A Valentine’s Day tablescape, making beet roses, French Crullers and more!

This is going to be a kiss-on-the-cheek, “Glad to see you, hope you’re doing well, but I gotta run!” blog post because all that talk about sheltering-in-place propelling people to fix up their homes is true. It’s the silver lining of Covid-19 for the design industry: it’s booming! It’s so busy, in fact, it just occurred to me to tally the number of bathrooms I’m designing, as the number keeps growing, and it turns out that number is twelve. Twelve! All at once! Add to that two entire house remodels and there’s not a lot of time for blog posts.

But it’s almost Valentine’s Day, a holiday I’ve always loved because it’s about well…love and kindness and unlike all the other holidays where the corresponding merchandise (all-things-hearts) is tacky a few days later (Shamrocks in January? A Menorah in March? Easter Eggs in August? The style police will cite for such things!) all the things associated with Valentine’s Day (hearts, flowers, chocolate) are good year-round. So in honor of this lovely, love-themed holiday, here are some ideas to decorate for it!

Napkin ring made from a strip of paper bag that says LOVE. Valentine's Day table setting.

Here’s a use for all those brown paper bags we’ve accumulated while we’re not allowed to bring our reusable ones to grocery stores! I first made these “L-O-V-E” paper napkin rings for the cloth napkins at our wedding to add a homemade element to the table-setting. For a bit of nature, I tucked in a sprig of lavender. Did you know lavender has long been considered an herb of love and apparently Cleopatra used it to woo Mark Anthony (or so says the Internet!)?

Materials to make a DIY LOVE napkin ring for Valentine's Day. A paper bag, letter stamps, and sprig of lavender.

To create these, use scissors (or a paper cutter for more uniform strips) to cut strips 3/4″ wide from a paper bag. Make sure they’re long enough to wrap around your paper napkin and slightly overlap at the back. You’ll later use clear tape to tape the ends at the back closed.

A blue and white napkin wrapped with a napkin ring that says LOVE.

Use letter stamps or hand-write “LOVE”, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” or a dinner guest’s name on the paper bag strip. Wrap your napkin ring over your napkin folding the open ends of the strip in the back. Tape the ends on the backside closed to create a ring. Option: add a sprig of herbs or flowers. If you don’t have lavender on hand, here are some other herbs that are also linked to love.

Roses made from beet roots on a salad in a blue and white bowl.

These roses made from beet peelings are really easy to make–I promise! And they’re a perfect way to add some romance to your salad–or at least some healthy beets. πŸ™‚

Remove the outer skin of your raw beet root using a peeler (I like this one by OXO because it creates peels that are fairly thin which makes them easy to work with). Make one long peel and roll it into a rosebud shape making it tightly wound in the center and looser towards the outside.

Making roses made from peelings of beets.

Use knives or toothpicks to hold the beet roses in place prior to serving. (I like to make them about 1/2 hour ahead so they have time to set). Use as a plate garnish, to add color to a salad, or to decorate a veggie platter or charcuterie board. Of course they’re edible and taste good, too!

Roses made from beets on a salad in a blue and white bowl for Valentine's Day.

Our tablescape for February has been these hands from IKEA (they are really the coolest things, so well-made and very reasonable) positioned to spell L-O-V-E in sign language.

IKEA HANDSKALAD hands posed in sign language to say LOVE for Valentine's Day tablescape.

Here’s a closeup.

IKEA HANDSKALAD hands posed on a dining table to say LOVE for Valentine's Day.

If you want something sweet to eat on Valentine’s Day, besides chocolate, I finally found a recipe for donuts that resulted in donuts that actually taste like they came from a donut shop: my highest praise for donuts. This recipe for French Crullers.

French Cruller donuts on black slate tray with sprinkles in a blue and white bowl.

Essentially you make choux pastry and fry it but instead of just plopping a spoonful of dough into the hot oil (which is, apparently, how you make beignets, I’ve since learned) you pipe a ring onto parchment paper and plop that into the oil, face down, and remove the paper after a few seconds of frying.

Making French Cruller donuts. Donuts piped onto pieces of parchment paper.

I’ve tried so many donut recipes that disappoint (and take much longer due to rising time), but these work. This little extra step of piping onto paper was worth it; they were so good…even hours later and cold!

Frying French Cruller donuts. Some still have squares of parchment paper on.

In other news, the sun made a brief appearance last weekend and we made a mad dash to the backyard to do some sprucing while enjoying the sunshine. One of the projects that provided nearly instant gratification was adding river rocks to an area of aloes we has planted around the base of a yucca tree.

Here it is Before.

Yucca tree surrounded by aloe plants at base.

Behold the transformative power of river rocks!

The After:

Yucca tree surrounded by aloe plants and river rocks at base.

I tried this English Oat Cracker recipe by Ina Garten and it was a hit. I must say, I never thought I’d be making crackers, but staying home all the time does strange things to you. Note: the recipe says it yields 24 crackers, but when I made it I had so much dough I was able to make four fresh batches (I’d make them “to order”, so to speak) of about 15 crackers or more so it made many more than the recipe suggests–which made us happy! πŸ™‚

Making the dough and pressing even amounts onto parchment paper prior to baking the crackers is the only part that takes any work; once you have the dough (I stored the excess in the fridge in a gallon-sized Ziplock bag) you can have freshly baked crackers (which are quite a comforting treat!) nearly on demand!

Black slate serving tray with English Oat Crackers by Ina Garten Barefoot Contessa on them as well as cheese.

I bought this basket from Target’s Project 62 Collection with Studio McGee and decided it made a nice way to corral quite a few things on the coffee table–including the remote for the television which, prior to this, I’d hide behind a rattan lamp in the kitchen because I don’t actually like how remotes look. Now, we can have the remote within reach and a nicely styled coffee table, too. Win/win!

Note: If you’re interested in this basket, don’t hesitate too long as the Target collections with design empire Studio McGee tend to sell out very quickly!

A round rattan basket filled with book, rattan coasters, and a horn magnifying glass.

Here’s the big picture so you can see how the remote is fairly well hidden in the basket.

A round rattan basket filled with a book, horn magnifying glass and rattan coasters sitting on a coffee table. Orchids in a large faux clam shell in background.

And that’s a wrap!

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you your Valentine’s Day is lovely and filled with love!

The easiest last-minute Christmas craft: paperback book Christmas trees!

paperback Christmas tree books

Paperback book Christmas trees.

The other day someone I follow on Instagram posted a photo of her hand with the words “Get Stuff Done!” written on it. I think that certainly sums up the mood about now, doesn’t it? We’re all in super over-drive making a list, checking it twice and wringing our hands about those packages that may or may not arrive by December 25th.

So if you don’t have time for a craft this year, I get it. Really, I do. But if you happen to have an old book on hand, one that’s falling apart, that you were never that crazy about (despite the good reviews) in the first place, the one you were going to stick in your neighborhood’s lending library box to pawn off on someone else, this is the easiest, fastest last-minute Christmas craft I can imagine. But if you don’t have the time, you can bookmark this project for next year (yuk yuk).

Begin by removing thirty pages from your book. Note: by “pages” I mean “individual sheets”. For example, if you start at page 29, don’t just add 30 to 29 and then pull pages 29 to 59. Instead, count 30 individual sheets to remove which would give you, in this example, pages 29 to 118.

If you pull the pages ever so gently, you may be lucky enough to keep the spine intact. If this doesn’t work for you (it didn’t for me), you can run a bead of hot glue along the ripped edge of the pages to create a new sort of spine. Tip: while the line of glue is still hot, you can use a disposable plastic knife like a trowel to smooth the glue and further press it into the edges of the ripped pages to help hold them together. You can see my bead of glue running down the left side of the pages in the photo below.

Page from a book.

Now fold the top corner of the first page halfway down, towards the spine.

Showing how to make a paperback book Christmas tree craft.

Fold that fold in towards the spine as though you were going to make a paper airplane.

Showing how to make a paperback book Christmas tree craft.

Take the edge where the folded paper extends beyond the bottom of the book and tuck it under.

Folding book pages to make a paperback book Christmas tree craft.

Then press it flat so it’s flush with the bottom of your book. Now repeat this for all 30 pages. It should take 5 to 10 minutes depending on how many cups of coffee you’re guzzling to make it through your To Do List.

Folding book pages to make a paperback book Christmas tree craft.

