Monday, October 26, 2015

Inside My New House: The Living Room

My living room.
As soon as I walked into my house, I knew it was the one: The grand staircase, the crystal chandelier in the foyer, and the columns surrounding the living room are the type of elegant details I knew I wouldn’t find in a newer build. Constructed in the early 1900s, the house is a late example of the Second Empire style, complete with the characteristic mansard roof. Perhaps in keeping with the architecture, the previous owner had decorated the interior with heavy antique furniture and thick, dark-colored drapes. I decided to forgo historical accuracy in favor of brighter, lighter decor, built around my trademark blend of new pieces and time-worn antiques.

The living room, as the previous owner had decorated it.

I knew I wanted mint-colored walls, but I didn’t want my living room to look childlike or cartoonish. After buying far too many paint samples, I settled on Breezeway, a Behr color that has all the coolness of mint, without any of the confectionary undertones. 

My first big purchase was the chairs. I’d seen spool chairs in magazines, and fell in love with the intricate shape of the legs. I’m notorious for buying uncomfortable furniture, and didn’t want to make that mistake again. So I splurged on the deep-seated Behnaz Chair from Thomasville. Able to choose a custom fabric and wood finish, I selected a sumptuous velvet—a welcome dose of warmth in a cool room—in almost the exact same color as my walls.

Next, I began the hunt for a rug. A classic Oriental rug would be the obvious choice for an older home, but I wanted something a little more modern. Thus the zebra print. It was meant to be: The rug was sold out everywhere online, but I found the same rug, brand new, on my local Craigslist.

Although the rug is advertised as having gray stripes, they’re actually closer to beige. At first, I was concerned—I tend to go matchy-matchy, making sure every pop of color is exactly the same shade. I decided to override this impulse, selecting the slate-gray curtains (made to look like dupioni silk) I’d originally had in mind. To keep this from looking like a mistake, I chose a blue-gray tufted velvet sofa—the color picks up the mint in the chairs and the gray in the curtains, while the velvet material mirrors the fabric of the chairs.

I bought a bolt of geometric Schumacher fabric on Ebay, and made the throw pillows for the chairs. The fringed gray pillows on the sofa came from Pier One, while the geometric-print pillows are Vera Wang (a Marshall’s find!). 

I already owned the final two big pieces: a 1940s cabinet as my TV stand (a Craigslist purchase from college), and an off-white tufted ottoman I’d purchased at Marshall’s for our previous home.   I added the glass and silver side table for a touch of modernity, then flanked the sofa with two tables in a dark-wood finish similar to the chairs. The white ceramic lamps—a thrift-store find—mimic the curves of the tables, while also bringing a sculptural element to the space. 

For the longest time, the wall above the couch remained blank—I was uninspired, and didn’t want to purchase one of those generic “paintings” from HomeGoods. I wanted something with significance that also made a statement. When I found a booth selling vintage postcards at an area antique store, I knew I’d found my answer—I dug through box after box of postcards, searching for twelve that featured places significant to our life (e.g. Lehigh University, where Frank got his M.B.A.; the park in Allentown where I took wedding photos; a bridge from my hometown). 

One problem: Postcards are tiny, and my wall is huge. I like the simplicity of small pictures with large matting, so I bought square silver frames from Ikea—another modern element—and matted the postcards two to a frame. The entire installation cost me under $100. 

A few meaningful accessories rounded out the room: a coffee-table tray embroidered with the courthouse and city hall just a couple blocks from our house; a silver tea set from Frank’s aunt; a white ceramic horse I bought at a market in Thailand; and a wooden box Frank purchased in Egypt. (I like knick-knacks to have a story, which is why I almost always purchase home decor items when I travel.) 

The final result was exactly what I wanted: a restful space where Asa can play, Frank and I can relax and enjoy a movie, or my friends can gather for a Bible study. That is, a space both beautiful and functional. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

I'm a Feminist and I'm Pro-Life. That's Not a Contradiction.

My daughter at 20 weeks. At this gestational age, many states still permit abortion.
In the culture of Christianity, “feminism” has become a dirty word—a euphemism for liberalism and lax morals. Yet, even though my faith is central to my identity, I call myself a feminist.

I’m not the bra-burning, free-loving feminist of generations past (is anyone, really?). Nor do I relate to the particular brand of feminism that celebrities like Lena Dunham preach, which, according to the mission statement of her new feminist newsletter, is all about “keeping abortion safe and legal, keeping birth control in your pocket and getting the right people elected, all while wearing extremely fierce jumpsuits.”

