Friday, May 30, 2014

Summer Travels: Washington, DC

Our Girl Scout troop of five Cadettes, one leader, and one co-leader (that's me) are hitting the road  in my old Mazda MPV van this morning for a trip to our nation's capital. Two days are slated for traveling and four days for visiting. On the itinerary:

  • Smithsonian Natural History Museum
  • White House Tour
  • National Gallery of Art
  • Old Town Alexandria
  • Arlington National Cemetery (some of the girls are participating in the wreath laying ceremony)
  • U.S. Capitol Tour
  • National Archives Tour
  • Crime Museum
  • The Washington Mall and its memorials
  • Mt. Vernon

It's going to be fantastic! The only time I've ever been to Washington, DC was on the fifth grade trip many years ago. So I'm really looking forward to it.

And let's not forget the 11+-hour car trip with five young teen girls. Can you say awesome? Wonder how many stops we'll make. . . .

I'll post about our adventures as soon as I can! And I'll also be posting about my family's trip to Miami and Key West in mid-May. Look for both of those soon!

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Salads in Mason Jars

After seeing these babies on Pinterest, I've been wanting to try them. And try them I did, a few weeks back. I was impressed by how fresh the salads kept in the jars. So I made some more today. Here's a Waterlogue of the four I made.

Aren't they pretty?

The beauty of the premise is that you use what you have, like any other salad. There is, of course, a method.

1. Dressing goes in first. The amount is up to you. I often eat my salads sans dressing. Just one of my (many) eccentricities.
2. Protein, such as meat or tofu or beans, is next. I omitted protein from this batch, mainly because I didn't have any on hand.
3. Next come the veggies.This time, I used diced zucchini and cucumber, grated carrot, and halved grape tomatoes.
4. Lastly, pack as much greens in as you can. I used a spring mix as well as a kale and veggie mix, which included chopped broccoli and brussels sprouts.
5. Twist on the lids and refrigerate.

Ta da!

I've found that one jar provided enough side salad for Himself and me at suppertime. One jar alone was more than enough as a lunch entree for me; in fact, I had leftovers.

And since they're salads, there are all sorts of variations on this theme. I thought of using a poppyseed dressing and then packing in fruits, like blueberries and strawberries, chopped apple and pear, and some chopped nuts before packing in the greens. Another idea: a southwestern salad, with a zippy dressing, black beans, corn, tomatoes, green onion, and maybe pico de gallo. . .
My pin came from Cassie at Back to Her Roots. On her original post, she has several recipes for salads-in-a-jar. She's fancier than I am, but you probably are, too. So I bet you'll like her recipes!

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In the Land of Magnolias

We have these mysterious trees in our back yard. Our back yard, it should be noted, has been left on its own for more than 20 years. We have plans for it, but at the moment it is still au naturel. There are LOTS of trees. However, there are several trees that have been a mystery to me for years. I say years because we also had one or two in the back yard of our last house. At this house, there are younger trees of this species and older, taller trees. And they have a distinguishing feature: their huge leaves.

Earlier this spring, Himself told me that our neighbor reported to him that these trees bloom with large white blossoms in early summer/late spring. "We've always called them wild magnolias," our neighbor said.

We live in the deep South, where magnolias abound. The variety we're used to down here is the Southern magnolia (magnolia grandiflora), and there are lots of those in our neighborhood. But they look nothing like the trees in my back yard. The shape of the tree is different and so are the leaves. So I shrugged at this bit of news and then forgot about it.

Until a few weeks ago, when Himself pointed out a blossom to me. It was high up in the tree, best visible from our second story deck, and gorgeous: large, creamy white, and waxy looking. Just like a magnolia.

So I Googled "wild magnolia tree," and bingo! I discovered that these trees are indeed magnolias. After doing a bit of research, I have tentatively identified my trees as bigleaf magnolias (magnolia macrophylla), due to the size of their leaves. Another possibility is the Fraser magnolia (magnolia fraseri), but its leaves are not quite as large, so I went with macrophylla.

According to our neighbor, the flowers have a lovely perfume, in keeping with their magnolia-ness. Sadly, the flowers on our trees are too high for us to smell. The flowers are also few. I wish there were more blooms! If it weren't for the flowers, I'd never been able to ID these trees.

I'm always excited when I make a nature discovery, whether it's a bird, flower, or tree identification. I'm sort of a nature nut when it comes to those kinds of things. Last week in the car, Tiny Girl said with an exasperated sigh and a smile, "You're always pointing out clouds!"

What can I say? Nature makes me happy!

Have you ever seen bigleaf magnolias where you are?

