Friday, May 30, 2014

Our Cozy Guest Nook

Currently, Solo is insisting upon a game of fetch. He keeps dropping his ball at my feet, blinking up at me with those big gold eyes. Goofy pups make focusing on blogging text difficult.

Today, I thought I might share some photos of our little guest "nook." Small guest sleeping spots are one component of small houses. When we bought our little house, we knew we would have to get creative with a guest sleeping space. Luckily, Mark's tool bag and his bag of tricks proved their worth yet again. We turned what was previously an awkward room of closets and useless space into a day-bed area, complete with bookshelves and a teeny window seat.

Mark built this daybed himself and helped re-build the bookshelves (once closets) to house my ever-growing collection of good reads. I love the way the afternoon light streams in through the bathroom and guest room windows. It turns this space into a cozy little nook, proving that living small is really about using and loving the space you have.

And yes, if you were wondering... I am going to go play fetch with that little stinky butt now. 
Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Summer Staple: Chicken Salad

During the high heat of summer, you can count on two things to be served at my family's table: garden-fresh tomato sandwiches and homemade chicken salad. While the tomato plants, at least in my part of the country, are still tender and young, nothing is stopping me from kicking off my summer with a yummy chicken salad sandwich.

Here's the recipe, straight from my mama's kitchen to mine to yours. I love this recipe because its simple, easy, and yummy. Plus, it makes enough to provide my lunches for a few days.

Warning: Southern recipes are rarely exact. We tend to use measurements like "a pinch," "about half," and "a few." In our world, eyeballin' it replaces measuring cups.

2 chicken breasts (frozen or thawed)
white onion
salt and pepper
white wine (optional)


1. Place chicken breasts in a pot. This one picture is about 4 qts...or so it says on the botom. Fill with water until breasts are just covered. I use water filtered through my Brita filter, just because I live in the city and am freaky-teaky paranoid about water.

2. Bring to a boil. Once the water starts to boil, let it continue for about 30-40 minutes. If you wish, you can add a splash of white wine in this step.
A little trick: place a wooden spoon over the pot to avoid boil-over. I truthfully don't know why this works. A friend suggested it, and, ever the skeptic, I had to put it to the test. It worked... I still don't know why.

3. While your chicken is cooking, chop your celery and onions. I use a few celery stalks and about half an onion. I dice them using my Kitchen-Aid chopper, but if you've got some mad knife skills, go for it. I just prefer to keep my fingers intact. Set aside when finished (the celery and onion...not your fingers.)

4. Once your chicken is cooked, set aside on a plate. Allow to cool for a few minutes so you don't burn your fingers when you shred it. Once cooled enough that you don't yelp every time you touch it, shred finely.

5. In a medium sized bowl, combine chicken, onions, and celery. Add mayonnaise. I try to use either light mayo or olive oil mayo. This serves no other purpose than making me feel less guilty about gobbing mayo into a bowl. (Use about a half cup). Mix well. Add more mayo until you reach your desired chicken -salad- consistency. Add a pinch of salt. Season liberally with pepper.

6. Spread on some toasted bread and enjoy! I usually toss a fresh cayenne pepper onto my plate--but to each her own.

I'll try to share more summer recipes in the coming weeks!
In the meantime, what's your favorite summer dish?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Living Small: Love Your Space

Recently, Apartment Therapy revved up its 2014 Small Cool Contest. I've been dying to submit our house to this contest but have decided to wait until our major interior renovations are completed. I don't want to submit a wonky, half-finished kitchen photo.

All these adorable, itty-bitty entries (my favorites so far can be found here and here) have made me ask: What are some things I've learned, living in our small house?

In keeping with the spirit of Small Cool, here are Amp & Abi's tips for living in a small space:

1. Display functional items.
One of the biggest obstacles in a small home is storage. Our home's previous owner attempted to solve this problem by building closets and cabinets everywhere. Every wall in the kitchen had cabinets, to the point where they even jutted in front of the windows. The upstairs (roughly 450 square feet) had not one, not two...but six closets. Yes. Six. Our upstairs was a veritable matryoshka doll: open a door you find a closet, then another closet, then another closet, then a cabinet inside of that closet.
These "storage solutions" impeded life and light flow in the house; so our first order of business was knocking down and removing nearly all of it. Once that task was complete, we set about to create functional yet pretty storage solutions. We installed open shelving in the kitchen and utility rooms and turned two "mini-closets" into book shelves. These improvements allowed us to not only display books and collectibles but also functional pieces: like the chalk-labeled glass containers in our kitchen. These containers house everyday items like flour, sugar, laundry detergent, even Solo's doggy biscuits. I like them because they not only keep things in order but also make otherwise mundane items pretty.

2. Don't be afraid of color.
A recurring trend in home decor--especially among the blogging world--is white walls. While I understand the value of white to make a space appear larger, I also tend to find white walls to be somewhat clinical. When I bought our house, everything was too white--the cabinets, the walls, and the floors. Adding color to the walls was the best decision I've made. Note, color doesn't always have to bold and crazy, even a muted grey can add some pizzazz to a room.

