Thursday, October 31, 2013

An Oddly Beautiful Fruit

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I cut open a pomegranate. I can't believe it took me so long! I've had pomegranate seeds plenty of times but until now, I had never retrieved them myself.

And I was really quite taken by how beautiful the inside of a pomegranate is. The seeds are tucked into the fruit in clusters and they're so vibrantly pinkish-vermilion that they almost look like little candies. You can use your fingers to gently loosen them from the skin of the fruit and where they were nestled, a tiny little imprint is left. It's such a strange fruit and I found myself marveling at it as I peeled back the layers and collected the seeds in a bowl. It wasn't nearly as quick as, say, peeling an orange, but it was oddly therapeutic.

All of this reminded me of a lovely article I recently read on pomegranates. It's a celebration of the imperfect, a beautiful reflection on how it is often the scarred and bruised and ugly fruits that produce the sweetest, most divine flavor. I loved the piece when I read it a few days ago and have new appreciation for it now that I've experienced the beauty of a pomegranate firsthand.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


When it comes to my regular beauty routine, I keep things pretty simple. I like natural, minimal makeup, my hair is fairly low-maintenance, and to be honest, I just don't have the desire to spend a lot of time primping in the morning. I like to look put together but I also think that simple and natural is the best way to look fresh and to look like yourself.

But there are certain times--like weddings, or special family events--when I want to get dolled up and wear a little more makeup and put a little extra care into styling my hair. And the problem is that I can be sort of clueless when I'm outside of my simple, easy routines. I can blow-dry my hair into a silky sheen with a paddle brush, but I'm absolutely terrible with a curling iron. I can't french braid (if only I could--this would be so beautiful for the holidays) and I'm not even good at regular braids. I only recently learned from a Sephora employee how to properly put on eye shadow, but I'm much more likely to skip the eye shadow and just use a touch of this on my eyelids for an even, neutral look.

My usual way of adding a little extra charm to my look is with a pretty lipstick. This is a beautiful, subtle red, this is a gorgeous deep berry that's perfect for fall, and I recently ordered this lipstick set and can't wait to try out some of these luxurious shades.

But I've been thinking lately about liquid eyeliner and how I would just love to be able to achieve that perfect, sleek, winged look for those occasions when I want to feel a little bit glamorous. Something like this.

For years I've used this eyeliner--it's easy to apply and results in a soft, smoky, subtle look, and I like it a lot. But don't you agree that there's something so alluring and polished about black liquid liner? It's retro and elegant--think Audrey Hepburn--and by keeping the rest of your makeup simple, it puts all of the emphasis on your eyes.

I'm on a mission to be able to do this (using this eyeliner pen) and I found this video to be a very helpful starting point. Wish me luck! Maybe by Christmas I'll have it down.

Monday, October 28, 2013

DIY Kitchen Art Idea

Last Christmas, my parents gave me a subscription to Cook's Illustrated, which is possibly the most well-known, professional, beautifully-done cooking magazine around. I love the approach they take--testing and testing until they have found the most perfect way to make a fried egg, or until they have discovered the absolute best balance between flavor and texture in a wild mushroom soup. They take the scientific approach to cooking which is great, because I don't have the knowledge or the patience to do that in my own kitchen! I've learned so much from these magazines and I can wholeheartedly say that reading these has made me a better and more informed cook.

I recently noticed that on the back of every issue there's a lovely, vintage-style drawing of different foods or herbs or spices. Aren't these terrific? Luckily I was able to dig up a few old issues that I had saved. I can't believe I hadn't seen these before. I did a tiny bit of research and discovered that these are all hand-drawn by an artist named John Burgoyne. What a neat job he has, and how wonderful to know these illustrations started out as pencil drawings!

I don't have room to do this in our current kitchen but I'm imagining these in white mats and frames all together in a gallery style wall. Wouldn't that be neat? And I could add to the collection each time I got a new issue or two. I don't always love the look of a gallery wall but I think keeping the frames all white and sticking to a tight grid pattern (versus a random, spread-out pattern) would make for a pretty sophisticated, vintage-style kitchen wall. 

