Quarles in Iceland: A 5 Day Itinerary

 photo 5daysinIceland_zps7qkeimki.jpgIf you aren't planning a trip to Iceland, this may not be a helpful blog post for you, and feel free to skip right over it...or just look at some pretty photos and move on. But when I plan trips, I google the heck out of things like "sample itinerary for five days in Iceland," so I figured for someone, this may be helpful.

The #1 rated travel book for Iceland is from Lonely Planet, and while we really loved it for a lot of reasons, the itinerary suggestions are pretty vague and weak (especially compared to Rick Steves Itineraries which aren't available for Iceland). So, here is a sample itinerary for a first timer's trip to Iceland in 5 days. I did a lot of research and came up with an itinerary that we were really happy with! We were so sad to leave this beautiful country after five days, but we felt like we made the most of our time!

The key for us was 2 days of taking it easy and soaking in Iceland, and 3 days of nonstop roadtrips. The best roadtrips of our lives! We didn't let jet lag get us down, and we didn't feel stressed throughout the trip!

At the end, I also included a budget breakdown. It may seem like TMI, but we are major budget people (which is how we find a way to travel to new places), and I find that kind of information on other people's trips really helpful! And I had a hard time finding a lot of pricing information for Iceland.

We flew Icelandair out of Boston. We left at 8:45pm ET and landed at 5:45am in Iceland. Day 1 started at the airport...

Day 1 - Reykjanes Peninsula, Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik 

We landed at Keflavik and picked up our rental car which we booked with Budget (via Expedia)and we drove off into the Reykjanes peninsula. We had Blue Lagoon tickets first thing at 9:00am (you must book in advance for the Blue Lagoon), but we had about two hours to kill, so we explored the Reykjanes Peninsula, saw the tectonic plate divide, drove out to some amazing cliffs by the power plant (sounds like an oxymoron, right?. When we left the airport, we both said it felt like being on Mars. At 7am, there were hardly any cars on the roads and we didn't see a single person anywhere. We just saw miles and miles of lava fields with geothermal steam rising from the ground. The cloudy skies and harsh winds against the harsh landscape had us feeling like we had landed on another planet.  photo 1-FirstDay1_zpsmh7ndvi9.jpg

We stopped for breakfast at Bryggian in the fishing village of Grindavik. This was the best meal to start off our trip! There was no menu, but the kind man behind the counter brought out the "fisherman's breakfast"--aka the works. Pickled herring, smoked salmon, veggies, rye bread, skyr, fresh jam and butter, cheese, coffee.  photo 1-FirstDay10_zpsubgdczhu.jpg After breakfast, we went to the Blue Lagoon, a checkbox on many traveler's bucket lists. It was a lovely couple of hours, but I have to admit that while I'm glad we did it, it was not the biggest highlight of the trip compared to some of the other amazing sights we saw.  photo 1-FirstDay27 2_zps7m87imep.jpg After the Blue Lagoon, we drove into Reykjavik and headed down to the harbor. We explored the quaint streets lined with colorful, petite houses that reminded me of a storybook or coloring book and stopped for the best lobster soup I've ever tasted in a cozy, rustic atmosphere at Saegriffin on the harbor. We walked around and explored a bit more and then checked into our hotel (www.numer29.com. Definitely recommend!) for a quick afternoon nap before heading out to dinner at Nora Magasin where we had some incredible beef and lamb burgers. Then we finished the evening in the rooftop, geothermally heated hot tub and sauna at Numer 29. We loved just strolling the streets of Reykjavik, but I have to say that one day there felt like plenty. We were ready to head into the wild and glad that the rest of our nights were not booked in town.

**A note about jet lag. I feel like we really beat jet lag well this trip and made the most of our first full day after a red eye flight--a must do for a short trip in Iceland. Three primary keys for us were (1) sleeping on the flight as best we could. We didn't let the movies tempt us and we went straight to trying to sleep. (2) going to the Blue Lagoon in the morning. It's in the perfect location to hit after the airport, and we were able to enjoy a relaxing soak in the spa, feel like we were doing something, but not overexert ourselves. (3) Spending our first day in Reykjavik. If our first day had been a full day of nature sightseeing, I think we would have worn ourselves ragged. Reykjavik is a great town to leisurely enjoy and relax. (4) Taking a nap. We let ourselves sleep for an hour or two in the afternoon before getting back out and enjoying the city some more. It gave us that extra burst of energy!   photo 1-FirstDay22_zpsrj6ewryi.jpg

Day 2 - The Golden Circle Total time spent in the car: around 3 hours Total day length with stops: around 10 hours (we really took our time and also had to stop for groceries at the end)

Perhaps the most famous day trip in Iceland is the Golden Circle which consists of three very popular natural attractions on an easy to drive route. The drive started out very foggy, and we were a little bit disappointed that we couldn't see into the distance past the fog hovering over the mountains, but by the afternoon, the blue skies made a grand appearance, and it was the start of three days of the most glorious April weather we could have asked for in Iceland.

We started out at Þingvellir National Park, where the first ever known parliament meetings were held by early Icelanders over 1000 years ago. It also sits on the continental divide between the tectonic plates.  photo 2-GoldenCircle1_zps6xubmetu.jpg We broke up the day with lunch at Fridheimar. This is a must! It is this amazing greenhouse where they grow tomatoes that are used all over Iceland. They've figured out a way to use the geothermal energy and water to grow the tastiest tomatoes year round in a very volatile climate. They have the cutest cafe where you can eat the best tomato soup of your life with fresh bread and basil you cut fresh off a basil plant on your table. It's a wonderful stopping point on the Golden Circle drive.  photo 2-GoldenCircle30_zpsyy4f6zyx.jpg The last two stops of the day are Geysir and Gullfoss. Both of these places are incredible, and there is a plethora of information everywhere on the internet, so I will spare you tons of detail.

After the waterfall, we headed to find our Airbnb cabin which was just northeast of Reykjavik near Lake Medalfellsvatn, but we stopped at a grocery store first to stock up for the week at our cabin. There are NO GROCERY STORES along the road headed from Gulfoss to the Reykjavik area until you get back almost to the capital city. Also, grocery stores keep really short hours (especially on Sundays), but we found a Kronan open in the town of Mosfellsbaer.

Grocery shopping when everything is in another language is a challenge, but it was kind of fun, and we came away with food for a couple of dinners at the cabin, breakfast for the rest of the days, and plenty of coffee and snacks for the week. We still don't know exactly what the ground meat was that we had for breakfast every day, but that's the fun I guess.  photo 2-GoldenCircle68_zpsv4esf5nw.jpg

We ended the day at the cabin that I had booked online and prayed was as blissful as it looked. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was even better. We felt like we had stepped into a dream. It was the perfect place to relax every night, and we were glad to have a home base to come back to. With only a few days in Iceland, I recommend picking a place and doing day trips from there rather than moving locations every night. For us, it made for a much more relaxing vacation. With a longer trip around the ring road, the scenario would change, but we loved having a home base.  photo 5-Cabin13_zpsakhebuur.jpg

Day 3 - Snaefellsness Peninsula Total time spent in the car: around 6 hours Total day length with stops: around 12 hours

I was looking forward to our day on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula most of all because it is a little bit off the beaten path, and because it is the site of a lot of filming for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty which is fun to see. This part of the country is an easy day trip from the Reykjavik area, and it is a part of the country filled with interesting landscapes and a sort of magical feeling. Over half of Icelanders believe in the existence of huldufolk or "hidden people," like trolls and elves and fairies. No other place will be more likely to convince you that they just might just be hidden from visitors in the lava rock.

We started off with a drive through the town of Borgarnes where we stopped to fuel up our car and get a cinnamon roll at Geirabakari, which was the site of the Papa John's in Walter Mitty. The entire town of Borgarnes has a beautiful view of the ocean. I can't imagine living somewhere with five star views to pump your gas.  photo 3-Snaefellsnes5_zps548zhsuj.jpg We then headed off for our lunch spot at Stykkisholmur, the biggest town on the peninsula and we stopped for a photo op at the Gerduberg basalt columns along the way. The columns are really amazing, but looking back, I may not have taken the time to stop and see them. You will see lots of other basalt formations on your trip and these were our least favorite.

Stykkisholmur is a great stopping point to grab a bite before circling the peninsula. We had an amazing lunch of seafood soup and asparagus soup and fresh bread at Narfeyrarstofa. We also climbed to the top of the basalt island, Sugandisey, at the top of town and just enjoyed the quiet streets (where there is free wi-fi everywhere) for a few minutes.  photo 3-Snaefellsnes13_zps2w1vukhq.jpg We then headed west around the peninsula. We stopped at Kirkjufellsfoss for a photo op of the waterfall and the mountain Kirkjufell in the background. Then we continued around and drove through Snaefellsjokull National Park. We made a stop at Dritvik beach which was eerie on a foggy afternoon with the remains of a shipwreck from hundreds of years ago still scattered on the black sand. We saw the rock formation known as the Elf Church.   photo 3-Snaefellsnes251_zpsx1fbuglv.jpg  photo 3-Snaefellsnes37 2_zpscfu1edyz.jpg We drove through lava fields and climbed to the top of the Saxholl Crater to look down at the jagged rock landscape. We finished the trek around at the cliffs of Hellnar and Arnarstapi--my favorite part of the day. We were running out of time and getting hungry, so we rushed our time there a bit, but I wished I could spend hours sitting along the dramatic cliffs and watching the sea birds as they socialized at the end of the day.  photo 3-Snaefellsnes55_zpst5d7pomi.jpg We didn't get back to our cabin until around 10pm, but the long day was well worth it.

