Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fourteen Days of Love - Day 1 - How do I love thee?

We demonstrate our love every day to the special people in our lives.

But, there are certain days set aside during the year—such as birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day—when we can exhibit our love and devotion in unique and fun ways—

ways that make that particular day stand out when compared to the other 364.

Each year, I spend the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day trying to choose an unusual, fun way to express my heart to my beloved Yankee.

Shall I share a few of those past gestures of my affections with you?

Let me take you back to the very beginning—before he and I were even married. 

Remember those fun paper chains we used to make when we were kids?

One particular year, I made a very special, rather long chain—100 links—for the Yankee.

What made it special? On the inside of each paper link, I hand wrote a specific reason why I love him.

Each day—for the ninety-nine days leading up to that special one—he tore off a link and read my sentiment. 

I had taken those ninety-nine expressions of my heart and shuffled them in a basket,
drawing at random to make the chain.

Even I didn't know which one he would be reading
on which day—except for the last link, which I had purposely chosen to be read on the final day.

Each morning, he would read my words of love and then call me to let me know which one he had opened that day.

It was a fun way to share our hearts long distance for one hundred days!

Photo Credit: Doreen Frost of Vermont Harvest Folk Art
The Yankee attended a small Bible college for a few years—in the early years of our marriage.

During that time, I only saw him on weekends.

One of those years, I paid him a surprise visit at school on Valentine's Day.

I had purchased a bouquet of red Mylar heart balloons—one for every year we had been married.

After drafting one of the Yankee's fellow students into service to deliver the balloons, I hid to watch his reaction. 

To make this an even more memorable occasion, I waited until the entire faculty and student body was assembled in the cafeteria for lunch for the bouquet to be delivered to him.

Being a predominantly male student body, the noise level of that large cafeteria during lunchtime was usually quite intense.

But, when the Yankee's schoolmate entered the room with those balloons, you could hear a pin drop. 

All eyes watched intently as that shiny bouquet was delivered to its intended recipient—my sweetheart.

That occasion was so memorable that it was the talk around campus for weeks—among students and faculty!  ; )

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.

That couldn't be more true for my guy.  He especially likes gourmet items—all the more, if they're sweet. 

Over the years, I have found wonderful specialty treats—at incredibly low prices—at stores like T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Ross…

and, conveniently enough, there is usually a very large selection of these items that goes on clearance right after Christmas.

On more than one occasion, I've gathered an assortment of gourmet goodies and placed them in a decorative basket as a surprise for my Yankee.

And guess who gets to keep the pretty basket? ; )

My honey has quite a sweet tooth—especially for dark chocolate.

Thankfully, discount stores—like those I mentioned above—provide a wonderful variety of quality sweets.

 You can choose to buy those packaged for Valentine's Day, or be frugal—like me—and purchase from the clearance section. 

The Yankee has received quite an assortment of dark chocolates over the years. And…he has even shared them with me!

Could that be why the gift of chocolates has been duplicated a few times?!

I'll share one final fun Valentine's gift idea with you.

Have you ever used conversation hearts as miniature love notes?

One year, I bought a bag of the larger hearts and strategically placed them throughout the house and car, for the Yankee to find. 

I matched the saying with the location where it was placed.

Throughout the day, he would find those tiny messages and be reminded of my love.

Just one note of caution here: count the hearts and make a list of where you leave them.

Otherwise, there may be a very sticky surprise in your future!

Now…can you say Chocolate Mint Bliss?

Today I will be adding a delicious bag of Ghirardelli chocolates to the giveaway assortment.

So…what are the special ways you show your love on Valentine's Day?

Reminder:  Please be sure to publish your
Valentine's post, before you link to the party. And
don't forget to mention the Brambleberry Cottage
in your post.  

Don't forget to leave a comment 
to be entered in this week's drawing for the giveaway!

1. bj
2. Jenn Raley
3. Donna
4. Meghan
5. Marilyn
6. Ann-Tin and Sparkle
7. Tammy- Chocolate
8. anat

Let the Valentine's Party Begin–With Two Special Giveaways!