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Linking up with:
Inspire Me Tuesday at A Stroll thru Life
Wow Us Wednesdays at Savvy Southern Style

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Birthday Cake Worthy of the Man Himself

Earlier this week, I made Himself a birthday cake. Totally homemade, I might add. I've been getting into homemade cakes lately, and I have to tell you, once you do, it's hard to go back to cake mixes. Homemade just tastes better.

Anyway, I had a vision for my beloved's cake and of course the reality fell short, for a variety of reasons. But it was still darn tasty. So I thought I'd share the recipes. Do not judge the cake by its photo. Or its baker's lack of decorating skills.

The cake recipe, which is pinned on my Tasty Eats and Sips board, is one of THE best white cakes I've ever tasted. It would be lovely as the base for a sour cream coconut frosting. Or any other frosting, frankly. It comes from Robyn Stone of Add a Pinch, and she calls it The Best White Cake Recipe {Ever}, which is really throwing down the gauntlet. But after making and eating this cake, I think she's got the right to that name. I'm sending you to her site for the recipe for two reasons: she talks about the recipe and why she made it as she did AND her photos are much better. She also has links to suggested frosting recipes, in case you're at a loss for a frosting idea.

Okay. So that's the cake.

Himself has a fondness for a local bakery's white chocolate raspberry cake, so I thought I'd do something along those lines. Back to Pinterest I went, and I found what seemed to be a nice white chocolate frosting. It's White Chocolate Buttercream, from The Bewitchin' Kitchen.

My idea was to frost the outside of the cake with the buttercream, but to put a raspberry preserves/sweetened whipped cream mixture between the layers (it's a three-layer cake). And I bought fresh raspberries for decoration. Sounds nice, right?

Well, I forgot to buy the raspberry preserves at the grocery. Did I mention I was making the cake on his actual birthday? So I had to improvise.

Strawberry jam or preserves would have been nice, but I didn't have either of those. I DID have apricot jam. But I DID NOT have time to make the whipped cream. Himself was grilling the baby back ribs while the cakes baked. So. I mixed half a jar of the apricot jam with some of the frosting and used that between the layers.

(Meanwhile I was having trouble baking the cakes. My oven is not large, so I had to keep moving the pans around to avoid over-browning any of the layers. I think I'll stick to two layers next time and use the remaining batter for cupcakes.)

When it came time for candles and cutting the cake, we sliced big pieces for us all. And got a surprise: all of us thought the frosting was cloyingly sweet. Interestingly, the girls and I did not think it too sweet when we licked the beaters and scraped the bowl. But on the cake it was. And the cake itself is not an overly sweet cake.

The good news is that the frosting is better at cold temperatures, so now we eat our cake right out of the fridge. Next time, I'll try a different frosting. And there will be a next time; the cake is that good!

Happy Memorial Day weekend!

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I'm linking up with:
Inspiration Gallery at The Golden Sycamore
Inspire Me Tuesday at A Stroll thru Life
The Inspiration Board at Homework
Wow Us Wednesdays at Savvy Southern Style
What We Accomplished Wednesday at Green Willow Pond

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A New Guest at the Feeder

We FINALLY hung one of our bird feeders up on the deck right outside the kitchen window. We still have two more to hang, but I need to get feeder posts suitable for the deck to hang the feeders.

One of my "must haves" when we were house hunting was a kitchen window with a view to the outdoors. Many houses around here have interior kitchens. No, thank you. As much as we love bird-watching, a room with a view was non-negotiable.

I posted quite a bit about birds in the past, and I'll get back into the habit when I get back into blogging like I used to. With the switch in focus (and life), I'm still trying to find my groove. And unpack boxes. Yes, still.

Anyway, I was super excited to have this visitor last week:


Yes, it's the aptly-named red-headed woodpecker. Aren't they gorgeous?

Unfortunately, they have "near threatened" conservation status. Partners in Flight list them as a "Common Bird in Steep Decline." Why? One major reason is that they nest in dead trees or dead parts of live trees. As development spreads, dead trees are removed from the landscape. And even though red-headed woodpeckers will nest in utility poles, studies have shown that eggs do not hatch in newer poles, probably due to creosote.

I only saw this beauty for two days. It visited my feeder several times for the black-oil sunflower seed I serve. They are big insect eaters; perhaps our warmer weather has made for an increase in the insect buffet around here. I hope so.

Wouldn't it be a huge shame to lose such a beautiful species?

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Considering Kitchen Lighting

One of these things we're updating in our kitchen renovation is the lighting. We've already changed out the fixture in the breakfast area. It was a large ceiling fan/light combo, which we relocated to the master bedroom. I know chandeliers in the bedroom are all the rage right now, but I like a good ceiling fan. I live in the Deep South, and I appreciate the cool breath of air a ceiling fan gives over the sparkly bling of a bedroom chandy -- which I can't see at night, anyhow.

