Last Minute Teacher Gift Idea

Merry Christmas everyone!

I know this is a frenzied week for most of us. My older two kids are in school through Wednesday, so I have a list a mile long of things I need to accomplish before they're home with me. I'm sure you do too!

But this little idea was too cute not to share. I am Nina's room parent this year, and as such I am in charge of the teacher gift! I always ask the teacher at the beginning of the year for a list of her "favorite things"(similar to one I blogged about here). I figure (as a former teacher myself!) that what she probably wants most is gift cards, right? 

A friend of mine had a suggestion to help take the gift presentation to the next level. She donated this sweet Christmas tree to my cause, and I ran around collecting gift cards to decorate the tree. Since it looked a little bare with no other decorations, I did some quick cinnamon ornaments and dried orange slices (since I wanted some for my own house anyway...!). Then I found these little brass trumpets at a local antique mall, and they were the perfect final touch to the tree.

When you put them all together, it's the cutest teacher gift ever! I always judge a gift by how much I want one of my own when it's all put together. Let's just say if someone showed up on my doorstep with one of these for me, I'd do a gleeful little dance!

So, on the off-chance that you are still in need of a teacher gift, AND have the time and energy to execute it 6 days before Christmas, I wanted to help a sister out! If not...there's always next year! :)

Merry Christmas friends!


Christmas at My House. And the Biltmore.

Merry Christmas my friends! I hope you're all staying sane this time of year. There is so much I love about this season, and every year I wonder why we try to cram so much magic into one month. If it were up to me, we'd keep our Christmas tree up until the spring flowers start to bloom, and listen to Christmas music until the weather warms up enough to have a BBQ and country music on the patio. :)

This year for Thanksgiving we headed south to see my extended family in Atlanta. Since my husband grew up in North Carolina, he wanted to take a small detour along the way to show us around. We spent a few days in Asheville, and of course you know that also means the Biltmore! Nina and Henry and I spent the afternoon at this beautiful house while Vivian took a nap at the hotel with Daddy.  You can see below how excited Nina was to have to put her arm around her brother for the occasion.

The Biltmore was all decorated for Christmas.  I mean all decorated. Walking from room to room was like being inside every decorating magazine you've ever loved. Hello blue and white pottery, I adore you.

We rented the kids' audio tour (it plays on these phone-like devices you hang around your neck) and learned so much! I got some great ideas about how to add Christmas decor to my two-story library, for example.

My phone's camera just can't do it justice. Every room was more gorgeous than the last. We had a blast!

Coming home with visions of the Biltmore in my head...this is not recommended! (Nothing like a mansion with a whole team of decorators to make a girl feel inadequate!) But I have loved putting some of the Biltmore ideas into action around my own house. I'll show you just a few. Still decorating around here as I find the time, so this is just a snippet, not the full house tour!

This year I opted for all fake greenery everywhere except the Christmas tree. (Gotta have fresh for that!) The real stuff, when not accessible to water, just tends to dry out so fast, and then I get frustrated that I've spent all that time arranging. But I have a wonderful local store that sells the most realistic-looking greenery, and last year I stocked up. I'm pretty please with my two pots on either side of the front door!

I'm gonna apologize for the lighting in some of these. As you know, trying to capture the glow of Christmas lights is just a tricky business! This pine roping on my fence is fake, though, can you believe it? I love the long needles...just like what I would buy at the nursery!

More fake greenery on the lantern by the front door.

On the front door, a fake wreath with some berries and pine cones and all kinds of things I just keep throwing on there to keep it interesting!

Inside the house, I have two little fake green trees in the two front windows. Our real tree is in the family room (in the back of the house) where we can enjoy it with the fireplace and be all cozy. But these trees make us look festive from the street!

The red ticking stripe ornaments were ones I made from this tutorial last Christmas. I just used some simple ball ornaments I found at Goodwill and some scrap fabric. The cinnamon gingerbread man ornaments were a project from eight years ago (!) for two-year-old Nina and me. Check out my long-ago post about that for a real blast from the past! (Nina is ten now, so it's a bit of a heartbreaker to see those sweet little cheeks!)

And here is my tribute to the gorgeous red poinsettias in the blue and white urns that I saw everywhere at the Biltmore! It's the little things, right? Looking at this set up in my dining room every day makes me happy.

I am still fussing and fluffing things around here, and doing the myriad of other things that need to be done, but thank you for taking a little peek into my humble Christmas house!


Waiting for the Right Piece

Hey everyone! A fun little story for you if you are in the no-man's-land of scouring Craig's List and antique fairs for "just the right thing" to finish your project.

Our kitchen was complete, except for one small part. We hadn't found a countertop for the main island. We knew we wanted butcher block. We had a standard one from Ikea that was just OK. It wasn't quite large enough (we bought it for another project), and as you can see from the photo below, the overhang didn't completely cover the drawers. It looked like our island had put on a pair of pants that were one size too small!

I kept saying that if we were willing to be patient, we would eventually find exactly what we were looking for! Brent kept telling me my expectations were too high. (He's usually right.) I wanted something with some age and character, not a new piece. I wanted to know it's story, and of course I didn't want to spend a fortune. No big deal, right?

