Nesting: A Parable (of sorts)

imageOn hubby Steve’s and my first foray to what has since become our favorite local farm-to-table market, I was charmed by a set of three metal flower pots nested on a small oval tray. Enameled in graduated shades of dark-to-light, creating an ombré effect, the three pots’ Caribbean-sea hues recalled our wedding colors and provided a welcome contrast to the grim gray January sky. They were the also the perfect size for a small kitchen herb garden.

A large plastic pot in a similar turquoise caught my eye, too, along with a healthy aloe plant that reminded me of the one my mother had used to sooth our childhood sunburns. One small container each of thyme and oregano and a packet of basil seeds later, I was ready to warm up our winter kitchen with flora and flavor.

imageWe stashed the empty pots on the radiator by the front door as we unloaded groceries, where they stayed, as did the plants on the kitchen counter, for several weeks. One day I asked Steve to bring a bag of potting soil from the garage to the back porch for easy access, and he obliged. It rested there, undisturbed. Another week passed. I brought the pots into the kitchen. By then I’d realized we didn’t have a good spot for plants where they wouldn’t be knocked over or gnawed on by cats. We measured a window for a shelf and brackets, but another few weeks went by before we could get to the hardware store.

imageFinally, one afternoon during spring break, Steve gathered a level, screws, and drill and cut the shelf, while I re-potted the aloe and the herbs and rescued a rapidly wilting poinsettia and some ailing succulents. I painted the shelf ends, he installed it, and we arranged the plants on the shelf with an enormous sense of satisfaction.

After all, it had only taken us seven weeks from start to finish.

March 11th marked seven months to the day since Steve and I took up full-time residence together in our new old house. We’d held our wedding one month after move-in, taking a week away from academia for our celebration and a brief honeymoon. Then it was back to full-time teaching and administrating. Since then we’ve amassed, between the two of us, a total of eight work trips plus four visits with family, and we’re looking ahead to a similar travel schedule between now and June.

It’s hardly surprising we still have boxes stacked down the hallway and in the living room, or that we’ve only managed to paint one room of the house. I’d be astonished if we had managed to settle in fully. I don’t feel surprise at our lack of progress. I feel…thwarted.

imageSeven weeks of combined efforts, sandwiched betwixt and amongst the myriad other demands and desires of our rich (and wonderful!) lives—for one simple shelf and a few sprouts. We’re in it, in more ways than one, for the long haul.

I’ve been a little quiet recently because I’ve been overwhelmed. By work. By the news. By losses I’ve witnessed, near and far. Even, forgive me, by the abundance of my blessings.

In other words, by life.

That’s not a complaint, merely an observation. I honestly believe if we don’t feel overwhelmed, at least on occasion, by this world we inhabit, we aren’t fully inhabiting our humanity. I’ve also found that when I feel that way, it’s helpful to step back and take time to notice the good. To squeeze someone’s hand and tell them they matter. To say “I love you,” and “Thank you.” To find beauty in the smallest flower, feel success in the smallest accomplishment.


imageI paint turquoise polka dots on the poinsettia pot’s nondescript brown rim. Add a little sparkle with a glittery bluebird pick in the pot of the heart-shaped cactus known as the “Sweetheart Cactus,” the “Lucky Heart.”

Each morning, I smile at our shelf of growing greens. Each evening, as Steve and I make dinner together, we watch the sun set through the window that frames the ocean-sky blues of the pots that hold the seeds we’ve planted, the seeds that slowly, resolutely sprout, grow, exceed.

For now, for this day: it is enough.

bird and heart

 

Home Sweet Home Show

In January, hubby Steve and I engaged in what I imagine is, for many, a newlywed rite of passage: we went to our first home show.

