Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Cottage Journal Magazine (Autumn Grace 2015)

The Cottage Journal is my favorite magazine. Maybe that's because I'm dreaming of downsizing to a quaint and cozy cottage when my kids are grown up! Or maybe it's because it is a beautiful publication full of gorgeous and doable home decorating ideas, as well as a few luscious recipes. The style leans toward tasteful vintage and country. Even if I can't use all of the ideas, I just love looking at them. Eye candy, for sure! I find plenty of new ways for using what I already have, too.

The Cottage Journal is published five times a year (quarterly, but with an extra winter issue) so after I purchased the fall edition in a store a few months ago, I had to wait patiently until the next one. I savored every page over and over. This is the one magazine that nearly always went with me in my tote bag for when I was waiting at appointments. There are only about 10 full page ads out of 129 pages total. The paper is heavy, high quality, and not overly glossy. Just the way I like it!

I decided to treat myself to a subscription. The Christmas issue arrived in my mailbox today. Ahhh!

I especially love the holiday tour of artist Mary Engelbreit's home, and later in the issue, a feature on her art and life.

Right now you can subscribe to The Cottage Journal for $22.95 per year. They also have a lovely web site with lots of great decorating and other homemaking ideas. You can sign up for their e-mail newsletter, too. You don't need to be a paid subscriber.

I'm not getting any compensation for writing this brief review. I just thought I'd share my joy! This one would make a wonderful Christmas gift.

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

P.S. I just put my Autumn & Thanksgiving page back on my main blog. Check it out!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Morning Bonus

Dear friends,

I've been trying to tweak my life to make things more effective and efficient. I'm not always very good at it. My spiritual life, my diet, my energy and calmness level, my kids' needs, what my house looks like - all need me to pursue major improvement.

One of the keys is schedule - which is a challenge since I am a more fluid person by nature - and one of the most important aspects of schedule is sleep. If I don't get proper sleep, I'm too tired to do anything else well, and then it's all downhill from there.

My goal is to be in bed by 10:30 and up by 6:30. This is quite a stretch. I tend to stay up late at night and then stay in bed as late as possible in the morning. I home school my 10 year old daughter and we try to start around 9 or 9:30 AM, so I pretty much have to be up before then. Unfortunately, I have two teens who leave for school around 6:30, and sometimes they miss the bus and need to be driven to school. So if I've puttered around until 1 AM, that's only five and a half hours of sleep. 

Last week, I started setting an alarm on my phone reminding me to go to bed. I've blown right through it for days. Finally, last night I made it into bed with lights out by 11. Yay me! And I got up this morning at 6:30. Unbelievable.

I had seen a Thanksgiving 30 Day Scripture Writing Plan linked on Facebook so I decided to give it a go. I sat down with my Bible and a composition book that I've been using for the ladies study I attend on Monday nights (love it!). I skipped to the bottom of the Scripture list, copied out portions of Psalm 18, and looked up what "horn of salvation" means. The exact meaning varies, but all commentators agree it is a symbol of God's power, authority, victory, protection, etc. Yep, I need that encouragement.

Then I spent a little time cleaning up, namely hunting for stray dishes around the house and pulling hair balls out of my shower. I had a friendly chat with my 12 year old son and drove him to his bus stop. I took a shower and took my morning medicines and had a bite to eat. I've written this short blog post. 

I feel like I am now ready for the rest of my day.

By faith, I am calling this my "morning bonus" because it is a good thing, an abundance of productive and empowering time. 

I don't want to miss this. I think that will help me to do it all again tonight and tomorrow. And onward.

Ask me how this is going, will you?

And tell me how you make the most of your mornings! Ideas, please! Leave a comment!

You might also like this related posts:
Grace and peace,


P.S. #1: Last year I did a daily 31 Days of Autumn Grace series on this blog. Take a peek! This year I'm only doing it once or twice a week.

