Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Dawning Of 365 New Days



2014, I'm ready for you!

The start of a fresh year and the tradition of setting goals and resolutions have never really meant too much to me. I'm a pretty self-reflective and contemplative person (to a major fault) which means that I'm constantly working on something or other in my personal character. It could be that I'm trying to overcome a nagging fear or worry, or working on getting rid of one of my more unpleasant tendencies. It's true that I can be a little bit hard on myself and  rigid in my desire for self-improvement so I usually take a break at New Year's and don't pile on any additional tasks or goals.

But as the last hours of 2013 tick by, I am finding that I feel especially grateful and excited for the dawning of this new year. I still don't have any big goals or resolutions to share with you--truth be told, most of what I hope for in 2014 is largely out of my control, so a list of goals wouldn't serve much of a purpose anyway (I learned somewhere along the way that setting goals is a worthwhile activity only if the goals are specific and attainable and within your grasp).

I'm just feeling ready for a fresh start. 2013 was a beautiful year for my marriage, it was a wonderful year for friendship, it was such a growing year for my faith. It was a great year for my blog and I learned a lot in my teaching and musical life and I am a more patient and calm person now than I was in January.

But 2013 was hard, too. Because of circumstances we couldn't predict or change or influence, it feels like we've been moving sideways instead of forward for awhile now, and that's no easy thing to stomach. I fully believe there has been a purpose behind it and that a hundred blessings in disguise are waiting for us on the other side and that God has a better plan--always--than we do. I've found so much peace and solace in that.

Still, there were some very difficult moments to get through this year. I was tested in very personal ways and I think that part of God's plan in all of this was specifically to shape and mold me into the person He wants me to be. That job isn't done--it will take a lifetime and beyond--but I do think it's pretty amazing how the challenges we face are so often tailored to our particular weaknesses. One thing that I've learned this year is that if it weren't for life's struggles and tests and disappointments, we would never have a reason to cry out for a Savior.

I'm glad for 2013, and all it was, but I'm also glad it's coming to an end. I'm ready for a beautiful and exciting 2014! I know there will be obstacles to face this year too, but I feel better equipped than ever to face them. And when I don't feel equipped, when I feel alone and small, I will cry out for my Savior and he will change me and lift me up and carry me through.

Happy New Year, friends.



Monday, December 30, 2013

Two Years of Marriage


We were married two years ago today in an absolute wonderland of a winter's day. A perfect, dreamlike evening. Lights twinkled and candles flickered and we said our vows with happy smiles quivering in our voices. It was a day overflowing with magic and love and beauty. Exactly two years ago, we became a family.


it is an ever-fixed mark 
That looks on tempests and is never shaken


Thank you, S, for loving me with all the steadiness and grace and compassion in the world. With the kind of love that looks on tempests and doesn't falter for even one second. Marrying you has been the best decision of my life.




Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Magical Christmas



Christmas is such a magical day, a magical time of year. When I was a child, it was magical because of the snow, the early morning mystery of finding gifts under the tree and taking turns opening them, staying in pajamas and slippers all morning, A Christmas Carol, which we listened to on tape by candlelight every Christmas Eve, the joyful hymns we sang in church. Magical because of my family. I couldn't have asked for a more loving one.

As an adult, Christmas is just as magical but, naturally, for slightly different reasons. Each year as I've gotten older I find myself trying hard to be contemplative at Christmastime, to turn inward and to reflect on the grace of the season. This year, I've been thinking of Mary more than I ever have, wondering if she was scared or in awe or overjoyed or all of it as she looked down at her big belly and awaited her baby's birth, Emmanuel. I've found myself thinking not just of Jesus' birth but of his death, because you can't have one without the other. How can I live for Him, He who died for me? I've been thinking of that a lot over the last few weeks.

And other things too. It's magical to introduce some of my childhood traditions to my husband. We're also starting several new traditions of our own and already imagining how our kids will like them. We're writing sweet and silly messages to each other on top of gifts and gazing giddily at our tiny little tree.

It's going to be a beautiful Christmas.

I'm going to be taking a little time off from blogging over the next week or two to focus on my husband, my parents and brothers, and my in-laws. We're really lucky to be seeing almost everyone in our family this year! I may pop in here and there but I wanted to make sure to wish you all a magical Christmas, filled with love and joy and family and friends and grace and beauty.

Sending lots of love to you, sweet readers. Merry Christmas!



