Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Frenzy-Free Entertaining

This weekend, we were supposed to have a youth group bonfire.  Apparently, 40 degrees and constant drizzles don't make for good bonfire conditions.  Instead of canceling altogether, Eric and I invited the kids over to our house.  Can I tell you how happy this makes me?  There's a lot of reasons why: 1. the fact that Eric instantly agrees to my crazy ideas, 2. we get to hang out with students and it's my job, 3. we have a house where we can entertain students and share it our lives with them, 4. It's something we did at our old church and for some reason we don't take the time to do it here as often (some of our best memories came from just hanging out with students).

We came back from vacation Saturday night, went to the grocery store Sunday afternoon, and Eric cleaned while I did some baking.  We decided to focus on the big stuff and not stress about the rest. At the end of the night, we counted 40 students at our house.  It was awesome.  There were moments throughout the night when I just stood back and was filled with delight. I love these kids and it is such a gift to be able to have them at our house.  In high school, my parents hosted my friends a lot.  They were awesome at making us all feel at home it seemed so natural to them (Instead of going out to dinner one year, 20 of my friends came over and had lasagna before the homecoming dance, making it look like they owned an Italian restaurant and did that sort of thing daily).  My parents taught me a lot about entertaining, especially on the fly (due to having a daughter who liked to spring house guests on them - in high school and even college), and here's some tips.

1. Take shoes off at the door.  We aren't militant about it, but it sure does help. I'm not a stellar housekeeper.  The counters were wiped, and the floors were vacuumed, but I didn't dust or mop before students came in.  They didn't notice, and I didn't either.  But taking shoes off helps a lot with the aftermath of a good party. Students instantly do it once they see  a pile, and adults are welcome to leave theirs on.  Here's just a few of the shoes gathered in our door.  (One time in high school, my brother tied all of my friends' shoes together when they came over ... that made for an interesting departure!)  
2. Keep the food simple.  Kids are just as happy with chips, pop, and pizza.  I usually make something homemade (in this case, ginger cookies) - because who doesn't love the smell of homemade cookies? My mom always made cookies for us and it was an awesome homemade treat.  She also was sure to have a veggie tray and fruit sitting out, and I picked up her cues.  We had a veggie tray on Sunday and it was almost demolished.  We ordered six large pizzas on Sunday night and called for three more - all were gone.
3. Make people feel welcome.  Between my brothers and I, we brought a host of different types of people to my parent's house.  My parents were welcoming to every person who walked in, and never judged them.  My dad masterfully welcomed everyone, and both my parents seemed relaxed.  They never mumbled about loud teenagers, rolled their eyes at us, or got worked up about people trampling through their house.  They made sure our home was a place where everyone was welcome, and all could feel comfortable
4. Have fun!  Savor the gift of teenagers actually wanting to be at your house, and let them have fun.  This is the stuff memories are made of - trust me, I lived it!  We try to keep a balance of engaging with students and letting them do their own thing when we're around them.  We don't force ourselves into their games or situations, but let them know we're not "too mature" to sit and laugh and play with them.

Looking at these pictures, I'm absolutely convinced we could have fit at least twenty more kids in.  Next time! What tips do you have for entertaining teenagers?

One more tip is to start cleaning up as the party is winding down.  Don't leave it all for 10 or 11 p.m. when the kids are gone.  Since our party was from 6-8, I started cleaning things up around 7:45 and students pitched in to help.  By 8:30, there was no clean up left to do, and we could relax for a little bit before the week began.

Perfectly Pumpkin Pancakes

I love pancakes.  They represent all that is good in the world - sweet, carb, homemade, Saturday goodness.  While they beckon to the best of the weekend for most of us, I can't resist a little weeknight brinner every once in a while.  Breakfast for dinner is sure to put a positive spin on any evening.  My mom found a great recipe for pancakes a while back, and a few weeks ago, I decided to eat everything in our pantry.  Last fall, I heard there was going to be a shortage of pumpkin puree out there, so I stocked up.  One year later, I still hadn't touched any of the cans.  So I took my mom's recipe, tweaked it, and wound up with this delicious fall breakfast/brinner/snack:

Wet ingredients:
1 cup milk
3 T. white vinegar
2 eggs
1/4 cup melted butter (1/2 stick)
1 t. vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree (1/2 a 16 oz. can)

Dry ingredients:
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. allspice
1/2 t. ginger