P.S. #2: I took the picture at the top of this post when I visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago on the way back from my New England Road Trip. I haven't yet had time to caption all of the art photos for their own post, but maybe I will tuck some of them into other posts. "Young Girl Reading" seemed suitable this morning since I had been reading. Even though I am no longer young, perhaps we can say I am young at heart?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Autumn Brunch with Caramel Poached Pears (And a Side of Grumpy Mom)

My daughter Lydia turned 21 last month, but since she's been away at UF, we didn't celebrate as a family until Saturday. There were only 15 of us, since one daughter's family was out of town. I loved holding my newest grandchild, Lyla, who is only a month old.

I had decided on a brunch menu, especially since I'd seen a recipe for Earl Grey Poached Pears in Southern Lady magazine. Then one of my other daughters reminded me that Lydia doesn't really like tea, so I left the Earl Grey out and made a caramel sauce. I halved ten Anjou pears and cored them with a melon ball tool, which made nice neat curves. Then I cooked the pears in about five cups of water with a half cup of honey, a half cup of white sugar, and several hearty dashes of ground cinnamon and ginger. When the pears were soft, I took them out and arranged them in a large serving bowl. I poured about a cup or two of the cooking liquid into a smaller pan, and whisked in about a half cup of caramel sauce. Then I simmered it until it was thick enough to pour over the warm pears. Yum. I added Earl Grey tea to the remaining cooking liquid to drink later.

I also fixed up some homemade waffles, which we served with caramel sauce, chocolate chips, whipped cream, strawberries, and syrup for topping choices.

The main dishes were a sausage & egg casserole and chicken apple sausage links. I also made a smaller casserole without sausage for a vegetarian daughter. Then my daughter Julia brought Cracker Barrel style hash browns

We also enjoyed two bottles of sparkling juice from IKEA (ligonberry & apple and pomegranate & apple), as well as some orange juice. Quite enough food for all of us, and then some!

Can I be honest? I wanted everything to look pretty and taste delicious for my family. Unfortunately, little frustrations added up and not everything got done the way I wanted, or even at all. I overcooked the casserole (and most of it is leftover in the fridge), we never did slice the fresh pineapple, and I spilled the salt and pepper when I was trying to pour them into the cute little pumpkin shakers.  My beautiful new autumn table cloth apparently shrank when I washed it the first time and was several inches too short for the table. It was also wrinkled when I took it out of the drawer, and I didn't have time to iron it. The vacuum cleaner wasn't working, which left the living room floor a mess, but I didn't find that out until everyone had congregated in there. A few of the kids weren't as eager or quick to help as I would have hoped, though they did do most of what I asked. I barely had time to take a shower. It's a good thing everyone else was running late!  Then when we were finally serving the food and sitting down to eat, I found a wet bath towel on a side table in the dining room. 

It was the last straw. I snapped. I had to leave the room to even try to regain my composure, with the help of one of my daughters. I think I was over tired and had a lot else on my mind in addition to my unrealistic expectations, but that wasn't an excuse to take it out on others. I had a good chat with one of my sons that evening, and he was quite understanding and helpful in talking it out with me. I did apologize to everyone at the time and also later in a Facebook message. Always good to know they still love me!

So anyway, there's that. Something to think about as I plan for Thanksgiving. The people and the warmth of hospitality are more important than the food and decorations.

At any rate, the pears were great. I'll hang onto that memory and definitely try that one again.

Grace and peace,

Virginia Knowles 

This post is part of my Autumn Grace 2015 series.

See also:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Power of a Smile

My smiling scarecrows make me smile every time I pull up in front of my house.

And it makes me think of the power of a smile.

A smile and a kind word can change the course of a day.

Starting a morning for a sleepy child: "Good morning, sunshine!"

Defusing a conflict. A softened face, a warm smile, and, "Let's start this over, OK?"

A wave and smile across the street to a neighbor or even a stranger. You never know what a difference it will make.

A smile and a thank you (along with their name - people love to hear their names spoken kindly) to a store clerk or one who is sweeping the aisles and stocking the shelves. 

To the scraggly homeless precious one on the street corner, a welcoming smile and a warm word, along with a sandwich and a cup of coffee.

To the struggling teen an understanding smile and a, "What can I do to help?"

A smile can change someone's or whole life. You just might be the missing link to joy.