Friday, December 20, 2013

Homemade Molasses Cookies


If I could only pick one cookie recipe to make at Christmastime for the rest of my life, I would choose these Molasses Cookies. The recipe came from a good family friend of ours who was also one of my very first piano teachers. Often when I showed up for a lesson, the smell of baked goods would envelop me and she'd take me into the kitchen where a warm piece of chocolate cake was waiting, or sometimes a mug of cinnamon hot chocolate. Now that is the way to start a piano lesson. Not only did she teach me to love the piano but she also made me feel welcome in her home and happy to be there each week.

These Molasses Cookies are just perfect. They are crispy on the outside but so soft and chewy and melt-in-your-mouth as soon as you take a bite. I love how they really flatten out in the oven, too. There's something about a delicate, thin cookie that is so inviting. And the combination of molasses and spices is so festive and cozy for this time of year. I could eat these every day for breakfast with a cup of hot tea.

This recipe is in our cookbook, Finger Lakes Feast, if you happen to have a copy. But I wanted to share it here too in case you're itching to get out the flour and cookie sheets this weekend but need some inspiration. 


Patsy's Molasses Cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and molasses. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet and mix thoroughly. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets for about 7-10 minutes (really depends on your oven) or until just set. Let cool and roll in powdered sugar.






Thursday, December 19, 2013

Perfect, Holiday Red Lipstick


I've been on the hunt for awhile for that perfect red lipstick--not too orange, not too bright, not too pink. A brick red that flatters my skin tone and feels good on (some lipsticks are so dry and flakey). A lipstick that wears nicely and doesn't do weird things, like settle into the creases of my lips, after it's been on for a few hours. I'm sure you can tell by these descriptions that I've experimented a good amount!

I already have an everyday red lipstick that I love and wear a lot--Dubonnet by Clinique. My mom got me into Clinique lipsticks and their formulas are just so perfect and creamy. This shade of red is rosy and lovely and is great for the daytime--it's what I'm wearing in my blog photo, actually. But since Dubonnet is fairly subtle, I wanted to find a red lipstick that was a little more bold and dark, a sultry holiday red that looked sophisticated and grown-up. An evening red.

And I do believe I've found it in Revlon's Colorburst Lip Butter in Red Velvet. It's so beautiful. The shade is not at all pink or orange, but a true, wine red. It's actually a lip butter instead of a lipstick which means that it's ultra moisturizing and while it isn't glossy, it does have a hint of a healthy shine to it. It feels like I'm wearing lip balm when it's on. And one of my favorite things about it is that after a few hours, it fades into a gorgeous matte stain. Some lipsticks just disappear altogether but this lipstick leaves your lips looking natural and lovely and stained a perfect red. 

I wish I could show you how it looks on but alas, a talented photographer I am not, and the lipstick did not look at all true to color in my photos. But the way it looks in the tube is pretty much how it looks on your lips. So if you're searching for a perfect, holiday red lipstick that feels good and is just beautiful all around, try this! I think you'll love it.



p.s. This isn't a sponsored post, just a girl tip I couldn't help but pass along!




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

DIY Simple Stockings


This year, for the first time ever, my husband and I are spending Christmas alone together at home (last year we were in Napa Valley on our belated honeymoon and the year before, we were days away from getting married!). We're leaving early the next morning to see our families, and we can't wait for that time with them, but it feels so exciting to be celebrating this special holiday together at home, just the two of us.

Our house is feeling cozy and festive with our little tree and the simple Christmas decorating we've done, but something was missing--we didn't have our stockings! Like a lot of our things, they are packed away in storage many miles away. Both of us have a special attachment to our childhood stockings so I didn't want to make entirely new ones for us, but it just wouldn't quite feel like Christmas without stockings. So I whipped up some makeshift ones using things I had around the house, and I think they'll be perfect for our first Christmas at home as a little family.

I started with (clean!) wool ski socks--the perfect size, and that red stripe across the top is oh-so-jolly. I found some green velvet ribbon in my crafts closet and strung it right through each sock and tied it in a bow. These pearls, which come with a sticky backing that worked well on the wool, were leftover from another project and I had just enough to make a "K" and an "S." 

And that was it! Completely simple but totally sweet--just my style.




Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Creamy, Tangy, Frothy Buttermilk


I've always been a big fan of sour dairy products--I will reach for plain yogurt over flavored any day, and my favorite part of eating Mexican food is the sour cream I pile unapologetically on top. So, needless to say, buttermilk and I are good friends.

