Photo Gifts + Pancakes for Mother’s Day

April 25, 2017

Each year we ask our mom the same question, "What do you want for Mother's Day / Christmas / your birthday?" And every time she has the same response, "Pictures!" For someone who loves giving and receiving gifts as much as our mama, this simple request always makes us smile. She literally just loves having new photos of her kids and family and being that we're the more technologically savvy generation (and generally the ones with tons of pictures), she turns to us to fulfill her photo dreams. You would think that given her love of having fresh photos we would nail each gift-giving occasion in spades...but you would be wrong. We're constantly brushing aside her wishes in favor of other things we think she would want or need. Usually she is surprised and delighted - but she still has no trouble reminding us, "You know I would have been perfectly happy with some photos, right?"

This year the two of us started thinking about Mother's Day early and we determined that this would be the holiday where we would finally give our mama what she really wants - photos. Of course, we could have just printed her a selection of favorite shots in a few glossy sizes for her to pop into the collection of frames she has at home...but we wanted to get a little more creative. Naturally, we turned to Shutterfly and their selection of photo-ready products for us to personalize. Once we got started choosing favorite pieces, it became clear that we needed to do more with the finished products. We realized what we designed worked perfectly for hosting a little Mother's Day breakfast for our mamasita!

 

If you’ve ever perused the available options on Shutterfly, you know there’s a lot to be had. The company is of course known very well for their printsphoto books, and selection of paper goods (cards and stationery, calendars, etc.) but the array of gifts, home decor pieces and entertaining must-haves makes it a really one-stop-shop when shopping for sentimental, personalized items. We got really inspired when investigating their Design Studio and it emboldened us to do more than just upload family shots…

That being said, we did start by choosing pieces that we wanted to use family photo on. Sipping coffee or tea in the morning is as much of a ritual for the two of us as it is for our mom. When the three of us are together – whether at home in Kansas City, on vacation, or in one of our houses in Dallas – it’s a cherished time to wake up and visit before we start our day. We wanted to get our mama a few of the photo mugs and loved the idea that she would think of us when using them. Shutterfly has some really cute mug designs you can choose from with multiple-photo layouts, words and sayings, etc. but we went with the classic single image design and opted for colored handles and insides with hues that complement whichever photo was on the mug.

After selecting the mugs, we wanted to see what other table top pieces were available and we really liked the look of Shutterfly’s melamine plates. Our mom is a collector of dishes but she’s recently re-vamped her backyard and has been dining and entertaining al fresco more often. We figured that having a set of dishes that are non-breakable and dishwasher safe would be a great addition to her entertaining arsenal! Though we loved the idea of putting a cropped picture of each family member’s face on every plate, we wanted to give her a set that would be suitable for non-family functions (family faces don’t always look best layered with food on top!) and different from anything she has. The two of us had the idea of making the plates look like calcutta marble. The mostly white coloring and organic variations would look sophisticated and elevate the whole casual dining experience. We found a large jpeg photo of marble via google, cropped random sections of it into squares and individually uploaded them for each plate. It was super easy and we’re obsessed with how they turned out.

Once we had mugs and plates, we figured a pretty serving tray was the next must-have for the celebratory breakfast we were envisioning. Shutterfly has some super cute options you can personalize – fun borders, initials, multiple-image designs – but we chose to do a single image tray without any overlaid text. We went back and forth on whether we should pick a photo of our family (there are some great ones from our brother’s wedding last summer) but in the end, we figured that something bright but without faces would be better. The image we uploaded was a shot by Leslee Mitchell of one of the flower displays from Sally’s wedding. Our mom put so much love, creativity, and time into Sally’s day – and we were all SO obsessed with how the flowers turned out – that it felt like a perfect shot to put on display. The best part about the trays is that they’re lucite and completely waterproof!

To complete our Shutterfly order, we wanted to create something that really did fulfill our mom’s simple request of receiving photo prints. So we uploaded another shot of flowers from Sally’s wedding (also taken by Leslee) and used it to make a personalized frame to hold a black and white photo print of the three of us from the wedding.

