what I do

what I do

Friday, December 31, 2010

It's been a wonderful year

2010. What a year. My husband and I had the worst financial year ever and we found that it was okay. Spending less turned out to be freedom. And required creativity. All good things. We put on a fabulous wedding that was simple and less expensive than I ever thought possible and I have never had more fun in my life then while I was planning that wedding with my daughter. And I have a new son (in law). Wow! I worked on some amazing projects and had the honor and privilege to be invited into the lives of so many wonderful families. I have watched and been a part of new homes being purchased, new businesses started, babies being born, kids moving out, bathrooms needing remodeling, kitchens updated, and countless living and family rooms, bedrooms and dining room remodels. I watched one of my houses being filmed for a television show (Dexter!) and I transformed another one into Emerald City. It has been a wonderful year.  

I want to thank all of you who read this blog, those of you who leave me encouraging comments and those of you who inspire me with what you do. I wish you all the best in 2011. I hope that you will be blessed with the things that really matter - love, hope, peace and joy. 

Here is a little treat for you. A good friend of mine works in advertising in London and one of her accounts is Ralph Lauren. Her team put together an amazing digital 4-D event celebrating ten years of barrier-breaking digital innovation at RalphLauren.com. In November their completed project with cutting-edge, architectural light-mapping technology was presented in front of a live audience at their iconic flagships stores at No. 1 New Bond Street in London and 888 Madison Avenue in New York. The world's first 4-dimensional experience featuring 3-D imagery, digital sound effects and scents from Ralph Lauren fragrances can be viewed in the video below. I hope you enjoy. You can read more about it here.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

An easy gift idea

We had our final Christmas celebration tonight; a casual dinner with my husband's family. It was a very nice evening. The house was sparkling with the lights on the tree, I put a 'fire' (candles) in the fireplace, opened up some nice wine and put together a very easy meal. I loved the casual atmosphere and the fact that it didn't require a ton of work. 

While I was in Trader Joe's shopping for the dinner I saw a couple of things that caught my eye. Are you starting to notice Hot Pink (aka Honeysuckle) more now that it has been announced the color for 2011?

And it gave me an idea ...

How perfect, right? 

So this morning I wrapped up a few of these little gifts and now I have something fun and festive to give out to friends and neighbors for the New Year. I realized while I was wrapping them that one of the reasons it is so easy for me to just whip up a little gift like this is because I have all the supplies on hand that I need.  I thought I would share with you my top ten list of things that I try to always have around:

1. Cardstock - a definite must for me because any gift I give requires a tag. 

2. Cellophane. I wrap almost everything in cellophane; it is the easiest gift wrap and always looks festive. I have a large roll that is 30" wide.

3. Ribbon.  I stock up on ribbon to use just for an occasion like this. Last year I bought ALOT of turquoise ribbon. I happen to have a wholesale ribbon store nearby which helps. 

My ribbon drawer
4. A paper cutter. I think that everyone should have a good quality paper cutter. Mine is big enough to cut up to 15".

5. Back-up ink for the printer. There is nothing worse then wanting to print something creative and find that you are out of ink!

6. A good pair of scissors. I know this sounds like a no-brainer but trying to cut ribbon with a dull pair of scissors is very frustrating. I have a pair for paper and a pair for fabric.

7. Wrapping paper. I usually have at least a few rolls on hand that I can use for any occasion. Brown postal paper or white butcher paper work well too.

8. Specialty paper / cardstock in different colors & patterns. 

9. Glue sticks, double stick tape & regular Scotch tape.

10.  A hole punch. I have one with a cute scallop shape adds a little 'fun' to my tags.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bloopers and other imperfections

I am getting ready to have my husband's family over dinner tomorrow night. Kind of a late Christmas / early New Year's celebration. There will be ten of us. My dining room seats 7 nicely and eight if no one ever gets up. It is always a challenge to have more people that will fit, over for dinner.

I thought about having no one at the dinner table ... just a casual sit-in-the-living-room meal but my living room really only has comfortable seating for 9. So it looks like we are going to have to split up. It is definitely not ideal.

But the important thing is that we will all be together in the same house and I'm sure it will work out fine. This will be good preparation for next year's Christmas Eve dinner which I have been told I will be hosting next year - a dinner for twelve!

Speaking of bloopers (well, sort of), Susan from Between Naps on the Porch is having a blogging bloopers party this Saturday. I really love bloopers. I read some of hers and had to laugh; her bloopers are my normal, ha ha. She talks about table settings that are missing things and photos that are not perfect and I all I could think was ... welcome to my entire blog!