That definition, to me, is both narrow—are women’s issues strictly related to reproduction?—and disheartening. 

My version of feminism is about equality and opportunity. It means seeing female differences as strengths, not liabilities or inferiorities; supporting each other in the workforce and at home, whichever a woman chooses; and celebrating and protecting our bodies.

That last part—the issue of women’s bodies—is where I most starkly diverge from Dunham’s abortion-first view of feminism. Abortion is not a women’s issue. Abortion is a human rights issue.

We live in a world where women’s bodies are abused, devalued, and exploited, yet the cause that our culture most obsesses over is the legality and availability of abortion. In many ways, the debate is over—social-media campaigns like #ShoutYourAbortion signify what is, to me, a horrifying reality: The American majority has decided that not only is abortion acceptable, it’s cause for celebration. To Team Dunham, it’s the pinnacle of female empowerment—something we should all band together to fight for and protect. Women’s ability to exterminate their offspring has become the cornerstone of modern feminism. 

This is despite the global epidemic of sex trafficking, an atrocity primarily committed against women and girls. Around the world, 4.5 million people have been forced into sexual servitude, and nearly 100 percent of those victims are female, according to the International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations. 

This is despite the multi-billion dollar pornography industry, which is sustained by young female bodies being offered to the insatiable male masses.

This is despite the rampant rape culture invading college campuses, high schools, and even our homes. Nearly one in five women in the U.S. have been raped, according to a 2010 CDC report, and more than half of those women say their rapist was their significant other. Eighty percent of female rape survivors were violated before age 25.

Yet the funding of Planned Parenthood, an organization built on a model of abortion-for-profit, is what Congress recently spent hours debating. Forty-two percent of Americans now believe that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances. Nearly a quarter of Americans don’t think abortion is even a moral issue. 

Perhaps this is why feminists have been able to commandeer a human rights issue and rebrand it as a women’s issue, shifting the focus from preserving life to protecting a woman’s autonomy over her own body, as if the child growing inside her is simply a tumor, a cluster of cells she has the right—even the responsibility—to remove if she didn’t plan for it.

This isn’t just a debate about when life begins—even the woman who takes a parasitic view of pregnancy acknowledges that what’s inside her is alive. I think, actually, that we all know a fetus is a person. Perhaps it’s just that women don’t want to be bothered or inconvenienced or told to either use protection or accept the consequences of not doing so. 

In a 2015 study of hundreds of women who received abortions, the average gestational age at which the procedure was performed was 15 weeks, by which point unborn babies have a heartbeat, arms and legs, even fingerprints. A 15-week-old fetus is inarguably alive. But that’s beside the point, because, according to feminists, abortion is about the woman, not the child. Which is why abortion activists—and the authors of the aforementioned study—desperately insist: Women really don’t suffer emotionally after an abortion! Some women even feel happy afterward! After three years, most women don’t feel anything at all! 

In other words, because women don’t feel guilty about killing their children, we should all be cool with the idea. Because women feel relieved that they don’t have to shoulder the financial burden of a baby, we should happily accept the practice of killing for profit.

We’ve become so self-absorbed that ending a life that you created has been successfully twisted to signify female empowerment. We fight for equal wages, tell young women to “lean in,” and work hard to break the glass ceiling for future generations of girls. Yet we're simultaneously killing the next generation—49 percent of whom are female—and we’re doing it in the name of feminism.  

Imagine, instead, if female thought leaders like Lena Dunham banded together to protect the sanctity of all life, fight sex trafficking, tackle the backlog of untested rape kits, shield women from exploitation, and give voice to survivors of sexual assault. That is what we should be devoting our energy, money, and time to accomplish. That is feminism.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

This Mansion is "Rehab Addict" Nicole Curtis's Next Big Project

In Detroit, broken or boarded-up windows and crumbling facades have become the unfortunate norm. But even in the midst of a blighted city, Alfred Street stands out: Just four houses—less than a quarter of the original number—remain, leaving a field, oddly spacious, in the middle of a city. Perhaps the most famous among the final four homes is the Ransom Gillis mansion, a looming brick structure, standing proudly, though now a bit forlornly, on the corner of Alfred Street and John R Street.

