Archive | May

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Author Series- Lisa Wingate

This summer, I have been enjoying a wonderful author series here in South Carolina. It’s put on by Blue Bicycle Books, a locally owned book store in the heart of downtown Charleston. This month, it is showcasing new releases from southern authors. For me, it is a wonderful opportunity to share a meal with like minded friends at a popular Charleston location, and even make a few new ones.

Recently, author Lisa Wingate joined us for lunch and presented her new historical novel Before We Were Yours. This story is based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals. Georgia Tann, who was director of a Memphis based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country, including celebrities Joan Crawford and Lana Turner.

Historical fiction is my favorite genre and although I have heard of Lisa Wingate, I have not read any of her novels. This one is on my list. Ms Wingate was very engaging, read a few excerpts from the book to us, and was happy to answer questions. I always love to hear how an author gets an idea for a book, and how it builds. This book is getting wonderful reviews including one I just read by The Huffington Post.

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge–until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents–but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals–in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country–Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

I would love feedback if you’ve read this one.

Have a great week!

~May

History tells us what people do; historical fiction helps us imagine how they felt. -Guy Vanderhaghe

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Last Minute Dessert Ideas

Now that school’s out and summer is here, we are all enjoying the warm temperatures and longer days. Summer is definitely the season for last minute backyard get togethers with family and friends. Since I love to bake, dessert is usually what I bring to these social gatherings. For a planned event, I love to browse through my recipes to find something perfect depending on the season and number of guests. Sometimes though, if it is a last minute potluck, I often don’t have the time to plan and shop, so I depend on some staples that I always try to keep in my pantry.

Recently, I made a chocolate loaf cake. This is a great dessert for a smaller crowd, as it’s quick,  easy and you can dress it up several different ways, depending on what’s in your fridge.

Chocolate Loaf Cake

Ingredients:

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup sour cream or plain greek yogurt, room temperature

1 2/3 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks

1/2 cup hot coffee (or hot water) I always use coffee

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9×5 loaf pan.
  2. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment cream butter and both sugars until combined, about 2 to three minutes.
  3. Add in eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl between each addition.
  4. Next add vanilla and sour cream or yogurt.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and cocoa powder.
  6. Add half the dry ingredients to the mixer and incorporate, then add the rest and mix just until combined- don’t over mix.
  7. Add hot coffee or water and beat on high for one minute.
  8. Fold in chocolate chips by hand and pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  9. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted comes out mostly clean
  10. Place the cake on a cooling rack and cool completely.
  11. Once cool, loosen edges with a knife and remove cake to cutting board.

 

If you have to leave before your cake has cooled, simply bring the cake in the pan to your party, and cut it there, otherwise you can wrap in foil as you would a loaf of bread. I had some fresh raspberries in my fridge, a carton of whipping cream, and a bottle of ghiradelli chocolate sauce so I tossed them in a bag, and off I went. I individually plated each dessert, and voila. Doesn’t it look pretty? This also works well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream  drizzled with chocolate sauce, a chocolate ganache, or simply dust with a little powdered sugar and if you have an herb garden you can add a sprig of mint.

Chocolate Ganache

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

3-4 tablespoons milk

Add all ingredients to a large bowl and whisk to combine. After the cake has cooled, remove from pan and drizzle with ganache. Allow it to firm up before slicing. (about an hour)

Pantry essentials for the baker

Flour

granulated sugar

brown sugar

powdered sugar

baking soda

baking powder

cocoa powder

semi sweet chocolate chips

pure vanilla extract

graham cracker crumbs

active dry yeast

For the Fridge

butter

eggs

milk (or almond milk)

plain greek yogurt (or coconut milk yogurt)

frozen berries and fruit ( great for a last minute cobbler)

There is so much you can do with a few basic ingredients and a little imagination.

Have a great week!~ May

Where there’s a whisk, there’s a way.

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Our Backyard Makeover

My backyard has always been my sanctuary.  I love to garden and over the years we have slowly turned our yard into a bit of an oasis. Our home in the suburbs of Chicago is in close proximity to our neighbors, and as much as I enjoy them,  I wanted an outdoor space that was private and beautiful. We put up a privacy fence several years ago, and since then have added layers of trees, bushes, a pool, and beautiful flowering plants to the space. We also had room for a vegetable garden. Honestly, I think I’m going to miss my backyard the most when we move later this summer. Isn’t that how it always is? You finally finish a project, and then it’s time to move on.

The backyard here in Charleston is very different. There is only one neighbor right next door. We have a wooded area behind us and a pond on the other side, so I’ve been taking my time being in this space, to get a feel for what I ultimately want the yard to look like. I want the surrounding landscape to influence our yard, if that makes sense. By the way, that ugly satellite dish is going to be removed.

The previous owners were the original owners and kept the landscape that was original to the house, which is pretty basic and blah. The front yard was easy because there wasn’t much to do in such a small space, but our backyard is quite large and has lots of possibility. Like my previous yard, this space is going to take time to create but there were a few things I wanted to get done right away. We started with planting a natural wall between our yard and our neighbor’s. They have a young child and two large dogs and there was nothing separating us but a fence. I shared my ideas with a landscaper and am very happy with the end result. The landscape extends along the back of the garage and along the back fence. Over time the bushes along the fence will grow tall and fill out, making that area of the yard very private.