Day 4 - The South Coast Total time spent in the car: around 6 hours Total day length with stops: around 12 hours

Another very accessible day trip is along The South Coast. From our point Northeast of Reykjavik, we weren't directly accessible to the South Coast sights, but it was pretty easy to head down south as far as the town of Vik and see some beautiful places along the way.

After a couple hours of driving and just enjoying the countryside, we stopped at the first natural wonder: Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. We put on our waterproof pants and went behind the waterfall and around it. Beautiful! We knew Vik was going to be our stop and turn around point so we hit a couple stops on the way and a couple on the way back.  photo 4-SouthCoast8_zpsep0ahz9h.jpg We walked to the base of the Solheimajokull Glacier which was a highlight of the day. Even though we couldn't hike it without a guide, it was great to see it up close.

The one thing we would take off the list in future was our trip to see the downed plane Solheimasandur. In March of 2016 (one month before we were there), they closed off the driving path to get to it, and what we thought was a 10 or 15 minute walk to the plane was actually a 2.2 mile walk. Our trip to see the plane took us over 2 hours! It was cool, but not cool enough for that.  photo 4-SouthCoast28_zpsszcnshcb.jpg We stopped in Vik for an Icelandic hotdog and then spent some time on the black sand beach at Reynisfjara. This was one of my favorite spots in all of Iceland! I wanted to spend a lot more time there and so wished we hadn't spent two hours seeing the plane so that I could go to the cafe, grab some coffee, and just sit on the black sand and listen to the waves and stare at the basalt formations.  photo 4-SouthCoast49 2_zpsxkuwrrvu.jpg On the drive back, we stopped at Skogafoss waterfall--my favorite waterfall of the trip. Then we went for a swim at the Seljavaullaug hidden pool. This was a wonderful place to stop for a dip in a warm pool and a view of the surrounding mountains.  photo 4-SouthCoast57_zpsvzrror1q.jpg  photo 4-SouthCoast69_zpsfvwmxvlj.jpg We finished off the day with dinner in Selfoss. There were a number of good restaurants, and it was a good stop on the way back!

Day 5 - Slow down and take it in. 

Our flight left the airport around 6pm on Day 5, and I didn't make any big plans for the day before that. I'm so glad I didn't because after three days of non-stop roadtrips, all I wanted to do was just relax and soak in the atmosphere before having to leave this amazing country.  photo 4-Cabin15_zpsip9buoqf.jpg We took our time with breakfast and I went for a hike around the cabin (another reason I'm so glad we chose a scenic place to stay). I hung out with the sweet horses that surrounded us and cried as I said goodbye to them. We truly just had a leisurely morning and it felt like the perfect way to end a trip. Then we went back to Reykjavik for lunch at Icelandic Fish & Chips, coffee at Cafe Haiti, and another stroll through the colorblock streets before heading to the airport late afternoon.  photo 5-Cabin11_zpstz7paxhx.jpg We could have tried to jam pack another day, but I don't regret taking it easy one bit. It was the best ending to the best trip in an absolutely unforgettable country.

Until next time, Iceland.

Trip Budget

**We are strict budget people; we log every purchase and put every dollar in its place (thank you, Dave Ramsey). One of the things that affords us is the opportunity to intentionally make travel a priority and save our pennies toward trips like this. That being said, it's sometimes hard to plan a budget to an unknown place without any knowledge of how much that will cost. Hopefully this helps! 

(This budget is not including airfare which will vary by time of year and airline. But I will say that we used Icelandair out of Boston after using airline points to get from Nashville to Boston, and roundtrip flights Boston to Reykjavik were just over $500 each in April!)

Lodging: $474 (4 nights Airbnb) Food at Restaurants: $258.24 (7 full meals and plenty of coffee stops, snacks, etc) Groceries: $74.55 (3 breakfasts, 2 dinners, coffee and snacks) Gas: $152.30 (5 days of driving in a little economy car) Sightseeing: $123.69 (Blue Lagoon and a few little costs here and there) Rental Car: $153.00 Total Cost: $1,235.78

I hope this was helpful in some way! Happy to answer any questions!Signature

Quarles In Iceland Part 1

In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.
Psalm 95:4-5 

 photo 2-GoldenCircle76 2_zpsdsdgbffj.jpg Jeremy and I just got back from a week in the land of fire and ice. Inspired by beautiful photos and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Jeremy suggested a new vacation locale, and we booked this trip on a whim less than two months ago.

Those two months were very busy. We were both working overtime and trying to balance too many things, so I counted down the days to a getaway. I told myself I needed to clear my mind, to have the space to think about the future and to have deep conversations and quality time with my husband after weeks of passing like ships. I needed to not think about politics or the state of our country or career choices or emails or social media or to-do lists.

Turns out, I did need all those things (and I got them), but the thing I truly needed, and found, was much better.

Author Hannah Kent wrote, "I do think people can have a spiritual connection to landscape, and I certainly did in Iceland."

I echo that sentiment.

I didn't make any big life decisions or have a profound epiphany in our five short days in Iceland. But I experienced a spiritual wonder that settled my soul. 

I rode in the passenger seat as we drove for hours on winding roads flanked by epic mountains and rugged lava fields. I stood at the base of a glacier and wondered at the free-form patterns made in the packed ice by the water runoff. I closed my eyes and listened to the roar of mighty waterfalls and opened them to see rainbows reflecting across the water.  photo 4-SouthCoast62 2_zpsdd5vsgvc.jpg Icelandic horses wandered through the fields outside our cabin window as I drank my morning coffee. They seem noble with sure-footed gaits, but also like unruly teenagers with their thick, shaggy manes and playful banter.  photo 3-Cabin2 2_zpsrdnfx7fq.jpg I marveled at the intensity of the blue ocean. The cold, north Atlantic waters were a deeper, richer blue than I have ever seen, and as we stood on top of peaks and alongside fjords, the water seemed to stretch forever.

The grandeur seemed to minimize my daily struggles. I was so awestruck by the wonder of a God who could create such a place. If he can make a planet so diverse, powerful, and beautiful, how much greater will the next world be?

It was the best possible vacation. One that not only provided more "me" time, but also more worship time. More time to simply stand in awe of God. No agenda. No schedule. No questions to answer or problems to solve. More of HIM in the world around me; less of me and my daily concerns, comparisons, complaints. Although, I can't deny that I also received one of the most enjoyable weeks of my life and some memories that I want to keep forever.

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I don't have to travel to Iceland to experience this kind of wonderment. I want to find time in my daily life to simply allow myself to be awed by the God that loves me. Not to try to do something or accomplish something or solve a problem or fix my flaws. There is a place for all of those things, but it is amazing the kind of soul-soothing, mind healing peace that comes in just pausing and looking around and worshiping God because He deserves it.

But on a very practical note, I'm convinced that you, too, should go ahead and buy a ticket to Iceland because I guarantee you will have a blast. :-)

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On cynicism and the freedom to be creative...

 photo 3998DB44-A609-496D-B3B6-95A4A6FCBC24_zpsyywswizp.jpgAt the age of 25, I have become a class A cynic. It's a self-diagnosed disorder in which I choose to search for and highlight the flaws and failings in the creative expression of myself and others with the belief that it makes me some sort of expert or enhances my cool-factor.

I am reading a book by Elizabeth Gilbert called "Big Magic" about the magic to be found in creative living. And I realized it's been a while since I truly believed in magic. Not pixie dust and Santa Claus magic, but the spark of joy from my creator that can be found in the love of creativity...especially as it pertains to music.

I moved to Nashville almost 8 years ago with very little cynicism and a lot of joyous expectation. I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed college freshman on the campus of one of the most well-respected contemporary music schools in the country. I had stars in my eyes--not because I expected to become the next big superstar, but because being in a place where my primary focus was creative expression among other talented creatives was just so thrilling.

I voluntarily spent my evenings in the practice rooms writing very average songs with above average conviction and learning to play the piano because I believed I could. I had dreams of singing in an artist showcase--the big kahuna of student performance events. I recorded a very amateur demo in the smelly closet of a freshman audio major. I had a professor tell me that I should have been a pageant girl and that I should probably quit the voice program, and after a tearful afternoon, I picked myself up and chose to disbelieve his rash judgment of my talent.

As the years progressed, I became acquainted with a new friend. Her name was cynicism. I can't remember who introduced us. Maybe it was an older student I respected or a jaded professor or a weary industry veteran. In Nashville (or any creative place for that matter), cynicism has a lot of social connections. She came with me to the practice rooms and assisted me by reminding me that nothing I did was ever really good enough and everyone else was more talented and qualified than me. She sat with me at church and at concerts and helped me nitpick the performers and worship leaders. She introduced me to self-doubt and fear; we made a really powerful team. Under their influence, I began listening to music less for fun and seeing practice as a chore rather than a joy. I mastered the art of crippling self-editing and procrastination.

Many times I ignored cynicism and her posse, and throughout college I still maintained a overriding sense of joy and optimism in my craft. I achieved many of the goals I set out to accomplish. I released my first short album, I spent two years in the jazz vocal ensemble that I so aspired to be a part of, and I made the cut for that showcase. The Lord continued to remind me that my creativity is a gift from him to be used and enjoyed.

Now, four years later, I have spent the last four years working on the business end of the music industry. And boy does cynicism have a fan base in this world. Her friends are not ill-intentioned (for the most part), but they are everywhere.

I now find myself joining the masses who fold our arms at concerts instead of raising our hands and have a judgment and criticism for every aspiring or existing artist. I read articles about how the music industry is dying and Christian music sucks and streaming is taking the place of digital music sales which took the place of cds and nobody can make a living and touring is hard and marriages are failing and only the lucky few can ever really find happiness and fulfillment in the art of music making. The rest of us just try to do our best to get by and maybe our art can make one person happy. Sometimes I can't remember what it was like to love music just for the sake of it.