The once-stately brick home, built in the Venetian Gothic style for a Detroit dry goods merchant, has been abandoned for decades—until now. Nicole Curtis, host of DIY Network’s hit show Rehab Addict, has undertaken the daunting task of renovating the 5,000-square-foot mansion. (She's partnering with Quicken Loans for the pricey project.)

Ransom Gillis, the original owner.
Over the years, the Ransom Gillis home's purpose has shifted with the times, transitioning from a private residence to a rooming house in 1919, and then, in the 1930s, a storefront was added to the structure. 

The decline of the Brush Park neighborhood began as early as the 1910s, when wealthy Detroit residents began to favor the suburbs over Alfred Street. By the 1920s, all of the homes had been converted to apartments or rooming houses, unofficially signaling the end of the era of opulence. In 1946, a writer called the neighborhood “blighted,” stripped of its elm trees and old-money families, with only “dismal” homes remaining. Now, nearly seven decades later, the description is still unfortunately fitting. 

There have been attempts to save the Ransom Gillis mansion—in the 1970s, the 1980s, and most recently, in the mid-2000s—but all have failed, leaving the home vacant since the 1960s. (The city did shore up its roof and foundation about a decade ago, which may explain why it's still standing at all, after so many years of being unoccupied.) In March, Curtis, a Detroit native, announced her plans to breathe new life into the structure. The renovation is part of a $70 million plan to revitalize the Brush Park area. 

The storefront addition, which has since been torn down.

The exterior alone makes the home worth restoring, but what can you expect to see on the eight episodes of Rehab Addict that follow the home's transformation? The mansion has 11 fireplaces, space for five bedrooms, and a potential master suite with 20-foot ceilings. (See a sneak peak of the interior here.) "It's a happy home," Curtis told "Every day when I come here, I have goosebumps. If I have goosebumps, that's a good thing."




The home in its glory days. (Photo:
The decline begins... (Photo:

Curtis has already started her overhaul of the place, as evidenced by these photos from Google Maps, taken in August:

Curtis recently tweeted a picture of the gorgeous new window she commissioned for the home. If this is a sign of what's to come, the home is going to be a showplace!  

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Meet My Little Miracle, Asa Marie

She's five months old today!

On May 9, 2014, God spoke to me—not audibly, but in the still, small voice we’ve all heard described. His message, as I jotted down in my prayer journal that day, was simple: “We will have a child. To be named Asa.”

This wasn’t wishful thinking or even an answered prayer. Just weeks before, I’d expressed doubt over whether I’d ever have children, though my proclamation was out of fear more than ambivalence. The summer before, I’d had a miscarriage; although it happened only five or six weeks in—and it was my first loss—the experience left me questioning whether babies were really in the cards for me. Perhaps my career was the gift God had chosen to give me, I thought, and slowly, slowly, I closed my heart to the idea of children—better not to hope for something that might not happen.

This might sound dramatic (no, it does sound dramatic), but it wasn’t just the loss that made me rethink motherhood. In early 2014, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Though not a terminal illness by any stretch—or even a particularly life-altering one—it is a condition that leaves you constantly drained, a state I feared was incompatible with the demands of child rearing. I simply couldn’t imagine playing tag or hide-and-seek when my body hurt constantly. 

That’s what made the name God had spoken to me so significant. In Hebrew, Asa means “physician” or “cure.” Maybe, I hoped, God would bring healing along with His gift of life.

Still, my response to his message was measured—I calmly walked out to the garage where my husband was working and told him, without preamble, “God just told me we’re going to have a baby named Asa.” I’m pretty sure he said something profound like, “Oh.”

I assumed God meant someday—that Asa was a distant promise to be fulfilled eventually. But God had other plans. Despite our attempts not to get pregnant, I knew at the beginning of June that I was expecting. Frank kept insisting it was impossible, but I was certain; a pregnancy test, taken days before it should have been positive, confirmed my suspicions. Now, I was elated. But I was also terrified.

I anticipated the worst, and a bout of early-pregnancy bleeding only fueled my fears. I’d often wake up convinced I was no longer pregnant, fearing the life inside of me had gone still, even before I’d felt the first kick. As the months dragged on, it was only God’s promise that gave me peace. He’d told me Asa was to be born, and God is faithful to his word. Though I’d occasionally let fear seize my heart, I reminded myself, sometimes several times a day, that God’s plan is sovereign. His will is greater than the biology of my body.

When I was just 10 weeks along, I bought a white baby dress—one I imagined Asa wearing at her baby dedication—as a promise to myself that I’d soon be cradling her in my arms. I had another 10 weeks until we found out the gender, but I was already certain our baby was a girl. My logic: A boy had to be named Frank, after my husband, so Asa must be a girl. Luckily, I was right—I had a closet full of girl clothes by 20 weeks!

The months passed by, and as my belly swelled, the pain of my fibromyalgia subsided. Yet again, God proved faithful.

Although my due date wasn’t until February 10th, I joked that Asa would arrive on January 28th, the four-year anniversary of when I met Frank. I turned out to be right: Preeclampsia forced me to have a C-section on January 28th. Asa came out smiling. She was six pounds of perfection.

Five months later, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this new kind of love, so all encompassing and complete. Like any parent, I would give my life for my child. But I can’t fathom giving her life for others—only now am I beginning to grasp that God’s gift of His son for our salvation was truly the ultimate sacrifice.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Oreo, It's Time to Stop with the Crazy Flavors


I used to eagerly check Target end caps, hoping to find a new-and-exotic Oreo flavor, which I’d then buy, regardless of what it was. But I’m starting to experience flavor fatigue. For one, as much as I hate to admit it, nothing beats a classic Oreo. There’s a reason it was the first flavor invented—it’s the best.

But that doesn’t mean I’m above a well-thought-out Oreo spin-off. Problem is, I think Nabisco has stopped thinking, simply cranking out a new Oreo variety once a month, no matter how repulsive it sounds. Every time I go to the supermarket, there’s another one—most recently, there was Pumpkin Spice, Lemon, Berry, and Cookie Dough, among others. 

An Oreo flavor of Halloweens past. (Photo:
I’ll admit, I’ve tried the Lemon Oreos, and they’re delicious. But Pumpkin Spice? That’s just jumping on the ever-popular pumpkin bandwagon—and I question whether the Oreo execs actually asked, “Will a pumpkin-flavored Oreo really taste good?” I kind of doubt that it does.  

In my experience, many of the funkier flavors just taste, well, funky. The Birthday Cake Oreos were a terrible letdown. The Cookie Dough ones kind of taste like chemicals. A couple years back, I resorted to pulverizing my Gingerbread Oreos to make a cake ball of sorts, eager to just get them out of my cabinet. I didn’t even dare try the Watermelon or Fruit Punch Oreos.

My research tells me there have been at least 24 odd Oreo attempts, not including the various Golden Oreo and Chocolate Oreo varieties. Here, in alphabetical order: Banana Split, Berry, Berry Burst Ice Cream, Birthday Cake, Blizzard, Candy Cane, Candy Corn, Caramel Apple, Cookie Dough, Cool Mint, Creamsicle, Fruit Punch, Fudge Sundae, Gingerbread, Lemon, Limeade, Marshmallow Crispy, Mint, Neopolitan, Peanut Butter Cup, Pumpkin Spice, Sherbet (or "Shure, Bert!"), Strawberries n' Creme, and Watermelon.

This overload of options, many quite disgusting sounding, has made me unwilling to buy any new Oreo flavor, because the novelty has worn off. So, please, Nabisco, save your fire for truly original—and yummy—flavors. S'mores, perhaps?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

HGTV Hosts Then & Now

My man, Pat Simpson.
I've been watching HGTV pretty much forever. But my first real obsession was Before & After, a home remodeling show that I watched every Sunday night with my mom. The host was Pat Simpson, a distinctly normal-looking guy, complete with a hard-to-miss set of bags under his eyes. That didn't stop me from stalking him, though: I had my parents take me to a home show where he was speaking. That was only the beginning of my HGTV addiction.

Since the days of Pat Simpson, the HGTV stars have undergone quite a transformation: The "regular folk" vibe of the hosts has all but disappeared, as talent that could be mistaken for celebrities have taken their place. 

Then: Joan Steffend, host of Decorating Cents 

Now: Sabrina Soto, host of Real Estate Intervention

Then: Clive Owens and Lisa LaPorta, hosts of Designed to Sell

Now: Jamie Durie, host of The Outdoor Room
Okay, I'm pretty sure his show has been canceled, but he's simply too studly not to include. Consider this my petition for his return. 

