Christmas for two

posted on: Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cody and I celebrated with just the two of us this holiday. It was incredibly peaceful, but just a little lonely since we're used to being with family this time of year. I've always wanted my holidays to be crowded-and-fun-filled, though I've been known to creep away with a book on the third day of it or so. I'm never sure when my introvert or extrovert side will make an appearance! We used our time together to make lots of gifts, finish writing thank you notes and ship our first-ever Christmas cards :)

We embraced this chance to think of the coming of the savior of the world with more mindfulness than I feel I've done in the past. The church we go to here is a contemporary service, and we began Christmas week with a very awesome reading of the Christmas Story with song breaks in between each - it's one of our favorite ways worship services are sometimes done. It certainly got us in the spirit of what it means to have God himself come down and become human.

On a side note, we're currently reading through Sarah Young's Jesus Calling devotional right now, and it's a simple way to connect with the word of God for a little while every day, and just get you in a mindset of peace - something I constantly need. Young writes in the voice of Jesus speaking to her and adds scripture reading to supplement. Something she penned about Jesus' birth spoke to me from an angle I'd never thought of before. She writes:

"I set aside My Glory, so that I could identify with mankind. I accepted the limitations of infancy under the most appalling conditions - a filthy stable. That was a dark night for Me, even though angels lit up the sky proclaiming "GLORY!" to awe-struck shepards.
When you sit quietly with me, the process I went through is reversed in your experience. As you identify with Me, heaven's vistas open up before you-granting you glimpses of My Glory.
I became poor so that you might be rich."

I became poor so that you might be rich. That stuck with me through Christmas this year. We had a beautiful Christmas day full of presents sent from family that we opened in the light of our tree and spent the day around a backyard fire with a glass of tasty Christmas cocktail we made up.

We hope yours was beautiful too and that you found new meaning in this incredible holiday. We're off to central PA this morning to visit great friends for New Years :)

See you in 2015! Here are a few pics of our Christmas week.

Cards for the gift boxes on how-to with the simple syrup and homemade moisturizer :)

 Making Spruce simple syrup from our tree to send home for Christmas gifts.
Finished product!

Lemon + Lavender moisturizer samples - I'll share this recipe soon too.
Pumpkin bread for neighbor gifts using Cody's mom's recipe.

Ordered our Xmas cards from paper culture, they plant a tree for every order and have quite a few eco-options (besides just sending an e-card I guess), and I got this adorable seed pack, too bad I can't plant in the dead of winter.
 Meeting Ariel from the Little Mermaid!!! She was the star at one of Cody's Christmas concerts. Felt my adult life come full circle watching her sing the timeless, "Part of Your World"
 Christmas walks in the wild park near our home.

 Made chilaquiles!! This is something we had for breakfast in Mexico on our honeymoon.
 Christmas dinner at an historic train station. Crab cakes and Mango Long Island iced teas. Nothing else says Christmas eve like that.

 Christmas morning roses.
Our view throughout Christmas Day.

Guest Post: Homemade Laundry Soap

posted on: Tuesday, December 23, 2014

It's two days before Christmas, and all through the house, the guests, kids, pets and who know's else are adding to your laundry pile! Fun right? Today's DIY post is about making your own laundry soap, and we have our first guest blogger!!

But first, here's some info to chew on while you're grating a bar of soap later (you'll see :)

There's lots of talk circulating around ingredients and in everything these days. When it comes to items in our homes - the things we live with and use constantly, sometimes less is more. The more you are exposed to anything, the more it may build up in the body whether you breathe it, eat it or place it against your skin. Not to be alarmist or anything.

The scientific process can move slowly to point fingers at any one ingredient without lengthy trials, but sometimes the precautionary principle is simply the safest route for we civilians to take as we wait for the verdict.

For your nerd-out moment, here is a definition of the Precautionary Principle brought to you from the Science and Environmental Health Network, created by a team of lawyers, scientists and philosophers:

 "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action."

In other words, better safe now than sorry later.

This brings me to introduce this week's topic shared with us by one of my closest friends Kristen and her soon-to-be husband Adam, and their new blog, Honey Hole Goodness. On their corner of the web, you will soon find everything handmade, fly-fishing related talk and just simple good living. Honey holes are what fisherman call great fishing spots, by the way! Look for their blog to hit the ground running in 2015.

Kristen was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and was also my master's thesis project partner <3 She has always been supportive and encouraging, and is one of my favorite things about being in this part of the country!
Loft Photographie
Here we go with Kristen's post today (all photos are her own)!

