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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rediscovering My Mentor for Living Beautifully

Photo Credit: My husband

Years ago, I discovered the life philosopher and author Alexandra Stoddard. It was the late 1990s and I was handling public relations for a group of interior designers hosting her as a speaker. To prepare my PR materials, I HAD to read her book Living a Beautiful Life: 500 Ways to Add Elegance, Order, Beauty and Joy to Every Day of Your Life (I know. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.)

I adopted many of her suggestions in that book, and to this day, much of her advice has simply become part of the rhythm, rituals and flow of our family's household.

I was thinking about her the other day as I pulled a loved, but chipped dish down from my newly painted cabinets (she talks about loved, chipped dishes in her book). I idly wondered if she had written any more books over the last several years.

A quick Amazon search turned up a gold mine of her work. She's written sixteen books! Her work includes Choosing Happiness: Keys to a Joyful Life, Things I Want My Daughters to Know: A Small Book About the Big Issues in Life, You Are Your Choices: 50 Ways to Live the Good Life, Happiness For Two: 75 Secrets for Finding More Joy Together, Things Good Mothers Know: A Celebration and many others.

I immediately downloaded two of her books to my ipad and ignored my to-do list for much of the day to read them.


You Are Your Choices: 50 Ways to Live the Good Life reminded me to be more mindful of the things I read, watch and actively seek to occupy my mind. Real Housewives reruns may be entertaining, but wasting hours watching them is not the path to leading a meaningful life (my inner sloth says, "awww phooey!") Stoddards shares great wisdom about staying true to ourselves which is invaluable to me as I step a little deeper into the silent noise of social media. It can be easy to loose touch with what we really think and believe when we are constantly reading others' thoughts through endless posts, tweets and comments.

Things I Want My Daughters to Know: A Small Book About the Big Issues in Life is a beautiful gift to not only her daughters, but all women. She shares what it means to be a woman of poise, purpose and joy, adjectives I'd love to have associated with me although I know I miss the mark way too often. She provides practical tips for dealing gracefully with ourselves and others as well as a solid philosophy of seeking life's highest ideals.

I'm so grateful to her for sharing herself through her books. Her unique perspective on how important it is to live well, the courage living well demands and a vision for how that can look is more important now than at any other point in history.  Depth, mindfulness and creating sacred rituals are urgent touchstones in our fast-moving world driven by quick impressions.

I believe that books fall into our lives at the exact moment we need their wisdom. These books have hit my awareness at just the right time. I can't wait to read the rest of them. I'll write a post for other books of hers as soon as I ignore my responsibilities another day to read them!

You can learn more about Alexandra Stoddard and order her books at or

Friday, October 26, 2012

My Two Scents

"A woman's perfume tells more about her than her handwriting." - Christian Dior 

Since I was a little girl sitting at my mom's dressing table, I've loved perfume. I love the bottles, the scents and the glamorous, glossy ads. Perfume makes everyday life seem more exotic.

1983 Givenchy III perfume french ad 
Image Source: ADmazing on Photobucket
I feel perfume is one of the few things worth a personal splurge. It may be costly, but it lasts for years and can be enjoyed every single day. I've felt guilty about buying a pair of $15 shoes or even a $4 cup of coffee, but I haven't wasted even one second of guilt over a $180 bottle of perfume.

I've always wanted to be one of those exciting women who wears a different scent for every mood, outfit or occasion. I've tried. I had a small collection of five carefully chosen perfumes, but as much as I dream of varying my perfume choice from day-to-day, I reach for the same one over and over again. Maybe I'm not as daring as I like to think I am, but I prefer to think it's because I know what I like.

My unfailing, go-to favorite is Quelques Fleurs L'Original. All of the qualities I've ever loved in other perfumes come together in this fragrance. It's a complex multi-floral, but it has a powdery softness and an earthy, spicy edge to it. It's sweet, but not too much so.

