Sunday, May 3, 2015

the beginnings of may

We have been having such beautiful weather here in northern Illinois that I've been spending most of my spare time outdoors. There's always so much yard work to do in the spring, and Brian and I both love it for the most part.The trees and bushes are finally filling in, most of the hostas are unfurled, dogwoods and redbuds and cherry trees are blossoming...and my allergies are going haywire. I've been digging weeds (and the ever invasive mint) out of my herb garden, making room for a couple of new plants. I planted these chives last year and could not believe how big this plant is this year and how it's already developing flower heads. I read online that once these flowers are in bloom, you can actually use them in salads.

My first hanging basket of the year looks a little pitiful, but I know with some TLC and sunshine, that it'll perk right back up. I was just so excited to actually see flowers on my porch once again that I bought the first hanging basket that I saw at the grocery store. ;-)

Brian put down a couple of bags of fresh mulch the other day and I've been spreading it out and raking it around the hostas and the stone path on the south side of the house. We still have to mulch the butterfly garden and another flower garden in back of the house.

I mowed the lawn yesterday for the first time this season, too. This is the north side of my house. You can see our compost bin in the back yard, surrounded by lilies. The silver metal thing sticking out of the ground by the sidewalk is our well cap.

Brian's going to be working on a big project. Our little front yard slopes down into a ditch next to the street. We planted lilies in the ditch several years ago to help make it look nicer and we also had medium-sized rocks at the edge of the slope for a border. Well, erosion happens after time and so last year we had to remove the rocks. That area then looked so sloppy. We've been thinking about what to do with this area and then lo and behold, a neighbor offered us some extra landscaping retaining wall pavers. Brian worked in the heat yesterday, carrying these pavers several at a time from the neighbor's house to our house, because neither of us have a wheelbarrow! Now that I'm thinking about it, I guess he could've used the car and piled these in his trunk. Oops. His project will now be to dig the ground and get these pavers placed to make a little wall.

The patio accessories were looking mighty dingy this year. I spray-painted the metal table a bright yellow and I'm debating on what color to paint the wicker ottoman. I don't know if I necessarily want to make it a color that matches the throw pillows on the chair because I'll probably be replacing those pillows in the next season or two. I can't wait to start buying colorful annuals to plant in pots to place all over the patio. It still looks so bare to me. You can see that the hosta plants alongside the fence still look like asparagus spears in this area. That's because they don't get much sun. They're always the last hostas around our house to full open. And the little green things all over the patio itself...some kind of seedlings from the neighbor's trees. Every time the wind blows, they shower my patio with these seedlings. I've given up on sweeping the patio for now. It's like trying to shovel during a snowstorm.

Storms are now moving into our area, so Brian's outside firing up the grill in preparation for dinner before the rain hits. Unfortunately, our extended forecast is showing thunderstorms through Tuesday, then either cloudy skies or rain for the next 10 days! Glad I got a lot of yard work done this weekend. To go with our grilled bratwurst tonight (which I got from a German deli just four miles up the road - they make their own sausages), I made a pasta primavera salad. Aren't these spring veggies just beautiful? Trader Joes carries organic tri-colored carrots (orange, yellow, purple) and I thought the purple and yellow ones would be especially pretty in this pasta salad. To make, just boil one pound of penne or orrecciette according to package directions. Two minutes before pasta is done, throw in fresh peas, 1/4" pieces of asparagus, and 1/4" diced carrots. Drain (save 1 cup pasta water) and put in a large bowl. Add lots of chopped, fresh herbs (I used chives and dill; you can also use tarragon and/or parsley), crumbled feta or goat cheese, 2 T. olive oil, the juice of 1/2 lemon, some grated lemon rind, salt and pepper. If the pasta salad seems a little dry, add a little bit of the saved pasta water until you get the right consistency. Nom nom!

