Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Making a House Feel Like HOME

A few years ago, I was visiting with some moms who had come over to our home for a homeschooling event, and one of the moms asked me how I made our home so...well, "home-y."  She said that every time she visited our house, she'd go back home and wonder how to make her own home feel the same way.  She said, "I can't figure out if it's the candles or the paint or what it is.  But I want to make my home feel like yours feels."  To be honest, I didn't know the exact answer to that question, except for the fact that I had specifically invited the Holy Spirit to inhabit every nook and cranny of our living space.  

Last spring we moved to Texas, and I had a blank slate, so to speak.  I thought I'd try to pay close attention to the details of how we transformed an empty house into a home-y home.  But, other than a few tips, I still cannot give a step-by-step answer to this.  It's sorta like explaining in writing how to breathe.  I know sorta how breathing works, but when I go to write down HOW to do it, I come up with some lame one-liners that don't scratch the surface.  

View of our entryway on the day we moved into the house
View of our entryway today
So, after a few times of trying to get this thing roped out of thin air and onto the blank screen, I gave up trying to put it into writing.  

Then an interesting thing happened.  I was given the opportunity to work in the clothing room of a ministry in town.  Their clothing room basically consisted of plastic shelves of disorganized clothing, and they wanted it to be organized and to have a more personal, home-like feel.  I loved the challenge, so I set out to transform it into more of a boutique-style so as to give the families more dignity when they came by the ministry to get clothing.  

Clothing room when we first arrived
Wall in clothing room was white and showed wear and tear
After painting the wall with a nice color, we put in a converted entertainment center with added shelving

I wish I had more photos of this space, because we also added some cute window treatments (made out of tulle, so it was very affordable).  But, in short, the space went from looking like random chaotic storage to looking and feeling very welcoming.  I was happy with the progress, though it still has more work that needs to be done.  Then one day, the director of the ministry told me that she was with 3 moms who had come into the office to get clothing, and they said, "We love the way this place feels.  We want to stay here and not go home!"  I was caught off-guard by this, because this is not a home.  It's a tiny room in a rather run-down office space, with carpet that is not the most desirable and a leaky ceiling when it rains!  But these sweet moms wanted to stay in that space and not go home...simply because it felt so welcoming to them.  

So, this got me thinking...again...about this blog post that I had avoided writing because I simply couldn't find the words.  Surely there was some way to convey onto screen HOW to create a welcoming atmosphere in a home (or anywhere really). 

Then, last week, we had some musicians over to our home for a jam session.  The kids and I headed upstairs for a fun "picnic and movie" in our activity room so that the musicians could have our downstairs for the evening.  When the last musician was getting ready to leave, he said, "I never like when I have to leave your home.  I just love the way it feels."  

Okay, so it was time to really get serious about this blog post.  

And here I am.  I still don't have a step-by-step plan of execution (HA!).  But I have little tidbits, and perhaps whoever wants to string those tidbits together with their own personal tidbits will be well on their way to creating a home-y space of their own.

So, back to my friend's question: "What is it?  Is it the paint, the candles?  WHAT is it that makes this place feel so much like a home?"

Well, we do love candles, and they are often a part of our home's atmosphere.  Candlelight has a very warm glow, and somehow it seems to whisper calm into its surroundings.  (My ideal would be to make our own candles that are chemical-free.  It's on my list of things to do after we get bee hives!)

But, if you lit a dozen candles in an otherwise uninviting atmosphere, it wouldn't do much.  I think it's more like the icing on the cake, so to speak.  Gotta have a tasty "cake" before adding icing. 

So what about paint?

If you want to add a warm touch to your home, I think paint is the number one way to do that.  Even if you don't add any other decor, you still see a "pop" in the color of wood or flooring in your home when you add paint to the walls.  If given the choice between having a painted wall with zero decorations or a stark white wall with a million decorations hung on it, the simple painted wall would feel much warmer.  There's just something about color.

Before paint

With paint

Here you can see where we were trying paint colors out on the wall.  You can buy a tiny sample can of paint so that you can see what the color looks like in real life on your walls before you commit to the gallon cans or 5-gallon buckets (those tiny paint chips aren't always an accurate view of the color).  

For those of you who live in an apartment and are not allowed to paint, you can do a Google search for how to make white walls feel cozy.  You basically have to embrace the white and go with it, and there are many nice ways to do this.  

