2014, a Year in Review

Happy new year! It’s hard to believe that 2014 has come to a close. I will remember it by its craziness, for the lessons it provided in practicing patience, as the year that reminded me to ‘capture all of the little moments’ and to truly appreciate the here and now.

My Girls | PepperDesignBlog.com

We didn’t take on any crazy huge home renovation projects as we have with the previous few years (we’re reserving that madness for two weeks after the new baby arrives ;)) and there were no major life changes that rocked our world (also reserving that for when the new baby arrives), but it was a year that brought with it a lot of need for adjustment.

Kevin transitioned from student/entrepreneur to full-time employment with an architecture firm, and practiced for most of the year figuring out ways to keep his small catering business alive by working nights and weekends. With that I truly began to understand the meaning of what it meant to be a full-time working, full-time mom, mom. That meant lots of late, late nights; lots of juggling conference calls and park time and sitters; lots of learning to utilize every spare minute (lunch time becomes carpooling between preschool and nanny, prepping for dinner becomes crock pot + cleaning whole house + involving Liv and T in as much as possible). We survived. We learned a lot. We learned to make difficult priority decisions.

My Time - A Pie Chart Break Down | PepperDesignBlog.com

It’s not easy to juggle it all. Since I know that a lot of women are in a similar situation, rather than gloss over the challenges of being a working mom with young children, I took a deep breath and started a series sharing more openly about what helps us to balance work and play. I started by sharing a typical day as well as some thoughts on the pros and cons of working from home. I offered a look at my schedule, shared intimate details about the village that our family relies on, admitted that priorities aren’t always easy to recognize in the workplace, but that ultimately ‘balance’ or ‘juggling’ comes about when we as moms feel whole. These posts require a little more bravery but I hope to keep them alive in 2015.

The fun posts are the creative ones. The ones that involve paper crafts or baking or gold spray paint. Looking back at this last year there have been plenty of those! If I could pull together a round up of my favorites from 2014, I’d have a long list of home, food, motherhood, craft, entertaining, fashion and family posts to share.

Girls' Room | PepperDesignBlog.com

While we didn’t take on any major remodeling projects (we’re really gearing up for that master bathroom/bedroom overhaul) there were plenty of little ones to keep us busy. In the girls’ room: four new interactive art boards, sharing details on designing wallpaper for their room, adding a new industrial brass light (to match the semi-diy gold task lamps), an upholstered window seat, adding roman shades, and building round wooden wall hooks for extra storage.

In our bedroom, I upcycled a vintage tea cup rack to use for hats and finally finished the wall collage.

We salvaged old french doors from a construction site years ago, I finally found a way to restore them by covering them in a glossy black. Black matching chairs for the breakfast nook followed.

Black French Doors | PepperDesignBlog.com

The dining room received some love with new chairs, artwork and a succulent centerpiece. Our outdoor space received a major upgrade (here are the afters).

New Dining Room Chairs by Bryght | PepperDesignBlog.com

Favorite recipe posts included a round up of summer harvest ideas (part 1, 2 & 3), a melt-in-your-mouth lemon ricotta french toast, favorite roasted veggie tips (sweet potato fries!), how to broil fruit, a grownup goat cheese & fig grilled cheese, easy feta & grilled onion lamb sliders, and roasted bread crumb & parmesan pumpkin wedge appetizers.

Summer Harvest Recipes | PepperDesignBlog.com

Lemon & Lavender French Toast | PepperDesignBlog.com

Good Eats: Flower & Bumblebee Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing | PepperDesignBlog.com

In the dessert department, best freezer box summer sorbet, tips for a truly excellent chocolate chip cookie, 4 ingredient gooey flourless chocolate cake, best pumpkin bread ever (;)) and it’s burnt sugar pumpkin bread pudding companion, bumble bee royal icing cookies (also made into sunflower cookies), kid-friendly ‘growing cupcakes’, and a favorite idea for how to use up all of that tasty holiday candy.

