Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hand-Me-Downs From Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Mom. :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Over-Thinking Meets Trust

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

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

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

DIY Fall Wreath

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday, friends.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pretty Dried Things

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

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Kevin Spacey and Artistry

How was your weekend, friends?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Homemade Pizza with Prosciutto, Arugula, and Caramelized Onions

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

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Teaching and Learning

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

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Free Fun

Something I've noticed about our new city is that it's brimming with free fun.

Free fun! Fun for free!

At the end of August we met up with some friends at a vineyard at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a beautiful summer day. We spread out blankets and opened up our picnic baskets and fanned ourselves with paper plates while we enjoyed a polo match. It was delightful and felt so fancy, and all we paid for was the wine.

I've lived in quite a variety of places and I don't take this for granted. If you're a New Yorker and you want to watch polo, be prepared to rent a Zipcar, drive out to the Hamptons, and spend a good chunk of change getting yourself into a swanky polo club for the afternoon. Live in Alabama and have a hankering for polo? You're fresh out of luck. But in Charlottesville all you have to do is pack a picnic and drive 20 minutes west on a Sunday afternoon and voilá--free fun!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

City Living

Phew! It feels like ages since I sat down to write. I arrived back home on Monday and the weekend in New York was really wonderful. I thought I'd type out some of the trip's highlights...


The food. We ate some delicious food. Zucchini fritters with tzatziki sauce from a favorite Greek place. The best donut I've ever eaten--a light, and fluffy vanilla bean glazed exterior with a tart, homemade blackberry jam filling. Mussels and frites and haricots verts from my beloved French restaurant in my old neighborhood. Slices of plain cheese pizza from the best pizzeria in NYC. Grilled polenta with mushrooms from my sister-in-law's favorite restaurant in the West Village. A decadent treat I used to sometimes get back in my city days--Hungarian coffee (coffee with almond extract, whipped cream, and cinnamon) from the Hungarian Pastry Shop.

Everything was so yummy.


My brother and I went to one of the most awe-inspiring art exhibits I've ever seen. It's hard to explain really. Hanging from the ceiling of St. John the Divine Cathedral are two, 100-foot long sculptures made from debris the artist found at construction sites. One is a male phoenix and the other is a female phoenix and they are breathtakingly beautiful. This is modern art done extremely well and it would be worth a trip to NYC to see them before the exhibit is taken down.


Meeting my brother's girlfriend was very fun. We all had a lovely meal together and it was great to finally meet her after hearing lots of bits and pieces about her from my brother. She's so sweet!


Lots of gabbing and girl talk with my sister-in-law. I'm so thankful for her! She truly is the sister I never had and our conversations about life and love and family are so good for my soul.


I got to go to Redeemer with my brother! Sadly, Tim Keller preached at the early service so we didn't get to hear him, but the service was very moving and rewarding all the same. The music was especially beautiful and whenever I go to Redeemer I always feel such sincerity and liveliness among the congregation. It's a very special church and we left refreshed.


On Friday afternoon I had a total urge to play frisbee (college campuses on cool, fall days will do that to me) so we hunted around for awhile until we found one in a tiny, packed-to-the-gills hardware store near Columbia. It was actually really funny. The shopkeeper didn't know what a "frisbee" was so we described it as "a flying disc"...."you play catch with it?" He knowingly smiled and said "ahh" before climbing up on a ladder to reach a very, very high shelf, from which he pulled down a dusty, orange frisbee wrapped in cellophane. We payed $5 for it and walked to Morningside Park, as if this were a perfectly normal way to acquire a frisbee. It was all very weird and satisfying.


The best part was time spent with two of my favorite people. I loved being back in "my" city, I loved smelling the familiar smells and getting around on the subway and ordering pricey coffee from cute cafes. But mostly it was so wonderful to see my brother and my sister-in-law in their home environments. I feel terrifically happy to be living on the East Coast again and nearer to the people I love!

