Simple Ways To “Ground” Yourself In Your Home

As an “armchair psychologist of the home” I believe that everything begins in the home – so much so that my design philosophy grew from this belief and so I approach each and every decorating job with this key premise.  No matter what we do or where we go in life, I believe how we act, react and interact in the outside world takes root from how we live in our homes.  To put it simply, how we live in our homes should “ground” us, giving us the foundation to make us emotionally and mentally stable to go out into the world.  This means your homespace is vital to your essence.

I have always been a lover of Nature.  Hiking, biking, camping, kayaking, horseback riding, spending time at the beach, boating, white water rafting or gardening – no matter what the venue, my most favorite times have been spent outdoors.  For me being outdoors was a pleasurable experience.  Only after some trauma-drama infiltrated my life several years ago did I understand the healing powers of Nature.  Nature is flat-out the best tonic out there.  Period.  With this revelation I consciously decided to bring nature into my home in every way that I could knowing that if it worked for me outdoors by golly, it would work indoors, too.

This newfound revelation also became an integral component to my design philosophy and ever since, I have incorporated elements of Nature into all my jobs albeit often in really subtle ways that are only picked up on subconscious levels.  This allows for “grounding” to occur.  I also share with my clients’ ways to infuse Nature in their homes themselves (after I leave their nests) and on a larger scale to audiences such as the readers of my blog as in my post, Two Colors Every Homespace Needs.

Think of bringing Nature into your homespace as being part of getting back to the basics of what the earth has given us, literally.  Call it “grass roots” decorating.  Or call it simplifying your décor.  Heck, you can even look at it as a version of what is called “earthing”, a fascinating concept of connecting with the earth in order to become more balanced.  Ironically, just the other day Susan Weems Muehl, LIPH’s Nature Photographer emailed me a bevy of new nature images (thank you dear friend) and also mentioned that she was practicing the concepts of earthing.  No doubt about it, Susan and I are birds of a feather flocking together!  Both of us absolutely positively get the importance of nature and the earth’s connection to our bodies.  (With all due respect, “earthing” is more about physically being grounded; I am merely relating it to your home and how to bring Nature into your space.  To learn more about “earthing,” read the book, Earthing-The most important health discovery ever? Or go to www.earthing.com as well. )  Whatever you choose to call bringing Nature indoors, just do it.  Here are some simple, sure fire ways:

  • Decorate your home with found things in nature
  • Open up the windows and let fresh air into your home
  • Decorate with live plants, wildflowers and aromatic herbs
  • Pay attention to the seasons and honor them in your décor
  • When building, purchasing or moving into a new home, choose a home that offers you plenty of natural light (sunshine is healing)

Like many of us, I have times I’m in a real funk. I was in one recently for more days than I’d care to admit to.  Focusing too much attention on issues I had no control over and magnifying issues tenfold in my mind had gotten the better of me and quite frankly, I didn’t even find myself good company.  It’s a darn good thing my David had been traveling during this funk or he would have been rolling his eyes at me constantly, ignoring me or worst yet, pulling out his gorgeous silver hair over my attitude.  While in my funk my niece, Marli called me to chat and just my tone of voice when I answered her call made her aware that something was amiss.  I ended up telling her about my seemingly endless days of funk and she listened attentively.  Then she disrupted my pity party by saying, “Aunt Jamie, do what you always say to do.  Go to the woods.  Go to Nature.  Let it restore you.”  Whoa, was she preaching to me what I always preach?  Yep, she sure was.  And guess what?  I took her up on it.  I got off the phone and headed to the woods.  I simply needed an extra large dose of Nature’s medicine – more than my usual daily amount!  I walked and I walked, breathing in all the wonderful smells of Nature as I viewed the changing fall scenery.  So long funk. So long pity pot.  Nature restoreth my soul and I returned home more in tune with the earth.  I filled my lungs with the scent of fresh lavender on the counter.  I enjoyed watering all my plants.  I paid attention to the breeze coming through my opened windows and reveled in the sounds of nature I could hear coming into my home.  Later, as I readied for bed, I felt free of much of my recent anxiety and internally thanked Marli for her advice.

