Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Fresh Twist on a Holiday Mantle

A wonderfully creative customer sent me this picture of how she is using her Willow House Hurricanes. Some water, decorative stones or marbles and paper whites are all you need for a touch of spring in these wintery months. What a fabulous idea!

(You can find these hurricanes on my e-Outlet. Just click on "Kate's Willow House Website" on the list to the right to see these and other wonderful goodies. )

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Ain't for Sissies

Thanks for one of my favorite gifts, Mom! Love it!

Christmas is wonderful, joyous, and full of fun, but let's face it, it ain't for sissies. Our presents have been opened. The wrapping paper has been collected and thrown out. We've enjoyed multiple feasts, parties, and holiday merrymaking. And now.....we're tired!
I want you to know that even though you may feel that much of the planning, execution, and follow-through that went into your holiday went unnoticed, I know you worked hard. Here's to you, my dear sisters! Let me thank you for all your tremendous holiday efforts.
  • For the two loads of laundry you did on Christmas (one in the wee hours of the morning when your preschooler yelled out "help! I have pee pee on me!" and the other so that your family could wear their awesome new clothes to church tomorrow), thank you.
  • For the 5,000 times you loaded and unloaded the dishwasher in the past two days, thank you.
  • For the lists made, grocery shopping endured, and unloading of groceries, thank you.
  • For the abuse you've put your oven through in the past weeks, baking, roasting, sputtering and spattering, thank you.
  • For the thought you put in to the "perfect" gifts, the wrapping, the sending, all so your immediate family members can say "your welcome" when thanked for a gift they've never seen, purchased or even imagined, thank you.
  • For the creativity and care you put into making your home into a North Pole wonderland, thank you.
  • For attending and hosting parties for folks you vaguely know, thank you.
  • For answering endless questions about baby Jesus, reindeer, St. Nick, and the movie Cars, thank you.
  • For stuffing a few veggies in your fridge that's currently overflowing with yummy/unhealthy holiday fare, thank you.
  • For accurately informing your children of the answer to, "how much longer 'till Christmas?", thank you.
  • For scavenging a family pic where everyone is sort of smiling, uploading it, ordering your photo card, addressing, stamping, and sending out your cards, thank you.
  • For teaching your child the words to "Away in a Manger" so he can stare blankly at the church congregation during childrens' choir, thank you.
  • For the sugar addiction you will need to break yourself and your children of, thank you.
  • For making the call to the Radio Flyer company (who goes on Christmas vacation quite early, by the way) when you've assembled a rockin' read wagon only to find that the last screw hole won't line up right, thank you. (Thanks to to my wonderful hubby for drilling a new hole. Worked like a charm!)
  • For keeping track of which family members you still need to call, call back, or screen calls from, thank you.
  • For rarely being seen in pics because you're the one taking them, thanks. (This is a good thing in my case, because I don't need photographic evidence of my mismatched pj-wearing, gnarly hair-sporting, Christmas morning 'look'.)
For all you've done, and for all you do each and every day, let me be one of many to say THANK YOU!

27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
(Proverbs 31: 27-31)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fit and Fabulous from Now On

We all love to make New Year’s resolutions, don’t we? Something about that “magic” date keeps us striving to start fresh. I challenge you to make a seemingly odd resolution. This year, resolve that NEXT year you won’t make that “start exercising, eat right, dust off the treadmill, etc” promise. Why? Because starting this minute, you will make your health and fitness a priority. I’m writing about a life-long change, not a month-long attempt followed by an 11-month lapse. You see, in 2012 you will have already spent a year developing healthy habits, so you won’t need to make that empty “start taking better care of myself” vow. You CAN do this! You WILL! You MUST!

