No. 54: Learn some flower arranging skills

30 January 2015

I checked off another item on my 60 Before 30 list!


Though I’ve had a few opportunities to try my hand at floral arranging, I never felt like I actually gained any skills I could put to use on my own. Thanks to the wonderful Kelly Perry, that’s no longer the case! I created the vase of happiness above with her super kind instruction, and best of all, I feel like I’ll be able to use her simple tips to create more arrangements in the future! If you ever get the chance to learn from Kelly, I’d jump on it.

Now to plant peonies, dahlias, garden roses, camellias, ranunculus, forsythia, etc. etc. etc. in my yard…

A family treasure

28 January 2015

I want to share something super special with you all today. For as long as I can remember (and even before I was born!), my Mom’s Mom wrote some pretty epic Christmas newsletters. (Actually, to be more accurate, she typed some pretty epic Christmas newsletters. On a typewriter.) After my youngest uncle went away to college, Bingie uprooted her life and moved from New Jersey to Maine to start a new chapter, and the newsletters were a favorite way to keep in touch with her wide circle of friends and family. They detailed her year as well as the happenings of her three children’s families with humor, wit, and candidness. Taken together, they’re a surprisingly detailed recording of our family’s highs and lows over 25+ years.


For Christmas, my aunt and uncle compiled all of the newsletters they could get their hands on into a simple book and made a copy for all of the cousins. What a treasure! I love that they used her familiar signature on the cover – Mom to her children, Mombo (short for Mom Bogart) to her in-laws, and Bingie to her grandchildren.


We immediately started flipping through the pages, and soon were making each other squeak with laughter over certain entries and lines, reminiscing about famous (and infamous) episodes in our family’s history.


She was a great writer, and her dry sense of humor and unique way of seeing the world really shine through in her yearly narratives. One of my favorite moments below:


As a lifelong secretary and correspondent for countless beloved organizations and associations, her writing and her handwriting are two of the things I associate most strongly with her, so this is an extra special memento – it really feels like having a true piece of her to keep. Makes me wonder what John’s and my future children and grandchildren might treasure from our life together!

P.S. Another favorite note, from the 2006 letter. #typewriterproblems


Our new rug + foyer plans

21 January 2015

Well, friends, Christmas has finally wrapped up in the Ayer family! Yes, you read that right. My whole family wasn’t able to gather in December due to work and school schedules, so we declared Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend our celebration. The older I get, the more I understand that it’s not so much about when you celebrate, but the people with whom you celebrate!

The highlight of our weekend, however — beating out opening presents, many rounds of Mexican Train, and chasing my 13-month-old niece — had to be the enormous bonfire we lit in my parents’ backyard. My Dad disassembled the playground he had built 25 years prior and that we had spent thousands of hours playing on, and we sent it off in style with 20+ foot tall flames. It was a sight to see. We even roasted marshmallows in the embers after it had been burning for 12 hours!

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.46.22 PM

Thankfully no neighbors called the fire department. In other news, we are making progress on our foyer! You may remember it from our house tour, when it looked a little empty:


It was sporting our beloved nautical chart, but that was about it. Over time, we hope to add a multicolored vintage rug, replace the light fixture, and add some sort of storage or seating. Many moons ago I came across a particular beauty on, and fell in love:


I would click over to it multiple times a week for several weeks, until the sad notice popped up that it was being shipped to a (lucky!) client. I continued to look over the options every so often, but never saw something I loved quite as much – until this one appeared!


From my time spent browsing the site, I knew it was the one, and at 50% off, it fit within our budget. I showed John, and miracle of miracles, he immediately agreed! He must have know it was the one, too :) Here’s a peek at it in our house!


It arrived within a few days, and we’ve been super happy with the quality so far! Highly recommended. (And tip: if you’re not buying it at 50% off on this site, you shouldn’t be buying it!)