Quelques Fleurs has a great story behind it too. It was a groundbreaking fragrance when the historic perfume house Houbigant introduced it 1912. As one of the first multi-floral scents with 310 different flowers and 1500 petals per ounce, it paved the way for many other long-lived classics such as Chanel No. 5. The art crowd  of the time wore it, both women and men, including Dadaist artist Hannah Hoch, poet philosopher Rainer Maria Rilke and french actress Sarah Bernhardt.

 Sarah Bernhardt, french actress who wore Quelques Fleurs Houbigant perfume. c. 1844 - 1923. Photograph by Felix Nadar 1865. Image source: Wikipedia

This was not the first time an Houbigant fragrance inspired a following of famous admirers. Going back to its beginnings in 1775, Houbigant's legendary clientele is a Who's Who list of extravagant royalty: Marie Antionette; Napoleon; Josephine; Queen Victoria, and Russian Tsars, to name a few.

And since the relaunch of Quelques Fleurs in 2010, the Houbigant brand continues to attract celebrity fans today. Ivanka Trump, Guiliana Rancic and Dita Von Teese wear Quelques Fleurs. The full story is a lot for one post, but I highly recommend this excellent article by Jo Fairly at MailOnline about the relaunch of Quelques Fleurs and Houbigant's history if you want to learn more.

I've finally come to terms with the fact that I am biased against all other fragrances. I will never be an exciting fragrance-for-every-whim girl so to honor this reality, I've edited my perfume tray to two bottles: Quelques Fleurs, and my husband's favorite on me, Michael Kors.

While I believe perfume is quintessentially personal, I also think that wearing a perfume from time-to-time that your special someone prefers is good relationship manners. I wear Michael Kors for my husband on date nights, but for me, it's Quelques Fleurs every day. 

I'd love to hear from you. What are your favorite fragrances? Are you a match-your-scent-to-your-mood person or a signature-scent gal? Do you wear scents to please someone special in your life or just yourself? Please share!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Updating Our Kitchen for Under $200

I love almost every part of our kitchen, EXCEPT those cherry cabinets. As lovely as they were on their own, they just didn't match. I know it's kind of old fashioned these days, but I'm a big fan of matching (when I was a kid, I used to select my ice cream flavor to match the shirt I was wearing - I wish I could say I'm joking).

The counters are gray with black flecks and a pinkish undertone. The floor is pink-y beige and the backsplash is yellow beige. The red cabinets only added one more mismatched color to the mix rather than tying it all together. 

It's driven me crazy since we moved in seven years ago. Call it being obsessive or call it a "seven year itch," either way it was time for a change. I was NOT looking forward to the work or expense of redoing our cabinets though.

Through reviews online, I found Rust-oleum Cabinet Transformations (this post is not a paid endorsement for this product btw; it's just my account of what we did to our kitchen.) The reviews were mostly positive, and the before and after pics people posted looked great. So we decided to jump in and do it. We choose the expresso color, rolled up our sleeves, and got to work. 

There are four steps: deglosser (no sanding or stripping - yay!), a bond coat, a decorative glaze and a top protective coat. It's an easy process in that it doesn't require specialized skills, but it does require a lot of work which is to be expected for a project like this. 

Our kitchen has 26 cabinets and 11 drawers. It took two kits at approximately $60 per kit along with the cost of paint brushes and gloves. We started on Friday and worked six to eight hours a day through Tuesday. So was it worth it?

Ready for the big reveal?

I'd say it was definitely worth it! I think the kitchen looks richer and more elegant. The dark brown brings all of those pink, yellow, beige undertones together rather than fighting with them. Harmony at last (sigh).

Now that we've made this change, other things no longer look right. The light fixture in our dining area is too small and the wrong color (read Kitchen Update Part 2: New Chandelier for $60), and I'm thinking the front door needs to be painted to match the cabinets too. Our floor plan is very open. Four rooms are open and visible to one another from the kitchen, to the entry way, to the living area and dining area. No isolated quick fixes here.

Have you ever completed a DIY project to realize that now you've created more projects and work for yourself? If so, I'd love to hear about them and commiserate (while secretly jumping for joy because the truth is, I love home projects).