Friday, July 30, 2010

Memorializing Memories

Do you e-bay your children's baby clothes?  My own children are great at purchasing darling tiny outfits on-line.  It is a thrifty idea for seller and buyer. But, I'd like to suggest that you save a few treasures from your baby's early days.

My precious memories are displayed in our stairwell.  The display has been dubbed "the shrine" by our son. ;) On one side of the window, shadow boxes display the newborn outfit each child wore coming home from the hospital. Opposite each is a charcoal sketch of the child. 
If you borrow any of these ideas, you can learn from my mistakes.  Here is what what I would do differently, if I were to do it again. 
With each Feltman Brothers outfit I displayed the cap, booties, or bonnet each child wore. To add some interest, I also had the framer include a rattle, a bracelet, and a spoon.  Unfortunately, over time, the metal discolored, even though I had them dipped in platinum before they were framed.  So, if you display clothing,  avoid trinkets which might tarnish.

On the other side of the window are the children's portraits in charcoal. If you are like we were, you never feel like you have money for portraits. But, children "grow up we learn to our sorrow", so save your change and have an artist capture your child's personality. They don't have to be oil paintings to be treasures. Our portraits are charcoals, and we had them done when we were "poor missionaries" in Haiti.

I will never forget the day, a Mother's Day. We were returning from Port-au-Prince to our home on the north coast of the island, when we stopped by a seaside restaurant. Just inside, we saw a display of charcoals. Maybe because of the significance of the day, we agreed to make the sacrifice. The artist chatted with each child, took Polaroid snapshots, and told us to come back in a few months.

We weren't disappointed when we saw the likenesses. The artist captured our son's mischievous grin,
 our daughter's self-contained sweet poise,
 and our youngest daughter's endearingly bashful nature. 
These likenesses of our children are treasures, but learn from my mistake. If you can't get them framed right away, store them flat in a dry climate to prevent rippling.

In spite of the tarnished silver in the shadowboxes and slightly rippled portraits, I am so glad we captured these memories. Every time I ascend the stairs, the darlings smile at me. And, when I come down from upstairs, I relive the joy of bringing each baby home.

Truly, "children are a gift from the Lord," Psalm 127:3.
(Full disclosure:  I am sure I treasure our three children so much, because our first son only lived a few hours. Enormous loss weights love gained.) 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Flourishing in Mid-Summer

In a few days, I will hit a milestone birthday. I picture my life like a long walk in our neighborhood.  The reality of how old I am, rather than how young I feel, is about to overtake me.  As I pass this mile-marker, I am motivated to keep moving forward, onward, and upward.  I don't want to fade on my long distance journey; I want to return home still full of energy. To achieve that result, what should I do today, next week, next year?  Neighborhood gardens yield some hints. 

Here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, if you want a garden to flourish in the heat of summer, you plant accordingly. Corn and tobacco flourish in fields,
 while succulents thrive without needing to be watered.
Traditional summer bloomers, like marigolds, never fail even during an especially long, hot season.

Inpatients, if planted in the shade, are abundant by late July or early August.
Daisies, pink or white, look fresh on the most humid dog-days.
The begonias on our south-facing, but partially-shaded, patio have been very happy this summer.
Even as far north as Pennsylvania, Crepe Myrtle adds a colorful touch to the landscape.
 In the heat of July and August, I especially like a combination of plants that leave a refreshing impression, such as:
pachysandra and ferns,

variegated hostas and Queen Anne's Lace, and
 sweet potato plants surrounding Knock-Out roses.

As I walk in our neighborhood, I wonder what should I plant in my life to flourish on my homeward journey? Time with family and friends, time spent helping others, time spent worshiping the God of Creation, these give me joy and replenish my spirit during dry spells. With my big birthday approaching, I purpose to cultivate these flowers in my garden and power-walk toward home.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Unforgettable Home Gallery

       A couple of posts ago, I wrote about gallery walls. As I was writing, I remembered  visiting Hill-Stead, home of American iron magnate Alfred Pope, where the public can enjoy world-famous paintings in a home setting.

      The wealthy businessman acquired the best, original impressionistic paintings and grouped them on the walls of his home to enjoy daily. In his will, he instructed his only child to leave the paintings in their environment for the public to enjoy.  I am so glad he did, because--although my husband and I visited over ten years ago--the home and the paintings left a lasting impression. 

