Fall Entry

Decorating for fall might strike some as a frivolous activity this year. It’s tempting to spiral into “what does anything matter” territory. We can’t have friends and family over. We can’t go anywhere. Let’s just hunker down and wait ’til it’s over. I was leaning that way myself.

I had figured the wreath from last year would suffice as my token acknowledgement of the upcoming season. And then, at the grocery store, I saw these mums and figured I may as well buy a couple. Well, you know how one thing leads to another. As I was putting the mums in the planters I suddenly realized the entire area was a mess. There were (real) spiderwebs overtaking the porch ceiling, bare spots by the porch, debris had blown into the sidewalk and on and on. A much overdue clean up took place and it was very satisfying. For a couple of hours I just concentrated on tidying up and rearranging. It’s surprising how much time a small entry area can consume.

Of course, I had to add a few pumpkins. This makes me think of the old adage, if you want to accomplish something just begin.

I guess we just have to keep doing what we can to pretty things up. Hopefully it gives a bit of cheer to the neighbors and the delivery people. I know I feel better.

Are you doing a little decorating this year?

Five Finds

Five Finds

When I feel stressed (like most days now) I distract myself in any way that I can. There are days I just have to find activities to take my mind off of it all. Maybe some of these comforts/distractions/activities will interest you. I’d love to hear how you are coping with 2020.

YouTube workout videos. The last place I want to be during this pandemic is the gym so I have been walking regularly. A few weeks ago our temperatures soared into the 90s so I looked for an indoor option. I already enjoyed Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube, so I turned to YouTube to see what I could find. Jenny McClendon offers Fit over Fifty and beginner classes that provide a workout very conducive to the home space. The same can be said for Team Body Project. Team Body Project shows variations during the workout so that no matter your fitness level you can follow along. Both programs have classes that fit your schedule so there’s really no excuse not to exercise often. Trust me, I am no fitness enthusiast but I want to be able to have a full life into old age. That’s really my goal.

Knit Pants. Even though you are working out, you still need some comfy yoga pants to lounge around in. I want pants I can wear on errands as well and look presentable. Remember Land’s End? I highly recommend their active yoga pant. They are good quality, wash well, and are not expensive. I just wish they had more colors.

Chicken Noodle Soup. This is something you can throw together using pantry staples and leftover chicken or a rotisserie chicken. I like this recipe which I adapt to what I have on hand. Sauteeing the onions and celery (carrots too) in oil or butter adds so much taste. No chicken broth? Use water and a bullion cube or two.

The Gardener. This documentary will have you wanting to go visit not only this beautiful garden but any garden. There is something so soul restoring about the natural beauty of the world. Sink into this one. I can watch it again and again.

Jamie Oliver’s Ultimate Veg cookbook. There are many reasons to cut back on your meat intake and this cookbook makes it easy. The recipes are mostly simple and really delicious and satisfying. I’m working my way through it . The Summer Tagliatelle, is absolutely one of my favorites.

Let me know in the comments what is getting you through these crazy times.

Gardening Days

Gardening Days

I can’t tell you the number of times I have walked outside this past six months and felt grateful for my backyard. It’s far from perfect but just to have a private green space has lifted my spirits more than I can say. Today I thought we could walk around the garden and I can show you how we use the separate spaces.

There’s just something restorative about nature isn’t there? I’m one of those people who has always enjoyed puttering around in a garden so this is not news to me. My garden has always been my refuge. Not that you have to be a gardener to enjoy nature. Just walking in a park or on a trail can bring the same solace and peace. And how perfect is it that one of the safest places we can be is outside?

Back in March Mr. Bee and I took a closer look at our backyard, which has its challenges, as you will see.

Our initial project was to renovate a back corner of our yard, a project detailed here. For very little money, for the new furniture, a retreat was created. Any hour of the day or evening you will find one of us lounging around here. It’s somewhere “to go” when you can’t really go anywhere. Luckily, we have had a fairly mild summer in our part of Virginia. We also found mosquito coils that are quite good for controlling those little pests. In the past the mosquitoes and the humidity had caused us to avoid prolonged backyard time. We found that we can deal with those small annoyances.

There is more work to be done here. I think we need more large shrubbery and plan to install them when the weather cools. This area has brought us into our yard more than ever before.

Our next project was to purchase two more raised beds, to augment the existing bed.

We have the space for the raised beds on a large parking pad in the backyard. It’s one of those areas we could not settle on a solution to make it less ugly. Of all the options (decorative pavers, gravel, grass) the beds are the most cost effective and they are functional.

You can see what I’m talking about, can’t you? I would dearly love to jackhammer the whole thing up. But what then? I’ve gotten estimates for pavers and it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars. Yikes! For now, we are letting moss grow on the asphalt and enjoying our raised beds.

An herb garden and dahlias have been on my wish list for the longest time. Both require lots of direct sun which is in short supply in my yard, except right here. The beds have been a great solution. The herbs are in the bed closest to the camera, on the left side. As you can see they have spread into each other and really flourished. The dahlias are on the right side, where the big white blooms are thrusting upward. The dahlias were an experiment since I wasn’t sure if they would bloom in a raised bed.

Would I prefer having them as part of my landscaping? Yes I would. I love seeing my plants in the garden setting. But, since that really isn’t possible with such a shady yard, the raised beds are the next best thing. And dahlias are beautiful cut flowers for arrangements.

Honestly these little upgrades could have been made at any time. We are just so distracted by other activities we didn’t take the time to focus and make a decision.

With more time at home, Mr. Bee has been keeping the birdfeeders full and these guys love it. We have tried to identify the species with some new bird identifying books.

As I read over this post, I think how minor these projects seem. But sometimes that is all it takes to make a big difference.

Have you made any home improvements during the last six months?

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

Rachel Carson

New Lighting

I have been procrastinating for years on some new lighting in our house. The fact that an electrician would be needed in some instances and I wanted to have him accomplish several projects while he was here was one factor in my procrastination. What projects was he going to do and what fixtures are right for the space, not to mention budget concerns, well I could mull that over for a long time. And I did.

Giving myself a deadline of getting it done before Christmas broke through the freeze. Once I sat down to decide once and for all on the kind of fixtures I wanted, I noticed that when I looked at lighting online and in catalogs I kept going back to the same style. Okay that seems like a decision.

The project that didn’t require an electrician was in the living room. At a dinner party last fall Mr. Bee and I noticed some of our guests were seated in such deep shadows we had trouble seeing their expressions. The shadowy living room had been a problem but this incident brought it to the fore. Time to do something about this situation.

And in this case I did know what I wanted. I’ve always loved the look of two identical lamps bracketing the sofa.

The lamps I chose are from Lamps Plus which offers a wide range of floor lamps in all prices and styles. These were quite moderately priced and were pretty easy to assemble. The modern traditional style compliments the room. But the unknown with buying lamps online is will the actual light be what I need/want? In this case the answer is yes. They provide good light that is not stark. And that is important to us as avid readers.

Most importantly, their subtle glow lights up the corners of the room so that our guests never again need peer out of the shadows.

As you can see I went for the rubbed bronze finish. Bronze just hits that middle level of subtle and traditional.

I spent a lot of January in that sofa corner. Ha!

The next project was to change the light fixtures over my kitchen island. Nine years ago when we added on a larger kitchen, I could not decide on the pendant lighting. We decided to go with these inexpensive pendants that would “do for now”. I just didn’t know what I really wanted.

I must have really disliked these pendants because this is the only picture I can find that contains even the tip of the shade.

The vaulted ceiling allows for substantial fixtures. It’s so hard to visualize how various styles will look. I had Mr. Bee hold up various bowls that were the approximate size to try to get an idea. That at least helped me see that the size would work.

These seeded glass fixtures are also from Lamps Plus.

It hasn’t been the most startling change. But these lights are more to the style of the room so I’m glad I changed them.

I still have those Asian style bar stools though. I found them at a consignment store for a reasonable price. I tried disguising them with covers for the backs. Bar stools are pricey! I do have my eye on some. I need a sale or a coupon.

While I had the electrician here he installed an electrical outlet in a closet so I could plug in my new-ish Dyson cordless vacuum, and also a video doorbell. I wanted the video doorbell so that I can see who is at my door before answering. The neighborhood is safe but it’s just an added security to know who is at your front door.

I am planning to change a few more fixtures but for now it feels good to cross some things off the list.

Do you put off projects too?

I received no compensation in any form for this post.

Breakfast with the Grandkids

Breakfast with the Grandkids

Since our granddaughters became toddlers we have looked for new ways to host family gatherings.  With early dinner times and bedtimes, dinner is difficult to manage.  Through trial and error we discovered that Saturday morning breakfast is a hit with everyone, adults and toddlers alike.

For the sake of convenience, I choose dishes that mostly can be made ahead of time.  Lately I have been loving this egg strata recipe from the Pioneer Woman.  It’s quite versatile – I don’t think I’ve made it the same way twice.

The recipe calls for bacon to be added to the strata mixture.  However since we have a vegetarian in the family I leave the bacon as a side dish.  Instead I added red pepper and mushrooms.  I added an entire package of shiitake mushrooms (next time I’d add two packages) and 1/2 of a red pepper.  Green pepper would be good too.  I sauteed the peppers and mushrooms with the shallots.

Recently I have been cooking bacon on a rack in the oven.  I’ve always heard that it makes your bacon more crisp.  And it’s true!  It takes longer but it’s worth it.

Cantaloupe and banana bread rounded out the menu.

A few months ago I bought these wipeable placemats at HomeGoods.

They work so well for casual meals. 

Finding ways to be with your grandchildren so that you can get to know each other can be challenging when they are so young. We have found that when their parents are present the girls much prefer them, of course. For now the goal is to see them on a regular basis and become familiar. Then we will progress to some short outings to the playground.

If you have experience with young grandchildren I’d love to hear about it!

Recent Finds

Recent Finds

Last week Daughter Bee and I were able to get to a barn sale held in the beautiful Maryland countryside, about an hour from our homes. Once we got past the DC congestion and suburban sprawl we drove through picturesque farms and quaint little towns which seem much unchanged by time. The morning was cool, my daughter beside me, it could not have been more perfect. Daughter Bee works at a hospital as a nurse practitioner, plus she has a husband and a two year old daughter. With that schedule, it’s pretty rare for us to have an entire day together.

Not only were there lots of vintage and antique furniture and decor, but plenty of crafters with jewelry and pillows etc. I was too busy taking it all in to take many pictures.

On my wish list for this day was a settee or loveseat for under the window of my office. The requirements for this piece were so specific that I wondered if it even existed. The office is a small bedroom already full with office furniture and a decorative shelf so this settee could not be long or jut into the room too much. The style was important too as I didn’t want anything antique or too “nice”. I guess I was going for vintage. Oh yes, and it had to be comfortable too. I plan to sit on it, maybe even put my feet up. And it had to be within my budget of $225 max.

Here she is in said office. And she is a perfect fit. I have plans for the cushions of course. And it was under budget at $195. Success!

We bought a few other small items. How adorable are these felt acorns? I wish I had bought more of them. They were 6.99 for this handful.

I can never have too many small round stools. They are great for everything from plants to a cup of tea.

And we both bought some incense. I’m loving the way the fragrance softly wafts through the house.

We entertain about once a month around here and I have been looking for a beverage stand. I was beginning to accept that I might have to pay more than I wanted to. Until I found this baby. It was only $40. I will report back after I’ve used it. It almost seems too good to be true.

Daughter Bee bought cute prints and a papasan chair for a playroom makeover she is working on. We will show a reveal when the time comes.

Although there were food vendors, I brought a picnic lunch of veggie wraps which turned out quite good. I used up a cucumber from Mr. Bee’s crop along with some roasted red pepper hummus as a spread and a few spinach leaves sprinkled in. Perfect!

I savor these leisurely visits where we have the time and space to talk and catch up on our lives. Even running into traffic is no bother on a day like this. It’s more time to visit.

What is your favorite way to visit with a friend or family member?

Matchmaking with Vases and Flowers

Matchmaking with Vases and Flowers

One of the fringe benefits of hosting a dinner party is that afterward I usually have more flowers around than I normally do. Since I usually buy a few bunches to create a centerpiece, and often guests will bring a bouquet or two, this gives me an opportunity to divide and rearrange and spread them around the house for maximum enjoyment. Of course, there are also those days that I don’t have time to play around with flowers and I just want to get them in fresh water. They are still pretty. Anyway, I wanted to share some ideas for using all your flowers in different vases.

Here is what I started with recently:

The arrangement below is one of two identical arrangements.

I started with a few taller vases and a couple of smaller ones. I began with these three, but as you will see more were needed.

The mums are long stemmed so this taller vase was called for.

Then I went around the house finding the right spot for them.

These gerbera daisies are peeking around in the master bedroom.

And these gerberas add a cheerful presence to my office. Gerberas look beautiful in any size vase, don’t they?

I ended up liking the stock in this silver vase the best, after playing around with it in some other containers.

Alstromeria always makes a great loose, informal kind of arrangement.

This is one of the arrangements I tried with the stock. I like it better in the silver vase though.

One flower in a small vase is kind of adorable sometimes.

Did you notice that all of the arrangements were composed of a single type of flower? I didn’t start out to do that, but each type of flower seemed to lend itself to a certain vase. The purity of it was quite appealing.

All but one of the containers came from a thrift store! I always look for unique vessels for flowers when I’m shopping in thrift stores. I try to find two or three that are similar in size and color so that I can use them on the dining table. It’s hard to tell but I found glass containers for this early summer arrangement from a few months ago.

It’s always a pleasure to have flowers around, isn’t it? I hope you found some inspiration to help you enjoy them even more.

Making the Most of Summer’s Bounty

One of my most favorite things about summer is the abundance of fresh produce whether from the farmer’s market or your own garden. Mr. Bee’s garden is beginning to produce and, as you gardeners know, when things ripen, you can almost have an overabundance. Over the years I have collected recipes that help me make the most of the harvest.

We didn’t have a good year for beans in the garden, but there are plenty of farmer’s markets in our area that have them. One of my favorite dishes with green beans is a twist on the Nicoise Salad. It’s filling and flavorful, perfect for a quick weeknight meal. Find how I did it here.

You wouldn’t believe how many cucumbers one plant produces. We do share them with friends and family but somehow end up with 3 cucumbers in the refrigerator on a given day. Mr. Bee found this recipe for pickled cucumbers that his mother used to make. The fresh ginger gives them a real flavor boost. We love them with any grilled meats.

I am a subscriber to Bon Appetit magazine and I recommend it for great writing, informative articles and delicious recipes. Now that Mr. Bee is bringing home 3 and 4 tomatoes a day, we are making this Spaghetti with No-Cook Puttanesca once a week. You won’t believe how good this easy sauce is.

I have heard so much about aioli but wasn’t sure what exactly it is. Of course it was easy enough to learn more about. Aioli is a versatile sauce involving a raw egg, garlic and lemon juice. It’s delicious as a sauce for dipping or spooning over those fresh vegetables. In the course of my research I found this Cheater’s Aioli. It’s so delicious. And she has a great technique for adding the garlic flavor without the garlic bits.

I spooned it over some roasted carrots, but ate them before taking a picture! This sauce is irresistible.

I hope this gives you some ideas for enjoying summer’s fresh vegetables.

Easy Salmon Pinwheels

Remember office parties? It seems as if they are a relic from the past, but we had one this past weekend. I have been working on a recipe idea and I used this occasion to try them out. .

The office party is obviously quite different from having your friends over. It sits in that gray area between formality and familiarity. Our crowd this weekend was friendly and outgoing so that made it fun.

Smoked salmon served with capers and red onion, a little creme fraiche is one of my favorite appetizers. However, it can be messy to keep all of the ingredients contained so they don’t end up on your clothes or the floor. The answer? Put those ingredients in a tortilla! So I did and you can find the recipe here.

I usually offer vegetables and dip at a cocktail party. My go-to dip is curry dip which has so much flavor. I took this picture before adding the curry dip to the bowl.

At a party I hosted a few years ago, I found out by accident that water is something your guests will greatly appreciate. At that time I served water and lemonade in crocks because I was hosting our extended family with a lot of teenagers and I wanted to give them choices besides sodas. But the water crock was what I kept refilling. Every since I have put one of these containers out at parties and people always drink it up. I encourage everyone to make it easy for your guests to get some water.

Last week was a busy one. A party really gets me motivated to tackle and finish projects around the house. I put up a towel hook in the bathroom, washed my dining room chair slipcovers, planted pansies in the yard, cleared out a bunch of clutter from all over the house, and cleaned. Whew! It felt good.

Do parties get you motivated to take care of all those little chores you have been putting off?

De-cluttering

De-cluttering

How’s your New Year’s resolution to de-clutter your house going? I have actually tackled some closets and had a few thoughts in the process, which I wanted to share with you.

Obviously de-cluttering or cleaning out has different connotations for various stages of life. When Mr. Bee was on active duty and we moved a lot (over 15 times) I was constantly getting rid of items we did not use. Even though I did not have to pack our stuff, I had to unpack it and keep track of it, and that made me want to be as streamlined as possible. That attitude served me well then and has carried over into our non-moving life. So, yes to continual cleaning out. I always have a thrift bag in my closet that I constantly add to. This practice is good for disposing of unworn clothes, books or knick-knacks. As soon as I realize an item is not functional, into the bag it goes.

As we moved around and my children were growing up, I culled their toys and clothes with an eye toward the future. It may be because my mother-in-law saved everything and my mother saved nothing that I decided on a more intentional path. Before a move I would look at the toys and clothes and consider what should be passed down to my grandchildren? Honestly, the answer was very few clothes. What I did save was out of sentimentality rather than utility. I only saved one plastic tote of baby clothes and that was about right. Even of that, I only shared a few precious items with my children who are parents. I have a few classic toys and that has worked well for when my grandbabies visit. I saved almost all of their books which has been great.

I think we all find the most difficult items to purge are those that have sentimental value. The military culture is marked by pride and recognition in achievements, awards for exceptional service, plaques on every departure, just. endless.recognition. Of course Tom is proud of his service and we are so proud of him. He served 31 years as a Marine officer and every bit of the memorabilia is special to him. I am working on him to cull and pick the MOST special of the special. That’s going to be a process. He’s a sentimental guy and I love that about him.

And what about me? Trust me, I have my sentimental items too. My memorabilia involves crafts. I loved cross stitch, quilting, sewing. But what do you do with all of it? Hopefully I can talk my children into taking some of it. On top of that, I have crafts from relatives, such as unfinished quilts my grandmother made, samplers Tom’s mother made. They don’t fit my decor and so they are stored in closets and totes. Yet, I cannot toss it in the thrift store pile. Yet I am conscious that what I do not deal with now, my children will have to deal with later.

I observed our parents’ aging and how their ability and motivation to clean out dissipated the older they became and so it was left to the grown children to do. I would rather save my children from that if I can, recognizing that some clearing out is inevitable.

Perhaps the sequence is de-clutter, clean out, downsize as we progress through life. I know I need a certain amount of possessions around me to feel at home. Mr. Bee needs his memorabilia. I can see us continuing to pare down all of it on a continual basis. My goal is to have an empty attic, very spartan garage, almost empty closets. Will I get there? I don’t know. I’ll keep you posted.