1. Combine milk and white vinegar and set aside for five minutes to "sour". (This is a genius way to make buttermilk - whenever I buy it at the store, I never use the whole container.  And does anyone else store their vinegar under the sink even though they only  use it for cooking?  Or is that just me?)
2.  Combine all dry ingredients and stir well.  Set aside.
3. Once milk is "soured", whisk the egg and butter into the milk, then add vanilla and pumpkin puree.  
4. Whisk dry mixture into wet mixture, making sure to get rid of lumps but not over stirring.  Don't worry, this is a thick batter. I let it sit for a few minutes before putting the batter on the griddle (which works out pretty well, because I generally forget to heat the griddle before I start).
5. Use a full 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop batter onto griddle.  When I do that, I end up with at least 12 pancakes.  You'll know when to flip them as the uncooked side will have tiny bubbles all over the top of them.  Don't flip too early - being that this is a thick batter, you don't want them to be too doughy by flipping early.  
6. Add butter, and pour on the maple syrup and then savor every bit of pumpkin goodness.  At this point I need to tell you something.  Aunt Jemina was not invited to this pancake party, so go ahead and spring for real maple syrup.  You'll thank me later.

Have a great day and enjoy your pumpkin pancakes!  

Friday, October 26, 2012

High Five For Friday

1. We are combining vacation with a church meeting this week.  We decided to rent a cabin outside of Lake Junaluska and this is the view from our porch.  Wow.  It's been great (lots of fried food and family time)!

2.  On Tuesday, I scheduled my last seminary class ever.  I'm walking in December, but have to talk one more class in J-Term.  Regsistering for that felt oh-so-good.  I am not nearly as excited about having a masters degree as I am about not feeling guilty when I choose to watch television over read for class anymore. :)

3.  I am missing youth group kids in the midst of the past few weeks as I've put my mind to behind-the-scenes work lately.  I'm already planning to remedy that in the next week, which surely means Starbucks or Chipotle, or at least some homemade chocolate chip cookies.

4. Hot Apple Cider.  I had a cup of it last night.  Why have I not been drinking it constantly?  Making a mental note to replace all beverages with hot pressed apple goodness from now on ....

5.  In following up to my recent post considering my closet, and have major purging plans in mind.  I heard about a company called Stitch Fix  through Blair at Wild and Precious and am seriously considering trying it out to get more A+ items in my wardrobe.  I'm a little nervous, but figure it's a $20 loss if I hate everything, and I don't have to do a monthly commitment.  It could be fun to have someone else pick out clothes for me!  As a person addicted to clearance tags, it may help me to make some purchases that are long-term items for my closet rather than impulse purchases.  If I try it out, I'll definitely let you know. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cherish Your Closet

I have been thinking a lot about my wardrobe lately.  I am a clearance junkie.  I scour racks for double-extra-redline markdowns in order to find a great steal.  I love the thrill of getting something I love for super cheap.  Last week, I got Emmalyn an adorable Christmas dress for $8 - marked down from $70.  I was thrilled.  But more often than not, I settle for a piece of clothing that I only like because it's marked down.  I would never buy it at full price.  This drives Eric crazy.  When I show him a great deal, he asks, "But do you like it?"  It used to really irritate me, but I'm starting to understand.  Would I rather have a bunch of cheap clothes that I like, or a select amount of clothing that I love.  This post from Young House Love offered a lot of great tips about affordable shopping, but more importantly, helped explain this method:

Say I have ten outfits I love love love in my closet. I’d call them all favorites and on a scale of 1-10 I’d score them all a ten. That makes my overall closet average a ten. Then say that I see a sweater I kind of like (let’s say I’d give it a seven). And it’s on sale, so it’s tempting. The way I completely resist grabbing that sweater – which I’m guaranteed to like less than everything else in my closet – is to think of my closet average. Right now my overall closet average is a ten. If I get that sweater and it’s a seven, it’ll bring my entire closet average down, and I can just picture myself choosing other things on my hanging bar over and over again since it wasn’t something that I love love loved from the start. That helps me hold out for things I really truly love and stops me from grabbing anything I probably won’t wear or appreciate as much. Everyone loves a good closet GPA, haha – and it keeps that dreaded closet-clutter at bay (you know, when you have a bunch of stuff, but feel like you have nothing to wear).