I’d seen the big winter home show advertised most every year since moving to Virginia, and once or twice I’d tinkered with the idea of going. I subscribe to several home decorating magazines, and I’m a sucker for HGTV (though I liked it better when it was more renovation, less real estate—already bought the house, thanks). But back then I rented my little purple cottage. I’d painted several rooms when I’d first moved in, but I wasn’t responsible (thankfully) for the likes of upgrading the bathroom fixtures, replacing leaky windows, or waterproofing the basement. My landlord made those decisions, and (thankfully, again) footed the bills. Given that, I wasn’t sure what a home show had to offer me.

brickhouseWhen Steve and I got married—a few months before, in fact—we became joint homeowners. We love our grand old house, vintage 1924, but she is in need of a little love. There are crumbly spots in the basement floor, mysterious puddles that appear after heavy rains. The downstairs bathroom (which I’m fairly certain used to be a fireplace, butler’s pantry, or some combination of both) was clearly fitted in the ‘50s, when someone thought colorful tubs and toilets were a good idea. I’m grateful the fixtures aren’t harvest gold or hospital green, but there’s definite room for improvement. We have some serious landscaping to do once the weather allows it, and the painting—oh my. I’m grateful the previous owners chose to neutralize every room with what’s at least a livable shortbread-yellow, but the sameness is going to kill my soul if we don’t get some richer color on at least a few walls soon.

♥ ♥ ♥ 

The show is held in a large arena-type hall in the local civic center. A craft show I love is held in the same space every October, so I’m familiar with its cavernous contours. Still, upon entrance, it’s a bit overwhelming. The first booth we stop at turns out to be marketing a home-use electrical stimulation unit that looks remarkably like an early-version iPod. It’s easy to use and the pulses feel wonderful on my always tight-neck. But I can’t quite relax. Why, exactly, is an individual stress-reducing device for sale at the home show? Homeownership is the American dream. I mean, okay, we’re still unpacking boxes after six months in residence, but just how high do they expect my stress levels to rise?

lavenderI pass up the TENS unit, tempting as it is, but I do succumb, later, to a lavender-infused satin eye-pillow that can be heated in the microwave or cooled in the freezer, sold by a booth whose aromatic inventory makes me want to lie down on the floor and imagine I’m napping in the English countryside. While most of the show offerings are geared toward home maintenance and large-scale renovation, there are some smaller-scale, homey home goods I hadn’t expected: fragrant handmade soaps, rich Vermont maple syrup, even local wines for tasting. We peruse the plant offerings at several nursery displays, chat with a couple of bath renovation businesses that promise to bring our turquoise mid-century tub into the twenty-first. We pick up cards from basement gurus and contemplate replacing our pillows with ergonomic bamboo versions that come with their own carrying cases.

And then we buy a mattress.

♥ ♥ ♥ 

In our defense, we’d been on our feet, standing and walking on cement, for several hours by the time we got to the Tempur-Pedic mattress display. I’d hazard those sneaky salesfolk put the booth at the back of the hall for that very reason. Buying a new mattress wasn’t exactly an impulse decision; we were in the market, though we hadn’t anticipated making the purchase that day. I’d chalk the fact of our taking the leap up to a good deal combined with a genuinely helpful salesman, but no discount or friendly disposition could match the persuasiveness of the decade-old mattress we both awakened on each morning with stiff backs and achy joints.

A big purchase hadn’t been part of the plan; we’d gone with the goal of gathering information and amassing a file of possible vendors. But there we were, engaging in a second newlywed rite of passage: our first major joint furniture purchase.

♥ ♥ ♥

relaxAll in all, the home show was a success. After we saw the fellow there who did our built-in closet, he finally ordered the extra shelf we’d been asking for so we could put the final touches on organizing. We watched a great demonstration by “The Wall Wizard” Brian Santos, whose book of tips will make all the painting we need to do go much more smoothly. We found an electrician to replace some faulty outlets, and a plumber who located the gas line to our fireplace, which has since provided several cozy evenings in the parlor. And our new mattress is AHHHmazing.

Five months married, I still wake up some days surprised to find, when I roll over, that someone else is there beside me. (This is definitively aided by the Tempur-Pedic—those commercials that show a wine glass remaining upright on one side while someone sits on the other don’t lie.) This big old house is a work in progress and will be for a while, so I welcome the odd reminder I’m not in it alone. On those days I reach my hand across the bed to grasp Steve’s, resting in the quiet joy that we’ll make this house a home, together.

loveyourhome3

 

DIY Decor: Spinning Flower Cupcake Tower

wirestandfp5A while back I found this curious object at the consignment store.  I thought it was some kind of office equipment, since it had several clips attached to it, and the three baskets spun around. The baskets looked like flowers with big petals to me, and I thought with some upcycling love it would make a cute cupcake tower for the wedding.