 Hope you had a beautiful weekend!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

city, suburbs, or country

 This past weekend, Brian and I went to an Open House. Brian grew up in a large Chicago suburb in a small, older house. His dad finally sold the house in August 2013 when he moved into a condo. The house was sold to builders and they tore down the house to the foundation (it was in terrible shape). All they left of the original house was the front and back wall. They then built a three-story new house. Despite seeing the photos online, Brian really wanted to see the new house in person. 

I only took a few photos with my phone since all the photos are online. The one room I really liked was the master bedroom because of the size and all the windows. The beautiful hardwood floors (which are hickory) were throughout the whole house except for the finished basement and the top floor, which was a separate bedroom suite.

Here's the reality of this beautiful house though: the tiny yard and the neighbors on top of you. I took this photo of the back yard out the top bedroom window. That's the garage in the back. See how close the next door neighbor's garage is? That's how close the houses are to each other, too. If you want to see the whole house tour, click here. The house is way over-priced. The entire block of houses are old and are "only" worth about $250,000. Why the builders chose to build this huge house and then expect to get this kind of money from it in this neighborhood is anyone's guess.

 We've talked about moving now that we're (mostly) empty nesters. (The reason I say mostly...Tim's away at university now, but will graduate in a year - unless he decides to stay on for his Master's degree - but most likely when he does graduate, he will have to move back home until he finds a full-time job and saves some money.) At one time, we even entertained the idea of buying a condo in this very town Brian grew up's right outside Chicago so there's plenty of entertainment ~ theater, museums, concerts, and neighborhood events ~ we could walk to all kinds of stores and restaurants; there's beautiful parks; and, of course, we'd be right by the lakefront (Lake Michigan). 

But then as we're driving home and we start to get close to home, we pass acres of farmland, corn fields, cows and sheep grazing.There's tons of wooded, undeveloped land. I breathe a sigh of relief. I realize that the city (or close to it) is nice to visit, but I really wouldn't want to live there. I live in a small, quiet countryish suburb. While it might not be the most desirable suburb as far as real estate goes, I do love living in an area with a lot of open land. We're only 1/2 mile from a State Park! I think I'd take that over the convenience of being able to walk to the grocery store, coffee shop, or restaurants. 

My dream home would be a cute cottage on lots of land (no close neighbors!) or close to the Pacific ocean. So, how about you...where do you live now? Where would your dream home be if nothing stood in your way?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

vintage thrifting finds

 From my thrifting haunts the past couple of months...

1950's Queen Anne (England) tea set ~ pattern is Caprice. 

I think the curves and colors of the teapot are gorgeous.

 I have a fondness for small vintage prints. This one is called Flemish School Flowers and is a silk print, handmade in Italy.

 Even the back has pretty paper on it. Originally sold by Marshall Field & Co. I have such good memories of Marshall Fields. It's where I had my first job as a teen. It was my grandma's favorite store and she loved shopping there with me ~ especially since I had a discount!

 A stack of Nancy Drew books ~ loved these as a kid! I still have a bunch of books from when my boys were growing up. I need to buy a small bookcase for the downstairs family room and fill it with just children's books.

 Glass containers are great for storing leftovers (buh-bye to toxic plastic!), especially when they're vintage Pyrex dishes. I was thrilled to find this one with a lid in perfect condition.

 A vintage magazine stand ~ thought it was even more charming with the decoupaged flower print on the front.

Have you found any thrifted vintage treasures lately?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

soup and salads

A couple of my passions are healthy living and cooking, so I thought I'd share a few recipes that I've made lately. Last night for dinner, I made Italian Wedding Soup. This is more of a simplified recipe than the original. Traditionally, the meatballs are made with a mixture of beef, pork and veal. I don't eat veal and I don't have access to any organic pork right now (I try to only eat organic meat), so I made the meatballs with just beef. This is an easy-to-make soup that is comforting, hearty and healthy. Perfect for a chilly afternoon or evening meal.