We have a very large oak  and pine tree in the yard that were overgrown and made the yard somewhat gloomy. I had them trimmed up and shaped and now there is definitely more light back there. We originally thought we would put a brick patio around the screened in porch, but the root system on the oak was going to make that very challenging, so we decided on a deck. I am really happy with the finished product and will seal it in the fall, when it isn’t so hot and humid. It’s going to be a great area to spend evenings with friends or read a good book.

As much as I love the oak tree, there isn’t too much that can grow right under it, plus I’ve discovered that oaks are always in a state of shedding something including leaves, acorns, and twigs. Plus, it is dripping with Spanish moss. We created a stone path that goes from the deck to the driveway, garage, and backyard. It looks great, is functional and it’s easy to maintain. The heavy downpours down here always resulted in a big muddy mess in this area, and now the water just soaks into the stones, and the best part- no muddy paws to wipe!! I’m also planning to put a hammock under the trees, perfect for lazy Sundays. I don’t know if I’ll get to it this year, but how cool would it be to hang an outdoor chandelier from one of the branches of the oak tree??

 

We have a screened in porch out back and didn’t do too much to it, other than add windows to make it more user friendly. Every time it rained it would get soaked inside and it was a huge mess when I arrived the week after hurricane Matthew came through last fall. These windows are a breeze (hence the name EZ-Breeze windows) and were easy to install. We don’t have an eat in kitchen and since the room is small, I decided to fill the space with a table and chairs allowing us to eat meals overlooking the yard. I added a rug for texture and will bring in just a few more finishing touches. Now the room can be used all year round. I am an early riser and love sitting out on the back porch with my coffee, listening to the birds, meditating and setting my intention for the day. Nature is the perfect place to do that.

Now I’m starting to dream about phase 2. I think I would like to soften more of the fence with low growing plants, but I also need to keep it simple. I am quickly learning that summers down here are continuously hot and humid, and I won’t be able to garden the same way I did up north. So, this is our yard, just a start but I think it’s going to be a beautiful journey.

Have a great week! ~May

 

 

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Loving Julia Child- My Life in France

I’m sure all of you know by now that May and June love books- really, really love books. As a child, I always enjoyed riding my bike to the library or bookmobile when it came to our park, ready to devour the next installment of Nancy Drew under the shade of our backyard cottonwood tree. I’m still that way. To me, there is nothing like getting lost in a great work of fiction. Although I’ve read my share of non-fiction, usually the self-help variety, I really haven’t gone down the aisle of memoirs for no other reason than they really never interested me, until recently.  Often, while my pup Sawyer and I walk in the morning, I listen to various podcasts. A few weeks ago, Julia Child and her memoir, My Life in France (2006) was mentioned as a must read for anyone who enjoyed her cooking shows. I really didn’t think too much about it until I saw the book mentioned again online that very same week. So, I took it as a sign to reserve it at the library, and give it a try.

Many of you, who are of a certain age, may remember Julia Child’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking or her cooking show, The French Chef. My mom, grandmother, and I loved to tune in and watch the French cooking masterpieces she would effortlessly create. She was a cooking genius as well as smart, funny, and oh so entertaining- all rolled into one. Often, we felt we were watching a comedy instead of a PBS show on the art of cooking. In fact, I’m sure all you Saturday Night Live fans remember Dan Akroyd’s hysterical skit as Julia Child.

My grandmother, who was a gifted cook herself, would sit in front of the television with her white leather bound notebook (which I now have) and pen in hand ready to write down Julia’s latest creation, then of course put her own delicious twist on it. That notebook is filled with recipes in my grandmother’s handwriting as well as stains from various sauces. I treasure that notebook.

By the way, I loved the book. I felt like I was sitting at Julia’s kitchen table in Paris, sharing a home cooked meal with her as she told her story. The book also awakened a few memories of my own childhood, playing sous chef to my grandmother as she cooked in her own amazing kitchen. Plus, the book is all about food and France- need I say more?

As much as we love living in the comforts of what we know and enjoy, sometimes it’s fun to step out of that box to try something new. For so many reasons, I’m grateful I read this book.

Next time you visit the library, choose a book off your reading list. You may find a new genre to enjoy.

~May

“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes.”

Julia Child, My Life in France

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Another Step Closer

The last few days I have been in Chicago. Our youngest daughter, Alyssa, just attended her senior prom and is graduating from high school tomorrow. I can’t believe our adorable and feisty little redhead is going off to college in a few months. In addition to celebrating her graduation, I’m also back for a doctor and dental appointment- my last before moving, I’m staging the house for selling, and of course a day of play (ahem, work) with June. I also celebrated my last birthday in my home town yesterday. Although this visit has been filled with more work than play, we have all enjoyed our time together, falling back into the natural rhythm of our family.

I’ve been getting the house ready to sell in stages, removing the first layer of “stuff” last fall. I can’t tell you how many times my mom and I filled the car with items collected over the years, emptying its contents at the nearby Goodwill. Of course the same woman was always behind the counter, and I think I saw an eye roll a few times when she saw my car pull up. Living in South Carolina the last few months has really given me perspective on what I truly need, and what I can live without. There are no basements there and with the heat and humidity, you need to be selective when storing items in the garage. I did let go of a lot more this time around. There were more bags for donation as well as garbage and the house feels a little lighter. Bob and I decided to have a moving sale since there will be quite a bit of furniture that won’t be traveling with us and we’ll have a truck pick up what’s left, and take it for donation. It’s nice to have a plan.

