Sunday, September 30, 2012

31 Days: Welcome




Tomorrow begins Day 1 of 31 Days: Making this House our Home. 

I am participating in the Nester's 31 Days challenge...and I hope that you'll join me as I write on this topic each day of October.

I'm a little nervous (and a lot excited) about this, as I've never blogged every day for a whole month before. 

This month, you can expect a mix of checking off the "to-do list," DIY projects, my inspiration sources, and reflections on family, home, and hospitality that will hopefully be applicable to life whether you've been "at home" for one month or fifty years.

From this page, you can find all my posts for this series below. And if you're also writing for 31 days, please let me know in the comments...I'd love to follow along with your series! So without further ado: 31 Days of Making this House our Home.

  Day 1: Welcome                                                         
  Day 2: Sheets                                                             
  Day 3: Seasonal Decorating
  Day 4: A Cozy Spot
  Day 5: No More Complaining
  Day 6: Making New Memories
  Day 7: A Little Light
  Day 8: Celebrate
  Day 9: Clich├ęs
Day 10: Welcoming Friends
Day 11: Breaking Habits, Part 1
Day 12: 12 on the Twelfth
Day 13: Retreat
Day 14: Sunrise, Sunset
Day 15: Re-imagine
Day 16: Get Organized
Day 17: In the Kitchen
Day 18: Breaking Habits, Part 2
Day 19: Favorites
Day 20: Piercing Through the Stuff
Day 21: The Surprises
Day 22: Always Learning
Day 23: Inspiration Giveaway
Day 24: Fall Mantles
Day 25: Exercise Caution
Day 26: Capture Moments
Day 27: No More Comparisons
Day 28: The Nest
Day 29: Friends to Visit
Day 30: The Memory Makers
Day 31: Home

my favorite month begins tomorrow...



Perfectly stated, don't you think?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Today



Today, I'm linking up with Stephanie's "Blog Your Heart" challenge. You can read more about it on her blog...but basically, you just blog authentically from the heart. :)

Today, it's a gorgeous early autumn day. We have the windows open, and I think it would be quite cool without the AC running except that I've had the stove or oven on all. day. long. Baking up a storm for church tomorrow (we have refreshments!) and making a from-scratch most-involved-ever lasagna recipe for dinner tonight.

Today, I'm so looking forward to seeing these girls (the top row) tonight:


We are nine years older than we were in that picture, taken obviously on the 4th of July.  In the picture above, two of us were expecting our first girls...and the other two would soon find out that they were expecting (also two girls).

Tonight, we will be eight adults and thirteen children.  So much has changed...but these girls, who were among my first friends as a newlywed, well, I know that we will all pick right back up where we left off.  Heart-to-heart friends are like that.

It's been eight years since all four of our families have been together, since the summer of 2004, when one-by-one we left Goldsboro, NC for Texas, Alabama, and Nevada. Along the way, we added Utah, England, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, North Carolina, and Germany to the miles that have separated us (and I'm sure I'm leaving somewhere out.)

Now, we all (plus one more not pictured above) live within 30 minutes of each other in Virginia. Even though it takes a lot more effort to get together now (we used to all live on the same two parallel streets), after having some assignments where kindred friends were scarce, it's so encouraging to know that dear, old friends are near. That's amazing to me. And such a blessing. God is so gracious to bring us all back together again.

Today, ever-the-procrastinator, I am finishing some preparations for the 31 Days writing challenge, hosted by the Nester, which begins on Monday and continues through the end of October. I'm excited about my topic (though I've had a tough time choosing between two) and look forward to sharing with you more about it on Monday! Hope you'll join me!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Thankful Heart



During sunsets and quiet moments, crescent moons and chaotic moments this week, I have turned my eyes to the heavens with a grateful heart of praise, full of thanksgiving.

This week, my Dad had a small stroke. But yesterday, as I skyped with him, home from a hospital stay of less than 48 hours, his only complaint was a headache.

Tremendous blessing, given from a loving Father who gives good gifts and holds us firmly and gently in His hand. I know that the outcome could have broken our hearts. I've gone there this week in my mind. But even then, God would still be good. So I'm thankful for His gift of not only my Dad's life but his health and continued full abilities. Thankful for his smile...and that twinkle in his eyes.

His Goodness overflows.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Wish List, of sorts



I think, someday, I might like an old stone wall.  

And a Virginia farm with rolling hills.


A gate somewhere in that old stone wall would be ever so nice.


