Good eats in Chicago

 It’s no secret we like food, and good food at that. So, when we took two days in Chicago, food was definitely on the agenda. My husband planned it all, so I didn’t have much clue about where we would be eating.

Tuesday, for lunch, I had the directions to navigate us to our restaurant location, but I didn’t know where we were going until Portillo’s came into view. I had mentioned something about wanting a Chicago dog recently. But I ended up with the garbage salad.

Phil enjoyed a dog and an Italian beef and we shared cheese fries. It was a good start.

Next up for dinner that night was Italian Village. I don’t have any pictures of this because we were later than we wanted to be for dinner and almost missed the ballet. We ate in the Village section, the top floor of three in this unique restaurant. We had a 40 minute wait, then waited another 40 minutes or more for our food to arrive. We filled up on bread, soup (for me) and salad (for Phil) while we waited. The time ticked away and we soon realized we’d either be inhaling our food or leaving it. When it came to our table, we had about 3 minutes to eat it and pay before we needed to head out the door. Even at that pace, the food was delicious. I wish we could have enjoyed it more. I ate cannelloni with a cream sauce. Phil had mostaccioli with arrabiata sauce and meatballs. This was one instance where knowing how to eat fast because you have children who require it comes in handy. We did make it to the ballet. You can read more about that here.

Wednesday morning we took our breakfast at Fox & Obel in the cafe inside the grocery store.

I had biscuits smothered in chicken gravy topped with sunny-side-up eggs. The biscuits were sweet and reminded me of my grandma’s sugar cookies. A hint of almond flavor, I think. Phil ate a croque madame, which was a fancy egg sandwich — scrambled eggs, country shaved ham, Gruyere cheese, baby greens and a bechamel sauce between two slices of toasted bread. His came with home fries and fresh fruit cup. Wonderfully delicious, all of it.

We browsed the market that day after our breakfast. By lunchtime, I wasn’t too hungry, but my husband assured me lunch could be as light or as heavy as I wanted. We went to Christkindlemarket to take in some German fare. We ate bratwurst in the Nuremberger style, which Phil had when he was in Nuremberg for Army training.

We also had Austrian strudel: half a box of cherry and half a box of cheese. Warm and gooey, so tasty. We made a mess, but it was worth it.

That night, we didn’t want to make the same mistake we made the night before, so we headed to dinner early. Our short walk down Michigan Avenue found us at The Purple Pig.

Earlier in the day, Phil told me that he wasn’t sure how dinner “worked” exactly so he’d have to ask some questions. This sort of scared me because I thought dinner was a self-explanatory sort of thing. But after we got there, I understood why he said that. The Purple Pig serves its food on small plates, family-style, so you’re encouraged to order several items and share. You’re also seated at a table with other people not of your party, which is kind of fun if you don’t mind an invasion of privacy. The motto, or subtitle, of The Purple Pig is “cheese, swine and wine.” Let me tell ya, they use every part of the pig in ways you can hardly imagine.

Here’s what we ordered:

Shaved Brussel Sprouts, Pecorino Noce & Parmigiano-Reggiano — it was a bold and refreshing way to start. Brussel sprouts like I’ve never tasted them.

Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg — this was on my husband’s list of things to eat here before we walked in the door. I was skeptical about eating pig’s ear. It wasn’t my favorite, but if I didn’t know it was pig’s ear, I wouldn’t have guessed that’s what I was eating. It was served in a little pig shaped bowl, which was a nice touch.

Chastelfranco, arugula with Sunchokes, Hazelnuts & Apple Cider Vinaigrette — a palate-cleansing salad with a fantastic blend of flavors.

Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs — another dish my husband had pre-selected because it was one of the top 50 must-try foods in Chicago. Served in the bone, the marrow is cooked until spreadable. Smear it on a piece of toasted bread, top with a caper-onion-parsley-cilantro salad and sea salt and eat. It was good. Better than I expected. We made the mistake of using too little marrow to start and had to heap it on at the end to use it up with the remaining bread.

Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes — by far, my favorite dish. So tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The recipe was posted on the Web site recently, but I’ll be surprised if we can duplicate this to exactness.

