It’s the little things

2020 is the year of the zombie apocalypse. That’s were I am with this year. I joked to a good friend that I was stamping it defective return to sender. That’s truly what I’d like to do. I love New York and visit there often. Now, I cringe in horror as I consider a visit at some point in the distant future.

Then there are the things that I’d forgotten, the things that make you smile, the things that matter, the little things. Working from home has reminded me how much I love the light in my kitchen. Something so simple but something that puts a smile on my face when I walk into the room. Same with a quick chat with my neighbor. BC (before COVID-19) I was always racing somewhere. There was the office, an appointment, an errand, something that I had to get to. Now there is time to breathe. Things are slowed down which lets me appreciate the blessings in my life – and I am truly blessed.

So what are the little things I’ve rediscovered?

  • Cooking – I’ve always loved to cook but there is a difference between cooking to simply eat a meal and cooking to enjoy.  The former is quick and usually involves a microwave and something quick.  The latter, is slow.  It is a process to be enjoyed. I love contemplating what I’m going to serve, sourcing the ingredients, preparing the meal and then serving it with china and linen and, most importantly taking the time to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Also, its probably healthier than the other option.
  • The fur ones – It struck me that it had been ages since I’d taken a long walk with the pups or played a game of fetch.  To be certain they were not neglected.  In point of fact they are spoiled rotten but somewhere the weekend walk on the trail and the evening play disappeared into life.  What a treat to get out in the fresh air with the pup and exercise my legs after being at my desk for hours.  Sun also helps.
  • Organizing my home  – I literally hear my Mom in my head each evening.  Are there dishes in the sink, did you hang up your coat, put away whatever – well, you get the picture.  At the end of each day she straightened each room before she went to bed. Everything in its place for the start of the next day.  I’ve adopted her habit.  Not that I’m messy or generally disorganized but, again, the little thing of waking up to a straight house is a wonderful feeling.
  • Writing letters, talking to someone on the phone, arranging cut flowers, planting my container pots, taking a moment to breathe and enjoy rather than rushing through to get to the next thing on my to do list.  

 

I think I’m reclaiming my life.  Or, maybe I am remembering to live my life.  This “pause” as someone called it the other day, has given me the freedom to manage my own schedule.  I still have a ton of work that must be done, if anything, those responsibilities have increased.  Still, it doesn’t quite feel like it because I can manage my life in a different way.  A way that lets me enjoy the work, the career, and my life.   The talking heads say this is a black swan moment.  I don’t know if that is true but I hope that as we move to what is next we manage to take some of the good this time has brought with us.

 

It may be the zombie apocalypse, but I’m learning to live my life again.  

 

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Organizing the master bath

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I love to be organized and neat.  Nothing frustrates me more than to know I have something and not be able to put my hands on it.  When I first heard of Marie Kondo, I was intrigued; then I watched an episode of her show.  I was completely stressed out.  No more Marie and “sparks of joy” for this one.  I did find Rachel Rosenthal of rachaelorganizes via instagram and become a devotee.  This weekend I decided to stop looking and actually organize my bath.  It was a perfect time.  I’m in the process of re-doing my master suite which includes the bath.  They are almost finished and so what better time to organize everything than when you are putting the bath back together.

 

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I opted for acrylic organizers for the drawers and cabinets.  Amazon and the Container Store to the rescue with idesign and Mdesign containers for everything from makeup to brushes and medicine.  I am in love with the large divided turntable.  I think I want another for the kitchen!  I’m thinking of a second order as I needed another two or three bins than I’d anticipated.

For the counter, I opted for white trimmed in black lacquer bath accessories from Hudson & Vine.  They provide a clean but finished look for the vanity top.  I topped off the look with a powder dish that had been my Mom’s that I’m using for hair ties and a silver nut dish to hold jewelry that I found a few years ago from Gryphon Estate Silver.  They have beautiful things and I love a silver accent.

Now I’m relaxed and can find things again!

 

 

Weekend prep for the week ahead?