What do you think? Should I keep this project in the back of my mind as potential DIY kitchen art? 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Useful Or Beautiful

I've realized something about the kind of thrift/consignment/antique shops I love most for finding interesting, inexpensive, one-of-a-kind pieces for my home. I've been to so many over the last few years--in New York, here in Alabama, in Washington, D.C.--and it can be easy to be swept into the shops that look the prettiest. The ones that have cute window displays and look more like a boutique than a secondhand store. And these places can certainly be terrific. In fact, for clothes and shoes and bags, these kinds of thrift stores are preferable. (If you ever need recommendations on places to find secondhand clothes in New York, ask me!)

But when it comes to thrift shopping for the home, the places I love the most--the ones that I've found hold the most buried treasure for the greatest value--are the ones that aren't so cute. The ones that are a little dusty and not so organized, the ones where you really have to look to find something worth buying. The kind where you come away with only one or two things but also the knowledge that you got the best that shop had to offer on that day. After sifting through the junk for an hour, it feels pretty great to be rewarded with a little gem.

I've found that this kind of thrift-shopping takes some patience and practice, however, so I thought I'd share a few little tips that I've picked up over time. I'm going to use this little silver-plated footed tray--which I recently got for less than five dollars in a highly disorganized and quite dusty shop--as my example.

First, you have to be able to picture it another context (in other words, imagine how it would look outside of the disorganized shop) and envision how you'll use it at home. I knew this footed tray would look perfect on my nightstand. It's the right size to hold a few little things, the feminine, glamorous style works well with my cut-glass antique lamp, and it has a unique shape that you don't often see. I also love the scalloped edging and the hammered metal look. It's just different and it's my taste and I knew it would be both beautiful and functional in our home.

Very often, you have to also use your imagination. This tray didn't need anything other than a good scrubbing, but more frequently my thrift finds need a paint job or some other big transformation to bring them to life. You should have a sense of how you'll be changing the piece to fit your style before you leave the store.

And finally, can the piece work in multiple settings? For now, I'm loving my little silver tray on my nightstand and think it's ideal for holding my wedding rings and my watch and some lip balm. But I may not always want it there and before buying something, I make sure it could work in a few different ways. I could easily use this in a bathroom to hold bobby pins or lipstick, on a dresser for my jewelry, or even on the edge of a sink for some fancy soaps.

One of the best aspects of thrift shopping, I think, is the imperfectness of it all. I love the patina on this tray, and I love that it's not exactly symmetrical (one corner is slightly bent). I love that you're so much more likely to find old things, handmade things, things that no one else in the world has but you.

Are you a thrift shopper? Do you think these tips are helpful? I'd love to know.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

That One Summer

My husband and I were in a long distance relationship/engagement/marriage for a total of five years. Looking back, that seems crazy! We were young when we met and we both were pursuing important and interesting things during those years, and that time apart really did make us closer. Nevertheless, it wasn't easy.

But during the summer of 2009, we had a slight reprieve from the aching longing and missing that we had gotten so used to. Our lives overlapped and we spent a blissful summer together in New York! I had an internship at a publishing house in Hoboken, New Jersey, and my husband was working in Jersey City in the financial district. I was staying in NYU housing on the Lower East Side and his apartment was across the river in New Jersey, so we still had to travel to see each other, but I can't explain how lovely it was to live in the same area for a few months. We really made the most of it.

We met in the park outside my office building for lunch on most days, where we had glorious views of the Hudson River and the West side of Manhattan. We had tons of picnics and went bike riding and saw outdoor movies. We went to a Mets game one night, visited museums, and my husband took me out on the town for my 21st birthday. It was all so much fun.

I was just reminiscing and going through some of my photos from that summer and thought I'd share a few. It's amazing to remember how giddy I was all summer long, and how wonderful it is that now this man is my husband and I get to see him every day! I sure am blessed.

Hanging out in Central Park.

Being silly at the Met.

Sitting on a park bench together after work. I like this one because I remember that I had something else going on that night, so we met at a bench just to say hi and talk for a few minutes. We couldn't get enough of each other.

We went out to the beach on Long Island one weekend!

Reading the paper and drinking coffee in the park. I remember feeling like such a city gal!

A bike ride down to lower Manhattan.