We also ordered dessert: Sicilian Iris which is a ricotta and chocolate chip-filled fried brioche and toasted cinnamon soft serve ice cream.

This place is a foodie’s dream, really, but save up if you plan on going. It’s not cheap, but it’s a unique dining experience. Even if you’re a picky eater and parts of the pig I’ve mentioned don’t appeal to you, you won’t go hungry.

Eating at The Purple Pig, for me, was just another reminder of why my husband is the perfect match for me. I would never have chosen to eat there on my own, and I certainly wouldn’t have tried new foods, especially parts of the pig I didn’t think were edible, without him. He stretches me in good ways.

For breakfast the next morning, we went back to Fox & Obel for pastries. Their bakery is one of the top 10 bakeries in the country. We ordered a cinnamon swirl, a creme orange danish and a brioche tart. After shopping a bit in the grocery, we also bought egg nog lattes and took our breakfast back to the lobby of our hotel. It was the perfect way to end our trip. We sat, ate and talked without interruption. Of all the things we did, it’s hard to choose a favorite, but this was the moment I felt most connected to my husband.

Some people eat to live. At times, we live to eat. This was one of those times.

A hidden Chicago gem

One of our first stops on our Chicago getaway (click here for the overview blog of our recent trip) was the Garfield Park Conservatory. It’s not far off the interstate, and I’m sure I’ve seen the sign for it dozens of times, but I never gave it much thought. My husband chose it as a place to kill time before checking into the hotel and as an addendum, of sorts, to our Longwood Gardens  visit in Pennsylvania in late summer. We took the kids there, which isn’t always conducive to a leisurely walk through the gardens.

Here, though, on our own, we could stop and read the plant markers, savoring the sights and smells of green.

When I look at these pictures, I can’t even believe I was in Chicago when I took them. The city never ceases to surprise me in some way.

The conservatory has palms, ferns, poinsettias (in season, which they happened to be), fruits and desert plants.

Here’s a cactus skeleton, 100 years old:

And beautiful art mixed with the beauty of nature. These are glass sculptures the conservatory purchased after housing an exhibit of this artist’s creations.

I’ve not been much of a plant person in my life, but it’s growing on me, pun not necessarily intended. I have an aloe plant in my kitchen that sparks something in me when I see it. A sign of life. I’ve never been very good about taking care of plants, but I suddenly want to add them to the decor in our house. There’s a sense of peace that comes from greenery.

So, we left the conservatory with a souvenir. A tradescantia zebrina plant, also known as an inch plant or a wandering Jew. (Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?) We’re tending it carefully until we can get it back to Pennsylvania to repot it and take better care of it.

A cool souvenir. The start of more to come, I hope. I can feel my thumb changing from black to shades of green.

All because of a couple of hours spent in a conservatory in a somewhat rough part of Chicago.

Did I mention the conservatory is free with free parking? If that’s not reason enough to check it out, then nothing else I can say or show will convince you.

Chicago for two

One thing we’ve lacked since having kids is pictures of just the two of us. Our trip to Chicago helped fix that.

Here’s a few from the Garfield Park Conservatory.

OK, so that middle one is just me, but my husband likes it. It’s probably been since our honeymoon that he’s had a picture of just me.

This one is from the show room, full of poinsettias. The staff person who took this was so proud of herself for the framing of the photo. She eagerly offered to take our picture. We thank  you, whoever you are!

This next one is my favorite, I think.

We took the following picture at the Christkindlmarket because we’d seen The Nutcracker ballet the night before. We didn’t have a chance to take any good pictures when we saw the ballet because we almost missed it. Our dinner at Italian Village ran late, so we had to run (me in heels!) to the ballet. We made it as the usher was making the final seating call. We dropped into our seats almost as the lights were dimming. So glad we made it on time, even if I had trouble walking for the next couple of days. I’m glad we had the chance to get a picture with The Nutcracker, too.

The next ones are our shots in the “Bean.” It took us several tries to get these.

Great memories!