Are you ready for two solid weeks of fun and creativity!

 Beginning today, I will be publishing a post for each day of the Fourteen Days of Love

At the end of each day's post, a special surprise gift will be announced–having something to do with that day's topic. At the completion of the first seven days of the party, all of those wonderful goodies will be collected to make one very special giveaway!

Then…there will be a repeat performance for the next week–days eight through fourteen. At the conclusion of that second week, there will be another wonderful giveaway of the treasures announced for each day of that week.

I can't wait for the fun to begin!!! How about you?

After you have linked to each day's post, please be sure to leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for the giveaways!

Click the party button on the sidebar for all the details.

The countdown has begun!!!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lights, Camera...


I have been anxiously anticipating sharing something with you!
Several weeks ago, I asked a fellow blogger—whose blog I love—if she would
be willing to be interviewed by me. And she said yes.

I'm sure many of you are quite familiar with her and are probably even followers of
her blog yourself. Her name…Cindy Kihn Santiago.

And if her name doesn't ring a bell, her blog's title probably will.

So, let's not waste any time getting straight to the interview.   ; )

Liz:  Hi, Cindy.  First, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this
interview.  I'm sure that working full time and preparing all of those wonderful posts for your
blog, My Romantic Home, keeps you quite busy.

Cindy:  Thank you, Liz! Yes, I am quite busy these days, but never too busy to help out
another blogger!

Liz:  Would you be willing to answer a few personal questions that I think readers might be
interested in?

Cindy:  Sure!

Liz:  You've been blogging for almost five years now, correct?

Cindy:  Yes, it will be five years in June!  Time flies when you’re having fun!

Liz:  What motivated you to start a blog?

Cindy:  I was reading cooking and knitting blogs for about a year, and then I decided
one day to start my own blog, although I really didn’t know what I wanted to blog
about.  At that point, I don’t think there were any decorating blogs around.

I decided to name my blog “Romantic Home” after my favorite magazine
(Romantic Homes).  I later changed it to “My Romantic Home.”  I really didn’t blog
much in the beginning.  Once I found other decorating blogs, I became more motivated.

Liz:  I stumbled upon My Romantic Home a little over a year ago. At first, I just kept up with
your current posts—occasionally venturing back into your archives. Then, at some point,
curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to go to your very first post and work forward
to the present.

I must tell you, it was amazing to me to venture back to those initial posts, and compare those
with where I first discovered your blog in fall of 2008.  And, to contrast the beginning to
today…wow, what a difference!

This was Cindy's home in the earlier days.

The evolution of that same room!

Cindy:  I know! The beginning of my blog is so bad, it’s almost embarrassing! I’ve almost
deleted the first few years so many times.  I can’t bring myself to do it though.  It’s part
of my history now.  I had a huge learning curve!  Things were different five years ago
though, blogs were much more simple than they are today.

Liz:  In what ways do you feel your blog has improved over the years?

Cindy:  I think people that read decorating blogs are very visual people.  They come to
blogs not only to get ideas but to see beauty.  I try to make my blog as beautiful as I
can now.  I’m also more comfortable with blogging, and I feel like I’m just chatting with
 friends now.

Liz:  From the beginning, decorating your home has been one of the main features for your posts.
But, one of the most notable changes that has taken place has been your ever-evolving décor.
How do you feel your decorating style has changed since you first began blogging in 2005?

Cindy:  I’ve always been into decorating, but having my blog has really motivated me to
do more. I’ve gone with a more feminine look.  I’ve always loved that look but really
couldn’t do it when I was married.

It took years for me to collect the things that I have in my home now.  It’s really evolved
over the last five years, and it’s all documented on my blog.  I hope that inspires people
that are just starting out or starting over that it takes time.  Most of us can’t afford to
redo a whole house all at once, but if you work slowly at it over the years you can have
the look you want.

Liz:  What have been the greatest influences in those style changes?

Cindy:  I love looking at decorating magazines and other decorating blogs.  I’ve always
been drawn to the shabby chic look and luckily this style of decorating is very
budget friendly.