A smile is a curve that sets everything straight. –Phyllis Diller

A smile confuses an approaching frown. – Author Unknown

A smile is the light in your window that tells others that there is a caring, sharing person inside.” – Denis Waitley

If you’re not using your smile, you’re like a man with a million dollars in the bank and no checkbook.” – Les Giblin

People seldom notice old clothes if you wear a big smile. –Lee Mildon

The world always looks brighter from behind a smile. – Author Unknown

A smile is an inexpensive way to change your looks.” –Charles Gordy

A smile is the light in the window of your face that tells people you’re at home.” – Author Unknown

Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles.” – George Eliot

A laugh is a smile that bursts. – Mary H. Waldrip

Smile – sunshine is good for your teeth. – Author Unknown

The shortest distance between two people is a smile. – Author Unknown

Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” –Mother Teresa

A kind heart is a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity freshen into smiles. –Washington Irving 

Beauty is power; a smile is its sword. – Charles Reade

A smile is the universal welcome. – Max Eastman

Keep smiling – it makes people wonder what you’ve been up to. – Author Unknown

You’re never fully dressed without a smile. – Martin Charnin

Of all the things you wear, your expression is the most important. – Janet Lane

All the statistics in the world can’t measure the warmth of a smile. – Chris Hart

If you would like to spoil the day for a grouch, give him a smile. – Author Unknown

Smile – it increases your face value. – Author Unknown

Peace begins with a smile. – Mother Teresa

A smile is a powerful weapon; you can even break ice with it. – Author Unknown

Most smiles are started by another smile. – Author Unknown

A smile is something you can’t give away; it always comes back to you. – Author Unknown

A smile costs nothing but gives much. It enriches those who receive without making poorer those who give. It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None is so rich or mighty that he cannot get along without it and none is so poor that he cannot be made rich by it. Yet a smile cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is of no value to anyone until it is given away. Some people are too tired to give you a smile. Give them one of yours, as none needs a smile so much as he who has no more to give. – Author Unknown

It takes a lot of work from the face to let out a smile, but just think what good smiling can bring to the most important muscle of the body… the heart. – Author Unknown

(Quotes found here.)

And it's been said, a smile can save a life! At Australia's worst suicide spot, one man saves lives with a kind smile and a cup of tea

So smile already!


This post is part of my Autumn Grace 2015 series.

See also: Your Kindness Gave Me Courage

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Easiest Pumpkin Craft Ever

Easiest pumpkin craft ever! Seriously!

Small white artificial pumpkins at Walmart - 98 cents each. One orange permanent marker, maybe some other colors. Five minutes. No mess. Boom. Or if you want to get fancy, get some squeeze tubes of puffy paint and let your kids have a go at it.

Once a month my daughter Julia and her husband Alex organize an outreach dinner for folks who are homeless (camping in the woods) or living in transitional housing at a local motel. She just had her second baby last month, so she stayed home tonight, but I loved seeing my sweet son-in-law.

I often bring simple table decorations, and I usually don't come back home with them. Tonight, some of the kids there liked them so much, it was a joy to pass them along.

I was sort of in a hurry this afternoon since my priority was making a chicken casserole to bring, so I didn't get time to decorate them the way I wanted with some puffy paint. I literally grabbed my markers as I was running out the door and was relieved to find the bag of pumpkins still in the van. When we got to the motel where we do the dinner, I sat for about 10 minutes and wrote encouraging phrases that I thought would bless our friends at the outreach.

Fear is a big deal when you don't have proper housing.

We want our comfort to go beyond words, though. Dinner. Live music. Bags of toiletries. Shoes. Rain ponchos. Dollar store gift cards. Those speak love in tangible ways.

Kids love to serve ~~
my youngest daughter and her friend

And so does a little pumpkin sitting on your motel night stand.

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

This post is part of my Autumn Grace 2015 series.

P.S. Please share on Facebook or other social media!

P.P.S. Read more?

13 Ways to Help People Who Are Homeless

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

More Beauty for My Blue Haven


A month ago I shared My Blue Haven, the decorating I have done in my bedroom. (Be sure to click that link and take a peek!) I have a few more blue things to add, but first a digression on where I found one of them.