I see those same college freshman, or highschoolers, or young aspiring creatives, and I shake my head and say, "just you wait. It's a rough world out there, kid”, with a feigned sense of superiority. Ew. I'm embarrassed to admit that I actually think that way sometimes.

Moral of the story: I have taught myself to believe a whole lot of bull.

The truth of the matter is: it is a rough world out there. Making a living in art is not and has never been an easy road. It's a world of harsh criticism and apathy. The decision makers are subjective. There's not a clear cut path to success.

But I think I've missed the point completely.

The most joyful moments of creative expression in my life thus far didn't make me a single penny. I didn't do them for the acclaim or for the pat on the back.

At least in this stage of my life, when I have a great day job, I don't have to rely on my creativity to make a living, so why am I not the most joyful creative on the planet? There's so little pressure in reality, so why do I not create with freedom and abandon? And, more than that, why do I judge and envy those who do?

When I was writing my first songs at the age of 7 (remind me to sing you the masterpieces called God Is The Light and I'm Going On a Mission With God), I honestly didn't care if someone successful said they were the best thing they'd ever heard. (Although, I'm sure my naive seven-year-old self probably thought they were amazing.) I just created because it came out of me and because it was so fun.

God didn't make peonies and tulips and sunsets and butterflies because he wanted us to say "Good job, God. Here is a prize for creative excellence and a paycheck to prove Your worth." Honestly, I'm not completely sure why He created those things. But, I imagine it had something to do with the fact that He is God, and He is good, and beauty is a natural outpouring of that.

I am a child of God, a representative of Him here on this earth. Shouldn't I find joy in creativity just because it's good and wonderful? I've never been in a life-or-death creative crisis. Nothing truly serious rides on my success or failure. So why am I so afraid to try?

As Gilbert would say in Big Magic, fear is boring. Everyone fears. Why not be bold and actually enjoy the art of creativity? Why not think to myself, "Wow! What a complete honor to be able to write songs about God's goodness!"?

It's human nature to want approval and to seek success. And it is also important that we pursue excellence in our craft. A little bit of cynicism is healthy. There's nothing wrong with making a living of art. But, art is really all about joy anyway. We don't create art to save the world or to solve world hunger or to cure cancer. We create art because it enriches life. And, if it's not bringing me joy in the creation, why do I force myself to participate?

I recently released an EP. Five songs that I carefully crafted and recorded. There was a lot of fear tied up in the creation of that project. People keep asking me how it's doing, and I feel like I need to give them some impressive stat about its success. The other day someone asked me, and I felt compelled to simply say, "I released it. It's on iTunes for people to hear. I'm really proud of it, and I count it a personal and spiritual victory that I released it at all. It was a lot of fun."

And that's really ok if that's all there is to it.

I have had people say some nice things about it. Some people have bought it. I think it's pretty decent music. But why do I always temper my joy with qualifications like "I mean sure it was fun, but, you know, it's not like it's going to be that successful or anything"?Sure, it probably won't, but why give that disclaimer? Why, when people ask if I'm an artist, do I respond with "No. I just try to do music on the side. It's tough, you know?"?

Why do I harp on the struggles and bemoan the difficult creative existence? Why do I make excuses?

There is certainly a place for criticism and for objectively looking at art and thinking "that isn't any good at all." Everyone is entitled to their opinion about artistic expressions. It is also unrealistic for everyone who finds joy in creativity to believe they are destined for a career in the arts. But so what? What if the only thing that happens is that they created something that glorified God and brought them joy? Is that really so bad? And what if someone writes a scathing review or tells them it stinks? If that's the worst that could happen, is it truly a reason never to have created it in the first place?

I'm not going to stop critically assessing music, and I'm certainly never going to achieve complete separation from my good friend cynicism. She is like a live-in relative, and it's best when she has her own kitchen so she doesn't have to share my space all the time. I could use her help in distinguishing between my own works of excellence and stuff that's better suited for the waste basket. But, above all, I'm going to try finding joy in art again. Because that's why we love art in the first place. I'm going to try not to emulate my peers who look at the music industry with disdain while simultaneously devoting their lives to it. I just don't see the point in that. I want to find joy in creating art and cheer on others who do the same. I want to be an encourager.

God gifted us with art, and we have the privilege to partner with him in creating it and reveling in it. What joy. Whether it's blogging, poetry, drawing, painting, or simply enjoying those things.

"Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." Psalm 100:2

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Final living room reveal!

I gave you an update a few weeks ago on the state of our living room. We have been making subtle changes bit by bit, and I think we are finally calling it done! When we looked at the house, it looked like this.  photo 3-LivingRoom3_zpskldy1ivx.jpg Then for about 2 years, we lived with the living room looking like this.  photo livingroomcoffeetable2_zpsebpsvnoz.jpg About 6 months ago, when we painted all the kitchen cabinets white, we began to make changes to the living room. Slowly, but surely, we have gotten to a point that feels like we are finished.

I finally had a chance to take some photos...ta da!  photo 5680D5D0-6848-4988-83B3-626AC8CE43C8_zpsgbubcqz5.jpg  photo C3F4B103-6B24-4E4B-8202-86A214083481_zpsqn5kcrdu.jpg Here is what we have changed: - New couch (purchase link here) - Re-painted all the walls. It's hard to tell, but they went from grey-beige to more of a pure light gray. - Swapped the gray curtains for white ones from a different room. - Swapped the chevron chairs for a single club chair from a different room (and recovered the chairs. More on that later) - Moved a bench from one of the guest rooms into the space next to the door. - Got rid of the art above the couch in favor for those beautiful diamond window panels (found at a local flea market). - Swapped the jute rug for a Dash & Albert Rug that was in our guest room. - New coffee table (purchase link here)

The only new things we purchased were the couch, coffee table, and window panes above the couch. Everything else was simply borrowed from other rooms in the house. I absolutely love how much lighter, brighter, and more balanced everything is! It feels perfect for springtime.  photo EB452DE7-6AF2-4796-AB77-C843DB3259C8_zpsi41yqu2w.jpg  photo 439617FE-0D78-4860-B715-C05CFD08846D_zpsdhy3bema.jpg We love this new, pretty couch. It was such an upgrade for us. The velvet material is so soft and comfortable, and it's very cat friendly (they aren't as tempted to scratch velvet as they are linen).  photo C389BD0C-9D54-4F9B-8D7D-5B349948FCCB_zpscuzorxlx.jpg

Also, having this club chair instead of the smaller chairs is more functional for our everyday life.  photo 716C44A6-E4F1-49DA-B8F3-365C29DEAF5B_zpshrsudk1k.jpg We also recently switched out our kitchen chairs for some metal tub chairs.  photo D43A6ACC-9CAB-4E65-A0F2-35CBBA913BB0_zpso2bmqfwb.jpg

I feel like we have finally settled into a room that I am truly proud of! At least...for now :-)

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Final sources: Paint color: Stonington Gray by Benjamin Moore (at 50% strength) Couch: Chloe Velvet Tufted Sofa from Macy's in Granite Pillows: Home Goods & West Elm Coffee Table: Wayfair Sideboard/TV Stand: Free on Craigslist/DIY painted and stained (info on the paint job here.) Bench: Free/DIY Recovered (here) Rug: Dash & Albert Club chair: Bargain hunt Throw blanket: Home Goods Lamps: Walmart Diamond windowpanes: Nashville flea market Boxwood wreath: Target

On flight delays, busy schedules, anger management, and time with Jesus...

 I wrote this a couple of weeks ago. I'm a little less stressed now, but writing out my feelings helped. I hope you find encouragement from the lament of an over-extended woman. :-)  It’s been one of those weeks. One of those months.

Last week, I reached up to find the back of my earring hanging on while the front had vanished somewhere in Baltimore. The next morning, I responsibly donned my blue and white lacy apron to cook breakfast. When I removed said apron, my shirt was covered in grease…under my perfectly pristine protective housewife garment—a feat that defies the laws of basic physics. Thursday, my computer turned all of the perfectly readable English into gibberish symbols, and I was suddenly trying to decipher paragraphs that looked like ∏◊©¢⇑ßß∏∇∩. Half an hour with the IT guy later, I was once again able to read my desktop icons and file menus.  I took naps in my car in random parking lots in between one meeting and the next to try to catch up on the sleep that has eluded me lately. Monday, I returned from the supermarket to find that the main ingredient I needed for dinner was somehow left at the checkout counter and another major ingredient was spoiled before I even opened it.

In the midst of a hectic schedule, all of these little annoyances could not have been more poorly timed.

Thursday evening, I sat at the airport waiting to board my sixth work flight in 2 weeks that was two hours delayed and was set to put me at my destination at 1 a.m. Little did I know that I would encounter numerous other travel and car rental mishaps before the day’s end that would result in me yelling at a guy outside the airport to leave me alone and my mommy driving 45 minutes to pick me up on a business trip at 2:30 a.m. My exhausted delirium from a week that started and ended with 3 a.m. frustration had me reflecting on the chaos.

I have been working days, nights and weekends and also trying to fit in housework, promotion for a recently released EP, Bible studies, healthy eating, and a home decorating/renovation side business that Jeremy and I will be officially launching soon. Life isn't always as crazy as it is right now, but I do tend to overextend myself.

Recently several people have mentioned how much they admire Jeremy’s and my ambition. I hear exclamations of “How do you do it all?” and “Wow. You keep so busy. I’m so impressed!” I usually take those compliments and store them in my chest…the perfect packing material with which to puff it up and strut around with pride. Meanwhile, several weeks of jam packed schedules left me feeling depleted. The easiest thing to let slide was my morning time with Jesus. My work schedule kept me from my Monday night Bible study anyway, so my accountability was sparse. And when I woke up in the mornings in a frenzy, I chose breakfast over Bible and shower over scripture.

