Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Wishes

It is such a treat to see Christmas through the eyes of my young children; filled with wonderment, delight, curiosity and faith.  My son is 6 and my daughter is nearly 3 (in two weeks), and to say they are excited for tomorrow would be an understatement.  It's more like they are so full of anticipation, they could burst at any moment!  I've always loved Christmas, but I feel a more invigorated appreciation this year because they have jumped into Christmas with both a cannonball dive into a cool Summer pool.

This season, more than Christmases past, my son is fascinated by Santa and his work.  He wants to know all the details of Christmas Eve, the delivery system, precisely how many cookies to leave on the plate, if the Santa in my Christmas show was the same Santa at the military children's Christmas party ("Is he the REAL Santa?") and so on and so forth.  He's convinced he is going to stay up "all night" tonight to hand-deliver Santa his cookies and milk.  Personally, I think he also wants to take advantage of one last opportunity to be sure Santa got it right with his gift.  He's such a little negotiator.  A few weeks ago, he wasn't convinced that sitting on Santa's lap was the best way to share his list, so I suggested he write a I once did.

While in beautiful Denver last week to perform with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, I popped into a cute little boutique appropriately named I Heart Denver.  It carries only handmade goods from local artisans, like Etsy with four walls...fantastic!  Within this adorable boutique, I stumbled upon quite possibly the cutest idea ever: the Letter to Santa Sack by Paper Plates Press.  Not only did the sack contain a beautifully letterpressed notecard and envelope, but three gorgeous gift tags and a tiny thank you card from the Jolly One himself.  Sheer perfection.  Recalling the thrill in my son's voice when he responded to the idea of writing a letter to Santa for the first time, I snapped up the sack and promptly paid...with a smile on my face and the joy of Christmas warming my heart.  I knew he'd be over-the-moon with excitement!

Sure enough, as soon as I pulled the Letter to Santa Sack out of my suitcase, my son ran to the dining room table to pen his letter.  In my opinion, first grade writing skills are just the ingredient for a perfect letter to Santa!

Rather than mailing the letter, we placed it near our stockings for Santa to see tonight...which also gives Santa the perfect opportunity to leave the little thank you note in its place (wink, wink).

Thank you Paper Plates Press for creating such a delightful little gift!  The memory of his first letter to Santa will be cherished for many years to will the twinkle in my childrens' eyes as they experience Christmas this year.  The twinkle in mine will be a little brighter because of them, and because the radiance of a star atop Bethlehem announced the birth of Jesus Christ so long us the real reason to celebrate.

Merry Christmas, from our family to yours!

Photographs and Card Design by Kelly Armijo of Armijo Designs

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

So Very Thankful

The Truth about Gratitude
For the past eight years, I've felt immensely blessed to serve as a media ambassador and spokesperson for Portland Rescue Mission, a tremendously well-run organization in Portland, Oregon that serves not only the city's homeless, but men, women and children in desperate need of total life transformation.  On November 3rd, I served as emcee for PRM's Annual Celebration Banquet, beautifully titled "Voice of Truth."  Together with hundreds of supporters, staff members, graduates of their New Life Recovery program and those currently engaged in the program, I witnessed an evening brimming with messages of hope.  These messages were very difficult to process at first, as the stories of those served by the Mission were startlingly fraught with despair, addiction, abuse, neglect and broken relationships.  But as each new word flowed from members of the recovery program's point of change (soon after entering the program), positive affirmations sprouted like buds on a fruit tree: "I know I am loved." "I matter." "I can face each day with the hope of a better tomorrow."  Brave graduates also shared how those encouraging words soon blossomed into truths - those that drive thoughts and actions every minute of every day, radically changing the course of a person's life - bearing fruit to restore relationships, break addictions and illuminate hope.

As I interviewed program graduates onstage, hugged them backstage and continued to share more stories of transformation with the audience, I was struck by the importance truth plays in all our lives.  While I have not experienced homelessness firsthand, I have known pain, loss and have we all.  There is a very fine line separating haves and have-nots, often dictated by circumstances beyond our control: a truth we cannot and should not ignore.  What constitutes a life of purpose and substance is gratitude, though.  Each graduate radiated gratitude with such a wattage I've only previously observed by fireworks and my husband's attempts at Christmas light displays...magnetic in its attraction.  So much so that you can't look away, but only stare in wonderment.  

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I find myself thinking back to their gratitude and praying to be a person worthy of all the blessings God has bestowed in my life...especially to be front-and-center to such life-affirming evenings as November 3rd.  I am more grateful than I can adequately express for my family and those who have given so much to us over the years.  I am so very grateful for my husband's military service and his brothers and sisters in arms who dedicate their lives to the safety and solidarity of our country.  I am also grateful for reminders - tuggings of the heart - of that which is good and right and hopeful about the life we are each given.  To be fulfilled, we must be grateful for the One who gives us life and the ability He has given us to serve others.  This is a truth I absolutely, without a doubt, know is ripe for the picking.

