Semi-Stay-Vacation

Scott took a week of vacation this month and instead of packing it with the many activities we’ve done on vacations so far this year, we decided to have a more ‘quiet’ vacation week this time.

We decided to travel the breadth of Northern California. We live in the middle of this area, so we are spending a day on the west coast side, coming home, regrouping, then spending a couple of days exploring around Lake Tahoe on the east side – completely new territory for us! We’re very excited to make our Trial Run trip to Tahoe. It will be our first pancake. Our trial-and-error adventure so that next time, we’ll be even more prepared to know what to do and what not to do. We’re staying at an Airbnb in Carnelian Bay at the northwestern edge of the lake. I can’t wait to share it with you all!

But for today, some Pacific Ocean wandering along the Bay then over to Berkeley to reconnect with our hippie vibe. We love hanging out in Berkeley! I have a quick hook-up with an online friend in Oakland and then we’ll head back home – undoubtedly filled with more information about the Bay Area then what we’ve learned so far. In our other trips into San Francisco we’ve concentrated on all the touristy things to see. This time we hope to hit some more out-of-the-way places to experience the area in a whole different way.

It will be a fun adventure together. No pressures. No timelines. Just plenty of pictures and plenty of reconnection. We’ve needed the time together and are looking forward to being away from all the normal routines for rebooting and revamping our ways of communication and connection.

I hope you’ll enjoy discovering things along with us! Many more pictures to come, I’m sure…

Family Al Fresco

It’s that time of year. School is finished (or soon to be), the temperature is rising and sleeping in is on every teens agenda. If you have kids at home, a common summertime question is ‘What’s there to eat?’ I might be able to help with that last question with some simple summer meal items.

I recently posted on social media about a family meal we had outside (al fresco: in the open air). I was contacted by a few people asking me to post a more detailed explanation. I promised a blog post about some DIY tablescape hacks that made the evening a little easier and the simple summertime recipes we used to make our family meal a success.

My extended family came to visit us in California. The enormous sacrifice they made – financially and most importantly, timing and scheduling – meant a lot to me. Scott and I wanted to have one evening where we all sat down together around a family table and simply relaxed into an evening of conversation and California weather.

For those of you that are fans of the tv series, Parenthood, you’ll understand my desire to have a Parenthood-style dinner together in our backyard, under the lights and California setting sun.

First of all, I needed a long table.

We took our dining room table out to the patio plus used another dining table we have in the garage that Scott uses as a work table. The work table was a few inches shorter than our dining table so we used wooden blocks to prop it up to be an equal height.

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I was tempted to do a charcuterie board down the center of the ‘long table’ but ultimately decided it was too fussy and one more thing for me to plan out. My goal was for all of us to feel comfortable and laid-back so I nixed the cheese board idea.

Instead, Scott cut me a long piece of 2×4 board, sanded all the edges round and stained it. He coated it in coconut oil to seal in the stain.

I cut rosemary from our large rosemary bush and lavender from the three Spanish lavender bushes we bought in the Fall. They were three small bushes when we purchased them but they have grown SO BIG over the past six months! As an aside – I knew the rosemary would last a long time but I wasn’t sure of the lavender. I cut it all just a few hours before our meal. For awhile, it was sitting in the hot afternoon sun. The rosemary held up great but the lavender got a little wilty looking. By the next day it was shriveled. So make sure to cut the lavender fairly close to the event. This served as a nice centerpiece but also held off any flying insects that don’t particularly care for the smell of the rosemary. Win-win! At the last minute, I grabbed some clementines in our kitchen and haphazardly placed them among the rosemary and lavender for a pop of color. I also cut a small sprig of rosemary to place on the napkin at each place setting. Super easy way to put a finishing touch on the appearance of each setting. If you don’t have a rosemary bush in the backyard, rosemary plants are easy to find at grocery stores and gardening centers. (We use ours for cooking all the time!)

I wanted the table to be somewhat minimal in decoration. Casual and welcoming. Here are a few ways I hacked the table decor…

I am a big fan of this set of three candlesticks from IKEA. I have two sets and use them in different spots in our home. Their stark black added just the right amount of drama to the setting without being fussy or overwhelming.

