Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Last Fleeting Remnants of Summer

Flowers I bought to help decorate my backyard for a recent party

Today I had the joy of quickly rushing out to retrieve my indoor/outdoor couch cushions from my outdoor living room - it was raining when I woke up! The weather was warm enough still - too warm for an indoor fireplace and my hot tea I drank made me slightly uncomfortable. Luckily this afternoon the sun came out and I was able to take my dogs on a longer-than-normal walk this evening, enjoying the long shadows and a slight smell of cedar in the air. All this is hinting that summer will soon be over.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Look back over your Summer 2014 - Did you get to do everything you anticipated? Did you go berry picking, make fresh 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, attend an outdoor film, go to the farmer's market?
  • Any summery events you can plan to enjoy this next week or so, weather permitting?
  • Most of our cooking and eating styles will soon change as autumn begins. We'll cook soups, use our slow cookers, bake more now that we can stand to turn on our ovens. Yet, there's still time to eat heirloom tomatoes, slice up watermelon, prepare some fabulous summer corn, make a fresh berry pie, cut open a summer melon, and drink an ice cold martini on the porch in the evening.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Total Relaxation

All I'm doing for chores today is a load of laundry (so I have fresh sheets to sleep on tonight), a wipe down of my kitchen counters so they don't get grody, and a quick cleanout of a refrigerator shelf with expiring food on it. I intend to spend tonight reading, chatting with friends on the Internet, and watching a few episodes of Orange is the New Black on Netflix. Tomorrow I might possibly play around in the kitchen, baking a cake and trying a couple recipes I've wanted to experiment with. Tuesday (a busy workday) will come soon enough. Tonight, it's time to relax.

LOVELY BEVERAGES: Three Olives' Jacked Apple

I'm not rushing yet to swap out summer flavors for those of fall. There's no pumpkin spice anything in my house right now. But I probably can't resist trying the new vodka from Three Olives - it sounds tasty and refreshing! Liquor store, here I come!

Three Olives Jacked Apple

LOVELY BLOGS: Manger

Mimi Thorisson's blog, where she cooks and let you peek into her busy life in Paris. She and her husband have somewhere around seven kids, if I'm counting right, and four terriers. She's written a cookbook, "A Kitchen in France," and has neatly organized her recipes for you on her blog. I think you'll enjoy her food photography as well!

http://mimithorisson.com/

LOVELY FASHION: My New Purple Dress for Fall

I really do not enjoy shopping at White House Black Market, which seems to specialize in overly pushy, obnoxiously overhelpful sales ladies. I get treated much better at Macy's, where I find I buy many more dresses since I'm left alone to browse and not pressured into joining an email list. The other day, however, when walking by the store windows in the mall, I spotted this purple dress and could tell it had a good chance of looking good on me. I tried it on hurriedly, trying to get to my hair appointment on time. It fit and looked great! After a two minute argument with the pushy salesclerk (wanting me to try something else on, wanting me to apply for a store credit card, asking four times why she couldn't have my email or phone number) I purchased the dress and ran it out to my car. I was a couple minutes late for my hair appointment, which felt rude, but now I have a lovely dress to wear to early fall dinner parties and restaurant outings!

Purple Dress at White House Black Market

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Baked Apple Pie Fries (Averie Cooks)

Baked Okra (Bev Cooks)

At Work, Every Friday Should be a Summer Friday (Slate)

Farmstand Blackberry Cornbread Buckle (The Wimpy Vegetarian)

Fermented Turmeric Tonic (Sarah Wilson)

Gluten Free is the New Normal - Get Over It (CHOW)

Homemade DIY Ranch Seasoning Mix (Brown Eyed Baker)

This Week's Meatless Meal Plan (Oh My Veggies)

Whiskey Smash Cocktails for Labor Day (Slate)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fully Enjoying Summertime

I've added an outdoor living room to my outdoor office. This is where I sit to read magazines, browse catalogs, text people, and drink tea while watching my dogs play. I try not to do any work in this area, wanting it to feel leisurely. If I need to write, study, pay bills or work on websites, I go sit at the nearby outdoor patio table instead.

Are you enjoying your summer? Making the most of it? Going on long walks, eating dinner outdoors, picking berries, going to the lake shore or beach, going to outdoor concerts, stargazing?