Before your very eyes the thirty pages will be magically transformed into the shape of a conical tree. Flush and flare the pages, set it upright and, ta da, you’ve made a paperback book Christmas tree in under ten minutes!

Folding book pages to make a paperback book Christmas tree craft.

To create a topper, I hot-glued a tiny pine cone from our redwood tree on top. Fun fact: they’re one of the smallest pine cones from one of the largest species of pine trees. But a mini Christmas ornament, star, or jingle bell, would also work.

Multiple paperback book Christmas trees sitting on a credenza.

I placed a few paperback book Christmas trees in our living room, but they’d also make a nice homespun gift to set atop a wrapped present.

Multiple paperback book Christmas trees and rattan lanterns sitting on a Mid-Century Modern credenza. Black and white Hawaii mural in background.

Speaking of homespun, dried orange slices might be the second easiest Christmas craft! Simply slice your oranges into 1/4″ thick slices, set them on a baking rack (baking racks work better, in this case, than cookie sheets because the perforations allow greater air flow, reducing the drying time, and prevent the slices from sticking). Pop them into a preheated oven set at 200 degrees Fahrenheit and start working on all the other things on your To Do list because they take forever (3 1 2/ hours in our case!) to dry–but during that time your house will have a lovely citrus scent.

Note: to store them, I place them in a Ziploc bag with a desiccant packet (one of those moisture-absorbing packets of silica you’ll often find tucked inside a something you’ve had shipped–they reduce moisture which can prevent the item from becoming moldy during transport overseas). Warning: Do NOT use a desiccant packet around anything you plan to ingest–this idea is only for slices that will be used solely for decorative purposes!

Orange slices on baking rack to make dried orange slices.

When they’re finished you can thread them with twine to turn them into ornaments (I added a bunch to our tree and when the sun shines through them they make me think of stained glass!), tie them to packages, line them around the inside of a glass hurricane and place a ivory colored pillar candle inside or….

Dried orange slices in closeup of Christmas tree.

decorate your dessert cart. Dessert cart?

Did somebody say dessert cart?

Rattan bar cart being used as a dessert cart. There is a rattan tray on top of the rattan dessert cart, a paperback Christmas tree, sprigs of pine and bowls of candy.

I bought this rattan bar dessert cart online last week when 1) I saw it was rattan (I seem to have a fetish) and 2) I had the sudden fantasy of just after dinner, when all the plates are cleared, I roll this cart up to the table and say, “These are the desserts I’m offering tonight. Please take your pick.” I don’t know why this struck me as such a brilliant idea, but it did. I tried it after Sunday dinner and no one seemed as tickled as I was, but I was tickled enough for everyone (all four of us that is, as my mom was our socially-distanced dinner guest) and I stand behind my impulse buy. πŸ™‚

Truly, there was something thrilling about rolling out a cart filled with desserts. And if the excitement ever wears off, we can always use it as it was intended and offer spirits instead of sweets.

A rattan bar cart being used as a dessert cart. In background is modern dining table with conical Christmas trees running down center.

There you have it–the easiest last minute Christmas craft, orange slices to decorate your tree, your packages, and your dessert cart–and a present you can gift yourself (a dessert cart) if you’re as rabid about rattan as I am!

Happy holidays from our family to yours! Yes, we succumbed and bought matching pajamas this year. I know it’s kind of obnoxious and we’re now “those” people, but they’re really comfy pajamas and, what the heck, it’s the holidays–or it better be or I should take those ridiculous antlers off my head!

Mom, dad and son wearing red and black buffalo check matching family pajamas. Mom is wearing reindeer antlers. Mat

Thanks for stopping by!

Mom holding son in matching family pajamas. Mom wearing reindeer antler headband.

Now I won’t keep you second more so you can get back to your To Do list and “Get Things Done!”

Stay safe, be well, and here’s hoping your Christmas is merry and bright!

Wishing you the happiest of holidays!

Getting down to brass tacks: DIY brass-tack pumpkins, a tried-and-true tempura recipe, and a fast, but still fancy, chocolate dessert!

Rattan lantern, carved wood lantern and brass tack pumpkin on table.

After the week that felt like a thousand years, this one was a little easier.

By Saturday, the jubilance was palpable. Friends said they awoke to the sound of horns honking. You could turn on any news station (even that news station) and see throngs of people shimmying through the streets, the joy visibly apparent in every triumphant thwack of their conga drums. We even headed out, a rare occurrence since Covid-19, for donuts–what better way to celebrate than with something sweet?

There was a frisson of something radical happening. It felt a bit like a 1960s-throwback. It felt like good had triumphed over evil. It felt like we could finally exhale.

Then there was the hiccup come Monday, Tuesday, and so on when we realized political gridlock was grinding any progress to a halt. And that’s when I realized it was time to start making these pumpkins.

Closeup of inserting brass tacks into faux pumpkin.

Sometimes you just need a craft that is as cathartic as it is easy. And I’ll tell you, mindlessly poking a brass tack into the body of a faux pumpkin felt both therapeutic and remarkably relaxing.

Now’s also the perfect time to purchase faux pumpkins because even though we’re yet halfway through November, according to the music being played in the donut store, it’s also Christmas time, which means faux pumpkins are on super-sale.

I’ve found packages of 300 brass tacks (you’ll need about three of these packs per a pumpkin that is approximately the size of your hand) available year-round for $1 each at The Dollar Tree, but they’re also available at any office supply store.

For all those putting up Christmas lights already (one of our neighbors simultaneously has jack-o-lanterns flanking her entry and a lit Christmas tree and inflatable nutcracker displayed in her front window), I say: Slow downnnn! Until the turkey is plated and the stuffing is served, I’m savoring November.

As you can see, these pumpkins are fairly elemental to make, but here are some tips to ensure your success.

Start at the bottom with a single row, then work your way to the top (where the faux stem is).

Closeup of inserting brass tacks into faux pumpkin.

Once you’ve finished the first row, begin the next row at the bottom making sure to slightly overlap the first row with the second row, creating a scale effect.

Finishing the overlapping rows of brass thumbtacks on the faux pumpkin.

Continue in this fashion until you have completed one segment.

This craft is so mindless you can chat while you work, play a favorite song, listen to a podcast–or even take your chances and turn on the news!

Keep going until you’ve finished all the segments, working from left to right. Before you know it, (I found it took about an hour to complete one), you’ll be down to the last segment. Begin and end the last segment just as you did the first.

When you get to the end of your therapy craft, chances are you’ll be feeling really good!

Closeup of how to make a brass tack pumpkin from a faux pumpkin.

And now you’ll have all these pretty brass pumpkins to place throughout your house in preparation for possibly no one coming over to see them. But you’ll see them, and you were able to relieve some of that pent-up tension by poking and poking and poking again at that pumpkin–and that is what really matters.

Plus, unlike real pumpkins, you’ll still have them next year when, we can hope, your only stress will be the full house you’re hosting for the holidays. πŸ™‚

Brass tack pumpkin on table next to pewter vase with white firework chrysanthemum, and a silver milk pitcher with a fern leaf.

I used ours to decorate our fall tablescape, along with the velvet pumpkins I made in previous years. Velvet pumpkins are another quick and easy craft. If you want to read my post-from-the-past on how to make them, click here.

The pumpkins on the far right are made with a new package of tacks and you can see they’re bright and shiny, but they will darken as they age. If you want to keep them looking bright for a bit longer, spray them with a clear coat of satin spray paint.

Fall tablescape: dining table with a runner down the center and velvet pumpkins, faux birds, and brass-tack covered pumpkins. A succulent pumpkin centerpiece.

This was the setting for last week’s Sunday night dinner when my mom came over for our weekly socially-distanced soiree (if four people can count as a soiree). These plates from Anthropologie are no longer available, but here’s a plastic version of some that are equally charming.

Fall table setting with black plate on rattan charger, succulent pumpkin, brass tack pumpkins and faux birds in background.

We had these same Lumina pumpkins displayed on our dining table for our not-so-spooky Halloween and I turned the largest one into a succulent pumpkin centerpiece for our new look which is it’s-almost-Thanksgiving. If you’d like to make your own, you can read my how-to post here.

Because the days are growing shorter, I put the succulent pumpkin outside during the day and bring it in at dinnertime to serve as our centerpiece.

Outdoor patio scene with succulent pumpkins shown.