I am a big fan of linen. I love its look and universal appeal. It’s not faddish or decade-specific, which is just the kind of decor I adore! But if we’re all honest, linen can be expensive, right??

A good rule of thumb for just about every decor situation (and more!) is to mix and match real with fake. I went to Harbor Freight and bought two canvas paint dropcloths. They resemble linen and cost about $15 each. Spilled wine? No problem. Dropped food? It will either wash out or, I have a new dropcloth to use! No fuss. No problem.

I even used another dropcloth I had to sew a basketful of coasters for the table (instructions here.) The trick to using dropcloth for your projects is to wash them first. I generally wash them 2-3 times to soften them up and get the distinctive smell out of them. Once they’re softer, the possibilities are limitless.

I mixed the canvas tablecloths with actual linen napkins from World Market. I used 4 different neutral colors to tie everything together without looking too matchy.

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I have really enjoyed my ‘wonky’ dishes from Magnolia. It seems like not that long ago that we lined up outside Target, waiting for the doors to open on the new Magnolia line, Hearth and Hand. I elbowed and crowded in with other Joanna Gaines style followers. I think I grabbed a 4-plate setting the first day and have been picking up more bowls and serving trays ever since. They’re a little harder to find these days but they pair well with a line of dishes from World Market. Again, mixing and matching takes the exactness out of any task (my biggest design hint.) I love the uneven edges of both lines. They look like they’ve just come off a potter’s wheel. Love it.

The table was set with a mixture of items but they all fell into a neutral palette, therefore pulling them all together cohesively. The neutral foundation allowed the colorful food to stand out and shine.

And speaking of the food…

I had to constantly put before myself the goal of the evening: easy, laid-back, casual. I didn’t want Scott and I to have to spend all our time in the kitchen and not sitting with our family enjoying the evening. The following were some of the recipes we used. Many can be put together in advance.

This Avocado Corn salad is de.li.cious. It tastes like summer. It killed Scott a little to have to buy tomatoes since his aren’t ready yet -ha. (All the recipes are at the end of this post.) I’m of the opinion that putting an avocado with just about anything makes it better. You can use fresh corn on the cob but we opted for frozen sweet corn from Trader Joe’s. The very smell of cucumbers makes me want to rush outside. It is such a fresh summer smell.

I’m sure I will receive a lot of crap for this (probably deservedly so), but……..I don’t care for fresh onions. There. I’ve said it. The color of purple onions would round out this salad nicely and 99.9% of the world will put it in.

This Pecan Apple Slaw is a constant in our refrigerator this season. It’s light and easy to keep in the fridge for those quick food cravings. The juicy Craisins make it almost snack-like.

My sweet 21-year-old niece sent me a thank you text after they left to go back to Kansas City. She ended the text with “…and I neeeeeeed that zucchini boat recipe!” -ha! Again, these are easy to make and a great addition to just about any meal. The recipe came from Ina Garten so you know it’s trustworthy! We’ve made them several times and are always happy with the results. Crunchy and salty – my favorite combination.

The main dish was Caprese Chicken. For an easily prepared dish, it packed a lot of flavor. The key is fresh mozzarella and the balsamic glaze.

To be honest, we were introduced to balsamic glaze by a friend just last year. We’ve been ardent fans ever since. There are soooo many things you can use it on! It’s thicker than regular balsamic and adds the perfect tangy-sweet flavor to side dishes as well as many meats.

Maybe it’s just me, but drinks for a dinner can get a little stressful. Do you offer a million options or do you limit it to just a few? My answer for this very flavor-packed meal was to simply serve water. I used some inexpensive water decanters and placed mint leaves in milk white jars on the table. My neighbor gifted me with a starter lemon mint bush and wowzers has it grown! I can’t use enough mint to keep up. So even if it was just decoration and no one used it, it was worth trimming back my container and it added another natural element to the table.

We ended the evening with a HAPPY BIRTHDUATION cake for the people having birthdays and graduating high school. Had it not been for that, I would have gone with a simple Peanut Butter Pie. It’s another easy recipe you make ahead and is always a crowd pleaser.