As an American Council on Exercise Certified Group Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer, please let me give you some specifics and encouragement…

· Cardiovascular exercise burns calories and strengthens your heart.
· Weight training not only builds your muscle mass but it increases your bone density. Maybe you’re not at a point in your life where this seems important, but strong bones and muscles increase your quality of life down the road. Who doesn’t want that?
· Increasing the amount of muscle you have in your body increases the amount of calories you burn all the time. Wouldn’t you like to burn more calories even when you’re just hanging out?
· Conquering a challenging workout makes you a more confident person.
· Exercise can create endorphins which boost your mood even on the greyest winter day.
You may already know most of these things, and I could go on and on, but you get it, right? Exercising is necessary to keep you healthy, strong, and focused.

How do I start?
* Obtain clearance from your doctor if you’ve had an injury or change in health since your last visit.
* If you have a special health concern, consider hiring a personal trainer, even if for only a few sessions.They are trained to develop a safe, effective program in light of your specific needs.
* Find a form of exercise that is right for you. Consider what types of activities you enjoy.
o Did you love dancing in your youth? Try an aerobics class with a dance emphasis, for example, a salsa class or a hip-hop aerobics class.
o Were you the star of your karate class? Try kickboxing.
o Is a good walk just what you need to clear you mind? Walking is an excellent form of exercise for almost anyone.
o Find a pool, a track, or a weight room.
o Use your home as your gym with a few pairs of weights and some workout videos.
o Keep trying until you find one or many things that you enjoy doing.
How can I increase my chances of success?
· Make it a habit – keep at it until fitness becomes second nature. You wouldn’t go a day without brushing your teeth, right? Thinking of your new healthy lifestyle as a necessity will keep you on track.
· Put it on your schedule – mark out a time 3-6 days/week for your workout. Put it on your to-do list. Write yourself a Post-it note reminder. Whatever it takes, do it!
· Organize yourself – set your clothes and shoes out the night before and put them on as soon as you get up. That way you’ll make it a priority. If you’re going to the gym, pack your bags in advance. See my tips below for what to bring…
· Make it a priority – it’s easy to procrastinate. There may be dirty dishes in the sink, the phone may be ringing, and you may want to check your email. Don’t give into temptation! Go work out!
· Remember how great you felt after your last workout – this will motivate you even on those days when you’re not feeling overly motivated. You’ll feel great afterwards, so get to it!
· Think about how your efforts are improving your life and the lives of your loved ones – keeping your body healthy will make all your daily activities easier. You’ll chase your kids in the yard without becoming overly winded. You’ll lift your dog into the car without breaking a sweat. You’ll bend over to pick something up off the floor without your muscles screaming out in inflexibility.
· Don’t feel guilty for taking time out for yourself – you maintain your house, your car, care for your children, grandchildren, and/or pets. Why wouldn’t you take care of one of your most important assets: you!
· Start even if you don’t feel like it – go to the gym or put in your workout DVD and devote at least 10 minutes. By that time, you’ll almost always feel like continuing.

One tote for the locker room, one for class and one for my kiddos' gear.

What should I bring to the gym?
  • Wear comfortable, breathable clothing and invest in a good sports bra
  • Supportive fitness shoes. If you can’t remember when you purchased your shoes, you’re probably overdue for a new pair.
  • Water
  • A mat or towel for floor work
  • A lock for your locker
  • Shower gear
  • Gloves for weightlifting (if you use them)
  • Any medication you might need, for example, your inhaler if you’re asthmatic
  • Toys or snacks for your kids, if they’re coming with you
I use my Willow House Shop and Go Totes (pictured above) to keep myself organized. They’re easy to clean, easy to keep track of (they come in three different designs), and too darn cute for words!

Easy Make-Ahead Breakfast

This recipe has become a bit of a Christmas morning tradition. I love making it the night before so I can pop it into the oven in the morning. It's delicious and decadent, but easy to make! I got this from Gooseberry Patch's Christmas Cookbook (Book 5)

Early Morning French Toast
(A Make-Ahead Recipe)

1 c. brown sugar packed
1/2 c. butter
2 T. corn syrup
5 eggs
1 1/2 c. milk
1 t. vanilla extract
1 loaf french bread cut into thick slices (I use cinnamon raisin bread, and I like it better)

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix and melt brown sugar, butter and corn syrup. Spray a baking dish with non-stick vegetable oil and fill with the butter mixture.
Mix eggs, milk and vanilla. Arrange bread slices in baking dish. Pour egg mixture over bread; don't miss any area. Use all the mixture. Any extra will be soaked up by the bread.
Cover dish and refrigerate over-night. The next morning simply uncover and slip into a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, then serve.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Okay, just a few more decorations and then I'm DONE!