Which just fits in perfect with a phone call I received today from a friend who loves my apple crisp and has made it before. She just made it recently and instead of looking up the recipe I gave her years ago, she just pulled it off my blog. Easy right? Well, not if the recipe on the blog is WRONG. So she called to let me know that something was amiss. And sure enough, I checked it out and I had doubled some things but not others. I think that qualifies as a really good blooper, don't you? I have gone back and fixed it on the original post, so please, if you pulled the recipe before, please go back and get the corrected version (which you can get to here). And if you made it and it came out dry like hers ... oops, sorry! And can I just add that all those years that I was a Dental Hygienist (see, now you know something about me that you didn't know before), I could NEVER say oops. That is one of the first things they teach you in dental school... never say oops while you are working on a patient!

An ant on the edge of the bowl ... I can't even see that small!
Here is Susan's reminder:

Little Reminder...Blogging Bloopers Party:
This Saturday, January 1st, 2011, BNOTP will be hosting the first ever "Blogging Bloopers" Party and you'll get to see some of the bloopers I've made (and sometimes hid) during 2010. Last January, I created THIS post showing some of my Blogging Bloopers from 2009. I asked if you guys had some to share...and the comments left on that post were really funny! :)

Cartoons are from Jasonlove.com

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A wonderful soup

We just finished the last of our Christmas soup tonight; isn't it amazing how soup just gets better and better each time it is heated up? I made it on Christmas Eve and when we returned home from our movie on Christmas day all I had to do was heat it up. It was so easy and it was just the perfect thing to eat after a big dinner the night before, a big Christmas breakfast and all the cookies and candy we had been munching on for days. It was even more perfect because of the rainy weather - soup just works in the rain, doesn't it?

Becky Luigart-Stayner
I always wanted to have a Christmas soup tradition. My neighbor has made a clam chowder for their family Christmas dinner for at least 20 years now. I really like that. I tried to do something similar for our family once before; I made a wonderful crab bisque for a few years but I think I liked it more than anyone else. But this year's soup went over very well and it was unanimously decided that it could be continued! I like the idea of starting new traditions; ones that my girl's will carry on with their families one day.

Country Living

Don't judge this recipe by the ingredients - trust me it is fabulous. My Mexican son-in-law, whose mother is a wonderful cook even approved. It came from an old cookbook that belonged to my mother. I don't remember my mom ever making the soup but somehow I started making it many years ago. The cookbook is, "Elena's Secrets of Mexican Cooking," by Elena Zelayeta, Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1958. I have copied the recipe exactly as it is in the book.

Sopa de Albondigas
(Meat Ball Soup)

You don’t have to be Mexican to enjoy this soup. It’s a lusty-gusty one, and may be even more so if peas and sliced carrots are added to it along with the albondigas, or meat balls.

1 onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons oil
½ can tomato sauce
3 quarts beef stock

¾ pound ground beef
¾ pound ground pork
1/3 cup raw rice
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves

Wilt onion and garlic in oil; add tomato sauce and beef stock. Heat to boiling point. Mix meat with rice, egg, mint, salt and pepper, and shape into little balls. Drop into boiling broth. Cover tightly and cook 30 minutes. Will freeze nicely. Serves 6 to 8.

My notes: I wasn't sure what size can of tomato sauce she meant; apparently in 1958 there was only one size, so I used a 15 oz. can (that is what I had on hand) and used about 2/3 of it). I also added sliced carrots (a must!) and next year I think I will add some peas as well. I was worried it might not be enough soup for us as we are a family of five and I wanted left-overs - but it was plenty! We have had it several times since Christmas day. The meatballs are very good - the mint is what makes them so special so don't leave that part out! My intention was to serve it with a nice salad (I never even made it!) but we did heat up tortillas and we had homemade tamales from my sister-in-law that we ate with it as well. Next year I think I will make it a day earlier - 2 days before Christmas - to give me more time on Christmas Eve and so that it is even better on Christmas day. I think that it would be a wonderful New Year's Day soup as well! Enjoy! 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Packing away the Christmas decorations

I really liked that Christmas was on a Saturday this year. It felt like it lasted longer than just one day. We started our 'Christmas' by attending a beautiful church service on Friday evening and then went to my sister's house for a lovely dinner and family time. Attending church again on Sunday, the day after Christmas, felt nice. It was like Christmas day was sandwiched between what was really important. And I liked that.

