Las Posadas, or Making Room

Inez just hanging out with a couple of her closest buds! #nativityscene

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Above: Inez this year; Mary Tobin last year.

Every December our church celebrates Las Posadas, an Advent tradition that migrated from Spain to Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

The church we attend in Nashville, St. George’s, is approximately five thousand times whiter than our old one, Gracia y Paz. So I was not expecting to see a Las Posadas sign-up sheet last year. But since I recognized that Las Posadas was a Mexican thing, I felt like it was our duty, as the representative Mexican family in the parish, to volunteer for hosting Mary and Joseph for a night.

Afterward I panicked momentarily that I’d agreed to throw a huge party. In Mexico, Las Posadas begins nine days before Christmas, and there’s a party at a different house each night. In Tomie de Paola’s book set in Santa Fe, the event is a procession with singers, paper lanterns lining the square, and a procession led by Mary and Joseph (actually: María y José), knocking on doors, sometimes rejected, sometimes ignored, hindered by devils (Boo! Hiss! says the crowd). Another sweet book about this tradition is Nine Days to Christmas: A Story of Mexico. Whatever the specifics of a locality’s Las Posadas—posada means hotel or inn— it ends with Mary and Joseph finally finding a place at the stable in Bethlehem, where Jesus is born.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I had not signed up to serve tequila and hot chocolate to the entire congregation. St. George’s Las Posadas is more “flat stanley” than fiesta. It’s a tradition where a family hosts Mary and Joseph—essentially yard art statues—for a night, then passes them along on their journey to the next family, and then they’re ultimately delivered to the church to process down the aisle to the creche on Christmas Eve.

We had our turn hosting the Holy Family on an early December weekend. A couple friends came by the house and I had to explain right away why we had outrageously out-of-proportion nativity figures. We literally had to make room for a place for the Holy Family (JC still in Mary’s belly, I had to explain to Mary Tobin). This got me thinking about the idea of making room during Advent. Sister Angie, in De Paola’s The Night of Las Posadas, talks about “Making room in my heart so the Christ Child can be born.”

How did I make room in my life this December? Some ideas and attempts:

  • Make room in my house
  • Make room in my schedule and my plans. In a word: MARGIN.
  • Make room for . . .
    • people,
    • maybe last minute plans,
    • maybe a need to be filled.
    • Maybe silence that I need.
    • Maybe ABC Family’s new classic The 12 Dates of Christmas.
  • Make room for mystery.

I love that last one. Mystery. The incarnation is history’s greatest mystery, worth pondering every single year. In our Sunday school teacher training for the sweet little [wild] 3 to 6 year olds, we were encouraged to get Socratic on them (my words, and I might not grasp the proper usage). Rather than cleanly tying up a story by issuing the final, correct answers to all questions—as if we could!—instead, we wonder together. I wonder how the shepherds felt? I wonder why God chose Mary, chose Bethlehem? Why did he want to tell the shepherds about it? How did the wisemen know to follow the star? This must have been a very special baby.

I want to get comfortable with the discomfort, the mystery, the not knowing. I want to let go of control and loosen expectations. I want not to be embarrassed by the slightly tacky Marys and Josephs sitting in the living room. I want to clean out the mess and make room for something new to be revealed in the old stories.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

27 Shopping Ideas

Christmas gifts

What’s your gift giving philosophy? Do you have a budget? Do you draw names for a present exchange with the fam? Did I tell you about the time my brother Ben got punched in the face by the trunk of a wooden elephant statue during our family’s Dirty Santa gift exchange?

For kids, I like the idea of three gifts for Christmas (since that’s what JC got). Or four gifts: “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.”

If you’re one of those people who has all her holiday shopping finished before Thanksgiving, I salute you. If you grow cotton in the backyard and weave sweaters for all your extended family members and mailman, I salute you. And if you stick to a budget, I heartily salute you.

These days, if I buy gifts from an Etsy shop or another handmade seller, I feel like I’m not spending anything. And if it’s from someone I know (or let’s be honest, kind of know), I feel like I’m making money. Amiright?!

So in the spirit of shopping small and local, I’ve compiled a list of small and not-so-small shops whose proprietors I know, or have met once, or are a friend of a friend. I like the idea of supporting a real person. [Although, corporations are people. True or false? Sound off in the comments.]