I think buttermilk is such an overlooked dairy product. Sure, we use it all the time in baking to bring richness and moistness to pumpkin and zucchini breads and fluffiness to birthday cakes. But you can't exactly taste the buttermilk in these recipes. So I've been experimenting lately with giving buttermilk more of a place of honor in my recipes, and I'm loving the results.

I first realized that buttermilk is a worthy flavor in and of itself when I made this Buttermilk Pudding. This is a silky smooth pudding with just the right balance of sweetness and tartness. The vanilla is a lovely compliment to the buttermilk without overpowering it. I think this would be a beautiful addition to a Christmas Eve dinner, or a Christmas day brunch, if you're looking for an easy, unusual, and highly delicious recipe to try.

I also like using buttermilk in place of milk for simple, everyday foods. Whisking some buttermilk into my scrambled eggs makes them creamier, richer, with just a hint of that tang I love. I've also started making mac and cheese with buttermilk in place of milk. The sharpness of the cheese and the sourness of the buttermilk make excellent partners, and the end result is the most decadent mac and cheese you'll ever eat.

There was a time when I would buy a quart of buttermilk to make pancakes or muffins and then the rest would go bad in the fridge. But those days are very much over, and buttermilk is now one of my favorite ingredients to cook with. (And a confession: sometimes I'll even pour a tiny glass of it and drink it straight up! Does that make me an old person?)

What about you? How do you use buttermilk in your kitchen? Sparingly or with abandon?



Monday, December 16, 2013

Watch Giveaway Winner!


I'm really excited to announce that the winner of my watch giveaway is Hannah from Ready or Not!



Hannah has been a loyal Something Ivory reader for many months. One time, because she had become very busy and hadn't had a chance to comment lately, she emailed me just to let me know that she had indeed been keeping up with each post and that she really appreciates me and my writing. Isn't that the most thoughtful thing? Hannah, I hope you love your new Fieldcrest Black watch, and congratulations! (I'll send you an email today.)

I want to thank everyone who entered the giveaway for being so excited and supportive and fun. This was the first giveaway I've done in collaboration with a company I really like, and you, my readers, proved yourselves to be as loyal as they come. Thanks for making the giveaway such a success.

I hope you all enjoy this last full week before Christmas. I'd love to hear what's on your agenda--last-minute shopping? Baking cookies? Tying up beautiful packages in string? Please do share!




Friday, December 13, 2013

Faith-Based Apps

Sometimes I feel a little badly about my dependence on my iPhone. I like to think I'm not as bad as I could be, that I'm not on my phone 24/7, that I don't use it obsessively. (I once wrote a post about how the iPhone has such a presence in modern dating--you know, when you look over at the table next to you and both the guy and the girl are furiously typing away, not making any eye contact?) When my husband and I got iPhones we set up some ground rules and we do our best to put our phones away when we're spending time together. I'm definitely the one who slips up more often than he does (Instagram is just too fun, and I've got a very cute, photogenic husband) but we both try hard not to be that couple that ignores each other on dinner dates.

But even if I'm not being rude to anyone by using my phone, even if I'm alone checking my email and texts, how much is too much? When my hand cramps up from too much scrolling up and down? (Has that never happened to you?) When my eyes become blurry from looking at a bright screen for too long? I wonder, how much is too much.

I've found something, though, that makes me feel a little better about my phone usage, something that lifts me up and makes me feel better in general: faith-based apps.



One that I've been enjoying is an Advent Devotions app which has some lovely daily readings and Bible verses. We've been lighting our Advent wreath each Sunday and saying a devotion and some prayers to go with it, but it's nice to be reminded of the real meaning behind this season on a more regular basis. The hope of Christmas is so renewing and wonderful, and clicking this app each day has been a great way for me to remember that and reflect on it.

The other one I've been loving is the Jesus Calling app (I have the free trial version, but will probably buy the full version because I like it so much). Several of these devotions in the last few days have made me tear up a little because the words just felt so relevant and meaningful to my own life and the things on my heart. This is a truly uplifting app and I'm glad to have discovered it.

Of course, it goes without saying that faith-based apps aren't a replacement for prayer. But it's amazing how a short little devotion or a powerful Bible verse can really make a difference in my mood and my mindset as I go about my day. By clicking on one of these apps instead of checking my email yet again, I feel like I'm doing something good for myself, and making my phone usage just a tad bit healthier.

