Gathering - how to host a tea party


Table settings, linens, and centerpieces - it all came together in such a lovely way yesterday. But no surprise, when women gather together, beautiful things happen. My home was just the backdrop for the glory-crash of 15 lovely hearts. "People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (Samuel 16:7, NIV)

creative luncheon2

I leaned in between my guests to remove their bread plates, sticky from the swirling remnants of cream and curd, and asked them to keep their forks, "This isn't Downtown Abbey," I said with a smile. And with that I took the plastic dishes to the sink, their laughter trailing behind me.

I've seen it, over and again, how women (busy moms especially) have stopped hosting gatherings in their homes. After all, it's a lot of work, you have a family to care for all day every day, you need space in which to gather, and it costs a pretty penny. And so, without further ado, I'm offering a quick (and hopefully inspiring) post on how to host a tea party without breaking your back, your bank, or your sanity. 1) The cost - You can spend a lot of money throwing a tea party. No lie. But, it's also possible to achieve the same impact with small output. I guarantee, your guests will remember their conversations and the deeply fulfilling way their hearts were satisfied around your table, long after the memories of what you served fade away. Bellies get hungry again in just a few short hours, but hearts stay full for weeks on end! Spend what you can financially, but invest heavily in purposeful prayers and planning.

Find ways to not spend! I designed my own centerpieces for yesterday's party out of three $5.99 bouquets from Trader Joe's. I used the same inexpensive vases I've had on hand for years now. I also spent $20 on new glasses from the 99cent store, because I'm a sucker for all things matchy, and didn't have enough glassware for so many ladies. I was delighted to find green glasses, as green was my accent color for the table.

2) The guests - Maybe you have a few friends who haven't seen one another in months, if not years! Perhaps your small Bible study group has been looking for a venue to get together beyond the florescent lights of your Sunday School classroom. Or maybe you know a bunch of unrelated ladies who may not know one another yet, but all share a unique interest, such as crafting or baking or reading great fiction. Choose a specific group of gals, find a date, and extend an invitation.

3) The invitation - Card-stock is lovely, but not necessary. I simply found a graphic online and added text. This is what my friends received in an email:

creative ladies luncheon


E-vites are always easy (and free), but texting works too. That said, if you've the money, wherewithal, and desire to send hand written notecards, certainly do! Antiquated but such a special treat. Just remember that you don't need to, so don't dare let the unspoken pressure to purchase foil-lined envelopes for your invitations stop you from hosting a sweet gathering! Your open door is the gift, the invite doesn't have to be!

4) Your home - It's a mess most days, and maybe you are too. I get that. And your little people dump things out of boxes faster than you can pick them up. I get that as well. This, my friends, is why doors were created. If you are overwhelmed by the thought of having to clean your entire house in order to be hospitable, might I suggest you only focus on a couple of rooms? All you need for a gathering is a somewhat tidy kitchen, a picked up living space, and a dinning table. Yesterday all of our bedroom doors were securely closed. In hindsight, I probably could have done a better job in the boys' bathroom. But not even then could detour the gift of the gathering.

5) The menu - Don't set yourself up for stress. Your husband will thank me for this point. You don't need stress, and he doesn't need you stressed, and your children don't need you stressed, and your guests won't want you stressed out either. If you enjoy cooking and baking, then do it if you can make it fit within the confines of your busy life! If, however, you do not enjoy said cooking and baking, then don't. Pick up scones and curd, pre-made chicken salad and a bag of pre-washed lettuce, a bag of grapes to garnish, and a box of chocolates for dessert. It can absolutely be this simple. Or, perhaps, you are eager to try some new recipes. If you're feeling like an adventure, I suggest you try making an assortment of scones. Followed by a platter of finger sandwiches, an unusual salad, and finally an assortment of chocolates and desserts. But remember this:

[Tweet "The food is fun, but the fellowship is what truly satisfies when we gather."]

6) The table - Again, this doesn't have to be stressful to be lovely. My secret weapons, my must have ingredients for a lovely table are simply fresh flowers and matching place settings. I have a set of 12 antique crystal tea plates and cups from the sixties that are my favorites. I love them entirely! However, yesterday I had too many guests to use them if I wanted to match - and I did want to match - so I decided to go with my simple white plastic plates that I purchased last Christmas when we were knee deep in a kitchen remodel but hosting the holiday feast just the same. I assumed then that I would throw the plates away, but they were so lovely I washed them off and have used them multiple times since. But the key is that they all match. I had two tables with identical yellow tablecloths and green napkins and glasses at each setting. Still, cloth napkins don't make for better conversation, so don't get all tied up in the linens.

