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!


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!

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)

A Nut party!

For the very first day of Autumn lets enjoy the quintessential cozy-at-home activity — a movie party!

It’s time to cuddle on the couch with warm blanket, popcorn, hot coco and an Autumn movie.

As soon as I saw the commercials for this movie with the vibrant autumn foliage, I knew it would be the perfect autumn movie. 

Autumn always makes me feel like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter anyway, so I might as well watch a movie about it! 

I love a good theme so here we go! 

The movie: “The Nut Job” (now available on Netflix as well as DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download)

The snacks: NUTS! Peanuts, Cashews, Pecans — all served in cocoNUT cups!

This movie is about adorable little animals so we threw in some Animal Crackers as well, and because it’s a movie we HAD TO have popcorn, both the classic hot buttered popcorn, as well as chocolate and caramel drizzled popcorn.

Just to go totally nuts with the theme, we also served almond milk!

Get your cuddle blankets ready folks, the crisp autumn air is reminding us that winter is on it’s way!