Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shogetsu Japanese Flowering Cherry

Isn't this a triumph? A Shogetsu Japanese Flowering Cherry in full bloom against the blue Spring sky.  Although I like to blog with just one photograph to keep my posts to "a moment," it really didn't seem right to write about a variety of tree without letting you see the whole thing!

My mom admired this horizontal-frame tree (with double pink buds that open to fluffy white blossoms) in a catalog twenty-three years ago and ordered it. But when the meager "stick" of a tree arrived in the mail, she thought that the glorious tree from the catalog just wasn't meant to be.  But look!  It took years of patience, but this beauty is living up to its potential.  Magnifique! 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Travel Must-Haves

It seems I am always on the go-go-go.  I thought that today would be a good day to consolidate some of my best tips for a successful trip.

Beauty Basics:  There are two things I always keep in my travel dopp kit.  The first is a package of Oil of Olay dry 2-in-1 facial cloths.  They have gentle suds to wash your face and are perfect as one-time-use washcloths in the shower. 

I also always keep a Sonia Kashuk all-in-one make up palette from Target in my bag.  When I unpack from a trip, I leave it in my dopp kit so that no matter how quickly I pack the next time, I know that I have "a little something" for my eyes, cheeks and lips.

Packing Clothes:
I have written about how I like to plan and photograph my outfits for an important or lengthy trip.  I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it makes packing and "looking put together" on the road a whole lot easier.  You can see my explanation here.

Packing Jewelry:
You know by now that I make all of my own jewelry.  Which means I have a lot of it.  I have devised a wonderful way to get it from place to place and I want to remind you of it here.

Whoosh! I know that was a lot of suggestions and I hope it helps to keep you super cute on your next adventure away from home.  Bon Voyage!

Friday, May 27, 2011


Have you ever been walking in the woods and come across a group of Trillium?  I think it is one of the prettiest wildflowers in Michigan. 

Apparently picking the bloom of a trillium damages the plant and it takes years for it to recover.  For that reason, it is illegal to pick Trillium on public land.  I think that kind of protection is wonderful and can only help to protect native species.  Besides, it looks so natural among the leaves in the woods, I don't think it would ever look appropriate in a bouquet.

A local winery here in northern Michigan, named one of their wines Trillium.  The bottle has a watercolor of a trillium blossom on it and it is the perfect casual wine for a picnic.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Unusual Vases

With so many blooming bushes and trees at their peak, I bet you are scrambling to find enough vases to accommodate your bounty.  Don't forget that a pretty pitcher (antique or otherwise) can double as a vase.

If you are considering an antique pitcher and have doubts about whether it is water-tight, you can always insert a small glass inside to hold the water.  The pitcher you see here is in a pattern called "Chelsea" and the cluster of lavender blooms are fragrant lilacs from my yard- I'm in heaven. 

When arranging cut flowers, I like to sprinkle a little Floralife floral food into the water to lengthen the bloom life.  When I don't have any of that, I resort to a splash of Listerine mouthwash!  I have heard that the "germ fighting" properties of mouthwash can also work to keep the water fresher longer.  If I don't have floral food on hand, I figure it can't hurt.

So dig through your cupboards (or the basement!) and see if you can find any interesting vessels to hold this season's delight.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Soundtrack for Summer

I have been channeling my inner high schooler lately and making some mixed tapes to listen to in the car this Summer.  Nothing makes me happier than singing along to all my favorite songs and if they can look as good as they sound, even better!

I wanted to show you these fabulous compact disc labels from MixIt.  I originally bought them (at the Container Store) to add some cute to the cds I was making for my niece as she went off to college.  It didn't take me long to realize that I would like them just as much as she would, so I have been sticking them to my "Summer 2011" mixes.

Never underestimate the power of using something that's pretty.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lily of the Valley

What a treat!  I just returned home from my best friend's house with an armful of Lily of the Valley (say it with me in French, muguet du bois)!  She has a sweeping backyard full of shaded areas that are crowded with lily of the valley.  Lucky Girl!

Every year she gives me the high sign when they start blooming and I drive out for a visit and a chance to pick a giant bouquet.  This year we also dug up some pips to transplant into my yard - I really hope they take! 

I picked enough flowers today to making several arrangements around the house.  I especially love to have a tiny vase filled with a few blossoms in the first floor powder room - such a sweet touch. The bouquet above will be driven up north to the cottage this weekend - they are the ones we picked for my mom.