The other piece to this puzzle is how to set a table. Though I already confessed to not living at "The Abbey," I do appreciate the right layout at each setting. Here's a quick explanation:


Napkin and fork on the left,

knife and spoon on the right, knife closest to the plate, facing inward. If using multiple forks or knives, set them in order of use, from the outside moving in toward the plate. Water glass is to the left of all other glasses, tea cups, or mugs. Bread plate is set over the fork.

This is the way my mom taught me when I was a child.



7) The conversation - This one usually takes care of itself! However, I still like to guide a short time for sharing, especially when I women together who share an interest but don't all know what another. Yesterday's gathering was a group of Christian authors. After lunch we moved into the living room, squeezing together on the couch and dragging chairs from around the table, to gather together by the fireplace. Once settled with fresh cups of coffee and tea, an assortment of chocolates on the coffee table before us, I asked them one single rich question: "What is God teaching you in the new year?" Then, one by one, each woman had an opportunity to share their hearts. This was the feast. This was the feast! Though I prepared food for days, this sharing was the nourishing part of our time together.

Here's the gist of it ladies, gathering together is an art form- Throwing a tea party or ladies luncheon, or even a simple dessert party after the children are down for the night, is an art form.

[Tweet "Gathering is an art form."]

Your guests are the paint, forming one vibrant palette, each a different hue! Your home, with all it's imperfections, a simple canvas. You are the brush, and God the painter. The way He moves the pigment upon the canvas never ceases to amaze me when I invite women into my home. He always is making things of beauty when we gather together. Invite Him into your next gathering and watch the art of fellowship come to life on the canvas of your home.

To learn more about enjoying your Life Creative in the midst of motherhood, sign up for updates here at and stay tuned for the book, Life Creative: Inspiration for Today's Renaissance Mom, coming fall 2016 through Kregel Publications.

Chocolate Avocado Pudding


What's a girl to do when the doctor says that her belly ache is being caused by sugar?  But show that doctor-man what real belly aching sounds like.  Oh, I thew myself a pity party there in his office!  Then he one-upped me by adding, "And while you're at it, try to get dairy and gluten out of your system as well." A couple of years later and I learned to endure the belly aches.  Most of the gluten was out, some of the dairy, but sugar never even tried to make a getaway.  I held on to her like a wanton lover that left me bloated, pained, and on an emotional rollercoaster during long mothering days.  Until 36 days ago, when I began this fast, and decided to throw dairy and gluten into the pot as well.  I can finally say that refined sugar has been 100% (okay, I had some ketchup a time or two, a little barbecue sauce, and some store bought marinara one night) gone from my life.

Ask me how I feel.  Go ahead now and ask me...

"Wendy, how do you feel?"

I feel great!  Absolutely amazing. But the belly issues are only an added benefit. My emotional stability has been so much better, and therefore my mothering has been more calm and consistent than it has been in years.  My energy is up, my body is fighting colds without the help of constant antibiotics, and I'm down a few pounds.

But the best part of all is my spiritual well-being.  I have learned to turn to God with my cravings during this fast... and God is faithfully helping me cope better, love better, get me through each long afternoon without a handful of chocolate chips or a spoonful of Nutella.  I am learning that the honey-sweet-goodness of His Word when I am weak, is much better than the sweetness of sugar induced highs and lows day-in-day-out.

And yet sometimes...

a girl just wants some chocolate!




Chocolate Avocado Pudding

Ingredients: 1 cup unsweetened almond milk 2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon Pinch of sea salt

Directions: 1. Put the almond milk, avocados, cocoa, maple syrup, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt into your blender and puree on high for 30 to 60 seconds, until smooth and creamy. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides with a spatula.

2. Transfer the pudding to glasses, ramekins, or jars and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

(Recipe courtesy The Blender Girl)


I will be absolutely honest with you.  While I like this a lot, it is no chocolate truffle cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory!  Still, once all that marvelous terrible stuff is out of your system, you'll be able to find yourself satisfied by new sweets - albeit somewhat less-sweet sweets.

