Monday, June 28, 2010

Inspiring Winsome Words

The tag line of my blog is "Inspiring Winsome Homes and Hearts". Our hearts hold what we put there--what we read, listen to, and watch.

Taking inventory, I ask myself:  What books are on my night stand? 

 If you are a reader, check your nightstand. If you don't like to read, check your playlist.
What channel comes on when you push "play" on the remote? What topics dominate your blog list?  What magazines do you buy?

Jesus said, "Out of the heart, the mouth speaks." So, we must choose wisely what we input into our hearts, if we want our words to be winsome.

To work on my words, last week, I attended a Speak Up seminar. Even though I taught public speaking for eleven years, by the end of four days, I was excited to be able to more effectively share my story, biblical narratives, and practical tips for developing winsome homes and hearts.

The founder of Speak Up, Carol Kent, joked,  “We won’t remove your butterflies entirely; we’ll just get them to fly in formation.” She has written her own moving story in several books: 
When I Lay My Isaac Down...

 A New Kind of Normal...
  and Between a Rock and a Grace Place.
 I'd highly recommend both the seminar and the books; they are good input for our hearts, inspiring us to speak winsome words.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Host a House Party Without Pouting

Making guests feel welcome and comfortable is both an enjoyable art and hard work. I really love getting ready for company; my creative juices flow as I tidy rooms, arrange flowers, and plan menus.  I revel in welcoming guests, talking to them about their lives, their interests, their families.  But, sometimes in the middle of the visit, I get tired.  When enthusiasm deflates, the work of hospitality must begin, but how does the hostess maintain her joy in the drudgery?

Because I have recognized the ebb-and-flow pattern in my own hostessing, I have a developed a couple of survival techniques. First, when my energy level is high before guests arrive, I have the housework done, menus made, groceries in the house, flowers arranged, and table set for the first meal. This frees me to greet and chat with my guests.
To make the pre-arrival preparation simplier. Here's an easy-to-assemble centerpiece. At a garden center, purchase a potted plant with lots of blooms and a couple of small pots of ivy.  Rather than arranging cut flowers, "plant" the flowers in a covered vegetable and set them on a matching platter.
If our guests are staying overnight, first thing in the morning before they are up, and while I am fresh, I try to have the dishwasher unloaded from the night before, the table reset for breakfast, and coffee started.

At noon, I plan a menu which allows guests to make-their-own lunch, reducing my work.Generally, I try to set out sliced bread, lunch meats, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce and condiments.  By adding something salty and some fruit, lunch is covered.

By evening, I am beginning to wilt, so I try to keep the main meal simple. Here is an easy summer menu I put together with tips from my mother, a friend, and my daughter.

Chicken in Barbecued Chips
Dip boned chicken breasts in a mixture of a beaten egg thinned with a bit of milk.
Roll the chicken breasts in crushed, barbecued potato chips.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.

Crisscross Potatoes
Meanwhile, cut potatoes in half and score, making a crisscross pattern.
Brush with butter, sprinkle with paprika and salt.
Bake in oven with the chicken.
(Because they are halved, their cooking time should match the chicken.)

Broiled Asparagus
Spray a large, flat oven-safe pan with Olive Oil Pam,
Place washed and cleaned asparagus flat in a single layer.
Sprinkle with sea salt and olive oil.
Broil for just a few minutes.
Tomato-Cheese Salad
Slice tomatoes and any mild white, semi-soft cheese like Mozzarella, Gouda or Havarti.
Top tomato slices with cheese slices.
Sprinkle with fresh basil leaves.

Add ready-made dinner rolls.

For dessert serve mango sorbet with sliced kiwi; then if you like, add a fancy store-bought cookie on the side.

Even with easy menus and planning ahead, when guests come for several days, hostessing is just plain work.  So, how does a hostess maintain her joy, when she is tired? Perhaps a tip from a biblical hostess will help.

Anyone who has ever prepared a meal for a large group can relate to Martha. On the occasion described in Luke 10, Martha is peeved at being left with all the meal preparation for sixteen guests while her younger sister, Mary, is at the Lord's feet just sitting.

Indignantly, Martha marches into the room, demanding Christ order Mary to the kitchen.

Jesus recognizes how Martha is feeling--overwhelmed by many things.  Then he reminds her of the most important element in hostessing--the guest.

