Friday, July 31

Heirloom Day

Marie at Emma Calls Me Mama is having an Heirloom Party today. Isn't that a great theme for a party? It's fun to see what's been passed down in families.

The heirloom I love best is in my dining room. Actually, my dining room is the heirloomiest (that's not a word, but you know what I mean) room in my house. My dining room furniture belonged to my mom, several pieces of my crystal were my mom's, etc. All in all, I don't have many heirlooms: my husband and I both come from families who never had much. But we have a few prized possessions, and to me the very best piece is this:

It's a deacon's bench from my grandmother's little church in Belle Plaine, Kansas. Belle Plaine is one of those wonderful little prairie towns. I have such fond memories of spending summers there when I was a child. Life in Belle Plaine was simple and fun, especially since my grandmother was one of nine siblings, all of whom lived close to her. Lots of cousins to play with.

(By the way, do you see a bit of beagle in this photo? My doggies love it under the dining room table. They must feel safe under there.)

Anyway, back to the bench. It's from the church of which my grandmother was a member for all her adult life--the church where my mother grew up, was baptized, got married. The old church building was torn down when I was a young woman, but a few pieces from the building were salvaged, including this deacon's bench, which became my grandmother's. My grandmother died in 1999, and this is one of the pieces my mother inherited. Then my mother died later that same year (that was not a good year, let me tell you), and somehow I was the lucky one who inherited the deacon's bench. I loovvveeee it.

Several years ago (and several houses ago), an interior designer friend of mine helped me with several rooms in my house. It was his idea to put the deacon's bench at the dining room table. I've moved several times since then, but I've continued to use the bench there in every house.

While we're in my dining room, I'll show you the rest of the room. You know, I love having a dining room. We don't use it as often as perhaps we should--but I'm grateful that we have one. I used to have a beautiful collection of candlesticks on the table, but I finally packed those away and now just have a plant on the table--simply so that the table can be cleared and ready to use at a moment's notice. I do love my table runner, which was a sewing project from years ago. Love that deep fringe (which is hot-glued on, by the way).

The walls are a brownish red above the chair rail. I've had some sort of red dining room for many years, with the shade of red changing from time to time. Red dining rooms are becoming passe' now, so I've gone a lot browner with the shade. . . but I still love a dining room with dark walls.

Dark walls look especially nice with lamplight and candlelight, I think. My china cabinet has interior lights, but I rarely turn those on except for parties. I added rope lighting to the top of the cabinet and put a floor lamp in the corner to have everyday light in that corner of the room.

The other end of the room has lots of light, thanks to the lighted built-in cabinets. I love these cabinets. They look so warm and cozy at night. I'd love your opinion here: should I paint the backs of the cabinets? The contents would show up much better against a color, I think. . . but what color would be good? The same color as the walls? A complementary color? Tell me what you think!

Thanks, Marie, for prompting us to take a walk down Memory Lane!

Wednesday, July 29

Thrift store ottoman rescue


It's DIY Day at Kimba's. Guess what I've been working on?

I knew I loved ottomans, but it seems my fondness for them has become apparent to my husband as well. He asked me if I was going to start an ottoman business and call it The Ottoman Empire. Ha, ha.

Really, though, I just can't seem to get enough of them. And why not? Is there a more versatile piece of furniture?

I found this treasure at the Habitat for Humanity thrift store the other day and snapped it up. It was ugly but structurally quite sound. $10 out of my wallet into the coffers of one of my favorite charities, and I got an ottoman. That seemed like a good deal to me.

Luckily I had lots of fabric left over from the new bedding I made this spring. And with a bit of help from my staple gun and my glue gun, look what I have now:

An ottoman. Covered in houndstooth fabric. With cedar-lined storage. I think I'm in love.

This cutie is going in my closet, which has been subject to a massive clean-out. I've wanted a place to perch in there. Now I can sit in style.

But I may have to beat the rest of the family to my new treasure. Look who had a seat while I was snapping pictures!

Check out all the fun do-it-yourself projects at Kimba's!

Tuesday, July 28

An unexpected gift

This past week I got something that really, really surprised me. Just blew me away.

