Decorating Inspiration: This Week, Mary Engelbreit

Decorating Inspiration: This Week, Mary Engelbreit

Decorating Inspiration: This Week, Mary Engelbreit

Every house I have ever lived in, inspires me to create a HOME. But wow–over time, have my tastes changed. I’m old enough to have lived in the avocado green & harvest gold period. This was our first house, a track house with spring green carpeting and touches of orange and gold everywhere. I even painted my antique wicker desk orange. (I still have that lovely desk and now it is properly white.)

Our second house went through many stages: from a yellow living room to a lovely federal blue. From orange shag carpeting in the family room to oatmeal Berber. During negotiations on our third home, I walked out the door, unable to picture how this house with great bones could actually become a home. But after conceding and after a total remodel, the house became everything I wanted. But life changed, my husband took a job in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Cape Cod in Des Moines will probably remain my favorite. But following the usual pattern, it needed a lot of work. That’s when I discovered Mary Engelbreit, her ability to transform each room so that it reveals your personality, highlights the things you love.

The smallest bedroom had not been touched in years. So—I painted the walls a soft light gold and sponged on deeper shades for texture. The trim was white. I hung Belgium lace valences on the windows and a quilt behind the bed to serve as a headboard. I sanded an old chest, only to bring it down to “pedimento”– revealing was was underneath–blue. New hardware highlighted that color. I  hung a copy of a Picasso print from his blue period, and used white whicker baskets to hold pillows and shawls. A drawing of a picnic on laminated pressboard became a table when I set it on top of a luggage rack. I loved to tell anyone that admired the room: “Nothing in this room is new. I just dug in my closets.” I wish I had a photo of it to show you. 

Many of my ideas were fueled by reading Engelbreit’s books and looking at endless photos of her transformations. It was great fun and the bones of the house were perfect for the style of that time. (Next week: Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic) 

Below, more Ideas from Mary Engelbreit: All photos are of rooms done by Engelbreit–they are not my rooms.

Autumn Is Here! Are you ready?

Autumn Is Here! Are you ready?

Autumn Is Here! Are you ready?

I bought mums—four lovely burnt orange ones. I hung a wreath of yellowed leaves. I found flowers in my garden to cut and bring inside that echo the colors of autumn. It’s early yet, but it’s coming. And now that I am in Chicago, autumn will mean more than decorating with orange and gold—it will mean winds and rain and putting the garden to bed, making sure we have a good heavy quilt and this year—seeing if one of the two fireplaces we now have really, truly works.


No matter what part of our great country you live in, autumn is a wonderful time to test your decorating chops. Yes, I have the newest copy of Better Homes and Gardens. They always have great ideas and there have been times I’ve lingered in the grocery store, just paging through Meredith publications (where I used to do copyediting for their magazines). They provide so many wonderful country or city how-to’s for the seasons, especially this one.

But my favorite go-to, and how-to person who you can follow online–is French Country Cottage, presented so beautifully by Courtney Allison. Courtney bought a run-down cottage near San Francisco, totally rebuilt and altered it, while building a blog, writing a book and taking amazing photographs as she proceeded. Her business flourished by incorporating furniture pieces from showrooms, but even better, by finding antiques and cast-offs and showing us that you can create amazing rooms with these–but even better by using what you have, and loving what you use—and always thinking FLOWERS, fresh or dried.

Today Courtney wrote: Chunky blankets, cups of warm cider, candles and a cozy fire in the fireplace. And home truly is our haven this year with spending so much more time right at home. Today is all about a simple autumn look in the dining room & tips for creating a cozy feeling in your home.

Here are a few of Courtney’s tips: Bring those muddy orange pumpkins inside for a bit of color while staying on the softer side of autumn. Forage your garden and yard to find dried elements that inspire you and create a gathered arrangement for autumn.

And my advice? Don’t forget the candles to warm the colors and cozy the mood. Above I’ve shared some of the throws and delights that I will be using as the wind picks up. And below is a photo of a modern home that brings the nostalgia of life on the farm alive once again.

Do you make changes in your home when autumn arrives?

What is your favorite way to celebrate the autumnal equinox?

Autumn Is Here! Are you ready?

Warmth and memories.