1 lb organic, grass-fed ground beef
2 organic eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 c breadcrumbs (I keep homemade breadcrumbs in the freezer)
1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
Dried basil, thyme, oregano, parsley & onion powder, to taste
8 c broth ~ you can use beef, chicken, vegetable ~ or a combination
(I use organic, low-sodium broth when I don't have any homemade on-hand)
3 medium-sized carrots, finely diced
1/2 c orzo
4 c thinly sliced organic escarole, baby spinach, or baby kale
(or a mixture of any of these greens is fine ~ use whatever you have!)

In a medium bowl, combine the beef - spices. Shape into 3/4" balls. In large soup pot, heat broth to boiling. Place meatballs and carrots into the broth. Simmer on med-low for 7 min. Add the orzo and simmer another 7 min or until pasta is al dente and the meatballs are cooked through. Stir frequently to prevent ingredients from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add greens and simmer another couple of minutes. Taste the this point, adjust your seasonings. You may want to add salt, pepper, and/or garlic, to taste. Serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
(*Note: you don't have to cook the meatballs in the broth. I realize this adds the beef fat to the broth. You can always bake the meatballs in the oven and then add them to the broth.)


When I went to a barbeque this past weekend, I took along an Israeli couscous tabbouleh salad. This was a huge hit and quickly eaten up. It's so light, fresh and full of wonderful flavors with the fresh herbs. I can't take credit for this recipe ~ it can be found here.


And I can't take full credit for this recipe. This dish was brought to the barbeque by my cousin's friend and everyone demolished this salad, too. I asked how it was made and only made a variation on the veggies. This is an awesome vegan main dish (makes a great lunch) or you can use it as a side dish.

 1 pkg refrigerated ready-to-eat lentils
(I found these in the produce section of Trader Joes; you can always
make lentils ahead of time using the dried ones)
1 lb mixture of any kind of crunchy veggies, chopped
(I found a pkg of Healthy & Chopped Veggie Mix in the produce section of
Trader Joes ~ it's a mixture of broccoli, carrots, red & green cabbage, jicama,
green peppers, radishes & celery)
1 jar olive tapenade
1/2 lemon, juiced
Chopped fresh parsley

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Nom nom!

Monday, April 20, 2015

hello monday

I got the idea for "hello Monday" from Lisa Leonard's blog ~ not my original idea! I've always enjoyed reading her hello Monday posts, so thought I'd do one of my own today. It's just being aware of and being grateful for some of the little things in your life.

Hello dreary, raw, rainy Monday morning... 

Hello to a gathering of family and friends at a cousin's birthday party yesterday...

 Hello to a wonderful yoga practice this morning ~ and extra grateful that my hubby was able to come with me this morning and enjoy the practice as well...

 Hello to looking through a couple of cookbooks to gather some new recipe ideas...

Hello to a cup of herbal tea this afternoon and pink nail polish ~

Hello to getting a new-to-me book in the mail from paperbackswap ...

 What are you saying hello to on this first day of the week?


Saturday, April 18, 2015

working in the yard

 Another beautiful, sunny spring day in our neck-of-the-woods. We've been spoiled by this wonderful weather all week. Brian had the day off work today (he usually works weekends), so we went to Home Depot and picked up some pansies and a couple of herb plants. The place was packed! Rain is moving in tomorrow and the rest of the week looks cool and cloudy, so I think everyone wanted to get a start on yard work today. We saw a lot of customers buying big hanging baskets of ferns. Wonder what was up with that...why the popularity of those all of a sudden? It almost became a joke while we were walking around the store because everyone we passed was carrying at least two of those baskets of ferns. 

This is the first planter I put out on my porch every spring and pansies are always what I start with too, as they can withstand the cool weather. They always look kind of pitiful when I first plant them, but they'll perk up and fill out in a couple of weeks.

 Cilantro and dill are two herbs that can also handle cool weather, so I started with those in a planter instead of my herb garden. I figure if we still have a danger of frost at night (which is very possible until mid-May), I can move the planter into the garage.