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • - Do as few chores as possible if you're home this weekend. Let's enjoy our four day weekend and do projects on another day. Perhaps just empty or fill the dishwasher, empty trash bins, refresh a bathroom and call it good?
  • Do something you consider fun that you don't normally have time for. Experiment on a new dish in the kitchen? Read a book or magazine? Watch a movie? Try on new makeup or a new way to do your hair?
  • Fill your car with gas if needed, and grab cash at an ATM for a bit of pocket money.
  • Need to rent movies at a Redbox, or return some of your Netflix discs? Or does everyone just stream from Netflix nowadays?
  • Find one way to quickly pamper yourself, whether it's getting a manicure (or giving yourself one), taking an extra long shower, napping in the afternoon, or sneaking a naughty ice cream treat.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Bathroom Touchups

Hotel Collection Towels, at Macy's

I feel like lazily lounging around today, reading and watching television. I don't want my entire house to go to pot though, so I'll do just a couple chores. I'll spiff up both of my guest bathrooms - especially after having a crew of seven men here this week painting the house and using the bathrooms repeatedly!

It shouldn't take more than ten minutes per bathroom (mostly because I'm skipping scouring the tubs and showers, since the guests didn't use them). I'll do a quick bleach and swish in each toilet, a wipedown of the toilet tanks, I'll empty the wastebaskets and rinse them out, I'll swap out used hand towels for freshly laundered ones, and I'll launder my and bathroom rugs.

Next I'll work on my bathroom counters, sinks and mirrors. I've been doing very well at keeping them nicely uncluttered. I'll finish by quickly mopping my three bathroom floors, which won't take long because my bathrooms are so tiny.

LOVELY BLOGS: Keeper of the Home

Recent posts on this natural living blog with multiple contributors include Edible Landscaping, Fresh Green Salad Recipes, and How to Make and Use a Plaintain Poultice. My hippie former mother-in-law would totally love this blog, I should send her the link!

http://www.keeperofthehome.org/

LOVELY FRAGRANCE: Sage & Thyme Market

I know that some of you prefer not to use any chemicals or fake fragrances around your home. I sure enjoy using them though - especially with two dogs, a cat, and two of my cousin's dogs who visit often. I'm not ready to jump into fall by spraying pumpkin or spice scents around the house, so I was excited to see Glade's new limited edition collection of fragrances at Target this week. I skipped out on Red Apple Bakery for now, but also picked up Woodside Library.

Glade's Sage & Thyme Market

LOVELY HOME: Cherry Red Retro Cooler

I'm cutting all kinds of deals with myself, trying to talk myself into why I'm allowed to buy this awesome retro cooler. I think it will get a lot of use, but I admit summer is almost over. I can afford it (if I go without some other thing I wanted to purchase) and I think I have storage space for it when not in use (next to my picnic basket in a cupboard under my stairs). I'm imagining it could come in handy even in wintertime - bringing cold egg salad sandwiches over to a friend's house for lunch, I tell myself.

Cherry Red Cooler, at Cost Plus World Market

LOVELY KIDS: The Ginghams Paper Dolls

Do you remember these charming paper dolls from the 1970s? My mom would let me get a box (79 cents!) every time we went to Long's Drugstore in our hometown of Bonita, California. I so loved playing with these! My best friend and I even traced and colored our own homemade extra dresses for the dolls. We set up all the dolls' boxes like a little village, and took turns visiting each other's shops. All this reminiscing is making me want to go get a box or two of these out of storage and play with them a little while today. I think I will!

The Ginghams, on Pinterest

The Ginghams: A Visit to Grandma

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

The Allure of Imagined Meals (The New Yorker)

Big Brewers Betting on Apple-Flavored Booze (Fortune)

Candy Apple Flavored M&Ms Exist for Some Reason (Consumerist)

Caramel Apple Oreo Cookies (Spoil Your Dinner)

Danish Apple Cake (The Cafe)

5 Little Known Ways to Save Money on Amazon (Consumerist)

Hazelnut Pumpkin Spice Truffles (The Spice Train) High Tech Frozen Yogurt That Comes in Edible Packaging (Wired)

Is Owning Possessions Overrated? The Rental Economy Rises (NY Times)

Lay's Cappuccino Flavored Potato Chips Review (Brand Eating)

Panna Cotta with Poached Pears and Almond Toffee Crunch (The Orgasmic Chef)

7 Ways to Use Leftover Red Wine (Care2)

Tangy Lemon Slices (The Kiwi Cook)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summertime Decluttering Day

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Make menu plans for the week ahead; create your grocery list.
  • Have you made Labor Day weekend plans? Are you inviting people over, or going somewhere yourself?
  • Is it time to change or scoop cat litter?
  • Take inventory your of paper supplies. How well are you stocked up on toilet paper, paper towels, Wet Wipes, paper napkins, Kleenex and Puffs?
  • Wipe down microwave inside and out if needed. This just took me less than 1 minute, so I should do it more than once a week!
  • Is your pile of grocery bags (whether paper or plastic) getting out of hand? Take half your stash to the car so you can recycle it on your way to another errand. Most grocery stores and Targets have a place you can leave bags.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Decluttering Day