Chicago in winter

For a month or so, my husband has been planning a secret two-night getaway for just us while we’re home for the holidays. Only a week ago did he let slip (because of tiredness) our destination city — Chicago. He planned our entertainment, our lodging, our eating without any input from me. That was difficult at first, but the string of surprises was fun as we walked through the city. This post will be the first of four about our trip, including pictures and commentary about food, a photo page of us in Chicago, and my impressions of the Garfield Park Conservatory. Not since our honeymoon 3 1/2 years ago have we taken an overnight trip without children. Long overdue. Much needed.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency because my husband found us a couldn’t-pass-it-up deal on Hotwire. My first overwhelming moment of the trip. We’re not exactly Hyatt material, in my mind, so I immediately felt out of place. I got over it and enjoyed the downtown views, the river traffic, the amenities. It was the perfect location for walking everywhere we needed to go.

Night and day views from our hotel room window:

Here’s some of what we saw on our three-day trip to Chicago:

The Christkindlmarket, a German Christmas celebration in Daley Plaza (above). It was this busy. And the nearby Chicago Christmas tree. We saw it at  night our first night in the city but didn’t have time to stop and take a picture.

Speaking of trees, check out this 10,000-light beauty at Macy’s.

We also strolled the street to read the “Yes, Virginia” window stories. I’d never done this before and was amazed that the construction was all made from paper and takes 35 weeks to complete!

Next stop after Macy’s was the Bean.

Our second evening, we saw “A Christmas Carol” at The Goodman Theatre.

My husband bought us box seat tickets, which was another surprise. Even though our view of some of the stage was obstructed, we felt super important sitting all by ourselves. We had an up-close view of most of the production, which was moving and captivating.

Hold on to your hats, ladies, when I tell you this next part: We spent two evenings in Chicago and the Bulls and the Blackhawks were playing each of those nights. Yet  my husband chose to take me to The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker one night and to “A Christmas Carol” on stage the next night. Some of his decision involved money and seating, but let me tell you, I felt loved and blessed. The ballet was breathtaking and stunning, something I’m not sure I would have chosen and expected to enjoy, but I loved it. And it’s been years since I’ve seen a professional stage production.

My husband knows me well, and he did a fantastic job planning our getaway.

If I wasn’t already, now I’m totally in the Christmas spirit. At every stop, since I didn’t know where we were going, my husband would stop and say, “Merry Christmas.” It’s definitely a Christmas to remember.

Why I won’t be offended if you don’t invite us to your house

There’s this theory among single people and couples without children that when a couple becomes parents, they suddenly start hanging out with only other parents. My husband and I have a wide variety of friends in different stages of life, so I was sure this wouldn’t happen to us. Not by our choice, anyway. We aren’t the kind of people to dump friends or hole up in our house because we have kids.

Or so I thought.

Lately, I’ve become much more comfortable with the idea of NEVER leaving the house again. With two active kids (an almost 3-year-old and a just-turned-1-year-old), even going some place relatively safe, like the grocery store, where I can contain at least one, if not both of them, in a cart, has become a bit stressful. Especially with it being cold and wintry now. Coats, hats, mittens on, out of the house, into the car, strapped into seats, out of the car, into the cart, into the store, at least hats and mittens off, shop, hats and mittens back on, coats zipped up, in the car, out of car, back home, outerwear strewn across the floor.

Is it worth it? I sometimes ask myself. Maybe we should just become hermits and emerge when the children are, say, teenagers. Of course, by then, they probably won’t want to leave the house anyway.

But back to the friend issue. It’s not that I don’t want to hang out with singles or couples without kids or whose kids have grown and gone; it’s that sometimes, doing so stresses me out, especially if I don’t know the layout of the house. At one recent get-together, I spent most of the evening worried that the 1-year-old was going to take a fall down an open set of stairs. And I didn’t know where I could change a diaper. And the 2-year-old rearranged most of the decorations in the house.

At another dinner, the 2-year-old continued her streak of breaking something when we visit. This time, it was a Christmas decoration. Glass. She shattered it. The last time, it was a bunny figurine. Our hosts assured us it was fine, but even without the carnage, I was stressed by having to bring toys and a high chair for a chance at fellowship.

