An Autumn Trip to the Arboretum

I finally got to the arboretum in Autumn!

The last time I was there in Autumn, I discovered that my camera was broken when I got home, so all of the great pics I thought I had taken were over-exposed from a broken shutter.

Yesterday I only had a chance to literally run through the place because I arrived less than an hour before closing, but hopefully, I’ll get back there for more pics before all the leaves are gone!

Thanksgiving Table: The Spendor of Autumn

This Thanksgiving I used all my restraint to resist the urge to let our Christmas decor arrive early. So often I cannot resist that urge and we end up with a Thanksgiving/Christmas fusion. 
Everything stayed well within the Autumn color theme this year without even a hint of Christmas!
Burlap has always been an inexpensive fabric mostly used for making things like potato sacks or for wrapping shrubbery for the winter, but somehow it has become very popular in decorating as well.
It does offer a nice warm neutral base and lots of texture so it makes sense that decorators would be bringing this into their designs. 
What does NOT make sense is that this traditionally inexpensive fabric is now carrying a designer fabric price tag! I had to shop around a bit but finally found a nice large bolt of burlap at Walmart for a reasonable price.
So, on with the show… The table and the buffet are both topped with the above mentioned burlap. Burlap is a fairly open weave, so pairing it with a nice pumpkin colored table cloth really worked well together.

Gold beaded charger plates and white china (retired pattern Alsace by Farberware) with the salad plate swapped out for a lovely leafy pattern plate that harmonizes well with the autumn theme.

I know right now that tree slices as chargers is all the rage in decorating, but for me this is a sentimental accent. These tree slices are from the tree in our yard. 

I grew up with this tree and when a hurricane took it down I was heartbroken and I requested some mementos in the form of tree slices. I had no idea what I would do with them, but all these years later and they have finally found a home on our Thanksgiving table.

I fell in love with these white porcelain pumpkins. I’ll admit I am a bit pumpkin obsessed, but these just sent me over the moon. I want more! Here they are sitting on some silk autumn leaves and my beloved tree slices.

See that silverware? Yes, I do too. I swapped it out for gold flatware, but not until after discovering the error in this photo shoot. Details, details!


Halloween 2015

This Halloween we wanted to create a spooky haunted forest but still keep it light and playful enough that it was still warm, inviting and not too gloomy.  

Some dead tree branches from the yard were perfect for making a huge impact – and the best part is that they cost NOTHING!

When you bring lots of natural elements into the decor everything falls into place. Sea shells, leaves, branches, pine cones and any other natural element can cover your decorating schemes for all the seasons and holidays.

“Creepy Cloth” is a very loose weave gauze-like fabric that can be draped from almost any surface to create a delightfully creepy look. Here we have draped it on our picture frames (two professional artists in the house and we have EMPTY picture frames….we’re cuckoo!).

A simple branch in a flower pot with some floral foam and a centerpiece is born!

Birds perched in random places makes it feel as if they have landed there themselves, and that we are being quietly outnumbered by some spooky guests.


Orange and black is such a traditionally Halloween color scheme, but it can feel a bit tacky at times. With the right balance and some natural elements some Halloween elegance can be attained.

A bird and some silk leaves on each place setting helps tie the buffet decor to the table. We found our birds at Dollar Tree.

We like to bring out the ornate silver charger plates and accessories for a Halloween look because it feels like they could be right out of an old haunted mansion!

We found some lovely salad plates with a subtle embossed leaf pattern covering the entire surface of the plate. The natural leaf pattern makes them ideal for autumn decor and because they are plain white instead of fall colors they will fit in beautifully with Spring and Easter decor as well.

Here is a look back at last Halloween with our buffet in burgundy and black. 

As always, thanks for stopping by! Likes, shares, pins, follows and comments always greatly appreciated!

Return of the Light. Lessons from the Eclipse.

I don’t mean to wax poetic about the waxing moon, but I just wanted to share a little moon moment.
One quick glimpse at social media and the flurry of blurry photos of light blobs on black backgrounds and you know that there was some sort of lunar event.
There was also ample warning leading up to the eclipse that made sure we all knew that there was yet another once-in-a-lifetime sight to see in the sky.
But imagine life before technology.
Imagine a time when instead of our little glowing phone screens, the only thing to light our night was that big comforting ball of cheese in the sky.
Imagine how terrifying it would have been when that big ole’ cheese-ball suddenly and unexpectedly turned an ominous shade of crimson, and we had no idea why — and we wondered if it was the end of the world.
Now we’ve got google and iflscience to light our way and explain these mysteries to us, so it isn’t scary. We know our beloved cheeseball is safe and sound and playing hide and seek in our shadow — it will be right back and as bright and beautiful as it ever was.
If only all of life was that simple.
For me, this eclipse was a little reminder lesson about when we enter the dark moments in our lives. We have no control, and we don’t know if the light will ever return.
We don’t have a magical website that explains the reasons behind the dark and scary moments in our lives –we don’t know how long they will last. We don’t have that same reassurance that like the eclipse, it is natural and normal and everything is going to be alright. We don’t know for sure that it is not the end of the world until we start to see the return of the light.
Above is the picture I took as the September 2015 Blood Moon eclipse event was coming to a close. The moon was just beginning to free itself from the darkness. 
Don’t worry ’bout a thing, because every little thing is gonna be alright.