I believe that we all must singly as well as collectively connect or reconnect with Nature in order to truly be balanced and healthy. Infusing elements of the natural world in your home helps to accomplish this and is the single best way to ground yourself.  Remember to bring Nature indoors.  It might seem simple but simple’s good right?  And it might be a small step compared to the “barefoot steps” of earthing but by doing this you will give yourself gifts of healing that only Nature can provide.

To Nature…

Wellness Begins In The Home

For years I habitually dreamed of redecorating my home at 2831 Giverny Drive and by the way, I’m talking about even long after I moved on to another place.  Some dreams were about putting up new window treatments, others about rearranging furniture in the different rooms and still others focused on redoing the landscaping in my yard.  My dreams, teeming with brilliant colors and detail on occasion had to do with smells in my house and actual events like entertaining – all with a new décor as the backdrop of course.  These dreams came almost every single night and invariably left me fraught with anxiety upon waking each morning.  You see, night after night these dreams reminded me each morning that my house was out of kilter.  Why you wonder?  It’s because these dreams began soon after my marriage split up and believe you me they plagued me for years.  What I was “working” on in my dream state was clearly symbolic of the work I was doing on my interior self.  Feverishly each night as I slept I was trying to work through a renovation of my house in order to get back on track and feel balanced and well.  Funny thing though – a dear friend and counselor I know, Joyce Hennessy and I have had conversations about having dreams about houses.  She said that she has had many clients going through traumatic events such as divorce that have recurring dreams of cleaning their houses over and over again.  (Symbolic for cleaning up the mess or messes in life.)  But, my nightly dreams of redecorating were new to her.  Which obviously means that the “redecorating” in my dreams had other meaning- like maybe my home décor needed changing for other psychological reasons?!?

I am happy to say that for the last two or three years I have been free of these dreams.  I no longer have a single itty-bitty dream of 2831 Giverny Drive and hallelujah, what a blessing.  But, I had a conversation the other day with someone that brought all this back to me.  One of our projects for B&A Interiors was recently selected for a magazine article and so the writer interviewed me about my design philosophy.  I found myself explaining the principles of what I call “Psychology of the Home” and how important it is to create space for yourself that is not only peaceful and beautiful but is also the outward expression of who you are.  After I got off the phone it hit me like a ton of bricks.  That’s really what I was doing in my dreams.  In my dreams I was desperately trying to tell my psyche that my house didn’t match who I was and that it needed to become the true outward expression of myself.

Mind you, within a few days of becoming separated I began to change things in my house.  For example, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Our Homes Must Express Our True Essence, I had the landscapers remove a huge River Birch that was overtaking the front of my house completely obscuring the view outside.  Simply removing that tree changed the look of my house and said, “Hello world, here I am”.  Talk about liberating!  But for the most part it took a few years for me to fully express myself in my sanctuary and feel balanced through and through.  Along the way, I began to understand part of what I was doing in my clients’ homes.  I realized I was harmonizing their space with their personalities much like I did my own house.  Really, really cool!

Which takes me back to my interview with the writer of the magazine article.  I gave her some of the back-story of my clients, Katie and Seth, two young and very busy professionals who had a desire to create a beautiful space to live in that reflected who they are.  While talking to her I told her how happy they are now with their newly rehabbed uptown condo and that they can’t wait to come home to it every night after work.

Living Beautifully + Living Peacefully = Living Well

I happen to believe there are no coincidences in life.  This means that the dreams that plagued me for years were meant to teach me something about myself.  And, to take it a step further, I believe that the wisdom I gleaned from the dreams was to be shared with others in their own personal spaces.  That’s why I came up with the model I call “Homespace Coaching”.  Think of it as a formula for successful wellness.  Living beautifully (through choosing décor to fit your unique personality) plus living peacefully (through simple changes in how you live in your space) equals living well.