Dinner in Hoboken.

This was taken near Madison Square Park, where we spent a lot of time together.

That one summer really gave us strength, and fuel to keep going, and gave us a glimpse of what our lives would one day become. If you've ever been in a long distance relationship, I'm sure you can understand just how precious and restorative a few months together in the same city can be!

Monday, October 21, 2013

When Science And Art Collide

My husband loves science. It's something he's really passionate about and while he's not a scientist by profession, it makes up a big part of his life and who he is. Everything from the tiniest and most unusual creatures on our planet to the incredible mysteries of our universe, it fascinates him.

My husband is always eager to share the latest things he's learned with his not-so-science-y wife (the only C I ever got in college was in a mandatory science class I took freshman year--and what's pathetic is that I was actually trying!). But even though science isn't at all my forte, I try to be a good listener, and he's taught me some amazing things. If it weren't for my husband, I would have never known that there is a type of ant out there that builds their entire colony inside of an acorn. Or that there is a mission in the works to try to send humans within the next ten or so years to live permanently on Mars. Or that a company in France is developing Kevlar-toed socks that would presumably never wear out.

I can admit that most of the factoids he shares with me are interesting, and some of them really stick with me. But it's not often that I'm completely stopped in my tracks, as I was when he sent me the video I'm about to share. When science, and nature, and the mysteries of our world combine with visual beauty and majesty and sound, then I understand. Then I'm fascinated and transfixed and moved, in awe of this world we call home, amazed by the power of it all.

I can't explain what causes a "supercell" like this to occur, as I know my husband can. And if I asked him to explain it to me I'm sure I would soon forget--my mind just doesn't absorb technical details like his does. But what I do know is that this is magical, and frightening, and so heartbreakingly beautiful. I see God in this, I see powerful forces that I can't possibly comprehend, I see fury and beauty tied up together in a way that brings tears to my eyes, and makes me realize how small each of us really are.

When science and art collide, I get it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

In All Things

Pied Beauty
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

My husband and I have been taking an English Literature class together this semester at a local community college. Well actually, he's taking the class, and I got special permission from the professor to audit it. The teacher is really fantastic and it's been a treat to sit in on the lectures and do the readings--and I'm not on the hook for grades or homework! It's just pure learning and brain stimulation for me.

We read some poetry this week by a fascinating man I'd never heard of, Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest who lived and wrote in Victorian England. Many of his poems are a celebration of the natural world and he had a way of seeing God in all things, even in things that most people would say are ugly or strange.

I think this poem, Pied Beauty, is so lovely. Glory be to God for dappled things, it says. Hopkins takes such joy in the unusual and imperfect and it seems that these things, for him, only reinforce the presence of God in the world.

This poem has reminded me to try to be more intentional about seeking God and noticing Him, even when the world around me seems plain or frustrating or unpleasant. Yesterday I stepped outside to take a walk and it immediately started to sprinkle, but I decided to keep walking. I decided to embrace the rain and try to enjoy getting wet and the cool drops on my face, and once I did that, I began to feel the beauty of it all. The sky was gray, the rain made the grass smell musky, and it was a far cry from the perfect afternoon stroll. But perhaps that's just a matter of perspective. The rain was God's rain, it was falling on God's earth, and it was falling on me, and I am nothing if not a child of God. If I decided to look at it this way, wouldn't that make it good?

Who am I to rule that this day, this moment, isn't just a wonderful as the next? For by Him were all things created...all things were created by Him, and for Him. Maybe in wading through dreariness, in soaking it in and embracing it and accepting it, we can find good in it--we can find God in it. Holding it at arm's length is what makes it ugly.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Delicious Trick

By pure luck and experimentation, I discovered the most delicious snack that requires only three ingredients, is quick and very nutritious, and--the best and most surprising part--tastes remarkably like cheesecake. Here's how it happened.

I eat a fair amount of yogurt and I usually go for the tangy, plain, whole milk variety. One day I was eating some plain yogurt as a snack and I decided to top it with a bit of milled golden flax seed, just for taste and added nutrition. The crumbly texture against the creamy yogurt was so satisfying and really reminded me of the incredible combination of graham cracker crust and cheesecake filling. So the next time, I decided to use vanilla yogurt instead, and since I love the way lemon and dairy taste together, I stirred in a squeeze of lemon juice. I topped it with extra ground flax seed and it was heaven. I was completely fooled into thinking I was eating lemon cheesecake!