Check these folks out if you’re stuck for gift ideas!

For babes and kiddos:
Sweet P Embroidery: Custom monograms and appliqué (AKA preciousness overload).
NOLA Onesie: Festive baby clothes.
Rain for Roots: My girls love these Nashville songwriters’ album “Big Stories for Little Ones” (plus it’s not obnoxious for parents!).
storieChild: Create an easy baby book or a story book featuring your kid.

Tasty treats (or, How to be the Office Hero):
Sweet LaLa’s Bakery
 partners with a juvenile intervention program in Memphis to bake de-lish cookies for pickup or delivery.
Whimsy Cookie Company: We get these for pretty much every birthday and special occasion. Impressive designs, and so tasty.
A Signature Welcome: Gourmet food boxes (+ other great gifts like turkish towels!)
District Doughnut (DC): Because they support Little Lights!

For the art lover:
Maltby Rote: Commission something wonderful, like this.
Hillary Butler Fine Art, as seen on Nashville, and here.
Steve Keene: Fun!
Saw & Mitre Frame Co.: Print your pics, frame your story.
St. Frank: “Home luxury for the modern bohemian.” Love that. (I posted about Saw & Mitre and St. Frank here.)
Joanna Hope Art: Beauty. Watch her amazing process videos.

For a lovely lady:
Stella & Dot: Katherine is selling jewelry (and tons of other great gifts) to underwrite her pro bono counseling.
Lydali and Umba both support handmade artists and small batch producers. Beautiful stuff.
Tara Montgomery Jewelry and Erin McDermott Jewelry: ::swooning::
LaLa Land NYC, because stationery = life.
BeautyCounter: safe skincare and makeup.
FashionABLE: Gorgeous products made by “women who have overcome.”

For a dashing dude:
(Some of these could be girl things, but I’m trying to round out my categories.)
Tucker Blair: Needlepoint belts, flasks, and preppiness galore. “When in doubt, prep out.” -Israel Ortega
Nashville Fit Factory: My cousin Zach coaches here, where they’re known for a community/family feel. The first class is free.
Bring It Food Hub (Memphis): Share some CSA love! They’ve also got coffee and other local goodies.
Pork Barrel BBQ: Lots of good pork-centric options, including cologne—“an intoxicating bouquet of spices, smoke, meat, and sweet summer sweat.”
Bonobos: So his rear will look good.

For Fido:
Haha, just kidding. I don’t have any animal suggestions.

Please comment if you have any friends’ shops we might want to patronize!

Update with new additions:
Lebelle Soaps: Artisan tallow shaving soap and aftershave = perfect guy stocking stuffer.
Maggie Russell: another great Memphis artist. Don’t miss her funny, quirky greeting cards.

None of the above are sponsored links. But if you’re into supporting one another, here’s your [pre-Black Friday/Cyber Monday] reminder that I’m an Amazon affiliate. So if you click over there from one of my links then order something—anything, not only whatever I linked—I’ll receive a teensy commission, no change in price for you. Thanks in advance for helping a sister out!

Winter Survival Items.

Survival may be a bit of an overstatement. Here’s a list of a few random things I like:

1. Handkerchiefs. As Kathleen Kelly educates us in You’ve Got Mail, in case you didn’t know, “A handkerchief is a Kleenex you don’t throw away.”

I came across two vintage handkerchiefs, I think my grandmother’s, that I’d put in the material-for-potential-future-craft-projects department. I’m mature enough now to accept the fact that I won’t be making pillow cases out of them any time in the next ten to twenty years (or doing this, which is really cute). But then I had a minor epiphany: Why not use them for their intended purpose? That sounds really dumb, but it was a revelation. I felt vindicated upon learning that handkerchiefs are in again. (Read that one for answers to your pressing handkerchief etiquette problems, like, “If you have offered your handkerchief to someone else, don’t ask for it back, no matter how nice or expensive it is.”)

They’ve really brightened up this sniffly winter time. (Please, wash often.)