I live an incredibly blissful life.  I am well and whole.  I believe that my road to wellness truly began when I realized that everything begins in the home.  Sure, all the other things I do for myself like exercise, meditating and prayer enhance my life.  But the truth is, feeling alive and complete in my house created a home for me to thrive in and be well.

Through my dreams during a very painful and traumatic time in my life I was given a gift.  I was given the gift of awareness of the need to create for myself space that honors my true essence.  And now I am paying it forward by sharing this awareness with others.

Do yourself a favor – make sure you house is a home that gives you beauty and peace.  It’s the best wellness plan out there.

To wellness…

Design From An Architect’s View

I spent some time the other day with an Architect that I greatly admire.  We quickly got into a philosophical discussion on Design.  Interested to pick his brain to gain some knowledge of how he views Home Design (his design work is stellar by the way), I asked him an opening question and prepared myself to sit back and listen.

My question was this:  “How do you approach designing a home for someone?”  Over an hour later after he finished talking I realized this man had given me more than a wealth of knowledge – he had given me a chance to deeply connect with him in a way that I wasn’t expecting.  But, hold that thought while I tell you what he said in answer to my question…

I’ve known this man for many, many years and have followed his work as often as I’ve been able to.  I know he excels in several areas of Architecture – Church Design and Residential Home Design being two examples.  He’s even designed a Women’s Prison, which I find utterly fascinating having a degree in Criminal Justice myself.  I thought I knew this man’s philosophy and I knew his mantra, “Design with Dignity”.  But, as I sat there and listened to him it got harder and harder for me to sit and only listen.  Everything he said absolutely positively mirrored my own design philosophy.  Caught up in an avalanche of emotions with goose bumps erupting up and down my arms and bubbles of laughter wanting to burst forth from my mouth, I found myself impatiently waiting for my turn to talk.  Word for word, everything this man said echoed my own design philosophy and I wanted to shout out, “Yes, this is exactly how I approach decorating a home.”

So similar are our styles in our professions and who knew until now?  For example, he told me that he never takes notes in the initial meetings with new clients.  Ditto.  We both keep everything in our heads.  And, I understood completely what he meant when he said,

“I listen intently to the client and quickly begin to understand better than the client what he/she is asking for.  I leave the meeting with all my notes stored carefully in my head and then go to my drawing board to put onto paper what I see in my head.  I give them what they don’t even know to ask for.”

Ditto again.

Then he continued, “My design tells a story.  The story is about the person or persons the space is being designed for.  In telling the story, the design becomes sensual so that every sense comes alive in the space.”

Now  – as a storyteller myself, I got it.  And ditto again.  When I design and decorate the interior spaces for a client, I, too tell a story about how and what makes this person tick.  That’s why I never want any two spaces to look alike.  As humans we are much like snowflakes – no two are the same so no two spaces should be the same.  Uniqueness – that’s where the beauty is and yep, that’s where the story is!

This man’s next words were more personal as he started telling me about the home he is designing for himself and his wife.  He readily admitted to me the agony of doing this, as working for someone else is so much easier.  It dawned on him that he needed to approach the project seeing the two of them as “the clients” and so late one night (while his wife was away) he wrote the story of their life together to begin conceptualizing the design.  He of course, is an Architect.  She is a Master Gardener.  Hence, he titled the story, “An Architect and a Gardner”.  I asked him if later he would email me the notes he wrote to tell their story.  He sent them to me a few days later with a quick note telling me that more than a story, his notes were a poem with phrases weaving together the parts of both of them that would be blended into the design plan.  He also sent me a sketch – the original sketch he drew to visually show what his words described.