And because we’re in California, the evenings can get a little chilly if the conversation lingers long enough. I rolled up some favorite throw blankets, put them into a basket and took it outside. When people started getting cool, they grabbed a blanket and the conversation never even paused. No searching for or asking about a blanket – it was right there at the ready when they needed it. (And bonus: it looked cute while it was waiting to serve!)

I hope these suggestions sparked a few ideas of your own. Gathering family and friends together (no dreaded ‘kids table’ separation!) is always my idea of a perfect evening. Multiple conversations interrupted only slightly by the ‘Could you please pass me the…’ requests is pure joy to me.

Before sharing the recipes with you at the bottom, will you indulge me in a few family shots from our Family Al Fresco evening??

Wishing you a season of good food, simple pleasures and all the bent-in-half-ugly-laughing your soul can take!

Corn Tomato Avocado Salad

INGREDIENTS
corn kernels from 1 large steamed corn on the cobb (1 cup)
5 ounces diced avocado from 1 medium avocado
1.5 cup diced Persian cucumbers (about 3 small)
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
2T diced red onion
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
fresh black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Toss all ingredients together and serve.

Cranberry Pecan Slaw

INGREDIENTS
2) 11oz bagged cole slaw mix
1 large Gala or Honeycrisp apple – chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped pecan

Dressing:
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream (can substitute with yogurt)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2% honey
1/2 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS
1. Add slaw mix, apple, cranberries, pecans and onions to a large bowl. Too to mix all ingredients. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, add mayo, sour cream, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Whisk together until smooth. Pour 3/4 of dressing over slaw and toss until mixed well. Add remaining dressing if desired.
3. Serve immediately. Slaw can be stored, covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Toss slightly.

Zucchini Boats

INGREDIENTS
3-4 smallish zucchini
2T fresh parsley
2T fresh basil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
3/4 cup panko
3.5T olive oil

DIRECTIONS
1. Cut the ends off the zucchini
2. Cut in half lengthwise
3. Scoop out center seeds (this is what makes it watery)
4. Put on a sheet pan and brush with oil and salt
5. Turn them over (scooped side down)
6. Cook at 425 degrees for 12 minutes
7. Turn them back over
8. Fill the cavity with panko mixture
9. Put them back in the oven for 8-10 minutes until browned and crisp

Chicken Caprese

INGREDIENTS

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
1T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp dry Italian seasoning
4 thick slices of ripe tomato
4 slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
2T balsamic glaze
2T thinly sliced basil

DIRECTIONS

1. Heat a grill over medium heat
2. Drizzle 1T of olive oil over chicken and season to taste with salt and pepper
3. Sprinkle Italian seasoning over the chicken
4. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for 3-5 minutes per side, or until done. Cook time will vary depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts
5. When chicken is done, top with a slice of cheese and cook for one more minute
6. Remove from heat and place chicken on a plate. Top each breast with a slice of tomato, thinly sliced basil and salt and pepper to taste
7. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve

Peanut Butter Pie

INSTRUCTIONS
1 graham cracker crust
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
1.5 cup creamy PB (or crunchy PB for more crunch)

DIRECTIONS

1. Soften ice cream enough to swirl in PB completely (considerably soft)
2. Mix in PB as evenly as possible
3. Pour into crust and freeze
4. Remove a few minutes before serving for easier cutting

Pacific Pots and Plants

I have two new loves in my life: Pacific Natural and a funky new euphorbia plant. (Well actually, I guess it’s three new loves because I crushed hard over this new terra cotta pot.)

I have really been enjoying this book lately. Maybe I should take a step back and say I am really enjoying the Pacific coast lately. The weather, the vibe, the aesthetic. California is agreeing with me.

Reading through this beautiful book brings about a sense of calm mixed with a renewed interest in entertaining. Scott and I both enjoy having people over to our home and now we have the added ‘room’ of our backyard. Jenni Kayne speaks straight to our al fresco style of entertainment.

