The Real Meaning of Christmas: making sense of Sandy Hook

The Real Meaning of Christmas

I usually post about interior design but in light of yesterday’s tragedy just two towns over, I find my heart and mind with the families of Sandy Hook, CT. I just cannot find the right words to begin to express my grief. How do we begin to help those families heal?

As a parent, I am devastated. Where in the parenting handbook is the chapter on how to tell your child 20 kids your age were senselessly massacred yesterday? How do we begin to wrap our heads around this tragedy? How do we continue to live in a world that feels increasingly less safe with each event?

I started this year with the diagnosis of our daughter with Hemophilia C, then the murder of my best friend, got through an historic storm that devastated the lower level of our church, Trinity Episcopal in Southport, and now the most horrific thing that I could ever imagine has happened – innocent children have been shot, witnessed unspeakable acts, had their innocence ripped from them in the moments in which a terribly troubled young man went off the deep end.

And yet what I recognize as real life has swept through my back yard is there are places all across the world, where people suffer these sorts of horrors daily, whether war or famine, children are the innocent recipients of some dreadful messes.

So what is our response this Christmas? Do we just pull the covers up over our heads, bury our heads in the sand or crawl back under our rock?

Or do we work hand in hand with our friends and neighbors to begin to change the world one little corner at a time? You ask how? Where could we possibly start?

Start by looking inside. Do you judge your neighbor for his unkempt lawn? Maybe he has a cold or is taking care of a family member and can’t get to it right now. Are you unkind to the checkout gal who just might be having a bad day? Maybe she has to work a second job to pay the bills and really wants to be home with her kids. Do you walk by the homeless guy and wonder why he doesn’t just get a job? Maybe he was laid off and lost everything.

There are a thousand stories and we cannot begin to know which one any one person is living through right now.

This Christmas, smile a little more, bake your home bound neighbor cookies (that’s what our daughter chose to do), cut someone a little slack, let the harried mom go ahead of you in the checkout line, pick up the trash you see on the ground even if isn’t yours, put a coin in the Salvation Army kettle, feed someone at a shelter, listen really listen when your child tells you that long story again, call someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time, forgive…

Make one small change each day and one by one we can heal the world!

Wishing you peace, love and light,
Catherine

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How to Design a Productive and Profitable Home Office

Home Offices: Invariably the first thought that comes to mind is “do I want to work from home or in an office?’ Most entrepreneurs have this flexibility and more companies are providing flex time allowing employees the opportunity to choose this option.

I now have an office away from home. I find myself to be far more productive perhaps being away from the siren’s cry of dishes in the sink and laundry to be folded not to mention the countless interruptions by delivery men or the home phone was what led me to take a space. Primarily, I made the move because it’s hard to explain how I design corporate offices and not have one of my own. That being said, there are many who love working from home.

So how does one do this and make it work effectively?

Avery Design Interiors

1. Carefully choose your space. A computer in your bedroom is not a great option. Bedrooms are for sleeping. Either you are going to be falling asleep at the computer or awake late at night thinking about that screen beckoning you for one last email.

I have placed offices in under-utilized dining rooms, kitchens, spare bedrooms, shared guest rooms, basements and even reconfigured closets.

At our Silvermine (Fairfield County, CT) house, we had a large shared office in the spare bedroom (see above). In our current home, we have used the shared guest room technique – small desk, small daybed. My husband has a sizeable home office space in the lower level family room with a large project desk that any of us can use for drawing, fabric layouts or arts and crafts for our youngest office user. In a New York City apartment I created a desk area from a closet.

2. The family balance. Is there really work life balance? That’s a different post. But I know from personal experience that short of a padlock, it’s unrealistic for work at home moms (and dads) to keep their littlest ones out of their home offices.

Source: tipjunkie.com via Avery on Pinterest

Create a small area (if you have enough space) with a mini desk or table and chairs designated just for the kinder set. I love the little seat/nook shown above for a child to curl up in and read a book. This home office was tucked into a closet. Provide them with their own “office supplies” crayons, pencils, etc. so they can “work” too. Children love to help. Have some envelopes you need stuffed and stamped? You might just have an able assistant at your side. Can’t hurt to ask. And after a little while, they just might decide playing with trucks or Barbies is a whole lot more fun.

3. Be sure to invest in a proper chair and lighting. Balancing the laptop on your lap while you sit curled on the sofa all day is asking for hours at the chiropractor. As much as your local chiropractor would love the work, they value your spine and want you to value it too.

Source: houzz.com via Avery on Pinterest

Ideally, you want a sunny spot where the light does not reflect on your computer screen. In the absence of or in addition to natural light, Nikken makes a wonderful full spectrum light called the Kenko II, if you don’t want to bring in an electrician for an overhead electrical overhaul.

Want to learn more about setting up the furnishings in your home office? Click on Office Ergonomics for more details.

(From top: cartoon from Brad Shorr’s guest post on Spark Plug CEO, photo Avery Design Interiors, all other photos from Pinterest)

What’s Cooking in our Kitchen: White Bean, Sausage and Escarole Soup

The weather is getting cooler. Though there are many after-school activities, we are trying to be a part of the slow home movement and put healthy delicious meals on the table for dinner. My husband, our five year old daughter and I cook most of our meals for the week on Sunday afternoon. I have had countless questions as to how we do it.