If I wasn’t already blown away from my conversation with this man, I certainly was after I read his words and reviewed his sketch he emailed me.  What a beautiful story I saw in his words – the absolute spot on understanding he had of how to marry their two chosen careers into the design of their home honoring both of them in such an awesome way.  Poetic phrases to describe who they are, I hope you enjoy reading a portion of his poem yourself…

An Architect and a Gardener

A Life Together

A Transition In Life Together – A New Home

Sharing The Desire To Live Inside-Live Outside

   A House To Live Inside/A Garden To Live Outside

 

The Site… Offering Wonderful Vistas & Views

                   Springs, Creeks, Rivers, Lakes

 

The Residence

                A Continuation of Pathways/Entry

               A Sense Of “Arrival”

              A “Parkway” Setting

             A Transition From “Manmade” To “Handmade”

             A Transition From The “Required” To The “Desired”

            An Active Place Offering A “Canvas” For Continued

            Architectural Stories And Gardening – Always

          “Works-in-Progress”

 

An Architect and his twin

I have to tell you something about the conversation I had with this man. You see I shared my mother’s womb with him.  Yep, he’s my fraternal twin brother.  I’ve known him since the beginning of time – literally.  And yet, this unexpected philosophical discussion changed my entire relationship with him.  What started out as a question of how he worked turned into a defining moment in both our lives.  There we sat, the two of us middle aged and soon turning fifty-six and for the first time we both understood how deeply alike and connected we are.  How awesome life is!

If you’re looking for a moral to my story (since there usually is), there’s actually two for you.  First, let your home tell your story and let it creatively express your uniqueness in both the structural design as well as the interior design.  Second, take the time to really listen and take the time to really talk to the people around you that you care about.  Deeper connections are always ready for the taking.  I know.

To you Craig…

Please take the time to visit our new website for B&A Interiors by going to www.bainteriors.com. We just launched a new look and I hope you’ll like it!  And now that it has launched, I’m back on track writing again for LIPH.  I thank each and every one of you that takes the time to read the words that pour from my heart on LIPH.  Please keep reading and sharing your comments.  

Spring ~ The Season For Strawberries

As I’ve written in earlier posts this spring, I love this season and all that it brings.  Trees with new leaves, grass greening up and flowers popping out of the ground are all part of what makes me feel “twitterpated” for sure.

One of my favorite things about spring is that the Strawberry fields begin to bloom and by late April and May beautiful red berries are ready to be picked.  Throughout the years my children were growing up, I took them strawberry picking every year that I could.  Dressed in our grungiest clothes and shoes (besides strawberry stains being a hassle, the fields are notoriously muddy) we would make an outing to pick strawberries.  Once home I would make jam from much of what we picked and of course, we’d eat them for days popping them into our mouths, mixed with other fruits for breakfast or as the crowning glory for dessert.

Heading to the fields

Heading to the fields

Something comes over me when I arrive at a farm to pick strawberries.  I’m giddy, excited and oddly nervous – clearly full of mixed emotions.  I’m giddy with knowing the sheer fun I’ll have, but the excitement about getting to pick mixes with worry that too many people will show up and “crowd” my space in this wonderful task.  You see, I like to imagine myself in the fields as if I’m Laura Ingalls on the prairie; picking berries so that Ma can make dessert for dinner.  Or that Mary and I (Laura’s sister) can take some of our own delicious strawberries in our baskets and go sit under the tree by the banks of Plum Creek and just laze the day away eating till our tummies and hearts are full.  (By the way, somehow Melissa Gilbert’s exposed Tattoos on DWTS just ruin my Laura image!)  I’m much this same way at Christmas Tree Farms, Pumpkin Patches and other “Pick your own Farms”.  So what I have to do is chatter inside my head to myself to remember to just enjoy the moment and not worry about how many strawberries I can take home.  After all, I can always go again!

