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! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

An Unexpected, Happy Side Effect

Photo courtesy of Betsy's mom and Tina's camera!

When I started my blog, I did it for the writing. I had (and have) ideas swirling around in me and an unusual mix of interests and topics that I couldn't wait to explore and express. I wanted more creativity in my life and wanted to stretch my imagination and stimulate my mind.

This past weekend, my husband and I were talking with my Dad (who is a writer) and he said something really wise. He said that in life and in work you should try to "figure out what you can't not do." My Dad can't not write. He analyzes his world through words and it's such a part of who he is. And more and more, I've realized that he passed his writing gene on to me.

I get so much enjoyment out of writing. I truly love my blog and feel devoted to it. I knew as soon as I started Something Ivory that it would bring me joy and satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. But you know what I never expected this blog to bring into my life? Good friends.

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting two blog (turned real-life!) friends, Tina and Betsy. These girls have interesting, sweet, funny, and wise blogs that I have been reading for months now, and it was a lot of fun to meet in person. We explored the gardens at the National Cathedral and then walked a few blocks to an adorable cupcake shop, all the while enjoying a sunny, crisp, blustery D.C. day. 

It makes sense when I think about it. We share our hearts on our blogs, so when you find a blogger you click with it's only natural that you will enjoy each other's company in real life. I imagine it's a little bit like having a pen pal. You communicate through words alone for months and when you get together, you don't feel like strangers meeting for the first time because you've already established a connection through language. 

For me, this has certainly been an unexpected, happy side effect of blogging. Finding kindred spirits, clicking with other writers, and making friends. 

Thanks for such a fun afternoon, Tina and Betsy!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Full To Bursting

A pretty sun-dappled, leaves-strewn walkway. From our trip this weekend.

We have so many exciting, big things on the horizon that I'm finding it hard to sort through my thoughts this morning. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever been on the brink of an overwhelming but wonderful life change and you just felt so full and blessed, maybe even a little foggy-headed because it's all a little surreal?

After over a year and a half of major limbo we are beginning to come up with plans, plans that feel more real and more right by the minute. We're aware now more than ever that God is the one who is really in charge of these plans--we're just following His lead and feeling so thankful for the direction He is taking us.

My husband and I both believe with our whole hearts that we're being called into our new lives. We're being pushed and pulled, we're praying and listening and being answered. We have been learning to trust and our faith has been tested but we're coming out on the other side more whole and more devoted to God and each other. A picture of our future is forming in my mind's eye, and it's a happy future filled with hope and love.

Fresh starts are never easy, and I'm sure this one will come with its fair share of stress and uncertainty. But right now, I'm feeling full to bursting.

(Thank you, sweet readers, for being patient and understanding that I can't divulge too many specifics right now. I can't wait to share more as the time becomes right.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Happy Veteran's Day

America The Beautiful, indeed. 

So thankful for our military today and always.

(Photo I took this weekend from the steps of the Library of Congress.)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ambassadors For Marriage: Heather And Trevor

I'm so happy that Heather from Tickled Yellow agreed to be a part of my Ambassadors for Marriage series. Heather is a lovely writer, a super creative person, and she and her husband are really sweet and inspiring! It was fun to get her take on both the joys and struggles of marriage, and I hope you feel heartened by her responses as I do. Thank you, Heather, for being such a great ambassador for this wonderful thing called marriage!

Describe how you met your husband and how you felt as you got to know him.
Trevor and I met in high school, in the back rows of a crowded classroom. We became shy friends, kinda crushing on each other, but trying to play it cool. I fell hard for him, even writing in my journal that I was sure I would marry him one day. He headed off to college the next year, though, and I thought I'd never see him again. After I graduated, having nowhere else to really go, I made the last-minute decision to attend the same college (I like to tell people I was only partly stalking him.) We remained good friends throughout college, and I was still crazy about him. The stars must have aligned after college graduation, because we finally left the friend zone for good and started dating. We knew almost right away that we would get married.

When did you know he was the one you wanted to marry?
There were kind of a lot of moments when I knew (or hoped) that he was the one, even as a teenager. But the moment when I knew, without a doubt, was when he took me kayaking the summer after graduation and apologized for never asking me out before. And he said, "It's funny how things have a way of working themselves out, isn't it?" I thought, oh my gosh, this is so happening. We are totally getting married.

What has been the most rewarding part of your marriage so far?
People say that marriage is like a mirror, bringing out the good and bad of who you really are. It has been challenging, but incredibly rewarding, to find areas in which we need to grow and then encouraging each other in that growth and maturing process. I didn't realize how stubborn and selfish I was when we were first married, but I've been able to grow so much because of that "mirror" that is marriage. We encourage each other to become the best versions of ourselves, and it's the closest and most unique relationship I've ever had.

It's also nice being able to spend so much time together. While dating was fun, I love that marriage has made us "best buds." We can go grocery shopping together and have the best time.

What have you learned about your husband that you didn't know before you got married?
Trevor and I were friends for eight years before we got married, so I knew him pretty well when we got married. If I had to say what I've learned about him, though, it's that he is incredibly genuine. He was such a gentleman when we were dating, and that hasn't changed at all. He's also a really good dancer, which makes him a great wedding date! I also learned that he does not appreciate my John Denver CDs, but he's learned to pick his battles (who doesn't love "Sunshine on My Shoulders?").

