Mmmm. Chocolate

Have I ever told you how much I love chocolate? Like, really, really love chocolate. As in, if my DNA were analyzed, I’m probably part cocao bean (I did not spell that incorrectly. Cocao trees produce the beans that are roasted and made into cocoa- chocolate). I’m pretty sure I could qualify as an honorary citizen of Hershey, PA (one of my favorite places on earth). And for all the summers I spent there with them, an entire section of Hersheypark should probably be named after my Aunt Sharon and Uncle Don (or perhaps a building, One with air-conditioning).

Over the years, I’ve collected all of the Hershey’s memorabilia: clothing, jewelry, refrigerator magnets, books, cookbooks, stuffed animals, sports equipment- I’m a walking poster child for Hershey’s, what can I say?

Several years ago, I received a set of Hershey kisses shaped cookie cutters for Christmas, in varying sizes. They’re adorable and I love them. The problem was, it seemed a bit counter-intuitive to use them for regular ol’ sugar cookies. Sure, I could’ve made traditional sugar cookies and then topped them with chocolate icing, but where’s the fun in that?

Problem solver that I am, I took to my laboratory Google and began searching for a recipe for chocolate cutout cookies.

Um, you guys? There wasn’t one.

Yes, you read that right. There was no recipe for chocolate cutout cookies.

And so, a few years ago, I set out to create one. Because there is no such thing as too much chocolate. Is there?

The final result is a cookie I’ve made several times and always had great results with. The dough is soft and sticky, and works best when refrigerated for a couple of hours (I usually go with 24, not because it requires that much time but because I have a problem with starting and finishing a project in the same day). Additionally, when rolling the dough, I usually forego the usual dusting of flour on my rolling surface and use plain ol’ baking cocoa instead to keep the dark chocolate color.

Here’s the recipe:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine

3/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup baking cocoa

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking powder

2 cups flour

cream butter and sugar. Add cocoa, then eggs and vanilla, then baking powder and flour. Mix until combined, refrigerate 1-2 hours or overnight. Roll, on surface dusted with baking cocoa, then bake in oven preheated to 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.




Stop and smell the flowers

We’re in the car. We’re ten minutes away from where we need to be in five minutes. (I am my mother’s daughter, after all).

Ed Sheeran is singing about the Castle on the Hill on the radio; the littlest little has just informed us that it’s his favorite song and has asked me to turn it up. His twin is crying that he’s thirsty and needs a drink (we left home three minutes ago, and he’d had a drink with his breakfast, right before we left).

It’s the fourth day of having all three boys home with me on summer vacation, and I’m frazzled, despite the fact that the oldest helped the littlest make their own breakfast (cereal and cantaloupe) and they didn’t even make a mess. The bigger twin slept late, and has been very agreeable since he woke up.

Still, getting them in the car and where we need to be, on time, isn’t easy even on the best days. (During a kindergarten field trip recently, another mom and I were commenting on how much easier it was to be on time before kids. I was rarely late, until I was a mom).

We drive past the local college, deserted for the summer but very much alive with its blooming flowers, towering old trees lush with leaves, and shady green lawn. Across the street, a man is walking his dog. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I watch the man slowly reach out his hand, and pull a flowering vine close to his face to smell.

In that moment, I felt a twinge of guilt for my rushing. Guilt for taking for granted the fact that it’s a beautiful, sunny late spring morning, that I have three of my loviest little loves with me, that their chatter and singing fill my car and my heart in a way that not many other things can.

Our boys are inquisitive and precocious, always asking insightful questions (last night we were on a quest to learn “where do snotties come from?” for one of the twins). We discuss and explain and research and ask Google and Alexa daily for the answers to the questions these boys ask that I often don’t know how to answer. We’ve started reading the Harry Potter series to meet summer reading goals.

Summer break is my turn to make sure these boys continue learning and growing and discovering. Through my “grown-up eyes,” I sometimes forget how much they can learn just by remembering to…

Stop and smell the flowers.

Enjoy summer break, friends. It comes but once a year. Let’s make the most of this time.



Expanding my horizons (Farmhouse Style)

Awhile back I shared my love of Joanna Gaines with you, while simultaneously sharing that her decorating style isn’t exactly like mine, in a post where I discussed my love of mid-century modern interior design. As a designer, I’m always trying to push myself to experiment with different looks, so while I have my personal favorites, I love the challenge of going outside of my comfort zone.