When you were watching the Royal Wedding, did you notice that Kate Middleton's bouquet was full of lily of the valley?  As a flower, it represents happiness.  All I can say is, Amen.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Serging Scarves

I have been having a wonderful time serging scarves lately.  A serger (or overlock) is a special machine that makes a perfect finished edge.  On my new scarf above (love it!) you can see that I've serged one of the edges (gray) in what is called a "3 thread rolled edge."

Before I go on to serge the rest of it, I wanted you to see the color chart that comes on the edge of most  fabrics.  It shows an isolated list of the exact shades used in the print.  When I am choosing fabrics to make into scarves, I find it helpful to look at the color chart and say, "Do I have any t-shirts in these colors?"  If I do, adding this fabric as a scarf will make a whole new outfit.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Decorating With Flowers

I am a big believer in decorating with flowers.  They can improve a room the way a scarf can improve an outfit.

I think the reason that fresh flowers, like these lilacs, feel so special is because they are perishable.  They will only be in bloom for about a week (and last in water 3-4 days) and then they are gone for the year.  

Decorating with flowers shows that the room is tended - that the flowers are supposed to be there because someone just put them there.  Does that make sense?

In the same way baking cookies or a cake for a visit sends the message that you are happy to have guests, decorating with flowers heightens the beauty of a room and silently says, "Enjoy this."

Of course you need access to a blooming tree or shrub (if you don't have any, ask your friends), but when something this gorgeous requires only clippers, water and a vase - how can you not decorate with flowers?

It just might turn the room, and your day, around.

*LILAC TIP: Since they have woody stems, smash the ends with a hammer or carefully cut slices at the end of the stemo to allow more water to be absorbed.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Japanese Pop-up Cards

I wanted to show you this beautiful pop-up card that I have on display right now in my front hall.  It is on a baker's rack with my collection of Chelsea dishes - the touch of blue on the dishes is the same shade as the sky and I love how they look together.  I am showing you a close up, though so that you can see the glorious detail put into these 3D cards.

I bought this card a few years ago to use as art and I love putting it on display at eye level to draw people in - that's why the baker's rack is perfect, lots of shelves!  The scene on the card depicts a form of musical theater called Noh.  Here you can see the outdoor stage, performer, audience and fire pots a blaze.  I love the colors and layers so much.  Do you want a Japanese pop-up card to enchant your guests?  You can order one here.    

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Modern Sewing Basket

I have been on a "sort, organize, finish projects" bender ever since my book on Paris was published.  I think I feel like I finally have the time to finish a few things before Summer gets in full swing and I am traveling again.

This productivity was also spurred on by things like a 3-day search for my seam ripper.  I knew I had one and I couldn't find it anywhere.  Which made me realize that since getting a sewing table with drawers (at least 10 years ago), I had given up having a proper sewing basket.  And without a sewing basket, I had no real place to keep my notions.  The harder I looked for the missing seam ripper, the more sewing items I found in various drawers, boxes and jars around the house.

I needed one spot for needles, thimbles and measuring tape and I found the perfect container!  A snap together multi-level box.  I've provided a link, but I have seen these for sale in the craft/organizer section of Target and large grocery super stores.  It is clear, modern and can grow (by adding more snap-on levels) to accommodate as many notions as I can handle.  

Do you need a modern sewing basket?   

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Royal Wedding Souvenirs

Have you considered lately, how the smallest gesture can reveal a gigantic heart?

Six days a week, I write and send photos out into the world trying to inspire my readers to find delight in every day life.  If I can lead by example and show people how little touches, easy projects and simple recipes can bring some happiness into their lives (and the lives of those around them), then I am accomplishing my goal.  I try to be very honest with my ideas and declarations and although I may seem overly passionate about some things, I feel that the truth can help people to celebrate their own quirky collections or interests.

Now that I've said that, I'll remind you that for me, the Royal Wedding was a big deal.  I've written about collecting Princess Diana memorabilia as a child, how I went to see an exhibit of her dresses years ago, that visiting St. Paul's Cathedral was meaningful to me.  I have done my best to express what I think so many people feel and now that the time had come, I was happy to get up early and watch a beautiful wedding with the rest of the world.

Then I got an email from a blog reader and "fan/friend" on Facebook who lives in England.  She has been following my blog and wondered if I wouldn't like her to get me some wedding souvenirs.  Can you believe it?  What a simple and glorious thing to do.