Christ's statement, "Mary has chosen the better part." reminds us that our priority in all of life should be "to glorify God and enjoy him forever".

Partying with guests, rather than pouting, is easier when our ultimate goal is God's pleasure.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Collections Reveal Values

Collecting has been defined as "seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing, and maintaining a group of similar items". To put a more negative spin on the hunting-and-gathering, you could use the words: amassing, storing, and hoarding.

However, I prefer to think of collecting as an educational hobby. But, what I learn may be less about the collection and more about my values.

Collections vary from the exotic--gold coins, thoroughbred horses, and vintage cars--

to the ordinary--sand, match book covers, or beer cans.

In our home, collections often have family sentiment. The shelves of our library holds not only books, but a collection of hand-carved birds made by my husband's father.

Other collections have grown because of our interests. For example, we have a number of wood boxes full of antique medical tools. Many of these were given to my husband because of his profession.

Sometimes collections just find you, serendipitously. You buy something; then find another and another.  Before you know it, you have a collection.

My groupings of brass candlesticks emerged this way. First, I bought a pair to match the brass dining room chandelier. Next, I found a larger pair. Then, because groups of three are more pleasing than two, I added another set.

From then on, it seemed like every antique store I browsed in had brass candlesticks. Because they are not too expensive, pack easily, and are virtually indestructible, they became my go-to purchase.

Soon people began giving them to me. 

Further, because I like to use similar metals in a room, I began to collect other brass items.  A brass watering can and a brass pitcher found their way home with me from a trip to England.

Then I discovered that footed, English wine-coolers make perfect plant holders. I bought a large one.
One day, I met the cooler's younger brother. They needed to be under the same roof again. So, I bought the second one.

Later, their taller cousin asked to come home with me.
Well, you get the idea. 

Hmm...this collecting thing may be getting out of control. Such pondering, leads me to ask myself, "What values do my collections reflect?"

We have multiple translations of the Bible on our shelves, a worthy collection. However, other groupings, reveal not such noble values; case-in-point, my closet holds multiple pairs of shoes. (Oops, maybe this collection has crossed the line into amassing, storing, and hoarding.)

Actually, not all collecting is bad. In fact, the Bible recommends it. "Add to your faith, goodness, and to goodness knowledge, and to knowledge self-control, and to self-control perseverance; and to perseverance godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love" (2 Peter 1: 5-8).

"Lord, help me to collect virtue--not stuff." 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Resting in Summer's Witness

The grass in June, nourished by spring rain, is vibrantly green. 

Flowers in abundance emerge from the warm lift their faces to the sun.

Yearly, the Creator dresses the grass and the lilies in splendor.
Seeing his care of the seasonal foliage, why do we doubt his care of us?  Matthew 6:25-33

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Loosening up an Uptight Living Room

I have been analyzing my formal living room and asking myself, "Is a 'living room' as antiquated as our great grandmother's parlor?"

 The younger generation prefers slip-covered upholstery and sisal rugs to brocade and Oriental carpets.(Photo credit--Decorpad)

On the other hand, when it comes to bridal teas, baby showers, and women's luncheons, young women look for a pretty parlor, a refined gathering space.

To get the best of both worlds, what should I do with my living room?  How can I blend comfort and refinement?  I am slowly recognizing the need to loosen up the feel of my formal living room.  Really, I don't want to lose the silk drapes and the Tabriz carpet.

I still want women to choose my home as a place to have their daughters' showers.  At the same time, I want the living room to be an inviting gathering space.

Perhaps it is time to give the room a face-lift to make it feel younger. What should stay?  What should go?  What should be changed?  What should be added?

First, I think I would like to get linen slip-covers made for the camel-back sofa which I have had for more than twenty years. Adding a skirt and the more casual fabric will update the old-fashioned damask sofa.

(I laugh at the irony. When I want my face to appear younger, I apply firming lotion, but when I want my living room to have a more youthful vibe, I loosen up the upholstered pieces!) 
To achieve a more approachable space, the more countrified antiques are good.  The farm-table stays.
The antique daybed, although French, says "lounge on me," so it can stay. The throw, as well, cozies up the room.

However, the Martha Washington chair is anything but inviting. The striped upholstery is uptight, and the open arms and legs on the chair scream, "Sit up straight."  Maybe I should put it on Craig's List.

