A Fine Dessert

One thing I've learned over the past year is that book publicity is HARD.  It's a real challenge to get the word out about new books, especially when they're independently published like mine and aren't given shelf space in bookstores around the country.  In fact, just yesterday my husband received a wonderful email from an old colleague who we'll call Joe, because "colleague" just seems way too formal for this particular blog.  Joe started reading Star Sisters with his daughter and eventually connected the dots and realized he knew my husband.  Joe sent my husband the nicest email, saying that he loves the books, the characters, the plot lines, and that his daughter talks about them all the time and gets upset when they have to stop reading for bedtime.  I replied something along the lines of, "Ahhh!!!  Tell Joe he made my entire week!"  Joe wrote back that it never occurred to him that his words would make an impact, that because the books were so great he assumed I'd be "big time" by this point.  

Oh, big time.  Do I want to be big time?  Absolutely.  Do I think I ever will be.  Don't know.   But I do know that word of mouth buzz is an enormous part of what drives my book sales.  Books aren't all that sexy to photograph.  They don't have adorable smiles or chubby baby thighs that make social media followers swoon.  But books are wonderful to talk about, with friends, with your children, with that mom you sit next to every week at gymnastics whose name you don't know despite the fact that you do know everything about her son's tree nut allergy and her daughter's wild temper.  So please keep spreading the word about Star Sisters and other books you are currently loving.  It means a great deal to those of us who pour our hearts into this kind of work.  

Some books that I'm currently raving about?  First up is  A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins, beautifully illustrated by Sophie Blackall.    

This picture book shows four families in four different centuries making the same dessert: blackberry fool.  It is such a clever way to teach children about history, advances in technology, and societal changes.  The first family lives in Lyme England in 1710.  A girl and her mother gather blackberries from the forest and they whip their cream with a bundle of clean twigs.  The next family is a slave and her daughter who cook on a Southern plantation in 1810, beating their cream with a metal whisk made by the local blacksmith.  Then comes a mother and daughter in 1910 Boston who shop at an outdoor market and use cast-iron rotary beaters.  Finally a father and son in 2010 San Diego look up the same recipe on the internet and beat their cream with an electric mixer.  Despite all the modern advances that the passing time bring, the one constant is that people still come together to enjoy food and each other's company.  This book is equal parts educational, beautiful, and touching.  I highly recommend it! 

For adults, I fell hard for Life Drawing by Robin Black.  This book is so beautifully written that I spent half my read shaking my head in awe at Black's skill.  It follows the marriage of an older artist couple who move to the country to escape some mistakes of their past.  All is well until a neighbor arrives who rocks their marriage and their lives back to unsteady ground.  For those of you with young children at home, it's a nice escape specifically because it has nothing to do with raising young children!    

 

 

Taking It Down

Little House on Prairie.jpg

The only good thing to come out of the 5 snow days and the bazillion inches of snow we've received over the past two weeks is that my girls and I have had lots and lots of time to watch one of my favorite television series:  Little House on the Prairie.  The minute those opening credits started to roll, I was taken right back to my own childhood.  I remember loving that show (and the books) with all my heart.  I'm still a little heartbroken that my yellow-spined boxed edition of the series somehow disappeared and have just ordered a new set for my girls.     

Anyways, I wasn't sure if my girls would like the show.  I didn't remember it all that clearly, but I did remember that it was slow.  And that a lot of the plot lines revolve around the grown-ups.  For better or worse, my girls have been raised watching Frozen, Sofia the First, and Doc McStuffins.  They're used to action packed movies and television shows that get resolved in twenty minutes.  They're used to scrolling through apps.  But I am so happy to report that they are completely entranced by Little House on the Prairie.  It helps that my girls are a trio of sisters just like the Ingalls girls and they love that the sisters on the show are best friends who get to sleep in the same bed at night.  But I think there's more to it.  I think there's something magical about watching this family make its way in a world that is both a lot simpler, and a lot more challenging than our current world.  I think that even at their young ages, they can recognize that some problems are universal and take comfort in watching girls in such different circumstances than their own face similar challenges.    

And you know what else, I think they love the pace of the show.  I think they love that the story lines evolve slowly and that they're given the time to watch Laura and Mary just wander through a wheat field or catch crabs in a stream.  It's like this trance comes over all of us as we watch and it feels like everything starts to slow.  I forget about my phone, they forget about whining for a snack.  As a parent, it's made me want to take everything down like twenty notches.  Like everything.  I've been on a rampage getting rid of stuff, clearing out closets, and canceling things on our schedule.  I've been trying to just take it down a little.  While I understand that the show is obviously Hollywood's version of life with three young children in a tiny log cabin, there is something inspiring about it.  Something that makes me want to be a different kind of parent.  Give my kids a different kind of childhood.  Just watch the show, you'll see what I mean.

As for my writing, watching this series has really made me think about where drama can come from.  I've been working hard on a very exciting middle grade novel.  I'm not ready to share all the details, but one thing I've been trying to do is ensure that the drama, the tension of the story, does not stem from girls being mean to other girls.  I think a little mean girl drama is part of life, it certainly was part of life on the prairie, but I also believe that there are ways to write for girls this age without relying on that as a crutch.  I think girls need a break from that since they get more than enough of it in real life.  So that's what I'm trying to do.  I'll keep you posted as it progresses.  Promise!  

Hey there good looking!

Hey there blog that I love so much!  I'm back.  Sorry for the extended absence.  There were holidays book orders to fill, presents to wrap, family members to host, and three little girls to entertain over a very long break from school.  And I've got some new ideas brewing in my head that I'm trying to work out on paper.  The idea brewing phase of writing is the trickiest for me.  Once I get everything sorted in my mind, I love getting the words out.  But if I don't have the idea well sorted, getting the words out becomes a giant painful mess.  Since I'm the least patient person in the universe, I often rush this part and then wind up back at the drawing board.  All of which is to say, it wasn't you, it was me.  I lost my mojo.  I'm sorry.  

But then I got this lovely email from a total stranger last night that woke me right out of my writerly fog.  Here's what he wrote:

Subject: Thank you

Message: I just wanted to say thank you for your Star Sisters books. My 2nd grader received the set for Christmas from her grandparents, and she has devoured the entire series. While she has always been a reader, this is the first time she has really taken to a series of books like this. You have elicited in her all the best emotions I love from reading--joy in the story and characters, generosity in wanting to share the best parts with her family, and sadness when the book comes to an end. She is eagerly awaiting the next Star Sisters book.

Thank you, and write on!

--Mark (one very happy Dad)

I've read it about five times.  I love the content and that this total stranger took the time to go to my website and send me an email.  One tricky thing about writing children's books is that you don't hear much from your readers.  I get some great feedback from my kids's friends on the playground, but I don't often hear from people that I don't know.  This is a big difference from independently published authors in other genres like romance, fantasy, sci-fi, etc.  The really successful authors in those spaces are in constant contact with their fans via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and probably many more platforms that I don't even want to know about.  Whereas I try to market myself to my reader's parents (who are also my target readers, but still, there's a difference).  My readers don't have their own Facebook pages or Twitter handles.  While I honestly don't have the time right now to maintain a heavy social media presence, I understand why other indy authors do it.  It's so nice to hear that grandparents are buying your work, kids are loving it, and dads are taking the time to let you know.  It does a writer's heart good!  

So with that, I'm back with high hopes and lots of things planned for 2015!

 

        

 

Hilarious!

Help!  Does anyone know the ladies behind these hilarious What Up Moms YouTube videos?  If you do, please introduce me!  I would like to send them every Star Sisters book ever written and then go out for drinks because I think they are hilarious.  Not since the Modern Family episode where Claire loses her *&%! because she can't figure out Phil's new crazy TV remote control has any parody hit so close to home.  

taylor parody pic.jpg

The Blank Space and Pinterest videos are two of my favorites.  Maybe because they're inspired by Taylor Swift, who of course inspired one of my own Star Sisters books.  Or maybe I love them because they're just so spot on.  See that lady in the middle expertly navigating her monster double stroller through a crowded grouping of Starbucks tables while holding a coffee cup?  Been there, done that.  Many times at many Starbucks.

I can't say I really understand YouTube channels, but it looks like they've got a huge following.  I'm working hard to get my social media act together and there is a ton I still need to learn.  But I can tell you that it takes a lot of hard work (and guts) to run this kind of operation.  Which is why we really need to be friends!  I have so much to learn from them!  Well done ladies, I'm so impressed.

Books for Babes

I think books make the perfect gift.  They delight for years and are guaranteed to fit.  I know a lot of you have little people on your shopping list, so I wanted to suggest some great titles that my girls and I are currently loving.    

For the littlest ones, I am completely in love with the following: 

1. Little Elliot Big City:  This book is an amazing example of the power of simple words and beautiful images.  It tells the story of a little elephant trying to make his way in the big city.  When he gets a helping hand from someone even smaller than himself, he learns that it's not size, but friends who matter.

2. City Dog Country Frog: A tear jerker from the man known for bringing smiles, Mo Williams.  City Dog and Country Frog are unlikely friends, playing together season after season until, one day, Country Frog is no longer on his waiting for Country Dog on his rock.  This is a beautifully illustrated book that teaches a powerful lesson about permanence and resilience.  

3. Uni the Unicorn: Illustrated in bright vivid colors, this is the story of a little girl who believes in unicorns and ... a unicorn who believes in little girls.  It's a lovely reminder about the power of believing.  

For the slightly older ones, I'm going to have to go with... Star Sisters!  The perfect series for the kids who are devouring chapter books on their own and the ones who still cuddle up with a grown-up for some bedtime reading.  If you have anyone on your list in this category, trust me, their parents will thank you.  I know a lot of you have been buying them as gifts and stocking stuffers.  It's such a great way to spread the word about this series and I'm very grateful.  

Sometimes a book doesn't feel like enough all on its own.  I get it.  That's why I sell my star necklaces and book bundles and why RH Baby sells these amazing tents.  We made a similar tent from old curtains and some PVC piping.  It's the most wonderful place to read, complete with lots of soft blankets and a light on a dimmer switch.

  

If my book suggestions are a little too girly for your crowd, check out a new children's book blog by a dear friend.  She does an excellent job of reviewing books and bundling them by subject matter - great suggestions for both girls and boys.  Highly recommend taking a look.

As for adult books that I've recently loved, The Miniaturist is at the top of my list.  It's a historical fiction meets mystery novel that I could not put down.  I just finished Friendswood and thought it was so well done.  It's kind of Erin Brockovich meets Friday Night Lights.  And I also really liked Big Little Lies.  A good old suburban mama drama.  I can never resist those!  

 

 

Thankful

As you can probably tell from the title, this update is over a week late.  Oh well!  There were seven adults, three children, and one large turkey staying at my house last week.  So let's just blame them even though, honestly, my family did most of the cooking and my only excuse is I lost steam and needed a break.  But now I'm fully back in Star Sisters world and ready to give some major belated thanks.  

1. First up is this awesome guy, my husband.  There is no way that I ever, ever, ever could have done any of this without his support.  He has read almost every single word I've written in past ten years (and that includes at least one 300 page chick lit novel).  This post may be the first time I've ever hit print, save, or publish without running my thoughts by him first.  Surprise!  Our four-year old has recently received several proposals of marriage, all of which she has promptly turned down because she's going to marry her dad.  As she says, "What?  He's just the best guy I know."  I could not have said it better myself.  He is far and away the best guy I know.  He always has been.  

2. I'm also thankful for those little pink ladies hanging all over him.  I'm thankful for my oldest daughter who listened to draft after draft of pre-illustration Star Sisters books.  She's probably shaped these stories more than anyone else because, as I read, I would watch her body language.  If she started fidgeting or staring off into space I knew I needed to change course or pump up the action.  Every word I write is with her in mind - what would draw her in, what would make her smile, what would teach her something that I wanted her to learn.

I'm thankful for my middle daughter who is by far the best publicist an author could hope for.  You should see this little girl sell.  She tells everyone she meets that her mom writes the best books ever and then proceeds to list all the reasons why they should buy them.  She even tailors her pitch to her audience!  Just as wonderful is that she'll sit with me for hours wrapping books and making necklaces.  That middle of the day time when we're stuck at home while her little sister naps used to feel endless, but now that she's become my packaging assistant it's a time that we have both started to cherish.

And that littlest one?  Well, she doesn't have an official role in Star Sisters world, but I'm forever thankful for her chubby cheeks, her beautiful belly, and her hilarious toddler comments.  There's nothing like seeing that adorable face at my office door to make any slow sales day feel totally unimportant.

3. I'm thankful for some awesome bloggers like SMP Living, Shelter, Kiki's ListShopping Mama, The Zhush and many more who have given me fabulous reviews.  Marketing in the blogosphere is a funny thing.  There are the mega-blogs that don't respond to emails, the blogs that request free books and then fall off the face of the earth (so frustrating!!), and then there are the bloggers who are just so insanely wonderful and encouraging.  They will read your books with their kids, share them with their followers, and then keep in touch and start to feel like friends.  It's been a privilege to have the support of so many of these creative woman whom I've long admired.

4. I'm thankful for the schools that have invited me to do author visits and the bookstores that have invited me to participate in special events.  It's by far my favorite way to promote my books.

5. I'm thankful for every single person (little and big) who took a chance on me and my books.  Sometimes at 7pm I think about all the kids cuddled in bed who might be reading Star Sisters with their parents and it makes me so, so happy.  Thank you all very much.

Losing My Marbles

Star Sisters book party up for auction at the Boston Children's Hospital Gala

Star Sisters book party up for auction at the Boston Children's Hospital Gala

Thursday afternoon was not a highpoint in my parenting career.  I was not feeling well, it was freezing, the traffic was terrible, and it was generally one of those afternoons where I had to ask my children approximately 27 million times to put on their shoes and socks.  

But then this really great thing happened.  I was making a frenzied entrance into my oldest daughter's ballet class, which involved blocking all traffic as I half-jumped out of my minivan while my younger two were still strapped into their carseats because I panicked that the ballet class had already gone inside and my daughter would be stranded alone in the lobby and get kidnapped by some fictional stranger who lurks in suburban ballet studios waiting for exactly this situation, when another mom who was talking on her phone saw me and immediately stopped her conversation and said, "Don't worry, I'll watch her for you."

Okay, I get that this is not a "stop the presses" kind of situation.  But until you've been there - that state where you feel like your entire body is on system overload because you're exhausted and sick and yet still solely responsible for everything that your three young children need all day long - it's hard to explain how incredible it is when someone steps in to help.  And this is a mom who I only see occasionally, someone who I met in a sandbox years ago and who I bump into around town.  We don't talk on the phone or go out for drinks, but in just one second without me saying a word, she completely understood my situation.  And I just want to say thanks.  It meant a lot to me.  

I feel like we all have those moments.  I probably have more of them than other moms because I tend to run on the type-A/perfectionist/neurotic side, but I think even my most laid-back mom friends know what I'm talking about.  These moments are a big part of the reason why I wrote Star Sisters with the pop culture angle.  I just feel like when a mother has a day like the one I had on Thursday, no matter how totally spent she is, at night she will still cuddle up in bed and read to her child.  And I really believe that mom (or dad) deserves some fictional entertainment as well.  Whenever I play around with the idea of sending Coco and Lucy on some adventure that has nothing to do with anything pop culture, I just keep coming back to how much parents give and how I want to be able to give a little back to them - even if it's just a smile or silent giggle as they read to their kids at night.  I think we all deserve at least that.  

In other news, this weekend I had a great opportunity to give back to a place that has meant a lot to my family over the years - Boston Children's Hospital.  I was thrilled to offer a Star Sisters book party for auction at their gala and it was so exciting to watch all the bids come in.  I don't know who won the party, but I can't wait to find out!  It's going to be a blast and I'm really looking forward to making star necklaces and writing some stories with a lucky group of little kids.  

And if you're feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought of holiday shopping, please come see me this Saturday at the Wellesley Marketplace.  I'll be there with tons of wrapped book bundles.  It's a fabulous, juried event with 175 really talented vendors and I'm honored to be included this year.  

 

 

Tales from a Trunk Show

Tom and I motivating each other all night long.

Tom and I motivating each other all night long.

Wow.  I don't think I've ever been so happy to be sitting at my desk looking out at a cold and rainy afternoon. I just finished two whirlwind days of bookselling at a wonderful trunk show event and being able to sit down is a welcome relief.  This was my first trunk show and I learned a lot.  Here are my top ten take-aways from the event:

1.  Getting out into the world is a wonderful thing.  As a writer I spend a lot of time alone in this very chair that I am currently loving.  I think about my readers - how old they are, what they like to do, what news stories they read, what they dream about - but I don't always get to meet them.  It was really fun to talk to new people about my books.  And it was even more fun to meet total strangers who have not only read my books, but loved them so much that they were actually excited to meet me.  I'm sure J.K. Rowling is used to strangers complimenting her work, but I am not.  It was not so long ago that I could track every single book sale back to my network of mom friends.  There were days where I could even track sales based on who I had spoken to on the playground!  The fact that my sales have now grown well beyond that stage is thrilling.

2.  Packaging is important.  I love my covers and I think they look great as a group.  But the other thing that shoppers really responded to is my gift wrapping.  People loved the old-fashioned look of the brown paper wrapped in pink raffia ribbon.  I sold out of my book bundles entirely and am hoping that my next shipment of star necklaces arrives soon because I've got several more of these trunk shows coming up.  As soon as the necklaces arrive, book bundles will be back in stock online as well.  Sorry!

3.  Table presentation matters.  I was surrounded by some awesome vendors selling some gorgeous products.  The tables that looked the best had lots of vertical elements of staggered heights, whereas my books were mostly laid out flat.  Time to invest is some book displays. 

4. I love my Square reader.  So easy to use.  

5.  Wear flats!  The really comfortable kind.  After much debate and consultation with supportive friends, I have decided to embrace the bootie trend (although I will always hate the name).  Last night I wore a great pair of high-heeled booties and at about hour three of standing up I wanted to throw them out the window.  This morning I changed into my regular uniform of skinny jeans and flats.  Much, much happier.

6.  Get to know the other vendors.  They will talk up your products and vice-versa.  Plus everyone has really interesting stories about what inspired their products and tips about which shows are the most successful.  On my right was this lovely lady who makes such fun mother/daughter necklaces and on my left was this amazing publisher who produces gorgeous books about New England.  Both make great holiday gifts.  

7.  Wine is a wonderful thing.  This show had two sessions: night and morning.  Night sales were a blast as there were groups women coming through with their friends and an open bar upstairs.  An excellent combo for bookselling.

8.  Inventory is tough to estimate.  It's really expensive to over-order and really frustrating to sell out.  Not sure there's a solution for that.

9.  Should you come home late at night after hours of selling, do not even look in the direction of your children's Halloween candy.  You will regret it the next morning.

10.  I love my books.  I'm so glad I took this leap.  I hope it's just the beginning.  Simple as that.  

Size Matters

Star Sisters on the shelves at Edgartown Books!

Star Sisters on the shelves at Edgartown Books!

This weekend we went to Martha's Vineyard which, besides being my favorite place in the world, is also home to one of my favorite bookstores - Edgartown Books.  It's an incredible bookstore, with a large front porch where you can sit, rock, and watch the island life pass by.  And to top it all off, Edgartown Books carries Star Sisters.  It's hard for me to explain how exciting it is to see my work in a bookstore that I have loved for years.  A place where I spent many rainy afternoons with young children, dreaming of being one of those authors on the shelves, dreaming of having that kind of creative life.    

I publish independently, which brings many challenges.  But one big challenge is that stores like Barnes & Nobles will probably never carry my books (at least not with the way things currently stand).  When I decided to take the indy route, this worried me.  I was dreaming of big, huge, total Star Sisters world domination.  Then I stopped dreaming and started doing and everything changed for me.  

First, I learned that world wide domination was going to take a heck of a long time.  My books weren't going to land with a splash.  They were going to land with a teeny, tiny drop in a very big ocean.  And they were going to spread from there.  Second, I realized that there is no greater feeling than seeing my books on the shelves of local independent bookstores.  I love going into these stores and talking with the owners.  I love seeing my book spines (or sometimes forward facing covers) on the shelves.  I love the smell of the places, getting to know the people who work there, and bringing my girls along to browse the shelves and get recommendations.  

I've written this before and I'm sure I'll write it again: independent bookstores are the best.  If you're professional and have a good product, they will take the time to get to know you and your books.  They will invite you to special events and recommend your books to customers.  They will cheer for you when you get press and help you brainstorm strategies when you have a slow month.  They will make you feel like you belong in this industry even when you have days where you worry you never will.  Working with places like Edgartown Books, Wellesley Books, Newtonville Books, Winchester Bookends, Brookline Books and many more has been one of the highlights of this experience and one of the reasons why, even though I sell my books on Amazon, I will only buy my books from stores like these.     

And since we're on the topic of Martha's Vineyard and following dreams, I have to share the incredible home of Molly and Eric Glasgow, owners of the Grey Barn Farm.  This home was recently featured in Architectural Digest and it blew me away.  The short (and I'm going to guess very simplified) story is that the Glasgow's were working in high powered jobs in London when they decided to make a drastic change and move their family to Martha's Vineyard to open a dairy farm.  Several years and twenty-five cows later, just look at what they've built.  We drove by the property several times this weekend and I almost pulled my neck out straining to get a view of the place.  I'm pretty sure they open the farm to visitors during the summer and it is at the top of my list for next year.  In the meantime, I will visit these images whenever I need some inspiration to keep pushing on my making my own dreams come true.  (All images via Architectural Digest).  


The Barefoot Contessa and Me

Contributors Page from Family Circle Magazine Nov 2014

Contributors Page from Family Circle Magazine Nov 2014

For months I have been waiting for the November issue of Family Circle Magazine and on Saturday morning I finally spotted it on the stands.  My hands were shaking as I opened the magazine because this was no ordinary issue, this issue featured my home in a six page spread.  Six pages!  Family Circle!  That's huge!  There I was on the very first page standing in my kitchen kissing my sweet littlest babe.  There were my own paintings and my daughter's drawings on the walls.  There was my home all colorful, sparkly and styled up to the nines.  But you want to know the image that I'm most proud of?  The one I keep flipping back to?  The one I texted right away to one of my closest friends?  It's the contributors page, where my face is represented in cheerful cartooned glory right alongside Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa herself.  

The reason I love this page (beyond the fact that I think my cartoon hair looks much better than my real hair ever has) is because I have always considered Ina Garten a role model.  Most people know her story - she was working as a White House budget analyst when she saw an ad for a specialty food shop that was for sale in the Hamptons.  The very next day she went up to investigate, had a gut feeling that purchasing the store was what she was truly meant to do, and took a leap of faith.  Nine cookbooks and a Food Network show later, Ina Garten is a household name (at least in the households I hang out in where most of my friends have lots of little mouths to feed but still like to try and do some casual grown-up entertaining every once in a while).  How I would love to be able to sit down with Ina and ask for the details.  Did she really have no formal background in cooking?  Did she really just buy the store on a whim?  How the heck did she go from that beginning to where she is now?  Was it really all as sweet as cupcakes and apple pie?

Because what I'm learning as I try and promote my books is that it's very easy to romanticize the pursuit of a creative career.  It's easy to say with an Oprah-esque glow how wonderfully fulfilled you feel by doing work you love and then post your cartoon face in a national magazine on Instagram.  But the real truth (at least for me) is that every small victory comes as a result of so much work.  For example, the Family Circle photo shoot happened because I spend a lot of time reading design blogs and I began to think that my home could compare to some of the ones I saw being featured.  So I snapped some pics and emailed them to Style Me Pretty Living, a design blog that I'd long admired and knew liked to run home tours.  SMP Living loved my house, so my next step was to hire this awesome photographer to come over with a styling assistant and do a full day photo shoot of my house.  SMP Living put those images together and ran them here.  An editor at Family Circle saw the feature and asked if I'd be willing to let the magazine shoot my house for their home section.  Ummmm, yes!  Then came another full day photo shoot with the NYC based Family Circle crew, which included two magazine editors, a photographer and her assistant, and a stylist and his assistant.  Many days of rearranging furniture and stressing about my kids being exposed because of my desire to get publicity for my books later, the magazine hits the stands with a small but clear image of the cover of Star Sisters and the Best Seller running on the last page of the spread.  I consider this a well earned victory and a step in the right direction.  I hope it introduces some new people to Star Sisters.  I hope someday I get a chance to ask Ina if she built her business with these same kind of small steps.  I hope she says yes.

My book cover in a national magazine!!  Proud moment!

My book cover in a national magazine!!  Proud moment!

I'm going to try and get some high res images from the magazine shoot of my house to share.  But in the meantime, check out Ina Garten's amazing home as featured in House Beautiful.  This is one of the first homes I ever fell in love with and, years later, it's still at the very top of my list of all time favorite homes.  I love how it's simple but warm.  A combo of fabulous materials, a gorgeous setting, and a woman who clearly knows how to make a place feel like home.  What a lady.