Best Pumpkin Bread (with chocolate chips) Recipe | PepperDesignBlog.com

4 Ingredient Flourless & Gooey (& Gluten Free) Chocolate Cake | PepperDesignBlog.com

In the beverage department, I can’t forget my favorite broiled lemon & rosemary cocktail, tips for an awesome gin & tonic, a lavender & cranberry simple syrup and bourbon punch.

Good Eats: Broiled Lemon & Rosemary Cocktail | PepperDesignBlog.com

Holiday Punch | Christmas Cranberry, Orange & Lavender Cocktail Mocktail | PepperDesignBlog.com

I love to write about motherhood. Being a mom is the best. Posts have ranged from watching sisters bond and grow to pregnancy style boards (I’m partial to this beach bag guide and maternity dress roundup – none of which are actually maternity dresses). I’ve shared on our adventure with Baby Led Weaning with Taylor (absolutely amazing) and how I make traveling with two in tow less stressful by myself (part 1 and 2).

Maui Vacation | PepperDesignBlog.com

2nd Trimester Summer Dresses | PepperDesignBlog.com

Liv & Taylor Ocean, Aquarium | PepperDesignBlog.com

Ahh man, looking back it truly was a beautiful and exciting year! A year of adventure, a year of special moments. How was your 2014? Amazingly overwhelming? Mellow and quiet? Adventurous and entertaining? A mix of all of the above?

I look forward to the adventures of 2015 with so much anticipation. This was part 1, stay tuned for favorite projects, entertaining, fashion and family posts in part 2. It’s fun to glance back at what’s made this year special :).

PS I’ve put together a ‘Year in Review’ post for every previous year documented on this blog, too. They’re all sorted right here.

Winter Maintenance, Preparing for Guests & Outdoor Updates

Sorry for the radio silence over here. As a part of my recent design update I’ve also been working on transferring host servers and, long story short, the site rolled back to a version from three weeks ago. Argh! It took a few days to pinpoint the issue but it’s happily fixed now thanks to the folks over at Bluehost :).

And, in case I forget, Happy New Year’s Eve! 2015 here we come.

We had such a wonderful Christmas with lots of family visiting. We’re also expecting our home to have a bit of a revolving door over the next month with Liv’s 4th birthday and the new baby. Timing has coincided itself well with a lot of winter maintenance projects that we’ve been meaning to tackle so I thought I’d share a few photos and a little on what we’ve been up to.

Our Renovated Backyard | PepperDesignBlog.com

It’s such a great feeling to get much needed work done (despite how much I’d love to be going to the zoo or spending a Saturday morning at an awesome brunch spot). But those precious weekend hours over the last month or so have been put to valuable use! We have maybe 20 days of rain a year, which I definitely won’t complain about, and we (and here I mean mostly Kevin) try to tackle some of the bigger power washing/staining/sealing projects come each November/December just before those twenty days arrive. It helps to keep the outdoor patio, new deck and entertaining area in ship shape, especially come spring when it’s really time to enjoy this space again.

Here’s a peek at the before:

Our Renovated Backyard | Winter Maintenance | PepperDesignBlog.com

Looking a little dusty and sad. The after is quite a bit better, right? Ready for guests and outdoor entertaining (we actually had Christmas brunch out on the deck – the weather has been beautiful! And fingers crossed Liv’s birthday party can be held outside, too).

Our Renovated Backyard | PepperDesignBlog.com

A few new updates since the last time I shared on our backyard include my Christmas presents from Kev (those awesome iron planters on the outdoor table! and a new coffee table for the sectional that he built – more on his new welding hobby soon). I also found that S marquee sign (above) at HomeGoods for Kevin’s birthday earlier this fall, it looks great lit up at night and matches the globe lights we have around the yard.

Our Side Yard | PepperDesignBlog.com

The new iron succulent boxes look awesome.

Also, new pillows. I keep finding cool throw pillows and I keep incorporating them into the mix. Really digging pattern at the moment (found this guy and his brother across the way on the other side at a consignment shop) and they’re super comfy for hanging out by the fire.


Also new to this space is an Ikea chair from the as-is department. It’s not technically an outdoor chair, but I’m hoping that because we don’t really have harsh outdoor weather here it will be okay. It’s filling a nook that really needed a seating spot and I love how the black rattan looks.

Our Renovated Backyard | PepperDesignBlog.com

But back on to that maintenance…

The first maintenance project was to power wash everything. There is nothing like grime-free stucco or tile!

Our Renovated Backyard | Winter Maintenance | PepperDesignBlog.com

The second was to reseal the outdoor furniture (namely the beautiful outdoor dining table Kevin built three years ago out of reclaimed wood and the slab bar table that he put together last year as a buffet/drink station for outdoor parties).

Our Renovated Backyard | Winter Maintenance | PepperDesignBlog.com

Winter Cleaning: Staining Deck | PepperDesignBlog.com

Our Renovated Backyard | Winter Maintenance | PepperDesignBlog.com

Our Renovated Backyard | Hairpin Legs Bar Table | PepperDesignBlog.com

The third was to reseal and condition the saltillo tile (which is pretty popular/common here in San Diego). The girls were both really wanting to help at this point (picture eager little faces pressed up against the kitchen glass doors) so Kev acted as supervisor. The sealing of the saltillo tile and the sealing of the deck were quite a few days (maybe even a week or two) apart and we kept them inside for the latter because of fumes.

Our Renovated Backyard | Winter Maintenance | PepperDesignBlog.com

Our Renovated Backyard | Winter Maintenance | PepperDesignBlog.com

The fourth was to reseal the deck. Kevin used TWP, an oil based sealer that doesn’t require any sanding, just power wash and scrub on.

Our Renovated Backyard | Winter Maintenance | PepperDesignBlog.com

Plant updates for around the yard were high on my list, especially finding a new ‘pop’ of color to sit right in front of our sectional as you’re leaving the kitchen.

Our Renovated Backyard | PepperDesignBlog.com

I found this big green guy at Lowe’s (plastic, too, so it wasn’t too expensive). It’s the same version that we have on the side deck in purple.

And to go in that planter, something that would add more color and that might crawl its way up and out of the container. While out in Arizona earlier this fall I fell in love with these beautiful, vibrant green sweet potato vines that Kevin’s aunt has growing all over her yard. She shared a clipping with me and I had plans to help it propagate roots (by soaking the cleanly clipped vine) and replant it in our yard, but I lost that fight despite decent root growth. Off to the nursery for two more plus a flax to add contrasting color.

Our Renovated Backyard | Winter Maintenance | PepperDesignBlog.com

This shot was taken about a week after transplanting, he’s still getting used to his new home (don’t die on me, sweet potato vine).

Our Renovated Backyard | Hairpin Legs Bar Table |  PepperDesignBlog.com

More on that new coffee table soon, but here’s a sneak peek. I added a colorful rectangular planter and a few clippings to see how well they’d do here.


And those new iron planters for the bigger outdoor table? They are looking awesome with succulents salvaged from my previous geometric wooden planter box project and from around the yard.

Our Side Yard | Iron Planter Boxes | PepperDesignBlog.com

Our Side Yard | Iron Rectangular Planters | PepperDesignBlog.com

These guys over by the bbq area were repotted:

Our Backyard | PepperDesignBlog.com

And these guys just needed a little filling in:

Our Backyard | PepperDesignBlog.com

This year I added one more update to our list and that was to replace the outdoor lightbulbs with energy efficient LEDs. This has been on my house list for ages (one: because I hate to replace lightbulbs and light fixtures both inside and out will go with burnt out bulbs for months before I finally unscrew, drive to store, match bulb at store and replace, and two: because it’s costly and time consuming to stay on top of it). When Cree reached out about a partnership to swap out our bulbs I was 100% on board.

The benefits of Cree include: lasts 25 times longer than your average lightbulb (1,000 hours vs 25,000 hours), saves $135 over that life time (times however many bulbs you switch out), they’re dimmable if you have a dimmer, plus they glow warmly (instead of that bright white harsh LED look). I really, really dig them. You can purchase them at Home Depot and read more about them here.

Hint: lesser wattage required with LED bulbs than regular. For example, we used to put 60 watt bulbs outside and now we’re sticking with 40 because we like the look better.

Our Renovated Backyard | Winter Maintenance | PepperDesignBlog.com

There’s that pregnant belly doing just a little more work than that of the  self-deemed photo taker :).

Our Renovated Backyard | PepperDesignBlog.com

Yay for a very fresh feeling backyard! Day or night, we are ready to rock.

Our Backyard | PepperDesignBlog.com

One awesome Christmas down, at least two more big events this coming January, and now the perfect spot to gather all of those friends. On to the count down! Happy New Years Eve!!

This post is sponsored by Cree, creators of a really fantastic LED lightbulb. Thanks for letting me share more about the companies that support this site :). 

PS the transformation of this space from jungle to favorite family spot chronicled here.

A Festive Holiday Punch, & a Merry Christmas to You!

Merry Christmas! Hoping you and your family have a relaxing and restful Christmas break as we celebrate the reason for the season. We are staying close to home for Christmas (no expectation of an early baby but just in case) and are excited to welcome family to our home this week. Here’s to everyone enjoying plenty of sugary sweets, special cuddle time in front of a fire, the magic of twinkling lights and LOTS of family games.

May I take a moment to offer a heartfelt thank you for visiting this site. I am beyond grateful and humbled that you stop in to say hello, especially around this busy, merry time. Thank you for allowing me to share part of what makes me whole.

Before I sign off, a delicious Christmas punch for those family and friends who might be stopping in this week to visit and share a cup of cheer.

Holiday Punch | Christmas Cranberry, Orange & Lavender Cocktail Mocktail | PepperDesignBlog.com

Cranberry, Orange & Lavender Holiday Punch
Serves: 20-25
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups whole cranberries
  • A large bunch of lavender sprigs
  • 3 oranges sliced
  • 3 liters cranberry cocktail juice
  • 3 liters blood orange Italian soda (or any other alcoholic or non alcoholic sparkly/bubbly alternative)
  • 3 liters bourbon or whiskey (optional)
  • Ice
  1. Simmer sugar, water, 1½ cups whole cranberries, half of lavender sprigs and 2 sliced oranges in a medium saucepan for about 15-20 minutes or until mixture is reduced to a simple syrup (cranberries should be soft and tender). Let cool.
  2. In a large punch bowl, mix ice, cranberry cocktail juice, Italian soda (or alternative) and bourbon/whiskey. Pour in cooled cranberry syrup and stir.
  3. For garnish, bake 1 orange sliced on a bed of foil in the oven for 10 minutes at 450 degrees or until the peel blackens a bit on the edges and the juice caramelizes. Float orange slices, ½ cup cranberries and extra lavender sprigs in the punch bowl.


This recipe is very similar to the simple syrup handmade gift idea shared here, but on a mass scale to feed a party. The bourbon is optional, we let guests add their own to their liking for our Christmas party this past weekend (and because of all of the pregnant ladies in the house!).

Holiday Punch | Christmas Cranberry, Orange & Lavender Cocktail Mocktail | PepperDesignBlog.com

As an alternate to roasting fruit, you can also try broiling with just a bit of sugar (higher temp and juicier effect). Here’s another tip for creating a sugar-rimmed serving glass with simple syrup.

Speaking of our holiday party this year, did you get a chance to see the sneak peek of setting up? More on the diy table runner, miniature tree centerpiece and party decor over here. Food-wise, we served these EASY two ingredient brown sugar sausage bites, roasted butternut squash & ricotta crostinis and lots of yummy cheeses, fruits, nuts and olives on my new gold tray (which I scooped up in store for less than $13, suddenly the favorite holiday purchase). All other delectables were brought by our awesome guests.

Our Home for the Holidays | Christmas Party 2014 | PepperDesignBlog.com

Merry Christmas and see you in a few days.

xo Morgan

PS I’m trying out the Easy Recipe plugin for my new Foodie Pro Plugin theme. More to come on that big migration (started the conversation on choosing a hosting site last month) to come.

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