in Charlottesville. My students are the most kind, interesting, curious, funny, sweet, and dedicated group of people and how did I ever get them to sign up for lessons with me each week? I'm not sure, but I feel so blessed to get to work with each and every one of them. (And they all practice!!!)


This lipstick has become my go-to perfect holiday red.


A few weeks ago I found myself craving Jane Austen. But I've read all of her six novels and I'm not a big re-reader, so I headed to Barnes and Noble and found this collection of her unfinished works and I just started reading it yesterday. I couldn't agree more with the scholar who writes this in the introduction: "There are some great writers who wrote too much. There are others who wrote enough. There are yet others who wrote nothing like enough to satisfy their admirers, and Jane Austen is certainly one of these. There would be more genuine rejoicing at the discovering of a complete new novel by Jane Austen than any other literary discovery, short of a new major play by Shakespeare, that one can imagine."


Happy December weekend, friends. May yours be cozy and bright!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Homemade Christmas

Unsurprisingly, I like to decorate for Christmas the same way I like to decorate the rest of the time--simply, putting hand-me-downs to good use, re-purposing in creative ways, making instead of buying when I can.

For me, this is the most wholesome and refreshing and in-the-spirit way to approach Christmas. I've been very conscious this year, perhaps more so than in other years, of keeping my focus on Jesus, of nurturing peace in my heart and in my home, and making this most special holiday simple, lovely, and joyful.

As I look around our home the words "Homemade Christmas" jump into my mind. My brothers and I were raised on gluing together our own ornaments, baking and frosting warm sugar cookies, stockings that were sewn by Grandma. And I suppose I've now adapted that homemade spirit for adulthood.

Instead of purchasing an expensive garland for our mantel, we asked for the discarded evergreen trimmings we saw in a pile at a local Christmas tree farm. From those I had more than enough to fill our mantel and transform my fall wreath into a wintery one. I found some holly (holly look-alike maybe?) in our yard and stuck a few sprigs on the wreath, and I dotted the mantel greenery with some of the leftovers from this unexpected fall bouquet. I foraged for the red berries during a walk to the park.

Our advent wreath is a little on the makeshift side but I love its simplicity. These greens also came from this bouquet. We arranged them in a rustic circle and set out four white votives and a larger Christ candle in the middle.

Everything is so simple and wintery and the only thing we've purchased (other than gifts) is our mini live tree. I felt so content and peaceful as I unwrapped things we already had and found a place for them in our new home, as I snipped berries from the tree outside our window, as I positioned baby Jesus and Mary in the place of honor on the mantel.

So while it's certainly nice to have the traditional pink or purple Advent candles, I don't think Jesus minds that we've chosen to honor him with plain white votives instead. After all, Christmas isn't about acquiring things and it isn't about perfection. It's about love and joy and celebration and family and it's about a heart-bursting kind of hope.

In that spirit, a Homemade Christmas sounds just right to me.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Wandering Into The Men's Section

This post is about wandering into the men's section. No, not to buy your husband or brother or dad a Christmas gift. This particular wander is a bit more risqué than that. 

The first time I did it was at Target and it wasn't planned. A perfect-shade-of-blue and white pinstriped collared shirt caught my eye and I found myself ducking through the stands of polo shirts to get to it, trying not to be seen. I grabbed a size small and admired it. I mean, they just don't make women's collared shirts like that! The fabric was heavy, it was surprisingly well-tailored, and the length was sort of a tunic top length, hitting right around my hips. And it was masculine without being overtly manly. Which, in my opinion, is the whole point of a woman wearing a collared shirt, anyway. No thank you, darts and pearly buttons. Collared shirts are meant to be adorably tomboyish.

So I bought it. For myself! From the men's section! I wear it constantly.

The next time I did it I felt like an old pro. I shamelessly sauntered right across the line from the women's department to the men's, no ducking necessary. And this time, I even brought my mom with me.

We were at the Gap and my mom was on the hunt for a comfy flannel shirt for winter. She'd recently spotted a woman on the street wearing boots, leggings, a flannel shirt, and a fur vest (all of which my mom has in her wardrobe, except the flannel) and was inspired to recreate the look. So I said, "Ok Mom, I know just what you need, but you have to trust me." 

(Shameless sauntering.)

"So Mom, these are men's shirts. But! I grabbed the smallest sizes, and look at how cute the cut is! Loose and boxy but not at all shapeless. And they're nice and long, perfect for leggings."

She loved them! We both did, actually. They were on sale and my mom insisted on buying one for me too. 

I consider myself a very feminine person. I love feeling pretty, I love skirts and tights and dresses and jewelry, I love lipstick and getting dolled up. But when it comes to fashion I'm a firm believer in contrast. Black paired with white, flowy on top and fitted on the bottom, edgy mixed with sweet, and above all, a hint of the masculine to offset the feminine. 

