Thursday, July 31, 2014

All About Plants

In Alabama my husband and I had two plants and they both had names. Allie and Audrey both survived the move--amazingly--and have since been joined by quite a few other plant friends, too many to even name. Our new house just begs to be filled with fresh green plants. The street we live on has these incredible old trees and wild day lilies that spring up out of nowhere and there's lots of thick foliage surrounding us. Our neighbors' houses are positioned pretty close by but our house and yard feel private because of all the greenery. Even though we live five minutes from downtown, in the heart of Charlottesville, we lovingly refer to our home as our little cottage in the forest. It just has that feel.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

DIY Large Scale Photo Art

I've found that while my design and decor style definitely leans traditional in some ways, I also like making dramatic statements in my home. Not in a hot-pink-chairs, super-modern-art, bright-turquoise-walls kind of way, but in the sense that I don't shy away from a good dose of unusual, quirky, eclectic, or even daring when it comes to how I put together our home. My funky ideas don't always work (I have a post coming later in the week about a paint color that didn't at all turn out the way I thought it would i.e., it looked terrible) but when they do work, I always feel so happy that I made the less typical choice and went with something a little more interesting and unique.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Most Perfect Summer Lunch

Start with real mayonnaise, crusty bread, and juicy, ripe, colorful farmer's market tomatoes.

Toast the bread and slice the tomatoes thickly.

Spread a good layer of mayonnaise on the bread while it's still warm and then top with ruby-red slices of tomato.

Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.

Bring your tomato sandwich outside and relish each perfect bite.

Repeat every single day of the late summer tomato season (believe me, you'll want to).

And one more: "This is better than pizza." -my husband

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Kitchen Sneak Peek

Our kitchen is the room I've had to get most creative with. It has some wonderful features--tons of natural light (there's a window above the sink, a door to the screen porch that lets in light, and a window above the area where we eat), lots of storage and countertop space, and the layout is super functional. It's a great kitchen to cook in.

There are other things (aesthetic things) about it that aren't my favorite--namely the honey oak cabinets and laminate cream countertops. They aren't horrible and I'm grateful that at least the kitchen is neutral, it just isn't really to my taste. What I've discovered though is that the challenge this room presents excites me--it's been fun to figure out temporary renter-friendly ways to make our kitchen feel more modern and beautiful and to make it more "me."

I think painting the walls a deep rich color (maybe a midnight navy blue) would do wonders in here and I may try to eventually get permission to paint from our landlord, but in the meantime I'm focusing on simpler changes.

To bring in a little vibrancy I made this hanging rope planter for the kitchen window. I'd been wanting to try this tutorial for a while! I potted a succulent in a simple white bowl and then followed the instructions on how to tie the knots. I love how the plant spills over the sides, and the bright green lends a welcome dose of color.

Another change I made was taking the doors off of some of our cabinets. I didn't do this on all of them, just the ones holding our glasses, mugs and dishes. I've always loved open shelving and I think this look makes the space both more modern and more eclectic at the same time. If you're proud of your dishes, why not show them off?

I also hung a piece of art on the "backsplash" underneath the cabinet with our dishes to break up some of the beige-ness. I've noticed that having art in the kitchen isn't super common but I love it. It can add so much personality and charm.

I have a few more changes in mind--a DIY rug that I'm making out of a funky vintage piece of cloth, a potential lighting fixture change, and I'm considering making a white backing for my open shelves (do you think that's a good idea?). And I'm dying to try out these Smart Tiles near the stove area.

I'm actually so glad our kitchen looks the way it looks. It's giving me the chance to be creative and clever and really make something beautiful out of a pretty basic kitchen. I can't wait to keep plugging away at it and recruiting my brother to take some higher quality photos when he's here in a few weeks.

Do you have a space like this in your home? One that needs a little extra creativity and love to look its best?

Monday, July 21, 2014

DIY Yellow Lamp Update

Remember this DIY lamp makeover I did for my parents last year? Well, happily, that cheery yellow lamp now lives with us!

My parents no longer had a need for it on their houseboat, and by that I mean that my Dad asserted his veto rights on the grounds that the lamp is mustard yellow. Totally a fair critique--mustard yellow is a color that appeals to a fairly limited audience. It's coming back into fashion but it's still a little too reminiscent of the 70s for some. Luckily for my Dad, he has a daughter who was more than willing to step up to the plate and take this not-to-his-taste lamp off his hands. Anything mustard yellow will always find a friend in me.

It's now sitting on this little hexagon side table and it's one of the first things you see when you walk in our door. I love how the angular shape of the lamp base and shade mirror the geometric lines of the table. And the yellow pulls peeking out get me every time--I think they're so sweet.