What do you think? Am I crazy for feeling guilty about using my phone? Do you check any good-for-you apps throughout the day? I'd love to know.




Just a reminder that if you haven't entered my wood watch giveaway, you have until Sunday night to participate! Please make sure that you are following through with your Rafflecopter entry--you can get points for leaving a comment, following me on Instagram, and several other ways. I will be verifying entries when picking a winner!



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Beautiful New Watch Plus A Giveaway!


My dear readers, I have a fabulous surprise for you today! A giveaway, just in time for Christmas!

As everyone who knows me is well aware, I love anything hand-crafted. There's such beauty in things that are made carefully and lovingly, one at a time or in small batches. I also love natural materials, both when it comes to what I wear and what I like to fill my home with. I gravitate toward things that are earthy, perhaps a bit rustic, metals and woods and cork and cotton.

So, needless to say, I absolutely love my new Jord Wood Watch. Jord is a brand new company based in the Midwest and each of their watches are made of 100% natural wood. The woods they choose are incredibly silky and smooth, with the most beautiful grain patterns. My watch actually glimmers in the sun! It's gorgeous, unusual, and well-designed (my jeweler commented on how well it was constructed when I brought it in to get it sized to my wrist). It's my new favorite accessory.


Jord Watch generously offered to work with me and sent me the Fieldcrest Black Watch to try out for myself. All of their styles are lovely (look at this delicate maple one!) but I was really attracted to this one in particular. I'm a big fan of the oversized watch look on women. It's such a contrast to a feminine outfit, like this lace shirt--I think the watch adds just the perfect amount of edge. I also liked it because it's essentially a unisex watch. Look at how great it looks on my husband! 


I'm so thrilled and excited to be able to offer one of these beautiful watches to a lucky reader. The timing couldn't be more perfect--a gift for your husband, a friend, or yourself!--and it feels great to be helping to support a small, new, business that is based here in the USA. 

You can enter the giveaway by using the Rafflecopter widget below. (If anyone is confused by the Rafflecopter, please email me--it's new for me too!) The giveaway will end this Sunday at midnight, and I'll announce the lucky winner on Monday. Good luck to everyone!


Fieldcrest Black Wood Watch c/o Jord Wood Watch



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

We Love Airbnb

My husband and I have always been B&B people. We love the intimacy, the charm, the uniqueness, and the individual care and attention that you get when you stay at a Bed and Breakfast. We stayed at one in Napa Valley on our honeymoon and it was absolutely a dream. Not only did we get a big, fluffy king-sized bed right next to a fireplace, and a delicious homemade breakfast of soufflés and biscuits each morning--we got our breakfast in bed. It was their quiet season and while a few mornings we did wander down to the wine cellar for breakfast (which was also lovely), most days the innkeepers delivered it right to our doorstep. It was a heavenly, unexpected, honeymoon surprise.

But I'm here to share that we've recently discovered something even better than B&Bs (in our opinion)--Airbnb. We've had the opportunity to use Airbnb 4 different times now, every single time being a lovely experience, and I can absolutely, wholeheartedly recommend it to you. Have you heard of it? The way it works is that individual people list their apartment/home/studio/spare bedroom, and you deal directly with the owner in setting up your visit. They leave you a key and instructions, you let yourself in, and voil√°--you have your very own place to stay in while you're on vacation.


One of the best parts is the amount of space you get. Some of the listings are for private rooms in a home, but we've always searched for the listings for full apartments, just because we like the additional room and privacy. We stayed at an Airbnb this past weekend in Charlottesville for the amazing wedding of our friends, and it was wonderful. Our apartment was located in an old 19th-century home within walking distance to downtown. There was a huge living room filled with Arts and Crafts, Stickley-style furniture, and we had friends come over each night to hang out and chat. You can't do that so easily and comfortably in a hotel room! There was an adorable claw foot tub, a big, clean bathroom, and the owner even left us bagels and cream cheese from a local bakery along with coffee and a french press. Total luxury!


It's also really fun when you have the chance to meet with the owners. We stayed in a place near Boston back in September, and when I met the owner I discovered she is a conductor! So we chatted music for a little while in the backyard of her old Victorian mansion. So neat!



Anyway, after 4 completely positive experiences, I decided I had to share. If you haven't heard of Airbnb, do check it out. We totally love it and it has made our vacations a little more comfortable, convenient, and unique. It really does feel like you're staying in a friend's place when they're out of town. We may never stay in a hotel again!