      The large, lovely colonial American Revival-styled home designed by his daughter, Theopate Pope, the first female American architect, is impressive enough. 
        However, the amazing collection of art is truly confounding. In the nineteen rooms open to the public, you pass "Grainstacks, in Bright Sunlight" by Claude Monet
and one of  Mary Cassatt's famous domestic, mother-and-child paintings, "Sara Handing a Toy to the Baby".
The collection includes seventeen copper plate etchings and lithographs by James McNeill Whistler  and  some of his best oil paintings, like "Symphony in Violet and Blue".
As if these aren't enough, the Edgar Degas paintings of ballerinas, such as "Dancers in Pink", are especially striking.

       If you are ever in Farmington, Connecticut, put Hill-Stead home on your itinerary for its astounding "gallery walls"; they are truly unforgettable.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Simple, Simply-Divine Dinner Party

Last evening we had ten dinner guests. Normally, I find that women propel conversation, but not this time. Instead, we listened to the intriguing adventures of the male dinner guests. What made the evening memorable was their whole-life commitment to sharing God's love with others around the world.

One retired executive described his climbs up Mt. Kilimanjaro and to the base camp of Mt. Everest. Another guest, an emergency room doctor, told about traveling to Kurdistan and Haiti to bring God's love through medicine. A third businessman explained his years of serving primitive people in Irian Jaya, a remote part of Indonesia. And, the fourth man recounted dodging bullets in Bosnia and putting roofs on widows' houses in Kosovo. He told of his rescue from an avalanche in Afghanistan and explained installing stoves and solar panels in huts in remote Himalayan villages. My husband, who thrives on mission trips where he can use his surgical skills to train and help others, was in his element. 

To focus on the people, not the preparations, I kept the table scape and menu simple. In the morning, we walked over to an Amish farm where I cut zinnias--a dollar a dozen. They are easy to arrange in soaked florist oasis.

Keeping the tone casual, I used place mats and glazed pottery instead of a damask table cloth and china.
 For an appetizer, I arranged cut fresh fruit around a whole pineapple and served it with cream cheese fruit dip.

For the main course I roasted chicken breasts in honey mustard dressing.  This is my own concoction. Once, when I was dipping McDonald's chicken nuggets in honey mustard, a light-bulb went on in my head.  Why not use honey mustard salad dressing like you would barbecue sauce?  It works the same way and keeps the poultry moist.
Another of my simple culinary creations is to bake peeled and cubed yams in apple pie filling for about an hour. The fruit keeps the sweet potatoes moist and gives a hint of cinnamon and sugar. Serve the combination hot.

To round out the main course, I relied on my old standbys: broiled asparagus for the green vegetable and sliced fresh tomatoes with mozzarella cheese for the salad.

Dessert was an old-fashioned chocolate Bundt cake which I laced with pitted and halved Bing cherries before baking. (This turned out to be another successful experiment.  The fresh cherries kept the cake moist, but didn't get soggy or disintegrate.)

A thoughtful guest brought a wonderful hostess gift--one worth remembering.  A container of Bing cherries tied with fresh roses.

But what made the evening simply divine?  It was the conversation centered around sharing the love of Christ with others.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Deluge of Ideas for Baby Shower

My daughter co-hosted a baby shower this past weekend for two friends.  She lives far away, so I can't be at her events or help her ahead of time. So, to keep me in the loop of her life, she sends pictures.  When I saw these, I knew you would enjoy her creativity and might find ideas to borrow.

From hello, the mom's-to-be were flooded with good wishes. As guests approached the house...
they knew baby girls were being welcomed.
In the entry, notes for guests to address were displayed to make thank yous easier on the new moms.
Pink flowers, bows, and ruffles reminded guests of the sugar-and-spice awaiting these families.

The tables looked especially feminine.
The young moms were very thankful for all the pretty presents!

As they said goodbye, they thanked the hostesses for raining love on their parades!  

Sunday, July 11, 2010

From Good to Great Galleries

Galleries are a staple for decorating large walls.  What elements make the difference between ho-hum groupings and memorable arrangements? There are four keys to a pleasing gallery: the quality of the art, the congruity of the content, the cohesiveness of the items, and the overall composition of the arrangement.