Chocolate Protein Bar

Another one of my favorite treats now is my homemade variation of the chocolate powerbar.  I simply blend 6 pitted dates, 1/2 cup maple syrup or honey, 2 TBS. melted coconut oil, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Once it's nice and smooth add in 1 and 1/2 cups almond meal, and four TBS Cocoa powder until it thickens, followed by about 1/4 cup oat brand.  You may play with ingredients to find the consistency you like.  Real soft and it's sort of like a spread, thick and it's more like an energy bar.  I keep mine in a Tupperware and steal a spoonful in the afternoon, or anytime really.

Love these two recipes void of gluten, dairy and refined sugars.  I'm still trying to go to fruit for my sugar fix, and Jesus for my "get me through" power each day... but these are a couple of recipes for when a girl's  just got to have some chocolate.




Host your very own Creative Retreat

Host your own creative retreat  

It began innocently enough.  I asked three writer friends of mine if they wanted to come away to our lakehouse in Northern California for a long weekend of resting, writing, eating, and exploring. Of course they said yes.  Wouldn't you?  We're all mothers and wives, and thankful for those blessings, but time to pull away and remember some of the special, uniquely woven parts of ourselves is like health to a creative woman's bones.

Artistry tends to get lost in the day-in-day-out reality of serving and loving all our people.

By the time the ladies' planes landed at the Sacramento airport my children were settled in with their grandparents, the lakehouse was stocked with good food, and the menu for our long weekend together was posted on the refrigerator door.  From the airport we drove 2 hours north, up into Lake County, passing vineyards and orchards, deer and elk.  The sun was sinking low by the time we arrived at our retreat. Walking the porch that wrapped from front to back, overlooking the lake from all sides, we laughed together, giddy from the inspiring views and the four days of freedom that stretched before us.


table picturelake tea


Over the next two days we worked quietly, breaking the silence for meals on the balcony and walks around the shore.  Each evening we sat late into the night, sharing our stories and giving feedback when asked for it.  Prayers bookended our times of fellowship and sleep came easily each night.

On the final full day of our retreat we planned an adventure.  That first year we drove to a Lavender Festival on the far side of the lake.  The strains of a jazz quartet, the scent of lavender, and the flavors of grilled meats, soft cheeses, sweet wines, and roasted vegetables worked together to make our hearts sing and our heads light.  The breeze tied it all together like a celestial bow.

The bond of Sisterhood is one of the sweetest gifts given to Creatives...


Creative Weekend - pgoto1743562_656420634403644_1299551228_n


Over the next couple of years we returned to the same location, adding photographers to our circle of creative fellowship.  I set up special meetings with local artists and sent them packing with their camera gear early each day, leaving the house quiet for the writers.  By dinnertime they returned "home" exhausted and revived - you Creatives know how those two can co-exist.

The third year, photographer-friend Tammy Labuda, challenged herself to develop a creative portrait session for each of the writers.  Months of pinning pictures and collecting props and costumes culminated in photographic adventures around Northern California.


_tlp2013_Bethany_1 _tlp2013_Bethany_14 _tlp2013_CR2_Kelli_13 _tlp2013_CR2_Kelli_concept2_tlp2013_CR2_Jenni_5_tlp2013_CR2_Wendy_9


Changing venues for the Fourth Annual Creative Retreat, I invited my sweet friends down to our home in San Diego to enjoy some Southern California vistas.  This time we gathered poolside rather than lakeside for our meals, but still we spent our days writing and our nights reading and laughing and eating.

This coming June we've decided to change the location yet again, allowing author, Kelli Stuart, to host us all in Florida.  I'll still fly in early to help prep the meals and leave a welcome note on each soft pillow, but I'm relinquishing the reigns just a bit...

Maybe you're inspired to take the reigns into your own two hands; gathering friends for a couple of rich, refreshing days.  Truly, if you understand the simplicity of a woman's core needs, the idea of hosting your own Creative Retreat shouldn't overwhelm you.  Can you offer up a place to rest, a place to write, a hot shower, good food, and friends to share the journey?  Can you provide those simple things?  And have you a heart to encourage?  Then you have what it takes!


Here's how to plan your own Creative Retreat.

1) Pray!  God loves His girls.  He had a wonderful reason for making you creative, and so this time celebrating that part of your design has the power to be a Holy time of fellowship.  Ask God to lead you to just the right group of artists.