Additionally, Kayne writes of eating seasonally. Getting to know California seasons has been like learning a new language, it’s so unlike our Midwestern roots. But we keep watching the fruits and vegetables that seem to come and go from our local markets and are making mental notes of when the best time is to buy each of them. And boy oh boy are we ready to visit some local farmer’s markets this summer! 

Simple and elegant – two unlikely partners that marry so well together.

How cute is this S’mores to go hostess gift?? Handmade and thoughtful. (Not to mention yummy!)

My new plant buddy is an Euphorbia xylophylloides. It’s flat leaves and funky growth pattern spoke to me as I walked past it in the garden center. I was a little worried about its yellow/orange tips until I read that’s a sign of new growth happening.

I thought it would look nice in a terra cotta pot but when we wandered over to that area, this rockstar stood out to me.  It’s hard to see how big it is, but it’s a good size. I think it will look great on our fireplace hearth – standing out against the white brick. We looked and looked for a pricetag but eventually just gave up and took it to the register. We purchased all of our things and lugged it all to the car.

Scott checked the receipt that said the pot was on sale for $12 – we couldn’t believe it. We headed BACK inside and picked up the remaining two pots to use somewhere else!

I love it’s terra cotta legs and Spanish style!

This succulent cactus was in a nursery pot of course. I set it up outside to transfer it to its new rockstar terra cotta pot. I thought I’d be able to lift it as a whole out of the plastic pot and into the new pot. But when I started picking it up, every.single.one of the individual ‘leaves’ fell onto the ground.

Succulents have such small roots but I thought this was one big plant with individual ‘branches’. Much to my surprise, they are each individual – autonomous – plants.

I picked each one out of the mess of dirt on the ground and laid them out into height-sized piles. I then started burying them in the new pot of dirt – tallest in the middle and working my way out. In the end, it worked much better so that I could ‘design’ the style of the overall pot. (I also kept a few back to start another pot of these unusual succulents.)

I think Jenni Kayne, author of Pacific Natural, would be proud of my purchases. #pacificproud

A Work in Progress…

I love a good Before and After shot.

Actually, it’s not necessarily a Before and After but more like a Before and During.

When we first moved here, I took a picture of our little backyard. There were three ratty, over-grown rose bushes behind the house and that was it. The previous owners had a hot tub over in that square cement area in the far corner. The hedges were all over-grown and it was hard to tell what was what.

But there was potential.

The biggest eyesore we couldn’t change was the neighbor’s palm tree with all the dead fronds going up it. (Could CSI tell which direction a fire dart came from?! I’m asking for a friend…)

This is after our spring work. We tried pruning the rose bushes in the fall but they were just so overgrown with dead brush, volunteer trees, etc, so we cut them all the way down to the ground. We figured it would be easier to handle them from a new starting place.

We installed a standing flower box, three planters for grasses and palms (and petunias and ivy.) Scott built all of the above. We put up LED string lights over our patio furniture and added a few more pieces.

The rose bushes are coming back to life in a much more manageable way.

We added a small cactus garden (which just about didn’t make it because this is a low area in the yard so all of the buckets and buckets of rain we’ve gotten, all collected here. *head smack* We’ll see how they do this summer but I might move them over closer to our agave on the other end.

We have pink jasmine started in three different areas of the yard so sitting outside is a very sweet treat. In fact, just raising the windows inside makes for the most fragrant breezes blowing through the house.

Long story, short: Haddie has become an outside cat. She escaped one day and then meowed like crazy to be let back out. (Her eyes were opened to new possibilities!) -ha.

You can see one of the jasmine vines in the background below. Unfortunately, we had one hummingbird but we haven’t seen him for months. We weren’t really prepared when we put up this feeder, but I’ll study up on it and maybe we’ll get a few more. The jasmine are supposed to attract them as well.

We still feel so blessed to have been gifted this beautiful agave plant. Agave Maria. She is a lovely shade of blue-gray and matches the house perfectly.

On the side of the house I started a succulent garden in the fall. It seems to be progressing nicely, although the amount of attention I give it is really pretty embarrassing. If it rains for more than a handful of hours, I go out and cover them with boards Scott made for me. Then I uncover them so they’ll get some sun. All winter long I have babied them. I should be committed…

The gutter in the middle of it all is certainly not eye-appealing, but hopefully they’ll eventually grow up over it and cover it up a bit.

