Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Generosity of Strangers

The best thing happened to me on Saturday morning. It was early in the day, a cold morning, and I was headed to the farmer's market to get fresh apples and brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving. Our farmer's market is located downtown and parking is tricky, so I parked maybe 5 blocks away and started my brisk walk to the market.

I walked by our church, and the historical society, and the library, and as I passed over to the next block something sitting on a stoop caught my eye.

It took me a second to register what that little homemade sign meant. If it had said "free" I wouldn't have thought twice but for a second it occurred to me, "Maybe this sign is for someone specific?!" Hmm. But there is a flower shop next door to this doorway, I noticed. And the greens had been sitting out all night (the water in the bucket was iced). So I eventually figured that they were indeed meant for whoever spotted them first and felt shameless enough to pick up this giant bucket and tote it home.

I decided that was going to be me. 

I needed to get to the market first so I sort of glanced around casually to see if anyone else had noticed the awesome free thing I'd just come upon. Shopkeepers opening up, a few people milling around. There didn't seem to be a ton of interest in my stoop.

So I bought my apples and brussels sprouts and on the way back I quickened my step because the downtown mall had gotten a little busier by now. Surely there are lots of people who would see the potential in this nondescript bunch of greenery, right?!

But no, I guess not, and I have to admit I was ridiculously pleased and giddy to see my treasure still sitting where I'd left it. I heaved up the bucket and made my way back to the car.

I grinned all the way home and couldn't wait to tell my husband the story. (I created a whole narrative for him using the photos I'd snapped.) And then I rolled up my sleeves and set out to turn that bucket of leftover leaves into something seriously beautiful. I knew they wouldn't disappoint me.

And that, dear friends, is a Thanksgiving story if I ever heard one. This bit of good fortune completely made my day. All because of a stranger's generosity and some leftover flower shop greens. 

(And maybe a tiny bit because of my tendency to find silly amounts of joy in unlikely places.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

DIY Repurposed Candles

I love it when I have a spur-of-the-moment inspiration and I'm able to scrounge up all the right supplies to indulge my creativity without leaving the house. That's what happened last week when I decided to "make my own candles" by repurposing some candles I already had and adding a few special touches.

Here's what I did. I have a huge box of inexpensive unscented votives in my china cabinet. I first stripped them of their tin shells and wicks and began chopping up the wax to re-melt. It's best to do this by heating the wax in a jar surrounded by boiling water. (I tried the microwave first and it wasn't effective.) I used a pyrex measuring cup and set it in a tiny pan of simmering water and stirred until the wax was melted. Any kind of glass container would work well, but the measuring cup's spout was helpful when it came time to pour the liquid wax.

I thought it might be nice to add some scent to the melted wax and since I find most scented candles cloying and too sweet, I kept it simple with my favorite essential oils (lavender and lemon). I also made a few jasmine-scented candles using this bottle of roll-on perfume oil.

I hunted around my kitchen for some pretty molds and decided on these teeny tiny china dishes. They're very shallow which ended up being perfect--I was able to use the old wicks from the votives and they were plenty tall enough for these small little vessels.

They were so beautiful as they morphed from liquid into solid. One thing I noticed was that the wax quality seemed better after I melted it and let it harden again. My husband thought that maybe the votives are made with an aerated wax so that less wax is needed per candle, and it results in sort of a crumbly, fast-burning candle. But once melted the wax becomes smooth again and burns beautifully.

This might be a fun pre-Thanksgiving project to try to brighten up your family's feast. I used very little scent so while I usually stick to unscented candles at the dinner table, I think I might sneak these into the mix.

Happy Friday, friends!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Things Come Around

A few years ago I wrote this post about Crowley Hall where I spent many, many hours as an undergraduate, and I wrote about how I developed such a fondness for this slightly dingy old music building. My loyal readers will know by now that me loving an old thing isn't exactly unusual, but believe me when I say that Crowley wasn't the charming variety of "old." It was the broken variety, the outdated and desperate-for-some-TLC kind of old.

Yet when I graduated I couldn't even bear to give back my practice room keys. We grow to love imperfect things despite and sometimes even because of their flaws and shortcomings and problems. I probably used those keys more than 1000 times to unlock a cramped room containing a piano that inevitably had at least one broken key, but in spite of the lack of space and the dud keys, music happened in those rooms. Beauty lived there. We made sure of it.

It's funny how things come around. Starting next fall, Notre Dame will begin construction on a brand new music building that will be attached to the south side of the stadium. It will be a state-of-the-art facility--practice rooms, sound-proofing, new instruments, a recital and rehearsal hall, a music library. And I'm thrilled about it. So, so thrilled and proud of the university for making this decision and my old professors who more than deserve this space and excited for the new students who get to unlock those brand new practice rooms and christen the halls with Bach and Mozart and Brahms.

Do I wish this building had been constructed during my time at school? Of course. It's going to be wonderful.