But, for me, color is a very good friend.  And warm, cozy colors are my favorite.  Almost every time we've chosen paint colors, we use our living room rug as our go-to point of reference.  In fact, most everything we accent our living spaces with is related in some way to the colors on this rug.  

And, by the way, an area rug like this can almost instantly cozy-up a room.  Without it, the room feels rather empty and cold.  We love this rug.  We've had it for many years, and it's been through many moves (and has been cleaned many, many times!).  We've used it in rooms with tile, carpet and wood.  And in each setting, it has served to warm up the space significantly.

So, there you have a few tips that I always, always adhere to: 1) A warm color paint, 2) A warm color area rug in the big living space (living room, etc), and 3) Candles

Besides those basics, I suppose my next tidbit would be in sharing this...  I try to make every nook and cranny feel inviting.  It's not about buying more stuff to fill up space.  In fact, I think a decluttered area makes for a calm, happy spot.  It's simply about details that make each area feel welcoming and cozy.  Hmmm...maybe a collection of photos might be better than words here...

I love this book, and every page has encouragement for those who read it.  I change pages every week or two.

Found this hutch discarded and dirty at a thrift store.  We cleaned it up, and now it houses family treasures that have been passed down.

I had this old basket, and it was the perfect place to hold some of the bowls.  Shhh...don't tell anyone, but those pretty blue and white "towels" are actually pillowcases that my mom no longer needed.  

Books, books, books!  These are my prettiest ones on display near the front door.

The top quilt was actually made for me when I was a newborn baby.  The bottom quilt was bought by my parents after I had surgery way back in my college days.  Texas star quilt rack was a Mother's Day gift last year.  And chili peppers...well, it's Texas.

A corner in the kitchen

Love that Raggedy Ann, which was a gift when our first child was born.  Note the difference in color in the paint in different lighting in this room.  Some photos were taken with natural light and others with overhead lights.

The former owners of this home did an awesome job with the kitchen paint and wainscot.

Antique ironing board, picnic basket and another Raggedy Ann...all gifts from ages past

It might look like pretty "foliage" for a warm accent, but this is really an introvert's attempt at keeping doorbell ringers from staring into our home before we open the door  :)

For a child who loves music, this little spot is a haven he can go to any time.  It overlooks the bird feeding area.

And because he plays by ear and loves to make up his own songs, I placed a little "note" to encourage him in his pursuit.  This space fuels his passion!

Who wouldn't want to curl up with a good book here??

Besides shelves of books, I placed crates of books near the comfy sofa upstairs.  One crate contains books of places we have visited (we buy a guide book or a souvenir book from each place we visit, and they can remember our trip for years afterward), and the other crate has photo albums from road trips and vacations we have taken.

Love the table runners we bought in Colorado!  This was my one "souvenir" to remind me of one of our favorite states.

I love "old" things, and I also love to decorate using things we use.  Here's our ice cream maker sitting above the cabinets in the kitchen.  Use it and then put it back up on display.

Personalizing this bedroom was very fun!  This is one of her favorite dresses that she outgrew.  It's now front-and-center as decor.

She has a fun tree tent in her room that is pink, brown, and green; so that was the color theme we went with.

This window treatment was super fun and easy to make.  We inherited decent white curtains in this room when we moved in, so we just bought green and pink tulle at Hobby Lobby and twisted them over the white curtains until it looked nice.  Tie with brown ribbons, and you have a special look at a very low cost.

We bought this little dresser for $5 at a yard sale in Georgia.  Can't beat that!
And here was her reaction the first time she saw her room!  :)

Most of the house has had some transformation.  The boys' room has been painted but is still waiting some fun stuff, and HB is in the process of adding her artistic touch to her walls.

And then there's what we affectionately call "the activity room," which is where we have the keyboard, computer, crafts, etc.  We didn't want to spend money on more paint (I'm all for budgets, and when the limit is reached, that's it!), so I'm trying very hard to work with the paint that is already on the walls.  The problem?  It's GRAY.  

Now, maybe you love gray.  It's not that it's a bad color choice.  But I detest gray.  For me it's drab, boring, and reminds me of long Navy deployments when those gray ships would slip over the horizon and not return for months (not a fun memory, but that's another story for another day).  But I was in agreement with not paying for more paint if we didn't have to.  So, I decided to make the gray work.  

HOW??  With lots of fun color, that's how.

This journal is for recording little "joys" in our daily lives.