Airbnb doesn't know who I am, and they have no idea I'm writing this post. I'm sharing my thoughts purely because I love the company and we've had great luck with it!




Monday, December 9, 2013

When Your DIY Fails


I've put off blogging about this painted dresser because, truth be told, the project was a disaster. It started out as a basic blonde wood dresser with no hardware, and I really thought it would be a simple project--just add paint and pretty pulls to the drawer fronts. But from start to finish there wasn't a single thing that didn't go wrong. (I'm not exaggerating! Ask my husband!)  Major DIY failure, it was, and my plans to use it as a guest room dresser have been ditched. It's just not up to snuff. (Instead, I'm thinking I'll put it in the garage and use it to store my craft supplies.)

So I'm really not proud of this piece. I know it looks decent in these photos but there are so many problems with how it turned out (you don't want to look inside the drawers). I made silly mistakes, the dresser had issues to begin with--cheap wood, mainly--the paint was extremely tempermental, and I had to go to Lowe's at least three times to find the right screws. Needless to say, I learned a lot about what not to do.

But I wanted to blog about it because the one thing I do like about it is the color scheme I picked. I absolutely love this inky blue against the brassy/gold hardware. It's a color combination I plan to use again in the future. It's certainly bold so I'm imagining it in smaller doses--a dainty, deep blue nightstand with modern gold pulls against a bed piled high with fluffy white pillows and a bright white comforter? Sounds so elegant and romantic to me.


So when your DIY fails--try to learn from your mistakes. Search for something redeeming about the project. Finish it, even if you feel like quitting halfway. And give your husband a kiss when he brings you a glass of wine to sip between coats of paint. He knows you need it.




Thursday, December 5, 2013

Wedding Photo Booth Shots

Speaking of weddings!

Back in September we traveled up to Newport for my cousin's wedding and her photographer had an adorable photo booth set up for the guests, complete with funny props. This was the first time I've ever done a photo booth and I loved it. With all of those props to get you in a playful mood, it's easy to ham it up a little in front of the camera! I went up to the photo booth three different times during the evening, and I thought I'd share some of the silliness with you today!


Three generations of women. My grandma, my mom, me, and my mom's sister.

With my cousin and her brother's girlfriend. 

Striking a new pose...

I love this one of my mom and aunt. You can tell they're sisters! And so beautiful and fun!

I got my beau to come take a few shots with me at the end of the night!

One thing I love about wedding receptions is that everyone seems to be a little bit giddy. And no, not because of the wine. I think after witnessing such a beautiful profession of love and commitment in the marriage ceremony, it's hard not to feel this light-hearted, joyful, playfulness for the rest of the night. Giddy is the best word for it! Have you noticed this, or am I just a hopeless romantic?

Anyway, all this to say that I think photo booths do a pretty spectacular job of capturing the giddiness. And that's something to be treasured.






Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Waiting And Learning And Loving

     I had to include this photo from our wedding. We're doing the "Civil War Era" pose where everyone    looks off into the distance in different directions! (The groom-to-be for this weekend is on the far left.)


Tomorrow we're leaving for Charlottesville, VA, for the wedding of some good friends of ours. I'm so excited for them! Weddings are such a beautiful celebration of love and these two are just perfect for each other.

Since the anniversary of our own December wedding (unbelievably, it's already been two years) is creeping up on us, it's gotten me thinking about my own marriage. How we've grown in the past two years and how we've been growing in the seven years since I first laid eyes on the man I would marry.

We all have a different story and God teaches us so much through the particular paths He asks us to follow. I like to think that our relationship has been like a quietly simmering winter stew, slow to cook but developing the richest of flavors as the hours tick by. It requires patience and strength because this stew needs time. The beauty of it is in the way it changes and deepens and transforms into something incredibly delicious and satisfying if you only have the willpower to wait.

In the seven years I have known my husband, in the almost-24 months we've been married, we've only lived in the same house for about 13 months. And on top of those 13 months, there were only a few additional months where we lived in the same place--two semesters when we were in college together, and one summer we overlapped in New York. The rest of those many months, which spilled into years, we loved from afar, we grew in fortitude and endurance, we spent hundreds of hours on the phone, and we learned what trust and faith really mean--believing without seeing, relying on more than our own insights, letting go of our pride. It wasn't easy.