My dining room hutch that I found on Craigslist was only $125 and my table and chairs
from the Salvation Army were only $175. I just painted them white and now they look
so much more expensive!

Liz:  I, for one, have loved the changes that you've made to your home. It just keeps getting better
and better all the time.

Cindy:  Thank you! It’s been a fun, creative outlet for me.

Liz:  Another significant improvement that I've noticed, over the life of your blog, has been the
quality of your photos. What do you attribute that to?

Cindy:  I take photos for my blog almost every day, so I think naturally you become better
at something when you do it that much.

Liz: In reviewing your blog from the beginning, it appears that sometime in 2007 there seemed
to be somewhat of a shift in the composition of your photo shots as well. What was the
determining factor there?

Cindy:  I think that came from studying photos on other blogs that I thought were
really good.

Liz:  What do you look for when you're composing your shots?

Cindy:  I look to make sure there is enough light if possible.

I also look to see what is in the background.  I always make sure there isn’t something
lurking back there that will distract from the photo, like my purse, or a soda can or
whatever else gets left out that should have been put away.  I can’t tell you how many
times I’ve taken photos and then later realized there is something ugly in the background.

I try to think of it as a magazine shoot and make it as visually appealing as possible.

Liz:  Have you ever taken photography classes?

Cindy:  I took photography in high school, and then I took another class in college, but I
really don’t remember anything I learned…that was a long time ago and way before
digital cameras!

Liz:  What are some tips and tricks that you can share with the rest of us that would help us to
improve the quality of the photos we take for our blogs?

Cindy:  Crop those photos to get close ups.  You can make a really bad photo look good
just by cropping it down.  Also use a program like PhotoShop to adjust the light and color.
If you don’t have PhotoShop or another photo editing software on your computer, you can
use a free online photo editing option. lets you adjust your photos, and I know
there are many more out there as well.

A great feature of these is that you can adjust the temperature of the photo. Sometimes a
photo taken indoors without a flash comes out really yellow, but you can cool down the
photo with the software or warm up photos taken with too much light. Also don’t be afraid
to emulate other bloggers if you like their style! I think we can all learn from each other.
Study what draws you into their photos and try to do that on your own.

Liz:  Since 2005, when you first began blogging, have you used different cameras?

Cindy:  I had some really bad cameras in the beginning. I think I went through a few that
were $50 or less.  Then, I had to learn how to use a Canon Rebel at work, because they
didn’t replace our graphic artist when he left the company.  I was the one that would be
taking photos of our products for different uses.  I was able to take the Canon Rebel
home to learn how to use it, and I fell in love.  That’s when my photos really started
getting better, and my blog traffic started growing rapidly!

Liz:  What type of camera do you currently use.

Cindy:  I ended up buying my own Canon Rebel XSi.  I bought mine through the QVC
website, because I could spread the payments out over 4 months and use the money I
was making through the advertisements I have on my blog.

Canon Rebel XSi

Liz:  What camera features have you found to be the most essential to produce the best images
for blogs?

Cindy:  I never use a flash.  The flash makes photos look horrible to me.  I would rather
lighten the photo with a photo editing software, it’s a much softer look.

Liz:  Well, I can tell you without hesitation…the beautiful images you consistently share with
us are a big part of what keeps me coming back—and I'm sure many others, as well.

Wow! You're such a wealth of information that I could go on with this forever.  But then neither
of us would ever get our blog posts up.  Perhaps we'll pick up from here at a future date.  Are
there any final words of wisdom you would like to share with those of us who aspire to have
terrific blogs like yours?

Cindy:  I think one of the things that draws me into a blog is not just the beautiful photos
but a feeling that I "know" the person.  I think it's important to post a photo of yourself 
every once in awhile. That was hard for me to do for the longest time, and it still is now,
but I think it's important.  Also remember to be yourself and let your personality shine
through your writing!  People will "connect" with you more if they feel like they
know you!

Liz:  Thank you, Cindy, so much for your time.  It has been a pleasure getting to know you
through your wonderful blog and this interview!  And PLEASE, keep those fabulous posts—
with those lovely photos—coming our way!

