Monday, December 28, 2015

An Open Letter to Tiffany & Co.

What's left of my ring.
Before my husband and I were even considering marriage, I’d chosen the ring I hoped to someday wear: a Tiffany yellow diamond. Still, when he proposed, on a chilly October evening in 2012, I was shocked to see my fantasy ring nestled in the little velveteen box he held in his palm. The engagement, the shimmering diamond—it all felt like an illusion, too good to be true.

I felt privileged to wear such a beautiful diamond—and that luster never wore away. As recently as this fall, I told my husband how lucky I felt to have the ring. This was no starter ring. This was my forever ring.

But then, this November, I was volunteering for Operation Christmas Child, the charity that sends shoeboxes of toys to children around the world. My job was simple: create bins of extra toys—coloring books, plastic rings, Beanie Babies—that could be added to any skimpily filled boxes. Halfway through my three-hour shift, I looked down during a group prayer and noticed the center stone of my engagement ring was gone.  

Frantic, I called Frank—who, thankfully, was much calmer than me—and then asked the man who’d prayed to make an announcement. Everyone in the warehouse was asked to carefully check the bins I’d assembled, but my diamond was never found. 

I finished my shift, then sobbed on the hour-long drive home. 

The next day, my husband and I went to the nearest Tiffany, where we were greeted with sympathy and little Tiffany-blue macarons. The store manager acknowledged that the prongs—two of which had completely snapped—looked “weak.” She promised the ring would be thoroughly inspected by the Tiffany master jeweler in New York City, and that we would receive a report by December 9th.

December 9th came and went without a word. When we called the customer support line, we were told we’d receive the report by December 18th, which also came and went. After a day or two, we called again—and were told the cost of a new stone and the repair would be more than the original cost of the ring. This is despite the fact that my ring includes dozens of smaller diamonds, which are still intact, and has a platinum band. 

The reason I lost my diamond, they said, was that my ring had lost its shape just slightly, potentially compromising the setting. In 2013, I’d had the ring reshaped, by Tiffany, but was now told that the company only stands by its repairs for one year. 

When we contested the price, the customer service rep said they’d reevaluate the report. A few days later, we received the same price—but with a new explanation: An impact had caused the diamond to fall out.

In other words, my Tiffany engagement ring—which cost as much as a small car—can’t withstand everyday wear, because I definitely don’t spend my days punching people (or brick walls).

My husband chose Tiffany for quality. But Tiffany doesn’t sell quality. Tiffany sells an illusion built on Audrey Hepburn movies, little blue boxes, and trays of macarons. 

Yes, a diamond is replaceable. As my husband told me, the ring isn’t his love and fidelity—it’s simply a symbol of it. (Thank goodness my marriage doesn't have the lifespan of my ring!) But the ring is the sum of my relationship with Tiffany—and that relationship, I can assure you, is over. 

How to Make a State-Shaped "Vintage" Sign

I've been working on decorating my breakfast nook, and after I (well, Frank) installed an antique schoolhouse light, I felt the space needed another vintage element. The large blank wall was practically begging for a vintage sign, except for one problem: The authentic ones are crazy-expensive.

I wasn't willing to spend a few hundred bucks on a sign for my kitchen. Plus, I wanted something personal: a sign advertising a spot in my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, or in my current town, Westminster, Maryland. I couldn't find anything that fit the bill.

So I decided to make a sign of my own.

Again, I didn't want to spend much money, so I decided to poke around underneath the porch of my 100-year-old house, hoping I'd find the perfect piece of wood. I found a long board that was angled at the ends, in a shape reminiscent of Tennessee. This was all the inspiration I needed.

I used a pencil to freehand the outline of Tennessee on the board, then had Frank cut it out with a jigsaw (specifically, a variable speed orbital jigsaw). While cutting it, he discovered my "antique" board was actually some sort of dense plastic, probably from the construction of our deck. So much for salvage wood! But it still worked!

Now: What to paint on my sign? 

Down the road from where I grew up was a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant called the Court Cafe. I decided to paint the name of the place on my sign, along with the word "Knoxville" and a picture of a pie.

The inspiration for my sign. The Court Cafe closed several years ago, but it now lives on in my kitchen!