At work picking strawberries

At work

This year I’ve already been strawberry picking and I have to say, it’s the best time amongst the strawberry plants I’ve ever had.  Why?  This year I got to go with my granddaughter, Ansley (God’s Littlest Angel).  Oh and we did let her mom, Sammi go, too by the way.  I happened to be in Charlotte working and so we set aside this particular morning for the simple pleasure of picking strawberries.  Now Ansley’s only seventeen months old so, we had no idea what to expect of her in the fields – especially since we opted NOT to take the stroller. But Good Golly Miss Molly, the child is a reincarnation of Laura Ingalls.  She knew Just. What. To. Do.  Totally serious about the work, she picked and picked – OK, she also ate and ate.  Sammi figured she ate at least 30 juicy strawberries.  But, she was precious to watch.  Ever so gently she would pick the berry and then plop it into the basket.  Each berry she put in the basket brought a smile to her face as if she was saying, “Ta Da, I did it just right.”   So, this wonderful excursion to the strawberry fields this year got me to thinking…

The time is Ripe

Having had such a wonderful time with both Sammi and God’s Littlest Angel, I knew it was a moment in the big picture of my life that I would always treasure.  I was reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The time is always ripe to do the right thing.”

Sure, the strawberries were ripe, but what was really ripe was the moment.  It was the right time to take the time to do the right thing – which was to spend time with my loved ones and especially not worry or obsess over who else drove up to the parking lot of the farm to pick strawberries, too.

And then it hit me.  The time really is always ripe to do the right thing.  We don’t have to wait.  For me, this means making the most of every single moment of every single day to do what is right in that moment.  Powerful words by a powerful man that I need to live by.  Think about it yourself and really digest the truth of this statement.  Yep, the time is always ripe to do the right thing.  We just have to do it.  Oh, and while writing this post I happened upon another wonderful quote, so perfect for this message about spending time with my granddaughter,

“Children are God’s Apostles, sent forth, day by day, to preach of love, hope and peace.“
James Russell Lowell

It’s true.  No matter what’s going on in the great big world, to a child it becomes condensed very simply to the moment and they are guided by a desire to love and yep, live in perfect harmony with those around them.  Hmmmmm…

Ansley eating a strawberry

Yum!

To grandchildren, the best dessert in life…

The Magic of Fairy Gardening

Fairy garden in yard

Yard garden

If you asked me about Fairy Gardening just a couple of months ago, I’m sure I would have responded, “Fairy what?!” Even my husband and his family, who for over fifty years have owned and operated Stockslager’s Greenhouse and Garden Center just west of Dayton, OH, would have looked at you with quizzical stares.

But that was September. By October 2011, we were in the throes of introducing our customers to an aspect of the greenhouse industry that has barely touched Ohio, but by all accounts is rapidly making its way from the West into the Midwest and on to the East. And, oh, the joy it is creating along the way!

Why Fairy Gardening?

If you asked me, “Why Fairy Gardening?” I would now say it’s because of that very joy! There is a magic, a quality about Fairy Gardening that seems to speak to our “inner child,” asking our imagination to “come out and play.” I can’t help but wonder who amongst us, as a child, did not believe in fairies? Or at least, in the depths of the heart, wanted to believe in the possibility of fairies?

For myself, I vividly remember watching the black-and-white movie version of Peter Pan in my grandparents’ living room, circa 1950’s. Poor Tinkerbell was in the glass jar, slowly dying after drinking the poison Captain Hook had intended for Peter. As Tink’s light was fading, Mary Martin, the pixie-like actress who played Peter, looked directly at the television audience and implored us to save Tinkerbell! All we had to do was say we believed in fairies!  I’m not ashamed to say that I fervently vowed my belief…and consequently basked in relief as I watched Tinkerbell’s life force glow stronger and stronger!

