Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Mantlescape

I really love the 'bones' of this 1928 farm house. There is just something about the way these old houses are put together that really appeals to me. One of my favorite features of our home is the west wall of the living room. The entire length of it is filled with a great mantle flanked by built-in book cases. I love being able to change this area of my home out seasonally. This year I decided to go with a silver/white/cream theme. I have a collection of mercury glass and I knew that I wanted to build my display incorporating a few of those pieces.

I started by moving a mirror that I had on another wall over the mantle. It's my $5 Goodwill find that I painted a great aged cream. It was the perfect starting point.

I had a large rusty star that I thought would look great in the middle of the mirror, but the color was wrong. A can of silver leaf spray paint took care of that. Add some subway art in one of my grandmothers old ornate metal frames, some $1 store ornaments, prancing reindeer and some silver glitter and I have this.....

I just love the way it turned out. So pretty. Now off to decorate the rest of the house and get ready for Christmas Eve...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Traditions

I was up early this morning. Normally, and for the past however many years of my adult life, this would have been the time that I was in the kitchen all burners full and the the house filled with the wonderful aroma of Thanksgiving dinner in the making. Not this morning. This morning I was actually able to sit at the table with the cat curled next to me, and sip a hot cup of coffee while a pot of sweet potatoes boiled on the stove. It felt weird to not be elbow deep in a turkey trying to get every crevice filled with stuffing. This year, Ken's folk's took over the turkey cooking duty. A few years back they bought one of those deep fat turkey fryers. It's amazing how moist the meat is cooked that way. Not greasy at all, and it's like the flavor is seared in.

Since I had one of the most relaxing Thanksgiving mornings I can remember, I had time to think over past years and what it was about other Thanksgivings that made them so special. The food was always good of course. Always the traditional turkey with all the trimmings. But I think it was the fact that we all got together in one place and put aside our busy lives for a day to just eat and BE. It was a day that all of us looked forward to with much anticipation.

For many years, we had our dinner at Grandma and Grandpa Allen's house. Grandma Allen always hosted a big group. Not only was there immediate family, but adopted family and other 'strays' as well. Grandma would spend a few days before, moving things around in the garage and cleaning. Long tables were set end on end so that the entire two car garage was tuned into a massive dining hall. At some point grandma would come and and tell Dad it was time to cut the turkey. I can still see Dad and his best friend Dave carving the turkey and eating almost as much as they put on the platter. Then, when all was ready, we would gather around the table, stand behind our chairs for the blessing and for the first time since we walked in the door, every one would quiet down. As soon as "Amen" was heard, the line started to form. First it was by the stove for potatoes and gravy and stuffing and rolls, a platter of hot turkey and on to the table that was filled with a variety of salads, pickles and olives. The line was always long, but there was never a shortage of wonderful treats. And just when you thought that you might burst at the seams, grandma would roll out the pies. Never just a pumpkin pie or two, but apple and mince and chocolate just to name a few. If you had a favorite pie, she would make that too.

It was always a happy time and looking back now I know that I saw it all through kid eyes. I didn't see the hours of work that went into preparing all that food or the mountain of dishes that had to be done after. When I grew up and started doing Thanksgiving for my own family, I tried to keep that magic and the  special feel of the day alive. I still cook many of the things that my grandmothers did, but for the first time this year I broke with tradition and didn't do the turkey. I also didn't do stuffing the way I normally do or even the gravy. But the amazing thing was that even though the table wasn't set with all the good china and fresh flowers and we chose to eat buffet style, it was still a special meal. For a while there, everyone put down their phones and Ipads, stopped watching TV and spent time eating a wonderful meal. And I came to realize that that is the real part of our tradition. Not the food served or the way it's served but the time spent with the ones we love without distraction. It's a beautiful thing that seldom happens in our busy lives and I was so blessed today to have that time with my family.

I missed our family that couldn't be here, but loved every noisy moment of the kids and grand kids that could make it. I have so many things to be thankful for this year and I need to remember that when I start to feel a little worn down by life. No doubt about it. I am truly, incredibly blessed.

To steal the perfect line from my friend Cindy Wobbe, (I don't think she'll mind)  "Wishing you Grace and Plenty" this Thanksgiving day.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fall Table Settings

I love to have people over to the house just so I have an excuse to set a pretty table. I mean, let's be honest here. After 10 years of marriage, no kids at home and both of us working full time jobs, our table settings have come to consist of a plate, a paper towel and a fork. On a TV tray. In front of the TV. Nothing really thrilling or challenging let alone pretty about any of that.

But last weekend, I had a few friends over for a nice fall lunch. Even though it was just lunch, I really wanted them to walk in and feel like it was something special. Our home is very small, only about 1200 square feet, so I don't have the room to store dishes for every season/holiday. Not that I wouldn't love to be able to do that. Some women go nuts over handbags and shoes. I'm a total dish nut. But, since I'm on my 'make do for less' kick, I started looking through the dishes I already had. I found these luncheon sets that my mother-in-law had given me a few months back.

My father-in-law had gotten them on an auction and she decided that she didn't like them. I wasn't sure that I did either, and was going to donate them. So glad I didn't!

The plates are a clear amber color and I wanted to amp it up a bit, so I headed to my local Dollar Store and got these gold Chargers and paper fall leaves...

Guess how much they were? A Dollar. No kidding! Not only that, but my son and I just saw the same exact thing at Fred Meyer for $3 each. Did we score or what?!

Several years ago I found this awesome cabbage set at a yard sale for $5. I loved that it was white so I could use it with anything. The leaf dishes were perfect for the salad I wanted to serve.

 I needed a little dish for my soup so it was the Dollar Store again for these little dishes... even better deal at 3 or $1!

I added a few more things that I had here at home to complete my setting. Some white leaf serving dishes, a burlap runner sewn from scraps, some Dollar Store goblets in a great fall green color...

...and a few other things like some vintage white napkins from my stash and my grandma's silverware that I love so much.

I took this collection and started arranging. Burlap runner down the center of the table and at each setting this little stack of dishes:

1. Gold Charger
2. Paper leaves
3. Amber luncheon plate
4. White leaf salad dish
5. Clear small soup dish

Topped that all off with a sweet favor of brown sugar shortbread cookies tied with a bow and tag. Off to the side I tied the silverware in the white napkin with some fall colored velvet ribbon, and there you have it. A setting that looks like it came out of House Beautiful. I think even Martha would approve....

I love the way the colors look together and the nice contrast between the rustic burlap and the crisp white linen. The part I love the most though is the fact that this beautiful setting that looks like a million bucks cost me under $3 each since I used much of what I already had. The entire setting for as much as the single charger was at the department store! 

Just wait till you see my Christmas setting. $2 so far and BEAUTIFUL!

Wishing you a bountiful Harvest and a beautiful table filled with love,

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Brown Sugar Shortbread

Every Autumn, I pull out my leaf shaped cookie cutter and make brown sugar shortbread cookies. It just doesn't feel like Fall till I do. I had friends coming to my house for lunch this afternoon and wanted a little gift for them to take home. I thought the cookies would be perfect.

And they were...


Not only that, but so easy. I got up early this morning and whipped them out while I had my coffee. In my nightgown. Yes, I'm classy like that...

What you'll need:

1 cup real butter (softened)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 1/4 cups flour (reserve 1/4 cup to flour your surface for kneading)
  • In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually stir in flour and mix well. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 3 minutes. The warmth of your hands makes the dough stick together.
  • Cut into 2 inch x 1 inch strips or use your favorite cookie cutter.  Place 1 inch apart on ungreased parchment lined baking sheets. Prick with a fork.
  • Bake at 300° for 25 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. Yield: 3-4 dozen.

A stack of 5 cookies in a cello bag with a little paper shred, topped with a bow and a card with a sweet sentiment made a nice little gift.

I found a saying I liked on Pinterest, printed it on card stock...

...cut a decorative edge, punched a hole in the corner and tied it on my bag. Just too cute...

...and just perfect with a nice cup of tea on a chilly Autumn day!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Craving Some Color

It's funny how things change as we age. I remember a little over 11 years ago when we bought our home having visions of a beautiful romantic English garden look with lots of pinks and purples and huge roses. The previous owner had planted a ton of crocosmia in the brightest orange you can imagine. There were everywhere. I spent the morning of my wedding running around the yard with pruners making sure that there wasn't a single orange boom to mar my pink and purple design. Yep, I can be a little uptight like that...

When I opened my shop The Wren's Nest the colors were beautiful muted browns, my favorite blues and a mix of cream and white with some of black to set it all off...

Maybe a touch of vibrant color here and there but not much. And not red or orange. But over the last few months I've noticed that I've started to add more orange and red and those great vibrant colors of the 50's. I find myself drawn to the bright colors of the Zinnia's that used to grow in my grandmothers flower gardens.

I think it started in the kitchen when I brought this sign home....

The nice mix of color in it was like a huge permission slip for me. A little color here and there looks great against the Latte of my walls....


Much of our home is still a bit muted, but I love the way those spots of color just grab you. Nothing like a nice little jolt of red  "HEY" to start your day!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday's Score

Little by little, Ken and I have been working to fix things around our home and do some renovation on a shoestring. I'm pretty sure that Ken wishes we were done. We're getting there.

Our next project is our bathroom. When we first moved into the house is was awful. Really awful. You couldn't take a bath without chunks of the rotten wall floating in your bathwater. The temporary solution was to get one of those totally ugly (but functional!) plastic shower surrounds. That was over 10 years ago, before I learned that my concept of temporary and my husband's are two entirely different things. To make matters worse, the tub is tiny and pink (yes, pink) and I made a BIG decor mistake and insisted on painting the wainscot black. Still can't believe I did that. Talk about making an already small room feel  like a cave.

So, it was way past time to fix it. I've talked about it for a while now and created an entire Pinterest board dedicated to bathroom ideas. This one is one of my favorite pins and my inspiration photo...

I love to see the way people look at me like I'm nuts when I tell then that I'm putting galvanized tin in as a shower surround. I'm in love with the way it looks.

Every time I would bring up the bathroom fix, I could feel Ken's hesitation so it kept being put on a back burner. But when my son Jake moved in a few months ago, he got me excited about it again and ready to get it going. And it helped that he went in and started stripping the wallpaper officially starting the remodel.


What a mess stripping wallpaper makes! We keep tracking it all over the place. That's the problem with remodels, they make a bigger mess before they get better. Don't you just love the layers that show up when you start stripping things down? I'm forever amazed at the colors that people paint things.

Jake and I have been searching for a while now for pieces and parts for the remodel. I knew that I wanted to use an old dresser for the vanity. And we also knew that we wanted a bigger tub. In white, thank you, NOT pink. We've been to all the thrift stores and spent quite a bit of time on Craiglist, but nothing was catching my eye, or when it did it was way out of my price league. Shoestring budget remember? Then, this morning my husband asked me if I wanted to ride to Eugene and look at Bring Recycling. We love it there. Never know what you might find.

We were totally pumped at the tub we came across. It's 6' long, wider and deeper than the one we have. And the best part? It's WHITE! I swear it looks brand new. A new tub like this would have cost us around $650. We actually got it for $65! And the sink that would have cost us $45 new, was an affordable $15.

 I couldn't believe our luck. It was about to get even better. I happened to have my Ipad with me and was shopping Craigslist  while I waited for Ken to come out of the hardware store. Just as we were leaving the parking lot to head home, the page refreshed and there it was. The perfect dresser posted 38 minutes earlier. And only $20. I couldn't dial the phone fast enough. Score again!

I love the little details and the glass knobs. It's going to look great in the bathroom. I still can't get over our Sunday Score. We have some big plans for the area and some odd ideas, but we can't wait to see how it all comes together and share it with all of you. Watch for progress photos over the next few weeks and keep your fingers crossed that Ken and Jake and I can survive this last big remodel step without yelling at each other...too much!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

And Now Back to the Show!

Wow. It's October. Not just October, but the end of October. I can't believe that it's been since the middle of August since I've blogged. Almost 2 and a half months have passed in the blink of an eye. Amazing.

Life has been busy the last few months. My youngest son Jake moved in with us while he gets ready to go to school and that's been an adjustment not only for Ken and I but for Jake as well. It turns out that Jake is a neat freak and his mother's cluttered little cottage was a bit much for him to take. It's like our roles have been reversed. My son is the harried parent who can't understand why his parents can't pick up after they make a mess or rinse a glass and Ken and I are the carefree teens who can't see what the big deal is about leaving an empty coffee cup on the counter or waiting till the next day to do laundry or dishes. We're getting it together though. In the time that Jake has been here, we've managed to work through several rooms, empty boxes and sort through stuff that I should have gotten rid of long ago. Our house is starting to feel like a home again and not a storage unit.

The process was painful when we first started. I have such a hard time getting rid of things. I have this creative mind that sees potential in every odd piece of junk. The problem comes when I don't have the time to put those things to use or they get lost under piles of other "useful" things. So we've sorted, donated and yes, tossed. And, wonder of all wonders, I haven't missed those things and the world didn't come to an end when I threw out the pile of Martha Stewart magazines that I've kept for several years.

This time away from my blog has been one of change and growth and now I feel like I'm ready to get back to what I love and enjoy being creative again. I would have never thought that getting rid of things would actually increase my creativity and not block it but it has. A huge revelation to me!

It feels good to be back here. Hope all is well in your world and you're embracing this cool fall weather like I am.

Wishing you much Love and Laughter,

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Gluten-free Vegan Banana Bread

This day started out so beautiful. There had been some rain in the night and the air smelled sweet, clean and cool. I have to say that I like Summer just fine but Autumn is my season. And this morning there was that promise of cool fall mornings right around the corner. Got me feeling all motivated and domestic!