Waiting for our order to come in was like counting down the days till Christmas….and getting to see all the completed pieces was so rewarding. We’re obsessed with how everything turned out and so impressed with the quality. Although we are spoiling the surprise for our mama by sharing early what gifts she’ll be getting this Mother’s Day, we were too excited with how our vision came to life and how it really tells a personal story. We’ll definitely be turning to Shutterfly again and again for gifts (Father’s Day is just around the corner – June 18th!) that are as fun to make as they are to give!

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Setting Up the Snoo

April 20, 2017

Since the beginning of my pregnancy, we always knew that we wanted our little one to sleep in a bassinet in our room for the first few months. We're telling ourselves that we will do this for ideally 6 months, but I know that realistically, there are hundreds of things you tell yourself before you have a baby and that can all go out the window once they arrive!

I remember coming across the SNOO Smart Sleeper by Happiest Baby when I was very early in my pregnancy and before it was ever officially launched. I stalked the site - reading everything I could and watching testimonials from families who had been given the opportunity to try the SNOO before its launch. With each testimonial, I became completely sold that this was something special. I had heard of the well known Dr. Harvey Karp and his life-changing "Happiest Baby on the Block" methods from many friends with little ones (specifically his method of the 5 S's - meant to calm fussy babies) so when I learned that the SNOO Sleeper was the brain child of Dr. Karp and a product many years in the making, I felt sure that the SNOO should be the place where our baby sleeps in his first several months. The SNOO was actually the first baby product I decided we needed and it arrived to our home before we'd even selected a paint color for the nursery. My husband and I have been so excited to get it set up and after packing our hospital bags last weekend we finally did just that...

Dr. Karp has been an advocate and national leader in the promotion of children’s rights to a healthy and safe environment for over 20 years and the SNOO is being touted as the safest, most effective baby bed ever made – while also solving the #1 new parent stress of exhaustion. Let me explain…the sleeper is made with a “responsive, robotic system,” with microphones that respond to your baby’s cries and fussing with varying degrees of white noise or safe jiggling motions. The degree of motion (a slow swing or faster jiggles) or the type of white noise (soft rain or a womb-like sound) are all dependent on whether the baby is sleeping or fussing. These gentle movements encourage the baby to fall back asleep when they’re not fully awake – creating a habit of healthier sleep patterns, earlier. The SNOO will attempt to calm crying with fast jiggles and a womb sound for three minutes, but if unsuccessful, will stop to alert parents that the baby has other needs that must be met like a diaper change or feeding. This amazing technology is why it’s being compared to having your very own night nurse.

On top of its ability to literally run 24/7, the sleeper is also as safe as they come. Each SNOO comes with a “five second” swaddling system (in sizes small, medium, and large) to grow with your baby. The swaddle sacks are all hip-safe and made with 100% organic cotton. Each sack features wings that slip securely into the sides of the bassinet – ensuring babies stay on their backs all night long. In fact, the rocking and sounds will start only if the swaddle is properly anchored. When the time comes to transition your baby to the crib (which is recommended to do at 6 months with the smart sleeper), the SNOO has a gradual weaning feature to help make that transition as smooth as possible.

While I cannot speak for the SNOO and its abilities yet, I can safely say that it is hands down the one product my husband and I are the most excited to use. Even if our nursery isn’t completely ready or all else is up in the air (did I mention we are moving – again – and on my actual due date?), we feel quite confident knowing that we have the SNOO in our arsenal and that it’s set up and ready, should baby come early. I cannot wait to report back on our findings once our baby bunny is here. In the meantime, our family (including the pups) is quite enjoying the pretty new addition to our master bedroom. Have you ever seen a cooler, sleeker looking bassinet?  I already knew I’d love the simplistic design (in the world of baby products and devices, it’s nearly impossible to find something that blends with the rest of your home) but it  looks even better than I imagined with our master bedroom.

P.S. I wasn’t watching, but Molly did tell me that Dylan Dreyer from the Today Show is a user and lover of the SNOO. She said that her 4 month old baby sleeps 11 hours a night in this episode!

