Friday, October 30, 2009

Small lessons

My 12-year-old son is a very sociable guy. In particular, he loves a great party. In fact, he loves to give parties. No need for a birthday--he just likes to have his friends come over to eat, to play, to hang out.

He asked to have a Halloween party this year, but because of other calendar commitments the closest date we could get to Halloween was October 23. Luckily, October 23 was a half-day of school for him and his friends. So last Friday, a dozen seventh-grade boys spent the afternoon at our house, eating and playing and hanging out.

Here's something I learned from trying to make this party a memorable time for the boys: If you want cupcakes with lovely cantaloupe-colored frosting, use a Halloween "Funfetti" cake mix and frosting.




If, however, you want spooky-looking orange cupcakes, try something else. Trust me.

And here's something else I learned: seventh grade boys don't really care what color the frosting is.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An autumn heart tour

Last Friday, I had a lot of fun participating in the Autumn House Tour at Hooked on Houses. It was enjoyable to take photos of my house and share some of my spaces with you.

What I want to do today is to share some other spaces with you. But I don't have photos of these spaces. In fact, these spaces are ones that I keep hidden as much as possible.

I know that we all struggle just a little bit with issues of privacy in blogging. Should we share our names? Should we tell where we live? Should we give our husbands and kids screen nicknames? Our world is a funny place, and these issues of privacy are legitimate.

Then, too, we all sometimes struggle with how much we can divulge about ourselves and our feelings. Some bloggers seem to find it easy to just "let it all hang out" and tell how they feel about all kinds of issues; others avoid highly-charged issues altogether. Both of these approaches are fine, I think. Each writer must find the path that works for her or him.

My goal in this blog is to have an open home and, more importantly, an open heart. And I want to confess a struggle to you.

If you were to go back and read my blog from the beginning (which I doubt anyone wants to do; just trust me on this), you'd find that I often shared photos of little projects around my house or occasionally one room in my house, but that's about it. As I've decided to post a few more photos of my house over the past few weeks, I've done it with much fear and trembling. Why? Because I'm afraid that someone in the big scary worldwide web will see my house and want to break in and steal my possessions? Because I'm afraid someone will recognize photos of my house and stalk me or try to snatch my children? No, that's not it.

I've been afraid to post photos of my home because I'm been afraid that you, my blogging friends, wouldn't like me if you saw my house.

I know--it sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? And yet there it is. Now don't get me wrong--I don't live in a mansion, so I wasn't afraid that anyone would think that I was guilty of conspicuous consumption or showoffiness. It's not that. It's just that I live in a fairly new house that I didn't build myself. I was afraid that, if you knew that my house wasn't a DIY project, you wouldn't be interested in what I have to say. I was scared that you might reject me based on an external circumstance.

You know what? Those feelings are indicative of a much deeper issue. They're indicative of unresolved, unhealed feelings of not being good enough for your friendship. This summer I wrote about my birthmark, and about my need simply to accept myself. When I wrote that post, I felt that I had made some real progress in this area. As I consider now my hesitancy to show you pictures of my house, I think that perhaps the same old issues of insecurity are still at work.

Why am I telling you this? Mainly because I want to keep this blog as a place where I am open and honest. It would be quite easy for me to say that the rest of the house was a mess when I took the pictures of the rooms for the home tour (which is true). It's a little more difficult for me to admit that my heart was a mess, but that's the truth of the matter.

I want you all to know that Imparting Grace is a messy place. If you have insecurities, come right in. If you sometimes feel unsure of the love of God and other people, make yourself at home. If you're afraid of being rejected because of some external circumstance, sit here with me.

We'll take off our masks together and share some grace with one another.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New again


I am in need of newness.

I had a tough weekend, one in which I was very disappointed in myself. Did you ever have a problem with someone and think that you had it all resolved, think that you had your heart in good order, think that you had forgiven and moved on in wholeness, only to discover that unforgiveness was lurking in an ugly little corner of your soul?

My weekend was pretty much ruined by a monster inside me that was unleashed. I became angry over something that happened years ago, and I acted so badly. Now, instead of having enjoyed a pleasant weekend and going on with the work of my week, I'm having to eat all those hasty words and seek to repair the damage that I wrought in my anger.

I would have been too ashamed to get out of bed this morning, except for one thing:

This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

His mercies never come to an end;

They are new every morning.

