Posts Tagged ‘winter’

Dismantling the mantel

Maybe I am one of those people who just isn’t supposed to have a fireplace mantel. Goodness knows it throws me for a decorating loop more seasons than not.

However, even though I struggle to keep it updated, I *do* put stuff on it, and take it down, and put other stuff on it. Want proof?  Here was the 2013 Christmas mantel. Awwww….
The miniature sled was something I snagged in an antique/thrift store down in Bell Buckle last year; I had planned to work it into an outdoor Christmas decoration, but at the last minute, I propped it on there, and it seemed to fit.

The mantel was one of the last things I put up and took down. (It was slow going this year.) Since it was dismantled late, I went straight for a wintry vignette with a little Valentine’s Day thrown in for good measure:
Now let’s see if I can get myself in gear and update it before Easter. Hmmm. Maybe if I update the mantel and the dining room with a spring-y feel, this gray, cold winter will take the hint and take its leave? If only it were that easy, I’d dismantle the mantel today.

Happy Monday,

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Around here, the past couple of winters have been really mild. Uncommonly mild, even. Last year, we watched and waited for winter to arrive, and it never did. Not really, anyway. We just kind of shivered our way into spring.

But apparently THIS winter has decided to settle in and give us a good run for our money, at least in terms of temperatures. If I could ask for anything, I would like a little snow to go with the cold. Please and thank you.

This is how our week is shaping up, weather-wise.
I know, I know. I shouldn’t whine. This is nothing compared with some parts of the country, where minus signs frequently appear in front of temperatures, and polar vortex is NOT a noteworthy weather phenomenon. But here in middle Tennessee, we live on the teetering transitional edge between north and south. And some years, our average lows hover in the mid-30s – not exactly tropical, but not exactly locked in the icy clutches of winter, either.

Part of me is glad I don’t have my greenhouse up and running this year and  part of me wishes I did. Even on a cold, blustery winter day, a little sunshine and a space heater can make it feel like spring. But there is a big price to pay – namely the cost of keeping the inside above freezing every night.

While we start the inevitable countdown to spring (I generally begin marking off the weeks to last frost as soon as Super Bowl Sunday has come and gone), I’m focusing my time and attention on indoor stuff: cleaning, organizing, crafting, cooking and exercising. Maybe not in that order.

Last week’s menu had several new items from January’s Southern Living recipes. This week’s menu has a few more recipes from that issue. I’ve finally embraced the no-knead bread recipe, and we’ve eaten two loaves in as many weeks. I don’t know why it took me so long to give it a shot, but I’m glad I did. I got February’s Southern Living in the mail over the weekend and there are several more good-sounding recipes in it, so my family can rest assured they will get a nice mix of old favorites and new foods over the next several weeks.

I’ve kept up with my daily Bible reading and the 52-week organizing challenge; this week is pantry and spice rack cleanout. Luckily for me, I had done a pantry re-org before Christmas, so I’m coasting for a few days. Next week’s challenge is to set up a home recycling center, which is unnecessary because we have curbside recycling, and they sort everything for us, so if the temperatures aren’t bitterly cold, I hope to use that week to clear out a lot of the clutter in the garage. No promises, though.

I like to think of it as part of the organization challenge, but whatever you call it, I’ve abandoned any pretense at limiting my Fiesta collection. And so I’ve begun the hunt for a new/second hutch for the kitchen…a two-piece style with a breakfront so I can eek out a little more counter space as well as have more display room for my vintage dishes, and lower cabinets and drawers to stow cookbooks and linens and a few less-used cooking and serving pieces. I found a Hoosier-style oak cabinet last weekend at an antique mall, and I loved everything about it except the width (too narrow) and the price (too high.)  I’m holding out hope that stalking Craigslist will eventually yield the piece with exact dimensions and price I’m looking for.

So how is your winter going? Are you like me, and ready for it to be over and done with already? Or are you settling in and enjoying the season?

Happy Monday,

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624px-XRF_12daysYesterday was the 12th day of Christmas, if you’re keeping up with the rather archaic tradition. But I didn’t give or receive 12 drummers drumming. No…my true love braved the wind and tucked away the last of the outdoor decorations in their storage tubs while I dismantled the Christmas tree.

