Thank You!

I am full of gratitude as I think about each and every card I designed this season, and am especially grateful for the clients who made it possible for me to create such beautiful, heart-felt, personal and unique cards!

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU. I wish I could list each of my 2009 clients by name (I remember you, but don't know that you'd want to be listed here!). You are the reason that Christmas cards remain my greatest joy. Thank you for trusting my creativity and indulging me in my inspired moments. Thank you for giving me freedom to let your photos "speak" to me...and for enjoying the custom designs that followed. And to those of you who have returned year after year, a very special and sincere THANK YOU. I have loved watching your families grow, and have truly been amazed that God has given me fresh, new words and designs for your cards each year. What a blessing!

And now to all of you - card clients, new readers, old friends and of course, my family - I wish you a joy-filled Christmas and a New Year full of unexpected blessings! I can't wait to see what the New Year brings! See you in 2010!


A Few Days Left...and I Still Love Cards!

I'm full of joy as I near the end of another Christmas card season...not because it's almost over and I can do something other than cards all day (what will I do?!?!), but JOYFUL because even at the end of the busiest season ever, I still LOVE what I do! And I love the people who hire me to do what I do.

This very morning I had a client call me on her way to the airport. She hasn't had time to study online samples and complete an order form (and she's way past the deadline), so she said, "I love everything you do and trust you entirely. I don't even need to see a proof. Just do what you love and print." Wow. I love that! What a trusting woman...and what creative freedom she has given me! Exciting and a little bit scary, but JOY-FILLED!

Yesterday, I had a client who's living overseas tell me she loved the elegant proof I sent her. She requested classic and elegant, and I gave it to her. All was well. I could have printed and been done with it. Simple elegance...what's not to love?

But then I stared at her photo a little bit longer. Two very young boys bursting with joy and looking as if they wanted to squirm right out of that photo. All of the sudden, elegant just wasn't working for me (or for those bustling boys). So without her permission, I went all custom and crazy on her!

Same words. Entirely different design. She LOVES it...ADORES it! And so do I! I wish I could show you the photo so that you could how it all turned out, but I don't want to ruin the surprise for the lucky recipients of her card!

I find myself asking, "How do I do that? And how do I do it at the end of the season when I've spent three months living, breathing and dreaming Christmas cards?" It's a God-thing. Truly. There is no other way. I should be burnt out at this point and drained of ideas; I'm not trained in graphic design (I was an English major at Vanderbilt...no graphic design going on there!); I'm not even a very colorful person (plain jane is more like it); but I love the words of Christmas and I love being open to God's creative power.

I love what I do. And as long as God does what He does through me, I'll be doing it. Thank you to all who have given me the privilege of using my gifts to design your cards. I am OVERJOYED!


Essencia: Must-Haves and a Giveaway!

You know those days and weeks when you wish there were two of you? I'm having that kind of month, and it's a glorious thing because it means I'm busy doing what I love (designing Christmas cards), but I wish there were another one of me to write this post so that I could take the time to tell you how much I love this company: Essencia.

Here are a few of my favorites that will find their way into Christmas gifts (and gifts-to-self) this season:

You haven't SHAVED until you've shaved with Lavender Mint Shaving Syrup. Seriously. I'm not a big product girl (which is why you KNOW it's love when I dedicate an entire blog post to products), but this is one product every girl can use. And you know what? This product has made it into the "Gift Bags for the Stars" at the Academy and Grammy Awards! It's BIG-TIME!

Another body product you'll want to try...Rosemary Mint Body Polish.
Exfoliating, moisturizing...all that good stuff, but it smells good, too! And just after you rinse it off, try shaving (no shaving syrup needed this time). Two-in-one!

A product I can't live without: Honey Mint Lip Balm. It's better than Burt's Bees or whatever you've got in your purse!

I'm addicted. It's literally in every drawer - desk, kitchen, bedside, bathroom...you name it! It's the perfect combination of silky and moisturizing...not at all sticky or waxy. Owner/co-founder Alison McMurtrey works really hard to perfect her products, and it shows in this little power-packed tube!

Moving on to a few household favorites: Lavender Linen Spray.

I'm not a big fan of linen sprays because most of them have so may artificial fragrances ("parfum" sounds desirable because it's a French word, but let's call a spade a spade...it's not the real deal!). This linen spray puts the rest to shame. Lavender is known for its calming benefits, so go ahead...mist it on your pillow each night, your sheets between washings, your children's pillows...you can even use it as an air freshener.