But I believe this has been the path God set for us. Some couples meet, get engaged a year later, get married a year after that, and have their first baby a year after that. This is beautiful and wonderful and these couples are so very blessed. Maybe if I had met my husband when I was 25, this would have been our story too.

But God brought him into my life when I was only 18. He wanted me to grow up alongside this man. He wanted him to be there with me when I graduated from college, when I got my first apartment by myself in the city, when I passed my audition into grad school. He wanted us to visit 16 states together before we were even engaged--a side effect of having to travel all over the country just to see each other for a weekend. He wanted us to face the trials of being apart while experiencing the gift of true and lasting love. He gave us the opportunity to grow in circumstances that could have broken us. We could have given up, but we didn't. Now, with my husband at my side, I'm sure I can face just about anything.

Waiting. This has been such a central theme for us. It's amazing, and a little funny even, just how much waiting we've had to do. Let me tell you, we've become experts at it. That's not to say that it's now easy for us. We're in the midst of waiting and hoping for some really big changes to happen in our lives, and at times the waiting feels unbearable.

But years of waiting have taught me--it is bearable. It is always bearable, but only through the grace of God. Only through the awesome power of prayer. Only by leaning on my husband and not putting up walls around my heart. It is bearable because "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." It is bearable because this is God's path for us. He knows best.

And you know what? The most difficult periods of waiting, without fail, have always opened up into the most beautiful seasons of my life. He teaches us and loves us like crazy in our most trying moments, if we only let Him in.

A different sort of waiting...this is right before we walked into our reception as husband and wife!



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

DIY Cook's Illustrated Kitchen Art


Remember a few months ago, when I discovered the hand-drawn back covers of my favorite cooking magazine, Cook's Illustrated? At the time, I really didn't think I had space for them in my kitchen and planned to hang on to them for my next kitchen. But then I took a harder look and realized there was an empty space above the stove that would be perfect for a pair of drawings. Four wouldn't fit, but two would, and I knew that some artwork would really liven up the space (it's not the most beautiful kitchen to begin with, so I have to do everything I can to bring in some charm!).

(I found it impossible to get a glare-free photo--sorry! Hopefully you can still get the basic idea.)

The frames I found are perfect, especially for this spot. I was a little worried about splattering from the stove, but since the frames are so thin and sleek, I don't think that will be a problem. And the glass can easily be cleaned. I just love this vintage-style artwork and I can't wait to add the other two--and maybe more--into the mix someday!




Monday, December 2, 2013

Thankful

We took this in one take! So happy we made time for a photo before eating.


I love that even when you're well into your marriage, and no longer newlyweds, there are still so many new things, so many "firsts" still yet to come. This year was the first time my husband and I hosted Thanksgiving at our home and it was absolutely wonderful. It felt cozy and just right.

We had decided a while ago not to travel for Thanksgiving this year because this fall has been so packed with trips and we knew we'd be seeing our families at Christmastime. So we had planned to stay home, just the two of us, and were perfectly happy about it. But then my husband's older sister called me and asked what our plans were, and when I invited them to our house, I was thrilled to discover they were willing to drive up to Alabama to spend Thanksgiving with us! 

We had the best time. My niece and nephew are at the most adorable ages and are so much fun to be around. We love that they feel comfortable with us even though we don't see them too terribly often--the little guy even climbed into our bed both mornings they were here! 

And we did something totally new with our Thanksgiving turkey this year--my brother-in-law deep-fried it! Apparently that's the Southern way of doing a big turkey and it turned out incredibly moist and delicious, with the most crispy skin. The best part was that we didn't have to worry about cooking it in the oven, basting it and checking it all day long. He brought his deep-frying equipment out to the backyard, while we were in the kitchen focusing on the sides (many of which I'd already made ahead of time). My sister-in-law mentioned that this was the most relaxing Thanksgiving she's ever had--something every hostess wants to hear!

Here are a few snapshots from our holiday. I'm so thankful for family, near and far.


Taking the kids on an early morning walk on Thanksgiving day.

Making a lego helicopter! He picked the right uncle to help him.

At the kid's table!

Some snacks to tide us over.

This one melts my heart!


I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are enjoying this special time of preparation before Christmas. It's hard to believe it's already December!





Wednesday, November 27, 2013

DIY Temporary Composer Art



We're lucky enough to have three bathrooms in the townhouse we're renting, but unfortunately, in terms of design and style, they're pretty underwhelming. There's one that we use as a guest bathroom but because we haven't had too many overnight visitors down here in Southern Alabama, I haven't done much to try to spruce it up and make it cute.

