Tuesday, December 31, 2013

every year, a new chance

Some years, we tend to overdo Christmas, in the best way.  We throw elaborate dinner parties with printed menus, we decorate every corner, we paint the coffee table red.  

This year, I think we leaned toward under-doing Christmas, again in the best sense.  We put up a tree and some outdoor lights.  We kept a stack of Christmas books on the table.  We baked cookies for the neighbors.  

But there were no parties.  We left most of the decorations in the attic.  We hunkered down and settled in and, in the end, I think it was the best choice.  We've all had plenty of fanfare already this year, thank you very much.  

And now we find ourselves on the last day.  I reflect on the year behind us and try to evaluate how I've done.  I've shown mercy and reacted with kindness; I've been quick to anger and slow to forgive. I've worked hard; I've wasted time. I've worried about things that don't really matter; I've worried about things that do.  

I've done the best that I can.  

I'm not much for resolutions, but I do like setting goals.  I set both business and personal goals each year that are fairly specific, but my one big goal every single year is to be able to look back and say that, overall, I did my best.  Not every day, certainly not every minute, but more often than not.  

Right now Steve and Arthur are raking leaves in the back yard with the last of the daylight.  They just knocked on the back door with an offering of paper whites and rosemary.  I'm preparing the last dinner of the year, which somehow seems important.  Whatever else can be said about how I spent my year, let it be said that on the very last day, I roasted a chicken for my family.  

I hope that you get to end your year doing what you like best (we'll be asleep long before midnight) and that 2014 finds you ready and excited for a fresh start!

Monday, December 23, 2013

here's what we'll be eating

Hello friends!  Happy Christmas Eve Eve!  Have you already started celebrating?  Our weekend was a mix of frantically working to get household chores done and holiday cheer.  On Saturday night, we picked up holiday beverages from Starbucks and drove around looking at Christmas lights.  It was so much fun.  

Today's activities include laundry and two grocery store trips, plus lots of cooking.  I'm trying out a few new recipes this year in addition to the old standbys.  For Christmas dessert, we're having this Cranberry Dreamsicle Trifle.  I love to serve a trifle when feeding a crowd and think that this will be light enough to still be enjoyable after a big Christmas dinner.  

For Christmas Eve, we traditionally have appetizers for dinner.  I'm making a baked brie dip, meatballs, zucchini bites, and buffalo chicken deviled eggs.  

We're looking forward to watching Christmas movies and hanging out with family over the next few days, so I'll be back here next week with pictures of the festivities.  Hope your Christmas is merry and bright!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

the big birthday

December has always been a celebratory month for us.  In addition to Christmas, Steve and I love to celebrate the day we started dating and also the night that Steve proposed.  

Funny story: our first date was dinner and outdoor ice skating.  Steve and I had been friends for several years when he invited me on this particular outing.  I said yes, and promptly invited some of my family to come along.  When I mentioned this to Steve, he said, "Oh... well, I was thinking this would be more like a date."  I was, in turn, speechless, excited, and embarrassed that I now had to un-invite my family from our date.  Sometimes I think about this awkward start and feel really thankful that Steve persevered.  

Now we have an additional reason to make December merry- Arthur's birthday falls right in the middle of this already happy month.  We celebrated in style with balloons and a trash truck and fried rice and he kept yelling "happy birthday!".  Having spent his last birthday half a world apart, it seemed a little like magic to have him here, right in our own home.  

He is trying so hard to hold up three fingers now that he's three.  I am torn, as I'm sure all parents are, between wanting him to learn new things and grow up and wanting him to stay a baby forever.  I'm trying to get on board with the growing up thing, as I don't think I really get a choice.  

Other than celebrating, I've been sewing like crazy and am happy to report that my outstanding order list is currently EMPTY.  It's been about six weeks since I could say that and I don't mind telling you that it makes me feel like reading a book for fun or sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea or doing something else totally relaxing, just because I can.  

We have a few days left to get things in order before our holiday visitors start to arrive.  I'm dreaming of what I'll make for Christmas dinner and getting excited that there will be someone here, other than me, to crawl around on the floor and play cars for  bit.  