And I'm not finished with this room yet.  We went to Houston several months back and were able to go through some relatives' storage unit to choose anything we wanted.  We try to avoid clutter at all costs, so we were picky with what we took home.  But, see the big striped lantern?  It was brand new in a dust-covered box.  Score for the home team!  Then, last week at Target I saw the smaller lantern string lights that matched perfectly.  $10 per box.  I'm thrifty, so I got 2 boxes and will soon figure out how to spice up this battleship gray living space.  It's slowly turning into one of my favorite rooms.  Who knew?

Now, I'm sure that there are umpteen zillion tips on how to decorate homes.  It used to be that you needed a degree to know the specifics, but nowadays, we have Google...and let's not forget Pinterest (seriously, what did we do before Pinterest?!?).  But, in all honestly, I don't think this is about professional-level design (as I hardly qualify for that!).  And it's also not about the amount of money you pour into decor (I love to decorate with old things I've had forever, and the few things I purchase are usually great finds at thrift stores).  No, there's something more going on here, and that is what the moms and the musicians noted in our home and in the clothing ministry space.

Yes, some warm paint does do wonders.  And a good area rug warms up a cold space.  And candles and lantern lights give splashes of ambiance.  But that's really only the outer wrappings.  The true bulk at the center is the Holy Spirit.  In each place we've lived, I've spent hours upon hours in prayer, and I've asked God to allow His Spirit to permeate every nook and cranny of our home.  I invite Him to take up residence and to be the very air we breathe.  And every time someone makes a comment that they love the way our home feels or that they don't want to go home or that they want to know how to create in their home what we have in ours, I know beyond a shadow of any doubt that it is the Holy Spirit they are feeling.  He resides in the very atmosphere in our home when we ask Him to, and it's a feeling that you cannot express...but you know it's something special.

The clothing room at the ministry in town is now a home-y space, even though it's not even a home.  Just as I did in our home, I also sat in that room for a long time and prayed.  I invited the Holy Spirit to reside there and to influence every soul who walked in the doors.  Just a few days after praying that prayer the first time, a woman was led to Christ right there in that room.  Tears were flowing, and all I could do was thank God that He hears prayers and answers them so specifically.  A few months later, a woman walked into our ministry office for the very first time, and she asked us what we did there.  Our director explained, and she said, "Well, I asked, because the moment I walked in here, I could feel the Holy Spirit's presence so strongly."  It is HIM Who makes our homes and spaces welcoming and warm if we simply ask Him to permeate our entire lives and our homes.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Hodge Podge Happenings

I know...I know.  I disappeared.  But not really.  The past 2 months have been loaded with all sorts of activity.  My silence has been mainly due to not being able to blog in real time...and also due to changes (again!) that God is working in my life, requiring some quiet time on my part.  Some of y'all inquired about us during the recent Texas flooding, so I thought I'd jump online and spill out tons of photos from the past 2 months in way of catching up here...

Almost all of April can be summed up in one word: DRAMA.  I tell is a big commitment for cast, crew and families.  But it was well worth the effort as Miss Jane Bennet and her fellow cast members put on a weekend of excellent shows.

Day trip to Gruene, Texas to spend time with family and old friends...  Gotta love Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas (where George Strait, Willie Nelson, etc got their start).  You can just FEEL the country here.

 Another ministry event, bringing light and hope to several families in our community...

T playing a couple of songs for the families at the event...

Trip to Dallas to visit grandparents.  Four of the 6 cousins have May birthdays, so we did a joint party for them.  They put one candle on the cake for all their combined ages (note: this results in mega wax on the frosting)...

HB's 17th birthday ( I really old enough to have a 17-year-old???)...  She chose a hibachi grill for her birthday.  This was the first time any child has chosen a restaurant for their birthday meal, so Mama got to rest from cooking.  Very fun evening.

Vacation in  Colorado...  We were invited to attend a wedding of some sweet friends, so we decided to make a 9-day trip out of it, traveling across the mountains visiting different towns and friends along the way...

Ellerslie Mission Society in Windsor was our first stop, and it is everything that HB wants in a training ground after graduation.  It's gorgeous and unlike any place on the planet, where everyone is sincere in their faith...and the Holy Spirit is evident on every face...literally.  I seriously have never experienced that anywhere else.  It's a taste of heaven, and I almost wish I could have stayed!).

