Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Remnants of Summer

You know summer is over when all the stores put their outdoor furniture on sale. Here's Restoration Hardware's offerings

As I sit writing to you this morning, it's raining very hard. I was planning to go on a waterfront park picnic with my best friend and her baby. Instead, I'm lighting a fire in my fireplace and we're having a cozy lunch at my house. Instead of the iced tea I'd been planning to bring, I'm making hot tea.

Outside my window, through the rain sodden trees, I see a group of mothers escorting their coat-wearing small children to their first day of school at the elementary school behind my house. My dogs, afraid of the rain, are restlessly play-fighting at my feet. It feels like fall, despite the absence of colored, falling leaves. As much as I love autumn and look forward to it, I'm a bit sad and wistful to be losing my beloved summer. I'm not quite ready for it to be over.


  • Look back over your summer. Did you get to do everything you wanted? Did you go berry picking, make lemonade, sit in the sun reading a book, go to a lake or beach, have a picnic in the park, take your dogs to an off-leash park, attend an outdoor concert, go to the farmer's market? Anything summery you can plan to enjoy this next week or so, weather permitting?

  • Our cooking and eating styles will soon change for autumn. There's still time to eat heirloom tomatoes, slice up watermelon, prepare some fabulous summer corn, make a fresh berry pie, serve a summer melon, and drink an ice cold martini on the porch in the evening.

  • Finalize plans for your Labor Day weekend. Going somewhere and need to pack? Having company over and need to grocery shop and clean?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Closet Cleaning

Pick a closet other than your bedroom clothes closet: under the stairs, perhaps, or the hall closet, or the guest room closet. Remove everything, sort, declutter, and try to get rid of as much as possible. Give the carpet a quick sweep or vacuum, wipe down any walls as needed, dust off any shelving, then replace your items in an organized manner.

Today I'm doing this with my under-stairs closet. This is where I keep my board games (I already threw away one that's missing too many cards and pieces), outdoor pillows, outdoor umbrellas, tools, cables and gadgets, picnic basket and vacuum. My dogs kept me company, sniffing every item as I removed it, and I listened to TV while I worked. It was quite pleasant, actually. I already noticed how much easier it is to grab a throw if I'm chilly.

What closet can you sort tonight after work? I bet you can do it in less than 30 minutes!

LOVELY FOOD: Sur la Table's New Paper Baking Cups

I am so happy to see these fabulous new bake cup designs at Sur La Table. They have lots of polkadots, colorful swirls, and best of all, DAMASK! There's also a nice gothy black Skulls and Scrolls for Halloween, and unusual things like Jaguar print. My mouth is already watering as I'm daydreaming about all the fancy cupcakes I'm going to bake soon!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Scents of Summer

Persian Lime candle at Williams-Sonoma

Are you fully enjoying the smells you associate with summer? Are your windows open to let in fresh air and breezes - even if you have central air conditioning you'd have to turn off for the day? Even if you have to dust extra long from leaving windows open?

Do you have a large bowl of oranges, limes or lemons on your kitchen counter or dining room table? They won't smell strongly, but they visually remind you of summertime's pleasures.

Wearing your favorite summer perfume, whether it is grapefruit, lavender, marine, cucumber, mango, lime, or coconut-based?

Spray your sheets with a summery sheet spray, if you have one, and spritz your kitchen counters with counter spray. Burn incense, or light your favorite summery home fragrance oil in a diffuser. (Chemically sensitive people are going to want to skip out on my advice!)

And for free, you can enjoy other smells of summer - crank up the lawnmower and mow your grass, light the barbecue, bring fresh cut flowers from your garden into the house, and dry your wet beach towels on a railing in the sun.


Get ready for the weekend. Empty trash cans, fill or empty dishwasher, wipe down kitchen and bathroom sinks, declutter mail table.

Sweep any wood floors in your house. I can do my kitchen/breakfast nook, dining room, and front entryway in less than 2 minutes.

- If you have time tonight, grab a magazine or catalog and read it in a sunny spot, while enjoying iced tea or cold fruit juice.

- Make popsicles using fruit juice

- Wash ice cube trays in dishwasher or hot water and refill with clean cold water, then replace in freezer.

- Are your fans getting dusty? Mine are. I currently have one in each bedroom, one in the living room and one in the kitchen. I'm going to grab some wet paper towels and dust them off really quickly. But I won't spend TOO much time, as your life isn't over if your fans have dust on them!


This is something you can do before or after you go out to dinner or your social plans tonight.

Grab a box from your closet, attic, basement, garage, or storage unit if you have one. Remove everything and give all the items a careful, but quick, evaluation. What can you throw away, recycle, give away, sell, or put out to use? What must you keep, or put out where you can see it to remind you to use it more often? Try to get rid of as much clutter as possible. When you're done, recycle or re-use the box, but try not to put it back in the attic, basement or other place it came from.