First, the quality of art makes or breaks the display. Because a grouping becomes a focal point, ask yourself, "Do these items warrant attention?" Obviously, where the gallery is located has some bearing on the decision. Context determines style. A hall, powder room, or game room call for more casual items than the dining room, living room, and entry.

To illustrate, look at the memorable gallery wall my sister has hanging in her family's kitchen-eating area. Original art graces her formal rooms, while antique family samplers, her own needlework, and a collection of woodcuts suit this space. Even though informal, the individual elements are unique, interesting, and tasteful.
The heirloom family cross-stitch in the center is the piece-de-resistance, lifting the quality of the presentation.
The second consideration when planning a gallery is subject matter. Is the content appropriate to the space, and are the individual pieces congruent with each other?  Homey needlework samplers suit my sister's family dining area, and their messages remind the family to give thanks for their daily bread and blessings.

 Similarly, the domestic subject matter of the Marlow woodcuts matches the near-kitchen location.
(The Marlow woodcuts have been made in Americus, Kansas since 1932.  Their silhouettes cut from black walnut are cataloged on their web site:

The third key to the success of my sister's gallery is the cohesiveness of the items displayed.  If you notice, she only has two types of items in the large grouping--samplers and woodcuts.  In addition, she has chosen wood frames for the samplers which match the wood in the silhouettes for cohesion. Her similar items with common frames become a unit.

Lastly, the geometric composition of my sister's arrangement contributes to its pleasing effect.  Notice the triangle formed by her art. A rectangle, square, or circle would work just as well. But, the importance of an overall shape cannot be overemphasized.  If an item or two seem to fall out of the outline, the whole arrangement morphs into a ragged conglomerate.
Finally, note the internal geometry of my sister's gallery. The balance of items--both in number, size, and relative shape give a pleasing balance. 

If you have a gallery wall, think about how you could make it more memorable. Don't be afraid to remove the poor step-sisters from your gallery. Does the subject matter of each piece contribute to the whole and fit its location? Would similar frames help unify the art?  What needs to be eliminated or moved so there is a clear shape and internal balance? 

Remember, as editing improves writing, so editing improves design. 

(For a tutorial on easily hanging an arrangement of pictures see: I would add that a laser level is an excellent help. There is even an app on the i-phone for a laser level!)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How to Avoid Post-Party Depression

My letdown after a big party combines emotions: happiness, as I mentally review frozen-in-time, warm-fuzzy moments; nostalgia, as anticipation is absent and the fun behind me; relief, at others' apparent enjoyment of the celebration, and melancholy, which accompanies physical exhaustion. How do you avoid the seemingly unavoidable post-party low?

Maybe a look at my weekend will yield some clues. Every room in the house was occupied this past weekend.  Children and grandchildren filled the beds. The frig was stuffed to overflowing. Laughter and good conversation floated on the air.

Beginning on Thursday night, our immediate family arrived in birth order,  when our son, Stephen, his wife, and two adorable tykes arrived in the darkness.
 Then daughter number one, Anna, and her husband, Marcus, arrived about noon on Friday.

 Finally, that evening after the sun set, our baby, her husband, and their baby drove up from the Baltimore-Washington Airport.

About noon on Saturday, we all gathered under a pavilion with the extended clan. My mother commandeered this event so she could have all her grandchildren and great grandchildren together.
 She succeeded; except one grandson, Mark, was missing as he is on an archeological dig in Israel.

Seeing my sisters and brother was heart-warming.
The children and grandchildren had grown so much since we saw them last at a family wedding. We all caught up, took pictures, laughed, and ate.

On Sunday, our son and his little family left early to beat the Fourth-of-July traffic around DC. However,by midday, the rest of the humongous group congregated here.

My husband had manicured the lawn. I had cleaned the barn and arranged lawn furniture.  He had set up tables and chairs, and I had decorated. When everyone arrived, the work was worth it. Highlights included: lots of laughter, splashing in the pool, and lip-smacking as we consumed two gallons of homemade ice cream.
On Monday, both our daughters and their husbands drove away to resume their lives.

Farewell waves reflected two sentiments--happy memories and fatigue.  I came in the house, crawled into bed, and slept two hours!  Tuesday, I spent the day doing laundry.  I still need to remake all the beds. But oh, the happy memories do linger.

My solution for post-party depression: sleep and give thanks for the privilege of having a family to serve!