Maybe the farm has a little white farmhouse with a red roof. And a view with plenty of scope for the imagination.

And fields upon fields for children to run and to play.

I fell in love with this spot in the tiny village of Paris, VA over the weekend. I'm smitten.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Once upon a sixteenth birthday




Dear me at sixteen,

I'm just a little older than twice your age now.  And there is so much between these years.

You are sweet sixteen-and-never-been-kissed, and I know that you hate that...but trust me, it's okay.

I can still see you arriving at home, hot, sweaty, and happy from cheering at the football game...only to be completely shocked by all your school and youth group friends yelling "Surprise" while you're still in that ridiculously short cheerleading skirt. (Enjoy that metabolism while it lasts.)

Oh my. High school scrapbooking...yikes!

I'm glad you felt comfortable dancing in front of your friends and parents at the party. (A few years ago...you would never have done so.) You are growing in confidence and emerging from that shy cocoon.

You are surrounded by friends...and there are true ones in that room.  And some that will hurt you. But you will be okay. You will learn what true friendship looks like, and that is an important lesson.  But learn to forgive too. Don't worry, you will find your dearest friends in just a few years at college, though one of them you already know, she just lived three hours too far to make it to this party tonight. She will go with you half-way across the country. But go ahead and put those green and gold stars all over the letters you send, just to be sure.

In the kitchen giving you a bit of privacy, are your two greatest fans, right now and always. I'm so glad that you trust and value your parents as a teenager. You will be so thankful that you do. Mom will continue to keep your secrets close; you will continue to hope to one day be just like her.  Daddy will always be a safe place.  And he will always be an excellent judge of your friends, without saying a word. You can trust the look in his eye.

Upstairs is a sweet ten-year old with a long, blonde ponytail. Invite her downstairs to the party. Trust me. Her memory of not being there will break your heart when you surprise her at her sixteenth party. Those six years that separate you will somehow grow smaller. She will be your best friend too.

In the next few days, you'll get a dark green Jeep Grand Cherokee. Be careful in parking lots. Very careful. Extremely careful. When you drive your brothers to the middle school in the morning, spend lots of time talking. Leave earlier so you don't feel rushed. Enjoy them. Love them well.  One day they will let you hug them again. And one day you will live much further away from each other than you'd like to be.

You are sensitive and a bit emotional and that's okay because God has made you that way. You have a soft heart but firm resolve. You don't back down from what you know to be right...and even though that's tough in high school, continue to be authentic.

You find that you love to write...don't stop. Keep journaling...reading your old words will make you smile and cry and roll your eyes. But you will wish you had recorded more.  Especially during college and the early years of marriage. And yes, you already know the person you will marry...but that's all I'm going to say. It's good to not know some things.

And as for college, it's true what they say. They are great years. Unique years that you'll miss and treasure. Don't rush them by always looking to what's next. Look forward...but don't rush forward. Enjoy each stage of life as it comes for each stage will pass all too quickly...surprisingly, even potty-training your children. You have the rest of your life...and it is a good one.

Trust in the Lord, Kimber-Leigh, with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path. This favorite verse of yours is true. True then. True 17 years later. True forever.  Years later, you will also cling to the knowledge that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is His faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in Him.

Continue to hope in Him,

me at thirty-three

p.s. I wasn't kidding about the parking lots.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Walk the Plank!


So apparently, today is International Speak Like a Pirate Day?!?!?

Who knew? (And therefore it makes more sense to share this story with you today, instead of tomorrow, as originally planned.)


This past weekend while Hadleigh & I were adventuring through the rolling hills of Northern Virginia, Brent took these two on the rolling seas.

A friend of Nathanael's that we knew back in Oklahoma (who also recently moved to the DC area) had a Pirate birthday party in Annapolis, MD.


The kids were clothed and named and instructed in all-things-pirate by Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake.  After dress up and face painting, they took to the high seas in search of mermaids and sunken treasure.  Above you can see "Nasty Nathanael" and "Mermaid Madeleine" listening to their instructions and taking off!

Brent said that the crew was quite impressive; so animated and believable that the kids believed and did all they were told immediately.  They shot Pirate Pete with water cannons, were relieved to have run over a bottle of "grog" instead of a mermaid, followed the treasure map, and finally found where X marked the spot. :)


And when they returned home, they continue the creative play for hours.

I think he's saying "ARrrrgghhh!" in the picture above!

Monday, September 17, 2012

I love this girl.



This past weekend, I took my firstborn on a mother-daughter overnight trip to explore the beautiful region we live in and spend some quality time together.