Great is Your faithfulness.

"The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in Him."

Lamentations 3:22-24

I need NEW. God's mercies have always been there for me, but I need new ones this morning. And they are there, waiting for me. Not only that, they are new every morning. I am dismayed at how faithless I can be--surely I had grown beyond that point? Surely I can't be that bad?! No, I hadn't. I can still be that bad. So I need to know that there will still be mercy for me when I fail.

And there is. So I can in fact have hope. And I can sing all day: "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will hope in Him."

Thank God.


Unwrapped this Tuesday with Emily at Chatting at the Sky

(images courtesy of Google Image Search)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An autumn house tour

Julia at Hooked on Houses is doing a Tour of Homes, and I'm excited to participate. Here's a peek at our house, all dressed for autumn.

First, the front of the house. Our house is pretty good sized, but it's built on a hillside, so from the front it doesn't appear too big. This is one of the things I like about the house.




To the right of the front door is the seating area of my front porch, which I've tried to make into an outdoor living room. To see more of this space, click here.




Now come on in!

Here's the foyer. That's Cocoa the pound puppy pretending that she doesn't care that I'm taking pictures. Straight ahead is the living room; to the right is the dining room. On the left is my husband's study (that I failed to photograph in the daylight), the stairway, and a hall leading to the powder room and the master bedroom.



Here's the living room. I'll try to give you a 360 degree look at it.





This room is the trickiest room I've ever tried to decorate. It has lots of lovely elements. . . I love the fireplace and the built-in entertainment center and the built-in bookcases and all the French windows and doors. . . but all together it's a room with which I've struggled. If looking at the pictures gives you any wonderful ideas about space planning for this room, please share them with me! This really is an old-fashioned living room. We sit here and talk, or read, or watch TV together, or entertain guests. Definitely not a living room just for show, this is a room we live in. In fact, if you were in the room right now and could peek under the coffee table, you'd see my exercise stepper. I pull it out from under the coffee table every day and exercise while watching taped episodes of Designed to Sell. I don't want to sell my house, but watching the show keeps me motivated to cut down on clutter as much as possible.

From this angle you can see into the dining room to the right and into the kitchen straight ahead.


The kitchen is the thing that really sold us on this house. This is a working kitchen, believe me: I cook, my husband cooks, our middle son (an Alton Brown fan) cooks. Unfortunately, we have more cooking types than cleaning types, but oh well. To tell the truth, I've always kinda liked doing dishes. It's a good thing!




And from the kitchen/breakfast area you can make your way out to the screened porch, where we'll end our tour. I love the porch at this time of year--after a summer of keeping the door tightly locked so as to shut out the hot air, we can finally live on our porch again.



I wish you could come over for a cup of coffee or some apple cider. We could look at all my autumn decorations and enjoy this cool weather. Thanks for going on this little virtual tour with me!

Monday, October 19, 2009

DIY for someone else

DIY Day @ ASPTL

It's obvious that there are lots of us interested in DIY projects. But why DIY? For me, it's usually to be able to have something that I want for less money than it would cost to buy the item or to hire someone to make it for me. But it's also because doing something myself is fun and rewarding. This past week I got to combine those two attributes into a fun DIY project for someone else--or, more precisely, for a group of someones.

I've mentioned that we're helping to start a new church. (By the way, if you're in Durham or Chapel Hill, North Carolina and searching for a good church, let me know!) One of the wonderful things about helping to start a church is that everyone gets to contribute to the effort. Everyone's gifts and talents are necessary. I think churches are always supposed to be that way, but the needs are most evident in a little fledgling group.

This past Sunday was our very first chance to meet on Sunday morning. We've been looking for quite awhile for space to meet on Sunday mornings, and we were finally able to rent space from a local elementary school. My job for our first Sunday morning service? To create a welcome table to greet folks as they entered the school building.

As you might imagine, my budget for doing this was pretty small. Our little church needs every dollar for more pressing needs than decor. So I sought to use more time than money and see what I could do.

First, the needs. I figured we needed a tablecloth to cover the standard cafeteria table. Then some kind of container to hold mints. (Does anyone else like to find a bowl of peppermints on a welcome table?) And finally a large flower arrangement of some kind.

Here's what I came up with.

First, a tablecloth. I have yards and yards of upholstery fabric that I got on clearance for less than $1 per yard. I originally bought this fabric to make upholstered headboards for my guest room, but after that project and a couple of others I still had nearly 20 yards.