I have a cabinet full of wall paint samples, so in keeping with my low budget, I decided to make do with these. 

But first, I had to find a font. I chose "DIN Condensed," for its vintage look. (If you want to make sure your font is truly from the era of your "vintage" sign, check out this database.) I started by painting the board a light gray (I used "Notre Dame" by Valspar).

Laying out my letters.
Then I printed the letters out on several sheets of paper, and instead of spending money on carbon paper, simply scribbled on the backside of the paper with a dark drawing pencil. I placed the paper on top of the board, used the same pencil to trace the outline of the letters, and voila, the lead on the back transferred to the board.

I used a small brush (size 6) to fill in the letters with white paint, then after they dried, used a gold Sharpie oil-based paint pen to outline them.

The painting begins!
I printed out a drawing of a pie, and as I did with the letters, scribbled on the back and traced the outline of the pie to transfer it to the board. I used more leftover paint from my basement (navy blue for the filling, beige for the crust, dark beige for shadowing on the crust, and light blue for the pan). I outlined the whole thing with the gold paint pen, then used a white paint pen to draw accents on the pan.

Finally, I used 40-grit sandpaper to rough up the whole thing, even my carefully painted letters and pie. Frank bought some D-ring hooks (the only part of the project that cost us anything), then hung it up, giving my breakfast nook the perfect vintage touch! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

7 Flavored Peanut Butters I'm Dying to Try

I’m a peanut butter junkie. I’ve eaten it every day for breakfast for at least five years, and before that, ate it for lunch daily for nearly two decades. I’ve cycled through a number of brands, starting with Peter Pan as a preschooler, advancing to natural brands in my early 20s, and finally settling on Peanut Butter & Co. products as my go-to spreads. 

Although Peanut Butter & Co. PB isn’t as pure as the natural stuff—it contains more than just nuts and salt—it isn’t weighed down with partially hydrogenated oils, as many supermarket brands are. And it comes in a variety of tempting flavors (my favorite is Mighty Maple).

I’m loyal to PB&C, but I’m not a peanut butter exclusivist. If I see an unfamiliar jar on the shelf, I’ll probably try it, regardless of brand—and especially if it’s something a little crazy.

So which pumped-up PB’s do I have my eye on?

Pacific Beach Butterscotch Flavored Peanut Butter Spread


I’m a little skeptical of this one since its name includes the word “spread”—a sign it doesn’t contain enough actual peanuts to be called plain ol’ peanut butter. But I’m willing to trade a few peanuts for undoubtedly delicious butterscotch flavor. Ice cream sundaes, anyone? 

Wild Friends Honey Peanut Butter with Crunchy Pretzel Bits


Honey peanut butter is nothing new. But honey peanut butter with little pieces of pretzel? Tell me more. The extra salty note from the pretzels, paired with the sweetness of honey, sounds like a recipe for by-the-spoonful snacking. 

Peanut Butter & Co. Pumpkin Spice Peanut Butter

As a long-time fan, I follow (okay, stalk) Peanut Butter & Co. on Facebook. When they announced they were debuting a pumpkin-flavored peanut butter, I started checking the shelves of my supermarket religiously…and never found it. I recently interviewed PB&C founder Lee Zalben (for this Yahoo Health story), and asked him if the pumpkin PB was nothing more than a cruel rumor. He confirmed its existence—but with a sad caveat. 

“We were a little worried, because we haven’t come out with a new flavor in a while,” he admitted. “But we sold out of the production within days, and it’s essentially completely sold out everywhere. It went faster than we could have imagined.” Fortunately, they’ll be making a LOT more next year, he said. I’m counting down the days.

PB Crave Razzle Dazzle

$17.94 for a 3-pack,

Who needs jelly when you have this flavor-packed spread? It’s a sure-to-be-delicious combination of peanut butter, raspberry flavoring, white chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, and honey. This just took peanut butter toast to a whole new level.

Reginald’s Homemade Bourbon Pecan Peanut Butter

As a southerner, I’m obligated to try this bourbon-, brown sugar- and molasses-infused peanut butter. In a nutty—and ingenious—move, Reginald (whoever this woman is, I need to meet her) added pecan chunks to her PB. Sounds incredible.