What’s so wonderful about these living centerpieces is not only do you save a bundle on buying (or these days…ordering) fresh flowers every week, but when it’s time to transition into all-things-Christmas, you can plop the pumpkin in the ground and the succulents will continue to grow using the decomposing pumpkin as fertilizer–and, come spring, you’re likely to sprout some pumpkins.

Succulents covering white pumpkin.
Here is the living centerpiece soaking up the rays of the day!

Now the table’s decorated. What to serve?

I have a pet peeve about investing time and expensive ingredients on a new recipe only to be utterly disappointed. I don’t just let it go. Instead I’ll have to take a few deliberately deep breaths, consciously keep myself from remarking about it throughout the entire lackluster meal except for the occasional, “It sounded so good when I read it!” and even when the plates have long been cleared, I’ll wish I had a pumpkin to stab. And I’ve felt this way after making many a tempura recipe.

They all promised a light and airy batter, but none tasted like the tempura I’d order off a Japanese menu–until this one by Tyler Florence. It was so good, instead of lamenting anything, I kept saying, “This tastes like it came from a restaurant!” (my hallmark of good food), and, “If it did, I’d order it again!” (the highest honor I hand out πŸ˜‰ ).

A black bowl serving tempura with a lemon wedge on the side of the tempura.

Not only is the batter light, crispy, salt-and-peppery, and delectable down to the last bite, but the added bonus is the part you make just at the end after you’ve done all that frying and cleared away most of the oil. You add freshly grated ginger, chopped garlic, and sliced scallions to the oil and fry them for a minute until they are crisp, then dump them on top of your plated tempura. If you can’t get to a Japanese restaurant any time soon to order tempura, you might not mind so much once you’ve made this recipe.

Hot tip: To give you an indication of how much this recipe makes, I made a quarter of what the recipe called for (thankfully it was easily divisible) and even though there are only two of us who eat tempura over here (our almost-five-year old shuns such things) we still had leftovers the next day. Also, I used some of the batter for 1/4″ slices of zucchini and 1/2″ slices of onion and thought the veggies made a nice addition. But most importantly, when it calls for chilled soda water, make sure IT’S A FRESH BOTTLE! The fizz of an opened bottle fades by the next day and the batter won’t be as light without that first-day carbonation.

And another tip: After we realized we were wasting large bottles of club soda that were not-so-sparkling a few days after opening, we started keeping the mini-sized bottles of Schweppes, which are the perfect size for most food and drink recipes, on hand.

If you’re fried after frying and don’t want to spend much time on dessert, you may want to try this recipe for Pots de Creme. The key is using good quality chocolate as it’s one of the three ingredients. I found this recipe off the bag of Guittard (a good chocolate) Milk Chocolate Chips.

2 c Guittard Milk Chocolate Chips

3/4 c whole milk

1/4 c butter

Place chips in a blender. Heat the butter and milk over low heat until the mixture just begins to boil. Immediately pour the hot liquid into the blender container. Cover and blend at high speed until smooth, about a minute. Pour into dessert dishes and chill until set.

Brass tack pumpkins on dining table with pot de creme in white bowl on white plate.

Please note: the recipe actually called for three hours of chilling time which I changed to “until set”, because I made these the other night and popped them into the fridge just before dinner and by the time we were finished (an hour later, at most) they were perfectly set.

Brass tack pumpkins on dining table with pot de creme in white bowl on white plate.

PS: I also added a dollop of whipped cream on top to add some lightness to the heaviness of the chocolate creme. For a fall-flavor sensation, use a whisk or mixer with a whisk attachment to whip 1 cup heavy cream and 2 T sugar. When almost-stiff peaks are formed (be careful not to over beat or the mixture will curdle), add 2 T Frangelico hazelnut liquor. Try it and your taste buds will thank you! If you don’t have Frangelico on hand, dark rum also works.

There you have it, a craft to calm you and two recipes to nourish you!

Here’s to having a happy, easy week next week–the kind that makes you want to beat a drum and shimmy in the streets! πŸ™‚

Thanks for stopping by!

Cozy, soothing things to keep you calm, including a Ginger Kombucha cocktail!

I started three new projects this week and was on-track to redesign a bathroom, figure out how to turn a so-so office into one that was stylish and ready for its Zoom-closeup, and turn a commercial space from “Ick!” to chic.

And then Election Day and the following days of “What the heck?!” happened: time stood still (I imagined our clocks dripping a la a Dali painting), my focus turned from looking at tile to toggling between various news channels, and I began cramming handfuls of our son’s Halloween candy into my mouth as a coping mechanism–I imagine it will make an unwanted appearance on my waistline next week.

But I couldn’t help it. As I explained to friends, family and clients in the rapid-fire texts we’d send one another signaling support during this time of crisis when morality itself seemed moribund, waiting for the results of the election felt like waiting for a loved one to come out of surgery. Until I knew He was going to make it, my entire focus fell by the wayside.

The one thing that has helped was knowing we are in this together. We’re not alone. More people than not collectively care. So just in case you were also feeling the opposite of calm, I thought I’d suggest some happy, soothing things. A figurative flashlight, if you will, to help us as we make our way out of the woods.

Not to promote drinking….but, you might want to try this cocktail. I give my mom credit for coming up with the basics when one night she asked aloud “I wonder if ginger kombucha and Maker’s Mark would taste good together?” It turns out they did. I added to it until I turned it into my new favorite cocktail. It’s not too sweet, the freshly grated ginger adds a refreshing bite, and the element of kombucha can kind of make you feel like you’re imbibing something healthy. Kind of.

Velvet pumpkins in front of a ginger kombucha cocktail.

Ginger Kombucha Cocktail

  • Servings: Makes one strong cocktail--you're welcome!
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

2 oz. Maker’s Mark

2 oz. GTS Kombucha Gingerade

2 to 3 oz. ginger beer

1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice (juice from half a large lime)

1 heaping teaspoon of freshly grated ginger root

One slice of candied ginger for the garnish (optional)

Pour all ingredients over ice in a lowball glass. Cut halfway through the candied ginger slice and position it on the edge of the glass as a garnish.


Cheers! You should start to feel better in about fifteen minutes or fewer. πŸ™‚

Looking down on a group of velvet pumpkins in various shades of green and a ginger kombucha cocktail in the center.

Go outside! I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes we all need a reminder to get some fresh air. Did you know the air outdoors is often 2 to 5 times cleaner than the air which we sit inside inhaling…and exhaling…and inhaling? Not only is the air outside often cleaner, but a little sunlight can do a lot of good as we enter these shorter days because exposure to sunlight can release a much-needed dose of serotonin. As you probably know, serotonin keeps us calm and focused and without enough exposure to sunlight, our natural levels can dip. Nail-biting elections have also been known to drop levels of serotonin off a cliff.

Neat way to stake tomato vines by hanging them with twine from stakes of wood.
If you have a garden, spend some time in it! I spotted this clever way to stake tomato plants while accompanying a client to a potential new home. Isn’t the twine-tied-to-branches so much more interesting than the common tomato cage?

I don’t think anyone needs encouragement to eat more–at least, I don’t; eating is my happy place when the state of things seems to spiral out of control–but eating good, healthy meals, is a wise idea to keep your wits about you. Even the act of cooking can be comforting. Recently I’ve found following a new recipe to be a welcome distraction. This one for Company Pot Roast was well worth the effort (and, be forewarned, there is some effort, but also a great payoff when you taste how comforting and yummy this dish is)!

But I do suggest this: this recipe makes a lot of sauce and as you’re likely to run out of meat before you run out of sauce (there is sauce for days–literally, you’ll have leftovers for days!) we found ourselves making plates of sauce, piling on sliced Swiss cheese (Gruyere also works) and microwaving the dish until the sauce was heated and the cheese was melted. It tasted like a heartier, more vegetable-filled version of French Onion soup.

And another tip: I plated the dish over egg noddles to sop up some of the sauce and garnished the meal with Italian parsley, otherwise, I thought it seemed too blah looking.

Company Pot Roast from Ina Garten on a white plate with a rattan charger, black napkin and black tablecloth.

Okay, so maybe you’re too stressed to follow such a long recipe. Before I tasted it and knew it was a success, I almost texted my foodie friend to say, “This better work or I want the last hour and a half back!”–there is quite a lot of slicing and searing and chopping before you even get to the part where you stick the roast in the oven–to cook for 2 1/2 hours!– so do plan ahead!