Do you prep for the week ahead?  The last few weeks at work were crazy.  My schedule’s been packed from morning to night with little chance to breathe in between.  I know that’s the status quo for many.  Trying to balance work and family and a tiny bit of me time is often a challenge.  Wasn’t there an old advertisement where the Mom worked all day and came home to “fry it up in a pan”?  We could have it all – right?  My Pollyanna alter-ego says yes we can!  The part of me who is flat on the sofa says maybe not.

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that if I’m going to have a shot at doing it all, prep is my only hope.  I’ve gotten into the habit of cooking for the week ahead.  That way I have homemade and healthy dinners already done when I get home on a week night.

I tried two new recipes last weekend.  Both new recipes are instagram inspired – chicken chili and stuffed peppers.  Best yet, both freeze.  This gives me dinner for the week and variety for another week.

Chicken chili-

  • One block low fat cream cheese
  • two chicken breasts
  • 1 carton chicken stock
  • one can black beans
  • one can rotes tomatoes
  • one package frozen corn
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbs chili powder
  • 1 package Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place chicken in the bottom of the crockpot with beans, corn, tomatoes, stock, and spices next and cream cheese on top.

Stuffed peppers –

  • one pound sausage (chicken)
  • one can rotes tomatoes
  • one block low fat cream cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 bell peppers cut in half

Cut peppers in half, clean out and place on baking sheet.  Fry sausage out till done.  Add to sausage tomatoes and cream cheese.  Stuff pepper halves.  Bake for thirty minutes in oven.

 

Seasons Change from Summer to Fall: Fire Roasted Tomato Soup

I love that there are four distinct seasons of the year.  Each one is unique and leaves me with a bucket list of things to enjoy and do.  The official start of fall this week left me with a major “to do” list.  Top of the list was mums and pumpkins for the front porch to replace the geraniums and ferns I’d enjoyed all summer long.  Next up, the first pot of soup for the fall.

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I love soup and with a busy schedule it is quick and figure friendly.  I tend to make up a large pot each weekend.  It makes enough to have a weekend meal and have lunch and dinner over the next week.  For my inaugural pot of fall soup, I decided to go with an oldie but goodie – fire roasted tomato soup.  It is quick and easy.

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  • two chicken breasts cut into bite size chunks
  • two links of either chorizo or hot Italian chicken sausage
  • one large red or yellow bell pepper, diced
  • two medium onions, diced
  • olive oil
  • cilantro
  • two 28 ounce cans of fire roasted tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • large container of chicken stock or bone broth

In a large stock pot, sauté the chicken, sausage, onion, garlic, pepper, cilantro, and salt and pepper.  When the meat is done, add in tomatoes and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes.  Add in the chicken stock and cook on low for two hours.

 

Garden Week – Virginia

Have I mentioned that I LOVE garden week?  Begun in 1927 to save trees planted at Monticello, every April, for two weeks people open their private homes and gardens through out the state.  What a wonderful fundraiser and treat!  You get to peak inside beautiful homes and gardens for a sneak peak at something beautiful.  Even better, are the floral arrangements done by the local garden clubs.

I always try to make it to the local homes on tour.  Over the years, I’ve discovered entire neighborhoods, homes, and gardens I never knew existed.  I’ve gotten ideas for decorating my home and stolen suggestions for floral arrangements.  One of my favorite arrangements was in a mud room and used hunter rain boots.  It was incredible.

 

humm . . .

 

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I love seeing creativity in action.  Detail and the unexpected are always on display.  How much fun finding the unexpected, like a pair of Hunter boots as a vase!  Then there  is the inspiration factor, it makes me want to spring clean, plant and prepare my porch for use.

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Project Bedroom

 

 

7C1C0672-2BAA-4D9C-91DC-64CC5CCA67A9I’m in the process of decorating a bedroom.  As the only girl for multiple generations, I am fortunate to possess a number of family pieces.  Also, growing up in the piedmont of North Carolina, or furniture country, there was access to wonderful pieces and a great selection of furniture.  This time, however, I decided to start with an empty room and see where it leads me.