I’ve accomplished a lot in the house this trip and definitely feel like we are one step closer to the final leg of our journey.  As I remove more layers of “us” from this home, I feel less connected to it. I always imagined leaving would fill me with sadness, and although I may shed a tear or two before the moving van pulls away, I am grateful for all the wonderful memories. Now that our family is grown, I feel it’s time for a new one to enjoy this house and fill it with the sounds of children, birthday sleepovers, and holidays. The grammar school and high school are within walking distance and it’s the perfect place to raise a family. I’m heading back to South Carolina on Wednesday, but will be back again for the 4th of July holiday where we will celebrate our nation’s birthday together, enjoying time by the pool and of course our town’s fireworks as we prepare to take that next step. It’s so true what they say about our lives being all about the journey and making the most of it, no matter where the road takes us. We are on a journey together as a family, but we are all on our own personal voyage as well. It’s a little scary but oh so exciting.

Have a great week! ~May

Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip.
— Robert J. Hastings

 

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Home Inspiration

This past weekend was absolutely gorgeous here in Charleston. We were blessed with blue skies, moderate temperatures and best of all, low humidity. It was the perfect weekend to walk the beach, eat at a favorite outdoor cafe, or take a stroll through a nearby historical neighborhood and enjoy the beautiful homes and gardens, which is what I did on Saturday morning. Window boxes are overflowing with colorful blooms and I love that every house on the block is unique and filled with history. If only each home could tell us its story! I love to take pictures of homes and gardens that inspire me, especially as I continue to layer a little southern charm to my own abode.

The flowers are at their peak right now and do so much to dress up these historical homes.

These homes caught my eye and were on the same block, but as you can see very different from each other. I love that about old neighborhoods. I would move into all of them!!

I loved the color on this one. I picture some ferns hanging on the porches and pots of colorful flowers on the steps.

I bet this pink lady was magnificent at one time. The homes in Charleston are never torn down, but restored to their former beauty. I can’t wait to see this one after her makeover!

If you’re looking for a little inspiration for your home, simply walk out your front door or take a stroll  through your favorite neighborhood and enjoy the spring colors.

Have a great week! ~ May

Home is not a place, it’s a feeling.

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Kale Chips

I’m sure you all know by now that Kale, the green (or purple) leafy vegetable that is part of the cabbage family, is all the rage at the moment, and has been enjoying popularity for a while. What I remember as a garnish at salad bars can readily be found at our favorite grocery or farmers market. It’s low in calories, high in fiber and loaded with antioxidants and nutrients such as folate, magnesium, iron, and vitamin K. We eat it in salads, soups, stews, as sides and blend it in smoothies. I personally love kale and eat it often. Recently, a friend who was going to be traveling, gave me a bag  so it wouldn’t go to waste while she was out of town. Add that to a bunch I had just purchased, and you have a lot of kale! Not too long ago, I experimented with kale chips and since I had so much, I decided to try them again. I discovered if you cook them at a lower temperature for a longer period of time, they crisp up better.

Ingredients

1 bundle or bag of kale

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Rinse and dry kale, removing any large stems and tear into bite size pieces.

Place in a mixing bowl, add oil, salt and toss with hands until the oil and salt are well distributed. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake 15 minutes.

With a spatula gently mix the kale on the cookie sheet, and bake 5 to 10 minutes more until kale is crispy and light brown. It can burn quickly so keep an eye on it. Remove from oven and cool slightly.

If needed, add a little more salt and enjoy immediately as a snack or a side. I find that they’re best eaten right away, however you can store them in an airtight container for a day or two.

I gave you a basic recipe but if you want to play a bit, you can use different oils such as avocado or coconut oil and try different seasonings. I’ve used seasoned salt, garlic salt, chili powder and cumin, and love the flavor.

Have a great week! ~May

Lettuce raise a little Kale

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Planning a Vacation? Try Packing Cubes

As I have recovered from my jet lag, and am back into the steady rhythm of life back at home, I’ve found myself reminiscing about our Italian adventure and everything that went along with making it a wonderful trip.

Because I knew we were going to be away for two weeks, I really wanted to be smart about how much and what I packed. In the past, I was always an over-packer and would often come home from a trip with an overstuffed messy suitcase and lots of clothing that was never worn. So, I did a little preparation and research for this trip. I went on many travel blog sights (my favorite is travelfasiongirl) chatted with friends who were seasoned travelers, and made a detailed list of essentials that would get me through a European vacation without over or under doing it- a happy medium if you will. On more than one occasion, I read about the benefits packing cubes.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, packing cubes are nylon mesh bags that come in a variety of sizes and styles, and are used for packing clothing. They provide extra room in your suitcase, plus they keep the contents of your suitcase super organized. The bags zip and have some give so you can fit a lot into them and they work with carry on bags, suitcases and backpacks.

This was a work trip for my husband with us extending several days and I needed more clothing options for dinner with clients, so I opted for a regular size suitcase and a backpack, leaving my carry on at home. (I also wanted room for souvenirs.) The packing cubes are great for t-shirts, blouses, and skirts. It was recommended that clothes be rolled and tightly packed into the cubes to prevent wrinkling. This was a plus for me because in Italy, irons aren’t available in the rooms and there is a fee to have them ironed for you. Now I can’t say that my clothes were completely wrinkle free, but they were definitely wearable plus I was able to release any lingering wrinkles in a steamy shower.