For years now, I have been wanting to make my own laundry soap, but one thing or another distracted me from doing so. My fiance, Adam and I recently moved into our first home together so along with all the good nesting we’ve been doing, we decided to start making our own laundry soap and cleaning supplies. We both are big fans of being able to pronounce all the ingredients in the products we use to clean our clothes and the surfaces throughout our home. I asked friends and family for recommendations on laundry soap recipes and most shared this recipe with me from DIY Natural.
After reading over the ingredients, process, and cost saving breakdown, I made a trip to our local hardware store and was able to buy all the ingredients for under 10 bucks. All ingredients can be found in cleaning supplies aisles at your grocery store as well.


1 - 55 oz. box of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda

1 - 76 oz. box of 20 Mule Team Borax

1 - 4.5 oz. bar of soap 

I used a bar of Fel-Naptha because my grandmother always swore by it, but the DIY Natural recipe noted that other soaps like Dr. Bronners, Ivory, Pure & Natural, Zote, and homemade soap all work well too. The most time consuming part of this recipe is grating the bar of soap which took me about 10 minutes. I also picked up a hand grater at the store for a couple bucks to avoid using our food-friendly grater. To speed up this part of the process, you can also use a blender or food processor to get the bar of soap down to fine powder. Once you’ve grated the bar of soap, measure out 1 cup each of the washing soda and borax. Mix all three ingredients together well. IMG_8158.JPG
The laundry detergent should be a fine powder blend of the washing soda, borax, and bar of soap. Simply transfer the detergent to an airtight container for storage.

I used a 64 oz. mason jar to store the detergent in and a 2 tbs. wooden spoon to measure out the 1-2 tbs. recommended amount per load. Next time I make the soap, I will simply double the recipe to make more at once.

After using this soap for a handful of laundry sessions, our clothes are clean and stain-free. I am sensitive to fragrance and this detergent treats me well. Making our own detergent was simple, affordable, and gave me a sense of satisfaction that I can identify the ingredients in the soap.

For a step-by-step pictorial breakdown of the recipe and an in-depth discussion of costs, and notes on using this detergent with HE appliances and septic tanks, visit DIY Natural.

Our next homemade cleaning project will be an all-purpose cleaning spray. A huge thanks to Mrs. Green for asking me to be a guest on her blog and for her everyday inspiration! Meant Green has motivated Adam and I to get our much talked about blog up and running, more to come soon. Happy day to all!

Planning a sustainable wedding: a southern bride's experience

posted on: Friday, December 19, 2014

As this blog clearly states, I recently got married. What may not be so obvious is that I also recently received a master's degree in sustainability. I know what's coming...what does that even mean? 

For some people and programs it's researching and devising better ways to measure carbon footprints, honing policy, or environmental engineering. My program was 'transdiciplinary' - meant to bring together many backgrounds and educational paths that all had an interest in sustainability. From there we could find our niche and build on our backgrounds by being exposed to topics in clean water research, politics, and cultural studies for example.

My interests lie in shifting lifestyles and beliefs about what we (and the planet) need to be happy, healthy and whole. While that's an idealistic explanation, my strategy for doing this is using communications principles, like event planning for example, to show how such a life can be achieved without coming across as suffering from a loss of quality, style and elegance. 
all photos by Loft Photographie, LLC.
So as a recent graduate of a masters program in sustainability with a personal focus on lifestyle choices, I knew my own wedding was a perfect platform to try and flex my sustainable event planning muscles. As I care deeply for the environment and human wellbeing within it, I was out to prove that I could have a sustainable wedding without sacrificing a lot of the elegance I'd always hoped for (can we say, "southern bride?"). I've worked in design and events before and love both, in addition to being a wedding photographer before the onset of graduate school. 

(The "Duh" Disclaimer: The most eco-friendly wedding is NO wedding at all, but was not an option for us as we wanted an event to bring our families and friends together.) 

I can proudly say, we did the best we could. I had hoped for more sustainable options having the wedding near Austin (half-way between my husband's and my hometowns) and can say from experience now that sustainable, elegant weddings are viewed by the industry as a commodity, something to charge extra for. 

For a year, I worked diligently with my coordinator and all the vendors to identify the parts of the wedding that we could shape sustainably within our budget. This means as little environmental impact as possible, and thinking about lessening the number of "links in the supply chain" that items had to travel to get to our wedding, in addition to the livelihoods and wellbeing of those providing services to us. 

That's a lot to think about, but I think in the coming years, it will become an easier process as brides ask for sustainable elements to their events.

The venue we selected is built of reclaimed materials. To lessen the burden on the rapidly declining Edwards Aquifer, they have installed rain water collection cisterns to water the large grounds. In a drier climate, this certainly helps. 
Ma Maison
Most of our guests were far apart, and even my husband and I live over 1,000 miles from Texas! We opted out of excess travel for wedding showers, as air travel is such a large carbon producer. We had our gifts shipped to us, and just had a little shower for ourselves whenever a box arrived! To make up for any lost family time, we held a wedding weekend for guests with a dinner the night before and brunch the next day. We offered local cabin rentals as options for guests to stay in, especially if they were coming with lots of family.