Today the decorations and tree will head back to their space in the attic, and that will conclude the holiday season.  I am very grateful to be indoors because baby it is definitely COLD outside. We are expecting to hit 8 degrees (F) today. I’m not sure we’ve dipped down to single digits in a couple of years, and I really don’t remember the last time we had such a chilly day.

With the first week in 2014 past, here’s where I’m at on my resolutions, which address four areas: spiritual, cooking, health and cleaning/organizing.

Our church family has been challenged to all participate in a Bible reading challenge and I’m tracking through the Bible in chronological fashion, thanks to One Year Bible’s easy Facebook links. This one should be like riding a bike. (The one I fell off last fall, so close to the end. Sigh.)

I’m also planning to try Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking challenge. The first week was eggs, and I took a stab at shirred (baked) eggs on Saturday. Let’s just say I need to give them another go…and not overcook them. The concept has great potential for weekend Eggs Benedict if I can perfect the cooking time. This week’s challenge is to try a Polish dish. I like stuffed cabbages, but my family is not fond of them, so I’m not sure what we’ll do…maybe pierogies?

To counteract the effects of taking a cooking challenge, my healthy side will continue incorporating more juicing into my weekday meals, and I’m gong to reintroduce myself to my Body Pump classmates and the treadmill. I lost a solid five pounds in the weeks leading up to the holidays and – more importantly – lost my sweet tooth. Not a single piece of Halloween candy.  Alas, the sweet tooth found its way home for the holidays, but if I lost it once, I can do it again.

On the cleaning/organizing side of things, I am…intrigued by this weekly challenge. It looks interesting, but we’ll see if I can stick with it long-term.

So how are you settling into 2014? Do tell!

Happy Monday,

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This month kicked off with the prediction of six more weeks of winter, and around the United States, most of us simply shrugged and smiled.  If the next six weeks were anything like the weather we were experiencing then, who cared if it stuck around another six weeks?

Yesterday morning, we awoke to gun-metal gray, cold skies and an even colder rain.  I gleefully predicted it would turn to snow, and my confidence was rewarded.  Mid-morning, we enjoyed a few glorious minutes of big, wet snowflakes floating down to earth.  Places east and west and north of here received enough snowfall to measure; we did not.  This week’s temperatures are predicted to be springlike, which is fine by me.

It has been an odd winter, as winters go.  But then again, southern winters are never predictable or “normal.”  However, we are fortunate to be able to consider the winter season as our shortest annual guest:  she typically stays around only a few months; sometimes less.   While she’s here, you never know quite what to expect – she can be mild-mannered or she might party like a rock star and trash the place. But short visits from winter – even if they a bit temperamental – are one of the things I love about living in the south.

This week, I start my vegetable seeds – pics are coming.  And I will get some baking done.  And if the weather is nice, I might get a jumpstart on spring cleaning, both inside and out.  I’m not sure winter is  ready to take her leave of us just yet, but I see many signs that indicated she’s packing up and preparing to move on.

A good guest always leaves before she outstays her welcome.
An even better one leaves you wishing she’d stay just a bit longer.

Happy Monday,

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Recipe of the Week: Stuffed Pepper Soup

January is national soup month in the U.S., which makes sense.  Most of us are faced with cold and/or wet and/or snowy weather this time of year, so a bowl of hot and hearty soup warms us from the inside out.  

Like last year, I’ve focused on soup recipes each Wednesday in January.  (You can find lots of soup recipes in my Recipe Box here.)  Today’s recipe is a newer one I recently found on Pinterest.  I made it for our family last week, then made it again for the Bunco girls on Monday night. It was one of those recipes that was on the right track, but needed some modifying; here’s my second rendition which was well received:

Stuffed Pepper Soup

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, diced
2 green peppers, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, or 2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 jar mushroom and pepper spaghetti sauce
1 can petite diced tomatoes
3-4 cups chicken broth
1 cup cooked rice (1/2 cup uncooked)

In large stock pot, brown beef.  Drain and remove from pan. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and saute onion and peppers until soft. Add back the beef and all other ingredients except the rice.  Simmer for an hour or longer.  Just before serving, stir cooked rice through.  Makes 6 servings.