It is the return of the light.
Hang in there… 

I took this picture (above) of a ‘supermoon’ in its full glory a year or two ago.

Pepper Pumpkins and Mashed BOOtatoes

Pepper Pumpkins and Mashed BOOtatoes! 
I actually made them this year, and here are the pictures to prove it!! (and illustrated six step how-to guide and recipe below)
Every holiday season I start decorating and preparing just a little bit earlier than the start of the season — which lulls me into falsely believing I have plenty of time to prepare and create all the fantastical holiday projects that dance through my head.  Yet somehow I go from being the early bird planner to the last minute loser every year without having any idea what happened to all the time between.
For YEARS I have planned to make stuffed peppers carved as Jack-O-Lanterns and mashed potatoes in the shape of ghosts that I rename mashed “BOOtatoes” but somehow Halloween passes before I can bring my Halloween dinner visions to life.
Well this year it finally happened! We made my Halloween dinner dreams come true! It was fun, festive and most importantly DELICIOUS.
So, here is the recipe we used and the step by step pictures along the way. This is recipe was created and tweaked to be more healthy by my mom, the lovely and talented artist Peggy Hickey.
Stuffed Peppers
3 Orange Bell Peppers
1 half pound (85% lean) chopped beef
1/4 cup dry uncooked oatmeal
1 half a small onion diced
1 tablespoon Gravy Master
1 can (16 oz) tomato sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Steps illustrated below!
Preheat the oven to 385 F degrees.
I started with the lovely orange peppers that I see in the store every year, only this time I bought them early, forcing myself to make this meal before the peppers went bad. 
I treated the little orange peppers just like pumpkins — cutting around the top as a ‘lid’ just like when carving a Jack-O-Lantern.
This made it quite easy to pull all the seeds out in one easy step.
Cut the seeds off the ‘lid’ and clean out any stray seeds inside.
Toss the seeds, but keep the ‘lid’ for later.
Then the fun part of carving the ‘face’.
Channel your inner child and give each pepper it’s own playful or spooky personality.
Don’t make them too scary or you’ll be afraid to eat it!
Make the stuffing by combining:

1 half pound (85% lean) chopped beef
1/4 cup dry uncooked oatmeal
1 half a small onion diced
1 tablespoon Gravy Master

Fill each pepper pumpkin with the meat mixture.
Don’t pack it too tightly or it may not cook evenly.
Put their lids back on and pop them in the oven!
Bake for 45 minutes at 385 F degrees.
I DARE you not to smile back at them when you see their little faces smiling out from the oven –it’s not possible.
While they are in the oven, start the sauce by combining the following:

1 can(16 oz) tomato sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Combine tomato sauce, brown sugar and apple cider vinegar in a small pan. Heat until the sugar dissolves and it’s nice and hot. Don’t overcook.
Serve with mashed potatoes spooned into ghost shapes and use peppercorns as eyes and mouth. 
You could use a pastry bag for the ghostly mashed BOOtatoes, or you can artfully dollop the potatoes – snowman style.
I used a plain ole spoon and placed a large dollop on the plate, then a medium one on top of that and a small one on top. Pay extra attention to the peak on the top dollop because that will make the ghosty head. 
Open the top of the pepper pumpkin and pour sauce inside the pepper so it oozes out creepily.
This sauce is tangy and sweet and a perfect compliment to the peppers.
And thats it! 

I’ve wanted to make this meal for so many years, and we finally did it! 

Okay…full disclosure. We made these on November 4th !! 
But in all fairness, the Halloween decorations were still up, and being after Halloween meant no trick or treaters to interrupt dinner, and we had lots of leftover candy for dessert!
Also, we are always looking to create healthy meals, and ground beef does not typically make it into our meal plans. Peggo had the great idea of adding the oatmeal to the stuffing with the rationale that the beef may raise cholesterol, but Oatmeal lowers it, so they cancel themselves out! While that science may or may not be completely sound, the oatmeal does bulk up the meat filling so you get a nice big portion without feeling too terribly guilty!

Oh My Gourd! What is a Spaghetti Squash?

Have you ever heard of Spaghetti Squash? 

During the Halloween season, the name alone may conjure up images of a mad scientist splicing together the DNA of a pumpkin and a plate of pasta, but the reality is a lot less spooky. 