But as I was cleaning it and getting it ready for my sister-in-law and her family, who are arriving tonight to spend Thanksgiving with us, I decided I really needed to put something on the walls. I didn't want to drill because as it is, we'll likely have to spend an entire day filling all the holes in the walls before we move. So I put my thinking cap on. How could I make this bathroom a little more inviting with some DIY/temporary art that wouldn't require nails?

I went downstairs and looked in my piano bench (I keep all kinds of odd, random things in there!) and found these beautiful composer cards I'd forgotten about. Each one is a portrait of a famous composer and the back contains a description of their life and work. They're printed on nice, sturdy card stock, and the portraits are really quite beautiful. Perfect!

I had some glue dots in my craft supplies that I knew would secure them to the walls but wouldn't end up creating more work for me later on when I remove them. I didn't plan the design, just eye-balled it and created a cute little gallery.

This is definitely not long-term art, but I think it's a great last-minute way to add some spice to an otherwise boring bathroom! Sometimes, improvising something temporary is just enough to make you feel better about a space.




On that note, I hope all of your Thanksgiving plans are going beautifully and that you have a wonderful meal and a happy day celebrating with family. Thanks, as always, for being such loyal readers.



Monday, November 25, 2013

DIY Lucite And Copper Tray

I have a really fun DIY to share with you today--it's simple, completely sophisticated, and a lovely project for this season of parties and festivities and gatherings. I just love the way my lucite and copper tray (which I use as a cheeseboard) turned out!


I've been really gravitating toward trays lately. I think they add a stylish and modern touch to coffee tables and countertops, and they're so perfect for serving, or just for holding books or candles or coasters. The idea for this particular DIY from this fabulous tutorial and I only modified it slightly. I had the hardware store cut me a 6' by 18' piece of plexiglass (instead of 5' by 18') and I used pulls that required two screws. It would definitely be simpler with a one-screw pull (less measuring and room for error!) but either will work well.

I was slightly nervous about drilling through the plexiglass but it was quite easy. Just remember to wear safety glasses, keep the plastic coating on while drilling, and don't put too much pressure on the plexiglass. It also helps to put a piece of scrap wood underneath so that you can drill straight through. It was also a little tricky to find screws that were the right length and style, but the people at the hardware store were really helpful! After screwing in the pulls, I added the sticky bumpers to the corners, and that was it.




I'm totally in love with how this project turned out. Who knew that plexiglass could be so glamorous? I'm now envisioning all sorts of other kinds of trays you could make--small ones for jewelry, square ones for appetizers, and of course you could have a blast experimenting with pulls and knobs. 

What do you think? Will you try this project? 


(Just by chance, after deciding to tackle this DIY, I came across this adorable but pricey lucite tray. If I can find some brass hardware like this, I'm totally going to mimic it--and for a fraction of the price!)




Friday, November 22, 2013

Finding The Holiday Spirit

Alabama doesn't have winter, but it sure does have incredible sunsets.


I woke up this morning and suddenly, for the first time this year, it felt like the holiday season. I don't know what it was--maybe the grey overcast sky? Or maybe it was that I did some Thanksgiving shopping and preparation yesterday (we're hosting my sister-in-law and her family!). This is the second year we've lived in this crazy, balmy climate, and I've noticed that the weather makes it difficult for me to get into the holiday spirit. Come November, it doesn't feel like Thanksgiving and Christmas are on the horizon. I've been so well programmed to associate these holidays with the crispness and coziness of winter, which we just don't have here.

But when I woke up today, I half expected to see a blanket of snow on the ground, soft flakes falling slowly. I know it was wishful thinking but it was such a pleasant early morning daydream and I had a cozy and familiar feeling as I walked downstairs to make tea. There's something in the air today that's stirring that holiday spirit inside of me--despite the absence of the winter that I love--and I'm grateful for whatever it is.




Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Naturally Scented Home

I've never really cared for air fresheners. I think they tend to smell artificial, or sicky-sweet, and they usually give me a headache. But I do love a nice, fresh, natural scent, which is why I've been experimenting with essential oils more and more. So far I've picked up lemon and lavender oil from the local health shop. I'm really pining after some jasmine oil (one of my favorite scents!) but the store didn't have any in stock. I'm keeping my eyes peeled!