A little research revealed that the object was, in fact, a shoe rack in its previous life. Inspiration comes from curious places sometimes! I set about rehabbing it with a new paint job first.

I disassembled the rack, then sanded the old paint off with steel wool—whoever had painted it the first time hadn’t primed the metal, so the paint came off easily. After priming with an anti-rust primer by Rust-oleum, I spray painted all parts with a Krylon paint in “Ocean Breeze” that adhered to both metal and plastic, since the basket supports were plastic.

Because the baskets were a little deep for cupcakes—I had visions of wedding guests reaching in and accidentally poking fingers in the frosting—they needed a boost, a shelf for the desserts to sit on. I purchased four 8 x 1-inch styro-foam rounds from the floral department at Michaels (four so I could use the first one as a test, which was helpful). I determined the center of each round and using a set of foam carving tools, cut each in half, then carved out a center hollow for the rack’s center pole.

After cutting, I painted each of the rounds I planned to use. I’d hoped, at first, that the paint would smooth the surface, but the styro-foam texture showed through. I looked for some pretty papers to cover the rounds, selecting a handmade blue paper with a silver filigree design for the undersides. It was a greater challenge to find something for the tops. Initially, I went with a solid deep coral.

Then, I gathered other supplies for inspiration: beads, trims, ribbons, tulle. To cover the awkwardly-shaped clips anchoring the baskets, I wove strips of orange tulle through the small inner rings of the top and bottom baskets, and strips of cotton polka dot fabric through the middle basket’s inner ring.

After layering the blue-and-silver paper under each round, I then glued the two halves of each together with hot glue. The first coral paper didn’t work, so I searched my stash and came up with two other papers to use for the tops of the rounds: the flower print is from Heidi Grace Designs’ “Cartwheel” collection, the coral print from Michaels’ “Recollections” line, in “Orange Floral.”  Then I wrapped each round with one of two different orange polka dot ribbons (by Offray) and hot glued the ribbons in place.

Then it was time for the finishing touches. I added some tulle and ribbon to the top handle, and dressed up the base with more tulle and turquoise daisy trim. 

And, of course, no cupcake tower would be complete without cupcakes!

Ready for prime time!

Ready for prime time!


For more DIY tips, check out my latest Real Bride Blogger post on bridebook:

“On Pins & Needles (& Ribbon & Glue…): Advice for DIY Brides.”

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DIY Decor: Easy Aisle Markers

I’ve been DIYing up a storm of late, working on a variety of wedding projects. One project has been aisle markers and ceremony markers. We’ve opted not to have a wedding arch, as we want the mountains in the background to frame our ceremony. But we still wanted something to define both the start of aisle, where guests will enter to take seats, as well as the ceremony space.

Traditional white columns were too formal, so I kept my eyes open for other options. Ultimately, I chose two sets of metal plant stands and set about transforming them into something with a bit more color and whimsy.

Step 1: Prime and paint plant stands

I selected two brown plant stands for the aisle markers. The flower shape on top echoes a daisy. I also liked the second ring just a few inches from the top, as I had plans for it.

I had Rust-oleum Clean Metal Primer on hand from another project, so I started with it and got a solid base coat on. Then I painted the stands with Rust-oleum Painters Touch Ultra Cover (which also has a primer) in Heirloom White, satin finish.

Step 2: Gather fabric and beading tools and supplies

I gathered the rest of my supplies: ribbon in different textures and colors, lace, and several fabrics to cut into strips, along with beads, head pins, and basic jewelry making tools—round-nose and chain-nose pliers, as well as wire-cutters.

Step 3: Assemble bead dangles

I assembled the six bead dangles first. The design of the plant stand would allow up to nine on each stand, but I opted for the simpler (and less time consuming) three. If I have time to add more as we get closer to the wedding, I can.

These bead dangles each required one silver-toned headpin, one ceramic aqua bead, two small round aqua “bubble-glass” beads, and two aqua 3-4 mm bicone crystals. Any combination of beads that pleases will work.