Fruitful Life
In the spirit of gratitude and "ripe fruit," my family started a new tradition - albeit a very simple one.  We attempted a new and nourishing Fall treat with the acorn squash so prevalent in our area.  What was once a neglected item in our garden (feared by some and loathed by others), was plucked and primed for new life.  I am a fan of TV's toughest trainer Jillian Michaels, whose website is overflowing with wonderful tips for healthy living.  One of her featured recipes transforms acorn squash from an (and I quote) "icky orange thing" to a deliciously sweet and satisfying meal topper.  (*Side note: I can feel the eye-rolling from those of you who have been longtime fans of squash...I know, I know.  My family and I judged this delectable vegetable too harshly far too long...forgive us.  We are ever evolving, I confess.)  

Her recipe first called for the halving and scooping of each acorn squash.  The halves were then placed (scooped side down) in a thin pool of water in a shallow baking pan.  While they baked in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes, I combined butter, pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger in a saucepan and let it simmer into a fabulously smelling mixture, filling our home with the alluring aroma of Fall.  Once the squash was fully cooked and wonderfully soft, each was filled with the warm pecan mixture and enjoyed to the last bite.

This was our way of giving thanks for the blessings we too often neglect or castoff because we don't quite know how to conceptualize them...a wonderful reminder, yet again, of how gratitude can bear hope in a life well lived and loved.

And how were my children giving thanks for their blessings while I was slaving over the stove?  The squeals of delight in simply being beautifully silly while sister pushed brother in her doll stroller were expression enough!  I am grateful they have the freedom to be children and the desire to make each other (and their parents) laugh.  Ah, to be young!

Philippians 4:6 (NIV)
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

This Thanksgiving I urge us all to share our gratitude with those around us who have petitioned on our behalf for the life we are all so blessed to live...our loved ones, our military and our community leaders - those that hold our needs in high esteem - and our loving Creator, who gives us hope and provides us with truth each and every day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Making Faces

When Domino magazine featured a glorious pop-art living room by designer Thomas Paul in it's April 2006 issue, I was fascinated by the silhouette art grouped on one of the room's walls.  It was so simple, yet so stylish.  I loved how a centuries-old art form could so brilliantly complement such a modern aesthetic.  From that moment, I was determined to incorporate meaningful silhouettes into my personal designs. (And save every single issue of Domino magazine henceforth!)

Traditionally, silhouette art is cut by hand and dates back to early 17th century France.  Artists were hired to create hand-cut profile portraits of nobility and guests of the court.  In 1759, the French Minister of Finance, Etienne de Silhouette, took such a liking to the art form that he adopted it as his official pastime and his name was thereby stamped on the practice forever.  Silhouettes worked their way west in the 18th century and have been a means of capturing profiles and imaginations throughout generations.

As it so happens, the aforementioned (fabulous) issue of Domino offered a special deal on custom works by master silhouette artist Karl Johnson.  I promptly placed my order for a silhouette of my son who was one year old at the time.  I simply submitted a profile photo to Karl via email and he created a neatly cut silhouette from the photo.  A few weeks later, I nearly cried when I opened the small envelope from Karl...he had captured my son's profile perfectly.  A true treasure.

{The wonderful offer from Domino Mag and the beautiful hand-cut silhouette of my son by Karl.}

{Karl working his magic at a wedding featured in Martha Stewart Weddings!}

Silhouettes add such personality to a space.  I recently purchased a set of two velvet-tufted curved back chairs from Gypsy Soul, a cute little boutique in Bend, Oregon.  In an effort to re-design my living room (more on that later), I wanted the chairs to lend a feminine air to the quite masculine decor we already use in the space.  Let's just say, I'm going for "lodge chic"...when Northwest lodge style marries updated French Country.  (This is where my husband throws his head back and laughs.)  It's a work in progress.  I loved how black and white seemed to pop against the chairs, especially once the chairs were combined with a large gilded mirror and campaign table.  The graphic statement was a nice juxtaposition to the curved lines and distressing on each piece.  So I decided to make a striped pillow for one chair and breathe new life into a tiny footstool found at a local antiques shop by adding a silhouette image of our beloved black lab, Shadow.

{A time-worn vintage stool in need of a makeover.}

{Hooray! A new life!}

Similar to what Karl had done, but in a digital sense, I took a profile photo of Shadow and created a silhouette image by increasing the contrast in the photo until only a black outline image remained.  I cleaned it up a bit to be sure I had smooth lines and a solid image.  I then screen-printed the image onto black canvas fabric, also hand painting portions of the image to give it a textural quality.  It was very simple to pop the top off the stool and recover it with batting and my silhouette art, securing the new fabric with a staple gun.  I spray painted the stool's wooden base a glossy black before affixing the newly covered top with screws.  We now have a meaningful piece of furniture/art to display in our living room, and I'm over-the-moon with how it compliments our existing pieces.