I'm personally going to sort a box of books and be really tough on myself. If I haven't read the book, I should immediately add it to my bedside table "waiting" pile. If I don't want to read it this week, I should put it in my car and immediately (this weekend) sell it at Half Price Books, donate it to the library, or find a friend who wants it. With books I've already read, do I really need to keep them? Will I really re-read them again? Are they truly treasured books, or am I clinging on to them for some emotional reason and I should let them go? I have WAY too many books, so I am going to have to be firm with myself.

LOVELY BLOGS: Mila's Daydreams

This is one of the most amazing mommy blogs I've seen. Every day during Mila's nap, her mommy arranges her artfully amongst blankets, pillows and props to create an artistic scene. In one, she's riding a horse; in another, she's playing a recorder, accompanied by forest creatures. This blog has thousands of appreciative fans, judging by the 1400 "likes" each post gets on Facebook! I think you'll really enjoy the picture posts here.


LOVELY TV: Leaving Home at 8 Years Old

I am so excited to watch this one-hour documentary tonight. It chronicles the lives of four eight-year-old girls as they enter their first year in a prestigious British boarding academy.

Leaving Home at 8 Years Old, on BBC America


The DIY Home Bar (CHOW)

Eat Up the Last Days of Summer (Epicurious)

Mushroom, Swiss Chard, and Goat Cheese Omelette (CHOW)

The New Coffee Bars: Unplug, Drink, Go (NY Times)

Signature Blends at Tokyo Bars (NY Times)

Watermelon-Chocolate Ice Cream Cupcakes (Cupcake Bakeshop)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Time for Back-To-School Shopping

I couldn't resist this teal binder from OfficeMax. I think I'll store recipe clippings in it.

It's time to get the kids ready to start school again!


  • Make time this week for a quiet evening at home; or if you ALWAYS have quiet evenings at home, try to plan one fun evening out this week.

  • Do you have any fruit or veggies in the house that will be going bad soon? Slice up the fruit and eat it today, plan to use the veggies at dinner, and check your bread to see if it's moldy. While you're at it, do you need to check the expiration dates on the milk and eggs in your fridge?

  • Have some cranberry juice - it's good for prevention, if you know what I mean.

  • Need to bathe or groom any pets this week?


This time of year makes me nostalgic for my school and college years. It also makes me wish I had a little boy or girl to go back-to-school shopping with. So many cute clothes, adorable lunchboxes, and inviting notebooks waiting to be filled up!

The only thing I don't like about back-to-school shopping is that I'm not ready to think about fall yet. All the back-to-school ads I see in magazines and on TV make me start thinking about autumn and all the lovely things that come with it.
I love fall, but I am so enjoying the warmth and sunlight of summer. I love running out of the house in sandals, not worrying about grabbing a coat on the way out. I'm entertaining outdoors, and walking my dogs without freezing or getting rained on..

If you haven't done your school shopping yet, it's time to get started. Target, K-Mart, Fred Meyer, Wal-Mart, Office Depot, Staples and other office supply stores are having amazing sales right now. Just about every department store has huge clothing sales, too. It's also very crowded in the school supply aisles of all the stores right now. You might want to try going in the morning, rather than the afternoon if possible; or later at night after dinner.

Don't have children of your own, but have a tiny bit of room in your budget? Buy fun little gifts for your nieces and nephews, who are probably eagerly anticipating their return to school. Pick up little glittery pencils, tiny sets of markers at the Dollar Spot at Target, or an inexpensive set of stickers.

If you have a close friend or relative who has more than one school-age child, you can offer to babysit one of the children while the parent takes the other out shopping. I know I would have loved not having to have my little brother tag along while my mom took me back-to-school bra and panty shopping!

I usually also go "school supply" shopping for myself - I stock up my home office with fun colored pens, glittery notebooks, and pretty pink portfolios to keep my torn-out recipes in. Hopefully I can encourage myself to use my supplies to write letters and to organize my office better.

You might not particularly have time to shop today, but make a plan, get organized, take inventory of your children's clothing and existing school supplies, and check everything against the teacher's supply list.

Remember that you aren't just shopping for clothing, crayons and pencils. Your child will need a backpack if last year's is worn out or filthy; lunch box or lunch sacks; snacks for their lunches and afternoons, and breakfast cereal for the mornings. Your child may have some sports-related clothing and equipment they will need for their extracurricular activities.

Your older children may need to purchase software for their computer. Your teenagers may need a gas card, a lube job for their car, and other travel-related expenses. Your college student will need their dorm room furnished or updated. (You might want to budget in upcoming expenses so you can send them occasional surprise $10 gift cards to Starbucks, $20 gift cards to Barnes & Noble, movie theater certificates, etc.)

Does your child need a haircut before school starts? With enough time for the "new haircut" look to go away? What other appointments do you need to make while it's still summer and your child's time is more flexible. Doctor appointments? Vaccinations? Dentist visits?

If you don't have children, use today's project time to organize your home office or computer area.

LOVELY WEBSITES: The Art of Manliness

"Reviving the lost art of manliness." A couple men of my acquaintance are really enjoying this website, where they can learn manly skills like Tarzan's climbing, how to cook around a campfire, and how to negotiate for a used car. There are tips on health and sports, dress and grooming, relationships and family. Even though I'm a girl, I'm enjoying looking through some of the articles here.


LOVELY MOVIES: The Kings of Pastry

A documentary about professional pastry chefs preparing for a contest. While most people might think this sounds gruelingly boring, I'm fascinated and eager to see it!

The Kings of Pastry Trailer, at Apple


The Allure and Adventure of Solo Travel (CNN)

Eat, Pray, Spritz: Food Stylist Susan Spungen (NY Times)

Follow the Bees to the Sweetest Fruit (NY Times)

Save Money on Back-to-School Shopping (Stay at Home Moms)

School Success (About.com)

Summer Preserves: Pickled Vegetables (Food & Wine Magazine)

Summer Reading for the Food Obsessed (CHOW)

Monday, August 09, 2010

ReFeathering the Empty Nest

A pillow I'm really tempted by at Crate & Barrel. Perfect for fall!

Both of my "kids" just moved away to go to college in the fall. Their moving preparations and packing procedures brought chaos on our home, with boxes and sorting, extra meals needing to be cooked, and extra trash and recycling needing to go out.

Also, I neglected many of my housekeeping maintenance duties this week while entertaining a young visiting cousin. She was eager to see new things, go new places, try new restaurants and go to her first outdoor concert ( Natalie Merchant) so I indulged her. When we got home every night we were too tired to do more than the very most basic things around the house. She's back at her home now, and I have a house free of children for the first time in four years.

Suddenly I find myself with a clean house that stays clean; a freshly mopped kitchen floor that has time to dry properly because nobody tromps on it right away; a TIVO uncluttered by other people's unwatched recorded shows; and lots of extra time on my hands. And if I imbibe more than one delicious cocktail at dinner, I don't have to worry about being an unduly bad influence!

In two or three weeks I will probably be crying and missing them; meanwhile I'm enjoying my freedom and alone time. Time for me to rebuild my life without them, redecorate my home a bit, rearrange things, and look forward to their holiday visits. Meanwhile, I have a horribly trashed home to clean up!


  • Challenge: Can you remove two items from your nightstand (if applicable)?

  • Make menu plans and create grocery list for the week

  • Plan your week ahead. What will you wear, what appointments do you have to go to, can you make time for yourself every day, do you have an evening to spend with family for quality time?

  • Try to fit in time for two summery things this week or next weekend. What haven't you done yet this summer that you want to? Long walks, berry picking, sunbathing (skin cancer, I know, I know, sigh!) a visit to the park, an outdoor concert, a picnic, a barbecue?

  • Need to return any library books or movie rentals from the past weekend?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Feathering my Empty Nest

My house got so out of control during the kids' moving process, I barely know where to start. I think I will tackle the worst (and most important) rooms first, then work my way to the less-trashed, less-used rooms of the house. I expect this project to take 2-3 evenings after work this week.

  • Bathrooms: Empty trash cans, scrub toilets, mop floors, sanitize counters, wipe mirrors and fixtures, launder and replace towels.

  • Kitchen: Empty/fill dishwasher, scrub sink and spray with stainless steel cleaner; wipe down oven and stove; wash counters; take out recycling; mop floors.

  • Downstairs family room: Vacuum, declutter, launder slipcovers for furniture, dust bookcases and end tables, replace DVDs in their homes, dust media center and TV, declutter mantel.

  • Upstairs living room: Dust and vacuum.

  • Dining room: declutter table, sweep and mop.

  • Bedrooms: Tidy, pick-up, and vacuum.

  • Home office: Light a match (just kidding!) Tidy and declutter.

LOVELY BABIES: The Secret Garden Collection

Am I just biased because they named this collection, perhaps, after one of my favorite children's books? This collection is so adorable, I am probably going to go crazy and buy several pieces of it for my newest niece.

The Secret Garden, at The Gap

LOVELY BLOGS: Badder Homes and Gardens

Alright, you need a sense of humor for this home decor blog! It's irreverent, naughty, and a bit cheeky. Enjoy!



Check out this CNN video about a woman in Pennsylvania who secretly performed acts of kindness for strangers. Things as simple as tucking a hydrangea bloom into someone's windshield wipers, or gifting someone a $5 Starbucks gift card. I love this!

Secret Agent L


LOVELY MOVIES: Eat, Pray, Love

I haven't read the book, but based on the trailer, I am excited to see this. Preferably with girlfriends and a Cosmo or two first!

Eat, Pray, Love, at IMDB

Eat, Pray, Love Movie (Official)


Canning for Beginners (How About Orange)

Classic Cookout Desserts (Epicurious)

How to Set Up a Housekeeping Plan (Home Ever After)

How to Taste Dark Chocolate (CHOW)

Inspirational Kitchens (Architectural Digest)

Make Your Own Ice Cream Treats (CHOW)

Outdoor Spaces Slideshow (Architectural Digest)