2. Fabric shaver/sweater de-piller. I didn’t know this existed until Design Mom mentioned it. You can get one here or probably at your drug store. I’ve semi-restored two of my favorite sweaters that were looking dingy, as well as a coat that (I thought) was bound for the land where coats go to die. Maybe these sweater de-pillers are really obvious (or maybe you use some other method: razor? something else?), but again, I hadn’t thought of it. It feels great to be able to maintain my lazy dressing limited wardrobe philosophy by continuing to wear those sweaters over and over, without feeling too much like a bag lady.

3. Durham’s Bee Farm Wonder Salve. I had a jar of this stuff for several years, but ran out before this winter. Should’ve ordered more immediately; now I’ve learned my lesson. You can use it for anything on your skin—it heals and moisturizes—but in the absence of other skin needs, I’d just use it as lip balm. I cannot remember my lips ever being chapped, until this winter. Blergh. Bring back the bee salve!

What’s brightened up your winter?

Valentine’s Changes (or, Colin Firth forever and ever, amen.)

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Looking through the archives, I see that Valentine’s Day has been one of my consistent occasions for posting something here, for some reason. The feast day to remember a saint who loved God and loved others, enough to die for that love, now serves as the calendar notch on which we hang our ever-changing notions and expectations about love.

In past years I’ve posted about:

This year, my love for MT, and her little friends at school, has manifested itself through Pinterest-inspired activities: heart braid, heart crayons, the best oatmeal coconut chocolate chip cookies.

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So the holiday has evolved quite a bit. In six words,

2007: Went line dancing, found latin lover.
2015: Heidi braids. Heart, please don’t explode.

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This week Kitty’s post (How To Host a Simple Gal-entine’s Party) reminded me of a couple instances when Captain Papa came through in grand style for his baby girl (i.e. me) before marriage and kids. In particular, one year in high school he joined me down in our basement playroom as I watched the six-hour BBC Pride and Prejudice on Valentine’s Day. (FYI, he’s not necessarily a big Austen fan.)

Funnier was the year when he sent me flowers in college. I put the two sweet planters of mini-roses on the window ledge in our sorority house kitchen. The note with the delivery read something like “Love Forever” and it sparked a srat house mystery. Because, although it wasn’t surprising that Dad would send flowers, he didn’t put his name on the note, and when I talked with Mom that day she hadn’t received her flowers yet and told me Dad didn’t send them. The romantic mystery bloomed like the delicate pink roses . . . my friends and I spent many minutes (at least) wondering who my secret admirer was. We even called the flower company to see if they could release the sender’s information. They could not! [Drama!] I can only imagine how pathetic that operator thought we were, especially since she could see that the sender and recipient shared a last name.

Whatever Valentine’s Day looks like on a given year, the bottom line question we want answered is . . . Am I loved? Am I worth it? Is there someone willing to sacrifice for me, willing to watch six-hour Pride and Prejudice with me—whether it’s my dad, my boyfriend, my girlfriends, my cat (not to mention my infant who has no choice). Watching Pride and Prejudice may or may not be a big sacrifice depending on the person who makes it, but it points to sacrifices even greater. Is there someone willing to give up everything, for me? I think the answer is Yes. And when those affectionate husbands, or cats, fail us—maybe you saw it coming—we can go back to the Love who inspired the original Valentine.

Whatever’s going on with you, I wish you much Colin Firth (or maybe Stanley Tucci) this Valentine’s Day.

P.S. To be fair, it’s also about considering whether I’ll give up my sense of taste to watch something I consider ridiculous. What’s the male equivalent of P&P?

P.P.S. I do like the new Keira Knightley P&P, but I officially endorse the 1995 BBC version. My only contention with the BBC P&P is that Lizzy is prettier than Jane, which is inaccurate.

P.P.P.S. Who wore it better?

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Reading List: for your 3-year-old in NYC

Two books that were big winners on our trip to New York last week:
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Thanks, Mama Rote! I love the retro pics in this one, and MT was obsessed. I also had to attempt explaining what getting on board means. 

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Thanks, Tia Raquel! This one is charming and a pleasure to read aloud. More books should rhyme. Pictures are excellent.

It’s awesome how transportation is so entertaining for kids. Our week was full of planes, trains, and automobiles, and Mary Tobin’s new favorite . . . buses! In addition to riding on the real deal, Abuela took us to the children’s museum where MT drove their play bus for what felt like forever. We had several transfers and ended up in Boston. I don’t know how she knows Boston is even a thing.