A couple of weeks ago I shared the story of my birthmark and how I realized that I'd defined myself by this imperfection. And I got the kindest, most supportive comments about that post. Emily reminded me of Brennan Manning's wisdom that there is more power in sharing our weaknesses than our strengths. It's true: I felt so relieved and glad after I'd shared this truth about myself, as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders.

But I got a comment this past week that just floored me. Melanie wrote: "This post brought tears to my eyes. You are beautiful--not in spite of the birthmark, but maybe even because of it."

What? Because of it??

Melanie got me to thinking: Perhaps there is something good about me that I possess solely because of my birthmark. And I think that's probably true, not just for me, but for all of us. There's something about our hardships that makes us kinder. Or more sympathetic. Or more understanding. Or something else--but something good.

I don't believe that God gave me this birthmark. This particular birthmark is the result of a medical condition (a very rare syndrome called Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome), and I don't think that God gives us diseases. I believe that disease entered the world because of man's sin, not because of God's desires. We live in a fallen world, and disease is one of the sufferings we must endure.

But the fact is that God is the boss, and I am a child of His, so nothing that happens to me is unknown or unnoticed by Him. He did not design disease for me or for anyone else, but He does allow us to have these diseases. And if He allows it, He wants to redeem it. He wants there to be some good that comes of it. "We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). Or, as The Message puts it: "That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good."

So, now that I think about it, I can be more beautiful because of something ugly. Thank you, Melanie, for the unexpected gift. And thank you, Emily, for prompting us to recognize the gifts in our everyday lives.

Read more at Tuesdays Unwrapped. Your soul will be blessed.

Sunday, July 26

Laundry Room Makeover

I'm excited to share with you a transformation--not just of one object, but of a whole room. First, although I'm embarrassed to admit it, I'll show you a little of what my laundry room looked like "before":

Actually, that shot doesn't look so bad. I must have taken that photo after I'd already cleared some things away; you can actually see some of the top of the dryer.

Anyway, here's what it looks like now:

I'm so happy with the way it turned out. Here are some of the details.

First, do recognize the window dressing as a mistreatment?

It's just fabric that I folded in half, stapled to a 1 x 4, and put up on the wall with L-brackets. Then I hot-glued on the trim. Actually, I glued on two different trims, one on top of the other. Total cost for window treatment: $10. Fabric was $7.99/yard; trim was on sale for $1/yard. 1 x 4 and L-brackets I already had.

I was happy to find the cheerful birdcage fabric, because it enabled me to choose a wall color. I can usually choose paint colors quickly; it's something I like to do. I know that neutral, serene colors are all the rage, but I needed CHEERFUL in the room in which I have to do laundry. So this laundry room had me stumped. The room is adjacent to a little hallway that is painted a buttery cream color (SW Buckram Binding) and next to my kitchen which is painted a sagey green (SW Ruskin Room Green). I needed a color that would work with the white cabinets, and I just couldn't choose. Having the fabric as an inspiration helped me to choose this creamy blue (Benjamin Moore Blue Hydrangea). My boys helped me with the painting. Blue paint looks great in red hair.

That brings me to my very best tip for organizing a laundry room: PAINT IT. Or, if you don't want to paint, pretend that you need to paint it. Go ahead. Take everything out as if you needed to paint. You'll be amazed at what a difference it makes just to empty the space.

Now back to the fun stuff:

I found the small birdcage at a local gift shop. Then I found the slightly larger one on clearance at TJMaxx. Spray painted both of them. Total cost for both: $27.

The rest of the artwork was mostly stuff I had: a Matisse poster that used to hang in my kitchen many years ago;

funky little Danish plates my mother found at an estate sale years ago:

an oval mirror that once graced my foyer (spray painted black);

a corbel that I bought at
TJMaxx years ago and found stashed in a closet. I did buy the yellow plate: $2 at TJMaxx.

By the way, did you notice the green soap dispenser? It was a plain-Jane white ceramic soap dispenser, $2 from Target. You can spray paint anything!

This counter was always crammed full of junk, so I created a little vignette.