The lined baskets I keep our shoes in, tucked into a dresser by the front door

As I'm getting ready for my upcoming "1001 Nights" party which is on Saturday, I can't just focus on the food and decorations. I need to make sure my house looks (and smells!) nice for the guests. The party will be held outside, but people will of course need to come in to go to the bathroom, and I'm sure there will be people hanging out in the kitchen too. With over 50 people coming to the party, more than one guest bathroom will be in use at the same time, so I need to make sure all three of my bathrooms are in good shape.

Today I am making a sweep through every room of the house, decluttering as needed. I've already removed magazines from the backs of my toilet tanks, removed mail and most of the magazines off my coffee table, and removed some extra vases that were cluttering up both of my fireplace mantels. Next I'll empty wastebaskets, carry any stray dishes and water glasses to the dishwasher, put shoes in the baskets by the front door where they belong, and put items back into their proper homes in closets, cabinets, and on shelves.

In my laundry room, I have clean sheets that need to be put back on a bed, and a pile of clean dark clothing that needs to be hung up.

Lastly, the worst area right now is the living room where I sit with a laptop to do my work. There is a huge stack of library books, lots of paperwork, an out of place USB stick, a camera lens, and a pile of CDs I was sorting. All of that needs to go away so I can finish tidying the living room for the party!

What things might you need to declutter tonight after work? If any?

LOVELY BLOGS: Letters of Note

This blog is "an attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos." Though it hasn't been updated since June, I've been enjoying visiting the past archives of letters. There's of course a letter from Maya Angelou (to her future self), a letter from Silent Spring biologist Rachel Carson, and a wonderful letter from Helen Keller to the New York Symphony Orchestra. See if you shed a small tear while reading it!

http://www.lettersofnote.com/

LOVELY BOOKS: A Curious Invitation

I just checked out "A Curious Invitation: The Forty Greatest Parties in Fiction" from the library and eagerly dove right in. So far it's a really fun read! The book of course includes Alice in Wonderland's tea party; parties with The Great Gatsby; and the ball from Mansfield Park. Lesser known literary parties include The Duchess of Richmond's Ball from Vanity Fair, a party described in The Brothers Karamazov and several other intriguing fetes.

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Almond Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies (Bakerella)

Almond Crusted Sea Bass (A Sweet Pea Chef)

Coconut Ice Cream with Pineapple Curd Swirl (Pineapple and Coconut)

Four Words are the Key to Seeming Polite (The Atlantic)

Fun With Food Trends (The Atlantic)

Hawaiian Cream Popsicles (Cherished Bliss)

The Inspiring Desks of Art World Stars (Slate)

Raspberry Almond Shortbread Cookies (What Megan Made)

Raspberry Dark Chocolate Hand Pies (Annie's Eats)

Revisiting Green Goddess Dressing (Gastronaut Jones)

Sweet Savoury and Salty Fresh Kale Egg Salad (Peachy Palate)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Party Preparation: Jeweled Cookies

I had been content with the idea of serving just baklava for dessert at the party, plus sorbet/sherbet earlier in the day, and cotton candy and shaved ice for the kids. But then I saw this pin on Pinterest (cookies shown above), inspiring me to make bejeweled cookies. I won't have the skill or patience to put on teeny tiny little candy dots like this. But that's ok.

I ran to Cost Plus to find shortbread cookies like the one pictured. No such luck - but I picked up a couple assortments, plus some thin waffle cookies. They're Italian, but I don't care if they don't quite match the theme here. Pardon my terrible food photography here, by the way.

I got out my food paintbrush, my edible glitters, lusters, powders, food colorings, etc. and got to work. I had so much fun last night! I need to work on not "spilling" over when I paint cookies though.

I experimented with non-pareils, gel frostings (too runny) and glittery sugar.

This is a pizzelle cookie. They're very fragile, so I had to handle them carefully. I am not trying for any food blogging photography awards here by the way. I need to work on not smearing my edible ink, too.

I had a lot of fun in my practice session. These cookies will be quite stale (even if I covered them and put them away) by the party, so I'll have to make a huge new batch. I plan to have a cookie painting evening on Thursday before the night of the Saturday party. I hope my cousin can come over and help me, but I might be on my own! Let's hope my hand gets steadier.