Life here isn't as exciting as life on a houseboat but we hope the lamp doesn't mind. It's such a sunny addition to our living room and we sure are happy to have it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Writing Nook Among Bookcases

I'm about to share with you a part of our house that I'm head over heels for, a dreamy little spot carved out in a corner of our living room for a girl who loves reading and writing and cozy, miniature spaces. Meet my sweet little writing nook!

It was a multi-step process for how this area was dreamed up and how it came together. We have a good amount of books so I knew I would need to store them somehow, preferably in a pretty way. When my parents were here my Dad helped us choose this corner (I initially thought I wanted wall-mounted shelves but my Dad rightly convinced me that traditional standing bookcases were the way to go) and we decided on two tallish bookcases in a V shape. This configuration fit the room well and provided a lot of storage and some visual interest.

We didn't want to spend a lot of money on the bookcases--we were after basic white modern shelves with a streamlined design, nothing fancy, so we ordered two of these from Home Depot. They're certainly basic and won't last forever but for price and functionality and simplicity they're just what we were looking for. 

One thing I didn't love was the backing. While the shelves and tops and sides are pretty sturdy the backing is a flimsy piece of white cardboard, essentially, and it came folded in thirds so that it fit in the box. When we held up the backing it looked really cheap, the lines were obvious, and it was just utterly boring. 

I mulled over different options--going to Lowe's and having a piece of plywood or beadboard cut to fit, leaving the shelves backless (you can see that in one of the photos below), or painting the flimsy cardboard. 

You can see which option we picked! After trying several colors we chose this gorgeous deep green/blue. I think the dark paint gives the bookcases depth and sophistication, it mostly hides the folded lines, and it provides a bit of a custom touch to our pre-fab bookshelves. I'm so happy I put in this extra bit of work and energy.

Once the bookshelves were finished I moved this antique square table into place. This is something I already had (from my parents) and I love how the shape mirrors the angular configuration of the bookshelves.

While there's plenty of room to sit here and it doesn't feel cramped it was a bit tricky finding a chair that worked. Traditional chairs looked bulky and out of place and took up too much space. This chair looked cute here but it isn't super comfortable and I wanted this spot to be a functional place for me to sit at my computer.

We made a stop at Ikea in Pittsburgh last weekend and on my way out I saw this folding chair in the "As Is" section and I just had a feeling it would be perfect. It's narrow and petite but still very cozy to sit in, and the criss-cross metal legs make it look delicate and light. The opposite of bulky. And it was only $15!

With this chair it all came together and I couldn't be happier. There is a window on either side of each bookcase and the afternoon light that streams in is glorious. I can look out the window at the trees and foliage on the side of our house, and I love that I no longer have to blog from the couch. It's also so fun to look up and see all of our books. Such an inspiring environment for a writer!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Whole New Cooking World

Yesterday, I had another giddy "I get to live here?!" moment and you'll never guess where it happened--in a grocery store. I know! Seems silly. But this wasn't just a regular grocery store, it was a local store called Food of All Nations and it's awesome. Here's the back story.

I've been inspired lately by (of all places) the prepared food section at Whole Foods. Normally I'm too frugal and enjoy cooking too much to indulge in prepared foods, but when we were in the midst of moving here there were 3 or 4 days when we lived off of the pre-prepared section at Whole Foods. We were just too crazy and stressed to go grocery shopping until about day 5 after the move, and our cooking supplies were still all packed away. I also reasoned that this approach was much healthier (and about the same cost) as take-out. 

So anyway, I found a few dishes that I ended up loving. They have this delicious Blackened Chicken Salad that has the best flavor--not too mayonaisse-y with just the right balance of salty/sweet/spicy. Their Garlicky Kale is another favorite and I've already replicated it at home (tried to replicate it--they must have a mystery ingredient or two). And the Soba Noodles with Toasted Sesame Oil are simple and light and so perfectly tasty for a summer meal.

Yesterday I was thinking about those soba noodles and experiencing a major craving. For the last few years I've been really interested in making Asian-inspired food at home but in Alabama it was often hard to find the right ingredients. So I did a little Googling and came across this grocery store called Food of All Nations. I really wanted to find the authentic, from-Japan soba noodles and reviews said this store had a fantastic selection of ethnic foods.

Friends, those reviews couldn't have been more right. I was practically jumping up and down in the aisles. I felt like a whole new cooking world was being opened up to me as I browsed the Greek section, the Indian section, the Asian section, the Spanish section. They had all of these incredible ingredients--some that I've read about in recipes but haven't yet experimented with, some that I could get in New York but have been deprived of the past two years, some that I've never heard of. Vinegars and spices and sauces and dried grains and noodles and pastas. I got so excited that I grabbed three different varieties of dried Japanese soba noodles!