Time permitting, I'll stop in next week with some recipe suggestions!  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

simple holidays and white bean soup

December is flying by faster than I want it to.  It always does, but this year the days seem to move even quicker in a blur of snacks and diapers and trucks.  Then we add in the holiday extras- cookie baking and celebration planning and greens for the mantle- and things start to feel very crowded.  

Steve and I chose a car load of stuff to take to Goodwill last weekend and that helped.  We are constantly trying to live smaller- to have just what we need, to keep things simple.  

Keeping things simple is both easier and harder with a toddler.  Running holiday errands has become a much more complicated procedure.  But our prayer before dinner this month is just "xie-xie (thank you) Lord for Jesus, amen" and I love how easy it is to clearly state the reason for all this celebration.  The lights, the tree, the gifts- we're just trying to celebrate how thankful we are for Him.  

Arthur and I made Chex mix yesterday and I decided that it may be the perfect thing to "cook" with a toddler.  It's really hard to ruin Chex mix.  Also, he can eat all the pieces both before and after they cook.  

We also (I use the term "we" loosely here) made Italian White Bean Soup for dinner.  I love almost any white bean soup because it is hearty enough without meat.  

Italian White Bean Soup

30 oz. canned white beans
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 ham hocks
28 oz. diced tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onion and cook for 10 minutes until soft.  Add celery, carrot, ham hocks and garlic.  Cook for 5-10 minutes.  

Add tomatoes and 1/2 cup chicken broth and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add beans and remaining 2 cups chicken broth.  Bring contents to a boil, add salt and pepper, then cover and cook over low heat for at least 1 hour.  Remove ham hocks.  

Working in batches, put a portion of soup in the blender and pulse three times.  Do this until there are no large chunks remaining.  Stir in cheese and serve.  

Next time, I would add a few rosemary sprigs as well.  We enjoyed our soup with cornbread and extra Parmesan cheese on top.  

Once dinner is over, our dining table turns into a packing station each night as Steve and I try to keep up with holiday orders.  I'm so thankful for his help that I bought a second packing tape dispenser this week so that he can have his own.  You're welcome, sweetheart.  

There's still plenty of time to order gifts- I'm accepting orders for in-stock items with standard shipping up through 9am EST on December 19th.  We're starting to sell out of a few things, so I've been ordering more fabric this week and crossing my fingers that it will arrive quickly.  

This weekend, we're planning to finish our Christmas shopping and celebrate our favorite little boy as he turns three!  I'll meet you back here next week for more holiday cheer!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

an old fashioned stroller Christmas

As previously mentioned, we started a family tradition three years ago of walking to pick up our Christmas tree.  It began as a challenge of sorts the year we started sharing a car.   Then it just became fun.

But the tree is heavy and we're not gluttons for punishment, so last year, we rolled it home in a stroller that someone had given us in anticipation of our adoption being finalized.  It was a little awkward, especially before we picked up the tree when a lady scooted around the stroller to glance inside and then looked up at me, sort of horrified, and said, "There ain't no baby in there!"

No, no there ain't.

This year, we had a child in the stroller.  And a tree in the other stroller.  Less weird?  No?

Steve and I both particularly love the look on Arthur's face in this picture, taken by a nice man who was out walking.  Steve said, "I didn't realize you were never too young to be embarrassed by your parents."

In other news, The Sound of Music Live is on tonight and I am SO excited.  I love the original Sound of Music and I think that Julie Andrews should be canonized, (is that only for dead people?  Sorry, Julie!) but I'm also interested to see a fresh take on it.  And a live movie!  Seems so much cooler than a regular old movie.  

If you're wondering why I feel like I have time to blog two days in a row, chalk it up to the fact that my outstanding orders list is not scary long today and all the bathrooms are semi-clean.  It's the small victories.  

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

welcome Christmas

Happy December, friends!  Did you have a festive Thanksgiving?  Were you as excited as I was to find December at the end of the long weekend?  

I really love a late Thanksgiving and we kicked it into full-on holiday mode as soon as Steve got home from work last Wednesday.  We ate with friends, we watched movies, we put up lights and got a tree.  

Oh, the tree.  It really needs its own post.  Not so much the tree itself, but the getting part.  Do you know that we walk to get our tree?  It was even more fun than usual with the little guy tagging along and he is totally bemused by the fact that we now have a "tree inside".  He tells everyone who will listen- "Tree inside!  TREE INSIDE!"