Thus far I painted the room in my favorite color, pointing, by Farrow and Ball.  I’ve used this color previously and love it.  There is something I love about Farrow and Ball paint and this color is the perfect “white”.  It is more of a cream than a dead white.  It has just enough color to have “body”.  Cameron at Palette in Charlottesville, is amazingly helpful with the paint.  With her help I selected the finish and the color.

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My inspiration piece is a blanket I found during a recent trip to Scotland.  It is this beautiful white, black and pink Scottish plaid.  Even better, it will pick up on the black I painted the sunroom/office walls.

I discovered this beautiful black floral fabric at The Second Yard.  With their help, I’ve designed an upholstered headboard.  It is perfect with the blanket.

I love repurposing what I have.  It is my version of shopping my closet.  By chance I discovered that the lamps in my sunroom are perfect with the headboard fabric  I swapped out the shades from white drum to black oval.  I wanted a slightly smaller shade/ footprint for the lamp in this room.

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I’m also focusing on small details to pull the room together and update it.  For under five dollars, I replaced the pulls on the radiator cover.  Now they look “today” and will fit with the overall look I want for the room.  They also pick up the metal in the fun new fire screen I purchased.

 

I love a living plant in a room.  I tend to have a black thumb.  My Dad used to say a funeral prayer everytime my Mom or I purchased a plant.  I seem to be able to keep orchids alive so I opt for orchids.  Ivy Nursery is wonderful and a great collaborator.

I’m currently debating furniture.  I have one chair and a desk in there now.  I’m debating both.  Stay tuned, this is the fun part.

 

 

Mom’s Rules

 

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Last weekend I happened across one of those tv shows on organization.  I was intrigued.  I am always looking for tips to better organize my life; so I thought, why not?  I confess this particular show merely stressed me out.  In fairness there were good tips but I couldn’t get past the basic disaster of the house.  More than anything it made me think of my Mom.  I know there is the old saying that as you grow up you become your parent.  In this case, I think I’m proud of that.  My Mom had a beautiful home always perfectly maintained, her own business that she impeccably ran, as well as filling the role of mother and wife of fifty plus years.  In the days where women are supposed to have it all and do it all, she did and made it seem effortless.  It’s made me ask the question of how did she do it all?  It’s not like she was exhausted or gave up her own life.  She did do it all.  So how?  I think the secret is in the rules she imposed as I grew up.  So Mom’s rules –

  • Make your bed when you get out of it in the morning.  It only takes a second and it is done for the day.
  • Where is the item’s home?  It is easier to put [name whatever it is – laundry, dishes, books, paper] it in its proper place the first time rather than moving it multiple times.  Another variation on this rule is where does it live?  Everything should have its proper place and be put in it before you go to bed at night.
  • Hang up your towels.
  • Dirty laundry in the hamper.
  • Hang up your clothes when you take them off.
  • Fold the laundry as you take it out of the dryer.  It has less wrinkles that way.  For those things that you only partially dry, alter this rule to fold the laundry when dry.
  • Leave the room straight when you are finished for the day.  That means everything back where it came from with dishes in the dishwasher, blankets folded and put away, remotes in their proper place.
  • Deal with mail when you take it out of the mailbox.
  • Have a clean sink when you go up to bed or no dirty dishes in the sink.
  • If it does not fit or you never wear it, donate it to someone who can use it.

 

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These are the rules Mom imposed on our daily life.  It worked for her and it seems to work for me. Are there rules that you live by that permit you to organize your life?

Online Shopping versus Brick and Mortar Retail

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To state the obvious, I have mastered the art of online shopping.  I am on a first name basis with the Fed Ex guy as he visits me on a regular basis.  What’s not to love?  You visit Amazon.com click and the next thing you know it is at your front door.  Now if I could just have Fresh Direct in my part of the country so I never had to visit the grocery again, life would be perfect – right?