As each day passed with little more than a “Jesus, give me strength” or a quick psalm reading in passing, anxiety and stress began filling the spaces where joy and peace used to live. I found myself quick to anger and quick to tears. A tearful meltdown in front of my boss was a surefire sign that I needed some rest and rejuvenation.

This morning I woke up and felt a yearning to spend time in God’s word. I prayed for guidance and felt drawn to Philippians where I found the familiar words:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7)

I have read that passage innumerable times, but in my weariness, it hit me in a fresh way. I know that prayer and supplication will give me peace, but I was struck by the truth that the reverse is also true. When I don’t pray or give my requests to God, I am willingly denying myself the PEACE OF GOD which is beyond all understanding. It’s no surprise that weeks spent away from the refreshing water of God’s word have me also feeling a LACK of peace and a feeling that my heart and mind is unguarded. His peace and guarding are free for the taking, but the further I walk in the other direction, the less I experience them.

Last week as I paced the airport in angst over a delayed flight, I kept thinking that my emotions were too raw and my spirit too quick to anger. When I don’t give everything to God, that promise of having a guarded heart and mind is no longer being fulfilled in me. When I give my stress to Him, He guards my heart from anxiety and my mind from frustration.

When the Lord is front and center in my life, I am often amazed at the things I can accomplish in His strength. But when I push Him to the side in favor of those same accomplishments, my own weakness flashes neon bright.

Shortly following the passage mentioned above is one of the most quoted scriptures of all time:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

He gives me power I don’t possess. In reverse, I fall apart when I try to do all things in my own strength.

So today I am breathing deeply, accepting that I cannot do it all on my own, and praying for the peace of God to restore my soul.

When I don’t pray or give my requests to God, .

On improving your style and the living room.

At a recent staff meeting at the company where I work, we watched an Andy Stanley video about creating momentum in your church or business. He says three things influence momentum: new, improved, and improving. You always need to be creating something new and improving something existing. I say that the same is true about our personal lives and our homes. Especially for those of us who care deeply about the way that our homes look and feel. You don't have to change EVERYTHING at once. You don't have to have an HGTV-style before and after. You just have to introduce one new thing. Or improve one old thing.

The first room we decorated upon moving into our red brick ranch was the living room, which is incidentally also the first thing you see upon entering our house. We painted it, used existing furniture, and recycled a few thrifted finds. We did it on the CHEAP, but it was the first room that I had put together which seemed complete. But, fast forward a couple of years, and a lot of the choices I made already seemed like they needed a refresh. My style has become much more defined, our budget has expanded ever so slightly, and my taste has improved in three years.

Here was what the room looked like with the previous owners.

 photo 3-LivingRoom3_zpskldy1ivx.jpg

So this was round 1 (I was so proud of this at the time, and now I squirm a little looking at this terrible photo and the too-warm walls and the low hanging gallery wall and all of the wood on wood on wood! My photo skills have also improved)  photo livingroom3_zpsqfr6woai.jpg The rug helped just a little bit.  photo livingroomupdated1_zps32njgtsh.jpg And after a new couch, new paint, new coffee table, new kitchen cabinet color, shiplap peninsula, new barstools, and a rug, this is what it looks like right now.  photo LivingRoom2_zpsaorr52t7.jpg  photo C0CB25C8-F255-4672-8537-03914851B231_zpsg84ogedz.jpg  photo B7FE3394-50A2-4154-A8C9-B942B48CC6DA_zpssfxfqoxp.jpg And there are still several things coming soon! I am going to be changing out the art above the couch for a mirror I am working on right now and giving those chevron chairs a revamp. I am happy with the look right now, but there are still a lot of changes I would love to make in an ideal world.

Here is what I have learned. This room has been in a constant state of improvement since we moved in. I have only done what I could do in that moment. A new paint color and then another one. A new pillow here. A painted coffee table there. Every change has brought me joy and I have loved every stage along the way. If all you can do today is rearrange the books on the shelves or get a new throw blanket, do that ONE thing. One change. One improvement.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and your house doesn't have to be perfected either.

Whole30 Food Favorites

 photo C8ABA1BE-D1E3-4EB8-8EAD-995A7688ABAB_zpslgkgagmn.jpg Yesterday, I shared about our Whole30 experience. Today, let's talk FOOD FAVORITES!! I am happy to share some of my favorite recipes later, but for now, here are some of the staples we wouldn't want to have done without these 30 days.

  1. COFFEE. I love coffee. Even black coffee. In fact, especially black coffee. Prior to this challenge, I always put a tsp of real maple syrup and some half & half in my home brewed coffee before, and I opted for lattes at the coffee shops, but now, I can't get enough of a good cup of high quality organic brewed beans in my aeropress. Thank you, whole30, for letting me keep my daily joe.
  2. Ghee. It was nice to be able to make clarified butter from my Kerrygold and use it as a cooking fat.
  3. Fried Plantains. We didn't discover these until the last week of the program, but we LOVE THEM. Seriously, we are obsessed with salted plantains pan fried in coconut oil. Amazing snack.
  4. Almond butter. Yes, please.
  5. Toasted Coconut Chips. These are delicious and divine.
  6. La Croix. We didn't drink soda before, so we weren't replacing other carbonated beverages, but when you can't have any treats, there is something so refreshing and exciting about getting to have a flavored sparkling water.
  7. Lara Bars. Not for everyday use, but when you're in a pinch and need some food STAT, we loved having a few of these on hand. (Not all flavors are whole30 approved. Check for added sugars).
  8. Epic Bars. These were especially appealing when we were traveling. A little protein/meat boost is the perfect thing for a hungry traveler.
  9. GT's Kombucha. As if I didn't already love this stuff already. Every once in a while we treated ourselves to a GT's Kombucha because they don't add sugar to their brews. Our favorite flavors are Gingerade, Trilogy, and Gingerberry. Yum!
  10. Aidell's Chicken Apple Sausage. This is the only flavor I could find that was whole30 compliant, but it was a breakfast staple for us.
  11. Eggs. We have never gone through cartons of eggs as quickly as we did this month. We found that we were eating full breakfasts every morning, and eggs were a staple of that.
  12. Sweet Potatoes. In soup, as a side, for breakfast. Sweet potatoes all the time.
  13. Avocado. The yummiest of healthy fats.
  14. Spices. I am certain that eating lots of meats and vegetables does not mean it can't be full of flavor! Thanks to lots of garlic powder, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, Bragg's seasonings, allspice, etc.
  15. Nuts. Almond butter. Raw Almonds. Pecans. Cashews. Almond milk. Thank the Lord for nuts!

 photo 785B9479-4BFA-4D12-9E14-D025628952A7_zpsyusgxdhe.jpg

Over the next few weeks, I will share a few more recipes that we have loved! If you are planning on trying the Whole30, be sure to follow @whole30recipes on Instagram! That was a really helpful resource for me.

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Things I Learned On My First Whole30

 photo 2E5E587F-612A-4293-BB20-F00904DCF656_zpsfs5ijzly.jpgAs of tomorrow, Jeremy & I will have completed our very first Whole30. The re-introduction process is slow, but today is our final day of super strict, read-every-label-or-start-over eating. Woo!

If you have never heard of the Whole30, it's a 30 day eating challenge that is "designed to change your life in 30 days." Basically, for the last 30 days we have eaten meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and eggs. And that's about it. No grains, dairy, legumes, or sugar of any kind (except fruit). As you are reading this, you likely have one of two responses. Either: 1. You've done this before or thought about doing it before and you are nodding your head in solidarity. 2.  You think we are crazy.

I have considered myself a healthy eater for many years, and over the past few years of marriage, I have learned so much about how to eat and feed my family well with whole, real, delicious food. We hardly eat any processed food, limit our grains, and eat lots of produce and fresh foods. I have developed a serious interest in and affinity for cooking and spending time in the kitchen. But, I have always been really skeptical of the Whole30. I thought, "I already eat healthy enough. Why deprive myself of all of those things for 30 days?"

But I am really glad I did it.

I am writing this post mostly for my own benefit and the benefit of others who are planning to try the Whole30 program. I want to recap our adventure and share some of the tricks I learned along the way. (I'm sure I will have even more thoughts and reflections after we complete the re-introduction phase of this process. I will keep you posted!) 

Let's start with the positive. Here are some of the benefits we experienced from doing the Whole30. 1. Energy and motivation. After I got past a few early days of exhaustion, I found that I had increased energy and alertness. I was accomplishing more and feeling overall more energetic and focused in my tasks. This is a huge benefit! While I can't say that I was never tired in the 30 days, I didn't get the draining afternoon lulls that follow grain and sugar filled meals.

2. My sugar cravings decreased. I may not eat bakery cakes, oreos, or Blue Bell ice cream very often, but I had become very dependent on the "healthier" versions of such treats. Almond flour cookies, coconut milk ice cream, and gluten free chocolate chip pancakes were regular treats in my weekly (ahem, daily) diet. My sweet tooth was the hardest to kick in the early days of Whole30, and I rolled my eyes that I couldn't even put honey in my wellness tea or have uncured bacon if it contained any maple syrup or cane sugar. But I'm happy to say that I don't have those same seemingly insatiable desires for just a bite of banana oat cookies that I once did. Although, I can guarantee, I will be making some coconut milk ice cream as soon as this is over.

3. We both slimmed down. I haven't weighed myself since the end of Whole30, but whether or not I've lost weight is not of huge significance to me. I look slimmer and I feel better. Jeremy's change was more noticeable than mine (isn't that always the way, though?), and he has definitely dropped a few pounds. Also, despite the fact that I have been inconsistent in working out this month, my muscle tone is more defined.

4. Overall feeling better. In addition to more energy, I just felt better overall. Better PMS symptoms (sorry, guys), fewer stomach aches. Also, I have been less stressed and overall just a little peppier.

