Before you get tangled in tinsel….autumn

Before you get tangled in tinsel….autumn

I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s a determined optimism in trying times, or the joy that comes from a new political era on the hoizon. But Christmas has come a lot earlier this year. It’s as if they’re skipping over Thanksgiving entirely. Houses are lit up, and a station has begun playing holiday tunes 24/7, three weeks before the turkeys are even trotted out. I get that Thanksgiving is an overrated holiday, but this eagerness for Santa blows over the last of this beautiful, fleeting autumn.

rare pumpkin

The leaves are still gold and the weather hasn’t gone cruel, so let’s not get all tangled up in tinsel just yet. Here are some ways to enjoy the glorious last days of autumn, and be in the moment. And yes, these suggestions are all food-based.

Do you, like me, feel that a turkey dinner is… basic? This doesn’t apply to mashed potatoes. Nothing can touch mashed potatoes. But turkey? It works well in deli but there’s a reason we don’t cook that bird all year. It’s not that good. Switch things up. You can support local businesses by ordering through them, because they will most certainly be struggling though an economicaly nuclear winter. Or just switch up a boring staple with a delightfully warming dish, like coconut curry butternut squash soup.

coconut curry butternut squash soup
A simple recipe, with few ingredients

You’re going to see lot of pumpkin pie from November to January. What if I told you there was a chewy, gooey, sweet and salty alternative to the same ol’ same ol’, and you probably have the ingredients in your kitchen right now? What if you end up hating me for telling you about it because it’s so deliciously addictive?

Speaking of sweets, you may have a wealth of leftover Halloween candy sitting in your home. There are so many ways to repurpose it, whether for a homemade advent calendar or a way to sweeten up your gingerbread house. Find great ideas right here.

fall apple cocktail
Apple cider spiked with bourbon, ginger beer and cinnamon is peak fall

Working from home with kids in virtual school can breed chaos; more dishes, too much noise, lots of juggling. The last thing you want to do is spend more time in the kitchen. Healthy doesn’t have to mean time-consuming. Apples are still in season. Grab them in bulk and make them three ways; a meal, a dessert and a snack. And parents, I’m thinking of you too. This fresh apple cocktail will help you recover from those endless Zoom meetings.

Speaking of easy meals, how about one chicken, three ways? Chicken is only boring if you A) boil it or B) Don’t treat it like the blank slate that it is. Seasoning can bring out the best in a bird. Variety is the spice of life, and one full-sized chicken will provide three distinct dishes. That being said, healthy proteins aren’t always animal-based. This tasty, freeze-ahead staple will be a miracle in a pinch. Throw in the slow-cooker, ignore, then pack it up for later, when you are in need of guilt-free prepared food.

fried green tomatoes
Bumper crop of produce this harvest? Make a goal for zero waste.

When it gets cold outside, you can treat yourself to crock pot cocktails. This recipe for pumpkin-spiced hot cocoa is a creamy, soul-affirming dose of self care. Pour into a big mug and curl up with a book.

The extended warm weather this season has produced bumper crops of produce, sometimes too much for us to know what do do with. Have no fear. The thought of wasting food is equally repugnant to me, so here’s some smart, sustainable options for what to do with all that produce.

Pumpkins are the symbol of fall, used more as decor than food, because its contents tend to be a little plain. Without pumpkin spice, pumpkins would be over. But there are other gourds in the patch. Read on for some gourd greatness.

Savor the deliciousness of harvest time, and the last of the rainbow of falling leaves. It’s going to be a long winter, so enjoy autumn while it lasts.

Glimpse of a pre-COVID world

ladies in the library

I’ve been preaching positivity in 2020 because it’s been proven that the ability to adapt is a key component of happiness. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that adaptation is necessary. I don’t need to go down the litany of examples of how things have changed. We can all feel it.

I’ve been relatively quiet about the fact that 2020 has been a good year for me. I’m mindful of the people who have contracted COVID-19, including my own friends and family. There have been over a million deaths around the world. Almost a quarter of the fatalities have been in America alone, surpassing all other countries and showing no signs of slowing down.

wine tasting

For all the quality time I’ve had with my family, all the outdoor adventures and gobbling up everything in my Netflix queue, the old world started haunting me. I had embraced the fact that most of my favorite places were closed and that traveling would have to wait, but that’s when I believed people would follow CDC guidelines and squash this thing, like so many countries have been doing. I thought that like me, people couldn’t wait to escape the summer heat in a dark movie theater, or jump on a plane to explore a place they’s never seen. Come Ocober, I’m here thinking, “No? Just me?”