Simple fairy garden

A simple fairy garden

Tinkerbell didn’t die that day, but truthfully, somewhere through the years, the part of me that believed in magic forgot the thrill of my imagination transporting me to worlds unknown, worlds where anything is possible. The nearest  I ever allowed myself to that magical realm was when I looked at life through my children’s eyes when they were young  – or when I immersed myself in the beauty of the ocean or the majesty of the mountains. And then, right before me was Fairy Gardening, combining both nature and the opportunity to feel childlike. I experienced a tug in my heart and a sense of joy that only magic can create. What could be better, I ask myself? Based on the numerous entries I found when I Googled the topic, I believe many others have found the same joy, making Fairy Gardening a new and worthwhile pursuit in the garden center  industry.

Besides the joy inherent in Fairy Gardening, its versatility makes it a good choice for novice as well as accomplished gardeners. The preference to create a Fairy Yard Garden in a delightful outdoor spot allows perennials to spring up amidst whimsical elements of choice, such as mushrooms, cathedral-like lantern, fairy-sized arbor and bench (see picture Yard Garden). Of course, colorful annuals can be added to enhance the charm of this undersized, yet captivating world.

Miniature Fairy Gardens

Fairy garden kit

Fairy garden kit

I have a personal fondness, however, for Miniature Fairy Gardens. Planted in containers (some as small as teacups!), these fanciful worlds can be taken indoors during cold weather, which means that gardening can be enjoyed year round! Visit www.fairygardening.com, and you will find the main line of items we carry in our garden center (see picture FG Kit). Selected by Jeff and Emily Sorenson of Rabbit Shadow Greenhouse in Northern Colorado, the kits and individual items are perfect for all gardeners, especially because Jeff and Emily have developed a diminutive line of “Fairy Flowers.” Each flower tag identifies more than care instructions; the gardener is introduced to the fairy – Zachary, KayKay, and Viola, to mention a few – who purportedly oversee the growth and care of the plant (see picture Tags). Using these flowers and kits, Stockslager’s employees and customers are creating a range of gardens, from elegantly simple to more elaborate (see picture simple). No matter, each and every Fairy Garden is magical because of course, Fairy Dust is included as well!

Fairy garden plant tags

Flower tags for fairy gardening

Mencius, a Chinese, philosopher and follower of Confucius, once said, “A great man is one who does not lose his child’s heart.” Fairy Gardening has allowed the heart of my inner child to once again play in the world of nature. While doing so by no means makes me great, this pastime most definitely makes me grateful. If nothing else, life has taught me it is in gratitude that the seeds of joy have the best chance to grow, and like Tinkerbell, our life force has the opportunity to glow strong.

So why Fairy Gardening, you ask? Because creating a space for magic in our lives is beneficial beyond measure, and quite simply, it makes me smile!

Top Twelve Best Indoor Plants For Purifying The Air

Peace Lily

Peace Lily

As the autumn season approaches, the days become shorter and the nights become crisper.  Most of us begin to think of moving indoors and spending less time in the fresh air.

If your home is old enough to be leaky and drafty,  you may not need to worry about the many pollutants that can become trapped indoors with us.  But, if you live in a newer, energy efficient home with windows and doors tightly sealed, or you work in a building where circulation is poor and the air is stale, these pollutants have less opportunity to move to the outside.

What NASA says about houseplants

Over the years our space program has led the way to an important discovery about the role of houseplants indoors.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been researching methods to cleanse the atmosphere in future space stations to keep them fit for human habitation.  In doing this research, NASA has found that many common houseplants and blooming potted plants help fight pollution that occurs indoors.

The science of plants

Snake Plant

Snake Plant

Plant scientists already knew this!  Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as part of the photosynthetic process.

Now researchers have found many houseplants can absorb benzene, formaldehyde and many other air pollutants that are created as gases when we install man-made materials such as carpets, laminates, paints, wallpapers and fabrics in our homes.

While saving energy and money is important to all of us, we must remember that it is crucial to our indoor environment to have clean, fresh air in our homes.  So, houseplants take on a larger role in our homes (and all interior environments for that matter) than merely providing beauty in the décor.  They contribute to balancing internal humidity and cleansing the air we breathe.