Now that we have the floor layer in place, I’ve moved on to the next! We’ve been debating whether to add a dresser…




Unknown, Seventh House on the Left, Better Homes & Gardens

a console table…



Young House Love, BHG

or a bench:




House Tweaking, Recently, Design*Sponge

John is leading toward a bench, but I like the idea of having a surface. We’d likely combine either with hooks on the wall and a shoe tray. Here’s a bit of inspiration for either scenario!


Mirror, tufted bench, boot tray, console table, flushmount light, dresser

Which would you choose? Do you have one or the other set-up in your house, and do you like it?

Tips for travel planning

16 January 2015

Despite being on a pretty tight budget, John and I have gone on some amazing trips together. From the first major vacation we took, a road trip to Cumberland Island in Georgia six years ago, to our most recent adventure, a week-long venture to California, we’ve never spent better money than on seeing new parts of the world together. However, we spend a lot of time making sure we’re putting that money to good use, and we’ve picked up some tips for travel planning along the way that I’d love to share!


Budget your vacation days
In 2013, 169 million vacation days were forfeited by American workers! Travesty! We are big (big, BIG!) believers in taking all of your allotted vacation days, but make sure you use them wisely! We’ve found that if we aren’t intentional about planning to take vacation days, and then planning what we’re going to do with those vacation days, vacation doesn’t happen… and we get grumpy.

At the beginning of the year, we parcel out any days we know need to be spent on non-discretionary vaca, like family holidays. Then, we brainstorm where we want to go, how many days each trip will be, and what month would be best for each with what’s left (we use Accuweather to check average temps and rainfall!). For us, it works to take one big week-long trip per year (we hope to alternate domestic and international) and then several weekend trips. Finally, we pull out our calendars and choose dates for each.


Budget your money
Know what’s important to you, and spend your money accordingly! Do you prioritize accommodations? Food? The remoteness of the location? You can go to Charleston and spend $500 or $5,000. You can camp or you can stay in a 5-star hotel. You can eat from a taco stand or from a fine dining establishment. You can charter a day sail or you can hike to the top of a beautiful hill. Some vacations we go all out, and sometimes we stay at Hampton Inns. We usually have an equally great time at both.

Within our vacation budget for the year we set a budget for our big trip, and then parcel out the rest to the weekend or day trips as needed.


Prioritize physical beauty
Even though we reminisce about delicious meals we’ve eaten and sumptuous hotel rooms we’ve stayed in, our most vivid memories are from the beautiful places we’ve visited. There are very few things as soul-expanding as breathtaking vistas, coves, trails, forests, and horizons, and the best part is, they’re usually free!


Do your research
We pound the pavement before we spend one dollar! A few of our favorite resources:

— If a blogger you admire lives in the area you’re visiting, search their blog to see if they’ve written about it, or email them if not! Some of my favorite folks who take lots of trips include Meredith, Joanna, Jamie, Jamie, and Jordan.
— We like national magazines, particularly Travel + Leisure, and also like to ferret out great regional magazines, like Sunset in the West, Our State in North Carolina, Garden & Gun, and Southern Living. The NY Times 36 Hours series and Design*Sponge’s City Guides are also great resources.
— While a lot of pins of beautiful places lead nowhere, searching the location you’re interested in on Pinterest can turn up great blog posts, articles, and sites to see. Same with Flickr.
— Look up the city you’re traveling to on Wikipedia. The climate section can be helpful, and you never know where the listing, photos, or tourism section will lead.
— Plug in your destination on Google Maps – you can see parks and attractions, and click through to find photos and more info.
— Our North Carolina hiking trails book is invaluable for local trips, and we look for similar sources when traveling farther afield.
— John uses TripAdvisor for hotel and activity recommendations and I prefer Yelp for restaurant reviews. It’s easy to get bogged down in crowd-sourced review sites, but we look for themes in the reviews, and then ask ourselves, is that something that would bother us? There will always be negative feedback, but it often isn’t that meaningful. Jetsetter is also a great place to find hotels, and we love Airbnb, too!