Through the years, my personal style has been all over the place. I’ve fallen in love with Victorian decor (one day I dream of owning an old Victorian style home renovated to house my bed & breakfast); I’ve ogled traditional, transitional, Mediterranean, Asian, contemporary, global, eclectic, glam… you name it, chances are I’ve dreamed a room in that style.

Over the past year and a half or so, I’ve started playing with design, color, and layout again, deciding it’s quite possible that my dreams are worth pursuing. And so, even without a specific client in mind, I’ve decided to put together some samples of different design styles for my own amusement, to learn new technology, and to build the online portfolio I plan to put in a separate page on this site, eventually.

Since my last post was focused on mid-century modern, but I also nodded to farmhouse as a very current style, I decided to make farmhouse the next decor genre I wanted to tackle, using the same colors as in the mid-century design. For this post, I’ve also put together a fictitious room, complete with a space plan and 3D renderings, because sometimes it’s hard to picture how all the pretty things might come together if there’s no space to put them in.

Let me know what you think, friends! I’d love to hear your feedback. Are you all-in on farmhouse? What are you drawn to?



Guest post: Two Worlds Collide

Allison at the Holistic Homesteader asked me a few months ago to write this guest post.  I’m honored and flattered to have been chosen for this task, and it’s taken me awhile to find a topic relevant to both our blogs.  But here I am now, fumbling through like the klutz I am. Here goes…

First, if you don’t already know me, my name is Danielle Merrow.  I’ve been blogging at since 2010 (!!!) about all kinds of random topics: life, interior design and decorating, cooking, baking, entertaining, parenting…basically, I’ll strike up a conversation with the Interwebz about pretty much anything.  I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for eleven years, and we have three sweet, cute, spunky little boys together: our oldest is six and a half, and our twins just turned four. We have a geriatric golden retriever (she’s fourteen) who’s a retired therapy dog; her main duties in life now include playing watchdog to our kids and cleaning up all the food they drop on the floor.  (Saves me some vacuuming time. And, we figure she’s earned it at this point.)

So what, you might be asking, does someone like me- a suburban soccer and baseball mom (admitting to those titles makes the me from ten years ago shudder.  Let’s just clarify: I do not drive a minivan.  I haven’t gone that far.) have to do with a self-professed all-natural, hippy, farming mama like Allison?  That, my friends, is a question with a short and a long answer. The short part? I was raised a country girl.  

The long answer is, while I was raised in the country, I longed to leave it (not my family, just small-town life) for more.  I grew up hearing my mom complain about how our town had so few options for shopping, restaurants, entertainment- so few options for just about everything.  I wanted more. For many years, I thought I could hack it as an NYC girl, but I found a college closer to home in a small city that I fell in love with, and a husband who loved it too, and so we chose to raise our family in this area.  Here we are, fifteen years later, raising our family in the suburbs and trying to simultaneously instill the same values of hard work and wholesome living I experienced as the granddaughter of two sets of farmers.

My parents didn’t have a farm when I was a kid, but both sets of my grandparents, plus a great uncle and great aunt, still had working farms.  My parents did what they could, when they could, to continue helping out. My dad is a truck driver; he works long days, and when my grandparents were still alive, he would get up at 3AM, drive till 4 or 5PM, then work at one farm or the other until 10 or 11 at night during planting season or the harvest.  Then he’d get up the next day and do it all over again. My mom stayed at home with us kids, and taught us the basics of homesteading. We planted a big garden every spring, and harvested and canned and froze and stored and preserved as much as we could in the fall. To this day, waking up to a crisp fall morning takes me back to the days of my youth when I’d wake up to the smell of my mom’s spaghetti sauce simmering in the kitchen.  While I have her recipe and technically COULD make it myself, I just haven’t worked up to that point yet. I have, however, used her methods for freezing my own fresh green beans, zucchini, corn, and jellies.

My parents’ parents both raised beef cows.  That means, in simple terms, that I didn’t eat beef from a grocery store until I was in college (this may be slightly exaggerated, but not by much).  Once I was out on my own, it wasn’t long before I’d convinced my better half that we needed to find farm fresh beef, stat. And today, our boys get positively giddy when we come home after a weekend with family hauling coolers loaded with farm fresh beef.  