Speaking of air freshener (don't get me started on how I feel about most "air fresheners" on the market), this little product is Essencia's hidden jewel in my opinion:
I know...it looks a little unconventional. I mean, really...when was the last time you used a lamp ring? When I first saw this product, I wasn't "sold," but the second I tried the Lavender Mint Oil with Aromotatic Light Bulb Ring, I was hooked. This is what you'll smell in my studio.

There are many more products I could list, but Christmas cards are calling, so I'll leave you with this: most of the products I mentioned are 25% off right now, and if you spend $40 and mention the code XMASSHIP, you'll get free shipping.

AND...if you leave a comment between now and December 11th about which of these products you'd most like to try (or a comment about any of the Essencia products), you'll be entered in the giveaway to win a little Essencia for yourself! Go for it!

Merry, Merry!


A Magical Day in Houston

If you've been looking for inspiration in Houston, it literally fell from the sky on Friday, December 4th. SNOW!!! Lots of it...big flakes...for hours!

I didn't get to do one of my favorite things that day (take photographs of my children) because I was inside hosting an Open House for my cards and stationery, but what a vision it was to look outside my windows and see snow falling the ENTIRE time!
This photo isn't so hot (taken with my iphone while trying to help shoppers), but the real view was beautiful!!! There were many times throughout the day when I stopped mid-conversation and said (with child-like wonder and urgency), "LOOK! Isn't it magical?!?!" Sorry if I cut you off in mid-sentence, but I was just trying to take it all in!

I had to laugh when the weather report said SNOW. I mean, really? In Houston? On December 4th? On the day of my Open House? Wasn't withdrawing from my major sales event of the year in order to serve friends in need enough of a sales sacrifice, Lord? And c'mon...I'm donating a portion of the Open House sales so that inner city children can have Christmas gifts, so please don't leave me with an empty house, Lord. SNOW?!?! Houstonians don't drive in snow! We don't know how! Who will come? What will I do with all of these cards?

Oh, me of little faith! "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?" (good ol' Matthew 6:27). I wasted precious energy on those empty house worries. Wouldn't you know, my house was FULL on Friday...in the snow! Full of cheerful shoppers, Christmas music, hot apple cider and JOY! I've always said I have the most wonderful clients EVER, and now I can say they are also the most brave and generous. I'm pleased to report that many inner city children will enjoy nice gifts thanks to your braving the snow and generously shopping. You exceeded my expectations in a BIG way...and reminded me of some of my favorite words in the entire Bible:
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..." (Ephesians 3:20).


Open House this Friday!

Oh, JOY! Join me this Friday for some Christmas cheer, festive music, spiced cider and LOTS of cards...holiday designs and your year-round favorites!

Even today, I was bursting with creativity and designed some new things. They'll be hot off the press and ready to go home with you on Friday!

The key to a peaceful and joy-filled season is guarding your time and spending it wisely, so I consider it the highest compliment that you would spend a few minutes in my home on Friday. Here are a few good reasons to stop by:

1. Reasonably priced gifts that are only found here in my home...not on my website or in stores.

2. 15% of the sales will go to The Forge to purchase Christmas gifts for Houston's inner city children (and I'll personally match that amount, doubling the gift-buying potential).

3. My talented fiber artist mom will be here with her newly designed, one-of-a kind necklaces! People have loved them so much they've bought them right off her neck!
4. And my indescribably artistic sister is indulging us with hand printed onesies featuring her own designs...and a few of mine!
She'll also bring some new limited edition fine art prints...not to be missed! You've always heard about those people who have more creativity in their pinky finger than most of us have combined? My sister is one of those people!

See you Friday! (Send me an email if you need directions.)


Christmas Ornament Heaven

The day after Thanksgiving, no matter how many card orders have piled up, I take time to enjoy a day of Christmas music and decorating with my girls. I've been listening to Christmas music since October, but it's so much more REAL and festive when I'm decorating a tree with the little people I love so much!

And you know what's really wonderful? My little girls share my love of ornaments and decorating! They are filled with anticipation and excitement as we pull the ornament box down from the attic and remove one layer at a time to adorn our tree. I love the festivity, but I'm also a rules girl (just ask my free-spirited sister!), so the rule here is: one layer at a time! No sneaking to the layer underneath in search of your favorite ornament when there are still plenty of ornaments on the current layer to be hung on the tree!

But you know what? When each ornament is wonderful, the temptation to "skip ahead" isn't so...tempting! When you buy ornaments at a place I call "Ornament Heaven," every ornament is wonderful...year after year...after year!

