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Monday, December 31, 2012

wwebd?


It's rather fitting that this post comes at the close of the year, as most of us ponder resolutions to carry us through the next twelvemonth and help us improve.  My meditations on this subject have been brewing for quite awhile and have finally percolated in time for tonight's countdown.

For the past few months, I have been grappling with a slow, angry bout of Depression.  What finally alerted me to my current situation was one little thing:  I like leaving the house even less than usual.  I'm an introvert, I like being home, but lately, I avoid leaving.  I make excuses to the point where it's really not healthy.  (I know, I'm starting to sound like somebody from Hoarders...)  Knowing that something is wrong helps, but figuring out a solution sometimes takes some serious time and effort.

A few weeks ago, Mr. F and I managed to get out on a Saturday morning.  We went running and wandering through a local park for a long time.  Not only was it my first encounter with honest to goodness exercise in who knows how long, it was the first time I was really out in nature.  The sun soaked in through my skin and the darkness that had been clouding my mind disappeared for a few minutes.  All at once I remembered my favorite books, the heroines who have inspired my life and...I was ashamed.  What would they think of me if they could see me now? I thought.  This is not how Anne or Lizzy would be living their lives.  They would want me to be happy.  And all at once a mantra was born.

WWEBD?
or
What would Elizabeth Bennet do?

I thought of my favorite books, mainly anything Austen or from the Anne of Green Gables series.  The characters in these novels, which I have read, re-read, then read again, have seeped into me, becoming old friends and a part of who I am.  Over the years, I have turned to them to sort out my love life, figure out how to handle school, how to handle marriage, and coping with loss.  It only seemed fitting, therefore, that the lifeline I was seeking for a healthy lifestyle should come from them.  Pondering over their fictional experiences, I honed five simple guidelines that I have been trying to impart into my daily life.

1.  Read.  Not watch a movie or listen to NPR, READ!  As a lover of the written word, it is dumbfounding how often I substitute a book for a blog.  Reading a good book is so rejuvenating, enlightening, and very often feeds my creativity.  Books have a way of challenging me to be better, by broadening my understanding or filling my imagination to such an extent that all I want to do is create.  Very often after finishing a thoroughly engaging read, all I will want to do is paint, write, or make something.  If I can do it outside, all the better!

2.  Visit.  All of the Austen novels are based on neighbors interacting.  Without this simple action, there would never be a Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth.  Without visiting, Anne Shirley would never have met Diana Barry, heaven forbid!  As an introvert, this one is unbelievably hard for me.  I would so often like to stay at home because I feel awkward and clumsy around others.  But it is so good to do, and how on earth will I ever find more kindred spirits by staying on my sofa?

3.  Go for a walk.  I regularly have the phrase, "What are men to rocks and mountains," echo through my mind.  How can one experience life if they never leave their front door?  (If Bilbo could go on an adventure, so can I.)  I have gleaned from these novels a sincere love of nature.  Getting out of doors rejuvenates the senses, blows out the cobwebs of worry, and stimulates the body.  Very often, a quick Coke run to get me out of the house will change my mood drastically.  I can only imagine what a daily, thorough walk taking in the wonders of this island would do!

4.  Faith.  A constant throughout my favorite books is faith and hope.  Whether it be faith in people, like Anne Shirley's hopeless optimism, faith in God, or faith in self, like the Goose Girl had to find.  Faith is essential and so closely connected to hope.  But it is also something that requires constant diligence, through study, observance, perseverance, and a joyful attitude.

5.  Write. My second favorite of the Anne books is while she and Gilbert are engaged.  The entire book is her letters to Gil, full of her adventures, triumphs, and failures.  Not only did she probably keep a personal journal, but she was an avid correspondent.  She wrote, and she wrote a lot.

To me, the writing element is more "hone and exercise your talents" than "sit down and write."  I need to sing more, sketch more, take up a pen in my hand and feel it glide across a blank page.  Is there anything more delicious than the feeling of a good pen?  I love that feeling and haven't been searching it out enough.  It also means developing these talents, stretching them and molding them to their fullest capacities.