5. I feel a sense of accomplishment. I didn't know if I could deprive myself of so many delicious things for 30 days...especially in the midst of business travel and appointments, but I did it! And I feel better for it! And I realized that food doesn't have as much power over me as it once did. I can say no...even to a fresh crab cake staring me in the face on the Florida coast that wouldn't have been that bad but still broke the rules. Yes, I did that. And I survived. If anything, this was a really good test of willpower. I feel like I won the game.

6. I learned new skills and developed new habits. I tried recipes I never would have tried. I learned to use ingredients I didn't usually use. I started cooking a big, healthy breakfast every single morning.

Now let's talk hard stuff. Here were the most challenging/frustrating things about the 30 days.

  1. Eating out and having to be that person. On week 2 of the challenge, I went on a work trip and I had to eat out every meal for 5 days straight...often at greasy spoon restaurants that I did not choose. I made it work, but there was some frustration at the hassle. Also, you know that person across from you at the restaurant who asks for every single thing to be customized? The "is there butter on that salmon? What oil do you use to cook the broccoli? Can I have that without soy?" girl. I was that girl.
  2. Having to carefully avoid things I know don't bother me. I haven't done whole30 before, but I have done similar, less strict versions of the paleo diet. I know that a little bit of grass fed butter or some honey in my tea or soybean oil on my Chipotle veggies isn't a big deal. So I had to curb the eye rolling and just suck it up and avoid those little, not such a big deal things. For the sake of the cause. It is also quite annoying to have to read every single label looking for small amounts of added sugar.
  3. My skin didn't really improve. I have struggled with not-awesome skin lately, and I was hoping 30 days of the cleanest possible eating would leave me with a glowing, blemish free complexion. Unfortunately, it seems, clean eating wasn't the ultimate solution to everything.
  4. HUNGRY. I feel like eating this way increases my metabolism almost too much. We found ourselves so hungry before meals...like we could barely wait to scarf down those vegetables and meat.
  5. Cost of food. We are budget people, and this month definitely stretched our budget. Partly because I was so concerned with feeding us well that I didn't pay as close of attention to money, but it's expensive when all you can eat is produce, meat, and nuts. Also, winter is a tough time of year because not very much produce is actually in season.

The truth is, I am so glad I finished the 30 days...despite the things listed above! Are our lives changed? I'm not sure about that, but they are certainly enhanced. I think this program really could change your life if you were starting from a more unhealthy place. But even as "healthy" eaters already, this program is definitely something I would recommend!

Tomorrow, I'll be back to talk about my food favorites from the month and share a few recipes.

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The Books You Read...2015

I wrote a blog post earlier this year about my affinity for travel, and I shared a favorite quote: You will be the same person you are now in five years except for the places you go, the people you meet, and the books you read. 

One of my new years resolutions at the beginning of 2015 was to read a book a month for a total of 12 books this year. As I closed the year out, I am proud to say that I saw that goal and raised it. I finished 28 books in 2015 (not including books of the Bible), thanks in part to my recent addiction to audiobooks. There's nothing like sitting down to physically read a book cover to cover, but in the craziness of life, sometimes an audiobook is just the thing! This year, I have kept two books going at once: one in print and one in audio format.

I have found that I prefer fiction on tape because it doesn't require as much active processing. I can simply listen and enjoy the story. I prefer to visually read non-fiction books for the sake of my own comprehension as a visual learner.

I have borrowed all of my audiobooks for free thanks to my local Nashville library and both the Overdrive app and Hoopla app on my phone.

So, for those of you that have any interest in a booklist and recommendations, and for my own documentation, here is my reading list of 2015 as well as my rating (on a scale of 1 to 5) (* = audiobook).

First off, my top 3 recommendations from the year: 1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Historical fiction. Takes place in France during WWII. So beautifully written and a wonderful story. 2. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. Memoir and business book by one of the men who runs Pixar and now Disney Animation Studios. Great for creatives, but good for everyone! 3. The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. I read this at the top of the year, and it really shaped and grew my prayer life.   photo 2C0A966C-7FE8-4700-8651-AE661DA700DB.tif_zpsolawbtqk.jpeg

     NON-FICTION

  1. The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson - 5
  2. For The Right Reasons by Sean Lowe (Don't judge) - 3
  3. Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff by Stephen Altrogge - 4
  4. Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist - 3
  5. Scary Close by Donald Miller - 2 (I know this book is wildly popular; it just didn't click with me.)
  6. When God Doesn't Fix It by Laura Story - 4
  7. The War of Art: Break Through The Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield - 3 (First 2 sections were definitely a 4/5, but the last section took the rating down significantly for me).
  8. Shattered Perspectives by AJ Luck - 3
  9. Call The Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth*4
  10. Call The Midwife: Farewell To The East End by Jennifer Worth*4
  11. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull - 5
  12. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo - photo 4078B4B7-3945-4430-976F-2DE424A8F243.tif_zpst742uzza.jpeg FICTION
  13. Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers - 5
  14. Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers - 5
  15. As Sure As The Dawn by Francine Rivers - 5
  16. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - 4
  17. The Help by Kathryn Stockett* - 5
  18. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers - 5
  19. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley* - 4
  20. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter* - 2
  21. The Prince by Francine Rivers* - 4
  22. All The Light We Cannot See* by Anthony Doerr - 5
  23. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee* - 5
  24. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery* - 4
  25. Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery* - 4
  26. Anne's House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery* - 4
  27. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee* - 3 (As a long time lover of To Kill a Mockingbird, I was disappointed by this long-awaited followup!)
  28. The Christmas Angel by Jane Maas* - 5

I've only finished one book so far in 2016! I guess I better get to work!

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2015 Life In Review

This year took me by surprise. I didn't have particularly grand expectations for 2015, but as I look back, I realize that it was one of my favorite years yet. I feel like I have grown a lot in my understanding of myself this year. Our marriage is richer and fuller. I feel more confident, more humbled, and more assured in who I am in Christ than I have before. We did a lot of major projects around the house, and all of a sudden our home feels a lot more like "us."

We traveled a lot. We took a trip to Italy around our third anniversary which was at the very top of my bucket list. It was the trip of a lifetime and some of my favorite days of my life. This year I also found myself in Portland, northern California, South Florida, Chattanooga, New York City, Orlando, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Texas and a handful of other places.

I started a new position in a new department at my record label job in January. That has brought with it more travel and a large learning curve, but it has been an exciting and great change.

This year, we left a church we loved and joined a new one, joined a new Bible study, and started leading 7th graders on Wednesday nights. It's been a year of spiritual growth for us as a couple and individually.

Perhaps the most personally significant for me is the recording of my second musical project, The Color EP, which will release at the top of 2016. I've been thinking of releasing new music for several years as I have struggled with a lot of fear and insecurity, but music was one of the biggest parts of my life for most of my life, and it has felt like a re-awakening as I have been reminded of the joy of following my God-given passion and recorded music once again.

This year has been full of big life events and little moments. Births of sweet babies to two of my best friends. Saying goodbye to the house that raised me. Visits with family near and far. Memories made with my husband as we continue to grow into adulthood together. Quiet moments on snowy days. Colorful trips around the world.

2015, you were absolutely exactly what I needed. I greet you, 2016, with open arms.  photo backyard1_zps21319c6f.jpg  photo IMG_8391_zpsvejirfjd.jpg  photo Rome-6_zpsi3wkgc0h.jpg  photo F0F75539-1696-4B1A-A4F6-BAA0D3EFC51D_zpsvap4rqju.jpg  photo 2A77E5D7-2C0B-40C4-A85F-A4E1FE0E9044_zpsvhoznfdy.jpg  photo FDBB0055-377A-4379-99C1-5464BA4177A9_zpsqviq4qga.jpg  photo 3A2A0271-B957-4789-B504-EC3A1E077C8A_zpsatlgq0rb.jpg  photo 34A1A685-2342-40AD-BE58-68521A4D5D40_zpsqy4wub3v.jpg  photo 15C9D3B3-A0E2-47CE-9BB4-72E6FA95E744_zps4uklhkp9.jpg  photo A2650EAD-2AC6-4445-A329-D51290061B71_zpsjtpjqs12.jpg

2015 Home in Review

Every year, it feels so improbable that yet another year has come and gone. The hours feel so long and the years so short. I am enjoying the end of this year because I think 2015 might be one of my favorite years yet on a personal level, and it has been the most trans-formative year for our little red brick ranch house.

We have a new master bedroom and closet, an updated and renovated basement, a fresh white kitchen and repainted living space, and a new sitting area/patio outside in the carport. Let me jog your memory about some transformations and renovations from the year.

Garage to Master Bedroom Transformation. Our old garage went from this...  photo garage2_zps1be2d16b.jpg To this...  photo bedroom9_zpsdf8atkoi.jpg  photo bedroom1_zpskhnclfma.jpg

For more information on this big renovation: Mid-Century Dresser  Vintage File Cabinet with Annie Sloan Paint Vintage Night Stands DIY Upholstered Headboard Painting the room Construction update

We transformed our kitchen by painting all the cabinets and adding hardware Before (Was it ever that ORANGE?)  photo KitchenBefore3_zpsytst4k10.jpg After (We are so enjoying our new kitchen)  photo IMG_9449_zpsq8bygt3k.jpg

   Oh and then Magnolia Market (Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper) shared a photo of my kitchen on social media and I felt famous for a day! 