Ornament Heaven....also know as "Anthrolopogie." I adore the ornaments I've found there over the last six or so years. I've even photographed a few of them and turned them into Christmas cards:

Aren't they gorgeous? I just love the fabrics, the beading, the layers of texture...such exquisite details for such tiny things! I'd like one of those pink sweaters and angel dresses in my size, please!

At Anthrolologie, what you find this year may not "go" with what you bought last year in the traditional sense, but there's a cohesiveness to their ornaments that I love. It's a cohesiveness that's hard to define, but it's visually appealing to see them hanging on a tree together with all of their different fabrics, textures and details. Somehow, it all just "goes."

Here's what I'm liking this year: a cute little country mouse family: mama, papa and child.

And how clever is this catalog shot?!?! (Love that clock, by the way!)

And with my love of paper and Christmas hymns, I really like what they did with sheet music in these two ornaments:

Again, a very clever photo shoot...all this artistry for an ornament! Love it!

And just to give you a glimpse of how varied the options are, I think my mom, with her fiber artist background, would like this one:

And my sister, with her new baby boy, might like this soft, hand-stitched one:

You know, it's funny...I'm pretty traditional, clean and classic about most things, but when it comes to a Christmas tree, I've enjoyed making mine personal and interesting. You're not likely to find me veering away from the classic white lights, but with the ornaments, I try to have fun.

If you'd like to see Anthropologie's entire collection of 2009 Christmas ornaments, click here. I'd love to know which is your favorite, or to hear about your own Ornament Heaven. Go ahead...leave a comment!

And if you're in Houston, I invite you to take a peek at my tree during the LLH Designs Open House on Friday, December 4th!


Giving Thanks

I'm as thankful as can be...for life, love, faith, family, friends, creativity, authenticity, chocolate, tea, words, cards...and YOU! Thank you for visiting me here. Thank you for supporting me, encouraging me, praying for me...and INSPIRING me!

How about you? What rises up in your heart as you give thanks this year? I'd love to know! Maybe you'll remind me of even more reasons to give thanks!


LLH Designs Open House

This is a first! You'd think this would be an annual event with Christmas being my favorite time of year, but I've never had the time, inventory or energy to do such a thing before. I'm really excited to open up my home and offer you some of my favorite designs!  If you don't know where I live, send me an email and I'll send directions. (I didn't want to post my address online.)

My custom card clients are always my priority this time of year, but aside from the custom work, I've been selling stationery and cards at the Houston Country Club Christmas Boutique for the last four years (a members-only event that doesn't allow me to invite all of you). I've absolutely LOVED it - the nicest people, festive music, beautiful decor and THOUSANDS of people who stop to admire my cards (how nice is that???).

But this year, I felt God calling me to give it up, to write "LOSS" over that part of my business. WHAT?!?! My biggest sales event, and one for which I've been planning and preparing for weeks?!?! A very hard decision indeed as it is always an honor to be "accepted" into the HCC boutique...and I love all of the loyal clients who shop with me there. BUT...there are bigger things going on behind the scenes and in my heart. I have the opportunity to show God's love to a dear friend and her family of six during the time that I would ordinarily be ribbon-tying and printing until the wee hours. This precious family is coming in town to bring joy and encouragement to a very sick family member, and the way I can help in this situation is to open my heart and my home. What a privilege. Even if the plans for their visit are turned upside down or cancelled, I have been blessed by the process of making this decision.

However, behind each loss is often a gain, and I hope the gain will be all yours! Because I have already printed so many note cards and have many new designs I'd like to share, I'll be opening up my house on December 4th. My dining room will be jam-packed with note cards, gift tags and memo pads...all between $11 and $25...the kinds of things I don't sell on my website. It's all packaged and ready to give...to teachers, hostesses, friends...even yourself! Who doesn't need a set of Christmas thank you notes? I hope the tradition of writing thank you notes stands forever!

And one more thing worth sharing: 15% of the total sales from the Open House will be donated to The Forge for Families to buy Christmas gifts for Houston's inner city children. And I will personally match whatever that amount is so that we can buy double the gifts! If you can't make it December 4th, perhaps you'll consider making a donation or even adopting a family of your own through The Forge. Contact Abigail and tell her I sent you. She'll know what to do! The Forge is a top-notch, heart-felt, servant-oriented organization that serves inner city families year-round. I know founders Sheila and Prince Couisnard personally and can tell you they are the REAL deal!

I hope to see all of my Houston friends on December 4th. If you're a local blog reader but we've never met, come on over and have a cup of cider with me on the 4th! I'd love to meet you!