The artwork is actually a photograph; this used to hang in my family room three houses ago. The lamp was in my dining room many years ago; I painted it black. The tassel I made myself out of trim left over from another project.

The milk bottles are from a local dairy; I filled them with clothespins. The old iron was my mother's. And the frame was one I had in my stash; I just spray painted it. Total cost for the newly decorated counter: $0. Maybe now I can keep it clean.

Other touches: I replaced my old laundry baskets with baskets I found at Home Goods for $15 each (one for whites and one for darks). I found the rug at TJMaxx; I like the touch of color on the tile floor. The rug was $30.

So for not too much money I now have a laundry room that I love. My only problem with it is that I still have to do laundry in there. Oh, well. At least now I have a nice place to work.

What do you think?

Check out all the fun transformations at Metamorphosis Monday and the fun rooms at Kelly's Korner. And for laundry room inspiration, be sure to visit Traci's laundry room party at Beneath My Heart!

Wednesday, July 22

A tray for the ottoman


It's DIY Day at Kimba's again!

And this week most of my DIY energy has been spent cleaning. Unfortunately, nothing is ready to show you.

But I did get one little project done, so I'll show you that! Last week I posted about my trash-to-treasure ottoman, which is working great on my front porch. What I envisioned for the ottoman was that it would also work as a coffee table, but for that I needed a tray to hold drinks. And I didn't have quite what I wanted.

I found these trays at the thrift store for $1 each. I'm not sure what they're made of--some kind of very sturdy metal.

I spray painted the oval one red, which was cheerful but a little too bright for my porch. So I brushed on a little burnt umber artists' pigment. Here's the tray now (a very bad photo--sorry!):

(A small digression--is it artist's pigment or artists' pigment? Singular or plural? Plural "artists' " is what it says on the bottle--but is that right?)

Here's a little better shot of the tray on my ottoman.

Just what I wanted, at just the price I wanted to pay. And now I get to play with the round tray, too!

Check out all the fun projects at DIY Day!

Tuesday, July 21

Kids' Art

What we're doing at my house for a couple of weeks is called decluttering. So I'm wondering: what's the opposite of decluttering? Cluttering? Acluttering?

Whatever you call it, we've apparently done an awful lot of it. 'Cause there sure is still a lot of decluttering yet to happen. We're currently in that stage of having made an even bigger mess than we had before. I keep reminding myself that this is a natural progression--that all this stuff used to be in attics and basements and closets, and right now it's all right out there where we can see it and trip over it.

It seems like the only thing in my house that isn't covered in piles of clothes or books or toys or knick-knacks is the art hanging on the walls. (And this is because most of our art has no horizontal surfaces where you could stash piles of things.) Ugh.

Anyway, I'm taking a break to show you a couple of pieces of art (well, actually just to take a break, but I'll show you these things while I'm at it). When I was a young mom, people often told me that I should frame some of my kids' artwork. It sounded like a great idea, but I never could figure out exactly how to make that work. Finally I came up with a solution, and these pieces of art still make me smile.

My solution: clip frames. I bought a few clip frames (each one is essentially just a piece of glass, a piece of backer board, and art clips) in one size. Of course, none of my artwork was actually the right size for the frames, so I just mounted the pieces on art paper in the right size. This was so much easier (and cheaper) than hunting for frames in odd sizes or having mats cut. Here's a little collection from my hallway:

Of course, an occasional piece may warrant special attention, and you may want to put a special piece of art in a proper frame. This is where it comes in handy to have collected odd frames at thrift stores. I had to trim this painting just a tad to make it fit, but I'm so glad I framed it:

Isn't that the cutest blue frog painted by a second-grader you have ever seen?

So there. You have now seen all of my house that is clean at this moment. Or at least that's how it feels. But we shall press on. And maybe soon I'll be able to show you some pictures of my nice clean kitchen!

What do you do with your kids' art?

Monday, July 20

Cleaning out

As I said in my last post, my family and I are currently putting forth a Herculean effort at cleaning out and de-cluttering. We're trying to see just how much we can get done in two weeks' time.

I am trying to maintain a cheerful attitude about this. Trying to keep the goal in mind. Trying to envision a simpler, more beautiful home and life. Not always succeeding, but trying.