So, friends, this is my New Year's resolution.  It's not trendy.  It's probably a little hard to understand that it's stemmed from my battle with Depression.  But so it is.  My goal is to be healthy, but in a way I can understand; by tying back together the pieces of me that I love most.  The pieces I recognize best in my favorite heroines, who are also my oldest friends.  Sure, I have plans to organize the house and shed a few pounds, but those somehow all fit into these five guidelines in my mind.  By digging deep into the nooks of me that have been hiding these past few months and thinking, What would Elizabeth Bennet do? I'm really thinking, How does Engquist want to live?


Sunday, December 30, 2012

price reduction


 You know you're a paper love when you look forward to this time of year because you get to crack open a new calendar.  For as long as I can remember, my mom has given me one for Christmas, most often a wall-hanging calendar.  Images by Monet, Carl Larsson, or Ansel Adams would adorn my room year in and year out while keeping me on track of things.  As I grew up, I would also receive a desk planner, a tradition I delight in as I get to crack open the fresh book and put pencil to paper.  So good...


To help you get off on the right foot this year, and to bask in the glow of a freshly minted stationery with me, my 2013 calendar is now reduced in price.  

All calendars are now $10!
previously $15

They still ship from the U.S. of A. and fit a 5x7 frame.  
To place an order, email me.

Friday, December 28, 2012

smörgåsbord


1. Christmas Eve smörgåsbord ready for the eating.
2. Honey mustard glazed, oven roasted ham.
3. Brie stuffed mushrooms
4. Deviled eggs
5. Anari cheese wrapped in Greek roasted red peppers.
6. Lemon and dill salmon.
7. Kitty's cranberry sauce.
8. Orange pineapple delight in a hurricane punchbowl.

A stalwart part of my memory of Christmas has always been the Christmas Eve  Smörgåsbord my parents would host annually.  Without any family nearby to celebrate the season with, we invited individuals with similar situations to our home for a Swedish feast.  Twenty some odd years later, many of those individuals are now family as dear to us as any blood.

Being overseas, this tradition transferred well for Mr. F and myself.  We were able to invite some of our new friends over and give them a place to go to for Christmas.  I'll admit, in my mind, this is always Christmas and the morning following is just superfluous.  I love having dear ones gathered in my home and the smell of Swedish delights filling the house.

Our menu this year was very akin to what I grew up with, with a just a few Cypriot additions to round off the entourage.  After a few weeks of solid cooking, this meal was surprisingly easy to prepare and very low-stress.  Plus, the leftovers are amazing!  One of the things I am most proud of is my last minute decision to use a hurricane vase as a punch bowl.  A few of our nicer serving pieces are still in storage in the States, so I had to make do.  The hurricane was perfect for the size of our gathering, not to mention table.

Hopefully I will get some recipes up soon, but if I don't, feel free to ask!  (Trust me when I say you need the brie stuffed mushrooms and cranberry sauce in your life...)  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

snow, snow, snow...

{turtleneck: pull&bear, vest: salvation army!, scarf: vendor in prague, jeans: ann taylor(old), loafers: target(old), bag: mossimo dutti}

Christmas day we did something we never thought we would be able to do in Cyprus; we went and played in the snow!  The whole drive up to the village of Troodos was sunny and fairly warm.  All it took was one bend in the road (truly), and suddenly Mt. Olympus was a wash of slushy, white snow.  On a day that had nearly been warm enough for two midwestern kids to wear shorts, the snow was a wonderful treat.  Well, okay, Mr. F did wear shorts...he got looks. Severe looks.  We both laughed heartily because all of the natives were bundled like it was Siberia.  It was definitely mid-forties.  Totally balmy still, right?  Still, compared to the extreme heat of the summer, feeling even chilly was pure bliss that made our hearts grow by two sizes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

merry christmas!


with lots of love, 

Mr. and Mrs. Claus



Friday, December 21, 2012

life lately


1. making art prints a week out from Christmas
2. sometimes ginger ale and bags of fresh cranberries are just about the happiest things you can find, especially as an American expat
3.  my mom's winter tablescape with white candles and paper whites
4.  my brave little plants, growing in December.  outside.  still weird to me that it's warm enough for stuff to grow now
5.  gift tags for the party at church this weekend
6. danish butter cookies dipped in chocolate ganache, cooling on the patio

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

santa claus is coming to town


Mr. F's company does two holiday parties every year.  One for the grown ups, where we get dressed up, eat ridiculously good food, and get a night out.  The other is for the children of the employees.  I had never heard of such a tradition but immediately thought it was the best idea ever when Mr. F reported it to me last year.
Well, since he's the new guy and we are still bambinoless, Mr. F was the perfect candidate to be Santa. Last year he was asked last minute and I completely missed out on seeing him.  This year I got to experience the full glory of my husband being Jolly Old St. Nick.