In that case, here’s another recipe, courtesy of Ina Garten, which I made Election Night knowing I’d want be glued to the television, not the cutting board. She describes it in her cookbook as the meal she’ll prepare when she’s in a hurry, and she was right. It’s simple and quick to prepare, but delicious and comforting to consume.

Tip: See that tiny green thing midway up the chicken breast? That was what happens to the basil leaf the recipe recommends you stick under the chicken skin. Because like most cooked green things, basil leaves have an incredible ability to shrink, I’d suggest adding four or five basil leaves (instead of the recommended one) under the skin of each breast to add more flavor–and color! After all, this is called Chicken with Goat Cheese and Basil not Chicken with Goat Cheese and A Tiny Speck of Something Green Which May or May Not Be Detectable As Basil. But that’s just my opinion.

Roast chicken with goat cheese on white plate on a rattan charger with velvet pumpkins in background.
Don’t worry, we had a salad first–we aren’t that uncivilized!

While we’re on the subject of cooking, here is a wonderfully cheery clip of everyone’s favorite (or at least their top five) cooks: Julia Child. Watch this and I bet you’ll feel your blood pressure drop almost immediately. Okay, while you’re at it, watch this one, too.

After all that time standing and stirring, your feet might need a rest. I ordered these house slippers from Target a couple of weeks ago and have been slipping them on every morning ever since. They’re cozy, come in other colors , they’re real suede, and…wait for it…they’re only $20!

Feet shown propped on coffee table wearing leopard house slippers, rattan stools and table decorated for Halloween in background.
I know, I know that spider decor was so last week (when it was Halloween). It has since been hauled up to the attic to wait for its unleashing next year, I promise!

I don’t know about you, but I always feel better after I clean the house–not during, but after. Once the dust has literally cleared, I move things around. A new arrangement gives me a new perspective and I certainly needed that this week. And since we just wrapped up on all-things-Halloween, it seemed the perfect time to transition our house into all-things-Fall.

I wiped away all the spooky, and added a plethora of pumpkins.

Fall tablescape on dining table with succulent covered white pumpkin in center, brass tack pumpkins and velvet pumpkins down center of table.

And a couple of faux pheasants. And a table runner. Here is a similar one that is pretty and a pretty great price.

Then I followed my own advice from last week’s post and added a gazillion lanterns and battery-operated LED candles around the house, set them to timer mode, and now every day at 5:00 pm, just as the shadows start to creep in, they’re kept at bay by the cozy glow of candlelight. I wish you could see it aglow at night. It’s so pretty!

Mid century modern credenza buffet with rattan wicker lanterns on top in front of black and white photo mural of 1940s Waikiki.

Admittedly, I couldn’t tear myself away from the news this week, but it did occur to me I should switch the channel and watch something so engrossing I’d forget our country’s democracy was in danger. The thing was, I didn’t know what to watch (what would be as compelling as watching our country almost go to hell in a hand basket?) because I had already watched the most engrossing, captivating, enchanting show ever, Gran Hotel, on Netflix. It’s set in 1907 Spain, has Spanish subtitles, swelling orchestral music, a plot that will keep you guessing til the end (it’s a who-dunnit) and the most beautiful sets and actors you can imagine. I’ve told so many people about this show and so far they’ve all gotten hooked.

My mom and I watched it at our respective houses, would call each and instead of saying “How are you?” say “Can you believe s/he did that?” and we dreaded it coming to a close. When it did end, we were in withdrawals for a brief period during which time I filled the void by following most of the main characters (well the actors who played them, although I like to believe they’re still the characters) on Instagram just to keep them in my life. I know I sound like a crazy person. That is how good this show is: it’s crazy-making!

If drinking, breathing fresh air, wearing comfy house slippers, cooking, cleaning your house, and binge-watching television fails to calm you down, there’s always chocolate cake. I found this recipe for Chocolate Cake in a book a client/friend/dear person lent me, The Sweet Life In Paris, by David Lebovitz which is also a very good read and makes you think you might not be missing much by not being able to travel to France right now (he makes a case for Parisians not being the politest of people).

Before sharing the recipe, he explains every Frenchwoman he knows has a go-to chocolate cake recipe that she’s committed to memory, that can be made on a moment’s notice. And if there was ever a week that called for chocolate cake to be consumed in big, hulking wedges, drowned down with a cold glass of milk (or maybe a Kombucha Ginger Cocktail), I think this was it.

Slice of chocolate cake on blue and white plate with brass fork and glass of milk and glass vase with single fern leaf all on rattan tray.

Here’s to next week being much better, to staying calm, staying kind, and counting all the votes!

Update: He made it!

Thanks for stopping by!

DIY paper lanterns with pressed leaves and flowers and how to make your house smell, naturally, like fall!

These lanterns are not only pretty, but easy to make with what you have on hand!

How to make homemade spherical globe shaped paper lantern with pressed leaves and flowers.

I’ve been homeschooling Kai since mid-March when his preschool ushered us out the door at the end of the week announcing they’d be closed come Monday until further notice. They were full of kind words and well-wishes, but without any answers.

I remember it was Friday the 13th which compounded the sense of foreboding. They shrugged their shoulders and apologized for not knowing what would happen next. We didn’t blame them; no one knew. Sadly, we still don’t. The preschool did eventually reopen, with detailed explanations of new protocols, limited classroom sizes, and promises that they’d do everything in their power to make it safe–it just didn’t sound safe enough. So we never went back.

Now, like everyone else muddling through this new way of life, we take each day as it comes. After a period of what my husband, JB, delicately described as “floating”, I finally devised an itinerary Kai and I seem to be able to stick with which is good since I now realize there’s an integral connection between having a schedule and staying sane.

Snack time. (Note the glitter on the table. Sigh.)

We have hula hoop contests and dance-offs (Movement); we count the windows and doors in our house (Math); and we learn about a new animal each day (Biology). And we’re learning so much. For example, did you know if an octopus is restricted to an environment that doesn’t provide enough stimulation, it will begin to eat its own appendages? I can relate. I fear I may start biting my nails soon.

Of all the activities, Craft Time is the most fun. And here is one of our favorite crafts so far: DIY paper lanterns with pressed leaves and flowers. They’re pretty, darn easy to make, and, with perhaps the exception of balloons or inflatable balls which you may or may not have on-hand, they’re made from things you likely have lying around the house.

Really. Here’s all you need:

White copy paper and white tissue paper (or use toilet paper–assuming you’re well stocked by now and maybe even have a surplus) πŸ™‚

White glue (or use 1 cup of flour mixed with 1 cup of cold water)

Leaves and flowers picked from your garden (or see what you can scrounge up during a walk around the block)

Begin by fully inflating your balls or balloons to create the form for your globe. Tear white copy paper into 2″ wide strips (or use the aforementioned pieces of toilet paper; this method will increase the translucency.).

Dip your strips into the glue and press them around the ball/balloon until it’s covered in one layer of paper. Note: if you’re using a ball, make sure the valve is pointed upwards. Stop the strips just short of the top, then set your globe out to dry. Don’t worry about forming a neat opening as you’ll have a chance to clean it up later.

Gather your flora.

We picked a combination of fern leaves, ginkgo leaves and bougainvillea bracts.

Spread the flora on a sheet of wax paper in a single layer; place another sheet of wax paper on top then rest a heavy book upon the flora “sandwich”. In few days the flora will be dry enough to use.

Dab a bit of glue on your finger, or onto a paintbrush, to attach the flora to your paper globe. Once it’s positioned, layer a strip of white tissue paper (or toilet paper) over the flora. Spread a thin layer of glue over the tissue paper layer, smoothing it with your fingers, or paintbrush. Let dry.

Once your globe is completely dry, deflate the ball or puncture the balloon and cut a wide, circular opening at the top. Remove the ball or balloon.

If you plan to leave your globe lanterns outside for any period of time, first seal them with two coats of clear acrylic spray paint (letting them dry in between coats).

Showing how to make a craft paper lantern jack-o-lantern for Halloween made with tissue paper and toilet paper.

Now you’re ready to illuminate your lanterns. Because they’re made of paper and, thus, flammable, I’d suggest using battery-operated LED candles, such as these which can be set to timer mode. They’re coated in wax and have the most realistic wicks–far better than some of the other options out there, even better, in my opinion, than those sold at the store the begins with a P and rhymes with “Ottery Farm”.

Side note: “Timer mode” may just be one of the greatest inventions ever; each night your candles “magically” begin to glow at the same time like some little fairy swept through your house illuminating them–while you didn’t even have to lift a finger! And what’s cozier than candlelight–especially the flame-less variety which you can leave unattended knowing it will extinguish itself in five hours?