Prepping for My 1001 Nights Party: Tents

Vintage illustration by Virginia Sterrett

Now that I'm not taking care of multiple kids every day, I have time, energy and money to indulge in one of my passions again: Throwing parties! This summer my cousin is helping me throw a massive party we've called "Scheherazade's 1001st Night." It's an Arabian/Persian/Moroccan themed party. Dog and kid/family friendly in the daytime; adults only cocktail party after 7pm.

To keep the party affordable, we're buying many of the foods at Costco, where you can source a decent tzatziki, affordable and tasty-enough hummus, tons of pita, stuffed vegetarian grape leaves, olives and the produce we'll need for the party. We'll make couscous and jeweled rice at home ourselves (in massive quantities!) but we'll splurge on catering for the hard stuff - the Mediterranean style beef and chicken. I wish we could serve platters of beautiful grapes, but since they are deathly poison to dogs, I can't risk any of them falling on the ground in my yard.

We won't do anything cheesy like hire belly dancers, and I won't wear a harem girl costume, but I'll definitely put an Arabian Nights style playlist on the beatbox, and I'll wear a jeweled flowy gauzy caftan. However, I decided it would be fun to have glow in the dark and UV light reactive things at the evening portion of the party. Not to turn it into a rave, but to make it fun and colorful and unique. Our weather here in Seattle is so bad that August is about the only time we're able to throw outdoor parties in the evening - and there's still a chance of rain. It's August 15 and it's raining even as I type this!

To keep the drinks easy, we'll serve beer and wine, and then just two specialty cocktails. (We ended up with a lot of leftover alcohol - good problem to have - after our massive Christmas party, I think because we just tried to have too much selection. I don't want to end up with leftovers and spend fall drinking them up, fun though that sounds!)

The party preparation for this has been pretty time consuming (but in a fun way). I've thrown an Arabian Nights party before, so I already had some silks and fancy pillows saved from that. I started shopping for fake flowers, the sequins and "jewels" I have been gluing on to them, silks and fabric for the tents about a month ago. I've also gotten all the UV reactive colorful plates and some serving trays.

Our colors for the party are purple, orange, gold, teal/turquoise, and fuchsia/hot pink.

I normally don't throw junk around in one of the rooms of my house (that's what my garage is for, muwahaha) but I've had to turn the former playroom into a party goods staging area. This is where I'm temporarily storing the dishes, silks, flowers, LED candles, batteries, lanterns, vases and decorations for the party.

I bought this canopy tent - which I know I will re-use at future parties - for just $130 at Wal-Mart, somewhere I don't normally shop but thought to check for such a thing. I managed to get this tent up all by myself somehow - it's supposed to take two people to pull it apart. I had to climb up on a ladder to get the canopy on. I was so grateful the canopy fit well!

The rug is a fairly inexpensive one (under $180) that I will use in my dining room after the party. This is me practicing setting up the tent - the rug and fabric will have to go back indoors for the next week until it's time to set them up again the night before the party.

Here I'm figuring out how I'm going to get the fabric covering three sides of the tent. I'm seriously tempted to just staple it!

I want each of my two tents to have an air mattress, so I bought a new one for $35 and will use my old one. I'm sure these will both get used again. Especially since I don't currently have any guest rooms or guest beds in my house and guests have been sleeping on the couch. I bought inexpensive gold satin sheets (via Amazon) to cover the mattresses with for the party - I won't care if guests get food on them.

I've strung purple "Christmas" lights up - the other tent will get fuchsia colored ones. These lights will look silly in the daytime but will help add light and look cool at night. I'm also experimenting with my UV lights from Halloweens past - how can I plug them in where people won't trip over the cords, and exactly how much light will shine out from them?

Here's a collection of vases and lanterns I'll use to decorate the party. I'll be bringing lots of my indoor furniture - side tables, coffee tables, and the indoor/outdoor seating set I keep in my kitchen - outside for the party. All those side tables will need lots of lanterns and candles. I've sadly had to invest in a lot of LED candles. I don't usually like to use those, preferring real candles, but I'm afraid to have any sort of flame near the very flammable tent fabrics.

In my next post, I'll show you what I've been playing with regarding festive cookies!

The Scents of Summer

Sicilian Tangerine 3 Wick Candle, from Nest

Are you fully taking advantage of and making it possible to indulge in the smells you associate with summer? Do you regularly open your windows to let in fresh air and breezes? Even if you have to dust extra long from leaving windows open, and even if you turn off your air conditioning for an hour as a tradeoff for the fresh air?

Do you have a large, pretty bowl of cherries, 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.

Are you wearing your favorite summer perfume, whether it is grapefruit, lavender, marine, cucumber, mango, lime, or coconut-based? I forget to spray mine on every day.