Reginald’s Apple Sin Peanut Butter

The whole forbidden fruit angle is cute—but I don't need to be enticed to try this apple-flavored peanut butter. Imagine: apple PB on top of apples. Your tastebuds might explode. 

Eliot’s Adult Nut Butters Garam Masala Peanut Butter

Savory peanut butters aren’t normally my thing. But with this one’s blend of cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves, I’m intrigued—and tempted to swap it in for regular PB in peanut butter cookies, as the maker suggests.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Art of French Decorating: Steal the Style of Julia Child's Kitchen

Back in November, Julia Child's former French cottage, known affectionately as "La Pitchoune," or "the little one," hit the market for the first time, listed at around $880,000. The famous chef's stucco getaway was built on the grounds of Simone Beck, co-author of The Art of French Cooking. Child and her husband Paul visited the 1,614-square-foot home every year from the time it was built into the 1990s, with the agreement that ownership would return to Simone and her husband once they were through with it. That happened in 1992, after Simone died.  

The kitchen of La Pitchoune was modeled after the one in the Childs' Cambridge, Massachusetts, home (which you can see on display at the Smithsonian), complete with extra-tall counters
Julia was 6-foot-2and pegboard in lieu of upper cabinets, presumably allowing Child to quickly grab whatever tool she needed, rather than rifling through cabinets. 

No one would describe Child's kitchen as masterfully decorated. It's cluttered and a little bit hodgepodge, with a high-end stainless steel gas stove just a few feet from a rather mundane white dishwasher. But it's also endlessly charming: The pegboard provides the relaxed vibe of open shelving,  the butcher block island is both functional and cozy, and the combination of the emerald-green backsplash and copper-colored terracotta flooring adds warmth and depth.

It's admittedly an unusual color combination for a kitchen, but it's undeniably statement-making, whether the mood of the room is relaxed (like Child's kitchen) or formal (like Cameron Diaz's NYC kitchen; see below).

So how can you steal all the charm of Child's kitchen, while upping its style quotient? 


Traditional: William Morris Vintage, Anemone in Emerald Green Small Square Tile ($16.85 per 6" square tile,

Modern: Glass Subway Tile in Emerald Green by Giorbello ($15.82 per square foot,

Budget: EliteTile Penny Porcelain Mosaic Tile in Emerald ($9.31 per square foot,


Traditional: Solistone Hand Made Terra Cotta 6" by 12" Floor Tile ($9.60 per square foot, Home Depot)

Modern: Salerno Ceramic Tile American Wood Series Red Oak ($1.55 per square foot,

Hint: Try wood-look tile in a herringbone pattern!

Budget: Marazzi Super Saltillo Desierto 12" by 12" Tile ($1.89 per square foot, Regal Floors)


Traditional: Aurora Mills Maple Butcher Block Table ($1,379, OneKingsLane)

Modern: John Boos Work Table with Undershelf ($489.95,

Budget: French Country Small Workcenter ($489.98,

Light fixture

Traditional: Art Deco Antique Pendant Light ($375,
Modern: Cyan Design Vertigo Silver Four-Light Chandelier ($822.50, Bellacor

(Yes, this is a serious departure from the original. But this fixture glams up the space, if that's what you're going for.)

Budget: Camden Medium Federal Style Pendant with Mellon Glass Shade ($278.90,

Storage basket

Traditional: Antique French Square Picnic Wicker Basket with Lid ($136.27,

Modern: Kelby Large Square Lidded Basket ($49.95, Crate & Barrel)

Budget: Birch Lane Large Woven Storage Bin ($39,


Traditional: Knape&Vogt 24" Shelf-Made Images Instant Shelf ($37.99,

Modern: Plank Floating Wall Shelf ($29.62, Walmart)

Budget: Lewis Hyman Venezia Shelf Kit ($23.45,

Mortar and Pestle

Traditional: Antique French Mortar and Pestle ($199, eBay)

Modern: Marble Mortar & Pestle ($99.95, Williams-Sonoma)

Budget: French Kitchen Marble Mortar & Pestle ($29.95, Crate & Barrel)

Now see it all together...




Friday, December 18, 2015

8 Waco Homes That "Fixer Upper" Should Totally Take On

Already renovated? Yes. But this home still needs Joanna's signature touches.