This and that.

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A couple weekends ago with the bruddas. We almost asked an old man to jump in to substitute for Ben, but no one’s hair was white enough. 

We’re gearing up to take the fam to NYC for Thanksgiving, not packing yet, just thinking about it. Let me know if you have great New York City suggestions, especially for little ones! We do have traditions (e.g. taking our rings to Tiffany’s to be cleaned. “I think you’ll find that Tiffany’s is very understanding.” Name that movie. It’s easy.)—but they necessarily evolve with little chickadees, plus there’s always more to see. This year we’re looking forward to the Botanical Gardens with the cousins.

If you don’t have to pack up yourself and two kids—it’s like when grandaddy told Mama Rote, after unloading all the gear for baby Will, that he loved her, but they didn’t take that much stuff when they were storming the beaches at Normandy—maybe you’ll have time to peruse some links:

  • Great news for those of us who aren’t used to maintaining a yard: don’t rake your leaves. Or, “If you’re too persnickety to have a leave-strewn lawn all winter, rake them off the lawn but into your plant and flower beds.”
  • Even easier Thanksgiving tradition. Instead of the gratitude jar that I’ve posted about in years past, follow this advice and write a notecard at the table with everyone. No forethought, except for the person making notecards, and no anger at yourself or a family member who may have forgotten to add anything to the gratitude jar all year. Ahem.
  • Also via MMD, this gem, by folks at Nashville Public Library . . . all the right books in all the right places.

  • From Pinterest, I was fascinated by this list of overnight hairstyles—ways to get great hair by doing something to it at bedtime (tiny braids for crinkly waves, weekly coconut oil conditioner, dry shampoo . . .). Do you have any tricky hair tricks like that?
  • To end on a triumphant note, here’s an idea from Pinterest that I actually executed and enjoyed (you can tell somewhat in the pic at the top).

    Thanks to a Virginia friend with a China connection :) I have a few strands of pearls, but I think my neck is too big for them to look quite right, unless I’m wearing exactly the right thing. Using ribbon provides a longer more flattering length on me, and perhaps takes the seriousness of the pearls down a notch. Try it if you need a festive, unstuffy look for Thanksgiving!

Have a fun, cozy week. May your turkey be yummy and your packing be light!

P.S. Jane Eyre pulp covers, and Jane Eyre for tots.

P.P.S. What a difference a year makes!

Costume Contest

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What to wear when you’re falling in love and need to prove it to the world.

Halloween is not my favorite holiday, but it’s still fun and festive, plus I LOVE costumes. Now I’m in a peculiar phase of life: I think we’re beyond clever adult party costumes (not to mention awful sexy costumes), but not yet where our kids have fully embraced dressing up. In college I loved seeing all the students at The University trying to one-up each other in cleverness. I can’t think of a great example, maybe someone being a double helix or something like that, or a lot of plays on words, like one year I was a devil in a blue dress: clever (embodying some song lyrics), while also devilishly attractive (but seeing a picture of it makes me shudder).

And then in the DC young professionals crowd, we had ample opportunity for nerdy, tasteless, topical costumes (politicians, slutty intern and congressman, Sarah Palin; all real examples, but not mine)—so sad I won’t be there to see all the ebola references this year.

This year, Inez will reprise MT’s flapper of 2012, with some updates. Again, we want to take advantage of this magical time in which she can’t express her preference for something annoying. (Part of my parenting philosophy, truly, reasons that in order for something to achieve a healthy sustainability, it needs to annoy me as little as possible. Apply this to: toys, music, TV shows and movies, eating habits. Maybe I’ll try to flesh that out a little more for you in a later post.)

Mary Tobin generally has great taste because I give her only great options (I’m sort of joking). Who knows how long I can make it last, but I like the idea of dressing as a beloved book character for Halloween, thereby reinforcing the glory of reading in a new way. Last year, she was the most precious thing I’ve ever seen:
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her favorite, Madeline.

Maybe two or three months out from Halloween, she was asking to read Madeline every day (I can recite it for you dramatically, just ask any time), so Mama Rote went to work on an utterly darling costume. As Halloween approached I realized I’d better maintain Madeline’s favored status so MT wouldn’t suddenly refuse to wear the costume as I’d heard stories about, with other less refined children. Even so, at around 4:30 on October 31, 2013, Mary Tobin lost it. It wasn’t because she’d moved on from Madeline, but just because. Why would you change clothes at 4:30 pm, anyway.