If you aren't fragrance sensitive, spray your sheets with a summery sheet spray, and spritz your kitchen counters with a summery counter spray. (Lavender? Grapefruit?) Burn incense, or light your favorite summer home fragrance oil in a diffuser.

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

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Get ready for the weekend. Empty your trash cans, fill or empty your dishwasher, wipe down your kitchen and bathroom sinks, declutter your dining and mail tables as needed.
  • Sweep any wood floors in your house. I can do my kitchen/breakfast nook, dining room, and front entryway in less than 2 minutes.
  • Make time tonight to grab a favorite magazine or catalog and read it in a sunny spot. Pour yourself iced tea or cold fruit juice to enjoy while you read.
  • If you don't have an icemaker in your fridge, how is your supply of ice cubes for the weekend ahead?
  • Are your ceiling or standing fans getting dusty? Mine are. I currently have one in each bedroom, one in the living room, one in the family room and one in the kitchen. I'm going to grab some wet paper towels to dust them off really quickly. But I won't spend TOO much time, as your life isn't ruined if your fans have dust on them!

TODAY'S PROJECT: Box Sorting

Petite Colorwave Smart Store Tote, from The Container Store

Box sorting is an easy project you can do either right before you go out to dinner, or when you get back home. Since I'm a packrat with a garage full of boxes, box sorting is something I try to do at least once a week.

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? What can you part with? Is there something you can 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. Last week I was able to get three craft boxes sorted into just one craft box - and I'll earmark that for sorting again in December. If I haven't actually done the crafts or used the supplies in the next three months, they have to go.

I think tonight I'll be sorting a box of photo albums. Removing the photos from the old crumbling acidic albums and storing them in a photo box will cut down on the bulk of what I'm storing. I'm hardly going to get rid of any pictures of relatives, but there are stupid useless pictures of trees and unidentifiable canyons and neighbors dogs, etc.

LOVELY BEVERAGES: Belvedere's New Summer Vodka

New for summer from Belvedere - Mango Passion vodka. I'm not a huge fan of the taste of mango so I think I'll pass on this one, but wanted to see if any of you had tried it yet.

Chilled Magazine's Mango Passion Vodka Cocktail Recipes

LOVELY BEVERAGES: Steep Show's Literary and Historical Themed Teas

I haven't tasted these teas yet, but I am delighted by the literary and historical themes to the teas. I want to try this! If it's as tasty as I assume, what wonderful gifts these would be to tuck into literary-minded relatives' Christmas and birthday presents. There's a Mr. Darcy Earl Grey, a Miss Bennet's English Pear, Poe's Midnight Blend Herbal Tea, Whitman's Leaves of Green Tea, and teas based on Marie Antoinette, Mozart, Bach, and Kandinsky. Some of the flavors sound absolutely delicious too - Soothing Almond Rooibos?

Steep Show Tea, on Amazon

LOVELY BLOGS: My House is Cuter Than Yours

Sarah has one child, and enjoys cooking, thrift stores, vintage things, and making crafts. Recent posts include a peek at her thrift store finds, a banana cream cake she made from a vintage recipe, and pics of some adorable crafts she made.

http://myhouseiscuterthanyours.blogspot.com/

LOVELY BOOKS: Rose Buds

Here's another delightful vintage book that we can read through the courtesy of the Internet Archive. This one is from 1885. The illustrations are so charming!

Rose Buds, at Internet Archive

LOVELY HOME: Waterscape Hurricanes

These are exactly the colors I love to decorate in for summertime - blues and greens in varying hues. These lovely hurricanes can be used as either vases or votive holders.

Waterscape Hurricanes, at West Elm

LOVELY TV: David Tutera's CELEBrations

I've been enjoying David Tutera's party and wedding planning shows for years, so I'm eager to check out his new celebrity themed party show. I think I'm the wrong demographic for the show though - I don't really care about any of the celebs he's throwing parties with: Lil Kim, Taylor Armstrong, and some "celebs" I've never heard of. Still, I'll give it a chance - I can't pass up the opportunity to see some of David's fun ideas.

