Tuesday, December 29

An honest review of 2015

In years past, I've written about my top projects of the year.  Sometimes the projects have been as big as completely remodeling rooms in my house; sometimes they've been as small as creating a simple craft.  But always there have been projects.

This year has included a few projects for me, but mostly it's been a year of events.

Since my last end-of-year recap, my middle son graduated from college.

My youngest son graduated from high school.

My husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.

My husband and I became empty nesters.

My oldest son became an officer in the U.S. Navy.

2015 has been a different kind of year: fewer projects and more upheaval.

Yes, I think that's the right word.  2015 has been a year of upheaval, a year of change in our family. The changes have been good, but they seem to have taken all my energy.

As I've reflected on this past year, I realize that I've just allowed myself to be swept along by all these events, kind of waiting to see where I would wash up.

The danger with that approach, of course, is that one can simply become washed up.

Washed up is not what I want to be, and I realize that the only person who can fix that is me.  It's time to plant myself firmly on shore.

So here's to a time of reflecting on all that 2015 has brought, but planning to plant my feet and make 2016 my best year yet.  I'm not sure yet what that will look like, but I'm starting with this thought:

"Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established" (Proverbs 16:3).

How about you?  What has 2015 brought to your life?  What are your plans for 2016?

Thursday, December 24

Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve!

I hope you have a Christmas Eve service to attend today. If you don't, you might enjoy watching this video of a traditional Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols service at Duke Chapel.

While you're watching, you might see some familiar redheads. My oldest son, Will, reads the ninth lesson. And the rest of us are in the second row. You can't miss my son Preston who is sitting on the aisle--he's the 6'8" redhead.

The video includes all the prelude music as well as the entire service of Lessons and Carols.  Enjoy it all or fast forward to the service.  It's beautiful!

Every blessing to you and yours this Christmas Eve!

Tuesday, December 15

Christmas Home Tour

Christmas is nearly here, and I'm so glad to welcome you to our home!

Backing up, here's a view of our house.  The grey skies have been par for the course this year, but the Christmas decorations add a cheerful touch.

Before you go any further, you should know that Christmas decorations around here are traditional. Although I admire neutral decor, it simply doesn't satisfy me at Christmastime.  I'm a red and green girl all the way.

I like blue, too, and you'd better believe I'm flying my flag this year, since my oldest son just became an officer in the U.S. Navy! He's now in Pensacola for flight training, but he gets to come home for Christmas.  Mom's happy about that!

I hung the DIY "Joy" sign that I made last year and placed the boys' old sled by the front door.  A tartan bow dresses it up just a little for Christmas.

I was tickled to find bells to add to the wreath this year.  (Does anyone else love "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"?)  I use the same artificial wreath every year and just add fresh greenery and embellishments to make it lush and full.

I love to give our front porch "outdoor living room" some special touches for Christmas.

This year I added a galvanized bucket (found at the Target One Spot) to the side door.  I just filled it with with fresh greenery and added some tartan ribbon.  I change my chalkboard from time to time; right now it's proclaiming one of my favorite Christmas messages.

Here's a peek inside the front door.  I like the house to look Christmasy from the moment you walk in.

The foyer is the hub of this house.  The stairs lead up to three bedrooms, but the foyer also connects to my husband's study, the living room, the dining room, and a little hall that leads to the powder room and the master bedroom.  So the decor needs to be lovely but pretty simple.  This would not be a good place to block traffic.  A garland on the banister and some fresh poinsettias add Christmas color and sparkle.

Here's my husband's study with a little Christmas cheer.  I don't do a lot in this very masculine room.

Back in the foyer, you can get a good view into the living room, where our one tree stands in the corner.  The tree isn't decked with ornaments yet, but it looks pretty with just the lights and the angel on top.

We really live in our living room.  It's fairly formal in architecture, but not particularly formal in feel. I left the TV cabinet open for your viewing pleasure.  Lots of NFL games are watched on that TV!

The fireplace decorations are simple and sentimental: our stockings collected over the years, a basket of favorite Christmas books, and fresh greenery along with mercury glass candle holders.

This blue bowl stays on the coffee table most of the year.  This Christmas I simply added ornaments and an antique Christmas magazine.

The dining room is right next to the living room.  I think the French blue color of the walls is a great foil for the red, green, and gold of my Christmas decor.

I love colonial Christmas decorations, and this year I made a Hogarth curve for the dining table.  So easy to make and such a lovely centerpiece!

My dining room windows are untreated, so at Christmas I like to add ornaments.  I hang them from ribbons and staple the ribbons to the top of the window frame.  This year my primitive sideboard holds two of my favorite Nativity scenes: an olive wood creche made in Bethlehem and the DaySpring nativity candle holder trio.

On the other sideboard I display special Lenox Christmas plates.  Lenox started its "Trees Around the World" series the year my oldest son was born.  I have a plate from the year each of my boys was born, and I love displaying them every Christmas.

Through the dining room is the kitchen, where I've added a few fun Christmas touches.  Last year I painted my kitchen island green, so it works especially well for Christmas.

I created a kind of "country store" vignette on top the island with an antique wrapping paper roll, an old scale, and store bell.  I made a "Please ring bell for service" sign to sit by the bell.  Now if someone would just come serve me when I ring!

In the window I hung my DIY Noel sign and just layered a small boxwood wreath on top.  I sometimes remove my DIY faux Roman shades at Christmastime and hang a garland, but this year I felt content with just the Noel sign and wreath.  Snowman cookie jars add some fun on either side of the window.

The breakfast area got a bit of Christmas cheer with a simple centerpiece on the table and my Department 56 village on my mother's antique dough cabinet.

My youngest son usually creates a LEGO Christmas village for us, but this year he's away at college. I hope he'll make us a LEGO village before Christmas Day!

The breakfast room leads directly out to the screened porch, which is great fun to decorate for Christmas.  I cut a length of flannel fabric straight down the middle: one half I used to create a table runner and from the other half I stitched some Christmas pillows.

Centerpieces don't get much easier than this galvanized bottle holder containing votives (Epsom salts provide the "snow") and some fresh greenery from my yard.

Along with the plaid pillows I layered my DIY "Joy to the World" pillow.

Hope you've enjoyed this little tour of our traditional Christmas home.  We wish you and yours a blessed season of celebrating the birth of the Savior!


I'm joining these wonderful parties:
Annual Tour of Homes at Nesting Place

Friday, December 4

Christmas decorating memories

Christmastime is a season of remembering. Some days it can seem that we are caught up like Ebenezer in a visitation of the Spirit of Christmas Past. So it was for me this week, when I headed outside to clip magnolia branches for my Christmas decorations.  

I was rudely reminded that I no longer have a magnolia tree in my yard.  This past February brought snows and ice storms, and one of the storms took out my prized magnolia.  Only through the generosity of neighbors do I have any magnolia leaves this year.  

As I snipped a few leaves from a neighbor's tree, suddenly I was once again a new mom, very young and struggling to make ends meet. I lived with my husband and my darling six-month-old son in Michigan, 500 miles away from our families in Tennessee. We had just bought our first house, and I wanted it to look special for Christmas, but my budget was very limited.  Naturally, I looked outdoors for greenery to bring inside. And there I stopped, as I realized that there were no big magnolia trees in Michigan. No beautiful waxy leaves to arrange just so atop a mantelpiece or in a windowsill. I had spent all my life in the South, and Christmas just didn't seem like Christmas without magnolia leaves decking the halls.

Early one morning my mother called, as she often did, and I lamented the lack of magnolia leaves. "Hmmm," she said. "I never thought about the fact that magnolias don't grow in Michigan."

"There are lots of magnolias here," I answered, "just not the evergreen kind. Not the grandiflora with the big beautiful leaves that I want."

"Too bad you can't pop down here for a few minutes," Mama mused. "You know Nancy has four huge trees right in her front yard."

Nancy was one of my mother’s best friends, and my mind’s eye pictured the four mature trees that stood just beside her front porch. "Wouldn't that be nice?" I sighed. 

Our conversation turned to other topics.  Then I hung up the phone and made my way outdoors, where I gathered clippings of pine and fir and yew to fashion into wreaths and swags.  My husband and I lit the Christmas tree and the fire and prepared to spend our first holiday season away from the South.

A few days later, a UPS truck stopped in front of my house. The man in brown walked to the door, bearing a huge box and wearing a puzzled expression. As I signed for the package, he shook his head and said, "I can't imagine what could be in this box. It weighs almost nothing."

Puzzled, I accepted the package from him. It was addressed to me, and it was from my mother. I eagerly tore it open to discover branch after branch of magnolia leaves.  Each stem was carefully wrapped in damp paper towels and encased in plastic bags, as fresh as if they'd just been cut.  With Nancy’s help, Mama had collected dozens of magnolia cuttings, then boxed them up and sent them to me.

It's now been many years since my mother died.  I am grateful that I moved back to the South before she left us. I was there when she passed from this life.

Now that I'm safely back in the South, I can collect my own magnolia leaves. But every time I do, I can't help but remember the time that my mother understood how my soul needed a bit of home. And since I couldn't get it for myself, she had it delivered. Via God and UPS.

Tuesday, December 1

Christmas decorating in real life

Finally. . . it's December 1!  For months we've waited for this, the most wonderful time of the year.

Yesterday, excited about the holiday season, I did what I'll bet millions of other people did: fired up my computer and began perusing my favorite blogs and Pinterest for great ideas.  Almost immediately my attention was captured by this headline: "How to Create a Show-stopping. . . ."

Changing my approach to decorating for Christmas
This was my Christmas foyer last year.  I'm just now starting my Christmas decorating for this year.
Honestly, I can't remember what that particular show-stopping item was. Because almost as soon as I clicked over to read about it, I was filled with a sort of dread that left my heart thumping and my stomach hurting. 

At the time, I simply left the computer. I got up and washed the dishes; I folded a load of laundry; I started preparations for dinner. And I felt like a failure. Not a single thing I was doing was show-stopping, and my holiday preparations would be just the same. 

Then, with a force that's hard to explain, the truth hit me:

Life isn't a show.

It's not a show!  So why do I want it to be show-stopping?

As we share our lives with one another via our various social media outlets, it's easy for us to lose sight of that fact. We stage and carefully edit our photos. We write catchy headlines and captions. Many times, we include the good stuff and leave out the bad. But life is full of unstaged and unedited scenes. Real life contains the bad as well as the good, the failures as well as the successes, the mediocre as well as the stunning.

You know what?  It all counts.  Not just the show-stopping, not just the beautiful, not just the pin-worthy.  In fact, we often we gain more from our failures than from our successes. We learn and grow as we struggle and wait. We may get more from the daily grind than the yearly hoopla. 

And honestly, sometimes the messes we make are a greater testimony to the truth than our carefully crafted scenes could ever be.  Because the truth is that God is at work. God is alive and full of love, and there's no need for us to try to impress Him--not during the holiday season or at any other time.

So this holiday season, I'm trying to leave my desires to create something show-stopping and enjoy real life.  True, it's not always pretty, but if I have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart full of gratitude, I can tell it's pretty wonderful.

What do you think?  Are you ready for a real-life Christmas?