Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Decorating: Our House Gets Festive!

I can't believe I haven't written a post since Thanksgiving! The crazy pace of the holidays has definitely set in. I've been busy getting ready for Christmas - shopping, baking, wrapping, volunteering at the school, planning family togetherness...the list goes on and on. But one of the things I enjoy the most about the holidays is decorating our home. I love the opportunity to make everything just a little more sparkly and warm.

Here's our budget chandelier all spiffied up for Christmas. I think it looks lovely! The black paint and gold accents are the perfect background for Christmas decorations.

Cat in Christmas Tree
Before we could even finish decorating the tree, one of our cats decided it was the perfect place for a nap. She has spent most of her time hanging out in there since we put up the tree.

Christmas Tree with Red and Gold Bows and Train   
Here is the Christmas tree so twinkly with all of the lights. I love putting lots of bows on our tree because it makes our 8-year-old artificial tree look less worn and much more festive! This is the first year in awhile that I've used red. The last several years, I've only used silver and gold in our Christmas decor. I'm liking the red!

Christmas Garland on Stairs
This year we used real greenery for our garlands. I have some artificial greenery behind it just to fill it out a little more, but there's just no substitute for the real stuff.

Christmas Fireplace Mantel
I like the way the red of the poinsettias and my blue and white porcelain collection blend beautifully together on our fireplace mantel. Since this picture was taken a few days ago, our mantel is a little more cluttered with our mismatched stockings. My daughter insists that even our pets get stockings so we have seven stockings crammed in that space!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Together for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has always been a big deal in our household. We usually stay in town and invite a fun mix of family and friends with crowds reaching as many as 20 or more people.

This year we did something a little different. My goal was to spend a day truly connecting with immediate family. We are all so busy and live so far away that we rarely have a chance to be together - really together. So after much discussion - and even some regret over friends we'd miss - we decided to invite only family this year.

I meant to take a ton of photos, but as usual, I got so caught up in the whirlwind of preparing everything, talking, laughing and enjoying everyone's company that I forgot to take pics. So here is the single photo I took all day, a picture of the rose floral arrangement I made for our table:

My in-laws, my mother, my sister and her boyfriend all drove into town from different parts of the state to be with us. It was a perfect day of talking and laughing over great food including a 25 pound turkey my husband made in the Green Big Egg (a fancy, schmancy smoker) and we consumed three and a half pounds of butter - no lie!

And I have to say with some pride, this was the most organized I've been for any holiday.

I had a plan for every meal including breakfasts and lunches for the few days everyone was here. I even had many of our Thanksgiving feast dishes prepped ahead of time. It made such a difference in being able to really relax and spend time focused on our guests and the true blessing of having such a wonderful family!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Benefiting A Pet Cause: Hospice Austin Fashion Show


I need to start this post on a bit of a sad note to fully tell the story of this event and why I was there. My father passed away after a fierce fight against cancer 11 years ago yesterday. Hospice played a huge role in helping us care for him during his last days and standing by my family's side as we dealt with the loss in the days after his death. It is an organization that I will always support.

It is an interesting coincidence that 11 years after his passing and on the date 11/11 Hospice Austin hosted a fundraising event. I simply had to be there so I invited my dear friend and neighbor, Kristy, who had a similar supportive experience with Hospice when her mother passed away, to come with me.

The event was a fashion show to raise money for Hospice Austin's Pet Peace of Mind, a program that helps take care of pets for people who are terminally ill. The program also helps place pets in loving homes so that no one has to worry about leaving their pets behind without someone to love and care for them.

The fashion show, held at Austin's historic and gorgeous Driskill hotel, was beautifully done. And for two suburban girls who spend more of our days in shorts and tennis shoes than rubbing elbows with the fashionable set, it was a bit magical to step into this chic world for a few hours.

Stephen MacMillan Moser, the featured designer, is battling an illness himself so it was touching that he debuted his collection to benefit Hospice. It's easy to see that he has a generous heart, and he is an extremely talented designer who creates elegant pieces like these:

This green velvet dress that the emcee wore is perfection. What I wasn't able to capture in the photo is the fabulous train that trails behind her for at least four feet. So simple, so graceful, so stunning!

MacMillan Moser also designs men's clothing. Here is a black-on-black look. In a sophisticated, big city scene, I can see it turning a few heads.

This smokey blue creation was my absolute favorite of the evening! The color makes me sigh, and I love that it has a lot of sass and flash but in a subdued rather than over-the-top way. The fabric drapes and moves with a lot of subtle, slinky drama.

Here is another men's look. Much of MacMillan Moser's men's collection features gossamer fabrics and details such as cording and embroidery. Some of the pants sport patterns such as gold-stamped paisley for a very metropolitan feel.

Another velvet dress, this one in black. The collar is so beautifully dramatic. The ruffle continues down the back of the dress, and the sheer fabric keeps the ruffle light in spite of its large size. Can you just see wearing something like this to your neighborhood Christmas party? 

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a fashion designer and spent hours upon hours sketching clothing and envisioning a life full of glamorous runways, fabrics, work studios and big city living. This night was such a fun way to dust off that old dream and imagine what my life would have been had I pursued that path. 

After the show was over, I came home to my hunky husband, kissed my children who were already angelically in bed, snuggled with my two cats and dog, and thanked God for my life just as it is. It may not be the most glamorous, but it's full of messy, wonderful love and precious little moments that are huge in their significance.