How would you describe "the ideal wife," the one you strive always to become?
When we were first married, I had this grand image of what the ideal wife looked like: she was a perfect cook, kept the house in perfect order, was a charming hostess. And I would get so frustrated at myself when I didn't live up to these standards. I finally realized that he loves me for who I am (and, to be fair, he knew I was a horrible cook long before we got married!). Being the most loving wife I can be means connecting with God every day and realizing that, first and foremost, my worth comes from him. I can't love Trevor well without loving God first.

How do you face challenges in marriage? What are your strategies for overcoming the inevitable hard moments or hard days?
The best thing, for me, is to remember that our marriage is constantly evolving, full of seasons and ebbs and flows. When we were first married, I would get so anxious every time we had a fight: what does this mean? Am I a horrible wife? Were we even meant to be together in the first place? I had to learn to not be so dramatic and just shrug things off. Bad days, boring days, great days--they're all a part of life.

We've only been married two years, but it seems like we only learn more and more about each other as time goes on--what irritates the other person, what not to say, things like that. It's gotten so much easier now that we have a better understanding of each other's personalities.

What lessons have you learned throughout your journey to becoming husband and wife?
We've learned that we are so much better together than apart. My relationship with him teaches me so much about my relationship with God, about selflessness and faithfulness. We've learned that, contrary to what so many people say, marriage only keeps getting better. I wouldn't trade our relationship now for what it was two years ago. There's something so unique about growing together as a couple--in our faith, in our love for each other, in our tastes and hobbies and interests. I've taught him how to ride a unicycle, for example, and he's taught me how to appreciate (or at least tolerate) Asian food.

How do you feel about “young” marriage?
We were pretty young when he proposed. I was 21 and he was 23. To be honest, I was scared to death about getting married so young (and to my very first boyfriend, no less). Even total strangers thought I was crazy. But looking back, it was the best decision I've ever made. Marriage isn't always easy, but it is so much fun. For us, marrying young meant that we were freeing ourselves from a lot of temptation and were able to start our lives together even sooner. It was a win-win for us. It's a decision that is different for everyone, but the timing was just right for us.

Thank you for sharing your heart, Heather!

For more of Heather's thoughts and writings, visit her blog, Tickled Yellow.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Birthday And Other Exciting Things

My husband's birthday cake of choice every year

My sweet husband turns 30 today! We have an exciting few days ahead, and it's so perfect that they just happened to line up with my husband's birthday. We are flying to Charlottesville, Virginia today and we're so thrilled to be able to spend some time with good friends of ours who live there. On Friday, my husband and his buddies are headed up to Atlantic City for one of his best friend's bachelor party while I spend the weekend with my parents in D.C. Ever since we moved to Alabama, I've been rather deprived of visits with my family so I can't wait to see them! I requested that we take at least one bike ride and we're going to a piano concert on Saturday afternoon at the Library of Congress, which should be wonderful.

Here's to a happy, happy birthday to my one and only! And to good friends, fun bachelor parties, and time with Mom and Dad. We're feeling so blessed around here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Be My Rock, My Light, Forever My Trust

A long time ago, I put this sticky note on the inside of my book of Beethoven sonatas. I came across this prayer (which Beethoven wrote at the end of his life while he was composing his breathtaking mass, Missa Solemnis) sometime during my music studies, and I'm really so moved by it.

This prayer could be interpreted in many ways but knowing what I know about Beethoven, I imagine that these words were scrawled in a moment of despair and agony. Beethoven wasn't an expressly religious man and was in fact by many accounts sort of a brute, but I do believe he had a deep and abiding faith. His music is too heavenly, too inspired and divine, for me to be convinced otherwise.

But nevertheless, this prayer is somewhat of an anomaly. Beethoven didn't often write things like this. I don't think he attended church and he kept the faith he had very private.

So when I read these words that are so powerful and trusting and heartbreaking--I submit myself to all vicissitudes--I think of Beethoven's deafness and the fact that had completely lost all hearing by this point and how it tortured him. And I think of how suffering seems to go hand in hand with creative genius--in Beethoven's case, the kind of creative genius that only shows up maybe one or two times in a generation. He was referred to as "The Master" by his contemporaries but inside I wonder if he felt fragile. The weight of exposing his soul through his art and the obligation he felt to do justice to the music that stirred in him must have been enormous.

That's why this prayer means so much to me and why I put it in a place where I knew I'd stumble upon it regularly. God so often works most powerfully in people who are tortured or who feel like outcasts, people who suffer greatly in this life. Beethoven certainly suffered, he was imperfect and flawed, and he may not have always Believed. But I think his heart made its way to God and there can be no doubt that his music glorifies Him.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Simplest Things

We're going out of town on Wednesday, which also happens to be the day a special someone in this house turns 30 (hint--it isn't me!). We decided that today would be the best day for a birthday dinner and cake, mostly so we can enjoy the cake for a few days before heading to the airport on Wednesday afternoon! I'm making Ina Garten's short ribs--which will be roasting in the oven all afternoon and tantalizing my piano students during their lessons--a big green salad, and a German Chocolate Cake.

I've been thinking lately about marriage and milestones (whatever they may be) and how wonderful it is to always have someone to celebrate with, someone who thinks you're just the best person in the world, someone who thinks there's no one else like you. Someone who might even enjoy your birthday more than you do, because what's better than showering your spouse with love and feeding them special foods and showing them how lucky you feel to be the one they picked to grow old with?

A simple little thought for your Monday morning, but so often it is the simplest of things that remind me just how lovely it is to be a wife.

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