However, these lanterns are just as pretty during the day when not aglow.

You can use the same technique, (but with orange tissue paper for the final layer), to create a jack-o-lantern–perfect for the holiday that’s almost here!

I had planned to use an X-acto knife to cut out the eyes, nose and mouth on our jack-o-lantern, but liked the look the Sharpie created so I left it intact.

Showing how to make a craft paper lantern jack-o-lantern for Halloween made with tissue paper and toilet paper.

This version functions as a lantern or as a Halloween candy bowl! We’ve stuffed ours with mini candy bars and have been reaching into the jack-o-lantern far too often, ever since. πŸ˜‰

A paper lantern jack-o-lantern for Halloween made with tissue paper and toilet paper sitting on outdoor table and glowing.

Now you know how to illuminate your house, how about how to make it smell really good? Recently I read someone suggesting each house should have its own signature scent. It got me thinking: What’s ours? I’d imagine it’s a custom blend of dog fur and washed-when-it-fits-into-this-new-schedule-human-hair.

And surely we can do better! I know I want to try. In fact, I imagine we all want our homes to smell their best, especially now so many of us are grounded in them. Enter: 100% natural essential oils and a diffuser!

Homemade paper globe spherical lanterns with dried pressed leaves and flowers sitting on pathway. Rattan tray with LED pillar candles in front.

We purchased this diffuser by Victsung last winter when we were coughing and hacking at night due to the dry weather. Given the season of dryness has descended upon us, along with the plague, now seemed like a good time to bring out the diffusers (plus, they’re so cool and modern looking!). But instead of just using them in the bedrooms, I decided to keep one in the kitchen and drop in some essential oils to make our house smell less like, well, like us.

I wanted a scent that would smell somewhere between pumpkin pie and freshly baked oatmeal cookies, or maybe just like Fall. And I think I nailed it! The secrete formula? Two drops of cinnamon oil and two drops of nutmeg oil.

Used as an aromatic, cinnamon oil has been linked to easing depression and anxiety and aiding in sleep–all good things! While nutmeg oil helps support a sense of calm, induces relaxation–and conversely can alleviate fatigue and be a mood and energy booster. In other words, it’s an upper and downer all in one little vial.

Added bonus: Because the cinnamon oil is naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal, it makes an great alternative to yucky chemical cleaners. I added a few drops to a spray-bottle filled with water and now use it as a natural way to wipe the surfaces in our house.

I hope you’ll try making a lantern–or at least invest in some battery-operated LED candles to sprinkle throughout to give your home a cozy glow as we head into the darker days of Fall.

And if you think your house might just smell like you’ve been spending nearly every minute in it, now you have an essential oil formula that can make you feel as good as it smells!

Thanks for stopping by!

Drink Me! A make-ahead cocktail, haute-Halloween tablescape, and pumpkin-shaped bread!

You might need these in your life!

Pomegranate Cosmopolitan in martini glass, buddha head planter and wood bowl with pomegranates in background.

It’s pomegranate season, we’re on our umpteenth heatwave here in Southern California, and the election is upon us. All of the above culminated to inspire the making of this cocktail!

Wooden bowl with pomegranates.

I’ve listed the recipe below, but should tell you now if you’re going to squeeze fresh pomegranate juice (and you really should, it’s so good!) I strongly suggest you wear clothes you don’t care about as the juice, even using a citrus press, creates a bit of a “crime scene”. But it’s so tartly sweet and refreshing I think you’ll find it’s worth the extra bit of effort to press your own. Update: a friend/client/smart person just shared her tip to remove the seeds while they’re submerged in a bowl of water thus eliminating the “bloody” mess. Brilliant!

Squeezing pomegranate seeds with citrus press.

Pomegranate Cosmopolitan (makes 8 small martinis or 4 large ones–depending on the size of your martini glasses, 4 oz. or 8 oz., but do note any excess can be stored in a lidded jar, refrigerated, and used for up to one week.)

2 c vodka

1 c Cointreau

1 c pomegranate juice (Pom Wonderful, found in most grocery stores, or freshly pressed from 2 large pomegranates)

1/2 c fresh lime juice (from 2 large limes)

Combine and chill mix until ready to use. Serve in a frozen martini glass with a twist of lime (wind the lime peeling tightly on a straw–I like to use a metal, reusable one–to form the spiral). Pour what you don’t consume into a lidded jar and chill until the urge to blot out reality strikes again.

Since there are just two of us old enough to drink in this house, I soon discovered the brilliance of the make-ahead cocktail. Since we’d be two sheets to the wind if we consumed 4 to 8 martinis, we each imbibed one and I poured the remaining mix into a lidded jar (note: the lid is crucial to keep the scent of your refrigerator out of your cocktail).

The following evening, when the urge for a magical mixture to dull the sharp edges of surviving a pandemic strikes again, get out the ice (we don’t have an ice maker so I like to use these lidded ice cube trays for the same reason a lidded jar is a must). Fill your cocktail shaker with ice, stir the Cosmo mix, pour atop the ice, shake vigorously, then pour like a pro into your chilled martini glass–feel free to skip the lime spiral on a Monday. You might be feeling more ambitious by Tuesday. If you are, here’s a great zester to try.

Squeezing pomegranate seeds with citrus squeezer.

This liquid is both friend (the flavor tastes like you just ingested something really good for you–and you did, it’s packed with Vitamin C and more! Read this and you might want some pomegranate juice pronto) and foe (be forewarned: it splatters and can stain any porous surfaces).

Wooden bowl with pomegranates with a Halloween tablescape in background including white pumpkins and black ravens.

Just in case you need something to soak up all that “sauce”, you might want to make Pumpkin-Shaped-Pumpkin bread. (Recipe found here.) Now if you’re thinking, “Homemade bread? Yeah, right! It’s not like I’m stuck at home with all this time on my hands. Oh, wait…” this might be a great time to try your hand at bread-making, right?

Large faux Halloween spider hanging over dining table decorated for Halloween. Pumpkin-shaped pumpkin bread on table.

Don’t be afraid of this recipe. It truly was a fairly easy one. I’m a totally novice bread maker and it still turned out perfectly pumpkin-esque. Of course, if you aren’t quite ready to take on the task of baking bread, the good new is you have all of fall to warm up to it. This shapely bread would be a stunner any time between now and Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin-shaped pumpkin bread.

The big picture!

Large faux spider hanging over dining table set for Halloween. Pumpkin-shaped read, faux spiders, fern leaves in glass vases, faux crows and black plates decorating the table.

The trick to creating the pumpkin shape is to tie the dough with baker’s twine. You cut three pieces 24″ long, place them on your parchment paper or Silpat mat crossing over one another in a star (like this *) pattern; plop down the proofed ball of dough in the center of the star; bring the twine ends up the sides of the ball and loosely tie them at the top leaving an inch or so of slack; insert a cinnamon stick “stem”.

Bread dough tied with baker's twine to make a pumpkin shape. A cinnamon stick in top of bread dough to create the "stem".

During the second round of rising, the bread will expand to fill out any slack in the string. Once it has risen per the recipe, you glaze it with an egg wash to give it that lovely autumnal shade of ocher and pop it into the oven. Just wait, your house will soon be filled with the yummy, yeasty smell of freshly baked bread–a cozier smell than any scented candle I can think of!

Remove the baker’s twine before plating the bread and get ready to set your tablescape. I purposely didn’t say your “Halloween tablescape” as this could be your table decor all month long. Like it is ours. πŸ™‚

Pumpkin-shaped bread with cinnamon stick in center for stem, faux spiders, and black faux raven sitting on white pumpkin for Halloween tablescape.

Side note: We’ve removed the skeleton since the photo below was taken as Kai decided the skeleton was scary after all. We considered telling Kai he’s not scary, he’s scientific, we all have bones inside of us, or even naming the skeleton to cut down on the fear factor, but when Kai started demanding requesting one of us escort him to the bathroom during dinner because our extra dinner guest was apparently frightening the bejusus out of him, we packed the skeleton up and sent him back to the attic until next season when Kai will be nearly six and, perhaps, ready to embrace Mr. Bones.

Pumpkin-shaped bread with cinnamon stick in center for stem, faux spiders, and black faux raven sitting on white pumpkin for Halloween tablescape. Faux skeleton wearing cowboy hat sitting at dining table.

