30 Mar
Posted in: Life
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Simply Links – March

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts, so in case you aren’t aware, it’s just where I tell you about some of my favorite things I’ve found throughout the month (or in this case, months).

Perfect Black Pants
I needed a well-fitting pair of black pants. You know, trousers, for work. I had probably tried on close to 15 pair from at least five different stores to no avail. I even bought a pair and then returned them. No luck. I mentioned my quandry to my Aunt, who suggested I look at Dress Barn. Now, I don’t usually shop at dress barn because I don’t frequently wear dresses, and because, well, it has “Barn” in the name, and not in a cute, kitchy way. But I was desperate. So I followed her advice and tried on about five more pair of pants. Until I found these and immediately fell in love, demonstrated by my jumping up and down with glee in the fitting room. No, I am not lying. A good pair of pants does that to me. The reasons I love these pants:

  • They have tummy control. I had two children within 13 months. I think that’s sufficient enough explanation as to why my tummy feels out of control most days. That, and the copious amounts of sweet tea I can’t seem to give up.
  • They are a comfortable, not-easily-wrinkled fabric that is machine washable.
  • They fit like yoga pants. I repeat: they fit like yoga pants.

The only caveat is that they have no pockets, zippers or buttons at the top (see yoga pant reference) so these are not to be worn with short or tucked-in tops. Lucky for me I never wear short or tucked in tops so this is a non-issue.

Black Wedges
I also needed a pair of stylish but comfortable black shoes for wearing to the weddings I photograph. My old shoes look much too rough for wearing to weddings any longer, so I’ve relegated them to grocery store runs. But these… these are so comfortable, and so cute, it’s almost too good to be true. Except it isn’t. I wore them nearly all day last Saturday and they still felt great.

Milk Bottle Measuring Cups
Enough about my wardrobe. I ran across these measuring cups when I was visiting Anthropologie on my trip to see the Pioneer Woman a few weeks back.  I loved them. I loved them so much I almost purchased them, and then realized that would be silly. I have two perfectly good sets of measuring cups and not much counter space left on our already smallish kitchen. But I still love them. I just don’t have a place for them in my house, but they will always have a place in my heart.

Clarisonic Facial Cleanser
I received a Clarisonic facial cleaning brush as a gift. I honestly didn’t know whether I’d like it or not. Turns out I like it…quite a bit.  If you’re interested in purchasing one, I recommend calling up Alex Alexa, a local medispa I have worked with for years.

However, if the Clarisonic brand is out of your budget, Olay makes a version that’s less than $35 and gets great reviews. Even Sally Beauty Supply carries a similar system. Since I’ve only used the Clarisonic I can’t say whether the others work as well, but it might be worth a shot.

21 Mar
Posted in: Books
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Black Heels to Tractor Wheels

If you aren’t already familiar with The Pioneer Woman, please make yourself so immediately.

Now that we have that out of the way, you should also know she recently wrote a book. Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond. It details the story of her meeting, falling in love with, and marrying her husband. Actually, you can read most of what is now the book on her site for free, and I recommend you do so.

I have to admit I am not one for romantic stories. I don’t even read fiction all that often. But I love this tale. Perhaps because it’s true, perhaps because I love Ree’s self-deprecating style of humor, and maybe because not many of us would actually mind being swept off our feet by a handsome cowboy (at least theoretically – until that lands you on a manure-filled cattle ranch). Whatever the reason, I found the story highly entertaining. So when the book was released, I was so excited to buy it to support the Pioneer Woman, and also because it was to chronicle their first year of marriage, which included a less-than-thrilling honeymoon, pregnancy and the birth of their first child.

I was also incredibly excited when I learned The Pioneer Woman was coming to both Columbus and Cincinnati for a book signing – two cities well within a reasonable (four hour) drive from where I live. So my friend Amy and I booked a hotel, hopped in the car, drove 4+ hours to the book store, (shopped at Whole Foods!), waited 2+ hours for our turn, and when we finally got to meet Ree, it went something like this.

“Thank you.”