Today I made a trip to a Community Recycling Center. I don't do this very often. We have curbside recycling here in Durham, and that is usually sufficient to my recycling needs. But the pile of corrugated cardboard in my garage had grown too big for curbside pick-up, so I packed it up and hauled it off. After I had already put a number of boxes into the container, it occurred to me to snap a photo of the boxes I was submitting for recycling. Here it is. Mind you, this was taken only after I'd already deposited a number of boxes.

Legoland North Carolina. That's where I live.

There's a name for the love of Legos that my boys have had: Legomania. They've mostly outgrown it now, so it's a little bittersweet to clean up the Legos.

There's also a name for keeping this many empty Lego boxes in the attic: Insanity. Working on the cure here. Working on the cure.

I think we could use some more Funfetti cookies.

Friday, July 17

Easy treat: Cake Mix Cookies

All this week, my sons are helping me de-clutter our house. We're up to our ears in stuff--some trash, mostly good stuff--but all stuff that we don't use anymore. My husband has finally convinced us that "stuff we don't use anymore" is better called "clutter." So we are trying to make huge de-cluttering headway. Our closets and cupboards are looking so nice. And it will be so much easier to clean up the house after all this clutter is gone.

But it's a lot of work. So yesterday, as a little reward and a bit of a pick-me-up, I stopped and made a treat. It needed to be a quick treat, though, so I made some cake mix cookies. Do you make cookies from cake mixes? If not, believe me: you should try this. I'm not an awesome cook, but I am a good baker, and I love to make cookies from scratch. But these are so fast you'll hardly believe it. I turned on the oven, mixed up the dough, and then had to wait for the oven to finish pre-heating. I'm telling you: fast.

The recipe is simple. It's a formula: 

1 cake mix
1/2 cup oil or butter
2 eggs
 whatever add-ins you want to try

Yesterday I made yummy sugar cookies using a Pillsbury "Funfetti" cake mix, oil, and eggs. I simply rolled each spoon of dough into a little ball, plopped them on a cookie sheet, and baked at 350 degrees for about 9 minutes. They're delicious and really pretty:

Here are some other variations that we love:
  • Double Chocolate: devil's food cake mix, oil, eggs, + chocolate chips
  • German Chocolate: German chocolate cake mix, butter, eggs, + coconut and chopped pecans
  • Butter Toffee: butter recipe yellow cake mix, butter, eggs, + Bits o' Brickle and chopped pecans
These are all scrumptious. A few bits of advice. 

 First, DO NOT OVERBAKE these cookies. Remove them from the oven just when they're starting to look done; don't let them get brown. Allow them to sit on their cookie sheets for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. They'll continue to cook a bit without getting overdone. 

Second, use an ungreased cookie sheet for baking most of these cookies. For the butter toffee ones, use parchment paper. 

Third, don't be afraid to try new combinations. I've used every different brand of cake mix with equally pleasing results--I just buy whatever is on sale. 

And last, don't forget to let your kids eat some of the dough. No matter how old they get. Eating cookie dough is one of those treats that kids just don't outgrow.


Monday, July 13

Defining Moment

Every Tuesday Emily at Chatting at the Sky hosts Tuesdays Unwrapped. I love the way Emily challenges herself and us to look at life honestly and to experience the reality of life. And today I want to share what is, for me, an important moment from last week at the beach: a moment in which I took a photo of myself.

First, though, here's a photo from our trip to the beach last year.

I love photographs, but I don't usually love photographs of me. This one is different. My husband took this at Kiawah Island, our favorite vacation spot. Kiawah was where we honeymooned 24 years ago, and it's where we've taken our boys for many years now.

But the real reason I love this photo is because it's very selective. It only shows the part of me that I like. And as I sat at Kiawah this past week, I realized just how much I have defined myself by the part of me that doesn't show in this photo.

You see, I have a birthmark. A really big birthmark. The biggest I've ever seen. It covers most of the right side of my body. It's actually a symptom of very rare disorder called Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome.

And over the years I have lied about my birthmark. Many times, people have asked me, "Does it hurt?" Invariably, I say, "No; it doesn't hurt."