I worried, briefly, that they’d be upset knowing they were eating a cow they’d helped to feed only weeks before.  I had forgotten though, that there’s actually a sense of pride that comes from eating what you’ve helped to grow. My boys only helped with that cow a handful of times, but they know now what the result is of that hard work: full bellies.  

Because we grew up way on the outskirts of a very small town, the nearest grocery store was 20 minutes away.  Today, we can see the Walmart from our kitchen window. Still, old habits die hard, and I’ve tried to train myself to forget the convenience that’s so tantalizingly close; I refuse to run to the store for single ingredients for a recipe when I can come up with a simple substitute.  (Think, adding vinegar to milk to make buttermilk, or adding butter to milk to make heavy cream. Mixing common spices to make mixes like Old Bay, taco seasoning, chili seasoning, or dry ranch- those little concoctions have saved me many trips to the store with overtired toddlers, and saved dinner on countless occasions.)

Bottom line, after all of that, is that the homesteading lifestyle doesn’t come with strict guidelines.  The basic principles can apply pretty much anywhere. Don’t have a yard to plant a garden? Go support local farmers at a farmer’s market (this is the perfect time of year to go!) and buy enough fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk to freeze, can, or preserve.  Buy your beef, pork, and chicken from local farmers by the whole or half- having a freezer full of protein makes planning and preparing meals so much easier! And using fresh, local ingredients makes them taste so much better.



Mama Cried

Y’all, we’ve had two end of the school year programs in the past eight days.

I know, I know, that’s not a big number- particularly since we have three children- but still, it’s wrought havoc on mama’s emotional stability.

The emotions may be running slightly higher because this year is the first time we sent all three boys to school: the big kid is nearly finished with kindergarten, while the twins just wrapped up their first year of preschool. We attended Spring Sing at preschool without any fidgeting toddlers in our laps. Nobody spoke through the entire program. For the first time, we were able to focus on what was going on onstage. I wasn’t rushing two little people to the bathroom as quickly as possible so I didn’t miss any of the program. Instead, we watched the boys parade out with their class, smiled at them and waved (through my tears.) The music teacher whispered in my direction, “Don’t cry YET!” Still, throughout the entirety of the program, this mama cried.

They sang Disney songs, songs they’ve rehearsed at home, at mealtime, and one day even played for me with guitar and ukulele accompaniment. They each had their own favorite tune, they each expressed it in totally different ways. They didn’t stand next to each other to sing. I saw a whole range of growth and development in each of them in just the way they stood on that stage and performed their hearts out. The smaller of the two, younger by two minutes and blonde to both of his brothers’ brown hair, is also more shy than his brothers. He stood with his hands in his pockets throughout the entire performance, enjoying the music and the opportunity to sing (one of his favorite things to do at home), but being cautious of the fact that he was being watched by a church full of strangers. He met our eyes a few times, and tried to hide a smile as he shook his head- almost as if to say, “guys, I’m doing it, ok? Just let me alone!”

His twin- more outgoing and flirtatious since birth, more wild and free-spirited in every sense of the word, used his opportunity in the spotlight to just be himself. He shimmied and shook and emphasized the hand gestures they’d all been taught. He was in front of a group of people, all eyes on him, and he was milking it for all it was worth. (Their music teacher told me after the program was over that the smaller blonde one is a sports car, while the larger, darker haired one is a monster truck. Her analogy couldn’t be more accurate). Watching the two of them- my two babies who had turned four years old just one day before- turned me into a big pile of mush and pride and more love than I ever knew it was possible to feel. My lap was empty, but by God was my heart full.

Despite my empty lap though, friends, the universe righted itself for today’s “Off to First Grade” program at the elementary school, where one twin settled down on a lap and…fell asleep. The other twin, however- the energetic and adventurous one- climbed on his chair, moved his chair, stood up, whispered that he couldn’t see his brother, asked how much longer we had to stay, and asked question after question throughout the entire performance.

Shortly after we arrived, the kindergarten class paraded into the cafeteria where we were seated. We had received a note asking that all children be dressed in all black, but we didn’t know what the costumes would be. When our boy filed into the room dressed as a bumble bee: gold tape across the chest of the black polo shirt he wore, wings on his back, and an antennae headband- I lost it. I was a sopping, teary mess.