Strong start. #halloween #madeline #capitolhill #dc #hilloween

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(Don’t worry: We persevered so that we her parents could enjoy lots of compliments on her costume. I was supposed to be Miss Clavel, and thus a pregnant nun, but I lost my headpiece immediately and avoided offending anyone.)

This year, she’ll be Angelina Ballerina, a bow-clad dancing mouse. Stay tuned to instagram. Easy breezy costume. I will be Mary Poppins. Our question mark is Papa/Israel. Mary Tobin’s vote is for Bert, to go along with Mama. Another idea was switching my costume as well for us to be Buttercup and Westley from The Princess Bride (since I just read this fun book!). Other options for Israel include a hippie, Wayne Newton, Marty McFly (the puffy vest is pretty much his daily uniform for fall), or any character who would wear a tux. If you feel strongly about one of these options, or have another idea, please comment below. We’ll head to the thrift stores tomorrow to figure something out.

What about you? Are you dressing up? Anything clever? Have you ever dressed like a book character?

Christmas Cards!

A little public service announcement: Minted holiday cards are on sale 20% off until midnight tonight. (You don’t have to personalize them right now, but you can go ahead and place an order to get the discount.) I ordered ours last week, and they also threw in free recipient addressing. #winning

Christmas cards are such fun, but I’m a little bit torn about the phenomenon of sending family pictures every year. On one hand, I love getting the pictures from friends; on the other hand, sometimes it feels like we’re taking the focus off the celebration and onto how cute our families are. (Just thinking out loud here, folks. Please send me your family photo Christmas card!! Please.) Two of the last three years we’ve used the opportunity to send a birth announcement/Christmas card, so who am I to talk. This piece in the Washington Post last year put a finger on it— “Thank you for your impersonal and self-serving holiday card. It’s lovely.” —lack of handwritten notes, etc. I’m an old person, I guess, is the bottom line.

Growing up my family didn’t usually send cards. I remember one year we were thinking about it, and I got into a discussion with Dad about the options. He said Option 1 is a generic holiday card. Option 2 would be a Christmas card with a standard message. Option 2B (this is the only option Dad was interested in) would be a Christmas card that takes it up a notch with an inspirational message. Then I asked about cards for our Jewish friends, and he conceded that we could get a few Option 1 cards for them . . . needless to say, we didn’t send anything that year (or ever after). This is funnier if you know my dad.

This year I tried to walk the line by choosing a design with a greeting on the front, and a spot for our picture on the back. Can you guess which one of these we chose? Hint: it’s one of the million with berries on it.

Minted is fun because you can decide which backer you want to use: blank, one picture, two, three, six, etc. (If you order from them, I’d love for you to use my affiliate link. Thanks!)

And if you care to know, I have been known to use my dad’s philosophy of Option 2B (Christmas card with inspirational message), but I like the inspirational message to be vague and elegant, like a line from a traditional carol (“Tidings of comfort and joy” for example), instead of cheesy. Not that Captain Papa would ever be cheesy.

Do you have a Christmas card policy?

Frame Your Story

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Not my house. Obviously.

If you’re not impressed by cheap inexpensive affordable art, I’ve got a couple of higher end recommendations, both on my wish list.

First: frames by Saw & Mitre. Earlier this year my friend’s husband resigned from his corporate job to start his own business, combining his two passions for photography and working with his hands. (“He was a carpenter, and I just figured if you’re going to follow in someone’s footsteps, who better than Christ?” Name that movie!)

Order from Saw & Mitre Frame Co., and Dave will create a beautiful, gallery quality frame to display your photo. And it will last forever, so you can switch out photos in the future—just like an art gallery!—if, say, your photog skills improve and/or your decor needs a change.

We got to chat with Dave at a friend’s wedding recently, and it was so interesting and inspiring to hear how the business is going. Already he’s connecting with some of his photography heroes, learning, and adding to the products and services Saw & Mitre offers. I asked him if my iPhone/instagram pictures would be good enough for these frames. I don’t think he answered directly (very diplomatic) . . . but he is offering wood and metal frames in smaller square sizes now!