 We were outside for several hours this afternoon, planting and dragging outdoor furniture out of the garage, pulling weeds, cutting back perennials, raking, and sweeping.

Just the other day, the hostas simply looked like purple asparagus coming out of the ground. Now those purple shoots have burst open and the leaves are slowly unfurling like little twirling ballerinas.

If you are looking for an easy, spreading groundcover that likes the shade, try pachysandra. This is about six years worth of growth but we started with only a handful of plants. We actually had no idea it would spread this much and it's now overtaking our stepping stone path that leads to the patio. And it's not fun to dig up ~ it has strong roots! So just a warning to be sure and plant it somewhere where you don't mind it really spreading. This plant is so hardy that it stays green all winter. We also never water it unless we have drought conditions.

Another plant that grows at least an inch a day in the spring ~ sedum.

 I could not believe the chives in my herb garden when I saw this plant today! It was just a tiny plant I stuck in the ground last year. This thing is already a monster. That's lemon balm in the background - a perennial in the mint family that loves to take over a garden, so I have to keep that under control, too.

 Clementine was watching me out the living room window. I don't know what she was looking at when I took this photo. Perhaps a bug. We've already seen bees (a good thing), box elder bugs, one of those small white butterflies (another good thing), and the most dreaded flying insect...mosquitoes. We were sitting on the patio yesterday evening and we were already swatting at a couple of those wretched things.

So, where's my hard-working man? Aha! Caught him red-handed. Guess his work in the yard is done for the day.

 Mine, too. 

Hope you're having a wonderful weekend! How's the weather where you live? Are you doing any yard work this weekend or are you up to something else?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

day trip ~ retro kitchen cart and suitcase

This past Saturday proved to be one of those beautiful spring days, plus Brian had a rare day off work. We took a little day trip to one of our favorite spots: the city of Evanston, right outside Chicago. We met up with my mom at Secret Treasures ~ our favorite Chicagoland antique shop. I don't think I've ever walked out of this place empty-handed. And that's not as "bad" as it sounds. The prices at this shop are way more than fair.

Secret Treasures carries a little bit of everything, kitchen items, cookbooks, ephemera, linens, McCoy pottery, artwork, cameras, flatware, jewelry, toys, knick knacks and tons of dishes.

Two things really caught my eye this time though: this yellow suitcase and the kitchen cart. Mom was crushing on both of these items too, but I arm wrestled her for them.
Just kidding.

The shop owner was putting out more items and when she put out this cart, Mom snagged this one up! It's a smaller dimension than mine, which made it the perfect size for where Mom wanted it in her kitchen.

 After shopping, we had lunch at the always cool and funky restaurant, The Lucky Platter

This place has the most fabulous, fresh homemade food. I had the black bean burger which was so filling, I could only eat half of it. Brian had the portabella mushroom burger, which you can see in the background.

Another must-stop place for us in Evanston is Bookends and Beginnings.

Just follow the footprints down the alley...

Yes, please.

My love (besides the books)...

 After shopping at the bookstore, we took a walk in the sunshine by Lake Michigan.

 So now back to the home front. Here's that kitchen cart in all its vintage glory.

 I think it fits in my kitchen perfectly and I like that it gives me storage space, too.

Just so you can see the difference, here's what my kitchen looked like before. That butlers table on the left is now in my office. And coincidentally enough, the butlers table was also from Secret Treasures!

As for the yellow suitcase, I'm still playing with it. For right now, I have it stacked on a chest in my living room as sort of a coffee table.

 At first, I had it in the center of the rug as a coffee table, but you couldn't put your feet up on it while sitting on the sofa. Brian and I both like a table or ottoman where we can put our feet up. So then I pushed the suitcases to the side and put an ottoman next to them. Not too keen on this look ~ though the cats rather add to the ambiance.

 I'm going to continue to play with different arrangements; perhaps moving the floor lamp and stacking suitcases in this corner.

To be continued!
 Enjoy this beautiful day.