So, where do you land on the spectrum of Spaghetti Squash knowledge?  It’s likely you fall into one of three groups;

Group A – You do not know what Spaghetti Squash is and I could easily convince you that it involves a plate of spaghetti and a blunt object, or that it might be some sort of strange fetish that involves sitting on pasta.

Group B – Not only have you heard of Spaghetti Squash but you have made it yourself. Perhaps you consider yourself a bit of a Spaghetti Squash expert and under your clothes you wear a leotard with a giant S on the chest, denoting that you are a superhero of squash.

Group C – Something between the extremes of group A and Group B – in other words, a normal person.

My goal in this article is to either introduce you to this venerable veggie and be right here with you at the moment that you say to yourself “OH MY GOURD!! spaghetti really is coming out of this squash!” Or to distract and disorient you before you come to the conclusion that I might be a Spaghetti Squash Stupidhead — which I totally am.

If you are like me, you probably have seen Spaghetti Squash at the local market and thought that they were just slightly anemic pumpkins that stayed indoors reading while the other pumpkins were out in the sun running around the pumpkin patch.

Compared to a plump orange pumpkin, Spaghetti Squash are pale and thin, but they are not just nerdy undernourished pumpkins. They are packed full of nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, fiber and all sorts of other healthy stuff that makes health food bloggers and nutrition experts quiver with delight.

Also, if you are shaped like a pumpkin, and looking to slim down, Spaghetti Squash is a great way to painlessly cut calories. It has about 40 calories per serving, compared to pasta at about 200  (in other words, about 160 calories saved at dinner to spend later on cookies). So you can have a huge guilt free plate of spaghetti without any fears that someone will carve a face into you when you wear orange clothing. 

Most importantly, it tastes good and is easy to make. What more could you ask for?
(Cookies. You could ask for cookies)

So let’s get started!

Step 1:  Don’t be afraid — go buy a Spaghetti Squash. Gather up your courage and walk boldly to the spaghetti squash display at your local market. When choosing a squash, pick a nice firm one that feels heavy for its size and is free of blemishes and soft spots. While choosing, pick up several to feel and compare them. Thump them lightly also, because it will make you look like you know what you are doing.

Step 2: Cut the squash in half from top to bottom. Easy-peasy — should be just like carving a pumpkin on Halloween, right?  Not exactly. 

As you can see in the picture, the shell is thicker and more dense than a pumpkin. My knife got stuck a few times, and once I had cut all the way around the entire circumference of the squash, the two halves did not gracefully fall open into two perfectly cut halves. 

What worked best for me was working my way around the edge slowly, patiently and carefully  — then reaching the end of my patience and prying the halves apart like a she-beast while making overly dramatic grunting sounds reserved for use only when splitting a Spaghetti Squash, opening a jar with a tight lid, and when crowning without an epidural.  

Step 3: Scoop out the seeds and stuff – just like when making a Halloween Jack-O-Lantern! This is fun! We can go trick-or-treating later right? 

Step 4: Tis the season for seasoning. You can drizzle a little bit of EVOO (EVOO= Extra Virgin Olive Oil — It is important that you don’t use the kind-of-still-a-virgin olive oil, or Olive Oil that is dating Popeye or other sailors). Sprinkle salt and pepper or any spices you like. I am pretty sure these steps are optional though if you prefer not to sacrifice any virgins when you cook.

Step 5: Flip them over (open side down) to cook on a baking sheet.
We used parchment paper, but only because Martha Stewart peer pressured us into doing it. It probably isn’t necessary but we had some in the house and using it made us feel very fancy.

Step 6: Cook for about an hour at 425 F degrees, or until you can’t bear the building anticipation any longer.

Step 7: Remove the Spaghetti Squash from the oven, flip it over and freak out when you don’t see any spaghetti. When you calm down, grab a fork and lightly drag it over the surface of the inside of the shell and see the spaghetti strands forming. Squeal with delight and call friends and family members over to watch as you dazzle them with your new found Spaghetti Squash skills. 

Step 8: Scoop out the spaghetti and serve! We paired it with our favorite tomato sauce and some Parmesan cheese — just like regular pasta. 

That’s it! You’re done! There are lots of tasty and adventurous recipes out there to try (which I will share here when I try them), but for a first try this very basic approach is quick, easy and will give you your first taste of Spaghetti Squash Success.

I hope that this article has helped to squash any fears you may have had about trying Spaghetti Squash!

Don’t forget to take lots of pictures and post them on your blog and all over social media so you can show the world you are trying new things, living life to its fullest, creating spaghetti squash celebrations just for the heck of it and that you are NOT a Spaghetti Squash Stupidhead!

Mooning over the October Moon

There is nothing quite like the October moon.