Mr. F did really well with it, especially since he doesn't speak Greek and most of the kids were young enough that they definitely didn't speak English.  My favorite part of the experience was when one little boy's name was called and he ran to sit on Santa's lap.  He had been waiting all evening for his chance to see the Big Guy and couldn't hold back his enthusiasm when his turn finally came.  Such innocent joy...
And then there were us "grown-ups" who wanted our own chance to see Santa... Mr. F referred to me as Mrs. Claus all night.  I think there are worse nicknames out there, don't you?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

cooo-kee

Don't judge me, I made my stand by sugar cookies for the first cookie exchange of the week. Time was of the essence and I knew I could pull them off quickly.  And let me tell you...they are SO good.  Like dangerously.  I think it's the amount of butter in both the cookies and the frosting.  Butter makes everything better.  Except my arteries...they don't like butter as much. 
Thank you everyone who submitted recipes!  I'm definitely trying out one or two this week for the myriad of parties still on the docket.  After reading through all the submissions and going to the exchange last night, I'm absolutely flabbergasted by the number of cookies available!  We never did the whole Christmas cookie thing growing up.  We had cheese, meatballs, and salmon.  A lot harder to ding-dong-ditch with but oh so good.  So yeah, I have very little experience with this magical world of cookies.  I think this new knowledge could be hazardous.
But what you're all wondering is if you won the giveaway or not.  So without further ado, the winner is....

jkthomas
with the recipe for Nutella S'more Bars.

Congratulations!!  Email me to claim your prize!

Happy Baking everyone!

friendly beasts



I can't tell you how many times I've listened to this song in my life.  My Nonny would play it every year and in his cowboy voice, croon away the tale of the friendly beasts.  As my longing for home grows by the minute, this video has been a fairly constant companion.  The timbre of Mitchell's voice is something that brings a chill to my arms while warming the essence of my soul.  I love his playfulness with the characters but really, I love the way he sings the last verse.  Everything about his performance seems to tell my aching heart, "This is the Christ.  This is the reason for this and every season."  Home is nearer and the Savior's loving embrace encloses me.



p.s. if you ever get the chance to watch South Pacific in Concert on PBS with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Reba McIntyre, take it!  One of my favorite performances!

Monday, December 17, 2012

cheese!

I've come down with my annual Christmas cold.  It happens every year, hence it being annual.  I try to fight it, but back it comes, year in and year out.  The reality of not being healthy on top of at least two parties to pull off in the next week and a few more to attend has made me painfully aware of the fact that, yet again, I don't know if I'll be getting cards in the mail this year.  (Trust me, the irony of the stationer slacking on her own mail delivery is not lost on me...) The next best option was to share our family photos with you here while I lay in bed.

I'm so grateful for these photos and the memories surrounding them.  The closer we draw to Christmas, the more I ache to be with family.  Sadly, our homes are too far apart again this year for that to be feasible.  It's hard, but what a wonderful blessing it is to know that we actually like our family members and want to be with them.

Speaking of which, my cousin got engaged over the weekend and another received his mission call for our church.  I'm the oldest cousin...by a lot...so it's strange for me to see my cousins entering adulthood and doing such amazing things. (When I started college, they were both in elementary school.  Now one is getting married and the other leaving on his mission...crazy!)  Congratulations to you both! I am so proud of and happy for you!



Did you take family photos? How did they turn out?  I'd love to see them!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

it's a sale!


Can you believe Christmas is barely a week away?  Man, that went fast!  For all of you last minute shoppers out there, you're in luck!  The calendars are on sale! Until Wednesday, all calendar orders are 20% off.  