The original recipe called for two cans of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce; not spaghetti sauce.  And a LOT more rice. It also had a very short – 35 minute – cooking time.  When we tried it, we found the rice made it very thick; more like a stew. And the flavor of the peppers and tomatoes didn’t really meld together, but remained raw and distinct. I gently modified the ingredients and quantities, and adjusted the cooking time. That is key to most soups:  unless you’re dealing with ingredients that will toughen or fall apart if cooked too long, be sure to give your soup some time for the flavors to release and come together.

Happy cooking!

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Roses are red, violets are blue.  I love gardening, do you?

As much as I love actually gardening, I love garden planning almost as much. It is a gardener’s winter therapy.  The new plant and seed catalogs are piling up on my desk, full of picture-perfect flowers and bright promises of warmer months ahead.  (Okay, so it’s really just daydreaming and doodling, but it’s with a purpose.)

I especially love planning when I have a blank slate to work with, like I do now.  First up on my to-do list is to create a potager-style vegetable garden with raised beds.

And my heart’s desire:  a long sweeping border full of flowers for cutting.

It would be easy to dive into a planting frenzy – so many plants provide gorgeous bouquets.

But instead of buying and planting willy-nilly, I have a method for designing these beds that will look thoughtfully landscaped, but not formal or boring, offering an evolving sequence of blooms from spring to fall.    It’s cottage gardening with some self-control.  If you follow this method, you’ll never wind up with a tall plant squatting in front of a delicate, diminutive one, or loud heavy orange blooms squeezing up against a froth of lacy pale pink petals.  Unless you want to, of course.

Step 1:  Determine the size of your bed (it can have curves, but this scheme works best with oblong or rectangle beds. Planting schemes can be adapted for island beds in round, kidney or square shapes – we’ll talk about those in a future post.)

Step 2: Plot the bed on a rough grid of 12-inch or 18-inch squares (curves and bends are easily accommodated:  you can drop a plant out, squish it in closer, or ease it to the left or right instead of being perfectly gridlocked.)  Big grids or little grids?  Personally, I plan – and plant – on a 12-15 inch grid for a fuller look.  But I have been known to regret it when a plant sprawls larger than I anticipated. Huge plants and shrubs can be given a double or quadruple spot on the grid.

The top/back row is plotted (left-right): Tall/Early, Tall/Mid, Tall/Late, Tall/Early, Tall/Mid, Tall/Late…repeating as many times as needed.

The middle row is plotted as Medium/Late, Medium/Early, Medium/Mid, Medium/Late, Medium/Early, Medium/Mid….

And the front/bottom row is plotted as Short/Mid, Short/Late, Short/Early, Short/Mid, Short/Late, Short/Early…

Step 3: Choose your plants.  Depending on the size of your space and your sensibilities, you can choose one, two or three different plants for each height and bloom season.  (Fewer choices will give you more repetition and a more formal, polished look. Choosing more varieties will give you a fuller, freer look. However, if you go with more than three different plants for each height and bloom period, try to make sure each plant is included at least 3 times and choose plants that are similar in color and/or texture to provide visual continuity.)

Below is what my planting scheme looks like for each season (each block of color represents a specific plant’s bloom color; the green blocks are the foliage on adjacent plants when they are not in bloom at that time.) Each of these plans represents an area 3 feet by 12 feet – I’ll just keep repeating it down the fence row, stretching approximately 16 feet on each side of a wide gate.  I’m using two plants per height and bloom season; 18 different plants will be repeated every 6 feet.

See how the flower colors start demure and pastel in spring and become more vibrant in summer and blazing hot colors in the fall?  It’s almost impossible to find screaming orange blooms in early spring (except tulips), or muted pastels in the fall, and I think it’s easier and more natural looking for your colors to to work with Mother Nature than trying to fight her.

E=early/spring flowers
M=mid/summer flowers
L=late/fall flowers

By staggering your plants by their peak bloom times, you don’t wind up with a bunch of competing (or clashing) blooms lined up in front of one another.  Instead, each season builds to a peak, then  gradually gives way to the next. By designating each plant as tall (I classify anything over 4 feet as tall), medium (2-3 feet) and short (under 2 feet), you ensure that the tall ones are always in the back.