Our daughter loves to help in the kitchen. She washes her hands, puts on her apron, puts a headband in her hair and pulls up her step stool. Then we are ready to work. In the recipe below, she washed and hand tore the escarole, squeezed out the sausage from the casings, mashed the cannellini beans and poured in all of the ingredients. I move the pot to a spot on the counter away from the stove. Here she is stirring home made hot chocolate – what could be better after raking the leaves?

Cooking with your kids does require a few changes in your cooking style and takes a little more time and a bit more mess. But the results are well worth it! Your children will learn about food, you can make a game out of measuring (sneak in some math) and they are much more likely to eat it. Why? Because they will proudly announce at dinner – I made this!

If you are having trouble getting your kids to join you in the kitchen, try asking them to help you make cookies after!

Here is another tip: make a meal in a bowl.

Every Sunday, our slow cooker or a large pot on the stove is simmering with a hearty soup that we can dip into all week with a chunk of hearty bread and a side salad. This is a great recipe for tailgate parties too – just serve it in some heavy duty plastic mugs.

White Bean, Sausage and Escarole Soup from ‘Gourmet Every Day’

Makes about 9 cups

1 lb. sweet Italian sausage

1 tbsp. olive oil

1-2 heads escarole (about 1 lb.), chopped

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

2 15 oz. cans chicken broth (I use low sodium and organic)

2 cups water

2 19 oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Squeeze sausage from casings into a 5-quart heavy pot and cook in oil over moderate heat, stirring to break up large lumps until golden. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings.

Stir in escarole and garlic and saute over moderate high heat until escarole is wilted. Add chicken broth and water and simmer 5 minutes.

Mash half of cannellini beans with a potato masher or fork. Add all beans in mixture and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in cheese and season with salt and pepper.

P.S. When I designed our kitchen, I put the safety of our future children at the top of my want list. I am available to help you design a kitchen that works with your family in mind. You can learn more at Avery Design Interiors.

Design Inspiration: Falling into Fall

It’s another Wordless Wednesday with the wonders of fall as seen through the eyes of a child. After all, we took our daughter to her first day of kindergarten today. Where did the time go?

first day of school, kindergarten, back to school

Back to School

pumpkins, farm, halloween

Pumpkins

Fall, decorations, Halloween, pumpkin, carving

Carving the Pumpkin

animals, feed, Silverman's, farm

Feeding Animals at the Farm

raking, leaves, fall, inspiration, children

Raking Leaves

play, children, leaves, color, fall, inspiration

Playing in Leaves

thomas the tank engine, day trip, essex steam train, family, inspiration, fall

Day out with Thomas

Penn State, football, fall, inspiration, family

Mom and Dad at a Penn State Football Game

Fairfield, CT, trick or treat, friends, school, costumes, family, children, inspiration

Trick or Treat

nap, children, inspiration, fall

All Done

Ornaments

I love ornaments.  I love unwrapping each one and carefully placing it one the tree, while enjoying the memory that each ornament holds.

When I was a child, each Christmas, my Granny Blackard would send me a new handmade ornament.  Now, I have such joy watching my daughter as she decorates the tree with those.  I think it’s just amazing that my mom saved them for me all of these years.  And it’s such a lovely tradition that I have continued it with my own daughter.  By the time she is grown and off on her own, she will have plenty enough to decorate her own first tree.

I remember so well my very first Christmas tree.  Bev Richard and I were living in the North End of Boston.   On my way home from work, I decided to surprise Bev with a tree.  I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to get a 6 ft. tree home on foot by myself.  I dragged it home and it was sadly bare on one side (oops), but we still loved it!  Because we lived in the Italian section, the largest room in the house was the Kitchen – if you are Italian or married to an Italian (I am the latter) you will know exactly what I am talking about.  So the Kitchen was the only room that would fit the tree.  We covered it in lights and the few ornaments we had.  Then we tied on bows to fill in the gaps.  I wish I could find a photo – just the thought of that tree still makes me smile.

Under $50

Twelve Days of Christmas from Land of Nod

Love this set of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  There is a limited quantity left, so click quickly!

Under $100

Nutcracker Cloissone Set from Pottery Barn

I have a birthday that is far too cl0se to Christmas.  As a child, I was able to pick what we do on that day.  And every year I chose to go to The Nutcracker.  It is perhaps one of my all time favorite childhood memories.  Now, that our daughter is an aspiring ballerina at 4 1/2, we took her to see The Nutcracker this past weekend.  She loved it, of course, and let us know that she wants to be Clara when she’s 12.  I am sure Miss Jeannie (her instructor) will be thrilled!

Sky’s the Limit

Geisha Goose Egg from Gumps

I didn’t even think I would be able to find an ornament that cost more than $100, but handcrafted and trimmed with 14 karat gold and Austrian crystals…well, I could see how this would hit the ‘sky’s the limit’ category.  And of course, if you have been following my blog you will know that I love anything red or Asian…

Hope one of these beautiful ornaments makes it into your home or your friends.  May it bring the memories of smiles and friendship always.  And may your life be filled with Christmas miracles.

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