He took his place on the risers, scanned the cafeteria for our wildly flailing arms, yet couldn’t seem to locate us (his dad is 6’2″ and was standing up and waving, so I’m not sure how he could miss us. His mom is 5’3″ and didn’t bother to stand, because unless I was on a chair, he’d never find me). Finally, he made eye contact and beamed his radiant kindergarten smile…the one where he has two loose front teeth and one is so loose that it’s crooked and leaning against the other and leaving an awkward space between itself and the one on its other side. The smile that makes me wonder every single time how I got lucky enough to be this kid’s mom.

He came running to us in all his bumble bee glory for pre-show hugs; And this mama continued to cry. His teacher came around a few minutes later, passing out CD’s of the music from the program. Each disk was personalized with a photograph of our student with the teacher. You guessed it- more tears. The teacher glanced at me and said, “don’t cry YET!”

They opened the show with a slideshow, which obviously pushed me further into emotional ruin, and then they proceeded to make us laugh, make us cry, and make us proud as we watched them perform the sign language conversation they’ve learned with their teacher throughout the year, heard them tell joke after joke, and gleaned tidbit after tidbit of insect information- all things they’ve developed in the past eight months. I’m a little blown away, and a lot proud.

I can’t close this without mentioning how incredibly fortunate we are to have the teachers we do, in both preschool and the elementary school. Our boys are all understood and cared for and looked after, and they’ve all put tireless efforts into making school a fun and engaging place to hang out. And so to our teachers, and to all the teachers, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you. You’ve all made this year such a good one, and we can’t express enough how grateful we are for all you’ve done.

And so, if you need me this weekend, friends, I’ll be over here with my box of tissues.



Thank God You’re Here

Quite a few years ago, there was a show on TV called Thank God You’re Here. It was an improvisational comedy show, where an actor entered a scene they knew nothing about and had to mesh with the other actors who already had details of what was supposed to be happening, resulting in one wholly hilarious skit.

I often think this must be how my husband- or, any parent coming home after a long day of work while the kids are at home waiting- must feel every day. The poor man never knows what he’s walking into: it could be calm, quiet, all three boys involved in an activity that has them focused and occupied- either together or separately- or… well, the alternative could be literally anything. They’ve attacked him at the door, one launching into his arms while the other two crash into his legs. They’ve met him at the door to pull him in three completely opposing directions to show him something relevant to their day. Today, the bigger twin met him at the door wearing his backpack with a balloon attached, announcing “Daddy, look, I’m a paramotor!” He’s been forced to break up fights, soothe injuries that occur as they race to meet him, and…on very rare occasions…sneaked in completely undetected in order to kiss ME hello first.

There are days he comes home to find neatness and order, dinner waiting on the table… but far more often he trips over discarded shoes, LEGO’s, and matchbox cars to get in the door, only to find the kitchen sink overflowing with dirty dishes, dinner ingredients covering every counter surface, the smell of something burning on the stove, and a dusting of flour on top of it all.

I don’t know what my husband’s work days look like. I have some idea, but I don’t know all of what his job involves. I do know it’s stressful, and his days are long and busy. I know that he’s the calm, common sense, counterpart to my chaotic, crazy, creative schemes. And I know that in the face of all of it, he comes home every day ready to blend into whatever skit these boys are putting on, while I stand back and say…

“Thank God You’re Here.”



Joanna Gaines

Rustic farmhouse is the decorating style that’s all the rage these days. I blame Joanna Gaines.  And not in a bad way; that woman is my spirit animal.  Not necessarily in a decor-style kind of way, though I certainly see the appeal.  But more in a, “I love this chick because she can do it all without breaking a sweat and everything she touches is gold” kind of way.  Basically, for Christmas this year I asked for ALL of the Joanna Gaines things: her new book, “Homebody,” her cookbook, a subscription to Magnolia Journal.   We also bought her children’s book, “We Are the Gardeners,” because my kids also love “Jo.”Because the woman is a very classy genius.

Every day my inbox is full of emails advertising the widest array of rustic farmhouse decor from every store imaginable.  It’s lovely.  It’s fresh, airy, reminiscent of wide open spaces, clean air, and days gone by, with a little modern twist. Colors are crisp, light and neutral, and fabrics are the same.  Jute, burlap, sisal, denim, linen, and cotton offer looks so crisp and clean you can almost smell the “fresh.”   It’s comfortable, easy to picture kids running down the hallways,  bustling around the kitchen, lounging in the living room for a football game, or gathering around a big old farmhouse table with a worn wood top, laden with a big Sunday supper of pot roast and mashed potatoes and a big layered cake slathered in fluffy white frosting for dessert. And maybe a goat peeking through a window.