 I did my first "client" project by helping a friend with design for their home renovation. BEFORE  photo 602A25F4-6580-4040-BA3B-0EB52D123178_zpskkqe5olo.jpg

   AFTER  photo Hagood1_zpse1ztcqq3.jpg

   We created a mudroom in our basement and hung shiplap...

    photo mudroom3edited_zpsa5y5wf83.jpg

Our basement went from this 

   To this 

      We created a cozy seating area in our existing carport...  photo IMG_9914_zpskbnwc3zy.jpg

We finished off the year with a Christmas home tour to recap it all...  photo IMG_9961_zpsei0osmr1.jpg

It's been a lovely year of updating for the Quarles home! Tomorrow I will recap our life adventures from the year!

 

Christmas Home Tour 2015

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is spending time alone at home making wreaths, hanging ornaments and decorating every corner of our home while I watch corny Hallmark movies and listen to Christmas music. I love the stillness of the empty house and the time alone with my thoughts as I reflect on the year and put my hands to work crafting and being creative. I was reflecting today on all of the Christmas-y things that I so love to do and enjoy. The lights, the shopping, the events, the parties. Yesterday, after a day of celebratory events, I ended the evening thinking about how I didn't feel as much of the "Christmas magic" as I should have.

The reason is that no matter how many beautiful decorations I hang, cups of hot chocolate I drink, or movies I watch, I will still be left with an emptiness if not for one thing.

Jesus.

I have kept such a busy schedule that I have cut down time with the One person we are celebrating. Today I sat down and just spent some time with my Savior, and that "magic" I was looking for came not from lights and scheduled activities but from the richness of His word and time with Him.

He truly is the reason for the season, and he shines much brighter than the lights on my tree.

But I love that I get to decorate in celebration of that :-) That said, welcome to my Christmas home. (You can also check out my 2013 Tour and 2014 Tour).

We got a new Christmas tree this year from Home Depot. The little pencil tree is exactly what we need in our living room.  photo IMG_0087_zpstx70jyii.jpg  photo IMG_0130_zps4a3bkc48.jpg  photo IMG_0071_zpss3jwu6hg.jpg  photo IMG_0131_zpsdcqf2vsb.jpg

I used a lot of accents of black and white this year.  photo IMG_0137_zpsbdnwpn7q.jpg Come on into the eat-in kitchen. Our newly renovated white kitchen is such a great backdrop for the traditional red and green.  photo IMG_0112_zpshavdgpor.jpg  photo IMG_0113_zpspwgayqmu.jpg  photo IMG_0117_zps6rkhl3yl.jpg  photo IMG_0121_zpssmyu6hhs.jpg  photo IMG_0107_zpsvdlinjsg.jpg

Now come on into the reading room where I've decorated my antique mantel with metallics and greenery.

 photo IMG_9965_zpsbzjxgjaj.jpg  photo IMG_9961_zpsei0osmr1.jpg  photo IMG_9938_zpsjmtbbus5.jpg  photo IMG_9951_zps8sv61yr7.jpg

Now I wanna take you to the basement (which underwent some major renovation in the last year), but I want you to come in through the carport door, so let's walk around back of the house.

 photo IMG_9988_zpsvtvxosnp.jpg I filled this vintage box (an early Christmas box from my mom) with some twinkle lights, free greenery, and sticks from the yard.  photo IMG_9994_zpsxwy6hyyq.jpg Come on in. This mudroom is new this year too!  photo IMG_0003_zpswyf1u80h.jpg

I made the little wreaths from boxwood clippings and free greenery from the tree lot on a simple wire hanger base.  photo IMG_0064_zpsp7gxidjz.jpg  photo IMG_9999_zpstiv2kdxv.jpg I found those cute vintage cards at a local boutique. They were selling the whole set for a dollar!  photo IMG_0018_zpsdf2r6pyi.jpg We have been spending a lot of time in this basement space lately. It's fun to have such a cozy spot!  photo IMG_9996_zpshpktihkn.jpg This is the blog debut for our new organ that Jeremy got for FREE.  photo IMG_0011_zpswqtywody.jpg  photo IMG_0022_zpsdmwukuvg.jpg  photo IMG_0027_zpsmmmmasfs.jpg  photo IMG_0060_zpswsralauz.jpg No house tour is complete without my shadow, Jack the Cat.  photo IMG_0057_zpscowo9mtn.jpg  photo IMG_0039_zpsjvygwham.jpg

Thank you so much for stopping by!

 

But God.

 The blog has been quiet lately. Life is busy, and I haven't quite known what to say here. I'm recording a 5 song EP and fundraising for that. I've been traveling for both work and pleasure. I've been preparing for hosting my family for a few days at Thanksgiving. In the midst of activities, plans, and duties, I have been wrestling with emotions and worries about my own life and the world at large. Yesterday, Jeremy and I tucked under the covers for our standard Sunday afternoon nap. While he slept peacefully and the kitties purred beside me, I lay there for an hour--physically tensing with fear and unrest.

Life is unsafe. It is ever shifting. It is scary. Terrorists have death wishes, politics is complicated, and people are hurting. Innocent people get cancer. Children, husbands, and wives die unexpectedly.

Meanwhile, I live comfortably in my little ranch house in bustling Nashville and show you pictures of my decorations and DIY projects. I sing songs and record music. I put on a clean outfit every day and drive to work in my climate controlled SUV and sit at my desk and make phone calls and answer emails. I hang out with my two cats and my sweet husband. I tell Jeremy how much I love him and he tells me the same. We invite our friends over and laugh over home cooked meals. We go to the store and buy everything we need and many things we don't need. I put up my Christmas trees and deck the halls and listen to Nat King Cole and slide around the floor in my fuzzy socks.

All of those things are so good, and I am so grateful for the everyday joys. I treasure the community, hobbies, and comforts. God delights in us and desires for us to experience happiness. But there is another side to the story of life.

Outside my red brick walls, some of the world is in agony. At any moment, my comfortable little world could be shattered by any number of things. Meanwhile, many others have already experienced the shattering.

I feel helpless, and, at times, hopeless.

BUT, the Gospel. BUT GOD.

I love the book of Ephesians, and chapter 2 is especially great.

The passage starts out in doom and gloom. Paul, the author, talks about the weight of sin on the world.

"Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else." (Eph 2:1-3. NLT)

Ok, Paul. We get it. We are sinful, the devil is bad. Then, just when everything seems at its bleakest, Paul inserts two crucial and defining words: BUT GOD.

"But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much,  that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)...God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."  (Eph 2:4-5, 8-10. NLT)

Our church just finished a series on the Gospel. That is a word that evangelical Christians throw around frequently, and sometimes it becomes watered down by cavalier exchange. However, the GOSPEL in and of itself is a powerful, transformative thing that gives us HOPE in all circumstances. The Gospel means that despite my sin and mistakes, and despite the horrible things in the world around me, GOD IS STILL GOOD. His grace covers every sin, his comforting arms are outstretched to every hurting soul, and he promises ETERNAL LIFE that is free of the fear, pain, and trial that we know to be so real on this planet. He has a plan for this world that far outstretches our understanding. As the children's song so plainly states, "He's got the whole world in his hands."

Sickness is real. BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.

Terrorism is a threat. BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.

Poverty is rampant. BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.

I can't control my own life. BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.

I easily hold tight to this truth and to the hope of Grace at a time in my life when things are going pretty darn well. It is my prayer that I will continue to hold tightly when trials come my way. That is a prayer that I have been afraid to pray lest I somehow invite those trials; however, the Lord has been trying to teach me that I have nothing of eternal significance to fear, despite the emotions I feel in the moment. I still haven't learned that lesson, but God...

This doesn't negate the difficulty of this world. This doesn't always make it easy to discern truth in every situation. Life will have trials, and uncertainty is certain.

BUT GOD. 

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A Pretty Little Patio

Ever since we moved into our home 2 and a half years ago, I have wished we had an outdoor living space. I love being outside, and we have a big beautiful yard here that we hardly ever get to utilize. After considering building a deck which is too expensive at this point, Jeremy suggested converting part of the carport into a little sitting area. We are still able to park a car in the carport, and it's been so nice to have a little place to sit outside and enjoy the weather...rain or shine!  photo IMG_9895_zpshryncpuq.jpg

In order to convert it from a boring carport to a cute and functional space, we just did a little clean up. We powerwashed the floor and the concrete wall. Then I painted the half-wall with a light gray Drylok. We also added a gutter to the outside of the structure to allow the water to drain into the yard and keep everything dry during rainstorms. Last week, it rained for a week straight, and everything stayed pretty dry. Success!

We created two little spaces. A sitting area and a bistro table for eating.  photo IMG_9930_zpsstmqbmzw.jpg  photo IMG_9927_zpsaldjh51x.jpg

We found that adorable church pew at the Nashville Flea Market. It was taken out of a church in Evansville, IN. The coffee table was $5 at a yard sale, and I painted it with some homemade chalk paint. I already had both of the chairs hanging out around our house. I picked up the rug at Target, and the round spools were free on Craigslist.  photo IMG_9914_zpskbnwc3zy.jpg  photo IMG_9904_zps7eqm65b4.jpg  photo IMG_9898_zpsgo4oihls.jpg

I think the best part is how cozy it is out there in the evenings with the cafe lights on.  photo 5DB7E15C-C1CC-4E5B-B744-4620FFA0042D_zpsuwwd4luw.jpg

Now everyone is invited over for dinner and a long chat on the patio!

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Life in Color: A Musical Journey

Today I take you away from our normal talk of pillows and paint colors to share my heart with you and share a very exciting announcement. Have you ever felt stuck in a rut due to your own fear of failure? Have you fought off a calling or desire simply because it's easier to stay still?

   Today I launched my very first Kickstarter to fund the creation of a 5 song musical EP that will be releasing early 2016. I have a pep in my step and a lump in my throat simultaneously as I talk about this project as it is so near and dear to my heart.

For as long as I can remember, music has been a huge part of my identity. I was the singer and the songwriter. That was my label, and I wore it like a proud badge. I began writing songs when I was probably 6 years old, and I was constantly performing for family and friends and anyone who would listen to me. Music has always made me feel alive.