A few months ago, we were off for a 24 hour getaway for my birthday, in nearby Adams County, Ohio. We happened to drive by this handwritten sign on a quiet country road that said "Antiques" with an arrow pointing to a farm. OK, why not, right? We didn't have any of our kids with us! We pulled in to discover a retired farmer with a barn FULL of cool old stuff. Of course we asked him if he had any butcher block that would be big enough for our project, fully expecting the usual No, Sorry. But he led us over to this:

It was 12 feet long. It was beautiful. It was old. It had all these cool markings on it. It used to be in a nearby butcher shop, so yeah, it definitely had a story. It was $125!

I had to clamp my mouth shut so I didn't squeal.

A few months later, and that countertop is now living in our kitchen! We cut it to fit the length and width we needed (um, easier said than done, as usual, very thankful for my handy husband!). Then we just gave it a light sanding to knock the grime off without losing the many markings and etchings.

Since we don't plan on cutting food directly on the surface, I felt fine about using a standard polyurethane to seal the wood. (If you plan to cut directly on it, you should use a food safe finish of some kind.) I chose a satin finish because that's what was available in my store, but if I could have chosen a matte I would have. I really didn't want it to look shiny. It's a humble workhorse and I think it's beautiful in it's most natural state.

One of the best parts (in addition to fitting my kitchen island's size perfectly!) is how thick it is. Standard kitchen countertops are 1 1/4 inches thick, but this piece is a full 2 inches! It just has so much presence in our kitchen!

So now, there you go, you thought you were finally done hearing all about my kitchen remodel, and then, nope! I'm like that person at a party you can't get away from.  :)

Thank you for humoring me, friends! I thought you might enjoy this story because I know many of us are "on the hunt" for something specific for a house project, and that can take time. We looked for over a year before finding this piece. SO worth the wait, and I am glad we didn't give up due to my usual impatience with unfinished projects!  

Can anyone else relate?


The Kitchen is Complete!

Hello everyone!  I am so sorry to disappear on you for five months!  But I am finally back with some photos to wrap up our kitchen renovation.  Work has been slow with three small kids and the "usual" hectic life, but we are mostly done. Yay!

Today is a rather overcast day, so the lighting was tricky, but I didn't want to wait another day when I actually had time today!  So here you go:

You might remember that we had a two phase project going on here.  The sink side was done first, and then we waited awhile to save up for the pantry side, as well as the kitchen island.  Here's a slightly different angle.

The floor to ceiling pantry has been SO great!  Having a two year old in the house was not conducive to the metal gorilla racks we had here temporarily.  They served a purpose, but I am glad to have them gone!  Now all our business is tucked away out of sight.  :)

Again, so sorry about the lighting!  But here you can see my little open shelving area.  I wanted some shelving, but not too much since I knew how badly we needed pantry space on that wall.  I love having my cookbooks within reach again, and the little marble counter, though only 48 inches x 18 inches, is a workhorse!

We usually have kids' school papers and mail piles on this counter, but when we entertain (or when I take pictures for my blog!), we clear it off and use it as a bar/drinks station.  I like how it isn't in the main cooking zone, so people can help themselves without worrying they're in the way.

We also added this little baking table down at the other end of the kitchen.  Because the overall kitchen space was so long (we knocked down the wall between old kitchen and dining room), I didn't want one gigantic island because that would have been so L-O-N-G.  Like landing strip long.  So instead we have two smaller ones.  The main island where I do most of the cooking is topped with butcher block, but this little one is marble because I wanted to have somewhere to roll out cookies with the kids.  Cute little bar stools fit under there perfectly!

Another thing I wanted to add in some way was some natural brick.  We hunted all over the kitchen and could only come up with this one little spot where it made sense.  I thought it would soften the look of the metal back splash.

We have had a lot of people ask us if we just exposed the original brick to the home (I WISH!) so I take that as a compliment.  The brick is actually reclaimed thin brick veneer from a company in Connecticut (here's the link if you're interested!).  It was really reasonably priced for such a small square footage; in fact, the cost of shipping was more than the cost of the bricks themselves!  But I love how it turned out.  And the company was great to work with.

One little part of Phase I that I don't think (?) I showed you is what we refer to as the "Big Boy."  I don't know, the name just stuck when my husband was labeling things.  It's down at the far end of the kitchen and it is kind of a combination hutch + appliance garage.

Check out how much storage I get out of this!  I just love it.  My favorite part is that I have outlets for all my most-used appliances now, so no more lugging and reconfiguring every time I want to toast some bread or use my electric mixer.  The permanent coffee station helps too. :)

So there you have it!  We are mostly done.  I say mostly because we're still on the hunt for the perfect butcher block for the top of the main kitchen island.  The island is just big enough that nothing "standard" will work; you can see in the photo below, it needs to be a few inches wider to overhang the base cabinets.

Plus, I have my heart set on finding some old, beat up but solid piece of countertop from some country store somewhere.  (I know.)  So that means it has to be right place + right time + right price = meant to be in Carrie's kitchen.  :)

We also have some trim work and caulking to complete.  We finally caved and hired someone to install the crown molding around the cabinets (see photo below) but now it's just all those little un-glamorous things left that we actually have to do.  Maybe on a rainy day!

And another reason for the delay in our productivity has been this little guy.  Meet Hamish!  (pronounced Hame-ish, Scottish name in honor of my roots!)  He's 12 weeks old and is a Newfoundland + Poodle mix.  Gonna be a big boy!  But we love him and he's been a lot of fun for the kids, and for us too!

So there you have it!  The never-ending kitchen remodel is slowly coming to a close.  Thank you so much for going on the ride with me!  :)