David Tutera's Celebrations, on WETV

LOVELY WEBSITES: Chloe Fleury

I'm obsessed with paper art (though I am not very good at making any myself). I love looking at people's paper art creations. Here's Chloe Fleury, a French illustrator who works in prop styling. I thought you'd enjoy browsing her gallery of past creations.

http://www.chloefleury.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Baking with Whole Grains: Peach Ginger Muffins (Annie's Eats)

Blackberry Basil Fizz (The Merry Thought)

Blackberry Ripple Ice Cream (The Pig and Thistle)

Cherry Pie Bars (Creative Culinary)

How to Make Ghee (101 Cookbooks)

Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes (Confessions of a Cookbook Queen)

Kahlua Crunch Balls (Bakers Royale)

Lemon Raspberry Gooey Butter Cake (Foodness Gracious)

Nutella Panini (Love From the Oven)

Potato Salad with Creme Fraiche (Honest Cooking)

Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake (Smitten Kitchen)

Shark Marshmallow Pops (The Decorated Cookie Blog)

Soft Pumpkin Cookies with Cinnamon Sugar Frosting (Bake at 350)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What To Clean During a Blackout

Cyalume Snaplight Stick, on Amazon

A sudden summer lightning and thunderstorm came through my town one evening this week. Lightning struck a power transformer down the road, so my neighborhood lost power around 9pm. I wish I'd had enough notice to unplug my two computers (one of them is on a surge protector, the other, sadly, was just plugged into the living room wall socket) but they did survive the sudden spike, surge and power loss.

I was standing in the kitchen when the power went out, proud of myself that I'm well prepared for power outages. Kitchen matches were at finger's reach, and I lit the candle I keep on my kitchen counter. Delighted at the prospect of a blackout, I lit a few cheerful candles around the house: bathroom, hallway, and the living room I was planning to curl up with my Kindle in.

I realized my Kindle had only 25% charge left - oops, I'd thought of charging it up earlier in the day, but became distracted by another project. So my evening of reading didn't last too long. It was far too hot to sleep - while I don't have air conditioning in my house, the fans I'd placed in several windows had really helped keep the house cooler. My dogs were freaking out because of the thunder, sitting on my lap and crawling behind me. They made things extra hot with their shaking and panting! I would have been delighted to go sleep in my tent in my backyard, but was concerned the lightning would hit the tent or us in it! I think I much prefer power outages in the winter, when one can light a fire in the fireplace for warmth and light, and cuddle under a blanket.

Faced with a miserable evening (and I'd napped earlier in the day so wasn't at all sleepy) I decided to clean a few things despite the darkness. That way in the morning, I'd have my chores out of the way and could do more fun things with my time when the sunlight had returned and the power had come back on. I grabbed my best, brightest LED flashlight, and went upstairs to my closet.

I discovered that while I had enough light from the flashlight to put a laundry basket full of clean clothing away in my closet, I was too grumpy from the heat, and gave up soon. I decided working on the top floor of my tri-level home was foolish - clearly my windowless closet was the hottest room of the house at the moment. Downstairs, I dusted my living room by flashlight. That actually was fun - the flashlight illuminated clouds of dust and I felt like I was really getting something done! I swept a bit, leisurely and slowly so I wouldn't get too hot. It was easy to unload the dishwasher and reload it with dirty dishes, but I didn't feel like hand washing some fragile items with hot water - yuck. I decided any kind of scrubbing - sinks, bathroom, floors - would get me too hot, so I dusted another bookcase and called it a night.

I went to bed cranky, but enjoyed the excuse to crack open a Cyalume lightstick to make a cheerful glow in the bedroom for us. (I wanted some light in case I needed to get up in the night, but didn't dare risk leaving candles burning while I slept). Around 2am I was awoken by the delightful sound of all the fans in the house coming back on. I'm so grateful for the line workers who went out late at night in a thunderstorm and worked so hard to fix the power for our neighborhood!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Make socialization plans for your weekend ahead.
  • Need to do any laundry so your weekend isn't completely full of laundry projects?
  • How are you doing on candles, matches, batteries, flashlights, and charged up ereaders? Power outages don't just happen in fall and winter!
  • How is your skin doing with summer's weather? Need to apply any moisturizing, facial masks, or scrubs?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Floors

Method Home Almond Floor Cleaner, on Amazon

Today I'm spending my half hour or so of cleaning time working on my floors. The recent rains have deposited muddy dog footprints all over my laminate and hard wood floors; and I haven't vacuumed in three days. I just mopped the kitchen floor a day ago, and it's already gross again! Also, a dog did something on my brand new white carpet this morning that needs more attention after I already cleaned it up (sigh).

How are your floors, rugs and carpets doing right now?

LOVELY BLOGS: Austenesque Reviews

I find this blog very helpful for keeping up with new Jane Austen inspired books, mashups and fan fiction. I love to read imagined continuations of Pride & Prejudice especially (as long as they don't contain graphic sex - some of them have quite shocking amounts!) Currently they're reviewing The Perfect Match (a Pride & Prejudice sequel); Mr. Darcy's Refuge (in which he has to spend the night at Huntsford Parsonage!); and a historical romance called Full Steam Ahead.

http://austenesquereviews.com/

LOVELY BOOKS: The Queen of Hearts

Here's another charming vintage book to peruse on your break today. This one is the simple Queen of Hearts nursery rhyme, with darling illustrations by Randolph Caldecott.