Because I was very punctual about setting up this tablescape (September 30th, to be exact), I’ve started to tweak it here and there so I don’t lose interest–although, admittedly, I’m nearly ready to swipe it back into the Rubbermaid storage bin from which it came and get ready for a more neutral, certainly less macabre, fall/Autum/Thanksgiving-is-almost-here version.

But it you’d like to borrow any elements of ours assuming you don’t already have something like it and are, thus, not terribly tired of it, here’s what you’ll need and where you’ll find it:

A Halloween table setting: black plate, horn napkin ring, brass flatware, white  pumpkins, fern leaves in glass vases, faux spiders.

Placemats: We use these through all the seasons and even though we purchased them many years ago, they’ve held up through Kai’s toddler years and the current state of daily splatters of soft-boiled egg and the like. I highly recommend them. And the bit of black thread ties in nicely if you’re using black plates.

Glass vases: I mentioned these in a previous post, but they’re so good, they’re worth mentioning again. These simple vases work in all sorts of settings: decorating a nightstand, placed on the windowsill above your kitchen sink, next to the bottle of soap on your bathroom counter; and the list goes on.

Black plates: I have a new-found affinity for black tableware. Black plates have this wonderful ability to make any food you place on them pop in contrast–similar to the black velvet backdrop a jeweler uses to make his bling look its best . For years I was beholden to the classic look of white plates. Now I want the food I make to be displayed like jewels! Source here.

Black napkins: Did you notice these are actually black bandanas? Clever you! After months of using cloth napkins during the paper towel shortage of the first few months of the pandemic, I felt really happy we were being Eco-concious using cloth napkins, and really sad that all my linens I’d saved for special occasions (times when we might have company, other than ourselves, over to eat) were becoming sullied beyond anything stain-remover could fix. The solution: buying bandanas in bulk. They’re so inexpensive I don’t mind if they get a mark or two, or three; the bright ones are a great way to inject cheery color into summer table settings, but the black ones are classic, understated, and just moody enough for fall. Source here.

Horn napkin rings: I love, and stockpile, horn decor. A small horn bowl elevates a bowl of otherwise commonplace snacks and can corral the flotsam and jetsam on your nightstand (the rings/watch/lip balm/random rubber bands, etc.) making it appear neat, tidy and placed with intention, and a larger bowl makes your salad look enticing before anyone even tastes it. And the napkin rings are, well, just pretty. They can be found here.

Brass flatware: More on the pretty, plus it glints so nicely and makes a nice, bright, contrast against all the black. Something similar found here or here.

Tag saying "Drink Me" tied to small brown bottle and set next to plate on table.

I decided our table decor needed something more and that something was these brown bottles labeled “Drink Me…”. These particular bottles are vanilla bottles I’ve been saving from Trader Joe’s waiting for inspiration to strike. Well, it did!

Granted we’re not having a dinner party any time soon, but, when we do, I plan to use these as place card holders (write your guest’s name on one side; the “Drink Me…” will be revealed when they flip it over) filled with a small amount of liqueur to add as a floater to the signature cocktail of the evening (for instance, if you served Pomegranate Cosmos, the floater could be Grand Marnier or Cointreau). Refer to them as “mini flasks” and they’ll double as party favors for your guests to take home as a parting gift. Of course for the wee ones and under-aged, the bottles could be filled with something non-alcoholic…like freshly squeezed pomegranate juice! πŸ™‚

If, perchance, you aren’t saving your old vanilla bottles like I am (just a hunch), small brown bottles can be found here. I dabbed my finger into some espresso and dabbed it onto the office tag to give it a mottled, aged affect. Strongly-brewed coffee would work, as well.

There you have it! I hope these ideas inspire you to add some hints of Halloween to your home!

Thanks for stopping by!

Our not-so-spooky Halloween decor

Place a faux raven here, there, and everywhere. Sprinkle in some spiders and you have a natural take on Halloween decor.

I’m back. Or at least I think so. I’ve taken an almost three-year hiatus from blogging, but a sweet client-turned-friend suggested I return to spread some joy–or at least some decorating ideas. If joy follows, all the better. Given this is the month of Halloween, let’s start with some ideas to get your house looking spooktacular, shall we?

Ten points if you spot the eyeballs in the fireplace.

First up: DIY ping pong ball eyeballs. They’re quick, easy and just the right amount of eye-catching fun.

Simply paint a a medium-sized colored circle (blue, green, or brown) on a ping pong ball for the iris. Once it’s dry, paint a smaller black circle in the center to create the pupil; add a dab of white for the highlight. Let dry and, in the blink of an eye, the peepers are ready to be placed.

Once I realized how easy these were to make, I made more and more. And positioned them in every fun setting I could think of.

The same dear client mentioned earlier gave us this potted Chrysanthemum. I used bubble wrap to prop it up in this old urn, filled the voids around the sides with more bubble wrap, covered the visible bubble wrap with dried moss, and added ping pong eyeballs to make it come “alive”.

Ping pong ball eyeballs will turn a potted Chrysanthemum into a “creature” before your very eyes.

Use white beach balls to create oversized googly eyes perfect for decorating your yard. Paint a medium-sized colored circle for the iris. Once dry, paint a smaller-sized black pupil. We bought these balls from the Oriental Trading Company nearly four years ago for Kai’s first birthday party. We’ve inflated and deflated them over the years to play and decorate with and they’ve held up well. You can find a dozen 11″ ones for $9.99 here.

Insert the balls into a tree or bush for some eye-popping effects!

No matter how hard I try to keep up with the cobwebs that develop in the corners of our house, they appear faster than I can brush them away. Luckily, this is the one time of year, the more cobwebs the better!

Faux cobwebs add an instant hint of haunted-house!

You might be surprised at the natural decor you can find in your own backyard. To the left of the brutalist sculpture is some “sculpture” from nature: what remained of the fruit bunch of our date palm. It had such interesting lines, I picked it off the ground and popped it on top of our SABA stereo/console months ago and it has lived there ever since. It joins the composition of one of my favorite pieces of art in our house which is a painting of a paper grocery bag from Safeway. Quirky meets quirky.

This might be the only time of year when silk flowers are acceptable. πŸ™‚ You can find black silk roses here.

Here’s the big picture including our mural wall depicting Waikiki circa the 1940s. The photographic mural from EazyWallz makes the living room feel like it has two views: one out the window and one on the wall.

I use these wooden HANDSKALAD hands from IKEA in some form, year-round and they fit right into our Halloween ensemble. They’re well-crafted with moveable digits, just weird enough to be interesting, and, at $12.99 each, they’re a frighteningly great price!

For some feathered Halloween decor, add a faux raven or two (did you know a group of ravens is called “an unkindness?” Strange, but true! Apparently it may have something to do with their association with witches and death–perfect for All Hallows’ Eve, eh?). I realize they’re made of foam and plastic and glued-on feathers, but they have so much personality. When we’re eating in the dining room, I like to gaze at the one perched on the pumpkin. It almost feels like it’s staring back at me. You can find source an unkindness here.

This cluster of Lumina pumpkins came about from a single pumpkin I plopped onto the dirt last year because I couldn’t bear to toss it after the holiday season had passed. It took months for it to rot, but when it finally we did, we tilled the soil, it happened to rain and pumpkin leaves started sprouting. And then…baby white pumpkins grew just in time for Halloween. The magic of Mother Nature! The lesson here is you can purchase one pumpkin you love, plant it after the holiday and next year you may have a dozen or more!

Other view! I like to fill a few vases with a single fern frond as they make me think of a (green) feather quill pen resting in a pot of (clear) ink. The vases can be found here.

This large spider was a recent addition from Target and adds a lot of drama to the dining area for only $10!

This poseable skeleton gets moved throughout the house depending on our moods. Sometimes he eats dinner with us, sometimes he takes a “rest” in the swinging chair outside, or he’ll make a surprise appearance in the living room sitting on the console, legs crossed and all. We purchased ours from Costco, but they’re also available here.

I gussied him up with a sequined masquerade mask, (similar one found here) a cowboy hat and a black bandana to make him feel a little less skeletal. As long as our son isn’t scared by him (he requested we pull him out of the attic mid September), we aren’t either. πŸ˜‰

This is the view from our kitchen into the dining room. I love seeing the tablescape filtered through the leaves of the olive branches. A simple branch adds such interesting organic appeal and instant decor. This is one of my favorite glass vases and can be found here.