A few cheery cards in the windows of an old door

I wanted to sue these containers for candy, but couldn't fill them to the top, so I used wax paper balled up and wrapped with holiday Saran Wrap to give my sweets a boost.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Think My Halls are Decked - Christmas Decorating 2010

I couldn't make myself take down the bittersweet wreaths from Thanksgiving, so they are doubling as our holiday wreaths. We got the sled at a flea market in Germany.

A cheery Drake Firefly Lantern welcomes guests.
I added a little ribbon for some holiday flair.

My Decorative Card and Photo Display full of pics and Christmas greetings.

This wood cutout makes for a cozy entrance.

Our hearth
(Cozy with the Cordova Fire Screen)

I put my crazy red star and Christmas figures on a cake stand to add height to my kitchen counter display.

Our tree

My sparkly snowman in the Galveston Footed Hurricane

Ornaments from my grandmas in a bowl from my great grandma

A wreath and fruit ornaments in my French Wire Tiered Stand
(my absolute favorite Willow House goodie)

Christmas snuck up on me this year somehow, so I'm happy to have the house decorated. This was the first year I had my wonderful WH products to work with. What fun to mix them in with my other favorite decorations!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stretching Your Food Budget

Who wouldn't love to save money at the grocery store each week? I've been trying to trim my grocery bills, and what was an annoying chore has turned into a bit of a sport for me. I know there are folks who are far more dedicated and talented than me in this area, but here are a few ideas that I've come across that work for me. Saving a few bucks each week and knowing that I'm working to be a good steward with the food we've been blessed is absolutely worth the extra effort.

  1. Make your menu for the week and base your grocery list off it.
  2. Check out the weekly specials at your local grocery and see if you can plan some of your menu around sale items.
  3. Stick to your list as much as possible! Come on, were those gummy bears really on your list! = )
  4. Try to only go to the store once a week. It'll save you time and money.
  5. Clip coupons or print them online. I use from time to time.
  6. Know when it's good to stock up and when it's not. My rule of thumb is that if I'll use it in the next 2-3 weeks and it won't spoil, it's okay to buy a few extra of our family favorites when they're on sale. If it will be cluttering up my cupboards or is a perishable item that I won't likely get to in time, then forget about it. A deal isn't a deal if you buy it and have to throw it out.
  7. Keep a moderate inventory. I find that when my fridge and cupboards are too full, I lose track of what I have, and some items end up going to waste. "Oops, that yogurt waaaay in the back of the fridge is expired", etc. If I can see it, I'll be able to figure out how to use it.
  8. Get creative! If you have leftovers, figure out if you can repurpose them into a new meal. This week I had a crazy amount of cooked black beans and rice left over from a burrito recipe. I searched through my freezer, found turkey I had frozen from Thanksgiving, shredded it and made it all into soup. Those wacky beans made 9 meals for us!
  9. If you have an odd ingredient leftover from a recipe, do an ingredient search on your favorite cooking website and find a way to use it. Check out the Taste of Home website listed on the right.
  10. Freeze! If you end up with a bunch of baked goods that you can't eat, freeze them! I was given a wonderful loaf of pumpkin bread right after I made too many pumpkin muffins. I knew most of the items would get stale, so before that happened, I cut up the loaf into chunks and froze them in separate containers. I also froze bunches of muffins (3 per container). We've had delicious treats out of our freezer for weeks. You can do the same with extra pancakes and waffles as well.
  11. Try to use your produce that spoils the quickest soon after your shopping trip. For example, I would use spinach or kale in the days right after my shopping trip and save the carrots for later in the week.
  12. Go meatless! I'm not talking about becoming a vegetarian, but with meat prices so high, it pays dollar-wise and health-wise to go veggie a few meals per week.
  13. Keep value in mind. Cheap isn't necessarily best. I'd much rather pay $6 for a bag of almonds than I would $2 for a bag of potato chips because I know they're healthier and more satisfying.
I know many of you have great money-saving tips as well. I'd love to hear from you!