There’s about to be a burst of yellow outside our bedroom windows pretty soon. They gave me so many rose bouquets last fall; I’m excited to see what they produce during the summer.

These Mexican lavender bushes were also a purchase not long after we moved in. They were three little bushes that have grown so beautifully. Each time I walk by them and hear the buzz of the bees that saturate their flowers, makes me feel a little sense of pride and contribution to the planet.

This is our current project. I bought 4 mandevilla vines to crawl up and take over this area of the fence. I only have about 2.7 zillion trellis ideas and need to whittle that down quickly because they’re ready to climb! Our neighbors have a rusted shed next door that sticks up in the corner (and a reason we put Scott’s BBQ tent and grill over there.) I’m hoping to build a trellis up above the fence so they can crawl up nicely and cover a lot of the site of the shed.

This side shade garden is part of Summer 2020. I have been THRILLED these hostas and bleeding hearts came up this year (from bulbs) but I decided to not spend a lot of design time over in this area. Next year I want to have Scott build an arbor over the area that leads to this shade garden. But that’s for another summer. (I do – occasionally – try to temper my enthusiasm!)

We have bags of mulch to be laid down, tiki torches to put up (because Scott insisted we bury PVC pipe and cement them in – all I wanted to do was stick them in the ground when we had people over! -ha.)

We’ve trimmed back the hedges a lot, but we have more to do and need to figure out how to best shape the ones we have. I’d like to see a full year of them (and what they do/bloom/etc) before making too drastic of a change. The grass is a whole other area of improvement needed. But that’s another stage – right?

And that’s the main thing: learning what California weather is like and where the sun shines (and doesn’t shine) in our yard. It’s the best thing about working in nature. You are on IT’S time schedule. You are forced to exercise patience. But in the end, after all your planning, the surprises come in the most beautiful forms. I’m anxiously waiting to experience them all…

I recently read the book Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty and Peace by Christie Purifoy. I have always tried to be a Place Maker. Even when it was a temporary home for a short period of time. Filling a space with your things, your designs, your styles…it shapes how you see the rest of your life. When you feel welcomed and comfortable at home, everything else seems manageable. I’ve lived in small, large, really small, and even hotel spaces. The size of your home doesn’t matter. Nor does it’s age. Settle in and make it home. Your home. Invite others in to share it with you. Do NOT be consumed by comparison. It is the killer of joy. Learn how to manage your reactions to social media accounts that seem to show complete perfection. Pinterest is great for ideas and inspiration, but when you feel the drudging feeling that you’ll never have enough or you can’t compete with this or that – get off. You’re on option overload. Spend time imagining your space in your mind. What do YOU want? What resources do you have? What resources do you have to live within? You do not have to have unlimited talent or money in order to make a place cozy and comfortable. Don’t be led into the lie that buying just.this.one.more.thing will make everything better. (I have it on very good authority that it won’t.) Fill you house with friends and family – that’s the best design feature a home can have.

We are making our mark in California – for as long as we’re here. And we are having a lot of fun doing it. Step by step. Stage by stage. No hurries. And most importantly, taking the time to fully enjoy it. Speaking of which, chicken is on the grill and the rains are coming in again tonight so succulents must be properly put to bed…………. 😉

It’s a girl!

(I think.)

I’ve been watching the growth and birth of this ruffled-leaf Philodendron Selloum (Philodendron bipinnatifidum) leaf since I first saw its tiny presence on March 17. It took 22 days from my first video to my last time-lapsed video this evening.

Baby and Mama are doing fine. She’s registered at Bergdorf Goodman…

Now it’s time to fully open up and enjoy her new grand duchess life. I’m so proud!!!

Fun side note: I set up my iPhone on a pile of books I had nearby. It took a couple of hours to record the final progression out of her protective sheath. About halfway in I looked closer at the pile of books and realized (with the exception of a few good men) it was a bunch of strong-hearted women who were helping in this birthing process. Something they were fully used to doing – birthing and nurturing and working together to get the job done. Go, girls, go!!