Christmas breakfast table setting
Another reason I liked it is that I try to make Sundays a day of rest; a day to take time to be still and relax and reflect. It is not always like that but it is my ideal. It helps me get geared up for the coming week. And so this year after all the Christmas preparations, baking and wrapping ... and the wonderful but long and exhausting day, it was nice to have a day that is designated to be restful.

My "kids"
It made me think about how we have Thanksgiving always on a Thursday; why can't we have Christmas always on a Saturday? I mean, we all know that Jesus wasn't really born on December 25th, so I wish "they" had decided to have Christmas on the third Saturday of December or something like that. Anyway, it was just a thought.

Breakfast with the family
So today, Monday, is get-back-to-work-day and my get-organized-post-day. Typically, for me, the week after Christmas is the week that I get all my invoices in order to close out the end of the year, clean out my business files and close out my books. I like to start the new year fresh and clean. And of course, it is also the time that I start thinking about putting away the Christmas decorations.

A nativity set for the newlyweds!
Some years, I have actually taken down the tree the day after Christmas. Since I get a live tree it all depends on the state of the tree. If I get the tree early and it has been particularly warm, the tree can start losing needles early and by Christmas I am 'over it!' Most of the time I try to keep it up through New Year's Eve and take it down on New Year's Day.

Putting everything away can seem like a daunting task and I am always tempted to just stuff things away quickly and shove them back into the attic. But what I know, is that when the next year comes and it is time to unpack the decorations, the more efficiently I have packed them, the easier the unpacking will be.

Sweet Milo ... he loved his bone so much he buried it - wrapping paper and all!
So, here are a few tips for you when you are packing away your decorations:

1. Before you take your decorations down, take a photo of each area so you have a reference for the following year if you decide you want to repeat the same thing.

2. Put similar things together. Put everything you decorate your tree with together. Put outdoor decorations separate. Put various colored ornaments together (all red together, all gold together). Think about un-packing the following year and what will make sense then. Do you have specific decorations that just go on the tree? Put them together. Do you have specific mantle decorations? Put them together. If you change things up like I do each year, then put all your garland together, your silver ornaments together, your angels together, for example.

silver tree ornaments
3. Label everything clearly so you know what is in each box. Put your label on the outside of the box and label it with next year's date. For example, this year you would write, "Christmas 2011".  The contents of my boxes change each year depending on what I have added or given away, so I change my labels accordingly. I make a label from a sheet of card stock and tape it on the outside of the box. I also like to use plastic boxes so that I can see inside.

4. Number each box and include the total number of boxes you have. For example, '1 of 5', '2 of 5', '3 of 5', etc.

5. Put decorations that you did not use this year in a separate box and label it, "did not use in 2010" so that when decorate next year and you get to that box and don't use them again, you will know that it might be time to donate them. Make sure you include this box in your number of boxes. For example, "Christmas 2011, did not use in 2010, 5 of 5."

6. Wind your lights neatly around cardboard so that they are not tangled when you take them out next year ... there is nothing more frustrating then tangled lights!

7. Designate which box you want to open first. Each year before I put up the tree, I like to decorate my house by putting ornaments and decorations around the house. I put those decorations in a separate box that is labeled so I know that is that box that comes out first. It is also usually the box that is packed last as I may take down the tree but still leave some of the other decor around the house. This box could be labeled, "Entry and mantle decorations, Christmas 2011, 1 of 5."

Tip of the day:  Put it down in writing ... What did you like about the way your Christmas preparations, decorating, cooking, gift wrapping, etc. went? What would you change? What didn't you like? Write it all down. Put it in either a Christmas notebook or just place it in your Christmas decoration box so that you have a reference next year. It seems each year I remember less and less. It is not efficient to re-invent each year, so writing down what you want to repeat or change next year makes sense. A friend of mine says she even keeps her Christmas dinner grocery list so she does not have to figure it out the following year. I like that!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The best Christmas gift ever

I received some amazing Christmas gifts this year. What made the gifts special is that they had meaning and the people who gave them to me 'get' who I am and what I like. I love getting gifts from the heart.

My daughter who is a college student made me some Christmas ornaments in the colors that I decorated with this year (turquoise and orange). Each one of them is a work of art. She hung them on the tree early Christmas morning to dress it up, and our little tree with no ornaments was sparkling with her creativity - beautiful! 

My newly married daughter found an old House Beautiful magazine from April 1966. How clever of a gift and what fun it will be to look through that! I flipped through it a little this morning and a couple of the bathroom remodels could be current today! I love that it says, parlor... what an old term. 