A friend had posted on Facebook that her friend Christine Brown was opening a new art/craft studio and community art space called Barbed Wire Browns.  (Facebook page here.) Wedged in between my Saturday errands, I made sure I squeezed in a visit to the Grand Opening. In addition to the beautiful pieces for sale, there will also be classes and make-and-take sessions. I'm so glad I went! Besides all the pretty things, I enjoyed chatting with Christine and realizing how much we have in common.

Christine Brown
Barbed Wire Browns
in Longwood, Florida

Christine and the other artists craft a lot of their creations from reclaimed materials, such as old window frames. These necklaces feature clippings from old hymnals.

My eyes were quickly drawn to the words on this tall glass panel with a distressed light blue frame. (Yes, it is reclaimed vintage wood.) I love words. I love inspiration. I love this shade of blue. I had some birthday money. It was mine.

I hung it over my bedside table. 


Just what I need to read first thing in the morning!

I found the blue globe lamp on clearance for $5 at IKEA. It gives off just the right amount of glow as I am getting ready for bed at night. Soothing!

At Walmart that night, I spotted a blue laundry basket, blue towels, and blue hangers for my favorite blue shirts. Laundry baskets and bath towels always disappear at our house. I wanted a way to distinguish which ones are MINE and not for general use! It is not selfish to preserve my own sanity.

I also found a light blue sheet set, which I badly needed. Microfiber is so soft! I have such a hard time sleeping at night that every little extra bit of comfort makes a big difference. I stacked pairs of dense foam pillows into two of the pillow cases because I am supposed to sleep on my side (back problems and sleep apnea) and these sturdy "pillow bricks" in front and back of me help keep me in position.

On my IKEA trip last month, I also picked out these inexpensive blue picture frames. I reframed three photos I already had on my shelf. The color is actually more of a turquoise/teal shade than it appears in the photo. I plan to hit IKEA's clearance aisle again when I drive down that way for my next spinal neurologist appointment later this month. It's a 30 minute drive in good traffic, so I try to make the best of wherever I am. I'm on the go so much that I try to keep my tote bag and purse in the same place, ready to grab on moment's notice.

This box and trash can aren't new, but I borrowed them from the living room, which is now decorated for autumn. I always need a handy box to stash things that migrate into my room and need to be put away elsewhere.

My youngest daughter brought me breakfast in bed...

A few last little thoughts:

I found this Australian decorating book, How to Decorate: An Inspiring and Practical Handbook by Shannon Fricke, at Brightlight, my favorite used bookstore. I haven't read all the way through yet, but I'm already nodding my head at this quote from the chapter "Telling Your Own Decorating Story":
"Whoever I'm decorating for, I always begin by constructing the story of the space and the people living in it. I find this the best way to humanise a space and give it a personality. Unearthing your story isn't easy, I admit. We're complex creatures with many facets, elements and stories. But once you begin to take note of your life, the places you love and the things that make you smile, you'll see a thread or a pattern emerging that will form the basis of your decorating story... Once you have your story in place, you can begin to piece together the decorating puzzle, matching that story with colour, texture, and spacial configurations. The aim is to elicit some ideas and watch as they begin to flower."
That's how I've decorated the bedroom. I know the things that speak to me, that make me feel calm, creative, cheerful, and courageous. Blue. Soft. Vintage. Books. Wood. Quilts. Muslin and tatted lace. Tie dye. Baskets. Vibrant chalks. Family photographs. Encouraging words. Solitude. All the things I'll want in my dream cottage someday.

(I do already have a cottage, but it's just too tiny to live in. My mother bought it for me when I was in college, so it's a sweet memory of her, and part of my story.)

What is your story?

Watch this video, where Shannon Fricke talks about this concept of "your decorating story" and how to nurture your creativity every day.

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

Thursday, September 10, 2015

My Blue Haven

My "blue haven"... My house is so busy and noisy that a mom like me needs a place to go to unwind and recharge: a haven at home. Mine is the master bedroom, and I've been working more to make it a calm and restful place. I love the color blue, which is supposed to be one of the most relaxing, so I've been adding new blue accents in the past few weeks. In this post, I'd like to share a few ways I'm attempting to create beauty on a budget: tie dye, chalk art, rearranging, thrifting, refurbishing furniture, and hanging pictures.