Blessings and love to you all!


Show Hope

When I started this whole blogging thing, I made a promise to myself: to write when inspired (not on a schedule) and to write freely, freshly and with as little use of the backspace key as possible (hard for an over-thinking, perfectionistic, English major type!). Well, I confess...I've tried to write this post four times and just can't seem to nail it. Lots of backspace action going on over here!

Show Hope. Two small words that make a HUGE difference. Who doesn't want to show a little hope to a hurting world? But how? Where to start?

One child at a time, according to Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman (yes, the famous but unspeakably humble, record-making, chart-breaking, award-winning musician), founders of Show Hope, a movement to care for orphans by addressing their root need: the lack of a family.

I didn't know what I was getting into the first time I was asked to design the invitation for a private Show Hope fundraising event. All I knew was that Steven Curtis Chapman was going to be playing a few songs in my client's home, so yes, ABSOLUTELY, happy to design the invitations and event materials.

Rarely when I design an invitation do I also become a guest, but how grateful I am to my client and friend for including me. First of all, Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman are as real as they come, and to meet someone so true and authentic is inspiring, famous or not. (Read their blogs to see what I mean.) But then to hear their personal adoption stories...wow! They went from "Who, me? No way. We're crazy, but not THAT crazy!"to adopting three little girls from China, one at a time (on top of the three children they already had). When they returned home with their first adopted daughter, they were greeted at the Nashville airport by friends, family, and of course media. But then there were the families they didn't know who showed up because they, too, wanted to adopt. When Mary Beth learned that it was "only money" that stood in the way of a child being brought into a loving home (the lump sum required for adoption is staggering), she opened up her checkbook right then and there. Steven joked that he was going to have to write a lot more songs and sell a bunch more records to continue writing checks at that pace! Surely, he thought, there was an organization that could help these families welcome orphans into their hearts and homes by bridging the financial gap.

But there wasn't such an organization, so Show Hope was born. I could spend all day trying to perfect what I what I want you to know about Show Hope and its founders, about the children who are waiting to be adopted and the families who are grateful for the grants and children they've received, but instead I'll direct you to www.showhope.org for photos, stories, videos and more. It's worth a visit.

Despite the darkness that surrounds The Chapmans as they grieve the loss of their youngest daughter, Mary Beth and Steven are reflections of Heaven's brightest light, and Show Hope is evidence of that. They returned to Houston a few days ago and were as passionate as ever...and every bit as real. Thank you, Mary Beth and Steven, for showing your hope.

Despite my heavy use of the backspace key and many poor attempts at a re-write, I've still fallen short of expressing what Show Hope is all about, but there's one thing I know for sure: when you get a glimpse of how much God loves you, it changes you! And THAT is inspiring!


Urban Market Finds

I'm so glad someone asked to see my Urban Market finds, because I was looking for an excuse to share! The joyful chaos of card season has me pretty tied up, so no glorious photo shoots for you, but here's my iphone best!

If you've been following my blog, you know I couldn't pass these up! I bought a dozen of them, so friends, you may see them somewhere in your future as gifts! Note to all who think I'm crazy for buying up so many little pots: these sold out within the first two hours. Lovin' my little pots!

Weathered, zinc-like, great shape...what's not to love about this cross? It would look glorious on a backyard fence surrounded by ivy or confederate jasmine, but I'm a big fan of using outdoor elements inside my home, so I hung this 40-inch treasure on a lonely half-wall that needed some serious punch.

Deal of the day: two large trompe de l'oeil candlesticks with metal crowns on top. These Aidan Gray beauties are sitting in high-end retail shop right now for $175 and up. My mismatched pair: $60! Thank you for the fabulous deals Urban Market. Now if I just knew where to put them!

I don't plan to post too many pictures of myself, but who else would roll away from Urban Market with a Charlie Brown-style Christmas tree in an antique mop bucket? I plan to hang gift tags from the branches with tiny wooden clothespins...a fun way to display my holiday inventory here in my studio!

At the end of the day, it wasn't about the "stuff" so much as the whole experience. I got to give Maura Cannon a big hug, saw some of my wonderful card clients, bumped into a few blog readers and enjoyed a delicious pimento cheese sandwich, ginger cookie and lavender earl grey tea with my mom and sister.

Now a question for you (since I don't know where to put my candlesticks just yet): do you have to know where something will go before you bring it home, or are you a "buy it because you love it" and "find a place for it later" person? Just curious!