I heard good things about the ebags brand and ordered a pack of three from Amazon to try them out. I was able to get all my t-shirts, blouses, and skirts into the bags and if there was room to spare, I added a few more items. When we arrived at our hotel and I went to unpack, everything was still organized plus there was extra room in my suitcase. Before my next big trip, I plan to order a few more in different sizes.

Unpacking when we came back home was easy and this was the first time I wore everything I packed. Plus, there was extra room for me to bring home a few goodies.

Enjoy your week!

~May

Going on a trip and need about 4 outfits. I’ve packed 35 just to be safe.

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Quiet Moments

Quiet Moments

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter weekend. We had a beautiful day and while Sawyer and I were out for our early morning walk, I enjoyed seeing the little ones in our neighborhood, armed with Easter baskets as they ran around their homes searching for Easter eggs in cozy pj’s, their tired parents (also in pj’s) stifling yawns and armed with coffee mugs, following close behind. The smell of pancakes and bacon throughout the neighborhood was intoxicating.  By the time we made it back to our porch, cars were driving down the street, its occupants dressed in their Sunday best as they headed off to Easter service. It was a lovely day.

Since returning from Italy, my internal alarm clock has been waking me up at 5am. I don’t know if my body is just taking its sweet time adjusting back to our time zone, or if it’s simply the subtle shift in the seasons. Over time, I’ve noticed my body has always been very much in tune with the sunrise and sunset. This morning, I again was awake early and left Sawyer dreaming in the quiet sanctuary of the bedroom. I made a cup of coffee and went outside onto the piazza to listen to the first stirrings of morning. I love hearing the birds when I wake up, especially the familiar tune the cardinals sing, along with the occasional owl.

I’ve always loved the peace that comes just before sunrise. For me, it’s a time for reflection, gratitude, and preparation for a new day. It’s a time when I can set my intention for how I want my day to go. Do I want those that I interact with to have the power to affect how I feel? Or, do I simply want to live this day to the fullest for myself? For me, gratitude is part of everyday. Saying thank you for what I have, as well as what I don’t have keeps me present and my life meaningful. How easy is it for us to constantly be worrying about what may or may not happen in the future? When we do that, we miss the beauty and subtle messages that come with today. For me, “thank you” is the most meaningful part of prayer.

Now, as I continue to reflect, the birds songs are growing louder and I’ve noticed a few lights turning on in my neighbors homes. Soon, everyone’s day will begin as cars and school buses make their way down the street. The light outside is beginning to change as the sun prepares to rise and shine on what promises to be another beautiful day, and I feel connected and at peace. Sawyer, now awake, has found me and soon will be ready to start his day too…..after a few quiet moments of reflection.

Thank You.

Have a great day.

~May

A quiet mind is able to hear intuition over fear.

 

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May Meets Pompeii and Sorrento

We have spent an incredible two weeks in Italy and before we journeyed home, we made a few more stops. Our wonderful guide, Sandra, suggested we do a tour of Pompeii followed by an afternoon in Sorrento. The fast train in Italy is amazing. A three hour car ride takes one hour so we left early in the morning, and made it to the city of Naples before 9am.

The Fast Train

Pompeii was just a short drive away and neither Bob or I were prepared for the beauty left in the ruins of this Roman city. In 79 A.D., the city was buried by the unexpected eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The city, which was basically left intact,  was submerged in a thick layer of volcanic material where it was left untouched until excavation began in 1748. If you don’t know the history of Pompeii, it’s definitely worth checking out.

View from the Bath House

A Pizza Oven

Pottery

A Road in the City

The Interior of a Home

After our tour of Pompeii, we took a short drive to Sorrento where we had another delicious lunch and spent the afternoon walking the city. Unfortunately, it started to rain, but we were prepared  and the wet weather did nothing to diminish a beautiful afternoon.

Sorrento

As I write this post, I am back in the comfort of my home. After two weeks away, it’s always nice to get back to a routine again, however, I will never forget our Italian adventure and a piece of my heart will forever remain in Italy. Arrivederci!

Have a great week!

~May

“Even now I miss Italy dearly, I dream about it every night.” – Eila Hiltunen

 

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May Meets Rome

I can’t believe we’ve been in Italy over a week already!! We have been having such a wonderful time on our Italian adventure. After spending several days seeing the sites in Florence, we are now  slowly eating our way through Rome.  This sprawling city is the capital of Italy and nearly 3,000 years old. We have walked between 5-8 miles everyday trying to soak it all in, and have loved every minute. Some of our best moments have been spent sitting at little outdoor cafes with our favorite gelato or a cappuccino, and simply people watching. Today we are taking a train to Pompeii  for a tour, and then to the beautiful coastal town of Sorrento before we have to say Arrivederci to one of our favorite destinations.

The view of Rome from our hotel balcony

Another view of the city with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica to the right

The Borghese Gardens

The Coliseum

The Spanish Steps

An amazing meal that we had at a vineyard on the outskirts of Rome

Sunset at that same vineyard

One of many Margherita pizzas we demolished

This is how the cars park when there isn’t enough room to parallel park. Our guide said in Italy the street signs are for decoration only, because no one follows them. She also said the traffic is crazy here, so every time you cross the street you should do a sign of the cross….because you never know. 