After threading beads onto the head pin, create a wire loop using the round-nosed pliers, wrap the tail of the wire, and trim. I tied the dangles onto the plant stand with narrow aqua ribbon. They could also be attached with wire.

Note: Michaels and other craft stores stock a lot of pre-made pendants and dangles these days, so you can probably purchase something you like if you’d rather not make it, or don’t have the tools.

Step 4: Cut fabric strips, ribbon, and lace to desired length. Thread onto the plant stand in a repeating pattern.

This is what gives the plant stands a column-like effect. Cut each ribbon or strip of fabric twice the length you want it to hang, plus about 1 1/2 inches. I kept the width to about 1-inch, with a little variation. Fold in half, pull the folded loop over the second ring, thread the two ends through the loop, and pull it snug. Putting the loop to the outside looks a little more formal, like a man’s necktie; I preferred it to the inside.

I like the wispiness of the loose ties, but if you wanted an even more structured look, you could wrap or tie the ribbons around the bottom ring so that they were taut and stayed in place.

Step 5: Place alongside the aisle and enjoy!

I added a little lace to the top, too, though I’m still debating whether I like it.  These two whimsical “columns” will greet our guests as they take their seats. The finished ceremony markers I’m keeping a surprise. 🙂

finished_aisle_markers

All beading supplies and Celebrate 360 ribbons available at Michaels. All lace and fabrics except dupioni silk and velveteen from JoAnn Fabric and Crafts; silk and velveteen from local antique store and my stash, respectively. Primer and paint available at Lowe’s. Featured plant stands purchased at Tuesday Morning.

Embracing the Unexpected: Three Fun Finds

This has been one of those weeks when almost nothing has gone according to plan. First, I unexpectedly lost access to my computer on Tuesday, precipitating a change in blog post as well as technology. I’d anticipated a one-hour finishing-touches session on the laptop and instead spent a good five hours fighting with a cranky iPad. (Apologies for the late post!) Then our Wednesday afternoon engagement photo shoot got interrupted by a massive thunderstorm. Thankfully we’d headed for cover after the first flash, because within a few minutes lightning struck several trees in the park where we’d just been playing on the slide, and within a few more, the bottom dropped out of the sky.

That's what it sounded like... weatherstock.com

That’s what it sounded like…
weatherstock.com

On Thursday morning I was getting ready to head to an appointment at the gym. Before I could even get out the door, my neck spasmed and seized. When I told my trainer I was hurting, she asked–as I knew she would–what had happened. Had I lifted too much weight? Gone tubing or kayaking or something?

Nope. I was just sitting, reading a Facebook status on my phone.

Sometimes this forty-something thing is not-so-awesome.

Of course there are (I wish I didn’t have to write some version of this sentence again every few months) much greater griefs in the world. My neck is nothing compared to the heaviness in my heart for the devastating losses in Charleston. I ache with the senselessness of it all.


In my small corner of the universe, the challenges eventually sorted themselves out. I have a new laptop. The rain cleared, so we got some great photos downtown. And a visit to the chiropractor relieved some of my somatic pain. In keeping with this theme of the unexpected, I decided to share three unexpected sartorial resources I’ve discovered  in my bridal preparations: skirt extenders, design-your-own shoes, and print-to-order fabrics. All three are resources I think other women–not just brides–might find useful and fun.

1. Tall gals, you might especially like to know about the existence of the “skirt extender.”

These garments have a decidedly unglamorous name, but I use it here because (a) that’s what everyone seems to call them, so (b) that’s the term you’ll need to search on Etsy to find them quickly. Though I’m just guessing that their inspiration comes from those creative types among us (ahem) who do things like wear vintage slips or petticoats so the beautiful lace purposefully peeks out from under the skirt, in this age of tunics masquerading as dresses, I was thrilled to find another pretty solution to the too-short-but-otherwise-perfect dress.

A little backstory: I’d ordered a dress to wear at our rehearsal dinner, and I was excited when it arrived: the lace was soft, the cut was cute. Mind you, I like short skirts, within reason. But when I tried this dress on, it was laughably short. The average woman’s height is 5’3″, so I exceed the standard by a few inches, and those few inches can make the difference between flirty and flashing everyone. At first I’d thought I’d have to return the dress, but then it occurred to me I could wear a vintage slip underneath. In this case, the extra lace looks like part of the dress.