Luckily, our favorite ornaments are these awesome Scandinavian straw snowflakes and angels that we snagged a few years ago.  And some crocheted snowflakes from Nana.  All very child friendly.  

In addition to decorating the house, I've also been sewing like crazy and shipping out piles of packages every day.  Did I tell you we have a new mail lady?  So far, she likes me, but it's only the first week of December.  

The bolts of flannel that looked so huge when I ordered them in August are down to just a few yards and I am nervously checking my stock every day to gauge if I have enough to last through the holidays.  Today during nap, I'm trying to finish up a dozen or so bow ties- who knew they would be such a hot holiday gift?  

FYI- the Mocha-Espresso Cream Pie was great.  You should totally make one.  And then invite me over. Next week let's talk more holiday recipes, shall we?  I'm in the mood for some cooking.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

'twas the night before Thanksgiving

Hi friends!  Happy Thanksgiving Eve!  It is gray and cold and rainy here and, while normally that would bum me out, it somehow makes it feel just right for a holiday.  Arthur and I did a big grocery shop this morning and now we're stocked up on food and happy to be cozy at home for a few days.  All we need is for Steve to get home from work for the celebration to begin!  And my brother will be here tonight as well!

Last weekend, we were so busy with the West Elm event that we barely had time to breathe.  I am happy to report that it was a huge success- and so much fun!  Star came with me to help out and we spent the day chatting with each other and with all the shoppers.  

One of my favorite parts about the event was that we got to use anything in the store for display purposes. Star and I "shopped" the store for trays and baskets and lots of large vases.  The vases were perfect for displaying bow ties and scarves, which can be really difficult to display.  

I'm super excited about the upcoming long weekend for lots of reasons.  Personally, I can't wait for the great food, Macy's parade, extra time with my family, and Christmas decorating!  Business-wise, I'm expecting lots of holiday sales and am trying to roll out a few new products (world map tech cases!) and photograph our new packaging.  I can already tell it's going to be great.  

We're keeping it low-key for Thanksgiving this year, but I am trying out a new dessert recipe: Mocha-Espresso Cream Pie.  I think Steve and I both are a little over-excited about it.  

As usual, we have so many things to be thankful for this year.  I hope that you find yourself counting your blessings tomorrow too, in between bites of pie.  

See you next week!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

West Elm

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we were preparing for a show at West Elm and, just as I suspected, the weeks have flown by and the time is here.

Did you know that West Elm is a huge proponent of the handmade movement?  They purchase items wholesale from Etsy sellers to sell in their retail stores.  They include handmade art in their catalog layouts. And they host awesome events where they invite Etsy sellers to set up in the store for a day.  I have always wanted to be a part of one of these events and I'm so excited about this weekend!

Here are the details, for the local crowd:

Saturday, November 23rd from 1pm to 4pm (possibly longer)
Charlotte West Elm, 1100 Metropolitan Avenue

There will be about ten local Etsy sellers there, offering everything from iphone cases to jewelry to throw pillows.  And of course, cool leather pouches and flannel scarves.  I've also heard rumors of food and drink, but I can't promise anything.  But there is a frozen yogurt place next door, so either way I think you're looking at a delicious afternoon.

Also- have you been to West Elm recently?  Their holiday decorations put me in a festive spirit almost immediately.  Lots of antiqued gold and silver and glass- it's so beautiful.  I'm actually looking forward to spending the better part of my Saturday in the store.

I'll be working hard over these next two days to get all the final preparations done, but, as you can see, the house is filling up with stacks of completed products.  I've really been pushing the limits of time to get everything done and a big thanks goes out to: Steve, for not minding when we have things like scrambled eggs for dinner and Arthur, who is content to play with the fabric scraps I drop on the floor like they are a new toy.  Love those two.

In honor of the season of gifting, we're also rolling out some new product packaging and will have everything ready to box your gift up right there in the store.  Even if it's just a gift for yourself.