The Queen of Hearts, at Internet Archive

LOVELY KITCHEN: Bella Shortcake Maker

I'm really endeavoring to control myself and not buy this inexpensive appliance. I know it would take up room in the cupboard (I wouldn't allow it to sit out cluttering up my counters) and I'd hardly ever use it. But it's so adorable, and what a lovely thought to be able to whip up perfectly shaped shortcakes any time I wanted! After all, when's the last time I used my waffle stick maker? Months ago. I don't need any more one-purpose appliances. I have to keep telling myself that!

Bella Shortcake Maker, on Amazon

LOVELY MOVIES: The Hundred Foot Journey

I so enjoyed this movie - a friend and I played hookey one afternoon and snuck to the fancy Ipic theater to see it. We sipped Pinot Grigio while watching the story unfold. It's such a wonderful movie, I'm hoping to see it again this weekend with visiting relatives. One thing I want to mention - don't go to the film hungry! Have lunch or dinner first. The "food porn" in the movie is overwhelming! Great movie to take a girls group or book club/knitting group friends to.

The Hundred Foot Journey (Official site)

The Hundred Foot Journey, on Facebook

The Hundred Foot Journey, on IMDB

The Hundred Foot Journey Movie Trailer, at Apple

LOVELY WEBSITES: Homefries Podcasts

I'm not much of a podcast listener, but I do enjoy some of the podcasts here. The Joy the Baker podcast is housed here; as well as The Art of Simple and a really fun party tips podcast by three guys, The Table Set.

http://homefries.com/shows/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Creating a Tea Corner (Dear Miss Kellie)

French Potato Salad with Mustard and Fines Herbs (Creative Culinary)

Grilled Salt and Vinegar Potatoes (Accidental Locavore)

Homemade Spicy Pickled Okra (Cottage at the Crossroads)

Perfect Party Hummus in a Pinch (Peas and Crayons)

Rose Sangria in Jars (Healthy Food Advice)

Salt and Pepper Heirloom Tart with Whipped Feta (How Sweet Eats)

Summer Squash Slaw: Ribbons of Happiness (Delish in a Dish)

Super Easy Coleslaw (Lovely Little Snippets)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What's Ahead for Lovely Living

August 2014:

  • A peek at my 1001 Nights party preparations
  • Labor Day Weekend travel and entertaining reminders; links to recipes and party tips; staycation ideas
  • More back-to-school reminders and projects
  • "Back to School For You" - Encouragement to take college courses, cooking classes, online classes, writing classes, and to join online book clubs
  • End of summer reminders and summertime wrapup

September 2014:

  • Tips and resources for starting a book club, dinner party club, or tasting club for your friends, neighbors, family, etc.
  • Fall and Early Christmas shopping budgeting suggestions
  • Fall decorating; fall wardrobe switchover
  • Fall kitchen organizing, cooking

October 2014:

  • Halloween shopping, costume preparation, ideas
  • Around the World project - ethnic decor, style, recipes, cooking, themed parties, literature, etc. for many countries.
  • Continuation of Halloween content, links, ideas, news
  • Dinner party tips, recipes and suggestions
  • Stocking Up for Fall
  • Stocking your bar for fall parties


Monday, August 11, 2014

Rebalancing My Life and Time

The view from one of my California vacations this summer

For the last four years, I have been helping raise two sets of motherless cousins: a teenage girl and three boys. This spring I had to send the troubled teenager back to live with her father, and right after school was done this June, the boys moved in with their father's new girlfriend. I have a house free of children for the first time in four years. While I miss the kids, especially the younger ones, and wonder how they are faring in their new situations, I am delighted to have my life back to myself. I was more than happy to help out, and volunteered to take on a lot, but now my life can be all about me again.

Living alone is wonderful (though I am still struggling with buying more groceries than I need and wondering which toys to keep around for visiting friends' kids and which to give away). Though extra money from having a roommate would be nice, I think I will be better off if I choose to live alone for a long while.

Suddenly I find myself with a clean house that stays clean; a freshly mopped kitchen floor that has time to dry properly because nobody stomps around on it right away; no messes to clean up in the car. I am not driving anybody else to appointments and after-school activities - something I was happy to do, but like other moms, found it stressful and tiring. My workday used to end at 3pm. I'd go pick a little guy up at the school next door, feed him snacks, supervise his homework, do projects in the yard or house with the little eager helper, and then we'd leave around 5pm. Back at his dad's house, I'd make dinner for the kids, drive people around to appointments, and generally get back to my own house around 8pm.