Have a great week! ~May

Each, in its own way, was unforgettable. It would be difficult to — Rome! By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.” Audrey Hepburn

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May Meets Florence

Bonjourno from Florence, Italy! I am in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and fell in love the minute we walked out our hotel door and started roaming the narrow streets. We had a bit of jet lag when we arrived, but who can sleep when there is so much to explore? The fashion, food, and the people are wonderful and we have enjoyed learning all about this picturesque city which is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance. As much as I love the fashion and food, I can’t say enough about the people here. They are helpful, courteous, considerate and so very friendly. As in most European countries, they love when you at least try to speak their language and are more than willing to teach those of us whose understanding of the language is a little more limited.

Although I have taken some photos, I am truly just trying to be in the moment and take in the beauty of this city through my eyes, and not a lens.

The beautiful garden outside our hotel window

 Il Duomo di Firenze in the distance

 the Ponte Vecchio Bridge

The Arno River

He was amazing!

 Later today we will be hopping the train for Rome where we look forward to more adventures in Italy.

Have a wonderful week!

May 

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A Sweet Day With My Sweet Girl

Happy Monday everyone! Our family reunited this past week for a little R&R, Charleston style. We’ve  spent the last few months in different locations and it was so nice to have several days to catch up on life and enjoy each other’s company.  Nicole, who just ended her spring break from USC, arrived a few days before the rest of the family, and the two of us had fun spending some quality time together. We cooked, watched movies, ran errands, and shopped of course. Although the weather was a bit brisk last week- too cold for the beach, the sun kept us warm as we walked several miles exploring this beautiful city. Each time we drive downtown, we discover something new, and after living here the past few months, I am quickly navigating my way around.

We are always excited when we come upon unique little dessert shops. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams was the perfect little cafe for a late afternoon treat after so much walking. We loved that it wasn’t your typical Baskin Robbins, rather this ice cream shop carries unique and creative flavors, and all their dairy products come from grass-pastured cows. They also have a few dairy-free options for those of us like myself who are not able to indulge in a traditional ice cream.

Nicole tried the Queen City Cayenne, and I had to have a taste. The flavor reminded us of a cup of Mexican hot chocolate. It was so darn good!! Now, these unique flavors are a bit of an acquired taste, and not for everyone. The last time we were here, Bob and Alyssa walked in, took a look at the options, and walked right back out. However, if you are the adventurous type and want to try something a little different, we highly recommend this King Street treat.

We are looking forward to sharing many more Charleston adventures.

Have a great week! ~ May

A daughter is just a little girl who grows up to be a great friend.

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Curb Appeal- Part 2

Hi, Everyone! I hope you are all recovering from losing a precious hour of sleep this past weekend. It always takes a few days to get back into the swing of things when we spring forward, but it is so worth having longer days. Summer is just around the corner!

A few months ago, I shared some of my curb appeal goals for our new home. It has been a lovely winter here in the south, which was perfect for dressing up our front yard and exterior of the house. I started with a weekend painting project, giving our front door a bit of a facelift. The black door wasn’t doing anything for me, so I decided to freshen it up with a pop of color, and painted it Real Red, by Sherwin Williams. The door required a few extra coats of paint, but I am so happy with the end result, and it got two thumbs up from my neighbors!!  Also, our gas lantern hasn’t worked since we bought the house, so I replaced that as well.

Before

After

We got to work on the landscape early in February and I was so excited to get two Sabal Palmetto trees in the front yard. The trees look a little skimpy now, but it takes the fronds almost a year to fully blossom and once they do, they will provide a nice layer of texture, plus some much needed shade to the front of the house. We also planted some ornamental sweet grass in front of the palms which will turn a beautiful ruby red in late summer. As much as I’ve loved gardening in Chicago, I know the Charleston heat will prevent me from spending as much time working in the yard during the summer months, so I decided to go with plants that will be a little more low maintenance.

Originally, we planned to repaint the exterior of the house next year, after we settled in a bit. However once the landscape was finished, we really noticed how tired and faded the house looked. The white trim was starting to yellow and peel in a few places, and as you can see in the photo below, the green was really bleached out. Since there is no time like the present, we opted to paint the house now, sticking with the original color of Empire Green by Sherwin Williams. We love it!

Have you noticed our blue ceiling on the piazza (porch)? Blue porch ceilings have been a long standing southern tradition, actually for centuries. Home owners painted their ceilings what is now referred to as Haint blue, which is a soft blue green, to ward off evil spirits also known as Haints. This tradition is very common in Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina where both cities have a reputation for being haunted. I was more than happy to continue the tradition, and I love how it looks. Last week I took advantage of the beautiful weather, finished mulching the beds along the side of the house, and now our home looks brand new!!

I hope you enjoyed the front yard tour.  Of course our home will change and grow along with us, but for now, we are thrilled and I look forward to sharing more pictures when the palms grow out. Stay tuned, we are excited about a project we are planning in the backyard.

Have a great week! ~ May

The most beautiful house in the world, is the one that you make your own.