(Tip: the first step is to try on your husband's clothes. I wear this sweater of his more than he does.)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sweet Things

I didn't really mean to take such a big blogging break this week. Yikes! I had a bit of a funk going on early this week but it's turning out to have a sweet ending. So let's talk about sweet things....

Grandma's china (my wedding gift from her) gracing our Thanksgiving table in the prettiest possible way.

Our house filled up with my whole family. So. much. fun.

My Dad telling me I'm a calm and natural host (i.e. the best compliment, right?).

Tears from a sweet, sweet piano student who forgot one of her books--if only we were all so conscientious! (And the grateful smile from the dad that followed when I was able to cheer up his little gal.)

The ending of this book, which left me in awe of the goodness and bravery exhibited by so many early believers.

A holiday concert with a friend on the agenda for tonight.

Fun ideas for Christmas gifts buzzing around in my brain.

A certain sister-in-law who always knows what to say and how to say it and who loves her family fiercely. 

Being in our anniversary month. December is magical for me for so many reasons. 

An ever so kind Instagram comment from a reader who said she's been missing my writing. This post is for you, friend. :)

Oh and this, my new lock screen. It helps me remember what's most important in life. (From the She Reads Truth app.)

Have a great weekend, everyone! See you next week.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Generosity of Strangers

The best thing happened to me on Saturday morning. It was early in the day, a cold morning, and I was headed to the farmer's market to get fresh apples and brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving. Our farmer's market is located downtown and parking is tricky, so I parked maybe 5 blocks away and started my brisk walk to the market.

I walked by our church, and the historical society, and the library, and as I passed over to the next block something sitting on a stoop caught my eye.

It took me a second to register what that little homemade sign meant. If it had said "free" I wouldn't have thought twice but for a second it occurred to me, "Maybe this sign is for someone specific?!" Hmm. But there is a flower shop next door to this doorway, I noticed. And the greens had been sitting out all night (the water in the bucket was iced). So I eventually figured that they were indeed meant for whoever spotted them first and felt shameless enough to pick up this giant bucket and tote it home.

I decided that was going to be me. 

I needed to get to the market first so I sort of glanced around casually to see if anyone else had noticed the awesome free thing I'd just come upon. Shopkeepers opening up, a few people milling around. There didn't seem to be a ton of interest in my stoop.

So I bought my apples and brussels sprouts and on the way back I quickened my step because the downtown mall had gotten a little busier by now. Surely there are lots of people who would see the potential in this nondescript bunch of greenery, right?!

But no, I guess not, and I have to admit I was ridiculously pleased and giddy to see my treasure still sitting where I'd left it. I heaved up the bucket and made my way back to the car.

I grinned all the way home and couldn't wait to tell my husband the story. (I created a whole narrative for him using the photos I'd snapped.) And then I rolled up my sleeves and set out to turn that bucket of leftover leaves into something seriously beautiful. I knew they wouldn't disappoint me.

And that, dear friends, is a Thanksgiving story if I ever heard one. This bit of good fortune completely made my day. All because of a stranger's generosity and some leftover flower shop greens. 

(And maybe a tiny bit because of my tendency to find silly amounts of joy in unlikely places.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

DIY Repurposed Candles

I love it when I have a spur-of-the-moment inspiration and I'm able to scrounge up all the right supplies to indulge my creativity without leaving the house. That's what happened last week when I decided to "make my own candles" by repurposing some candles I already had and adding a few special touches.

Here's what I did. I have a huge box of inexpensive unscented votives in my china cabinet. I first stripped them of their tin shells and wicks and began chopping up the wax to re-melt. It's best to do this by heating the wax in a jar surrounded by boiling water. (I tried the microwave first and it wasn't effective.) I used a pyrex measuring cup and set it in a tiny pan of simmering water and stirred until the wax was melted. Any kind of glass container would work well, but the measuring cup's spout was helpful when it came time to pour the liquid wax.

I thought it might be nice to add some scent to the melted wax and since I find most scented candles cloying and too sweet, I kept it simple with my favorite essential oils (lavender and lemon). I also made a few jasmine-scented candles using this bottle of roll-on perfume oil.

I hunted around my kitchen for some pretty molds and decided on these teeny tiny china dishes. They're very shallow which ended up being perfect--I was able to use the old wicks from the votives and they were plenty tall enough for these small little vessels.

They were so beautiful as they morphed from liquid into solid. One thing I noticed was that the wax quality seemed better after I melted it and let it harden again. My husband thought that maybe the votives are made with an aerated wax so that less wax is needed per candle, and it results in sort of a crumbly, fast-burning candle. But once melted the wax becomes smooth again and burns beautifully.

This might be a fun pre-Thanksgiving project to try to brighten up your family's feast. I used very little scent so while I usually stick to unscented candles at the dinner table, I think I might sneak these into the mix.

Happy Friday, friends!
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