My Letter to President Barack Obama

My Letter to President Barack Obama

This letter was written and mailed to the WHITE HOUSE on December 28, 2016

Dear President Obama,

We had the briefest of handshakes on a fearless bright day in Des Moines, Iowa, 31st of October, 2007. And if I could go back to those days and keep you in the White House, I would. But you need some rest and you have books to write—your first two being enlightening for me, all words of wisdom. So last night after perusing a memorial edition of EBONY, I cried. What has happened should never be. The electorate has failed. Don’t they realize that we are a country of truth, not of lies?

You, Dear President Obama, will always be my POTUS. Knowing your intent and strong love for the United States of America, you might argue with me, encourage me to accept him. But I cannot agree. He will never be my president. That’s the way it will be in my heart—maybe forever. Maybe until the United States is brave enough to finally elect a woman.

I fear you might never see this letter—there will be and are so many others. But regardless, I had to write it, and hope that you will take bags of these letters to your new home in D.C. to peruse on a day when you need to reconnect with your constituency. That’s me! I’ll await your future words in your next book, or when you need to speak out. Because you have promised to do so—we will always need you.

And though you have repeatedly pointed out how the office of President can change the man or woman who enters it, I personally don’t believe this One can change. There are troubling days ahead.

My story: because I know you love and appreciate our stories: born on the Southside of Chicago to an amazing mother and dentist father who died when I was three. But like your mother, mine raised me with tender love and promise. She gave me responsibility early on, so by twelve I became a latchkey kid who took care of my younger brother and cooked meals. And like you, my mother’s love made the difference and helped me reach out to others. Rarely have I been fearful of the future. But without you, I am now.

I’m white and regret subtle racism that surrounded me where I grew up, in the Beverly Hills neighborhood on Chicago’s Southside. David Axelrod and you just discussed on the podcast that you were backed by that very Irish neighborhood. Beverly has always been a town of lawyers, doctors and educators. But my first revolt was wearing orange to my grade school on St. Patrick’s Day. My heritage is German.

After earning a degree at Mundelein College on the hipper north side, I taught English literature at Bloom High School in the far south suburbs. You might know Ford Heights. On a day to remember, Lacy Moore came to my desk in homeroom to warn me not to be in the gym at second hour. It was the time of the shooting of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. We teachers never faltered in our love for our students. And I don’t know what happened to Lacy, but I’ll never forget him and many others, like Flamingo Stringfellow, who objected to an uptight play we were reading—all the characters white.

I don’t remember what play it was, but I certainly remember what Flamingo said to me: Sex is good. There’s nine people in my family. My parents and seven kids. No space. We sleep in the same room, all of us. So all my life I’m hearing my parents have sex. Nice sex. This story you are teaching me? Says nothing to me. Nothing.

 He was right. And when I think about it now, living with my widow mother, there was no sex in my house. We all need to discover how to accept our different lives.

I’ll also never forget Anna Cooper, the daughter of a former slave, who cleaned house for my grandmother and then for my mother. God only knew how old Anna was. And I want to call out: Anna forgive us, for not being more giving than we could have been. That was the 1950s when I was growing up in white Beverly Hills, Chicago.

Change can be slow, but inexorable. At Thanksgiving this year, my family all talked about how we have to cope, now that you are leaving the White House. I wish you could stay, but I know you cannot. So, God speed, Dear President Obama.

Hillary tried. You worked hard for her. We thought we had it made. But for many troubling reasons, it was not meant to be—and now we know that instead, the future will hang some progressive star farther from our reach, making us work harder, believe harder in THE HOPE AND CHANGE that alters the very thoughts in our brains.

HATE won’t win, Dear President Obama, I know that. You know that. Thanks for what you have given me these past eight years.  And blessings on you and your beautiful family.


Elizabeth A. Havey wife, mother, teacher, nurse as a second career, and always a writer and lover of ideas

PS My husband and I attended your inauguration in 2009. We were all the way down by the Washington Monument. We were cold! But we loved it all.

Thanks for reading….Have you ever written to a president, governor, mayor, senator etc??

Even as a seventh grader, I wrote to Queen Elizabeth II and got a formal reply from one of her Ladies in Waiting–an exciting mail moment for me.

The White House used to follow this tradition. If you wrote to the First Lady, you would get a formal reply on White House stationery.