So I cut two identical 2-yard panels and, employing the same method I used on my DIY bedspread, I made a tablecloth. Total cost: $0.

Next, a bowl to hold mints. I had an old Revere Ware bowl that was not only tarnished but stained beyond repair. So I spray-painted it and then distressed the edges a bit. I like the way it looks, and it's just the right size to hold peppermints. Total cost: $0.



Second, a flower arrangement. Since the welcome table is in a large open space, I needed to come up with a large arrangement. The first thing I did was to create a vase for the flowers. I'd admired several arrangements held in containers made of wood. I had these sticks that I'd bought last year on clearance for 99 cents.



I cut them in half and spray-painted them dark brown. Then I hot-glued them onto a cheap glass cylinder vase, just like I did with the pencil vase I made for my son's teacher.



Even cut in half, the sticks are much taller than the glass cylinder, so I ended up with a very tall container for my flowers.

The flowers themselves were the most fun. I briefly considered buying fresh flowers for the welcome table, until I realized that even at Sam's I would have to spend $20 or more for enough flowers to fill my vase. Not bad for an occasional splurge, but not something I can afford to do every week. So I opted to make an artificial arrangement that we can use throughout the autumn. I'd never worked with artificial flowers before, so I didn't realize how much fun it could be. Why? Since the "stems" are wires, the flowers stay right where you put them! Woo hoo!

Michael's had all their fall silk flowers on sale for 50% off, so I was able to get a lot for very little money. I started with a product that Michael's calls a "bush":



Not exactly beautiful, but I chose it because it was, well, bushy. I figured it would be a good anchor to hold more beautiful pieces. For my large arrangement, I used two of the bushes. Next I added pretty pieces: artificial leaves, cat tails, wheat stalks, berries, sunflowers, feathers. I just poked them one by one into the bushes. Since they're artificial, they stayed right where I poked them! Then I added a few curly branches from my yard. I finished the whole thing by tying some fallish ribbon around the vase.

And here it is:



Total cost: $18.

All together:



I took this photo on my screened-in porch; that's my back yard in the background. As you can imagine, the flowers showed up even better in the white cinder-block hallway of the elementary school. The welcome table is the first stop for folks coming in the door, and I think it was in fact a welcoming place.

I got the fun of doing something myself as well as the satisfaction of doing for others. That's a big win-win in my book!

Check out all the fun projects at Kimba's!

Can do hat

I want to show y'all my new accessory for fall.

I love pretty clothes, but I have to admit that I'm not particularly fashionable. So I'm not usually up on the latest trends in fashion. But I did buy one fashion accessory this fall that I'm really happy with. Here it is:



Do you like it? I just love it! Believe it or not, I found it in a hotel gift shop. When my husband and I went away for our weekend trip a few weeks ago, one of our days turned out to be very rainy. Our spirits were not dampened, but our bodies were. I was wishing that I had a hat of some kind to keep me warm and dry. We wandered into our hotel's gift shop, never dreaming that we'd actually buy anything there. . . and there was this hat! I love the glen plaid, I love the feathers, I love the styling. And it fit! (I have kind of a big head--don't laugh; it's a pain to find hats or caps.) And to top it all off, it was just $20, which seemed very reasonable to me. So onto my head it went, and out into the rain we ventured--and had a wonderful day of roaming through quaint little shops and antique stores. My husband snapped this picture of me in one of the shops where we were greeted by the cutest little shop dog, a puppy named Jasper:


My son said that I look like I'm squeezing Jasper to death (I'm such a dog lover), but the point is the hat, not the hug.


We had loads of fun despite the rain.

Since then, this hat has become something of a symbol for me. I sometimes struggle with a "I could never do that!" kind of attitude. I've decided that "Of course I could do that!" or at least "I could try!" are the attitudes I'd like to have. No doubt I will fail sometimes, but perhaps the best lesson for me is that I can learn from my failures.

Right? Of course I could do that! I'll just put on my can do hat and give it a try!


Friday, October 16, 2009

Little things

This weekend will one of celebration at our house.

Tomorrow we will join with other families to celebrate the 15th anniversary of our children's school. Ever since we moved to North Carolina back in 2002, our kids have been part of a little classical school. The school started 15 years ago with just Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades. As of this year, it's a full-fledged K-12 school. Our middle son will be a member of its second graduating class next year. It's still a little school, but it's a little school with a big heart.