I began performing publicly around age 10 and leading worship at my church around age 13. I started voice lessons at 12. I sang my way through middle school and high school. All I wanted to do in college was sing, so I got a commercial voice (think contemporary music rather than classical) degree at Belmont University with an emphasis in songwriting. I thrived. I spent hours every week in the practice rooms and really fell in love with songwriting more than ever before. Once again, I proudly wore the nametag that said "I'm a singer."

I released my first recorded project in February 2012 at the tail end of my senior year of college. It was a senior project for my then-fiance (now husband), and we did the best we knew how. I'm proud of it because it is a timestamp of the season of life I was in at that point (even though I would do a lot of things differently now).

In the first year after the creation of that project, I graduated college, got married, began learning to be a wife, started a full time job as a marketing manager at a record label, and bought a house. Throughout that year of change and of learning who I am as an adult, I began to have doubts about my musical abilities. Little lies about my worth began creeping in, and I struggled with fear, writers block, and apathy. I carried fear of failure around like a weight and let the excuse of being too busy dictate my dreams.

Life has continued in a wonderful, colorful, vibrant blur over the last three years. I have worked hard at a 9-to-5 job in the music industry that I never thought I would have. I'm a radio promoter at a record label, and I get to work with the best team. I didn't picture myself on the business side of the music industry, but I love it and I have been blessed to be placed in it.

Marriage has been the most wonderful experience of my life. I have begun to understand myself better and what passions drive me. I have developed a love for interior design. I have spent time learning how to cook and keep a home and budget and be a grown up.

I have kept up with songwriting over the last few years. I have scheduled cowrites (songwriting sessions with other people) in the evenings after work and spent time writing on my own. I have dreamt of a new album or EP, but I didn't actually get serious about it until the top of 2015 when all of my stalling and fear hit me over the head and I realized what I had been doing.

God has been preparing me. He has been shaping my heart and teaching me that my music is NOT about me. My voice is not my own. My songs are not my own. My career is not my own. My home is not my own. God is in control, and life is so much better when He is.

For so much of my life, I have put my identity in my music. I didn't realize I was doing it, but I was. When I started to think about not being successful as a musician or releasing music and having the people around me tell me it was bad, I became paralyzed. It's easier to do nothing than to take a risk.

But I realized something important. I realized that all I can do is be faithful with the gifts God has given me now. 

So, I'm releasing an EP. I'm being vulnerable, I'm sharing some songs, and I'm recording a 5 song album.

But, I'm asking for help. YOUR help if you're interested.

I need to raise $7,000 in 30 days. That's scary! That money goes toward recording the album, kickstarter fees, marketing, and some really fun rewards. If you are able to donate any amount, I have some fun gifts and prizes to give back to you. There are all kinds of details here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/930334933/chandler-roberts-the-color-ep

If you follow me on Instagram, you will likely see some posts about this. Don't worry. I'm not abandoning my design ship. I still love home, decorating, and DIY. I just have another project that has been quiet for a while and is now something I get to talk about more!

Thanks for reading this little life update and a diversion from home design. Coming soon...I want to show you an update on the cutest little patio we created!

IGKickstarter2

 

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Fall Home Tour 2015

Fall means warm meals cooked with love in the kitchen, cozy nights at home cuddling under blankets, cool mornings outside with a cup of Trader Joe's pumpkin coffee and my journal, and evenings hanging out with friends who feel more like family. Fall means drives in the country and fresh beginnings. Fall means beauty and warmth.  I believe decorating a home for the seasons means creating a place to invite the joys of the season into your house. Yes, I love all the seasonal decor like flowers in the spring, pumpkins in the Fall, and greenery during Christmas season, but it's about more than that. It's about a place to make memories. And  I have to admit, I love staging things and making them look pretty, too.

Also, let's be honest, our house doesn't look like this all season long. Sometimes life gets messy. Also, I reused pumpkins in different places for this house tour. I say that because I've learned something recently about blogging and taking photos. It's ok to gussy things up and make them look beautiful, and it's also ok to understand that things aren't always picture perfect. But there's something important about enjoying the pretty little things for the sake of it.

So, come on in. In keeping with what I said earlier, I kept things pretty simple. I focused on mixing in some warm colors, making throw blankets available, and dotting pumpkins around the house. 

 photo IMG_9780_zpsmj9yljok.jpg  photo IMG_9741_zpsqloiirnj.jpg  photo IMG_9756_zpsuhtbb7en.jpg  photo IMG_9763_zpsgkzguteq.jpg  photo IMG_9725_zpsgm272i9u.jpg  photo IMG_9769_zpsmx0hzd8k.jpg  photo IMG_9731_zpsp0wciegu.jpg  photo IMG_9772_zpslldbe5ni.jpg  photo IMG_9783_zpshkprl6mj.jpg  photo IMG_9765_zps3az7w3x8.jpg Come on in to the reading room!  photo IMG_9695_zps0jlrluh1.jpg  photo IMG_9692_zpsxlw3am0i.jpg  photo IMG_9686_zpse3yqomtn.jpg  photo IMG_9664_zpsbwzylizh.jpg  photo IMG_9658_zpssqrp603m.jpg

Come on downstairs to the basement. Let me show you our new mudroom.  photo IMG_9604_zpsqodtxbml.jpg  photo IMG_9582_zpsfbo8yy6i.jpg  photo IMG_9625_zps0j7xejld.jpg  photo IMG_9618_zps28wmx9tf.jpg

Now, I'll give you a peek into our master bedroom. Ever since the grand reveal of this room transformation, I haven't shown it off a whole lot, but today I set it up for breakfast in bed and added decorative pillows to the bed and window seat which I haven't done before.  photo IMG_9799_zpsmncjg7aj.jpg  photo IMG_9814_zpsslu0ldqs.jpg  photo IMG_9836_zpsvoyh5ut3.jpg  photo IMG_9838_zpshirf89kl.jpg  photo IMG_9837_zpsqubfucps.jpg  photo IMG_9820_zpsyhmkjnbr.jpg

Thanks for coming around and checking out our home all decked out for Fall. I can't wait to show you some outside spaces soon! We are working on a new space outside that I think you will love! 

 

Fall Home Preview & Mudroom Reveal!

 photo mudroom2_zpsdgkco8m0.jpgI truly love Fall. When I think about pumpkins and crisp nights and crunchy leaves and soup and cider, I am like a giddy schoolgirl. Jeremy has rolled his eyes every time I have come home with a new pumpkin in the past few weeks...which has been often. I just keep buying all the pumpkins!

That said, nothing says fall like cozy clothes. Boots and scarves and jackets and cardigans. While we are still very much in "transitional" fall weather here in middle Tennessee, I look forward with anticipation to the weeks ahead when it's cool enough to layer up before heading out. Fall comes later here than in the North, but we get to experience a extended, gradual changing of leaves and crisp, lovely temps from about mid-October through the end of November.

With all those layers often comes a mess in our house, however. We come inside and shed the jackets and scarves and boots and scatter them around the living room and the basement. That's why I am so excited about the newest completed project in our house: a mudroom. As soon as you enter the basement, there is now a spot to hang those sweaters and kick off those dirty shoes.

I don't have very good pictures of the "before" from the angle of the back door, but this is a really awful photo of what the basement looked like for the first two years of us owning the house. When you walk into the basement from the carport (the door we use 99% of the time), there used to be an open L-shaped room in front of you.

 photo IMG_9014_zpsv2suduwj.jpg Then we decided to construct a half wall in order to create more separation between the entrance and ceiling overhang (thanks, air ducts).  photo 10857651-E8B3-44E6-BC0B-05E2227C867E_zpsewlxv10q.jpg  photo F103C994-CC14-43A9-9DEC-C4EF0B95796A_zpsrhggm7qr.jpg Then we installed a light fixture, hung shiplap and let it sit for a few months.  photo Basementupdates1_zpszdb4iojm.jpg

Finally, Jeremy built a bench last week, and we hung hooks below the light, and we have a designated mudroom space! Usually, I invite you in from the front porch. But, come on inside our home from the carport door. Kick off your shoes and make yourself comfortable!  photo mudroom5_zpschjd7mqe.jpg I decked out the mudroom for fall with white pumpkins, my favorite booties, a cozy plaid throw and a pillow, and some fall accessory essentials. Also, dried hydrangeas from the yard are one of my favorite ways to deck the house at the end of summer and early Fall.  photo mudroom3edited_zpsa5y5wf83.jpg

The hooks were a flea market find, and the light fixture was on clearance at Home Depot.  photo mudroom8_zpsh96sirku.jpg

Jeremy built this bench one afternoon while I was at work. We stained it with "Dark Walnut" from Miniwax. I originally wanted a built in bench, but now that we have this one, I can't imagine liking a built in bench more!  photo mudroom10_zpsgq8glycx.jpg Here is what it looks like from the basement staircase that leads up to the kitchen.  photo mudroom1_zpsezssyuvy.jpg And an evening shot with the light on...  photo mudroom11_zpszlflf7rh.jpg

Mittens always wants in on the photo shoot.  photo mudroom6_zpslt8nmrwx.jpg

Thanks for coming over! Soon, I'll do a full fall house tour!

Hagood Home Before & After!

I am so excited for this post! My very first "client" reveal! Some of my very dear friends, Mary & Philip Hagood, recently did a major overhaul on their cute condo, and they asked me to help with shopping, arranging, color choices, and overall design! As soon as they asked me, I enthusiastically agreed. That's a job I won't turn down! Back in February, Mary & Philips's home was flooded due to a malfunctioning drain pipe outside their condo. When they realized all the floors would need to be replaced, they took it as a prime opportunity to completely renovate the space and turn it into a place that would feel more like them!