I had a friend who actually helped decorate the Obama Christmas Tree. She wrote and asked, knowing that the First Lady was looking for volunteers. She was selected and worked alongside Michelle. Not that’s something to remember.  


I’m a weird chick and I’m in love with paper–and it will probably be the end of me. Someday my family might find me bent over my computer, my head on my old ergonomic keyboard (I have two Apple keyboards I refuse to use), with paper bunching up around me. They might be able to bury me in my paper.

But what treasures! Some are folders of current ideas. Most are scribbled notes having to do with writing, and having to do with my current work in progress. (You still working on that damn novel?) Yes. I am. 

Day to day I find wisps of golden sayings, a quote that sparks an idea, a description of a book that I must read or a wonderful quote like the following:

Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.Ray Bradbury

Thanks Ray, you are so right. 

Thus, my plot takes a fantastic turn from the piles of 8 by12 paper with typed notes on my desk—the keys to a creative day. Or I might send something to Facebook or Twitter to see if I get a response, or read these notes over and over until I find a way to use one of them in my novel—or like today, I want to share some of this stuff with you.


I am awakened in the night, hearing a high whining noise that penetrates my dreams—getting louder and louder. It’s the sound of hurt, pain, red– under my window. I look to see, because the world is white in the moonlight. There are two animals fighting, the noise persisting. It prevents me from further sleep. My body is ragged with it. Then in the morning, a pool of watery blood on a plate in our kitchen—my mother has taken frozen chicken from the freezer to defrost. 


Yes, it’s a family story. To kind of shake up my brain, because I’ve been working on a different project, a memoir of sorts. When I go there, my family, my people walk around my desk. They come down from the pictures on the wall and ask me to write about them. Okay. I can and will if a flash of memory occurs. 

And it does… 

I don’t know exactly how old I was, but probably only three, when we were at my Nana’s house and Papa Pete, a very tall gentleman with white white hair, caught the toe of his black shoe at the rising edge of an oriental rug in their living room and crashed to the floor. I mean this elderly man went down like a tree falling. I remember. His daughters, his wife, they all shouted out…Things like that you remember, even if you are only three.

The irony, sadness of this story, was the fall led to his death. The other irony is that the rug was a gift to the love of his life, my Grandmother. For Peter Rausch came from Huntington, Indiana to the big city of Chicago to find work, and make a life. He achieved it all, selling beautiful handmade rugs from the orient for the biggest store in Chicago—Marshall Field and Company. He also met my maternal grandmother in Chicago, eventually gifting her with one of the rugs he sold–this one deep red and blue, with curving and floral designs surrounded by lovely fringe. His adult life in some ways truly began and ended with this rug, which was moved from Chicago to California (but that’s another gripping story) and is now refurbished and adorning my brother’s home. 

Look around you. We all have stories like these. When I was young and living in Chicago, we could burn the leaves that fell from our elm, oak and maple trees. Autumn was fun, because our reward for raking the front and back lawn was lighting a fire and burning our piles. There are hollows in the fire as they burn. You can see some of the leaves beginning to curl, others that are greener fighting back, refusing to die. My ears turn pink from the heat and my hair starts to smell like smoke. Sometimes we put Idaho potatoes at the bottom of the leaf pile and if the fire is hot enough, they cook. We break them open and pile on the butter. It’s best to rake and burn when the moon is like a cold stone, big and bright.

When I was growing up in Chicago, we lived one block from the suburban line of the ROCK ISLAND TRAIN. I would lie in bed, the train in the distance, eery and sad, but often making me think I’m missing out on something–on travel, on strange places–and then I’d remember how content I was to be safe and snug in my bed. As author Kate Morton wrote in her book, THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN” You make a life out of what you have, not what you’re missing.

So today, no matter what you are doing–caring for children, heading to work that you might love and yet again you might only tolerate–think of these words from the writer Jen Hatmaker in her book, MESS AND MOXIE: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE WHAT YOU FIRST WERE. No, you do not. Because as Natalie Babbitt wrote in TUCK EVERLASTING: Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life.   

And all of this was in a folder on my desk. Have a great week. Be good to yourself.

Photo credit: Sherlock Holmes Day/Days of the Year