The top twelve air purifiers

‘Janet Craig’

‘Janet Craig’

Here is a list of houseplants that have been found to play an important role in removing air borne pollutants:

  1. English Ivy   (Hedera helix)
  2. Spider plant  (Chlorophytum comosum)
  3. Peace Lily  (Spathiphyllum)
  4. Pothos  (Epipiremnum)
  5. Bamboo Palm  (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
  6. Philodendron  (Philodendron scandens)
  7. Selloum  (Philodendron selloum)
  8. Dracaena  (Dracaena marginata)
  9. Corn plant  (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’)
  10. Janet Craig  (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’)
  11. Snake plant  (Sansevieria trifasciata)
  12. Weeping Fig  (Ficus benjamina)

Helpful tips to know

  • Studies by NASA have generated the recommendation that you use one 6-8” houseplant per every 100 square feet of living space.  Think about it.  This is probably more than you currently have in your home and it is time to add some.
  • Houseplants need dusting just like any other “accessory” in your home.  When you allow dust to accumulate on the leaves of your plants, they cannot do the work they are meant to do in helping to purify the air.  So, be sure to regularly clean the leaves of dust and debris from your plants.
Fall beauty

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Enjoy your home in every way possible.  Use houseplants to add beauty and nature to your space.  At the same time reap the benefits of what nature allows them to do for the air. Houseplants such as these top twelve are what can be called “natural clean air machines”.  You, your home and all your interior environments deserve to be healthy spaces – start now to clean up your air!

Happy Fall!!!

***A special thank you to Townside Gardens Nursery in Roanoke, VA for providing the plant photos! ***

Let Nature Restoreth Your Soul (And Your Home)

Tree changing colors in autumn

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

My David and I were taking an early morning walk in nature this morning.  The moon was spectacular and the breeze gave a slight chill to the air.  Awwwww, the hint of autumn!

I couldn’t help but be excited.  With my senses alive to this feeling of fall I said to myself, fall is the best season of all.  Then I laughed  because I say this at the beginning of each new season.  The truth is that I love each of the four seasons.  Each one carries with it special meaning, fond memories and a renewed sense of anticipation for things to come.

The first day of fall just happens to be tomorrow.  Let us all welcome the beauty that this season brings us by allowing it to restore our souls.

We can do this in many, many ways.  At the same time, we can bring autumnal feelings into our homes.

Letting nature restore you

I believe that nature has the ability to restore each of us time and again, season after season.  In my post, These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things I quote one of my favorite Psalms from Ecclesiastes, “To everything there is a season.”

Autumn is the time to restore ourselves with feelings of warmth and comfort.  Autumn’s purpose is to ready us for the coming winter.  It gives us the chance to focus inward and prepare for the coming changes winter is sure to bring.

Beautiful tree in autumn

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

With autumn comes a myriad of opportunities to embrace the season.  For many people autumn is all about football.  Others explore the wondrous beauty of the changing leaves by hiking and biking in nature preserves and greenways.  Regardless of the activity, fall is a perfect time to be outdoors.

I have learned the medicinal properties of nature personally.  I call nature the best tonic on the market.  And, it’s free!

When David and I moved to the Chicago area a little over two years ago I found a lot of free time on my hands.  Plus, I didn’t know a soul so I had days to myself to explore.  Who would have guessed that moving to the city would produce so much nature for me to immerse myself in?  I began to walk, hike, bike and even snowshoe (now my favorite hobby for sure) by myself.  Slowly but surely I began to notice a change in my attitude.  (OK, David did first but so what!)  I began to let things go, calm down and relax.  What an amazing transformation!

I even noticed that my music choices I made on my IPod while walking and hiking changed.  For a while I listened daily to all my faves- from the 1950’s to today.  Before long I realized I was only listening to soothing selections that you would normally hear while getting a massage.  Now, more often than not I don’t take my IPod on my walks at all.  The only music I want to hear comes from what nature provides- birds chirping, frogs croaking and the ducks quacking to each other on the water creates an awesome symphony.  Walking in silence brings the music of nature to an incredible volume!