It was while searching Etsy for an appropriate vintage slip that I discovered I’m not the only one frustrated by the micro-length of so many dresses these days. Multiple Etsy vendors sell what they call “skirt extenders.” Some are half-slips, some full-slips, but they all have the same purpose: to extend your skirt (and thus its wearability) by several inches.  Skirt extenders come in lace, organza, tulle, and knit jersey; you can find them in black, white, ivory, turquoise, burgundy, brown, and other colors; they’re made straight and a-line, ruffly and full. In most cases, you can choose from several sizes as well as several lengths. A few vendors use vintage lace or materials, so you get a one-of-kind product, while others use all-new materials.

While I can’t vouch for any specific vendor at this point, some of the most promising ones with the greatest variety of inventory and highest ratings are as follows: A Slip Shop, Vezanie, Three Bird Nest, Alcora, or MyOlyGirl.

2. Gals with hard to fit feet–or women who want high style without a sky-high heel–try the made to order shoes at Shoes of Prey.

First, please don’t ask me why they call it “Shoes of Prey”—I have no idea. But as a woman with narrow feet who can never find fun, stylish shoes either in stores OR at most online outlets (even Zappos usually fails me), I don’t care what they named the company. Custom shoes, designed by me from a wide array of quality materials, and made to fit my narrow feet? I’m sold.

I wasn’t much of a shoe girl growing up, likely because shoe-shopping meant going to one of the only two shoe shops in our entire town that carried anything in “narrow.” The shoes were expensive, the choices limited. Shopping for shoes has remained an exercise in disappointment, and forget having fun with cheap, trendy finds–they never fit right, so even if I take the plunge, I don’t end up wearing them more than a handful of times.

A Shoes of Prey design by me

A Shoes of Prey design by me

I can’t remember where I first read about Shoes of Prey; at the time, they were purely an online enterprise (based out of Australia). Now they have several brick-and-mortar outlets, but you don’t need to live near one to design or order shoes. They make flats, sandals, booties, pumps…you name it. You can choose from leather in something like 20 colors and three finishes; satin; vegan material; silk; snakeskin. You can choose your heel style and height, which for me was huge in terms of wedding shoes—why everyone who designs special occasion shoes thinks I want to totter around in 4 or 5 inch heels for an equal number of hours, I can’t imagine. There are colors and patterns galore–solids of every shade, animal prints, florals, lace overlays. The hardest part of the process is choosing!

The price tag, for the service, is reasonable: the baseline is $129, with different styles and materials potentially adding to the cost (shipping is free). Good running and hiking shoes cost about the same, plus it’s helpful to think in terms of price-per-wear. If I pay $40 for shoes I only wear once because they hurt my feet, that’s far more expensive than paying $200 for work shoes I wear a minimum of 20 times in the first year alone. The company offers a full refund/remake for unworn shoes, up to 365 days. I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my wedding shoes, and I have a feeling I’ll be ordering from them again.

3. For the gal who likes to create with fabric, or a mom who wants to preserve her child’s artwork: fabric you design yourself.

We’re making pillows for the venue benches, and I wanted to incorporate map fabric into some of the designs, in honor of Steve’s GIS work.  I wasn’t crazy about the map fabric we found (it’s color scheme was a bit off). So I decided to try having a piece of a vintage, out-of-copyright map printed on fabric to incorporate into a pillow or two.

World map fabric by Jade Gordon at Spoonflower

World map fabric by Jade Gordon at Spoonflower

The two primary companies that do this kind of work, based on my research, are Fabric on Demand and Spoonflower. Spoonflower also has a whole host of fabrics designed by other people you can purchase, so it’s a good place to browse for unique fabrics (they also print wallpaper and gift wrap) even if you aren’t inclined to design something yourself. Both of the websites are quick and easy to use; you just have to pay attention to the resolution of the image you send. Both offer color calibration tools, if you need a specific hue. You have a choice of different fabrics, and on fabricondemand.com, the prices range from $28 a yard for fleece to $40 a yard for cotton-silk voile.