We traveled north, and Hadleigh experienced her first bed & breakfast. (Well, actually her second. But I don't think staying at one when you're 9 months old and moving cross-country counts.) The Stone Manor was lovely...our room was comfortable and full of unique charm (like the stained glass antique pocket door)...our hosts were gracious...fellow guests friendly...and breakfast was delicious as promised.


We ate dinner here: Magnolia at the Mill. Beautiful building inside and out. Delicious food. Fun conversation with my girl.  We finished our dinner (pizza for her, poached pear & flank steak salad for me) and headed back to our retreat, for a girls-only movie night. (We watched Nim's Island.)

Girl talk and iPad games followed the movie and then we fell asleep late.


Saturday dawned beautifully, and it was off to the park after breakfast.  Playing at a park was Hadleigh's one request of the weekend...and we found a great one.


She LOVED the zipline there...and she's going to try to persuade her Daddy to put one in our backyard!

I love watching her play. Swinging with her.  She is in her element when outside and free to run and explore.  At almost nine, she continues to be my outside girly-girl.

Our morning took us from Lovettsville, Purcellville, and Hamilton to Aldie for afternoon tea at The British Pantry and then antiquing and shopping in Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville.  (Leesburg was originally one stop I had hoped to make, but our hours went by quickly.)


I'm in love with the little village of Middleburg, and all the images of foxes displayed throughout its streets.  Some day, I'd love to stay here and explore the area shops and vineyards with Brent. :) 


Today, though, Hadleigh decided where to go. She loves thrifting and antiquing as much as I do...and we found some lovely spots. Just look at those blue spools! And old books. Sigh.


The shop on the left was in Aldie and filled with so many lovely things.  This stairway had so many frames and mirrors, all painted in a gorgeous turquoise blue. 

The shop on the right is in Upperville and absolutely gorgeous.  The building used to be Upperville Primitive Baptist Church, established in 1775.  The owner was charming to talk with and her store is full of amazing light...and beautiful objects.


We finished our day driving through the beautiful hills and then were treated to a gorgeous sunset...


I treasure the time that we shared together this weekend. I love that she still wants to hold my hand when we walk down the street. I love that she wants to look at every last piece of jewelry in a shop but still finds great enjoyment in a playground.

I love this place where she is...in so many ways, still a little girl but in other ways, slowly (okay, maybe a bit too quickly) growing towards a young lady.  

She is beautiful and funny and generous and bashful and adventurous.  Sweet and silly. 

Full of sunshine, my girl.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

12 on the twelfth


Back at home this time.








  1. The kiddos' favorite lighting fixture in our house.
  2. A pair of 8th grade earrings match my outfit perfectly today.
  3. We're studying the explorers right now.
  4. My little guy (and a lego man) take a math test.
  5. First day of ballet.
  6. My ballerina practicing.
  7. Math homework at the dance studio.
  8. Sprucing up the front door.
  9. My favorite Ham & Bean Soup recipe.
10. New jeans and an old pair of favorite shoes.
11. Sunset
12. Votives in the kitchen window.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Southern Coconut Cake

Remember this cake?  



As my sister informs me that she LOVES coconut, it seemed only fitting that I share this recipe with you on her 27th Birthday.  It is delicious. (I have half of it still in my freezer...and thinking that it's only fitting to celebrate with her from afar by eating a piece! Edited to add: I did try a piece last night and both the cake and frosting are still delicious two weeks later!)

This is the first cake recipe I've used from Rose Levy Berenbaum's Rose's Heavenly Cakes.  And her Silk Meringue Buttercream is indeed worthy of the book's "Heavenly" title. The buttercream is composed of a creme anglaise sauce, Italian meringue, butter, and coconut.  It's involved but delicious.

You can simplify this by making the cake in the days before it's needed and freezing it, as well as making the creme anglaise up to 5 days in advance.  I love has easy it is to frost frozen cake layers. Complete the buttercream the day of serving and allow the frosted cake to come to room temperature before serving.

Cake
6 large egg whites, room temp. (3/4 cup)
1 1/3 cups canned coconut milk
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 tsp coconut extract
4 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
16 Tbsp. unsalted butter (65-75 degrees)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees, setting the oven rack in the lower third.  Butter bottom of two 9x2 inch  round cake pans, top with rounds of parchment and then spray with baking spray with flour.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg whites, 1/3 cup coconut milk, vanilla, and coconut extracts until lightly combined.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer (using the flat beater), mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low for 30 seconds.  Add the butter and remaining coconut milk.  Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1.5 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Starting on medium-low speed, gradually add the egg white mixture in three portions, beating on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition.  Scrape the batter in to cake pans (each should be half full) and smooth the surfaces evenly with a spatula. 