And then on Sunday we'll participate in the first Sunday-morning worship service of a little church. We're helping to start a new church. We've been meeting for several months on Sunday evenings, and we've finally found a place to meet on Sunday mornings. So Sunday will be a big event for our little church.

These big events for two little organizations so close to our hearts have gotten me to thinking. And I think that perhaps I really like little things. Maybe that's the real description of a mother's job: lots and lots of little things to do, little jobs to accomplish, little tasks to perform.



But you know the old saying: "It's the little things that make a house a home." Thank God.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Confusion

Here's what's growing in my front flowerbed right now:



Chrysanthemums, of course. It's October.

And gardenias, of course. What? Gardenias? No, that's not right. Gardenias bloom in June. Yet here they are, blooming like crazy in October.

This incongruity has been driving me crazy. I don't think gardenias are supposed to be blooming right now. That's not the way it's supposed to work. I guess it's been so warm that the poor things don't know what they're supposed to do. They're confused, and they're confusing me.

Or maybe these beautiful plants are just getting one last chance to shine before they take their long winter's nap. Maybe, just maybe, I ought to be grateful for the beauty they supply in my life, and not worry about the fact that this is not supposed to happen. Maybe this is just a special gift from God. After all, He's big enough and powerful enough to take care of these plants even if they're confused. Maybe He can make things all right even when they seem hopelessly tangled.

And maybe He can do that for me, too.



"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Matthew 6:28-29).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Growing, growing. . .

Grown?

Sixteen years ago this summer I gave birth to the cutest little boy you'd ever want to see. Red hair, blue eyes, charming smile--be still, my heart. Here's a picture of him from his second birthday.




Over this long holiday weekend, he and his dad went on a trip. A college scouting trip. They toured three college campuses in Virginia, beginning the process of discerning what college might be a good match for this sweet little son of mine.

Except now he's not so little.

One of the college towns they visited had a Birkenstock store. So my college-bound boy came home with these:



Have you ever seen such enormous shoes? Perhaps it's hard to tell from the photo just how big they are. Here's another photo with a reference point:


Oh, yes. His shoes really are that big. European Size 48. I didn't know they made a Size 48.

Less than two years now and this boy of mine will be gone, just like his older brother. He'll be out walking around in his Size 48 shoes.

And I am reminded of something I heard a wise person say: The days may be long, but the years are short.


--shared with Emily's Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hooked on collections


This week I had the pleasure of having lunch at a friend's house where I marveled at her collection of china. Her house is beautifully decorated throughout, but the kitchen and dining room are especially lovely--beautiful plates and platters hung on the wall as art, gorgeous dishes in the antique china cabinet, wonderful china to eat from. This is the kind of collection that can make me very envious if I'm not careful.

Looking at how well my friend has used her collection made me think of how I've used my own collections. When I was a small girl, I had a collection of dolls. My father traveled a great deal, and he would often bring my sister and me a doll from the cities he visited. I remember having a doll whose head was carved from a chestnut, one whose face was a dried apple, another made from a baby alligator.

When I was a teenager, my mother encouraged me to choose something new to collect. My mom and my grandmother were very keen on collections, and they wanted me to have something special that they could help me collect. Just think about that--I had two generous women who wanted to give me gifts. I could have chosen to collect coins or stamps or leather-bound books or any number of things, but what did I choose?

Unicorns.

Yes, you read that right. I chose to collect unicorns. I had unicorn figurines, unicorn books, unicorn bookends, unicorn jewelry, unicorn art, even unicorn towels. Oh, my goodness.

After I outgrew the unicorns, I was turned off collecting for awhile, but I guess I do have the collecting gene. Now, though, I collect things that not only interest me and make me happy but that will be lovely to use in my home.

Here's a part of a collection that I inherited from my mother. She loved antique bottles and was always on the lookout for them at antique stores, yard sales, and estate sales. The little Listerine bottle is my favorite.


Earlier this week I wrote about the collection of pitchers that was inspired by this pitcher that I also inherited from my mother.


Here's how I use the pitchers in my kitchen:



My prized collection, though, is of crosses. Several years ago, my husband gave me a crystal cross as an Easter gift. That was a gift that I will cherish forever. Since then, I have collected crosses. I love them for what they represent: the sacrifice that Jesus made to save us. I love them as works of art. Each one in my collection is beautiful in its own way. And I love them each as a piece of memorabilia: most were acquired as souvenirs of special trips or given to me by loved ones.