When we first moved here, and had only one child, we didn’t receive a lot of dinner invites from our church family, something I guess we sort of expected because that’s how we tend to get to know people better. As time went on, I figured it was because we had a baby. As time goes further on, I rarely expect to be invited anywhere because of the wee ones, and when we do get invited, and my husband says “yes” without asking me, I stress out about all the extra preparation involved, unless it’s to one of the “safe” homes on my list. (To make the safe list, you probably have kids around my kids’ ages or have grandkids that age, are relatives, or don’t keep a lot of nice things in your home, or you are so persistent that we can’t say “no”.)

I’m not an outwardly social person most of the time, so I don’t know why it bothers me that having kids limits my social circle a bit, except that I’m also insecure so I don’t like to be left out of things. I struggle with this even at church. Our church is smallish and has trouble staffing the nursery from week to week (with people other than a willing few who step in often to fill a gap). Since more Sundays than not my kids are the only ones in the nursery, this sometimes makes me feel like we’re a burden on the church and shouldn’t be there. (Not true, I know, but it’s the thought process I go through.)

Jesus said we’re to welcome little children in his name, so I keep that firmly in my mind when the children are crying, shouting or screaming during a serious or silent moment. Jesus wants them here, I tell myself.

I can’t always use the same argument for being at people’s houses, though. Even if Jesus wanted my children there, that doesn’t mean the homeowner has to agree.

I’d love to hear some other thoughts on this topic. Does anyone else struggle with this? I don’t want to use my kids as an excuse to not go places, but I also don’t want them to break something valuable, stain the carpet or swallow something inedible. Nor do I want to be hovering so much that I don’t enjoy myself or make the person hosting feel like less of a person because they didn’t babyproof their house for me.

Let’s hear it, moms. Tell me I’m not crazy.

A tale of two funerals

The world lost two great men this week. One was a household name, especially to baseball fans. The other, known mostly locally to his family, his community, his church. Both were laid to rest at 10 o’clock today in Illinois.

Both battled illnesses that eventually won the fight for their bodies. Both lived long lives.

One was a hero to his sport, a man who never complained about the illnesses or diseases that wracked his body, even when they made playing the sport difficult. And to the children who benefited from his commitment to raising money for juvenile diabetes.

The other was a hero to his family, a pillar of faith, a joy, a strength, a compassionate, humble servant.

One made a name for himself in the world, whether he wanted it that way or not. The other made a name for himself in heaven.

I am unqualified to speak much about either man, having never met the first in person and not being family or close friend to the other. Perhaps others more qualified can add their memories to this post.

What I do know is that both deaths leave a big hole in their circles of influence. Listening to Cubs’ broadcasts won’t be the same. Baseball won’t be the same. The Cubs won’t be the same. That’s a hole I don’t know how will be filled.

For the second man, his family won’t be the same, his church, his community, either, but that hole I know will be filled by their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This man left a legacy of faith to his children, his grandchildren, to others who had the privilege to know him.

Two grieving families, two worlds, two funerals at the same time on the same day. One honored, celebrated and remembered on national TV; one honored and celebrated locally. Both men may have fussed over the fuss of their respective remembrances. Jesus, and the hope of salvation, was preached through both of their lives.

May that legacy continue beyond their lives, beyond the celebration of today.

I couldn’t ignore the timing of these two funerals, being reminded that the celebration, remembrance and honor we receive on this earth is not the important thing. It’s the being with Jesus in heaven part that counts. It’s what we store up for the eternal world. Most of us won’t have a nationally televised funeral or the kind of influence that comes with fame and notoriety. But we all have a chance to affect eternity, starting with ourselves.

Death always reminds me of that — to take account of how I’m living my life, where my treasure is, what I’m living for, working for, valuing. What’s really important.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” — 2 Corinthians 4:18

A funny thing happened on the way to Bible study

Fact: Our church’s women’s Bible study meets on Tuesday nights.

Fact: I usually attend these meetings.

Fact: It is finals week for my seminarian husband.

Fact: I am currently reading a book called “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan.

Fact: I am utterly clueless when it comes to understanding the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Scenario: It is Tuesday, a cold, bitter, sunless pre-winter day. I am typically exhausted from chasing kids all morning and overwhelmed by the condition of my house. I also miss spending time with my husband. We call these days the zombie days. He is here, present in the house, but not exactly “with us” if you know what I mean. He is reading about theological things I can’t spell or pronounce, formulating 10-page papers in his head. I am tempted to skip Bible study this night to have more time with him when he gets home from work. Before he leaves for work, he agrees and doesn’t try to talk me out of skipping. My mind is nearly made up to stay home.

The kids and I start playing. Isabelle’s current favorite game is “parade” where she pretends she’s in one and throws “candy” to Corban and me, sitting on a blanket on the other side of the room. The “candy” is often stuffed animals  or bouncy balls. The rule is: only throw soft things. For good reason. So, we’re playing, and I’m thinking about what to have for dinner when this feeling comes over me. Have you ever had one of those? It sort of wells up from somewhere inside me and nags at  my heart. I don’t panic, exactly, but it’s a feeling I can’t ignore. And all of a sudden, I feel like I MUST go to Bible study tonight. My first question is: why? And then my mind starts to wander down dark paths. Am I supposed to go because something is supposed to happen to me tonight? Am I going to be in a car wreck? Or maybe I’m supposed to leave the house because something’s going to happen here? And I freak out about the house possibly burning down in my absence. Or maybe I just need to help someone. Or, or, or …

I can’t shut it off, and I can’t ignore the pressing feeling that I need to go to Bible study. I can’t call my husband and tell him that plans have changed, so I just prepare for plans to change. We eat supper. The kids get their jammies on. They are, as usual, as ready for bed as I can get them before I leave the house. Now, I wait on my husband to get home from work. He walks in the door. I tell him how I feel. He immediately tells me that he didn’t eat at work. We talk a little more and he lets me make the decision, telling me he can handle himself and the kids while I’m gone.

I’m somewhat scared. But I can’t ignore the tug. I’m going. Shoes, coat, purse, book, kisses and hugs, and I’m off. Slightly excited. Somewhat anticipatory. My eyes scan the road and sidewalk, looking for a sign from God of why I felt compelled to leave the house when earlier I was set on staying home. I drive, and my heart catches in my throat with every car that passes. I’m driving, I’m looking, I’m seeing nothing out of the ordinary.

I arrive safely at Bible study. We have a good discussion. I can’t stop eating the Cheez-Its sitting in front of me. I drive home, still with alert eyes to what God might have had in mind for the evening. At home, everything is as it should be. The kids are safely and soundly in bed. My husband is finally eating his supper. “Biggest Loser” is about to come on.

“I have no idea why I needed to leave the house,” I tell my husband.

Then I think about it, and I wonder. This book I’m reading, “Forgotten God,” is all about being more aware of and obedient to the Holy Spirit, the so-called “forgotten” person of the Trinity. I’m about halfway through the book, and I’ve been challenged throughout. Was this another challenge? A test of obedience, of sorts? Would I obey the Spirit’s leading, even if I didn’t understand why, if I had no inkling of the reason, if it didn’t make sense? This is often how the Spirit works, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this kind of leading and tug. At least a long time since I’ve felt it and acted on it.

Maybe that was the whole purpose. Maybe it’s something I don’t know about. I’m tempted to say it was nothing, just my imagination. Maybe you’re tempted to say that, too. But I’m convinced that it wasn’t.

I am too easily led by my own whims, desires and wants, so I welcome the Spirit’s resurgence in my life to lead me in ways I couldn’t imagine. I looked at the world around me in a new way that night, eager and expectant for God to show me where He was working and how I could be a part of it.

May it be so every day of my life.

Blog tour: Inspired Design

About the Book

Hannah & Roxanne Packham

Inspired Design by Roxanne Hughes Packham and Hannah Packham (Inspired Designs Publications, 2010)

Drawing from the highly-published designs she’s created for hundreds of clients, Packham will inspire you to create a home that touches the souls of those within. Amid stunning photography, stories of treasured family traditions and poignant observations by 16-year-old daughter Hannah, she shares ideas that will help you create beauty, warmth and passion in your home, and make it an inspired design. “Do not underestimate the power of your home, nor its ability to change lives,” writes designer Roxanne Hughes Packham. “A cup of hot tea and an hour in a cozy nook spent listening to a friend can be life-altering. Sending well-loved, cared for children into the world to contribute to our society in positive meaningful ways is one of the most significant contributions, if not the most significant contribution, you will ever make, and your home is a major part of this endeavor.”