4. Bake for 30-40 minutes until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean and cakes spring back in center when gently pressed. Let pans cool on rack for 10 minutes.  Remove cakes by first running a metal spatula around the edge of cakes. Remove cakes and let cool completely on wire racks.

Silk Meringue Buttercream
4 sticks unsalted butter (65-75 degrees)
Creme Anglaise (recipe follows; make first)
Italian Meringue (recipe follows)
2 3/4 cup fresh or thawed and towel-dried frozen coconut (I used sweetened coconut and the results were fine.)

Creme Anglaise:
1/2 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup canned coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract

1. Have a fine strainer positioned over a medium bowl.

2. In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and yolks.

3. In a small saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a boil. Add 2 Tbsp. to the yolk mixture, stirring constantly. Gradually stir in the remaining coconut milk and cook over medium-low heat, continuing to stir constantly, just until below the boiling point. The mixture will start to steam slightly and a thermometer will register 170 degrees fahrenheit.  Immediately pour the coconut milk through the strainer, scraping up any that is clinging to the pan.  With the back of a spoon, press the mixture through the strainer into the bowl.  Cool stirring occasionally.  Stir in the vanilla and coconut extracts.  Set a piece of plastic wrap, coated lightly with cooking spray, on the surface of the creme anglaise to keep a skin from forming.  Refrigerate up to 5 days or until ready to complete the buttercream.

Italian Meringue:
2 large egg whites, room temp.
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar, divided
2 Tbsp water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

1. Have ready a 1-cup or larger heatproof glass measuring cup

2. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. 

3. In a small heavy saucepan, stir together the 1/3 cup sugar and the water until all the sugar is moistened. Heat on medium-high, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is bubbling.  Stop stirring and reduce the heat to low. (If on electric range, remove the pan from the heat.)

4. Beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. With the mixer off, add the cream of tartar. Raise the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually beat int the remaining 2 Tbsp. of sugar until stiff peaks form.

5. Increase the heat under the sugar syrup to medium-high and boil for a few minutes until a thermometer registers 248-250 degrees. Immediately transfer the syrup to the glass measuring cup to stop the cooking.

6. With the mixer off, add the syrup to the egg whites. Begin by pouring in a small amount of the syrup, immediately beat on high speed for 5 seconds. Add the remaining syrup in the same way in three parts. For the last addition, use a spatula to remove any syrup clinging to the glass and scrape off against the beater. (You can microwave the syrup for a few seconds if it hardens before being incorporated into the egg whites.)  Lower the speed to medium and beat for 2 more minutes. Transfer the meringue to a different bowl and wash mixing bowl.

Completing the Buttercream:

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for 30 seconds, until creamy. Gradually beat in the creme anglaise until smooth.  Add the Italian meringue and beat until just incorporated.  If the mixture looks curdled instead of smooth, it is too cold.  ALlow it to sit at room temp to warm to 70 degrees. Mix in 2 cups of coconut.  Transfer to an airtight bowl until ready to use.

Assembling the cake:

1. Place one layer of cake on a cake pedestal or platter for serving.  TIP: Cut thin strips of parchment or wax paper and carefully place them under the cake, to cover the bottom of the serving piece. This will aid in a clean platter, as seen in the picture below:


(After the cake is fully frosted, you can remove the paper strips.  See how nice the platter looks vs. the mess of coconut & frosting on the paper?)

2. Evenly spread 1 1/4 cups of buttercream on top of first layer and spread frosting to cover cake. Add second layer. Frost the top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream.  (Her recipe says you will have 1.5 cups left over...but I used all of mine.)

3. Use the rest of the coconut to cover the buttercream, carefully placing one handful of coconut against the side of the cake until covered. Then sprinkle coconut over top.

(Don't forget the candles!!!)

Wishing...


...my little sister a most wonderful Happy Birthday!


I love you Katy!  Happy Birthday!

(I'll be back later with a yummy cake recipe in honor of my sweet little sis!)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

You always remember.


This morning, the children were looking out the window and one of them asked me if it was a holiday. I replied no and asked why.  

They commented that the street was lined with flags again. We can see eight of them from our window.

Ah. I told them it was September 11. 

Eleven years later.  