I’m very smooth.

Anyway, I came home and read the book (even though I had already read much of it) in about a day and a half. I could not put it down!

My only complaint is that much of the additional material feels like it lacks the emotion the rest of the story. Perhaps this is because the emotions associated with a disastrous honeymoon,  an unexpected and uncomfortable pregnancy, and postpartum depression are not exactly as fun and exciting as falling in love and getting married – I have to give her that – but a bit more reflection would have better matched the feel of the first 2/3 of the book.

Either way it’s a highly entertaining and mindless read – great for vacation or even just an extra-stressful day.

The verdict: Read a few chapters online for free and if it floats your boat, buy the book. It’s a feel-good story, and don’t we all need one of those every now and then?

7 Mar
Posted in: Breads, Food
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Easy Bread! (No, really.)

A while back I heard about a book from another blog. The book: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day. Bread? In five minutes a day? Yes, please. I added the book to my Amazon wish list, and at Christmas, my wish came true. Thanks, mom.

Truly for the first month following Christmas, I probably baked 20 loaves of bread, and each loaf simply used what the authors refer to as the “Master Recipe.” The cookbook offers plenty of delicious variations, but lucky for you and me, the basic one is delicious. And the recipe is on their web site for the whole world to see, so I don’t have to feel bad about sharing it here. Regardless, if you are interested in baking bread at home, this book is a must-have.

The only kitchen equipment you’ll need is a wooden spoon, a very large container, a baking stone, and a roasting pan.

White Crusty Bread
3 Cups of lukewarm water
1 1/2 T yeast
1 1/2 T coarse salt
6 1/2 Cups of white, unbleached, all-purpose flour

In a very large food-grade container, add the water, yeast and salt. Stir to combine. (Note: The water should be warm, but not hot – similar to a child’s bath water.)

Add in the flour and stir until well-combined with a wooden spoon. This is a very wet dough. Cover the container, but leave a small vent for gasses to escape. Let the dough rise at room temperature for two hours.

After two hours, you can either 1) place the dough in your refrigerator for up to two weeks and use as needed, or 2) bake a loaf right away and store the remaining bread in the refrigerator.

To prepare the bread for baking, sprinkle flour on the top of the dough and pull out about a grapefruit sized piece of dough.

This recipe will make four medium loaves, and one loaf is more than enough to feed my family with dinner. Shape the dough into a ball. Place on a cornmeal-covered piece of parchment paper. (Note: If you don’t have parchment paper, you can place it right on a cutting board or a completely flat baking sheet. Just use plenty of cornmeal because you have to slide the dough from that surface onto your hot baking stone in a bit. And don’t try to substitute waxed paper for parchment paper. Trust me.)

Let the dough sit for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place your baking stone on the top oven rack and a shallow roasting pan on the bottom oven rack. Wait 20 more minutes. Add a bit of flour to the top of your dough, and using a sharp serrated knife, slice 2-3 slashes across the top of the dough.

Add a cup of water to the hot roasting pan in your oven, and slide the dough onto the baking stone.

The steam from the roasting pan helps create a lovely crispy crust on your bread, with a nice soft, chewy interior.Bake for 25-30 minutes. The crust should be a dark golden brown. Let cool completely before slicing and serving. Enjoy!

28 Feb
Posted in: Abode
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Unexpected Coffee Table

For Christmas, I asked Evan to build me a new desk. The one I had was gargantuan, and I wanted something reasonably smaller that worked better in my office space. This past year, he worked on a complete renovation of a building, and was able to salvage a few huge beams of wood from certain dumpster destruction. I chose one I thought would be perfect, and in about two weeks I had a desk. We sold my old desk on craigslist, which paid for the materials to make the legs of my new desk, as well as a small cabinet to hold the rest of what was in my giant desk.

One afternoon I came home, and he

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told me he’d decided to make a new coffee table as well, as he had a beam that was the right size, and just enough metal left over from my desk for the legs. So before I even knew he had started it, we had a new coffee table.