That's not true. It does hurt. It doesn't hurt much physically; it's a little uncomfortable sometimes. But emotionally it does hurt. It hurts to look funny; it hurts to have people stare at you; it hurts to have people exclaim, "Oh my gosh! What happened to you?"

But the fact is that I've let it define me. In spite of having a husband who loves me and who thinks I'm beautiful, I've thought of myself as someone who could look okay but could never be beautiful.
Even now I can hear Nester's voice: "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." I agree with her. I heartily concur with her. And yet I haven't been able to think of myself in those terms.

Maybe, I've thought, just maybe I can look okay as long as you don't look at my birthmark. If you take that part out, like in my favorite photo, I can look okay. But the overall picture? No way it could be beautiful.

And so I've let my imperfection define the way I think about myself. And as I sat on the porch of our cottage this past week, it occurred to me that it just doesn't make sense for me to define myself according to an imperfection, no matter how glaring.

So I took a photo of my legs. It's not a good photo, because I snapped it of myself. You know how photos taken at close range can look a bit distorted. But it does give you a sense of what my birthmark is like. The birthmark extends all the way up my leg and covers most of my right torso, as well. Like I said, it's the biggest birthmark I've ever seen.

But it is what it is. I would change it if I could. I've had it treated with lasers multiple times, with limited results. (By the way, the laser technology is wonderful and often very effective. It's just that it wasn't available until I was about 35 years old, by which time there was only so much effectiveness that could be expected. For a child or youth, though, it's a process that would be extremely effective.)

In short, this is a part of me that I cannot change. The only thing I can change is my attitude about it. And I am deciding to accept the fact that the person in my favorite photo is the same person as the one in the second photo. I can be imperfect and still be okay.

I don't have to hide my imperfections in order to be acceptable; I just need to accept myself.

Trash to treasure ottoman

The other day, a friend told me that she had been given some Omaha Steaks and asked if my boys would like the dry ice that came in the package to "play" with. (You can't really play with dry ice, of course, but it is fun to watch it pour off steam.) Along with the dry ice, my friend gave me the Omaha Steaks cooler.

After the dry ice was gone, I started to trash the cooler. . . but then it hit me. That cooler was just the right size and shape for an ottoman.

So I rounded up some old magazines, some foam, some leftover fabric, and my glue gun. I stashed the old magazines inside the cooler to give the cooler added weight. I glued the foam to the cooler.

Then I wrapped the whole thing in fabric just like I'd wrap a present. And presto! An ottoman.

At this point I had spent zero dollars, and I was pretty pleased with the result. But I realized that I'd like the ottoman better if it had feet. So I went to Home Depot and spent a few dollars ($3 each) on unfinished feet. I sprayed them with some brown spray paint I had on hand.

Here is the finished product:

I have it on my front porch, where it works as an ottoman and a coffee table. What do you think? I think it could use a bit more glue, and I need to straighten out one of the feet, but overall I like it!

For a full tutorial, click here!

Check out other cool projects at Metamorphosis Monday over at Susan's place and then more at Kimba's DIY Day!

Monday, July 6

Spa time

Remember this chair I re-purposed for my bathroom. I like my bathroom--it's not humongous like you find in some houses, but it's plenty big, and it has a nice tub.

Until recently, though, the tub was most often used by our youngest son. Behold: a spa for Bionicles.

I decided that I wanted to reclaim this spot for my husband and me. So I set out to make the atmosphere more spa-like using some things I had around the house.

This basket used to hold--guess what?--Legos. And water guns. And toy boats. Those went to a plastic basket in the cupboard, and towels went in the basket.

I took an old hurricane globe and filled the bottom with seashells. Makes a nice candle holder by the tub.

This silver shell I found at Target a couple of years ago. I think I paid $4.88 for it, and I put it away, thinking that someday I'd find a good use for it. I like using it to hold bath salts and things.

And here's the whole area.

Very spa-like, I think. But now it's a spa for people!

Now I just need to make some time to get in the tub myself.

--Linked to Metamorphosis Monday at Susan's

and DIY Day: Beach Edition at Kimba's