Himself and I were not charmed by other lighting choices in the kitchen, either. There was an awful track light over the stove, which had been questionably rigged, and a personality-less box light over the sink. The latter was at least hidden by a rectangle of wood, but still. When Himself removed the soffit boxes, the rectangle looked awkward. So down it came and the light as well.

A peek of the rectangular board AND the old soffit boxes.

So now I am looking for lights to go over the stove and the sink. I'm considering either pendant lights or a linear chandelier (billiard/island fixture). The latter would be over the stove only, so if I go that route, I would find a pendant light that complemented the stove light for over the sink. If I opt for pendant lights only, then I need to decide whether to have two or three over the stove.

I've pinned several options to my Gorgeous Home Pinterest board. The latest eye-catching options are near the top, and several more appear down lower. I'm especially intrigued with the offerings from The Lamp Goods (see there website HERE). Here's one from my board:

And I also love the delicate shell exterior of this:

For the stove lighting, here are a couple of linear chandeliers:

Kitchen lighting decisions are important not just for aesthetic reasons, but also practical reasons. Which will give the best light for cooking? How will light fall on the stove? If the fixtures are not just so, I'll have to deal with unbalanced light over the stove. I've done this before and it's annoying. I want to avoid that.

What are your thoughts/advice? I'm open to all!

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Party hearty!
May Before and After at Thrifty Decor Chick
Make It Pretty Monday at The Dedicated House
Metamorphosis Monday at Between Naps on the Porch
Show Me What Ya Got at Not Just a Housewife
The Inspiration Board at Homework
Inspire Me Tuesday at A Stroll Thru Life
Wow Us Wednesdays at Savvy Southern Style
Feathered Nest Friday at French Country Cottage
Be Inspired at Common Ground

Friday, May 2, 2014

Thoughts on Renovations: Two Camps

Himself and I have different opinions on, well, many, many, many things. We are the personification of "opposites attract." And this truth has been much in evidence in the last few months as we go about renovating and sprucing up our new-to-us house.

I believe I may have shared this is as a mention in another post, but it deserves its own post for this reason: people get in big fights about how to go about renovations/redecoration.

Camp One (where Himself has parked his Winnebago)

AKA The "One Room at a Time" Philosophy

The name sums it up. Address one room at a time. Paint the walls, woodwork, whatever else needs to be painted. Change out the lighting. Consider flooring options and window treatments. Buy new furniture (oh, how I wish!) or wave a magic wand over what you've got. Arrange said furniture. Replace or paint outlet covers and switch plates. Hang your artwork. Put in other finishing touches.

Ta da! Room complete and perfect.

I get it. I really do. I just don't do it. And here's why.

Camp Two (my favorite spot)

AKA "Do what I can when I can vs. waiting around"

I don't always have the funds to do everything in one go, so I'd rather do what I can. If we can buy some paint and paint a room, let's do it. If I have to wait to replace the chandelier, that's fine. At least the room will sport a new and lovelier coat of paint. If all the doors in the house have to be painted (ahem), which will take a while, why not buy new doorknobs to replace the old, peeling, brassy gold ones? At least the doors will look better after only a couple of hours of work. If I want to slap a texture on the bathroom walls to cover the yucky, peeling, almost-30-year-old, dark green wallpaper but I won't have time to paint until a bit later, at least the wallpaper will be gone.

And why should my fantastic claw foot bathtub languish on the patio under the deck just because we're not ready to do the entire master bath? I'm about to take a sledgehammer to the horrid, uncomfortable, shallow "Roman" bathtub that's now collecting dust just to get rid of it myself.


All that being said, I do see the wisdom of doing big things all at one time. That only makes sense. And when we had the popcorn ceilings removed, we did the entire downstairs at once. We didn't go one room at a time then.

Himself and I are not trust fund babies. So cash is always a consideration. And we do a LOT of the work ourselves. But I am impatient. I love this house, and I am chomping at the bit to make it ours. To develop a style of my own (sadly lacking in the past). To create a home that's unique, gracious, welcoming, and warm.

And I want to do what I can to make progress quickly.

So where do you (and your beloved) fall on this issue? Any tips you can share? I'd appreciate any ammunition to strengthen my position! :-)

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Party hearty!
Show Me What Ya Got at Not Just a Housewife
The Inspiration Board at Homework
Inspire Me Tuesday at A Stroll Thru Life
Wow Us Wednesdays at Savvy Southern Style
Feathered Nest Friday at French Country Cottage
Be Inspired at Common Ground