Just to make sure my tastebuds weren't tricking me I brought this little treat to my husband and said, "What does this remind you of?" I was thrilled when he answered, "Cheesecake!" without missing a beat. He loved it.

So there you go--a completely healthy, simple, flavorful way to enjoy the tastes and textures of cheesecake whenever you like. Next time I may add a little grated lemon zest for some extra zing! 

What do you think? Will you try it? It's truly a delicious trick.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Taste Of The Seaside

Our day trip to Seaside, Florida last weekend was so much fun! Seaside is a really sweet beach town and we had a great time exploring. Parts of the town center were a little bit crowded for our taste, but as soon as we walked into the residential area with its winding streets and brightly colored, tastefully constructed beach houses, it felt really private and quiet and peaceful. Here's a taste of Seaside.

It was really fun to walk around Seaside, but I would just love to go back someday and rent one of these adorable houses for a week. You could cook your own food, avoid the restaurant crowds, walk and bike to get around, and just enjoy the Gulf and the local scenery and these cozy little cottages. Doesn't that sound lovely?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pretty Sweater Pins

Do you ever wear pins or brooches? I don't think they're too much in vogue these days, but I've always liked keeping a pretty pin on the collar of my dressy winter coats. My mom always had one on her nice coats and it really is a fun way to add some extra style to your look. It feels feminine and elegant and vintage, to me. 

Well, it's not quite time for winter coats yet, but I was looking through some of my pins and thought they would look darling on a big comfy fall sweater. So I pulled out three pins and grabbed a basic grey cardigan (this look works best on a loose, open cardigan that isn't too thick or heavy).

The top and bottom pins are both antiques and were very special gifts from family and friends. The middle one is actually a stud earring--a recent Anthropologie find--but it worked much the same way as the pins. Here are the looks I came up with!

By pinning my jewels in different spots, I was able to achieve three totally unique looks. I love it! My beautiful pins really transformed this basic grey knit sweater into something a bit more special, don't you think? 

Would you try this? If you don't own any pins, check your local thrift shops!

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Day Trip To Seaside

Yesterday over breakfast my husband remembered that he has today off from work, and he proposed we take a little trip. Of course I jumped on the idea! There are a few places within fairly close driving distance that we've been wanting to see, and one of them is Seaside, Florida. It's only about two hours due South, it's another one of those fascinating New Urbanist communities, and it just seems like an absolutely adorable, quaint, Florida town (thanks Dad, for the recommendation!).

So we're setting off early this morning to Seaside for a day trip! We plan to go to some antique shops along the way, eat seafood for lunch and dinner, and breathe in the crisp fall air coming off the ocean. Seaside is also known for being a very artistic community so we may pop into one of its many art galleries. And perhaps a bike ride along the beach? We'll have to see how much we can fit into one day.

I hope you have a beautiful weekend!

p.s. Do you recognize the town from this movie?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

An Environment For Inspiration

When you're a creative person, sometimes it can feel like you're at the mercy of inspiration, that elusive river that comes and goes, sometimes raging strong inside of you and shining light on your work, other times trickling away and leaving darkness in its place.

I have felt the ebb and flow of inspiration and it's a mystery to me. One thing I do know is that as an artist, you have to work even when you don't feel that light embrace, that force pushing you along and guiding you. I learned this during my years studying piano--if I'd practiced only when I felt that creative spark and energy, I don't think my recitals would have gone very well.

Our issue of Notre Dame Magazine arrived in the mail yesterday and the cover of the magazine says, "What Inspires Us." I eagerly flipped open to an article entitled, "My Desk Is An Altar." It's a beautiful piece about writing and Christianity, but I was particularly struck by what Heather King wrote about inspiration.

On an ideal day I work for several hours...Every late afternoon or early evening I take an hour-long walk, during which I observe the tops of trees, the shapes of leaves, people's faces. I play the piano for 15 or 20 minutes. I try to say Evening Prayer and do a short examination of conscience. I listen to the birds again.