100% of the profits of this book go to charity: Heart of Hope, Local Food Pantry, Inspired 31 and more

Produced and made 100% in America.

Written by granddaughter of Allan Adler, noted American silversmith, and great-granddaughter of Porter George Blanchard, also known as “silversmith to the stars”, Packham’s history and knowledge of silver and flair for table settings prove to be a winning combo. Ideas for sentimental parties, and occasions for teenage girls, and mothers & others, celebrating friends & friendship. Inspirational for incorporating family history, talents, and passions into the design of the family home.

About the Authors

Roxanne Hughes Packham is an acclaimed interior designer whose classic designs grace hundreds of California homes from San Francisco to San Diego. She comes from a long line of gifted artisans, including world-renowned silversmiths Allan Adler (her grandfather) and Porter Blanchard (her great-grandfather). Roxanne is a graduate of the University of Southern California and Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Los Angeles; she studied design at Paris Fashion Institute and the Sorbonne. Her work has been featured in numerous design publications, including Life: Beautiful, California Homes, Dream Homes of Coastal California, Kitchen Style & Design, Dream Log Homes, Westlake Malibu Lifestyle, Kitchen Ideas That Work, Bath Ideas That Work, The Smart Approach to Kitchen Design, The Smart Approach to Bath Design, The Color Idea Book, The Window Treatment Idea Book, and more. She makes her home in Southern California, with her husband Scott, and their children, Hannah and Justin.

Hannah Packham is continuing her family’s long tradition of design excellence. Last summer, Hannah studied design at the University of Southern California. Hannah is a top scholar, and has been named to the Headmaster & Deans List at Oaks Christian High School, where she is currently a student. She was selected to represent OCHS as a member of the “Lion’s Voice,” a school-selected tour guide program. She is also a varsity athlete in pole-vaulting and studied pole-vaulting at the University of California Los Angeles during the summer 2009. Her interests include Classical ballet dancing, skiing and modern dance. She has made mission trips to Costa Rica (2009) and Romania (2010). She has been selected to participate in Rotary Leadership Conference 2010.

Mark Lohman is a southern California-based photographer whose specialties include interior, garden and architectural photography. His distinctive photographs have appeared in numerous design and architectural publications, including Veranda, Architectural Record, Luxe, Coastal Living, House Beautiful, California Homes, and many more. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southern California and Brooks Photography Institute.

Why did you write Inspired Design with your daughter?

My grandfather (Silversmith Allan Adler) passed this love of design to me, so it just seemed a natural, alongside a book about the design and subsequent use of our homes, infused with family heritage that my daughter who lives along side me take a large part the powerful subject of “the home”. I also wanted to create a place where we could initiate, create, and complete a project where my daughter, Hannah, could learn along side me both the practical and the ethical implications of a project this size, where all the profits go to a charity that is dear to our hearts, Heart of Hope Ministries, Intl. I wanted to show her an example of using our talents and gifts for the enjoyment of others, while benefiting others, not ourselves. It wasn’t to be pious, but just a fun way to give back and truly make a difference while doing something together that we loved!

What is Inspired Design?

A book about three aspects of the home and how it’s power to touch the souls of those within. Those three aspects are designing for warmth and beauty to nurture others, meaningful touches and gestures to celebrate and honor your loved ones on special occasions and ordinary days, and lastly that it is not what we have or do not have that blesses others, and changes lives, but how we use what we have. It is about incorporating YOUR family heritage, and your unique gifts, into making a beautiful, family home.

Inspired Design has had such a wonderful response, without a traditional publisher, distributor, or agent; why do you think that is?

It resonates in the spirit of women, who want to make a positive impact on their families and loved ones. The blessing of word of mouth publicity has really caused this book to sell and touch the hearts of every woman that has read it. They tell one friend, and so on and so on. For example, Jill Foster, Author of Creative Cakes Anyone Can Make, raves, “Your Inspired Design is amazing. I have devoured it, sipping coffee as I have enjoyed reading each page. Your family legacy is depicted in beautiful illustration. Having Hannah’s words throughout the book is wonderful.”