It won’t take long now for her to look as strong and dark green as her playmates. Sometimes nature is just SO cool…

Terra Cotta Dreamin’

Possibly it’s due to the overexposed sun here in California that has led me to fall in love with a very California, desert-color scheme.

Earth tones:
Greens. Grays. Terra cotta. Cinnamon. Mustard. Mauve. Teals. Blues
Soothing. Grounding. Natural.

Imagine looking at a desert scene. Starting at the ground level with it’s bluish-gray sage mixed with the tans and grays of the sand and rock. Moving up you would find the greens of the foliage plastered against the mustard yellows of a terra cotta-cinnamon sunset that bursts a few streaks of pinkish-mauve into the sky, before turning into the various teals and blues of the setting day.

Now grant it, it’s not a huge leap to ‘earth tones’ from ‘natural whites’. But I see the earthy tones making their way into our home more and more since living out west.

I’m not really a ‘southwestern girl’ when it comes to decor, but I do appreciate the natural elements of linen and leather, hand-thrown pottery, hand-woven textiles, wicker and wood. Those natural items feel more intentional and less fad-driven.

I recently grabbed some very unstaged pictures around the house, of the earthen tones that are finding their way into our rooms. The space heater is out – for the chilly mornings still. Things are as they are in our everyday life. I think that’s the part of this sensation taking me over: a willingness to embrace more of what is, and less of what should be. Maybe it’s California. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s just part of the evolution of life – but in the great scheme of things…there’s very little that needs to be worried over and we waste a lot of time doing it.

I’d rather spend more of my brain space on thinking about the things for which I have to be grateful. It’s a retraining of the mind.

The days are getting brighter and warmer around here – making the occasional rainy day a direct insult. What do you mean I can’t go outside today?!

Most of my plants have new leaves, still tightly curled but peeking out now and again to see if the atmosphere is right for their unveiling. Scott and I have had more than just a few lunches and talks out on the patio and the birds have been devouring their bird food in the feeder.

I have been daydreaming more and more about a trip to Joshua Tree National Park. And more and more I want to learn the history of the northwest. We are surrounded by beautiful land and sea. Now that the rains are letting up, I look forward to more and more exploring.

The first desert pictures are images found on Pinterest. The below image is from The Joshua Tree House at Saguaro National Park…and the inspiration behind my desert dreams of late.

A Neighborly Hello

(This article contains company references but is not a sponsored post. I am a dedicated customer and paid for all products myself.)

My husband and I recently drove around our new neighborhood, admiring the California spring flowers in our neighbor’s yards. I continue to be absolutely amazed at the magnitude of many plants and the vibrancy of the colors.

I had my camera with me so Scott slowed down or stopped for me to get out and snap a few pictures.

The next day I had an idea:
I sent some of the pictures to Artifact Uprising to get some of their matte-finished, 4×4 prints of my neighbor’s flowers. Artifact Uprising prints are difficult to describe. The paper is almost cardboard-level thick and the photo finish has an artistic quality to it. I have used their prints for many special occasions and this seemed like a good reason to turn to their specific printing quality.

I was excited to receive the photos in the mail this week. I made white cardstock, folded cards to support the photos (which I had printed with a white border – you can opt to not have a border at all.)

I then wrote a quick handwritten note inside, thanking the various neighbors for ‘beautifying the neighborhood’. Scott and I drove the same route, collecting their mailing addresses. I stamped a Paper Source ‘HELLO’ onto the back flap (Paper Source is my favorite stamp maker and I adore their large-flap envelopes) and voila’!, a quick little note thanking our neighbors for their hard work.

Everyone likes for their hard work to be noticed. And can you imagine receiving a card in the mail with a picture of YOUR yard on the front?!

It was such a simple way to lightly introduce ourselves to some of our neighbors – and to do it in a way that makes them feel appreciated.

This process could easily be done with neighbors you already know. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want an unexpected pat on the back! Planning and executing a yard design is challenging and expensive and takes a great deal of patience and a bit of trial and error. I appreciate the time they put into making a beautiful spot of land.

And when you reeeeeeally want to say you care? Don’t forget the washi tape! 🙂