I have to give major props to the Hagoods. I served as a consultant, but they have some seriously good style! Also, they endured some major headaches and setbacks in completing this project (just ask me about their painting contractors and I can tell you who NOT to hire). But ultimately, they made great design decisions and have a new space that they can enjoy! 

There are still a few finishing touches like pillows and a couple of art pieces that we are still hunting, but I'm proud to show you the dramatic before and after!

Before...  photo 9F172077-FD7C-449E-8999-C6CCAA3C4E62_zpsktbla1mh.jpg

This was after they already got rid of their big leather couch.  photo 602A25F4-6580-4040-BA3B-0EB52D123178_zpskkqe5olo.jpg And after some new paint on the cabinets and the walls, almost entirely new furniture, new light fixtures, new floors, and new accessories, here is the lovely AFTER...  photo Hagood9_zpse2mi9ozu.jpg  photo Hagood1_zpse1ztcqq3.jpg  photo Hagood11_zpskyig9sgk.jpg  photo Hagood6_zpscklvz1e2.jpg Amazing difference, right? It almost doesn't look like the same place!

Their cute pup, Ron, wanted in on the glamour shots. He's the master of the house and a great model, so I had to agree.  photo Hagood8_zpsxjgpvyah.jpg  photo Hagood2_zpscxvvz8cr.jpg A few more details...

I was so excited about this handmade farm table that I found for a steal at an antique store in Chattanooga (Knitting Mill Antiques). Also, light fixtures make SUCH a big difference.  photo Hagood18_zpsycdramds.jpg

Philip MADE that Tennessee art! Isn't that amazing??  photo Hagood5_zps9ppnwdp6.jpg  photo Hagood17_zpsv2idvuzs.jpg  photo Hagood10_zps1xeakkro.jpg  photo Hagood12_zpsf1aq4ytc.jpg

One final before & after...  photo 742F9AD2-C68B-49AA-B4C0-62294A8DEF8F_zpsiwrfdzpp.jpg  photo Hagood3_zpsgskcstpd.jpg

THANK YOU, Mary & Philip, for the joy of helping with your renovation! Here are some sources for you!

Living Room Paint color: Silver Strand by Sherwin Williams Couches: West Elm Coffee Table: Wayfair TV Stand: Wayfair TV Stand Baskets: Target Rug: Rugsusa.com Curtains: West Elm Distressed Mirror to the Right of the TV: Home Goods Metal Wall Baskets: Magnolia Home Table lamp: Target Dining Room Table: Knitting Mill Antiques in Chattanooga Cage Light: Shades of Light Chairs: Target Serving Tray: World Market Pitcher: World Market Artichoke Figurines: Target Table Runner: World Market Kitchen Pendant lights: Ferguson Lighting Gallery Industrial Shelving Unit: World Market Accessories: Target, World Market, Home Goods Barstools: Target

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Italy...Video Montage.

Today's post is short and sweet. It's hard to believe it's been 2 months today since our final day in Rome when we marveled at the Colosseum and the ancient ruins and finished off the day with a fancy dinner of spaghetti carbonara, mushroom risotto, and veal with prosciutto. I know nobody else cares as much about our travels as we do, but this blog is as much for my memories as anything else, so I wanted to post a little montage video we created from Go Pro footage we took on the trip. It's fun to remember...

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHgYsAfa1us]

Lighter, Brighter Kitchen Part 2: Cabinet Makeover Complete and a step-by-step breakdown!

If you follow me on Instagram and if you read my last post, you know we have been working hard to update our kitchen with some paint on our orangey-brown cabinets and a fresh coat of paint on the walls and ceiling. Well...we are FINALLY done! Someday I hope to replace our countertops and install subway tile backsplash, but for now, I am calling Phase 1 complete. There are so many cabinet painting tutorials on the web (my favorite is Young House Love here) that I won't spend too long detailing every little thing. I will say that it took me much longer than I expected...and it was more difficult than I hoped. But, in the end, I'm SO happy with the results. We recently had some friends have their cabinets professionally painted, and I think mine look almost just as good!

Tools I used: Orbital Sander (we have this one) Sanding block (medium grit) Foam rollers 2" Angled Brush HomeRight Finish Max Paint Sprayer (see here) Liquid Deglosser Zinnser 1-2-3 Primer Benjamin Moore Advance Paint in Cloud White Dropcloths Construction Paper

Step 1: Remove All Cabinet drawers and doors from boxes  photo 38E3D674-1484-422C-B90D-F88CB7DF3C06_zpsyxtd1gwp.jpg We used dropcloths to turn the office right off the kitchen into a painting studio and I used plastic cups to set all the doors up off the ground. you want them to sit on top of something so they don't stick to the ground.

Step 2: Sand away!

Some people don't sand...they just prime and paint. Some people just paint. Some people just sand and paint. We decided to do all three. I want this finish to last! So I sanded all the cabinet boxes and backs and fronts of the doors with a medium grit sandpaper to rough it up and remove the varnish. Then I wiped everything down with a liquid deglosser that I bought at Lowe's.

Step 3: Prime time  photo CC76801C-0A18-414C-B124-5481FF28745C_zpsdwamvq7m.jpg The final pre-painting step is to prime everything. I rolled the primer onto the boxes with a small smooth foam roller, and it took two coats. The paint sprayer uses more paint and generally requires fewer coats, so I did one coat of primer on each side of the doors. Here was my method for spraying. Always spray/paint the backs of the doors first so that if there are any drips you can fix them on the front before you paint it. The backs don't matter as much. With the sprayer, I would pick up a door and set it upright along a piece of paper or my old work chair and spray it and set it back down flat on the ground to dry before picking up another door and setting it upright. You can't use the sprayer at a 90 degree angle, and it's best to let the doors dry flat so the drips don't run vertically. I did a coat of primer on the back,  let it dry the amount of time listed on the can, and then flipped all the doors over and did the fronts.

Step 4: Paint.  photo 4FDA0D39-8DD4-4C0D-AB69-8349E5887F6B_zps7fo4nudm.jpg I am a cheap paint girl. I have had great success with Olympic One from Lowe's, and I generally color match my Benjamin Moore or Sherwin William's colors to the cheaper paint, but for cabinets, I did not want to mess around. I wanted them to have a factory finish that lasts. So I splurged on the recommended Benjamin Moore Advance Paint for $50 a gallon, and it was worth every penny. This is an alkyd paint which I understand means that it has an oil-based finish with a water-based cleanup. It is recommended by so many people for cabinets. It is self-leveling and really did give us a factory finish.

It took 3 coats of paint on the boxes and two coats with the sprayer on the doors. I actually pulled out the sprayer in the kitchen and sprayed the sides of the boxes for the final coat, but be careful when spraying vertically to watch for drips for about 10 minutes after the coat.

The thing about this paint is that it has a LONG cure time. Read the back of the can, but I waited a full day in between coats to be extra careful, so this painting process took me about a week.  photo 1BC808DB-1606-48E4-9A2F-D8695C41F325_zpst32p27tn.jpg Once again, I did the backs of the doors first and then the fronts. And here is my assessment of using a sprayer. The finish was WORTH IT. I would use a sprayer again, but I would do it better now knowing a couple things.

First, WATCH FOR DRIPS, and don't look too closely at the edges of a few of my cabinet doors. I couldn't avoid all the drips, and I should have watched more carefully.

Secondly, the sprayer is messier than you think. Often I didn't realize how much overspray I was really getting until I turned around and my Keurig Coffee Maker was covered in white spots. Yes...we have a few souvenirs of white speckles of paint around our office and kitchen now. I covered areas directly around me, but I should have been more meticulous.

Thirdly, you need a big space. The office was NOT big enough for my 24 doors, and I messed things up a couple times tripping over doors or knocking them over. We currently don't have a garage, however, and it was the best space I had.

In the end, the sprayer gave everything such a smooth finish, and it was worth the hassle!

Step 5: Hardware  photo E2FA3D61-B3CD-4668-BF44-587A221CC0A1_zpsqx3irjxl.jpg

We didn't have hardware before, so I started from scratch in drilling the holes. We ordered our hardware from Build.com (half the price of Home Depot or Lowe's), and we bought a hardware installation template to install the knobs and pulls. Adding hardware adds SUCH a higher end look.

Step 6: Shiplap

For a little more custom detail, we installed 5" shiplap around the back of the peninsula. I love the interest it adds!

Step 7: Lighting

We replaced the track lighting in the main part of the kitchen with recessed LED lights, and we replaced the recessed lights over the island with pendants from Lowe's!

Are you ready for the final reveal?? SO excited to show off this room!

A little reminder of "before"  photo KitchenBefore3_zpsytst4k10.jpg  photo KitchenBefore4_zpsvnqgilld.jpg Ta da!  photo IMG_9449_zpsq8bygt3k.jpg  photo IMG_9460_zpsgyvq61u1.jpg  photo IMG_9459_zpsvanxsuek.jpg  photo IMG_9451_zpsbm5r5dvn.jpg  photo IMG_9467_zpsu4mudwsf.jpg

 photo IMG_9444_zpsskej3ucs.jpg  photo IMG_9455_zpste46d3dy.jpg  photo IMG_9445_zpsw9k8oul6.jpg  photo IMG_9446_zps6gb2z4sy.jpg

Sources: Wall paint: Stonington Gray by Benjamin Moore at 50% strength Cabinet Paint: Cloud White by Benjamin Moore Cabinet Hardware: Build.com Pendant lighting: Lowe's Recessed LED lights: Home Depot Kitchen Table Pendant Lantern: World Market Kitchen Table: World Market Kitchen Chairs: Craigslist Kitchen Cart: DIY from an antique desk Metal Wall Art: Magnolia Homes Hanging plates: Various thrift stores and Home Goods