Make no mistake, I’m still out and about. I don’t live in fear because I follow CDC guidelines. But working from home while my son is home-schooling is tough. Even with a teacher for a husband. Even though he’s suportive and very involved. It’s just not ideal.

girls in a heated pool

I also miss my friends. I miss spas. I miss going to spas with my friends, which explains these photos. In January, when we were just beginning to hear whisperings of the coronavirus in the news, my friends and I luxuriated in a plush resort in Virginia. There was a steaming, heated pool that was reminiscent of the Blue Lagoon in Reykjkavic. There were elaborate dinners, Chamagne toasts and beauty treatments.

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But also? My friend Sarah signed us up for archery and axe throwing because, well, you’d just have to know her. She once said that she liked camping because it’s a “shock to your senses” – as if that’s ever a positive. One of the things that made this spa trip special, was that she invited two other girls that I hadn’t met. Having moved to Richmond from Los Angeles a few years ago, I relish meeting new people. The more I meet, the better I’m able to curate a nice social circle. It’s hard to put in the work when you’re a working mother with some serious hobbies. The girls were sweet, and we clicked as if we were in junior high. Coronavirus swept in soon after, putting a halt to new friendships. There’s just a placeholder for now, in the form of social media.

Even friends I’ve had for decades are circling a small orbit in a galaxy, far far away. Before coronavirus, I just called it the suburbs. So, I’m mourning the milestones I didn’t celebrate with them. I’m mourning that trip to Charleston and Savannah that our family never took. I’m mourning the new friends I haven’t yet gotten to know . I’m mourning Obama. I’m mourning eucalyptus steam rooms and deep tissue massages.

I look back on that weekend in January, where the four of us weren’t moms, or wives, or attorneys or writers. We were women. Innocently jumping on luggage carts and taking ridiculous photos. Laughing the way you do before you realize that a gobal pandemic is going to sweep in and change the world as we know it.

These photos are a reminder that eventually, things will get better. You have photos like this too. Take a good look, and feel free to mourn with me. But never lose sight of the fact that these photos are also glimpses into our collective future. Whatever we used to do, we will do again. I’m not sure when, but we’ll get there.

Be safe, friends.

Everyone okay out there?

One of the gifts of this pandemic is seeing “influencers” being replaced by hilarious TikTok videos. People need to laugh. Overly-edited selfies of girls on boats feels tone deaf at the moment.

Right now, the country is fighting for social justice, and rallying against an increasingly fascist White House. Influencers, already teetering on shaky ground for the shameless pursuit of followers and fame, seem out of place in today’s America.

Let’s put a hold on diet teas that cause gastrointestinal disasters. It’s not as fun watching high-end make-up tutorials when, if you aren’t one of the 40 million who are unemployed, are likely working from home anyway.

Let this time be a refresh, to focus on things that enrich our lives. Things that make us happy, and things that make a difference.

There are hilarious memes dedicated to the slow descent into madness for 2020. But if my previous posts have told you anything, it’s that I’m fighting the negativity tooth and nail. Instead of feeling helpless about the state our country is in, I get up and go to Black Lives Mater protests. I sign petitions and I registered to vote by mail. I turn my grief into action.

I miss entertaining and traveling. But I’m using the extra time to brush up on home projects, because life is giving me the world’s longest weekend. I built a slate fire pit and a curving, slate sidewalk leading up to it. I wallpapered the stair risers. I explored new parks with my six year-old and was able to binge watch everything in my queue. Highly recommended: Fleabag.

Here are some other things you can do to make the most of the current situation:

When life hands you peaches…. Get outside for fresh air in an orchard and pick them. It’s perfect for social distancing. If you don’t live near a farm where you can pick your own, hit up the market. Peaches will never be more juicy or wallet-friendly than they are right now in season, and delicious things can be made with them.

The same goes for tomatoes!

The kids need to have a little fun too. Integrate literature and food by making real-life green eggs and ham!

This winter, when news of the pandemic hit, it was nature that saved us. As if sensing our pain, she saved us from sleet and frigid temperatures. Like magic, winter was mild and spring came early, allowing us to get outside. My husband took up fishing, and with it, the exploration of unvisited state parks and local fishing spots. It meant days in the sun, leisurely picnics and fresh fish! Nothing beats my husband’s fried bass with Thai chili and tamarind sauce. Nothing.

Most pools are closed, but it isn’t the only way to make a splash. Research the best places to take a dip, whether an old quarry or local lake. If you’re not land-locked, get to the coast. Well and Good even has a guide that lists the best natural places to swim in every state. To make the most of it, go prepared. Pack river shoes to avoid broken glass or questionable surfaces. Bring water to stay hydrated. Come with friends, because there’s safety in numbers. Since you’ll be far from civilization, pack great food and stir up a fresh summer sangria. These will likely be the best days of your summer.

It’s true that the pandemic isn’t over, but neither is summer. This season can be fleeting, which is why we need to stop and savor the little things. Instead of frozen sugar water, get creative with homemade popsicles. Arnold Palmer, strawberry and basil and cappuccino are among the surprising flavor combinations. Have fun with it!

Perhaps most importantly, don’t let helplessness take over. It’s easy during a pandemic to feel down, especially with the relentless news cycle spitting out one treacherous act after another. It’s healthy to shut it out in small doses, but be sure to stay informed. The only way to beat helplessness is to be part of the solution. Register to vote by mail, march with protesters for Black Lives Matter, sign petitions fighting against corrupt government practices, then rest and regroup as needed.

Blink and it will be fall. There will new things to look forward to. Until then, take care of yourself.

Art to Choke Hearts – my new shop on Etsy!

Eiffel tower jewelry art

My Etsy page is finally here. It sounds like “artichoke hearts,” but is darker, more romantic. It’s inspired by the cult classic Art to Choke Hearts, by Henry Rollins. I’m talking obscure 1986 Black Flag Henry Rollins.

peacock jewelry art

But I digress. This feels like kismet. Right as COVID-19 was taking hold, I came across two brown grocery bags filled to the brim with costume jewelry. They sat glittering next to trash bins in my back alley as I walked my dog. Strangely, this discovery took place just days after I began dressing up ordinary flea market paintings with jewels.

While I’m proud to have accomplished this while in quarantine, I have a feeling it’s a lot like writing. The art is the easy part; selling is quite another. So I’m putting it out there. Feel free to peruse. Feel free to share. A lot of my work is mixed media, where I’ve adorned paintings and prints with jewels and curiosities, elevating the pieces and giving them texture. Some are funny, some are ethereal. But all of them are for sale.

More than just horsing around

cuddling with a horse

While we’re still self-distancing, some businesses are taking baby steps towards normalcy. It’s opening us up to cultural experiences we may have never had. Get creative in a conscious way, and restless people from quarantine will jump at the opportunity!

Richmonders who had never been to the symphony are hiring Ellen Cockerham Riccio to play violin in their backyards from a safe distance. She’s the Second Principal Violinist in the Richmond Symphony, and during this quarantine, has transformed into The Backyard Violinist. The Driveway Drag Show has been doing house calls for people who have never made it into the city for a proper performance. The main entertainer, Michelle Livigne has even found herself playing for a Christian family at a remote cabin sitting on 600 acres of land.

donkey and a little boy

When I found out that Checkpoint One was open for private tours, our family was in. I’ve always found horses to be majestic. They have a quiet dignity that’s untouchable. Checkpoint One is a special refuge, offering non-riding equine therapy with trained specialists.

It’s one thing to stand at the fence and hope a horse ambles up to you. It’s quite another thing to be led inside for an intimate session. “Horses radiate their heartbeats, and humans adapt to the slower and more consistent heartbeat of the horse. It lowers our stress levels and blood pressure,” explains Kristin Fitzgerald. As co-founder of Checkpoint One and certified life coach, she and her team help people with PTS (post traumatic stress), and ERES (Emergency Responders Exhaust Syndrome). In fact, anyone feeling overtaxed and stressed can unwind at this rustic hideaway, where even yoga classes are offered to help heal the community.

blind horse one eye

Our favorite horse was George, (pictured top). He’s a nuzzling, cuddling beast that likes to lay his regal head upon your shoulder. There were two wild mustangs brought in from Nevada. They were “gentled in” as opposed to being broken in, so they learned not to fear humans, but without the use of force or pain.  Shadow (pictured above), is a horse who recently had an eye removed. She’s adapting well, but it won’t stop your nurturing instinct from coming out in full force. There’s a sweet donkey that loves to get close and smell everything on you (including your face). We brushed them to help shed their winter coats. The animals felt itchy and you could tell they were grateful for the attention.

checkpoint one doswell equine therpy

We were grateful too. We’ve been in quarantine since March. To be able to drive to this lush hilltop in Doswell and soak up the sun, and to be so intimate with animals that innately calm us – it was a memorable afternoon. Its close enough to the city so that it’s not a hassle, and far enough so that it feels like an escape. It’s special enough to make you feel like all that isolating was worth the wait.

Beaches closed? Time for a Redneck Riviera

I love the water. So much so, that I am willing to do an activity that involves the word redneck. Kids around the world have been pulled out of school, kept in their homes and are enduring a strange new reality. But we don’t have to feel sorry for them. Not if we’re being creative. Not if we’re allowing them outside, letting them explore and getting them covered in scrapes and bruises, just like a kid should be. I refuse to let the wonder of childhood sink into a pit of video game addiction.


Well, whatever winter we had (it gets weirder every year) has passed. Spring fever is in full boom and Memorial Day is right around the corner. With beaches and pools closed, it’s time to make a Redneck Riviera in the yard. Fill up a big kiddie pool, fire up these new-fangled Slip and Slides with squirting fountains, and plug in the sprinkler. Et voila!


Prepare to have the sound of your yard filled with giggles and screeches. Prepare to have neighbors slow down to smile at the sight. Prepare sandwiches, because running around in the sun all day will bring on a preternatural hunger. Keep a basket of sunscreen and insect stray nearby. Lay out a giant blanket for them to rest on, and in full sun so they don’t get the shivers. And of course, play some great music.

As for you, feel free to soak up the sun, shake up a summer cocktail, catch up on required reading (Vogue!) and ignore them in general. You deserve the break as much as they do.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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This year, mama needs a gesture. Whether she’s home-schooling while working remotely, or struggling to find work due to the mass unemployment, her plate spilleth over.

Moms are practical, but deserve luxury. Give them something they’ll actually use, but may not buy for themselves. Most importantly, give them time and space to relax. I’m writing this in bed while my family sleeps. Nothing is more delicious to a writer than having a home all to themselves. But this joy is not limited to writers. Back massages, bubble baths, sleeping in – these things make us beautiful from the inside out. They deserve it.

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While I’m here, I’d love to share some tips on how to carpe the hell out of this diem during the COVID-19 quarantine. Or as I call it, the YPE (Yoga Pants Era, TM).

Mother’s Day gift ideas, right here!

If you’re guilty of panic shopping, and realized you bought too many groceries, I have zero-waste tips,  so you can make the most of your bounty. Toilet paper recipes not included.

Did you know that all those lackluster grocery store salad dressings also pack a lot of hidden sugar? Homemade salad dressings aren’t only better for you, but pack a lot more punch in the flavor department.

Homeschooling the kiddos? Put them to work in the kitchen! It’s where science meets art, and can help you build a lifelong narrative around food and health.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Inspiration in Quarantine

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I hope this post finds people in good spirits, though it’s a rainy Monday. In a quarantine. I think it’s a perfect excuse to catch up on my reading and face-mask game, but I want to be sensitive to how other people are feeling during this time.

Some people have lost loved ones to Covid-19, while others are struggling with being so bobisolated. Many are still working full-time from home while trying to homeschool. Personally, my family and I are thriving during this time. Attitude has a lot to do with it. Being positive doesn’t mean that you’re happy all the time, but we are doing two important things: Making the best out of a difficult situation, and remembering that better times are ahead of us. 

We’ve taken advantage of the time we’ve been given. Our son learned to ride a bike, I’m immersed in crafting projects and my husband just made a wheel of Jarlsberg cheese – to be ready by summer. Regardless of how you feel, you owe it to yourself to find light in these dark times. Life is too short. And mark my words: When people start getting busy again, they will lament not having this extra time that we have been given right now.

Here are some tips to make the most of this temporary situation, taken from my blog at Ladles & Linens:

If grocery stores make you fraught, now is the perfect time to start your own garden! The yield will be much tastier, and it will save you plenty of coin: Inspo right HERE.

March Gardening To-Do List

Keeping your immune system in tip-top condition is a great way to stave off Covid-19. Or, if you’ve been infected, an immunity boost still gives a good head start in combating the symptoms and severity.  Fight the good fight HERE.

Now is the time to hunker down and make those time-consuming recipes you love. Even better? Freeze some for later, busier times. You’ll be grateful that you did. Deliciousness awaits right HERE.

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Everyone is baking right now, but it doesn’t all have to be bakery fare. Whip up some protein bars, with whatever you have in the house. Kitchen Sink Protein Bites are tasty and guilt-free. Find some options right HERE.

Have a great week!

Party, Interrupted

This Saturday my son turns six. Like many people achieving milestones during this time, things are unusual. While some adults are too cool for themed parties, one of the perks of having children are shameless, over-the-top themes. And I am here for it.

Hamilton had his heart set on a Batman-themed party, so that’s what he’s going to get. Only during the summer. To make up for the wait, we are going all out behind the scenes. During our home-schooling, our art lessons are focused on party planning and decor.

We made Gotham City out of large cardboard boxes. We created a Joker pinata that he gets to swing at first, on the big day. We stamped Bat Bags for the goodies and are creating a cavernous bat cave with old blankets. We’ll be using the (pictured) projector to shine the bat signal onto the inner walls, along with some playful disco lights. We’re building fort tents in the living room just to practice for the big cave.

Keeping him involved helps him appreciate the work that goes into entertaining. Getting him excited stops him from feeling sorry for himself. Because at the end of the day, this is not a tragedy. Our hearts are with those most affected by Covid-19; there are a lot of people grieving right now. I also feel pretty bad for high school seniors, who won’t get to experience how disappointing prom is. Many may have experienced shake-ups in the college admissions process too. And while I’m sure they won’t be broken up over having to skip a graduation ceremony, their parents sure will.

Stay healthy, be positive and remember that one of the key components of happiness is the ability to adapt. Regardless of the shake-ups affecting our own lives, we can either use this time as a gift, or as a curse. So make the best of it. Better days are ahead of us, so no harm in planning the party now.

 

 

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

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gas mask

There are a lot of memes circulating about a potential wave of babies being born nine months from now. They will be called “Coronials.” When they hit their teenage years, they will be called “quaran-teens.” And quarantined we are – as I type this, it’s been announced that no one should gather in groups of more than ten. With schools, restaurants and movie theatres closing, people will be even more isolated. I might wonder… rather than babies being born, what if the divorce rate spikes?

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One of my latest projects

Isolation is a treat for high-functioning introverts like myself. I have a list of crafting projects to tackle. I want to write and do yoga and make huge batches of delectable food to store in our deep freezer – a treat for a busier time. But interrupting this delicious isolation is real life. The kids get restless, and with restaurants closed, dishes pile up even faster.

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family of three
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family photo

Here’s the thing: love. This is actually a special time. Though we are experiencing a global pandemic, families are coming together and staying put. Though there’s the inconvenience of daily life being disrupted, there will be some great stories from this. For me, it’s material. For most everyone else, these stories will be passed down at least two generations. Though restaurants are closing, people are creating home-cooked meals. Though gyms are closing, many are reintroducing themselves to the great outdoors.

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road to hollywood sign
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Snapshot from one of my favorite hikes

Make the most of it. If your family is getting out on your nerves, get outside. If you download the app AllTrails, you’ll uncover beautiful hikes in a radius around your home. If you are home-schooling your child, teach them something more meaningful than standardized testing fodder. Whether it’s piano lessons or showing them photos of your international travels, teach them things you might not ordinarily have time for on a school night. Put them to work a home improvement project. Make them proud of the outcome and give them credit for it when you start hosting again.

We’ve since taken off the training wheels and have been practicing.

And keep your immune system in check. You want the odds to stay in your favor. I posted about some health hacks on Ladles and Linens’ blog, and you should check it out. Most of all, regardless of the fear and restlessness you may feel, we owe it to ourselves to make the most of it. In the end, this too shall pass. And when it passes we’ll have to ask ourselves this: Was it a special time?