(They also carry this special Greek olive oil that my parents got me hooked on years ago. It comes in a gigantic canister and you just bring your bottle to refill each time. They had Harney and Sons loose tea and imported British loose tea. They also had a great array of local Virginia produce and honey and meats.)

When I got home I made these yummy Peanut Sesame Noodles, modified with different vegetables and sans tofu. This is a simple and straightforward recipe and I really can't believe I waited so long to cook with soba noodles. This was also maybe the first time I achieved the flavors I wanted to achieve when trying an Asian-inspired recipe. In between bites I was raving about this grocery store and telling my husband how excited I am to experiment with new and different ethnic ingredients and foods and recipes and flavors. 

Cooking is a creative art and it's so great to feel newly invigorated and inspired. Yet another reason I'm so glad to be here. The blessings and discoveries keep on coming.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Marriage Refresher

Blurry but lovely all the same!

This weekend, we went to the wedding of a beautiful friend of mine from college. She looked exquisite and filled to the brim with joy. I just love seeing my friends find their soulmates!

One of the many things I love about weddings is that they're like little marriage refreshers for me and my husband. We listen to the homily and think about our own relationship and the little ways we can love each other better. We reminisce about our wedding day and laugh and smile together. We remember the exact moments when we stated our vows and get a little teary (I do, anyway!). We think about how our bond has changed and grown and been strengthened over the course of our marriage so far. We always leave weddings feeling so happy for our friends and thankful for our marriage and glad for this wonderful thing called love.

So thank you, J and J! For sharing your special day and allowing us the chance to renew our own love.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Remembering This Summer

During college my summers were constructive and purposeful and memorable. My first summer after freshman year I went to a seven-week-long music festival in Western New York. The next summer I had an internship in DC, the next summer an internship in Hoboken, NJ. Each summer I was in a different place and with different people, accomplishing something unique and interesting for those few months in between school years.

In between my two years of grad school I was working hard on our cookbook with my family and planning my wedding at the same time. It was a beautiful summer filled with summer tomatoes and gorgeous recipes and lots of paper and ribbon and happiness.

Once there are no longer school years to divide and define, time starts blending together a little more, don't you think? It's not bad, just different. Other things make certain seasons or even months or weeks stick out in our memories. And I have a feeling that this summer, with its particular smells and moments and emotions, I think it'll be one that lasts and lasts.

I'll remember this summer for its joy. As we drove a short two and a half hours last weekend through the Blue Ridge Mountains and Northern Virginia's wine country up to a family reunion, I felt so much joy at finally being close to family. To be able to drive to see loved ones--amazing! This state, in all of its beauty, brings me joy and I'm proud to live in a place with history and old stone buildings that have been around for centuries and plaques on the side of the road that are fun to stop and read. Waking up in our sweet little house brings me joy. As long as my home is a place of beauty and peace and rest, a place where my family and friends feel safe and protected, a place filled with love and wholesomeness and honesty, then I've succeeded.

I'll remember this summer for our little screened porch. I catch myself sitting here and looking out at the trees with an involuntary smile on my lips. It's such a place of calm for me. I'll remember these summer mornings on the porch with a cup of tea and this blog and the birds and the streams of early sunlight peeking in. To have a place that is part of my home yet also a part of nature is magical.

I'll remember this summer for the ways God has proven faithful. These past few years were hard. I've sort of blocked out some of it but when I make myself remember how lonely some of those months were, it makes me exceedingly grateful for the here and now. The way forward was lit by faith alone.

As we grow deeper into our new lives and establish routines and build relationships, as it always happens, I'm sure a bit of the novelty and newness will wear off. Not that we'll take it for granted but there will be a settledness and a normalcy and a regularity to all of it. There's a beauty to this too.

But this time we're in right now, this summer of intensity and heart-swelling gratitude and deeply felt love of place and home and family and friends, I'll remember it for a very long time.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

DIY Milk-Painted Bathroom Table

Our house has two bathrooms--one that's old and one that's newer. (If you're a regular reader I bet you can guess which one I love most!) The older bathroom has tons of charm and character. Pine wainscoting, original hardwood floors, a clawfoot tub, brass faucets and doorknobs. If this were my house I would probably paint the wainscoting a creamy white but I've grown to love it as it is. It reminds me of a cozy ski lodge with all that warm, knotty pine.