Oh the weather outside is frightful....

Brrrrrr! It's cold here in Michigan! Stay cozy, everyone!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thanks for the chores!

I read recently that most of our daily chores come from our blessings. ( I so wish I could remember where I read this because I would love to give credit for the idea.) Seeing your home and the duties that go along with it in this way can really change your outlook.

Scrub, scrub, scrub the dishes....thank you, God, for our meals and for family to share it with!

Woosh, woosh, woosh...thank you, God, for a washing machine, clothes and the little kiddos who make all those stains!

Vrrrrrrrr, "turn up the tv, I can't hear over the furnace!".....Thank you God for a roof over our heads and heat!

Squeak, squeak....thank you, God, that through Your provision I can put groceries in this decrepit shopping cart!

What sounds are you hearing today?

If the thoughts of God in your daily tasks are blessing your heart, check out an awesome devotional by Judith Gilmore Black called 'Prayer: the Key to Organizing Chaos'. She's an tremendous lady and a wonderful, funny writer. I've got her book listed under "Favorite Reads" on the right side of the page.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Setting Up an Easy Afternoon Tea

Please be kind! This is my video debut, and I'm not used to being in front of a camera. My husband and I worked on this for a Willow House "Share Your Style" contest. Lights, camera, action, y'all!

I had lots of fun setting up my tea service. I used as many WH products as I could! The only pieces that aren't WH are the dishes.

Holiday Stress Relief

Nothing burns off some steam like dressing up in a hideous sweater and entering an ugly sweater contest. I got all dolled up, hoped no one would see me as I drove to my Christmas party, and had a blast with fellow ugly-sweater-wearers.

Images of Christmas

My son has discovered the joys of hot cocoa

The stockings were hung....

I've collected old-timey ornaments from antique stores, and my grandma has given me many beautiful ornaments. They are by far my favorites.

A German spinner

I have bittersweet wreaths instead of pine this year

I can't say that I was overly excited to decorate this year, but now that it's done, the house feels quite festive. I love the glow of the Christmas lights at night and first thing in the morning while it's still dark. It makes the house feel warmer somehow!

Cozy Home Blog Launch

My family and I have done a lot of launching in the past year! My husband left a 9-year career course to start something new. We moved back to the U.S. after living in Europe for 7 years. Our second son was born. We bought our first house. I started a new business. Now I am launching a new blog!
As a child, I lived in the same home until I was 18-years-old. After college and getting married, I moved 9 times in 9 years. In each location, whether it was base housing, a rented house or apartment, I've always tried to create a warm home atmosphere. To live in our first purchased home is a dream come true, and we're delighted with the prospect of putting down roots.
I have many interests and hobbies, but nearly all of them involve life at home. I love to cook. I try to organize! My interest in decorating is growing exponentially! And, as with any mom, childrearing fills the majority of my time.
I started my business with Willow House, a fabulous company, in August 2010. If you would have asked me if I was interested in direct sales a few years ago, I would have told you absolutely not! Times have changed and so have I! The company's decorating, organizing and entertaining products are top-notch, and I love them. I wanted a little time each day to spend on non-mommy duties. I am determined to be a stay-at-home mom to my precious munchkins, however I do want to get out of the house sometimes! All of these factors collided and viola! Now I'm a Willow House Design Consultant. So far it's been a wonderful marriage of my interests and my lifestyle.
This blog is in part to show you all what I'm learning as I study more design, but it's also to share with you little tips and ideas I find along the way. I hope you enjoy it and check in with me every so often! May your launches, current and future, be far better than you could ever have dreamed!

ps This first post is dedicated to Laura K. who told me to get going on this project and who, by example, encourages people to go big or go home. Of course, if your home is a cozy one, that's not such a bad thing!