But what of other design styles?  I’m having a big moment with mid-century modern right now.  I’m loving the clean lines and the metallic hardware, and fabrics with bold, bright colors in fun patterns.  Last summer, I walked away from an antique mid-century desk that was priced at, well, basically nothing.  I could easily picture that desk in my house, in any of about six different areas.  Alas, by the time I made the decision, someone else had bought it.  Sad face.  Another life lesson learned the hard way.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, inspiration struck at a strange time (sitting in a chair, waiting at a hair salon), and in my mind I saw a tufted sofa in a rich, succulent green velvet, accented with shades of pink and off-white and pops of metallic gold. I went home that afternoon and assembled a concept board for the fun of it, and posted it to my Instagram and Facebook pages.

Last week, a teacher from my kids’ preschool (who is also a gifted published author, and someone I often turn to for inspiration and editing on this blog) sent me a message that she loved the board so much she wanted me to help her to convert her daughter’s bedroom to a home office using the same style. Her daughter will be graduating from high school soon and then moving on to college. Converting the room from an empty kid’s room to a pretty, feminine space where her daughter can still crash during school breaks, but also a sanctuary for her to relax and write her best work, makes the pain of graduation a little more bearable.

Here’s the living room concept board I posted

And here’s the plan for the office!

What about you? What’s your design style? What object inspires your creativity, or sparks your best memories, or makes you feel comfortable and like your best self?



Video Killed the Radio Star

We live in a social media fueled society.

As an aspiring entrepreneur, I hear over and over how important it is to use social media to broadcast videos, making me “more approachable, more familiar,” to my target audience. This is a difficult practice for me to embrace, as someone who prefers to be behind the camera more than in front of it. I’m every photographer’s nightmare- my smiles are tentative and self-conscious; I’m the subject who’s always finding a taller person to hide behind (not difficult when you’re barely over the five foot tall mark). I’ve always preferred to be behind the scenes; I feel more comfortable making the scenery pretty without being a part of it. I helped to coordinate a good friend’s wedding in the fall, and I was more comfortable running errands, heading off problems before they happened, and coordinating the details than I ever could have been in a more visible role. Of course, I’ve been more visible several times, and I’ve been honored to take on the roles assigned to me, but I just don’t love the spotlight.

In high school, I was a flutist in the band. We performed often and as a group. I grew accustomed to performing even if I never grew to love it. For me, the band was always more about the friendships I formed.

I don’t remember what year it was, but it was sometime between 2001 and 2003 that we performed a field show that included the Chicken Dance. Part of the show included one of our color guard members dressing in a chicken costume, face concealed, and running around the football field while the band played. During one particular competition where our band was judged against other high school bands, our chicken was unable to perform. Our director asked for volunteers and somehow I ended up in a yellow feathered suit. Face and identity undisclosed, I hit the field and danced and engaged the crowd as I’d never have had the guts to do if my face was showing. Sounds cowardly, I know, but I felt free that day. I remember the strangest details about that performance. It had rained all day, and the field was muddy and slippery under my rubber chicken feet. I almost wiped out several times. But I kept it together, chicken dancing, spreading my arms and “flying” among the members of our band, keeping the audience engaged. When we came off the field, members of other bands were cheering, “We love the chicken!” and begging to know the identity of whomever was crazy enough to act as I had so publicly. But I’d been able to do it anonymously, with only members of our band knowing it was me…and they all knew me well enough to know I could be little (ahem, a LOT) crazy behind the scenes already.

Here’s another example: years ago, when I got my first iPhone, I hung up on my first FaceTime call because I was horrified and freaked out to see my own face on the screen when I picked up the phone to answer. My best friend and a few others have invited me to use the app, Marco Polo, to send video messages. While I love receiving videos of others, I feel absolutely ridiculous taking videos of myself talking. I don’t even do selfies, either. Sure, with the kids to be silly sometimes, or with a fun filter that adds makeup and dazzle to send to my husband or sister, but very, VERY rarely do I sent them. Yesterday, ironically, was an exception, when I sent one to my sister and then to my cousin from the front seat of my car while I waited in line to drop the twins off at preschool. Both were shocked to have received it. It may be another decade before it happens again.