Not all of our wedding finery was sustainably sourced unfortunately (read: not a lot of options other than "wear what you've got").  I did make an effort to search for sustainably-produced gowns and found many out of my price range, style taste, not to mention I'd have to travel to places like Washington state or even Canada for fittings! I ended up purchasing an off-the-rack sample gown in my town. This means I did not order a gown to specially fit me that would've use new materials and have to be shipped from overseas. I simply had it altered at the store.

The bridesmaids gowns were purchased from a store in my hometown, run by a local resident. These dresses did have to be made to order from a larger company. Groomsmen outfits were rented. Cody's outfit was bought for the occasion, and can easily go from the wedding to work, to other events. 

Our rings were a special case indeed! My engagement ring was Cody's great-grandmother's, and our wedding bands were from a vintage jewelry store. I love the 'never-ending story' feel that comes with selecting antiques.

We used as many local vendors in Austin as we could for food, florals, music, photography and invitations. Our invites were printed on 100% recycled paper. The only things that came from big box stores were the picture frames for signage at the wedding, and even these are going to be used again in our home for the wedding pictures!

All florals were of organic origin (no pesticides used during their growth that can harm nursery workers and seep into groundwater) and were donated to the Girl Scouts the next day. This was done through a new startup company that donates wedding flowers called Repeat Roses. Though based in NYC, they work with your floral designer to find other brides, or charity organizations that are willing to use second hand flowers (after all, they usually look fine the next day!) Candles were all beeswax, a clean-burning substance that contains no harsh fragrance or fumes that can irritate lungs and skin. 

created by EcoChic Floral

The four trees present at the reception were Lacebark Elms and are native to the Austin region. Three were donated to the Girl Scouts to plant, and one was donated to Ma Maison to be planted at the venue. 

Table decor, specifically the place card holders, were wine bottles my parents collected. I spent Halloween scrubbing the labels off in a bathtub, and sawing slits in the corks to hold the paper numbers. These were donated to the venue for other brides to use.

Most of the food was seasonal, USDA-certified organic and locally sourced. By serving seasonal and local veggies as the largest part of the wedding dinner, we prevented shipments having to come from distant regions that subsequently produce huge amounts of carbon. Any leftovers were composted by the caterer at our request (for a considerable fee, sadly). We'd like to highlight that one of the locally grown meats served was local Wild Boar. This animal is growing in destructive numbers across the south and is fairly dangerous to people. It has a wonderful rustic flavor, and made quite a tasty ravioli filling at our wedding. 

All beer and wine served were from the Austin area vineyards, or from my hometown in Louisiana. 
See sign!

There were few, if any disposables at the wedding besides cocktail napkins, and for our grand exit we opted for organic rose petals to be tossed instead of sparklers. Sparklers are made of mined metals that can come from environmentally stressed regions and have dangerous conditions for workers. 

Now, this my blow all my credit with sustainability gurus everywhere, but there really isn't a way for me to know exactly how sustainable my wedding was in the end. I kept no record of the miles traveled by our guests and vendors, and there were certainly pieces that I had wanted to make sustainable but couldn't find an eco alternative I liked, such as bridesmaids dresses for instance. 

 Think systematically, everything comes from somewhere else these days. Act as locally as you can, think about what you can make for yourself (I made pralines as a favor, a local treat from my home state of LA!) There are even sites where guest can purchase carbon credits instead of physical gifts to offset travel, like company Patagonia. I didn't go that far, but would be proud of anyone who did!  For anyone looking to try and plan a "sustainable as possible" wedding, one of my greatest planning resources for a "green" wedding was The Green Bride Guide

Everyone is learning with you at this point in time. I did tons of research into sustainable options, and worked with each of my vendors to identify what would truly be environmentally-friendly and within the style we were going for. I can only thank them for their patience and hard work to make it happen. 

I wouldn't change a thing about my day. I do wish there had been more options that didn't require total DIY on my part (or else it was unaffordable), and I encourage the industry itself to consider the impact it has on the environment and suppliers and accept this challenge I put to them. 