And I thanked God that Hospice was there during those last significant moments with my dad. I'm deeply grateful that we had time to say good-bye. We were able  to sit with him and quietly realize as a family what love is when it's stripped of everything else but the simple blessing of a few more moments together. I believe that this clarity is a precious gift that God gives those of us who must watch a loved one suffer for a long time. Thank you Hospice for taking care of the difficult details so that we don't miss that gift.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

If Cats and Dogs Can Get Along...

Our cat, Velvet, adopted us three years ago. She waltzed into our front door and never left. Then a year later we decided to adopt a dog and brought Buck home from the animal shelter. 

It took months before they decided to like one another, but now they are great buddies. After this particularly divided election, this photo gives me hope that maybe people can also overlook their differences and just enjoy each others' company.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What I Wore: Old Budget-Friendly Favorites

Some of my favorite wardrobe pieces are bargains that I've picked up as I wander through thrift stores, antique malls and consignment shops. This outfit is a great example. I bought the blouse at an Asian market five years ago for less than $20. The pants were $10 from Goodwill (they are the same lime green as some of the flowers in the blouse although they look white in this photo). The shoes are from Target. I shopped for years looking for a pair of flat shoes in this cognac color. I found plenty, but they were more than I wanted to spend. I was very excited when I found these at Target for $15!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Kitchen Update Part 2: New Chandelier for $60

As I mentioned in my blog post Updating Our Kitchen for Under $200, our light fixture in the dining area didn't match our newly painted cabinets. When we first moved into this house, I grabbed a chandelier from our old home and installed it in our kitchen dining area just to have something in that space, but it was so wrong in so many ways.

The downward-facing light bulbs made the top of our heads hot during dinner (sounds like a lame complaint, but it's true!), and the fixture was way too small for the space. We never intended to make this light a permanent part of our home, but seven years later we were still living with it and sweating through dinner.

As usual with our DIY projects, I get so excited to start working once I have a vision for the way I want things to look, I forget to take a "Before" photo. I dug through some old pics to find this one from way back when we still had a wallpaper border. It's not a great shot, but it does show the too small, head-burning light fixture.

So hubby and I finally went to a hardware store to shop for a new light. I had my heart set on finding a beautifully ornate chandelier with crystals dripping from it. Sadly, there was nothing like that in stock, and anything that fit this description was way over our small budget.

Then we found this light fixture marked down from $200 to $50. It wasn't at all what I envisioned. Truthfully, it reminds me of a medieval torture device, but the price was great, and I could see it had potential. With a little creativity and work, I could tone down the goth vibe and make it close to what I wanted.

While this was definitely an improvement over what we had, I felt it was still too dark, both color-wise and evil castle-wise. The fixture is made of real iron, but the shiny black paint finish made it look like cheap plastic. I added the shades to try to soften the harshness of the masculine lines and the dungeon look, but that didn't work as well as I had hoped. 

Time for plan B:

Now this is more like it! I stole the crystal beads from our chandelier in our bathroom (the bathroom actually looks better without them). I sponge painted accents with Martha Stewart Metallic Glaze in Medallion - a cost of approximately $10 for paint and supplies. The new fixture fits the space beautifully, it is less medieval, and with the bulbs pointing up instead of down, we can enjoy our meals in pleasant coolness.

I also removed the shades and put them on our sconces over our fireplace:


I think they add a nice finished look to that wall and soften the light which used to glare in our eyes as we tried to watch television in that room. Now we use the sconces a lot more than we did before. I love when things work out better than planned!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Of Saints and Hurricanes

'Truly, matters in the world are in a bad state; but if you and I begin in earnest to reform ourselves, a really good beginning will have been made.'
St. Peter of Alcantara

Truth is so much stranger than fiction. It's amazing to me how life can sometimes throw events and ironies in our path that would seem contrived in a bestselling novel or blockbuster movie.

As Halloween has come and gone this year, it has eerily collided with real life horrors unfolding as we learn the full destruction of Hurricane Sandy. And today, as we who are Catholic celebrate the Feast of All Saints, the sobering toll of this larger-than-fiction storm reminds us that no matter who we are, our true calling is to help one another, especially in the face of overwhelming tragedy such as this.

I've heard amazing stories of people putting others' well being and lives well above their own. I've heard other stories too of lawlessness, callousness and greed, but I'm sure that there are many, many more instances that we'll never know of selflessness and love.

God knows, and even if we never hear these stories, the fact that they exist makes our world a better place.

I can't help but wonder how this storm will affect us collectively and change us. We became a different society after Hurricane Katrina; we're a little less trusting in our social systems, our government and our infrastructures. I hope that this time the result of this storm will be more positive than negative.

Hurricane Sandy's widespread destruction has forced us, no matter how far we live from the storm's path, to face our deepest fears of not being in control. But one thing that we can control is our decision to act bravely with compassion or to decide that this is someone else's problem.

Perhaps the significance of the storm's timing near All Saints' Day, a time when we turn to the lives of Saints for guidance, will inspire us to be our best, most compassionate selves in responding to people's immediate needs in the coming days. And I hope it brings out our most innovative and creative selves in creating solutions for similar crises in the future.

'Patiently endure the distressing and painful things that befall you, for through them God in His providence is purifying you.'
St. Thalassios the Libyan