I guess it’s a little like that show, the Masked Singer. I didn’t watch much of it, but I saw a few episodes and was able to sympathize with the performers and their freedom to sing their hearts out in a way that didn’t make them completely vulnerable to judgments and scrutinizing eyes. They must have felt very much like I did that day all those years ago in my chicken costume: free. Liberated. Not judged. And maybe a little more secure in knowing their insecurities were buried beneath a blingy and embellished exterior, faces and expressions hidden from a harsh and judgmental public at large.

My point is, I chose to follow the interior design path (and, I guess if you’re reading this, also the path of writing- at least as a hobby) because I can do the work behind the scenes, baring the parts of my soul I want to share through color, design, images, and words- without showing my face. Even those who have never seen my face have a good sense of who I am, based on stories and images I’ve shared. And I’m guessing, if you’ve been around these parts for awhile (this blog is heading for its ninth year, y’all!), and you keep coming back, you’re not doing it to see my face. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. For being here, for coming back, for encouraging me to keep doing this.

I’d love to hear from you on this. Anyone else feel this way- and put yourself out there anyway? Any advice you can offer me here?

All my love,


Babies, Groundhogs, and the Superbowl

Y’all know by now how much I love a party, right? How much fun I can have just planning a party. I don’t even have to be invited to the party, I just like to plan. Colors, decorations, menu- all of it. I love me a good party. A good friend and I once nearly went into business together as event coordinators.

Fortunately, party planning has been plentiful in these parts lately. A few weeks after our annual New Year’s Eve party this year, I had the honor of helping to plan a baby shower for my very best and oldest friend in all the world. (I should rephrase; she’s not old. She’s just been my best friend basically since we were born.) She was my maid of honor in our wedding; I was the matron of honor in hers. She planned my baby shower, and now I’ve had the privilege of returning the favor in honor of her sweet baby girl, who made her grand appearance one week ago today.

When she announced her pregnancy, I told her I would help to throw her shower. Along with her mom, sister-in-law, and some of her close friends, we planned for a beautiful Sunday morning brunch shower to celebrate the mom-to-be and baby. Baby girl’s bedroom is decorated in a cactus theme; it’s rustic and funky and relaxing and slightly feminine without being over-the-top girly and “foufy.” For the shower, my friend asked for “pink and lots of flowers,” since the nursery didn’t follow the same theme.

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For the food, we went with a brunch theme. My mom helped me to make most of the food, rather than hiring a caterer. I made two pans of my reliable Overnight French Toast (I almost always have a pan or two of this in my freezer for guests or for a weekend my boys are asking for a big breakfast but I have neither the time nor the energy to produce one). I also made two quiches (quiches…that is the plural of quiche, right? It just sounds so weird to me. I always feel like I’m saying it wrong, but I’m not sure what I think it should be. Quiche? Like deer and moose- the plural doesn’t change? I don’t know. Chalk it up to the ramblings of a madwoman. Anyway… the quiches…) I made one ham and cheese, the other spinach and mushroom. In addition, we served three different kind of scones: cinnamon, chocolate chip, and cheddar rosemary. For the cheddar scones, I tweaked the recipe I found on the back of a bag of Great Value cheddar cheese. I also whipped up a batch of these Overnight Danish (I swapped out the cherry filling for blueberry). My mom made two batches of cinnamon rolls, and the cake and cupcakes, and we served all of this with a couple of fruit trays, and a big selection of juice to drink- including pink lemonade.

The shower came together nicely, and we managed to feed roughly 50 ladies with the food we made, and I think we made some good choices in the menu.

Once the shower was over, we still had a little over six weeks to wait for the sweet little love to arrive. I had helped mama-to-be with some suggestions for the nursery before the holidays, and it was so much fun to see it all come together with all of her shower gifts.

Here’s our inspiration board:

…And here’s how the nursery looked before its new inhabitant moved in:

(All photos of the finished room were taken and shared courtesy of LJM .)