Sconce Fetish

Have I told you about my sconce fetish? The truth is, I didn't know I had one until recently when I brought home a sconce and didn't know where to put it because of all the ones I already have. I'm probably breaking all the design rules about how many sconces one house can hold, but you know,  rule follower that I am in every other area of life, I'm okay with breaking design rules! Besides, I'm betting that the great castles of France in Italy were loaded with sconces with no regard for "rules." They just needed light and thought the holders of the light should be beautiful. But of course! Mais, oui! Bien sûr!

I won't bore you with a photo of every scone I own, but here is my first and favorite sconce purchase:
The patina doesn't get anymore authentic than this. I think they were $60 or $65 for the pair about five or six years ago at Heights Antiques on Yale, my treasure trove place (click here to read my full post on that shop).

I've also bought a few pairs from Wisteria. When you buy from a catalog, you'll never have the fondness that comes with buying something you "found" in a special place, but if the price, shape and color is just right, I say go for it! Here are a few I've purchased:

And here's one I'd purchase from Wisteria if I had a spot for it (I may have to find one):

My favorite sconces are, of course, French inspired and show some age, but I'm more picky about the price than the age, so a reproduction is just fine with me. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's "real" and what's been carefully reproduced. Here are some I loved from a high-end show home (I love the iron work). Can you tell if they are antique or new?
I don't need to come home from Sunday's Urban Market with another sconce, but if I see a beautiful one for just the right price, I just might have to give it a home! Wink!


Urban Market

The title of this post alone gets me all kinds of excited! URBAN MARKET. If you're in Houston, mark your calendar: this Sunday, November 9th, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in a big, open field. Yes...a big, open field right here in the cement city of Houston! Visit www.theurbanmarkethouston.com for details.

The timing is a bit precarious for a Christmas card designer (my busy season is in full swing!), but you can bet I'll be there on Sunday. How could I resist? As card clients walk through my house and inquire where I found this or that, the answers are pretty much the same every time...and Urban Market is always one of those answers.

A once-around of my house today (with my iphone camera in hand...so much for my love of photography!) revealed many of the treasures I've found there over the years. Here are a few from recent markets:
I fell in LOVE with this secretary from Janet Wiebe. Everyone was browsing the books and accessories she had on top of it, but I was taken by the rustic finish, perfect white-washed gray tones, and simple but elegant shape. And when she said it came from "Isle sur la Sorgue," I knew I had to have it. I've been to that lovely little antique-filled, river town in Provence and couldn't afford to bring anything home back then, but Janet gave me a great price on this piece. Look for her as soon as you get to Urban Market. She always has great sconces and chandeliers, too.

And here's one of the zinc-topped tables I love from French Vanilla. In fact, a client loved them so much that she told me to let her know if I ever wanted to part with them. So I did! I have one...and she has one! Notice the rosette detail...LOVE!

I'm sure my iphone camera didn't do this "find" justice, but here's the "wall art" in my entryway...collected over a year's worth of Urban Markets. I gathered up the $10 botanical prints in the Spring and found the iron garden piece in the Fall. I never imagined it would all come together this way, but so it has! I love the organic, unplanned, yet cohesive look of outdoor elements brought together indoors.
You might say I'm addicted to iron-work rosettes. It just feels so French to me! Here's a close-up of the garden piece:
And yet more "wall art." This shelf was the hutch to a buffet that had been sold separately somewhere along the way. I saw it and thought it would be an attractive way to display photos and other little knick knacks I've collected along the way. Let me say this: I'm not particularly skilled in arranging shelves (tips anyone?), but I do want you to see the unexpected treasures that can be found for a good price at Urban Market.
Remember the pot fetish? It's been going strong for a couple of years now! I love those English (gasp! not French!) pots that line the top of the shelf. Of course, I'm always aware of the spacing between them and wanting them to be "just so."

And lest you think Urban Market is all about big things, here's a "small" that sits prominently in my dining room: a pair of metal topiary containers (sans topiary!).

Urban Market could be described in any number of ways. Some say it's "Roundtop in Houston." Others say it's even better. I have a friend who swears her finds are better at "Urban" than Roundtop...and after doing a once-around through my house today, I'd have to agree!

Thank you Maura Cannon, Jane Schott and all of your early helpers and vendors for having the vision and creativity to start this little wonder back in 2004.

P.S. Did I mention the AMAZING pimento cheese sandwiches from Words & Food?!?! I don't even like pimento cheese, but thanks to my first taste at Urban Market, I now buy it every Saturday at the Eastside Farmer's Market!
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