3. Multi-purpose like a villain.
In a small space, you become a multi-purpose ninja. Need a work space, a dining table, and a desk? Why, here's the handy dandy coffee-eat-write-footprop-game night table. And when all else fails, remember that you can always go vertical. Wall space doesn't have to be decorative or bare. Use it to hold kitchen utensils or pans in the kitchen or ties and jewelry in the living spaces.

4. Edit. 
This learned trait is hard for me. I tend to turn into a fat little nesting bird, wanting to cluster my favorite things around me into one cushy, comfy pile. Then, one day, I wake up suffocating beneath a pile of unnecessary junk. When you live in a tiny house, not everything fits. You don't want guests to feel maze runners every time they try to walk from the living room to the bathroom.
"Walk through that door, dodge the dining table, take a turn at the keyboard, jump over the doggy bed...and its the last door at the hall." I managed to keep most of my favorite pieces, but a few of my favorites had to be put into storage: namely, my keyboard and my grandmother's yellow chair. As much as I covet a piano, some things will have to wait for our next house. And, hey, it's always good to learn to do without.

5. Stay clean and organized.
This is the cardinal rule. Keeping things clean and clutter-free make small homes feel so much airy and roomier. It doesn't take long in a small space for little piles to feel like big piles. Plus, keeping ahead of the junk-onslaught makes cleaning days that much easier.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend

Like every other American, Mark and I spent the long Memorial Day weekend enjoying some time outdoors soaking up sun and grilling with friends and family. For me, Memorial Day consists of hearing the laughter of your loved ones, seeing their smiles, smelling fresh cut grass and a grill's fumes, hearing the ping of a baseball bat, and having a panting puppy lay at your feet.

The "most important things" are not our jobs, our schoolwork, or even those far-flung, worldly ambitions. Instead, the important things are the daily blessings that God give us to enjoy. The fleeting moments of sunlight and joy. The little things right at your finger tips, that you can reach out and touch. A handshake, a high-five, a softball pitch, a kiss on the check. Men and women fought and died for our ability to enjoy these little blessings. Their ranks include my grandfathers, who both served during World War II, and my great-uncles, who served and were killed.

In my own life, young men and women I grew up with have served in the military, reminding me that pain, loss, and bravery are not things of the past. Not all veterans are white-haired and walk with a cane. Some are young, strong, and able-bodied. Some still have their youth but not their soundness of body; they gave that up to their country. I think its easy for us to forget those who have served and continue to serve in this generation; the "War on Terror" has been such a prolonged conflict that its easy to desensitize ourselves to it. I hope that I'll never become desensitized to others' sacrifice or to what has been done for my family in my generation.

Thanks to those who sacrifice all so that others--myself included--don't have to sacrifice anything.

Mark trying out his brother's lineman gear. 

Solo enjoyed lazying in the shade after fetch.

What would a summer weekend be without hot apple pie?

Or without fully-belly naps?

A bright green boat at Smith Mountain Lake.

Big blue skies and smooth glass lakes.

Mark picking out his boat. I wish!

 A little round of eight-person miniature golf. I'm sure the families
behind us were really enjoying our giant group!

Mark and I at Smith Mountain Lake.

We came home to bushes full of hot-pink roses. 

How was your Memorial Day?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Around Town: Alive at Five

Every Thursday, Frederick hosts a live music event called Alive at Five. It's held at lovely Carroll Creek Park in an small amphitheater crafted from grassy terraces. The stage comprises a pointy-roofed white tent, tiptoe-edged against the creek's bank. Admittance costs only $5 dollars, but anyone can sit on the opposite bank in the park grass and listen for free. Some chose to pay to access the craft beers and refreshments available, but if you're just in the mood for some easy listening, summer sun, and people-watching....why not just sit on the free side?

Before moving downtown, Mark and I had heard about this event, but had never visited. Something always kept us busy--mainly, work--and we never felt like driving into town at 5 o'clock. Now that Mark works from home and I'm off for the summer...coupled with the fact that our house is only a few blocks away from Carroll Creek...we enjoy the short walk over to the amphitheater. The band changes every week, mostly offering familiar covers.

And the best part: you can bring your pup! Last Thursday, we saw two squatty bulldogs, a few Yorkies, one fat Pitbull, several labs, and even one Bull Mastiff. Seeing that last beast, I was worried he might accidentally step on one of the Yorkies and squish it. We didn't bring our Solo this time. His puppy-exuberance makes him a bit excitable at these events. Rather than listening to music, we would have been holding him down so he didn't pounce on and play with every passing pooch. But we plan to take him to one soon!

