Thursday, December 18, 2014

Oh Dear, Oh Dear...Oh Deer.

WARNING: If you are greatly opposed to hunting, even for the sole purpose of feeding one’s family, you might not fully enjoy this post. However, know that this is coming from someone who has screamed at her husband in the car if even a mouse is running across the road. David has learned to shout “Close your eyes!!!” at any sighting of a deer or other animal lying on the side of the road, and he has also learned that tears are likely to flow if I spot any dead creature. We once had a day trip near ruined because two lovely Labradors had run from their (broken) fenced farm onto a major highway. I was sobbing for ten minutes and then crying for a good twenty; I simply could not shake the sight of those once-beautiful dogs or the thought of their owners’ heartache. That recollection can still bring tears to my eyes.

I have such a tender heart toward animals that it borders on nonsense. When I was a child, my mother brought home the movie Where the Red Fern Grows, and in my little girl voice, I very solemnly said to her “Great. Another dead dog movie.” If someone mentions the movie War Horse . . . get ready to console me. And if I ever knowingly meet someone who has mistreated an animal in any way? Well, you might not want to be around.

My love for animals began as a toddler. It’s nearly impossible not to develop that love after being raised on a horse farm that also (at different times) had calves, cows, kittens, cats, puppies, dogs, one lamb (so sorry, Brenda), one pig, and a donkey named Henry. My brother, Brian, hunted with my father from a very young age, and there was one rule. THE rule. I can still hear it being exclaimed by my mother: “Brian, ANYTHING you kill, you MUST eat.” The belief was that God created some animals as food provision but not for the simple sport of killing. Brian ate a few squirrels in his day (as well as chased after me and my childhood best friend, Lesa, with the detached squirell tails) and later provided our family with a 40 pound Thanksgiving turkey and, finally, venison prepared many different ways. Brian continued to provide food for his daughters until the day his life was taken in an automobile accident. It took me nearly two years after his death to allow one of his last bags of frozen venison meat to be thawed and eaten (the very last one is still in my parents freezer, and I know it will never be used). I can remember the day as if it were yesterday. I’ll now introduce my twenty-one-year-old stepson, David, (how I love that boy) who is obviously a Junior. We nicknamed him DJ, because while he lived with David and me, they both simultaneously answered every call of mine from “David” to “Honey” to “Sweetheart.” My husband David does not care for venison, so together DJ and I ate the last pieces of venison sausage through silence and tears. It may seem silly to others, but DJ and I shared something very special with that meal. 

With all that being explained, let’s move on to some decor. Decor?? Yes. About two years ago, David and I were wandering through HomeGoods, and I spotted a shiny white deer head. This white deer head is shown below. (And, yes, he is wearing a scarf for the winter months. It is quite cold in upstate NY, not to mention our home being drafty because we need new windows. Scarves offer warmth and style. Don’t judge.)

As I held this glossy, ten-point buck, my eyes welled up with thoughts of my brother, and I presented the deer in my shaking hands to David. He graciously said, “Of course.” This deer (I am accepting all suggestions for a name for him in the comments below) has been in many different places in our home, bearing his leopard scarf in the fall and winter and shedding it for the spring and summer. Unfortunately, the Christmas tree is blocking some of the collage wall, but you get the general idea (after the tree is down, I will take some photos of the house in its non-decorated state).

Shown without apparel.

This one deer began a, shall we say, slight problem? You see, I didn’t realize that home designers were placing antlers everywhere at the time. For me, it was sentimental; I had no idea that it was actually the beginning of a seemingly long-term design trend. And because of this design trend, deer/antlers in any form are easily accessible at TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, Target, boutiques, stores online . . . pretty much everywhere.

Before the onslaught (no pun intended) of photos are presented: be prepared. I have placed a . . . few more antler/deer items in our home. Some were gifts, but the rest have been proudly purchased (on clearance!!) by me. I will sum up this entire post in one thought: If a hunter walked into our home, he or she would very quickly discover any undiscovered ticks they might have. I can see facial twitches, bulging eyes, uncontrollable scratches, reaching for nonexistent guns or bows . . . you get the picture. Here we go.

This is a print by Charmaine Olivia titled “Deer Wearing Gym Socks” (Urban Outfitters). It makes me smile every time I look at it. Brian wore this exact type of gym socks in high school, and I know this is something he would have allowed me to decorate his home with.

White snow globe (TJ Maxx) and a genuine antler from one of Brians deer. I have a full box of these, and I am planning a very special, homemade antler project.

Antler candle snuffer (TJ Maxx)a gift from David last Christmas.

Large metal catch-all bowl by our main entry. I waited patiently for this to go on sale and purchased it for only $10 (reduced from the original TJ Maxx price of $59.99)

Cynthia Rowley teak candlestick holders (Marshalls). These are normally in the center of my dining room table, but I am still enjoying some birthday flowers!

My newest addition: a recent birthday gift selected by my brother-in-law (also named Brian, which is quite special to me). Remember, Brian (aka Hazel), the one concerned about my placing him on Craigslist? Hazel and my sister-in-law, Kay, found this treasure of a bottle stopper in a lovely home boutique in Skaneateles. Kay also gets the credit for this blog posts title.

In between our dining room and kitchenwhat girl doesnt need an awesome deer hook for her handbag? (TJ Maxx)

This has an oval metal base and is actually meant to be mounted to a wall, but we are currently enjoying it above our newly painted kitchen cabinets (HomeGoods).

This is my current favorite piece: a plate that my husband discovered and bought for me last month in Georgetown, D.C., at Anthropologie. We spent Thanksgiving in D.C. with my husbands niece, Nicole (who is also one of my best friends), and her handsome husband, Steve. We made many great memories over the holiday weekend, and they come to mind each time I look at this plate, which is placed over one of my and Davids wedding photos. I named her Georgette (Georgie for short).

This antler has been around! It doesnt stay in one place very long, but it is currently in the second bedroom/Rachels room/my office.

This little guy (from Lowes) is meant to be a Christmas ornament (which a second one is being used as), but I have turned it into a ring holder, and it sits on my vanity.

Finally, in Breannas room, we have this lovely guy that David bought at HomeGoods last spring, knowing Breanna would love it above a cherished photo of her and her dad. 

There we have it! For now (I am not denying the possibility of other deer entering through our front door). I hope you enjoyed the stroll through the woods . . . I mean house. Do you have any sentimental decor items? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to give me some name suggestions for my very first, very special, scarf-bearing buck. 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Best Christmas Gift this Year, a Bedroom Reveal, and a 1980s, Growling, Fiber-Optic Tree

This year, Christmas will be very special. Combined with celebrating the birth of our Savior, my beautiful niece Breanna (shown above) will be coming home. It will be the first Christmas in nearly six years that I have been able to celebrate with her, or with anyone from my own, very small, immediate family. David and I have our “Christmas” with my parents each fall before they migrate to Florida for the winter, and we normally spend the actual holidays with only David’s family. Not this Christmas. My Breanna Banana, which I have called her since she was a baby, will arrive next week and will not leave until mid-January when she returns to Northern Michigan University. If you think it’s cold where you are, visit Breanna in Marquette, Michigan. The administration has canceled classes several times already, a fact I’m sure brings total sadness to her as well as her friends. Right. Breanna and Breanne? (Her best gal pal—they are known as Bre#1 and Bre#2) Get back to studying.

Today, I am sprucing up Breanna’s bedroom in preparation of her homecoming. I began by adding some Christmas decorations, which in prior years were purchased from places such as Pier 1 Imports, Target, and HomeGoods, among others. (Budget-savvy side note here: nearly ALL of our Christmas decorations, cards, and wrapping materials have been purchased AFTER Christmas, when the items are 75%–90% off.) You could make a YouTube video of David and me at Target between December 26th and 29th that would gain thousands of views, that is, if you could hold the camera still while laughing uncontrollably.

As I was placing a few extra items in Breanna’s room, I sat down on her bed and truly thought about what I was doing. I was getting ready for Breanna to come HOME. Suddenly, the decorations seemed rather pointless, even to my extreme “love to make things extra special for others” personality. I prayed for a few moments, asking God for a safe driving trip (this will be Breanna’s first on her own) and thanking Him for the gift of bringing her home to David and me this Christmas. I then removed the few things I had placed and left just one item. An item that is so sentimental to me that I will never willingly part with. It is a . . . brace yourselves . . . fiber-optic, silver-tinsel, 1980s, plastic-star-now-TAPED-to-the-top, emits-some-scary-noises-when-plugged-in (after all these years) . . . Christmas tree.


Why is this tree so sentimental? It belonged to my maternal grandmother, who my brother, Brian, and I lovingly called “Gram.”

Gram was a wonderful, near-storybook grandmother to Brian and me, as well as our cousins, Brenda and Scott (Brenda, grab the tissues). Our grandparents lived across the street from where Brian and I grew up, and I spent hours upon hours at their small home. I know without a doubt that I will write more about them in future posts, but for now I will get back to the subject at hand: Gram’s fiber-optic tree. Brian and I saw this tree on Gram’s little end table each Christmas for a few years before she went home to her Jesus (that is exactly what she called Him, “her Jesus”). Gram and Pa had gotten to a point where they decided not to put up a “normal” tree, and on one of Gram’s shopping trips to Boscov’s, she bought this silver gal.

Breanna had eight short years with Gram before her death, but she does remember her. Even Rachel (my sweet “Cupcake” and Breanna’s younger sister by seven years), who was just a baby, miraculously has a slight recollection of Gram. I think it is hard to forget true love, in any fashion. Breanna and Rachel know that I, along with their beloved father (my only sibling, who, as some of you know, is no longer with us on this earth), looked at this tree together for Gram’s last few years. I’m positive Brian made jokes about it. To those of you who had the privilege of knowing Brian, you’re aware that he could come up with some really great one-liners. Our mother was often the main subject of his good-humored torment and jokes (nearly every day, in fact), and I know I can speak for both she and my father when I say that we would give anything to hear just one more of his award-worthy zingers.

Once again, I’ll get back to the 1980s tinsel tree. Breanna’s room has been “decorated” for Christmas with only this one item. I haven’t decided whether the noises that come out of it when plugged in (for the amazing fiber optic display) will be frightening to her or soothing. It’s a good thing that when we’re together, Breanna and I still love to lie in bed together at night, each reading (something we have done from the time she had her first book), because Breanna scares quite easily and the growling that emits from the tree could be terrifying.

Finally, we are on to the bedroom reveal (“reveal” just sounds snazzy to me). Below are photos of Breanna’s room in three different stages, ending with what it looks like today.

First stage: Breanna’s room upon moving in...

Second stage: A few months after moving in. The room was somewhat better but was reflective of Breanna and Rachel being little girls (at the time, Breanna and Rachel shared this room when visiting). Rachel now has a room of her own for her extremely cherished summer visits. That reveal (still sounds snazzy) coming in the future. If Rachel was able to be here for Christmas this year as well, I would simply be melting. Someday I know she will be.

Third stage: Breannas room today, which is reflective of her heart and the beautiful, compassionate, and (very) fun young woman she has become. When I performed the makeover on her room this past spring, I asked Breanna which colors she preferred, and she chose light blue, along with yellow or gold (approving some sprinkles of pink). Each piece in the collage above her bed is sentimental to her for different reasons. Id have it no other way for my beautiful Banana. She is, after all, a piece of my heart.

This mirror is a loving nod to my mother’s own special name for Breanna, her “Sunshine.”

I hope you have enjoyed what I planned on being a “heartwarming with dashes of decor” post, and I’d love to hear what you are most thankful for this Christmas in the comments below. Also, please share if you have any Christmas items like my Grams fiber-optic, taped-star, growling tree hanging around. As far as worldly things go, I think it is the items like these that have the most value.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Finding Our Non-Dream Home

My husband, David, and I purchased our little ranch-style bungalow in January 2012. We had been on a lengthy home search, and I, of course, fell in love with EVERY nonpractical home we saw—from a modern log cabin to a (chin quiver) one-hundred-year-old, my-dream-come-true Victorian with an original asbestos roof and a staircase that would frighten even the biggest of daredevils. I hadn’t even gotten past the entryway before I began exclaiming (while twirling), “Bed & Breakfast!,” “My own business!” The stunning home even had a separate entry to a room that had once been an in-home salon, which had been fully renovated with gorgeous striped wallpaper I would have chosen myself. I was walking on air, not the original gleaming hardwood floors. After my exclamation, my husband shot daggers at me, as he had just reminded me in the car: “Kara, do NOT start shouting with joy to our (awesome) realtor. It does not bode well for negotiating if we end up making an offer.” Well, you get the point. I am not good at keeping my emotions hidden, and I would certainly be in trouble if my career was professional poker. We visited the home a few times, bringing my mother (which means it was a big contender), and came very close to purchasing it. Big sigh.

David and I spent hours upon hours driving to homes that popped up on the MLS listings, dragging our realtor to home after home (Elvina Amati, you are amazing and have the patience of a saint!!). Out of the countless homes David and I chose to view, there was only ONE we hadn't managed to discover on our own. One that our realtor humbly suggested to us. Yes, you guessed it: the home we are living in.

As we drove through the tiny neighborhood to the house, I began my squealing, and David began his coaching (“Kara, do NOT. . .”). You see, I really liked the neighborhood. I liked the large, modern three stories that were every other home . . . and then we pulled into the driveway. “Oh.” That was all David got. “This is it.” Upon entering the 1,288-sq-ft rectangle (below my desired minimum of 1,500), I had the face of a girl who just had her puppy stolen . . . and my husband was beaming. Why was he beaming? He knew very quickly that the house had good bones (blah, blah, blah, good bones). He knew it would be a good economical choice. He knew it was a home and property he could maintain well into his years. He knew that one-story living would be good for my damaged back. He saw a perfectly dry basement and a house built in a way he would have built it.

What did I see? Get ready. Grossly stained carpet. Peel-and-stick vinyl in the kitchen and dining rooms that was not actually sticking. Kitchen cabinets that were pickled oak. Pickled Oak? Is it named “Pickled” because you purposely take a few drinks so your vision blurs? There were eight different paint colors throughout the small house...a fact that kept my lip-glossed pout in place. The house had been built in 1992, and nothing had been improved since. The grand finale: NO CHARACTER. NONE. The house screamed “Size 74 shoe, please place yourself inside me.” Shoe. Box.

This is the original MLS photo. We have since painted the garage doors a lovely cream color, and have added some beautiful landscaping, including two trees.

The fact is, our lovely realtor Elvina apparently knew David and I better than we knew ourselves, and found us a home that perfectly suited our NEEDS but not my unnecessary desires (which would have taken us over budget). My darling husband, who I was glaring at, was ecstatic. I knew that because it was near the top of our one-income price range, we would not be able to transform it immediately. It would be one step at a time. I strapped on my boots, thanked God for our home, as well as a wise (and very handy) husband who had learned some hard lessons from homes he had previously owned, and I dove in. 

We have been slowly transforming for almost three years now, and I wish I had began blogging in the beginning. I am a "self-taught" decorator, with no formal training. My style isn't everyone's and that's ok, because life would be boring if we were all the same. I even applaud the pickled oak lovers out there (my mother is one of them). I simply took a house I wasn't in love with, and made it into what I hope is a warm, welcoming, fun home. I look forward to sharing future posts on how we changed things, the decisions we made and why, and many before and after photos, and I sincerely hope you will enjoy the journey. I will also post our current happenings in between, which will be quite often since things do not stay in one place for very long. That fact is due to Craig, a very dear friend of mine. Most of you may know him—his last name is List. I scour the ads, call my husband, hear his eyes rolling through the phone, and race to purchase. I then either leave it as is or refurbish and paint, enjoy it for awhile, and then I visit dear Craig and sell what I just absolutely had to have. My charming brother-in-law (known to some as Hazel) once said upon entering our home and seeing the most recent changes, “I’m afraid to come over anymore. You might put me on Craigslist.” 

Below are a few of the photos I took when we first moved in, so you can get an idea of what we started with, as well as some photos of where we are now. In the future I will share some of the steps we took along the way, as well as the remaining rooms in the house.

P.S. The “My-dream-come-true Victorian”? Less than 5 minutes away. David used to indulge me with drive-bys, then he claimed I was becoming a stalker. Me?? No way am I a stalker. Oh, one last thing . . . the current owners recently opened up the kitchen into the dining room. If you come visit, we can drive by and see it through the front window.

This was our first night in the house. Gracie wasnt quite sure of it, either.


 Mismatched appliances, pickled oak cabinets, stained carpet and multiple paint colors in all their glory.

Today: New wall paint, flooring, appliances, light fixtures, and a refreshed kitchen after having erased the pickled oak with white cabinet paint...three coats to be exact.

Dining area view to backyard:


The living area, one day after the closing. Youll notice some of the previously mentioned three-story homes across the street, as well as upstate NY weather. From one day with not a single snowflake in sight, to the next day, a snow-lovers dream! 

After many hours spent on Craigslist, at Estate Sales, TJ Maxx, Homegoods, as well as the clearance sections of other home stores and websites. Having my very own (handsome) handyman? Major bonus!!

 Hallway bathroom then:

  ...and now.

Guest bedroom upon moving in:


I hope you enjoyed seeing the changes made over the past three years!

If you enjoyed our time "together", be sure to stop back or follow along by email, and Id love to hear from you in the comments below. If you're in the area, we could grab a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop...which happens to be walking distance to the Victorian...just don't tell David.

Sincere Blessings,

Thursday, December 4, 2014


                    Merry Christmas from Gracie & Shelby!