Happy blogging!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Serving Up Serenity

If you recall, last week I took you on a little shopping excursion
with me to one of my favorite stores—Marshalls.

Remember all those wonderful Valentine's dishes?

it just so happened that the day I was there,
I didn't make a single purchase.

But, a day or so later, I decided to go back and buy
several place settings and a number of serving pieces.

When I returned, there would still be plenty of pieces to choose from—right? 
After all, the display had been overflowing with goodies.

when I returned, the entire display was missing.
Oh, no! Where did everything go?

I searched the store, thinking that perhaps
they had just shuffled things around. And, indeed,
they had moved those dishes—at least the handful that were left.
I went to three stores—yes, three—and could only come up with
 a fraction of the pieces I had intended to go home with.

Armed with those few pieces, I scurried back to the cottage to mull over
how I was going to use them.  Then inspiration hit!

I love to dine al fresco. There's just something about being
out in the open air that makes food taste so much better.

But, there's a difference between just eating outdoors—at a barbeque
or picnic—and having a genuine dining experience.

I ventured outside the cottage
to look for that special place to create just such an "experience."

Unfortunately, it’s the dead of winter here.
Consequently, things are looking rather dismal.

The only color in the landscape at present is...
 brown, brown, and more brown—except for the lively green of the pines.
Thank goodness for the pines!

As I surveyed my surroundings, I thought of how pretty, prissy, 
and feminine those dishes were and how rustic and primitive
the landscape appeared at present.

As a matter of fact, the only color to be
found anywhere, other than the pines,
was the white blooms of my camellias—if you consider that color. 

And I'm sorry to say…they had been kissed one too
many times by Mr. Jack Frost!

As I stood in one of the fields behind the cottage,
 something occurred to me. The Yankee and I have such divergent tastes that I'm constantly
challenged to strike a balance between the rustic and the refined.

Hmmm!  Rustic surroundings, refined tableware—
I could just blend the two...
as always!

I gathered a table and some chairs from one of the barns, gave
everything a thorough cleaning, and proceeded with my plan of attack.

I chose a rather large piece of lace from my stash to cover the table,
 some simple lace-trimmed napkins, and several old lace curtain panels
to toss over the backs of the chairs.

I knew I would have to soften things up a bit for those dishes to shine.

My goal was to create a light-reflecting, colorful table setting
that would nicely contrast with the somewhat stark countryside. I decided that
a splash of vibrant color would complement the dishware
 from Marshalls quite well.

So, I brought my favorite vintage ruby red goblets into play.

Though I dared not use anything with a flame in this environment,
I absolutely had to display the incredibly ornate candlesticks
that I found at—you guessed it—Marshalls.

Their beautiful sparkling crystals would be the perfect accompaniment
to my assortment of vintage crystal and clear-glass accessories. 

The shimmering sunlight reflecting from all those gleaming glass surfaces
would present a nice alternative to the absence of candlelight.

To bring yet more color to the setting, I assembled
some pink silk roses, Queen Anne's lace, and silk greenery to make
 floral arrangements to place atop the candlesticks.

While I was at it, I fashioned four simple napkin rings
from other silk flowers I had on hand.

I really love the instant character that vintage
and antique items contribute to any setting.

And, I prefer to mix and match my pieces—especially silver flatware.
In this particular tablescape, I used three different patterns of vintage silver.

I also delight in uniqueness.

 For that reason, I dispensed with protocol,
reversed the normal layout of the flatware, and placed the knives and spoons to barely peek
 from the lacy opening of the napkins—which were placed at an angle.

For a touch of whimsy, I decided to incorporate these cute,
 inexpensive glass votive holders from the Dollar Store—two for a dollar.

They made simply charming salt cellars, and since they were
 heart-shaped, they tied in perfectly to the Valentine's theme.

Notice how sweetly they repeat
the hearts splashed all over the plates and bowls?

Though the field where I was hosting this little Valentine's soirée
was a bit drab and lacking in color, the serenity that enveloped you there would
certainly make a wonderful dining experience.

When all is said and done...
I think rustic and refined play pretty well together.   ; )