A pair of down-filled, country French chairs would help. Fireside Antiques has a pair. I could ask for them for my big birthday coming up! :)

Yet, even as I write this blog, I am conflicted.  How do you balance being content and thankful with wanting to stay up-to-date so your home is welcoming to this generation? How do you reconcile having so much, when so many have so much less?

Do you wrestle with these issues?  How do you resolve them?

 It is so easy to be materialistic and never satisfied. The Lord God wants to have first place in our affections. We are to love Him with all our hearts.  Then we are to love others, as we love ourselves. He doesn't mention loving things as a proper value.

I guess I will proceed slowly, as needed.  [Maybe someone will spill something on the sofa. ;)]

In the meantime, I need to appreciate what the Lord has given me. Truly, "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1Timothy 6:6).

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Basement Becomes Lower-Level Suite

A couple of years ago, we decided to finish our basement--properly.  When we had our home built, we painted the basement walls and installed a drop ceiling and carpet.  The "nothing-fancy" sufficed for over ten years, but when our kids married and started having children, we could see we would soon be short of bedrooms.

We wanted the floor plan to include: a media room,
a small kitchenette, and an exercise room, in addition to the bedroom and bath.

Trying to work within the confines of ducts, support beams, furnace, and hot water heater, while utilizing existing windows proved to be a challenge. First, I hired a building designer for some basic design ideas.  He came up with a couple of plans and showed them to me using his computer-aided (CAD) technology. The virtual visualization was extremely helpful.  What looked like an ideal solution on flat paper, felt boxed in and dark in three dimensions. Punt...

Taking another approach, we contacted several reputable builders. Each came, looked at the existing situation; then returned with suggestions and their estimated cost. One builder, Gerald Graham had a plan, personality, and budget which seemed to fit.

However, the design work was not complete. Taking all the permutations into consideration, my husband and I tweaked the plans placing furniture-to-scale on blueprints. Again what looked feasible by dimension, proved cramped in reality.  Having the space functional was important enough to have hot water heater and the water softener moved to make room for seating.

Another dilemma was how to handle the load-bearing support beams. Rather than fight the poles, my husband suggested joining them, by mirroring the pillars to form a colonnade.

Our son-in-law suggested opening up the stairway as much as possible.  Great idea!

Then, we debated between exposed brick or stone for the wall facing the stairs.Because the outside of the house has brick foundation and stone above, either worked architecturally. However, we chose stone, because of the interesting texture.  The electrician installed lighting to highlight the shadows.

When we built our home, I had the builder make the basement a foot higher than normal. That extra foot was a life-saver. Even in areas where duct work dropped the ceiling, the head-height seems normal. Where the ducts descended below an acceptable height, we had the builder add a sleeping alcove.
Another decision was how to surround the fireplace. With the stone wall, a cement fireplace surround works beautifully.  I hunted on internet and all over the area for one to fit the lower ceiling in that area and still allow for a large screen tv above.  Finally, I located one in a town an hour away.

Next came color selections. Kilim pillows dictated the color scheme.
I carried the pillows to the stone quarry, to the kitchen/bath design studio, and to the paint store. I settled on an off-white paint color with a green undertone. For the columns, I had the painter half the wall color with white, then he halved that color for the ceiling.  Although subtle, the same color-family gives the room a uniform appearance.

In the bedroom, by fire code, we had to add a window large enough to be an escape route. 
 This room holds a double bed and has a nook for a baby bed or twin bed. (To insure many grandchildren, we have stipulated that the couple with the youngest children get dibs on the basement suite! :))

Then, because I detest cleaning glass shower doors and mildew-susceptible shower curtains, I turned the bathroom around multiple times, until I achieved a shower that needs neither.

The last room in the downstairs is an exercise area (which needs to get used more often!).

 This room is large enough that the treadmill, bike and elliptical fit, and still there is room for twin beds. So, if you've been counting, four grandchildren plus a couple could comfortably stay in the downstairs. 
The lower-level turned out better than we could have hoped. In fact, it won the county building associations "Remodelers' Award of Excellence." But, the best part is how well-used the remodeled space has been. We should call our lower level the "prophet's chamber" after the room with a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp that the Shumanite couple built so the prophet Elisha would have a place to stay when he passed by their town (2 Kings 4).