Steve has promised to take lots of pictures, so hopefully even if you can't make it, it will feel like you were there!  Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

new hampshire / new normal

We took a lovely, lightening-fast, adventurous trip to visit Steve's grandmother in New Hampshire last weekend.  Getting there involved a car, a bus, an airplane, two more buses, and a rental car.  We brought exactly one change of clothes per person and carried most of our luggage on our backs.  Steve attached the car seat to our small rolling suitcase using some rope and a couple of D-rings and we wheeled that thing through the airport like we were professional travelling parents.  Which we're totally not, but we have flown with a two year old twice now in the span of six months, so we're certainly getting there.  

 As luck would have it, Nana is currently living in the most precious spot.  There is an old train station and lots of mountains for skiing and one night we ate dinner at the Muddy Moose.  You can't make this up. 

Side note: every time we visit New England, I beg Steve to move there.  I think I'm wearing him down.  

 Because we were only there for the weekend, and we wanted to spend as much time as possible with Nana, we had about one hour for sightseeing.  We spent it wisely, at the train station, running in the town green, and drinking hot chocolate at a local coffee shop.  

AND WE SAW SNOW!  We woke up to a beautiful snow shower on Sunday morning and I couldn't believe our luck!  Arthur had never seen snow before and we all three watched it fall outside our window while we were cozy in our hotel bed.  It felt like a gift, just for us.  

Speaking of luck, I decided that having your toddler fall asleep at the beginning of a flight probably feels a lot like winning the lottery.  It's like, you've heard of it happening to other people, but you just can't believe that a commoner like you could be so fortunate.  During the awake part of the flight, we plugged him into the portable DVD player and thanked our lucky stars that he can watch "Cars" over and over without getting bored.  

So now we're home again and it's Wednesday night and I am just getting around to blogging.  I realized something important last week when I noticed that blogging wasn't even making it onto my list of things to try to accomplish each day, because there were so many other priorities and the list can only be so long.  I realized that, due to the finite nature of time, right now I can run a business and live life with my family, or I can blog about those things, but probably not both.  Of course, the running and living wins out.  It always should.  

I love to blog and have a record of our days and share shop updates, but I think that my posts will be once a week, at most, through the holiday season.  If you find the inconsistency annoying, there is a handy little feature in the sidebar where you can enter your email address and receive blog posts by email, so you don't have to bother checking back every few days to see if I've updated.  

This probably also means that my posts will be longer and cover more topics within the same post.  Like this one, for instance, where I cover New Hampshire, blog frequency, and our weekend plans.  But a little variety is fun, right? 

Weekend plans include photographing some new leather pencil pouches and tech cases for the shop, plus stopping by the Vintage Charlotte Holiday Market.  We have a few friends who will be exhibiting, plus we went last year and there were these amazingly large pine cones that I debated over and didn't buy, but have dreamed of ever since.  I'm going back for the pine cones, man.  

I'm also hoping to share a hot beverage with Steve, enjoy some chili, and rake leaves for the short guy to jump in.  Hope your week is full of your favorite fall things!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

thoughts from under the falling leaves

Today just might be the perfect fall day.  I am sitting outside, semi-working, but really just admiring the way the sunlight hits the trees.  It's breezy and there is a constant dusting of leaves falling down, sometimes right onto my keyboard.  Nap time on the new patio is a gift I give myself, when I can manage it.  

November is flying by.  We're one week in already and we have so many big things coming up that it feels like we may just jump from one to the next and it will be December before we even blink.  I'm trying to remind myself to slow down a bit and watch the leaves, enjoy the cars stacked up methodically around the house, talk to Steve for more than five minutes at a time.  

Also, this guy learned to wink, so there's that to enjoy.  

One of the things we're preparing for is a show at West Elm later this month.  I want to take plenty of merchandise, in case all of Charlotte decides to finish their Christmas shopping that day.  Hence the alarmingly large pile of zipper pouches.  

For nourishment, we've been eating this Roasted Wild Mushroom Chowder all week.  Two thumbs up.  (Side note: I really like to make notes on my recipes so I know which ones to make again.  My college roommie and her boyfriend-now-husband used to make notes for me when they tried something out, so I'd turn to a recipe and see things like "two thumbs up!" or, my favorite, "good show!".  Boy do I miss those two.)

Hope your fall is humming along quite nicely.  I'll be back next week with some more business-y type reports!


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