Not so quick.  This week the WSJ had a lovely article about lunch/tea rooms in the iconic New York department stores.  I love a great lunch room.  Nordstroms has great food so you never have to leave the store.  Bergdorf Goodman has my favorite lunch spot on the 7th floor.  What could be better than looking out over Central Park from the 7th floor of BG’s?  Still, brick and mortar is struggling with relevance.  This was brought home yesterday.  I finally had a weekend where I was made to do errands.  I decided to bite the bullet and struck out to eradicate my “to do” list.  These were things where I wanted to touch and see what my options were.  While online is lovely sometimes you need to be there to try it on or see it in person, to consider your options.  It was so frustrating to be told  “we don’t have it in the store but you can order it online”.  The fifth time I was told that in the third store, I wanted to scream!  If I wanted to order it online I would not be out in the freezing cold and rain!

I don’t know what the answer is and I’m sympathetic to the business case regarding the cost of inventory.  Of course it is easier to have a larger selection online to complement what is offered in the store.  But, and you knew there was a but coming, if you have it on display, should you not have it in stock?  Just a thought . . .

 

Breakfast prep for a weekend get away

The fun in a weekend get away is not having to work while you are getting away.  At the same time you want to eat and eat well so what is the answer to the question?  I have two favorite make ahead breakfast items that I make, freeze and take with me.  Both are perfect for the guest who gets up early and the guest who sleeps in late.

Sausage muffins:

Take one pound hot Italian sausage (either pork or chicken will do) and fry it until it is done.  In a separate bowl empty two jars of Kraft Old English cheese.  Scoop the done sausage hot from the pan and pour over the cheese.  Let the heat of the cooked sausage melt the cheese as you stir the two together to combine the sausage and the cheese into a spread.

Take one package of English muffins and slice each muffin in half.  On a cookie sheet spread the sausage and cheese topping on top of half of an English muffin.  Pop tray of muffins into freezer and wait to serve.  When you are ready to serve, pop the now frozen muffin into the microwave or the oven to heat until bubbly.  In the microwave eat for about 30 seconds.

Mini frittata:

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Dice onions, green pepper, and tomatoes and sauté them in olive oil in a fry pan. Do the same for prosciutto.  Set vegetables and prosciutto aside.  In a bowl add six eggs, salt, half a teaspoon of lemon juice, and several dashes of hot sauce.  Whisk together. Add in half a coup of grated cheddar cheese and whisk again.   In a cupcake  pan, preferably a silicon one, add the vegetables and meat into each cup then pour the egg and cheese mixture over the vegetables.  The egg mixture should reach the top of each cup.  Bake at 350 degrees for thirty minutes.  Once done let cool.  Pop each mini frittata out and place in a ziplock bag.  Microwave to reheat when ready to serve.

What’s for dinner? Kitchen Staples

 

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What do you keep in your pantry or kitchen?  I’ve been cleaning out closets and generally organizing things.  The kitchen is next on my list.  My cleaning binge sparked the question of what are my staples?  What are those items that are “go tos” for my kitchen?  Let me start with the fact that I cook.  Take out is a rare thing for me and while I love eating out, it tends to be a social occasion with friends for me.  This means that I cook dinner most nights, breakfast and sometimes even lunch.  My doctor is all for this.  She tells me to eat on the outside of the grocery.  By this she means fresh veggies, fresh meat and fish, avoid the frozen food section and go light on the canned goods.  Avoiding the canned goods may be the most difficult part.

So what are my kitchen staples?

Meat:  Chicken, chicken sausage, bacon, beef, pork chops, shrimp, salmon

Canned goods:  tuna, chicken stock, beef stock, green beans, tomatoes, beans of all types

Vegetables and fruits:  tomatoes, asparagus, lettuce, squash, apples, onions, grapefruit, grapes, blueberries, broccolini

Frozen foods:  corn, mixed vegetables, broccoli

Add in butter, flour, eggs, milk, sugar and cheese and I can whip up something healthy in minimal time.  I tend to go for soups and stews that I can make up on Saturday or Sunday and eat on during the week.  I love rice, potatoes, and pasta but they only love my waistline so I limit them to twice a month.

Suggestions for a new soup or stew?