I love receiving gifts and giving gifts; it is fun, and a nice way to show people we love that they are special to us. But there is another gift that we celebrate at Christmas that is really the most important gift. And that is the gift of Jesus. I thought I would share with you a very cute and true story that explains in a very beautiful way this gift that we celebrate on Christmas. It will be my gift to you!

A few years ago I read a book by Max Lucado. In the book, Max tells a cute story about his nine-year-old daughter, Sara and her pet hamster, Fred. It seems that one afternoon while his wife was away and he was in charge, his daughter let Fred run up and down the piano keyboard. "I don't know what Denalyn (his wife) would have thought about a hamster on her new piano, but she wasn't home. Besides, I was presiding over the affair in fine fatherly fashion, stretched out on the couch," Max admitted. Fred seemed to be having fun and so were they. He continues, "Sara and I got a good giggle out of Fred's wind sprints. He brought new meaning to 'tickling the ivories'. But after several dashes, all three of us were a bit tired. So sara set Fred where you place the sheet music. I closed my eyes and Sara, just for a moment, stepped away from the piano. Just a moment was all Fred needed to get into trouble."

Max continues, "To understand what happened next, you need to know that our piano is one of the horizontal versions. Had the piano been of the upright sort, Fred would have been safe. But the lid was open and Sara was distracted and I was dozing off when Fred decided to peer over the edge. I opened my eyes just in time to see him tumble into a pool of piano strings and hammers. Sara and I both sprang into action, but it was too late. Our little friend was not only inside the instrument, he was under the strings. We could see his furry back rubbing against the wires as he ran back and forth looking for a way to escape. Fred was trapped.

They were stumped trying to figure out a way to get him out. They tried nudging him. They wedged their fingers between the wires and tried to coax him toward the opening. It didn't work. He ran to the opposite direction and disappeared into a corner. They couldn't see him. They held a lamp over the piano and still they couldn't see him. They tried flashlights and they still couldn't see him. "Coaxing didn't work," says Max.

Next, they tried to call him out of hiding. Nothing worked. Coaxing didn't work. Calling didn't work. They tried playing the piano and that didn't work. The only thing left to do was to dismantle the piano. Max actually tried to do this! He took out a screwdriver and looked for a place to start, but he couldn't find one. The frame had no bolts and the keyboard had no screws. He figured out how to remove a pedal but that wasn't much help.

After they had tried everything possible, Max said to his daughter, "If one of us could become a hamster, we could go in and show Fred the way out." He was joking of course but this is when he realized, Isn't that what God did for us? God became a baby. He entered a world, not of piano strings and hammers, but a world of problems and heartaches. "The Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness" (John 1:4 NLT). He lived among us. He became a friend of the sinner and brother of the poor. He touched their sores and felt their tears and paid for their mistakes. And to us all, and to all the frightened Freds of the world, he shared the same message. "Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me ... I will come back and take you to be with me so that you may be where I am"(John 14:1,3).

And Max finishes his story - "Oh, you might wonder whatever happened to Fred. Well he finally made his way back to the place where he fell in. He looked up. And when he did, Sara was there. He lifted his head just high enough so that she could reach in and lift him out. Which is exactly what God will do for you."

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Note: I have taken the liberty to share this story with you, but you can read the entire story for yourself in the last chapter of Max Lucado's, When Christ Comes.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

This is our photo card this year. We have not sent out a Christmas card for a very long time but I loved this photo from my daughter's wedding this last summer and wanted to share it. And so I share it with you as well and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas! Blessings, Sherri

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ready for Christmas?

I don't know what happened but I am very behind with my Christmas preparations this year. I started way to late and had too many things distracting me. But ready or not, Christmas is here. And so in order to stay relaxed and enjoy this time for what it should be, I have given myself permission to just do less. "It is okay", I am telling myself, if everything I wanted to do did not get done, or if everything is not done exactly the way I wanted it to be. This letting go does not come natural to me. It is a struggle to fight the 'everything has to be perfect' thing. But I am trying.

Despite being behind, the gifts did get wrapped and are officially under the tree.  I like anything with initials and love using them for gift tags. I printed these using a white card stock; the font is Edwardian Script and the font size I used is 260. They are a simple way to add a little flair to a package. I had fun bringing in this year's color of the year - turquoise

I make snowflake cookies every year at Christmas. They are very time consuming but they are so worth it. They are like little works of art. I give them out to special friends and I usually give one for each person. I stack them and wrap them in cellophane. I also make round cookies (snowballs?) which are much easier!  I had a lot of issues baking them today. My 20-year-old oven decided it would throw a little fit this morning and it took some adjusting before I could get a good batch. And so many of them broke! So I made what I could. And I am reminding myself again that it is okay.

