Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hand-Me-Downs From Mom

We're big on hand-me-downs in my family. I would say that more than half of what my husband and I own came from somebody else who used it first--parents, grandparents, friends, strangers (you know me and my thrift shops). I've never, as long as I can remember, resented hand-me-downs in the stereotypical way. I would even say I prefer them.

I'm sandwiched in between two brothers so as a kid I never had an older sister to bequeath me with all of her too-small clothes, but my mom always found a way to get me hand-me-downs despite this. I remember bags of clothes being dropped off by friends of the family who had slightly older girls, and this was always the most exciting thing. It helped that a lot of the clothes were totally stylish (my favorite were Gap hand-me-downs) and I loved sorting through everything and finding things I liked. It felt so special, like a big bag of presents had magically landed on my bedroom floor and it wasn't even Christmas or my birthday.

That feeling stuck with me and I remember a few years ago giving some tops and sweaters I no longer wore to a girl I babysat in New York. She didn't have any sisters either and her smile as she looked at the clothes and tried things on lit up the room. 

This tradition has carried me long into adulthood and some of my favorite things are hand-me-downs from my mom, things that she wore when she was my age. This Irish wool sweater is the warmest, most comforting sweater I own. My mom got it in the Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland when she was about 20 and wore it a ton throughout her 20s. It's still in the most beautiful shape and so classic--the warm beige wool, the knitted design, the leather cognac-colored buttons. I love getting it out each fall and winter (which I didn't do at all in Alabama, so I've missed it) and I love its comforting and meaningful history.

These adorable black leather mary janes were also my mom's and also from Ireland. They were handmade by a cobbler in Cork and my parents got them on a trip to Ireland when my brother and I were babies. My mom must have worn these a ton because I have the most vivid memories of her in them. When I wear them now, even the way they sound when I walk sometimes flashes me right back to my childhood. It's pretty amazing. The soles were quite worn so recently I took them to a cobbler and they put on new half-soles. The rest of the shoe is in pristine shape and I'm pretty sure they'll last long enough for me to pass them on to my daughter someday.

(Don't you just love that soft, crinkly aged leather?! I've always said it--old leather beats new leather every time.)

I just happened to be wearing both of these special heirlooms yesterday and I had my husband snap a photo so I could share these stories. Because what we wear really does tell a story and how wonderful is it to slip on a pair of shoes your mom wore when you were just a baby, or cozy up in a sweater that kept her warm on countless days? There's so much history wrapped up in these treasures and I'm a lucky gal to have them.

Thanks, Mom. :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Over-Thinking Meets Trust

Yesterday, I was practicing a scale exercise (the kind of practicing that drives the other member of my family, whose office is directly below my studio, a little mad). The point of the exercise is to train your hands to switch from one pattern to another very quickly and it's surprisingly difficult to play it well.

As I was working my brain tuned out for a moment and I noticed that as a result I was playing much more cleanly and precisely than I had been when my mind was fully engaged, thinking about what came next, anticipating the next scale pattern. I had put in enough practice time that my fingers and hands knew the exercise better than my brain. I would even go so far as to say that my over-thinking mind was getting in the way.

I had to smile to myself when I realized that because, really, what's new? 

Friday, October 24, 2014

DIY Fall Wreath

We sometimes call our home our Little Cottage In The Woods. There's a slightly overgrown stone pathway in the yard, plenty of creeping, elegant ivy, a built-in bench on the front porch, painted shutters, green foliage on all sides, a tree with red berries that we can see from the bedroom window. And it just keeps getting sweeter and sweeter the colder it gets and the more we need her four walls to keep us warm and dry. 

It is my belief that come October, every Little Cottage needs something charming for the front door. 

At my husband's suggestion I first tried gathering things around the yard that I could fashion into a homemade fall wreath. What I ended up with was crooked and not at all sturdy, but I loved how simple and earthy it looked when I was done "weaving" (more like willing things to stay in place). It was quite pretty but by morning--no surprise--it looked wilted and sad. Ah well. It was mostly just a fun challenge anyway.

The next day I went to Michaels and bought some supplies that would stand up to the weather--a grapevine wreath and an assortment of faux flowers. Not as authentic as the last wreath but the grapevine at least is the real thing. It's super sturdy and it was easy to wedge the stems of the flowers in between the dried vines. 

This DIY is as simple as it gets but it's cozy and cottage-y and it makes me happy! Maybe it will inspire you to make something charming for your front door, too.

Happy Friday, friends.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pretty Dried Things

I'm not much of a seasonal decorator. I prefer to mark the shift from summer to fall with things like thicker comforters, extra cups of hot tea, glowy candles on the coffee table while I read, chili and cheese quesadillas, wool sweaters and my favorite pair of red leather boots.

But a few days ago as I enjoyed a crisp walk around the neighborhood, I was inspired by all of the cozy little changes I noticed on front stoops and in windowsills of the houses on and around our block. Plus nature herself was in absolutely lovely form, showing off orange berries on deep green bushes and golden leaves that danced through the air.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Kevin Spacey and Artistry

How was your weekend, friends?

We heard Kevin Spacey give a talk on the arts at UVA on Saturday night and it was really terrific!

He spoke in Frank Underwood's eerie, drawling accent a couple times which was hilarious and totally surreal to hear in person. He was funny and even more accomplished than I knew (did you know he runs an impressive historic theater in London?) and you could tell he has a burning passion for the arts, which I would guess is not the case for all movie stars.

But my favorite moment was when he quoted John Adams, who wrote this in a letter to his wife, Abigail in 1780:

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

Acknowledgement of the importance of art mixed with American patriotism is a surefire way to my heart.

It was a really fun night. Kevin Spacey's talk solidified for my husband that he is indeed his favorite actor. And it impressed me very much to see this very famous, very successful actor demonstrate a true devotion to artistry.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Homemade Pizza with Prosciutto, Arugula, and Caramelized Onions

My parents are on vacation out west and on the phone yesterday, my mom was telling me about this incredibly delicious prosciutto and arugula salad they'd had the night before. It was chilled and dressed in a lemony vinaigrette and my mom said it was delightful. 

It must have made an impact on me because I found myself later that day in the grocery store shopping for the supplies to make a homemade prosciutto and arugula pizza for dinner. (Except I forgot the prosciutto. The multitude of mozzarella choices distracted me. My husband saved the day and bought some on his way home.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Teaching and Learning

It might be true that teachers do almost as much learning as the students in their charge.

My students teach me so much during our lessons, probably without even realizing it. It might be a raised eyebrow when we're discussing time signatures (a topic that brings up questions for most beginners--ugh, math!) and my challenge is to use new words, to figure out how their mind sees and understands, to use analogies and imagery and charts if necessary to help them make sense of it.

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