We’ve been married ten years in just a couple months, and my husband still amazes me with what he’s able to do. You know, like whipping up a coffee table from some scraps in a couple hours.

(Yes, I’ll post about my desk soon. Whenever I get it cleaned off and the cords organized.)

21 Feb
Posted in: Books
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One Thousand Gifts

I first heard about Ann Voskamp’s new book, One Thousand Gifts, on Twitter. I read her blog for a few days before deciding, yes, I would enjoy this book.

I was right.

The basic premise of the book is that gratitude is a foundation of faith. This isn’t a new concept, really. Oprah made the gratitude journal a cult phenomenon years ago. But where Voskamp excels is in tying gratitude to the divine. By focusing as much on being thankful as on the object of our gratitude (God/Christ), it gives fresh perspective on thanksgiving.

The text is filled with flourish. Most of what I read is straightforward – I am drawn to this type of prose from my School of Journalism background. But Voskamp’s writing style is more like reading poetry set in prose format. I enjoyed it so much, and think many of you will, too.

14 Feb
Posted in: Life
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Apples of Gold

On my color-coded bookshelf lies a thin gold-covered book with the spine ripped off. The book is Apples of Gold – a collection of sayings on a variety of subjects, was published in 1962, and is full of somtimes wise and sometimes humorous (in the quaint way things from 50 years ago can be funny) sayings. Such as, “Any housewife, no matter how large her family, can always get some time to be alone by doing the dishes.” Heh heh.

When I was 12, I had gone on vacation with my dad, step-mom, grandmother and aunt to Florida. During our stay, we spent a day or two visiting my great-uncle Harwood. (Yes, really. He had a brother named Narwood, and another named Shin. Somehow my grandfather got away with, simply, John.) Harwood was one of the most kind, gentle people I remember ever meeting. At 12, I was already a bookworm, so finding this little gem on the shelf helped me occupy most of the visiting time at his house. Other memories include eating colby cheese and loving it, and going to a restaurant where the chicken and dumplings I ordered consisted of one extremely large, and surprisingly tasty, dumpling covered in chicken and gravy. It appears my kind regards for food goes way back.

Anyway, I distinctly remember during this visit him asking how my mom was. I was shocked! My parents had divorced just a year prior, and I was in the room with my dad and new step-mom. The question took me by surprise, but I could tell he genuinely wanted to know. I told him she was doing well, and he asked me to let her know he loved her and was asking about her. This meant a great deal to me, because I was still trying to navigate just what was and was not appropriate to talk about in this new situation, and typically erred on the side of awkward silence or snarky responses. (I’m sure I was just lovely during this time. You can ask my parents.) But uncle Harwood erred on the side of kindness.

When we left, he gave me the book, and wrote a very, very meaningful note in the front, starting with, “I love you!” I cannot see that book without thinking about how much that visit meant to me, and how a small act of kindness really can impact a person for the rest of their life. A good reminder when much of my day-to-day life seems routine that I can still have an impact.

29 Jan
Posted in: Life
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It’s not yet noon, but I think today might be a perfect day. The kids are each playing quietly alone, giving me a few minutes without tugging on shirttails and sticky hands needing, instead, enjoying their creativity and independence.

On the stove, there is a pot of soup bubbling, full of summer vegetables made possible by the underrated freezer. On the counter a small loaf of bread rising, waiting eagerly for the hot oven to bring it to fullness.

Outside the sun is shining gloriously, and while it’s cold outside, the snow fallen earlier this week is making the light magnify, filling my house with a glow I haven’t seen since October.

Any minute, my longest-time friend and her family will be here for photos (nearly an hour late, and I love her for her predictability, among other things), and then to join us for lunch. Our kids will play together and giggle, run, jump, hit, cry, and share.

On the stereo, I have my “Good Day” playlist going –  effective on not-so-good days for coaxing me out of whatever funk I’m in, which is not remotely necessary today, and only enhances my gratitude.

Today is full of light, full of good things, and I am full of thankfulness.