But I also feel so proud of all of us music majors who had only little old Crowley Hall. I like to think we helped pave the way by showing the university what we could do and what our professors could teach us. We put our passions on display and worked hard despite the limitations we faced and it took awhile, but our persistence paid off.

Monday, November 17, 2014

As Your Days, So Shall Your Strength Be

I'm so happy to have this morning free for blogging! Last week was especially packed and usually if I don't get to blogging by about noon, then it just isn't going to happen for that day. But this morning is wide open and it's pouring rain outside the window next to me and I'm happy as a clam to be sitting here quietly writing.

This past week and weekend made quite the perfect pair. It was a full and creatively stimulating week so by the time I got to Saturday morning I was ready for some calm downtime. I like that combination of busy, fulfilling week and relaxed, not overly planned weekend.

I recently came across this verse from Deuteronomy, really loved it, and wanted to share.

Your sandals shall be iron and bronze; As your days, so shall your strength be.

It reminds me that whatever sort of day I'm having--a challenging one, a wonderful one, a sad one, an exciting one, a fulfilling one--that God is with me ready to match it and ready to give me whatever I need. This is especially good to remember on harder days. The more we need Him the more He'll give. That's so, so comforting.

But it's also helpful to remember this verse on those breathless, floating days when everything fits into place. Those days are a different kind of gift of strength. The day itself reinforces us and reminds us of God's goodness and love and makes us feel whole and secure.

We must lean on God and believe in His ability to carry us through life's tough spots. But we must also remember to praise Him when standing upright feels effortless. Because that's His doing, too.

(Photo taken on Skyline Drive last weekend.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Homemade Virginia Applesauce

I grew up in apple country which means that the kids in my family were basically raised on apples. When we lived in Ithaca a trip to the Cornell Orchards was an almost daily thing (or at least it felt that way, we were there so often). I remember so clearly the huge barrels filled with just-made cider, pulling the lever and watching it travel down the clear tubes, foamy and fresh, filling a tiny paper cup with freezing cold, tangy juice.

Many of my most vivid childhood memories involve apples actually. I can close my eyes and picture exactly the way my Mom would slice apples for us. Quick and precise, she'd hold the apple in her hand and expertly cut it in half, slice and core the chunks, and that was what we ate all. the. time. There's this hilarious note I wrote as a kid that my parents saved and in it I asked my Mom for a treat if we behaved well, and I wrote, "But not an apple please?"

My brothers and I loved apples, but evidently we sometimes got sick of them.

As a result of all of this I have extremely high apple standards. I'm picky about crispness, I like them tart but not sour, just barely sweet. The ones we've been able to find in orchards this fall have been pretty good, for the most part, but we've also had a batch or two that were a little on the mealy side. We bought a basket of apples on Sunday when we were driving home from a wedding and to make room for them in the fridge, I decided to turn the rejects from the last bushel into a big batch of applesauce.

I've mentioned before that my parents gave us a ton of awesome hand-me-downs when we moved, and now that you know my family's proclivity toward apples you won't be surprised to know that a food mill was one of the things they passed on. This one is probably 20 years old and has made many a batch of applesauce. 

This was my first time using it though and I was so impressed. This tool is sort of magical. All I had to do was quarter a bunch of apples, boil them in just a bit of water, and once they turned mushy the food mill did all of the work. Not only does it separate the apple flesh from the skins and seeds and core but it also turns the cooked apples into this silky, perfect sauce. All at the same time. 

My favorite way to eat fresh, homemade applesauce is warm right after it's made. It's so incredibly delicious, like apple pie filling. (I should say that I didn't add any sugar to this sauce because the apples were naturally very sweet.) For an extra festive, warming flavor, you can sprinkle cinnamon on top. I also love eating it alongside plain Greek yogurt. (Another vivid childhood memory: my Mom spooning scoops of homemade applesauce and plain yogurt into my baby brother's ravenous mouth. It was his favorite thing.)

Homemade applesauce is one of those nostalgic, feel-good foods for me. I'll get in trouble with my Dad if I don't say that my Virginia applesauce isn't as good as the New York applesauce I was raised on. But between you and me, it's pretty darn close. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Musings

This week has been unexpectedly wonderful. I can't put my finger on why, exactly, but I've felt so peaceful and calm and content for about 4 days straight now, and I'm so thankful for it! I've written before about my worry habits and so when I'm blessed with extended periods of non-worry, it's a thing to rejoice over.

I mostly believe that the peace I've been feeling has been bestowed on me as a gift but there were a few things I can pinpoint that made my week an especially good one:


I had some really great teaching moments. If I do say so myself. I started teaching a new student this week, an adult, and we had a fantastic first lesson together. By the end of the hour he was able to play a simple melody and read a bit of music on his own. After he'd gotten the melody down I accompanied him with the teacher duet part and the look on his face after we finished the simple little piece was priceless. The accompaniment part fills out the melody and creates quite a pleasant little chord progression, and I could tell he felt so pleased he'd been a part of creating that sound, making that music. He uttered a surprised "Ah!" with a smile and for me, these moments are what teaching music is all about.