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MacKenzie-Childs Taylor

April 18, 2017

If you read this post from last week, then you already know I'm riding a MacKenzie-Childs high. Something I touched on - but am really really excited to talk more about with today's post - is how I came to know the brand. For almost as long as I can remember my mom has had a collection of the the MacKenzie-Childs Taylor pattern. Each spring and summer Taylor would make spectacular appearances for holidays (starting with Easter), birthdays (Sally's a July baby), dinner parties, and big family meals. Sally and I came to relish the ritual of setting the table and getting to mix-and-match the colorful patterns - making sure that each of the flat dinner plates went with a different fluted luncheon plate and that the tea cups and saucers were juxtaposed with non-matching prints as well. This past weekend I got to spend Easter at home and I employed the same table setting tradition using pattern I've all but memorized since childhood.

If you're a MacKenzie-Childs fan you might know that the company got its start in 1983 with the Taylor ceramic pieces. The colorful, energetic, and eclectic patterns that comprise the collection - there's 20 total! - are a fundamental building block for the brand but also a labor of love...so much so that the nearly all the Taylor prints and pieces have been retired. BUT, for one month only, MacKenzie-Childs is offering the retired Taylor patterns for purchase! Each pattern is available in 17 silhouettes (from a teapot and butterhouse to dinner plates and serving platters) and you can stock up in just one print or do what MacKenzie-Childs encourages (and what our mom does) and mix-and-match a selection! Just hurry and get your orders in before May 14th...when the Taylor collection goes back into retirement.

 

Truly, it was in getting to know our mom’s Taylor pieces that Sally and I learned about MacKenzie-Childs and began a life-long love affair with the brand. Our mom told us that each piece was hand-painted (still true to this day) and even as little girls we knew that the happy, playful set was something really special. So special that Sally and I still fight joke about which of us will end up with our mama’s collection someday. Perhaps we should take this month as a sign to get some pieces of our own!

For those curious, these are the ten Taylor patterns our mom has had since 1995: Aalsmeer, Aurora, Brighton Pavilion, Heather, King Ferry, Madison, Myrtle, Rose Cottage, Stoke Gabriel and a simple yellow lattice and blue dot pattern that’s sadly completely discontinued. After this past weekend, my mom and I think it would be a great idea for her to take advantage of the collection being available again and add two more dinner plates and luncheon plates to her collection so she 12 pieces for our growing family. We’re favoring the Bearded Iris, Summer Frock or Poplar Ridge.

As I mentioned earlier, each of the 20 Taylor prints is available in 17 different MacKenzie-Childs silhouettes. I’m definitely biased but I think mixing flat with fluted (ruffle) pieces gives such a great dimensional quality to a table and makes for great height when stacking!

*  = the silhouettes our mama has

While on my trip visiting the MacKenzie-Childs headquarters (read all about it here) I asked where all the Taylor pieces were…it seemed like the shop only had a select pattern or two and the same showed true online. That was when I was told about the collection being in retirement and learned about the limited-time opportunity that was happening for us Taylor-lovers to get our hands on the historical and fantastical pieces! I’m sure growing up with my mom’s set of Taylor has influenced my feelings about the collection as a whole, but I really feel like the whimsical patterns do such a great job representing the handmade, artisanal quality that is the hallmark of MacKenzie-Childs.

A huge and special thanks to my wonderful, creative and selfless mama for helping me pull this post together. Could not have done it without her help and of course, her beautiful collection of MacKenzie-Childs Taylor pieces. Don’t forget…you have until May 14th to place your order for Taylor goodness!

Pieces From The Post

MacKenzie Childs Taylor Patterns show in photos and in images above: Aalsmeer // Aurora // Brighton Pavilion // Heather // King Ferry // Madison // Myrtle // Rose Cottage // Stoke Gabriel // Bearded Iris // Summer Frock // Poplar Ridge

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MacKenzie-Childs Magical Headquarters

April 13, 2017

The last week of March may go down as one of my favorite times as a blogger. That Tuesday-Friday I was invited to travel to Aurora, New York to experience an up-close-and-personal view into a brand I've known and loved for years and years: MacKenzie-Childs. This visit (#CampCourtlyCheck) was unforgettable and completely magical for several reasons...