One day, they will remember the way I tell this story.


I remember being younger and paying attention to the adults around me and their stories.  

I remember when my elders could relate with such detail their own personal account of that moment for the events that would highlight history books in the years to come.

The 1929 stock market crash. D-Day. When JFK was shot. When that first boot touched the moon. When the Berlin Wall came down.


I have a vague and childish memory of the Challenger's explosion in my first grade classroom. But the classroom in my memory doesn't match the classroom I know I sat in.  I think the memory is mixed with the classrooms of future NASA launches...full of prayers and hopes that what I saw at six years old wouldn't happen again.

I should remember when the Berlin Wall came down.  I was ten.  But I suppose that the fact my grandmother gave me a piece of it enclosed in glass attests to her memory and relief and gratitude because the Cold War years that preceded it were real for her.  After all, she saw every war of the twentieth century. I was just a child who grew up feeling safe and secure.

But September 11, 2001.

I was the adult, the teacher.  In a classroom of eleventh-graders, who had seemed so sure of themselves in those first few weeks of school.

I remember the substitute teacher across the hall who told me quietly to turn on my TV. She didn't say anything else.  Her eyes spoke volumes.  It was right after the first tower had been hit.

I remember the tears of my students. Some had family members they were worried about. My own fear and desires to call anyone I knew with connections in New York.  My thoughts of what this might mean for my husband, an F-15E pilot...who I'd only been married to for a little over three months.

I remember walking down our hallway and every classroom having the television on.  Mine didn't go off at all that day.  Grammar and literature were not so important.  I asked my students that day to feel free to journal and watch. And talk to each other.

Two colleagues and I followed each other back home that afternoon to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.  We waited in a line at the gate for almost two hours while each and every car was searched.

For the previous three months of our newlywed life, I had giggled whenever the security officer waved me through the gate and saluted, not knowing if I was the officer that the car tags indicated.  I've never been saluted again. My identification has been checked each and every time I have driven on a base for the last eleven years.

In the following days, Brent would sleep during the day and patrol the night skies above New York and Washington D.C. looking at the lights below. Praying.  Identifying the bright stars above.

Over my next few days, I would count the flags flown on my 13 minute drive between home and the school where I taught.  Once I stopped counting in the seventies.

I loved seeing each and every flag.

The love for our country.  The honor for the fallen. The pride in our heroes.

I still remember.

You always remember.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

weekend reads


Our first week back at school wasn't perfect. There was a lot of adjustment, for both the teacher and the students.  

But it was a good week overall. And I'm looking forward to next week.


Here are a few posts from the internet this week that encouraged me, entertained me, or made me hungry. :)

~  Susie Davis' Back to School Prayer.  I'm writing Acts 20:32 down in my journal to remember to pray this over my children.

~ I'm excited about the release of Emily Freeman's new book Graceful. You can watch a video about the release here.  I read her first book Grace for the Good Girl and found that so much resonated with my own story.  Her blog is a favorite to read for her beautiful photographs and authentic words.

~ This post about friendships.  Thankful to have friends that have stood the test of time and distance. And thankful for new friends in this new place.

~ I'm really anxious to make this dessert. I've always loved peach cobbler...and the addition of individual serving jars & lavender are just too sweet to resist.

~ And this week, I've been trying to remember these words, from a new-to-me writer & blog: sweetwater. love love love the name. and the words.


Saturday, September 01, 2012

Favorite moments...


...from my thirty-third birthday, which was Wednesday.


...three sweet "Happy Birthday Mommy" wishes first thing in the morning.

...an impromptu trip to the park and watching them play together.

...Brent's text from work telling me how ready he was to be home celebrating.

...seeing Madeleine's hair, golden in the sun, streaming behind her as she was swinging.

...phone calls, texts, emails, cards, and gifts from dear friends and family.

...hearing Hadleigh sing "Happy Birthday" to me twice today.  Such a gift.

(I have to interject this story:  On my birthday when Hadleigh was 2 or 3, Brent was out of town. She told me we needed a cake, so we baked a cake together.  Then she told me we needed to sing, but she refused to sing "Happy Birthday" (or have it sung to her) for years.  So I ended up singing to myself that birthday!)

...a call from my parents at the exact time I was born, each sharing special memories from that day and those first moments.

...my yummy Coconut Cake. Despite the involved frosting recipe, it was absolutely delicious.

...the wrapping paper fight that my "boys" had while I opened gifts.

...and getting to catch the last minute of my birthday on my cellphone. :)


 

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