 

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To Gray Or Not To Gray

A few weeks ago, my mom and I were on the hunt for a patio table for her yard. We didn’t find the table, but we both noticed the sales clerk’s hair which was a beautiful silvery gray. We actually complimented her on it and she proudly said she gets more positive feedback on her natural gray hair than she did when she colored it. We continued our conversation about gray hair on the drive home, wondering why society finds that men look handsome and distinguished as they gray (George Clooney), and women simply look old? But then we thought, maybe it isn’t society at all, but pressure that we women put on ourselves to try to stop the hands of time. Or, perhaps, it’s a little bit of both.
 
Recently, I have noticed gray hair becoming a growing trend for women who want to embrace a more natural look. I actually started a Pinterest board titled Forever Goddess that shows photos of beautiful women embracing their naturally gray hair. Let’s face it, coloring hair to cover gray is a lot of work and if you have it done professionally, a lot of money, not to mention the regular application of smelly chemicals to your hair and scalp. Even if you use organic products, we are still talking time and dollars. I know women who have to color their hair every three to four weeks to prevent their gray roots from showing, and if you’re a brunette you really need to stay on top of it. Are we truly realizing our authentic selves if we color, or are we wearing a mask? Also, are we fully living in the present moment if we are worrying about our gray roots and staying on top of our coloring appointments? I really don’t know the answer to that. I have a few friends who are tired of the vicious cycle of coloring their gray roots, yet they can’t ever imagine letting it go natural. I did find a great article about ditching the dye, and going for a more natural look in the Chicago Tribune.
 
Last year I wrote a post about clean hair care. Because of an allergy to traditional hair dye that I developed over a period of time, I had to find a salon that used products my scalp could tolerate. I did find a salon in South Carolina that uses the same Organic Color Systems, but because it was the holidays, and I was busy with the house, I didn’t make an appointment right away after I arrived. When I called, I had to wait four weeks for an appointment which brought me to nine weeks between coloring. (Yikes!) Now over the years, after I saw my first grays, I just got into the habit of getting my hair colored every five to six weeks without really thinking about it, because that is what we girls do. My new stylist was so apologetic about not getting me in sooner until she saw how little gray I actually have. I discovered that I not only inherited my maternal grandfather’s curls, I also inherited his slow to grow gray. That’s not to say I am gray free, because I am not. But it is loosely scattered around my head virtually showing no roots in between colorings. Interestingly, this stylist is not a big proponent of over coloring hair and uses low lights and high lights to help unite the new gray growth with the previous color, so you aren’t tied to a strict coloring schedule. I like that. Am I ready to give up color and just go au natural?? Not yet, although I am embracing the idea of it. For now, I am going to relax my hair schedule a bit. Also, because of the humidity here in the south, I am adopting a more carefree style that doesn’t require a precision cut, and I can just let my hair do what it was born to do. I am going to start blending whatever new gray comes in, with just a few low lights and see what happens.
Are you ready to embrace your gray?
Have a great week. ~ May
I am not aging. I am ripening. I am not getting old. I am becoming wiser. My hair is not going grey. It is shimmering silver like the light of the moon. My beauty brightens and glows with more brilliance with each circle around the sun and my spirit becomes stronger and softer as she flowers like a autumn orchid. I know this because i was told by a Whisper in the Wind.
 
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Styling Your Home With Vintage Finds

Have you every heard that saying everything old is new again? It can be said for a lot of things including fashion styles, movies, quotes, and music just to name a few. So much of our past seems to come back in fashion after a long absence. So I was thinking, how about finding something old, to make new in your home? Back in the day items weren’t as disposable as they are now. People didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend, they hung on to their things for a longer period of time, plus furniture and accessories were so well made they could practically last forever. I think my appreciation for well aged items came from my childhood. My mom and I were always looking for unique pieces to refinish and use in our home, my grandparents had some lovely pieces that I inherited and love, plus I have picked a few things up at antique stores and consignment shops along the way, and all have added that extra layer of charm to my abode.

I have never decorated my home in one particular decorating style because I love facets of them all including traditional, farmhouse, industrial, British colonial, nautical and of course the playful and sculptural mid-century modern. I feel a house really becomes a home when you blend a few elements of history with today’s styles, those pieces that could tell an amazing story if they were able to talk. For me, there is something so special about taking on an item of furniture or accessory that was loved and cared for by previous generations. Whether it is an early 19th century dresser, a beautiful vase, or a lovely oil painting from the past, these original items add a wonderful balance to some of the newer pieces that you may find online at popular stores such Wayfair, or furniture stores in your area.

I love poking around consignment shops when I travel to find something interesting from that particular region, and I have already found some great shops here in South Carolina, making a few purchases to dress up our new home.

Don’t you love this zebra patterned chair? They came as a pair, and my mom found these mid-century beauties at a garage sale in her neighborhood a few years ago. The sale was just about to close and the owner wanted to get rid of them, and sold them to her for $6.00, for the pair! My very talented friend re-covered them and I am in love. They add so much personality and a touch of sophistication to our space.

This glass top mid-century Baker table also has a story. It was found in a consignment shop in Chicago with a sale price of $50.00. At the time, the bottom was painted green which didn’t work with my mom’s decor, so she had it repainted and for years I admired it in her living room. She wanted to change things up a bit when she moved into her new house, and now this gorgeous piece gets to live with me.