Alive at Five is definitely one of my favorite things about Frederick. If you're in the area, you should check it out. Or, come visit us and we'll take you there ourselves!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Necessity of Kindness

"So often we hand out kindness like it's in short supply
when, in actuality, it's limitless." 

Recent events have underscored the necessity of kindness. Of showing kindness to those we know, but most importantly, of showing kindness to strangers. For me, it's very easy to lull myself into this state of total self-absorption. I can become so concerned with my own struggles and issues--be it graduate school, finances, fitness, homesickness, whatever--that I forget that others have keener hurts and greater burdens.

An everyday example: Driving down the road. Those who know me know that I can become a holy terror behind the wheel. Poor and rude driving (i.e. cutting people off, cruising below the speed in the left lane, failure to yield, or inability to merge, the list goes on...) truly makes my skin crawl and my knuckles whiten. Yet, the other day, I caught myself growing mad, and I thought "This is ridiculous. I don't even know the woman in that car, yet I've allowed her to make me irritated. A total stranger has changed my entire outlook on this day, in a matter of seconds." 

The point is, we don't know what's going on in other people's lives. We don't know what motivates their actions or their words. We don't know what has occurred in their past to make them act with distrust, haste, or anger. We don;t know their coping mechanisms or even if they have anyone to comfort them or help them through their struggle, be it large or small. 

Everyone--even happy people--have an inner struggle. No one leads a perfect, happy-every-day life. Even in this  world of social media--where we always see the beauty and the best of people, strewn across their blogs and pinboards--there is a whole life behind the scenes. A life that no one--maybe no one but the individual themselves--knows. And who am I to add to their burden? Wouldn't it be better if I just reacted with kindness and generosity? To swallow my own ire and pride and simply offer a smile? We often say that our actions speak louder than our words; but really, our reactions speak even more. 

Because, frankly, kindness isn't a privilege. It is a necessity.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dill House Diary: Petals & Stones

Last year, our neighbor offered to build us a flower bed. With a mind for conservation, he has renovated his own home with sustainable and green materials. His gardens display local flora, and his building materials--stone, brick, wood--are all locally sourced. After building his own flower bed, he had several stones left over and so offered to build us one as well.

We're so happy that he did! After he completed the garden, we added two knockout roses and some mulch. This spring, I also added some impatiens and begonias--good shade plants, or so their stickers say. (I don't know about you, but my green thumb isn't very garden knowledge comes from Pinterest and those handy plant tags.)

These simple little additions--a dry stack flower bed and a few colorful petals-- added so much curb appeal to our home. In fact, yesterday I overheard a passing pedestrian comment on how adorable our house was. Her words: "Just look at all these pretty flowers!"

Remembering the original condition of our house, her quick compliment just made my day. The elbow-grease is beginning to pay off!

Now here is an onslaught of photos for your viewing pleasure:

What are your favorite spring flowers? I personally love pansies and petunias!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Weekend Photo Reel

This past weekend, we celebrated Mark's 26th birthday. Aside from him bemoaning his age, we had a great time grilling out, hiking, shopping downtown, and laughing with two of our closest friends.  When there's blue sky overhead and a smiling friend beside you, you have a lot to be thankful for.

If I were to count my weekend blessings I would start with:

Waking up slow with a good read and strong coffee

Blue skies and crisp breezes that lasted all day

Fresh flowers that threw light and color around the room

Flash packs stuffed and ready to go

New paintings hung on the wall (hats off to handy hubby, once again)

Grown men who grinned like boys when they got to rock climb

Sleepy pups who adopted the tuckered-out-position Sunday night

The first wave of rose blooms downtown

Bows on the toes

A chalkboard wall full of messages to remind us of all the fun. 

What did you do this past weekend? Anything exciting happen, or was it just a lazy, good Saturday? 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Around Town

Today, I'm starting a new series I've oh-so-originally termed "Around Town." It will showcase and feature our favorite spots around our little city of Frederick, MD.  There are so many fun, quirky shops and spots that I would love to share. Now, you can walk the cobbled streets with us as Mark and I discover fun new places to eat, drink, play, and just chill around town.

First entry: Crabapples.

A little delicatessen downtown, Crabapples is one of our favorite lunch spots. Their menu is pretty simple, consisting of the main deli staples: a brisket sandwich, a club, some yummy chicken salad, and a mean Reuben. The shop is only a short walk from the house so we like to head over there on days when our lunches coordinate.

Today, Mark had their "French Quarters" sandwich, ham and cheese on a warm, buttery croissant. I tried the chicken salad wrap, which was surprisingly good. ( I'm a bit of a chicken salad snob, as in I think my family and my family alone possesses the best recipe. So, finding a local place that has decent chicken salad is quite a feat for me.)

All in all, this little corner restaurant has become one of our staple places downtown.

What about you? Any favorite places in your city or hometown?

P.S. You don't know how many times I accidentally typed "Crap-abbles" in this post. But sadly, no, Frederick does not have a restaurant called "Crap-abbles."
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