What about the advice of planting your perennials in groups of 3s or 5s and creating big swaths of color for impact?  The ugly truth is those swaths tend to turn into huge voids when the bloom season ends. By repeating the plants every second or third spot, you get rhythm and continuity without “busy-ness”  and the entire bed looks fresh and full of blooms from spring to frost.

If you like this idea, you’re welcome to borrow it and apply  your plants to it; please send pictures and bragging tales of your success stories!

If you are interested in having a planting scheme and nursery shopping list created for you, please contact me.  I create custom plans based on your climate, sun and shade environment as well as your personal plant preferences, for a small fee. The plans include a planting chart and specific plant recommendations, plus mail order sources for varieties that may not be available in your area.

It’s way too soon to get planting, but now is the time to get planning, especially if you are ordering any plants for spring delivery.

Happy gardening,

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Just like the old Blood Sweat & Tears song and Newton’s law of gravity, the Christmas decorations that go up must eventually come down.

When do you take yours down?  I have friends who have them down in the twinkling of an eye, pretty much as soon as Christmas dinner is finished. 

As for me, I let mine linger a bit.  We start our decorating later than most, and I’m just not ready to put it all away on December 26.  But I do make sure it’s down shortly after we’ve ushered in the new year.

Every year for several years, I have vowed to go through all the Christmas bins and straighten them out.  This year, I made good on that promise.  No excuses – the walk-in attic is adjacent to our bonus room, so I had the perfect staging area to spread out all my tubs and really organize them.  I also did a little “Santa’s Workshop” repair on a few items that needed re-gluing.

Today marks the 12th day of Christmas (see note), and I’m happy to say my decorations are down and tucked away, and I’ve even made a little headway on decorating the dining room for the winter months.  Den and foyer are next.

There were two distinct approaches I could take to stowing away my Christmas decorations:

1. Room-by-room (kitchen, dining room, UT stuff for the bonus room….)
2. Like-goes-with-like (garlands, ornaments, lights, nutcrackers, Christmas village…)

I chose…both.

For example, the kitchen tub contains everything I need to set up my kitchen for Christmas:  tree decorations, Christmas mugs and linens, even my party paper goods (of which I have enough to last the next 30 years.  Okay, maybe just the next two or three, but it seems like a lot.)  Next to it is the box with next year’s gift mugs for my 3rd graders.  I picked them up on clearance, and it’s one less thing to worry about.

Yes, the caroler’s book is upside down

On the other hand, my nutcracker collection stays together (albeit in one large tub and two wine boxes – they are the perfect size for storing them.)  I store them as a group even though some go to the sunroom, some to the kitchen, some to the den and some to the foyer.  I always shuffle them up, so each year I can pull them out and decide who-goes-where.  Ditto for the garlands and wreaths.  But the light strands and ornaments are separated in tubs for specific trees: dining room, big tree, UT tree.

I also tucked in some reminders for next year to make decorating easier – you know, those things you tell yourself, “next year, I’ll do it this way instead” and next year, you remember it too late?  Yeah, me too.  Maybe my notes will help next year – we’ll see.)

Of the stuff I didn’t use this year, I designated one tub for Santa Claus decorations, and another for snowmen and the cream/gold ornaments. When I get the urge to switch from silver to gold, or do a Santa or snowman theme, I can “shop” from my own inventory first.

After everything was in tubs and I had tossed all the irreparable, melted, discolored or otherwise unusable stuff, there remained two large bags of “haven’t-used-in-forever” (or maybe never) stuff.  I’ll take pity on the Goodwill folks who are dealing with the year-end glut, and keep them until early next fall to drop off. They’re set aside in one corner, visibly marked for their final destination.

The only remaining to-do is to get some shelving up in the attic so when I need the tub on the bottom of the stack (isn’t that always the one you need?) I don’t have to offload all the other tubs to fetch it. But that’s a task that can wait for a warm Saturday so we don’t get frostbite in the process.

Even though Christmas is officially over and the decorations are down, I think I’m going to be vacuuming up glitter and pine needles for a very long time….

Happy cleaning,

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P.S.   A big thank-you to Mr. Kurek for setting me straight on how to count the twelve days of Christmas. I’m just glad I was a day ahead, instead of a day behind!

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