Calendars fit a 5x7 frame and ship from the U.S. of A.
Email me to order or for more information.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

dressed?

{sweater: j. crew(old), tee: target, jeans: zara, scarf: some street vendor in Prague...shoes: payless, belt: ann taylor (old)}


So, there has been a serious lack in fashion posts lately.  For one reason, it was still hot.  I got sick of the warm weather and showing off my pasty legs.  For another, I usually look like this...


So yeah...not so much with the fashion posting.  That's the great thing about what I do, I do it from home.  No need for glamour here!  This last week, however, I have been getting dressed and out of the house more often than not due to Christmas errands.  Could someone explain to me why Christmas requires so many errands?  Between all of the parties, the decorating, and the what not, there's a lot to be bought.


But I'm getting off subject.  What was the subject again? Right.  Fashion posts.  Well, now that I'm actually leaving the house and Mr. F was home long enough, I was able to catch a few shots of me, ya know, dressed.

The weather we're experiencing right now is what most people would refer to as "fall."  And it just came a few weeks ago.  So the sweaters have been coming out, the skinny jeans (oh, how I've missed you jeans!), and the scarves.  Scarves are the greatest thing to happen to a wardrobe since the little black dress. Cozy with just enough flair to say, "Yes, I really did take time to get dressed this morning."  Anyway, it's wonderful being able to snuggle up in layers again after sweating my way through the summer.  It makes the holiday season feel more tangible, even with the palm tree outside my window...




Tuesday, December 11, 2012

best christmas present ever.


I feel like I've been bombarding you with a lot of introspective, overly personal posts lately.  For some reason, I have been very contemplative and that has been reflected in my writing.  I hope you will indulge me yet again for a taste of everyday life.  No home decorating, no painting, no last minute day trips.  Just life.

When Mr. F and I got married, I brought with me a hefty amount of debt, in the form of credit cards and student loans.  Mr. F had none.  To date, some of our most strenuous debates have been about money and managing finances.  It's been hard on me emotionally knowing I brought this stressor to our relationship.  While I've never lived a gluttonous lifestyle, there was a time, ever so recently, where the only way I could put gas in my car, pay rent, or even feed myself was via credit.  Even while working numerous jobs, I was not making enough to cover basic needs, let alone pay anything down.

When we got married, Mr. F and I committed not only to each other but to getting out of credit card debt as soon as possible.  Rather than buying a sofa with wedding money, we used the bulk of the gifts we were offered to pay down debt.  And it felt good.  This process was hindered by both of us searching for work and two international moves.  Coordinating transatlantic payments was stressful, to say the very least.  Our parents served as liaisons for us and lending institutions, constantly supporting us to pay what we could and get out of debt.

I've had people ask me why we haven't been travelling around the region more or trying local restaurants or why I don't have a coffee table yet.  This is why.  Because we have wanted to get ourselves out of debt, not into more.  Our resources right now are finite and if we can't pay for it up front, we don't do it.   The little extra we had has been going to bills.

Well, as of yesterday, we are credit card debt free!  I kept bursting into tears throughout the afternoon for this blessing.  We're not even two years into our marriage and that burden is already gone.  Sure, there are still the student loans, but they don't scare us in the same way.  It is such a relief, blessing, and bearer of peace in our lives right now.  So it might look a little scant under the tree this year for us, but it was totally worth it to see all of the zeros lining up in a line.