Nearly a decade ago, my husband lived and worked in Waco, Texas, for four months. He uses one word to describe the tiny town: flat. And he means it in every sense of the word: flat landscape, dull nightlife, and unimpressive homes. But Chip and Joanna Gaines, the hosts of HGTV's Fixer Upper, have breathed new life into the place previously put on the map by tragedy, transforming drab (and often dangerously decrepit) homes into total showplaces. 

I have a habit of perusing real estate listings in cities we have a 2% chance of living, and since my husband's company has a Waco division, the Texas town has been added to my Zillow browsing routine. My favorite game: If Frank and I were moving there, and I could wrangle the Gaines' design services, which house would I take a chance on? Here, eight potential Fixer Upper properties currently for sale in Waco:

1024 Greenwood Lane | Waco, TX

3,295 square feet
5 bedrooms | 3 baths
Built in 1986

What caught my eye: This property is a little pricier than many of the homes on Fixer Upper—but it's actually a two-for-one deal. The main home has three bedrooms, and in the backyard, there's a second (and arguably more adorable) two-bedroom cottage. The options for the second space are endless: a guest house, a game room and pool house, or even an artists' studio and office. And the back patio on the main house? That kind of outdoor space is a huge selling point, especially in a warm-weather state like Texas.

The potential here is huge: Paint the exposed brick white or gray, smooth the ceilings, refurbish (or replace) the built-ins, and install funky light fixtures, and this large living room could be an incredible gathering space.

With plentiful cabinet space, a window behind the sink, beautiful wood floors, and an arched entryway, this room has the potential to be a killer kitchen. It's practically asking for one of Joanna's signature marble-topped islands.

This patio gives me serious yard envy! It's the perfect place for kids to play, to hold backyard parties, or just to relax outside and read a book.

Is this backyard cottage not adorable? With this property's oversized lawn (see below), Chip and Joanna could easily add a pool and turn this little building into the perfect pool house.

3708 N. 22nd St. | Waco, TX

1,230 square feet
3 bedrooms | 1 bath
Built in 1947

What caught my eye: This Hansel-and-Gretel cottage is tiny, but packed with character: an arched entryway, oversized windows, and gorgeous wood floors. It has already been updated, but would really shine with Chip and Joanna's decorative touch.

I love the gently arched doorway leading into the living room and the fireplace flanked by large windows, which make the small space seem much bigger.

It's quirky details like these corner windows that could really showcase Joanna's abilities. (I'm clueless as to what she'd do here, but I know it'd be amazing!)

9078 W. Lake Creek Road | Waco, TX

2,500 square feet
3 bedrooms | 2 baths
Built in 1984

What caught my eye: The mature trees are an obvious selling point, as is the mother-in-law suite, complete with a second kitchen. The rooms are large, and with a few minor tear-downs, the layout could be open and airy, making it a perfect candidate for a Joanna Gaines' facelift. 

Yes, this kitchen is a total gut job. But with its pass-through window (see below), the potential for an open concept layout is obvious.

Look past the popcorn ceiling and wall mirrors, and you've got a living space with high ceilings, a beam just begging to be upgraded, and lots of light.

Imagine: white-washed walls, swooshing ceiling fans, and reclaimed wood floors. This could easily become my favorite place in the house.

With just under 18 acres, this place is a horse farm waiting to happen.

319 Crescent Road | Waco, TX

2,552 square feet
4 bedrooms | 2 baths
Built in 1982

What caught my eye: Although this house was built in the '80s, it has all the appeal of a Craftsman bungalow, with quaint architectural detail, a huge tree out front, and a floor-to-ceiling fireplace.

Painted white, and with a statement mantel, this fireplace could become a gorgeous focal point for the room. The updates are entirely cosmetic: install new light fixtures, rip out the dated tile flooring, and do away with the popcorn ceilings.

Galley-style kitchens tend to feel tight, and this one is no exception. But wood flooring would make the room feel larger, while ceiling-height cabinets would capitalize on the wasted space above the current cabinets. The final touch? An attention-grabbing light fixture, turning the boring breakfast nook into a cozy spot for a cup of coffee.

This giant bathroom feels out of place, but you wouldn't catch me complaining! This place deserves the spa treatment: a freestanding clawfoot tub, a stall shower, and cool colors. 