I had bought the ingredients for a vegan banana bread last week and this morning seemed like the perfect day for it. I had been looking for a good recipe that combined my desire to eat healthy and still have a little comfort food now and then. My friend Becca, who owns the Shed Bakery in Old Town Florence, loaned me a great vegan cookbook. Called Babycakes, it's loaded with a ton of vegan and gluten free baked goods. Couldn't wait to get in and try it out.

The banana bread recipe that I've used for years calls for white sugar, flour and buttermilk as well as eggs and this has none of that. In fact, there were a few ingredients that I had never heard of until now.

What you'll need:

2 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten-free All Purpose Baking Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Xanthan Gum
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 cup Coconut Oil (plus a bit more to grease the pan)
2/3 Cup Agave Nectar
2/3 cup Rice Milk (I used Almond Milk since I had that on hand)
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 cup Mashed Bananas

On a side note: ever read a great blog and look at the photos and wonder what's just out of view? Are they normal like me and have a sink of dirty dishes waiting to be done and a pile of mail on the counter just out of view? Well, here's a peek at what's just out of view in the last photo... cat Shay glaring at me and letting me know in that cat way that she's STARVING and I need to drop everything I'm doing and open the door so she can get to the food. Worse than a demanding child. Of course I let her in right after I took the picture so I didn't have to suffer the withering cat stare. 

Back to the bread...

Preheat your oven to 325. Lightly grease a 7x4x3 inch loaf pan with a bit of your coconut oil. In a medium bowl, whisk all of your dry ingredients together.

 Add all of your wet ingredients (except for the banana) to your dry ingredients. Stir until the batter is smooth. Using a wooden spoon, gently fold in the bananas until they are evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Fill the prepared pan with the batter.

Bake the banana bread on the center rack for 35 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees after 20 minutes. Ovens will vary so be sure to check your loaf with a toothpick to make sure it's done in the middle. Mine took some extra time.

The house smelled wonderful while it was baking. Let the bread stand in the pan for about 20 minutes after you take it out of the oven. Run a knife around the edge of the bread and turn it out onto a cutting board. I did let mine cool a bit before I cut into it...

I was amazed that it tasted as good as it did. Normally I would smother it in butter before eating, but since I'm working on the whole healthy thing, I ate it plain. Guess what? Still tasty. Nothing is ever going to beat the taste of home baking the way that my grandmother used to bake with eggs and butter and cream, but this will do just fine thank you.

Ken went out earlier today and picked a bucket of ripe juicy blackberries. Tomorrow's gluten-free vegan baking adventure? Blackberry scones. I can smell them already....

Friday, August 10, 2012

Eating Right

I am a meat and potatoes topped off with pie kind of gal. I love fresh baked bread with butter and a good rib-eye steak. But I'm also about 100 lbs overweight and a few months from turning 50. Not a good combination. I've actually gained and lost 80+ pounds three times now. It a frustrating cycle of being so strict to maintain the current fad diet that I'm on and feeling punished by denying myself those foods that I love and bring me comfort. Twice now I've done very limited diets and done them well. I've lost down to an acceptable weight for me and learned NOTHING about eating right. That is until now.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me about a book called Eat to Live. It's one of the first books that has really made sense to me. And, of course, it goes against what many people feel is a 'healthy' diet. But I have to tell you, two weeks into it and I feel good. I had gotten out of the habit of cooking and into eating things out of a box or from a drive through. It's taken a bit for me to get back into cooking, but wow, what flavor when you cook real food.

It's actually easier than I thought it would be. My morning starts with a fruit smoothie....


8 oz. of Almond Milk, a handful of frozen fruit, half a banana and a teaspoon of ground flaxseed in my mini blender. And sooooo yummy.

Lunch and dinner are generally a veggie dish with a huge colorful salad...

I've found that I can do a quick stir-fry after work without a lot of fuss. As we go into fall, I plan on doing some nice vegan soups. I made a wonderful Carrot, Coconut, Ginger soup the other night that's going to be perfect for those blustery Autumn days.

I was sure that I would miss my chips and candy and Big Mac's, but the funny part is that all this eating right has pretty much done away with my cravings. Even eating out with my friends hasn't been the trial that I thought it would be. Many of our restaurants offer a selection of delicious vegan dishes.

I think the big shift in my mind this time is that I'm not on a 'diet'. I'm not in this to lose weight (though that would be great) but to get healthy and fit. I'm trying to get out of my quick-fix mentality and make a life change with the knowledge that if I keep it up eventually the weight will come off and I'll go into my 50's fit and ready to take on the world. At least that's the plan!

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