Since we're heading into the holiday season and it's the time of year for hosting out-of-town guests, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of ways you can use essential oils to make your home smell lovely. Some of these ideas are my own and others I came across while doing a little research. I'm focusing on lemon and lavender because those are the oils I have and I think they're really natural smelling, but you could easily substitute in eucalyptus, pine, peppermint, or others!


Make homemade lavender spray with water and a few drops of lavender oil. Use it to freshen sheets and pillows and towels.

Drop some essential oil into a small bowl of boiling water. Set the bowl in a bathroom or a guest room for a few minutes and allow the smell to diffuse.

Put lavender oil on a cotton ball and tuck it into dresser drawers.

Make homemade lemon spray with water and a few drops of lemon oil. Use as a natural air freshener for your kitchen and bathrooms.

Add a drop of lemon oil to the dishwasher when you're running a wash cycle.

Put a drop of essential oil directly on the lightbulb in a lamp (when it's off and cool). When the lamp is turned on, the heat will diffuse the oil. (I love this one!)

Place a cotton ball with a few drops of lemon or lavender oil on it in your vacuum bag. When you vacuum, the scent will be dispersed.



Do you think you'll try any of these? Have any other great tips for using essential oils? A few of these I haven't tried, and I'm excited to see how they work in my home!




Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Favorite Way To Shop For Food

Lately, I've been getting pangs of nostalgia for the way I used to shop for food when I lived in New York.

No, I don't miss hauling groceries up three flights of stairs, or trekking ten blocks with two cloth bags that were bursting with produce around my shoulders, or plopping my Trader Joe's bags between my feet to steady them on the subway home.

What I miss is the variety of fresh and interesting options, the range of ethnic foods, the little specialty shops where I'd go to get just one or two things.

Image Source / Google Street View

I used to go to a little Italian market in my neighborhood to get big chunks of parmesan cheese that I would grate over just about anything, it was so divine. Then I'd throw the rind into a pot of stew and walk back to Milano's for another chunk, and sometimes I'd treat myself to a batch of freshly-made pasta too.

I used to buy curry at Kalustyan's on Lexington and 28th. I absolutely love curry and theirs was just the best. One time, for a special lamb dish I was making, I also bought the most fragrant cinnamon sticks and some bright green cardamom pods.

I was always trying out new bakeries for bread and bagels. There are too many good ones to be loyal to only one.

Instead of ordering loose tea online like I do now, I took the subway down to Broome Street to replenish my tins. It was fun to sample new varieties, but I always loved going back to my old favorites.

I cheated with olive oil. My parents were about a 4-hour bus ride away and they had a great source for Greek olive oil, so I would bring up my bottle to refill whenever I visited them in Upstate New York.

And I could go on and on. For me, shopping for great food was one of the highlights of living in New York. I didn't even mention the beautiful things I always found at the farmer's markets. Or the Turkish bodega right next to my building where I bought most of my produce and nuts and grains and dried fruit.

My mom is the one who taught me that this is the best way to shop. Growing up, we had a favorite bakery, a Greek imports store where we got the most delicious olives and feta cheese, an amazing German butcher shop. I think there's value in this kind of shopping, which is reminiscent of the way it used to be before supermarkets came into the picture. Getting your bread from the baker and your meat from the butcher.

I love it because food is important to me and so I try to seek out what is the most fresh and flavorful. I also much prefer popping into several small shops to spending 45 minutes getting everything I need at a massive grocery store. It's also nice to support local businesses and believe it or not--I think this approach may have saved me some money (traditional NYC grocery stores are enormously overpriced).

I'm dreaming of the day when I can shop this way again. In the meantime, think I can convince my little brother to ship me some NYC bagels?





Friday, November 15, 2013

Isabel Marant

I really love when well-known designers partner up with bigger nationwide stores (also known as "designer collaborations"). Target and H&M are masters of this and I think the idea behind it is brilliant. It's a way of making beautiful, designer pieces accessible and (more) affordable to a wider group of people, and it makes shopping at generic stores a little more exciting and unique!

You may have heard that Isabel Marant has a new guest collection at H&M and I think so many of her designs are just gorgeous. They're feminine, not too revealing, classic yet a tad edgy. I've been really drawn to black and white lately and the collection is full of these colors. I also love the tribal-inspired patterns she's using. I wish I could snatch up each one of these, but for now, I'll just share with you my favorites. 








What do you think? Do you love these pieces as much as I do? I'm going to hold off for now but maybe I'll check back after Thanksgiving and see if H&M is having a Black Friday sale! 





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