First of all, the town of Aurora is set on Cayuga Lake, it's both historical and quaint, and their Inns are beyond beautiful and comfortable (we stayed at the E.B. Morgan House and it's incredible). The trip was made up of fellow bloggers Lynsey (also based in Dallas!) and Katie of Tomboy KC, Kathleen of Carrie Bradshaw Lied, Marissa of Style Cusp, and Amanda of The Fashionable Hostess. I've been on blogger trips before but I have to say there was something really special about this particular group of women. We all became very fast friends and had some of the most real, honest, and creative conversations I've had in a long time. Being able to experience this trip with them made it even more meaningful. And of course, the behind the curtain look at MacKenzie-Childs was like being in Wonderland. We got to tour their barn studio (where all the ceramics and furniture is created from start to finish), wander through and lunch at the Farmhouse (decorated tip-to-toe in MacKenzie Childs), experience the storybook like grounds (complete with sheep, geese, and sprawling lawns overlooking the lake), and gawk at the brand mecca that is their Shop. I have so much to share it's slightly overwhelming. But I hope you all enjoy getting a glimpse of my trip!

 

The words I can use to describe MacKenzie-Childs: whimsical, fun, quality, innovative, loyal, community. I could go on, but those do a good job of summing things up. Whether you already know and love the products or have never seen them before today, it’s immediately apparent that they stand out with a look that’s both whimsical and fun. Bold checks, butterflies, colorful patterns, bright florals, playful shapes and forms – I can say without a doubt that within the vast collection, there’s something for everyone. The brand has always been build on a foundation of quality (whether handmade craftsmanship or impeccable factory conditions) and innovation. The founders – Victoria and Richard MacKenzie-Childs – humbly introduced their handmade ceramic creations in 1983 and slowly but surely made their dream-like visions become reality as they introduced furniture and lighting, enamelware, etc. Now, 34 years later, the band continues to create new categories that showcase the timeless “fun!” that makes MacKenzie-Childs so beloved. Speaking of love…it can be easily be seen, felt and realized by the loyal customers and community of employees that support the company. From the fanatic collectors (I’m looking at you, Kris Jenner!) to the artists who have worked at the company for decades – this deep loyalty and sense of community is unlike any brand I’ve experienced.

If I had to pick a favorite part of the trip (at least one that didn’t include food or talking with the wonderful people that work for MacKenzie-Childs) it would be touring in the barn studio and getting to see the artists as they work. It’s easy to walk into a store or set the table with my mom’s collection of MacKenzie-Childs and forget that every single ceramic item is handmade. Learning about the various steps in this craft and watching the artisans as they worked made me have an even deeper appreciation for both the MacKenzie-Childs brand and the pieces they make. In an attempt to explain how the ceramics are made, I’ve tried to arrange my photos in order of the steps below:

  • Solid clay is either molded by hand, pressed (ex: plates, platters), or liquid clay is poured into plaster molds used for slipcasting (ex: mugs, cow creamers!).
  • Once the clay forms are “leather hard” and able to be gentle handled without losing their shape, they are fettled (all the edges are smoothed, any imperfections from the molding is removed), pieces with handles get them added at this stage.
  • These pieces go through a first kiln firing.
  • After the first firing, the bottom (or “foot”) of each ceramic piece is hand painted or dipped into a wax coating, then the whole piece is dunked into a base glaze. The glaze covers the item but doesn’t adhere to the part coated in wax – this is so the piece can be placed in the kiln and the bottom part won’t stick. This hand-done process results in a “snake bite” marking on every piece – showing the spot of the tongs used to hold the item when it’s dipped in the glaze (just one of many nods to the hand-done process MacKenzie-Childs celebrates!).
  • Once coated in a first layer of raw glaze, the pottery pieces will go straight to being decorated (with a technique called “dipping”) or they fired again then decorated (with China paints).
  • The dipping process is done by artisans who hand mix glaze mineral stains and paint directly onto the initial glaze. Each time an artist dips their brushes in the stains they swirl the pigment to keep the powered stain from settling on the bottom. Even more impressive than the constant swirling, dipping and brushing of pigment is the fact that the artist that paint the various designs don’t use a template but free-hand paint each pattern. They do have color guides and finished examples to go off of to insure consistency but no two pieces are identical and small variations can be seen based on the handcrafted nature. (Examples of pieces painted with mineral stains: the Taylor and Piccadilly collections)
  • The other painting technique that’s done on top of the the first base of fired glaze is done using China paint. Unlike painting done with stains, this paint process allows artists to wipe off the paint if they’ve made a mistake (the smooth, shiny, white glaze base kind of acts as a dry erase board of sorts). This paint technique is what’s used for the famous Courtly Check. Though it might seem easier for the artists that do this check pattern vs. those that freehand the designs onto raw glaze and can’t really mess up, it’s actually quite complex because each check made involved dragging the brush through several accent colors – resulting in a one-of-a-kind checkerboard that’s anything but boring or flat. (Examples of pieces painted with China paint: the Courtly Check and Parchment Check ceramic collections)
  • The Courtley Check ceramics and several others receive another painted treatment of gold lustre embellishment. This application is added after any previous painting done is fired again. The gold lustre (re: it’s 24 karat gold in a liquid form!) looks like a red tint and is brushed or dotted on by hand. To help mask the fumes, the tint has a special lavender scent added.
  • Some items – like this heart bowl – get all three decorative techniques! Once fired and glazed, the middle part is painted with mineral glaze on top of the raw glaze, then it’s fired again, and the outside gets painted with the checkered pattern in China paint, fired a third time, then gold lustre is applied, and the piece gets a fourth and final firing. (P.S. watch a Parchment Check teapot go from start to finish via this great video!)
  • The amount of artisanal hands that touch one piece as it goes from unformed clay to a completed piece is amazing! To acknowledge the talent and craftsmanship that goes into the process, artists stamp the bottom of each piece with their initials once completed with their process (this teapot has four stamps: 1) for the person who did the felting, 2) for artist who did the mineral glaze, 3) for the artist that painted the check, and 4) the artist who painted the gold lustre.

Aside from the ceramics department, the barn houses also houses a furniture studio. If you’ve ever seen MacKenzie-Childs furniture pieces, you know they’re completely fantastical and range in scale from grand (example: the Ridiculous Bench) to petite (like this petite side table) but none are lacking in character or detail. Each piece – no matter how big or small – is decorated with Mackenzie-Childs signature designs and painted start-to-finish by a single artist. One piece and can employ many different techniques (marbling, appliqué, gold-leafing, etc) and the many hours dedicated to brining each to life. Seeing artist work on various furniture pieces was a very Alice In Wonderland experience…so much fun and fantasticalness in one place.

A quick walk from the barn studio leads to the MacKenzie-Childs Farmhouse. As I mentioned earlier, the Farmhouse is decorated tip-to-toe in MacKenzie Childs. Rather than looking like an overwhelming explosion of the brand, it’s designed to highlight the famed designs, pieces and products (some of which are now discontinued) in a way that’s both thoughtful and fun. Rooms are centered around various collections and themes – expertly executed with everything MacKenzie Childs in the from of furniture and lighting, dishes and tiles, drawerpulls and knobs, rugs, fabrics and wall treatments. I couldn’t get over the level of detail…it was almost impossible to pick a favorite room but the one-of-a-kind finial wall sconce and custom art (Papa Parchment!) were definitely the things I most wanted to steal.

One visit to Aurora and MacKenzie-Childs headquarters is just not enough for me…I have big plans to return back with Sally and our mom. Sally and I grew up revering our mama’s collection of Taylor dinnerware – there’s not a spring or summer I can remember not using it for special occasions – and gave us an early introduction into the whimsical world of the MacKenzie-Childs brand. Now that we’re adulting, creating our own homes and entertaining friends and family alike, we’re both slowly but surely incorporating treasured MacKenzie-Childs pieces into our lives. If any of you are fellow fans of the brand, I highly encourage you to visit the headquarters! Seeing the gorgeous gardens, Farmhouse, and Shop is such a special experience.