How many of you were fans of the the show Frasier? We loved it and still enjoy the repeats. My husband, Bob, always admired Frasier Crane’s mid-century Eames style chair that adorned his beautiful Seattle apartment. It was something I tucked away in the back of mind, planning to someday surprise him with one that he could relax in after a long day. I came across this great little consignment store that only sells mid-century pieces, and I didn’t even have to walk inside because it was sitting right in the storefront window! Often times I will see something I like, but don’t commit right away because I’m not sure it will look great or if I really need it. I’ve often gone back deciding that yes, I do really need it only to find out that it’s gone. I acted fast on this one which was a good thing, because there was a lot of interest in this particular chair. It looks perfect in the loft, and yes, Bob loved it!!

Cocktails and bar carts go hand in hand and were quite the rage back in the 50’s and early 60’s.  Today, there is a growing trend of serving retro drinks at home on a tableside bar cart. I see bar carts adorning pages of design magazines and catalogs, as well as consignment shops. Last week this one caught my eye. Isn’t it beautiful?

I could go on and on about all the lovely artifacts out there. Here are a few more pictures of some beautiful items I’ve come across. If you do decide to make a purchase in an antique or consignment shop, don’t forget to ask if the prices can be lowered. Almost all of the stores I’ve visited are willing to negotiate.

Beautiful Garden Stool

This dresser from the early 1800’s made its way to our master bedroom

This very old garden statue comes as a set of 4 and called “The Four Seasons”

Have a great week! ~ May

“Old is the new New”.

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Yoga Monday- Reclined Bound Angle Pose

Happy Presidents’ Day! I hope you all are enjoying the final day of your three day weekend, taking some time for a little rest and relaxation. It was definitely a great weekend to enjoy the beautiful weather. As a yoga teacher, I know the value of relaxing the body and quieting the mind, although I have to admit, I don’t always put my words into practice. It is so easy to get caught up in the busyness of life, that often times we put ourselves at the bottom of the list, where sadly we are left.

Reclined Bound Angle Pose, also known as reclined cobblers pose, is a deeply relaxing posture for students of all levels. It is great to do at the end of a yoga practice, or at the end of your day. Often, I’ll spend a little time in this posture in the evening, shortly before going to bed. Here are just a few of the benefits associated with this rejuvenating posture.

Lowers blood pressure

Relaxes muscle tension

Opens tight hips

Decreases anxiety

Relaxes abdominal muscles

Stretches groin and inner thighs

Opens the chest and allows for a deeper breath

This posture simply replenishes energy by creating an openness in the body, relaxing the central nervous system, giving you an overall feeling of wellbeing.

To practice relaxed cobblers pose, begin by sitting on the floor or your mat with legs extended out in front of you.

Pull your knees into your body then gently let your thighs fall open, keeping the bottoms of your feet together.

Lie onto your back with arms alongside your body, palms up. Take a deep breath and as you exhale, gently release tightness in the shoulders and soften the hips.

Once I establish my breath, I like to rest my hands on my ribcage, feeling my breath as it moves into and out of my palms.

You can rest in this posture for five to twenty minutes, and for a little extra support you can slide a pillow or bolster behind your head and upper back, and yoga blocks or a few books beneath your thighs. Before coming out of the pose, bring your knees to your chest and rock from side to side a few times.

Relax and enjoy your day.

~May

Inner peace comes when you relax your body, quiet your mind, and open your heart.

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Signs of Spring

Happy February! Here in the South we are already witnessing the first signs of spring. The days are slowly getting longer, and as it grows lighter a little earlier every morning, I am waking to the cheerful sounds of birds, particularly cardinals outside my bedroom window.

February seems to be that bridge between winter and spring and although the weather can be rather turbulent this time of year, it is generally short lived. February is the shortest winter month after all, and it lets us know that spring is on the horizon, bringing with it stirrings of life and warmer temperatures. I know once February is here, a new season isn’t far behind.

It has been a particularly mild winter here in South Carolina, and although we have experienced a few cold snaps, we have generally enjoyed sunny skies and temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s. Will there be a price to pay for this lovely weather? Absolutely. I have heard from reliable sources that a mild winter is often followed by a hotter than usual summer, plus we can expect a larger population of mosquitos, snakes, and the very large and crunchy palmetto bug. This happens because there hasn’t been a hard enough freeze to kill the eggs of all the afore mentioned creepy crawlers. I will be in Chicago preparing for our move most of the summer, so not being here for a few months won’t be a terrible thing. I don’t like snakes. Right now, however, the sun is shining, there is a warm breeze, and all is right with the world.

Of course the first signs of spring are always obvious in nature. The landscape begins to green up a bit and we start to see buds preparing to open. I have made a point of observing the many trees and shrubs around me on my morning walks, enjoying foliage that is very different from the landscape in the midwest.

The stores in the area are also preparing for the coming season, and while I was at Target, I noticed several aisles overflowing with backyard twinkle lights, grills, beach towels and patio furniture. I know even in the midwest stores are preparing for spring, selling off  heavy jackets, bulky sweaters, and boots at a much reduced price, letting go of one season to welcome in a new, lighter one. Many of my favorite catalogues are waiting in my mailbox filled with pages of new spring styles for myself, as well as my home and garden, and I enjoy daydreaming about warm summer nights. A lot of supermarkets are selling bouquets of spring flowers such as daffodils and tulips, which I always enjoy on my kitchen counter this time of year, letting winter know its time with us is limited.