This solarium-like space is well-suited to an herb garden, one of Joanna's go-to solutions for sunrooms.

3104 Mitchell Ave. | Waco, TX

2,315 square feet
3 bedrooms | 3 baths
Built in 1950

What caught my eye: The outdoor space is what sold me: huge trees, brick sidewalk, and a secret garden-style backyard. But even the inside has its appeal, if you can look past the 1950s-era wallpaper. The kitchen has tons of cabinet space, the fireplace has a beautiful, traditional-style mantle, and there are windows everywhere.

It looks like someone has been smoking in here for the last half-century, but the bones of the room are solid, with a surplus of windows, crown molding, and lots of square footage. The fireplace just needs a fresh coat of paint and a new tile surround, and the carpet could easily be replaced with wood flooring.

I'm not sure if this is a sunroom or a dining room, but I love the bay window. Even the beadboard walls could stay put if you applied a fresh coat of paint.

Welcome to the Mad Men-era 'burbs! The kitschy wallpaper dates the space, but this maze of a kitchen has no shortage of storage, a rarity in a 1950s home. 

Seriously, does this kitchen ever end??

This bathroom could easily accommodate a double'd just need to knock out the urinal.

The yard looks straight out of Disney's Animal Kingdom. Bust up some of that concrete, and you'd have an incredible outdoor room.

1016 N. 30th St. | Waco, TX

914 square feet
2 bedrooms | 1 bath
Built in 1940

What caught my eye: Talk about tiny house living! At just under 1,000 square feet, there's denying this place is small, but with its 1940s detailsgleaming wood floors, arched doorways, and solid wood doorsthere's no shortage of character. I would love to see the exterior painted gray, with white trim and bright yellow door. Oh, and some grass would be nice.

I love the dark-stained floors, which pair nicely with the cool color palette Joanna often uses.

I'm not a fan of black cabinetry or tile countertops. And...this kitchen is tiny. But if you sacrificed some space in the dining room, you could easily open up the wall, install a small island, and make these cramped quarters feel more open.

2518 Colcord Ave. | Waco, TX

3,856 square feet
4 bedrooms | 3 baths
Built in 1914

What caught my eye: What's not to love about this early-20th century stunner? A massive porch, a Craftsman-style front door with a window surround, a gorgeous staircase with carved newel posts, French doorsthis house has everything I adore in an old home. It appears to have already been renovated, but it's missing the signature Gaines style: an immaculate kitchen (and attention-grabbing backsplash), a grand chandelier, and wood floors throughout.

The spot between the windows would be perfect for a faux fireplace focal point. 

I love the weathered French doors! With one of Joanna's oversized farm tables, instead of this tiny pedestal table, this could be an amazing space for entertaining.

My one complaint: I hate when homes don't have a foyer. (It feels awkward walking straight into the living room.) I'd be inclined to reconfigure the living space to allow room for a foyer, perhaps stealing a little square footage from the adjacent dining room.

This room already has many Fixer Upper-style elements: white cabinets, half-moon drawer pulls, a farmhouse sink, and interesting pendant lights. But with its cheap wooden countertops, small upper cabinets, lack of a backsplash, and an island that's too tiny for the space (not to mention bright red), it unfortunately misses the mark. 

The staircase is stunning, but the juxtaposition of the ceiling fan and pendant light is odd.

And last, but not least, a house that requires a total Chip-and-Joanna overhaul...

518 N. 11th St. | Waco, TX

Foreclosure estimate: $170,593
4,096 square feet
4 bedrooms, 3 baths
Built in 1915

What caught my eye: My favorite episodes of Fixer Upper are the ones where Chip and Joanna take a house that's ready for the wrecking ball and bring it back to its former glory. This is one of those houses. Based on my high-tech Google street view investigation, the whole neighborhood, which is part of Waco's historic district, seems to be in distress. But perhaps Fixer Upper could start the gentrification process!

I could totally see myself sipping lemonade on this elevated front porch. The combination of the brick foundation and stately columns is gorgeous!

The inside is admittedly terrifying. But has that ever stopped Joanna Gaines? Nope!

This house is worth saving for the fireplace alone!

So what is the staircase is missing a few spindles and the light fixture is straight out of the 1990s...this place has potential with a capital "P"!