My daughter and I made tie dye t-shirts a few weeks ago (see Tie Dye Radiance), and I had extra dye left over. I decided to make a panel to mount on foam board and hang right behind my recliner. The back of the chair kept gouging the wall, so this covers the damage and protects the wall, as well as decorating the room!

This particular fabric was so resistant to the dye!

I had to work the color into the cloth with my hands, which stayed blue green for days.

Rinsed and washed, it faded to a mellow aqua.

Later, I decided to make a coordinating panel in a darker color. This time after I put on all of the rubber bands, I popped the fabric into a gallon size bag, added the dye, sealed it up, and worked the liquid in.

I found this blue recliner chair on sale for $70 at the Christian Sharing Center. It replaces a pink one bought at Salvation Army last year, but that my kids broke by sitting sideways. (I also found a nice china cabinet for $35. See here: Autumn Decorating 2015.)

The new-to-me furniture was a birthday present to myself. My little girl, knowing how much I like tie dye, picked out this balloon for me.

I used to have a tall bookcase between my recliner chair and my desk, but I kept bumping into it so I moved it across the room. This gave me room to move the bulletin board over to the right.

While I had the bulletin board off the wall, I took the time to refresh it. I removed everything, picked out new items, arranged them just so, and tacked them on the board. When my new granddaughter Lyla is born (probably this next week!) I'll take off that chalkboard from it and fill in that space with baby pics!

This is actually a vinyl pouch designed to go in a notebook. I've got it hanging on the wall for when someone wants to leave me mail or other papers and not get it lost on my desk, which is usually messy.

Blue lamp, blue stapler (stands vertically), blue mouse, blue accents...

The tall one is my coin jar. Shhh. Don't tell my kids.

This encouragement hangs next to my desk.

I visited the Pastiche Home Market decor store where they sell vintage and refinished furniture and accessories. I bought six blue knobs for my desk since the old knobs were falling off and ugly. I needed seven, but I temporarily made do with a white one for the top middle drawer. Later, I found a seventh almost matching knob at Adjectives Unhinged.

Lovely, yes?

A mini metal chalkboard for my desk reminds me to think of what I really want in life - so I can get busy working toward it! I FB messaged my sister this pic today, and she answered it for herself, "I want you to come help me do my bedroom!" I sure wish I could take a trip to Maryland to see her!

I love the vibrant colors of soft pastels for my chalk art. I have two sets! (All of these posts have chalk art in them!)

I created this board months ago, but it sat in my closet for a while after I first had it up. I had to touch up the letters and dust around them. What do I really want? In my challenging season of life, I want courage that is calm, creative, and cheerful.

Unfortunately, the board didn't have anything to hang it from on the back. I thought for a few minutes and decided to make a hanger from a piece of duck tape. I folded the middle to make a flap to hang on the nail. Voila! (Note: the tape came loose from the board the next day, after I posted this. I put it back up with LOTS more tape on it.)

Now it's by my bed where I can see it when I wake up or as I'm preparing to sleep. 

I had a dark blue plaid comforter on my bed for several months, but I brought this one back out since it fits the lighter blue spectrum. It's so comfy. It was a hand-me-down that I had to repair, as you can read about here: Refresh and Renew: Quilt and Pansies.

The bedside table (recently brought home when clearing out a storage unit to save money) has a handy drawer for my morning and evening medicines, protein bars, and other little necessities.

At night, I lay my glasses and phone on a soft blue padded box on my headboard shelf.

My little girl gave me this mug for my birthday, and it goes perfectly with the perky pad that my friend Lisa crocheted for me many years ago.

My third daughter brought back this small translucent blue glass plate from Bath, England, and gave it to my for my birthday. Perfect color for my room!

Do I look happy with my blue haven? I am!
Do I look different than in the picture near the top of this post? I'm wearing makeup here. With blue eye shadow. :-)

My previous bedroom and desk posts: