Friday, July 19, 2019

heat wave ~ and book and author obsession

It is HOT here in Illinois today, as it is in much of the country. We hit 108F with the heat index and it's supposed to be even hotter tomorrow. I am so grateful for electricity and working AC during weather like this. The humidity is so high that after yesterday morning's thunderstorm, I moved the welcome mat to air out over the railing...and the wet spot on the cement porch from the soaked mat is still there!

Of course, the coneflowers love the heat. They are really taking off now. This photo is from yesterday. I was outside this evening walking around the yard, and saw that all these coneflowers are now in full bloom. Amazing how much they can change in 24 hours.

Phlox is another perennial that loves the heat. It's a beautiful plant and low maintenance, but it spreads like crazy. So don't go putting it in any established garden beds unless you want it to take over. That was obviously a "learn from experience" thing.


We planted peppers and tomatoes in the ground and some in pots. The peppers in the ground barely grew and then were eaten by some kind of bug. The tomato plants in the ground are spindly and barely producing fruit. However, both the peppers and tomatoes in the pots are doing fantastic. I'm assuming it's the soil. Brian loaded the pots with a mixture of potting soil and compost from our compost bin.

What are you all reading lately? I'm in the middle of reading Aging for Beginners - the middle book in the pile below. I highly recommend this book for anyone over the age of 55. It's written by a Zen teacher and he covers topics such as grief and loss, dealing with physical pain and decline, anxiety, depression, loneliness, facing our own death, etc. Sounds like depressing topics, but this book isn't depressing at all. It's more about acceptance of these things and a time of renewal and inner exploration. You don't have to be Buddhist to read or enjoy this book; it's fitting for everyone.

Being an avid reader and book nerd, I'm always fascinated by other people's book piles or shelves. And when blogging friends talk about what they're reading and authors that I'm not familiar with, I look them up. Recently, Claudia at Mockingbird Hill Cottage talked about the author, Beverley Nichols and his books. The books sounded so lovely and charming from Claudia's descriptions. Nichols was an English author, as well as a playwright, composer and public speaker. He's best remembered for his gardening books. They're hard to find - and usually a little pricey when you find them online. I got lucky and found Green Grows the City for only $6 when we were at a used bookstore in Chicago last month. If I like this one, I'll keep my eye out on online (Abe Books is a great source for older books) and in used bookstores for his other books.

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove had been on my "want" list for a long time. It was another one I found at the used book store in Chicago and has been sitting in this little reading pile since then. I wanted to finish these three books by the end of the month, but that probably won't happen. A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove is an illustrated book with recipes and stories that "celebrates the power of food throughout American history and in women's lives" (Amazon). 

I've also discovered some wonderful authors through Dewena at Across the Way and her other blog, Dewena's Window. We have the love of certain food writers in common; namely, MFK Fisher and Ruth Reichl, but Dewena has mentioned other authors that have piqued my interest. Are you familiar with Rumer Godden? I'm not, but can't wait to be! She was another wonderful English author. Yes, I know there's an Oliver Sacks novel at the end of this stack...he's another author I recently read about and was fascinated by, so thought I'd start with his book, Awakenings. Why does there have to be so many interesting and wonderful authors out there? I'll never have time to read all these books!

Dewena has also talked about Elizabeth Goudge on her blog. Now that author I was a bit familiar with, because I already had The Scent of Water on my bookshelf. I just hadn't read it yet. Thanks to Abe Books, I've found a few more of her books to add to my collection. Goudge was a best-selling British author (guess I have a thing for British authors lately!) who won the Carnegie Medal for British children's books in 1946 for The Little White Horse. 

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Debbie at Mountain Mama. She's talked about her book piles and latest reads over the years, and I've discovered some wonderful gardening books from her. 

So, do I dare ask what you're reading right now, or the latest author you're obsessed with? Because, you know, I need more recommendations like a hole in the head. 

Have a wonderful weekend and stay cool!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

summer in the midwest

We finally, finally got a break in the weather from all the rain and thunderstorms where the sun has been shining every day and the temps have been perfect. It's been glorious to have the windows and doors open and the fans going instead of everything closed up with the air-conditioner running. Of course, this isn't going to last - we'e back up into the 90's tomorrow - but I'm living in the moment. We've been spending lots of time outside doing yard work, forever cleaning up mulberries (poor Brian had to clean them out of the gutters), taking walks down to the lake in the evenings, and visiting with our neighbor-friends down the street. That's their gorgeous bee balm in the fourth photo.

This is the time of year where the Midwest shines. It is so green and lush...the trees look like big stalks of broccoli dotting the landscape, gardens are bursting with color, and wildflowers line the highways. Nothing says summer like driving down a country road past fields of corn, windows down (sometimes with the AC blasting at the same time), radio on, puffy clouds floating above. And then there's sitting out on the porch at night...the heavy, musky humidity hanging like a blanket, glimpses of light still visible, and fireflies flashing their little lights on and off like SOS signals.

We took another day trip this past weekend - this time to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. We're right near the border of Wisconsin, so Lake Geneva is only a 40 minute drive for us. We don't go up there often - it's been over two years. The town is touristy and crowded, especially at this time of year. The shops mainly cater to the tourists and wealthy locals, but it's a charming town to walk around (we put on almost five miles of walking!), dip your feet in the water, and have a bite to eat at a fantastic restaurant.

How's your summer going so far?

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

finally summer

Always a great start to the summer to have long-distance cousins in town (Tim and our four-year old cousin)...

and taking a jaunt to the local antique mall.

 Our evening walks take us down to the lake where we watch the sunsets...

 and another weekend day trip was in store where we to a vintage market and then had drinks on a rooftop overlooking the town.

Rain, rain and more rain, now in the form of thunderstorms....

 But I guess on the plus side, all this rain has made everything SO green.

 My herb garden...

The butterfly garden is looking fantastic, though nothing is in bloom yet except the columbine. That's purple coneflower in the foreground, then sedum, lamb's ear, bee balm, phlox and black-eyed Susan.

 It's also mulberry time, which means our neighbor's tree is dropping these berries all over our patio, the patio furniture (which is why the chairs are moved to the side for now) and in the plants and mulch all leading up to the patio. We can't use our patio unless the berries are cleaned up first and they ruin our plants. They rot and smell and then attract flies. They stain our patio and the furniture. We've had our neighbor's tree trimmed back to her property line a couple of times, but it doesn't do much good. Those berries still (obviously) find their way to our property. It also costs a lot of money for a tree trimmer AND this neighbor is very nasty about us trimming her trees, even though we have every right to. 

But back to better things about the patio...summer nights sitting out there with a glass of wine is peaceful and relaxing...

And now that the hot, humid weather has hit (low 90's this weekend!), it's time for more salads. I had this for dinner tonight and it was absolutely delicious. It's brown rice pasta tossed with steamed asparagus, baby spinach, artichoke hearts, fresh basil, salt and pepper, Asiago-Parmesan cheese, and then a homemade lemon vinaigrette (fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper, a little raw honey, and extra-virgin olive oil). I toasted some pine nuts and added them to my salad, too. Leave out the cheese (and the honey in the vinaigrette) if you want/need a vegan dish.

Happy summer!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

hello june

I know it's still spring, but when the calendar turns to June, I automatically think summer. Usually by now in my neck of the woods, it's hot. Last year at this time, it was in the 90's. This year is different. It's been unseasonably cool and unfortunately, still very rainy. The extended 10-day forecast shows scattered thunderstorms every single day.

Around the gardens of Comfy clematis is in full bloom right now and is so beautiful. The color of the blooms have a silver tinge, so that when nightfall is approaching, the flowers almost glow in the dark.

 My three-year old peony bush produced about ten huge blooms last week and I snipped a few off to bring in the house. I was disappointed to find that the blooms only lasted a few days. They quickly wilted and drooped and didn't look pretty. Then I read something online after I cut the flowers, that I was supposed to cut them when they were still buds. And I also wasn't supposed to cut more than 1/3 of the blooms. That can endanger the life of the whole bush. *gulp*

A few days ago, I spotted a crow fledgling in our yard. It was fascinating to watch it trying out its wings, stretching its legs, squawking a lot for mama to feed it, and constantly scanning the sky. I'd see Mama Bird hovering nearby in the trees, flying down to the fence post with a worm in her mouth, then diving down to feed her baby. I felt a little over-protective, too...I was afraid some wild creature would get Baby Bird since it was in an open area. When I was home, I'd look out the window to make sure Baby Bird was still there. And when I was out and came home, the first thing I'd do is make sure Baby Bird was OK. Baby is gone now, so I'm hoping and assuming it learned to fly and is happy in the skies and trees.