I'm realizing I have 5 hours a day back! I'm trying to figure out how to use that time - lounging around reading and watching TV, plus going to dinner and movies at night has been my solution so far, but that can't be permanent. Do I work more uninterrupted hours of work, blogging and writing (an appealing concept!) Do I go back to school, now that I can? Travel more, now that I can? I am so lucky to have a flexible work schedule - that opens up lots of options for me.

I almost titled this post "Rebuilding my Life" but realized my life hasn't been broken, destroyed or shattered. It doesn't need rebuilding. However, I feel like I need to arrange my time differently. Make time to exercise more. Throw more parties. Find a charity project that entails something other than just writing a check. Help my sister who is also helping raise two motherless kids. Go out with friends more, now that I'm not sitting at home in the evenings supervising people doing their homework. Offer to babysit friends' children more often, now that I'm not busy with relatives' children. Watch less.. well, I'm not sure I can commit to "Watch less TV" with all the cool new fall shows coming up! Let's be honest here.

Another of my vacation visits to California.

I did very indulgently go on a month of vacation this summer. A couple weeks in California, nearly a week in Las Vegas, and then a lovely staycation in my own town. I spent lots of time alone reading in the back yard, shopping for decorations for my house, and going out to lots of dinners, parties and movies. I decided it was ok to be selfish for a while and just think about me.

Now it's time to figure out what the months ahead will hold. I don't have to figure it out all at once though!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Challenge yourself to donate, throw away, or give away one unneeded item from your bedroom today.
  • Plan your week ahead. What will you wear every day? what appointments do you have to go to? Can you make a little 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 would enjoy? Farmer's market, long walks, berry picking, swimming, 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: Home Maintenance Planning

I kept my house clean over the past four years, but can't say it was well maintained. All that running around driving kids everywhere, and spending money on their after school activities, weekend entertainments and trips, tutoring, appointments, clothing and school supplies made it hard to maintain and improve my home. I'm budgeting tonight and making phone calls to various places to handle some things. Here's what we're working on for the next three months:

  • Painting outside of house
  • Painting inside of house
  • Hanging a new chandelier above my dining table - my existing 1980s one is hideous
  • Having a handyman come out to mount a big mirror or picture on the dining room wall
  • Having a handyman mount my flatscreen TV over the fireplace finally - I've owned it for over six years.
  • Recarpeting three bedrooms and a hallway (first new carpet in about 14 years!)
  • Furnishing two guest bedrooms (I decided I don't need a home office anymore, just a small desk in my bedroom).
  • Possibly replacing my ancient refrigerator
  • New fence, which I've been saving for for two years

After supervising all those workmen, being available for service professionals, cleaning up around all the mess, I'll be broke and exhausted. But I will be living in an even lovelier, more comfortable home!

LOVELY BEVERAGES: Grey Goose Melon

New for summer from Grey Goose: Melon vodka. While I'm sure it would make a tasty vodka tonic, I'm looking forward to using it in a cocktail made with fresh fruit juices. Or even in a slushy drink made from fresh Tuscan melons!

Grey Goose Melon Vodka

LOVELY BLOGS: The Self-Sufficient Home Acre

Lisa is a homemaker who is trying to be self-sufficient while living on her one acre homestead. She blogs about energy conservation at home, foraging for tiger lilies, reviews books on self sufficiency and conservation, shares recipes for things such as brine cured dilly beans, and lets us peek into her garden. She also does "Homeacre hops" which are visits to other blogs with fascinating posts on the topic.

http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Apricot Pistachio Squares (Smitten Kitchen)

Bacon Cheddar Potato Fritter Footballs (Hungry Happenings)

Baked Figs With Bacon, Cheese and Pecans (White on Rice Couple)

Broccoli and Cheese Stuffed Chicken (Life in the Lofthouse)

Cauliflower Fritters (Sweetnicks)

Crispy Chickpea Fritters (Blue Apron)

Dinner Recipe: Salmon Cakes (12 Tomatoes)

Garlicky and Cheesy Quinoa Zucchini Fritters (Diethood)

Halloumi Tacos with Sweet Pea Guacamole (Tangerine Canteen)

Moroccan Style Zucchini and Grape Salad (CHOW)

Pressed Eggplant and Pepper Sandwich (CHOW)

Squash Flower Fritters (Cooking From Books)

Summer Squash au Gratin (Pam's Midwest Kitchen Korner)

Whole Wheat Linguine with Roasted Tomatoes and Asian Vinaigrette (Taste As You Go)