Right now, my closet it as a 2.5 GPA.  Maybe.  I have a lot of clothes that I love, but I also have a lot of markdowns that I bought for the sake of a good deal.  And I don't wear the clothes I love.  I save them for a moment that may never come (I do the same thing with Emmalyn's clothes).  This post on Babble reminded me  again about the importance of wearing what I love.  When I read the post, I thought, "Wait, other people do that too?", "I'm not the only person who tries to save outfits for an undefinable moment in the unforeseeable future?".  So tomorrow, I'm wearing something cute.  Something I love.  What about you?  How would you rate your closet?  Do you save your outfits rather than cherishing them and actually, you know wearing them?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Day 8: Refusing to Settle

When Eric and I were house-hunting, we had a very tight turnaround to find a home.  We were moving from northern Ohio back to our home town, and it was find a home, or move into our either of our parents' basements.  They love us, but were eager for us to find a place as well.  In one Saturday, Eric looked at 17 homes in our neighborhood (I looked at half of those before going to a meeting).  We liked a lot of them, but we didn't love any of them.  We made offers on two houses, but felt like we would have to make significant changes in order to really love those houses.  The next week, we were at our home in northern Ohio, and a new house went up for sale.  It looked like exactly what we wanted in terms of layout.  I drove down to look at the house and immediately knew that I loved it.  I will never forget standing in that foyer and feeling like I was home.  Before we made an offer, Eric drove down to look at it, and the process moved on from there.  I pass by the other houses we made offers on daily, and am so glad we refused to settle.

Lately, I've allowed that feeling to slip.  I haven't been grateful for our home or relished in the details that I used to love.  We worked hard to find this house, and there are so many details about it that I love.  How have I let ungratefulness slither into my life?  I've begun to see our house as a burden rather than a gift.  It's time to reclaim my love for our home - the home that God has given us to live in and to raise a family in.  What suggestions do you have for cherishing your home?  When you refused to settle, how did you continually cherish home?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Day 7: Highlights?

What were the highlights from your weekend?  Did you take the time to stop and cherish your life and the home you have?

The highlight of my weekend was playing with Eric and Emmalyn as she took renewed interest in her toys.  For the past few weeks, she has seemed discontent with everything around her.  She wouldn't play with her toys, didn't want to read books (except ones with pages she could tear), and found every stack of things in our house to disassemble.  But in the past week, she has rediscovered the things she should actually be playing with - you know, those things we spent money on or were gifted.  It's been awesome.  She hugs her baby dolls, kisses her sock monkey, and dances as she pushes the buttons on her walker.  She learned how to use her legs to push herself on her little wheeled vehicle, and delighted in the fun things around her.  She now knows her 'nose' and can point to hers and ours (along with her belly button).  I love this.  I don't want to constantly fight to entertain her and wow her with things; I want her to be content with what she has and not always search for something else.  I know that this depends a lot on a baby's temperament, but even at a small age, I want to work on instilling these things in her.  A few weeks ago, I did whatever it took.  That meant Youtube videos of VeggieTales, chocolate chips cookies, and Wal-Mart trips to get away from the next disaster.  But this week, it was great to be at home, playing on the floor and knowing that she was content and happy with her surroundings.  I'm going to hope and pray for more of that!!

Um, I also loved some peanut m&ms and scarves this weekend.  So good.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Day 6: Cherish It Now

It's the weekends that get to me.  We have great plans and lists and goals of what we will accomplish.  By Monday, we'll surely have  a new home.  Or at least a homemade meal.  Or at least a home with folded laundry.  Eric likes to start the weekend with a list of things for us to accomplish (today's list included 15 items).  I like to start it with one goal.  His list usually includes practical things: mow the yard, organize the basement, clean the bathrooms.  My goal: make Emmalyn some hair bows.  Oh, I wish I was kidding.  He truly is a saint for being married to me.  But some weekends, our lists and goals go out the window, and nothing gets accomplished.  Sunday night brings defeat.

A large part of cherishing our home is cherishing it now.  We can't wait for every inch to be clean and every project to be completed in order to love our home.  So today, when I had to read for class, I cherished our wonderful couch.  While Eric and Emmalyn played on the floor, I cherished the work that Eric put into our wood floors.  I cherished the space we have for toys and being together in the same room.  I cherished the smell of that delicious mulled cider candle in the next room (seriously - go get one).  I had to stop and remind myself how grateful I am for our home and for the love that we get to spread throughout it.  Yes, there is still a massive unfinished project in our dining room.  Yes, there is still laundry to be folded.  Yes, our bathrooms are dirty.  But today, we actually enjoyed the home we're trying to make (and yes, Eric did cross some items off his list and I made 3 hair bows).

How will you intentionally cherish your home this weekend?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Day 5: High Five for Friday!