This past weekend, we finally had clear, beautiful weather and bonus - Brian was off work. We took advantage and went to an outdoor concert Friday night. Our county's Conservation District holds these monthly summer concerts at Glacial Park: over 3400 acres of wetlands and prairie and glacial kames. Made a perfect backdrop for an outdoor concert.

A beautiful night with beautiful views.

We also met such nice people sitting on either side of us. 

On Saturday, we took a little day trip into Chicago to explore a couple of North Side neighborhoods. We parked on side streets and walked to our destinations on the busy streets. Walking down one of the streets, I spied this Little Free Library by a fire station. Like it's not fun enough happening upon a LFL...but when it's put up by the fire department and decorated in Chicago Fire Department motif, it's even better. Peeking inside, there was a nice selection of books, though we didn't take any. Every book had a Chicago Fire Department bookmark inside of it, so I did take one of those. ;-)

I also love how there's lush flower gardens right in the middle of a neighborhood. I have no idea if the City does this, or if it's some kind of homeowner's association thing or what, but it sure does bring natural beauty into an area that's filled with buildings and cars.

For lunch, we decided to stop at 90 Miles Cuban Cafe in the Roscoe Village neighborhood. When we go into Chicago, we like to try different ethnic food. Guy Fieri featured this place on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives a few years ago.

Brian chose the Cubano sandwich (ham, roast pork, swiss cheese, mustard, pickles), plantain chips and passion fruit iced tea, and I chose ropa vieja empanadas. Everything was delicious and more than enough for one meal. Good thing we remembered to bring our small cooler in the car!

We discovered some cool shops, including The Good Old Days Antiques that had three floors of browsing.

Take the treacherous stairs down to the basement...

Or should I say, the creepy basement. But with so many potential treasures! Brian ended up buying a 1966 framed Cubs photograph with Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams. (Brian's a lifelong Cubs fan.)

We also found the coolest used bookstore - Bookman's Corner. The man who owns it, John Chandler, started at a flea market in Detroit in 1975, then eventually made his way to Chicago, opening a store. This location in the Lakeview neighborhood has been in business since 1984.

There are books piled everywhere in narrow could spend hours in this place.
Just be careful where you step and be prepared to have to squeeze past other patrons. "Excuse me" goes a long way in this bookstore.

In a quote from Fourteen East Mag, Chandler says, "Everything was great until the Internet. Then it all went downhill. I'm not making a cent of money now, but I'm still buying books. It's a small bleed now to stay open, and if I close it will be like a hemorrhage."

Indeed, the prices are amazing. I don't know how he stays in business.

Another store we really liked was Praha - a quaint, organized shop with mostly vintage and mid-century furniture and accessories. It's all displayed so beautifully and the prices were reasonable. The owner was super friendly, showed us a really cool bar cart in the store and chatted us up about where we were from. 

I ended up buying an old, heavy drawer with dividers in it, which Brian's going to hang on the wall in the living room for me. I'll show that to you next time.

Until then ~ be well, be happy, be peaceful. 💜

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

easy way to lighten up a room for summer

I've been wanting a new living room rug for awhile, but that was something that was put on the back burner. The dark brown rug that we currently had made the entire living room look too dark. The rug was also starting to pill. The living room needed a lighter look, especially for the warmer months. With Wayfair's Summer at Home campaign, I figured this was the perfect time for that new rug. 
(Disclaimer: As a member of the Wayfair Homemaker program, I have been compensated for this post. All ideas and opinions are completely my own.)

I was tired of all the beige and brown going on in this room with all the main elements: walls, couch, coffee table, rug.

Sure, I used lighter colored decor and even some white, but still...

I was ready for a new, lighter feature in this room.

 I was looking for an ivory rug with an unobtrusive, neutral pattern. Wayfair has a huge array of rugs to choose from. I ended up choosing this plush ivory area rug and I couldn't be more pleased!

It lightens up the room just as I had hoped.

I'm also super impressed with the quality of this rug. It's plush and well made and feels wonderful underfoot. We are loving this rug so much, we are thinking about ordering the same one for the second spare bedroom!

There'll be some other changes going on in my living room...slowly but surely. Have you changed any of your decor for the warmer months?