Shortly after we wrapped on the baby shower, it was time for a double-header celebration weekend, with Groundhog Day and the Super Bowl. As native Punxsutawnians, Ryan and I have made it a tradition with our boys to make Groundhog Day kind of a big deal. I bake cookies shaped like groundhogs each year for the guys to take to work and school. I used to bake a regular sugar cookie recipe and cut out with my “authentic Punxsutawney Phil cookie cutter,” but a few years back our oldest son began requesting this molasses spice cookies recipe because a friend of the boys’ has an egg allergy, and this recipe doesn’t use eggs.

Immediately following Groundhog Day was the Super Bowl. None of us had a favorite team playing this year, but Super Bowl Sunday is still an excuse to whip up some junk food and throw a party, so that’s what we did. I had found Buffalo Wild Wings’ sauces at the grocery store, in all of our favorite flavors, so I bought some bone-in wings and attempted a crispy baked wings recipe. Another favorite in our house is Anne Burrell’s homemade potato chips. They’re time-consuming but so delicious, and the perfect accompaniment to those wings. Continuing with our party theme of “fat and carbs,” I also made a batch of homemade pretzel bites with a cheesy dipping sauce. And, to add something somewhat fresh and semi-healthy to the buffet (and because I felt like we needed some kind of pizza but I’d already covered main dishes and fat and carbs), I also made this fruit pizza.

For Christmas, I received my very own copy of Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Table cookbook. In it was a recipe for seasoned crackers that sounded intriguing, so I added that to our assortment as well, alongside my favorite cheeseball.

Please forgive me for being so late in posting all of these, friends. Life in La Casa de Merrow has been nothing short of crazy lately, and the days have slipped away faster than I’d realized.

Hoping you’re all surviving the lingering winter days, and that you’re seeing some sunshine where you are.



Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m an Adult Now

Well, it’s official, y’all. I think I’ve finally become a real, mature adult.

It’s taken a few decades to get here, but I can honestly say that I truly recognized my maturity on this Valentine’s Day.

Ryan came home from work yesterday, a little freaked out after talking to other females he works with and hearing their expectations for Valentine’s Day. They asked him what he had planned for his wife, and he told them he didn’t have an extravagant plan. (He failed to mention that last weekend he had been trying to line up a sitter so we could sneak away somewhere for a little getaway).

My husband is really amazing that way. Valentine’s Day has never been a real thing for us. When I was younger, inexperienced in life and love, I wished for romantic Valentine’s Day surprises. When I was about 12 or 13, I decided I wanted a Valentine’s Day wedding because I thought it was the most romantic day of the year. When I discussed this plan with my aunt Sharon around that time, she pointed out that when you marry the right person, ANY day is the most romantic day of the year. So that plan fell by the wayside. Still, I sent Ryan telepathic Valentine’s Day messages that I wanted all of the wine and roses and chocolate and jewelry I could get, but never vocalized my desires because I wanted him to know all on his own what I wanted. He’s always delivered a small surprise: always chocolates, sometimes a small piece of jewelry, sometimes flowers, sometimes all of the above. But he’s notorious for surprising me with spontaneous romantic gestures on random days throughout the year. He doesn’t need a calendar or a big-label greeting card company to tell him when to extend a romantic gesture.

This morning I made my trip to shop for valentines for my family while they were at school and work. For Ryan I had decided on candy and frozen pizzas. Sounds weird, I know, but he’s been asking for pizza all week. So I thought if I bought frozen pizza, we could have a romantic pizza snack to ourselves after the boys went to bed. I bought the boys each a little box of candy- more than enough to supplement the sugar highs they all brought home from school- and called it a day on my shopping.

I was in the kitchen making a very non-exciting dinner of oven-fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, and homemade mac and cheese when my tall, handsome valentine walked in the door laden with grocery bags, a liquor store bag, and… a premade deli pizza.

I bust out laughing. He was so confused until I pulled his “valentine” out of the freezer. We congratulated ourselves on thinking so much alike, and he handed me the liquor store bag with not one but two bottles of my favorite wine. Then he started to unload the other grocery store bag. When he pulled out three miniature boxes of chocolates identical to the ones I’d purchased for the boys, we both started to laugh.

Friends, that moment- the moment of knowing that celebrating Valentine’s Day in the simplest way, with my four guys who piled on top of me yesterday morning and declared me their “Princess,” my favorite wine, chocolates, and frozen pizzas on the same night Grey’s Anatomy is on, is the only way I care to celebrate Valentine’s Day, ever- that moment was so clarifying.

I became a real adult today.

And it feels damn good.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends.