Thursday, April 14, 2016

Home Sweet Home

   We have been in our house for a little over two years now!  Time has really flown by, although I keep catching myself saying things like "We just moved in our house," or "I haven't had time yet to finish that/fix that/unpack that..."  I think the jig is up at this point!  I thought I would post a few pictures of the exterior of the house to look at our progress in two years, and because my flowers look so pretty right now!

Circa January 2014
   Here's where we started.  To be fair, this picture was taken in early January.  There's a whole lot of nothing growing/blooming/alive in January.  And here's where we are today:

April 2016

   The main difference in the house exterior has been the addition of the flower bed on the left of the garage, which, frustratingly, you wouldn't even have been able to see in the old photo.  It extends about half the depth of the house and curves around the front corner beside the garage.  I transplanted iris tubers that were original to the house from the backyard into this new flower bed last spring.  They were fine in the spring, but nothing bloomed or grew much, probably because of the shock of transplanting.  I cut them down last fall to about six inches tall on the advice of Chris's grandfather, the iris whisperer.  This spring they have tripled in size and have been covered in the most lovely yellow blooms for about a month now!
   We have also replaced the exterior lights with some nice big non-brass fixtures, replaced the rotting house number plaque (I blurred the numbers so you can't creep on me), and Chris replaced the vent/portal thingie over the garage with an identical one.  The original one was wooden and had warped with time, leaving a gap that birds were using to start nesting in my attic.  No thank you!  So he ordered a new fiberglass one and got it all painted and installed.

   I've planted several things in the mailbox planters over the past two years, and I continue to struggle with finding the right thing to live here.  It gets a tremendous amount of wind in the spring and fall and is in 100% sunlight all summer long.  I started with violas, which didn't fare too badly, but were too short to be seen, and they kept "jumping out" of the planters and popping up in the yard!  I planted mums in the box in the fall, and that was okay, but not amazing.  So this spring I decided to try petunias.  I planted a larger dark pink plant and two smaller light pink ones on each side.  So far they are doing just fine, and are a nice greeting for our mailman.

   As you approach the house, you pass one of the two main flower beds.  This one, too, has housed several different things over the past two years.  I planted the two little azalea bushes in the back when we moved in, and last summer I planted the pink petunias.  I guess somehow they didn't completely die during our mild winter because they're back and bigger than ever this spring!  No work for me!  I have no idea what kind of tree that is, but it's really lovely in the spring!

   My azaleas haven't gotten a ton bigger than when I planted them (maybe they are slow growers?), and haven't bloomed at all for the past two springs, but it looks like this year we are in for a treat!  Both bushes are absolutely covered in buds and a few flowers.  I can't wait!

   I also have a hosta in the pot on the porch that came back from last year.  That's no small miracle either.  When it "died" last fall, I moved the urn into the garage to protect it from the elements.  A couple of months ago, I noticed that a green leaf had popped up in the pot!  It had gone all fall, winter, and early spring in the garage with no sun and no water, but it's back and more beautiful than it was last year!  The geranium basket was a sweet gift from Chris's mom that I have managed to not kill yet.

   On the other side of the sidewalk is the other main flowerbed.  I've struggled knowing what to plant here too.  It's south facing, full sun all the time.  These poor plants really get baked in the summer.  Nearest to the sidewalk is a crepe myrtle that blooms light pink.  I have mixed feelings about crepe myrtles because as lovely as I think they are, I am not a fan of all the bugs that also enjoy them.  Especially so close to my front door.  But it came with the house, and it really is pretty in the summer, so I put up with it.  At the far end is a nice fat butterfly bush that has purple blooms in the late spring and summer.  Both it and the crepe myrtle grow surprising fast (at least to a novice like me) and require a LOT of trimming to keep them looking tidy, but that means lots of cut flowers for the dining room table!
   I planted four tiny phlox plants when we bought the house, all a light pinky-purple.  The two closest to the butterfly bush didn't make it, so I replanted the next year.  They have grown and spread, but nothing like the nearest two!  I tell you, God knew to send indestructible plants to a brown-thumb like me!  They have gone crazy and I have to trim them up so they don't spill out into the yard and get mowed!  They are very early bloomers too.  I often catch a glimpse of tiny purple flowers peeking through ice and snow in February!  Earlier in the spring they had twice as many flowers as they do in these photos from today!  I always deliberate on adding some taller plants at the back of the flower bed, but at the rate the phlox are going, they would choke something else out by next year!

   I am definitely an inexperienced gardener, and I'm learning new things all the time, but I love how pretty everything is right now.  I feel so much pride and pleasure while enjoying the plants and flowers, and I don't even mind doing yard work.  I think the biggest thing I have learned in two years is to choose the right plants.  Even a master gardener can't make a sun-loving flower bloom in the shade, or a delicate flower thrive in the Oklahoma sun.  It's taken me a while to figure out what kinds of things like what kinds of conditions, and to figure out how much time I can realistically devote to my yard.  I know that things that need constant fussing with or multiple waterings a day just aren't a great choice for me.

   Thanks for letting me show off my flowers!  I hope it brought a little springtime to your day.  Feel free to share yours as well!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sushi Night!

   I have been dying to host a small dinner party for a while now, and I finally got my chance.  Last night we had two other couples over for a make-your-own sushi night!  I wasn't brave enough to buy any raw fish, but we had plenty of other ingredients on hand to make some tasty rolls!

   I wanted the table setting to imply Japanese style without feeling too much like an Asian restaurant.  I didn't want to use any cheesy fans or printed fabrics, nothing that would seem like a bad stereotype.  I was also under a little more pressure because one of the couples that joined us has spent several years living in Japan, so I felt like I had to try harder!

   I decided to go with a natural/neutral theme, as much of Japanese culture always makes me think of serene zen-like spaces.  I started with another natural material runner (yup, I own two), and added the glass vases with candles.  That seemed a little plain, so I bought a couple of bags of river rocks at the dollar store and added them to the vases and the center of the table.  I justified buying rocks by telling myself that they were already a complementary array of colors, already lightly tumbled, and already clean.  And $1 a bag.  I love how they add a grounded, earthy feeling to the table scene.

   The dishes are my white everyday dishes, originally from Target.  I did pick up the resin chopsticks and the ceramic soup spoons at our local Asian grocery store.  I used my Pottery Barn linen hemstitched napkins for a neutral colored layer.  I'm sure there is appropriate Japanese table setting etiquette that I totally disregarded here, but I liked the way this arrangement looked, and our well-traveled friends were gracious enough not to correct me.  We used the small bowls at the top for soy sauce for the sushi.

   I was a little worried about our collective sushi making skills, so I wanted to have several other dishes available in case we were miserable failures.  We started with Japanese Clear Soup (I used the recipe here), then moved on to Asian Cucumber Salad and our DIY sushi.  (Side note: be extra careful when using a mandolin slicer to make the cucumber salad.  I had a little "kitchen incident" that has left me with a heavily bandaged finger.)

   Like I said, I did not provide raw fish for our sushi, but we had an assortment of veggies, rice and nori, smoked salmon and crabstick, cream cheese, spicy sauce and a sweet/salty "eel" sauce available.  I even attempted to make tamago, which is a rolled Japanese omelet that can be eaten as sushi or a side dish. (Another side note: tamago was really tricky to make and I later learned that it can often be used as a standard by which to judge a Japanese restaurant.  Eesh!  Mine was tasty, but not lovely.)   I set up little "sushi stations" like this one around the kitchen with various ingredients needed, along with bamboo rolling mats and bowls of water for fingers.  I was a little worried what people would think of having to make their own dinner, but it was dinner and entertainment in one!  We laughed a lot and ended up with sushi in our bellies, so the aesthetics weren't all that important.

   This party was so much fun and injuries aside, very low-stress to prepare for.  The soup takes five minutes to prep, and I had actually made it the day before and reheated it that evening.  The cucumber salad is served chilled, so I made it earlier in the day.  The rice is used at room temperature and takes a while to cool, so I started it about two hours before the party.  Pretty much the only things I did last minute were to put on a pot of green tea and clean the kitchen so I could set up the stations.  We even purchased mochi balls from the Asian grocer so dessert was zero effort too.  A good time was had by all, even (and especially) the hostess!

   Do you eat sushi?  Have you ever made it at home?  What are your favorite no-stress entertaining menus?

Monday, February 15, 2016

So Much Love!

   Valentine's Day seems to be a hot button topic for some people.  I'm always surprised how many people get really worked up about hating it.  I don't know how you feel about it, but it's a "minor holiday" at our house.  We enjoy acknowledging the people we love, and you know I put out a few decorations, but it's definitely not a big deal.  This year was probably the most fuss I've made over it since WAY before I got married, and that's mostly because everything is more fun to celebrate with a preschooler.

   I found this idea on Pinterest, of course, and thought it was just too sweet.  Starting February 1, Abby Kate woke up with a new heart on her door telling her something we love about her.  Usually these great ideas of mine are met with complete nonchalance on her part, which is really a buzzkill.  Not this time.  She absolutely loved it.  Every morning she would run in so excited, yelling "Mama mama!  I have a new heart!  Read it to me! What does it say?!" 

   I worked hard to make sure that these were encouraging traits that I wanted to build up in her, and stayed away from looks.  (Let's not start the body image stuff at age 3, right?)  Please note that I took the first picture before Valentine's Day, so there aren't 14 hearts yet.  She did get one every day, although she had to remind me one day...

   This was about the extent of my Valentine's Day decorations.  It made our meals brighter to have something fun on the table, and still left my usual seasonal decorating spot open for our Lent decorations.  (It's so hard when Easter is early.  My holidays start running together.)  Because I don't want to have boxes and boxes of seasonal decorations, I tried to keep things as packable as possible.

   I "rescued" the tree branches out of my neighbor's trash pile, filled a vase with those gross conversation heart candies (does anyone actually like to eat those?), made a few paper conversation hearts to hang and scatter, and voila!  I did buy the fabric new this year.  It's hard to see, but it has tiny hearts printed on it.  And the little purple heart was a Happy Meal toy from a year or two ago.  Find inspiration wherever you can, right?  I threw the candy hearts away today and I'll buy new next year if I decide to, so that's one less thing to store.  I'll probably use the branches for a while longer, but those won't need to be stored either.  Mission accomplished. 

   And here's my sweet little Valentine before church yesterday.  She got some heart and robot stickers and a new owl pen and she was PUMPED.  Chris and I celebrated by cooking dinner Friday night while Abby Kate was at Grandma's house.  We've always enjoyed cooking together, and NOT enjoyed waiting forever at a restaurant.  We made Balsamic and Rosemary Steak Kabobs and a Pavlova.  So yummy!  It was a relaxing low-key evening, and we slept in the next morning--divine.  

   I hope that your "minor holiday" was enjoyable, and that whether it was by a significant other, a family member, a best friend, or a dog, you felt loved.  I know I sure did.  Do you bother with Valentine's Day decorations?  Show me!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Preparing Our Home for Lent

   I am a nester.  Thus the name of the blog.  I absolutely love fussing around the house, experimenting with different ways to arrange furniture, new combinations of decorations, adding seasonal touches here and there, just generally making things a little bit special for my family and myself.  It brings me great joy to feel like I have done my best to make my home welcoming and pleasant for anyone who may dwell here.  When I began observing Lent a few years ago, my first question (after I nailed down the fundamentals) was "How do you decorate for Lent?  Is that even allowed?"

   The liturgical color for the season of Lent is purple.  Traditionally, purple is used in the church during seasons of preparation and repentance, so it is also the color of the Advent season.  Okay, I can decorate with purple.  Now what?  Because Lent isn't really a celebratory time, per se, I didn't feel that elaborate decorations were entirely appropriate.  The almighty Pinterest showed lots of people incorporating elements of nature like tree branches without leaves that were sort of symbolic of a waiting for new life, crosses draped with purple fabric, and other items that remind us of Christ's sacrifice.  I hunted through what I had on hand, and here's what I came up with:

   This small dresser is immediately in front of our front door, in the living room.  You have to walk past it to get to almost every room of the house.  That seemed like a good place to set up a small vignette.  I usually decorate with my seasonal items here, so it was a natural choice for Lent as well.  I wanted to keep things simple, in the spirit of the season, but obvious enough to remind even a three year old what this season is about.  

   I started with a natural fiber table runner to ground everything.  It has nice texture for the decorator in me, but the color and roughness of the material lends to the feeling of dry, solemn, needing new life.  I don't have a cross figurine, but I do have this really pretty cross framed art that I draped in some purple fabric.

   I added this hurricane candle holder because lighting a candle always feels spiritual and anticipatory to me.  The candle is sitting in whole coffee beans that I reserve for this purpose (we aren't coffee drinkers). When lit, the heat from the candle makes the hazelnut beans smell great.  I tried to DIY a crown of thorns from a small grapevine wreath and toothpicks.  I must have done alright because Abby Kate instantly recognized it as "the wreath that hurt Jesus."  My favorite decoration, though, and a new element for us this year, is our purple prayer chain.  

   I want to be intentional about incorporating prayer into our Lenten season, as well as a sense of expectation and waiting for Resurrection Sunday.  This was another Pinterest idea, so please don't marvel at my creativity.  I used some purple construction paper to make the chain, and on each link is written the name of a person or concept we will pray for specifically that day, for example, our pastor, neighbors, policemen, family members, and countries that our family is involved with mission work.  

   Each morning we take a link off the chain to discuss and pray.  Not only do we have a reminder of the day's prayer focus, but as the chain grows shorter, we are aware of the nearing Resurrection Celebration!  It took almost no time to assemble, and Abby Kate thought it was super fun to get the link for the day.  If making paper chains is all it takes to get my child invested in the things of the Lord, sign me up.  

   Clearly, Lenten decorations are NOT something that is required to observe or benefit from Lent.  It's just something that I enjoy doing, and I've been surprised and pleased with how seeing our vignette refocuses my mind and reminds me to pray.  Colossians 3:1 urges us to set our minds on things above, and my simple decorations help this visual learner to do just that.  

   Do you have an area that guides your heart back to Christ?  Are there any special reminders you use to set your mind on the things of God?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent Begins

   Today is Ash Wednesday, and unless you grew up Catholic or in a fairly liturgical church, that probably doesn't mean much to you.  I know it never really meant much to me--the church I grew up in never observed it or really talked much about it at all.  The only thing I knew about Lent was it was when people that I never knew were religious moped about how they were giving up candy or Cokes for Lent, then a day or two later they were right back to their old habits. I thought it was a Catholic thing, and that probably meant it didn't apply to me or that it might even somehow be wrong for me to participate.

   Then, a few years ago, we had moved cross-country and started attending a new church.  Our new church wasn't particularly liturgical, but I read about an upcoming Ash Wednesday service they were holding.  I honestly had no idea what it was all about, so I did some reading and decided to give the whole Lent thing a try.  I felt like such a phony wearing ashes on my forehead that first time, like someone would find out that I didn't know what I was doing.  I didn't, but that didn't stop me from being deeply impacted by Lent, and it's a season that I choose to continue observing regardless of what the rest of my congregation chooses.  

   Contrary to what I had always thought, Lent is about so much more than "giving up" something for 40 days.  (And did you know that Lent actually lasts longer than 40 days?  Fasting is not practiced on Sundays as every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection, and not a day for mourning.  So the 40 days does not include Sundays.) Traditionally, there are three basic principles of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving/service.  So yes, you may choose to abstain from something (fasting) for a time, but Lent also encourages us to focus on our prayer life and on our service to those around us.  I love that. 

   What I found through the few short years that I have been observing Lent is that I am reminded daily, if not several times a day, how much I need a savior.  I become much more aware of my sin and my shortcomings. By eliminating something from my life, even temporarily, I am always amazed at how much more time I have for the things that matter- my family, my marriage, my prayer life... And Resurrection Sunday is so much sweeter when your heart is prepared and has been marinating on your own unworthiness in comparison to the unequaled sacrifice of Jesus.  It's like my whole being longs for the morning when I can shout "Alleluia!!"  Just like the preparation and waiting of Advent magnifies the joy of Christmas morning, Lent sets the stage perfectly for the Resurrection Celebration. 
   This year, I have committed to an additional 30 minutes of prayer time daily as I pray through the book Returning to Holiness by George Frizzel.  His book takes a scriptural and systematic approach to deep personal cleansing and confession of sin- how appropriate for Lent.  After lots of prayer and searching, I felt the Lord leading me to fast from things that were taking my time and attention from His glory and His work, rather than from some aspect of food.  For me, that means I am choosing to step away from Facebook and Netflix.  Being a rule follower and a bit too checklist oriented, I do realize how Lent could become legalistic or feel obligatory, or feel like a works-based aspect of man-made religion.  I am sharing this not to set myself as any sort of example, but to show you how Lent has already worked in my heart on this, the very first day.  

   My plan was to also sacrifice a bit of sleep and get up a bit earlier for my extra prayer time before starting the rest of my day.  This morning when my alarm went off, I promptly shut it off and went back to sleep, telling myself I'd do it during naptime.  I got up at my usual time, got dressed, made breakfast for Abigail and me, and visited with her and scrolled through Facebook while we ate.  ::facepalm::  I didn't even realize I'd been on Facebook until a bit later when I was thinking through my day and realized that it was Ash Wednesday.  So friends, please know that there is absolutely no judgement coming from me- I didn't even make it through the first hours of my day without breaking my commitment to God.  He took the opportunity to humble me right from the start of Lent. I think that's because He knows that I have a tendency toward pride and self-righteousness and still somehow believing that I can earn His favor.  (You better believe that made for a very humbling prayer time, which did in fact happen during naptime.) 

   I am grateful for Lent.  I am grateful for a time to intentionally prepare myself to celebrate the pinnacle of my faith, Christ's resurrection.  I am grateful for a time to share the tiniest drop of sacrifice in light of what was sacrificed for me.  If you observe Lent, I pray that it will have the same sweet effect on you that it has on me.  If you do not, consider joining in this year and seeing what it might have to offer you.  We're only one day in, so it's still a perfect time to join.  

  Would you share your experiences with Lent with me?  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fall Travel Capsule

     Summer always throws me off my routines.  No schedules, the heat, my mom and sister out of school and available to play....blogging just didn't happen.  We're well into our fall routines now and feeling settled, so I thought I'd share a little about what's on my mind.  Being the somewhat shallow person that I fear I am, that would be...clothes.

     I did another closet purge a bit ago, and I'm finding that I really am happier with a smaller wardrobe.  Intentional choices.  Well planned and as well fitting as I can manage.  It makes me do laundry more regularly than is my habit, but it makes my mornings just a bit calmer.  It also makes planning for a trip easier.  We plan to take a short trip out of state later this fall and you KNOW I'm already planning what to wear! I'd love to only take carry-on luggage for the three of us since we'll only be gone 4 nights.  Traveling, for me, is like a personal challenge.  How little can I pack and still be well dressed and prepared for my destination?  Here's what I'm thinking:

     I like to layer when I travel.  You never know if your plane will be an oven or a freezer.  A cardigan over a tee (rather than a tank or cami) gives me public-appropriate options either way.  Traveling with a three year old means being prepared for...well, anything.  Scarves hide a multitude of mishaps.  Normally I'd wear easy-on flats to make security speedy, but if I'm carrying my bags on, the boots need to be worn rather than packed.  Our destination will be chilly and damp, so I think I'll enjoy having my boots with me. And my trusty (and practically vintage at this point) Vera Bradley weekender will hopefully handle my packing needs.  Also, once I've put this much thought into an outfit, I want to get my money's worth, so this is what I'll wear en route both ways.  If we happen to cross paths in the airport twice, keep my secret.