My sweet husband had a birthday. We had a simple little celebration, just the two of us. I made a delicious pot roast and a mini German Chocolate Cake (the good man has been faithfully keeping to a very healthy diet these past few weeks) and opened cards. I have a feeling that when I'm old it will be these times I look back on when I think of our early marriage. Finishing up a lesson in the studio, checking the pot roast that has been stewing away in the oven for hours, waiting for my husband to come home. Setting the table with a white tablecloth and our good silverware and a few candles. Playing music and dancing in the kitchen as I roast the carrots and check the time, carefree and focused solely on making the man I married happy on his birthday. 

I bought a new shampoo and it's amazing. Not as deep as my first two pieces of evidence, but this stuff made my morning shower extra luxurious and added some awesome sleekness and shine to my hair. I never thought my hair was dry before but my hairstylist recently mentioned he thought it could use some extra moisture. I think using this stuff regularly will do the trick.

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous, Virginia. Oh my goodness, the area we live in is incredible this time of year. Perfectly cool yet sunny days have been the norm, and when the wind picks up the leaves go wild, swirling and dancing and showering the earth with their colors. Like a rain storm but with leaves instead of droplets of water. This happens regularly in our neighborhood and I love watching and feeling it.

This quote from the book I'm reading: "For many years a tree might wage a slow and silent warfare against an encumbering wall, without making any visible progress. One day the wall would topple; not because the tree had suddenly laid hold upon some supernormal energy, but because its patient work of self-defense and self-release had reached fulfillment. The long-imprisoned tree had freed itself. Nature had had her way."


Also, there were laughing fits and kind neighbors and a new printer I proudly set up myself. There was Brahms and yoga and jasmine tea and hugs. And tomorrow I get to have brunch with my mom! How lucky am I. I say none of this to brag but purely to share the joy that comes from being gifted, undeservingly, with a wonderful string of moments and an overflow of peace.

Weeks like this remind me that Someone is listening.

Happy Friday, dear readers. :) 

(Photo above is of the doorknob in our bathroom. It fell off twice this past week, both times when guests were opening the bathroom door, but it's easy to forgive something this beautiful, right?)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Good Trends/Bad Trends

Trends are interesting. I have a pretty solid sense of what I like and don't like and don't pay too much attention to whether something is "trendy" or not. I think most of us are probably like that. If something is trendy but we like it, who cares that we're jumping on a bandwagon! It's trendiness for the sake of trendiness that is the real danger. (And don't get me started on the expression that something is "trending." Ugh!)

As I've become immersed in the blog world it's sometimes hard to tell if certain things are universally popular or if they're only so among us blogging gals. Is the rest of the world obsessed with snake plants and their earthy chic factor? I'm not sure.

Anyway, I thought it would be sort of silly and fun to make a quick little list. Trends I love (not because they're trends but because they click with me) and trends I don't love (for whatever reason). I hope you'll share yours in the comments, too!

Trends I Love:

Game of Thrones
Delicate gold jewelry
Subtle pastel-tipped hair (I'd never do it but it can look gorgeous when done right)
Reusable grocery bags
Oversized black-rimmed glasses (on other people, since my eyes are stubbornly good at seeing)
Gallery walls (but only when done really well!)
Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Trends I Don't Love:

Pinterest recipes
Dry shampoo (I use it but it's not a miracle product like the masses would have you believe)
Lena Dunham
...and Twitter
Inspirational quotes turned into wall art (it can be beautiful but it's not quite for me)
Super skinny jeans on men

What am I missing? This is the kind of thing that's fun to gab about with girlfriends. So tell me: which trends do you love and which ones bug you?

Monday, November 3, 2014

DIY Hanging Rope Planter

I've been slowly relocating the plants we had on our screened porch to different spots inside our home. They were actually doing fine outside but I'm clueless about plants and assumed that early morning frost is probably uncomfortable, right? It just felt cruel to leave them out on the porch.

This hanging plant has been thriving ever since we got it back in June and I love its drippy green and white leaves. It's such a well-behaved plant. Giving it a new home in this corner of the bathroom might seem like a strange choice but I'm really loving the greenery-in-the-bathroom look these days. It sort of completes the earthy, calm, spa-like atmosphere I think every bathroom should aspire to. 

When it was on the porch we'd kept the plant in the plastic hanging planter it had come in but once I brought it inside I wanted it to look a little nicer. I had just enough leftover rope from this project so I made another hanging rope planter like the one in my kitchen and kept the plant in its plastic pot ( you can't even tell!). 

It's exactly what this corner needed. I'm not sure this plant will ever make its way out to the porch again. Doesn't it look happy here?

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