The furry fake tarantulas these days are frighteningly realistic and add just the right amount of creepy-crawly to a coffee table.

Here’s the living room view.

Did I mention I liked fake spiders? They seem to be multiplying at our house.

For years I’ve hung wreaths on our glass door using Command hooks made for hanging on glass, but this year I ran out of the sticker tabs that make them adhere. So I pulled a small suction cup off the back of a magnifying mirror and stuck it to the glass, bent a paperclip into a U-shape and jammed it into the back of the feathered wreath to create a hook and hung it on the suction cup hanging on the door. We’ve had two crazy wind storms and I’m happy to report, so far it’s sticking! I know a lot of people like to hang a holiday wreath on a living room or kitchen window and this trick would work for that, as well.

Do you recognize this Sandworm from the 1980s movie Beetlejuice? I’m not usually a fan of exterior inflatable decor, but when I saw this one at Home Depot last year, it struck me as modern art . It was more than I wanted to spend so I waited until a few days before Halloween to make my purchase when the price was cut in half. My sister taught me that trick. You have to be a little patient to accrue your arsenal of holiday decor this way, but if you can wait until just before, or after, the holiday you’ll find most items are reduced to half price or less!

Upon seeing our 9.5′ tall inflatable Sandworm, my mom declared, through a gale of giggles, “There goes the neighborhood!”

The last time I posted, Kai was a toddler. Here he is now, nearly five.

I hope you have a frightfully fun Halloween and that some of these ideas will inspire you to add some Halloween holiday spirit to your home. Thanks for stopping by! πŸ™‚

The New Shibori? Bleached Denim Fabric


A while back, Kristin Jackson, author of the blog The Hunted Interior did something revolutionary with denim:Β  she splattered it with bleach, gave it a rinse and dry, then used it to recover her clients’ chairs. (See below.)








Brilliant, right?




I could hardly wait to try this technique, but could not quite convince any of my clients to stray from some of the safer fabric choices to the world of bleach-splattered denim. So I decided to go first and make a chair cushion of my own. Like a design guinea pig if you will.



And it was so wonderfully easy.



I was lucky enough to find a roll of denim at a local fabric store offering deep discounts on remnants, but you can also find denim here. I purchased a gallon of bleach from the 99 Cents Only Store from which I poured approximately one cup (per yard of fabric) into a plastic disposable cup. I used an eye dropper to dribble and drop the bleach in a controlled way before I decided to throw caution to the wind and use a spoon to splash it on willy nilly.



Note: at first you may think nothing is happening. I even asked myself, “Did I accidentally buy indoor/outdoor, stain-resistant denim?” The bleach beaded on the surface of the fabric and the color remained unchanged.











Then ten minutes or so later, things started happening. It was like watching a photo emulsify. The pattern started to appear, faintly at first.










Then, bam! The white became whiter and, in contrast, the blue appeared even bluer.Β  As soon as the fabric reached this stage, I immediately gave it a thorough rinse in cold water so the bleach would cease bleaching (I didn’t want it to deteriorate the fabric), and set it in the sun to dry.










I was so thrilled with the results, I draped my bleached fabric in various poses throughout our house. It was like the gnome in the Travelocity ads, posed in various locations, although it never traveled outside my front door. (Because I wasn’t going to part with it! πŸ™‚ .)












I was so smitten, I used it to create a cushion for a princess chair I’d restrung over winter during the many days we stayed indoors to avoid the ashy air of the Thomas Fire.










Full disclosure: in part, I’m writing this post so when I mention this idea to a client in the future, and I’m met with a raised eyebrow, in response, I’ll direct the doubter here. Ha ha.



This could be the next Shibori. It’s a little Jackson Pollock in its splattered modern art-ness. It’s unexpected. Each piece is a one-off (bespoke, anyone?), and it’s blue and white which I’d argue is one of the most classic color combinations in the history of ever.



Please let me know if you try it. I think you’ll be happy you do. If you have any questions, feel free to write in the comments section and I’ll be sure to respond.







Happy decorating! πŸ™‚


DIY Mud Cloth fabric: a tutorial!


I had been wanting to try my hand at DIY mud cloth–you know, the black and white patterned fabric that has been the design darling of the tribal/Boho/a-black-and-white-pallete-is-all-the-rage movement? Then I did some research about how the real (authentic, and notably expensive) stuff is made and suddenly its steep price seemed justified and it felt almost sacrilegious to even attempt to knock-off what is a very involved textile art form.




Mud cloth has even been popping up on Pinterest in the form of stockings (second from left and far right)!



Yet I did it anyway. With a clear conscience, I can’t really call this a DIY mud cloth tutorial, except in the title, or how else would you have landed here? Rather, what I’ll provide is a tutorial for a technique that, depending on the pattern you follow (confession: I made mine up), can result in a fabric that looks quite similar to the real thing. And if not exactly the same, still cool in its own right.




A wing chair, partially upholstered in mud cloth, by woodworker Ariele Alasko, got the ol’ wheels turning.




I’d argue this technique (inspired by this post) is better than some of the other incarnations of DIY mud cloth on the internet that suggest using a white marker on black cloth (although this one that shows how to make dinner napkins using that method does get a gold star).





I saw this on Instagram and was sorry October had already passed. If you want to get a head start on faux pumpkins for Halloween in a mud cloth motif, click here.




But before we begin, I would be remiss if I didn’t include at least a CliffsNotes version of the history of mud cloth. After all, education fosters appreciation. The next time you pick up a pillow with mud cloth fabric on the face (it is so valuable, it tends to be reserved for one side only) the price might not be such a shock; any irregularities will make more sense (it’s handmade); and it would be nice to think you just helped support a laborer who is likely working more, but eating less than you. To ensure the mud cloth is from a legit source, you can always buy it fair trade.




Another shot from that clever Ariele Alasko. Note how she used the base of an antique sewing machine (that she found on the sidewalk–way better than a penny or quarter, eh?) to prop up her desk.




What exactly is mud cloth?


Mud cloth is handmade in Western Africa, specifically Mali, in a process dating back to the 12th century. Traditionally men wove the cotton into narrow strips which they then sewed into a larger piece and the women did the dyeing. Today men tend to be responsible for the entire production of this ever-popular product.


The pieced together fabric is dyed in baths of leaves from the n’gallama tree which turn it yellow. The fabric is dried then painted in intricate patterns using mud that has been fermented for over a year in clay pots. The residual acid of the leaf-solution causes the fabric to have a chemical reaction with the iron oxide in the mud, turning the mud-painted portions a dark grey. The fabric is left to dry in the sun, then washed to remove excess mud. This is done repeatedly until the areas painted with mud turn almost black. On the final rinse, the fabric is washed with a soap containing potash, shea butter, and peanuts to bleach the yellow areas back to their original ivory color.


The symbolic patterns are individual to each tribe and were used to tell stories passed down from mother to daughter. Some are widely understood (concentric circles represent the Earth), but many remain unbroken codes.


In the 1980s, fashion designer Chris Seydou (1949-1994) brought mud cloth to the runways where it had its fleeting fashion moment only to fade into textile obscurity until…now.Β  Note to self: never throw anything out unless it threatens to attract mice or mold. What’s out will once again be in.



There. Done. See, now you are at least ten times smarter.



So how do you make mud cloth, minus the mud? Here’s how.







Elmer’s Washable, No Run School Glue Gel. (Found here.)


Dylon Velvet Black Permanent Dye. (Found here.)


I used 100% linen fabric, but 100% cotton should work just as well.




Mud cloth covering an ottoman: such a good idea!





Google “mud cloth patterns” and you’ll find plenty to choose from. I read that squeezing the glue bottle can cause a lot of hand cramping (true) so I made up a simple pattern I could apply easily and freehand. If you’re nervous about drawing freehand, you can always use carbon paper to trace a design printed from the internet onto your fabric–or, at the very least, use a pencil and ruler. I’m not so patient so I went rogue and dove in.



The exasperating beading effect of Elmer’s gel glue. Sadly, swear words and threats to throw the bottle across the room do nothing to ameliorate the situation, but reapplication (once, sometimes twice) will do the trick.









Squeeze the glue on the portions of your pattern that you want to remain the natural color of your fabric as the rest will be dyed black. And then the most annoying thing will happen! Just when you think you are almost done, you’ll look back and about half the area you covered will have disappeared. This is because this glue that is so magical in the way it performs like a wax resist without all the mess of hot wax, also does a bit of a disappearing act as it tends to bead up just when you thought you were finished. Go over the missing areas and make sure to watch the glue as it dries so you can redo any spots before all of the glue dries fully. Allow the glue to dry for 12 hours or overnight.




The results of my DIY mud cloth. Totally black (not grey or purple, phew!).



Follow the instructions for dyeing the fabric–sort of. I say this because the package tells you how much water to add to the dye (4 cups) but then instructs you to “fill a bowl/sink with enough warm water for the fabric to move freely”. This was all too vague for me, especially since I had read many disappointing reviews for the dye (which is often used to revitalize faded black denim and was frequently purported to turn it grey, at best, or worse: purple), so I did not add any more water beyond the 4 cups used for the dye bath itself. I had very low expectations so I increased my dyeing time a half hour beyond the recommended time.




My DIY mud cloth used as a table runner.



Rinse your dyed fabric in cold water until the water runs clear, then use warmer water to remove the glue. Full disclosure: my fingernails removed more glue than the warm water did. I let the fabric dry in the sun, then ironed it on a medium setting to further set the color. Not sure if this step was really necessary, but it did make the wrinkled fabric smooth so it seemed logical.



My DIY mud cloth draped on a chair that normally resides in Kai’s nursery.



And there you have it. Your very own inexpensive, fun and easy to make DIY mud cloth!





Happy decorating! πŸ™‚
















DIY Shibori dyeing tips!

To date, we have 53 days left of summer. That means fifty-three diminishing days of ocean dips, late-night dinners, and forgetting you even own a sweater. It’s around this time that I find myself clinging, with perspiring palms, to the multitude of reasons summer is my favorite season. For example, blue and white textiles–especially Shibori dyed textiles.


Surely you have noticed the Shibori mania.



Photo source




Shibori, an ancient Japanese method of folding fabric and dyeing it with indigo dye, dates back to 8th century Japan, but has been trending heavily for the last two years and, at the moment, its popularity is waxing more than waning.








Shibori stems from a Japanese word meaning “to wring, squeeze and press” and arose during a time when those who did not have a budget for buying cotton and silk garments repaired and dyed their faded hemp attire, giving it a new life and new style.







Today Shibori patterns are formed using various techniques of folding and twisting undyed natural fiber fabric (100% white cotton seems to work the best) and dipping it into a vat of indigo dye. Once the bound fabric is unwound, the resist pattern reveals itself.



A blog site that offers a great visual tutorial of the folding methods and dyeing process can be found here. But I found there was nothing like the trial and error of doing it myself and I have tried to round up my best pointers for this post as I found some conflicting information between various DIY posts and the directions that come with the dye kit.



Itajime fold using a drop cloth for the fabric and squares of cardboard in lieu of wooden blocks.



Select the items you will dye bearing in mind that natural fibers will accept the dye the best. Be resourceful. Use cardboard, binder clips, PVC pipes, rubber bands and twine as your “tools”.



Prewash and dry your fabric, then submerge it in clean, cold water and squeeze out the excess. I used a Home Depot bucket to mix my dye. Wearing gloves, I lowered my fabric into the dye bath holding it just below the surface (it will want to float). The instructions warn you to not let the items sink to the bottom as they can pick up fallen sediment. With my first dyeing attempt, I held mine just below the surface with my gloved hands and within 10 minutes, my brand new rubber kitchen gloves started to fail and my hands were dyed a lovely shade of blue. Eventually I decided it didn’t actually make a difference if items touched the bottom, and towards the end of my dyeing endeavor, I was shoving as many pieces as I could into the bucket, weighing them down with rocks from our garden, and I did not notice any marks made due to touching sediment at the bottom of the bucket.



Home Depot bucket for indigo dyeing




The package advertises the kit can dye more than 15 shirts or 5 lbs of fabric. I dyed somewhere near that and still had dye left over to share with my neighbor, but you must keep in mind that it lasts 3 – 5 days. On day 4 it went from full intensity to losing nearly all potency and my poor neighbors ended up with shorts dyed with the palest of baby blue patterns, not the deep indigo they intended.








The longer you dye your fabric, the deeper the hue. You can also remove the dyed fabric, set it out to oxidize for a bit (20 minutes is good) and then stick it back into the dye vat (just make sure not to unbind the piece until you are completely finished dyeing it). After some trial and error, I began to prefer dyeing pieces for 30 minutes, setting them out to oxidize for 20 minutes and then redyeing for another 30 minutes and leaving them to oxidize for an hour or more before unwrapping. This gave the intense indigo I was after. You may want to experiment with a scrap and start with ten minutes of dyeing as a baseline.




Our outdoor ping pong table made an impromptu drying rack. Good thing it was already a dark blue!




Once removed from the dye, the fabric will take 20 minutes or so to fully oxidize. When you first pull it out, it will look yellowish-green, but before your eyes it will begin to appear deep blue. (Note: it will lighten as it dries so don’t trust this initial blue as the final color.)




I read conflicting advice on the next step, (the kit says one thing; DIY blogs another), but found that the best way to keep the indigo color as dark and vibrant as possible was to let my oxidized, unbound fabric dry in the sun; once dry, hand wash it with cold water and mild detergent; then either dry it in the dryer set to the hottest setting or line dry it and then heat-set it with an iron set to the hottest setting







There are various folding techniques that can be found online. My two favorites were the Itajime technique (accordion fold fabric lengthwise flipping it back and forth as you go, then accordion fold your long rectangular piece into a square, then sandwich the folded square between two pieces of wood; hold the wood pieces in place using rubber bands). All of the instructions seemed to recommend using two blocks of wood for this process, but the dyeing kit only comes with one pair of wood blocks and they are fairly small, so I experimented using squares of cardboard and happily discovered they worked just as well although you will need to use new pieces for each time you dye.




The Itajime fold




The dyed and unfolded Itajime looks like this which I could definitely see being used as pillow, bedspread, or even window treatment (I’m picturing a Roman shade for a kitchen with all-white cabinets).




The Itajime fold, unfolded




Not knowing the name of this next technique (although please tell me if you know; it was one of my favorites), I called it Rubber Band Circles. I’d twist the fabric either randomly or in rows and tightly secure the twists with a rubber band. The area where the rubber band was resists the dye and leaves a colorless circle.




The “Rubber Band Circles” technique




I was so crazy about how this particular technique turned out (I dyed linen for the piece shown below), I have been draping it everywhere (on the sofa, on the back of a dining room chair, on the chair in our office, shown below).







I sewed mine into a bolster pillow for our bed.







You know, the other design craze of the moment: the exaggeratedly long bolster pillow for the bed!







Note:Β  they aren’t kidding when they say use natural fiber fabric if you want to dye your fabric dark indigo. However, I was running out of some of my higher quality fabric so I cut a drop cloth (from Home Depot) in half and while it didn’t take the dye as well as the other pieces, it resulted in a more of a faded denim look, I can still see using it as a tablecloth, picnic blanket, or “blanket” to throw on the floor for our toddler to eat messy food on. The drop cloth fabric is also so thick it could definitely be used for upholstery (i.e., a bench seat or dining room chairs, a floor cushion or…the possibilities are endless!)








I realized I had a Shibori dyeing addiction when I rounded up all the fabric for this photo. It was hard not to want to dye every bit of white or light colored fabric in sight!




If Shibori dyeing sounds daunting at all, It shouldn’t. It’s really very simple. And you can always enlist your friends to help and host a Champagne and Shibori soiree!





Some great items to dye:
Flour sack dish towels (can be found at Target),
Fabric napkins (World Market is a good source)
Pillow covers, duvet covers, reusable grocery sacks, drop cloths, scarves, shirts, onesies (great baby shower presents), fabric for upholstery or fabric to sew into pillows




Indigo dye kit. I used this one.
Natural fiber fabric. I also used a drop cloth from Home Depot although it turned more light denim blue than indigo.
Cardboard (can be used instead of wood blocks for the Itajime technique)
Drop cloth (or plastic trash bags) for an area to work on that you don’t mind dyeing blue
Rubber bands (the kit will come with some but I found I needed about 3x that amount; two packages from the 99 Cents store solved that problem)
Long wooden stick to stir the dye (ask a paint store if they don’t mind you taking a stir stick)
PVC pipe (if you want to do the Arashi pole wrapping technique which you can find examples of online)




Happy Shibori-ing! πŸ™‚

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