We heard that one customer in Coronado, California has reordered about 10 books, each one as a gift for friends’ birthdays, what is it that she finds so touching?

She is someone I have never met, but she said she found it so real, beautiful, uplifting and from such a realistic perspective on touching others with the bonus of spectacular homes and photography the combination makes her want to give it to all her friends for their birthdays. She loves the blog that goes alongside it as well, with weekly tips and suggestions to make others feel special.

I know that a mother-daughter ministry, “Inspired 31″, has begun along side of Inspired Design, why do you think it has resonated so powerfully?

Especially in this economic climate so many women are more resolute than ever that their families are the most important thing in their lives and their daughters, or close friends, should be celebrated and cherished. Without exception our gatherings (3 so far, in its first 3 months) have attracted hundreds of mother/daughter/sister/friend combinations wanting to come, for 2 hours, and celebrate what is good, pure, worthy of praise, especially each other. Inspired 31’s mission is to teach girls (and now even woman of all ages) to find and follow God’s unique path for their lives. We have inspiring speakers, and a wonderful positive/uplifting program. We have people inquiring about beginning a chapter in their area, in many cities.

Where can we purchase a copy of Inspired Design? Also, we heard this book is helping orphans and teenage girls as well.

Inspired Design makes a perfect gift with so many ideas for making Christmas, or any holiday, more special with all kinds of thoughtful little details.

100% of the profits go to Heart of Hope, which benefits orphans in Romania, and Inspired 31, a mother-teenage girl ministry. With each purchase you are helping all kinds of different children.

Please visit my web site at

Lisa’s review: I have to admit I was a little intimidated by this book at first. Packham’s credentials and heritage are impressive, to say the least, but I wondered how her experience of designing for homes in California, coupled with her family link to some notable names, would apply to my low-budget design lifestyle in a rental house. Her advice certainly is inspiring. As I read I kept thinking about going shopping — the treasure hunt sort of shopping at thrift stores and rummage sales that might yield interesting finds for my home. She offers practical tips for even low budgets. I most appreciated her stories of buying “souvenirs” that mean something and will last forever — pieces she could use in her home for entertaining — rather than “junk” that only amounts to clutter. She also advises focusing on one aspect of a room at a time, such as buying cloth napkins one year and plates the next. If I had to criticize anything, it’s that she often mentioned a specific style of something, like curtains or dishes, and I couldn’t picture what it looked like because I was unfamiliar with the term. That’s more a reflection of my unfamiliarity with design terms, though, I think. The book is filled with beautiful pictures and is, indeed, inspiring to the woman who wants to make the most of her home to the glory of God.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me as a blog tour host by Inspired Design Publications in exchange for posting this interview on my blog. Please visit Christian Speaker Services at for more information about blog tour management services.


Ron Santo could teach us a lot about believing in faith

“Oh, no.”

My husband uttered those words minutes after waking up and per his usual morning routine, logging on to ESPN’s Web site for the morning’s sports news. Whenever he says, “Oh, no” I think something must have happened in our family or to a close friend or something. I forget that in some cases, sports is like family to him. “The Tribune is reporting that Ronnie died,” he said.

“Ron Santo?” I asked in disbelief. I knew that must have been who he was talking about. There are no other “Ronnie”s in our life.

Though I never met him, I felt a bit of grief come over me. And a longing to be in Illinois. I prefer to grieve with those who grieve and in Illinois we would find no shortage of baseball fans grieving this loss. In Pennsylvania, we might find a handful of fellow Cubs fans who will miss the fun Santo provided to radio listeners. Mostly, though, we will process this loss alone. And the grief may not be as heavy as it would be if we were in Illinois.

He wasn’t family or a close friend, so maybe it seems weird to be affected by his death, but anyone who listened to radio broadcasts of Cubs games felt a connection to Ron. His whole heart and soul was in every game, even if they were losing by 10 or mathematically out of the pennant race by July. He lived and breathed the Cubs. Now the Cubs will have to go on without him.

What saddens me most about his death is all the accomplishments he won’t get to see. He died without seeing the Cubs win a World Series. He died without being voted into the Hall of Fame. Those things may yet happen, but he won’t be around to celebrate them.