Even if we don’t have a trip on the books, I’m constantly adding potential travel ideas to various locations to one of my iPhone notes!


Use Google Docs
For big trips, we like to collect all of the information and ideas we’re gathering in a Google Doc, which we can access anywhere, easily share back and forth, and both add to. I go into a little more detail in my post on planning a point-to-point trip!


Even with all of these tips, I still maintain that some people just have a knack for turning up the most picturesque locations, the most delicious meals, and the most fun activities. Luckily for me, my husband is one of them – I think travel planning is truly his calling! He actually does custom planning for a few lucky clients each year, so if you’d like some help with your own trip or honeymoon, feel free to email me and I will put you in touch!

In case you’re looking for some inspiration, here are a few of our past trips:
Charleston (also here, here, here, and here)
Camping in NC
Northern Michigan
Nevis (here and here)
Asheville (also here, here, and here)
Beaufort, SC (also here)
Hiking in Boone, NC
Beaufort, NC
Highlands, NC

Friends, I’d love to hear where you’re traveling this year, or any of your favorite travel resources!

Fruit of the spirit: love

13 January 2015

This year, instead of setting traditional goals, I am practicing a fruit of the spirit each month to move closer to the person I hope to be. I explain more here!


Friends, thanks for all of your kind thoughts and excitement over this project! I’m excited to walk through it with you all, and see where it takes us. I know you’ll have so many insightful things to share! Hopefully I’ll have a few, too :)

And where else to start but love? It’s the bedrock of who we want to be and what we want to have, and it’s the bedrock of what God is about, too. The greatest of these is love! Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind! Love your neighbor as yourself!

But where to begin with such an expansive topic? My mind naturally goes to my husband, but while I can always use improvement, loving him well is already at the forefront of my mind. Same with loving God. Loving my neighbor, though – that’s a different story.

For a long time, I didn’t dwell too much on the second part of the greatest commandment, because it didn’t seem like something I could really do anything about – I supposed I would just wait till I eventually become a better person, and then naturally I would love my neighbor more. And then I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and he rocked my world with this particular quote:


Side note: This was just one of the many lines from this book that significantly altered my thinking and behavior as a Christian. Whether you consider yourself one or not, I CANNOT recommend reading this book strongly enough!

Lightning bolt moment! Like most of Lewis’ wisdom, it was so simple and so clear, and so powerful. It’s not about trying to force yourself to feel something – 9 times out of 10 that will probably not work. (And on the reverse side, just try to hate someone while sincerely doing something nice for him!)

I don’t find myself hating many people, but there are a LOT of people I treat rather indifferently – certainly not as I would if I loved them. So this month, I’m trying two practices. First, I’ve been imagining my family and friends in the people around me. To give you just one example: at church, John and I tend to chat with each other before the service starts. This month, though, I’ve been taking the initiative to chat with the people around us, as if they were my mom and dad and I was delighted to see them. (One of my prayers is that our church community would be a warm and close-knit one, and this has been a good reminder that that starts with me!) It might sound small, but for this introvert, it really feels like stepping out.

Second, I’ve been following Adam Hamilton’s advice and making the famous 1 Corinthians scripture personal. In a sermon, he suggested that we substitute our own name for “love.” So, for example…

Emily is patient and kind; Emily does not envy or boast; Emily is not arrogant or rude. She does not insist on her own way; she is not irritable or resentful; she does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Well that’s challenging, isn’t it?? Emily is certainly not all of those things, all the time. Repeating those phrases every morning, however, has become something of a mantra I can aspire to. Try it! I love how energizing this little exercise is for a beloved but sometimes tired-sounding verse. It helps me remember this: If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

So, friends, I would love to hear: how do you live a loving life? Do you have any suggestions for the rest of us?

P.S. I love y’all!