I have many fond memories of going for evening walks (physical training for a trip to Disney World) and as we would reach a certain point on the road we would round the curve and see the October moon, low in the sky, HUGE and gorgeous.

The crisp Autumn air would dance with the balmy end-of-summer breezes, creating miniature tornadoes swirling through piles of leaves, making orange red and yellow kaleidoscope patterns in mid air.

It’s one of the many sensory delights of the season that remind me that the world is a beautiful place.

Listen to the song ‘Moondance’ by Van Morrison while looking at the October moon this year — it is something everyone should experience at some point in their lives — truly magical.

Pssst!!  For those of you who were expecting some coarse humor about the kind of mooning that refers to exposing ones buttocks…I apologize for misleading you. All I can do is offer you this peach as some small consolation.

A Murder of Crows, Unkindness of Ravens


One of my favorite natural Autumn occurrences is when flocks of black birds flying south for the winter make a stop at our house. It’s always just a little bit scary, but exciting! While they are visiting,  the trees are alive with movement. The chatter of the hundreds of birds is like no other sound I have ever heard – it surrounds you.

They often swoop down in large numbers – in perfect  synchronization and cover the ground as they peck at the grass, covering it like a black carpet – swooping up and down from the trees in unison. 

But the most dramatic moment, by far is when somehow at the exact same moment every single bird decides to fly away.

The loud chattering suddenly goes silent and still and the there is a whooshing sound as they all take flight. Hundreds of them in a perfectly choreographed exit – it’s breath taking.

Somehow I always manage to be outside to see this show at least once a year and I feel very fortunate that I get front row seats to this spectacle of Autumn splendor.

This annual event definitely inspired this years Halloween decorating.

Dollar Tree sells little black birds every year for Halloween and this year I finally picked up a few. 

I could not be happier with the results. Every time I walk into the dining room and see them I am reminded of my favorite Autumn experience. 

It’s also slightly unnerving every time I rediscover their eerie presence in the house! 

Just a few of them with “creepy cloth” (a loose weave mesh cloth sold at Halloween) and the look is complete. It’s a huge impact for very little cost or effort!

The color palette  brought down to just black and burgundy with a few orange pops of color really heightens the drama and amps up the creepy factor.
Fun Facts:
A group of Crows is referred to as a ‘Murder’ of Crows.
A group of Ravens is referred to as an ‘Unkindness’ of Ravens

I’m not sure what kind of birds are inhabiting our dining room,  but the names alone make the birds a creepy addition to the Halloween decor and seeing them in the house is delightfully unsettling for this spooky time of year!

Orange Twinkle Lights.

Orange Twinkle Lights!

I love Autumn. I love crisp Autumn days and chilly Autumn nights. With autumn comes shorter days and longer nights and an intense urge to cuddle and hibernate. As the days get shorter I like to brighten up the house with orange twinkle lights to make the house feel cozy and bright. I cannot get enough of that warm glow. It totally changes the feel of the house even with no other decorations.

To really get the most out of theses lights, I like to place them around lots of shiny and reflective items like glass and shiny metallic accessories.
Reflective objects double the amount of sparkle giving you twice the bang for your buck!

In the dining room it is the perfect excuse to pull out your ‘holiday’ serving ware so you can enjoy it even when you are not serving a holiday feast. Even the silver trays from the dollar store take on a whole new opulent feel when surrounded by fall leaves and orange lights.

Lighting can really change the mood, and for me it makes it easier to let go of the last bit of summer when I know I get to put up the orange twinkle lights and bring in that warm cozy glow.

The warmth of the light evokes the same emotions as gathering around the cozy glow of a fireplace as we settle in for winter, or an Autumn bonfire for gathering and telling ghost stories.

Here comes another Autumn full of warmth, light and celebration! Enjoy it!

Decorating for Autumn with Fall Foliage.

Happy October!!

Today is the first day of October, and my Autumn decorating has officially begun.

Though the leaves outside have only just barely started showing a hint of color change, inside the house our fall foliage is at its peak!

Nothing says Autumn like brightly colored fall leaves. Until I find a way to preserve real fall foliage at its peak color, my collection of silk fall leaves will have to do!

Over the years I have collected quite a pile them in the form of leafy garlands, leafy branches and loose leaves. These leaves transform the house into an Autumn wonderland over night.

Whether it is just placing a few scattered leaves on the dining room table or fireplace mantel among other centerpiece items, real or silk fall leaves really bring the Autumn feel into the house with a pop of color, a touch of nature and a hint of texture.

Garlands and leafy branches make it feel like an Autumn celebration every day. I think of the rich Autumn decor from the Van Tassels Halloween party in The legend of Sleepy Hollow.

A fall leaf  lit from behind creates a stunning stained glass window effect, which brings me to my most favorite part of fall decorations, Orange Twinkle Lights! (read more about decorating with orange twinkle lights by clicking the link)