Then: Chris Harrison, host of Designer's Challenge

Chris Harrison isn't exactly a "normal" guy, but I had to throw him in the mix, because I find it hilarious that the host of The Bachelor used to be on HGTV! (Poor guy can't seem to get a manly gig.) 

Now: Chris Lambton, host of Going Yard

Apparently, we've gone from Bachelor host to an actual former Bachelorette contestant. 

Then: Michael Payne, host of Designing for the Sexes

Now: Drew Scott, host of Property Brothers

Then: Suzanne Whang, host of "House Hunters"

Now: Nicole Curtis, host of Rehab Addict

Then: Sandra Betzina, host of Sew Perfect

Now: Emily Henderson, host of Secrets from a Stylist

Monday, July 14, 2014

5 Country Cooking Secrets from Cracker Barrel

Hashbrown Casserole

This is the restaurant's most popular sideand now it can be your family's favorite at home: Use colby cheese, instead of cheddar, in your hashbrown casserole, which one former Cracker Barrel employee more closely mimics the actual recipe. Combine all of the ingredients the day before (taking the potatoes straight from the freezer, instead of letting them thaw), then cover and refrigerate the uncooked casserole over night. Finally, use a large spoon to place dollops of the mixture into a greased pan, rather than patting it down firmly with your hand. 

Want a recipe? The person who submitted this one claims her parents acquired it while working on a Cracker Barrel training video. Worth a try, right? 

One Cracker Barrel cook says the secret to the pillowy little biscuits is simplicity: White Lily self-rising flour (2 cups), buttermilk (2/3 cup), shortening (1/3 cup), and nothing more. Combine the flour and shortening, add the buttermilk, and mix for one minute; roll 'em out, cut 'em into circles, and bake for  8 minutes at 450° F. While they're hot, brush your biscuits with melted butter. An awesome quote from the Cracker Barrel employee who leaked this recipe: "That's how I do it, and cannot say if that's how I also do it at work." Sounds like a guilty conscience to me. 

Instead of using standard breadcrumbs in your meatloaf, crumble up homemade buttermilk biscuits, which employees say is the key to a Cracker Barrel-like loaf. 

Fried Apples
You'll find bacon drippings in most copycat recipes for Cracker Barrel's fried apples, but at least one employee says that addition isn't actually a part of the recipe. 

The pancake mix for sale in the country store is likely the same stuff used in the kitchen: One former worker says the chefs just use a mix (which has an unusual ingredient: rye flour), to which they add water, wait 10 minutes for the batter to rise, and then whisk until smooth. The ideal temperature for your griddle: 400° F

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Best of My Thrift Store Finds

Can You Guess What This Is?
People often comment on my ability to find treasures at thrift stores, then ask if I can teach them my ways. Although I do have a few Goodwill shopping secrets, I believe it's more about having an eyelearning to see potential in a forlorn-looking item piled onto a shelf with a dozen other donated goods. 

Here a few of my most recent (and favorite) finds:

I normally scoff at thrift-score tchotchkes, but this little guy was too cute to pass up. He doesn't have any defining marks, so I have no idea if he's worth anything. But he only cost a quarter. And who could refuse that sweet little face? I also found the tray he's sitting on at Goodwill for $5 (a Target cast-off), and I bought the antique typing table beneath (see it here) at a thrift store for $10 a few years back. 

Several months ago, my mom started collected Golden Books, and she inspired me to do the same. I only purchase the antique ones, like these two (the one on the left is from 1951, the other is missing its copyright page). The cost for both: $.70.

Agate home accessories have exploded in popularity this year, so I was thrilled to find these agate bookends for $45 at a thrift store in Sonoma, California. (I've seen them elsewhere for upwards of $100.)

I picked up this metal planter for $7 at Goodwill. The legs were falling off, so Frank, of course, had to buy a rivet gun to repair them (he was thrilled). A new planter AND a new tool!

I scored this mercury glass lamp at Goodwill for $10. I had to buy a shade (which naturally cost twice as much), but I still consider it a steal! 

This may just look like a worn-out wooden box, but it's actually an antique advertising case for Rush Park Seeds, based in Iowa. I paid $36 for it at a local thrift shop, which is much more than I'd normally spend at a secondhand store. But boxes like this go for close to $400 on eBay! 

This little bird is actually an antique salt shaker. The matching pepper shaker was missing, but I bought him for $2 anyway (I'm a sucker for cute animal items!). I also bought the metal tray underneath for $.25 at the same thrift shop.