I told her that my cousin had secured a mug for me (what a relief!) but that I would LOVE a tea towel, some newspaper clippings and, if possible, a simple tote (like for groceries or to carry library books) with the wedding date on it.  We figured out how I could pay her back through PayPal (genius!) and she set off to find me some goodies. 

The package arrived yesterday and this is what she sent!  Not only did she find a lovely crested tea towel and a "couldn't be more perfect" cotton Union Jack printed bag with hearts and 29 04 11 on it, but she also included a commemorative wedding book (blue), a royal issue of OK magazine, lots of newspaper articles (I've learned way more than I could find out here) and a little William & Kate wedding button as gifts!  Can you stand it?

Friendship and Kindness and Generosity from across the Atlantic; simply because she knew I would like it.  Thank you, Friend, for bringing me delight.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Life is Art

Would you believe me if I told you I took this photo?  Can you imagine what it was like to see these roses exactly as you see them - crowded and blooming like a painting?  Real life was exceeding art at David Austin's rose garden last Summer. 

My visit to David Austin's Shropshire garden in England has been one of the highlights of my life.  As my own rose bushes are leafing out (I saw the beginnings of a bud yesterday!), I can't help but remember the thrill of standing here

Roses take time and tending to get results like this, but there is no doubt in my mind that they are worth it.  Buy yourself a David Austin English Rose (I have Heritage, Abraham Darby, Lillian Austin and Graham Thomas) and plant it in your garden.  It will bring art into your life in an entirely new way.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sisters On The Fly

"Hey - I've met those girls!" was my first thought when I was reading the June issue of Oprah's O magazine.  There is a great spotlight article on the fun-loving vintage trailer group called, Sisters On The Fly.

When I was at the Country Living Fair in 2009, I noticed two travel trailers parked in a semi-circle with little living area set up in front - jugs of flowers, chairs, vintage items.  Some members of "Sisters On The Fly" were happily chatting with attendees, showing off their super-cute trailers (look at the red cowboy boots holding cooking utensils!) and recruiting! 

I was struck with how happy these women were with a "place of their own."  A little mobile retreat that showcased their individual style.  Since my days of owning a little orange Barbie Camper (and then the deluxe yellow motor home), I have dreamed of a creative life on the road.  A rolling studio where my sewing machine, serger, computer and baking pans were all able to "go where I go."  Driving between delightful destinations, all while having brownies baking in the oven...

I think these "Sisters" are onto something and I'm glad they are getting such grand exposure.  Bravo.  I support any group whose motto is: "We have more fun than anyone."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jewelry Tip

I want to give you a tip for making a simple pendant necklace. 

A new trend in pendant construction is to include 2 metal loops on the back of the pendant.  If you are in Michaels (or the jewelry aisle of another craft store) and you see a pendant you like, turn it over and see if it has two loops on the back.

If it does, you can make a virtually "no skills" necklace by attaching a lobster clasp onto each end of a pretty chain.

Before you attach the lobster clasps, try the chain around your neck and decide where you want the pendant to hang.  My guess is that you'll want the chain to be about 18 inches long.  Adjust the length of the necklace by using a wire cutter (wear safety goggles) to clip off the excess length of chain.  Then attach a lobster clasp to each end of the chain (use a jump ring to hold the clasp to the chain). 
Close one lobster clasp onto a loop on the back of the pendant, put the necklace around your neck and close the other lobster clasp onto the other loop on the back of the pendant.  Tah-dah - you're wearing a necklace!

The #1 reason I love this trick is that it doesn't commit the pendant to just one necklace. If you unhook both lobster clasps, the pendant can be used another away - no harm done.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Garden Transport

The next time you are at Costco, pick out an extra sturdy (and preferably cute) cardboard tray from the pile offered to customers.   It is my new solution for transporting dirty plant packages home from the garden center. 

I used a large scrap of blue & white check oilcloth and stapled it into the cardboard tray, leaving a few inch edge going up the side all the way around (you could do the same with a white kitchen garbage bag).  Now I have a leak-proof way to get everything home safely.Lately I have been struggling with grocery bags, bottles and whatnot rolling around in the back of my SUV.  Once my weekend garden errands are finished, I can use this lined tray to hold grocery bags, muddy shoes or whatever needs to be "contained."
Do you need a garden transport?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Beauty of Everyday Life

This is the beauty of everyday life.  I walked back into the kitchen the other morning and noticed the "unintentional beauty" of this white-on-white scene. 

I had left some antique dishes drying on a dishtowel.  The sun was shining in the window and it looked a lot like a photo from the old days of Victoria magazine.  Do you see what I mean?  Delight is everywhere.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cute Cocktail Napkins

Iced tea, lemonade, Sangria and plain old Diet Coke...you will be serving icy beverages to all your friends before you know it and you'd better have some cute cocktail napkins.

My solution?  Make your own super cute napkins with a few sheets of epoxy stickers (thick stickers with a solid plastic coating) and a package of solid colored paper napkins.  These sticker sheets were $1 a piece and they add a world of cute to the basic (and inexpensive) solid cocktail napkin available in every party store in town.

Instructions?  Stick a sticker on each napkin.  You will not believe the accolades you will get for this simple act.  Then tell them it's a moment of delight.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cottage Garden

Say it with me...Awwwww.  I know, I just love this mini-masterpiece.  Telly's Greenhouse has an expanded miniature gardening section - just look!  I know you won't be able to resist.

They have in stock (I was just there) stone houses, tiny gazebos, everything you see here to create your own little world.  It takes passion and vision to say "I'm going to build a business making supplies for teeny-tiny gardens" - I applaud Austram for making it and Telly's for selling it! Bravo!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sugar Shaker

Powdered Sugar is your friend.  A sprinkling of it can elevate the look of a dish or hide a few mistakes, depending on how your day is going.

I wanted to show you the dreamy side of powdered sugar on a Scandinavian lunch (above) that I had one Summer.  The cold fruit soup had an edible fairy rose floating on a mint leaf - all kissed with a bit of powdered sugar.  Gorgeous!

Then there are the bad days, when your Mother's Day cake sticks to the "needs no spray or grease" French Sunflower cake mold that you bought at the rummage sale for twenty-five cents.  I was not happy.  Then I realized that a dusting of powdered sugar would visually "even out" the variations in color and "stuck to the pan" gaps in my simple cake.  It worked like a charm!  I put the cake on a pink cake stand and it looked like I had always planned to finish it with powdered sugar.  Whoosh - what a relief.

From now on, I'll use a non-stick spray in my new pan (I still love it) and I'll keep my sugar shaker full!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Go For Green

When you are out "getting your garden on" at the local plant nursery, don't forget the green!  I can't tell you how many people were surprised (and delighted!) by this little bouquet in my kitchen last year. 

I combined "Green Envy" zinnias (you can buy seeds or plants) with some of my Golden Variegated Sage.  So pretty!

When the flowers and the leaves are green, it is the perfect example of something being beautiful and interesting.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Water Bottle Sleeve

Phone.  Keys.  Camera.  Water.  This is my list when I head out the door.  Does my water need to be this cute?  No, but it does need to be mine.  I spend a lot of time with friends - out and about, at kid's sports games, euchre nights and school events.

Where there are women, there are water bottles and I was getting tired of "losing" my water in a sea of bottles on a picnic table.  Has this happened to you?  It is kind of like the need for wine charms to distinguish between glasses at a party.  So...

I have made the world's simplest NO SKILL water bottle sleeve.  Mine is made of bright yellow oilcloth with strawberries.

Water Bottle Sleeve

your favorite water bottle - this will be the "mannequin"
5 x 9.5 inch piece of oilcloth
pinking shears

3 adhesive Velcro dots (or adhesive Velcro strip)

Use pinking shears to create a pretty zig-zag edge to your oilcloth.  Determine the short side of the oilcloth (5 inches across) and stick three fuzzy dots onto the right side of the oilcloth in a row (one in each corner and one in the center). 

I am going to tell you the way to get a perfect fit on your water bottle.  Place the "mate" sticker onto each dot so that the adhesive is sticking up into the air - ready to be "stuck."  Wrap the oilcloth around your water bottle - pretty side out.  When the oilcloth overlaps, allow the adhesive (on the dots) to "land" in the perfect place to create a snug fit around your water bottle.  Voila!

This water bottle sleeve can be used over and over again.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Julia's Kitchen

I think you'll remember when I visited Julia Child's kitchen at the Smithsonian a few years ago.  Well my memories of her kitchen (shown above) all came back to me this week as I attended two church rummage sales. 

In Julia's day, there really was no such thing as beautiful kitchen tools.  Nothing matched, most items were metal or wood and non-stick spatulas were relatively new.  There wasn't anything special about her tools, but they were all she needed to make a delicious meal.

As I saw people sorting through dusty boxes of these humble (yet necessary) kitchen tools, it reminded me that although they aren't the gorgeous pristine pieces from Sur La Table, they'll do the trick. 

What was my Julia-worthy find?  A metal "sauce and gravy" whisk for twenty-five cents.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Right vs Left

I've been living a creative life long enough to recognize some patterns.  My year is divided distinctly into three phases.  I'm not sure if it is really right brain vs left, but it definitely uses different strengths at different times. 

January - April: Analysis, Planning, Writing, Organizing
May-September: Creating, Designing, Photography
October-December: Tradition, Memories, Baking

I spend so much of Jan/Feb/March/April writing articles, blog posts, planning promotions and generally thinking.  I brainstorm book ideas and talk a lot about the future, while I organize everything.

When the first blooms of May open, I am "shocked" into my creation phase, where everything is time sensitive.  Each blossom (tulips, weeping cherry, marsh marigold, lilac, iris) will only be at peak for a few days (and if the sun is out, you'd better grab it!), the sunset is right now, the festival is this weekend only.  So you see what I mean?  I have to be camera-ready all the time to capture the ever-changing world of delight.  I feel most creative during this time of year and bounce between making jewelry, taking pictures and sewing/taping/knitting/serging/threading/painting etc.  It is so much fun.   

And then by the Fall, I end up putting aside all business design ideas in lieu of the "what I can make for the house" ideas.  I like to revive memories with a certain recipe.  I like to fill the house with beautiful Christmas vignettes.  I want to attend (and host!) the holiday parties and events that bring people together.  I love it all.

And then it is suddenly after New Years, I'm exhausted and I settle down to think, write and reflect.

Does your year have a distinct pattern?  As I look out the window, the trees tell me that I am about a week from my creative phase starting.  Wish me luck!   

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pierre Frey Tray

We all have stories of "the big find" at a garage or rummage sale.  How something so perfect fell right into our lap...and at a great price too.

Tonight was my night.  I showed up a little early for my shift at the church rummage sale.  Twice a year I hunker down with a calculator and a cash box to be the "cashier" in the furniture department.  I came early with the hopes of doing a bit of quick shopping before my shift started.  I had about 20 minutes to be a power shopper and look what I found!

A huge (21 x 16 inch) laminated fabric tray in "Plateau Tyrol" by Pierre Frey.  With the original sticker Pierre Frey/Paris on the back!  This is the kind of tray that is large enough to put on an ottoman to hold a coffee pot and several cups and saucers.  This is a sturdy designer-style showpiece.  Now I have wanted one of these trays for YEARS, but with a price tag of around $175, I have always talked myself out of it.  You see, there is a Pierre Frey shop just around the corner from the hotel I like to stay in when I am in Paris (The Millesime).  I can't tell you how many times I have stared in the shop window looking at the selection of fabric-backed trays displayed like dominoes along the window ledge. 

Well tonight was my night and among the frayed and discarded rummage, I noticed one of these trays on a table in a stack of items.  When I pulled it out and confirmed that it was what I thought it was, I looked at the price: $1.00.  Yes, one dollar.  I practically shook when I knew it was going to be mine.  Now I'll have to wait a few months for it to make sense in my living room.  An alpine scene just doesn't cut it in May.  But I can wait.  The minute the snow flies I am serving coffee on my new tray.  Love it! 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mother Nature

I am quite sure that this is the happiest water lily in Florida.  It gets to live in a well-tended pond just outside Chanel on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach - where beauty of all kinds is admired.

When I walked toward the long (at least 15 feet!) raised cement water garden, I wondered if I was looking at a "stunt flower" - a waxy imitation designed to look like the real thing.  But this flower is as real, as it is gorgeous.  It must have opened that morning because the petals were pristine.

I was leaning over photographing it, when a woman and two children wandered into this area.  I struck a deal with them that I would use their camera and take their picture, if they would stop and take a photograph of this water lily.  They accepted and I told the girls (about 6 & 8) that "It's not often that you get to be this close to a water lily," which seemed to make it all the more exciting for them.

Sometimes in the middle of beauty-by-design (a cement landscape, Chanel shops, and glamorous cars) you need to put the spotlight on Mother Nature.