It's Friday.  Isn't that awesome?  Eric and I both have been/will be traveling a bit, so the weekend is extra exciting.  Between my masters, his job, and life in youth ministry, we are gone quite a bit.  And we (I) love it most of the time.  But there is something about a weekend without plans where we know we get to spend it at home.   This weekend, we are going to get to cherish our home in all its autumn glory (and I may get around to some fall decor as well).  Thanks to The Small Things, I'm gonna give a high five to Friday about the things around our home that are making me smile:

1. The Mulled Cider candle from Wal-Mart.
I have become a reverse-snob when it comes to candles.  I am cheap, and I love this candle - so Wally World is the perfect answer.  I am so madly in love with this scent that I feel like a cheater just by sniffing another fall candle.  Autumn leaves?  Apple pie? Candy corn?  You ain't got nothin' on Mulled Cider.  Go get one today.  The smell will tickle your nostrils with everything you love about fall as soon as you walk in the door, and you'll instantly feel like it's time for a hayride.

2. Soup simmering on the stove
I'm cooking tonight.  It's revolutionary.  I can't actually remember the last meal I made.  We've eaten at home - tomato soup, grilled cheese, chicken on the grill ... but something that I actually labored over?  Yeah, it's been awhile.  We're having pasta e fagioli.  Not because we're Italian (we're not), but because we love Olive Garden.  My mom found the copycat recipe and we absolutely love it.  So, so good.  Plus, I have applesauce thawing from last fall.

3. A free weekend!
I have a meeting tomorrow morning, but that is the only outside-of-the-norm thing on our schedule.  Woo to the hoo!  We are trying to decide what to do - applesauce making, pumpkin farm, homecoming football game, couch potato-ing, or Eric's most likely suggestion, cleaning.  We'll see how that goes.  :)

4. Fall weather
I'm going to regret this at some point when I'm chilled to the bone in February, but I am so excited for cooler weather.  It's supposed to be in the fifties and low sixties this weekend.  Bring on the scarves and boots, and a Starbucks cinnamon dolce latte please! :)  My brother's birthday is today, so I count October 5 as the official start of fall in my mind every year. (I love my brother and love fall : perfect combination!)

5. Thoughts becoming reality
I have officially blogged six days in a row.  That's crazy - I hope I can keep it up.  Also, Sunday, we are having a youth group meeting for our mission trip to Honduras next summer (and I think some awesome young adults that I miss will be there) and that night, we are serving real, live dinner to students at youth group as a way to build fellowship together.  Both of these things have been in the back of our youth ministry brains for a while and it's super fun to see them come into place!

Linking up to Lauren at From My Grey Desk

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Day 4: Collage wall

This is the collage wall in our nursery, the other knock off in the room from Young House Love.  Now that Emmalyn's 15 months old, I'm getting antsy to change it up, but still haven't decided what to do yet.  I made the name sign (upper right hand corner), the chevron "you are my sunshine", the scripture print, and the words that have a glare on them to the right.  The 8x10 photo is from our maternity session and the two baby pictures are of Eric and I as infants (with our first family picture sandwiched between them).

Here are instructions for two of the pieces
The chevron pattern is from vol. 25 and you can download it (and some other cute patterns!) here.  I wrote out you are our sunshine in a font called clementine sketch and printed it on the chevron.  Super fast and easy!

The glare is covering the lyrics to a song that I fell in love with when I was pregnant.  As soon as I saw/heard it on youtube, I started crying .  I wrote the lyrics in a font called artistamp medium, printed them on vellum and cut out yellow hearts to scatter around the page.  Here are the lyrics: when i'm with you

Check out the music video to hear JJ Heller's amazing voice:

Just glancing at those lyrics helps me cherish our girl, and breathe in the sweetness of having her.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Day 3: Mirrors & Memories

The mirror hanging in our nursery is one of the sweetest touches in the room for me.  It serves as a constant reminder to stop and look at the precious face pressed against my shoulder.  During the day, Emmalyn has given some of her best smiles in that mirror, thrilled to see her own reflection or her daddy's silly faces.  But when I trudge up the steps to the sound of her cry, I don't always think of that smiling face.  Sometimes, it's hard to open that door.  And sometimes I'm still overcome by tiredness or distracted as I pick her up.  As soon as I pick her up and she wraps her little body into mine, I remember.  I look in the mirror and see her cuddled into me (something that happens so naturally, as though her little body was made for my arms), and I catch a snapshot of time.  I remember looking in the mirror like that when she was a newborn while she cried for no discernible reason.  I remember looking in that mirror when Eric and I were clueless as to how to help our sick baby.  And just tonight, I remember looking in that mirror and thinking, "I have the best job in the world."  What a divine privilege to get to hold this child and love her back to sleep.