I’m not much of a photographer, but I love following Dave’s story on his blog, and I really love the Saw & Mitre instagram account, which is inspiring on the regular. This one really got me, along with Dave’s question: “How will my grandchildren discover and see photos of me when I’m long gone? Will it be a Google Image search? Will they find an old hard drive that (hopefully) still works? I sure hope not. #printyourwork” How right he is.

Second: textiles from St. Frank. An acquaintance from college is the dynamo behind this lovely company that sells beautiful framed textiles (and now pillows!) made by artisans around the world. Of course, my favorite would be the Otomi from Mexico . . . too bad Christina didn’t have the advantage of Mama Ortega’s bargaining!

It’s really fun to look through their Tastemakers posts and Collectors pictures to see the art in place in stunning, fabulous rooms. Also, if you’re needing more Pinterest inspiration, check out their account. My favorite board is Global Chic. Or Salon Walls. OK, also, shout outs to St. Frank’s Passport to Mexico, and Saintly Blue and White. Just check it all out.

You are dismissed. Go find something beautiful in your day.

(Not sponsored; just love ‘em.)

P.S. The story of acquiring Otomi for the girls’ room here at the end of the post; and if I were forced to choose, maybe I’d use one of the photos from here or here in a Saw & Mitre frame.

P.P.S. Two of soccer’s most iconic photographs.

World Cup Update + Links, or, How not to find a good Mexican restaurant

This is how faraway friends welcomed us to Nashville. I am smiling so huge right now. ☺️#whattheflock

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Friendly friends, our family has moved to a new city! I wanted to officially write it here, in case you’re not paying the closest attention to my instagram feed. Now that it’s on the blog and official, I can move on to some other items of business.

I do want to write a little bit about saying goodbye to DC, and about Inez’ birth story, but I’m learning that blogging waits for no man. . . reminds me of this quote from Annie Dillard: “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, play it, lose it all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it all, give it now.”

So today we explored Nashville in one of the most important ways, the quest for a go-to Mexican restaurant. The need was urgent since Mexico debuted in the the World Cup today (and won! no thanks to the refs). So the girls put on our Mexican dresses and Israel donned green and red, and we stalked a random strip mall Mexican restaurant by calling ahead to make sure they had TVs, then arriving 20 minutes before their opening time of 11am. At least we amused the Mexicans who worked there and amused/confused the white HVAC repair guys who came in after us for their usual lunch. (What I’m saying is that the atmosphere was not quite as exciting as this.)

And so, some links for you, beginning with ways to get pumped up for the World Cup, moving on to Father’s Day, decorating, life advice. I’ll tie it all together with a picture at the end.

The legendary Maradona warming up with joy. (H/t Dinner A Love Story)

A history of World Cup uniforms and the corresponding women’s hemlines.

John Oliver explains FIFA, and does a killer French accent.

Father’s Day idea (?): manly scented candles. My favorites (in theory) are Memphis Style BBQ, Sawdust, and Santa’s Beard. (H/t John!)

“Germany to Mexico: How America’s source of immigrants has changed over a century.” With a cool map.

I love so much about this cottage featured in Garden & Gun. 

Also from Garden & Gun, a beach chair for Dad to remind him of family vacations to Destin and Gulf Shores. (Sorry these gift ideas aren’t actually in time for anything!)

Making me feel good about hoarding: Style Court’s review of Mary Randolph Carter’s Never Stop to Think . . . Do I Have A Place for This?. “So try not to stifle that childlike curiosity and desire to pick stuff up, Carter says, because at the very least what you gather will likely keep your rooms from looking just like your neighbor’s.”

A refreshing graduation speech: “I hate to be the one to say it, but you probably won’t get there.” Even so, “Stay curious. Keep learning.”

Okay! I’ve gone through all the open tabs on my phone AND computer, and I’ve shared what I wanted to share (left out our electric bill and articles on DIY carpet fresheners . . . you’re welcome). I feel so much better, do you?

And, because you earned it, here it is:

Tornado 75 Home Kyle Rote, 15

(A soccer dad who loves to give life advice. Short shorts. Unrelated to decorating.)

P.S. Two posts about my dad.