The Bible has its own “Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11. The writer of the book lists people who accomplished great things for God, who suffered great things for Him. Yet, it says this about them: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” (Hebrews 11:39)

Seems unfair, right? To live a life of faithfulness and service and never see the end result.

Hebrews also says this: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (11:1) and “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (11:6)

Ron Santo epitomizes faith to me. I don’t know his personal beliefs about God, Jesus or heaven, but in terms of the Cubs, he had faith in the tough times. He never gave up on them. He faithfully did his job day after day, believing that someday the reward would come. Sure, he had his ups and downs. He was openly disappointed about the close calls, the failed seasons and the mistakes. But that didn’t stop his faith in the Cubbies.

I am a Cubs fan, but I don’t pin my hopes on them for anything. My hope is in the living God, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is infinitely more faithful than a sports team could ever be. (That feels like the world’s biggest understatement.) But I’m humbled by the faith of this baseball legend, wholly committed, fiercely loyal to his team. My faith in God should be as such, whether I ever see the reward this side of heaven or not.

The one that got away

A year ago, you stole my heart, and we’d only just met. You were long-awaited, much-anticipated, already loved. We didn’t know for sure if you’d be a girl or a boy; we welcomed the surprise. Your birth was not as smooth as we expected or hoped, but you arrived, safe, healthy and BIG. That last part hasn’t changed. You were off to the races on your growth from Day 1. People speculate that you’ll be a football player because of your size. Some days, like the ones where you knock everything in sight with your head, I wonder, too. Whether you are or aren’t won’t matter. Still, it’s fun sometimes to wonder what you’ll be like as you get older.

But I get ahead of myself. Today, it’s about the first year of your life. We’ll have many years, God willing, to talk about the rest of the years of your life.

It would be impossible for me to pick what I love most about you. Even after a year, I hardly know you. But I also know you better than anyone else. The bond between a mother and child — an indescribable sweetness I never knew existed before you and your sister came into our life. But this smile, it’s up there on the list. People are always saying what a happy baby you are. I can’t disagree with them. Even when you fuss, it’s for a good reason and is usually easily solved. Your face is so expressive. I can’t imagine you have any idea what you’re holding, but it’s colorful and squishy and your sister helped you pull it out of a brightly colored bag, so it must be the best. thing. ever. This smile could pull me out of a blue mood any day and it often has. You are my joy on this earth.

 And you are bound to give me more trouble than I think I can handle. The look says it all. Oh, to be able to read your mind. Wait, I take that back. Soon enough, you’ll be telling me what you think. You have a mischievous streak that I will try to enjoy, even if it causes me extra work, extra strength, extra prayer. I will not cease to pray for you, even if the boy horror stories I hear from other mothers never show themselves in your life. I am not holding my breath.

It seemed only yesterday you were a baby, cuddled in my arms, sleeping soundly in the bassinet in our room. Now, look at you. Walking, trying to say words, following your sister around copying her every action. I fear that I’m going to wake up one morning and you’ll be a man, and I’ll wonder not only where the last year went but where the last 10 years, 15 years, 20 years went. And I’ll hope that I cherished them.

Too often I find myself not enjoying this season of motherhood as much as I think I should. That doesn’t mean I don’t love you and your sister. How could I not. You both are spontaneous and outgoing, two things I am not, and remind me so much of your father. I fell in love with him first, so naturally, when I see him in the two of you, I fall a little deeper in love with you and with him. Too mushy? OK, I’ll get back to what I was saying. Being your mom isn’t easy, but it’s the best job I’ve ever had. Because there are times like this:

When I’m laughing so hard, I can’t catch my breath. Your father has that effect on me. He can make the toughest times light. I can see, based on his influence with your sister, that I may find myself outnumbered in the silliness, outgoingness department. C’est la vie.

So, it’s your birthday. One year. You’re already outpacing your sister’s growth and development, which means I will be on my toes. A lot. You’ll be keeping me there. I can see the twinkle in your eye as you reach for your cake. Let me have it, mom.

Boy, did we.

Dig in to life, son. It’ll be messy, at times, but you’ll find a sweet reward in the end. I love you and can’t wait to see what the next year brings.