Within that framework, inspiration flows: perpetually, abundantly, in ever astonishing and ever new ways. Inspiration flows and then I do the packhorse work of writing, shaping, revising.

She treats inspiration as something to be continuously cultivated. She does things each day that stir her and awaken her, and also things that make her calm and contemplative and point her toward Christ. She creates for herself an environment for inspiration, and I love that.

I still do believe that inspiration isn't a given, no matter how many beautiful or thoughtful things we fill our days with. It does come and go no matter how hard we try to capture it. But I'm learning more and more, both through experience and through stories like this one, that we can and must try. Like Heather, taking walks outside breeds creativeness in me. So does making things with my own two hands. Often, cooking makes me feel alive and inspired.

The next time I have a dry spell, I'm going to remember that I must try to find inspiration, must look for it and not give in to the flatness. I'm going to remember Heather's words: So ask, seek, knock. Look out the window. The scales will fall from our eyes...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How Moving Trucks Make Me Feel

We live in an Army town so we see moving trucks on our street all the time. This is a temporary stop, and not many families are here for too long. My husband and I like to take evening walks around the neighborhood and when we spy a moving truck, he looks at me and says, "That will be us in a few months."

Seeing those moving trucks makes me feel a whole lot of things. Here are just a few.

I feel total joy about our future and calm about our slowly shaping plans.

I wonder about the new home we will move into, and I envision the rooms, and the people moving between them.

I feel thankful for the man by my side because I've moved to him and he's moved to me but we've never moved anywhere together, and this is a blessing we've been waiting on for years.

I feel a little sorry for myself (to be quite frank) because our time here was so much longer than we expected, and then I make myself snap out of it because the difficulties of the past year or so will make our new lives in a new state that much sweeter.

I daydream for a minute about living in a place where I can walk to get a cup of coffee or to a park, a place that has snow and lots of culture.

I imagine where our neighbors might be moving to, and hope that they are as filled with excitement and anticipation and happiness as I know I will be when that truck is parked in front of our house.

I can't share where we will move to just yet, and to be honest, we are only about 90% sure ourselves. Things are becoming less complicated all the time but there is still a lot to be sorted out and important news that we're waiting on. And as for when, we don't know that either. (But sooner rather than later, is what we're thinking!)

But these unknowns are nothing compared to the big long unknown that lasted from May 2012 to August 2013. I know what uncertainty is and what it feels like, and this time of anticipation is nothing compared to that. I think God sometimes pushes us a little bit, makes us uncomfortable and challenges us and puts us in predicaments we wouldn't have chosen ourselves, all so that we will learn to rely on Him. And so that we have new gratitude for the times that feel good and right, rich and filled to the brim with living.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Embracing Patterns

I really love and gravitate toward neutrals. White, ivory, earthy greens and antique golds and oil-rubbed bronze. I believe that if the furniture and art and other decor are interesting enough, an all-neutral space can certainly be pulled off. Neutral rooms are calming and soft and feel natural.

But I also think it's fun to add in splashes of color, and fun textures and materials like metals, or old, antique wood. Most recently, I've began to embrace patterns and I love how they have mixed into our eclectic style. Here are some snapshots from around our living room.

This tribal blanket is incredibly soft and I think it pops against the ivory chair. The pattern feels both modern and ancient to me. I love that.

This tray is perfect for keeping a few things organized on our coffee table, such as books and coasters, and I think the black on white pattern is so fresh and sophisticated.

I wanted a funky pot for this aloe plant that I got at the farmer's market. Orange is normally not a color I love (not a bit!) but this particular orange is more of a coral, and it's offset by the ivory and the antique "crackle" look.

We got this black and white striped throw when we first moved here. It's classic yet contemporary, and it looks nice against the tray, too.

Too much of this toile would not be good--the French country style is lovely but can be a little overpowering if taken too far. But when I rest this little handmade pillow against my metal Tolix chair, which sits by my 1936 piano, the result is a happy mix of rustic and industrial, antique and retro.

Tell me about the patterns in your home! Do you love neutrals, or do colors make you happy? I'd love to hear.

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