A wedding is a beginning.  It's renewing, humbling and indescribably special. I know I wouldn't have felt entirely wonderful if I hadn't considered my impact, both visible and invisible, in creating my own. We all know that anything with 'wedding' in the description will be charged more for, emotionally-charged purchases are the lifeblood of the industry, after all :)

But with that cost, we can support so much more. 

broccoli bits and beef ribbons stir-fry

posted on: Thursday, December 11, 2014

We don't eat red meat too often due to the cost and health "un-benefits", but I found the most interesting one pound package of it at Trader Joe's this week called, "shaved beef steak." As thin as wet newspaper, it gave me a visceral reaction - a vision almost - of how glorious it might be in a stir-fry. Especially with the bouquets of broccoli I've had in the crisper for a while :/

I loosely based it on this recipe since it makes me more comfortable to have a template to interpret. It was a wonderful, quick, healthy-ish dinner that was full of flavor. That's my only requirement usually! (All pictures are from my iPhone)

Here is what happened next:

1. Gather beef into bowl and soak for 20 minutes in a mixture of 2 tbs cornstarch and 1/3 cup soy sauce. 

  I also added sesame seeds for some "drama and interest" to the meat mixture. 
 2. While beef marinates, slice up broccoli INCLUDING THE STEM, IT'S ALSO GOOD FOR YOU. I peeled the stems first to get any woody bits off. 

3. Toss meat [gently] into 2 tbs of heating sesame oil and stir around until almost done. Remove onto plate and cover.

 4. Mix up 2 tbs chopped garlic and 1 tbs ginger powder. Mine is watery since I had to use some to get the last of the garlic out. But you'll need water later anyway. 
(By this point your stove should be very greasy from frying the meat, as shown). 
Toss in broccoli into empty meat pan with 3 tbs water and steam 2 minutes. Toss in garlic ginger mixture and stir. Steam 1 minute. Toss in beef and a dramatic dash of sesame seeds if you want to. 

5. Eat with steamed rice. Apologies for not having a beautiful "after" picture of beef and broccoli. I slightly overcooked the broccoli (so it lost it's nice green) and was embarrassed to show them here :)

One month and a Christmas home.

posted on: Monday, December 8, 2014

Today is our one month anniversary, WHEW - we made it! Everything we've accomplished in 30 days is bowling me over. Home for two weeks before the wedding, Texas for the wedding, Mexico for our honeymoon, then back home to Pennsylvania. In fact, we just got our wedding pictures in! Expect that to be a post soon, especially to highlight the sustainability elements I worked my butt off for a year to make happen. Yes. I will be sharing that. 

And now we've decorated our home for the holidays. Every time Cody walks into the living room he says our sweet little newlywed tree gives him warm fuzzies <3 I couldn't agree more.

I've dreamed of styling my own cozy holiday space for as long as I can remember, so this is one dream come true. Did I spend too much time working on it? Maybe, but it was just what I needed. It's also a project done within a newlywed budget, which I shall explain as we take a little tour...

 Behold! The warm fuzzy tree!  It's a Blue Spruce. I was being cheap and at $5 a foot we thought we were getting a deal at the tree farm, but this thing's needles are SHARP AS HECK. Maybe one day we will get a baby-soft fir, at $6 a foot...Maybe one day we will not be renting, and can get a live tree to plant in our yard and dig up every December! #sustainability #xmastree #ouchmyback

Picking her out! 

 ...and carrying her away. I know. We killed a tree.
now, the ornaments! We nearly had to wear gloves while decorating due to Miss Blue Spruce's pokey nature, that's why the lights aren't poked far enough into the tree - I just gave up. You get the idea.
Anyway, whilst trooping around Michael's looking for deals, I noticed a box of ribbon candy. This
stuff is GORGEOUS hung on a tree, especially when lit. 

There are several plain wooden ornaments too. I loved the natural color in addition to the intricate carvings. At $1 each, they were perfect for us. The triangles are made from baker's twine and straws from the dollar bin. 

 Magnolia ornament to remind me of my roots, a Christmas gift from my sweet cousin.

Our holiday mantle. Perhaps my favorite part of the house right now. The pine garland is one I made from a fallen branch I picked up during a walk in our neighborhood graveyard (it's peaceful, ok?) The fir branches in the milk bottle were free at Lowe's, the carol in the frame was a free printable from Pinterest, the felt stockings are West Elm beauts from our registry, and the owl pot is a masterpiece from college art class ;) The beautiful LOVE  bunting was made by my best friend for the rehearsal dinner, and now will ever-be my Christmas message.

And here is the full effect! We are never this organized. Note Cody's PhD books piled under the coffee table.
 We are so excited, we made buttercream dipped sugar cookies. Recipe here.
 Using those same blue spruce needles for a banister garland. I did wear gloves this time, and it was worth it.
 Our tiny sort-of-nativity. These little olive wood figures were a gift from my parents when they visited Jerusalem years ago. They are the ultimate reminder in our house of what this season is about.

I MADE THIS. so very proud as you can tell. 

And just for fun, Cody working. I'm working too, across from him, but thought the effect of the small pine bouquet and his serious brow were charming.

Happy decorating world. Peace, Joy and holiday of blessings.

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