Monday, December 10, 2012

spirit of giving



The holiday season is a wonderful time for giving.  Gifts are placed under trees, cookies are exchanged, and stockings hung.  I was fortunate enough in recent weeks to have a few experiences happen to remind me of the true nature of giving surrounding this holiday that I want to share with you.
.....
I have a dear friend here who has got to be one of the most talented people I know.  Everywhere we go, she sees something (like a twig, broken basket, shoestring...) and says, "Wouldn't that make such a great {insert something you would NEVER think of but always wanted here}?!"  And then she makes it and it's the coolest and just beautifully made.  Well, this friend, decided it was high time for a Christmas craft day.  So she organized one.  Invitations, a lovely table of homemade snacks, and another table full of crafts and supplies greeted a handful of women who came.  Before we even started, my friend turned to all of us and said, "I just want to take a moment to thank Him who gave us the talents we are here to use and opportunity for us to gather and be friends."  She then showed us how to use the supplies she provided and suddenly we were all stenciling pros.  We shared stories with one another about our families and swapped decorating ideas for our homes away from home.  It wasn't until I was hurrying home to snag Mr. F for a meeting that I realized that my friend had not asked for any monetary compensation for the crafts she provided.  She just gave willingly and smiled joyfully because we were in her home.
.....
A few weeks ago, we had a regional conference for church. Visiting with us for it was the Frankfurt Temple president and his wife.  On Saturday afternoon we had a special leadership meeting, where Sister B spoke to a group of about twenty women, who I was lucky enough to be counted amongst.  Her lesson was very sweet, speaking lovingly of the worth of women.  Do you want to know what I remember the most from her class?  At the very end she gave each of us a little pearl packaged beautifully in a white bag.  The pearl referred to something in the lesson but what struck me what that a woman in Germany heard that Sister B was bringing us pearls and decided they needed to wrapped up nicely.  So this woman that I will probably never know, took of her own time and resources to send 40 finely packaged pearls to a group of women a few thousand miles away.  That woman's generosity means more to me than I can express.
.....
Due to the divided nature of the island, we have members of our church congregation who live on the northern side who are unable to cross the border.  Because of this, they are completely cut off from our religious observances.  Once a month, Mr. F and I try to go (but aren't always successful) with a handful of stalwart members of our church who are able to cross the border.  We bring with us dry food goods donated by members, notes, and our company for a few hours to let them know they are not alone while they attend university and are so far from home.

As we were preparing for a recent trip north, Mr. F and I were speaking with someone back in the States.  Knowing what the hardships of our friends in the TRNC must be, this individual offered us some money to help us purchase food to take across the border. That offer helped not only my husband and I, who have limited resources to purchase items, but also these friends of ours who will more than likely never meet their benefactors.
.....
Desperate to get packages mailed home so our family could open presents ON Christmas this year, I had been scouring the island for tissue paper.  Just enough to make sure the items in the boxes being mailed didn't jiggle.  Thing was, I couldn't find any.  Anywhere.  Try as might, no matter what store I went to, I could not for the life of me find tissue paper.  I brought this up to a group of expat friends here to see if they knew some secret location.  They did not.  In fact they said they had not found any either.  My hopes of getting these packages mailed swiftly and safely seemed to be dashed.

The next time I saw my one friend, she came with her personal supply of tissue paper and packaging material.  "This was all I could find at home," she said, "I hope it's enough!"
.....
All of these are very different, some effected me personally while others reached further.  And in each case, the giver had no idea how much they were offering.  To me, this is the true spirit of Christmas, to follow Christ's example and give freely, liberally, and joyfully.  I feel so blessed to have been touched by these experiences and am grateful that their examples have propelled me to do good.  As much as I love presents under the tree, I want to give more this year, whether it be gifts to others or of services I can offer.  And to do it joyfully.  This is my goal this year.

To help, I found this pdf of simple service ideas for every day in December.  I know we're already a few days in, but there's always time to give a little more, right?

Another fun thing I've loved doing in the past is writing letters to Santa.  Yup, you read right.  Letters to Santa.  Macy's gives one dollar to the Make a Wish Foundation for every letter dropped off in their in store mailboxes.  If you can't get to the store, try mailing letters to this guy via email.  He's spending his Christmas passing it forward after his dreams were answered with the Make a Wish Foundation.  This is a great, easy thing to do for a family night or group activity.

Whatever you do, I hope we all remember the loving, giving nature of this season.  It's not about the gifts under the tree, but the little babe laying in a manger.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

buena vista

As the sun went down today, all I could do was smile.  It rained through the night and today the landscape was dotted with rainbows.  This afternoon?  Well, this was the view.  It made me homesick for my daily walks in the German countryside.  Sunsets never cease to amaze me.  So calming, miraculous, and beautiful.  Each one is a celebration.  What amazes me even more is that as I watched the sun set here in Cyprus, many of you were just watching it rise or were still slumbering through the hours of early morning... I watched and wished each of you would start your day merrily and have as happy of day as I just experienced.  The sunset tonight made me think of you.