I hope that you are enjoying your last minute preparations and that you will give yourself permission to let some things go too. xo Sherri

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas candy

Today (Wednesday) was supposed to be my baking day. All day. I had intended to make dozens of cookies and at least several batches of my Christmas candy. I make these two things every year and give them out to friends and neighbors. I don't know what happened. I thought I could get the house straightened up a bit before I started the baking project. I did some laundry, cleaned up a bit, read some blogs (that could be part of the problem) and then had to go to the market to pick up nuts and chocolate and butter and more sugar. I went to three stores, ran a couple of other errands, got stuck in a huge downpour (it is STILL raining) and came home worn out. So I took a break. I worked on the Christmas cards for a while. Friends stopped by. And then it was time for dinner and going out for sushi sounded really good. You get the point, right? I didn't get the baking done. 

I did come to the conclusion that I do not have to stress over this. People love my candy. And they look forward to it. But it will be okay if they get it as a wonderful 'Happy New Year' gift instead of a Christmas gift. Right? So I took that off my list. I made one batch and called it a day. 

Sherri's Christmas Candy

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 & 1/2 cups blanched, slivered almonds
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips.

In a HEAVY skillet over medium to medium-high heat, mix butter and sugar. Add nuts. Continue cooking until golden brown and almonds start to pop, stirring constantly. 

Spread onto a cookie sheet and top with chocolate chips. 

After chocolate has melted, spread with a spatula. Refrigerate. Break into pieces.

I like to wrap the candy in cellophane and tie them with pretty ribbon, tags and little ornaments. Usually by this time each year I have about 20 of these waiting to be given out. I haven't made my tags yet either but this paper that I printed from the free MAEMAE PAPERIE download from Rue looks pretty great.

I also found this chocolate nut bark in Real Simple last year and clipped it to make this year. I thought it looked so pretty. It was super easy to make!  Just melt 12 ounces of semi sweet chocolate chips (I did it in a double boiler), spread the chocolate evenly on a parchment-lined 9-by-13-inch baking pan and sprinkle with 2 & 1/2 cups mixed nuts. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Break the bark into pieces and keep at room temperature for up to 1 week.
I like this because it is a beautiful and also because it is a healthier candy. It looks wonderful against the turquoise tissue paper in a chinese take-out box.

The cookies ... those are another story! I will start at the crack of dawn tomorrow and make as many as I can. How are you doing with your Christmas baking (shopping, wrapping, cleaning ...)? 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A master plan

I have been working on a master bedroom renovation and it is almost finished but not quite. There are frames to be filled and drapes to be hung and a new nightstand in the plan, but it is 90% there. I tried to take some great photos to share when I was there today supervising some window treatment adjustments but they didn't come out very impressive.

I read somewhere that if you are taking photographs of a bed you should mess up the sheets a bit. Hmmm... that didn't work out very well - and why is it that EVERY wrinkle and flaw shows up on camera?

The room really is coming a long great (photo worthy or not) and I thought I would share the process a little. It all started with a large crack in the ceiling that needed to be repaired. There was other wear and tear and it so it was definitely time to paint. When I came in for the initial consultation we discussed colors and expectations. Simple, fresh and uncluttered is what I remember and the mention of blue. The bed would stay but it needed new bedding, the carpet would be replaced, new window treatments were needed and I could decide what should go on the walls (I love all that freedom!). The existing bedroom was dark and outdated with dark green carpet, a green and cream checked window seat cushion and an old Waverley floral on the canopy. It was time to be updated.

Since we were not going with custom bedding I started with what was available ready-made first. It does not make sense to choose a paint color or carpet first and then try to match bedding unless you are going to use custom fabrics. If you are working with existing carpet or paint colors then you have no choice but it is limiting. I did some online research and came up with some ideas and then we went out shopping together. Although we did not end up with the specific bedding I found online, it did guide us. What we found was simple and fresh and on sale (!) and we used that as our starting point.  From there I selected the wall color (Benjamin Moore Metropolitan AF-690), lightened up the 'white' trim and cabinet color from Cottage White to White Dove and selected a beautiful oatmeal color wool carpet. 

Once those were in place I was able to select the accent fabrics, window treatments, photo frames and lighting. I hung a gallery wall of frames that the client will use to frame some black and white photos of her family. Although it is not completely finished, it is already a beautiful and calming space that is fresh and updated and inviting.