If I were a parent, I’d be all over this.  You could collect several of your child’s drawings or paintings, have them printed on fabric, and make a quilt for your child to keep or give to a grandparent as a gift. And though I’ve never been a wallpaper aficionado, I’m intrigued at the possibilities of creating something of my own design.


Sometimes, letting go and welcoming the unexpected results in surprisingly good discoveries. Wishing you a week filled with peace and unexpected wonders.

Love, Lace, & Satin: A (Family) Affair to Remember

♥ ♥ ♥

Mom in her wedding gown

Mom in her wedding gown

My mother Margaret designed and made the ring pillow Steve and I will use in our wedding ceremony. It’s made from her taffeta wedding dress and lace from the Watteau train of her dress.

My mother was teeny-tiny when she married my father, and the material of her dress had become so delicate that even if I were able to fit into it (which I haven’t been, since I was maybe 16), it wouldn’t have been possible to wear it anyway.

Grandma's blue dress

Grandma’s blue dress

There is also a piece of satin in the pillow from my maternal grandmother’s wedding dress, which was Yale-blue, since my grandfather was a graduate. The satin had faded, so it is incorporated in the pillow as a liner under the white taffeta.

I love the way the pillow pays tribute to generations of mothers and daughters: my mother made her daughter a ring pillow from fabric worn in her own and her mother’s wedding.

Our ring bearer

With our ring bearer

I don’t have a daughter myself to carry our pillow, and my only niece is already in college. But I’m thrilled to honor the next generation of our family by having my brother’s youngest son, my nephew Ethan, carry the pillow as our ring-bearer. With his winning smile, he just might steal the show.

This piece of our ceremony is truly a (family) affair to remember!

♥ ♥ ♥

Our wedding pillow

Our wedding pillow: a family affair!

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DIY Decor: Fabric Flowers

My mother and I are working away on the pillows for the venue benches, and I was thrilled when we recently discovered Clover’s Kanzashi Flower Maker tools for crafting fabric flowers. We found our templates at Tuesday Morning, but my mom has also seen them at her local quilt shop. They’re really easy to use: if you can count and manage a basic needle and thread, you can create beautiful fabric flowers!

There are a variety of different kinds of flowers, and most of the templates come in sizes ranging from extra-small to large. The flowers featured here were made with the small and large “Round Petal” templates, the large “Daisy” template, and the small and large “Gathered Petal” template.

kanzashi flowers 1

Clover’s Kanzashi Flower templates

Each template comes with detailed, illustrated, and easy to follow instructions, so I’ll just note the basic process and highlight a few tips based on my work with the templates so far.

For all of the templates, the process is the same: cut your fabric into small squares (one per petal), fold the fabric into the template, then stitch the petal following the numbered template guide. The photos show a large “Gathered Petal” flower in process in a sheer white voile.

After removing the template,  pull the thread to create the petal and shape it, and then repeat with the next square of fabric. The softer the fabric, the more organic the shape.

The number of petals needed to complete a flower varies with the type of flower and template. Once you’ve completed all the petals, stitch the last petal to the first. The center will typically need to be stitched close or be covered with a button or another embellishment. Flowers of different sizes can be layered as well.

Embeliished with a bead!

Embellished with a bead!

I’ve also made a large “Daisy” in bright orange taffeta, and large and small “Round Petal” flowers in a pale aqua cotton with large white polka dots.

A few tips:

  • The back of the flower is often as pretty (or prettier) than the designated front. This was true of the orange taffeta Daisy!
  • The dimensions for the fabric squares included in the instructions are, I’ve found, always larger than needed, which results in waste. Cut one square and see how it works for you. I shaved a 1/4 to 1/2 an inch off in most cases.
  • Softer fabrics result in more organic-looking flowers, but those with a little more body are easier to shape (and hold the shape better).
  • Scissors with narrow blades like those shown above make it easier to trim close to the template.
  • Sew on pin backs to the flowers to make them easy to remove for laundering, or to re-purpose.

I’m using the flowers to embellish pillows, but they could also adorn a bag,  hat, or belt, or be worn as a brooch.

Enjoy!


You might also like to see DIY Decor: Pieced Pillow Covers for info on how we’re designing and piecing our pillows, or DIY Decor: Pillows in Progress, or Making  a Beautiful Mess for more thoughts on crafting and love.