Just a few current MacKenzie-Childs favorites…

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Boll & Branch for the Guest Bedroom

March 24, 2017

A few months ago my husband and I realized that one of our dogs was sneaking out of our bedroom and sleeping in the guest bed each night. Our dogs are too big (both are labs) to both sleep in our bed at night, so they usually end up on their dog beds on the floor by our bed. Or so we thought. The big guy was really making himself quite at home in that bed and I noticed that the bedding was really starting to look worse for the wear (to say the very least). With Spring finally here and our new baby's due date around the corner, my nesting mode has kicked into high gear and sprucing up our guest bedroom (which will be used by my mama and other house guests when the baby arrives) has been high on my "to-do" list. The other week I was washing the duvet cover (yet again) and couldn't take it...the bed was in major need of a refresh after being disrespected by a sweet but super large white dog for so long. After doing a little web research to find some pretty white linens I fell for the selection of modern classics, organic cotton (!), and fair trade mission from Boll & Branch...

With so much color in the room coming from the side tables and rug, Boll & Branch’s crisp whites instantly spoke to me. Selecting the white banded duvet cover and coordinating standard shams with just a hint of pale, “shore” blue in the clean border seemed like the perfect choice to pair with the blues in the rug and complement the orange bedside tables.

I didn’t just stop at the duvet and standard shams…this nesting mama-to-be needed the full bedding fix! I also got two hemmed edge euro shams – in plain white – to sit behind the banded standard shams. And since the sheets that were being used on the bed were a set that my husband picked up when he moved to San Francisco (from God knows where), I determined those needed to be updated those as well and I’m so in love with the Boll & Branch pleated sheet set. The small amount of tailored detail on the edge of the flat sheet and pillow cases makes for an understated statement that’s really nice alongside the duvet and shams.

The first thing I did when getting all the bedding in was marvel at the thoughtful packaging. Each piece came in a separate drawstring bag – perfect for when storing the sheets in our linen cabinet (though I don’t know when the linens will leave the bed now that they’re on and I’m so happy with the look!) – and in really nice, sturdy white boxes that are so great, I’m saving them to use for gifting purposes. Compared to the bedding I replaced, I was really impressed by the detail – though I was prepared to be blown away after reading about how Boll & Branch sweats the designs with exacting intention…each step of their construction (from the dyes used to every thread and stitch) is obsessively thought through to create beautiful products. Upon washing the fresh sheets, duvet, and shams I noticed that they felt even softer and I was impressed by how well they fit (fitted sheet wasn’t too small or too big, the duvet wasn’t oversized, etc.).

I’ve been kind of a nut trying to switch my husband and I over to as many green/organic/clean products as possible and knowing that all Boll & Branch is made with 100% organic cotton definitely makes my heart happy. You’d think that “100% organic” coupled with beautiful designs would make for a high price tag but Boll & Branch sells directly to consumers (no middle man wholesaling) which means that they manage their transparent supply chain (with equal consideration given for the human and environmental resources) and are able to sell at fair prices while creating economic opportunities for each person involved in their business. It’s both comforting and inspiring to know that Boll & Branch is committed to ensuring fair working conditions, living wages and medical benefits are available to all workers, from cotton farmer to factory worker. And, with full transparency and traceability into the origin of their cotton, it’s empowering as a consumer to know that the bedding is truly of the highest quality and, most importantly, ethically sourced and made. You can read more about Boll & Branch’s fundamental beliefs of being a better business via the “our story” on their site!

Does all of this white bedding make me nervous about our dogs? Not necessarily, because I’ve invested in a multitude of “dog blankets” (not gross or anything, don’t worry!) that I wash almost every other day to go on the beds in our house since we are long past the point of training our older dogs not to get on the beds. Those dog-only blankets will just come off when guests come to town and our friends and family can snuggle up with the super soft cable knit throw I couldn’t not add to the mix.

Although we still have a little less than 6 weeks left until my due date, it feels good to make small changes like this around the house so that everything is ready. And really, is there any better feeling than crisp, clean, beautiful linens? I have no doubt that our guests will love sleeping in this fresh bedding goodness…though it is nice to know that Boll & Branch offers a 30-day trial period and complimentary shipping to ensure every customer is happy with their  purchase. Why can’t more companies be this incredible and thoughtful?!

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