And I love using them in my home. Most of them are displayed on this wall in my living room:


Some of my favorites are on the chest:

 
The two Celtic crosses are special favorites. The stone one is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the crystal one is Waterford.  


Do you collect anything? What makes you smile?

--Shared with Julia for Hooked on Fridays



Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The greater gift

Yesterday I wrote a post about my kitchen. I made sure that everything was nicely put away and I cleaned my countertops to perfection and I took pictures. I'm not a great photographer, but I was proud of my photos of my lovely kitchen.

I took those photos at 1:00 yesterday afternoon. 18 hours later, my kitchen looked as if a storm had passed through. What happened? I had it looking wonderful--picture-perfect!--just a few hours ago!

So I muttered under my breath and started to, none too graciously, restore order to this space, when my eye fell upon this:



A little plate I inherited from my grandmother.

My grandmother was a wise woman. I am thankful for this reminder.

My kitchen is a lovely gift from God, and I am grateful. "Every good gift. . . is from above" (James 1:17). I know this is true, and I want to use this gift to its fullest potential. But even greater than the gift of my home is the gift of my family. Mess-making, chaos-creating people though they may be, they are a far greater treasure than my nice kitchen.

And so I will wash the dishes and throw away the trash and wipe up the crumbs. And I will fall on my knees in gratitude that I have a precious family to make my kitchen dirty enough to be happy.

--Unwrapped at Emily's this Tuesday


Monday, October 5, 2009

DIY Decorating




Ever been intimidated by the prospect of decorating a room? I know I have.

Nearly five years ago, my husband and I discovered a house that was in the process of being built. We fell in love with it--the location, the size, the setting, the floor plan. . . so we bought it. And we were lucky enough to buy it before it was finished, so we got to choose many of the features and make some floor plan modifications.

I love our house, and I work hard to make it a home for us. But some of the spaces in this house have been challenging for me to decorate. This is by far the nicest place we've ever lived, and while I think I have good taste, I haven't always been sure that my decorating choices were quite right.

Here's an example. Most of the kitchen was already in place when we bought the house: the cabinets were in, the countertop was in, the appliances were in. I got to choose paint color, backsplash, and cabinet hardware. I was pleased with everything, until the builder showed us this little feature: the boxes at the top of the cabinets.


And then he proudly flipped a switch to show us this:


And I nearly threw up. He was so excited to offer us these cool shadowbox cabinets for display, but all I could think was "What the heck am I going to put in those?" I kept thinking that the shadowboxes looked like something I'd see in a magazine along with a caption explaining that the homeowner ordered those as a place to showcase her collection of Majolica. Friends, I've got no Majolica.

You wouldn't believe how much I stressed about this decorating decision. 15 shadow boxes I needed to fill, and I didn't have 15 of anything that I wanted to display. Then I remembered this:



This pitcher was a wedding gift to my mother and father back in 1960. It's one of the things I remember clearly from my childhood--no matter where we lived, that red pitcher was always on display somewhere.

The red pitcher got me to thinking, and I realized that I had several pretty pitchers. So I decided to go with pitchers for the shadow boxes. Of course, even though I had several pretty pitchers, I didn't have 15 of them. So off I went to TJMaxx and Marshall's. I'll admit that when I unloaded seven pitchers from my cart onto the counter at TJMaxx, I got a couple of odd looks. But I was pleased with what I found, and most of them cost less than $10.

And so those shadow boxes went from intimidating blank spaces to warm, appealing full spaces:



And in context in my kitchen:



I think I made a good decision! Here's what I learned: TRUST YOURSELF. I lost sleep wondering what I should put in those cabinets, but when I calmed down and gave it some thought, I chose something that would make me happy. And what makes me happy works great in my kitchen.

Here are a few more shots of my kitchen:


Facing the work area



Facing the eating and sitting areas



There's the dough cabinet I wrote about here



A desk and sitting area at the end of the room


So that's my kitchen--the heart of my home--with all its DIY decor. Hope you like it as much as I do!

Check out all the great projects at Kimba's!

P.S. The window treatment over my kitchen sink was yet another DIY project, based on Sarah's wonderful tutorial. I highly recommend this!