2) Talk with your Husband.  Be clear about what you're asking. For example, do you want to get away to a hotel for a few days with a couple girlfriends, or have them there in your home? Tell him why this would be good for you, who you plan to invite, how it might be a blessing to them, and the days you are considering. Suggest where he could go for those days, if you're wanting to host it at your home.

3) Reach out to your Creatives.  Start with one or two of your closest artist-friends, and see if they're interested - They will be! Decide if you want to keep it just the 2-3 of you, or if you'd like to invite a few more ladies.

4) Settle on your dates and location.  I suggest Wednesday - Sunday, especially if people are flying in, that way you will have a solid three days to create and relax!

5) Send out a formal invitation to your guests. I'm using the term "formal invitation" very loosely.  If you are a Calligrapher, please do create a piece of art to send out to your little crew.  However, if you are more like me, then a group email will suffice!  If guests are flying in from our of town, include which airport they need to fly into and give them a conceivable 2 hour window to try to arrive within.  That way there won't be too many trips to the airport.

6) Plan your menu. I always try to keep breakfast and lunch simple and easy to prep ahead, so that I am not overwhelmed with cooking instead of writing. However, dinner is another story!  Plan a menu that inspires creativity!  That said, if you are not a chef, plan on driving to some fun local restaurants with great food and atmosphere.  If you do want to cook, be clear with everyone what your expectations are.  If you plan on doing all the kitchen work yourself, that's your choice, but if you'd like help then let them know how they can help. If someone offers to cook a meal, say YES!  If someone says they want to do dishes after each meal, say YES. Also, know if you are paying for all the groceries, or if you would like to spilt the food bill.

One of my gang's favorite Creative Retreat meals is gorgonzola and bacon pancakes served beside a mixed green salad topped with a fried egg.  The hair on the back of my neck is standing on end just thinking about those flavors.  Oh the bliss!  And sparkling blood orange juice is our traditional drink of choice.


pancake brunch - child rearing a continual feast


7) Plan your Saturday Excursion.  Throw out suggestions to the group ahead of time or save it as a surprise... but whatever you do, plan something special.  A botanical garden, a tea house along the coast, a mountain hike, a day in some quaint nearby town...

8) Prepare for their arrival.  I like to have a card and a little gift awaiting each woman in her room.  Fresh flowers is another must in my book!

9) Create.  Once your guests have a arrived, remember that this retreat is for you too.  No one wants anything from you other than to breath the same fresh air and create in the same comfortable space with you.

10) Pray.  Did I already mention this?  Gathering together in community is a Holy sort of thing. Cover it in prayer and ask The Lord to bless each one of your guests!


Sweet, Creative Friends, consider the possibilities!


*** My sweet friend Kelli Stuart is partnering with me today to inspire y'all to do your own Creative Retreat. I shared HOW to Host a Creative Retreat, Kelli is sharing WHY You Should Host a Creative Retreat.

midcentury modern kitchen remodel... and simple little me

  kitchen1 kitchen 2

 Roses from the garden

kitchen3kitchen 4kitchen 8

 And the Green!  Can you believe that GREEN?

 kitchen 5

Amidst the holiday merry-making of December, my husband gave me the gift of a kitchen remodel. As I made my colorful choices he kept coming back to me and asking, "Now you're sure you want these green countertops?  And the backsplash?  You want it to go all the way up the wall? This is really what you want?"

Yes!  Absolutely!  And thank you very much.

My kitchen is a small space, right in the heart of the home, and as I decorated her with simple lines and bold accents I realized I was expressing exactly who I am... simple, with bold accents.  

The way I set a table, and the way I make a salad.

saladsalad 2

 It's who I am: Simple, with bold accents... right smack dab in the middle of our home.

Mixed Green Salad - with persimmons, pears, goat cheese, and candied pecans

To make this scrumptious simple salad, buy or candy your own pecans.  I use 1 cup of pecans halves, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 TBS. olive oil, 1 TBS balsamic vinegar.  Simply heat the oil, vinegar and sugar together until bubbly, then toss in the pecans.  Keep them moving over the heat for approximately 7 minutes, then turn them out onto a piece of parchment to dry.  Though tempting, wait for them to cool completely before tasting.

For the salad, place fresh mixed greens into the bottom of your serving bowl, then layer in your candied nuts, pears, goat cheese and persimmons (fresh mango pieces work just as well when persimmons are not in season).  Gently drizzle maple syrup over the fruit and splash a bit of red wine vinaigrette on the surrounding leaves, but not much.

Place the salad on the dinner table without tossing. Once grace has been said, give your simple salad a gentle mix before passing it around the table.




It surprises me how I've found my own unique style over the past year, in the most surprising ways.  It all began with that orange couch and our Family rug from CB2.  Then came the creative process of building this blog with graphic designer Alle McCloskey, at Finding Eden Media.  Alle led me through exercises that were paramount in recognizing the color schemes, patterns and themes that inspired me most.  Then last April, when I turned forty, I found myself embracing this unique new colorful me all the more.  Now here I am in this new kitchen, enjoying my green tea kettle, the $3 salt and pepper shakers I found at home goods, and those napkins, just waiting for me on the clearance table at Crate and Barrel.  And so, what's left to say but this... I'm quite pleased with simple little me.  Simple, though learning to embrace the delightfully bold aspects of who I am.

All I want for Christmas... is a Kitchen Remodel



When I asked my husband for a kitchen remodel this Christmas, I never intended him to do it in time for Christmas.  What with homeschooling, Christmas planning, guests descending, present buying, sanity desiring...  But today, exactly two weeks before Christmas morning, five days before my oldest child turns eleven, seven days before his party, and eight days until our Christmas guests come for the holidays, a team of men is here in my home, demolishing every square inch of my kitchen.  Right now.  As I type this out.


Joy to the wold


Christmas carols on the radio are doing their best to cover the sounds of splintering wood, plastic and plaster, and the banging of forty year old appliances being ripped from their home.  My home.


Silent Night


Silent night is playing now and I'm laughing.  It's just too soft and tender to cover the sledge-hammers hammering.  Noise is rising high and chaotic from the kitchen space that once held my kitchen, and I can hear it all.  So I turn off my radio in time to hear the singing.  One construction worker is singing it now...


Feliz Navidad


... from the bottom of his heart.  And it blesses mine.  Because while I could be a stressful-grump, bah-humbugging my way through these dusty loud days, I'm choosing to join my husband in the gift.  Not exactly how I wanted it delivered in these last days before Christmas, but focusing instead on the giver.  My sweet man.  With all his impulsive purchasing and celebrating and decorating, I can choose to hermit myself up and cover his little bit of crazy and his whole lot of love, here in my room.  Or I can join in with him in the chaos and sing at his side...




I'm choosing to sing.  And in the singing I'm seeing the blessings.  Not just enjoying my husband's generous heart and enthusiasm, but finding joy in not cooking this week.  For exactly one intense week of new cabinets, countertops, and appliances, I will not be planning, cooking, cleaning.  Sure there will be laundry, and the incessant dusting one does during a kitchen remodel, but I'm not cooking for seven whole days!


This weary mom rejoices!


Instead I will use my time and creativity to finish the cards and the wrapping, and to sit on the couch each evening to watch Christmas movies and read Christmas stories with my family.  And as the men lay my green countertops and hook up brand new appliances, I'll be planning my menus, my recipes, my grocery list for the cooking and baking and eating and merry-making to come.


It's the most wonderful time of the year!


So here's what I'm thinking and planning and dreaming... here are the ingredients I'll be shopping for when the cabinets are in and the countertops are ready for dough to be rolled out thin and white with sugar.  I'm thinking a beef roast this year, with carmelized sweet potatoes and buttered green beans.  There will be a turkey breast too and dressing, apple sauce and cranberries.  And deserts.  Cut out cookies for decorating with the children, and a chocolate pecan pie, and ice cream and coffee and tea with too much cream and sugar.


I'll be home for Christmas


If the kitchen remodel comes together, I'll be here at home this Christmas, loving on my family and teaching them over and over again about our generous God who sent us Jesus.  And if this remodel falls apart and we're eating cold cereal beside a hot fire... I'll be loving on my family and teaching them over and over again about our generous God who sent us Jesus.  And our friends... the ones who are joining us from halfway around the world this Christmas, they may be passing the granola and drinking out of juice boxes around the fireplace too.  But however this goes, I'm choosing to celebrate Jesus with my loved ones each dusty day!


Remodel updates forthcoming!

(Stay tuned)