     I'm a mix and match girl at heart, so another pair of pants and a couple of tops in a general color scheme are all I need to be happy.  A few jewelry options to spice things up, a pair of flats that are a little more dressy than my boots, and I feel like I'm pretty well set for about anything I might need to do, and any photos that might happen along the way.  I can wear the cardigan over the black top or the striped top, if need be.  (Of course, all of these photos are merely representative of the things I own, not the actual items themselves. You can find links for these photos by checking me out on Polyvore--look for littlenestbigcity.)  Here are a few of the outfits I can make with these options:

     Not a bad selection for such a short trip, eh?  It feels like I can cover the spectrum of dressiness, depending on the shoes and jewelry I choose.  And of course I'll pack one really comfy yoga pants-type outfit for evenings after Peanut goes to bed--fuzzy socks required!  I'll also have an actual coat with me for really chilly or wet weather.  I assume you are imaginative enough to fill in those gaps without a picture.  ;)    

     What do you think?  Am I forgetting anything?  Do you travel with a color scheme, or are you a "grab whatever's clean and put it in a bag" packer?  Do you need lots of clothing options, or are you a minimalist traveler?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A River Runs Through It

   We've had some crazy weather the past few weeks.  Crazy like a foot of rain in the past week.  And a few tornadoes.  Tornadoes close enough that the houses on the other side of the "crick" from my garden don't have roofs (rooves?) anymore.  Like I said, crazy.  I wasn't sure what to expect when it finally dried up enough that I could get out in the garden.  Here's what I found:

   Not as bad as I figured!  The ridiculous rain has made several little rivers through the garden, but the majority of it (including the fence, somehow) is still standing!  We did lose a big branch off the cherry tree that was full of cherries, and an entire peach tree was uprooted.  Grandpa decided to leave the peach tree where it is because it still has one big root in the ground, so maybe it will hang on?  Nothing to lose by trying!  On that note, does anyone know if you can pick cherries prematurely and ripen them off the tree?  They're pink, but not bright red yet and that branch is loaded!

Broken cherry tree

Broken peach tree
   By and large, the rest of the garden seems to be intact.  My potatoes and onions are going crazy!  A few of the onions are looking a little wilty, and some of them had to be reburied because the earth washed out around them, but nothing major.  The saddest looking things are some of my tomato plants.  I don't know if they're waterlogged or what, but I have 3-4 that look pretty pathetic.

Go potatoes and onions!

We got a little more dirt on these sad onions.

Sad tomato plant

   My grandma thought that the tomatoes could use some fertilizer, so I got on the magic internet and looked for non-chemical fertilizers I could make.  I've been saving egg shells because I read that tomatoes need extra calcium in the dirt.  So I powdered those and mixed with with epsom salts and crushed up aspirins (supposedly a root motivator?) and we fed the plants this evening.  

Gram supervising us newbies

   After everything was fed, we started our first veggie harvest!  Not a ton today, but I got a bag full of arugula and an armload of green onions!  Gram says that when the onions start to flower they get tough, so we pulled all the onions with blooms on them, plus a few because I have a toddler.

Showing off her first onion!

I felt like Miss America with my "bouquet"
   We weren't out there long today, but it was nice to check on everything and get a little dirt on my hands again.  (I have been out there since my last post, but I didn't figure you'd want to watch my plants grow millimeter by millimeter so I didn't post.)  Anyone have any miracle tomato-life-savers?  Know how to ripen cherries off the tree?  Know how to hold off the rain so we can dry out a little?