No matter where we live, spring is a season of renewal. Officially, it is still six weeks away and while we don’t have control over the weather, bringing a little spring into our homes, wearing a little pop of pink or yellow, or taking a brisk walk and enjoying the sun are all great ways to get rid of the winter blahs, welcoming a little spring into our lives.

Have a great week! ~May

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow. -Proverb

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A Doodle in Charleston

When our family came to Charleston over the holiday, we decided to bring our pup Sawyer along. With me staying here a few months to work on the house and oversee projects, and my husband traveling, we thought it would be best for him to stay with me. Sawyer has never done a road trip with us before, especially a long one, and I have to say I was a little apprehensive about how he would handle such a long drive. However, I’m happy to report that he did great!! He usually gets a little nervous when he sees our suitcases out, but he was practically the first one in the car when he realized he was being invited along.
We decided at the last minute to leave Christmas evening, and drive through the night getting to South Carolina in the morning. We thought it would be easier for Sawyer to get the trip all done at once. Driving through the night is always a challenge though, especially as we get older, and Bob and I were exhausted the next day, but we both felt it was the right decision. Sawyer and the girls were pretty chill throughout the night and by morning, we were at our destination.
 
So, here we are. It took a few days for him to get used to the new house and routine, but as long as he is with his family, he is a happy doodle. He loves his walks in the morning, exploring new paths, smells, frogs and fellow dogs. In fact, over the weekend we found a dog park while we were out!
The few tips we received from a trainer a few months back were very helpful and  Sawyer and I are truly enjoying our walks together. Now, he’s not perfect, he still occasionally has his moments, but don’t we all? We also have a lot of neighborhood cats roaming around that have Sawyer under their spell. When he sees them, he simply stops and stares as they watch us from the safety of the large oaks, or casually stroll past us. I have to say the best part of our walks these days is the lack of parkas, boots, and frozen paws! Like many cities, Charleston is a very dog friendly community. Often, as I enter a shop, I am greeted by a furry friend and dogs are always welcome to join their owners in outdoor cafes and restaurants.  As you can see, Sawyer has definitely settled in to his new home.
I love having Sawyer here with me. What is it about having a pet that makes us feel so good?  Our pets definitely live for the moment which is something we could all learn to do. Often, my office is out on the back porch, and Sawyer loves to sit by me and look out at the birds, turtles, and yes alligator (who we have affectionately named Alfred) in the next door pond. Sometimes Sawyer is so still, I swear he is meditating.
I love seeing him at the back door window with his favorite toy in his mouth and tail wagging whenever I come home, and who needs an alarm clock when you can have a big wet kiss first thing in the morning? I know he misses the rest of his family and they miss him too, but we will all be reunited again soon. For now we are going to enjoy the weather, sites, new friends, and soon the beach!
          Have a great week!!
          ~May

          Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole

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Home Aspirations

Although a good part of our 2017 is going to be filled with more transition for our family, with a move and our last child going off to college, I’m looking forward to settling in later this year. These last several months I’ve felt like I’ve been straddling one foot in each house, but now that I have been here in Charleston a number of times and will be spending a few months working on our new home this winter, I am a little less frazzled about our passage. I see now that I don’t have to bring everything to be happy. We have bought some new furniture and items that enhance the character and southern charm of this home, so that, along with some items we love from our other house, we will have all we need to make our Charleston abode truly feel like home sweet home.

A new year is always a great time to start fresh, whether it is getting back to healthy living in your body, home, or workspace. Our family spent part of the holidays here in South Carolina, and it gave me an opportunity to observe and get a feel for what we need to function and be happy in this new space. Our home and environment down here is very different from the Chicago house, and will require a slightly different touch. I know I want to create peace and order in all areas of our new space, filling it with items that are beautiful and inspiring. I want it to feel like us, but just not so much of us if that makes sense. Plus, without a basement, our storage capacity is much more limited which is actually not a bad thing. After much thought, my husband and I decided to bring very little with us when it actually comes time to move. We will bring the items we truly love, and let go of the rest.

I am amazed to see how much we collect and hang on to over the years, thinking we cannot possibly survive without all our belongings. I was a little overwhelmed at the thought of packing up so many years of memories, and trying to fit it in a home where I actually want to create new memories. Our lives aren’t what they were all those years ago and bringing all that baggage with me just doesn’t feel quite right. Last fall my mom and I went through our home room by room, packing up and donating items for a new family to enjoy. Now, after spending quality time in our new rooms, I know that there will be much more to let go of when I go back to Chicago. I want our new home to feel light, airy, and uncluttered. We are surrounded by a beautiful natural landscape and I want to create a tranquil indoor space, as well as an outdoor living space that we can enjoy all year round. The truth is, you don’t need much to be happy. The more time I spend here, the clearer it is. Letting go of clutter in your home also has a calming effect on the mind- there’s room to stretch out and breathe.

You don’t need to have a move in your future to make your home life organized, less cluttered, and more inspiring. If you feel like the items in your home are closing in on you, maybe it’s time to clear out some of the old and see how you feel. Maybe that’s an intention that you can set for yourself and your family as we begin a new year.

Happy Martin Luther King day! ~ May

Your home is living space, not storage space ~ Francine Jay

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