25 Jan
Posted in: Abode
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One Small Space

I don’t know if this is a common problem, but I am pretty easily bored with my house. It doesn’t usually take anything major to snap out of it – moving a lamp into a new room, reorganizing my bookshelves, buying a couple throw pillows. And I’m sure it doesn’t help that we’ve now lived in our lovely house for nine years, and so it’s starting to feel, well, lived-in. But there is one little space that every time I see it, I breathe a sigh of relief and think…well, at least this little corner feels right.

In the master bathroom, in the water closet (that’s the room where the toilet is, for those of you not married to an architect or otherwise familiar with architectural lingo). You can only even see it when the door is closed. When we first moved in, I bought four square frames for $1 each, I bought a piece of handmade paper from the craft store, and I went out and found four leaves I liked. Since then I’ve paired a bunch of dried hydrangeas my grandmother gave me in a sleek vase with some gravel from our driveway (yes, really) with a muted blenko vase and the jade plant that got kicked out of my office when the big one arrived.

What about you? Do you have a spot or a space or even a whole room that you feel is complete? Do you get the urge to redecorate every 3.5 months, or are you happy with how things are?

19 Jan
Posted in: Books
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Sense & Sensibility

A few years back, I watched Pride & Prejudice while my friend Colleen had come to visit. She loved it, and thought I might, too. As usual, she was correct. I purchased the movie and have watched it over and over and… you get the idea. I never had to read this book while in school (not surprising, unfortunately) and after falling in love with the movie, I read the book which I loved even more. Also not surprising.

My thoughtful husband bought me a Kindle for Christmas. I thought I’d give Sense and Sensibility a read since I loved Pride and Prejudice so much. Well, that and it’s in the public domain so it is free. Either way, I enjoyed the book very much, and read it within a week. A great feat considering the other book I’m reading has only seen through 100 pages in a month. But I digress.

If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, this will come as a familiar comfort. None of the surprises or revelations that transpire throughout the text come as a complete surprise if you are familiar with Jane Austin’s writing, but it’s not exactly predictable, either. I have to admit I enjoyed Pride  and Prejudice better of the two, and if you’ve read neither, do yourself a favor and read it first. But both are worth your time. Trust me.

The themes of the book include character and reputation, romantic attachments, economic considerations, familiar conflict, friendship, trust, betrayal, logic, and more. It’s a fascinating look into the lives of the upper class late 17th century and makes me almost long for that time. (Until I remember they had no indoor plumbing, electricity, books were a luxury and I would likely be a servant, not one being served. Oh, well.)

For those of you who have read both, which did you prefer?

10 Jan
Posted in: Craft
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Tablecloth Skirt

There’s a little antique mall in the town next to ours, and I love stopping in there anytime I’m through town without the kids. (Breakables and all.) I’m not typically looking for anything specific in there, but often run across something I just can’t pass up. One recent trip, it was a vintage tablecloth in a golden yellow with a very cute vine floral print along the edge. I just knew it would make something perfect.

It sat in my closet for over a month until I decided it needed to become a skirt. I went to my closet and pulled out a skirt I had that fit well, and used it as a pattern, adding a 1/2″ seam allowance. I did the same for the lining (the fabric is a stiff cotton, and really stuck to my legs or tights, so I knew it would have to be lined). It’s a very basic A-line skirt, but I loved how the pattern fit perfectly for a skirt. I did add a bit of a waistband that wasn’t on the original skirt, because I like a nice thick waistband. What can I say – I’ve had two kids. A side zipper helps everything go on nicely. This is the first piece of clothing I’ve made since my mom helped me put together a skirt and dress from some patterns we had bought at The Wal Marts. I am thrilled!

One of my favorite details is that the floral border is hand-drawn. The tablecloth cost $18, and I have plenty of fabric left over to make several smaller pieces. A skirt for Sydney, perhaps? Or a bag. I’ll let you know where the rest ends up. Click on the photos to see larger, if you’d like.

What is the craziest remodel you’ve ever taken on? A curtain dress a la Gone With the Wind? Napkin hats? A chest of drawers to a headboard?