There are so many wonderful ways you too can incorporate silhouettes into your style!

Some of my favorites:

{A brilliant headboard idea from HGTV!  A silhouette and chalkboard paint add tremendous style to this diy project.  I'm already planning to try this in my daughter's room!}

{Only Martha Stewart could whip up a cookie this cute!}

{Have your child's silhouette hand painted onto an oval canvas by Veronica at Le Petit Enfants.  
These two are of my children and I was delighted with Veronica's work!}

{For the bibliophile with a crush on Jane Austen, from my own line, Ma Chère Finery.}

{A lovely way to wear your devotion: custom silhouettes on a necklace. Made by Kerstin at Crafted by Kerstin.}

{Guests leave their thumbprints as balloons on this wonderfully creative commemorative wedding poster.  Custom made by Angela at Simply Silhouettes Weddings.}

{Angela is at it again with these fabulous customizable silhouette Christmas cards and tray! Made by Angela at Simply Silhouettes Holiday Shop.}

{This pair would look perfect on an old farmtable, or a shiny galvanized one for cool contrast! Made by Alyssa at BROOKLYNrehab.}

{Tote in style with this brilliant bag by Jimmy K Designs.}

{Country Living Magazine shares how a workspace and fireplace can be accented with silhouettes. Gorgeous!}

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Making An Entrance

I'll just come right out and admit it: being late is my modus operandi.  It is a terrible habit that I aim to break each new day.  I do not enjoy being late, nor is it ever intentional.  My lateness is a product of trying to cram too much in too little time, and is compounded by a nagging perfectionism that makes it difficult to leave the house without hairs, outfits, tasks, etc. in place...multiplied by four when trying to get the entire family out the door.  My military husband (who is 15 minutes early to everything) never shies from sharing his personal philosophy about lateness: "It is a weakness and highly inconsiderate."  Thank you, for that.  But he's absolutely right.  Now, there are moments when I absolutely HAVE to be on time and I'm happy to rise to the occasion (and surprise the socks off everyone who knows me and expects me to be late).  Why am I sharing this, you ask?  To apologize for my lapse in writing the past month.  I do not enjoy abandoning the blog, nor is it ever intentional...forgive me.

Some theorize that lateness is an extrovert's trait...a habit of those who aren't afraid to be noticed.  While I'm certainly an extrovert, a late entrance is not the way I'd most like to be recognized.  At the moment, I am striving to make a statement with one particular entrance, family's front door.  This is where a certain aspect of my personality - the extroverted theater lover with a flair for the dramatic - wants to desperately to push past pragmatism and wildly throw color at the front of my house, as if to say, "Here we are! Come in, come in! All are welcome!"  (Was that dramatic enough?)

In all seriousness though, there is something to be said for a front door that is both interesting and inviting.  We've spent the better part of six years renovating the interior of our home, but the time has come to re-imagine and update the exterior...starting with the front door.  Never was this more obvious to  me than when my family recently participated in a photo shoot for an upcoming magazine article.  Mind you, our house was built in 1936 and is part of a working farm.  The brick steps are worn, as are the door and fixtures.  Before the shoot, I was frantically trying to spruce up the front door with quick DIY tricks.  Like planters with greenery.  For years, I'd been eyeing gorgeous faux (weather-resistant!) topiaries from a company lauded by Domino magazine...but I hadn't been able to pull the trigger on the purchase.  In anticipation, I even purchased large black decorative urns to plant them in...five years ago.  I suppose I wanted to be certain that I did indeed have the complete inability to grow anything real in the urns before resorting to faux.  Sure enough, over the last five years I can bear witness to the death of three different species of boxwood, lavender bushes and a myriad of colorful plants.  Apparently it's a dead zone...too much sun and not enough attention.

Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to ship the faux topiaries before the photo shoot, so I attempted to make my own (as a very temporary solution only for the shoot) from varying sizes of styrofoam balls, moss table mats, styrofoam glue and twigs.  Disastrous.  Our lovely and gracious photographer, Kelly Armijo of Armijo Designs, was able to photoshop around my mess, but suffice it to say I ordered the faux topiaries the minute the shoot concluded.  And they are now proudly planted in the longstanding urns in an attempt to up the friendliness quotient of our front door.  Greenery and plants are undeniably wonderful ways to liven up a plain space.

(The poor little patch of soil next to the steps is also on the list for an update!)

Our entrance has two things that keep it from being a complete snooze, through.  I do love the barn-red color of the door, as well as the original 1930's hardware.  I just want to find a way to add more architectural interest to the area around the front door.  My husband and I have discussed pillars or some sort of additional covering.  An alluring address plaque would be nice, too.  In due time, these would all be wonderful.  For now, I'm searching the design world for inspiration.  Take a gander at a few of my favorites:

Oh, the possibilities!!  I'd love to know your thoughts and ideas on sprucing up a front door.  How do you like to make an entrance?