The only problem with this bathroom is that it has zero built-in storage. Unless you count the top of the toilet, I really do mean zero. I've had to get creative with baskets and trays and my Dad hung a medicine cabinet on one wall when he was here a few weekends ago. This little table doesn't provide a ton of storage, but it's something I already had and when I tried it here it just fit so beautifully in this little nook between the door and the radiator. The cherry finish was in tough shape, though, and I didn't love how it blended into the wainscoting. That could be seen as a positive but I wanted it to pop against the warm wood.

I've been itching to try milk paint again and I knew this rich navy blue shade would look lovely with all of that wood and with the white tub and shower curtain. I applied two coats, both with the bonding agent, and then I did a super light distressing on just the edges and corners to give it a bit of an aged look. The knob came from Anthropologie, a place I rarely go to for hardware but since I needed just one knob I could afford to splurge a little. I like that the brass on the edges echoes the brass doorknob and the center almost looks like bone or ivory. It's so pretty in person.

This is my second time using milk paint and it's delightful to work with, so forgiving. Mixing it up using the powder and water is a little messy but I think it's worth it to end up with this really natural looking finish that almost looks like a stain. I wouldn't use it on everything but for the right piece of furniture it's definitely the way to go. And--no sanding required!

This was a quick and easy project but the difference it made in our bathroom is huge! It's so satisfying when just a few hours of work ends up completely transforming a piece, don't you think?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Family Heirlooms

We've only lived in this little house of ours for 26 days but when I walk through its rooms it doesn't feel new, it feels deep and familiar. My childhood nightstand fills a perfect little nook in the bathroom. The china cabinet that my Mom had in her home for her entire married life is in our kitchen, doing double duty as both a wonderful storage piece and a hundred-year-old work of art. The ivory keys that felt hours of practice by my much-younger hands are steps from where I sit, timeless and un-aged and loyal as ever.

The passing on of special things has always meant so much to me. I come from a family in which this is a very big tradition and I try to never take it for granted. How much more lovely it is to serve Christmas dinner on Grandma's Wedgwood china than anything new I could find! How wonderful to hang a painting in our home that was picked out by Dad as a gift for Mom. There's a history to the things that fill these rooms. These family gifts have helped make our house a home.

As a small thank-you to my parents I designed this card to send to them. I wanted to feature one of their hand-me-downs and this gorgeous pottery teacup is just so photogenic (despite my limited photography skills!).

Mom and Dad, we're so thankful! We love it all, down to every last teacup.

card c/o Treat

Friday, July 4, 2014

Red, White, and Blue

I baked these muffins this morning for a family reunion we're heading to without even realizing how perfectly colored they are for the 4th of July, with those blue-and-white liners and that gorgeous red Virginia raspberry on top. 

And they're delicious. (I snuck one for breakfast, just to make sure they tasted ok, you know.)

Have a wonderful 4th of July, friends! Happy Birthday, America!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dry Shampoo Trick

I've read quite a few posts by women who absolutely rave about dry shampoo. They say it makes their hair look and feel just-washed and that they can go days without a real shampoo. As much as I wished dry shampoo worked that well for me (maybe not that well) it doesn't. My hair will always look its silkiest and bounciest freshly shampooed, conditioned, and blow-dried, and no dry shampoo has ever come close.

I used to wash my hair every day but when I moved to a super hot and humid climate I just couldn't keep that up. It was too hot to get out the blow dryer most days and it wasn't worth it anyway (ie. I'd throw it up in a pony or a bun). I also realized my hair would probably be healthier if I cut back on shampooing every day. So I only wash my hair every other day and my hair stylist recently said that my hair looked super healthy and strong. Hooray!

Anyway, I just recently came up with a trick to make my hair a bit fresher on those non-shampoo days. I'd been using dry shampoo on its own, rubbing a teaspoon or so into the roots with my fingertips, and it certainly does help. But here's my most recent discovery: using the blow dryer for a minute or two after dry shampooing. Just low heat and focusing on the roots only. Doing this really livens up my hair so that it doesn't lay flat, it spreads the dry shampoo powder more evenly, and prevents that "stringy" look that I so dislike. It freshens it up a bit and makes the dry shampoo work a little better.

Are you a dry-shampooer? Does it work well for you? I'm all ears to any tricks you have up your sleeve!

And of course, when I checked out Klorane's website so I could link to it, there's a tutorial video on the home page using (guess what?) a blow dryer! I guess I'm not so original as I thought.

This is definitely not going to be one of those posts that raves about dry shampoo. I've read quite a few posts that

--for some hair types, dry shampoo might be enough for it to look completely refreshed, but
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