About the mirror:

I have been reading Young House Love since 2009, and was thrilled with the reveal of their nursery for Clara about a year after I started reading.  You can really tell that they inspired some main elements in this nursery (the wall art, and today's mirror).  I saw this mirror at HomeGoods before they posted about it, and loved it.  I didn't buy it because I was trying to be budget conscious.  When I saw the painted reveal of the mirror in Clara's nursery, I started looking for it again at HomeGoods.  Of course - it. was. nowhere.  I finally gave up.  But while shopping with a friend a year later, there she was!  In all her black glory.  I painted her with a sample of paint from Lowe's.  I used a small brush to get in the nooks and crannies, and it took about 6 coats before I gave up.  You can only watch so much t.v. while hunched over with a tiny paintbrush.  People, just spray paint the thing.  Lesson learned.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Day 2: Yellow Striped Curtains

Do you ever struggle to find the right curtains for your space?  I always have the perfect curtains planned out in my mind, and spend hours searching online and in stores for them.  Finally, I find a stunning curtain!  ... and then I realize it's $80 a panel. Um, are you kidding me?  I've learned that ingenuity in the window coverings department is a great way to get what you want - and maybe something better.  Refusing to settle (especially on something expensive) is a great way to cherish what you have.  When I spend a lot of money on something that's just "okay", it leads to regret rather than knowing that I have put myself into something I love.  This curtain panel is just a small example of that. I think it is the perfect touch to bring the room together.

I knew I wanted yellow striped curtains in the nursery, and that something sheer wouldn't do much good.  I found a white grommet curtain on clearance at JcPenney's, and had yellow polka dot fabric on hand.  I measured the length of the curtain, divided it but the number of stripes I wanted and measured away.  I laid out the white curtain on the floor and laid the yellow strips on top (I had already sewed under the edges in oder to get the right width and length. I then pinned the strips in place and took the curtain up to my sewing machine to sew them down.  It was a quick fix to a white curtain, and makes a huge difference in the room.  I think I spent $25 on the entire project.  Below you can see the curtain closed in broad daylight.  Some light still shines through, and I left the blind in place to help with that.  It is a "blackout" curtain, but that only goes so far in white.  So far, Emmalyn hasn't seemed to be affected by it at all, and the curtain still blocks the brightness of the morning sun in her window.

There is a freak-out moment in almost every project I take on (due to my clumsiness or bad math skills or a combination thereof).  As I was ironing the curtain to lay it out perfectly straight, my iron started spitting rust all over the white curtain.  At first I thought I had ironed over crumbs (ha!) and kept going - and then I freaked out when I realized it was rust.  I may have had a little pregnancy meltdown as I thought I had ruined the curtain, but Eric helped me realize that I could just rearrange the stripes to cover the stains.  Good thing his logic is readily available in my projects, and to generally save the day.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Day 1: The Happiest Place in Our Home

This is surely the happiest - and most complete - room in our house.  Ironically, it's also the smallest.  Who says that bigger is always better?  Eric and I decided that we didn't want to know the gender of our children before they were born, but I feared that would make nursery decorating bland.  Looking back, I can't imagine any other nursery.  I had a friend who said that she felt that gender neutral nurseries were destined to be "John Deere" themed, meaning that green and yellow were the only palette options.  Hopefully, we've proved that wrong (I do sometimes wonder if the room would seem too girly if a little boy laid in that crib though)!  It was impossible to get pictures of this room without the main attraction, so you can play "Spot the Emmalyn" in these pictures.  

The turquoise paint is Olympic No-VOC and we loved it.  We were covering a neon green wall, but it went on beautifully.  We didn't use this paint in the rest of our house, but I was able to paint alongside Eric without worries this way! I wanted to have a subtle elephant theme, and there are a few of them around the room.  I knew I wouldn't be able to find crib bedding that I loved in these colors, and Eric's mom made Emmalyn the gorgeous quilt you see on our brown chair.  I sewed a simple slipcover for the footstool to tie in more yellow and white.  Almost everything in the room had a little home-made flair to it, and tomorrow I'll be back back to begin details on these things:

We love to sit in this room, and it has worked perfectly for Emmalyn.  Everything in the room is functional, and her little space fits just right.  Maybe I'll just spend the next 31 days sitting in her room and soak up the happiness? (That is, after I empty the diaper genie).