Church at Ellerslie was more than we even expected.  We've been listening to Eric Ludy for many years now, and actually being in the room where he was teaching was a great experience for us.  If you ever want real meat in your spiritual walk, THIS is where to get it.  I daresay I've never received spiritually anywhere else what I receive when I tune into Ellerslie.  I dare you to take the time to taste a bit of the Ellerslie substance.  It's like a full 7-course meal of whole junk food here.  But do be will challenge you and might push you out of your comfort zone.  Go ahead...try it...

One of our children was beyond excited to order dessert via room service!

Lunch in Loveland, CO, with old friends...

Estes Park, CO...  Elk roamed all around our cabin.

I met a cup of tea that...maybe, just maybe, might have been my favorite cup of tea ever (don't tell my tea mentors in England, because I will always stay true to how they taught me to make it).  But seriously, this one brought out the happy...English Breakfast tea with steamed milk.  STEAMED MILK...who knew?!

Pizza with friends in Estes Park, CO...

Very excited to find some male elk on the side of the road.  Their antlers were in velvet mode and were amazing to see!

Yes, that is snow.  Yes, it was May.  Yes, we had to dig our winter clothes out of storage before our trip.  It was in the 30's.  But breathtakingly beautiful.

Then over the mountains to Grand Junction, the town where we used to live 14 years ago...

Our old house in GJ.  That tree used to be teeny tiny when we lived here!  Awww...memories...

Wonderful reunion with precious friends in Grand Junction.  My favorite part of our trip!

Grace helping to gather eggs...

Education happens up on the National Monument...

View from the National Monument...  I love these characters!

Pool time in Grand Junction...

Rockslide...the last restaurant we ate at with friends before moving 14 years ago...  It's still there, and nothing much has changed.

And the event we came to CO for...the wedding...  Here we are in between wedding ceremony and reception dinner.

Sweet bride and groom.  I cannot believe I used to babysit the bride!  I'm in denial that I could be that old.  :)

Leaving GJ and heading back over the mountains to Denver...

Yes, again...snow in May.  Gotta love Colorado!

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Colorado, which may just very well be the prettiest state in the union.  And yet getting home is always nice too.   

I found organic raspberries on sale for $1.50 per 6-oz container (which are typically $4-6).  So, I loaded up and made raspberry jam.  Instead of making cooked jam, I opted for the easier route of freezer jam.  Fabulous idea, I tell you!  Easy peasy...and super yummy!  For those of you who came to our home in Georgia to learn how to make cooked jam (and have probably never attempted that feat again)...freezer jam is way easier.  

And life fell right into its usual rhythm.  As always, there's drama, drama, drama.  The latest was a play the children made about a book we read (Moccasin Trail...which I highly recommend).  Oh, yes, it's as fun as it looks...

And characters are always showing up to meals at our home.  I honestly never know WHO will join us for lunch...sometimes Abraham Lincoln and family, sometimes heroes from Narnia...and this day it happened to be the cast from Moccasin Trail.  See the make-up on his chest?  Everything they do is a replica of the real thing, and that, my friends, is the evidence of a grizzly bear's claw marks on a white-boy-turned-Crow-Indian.  Never a dull moment around here...never, ever.

Upon returning from Colorado, we found our state of Texas in the midst of flooding.  Our home is high on a hill, so we have had no damage due to the rain.  Our subdivision did have brand new "waterfalls" of consistently running water over the rocks.  I've never seen anything like it before.  And we have a dry creek at the very bottom or our property that is usually...well, DRY.  But when we got back in town, it was running about 3 feet wide and 2-3 feet deep.  Crazy amount of rain!  Several days of no rain helped to dry things out a lot, but apparently the ground is still quite saturated...because after just 20 minutes of simple rain the other day, this is what our flower bed looked like...

T's birthday arrived, and he awaited his traditional breakfast in bed...

HB and D spent 2 days making his cake.  Now, seriously, is this not the most amazing cake you've ever seen??  I have no earthly idea how they did this!

This was his first reaction when he saw the cake...

We have a tradition of Daddy praying over the birthday person...

And how do you spend the first inklings of summer??  Well, they asked to go to the library, chose a stack of kids' cookbooks, and asked to be in charge of cooking an entire meal without me doing a single thing.  Yay for me!  And then imagine the surprise that they chose a very difficult meal (sweet and sour chicken, fried rice, and egg drop soup!).

Keep in mind that this means a messy kitchen!  But it's worth it (and THEY clean it up!).  

And I was actually surprised at how they pulled off such a difficult meal.  It was delicious too.  I'm quite blessed to have these amazing kiddos!

There you have journal of April and May over here.  I won't wait so long to post next time.  ;)