Friday, October 3, 2014

10 Questions

A sweet friend nominated me for a blog award and since I'm super busy getting ready for my trip to New York (while writing this on Wednesday), I thought I would be a rebel and just answer her questions and opt out of coming up with ten new questions of my own. Not exactly the proper format for this kind of post but I'm hoping these answers might be interesting to some of you--I thought she asked great ones--and that no one will hold a grudge against me for not following the rules! Here goes.

1. Do you have a favorite saint, and what drew you to him/her?
I didn't grow up with the tradition of saints but I think there are so many inspiring ones and their stories are amazing. I have a stained glass of St. Cecelia (patron saint of music) in my piano studio, so I suppose I would pick her.

2. I think every Liebster questionnaire includes a question like this; but I'm crazy about books, so I just have to know: do you have a best-loved book that you've read multiple times?  (And will you probably read it again?)  Or do you always just read a book once and pass it on to others?
I have many best-loved books but I'm not really a re-reader. I feel like there's always another book I want to read and never enough time to get to them all! But I do think that I will someday re-read these favorites that made such an impression on me: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

3. What is your family's Christmas Eve tradition?

Growing up, our Christmas Eve tradition was eating fish stew and salad and crusty baguettes for dinner, going to church, then coming home and listening to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas (both on audio tape) by candlelight. And eating Christmas cookies, of course.

And my husband and I are still working on our Christmas traditions! Church and good food will always be involved, that's for sure.

4. When you dress up in heels, do you wear panty hose/tights, or do you go bare-legged?
Usually I'd go bare-legged (that sounds so scandalous!). But in the wintertime I love wearing cozy knit tights with tall boots or heels when I get dressed up. 

5. How did you and your husband meet?  (And if you're not married, what's the most important quality you're looking for in a spouse?)

We met my freshman year at Notre Dame. He was a senior and it was my very first weekend of college. I've always felt so blessed that I met my husband at age 18 and that God didn't make me wait long for him.

6. What's your go-to prayer in times of distress?

The Lord's Prayer, or this verse from Exodus: "The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still."

7. Where is the one place in the world you would visit if you could?


8. How many siblings do you have?

Two incredible brothers whom I love very much. And now I also have three amazing sisters-in-law! And also two brothers-in-law. It's so fun that when you get married your family grows.

9. Are you a worrier?  (I'm worried you'll think that's a weird question.)

Yes. Just type "worry" into the search bar on my blog and you'll see proof.

10. What, if any, sport do you enjoy watching the most?

I grew up following Syracuse University basketball but in college it became football. These days I don't watch too many sports (we don't have a TV) but I think my favorite thing to watch is my mama playing tennis!

That was fun! Thanks for letting me share.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

DIY Leather And Beads Necklace

Meet my newest necklace! I can hardly even call this a DIY because it was so very simple, but it was a fun project nevertheless and I like its quirky, handmade feel.

I had some leather cord from this project left over and I was surprised by how lovely the material is. It's nothing fancy (I got it at Michael's) but it's real deer skin leather, super soft and surprisingly supple. After my dresser redo I used a length of it to tie up a fall wedding gift and I thought that the rest would make a cool necklace. The beads are also from Michael's (on sale!) and just for fun, I spray-painted one of them ivory. It's a bit unexpected and funky and to me, way more interesting than five matching beads. (I was inspired a little bit by the necklace in these photos--scroll down to the last photo in the post and you'll see it.) My husband kept saying, Oh I get it, you're going to just take that extra bead on the right and move it to the other side so the ivory one is in the middle, right? I just smiled and said I intended it to be asymmetrical. We agreed to disagree on this one. :)

Anyway, I think it'll pair nicely with boots and sweaters and I plan to wear it a lot this fall. What do you think?

p.s. I'm wearing this tee.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Worry From A New Perspective

I'm happy that October is here. October is a cozy, comforting, month, and something that I'm trying to do this October (in general, really, but let's keep the goal small for now) is to worry less. 

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