Brilliant red tree in autumn

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

To say that getting back to nature restored me just doesn’t do justice to the truth of it.  Getting back to nature has done so much more.  I am walking, talking proof of its tonic!

So, I challenge you to find ways to give yourself daily doses of the outdoors.  It could be as simple as eating lunch outside while at work, walking your dog, doing your exercising outside (instead of the treadmill) sitting on the porch or taking off to the woods.  A small dose of nature’s elixir will go a long way!

Nature has mental, physical and spiritual benefits just waiting for you!  Give yourself a chance to reap from it all!

Bring the glory of Autumn inside

I have espoused time and again in recent posts such as Two Colors Every Homespace Needs the importance of bringing nature inside.  As I have said before, we humans have distanced ourselves from nature and have created a false reality.  Our homes and offices are full of gadgets and gizmos that have nothing to do with nature.  What a travesty to ourselves!

Loving color

Photo Credit: Susan Muehl

By bringing nature inside we allow ourselves to stay connected to it.  It is that simple.  And, it is simple to do.  My “fall line-up” of posts will give you lots of ways to achieve this.  Look for Becky Balzer’s post on the best indoor plants for the home environment.  Chef Ryan will treat us to his idea of a great tailgating party.  Hector Benetiz will offer you suggestions on outdoor exercises to coincide with the season.  I will be sharing many different ways to infuse nature in your homespace through decorating.  And, that’s just the beginning.  Stay with us and enjoy the season of autumn!

Think color…

A House Becomes A Home When…

As I have discussed in recent posts, I believe that any space that is used for shelter can be considered a house.  You don’t have to own it, the size doesn’t really matter and it can serve as shelter for anyone.  Just ask my dear friend Kenny that I talk about in my recent article, Houseless Not Homeless.

Let’s assume for the moment though that the space is a house.

I have moved to many new houses, many new cities and many new states both growing up and as an adult.  What  has mattered most to me in each move was creating the homey feeling in the new house as soon as possible.

Nothing like a hobbyhorse to make you feel like you are home

Benjamin in Springfield, VA

Benjamin in Springfield, VA

Take the first move that my oldest son probably remembers.  We moved from Charlotte, NC to Northern VA.  My son, Benjamin’s most treasured thing was his hobbyhorse.  So, I made sure the movers put it last on the moving truck so that it came off first.  I can still remember him rocking on his hobbyhorse in the grass outside the front of the house while the rest of our household goods got moved in.  He rocked and rocked with not a care in the world for what was going on around him.  With the hobbyhorse there, Benjamin (and I) felt like home was right there.   All was right in the world!

Another example – David and I moved to the Chicago area two years ago.  We sold our home quickly and the new owners wanted to move in just as quickly.  So, we rented a house in order to take the time to decide where we wanted to live in the area.  We rented a brand new house from a woman that had built it as a speculative piece of property to sell.  Obviously with the housing market not doing so well she decided to rent it.  We became her tenants.  About two weeks after we moved in she came by to check on things. She said she had a wonderful vacuum and would be willing to regularly clean the house for me (for a fee of course).  I kindly declined her offer and was surprised that she was so offended by my rejection.

Her response to me when I declined her offer was, “Well, you know this is my house.  I know every inch of it and I would clean it thoroughly”.

I just smiled and said nothing.  But, what I was thinking was,

“This may be your house but it’s my home”.  You see what I mean?  A house is a house until you make it your unique homespace.  I had no desire for her (as my landlord) to regularly see how I live.  Not that I have anything to hide, it just didn’t appeal to me.

(By the way, two years later we are still renting.  The market still isn’t so good and we have actually found that this new chapter in our lives of renting is really fun.  We are footloose and fancy-free! Ask anyone that knows us!!)

What makes a house a home

When I knew I was planning to write a post about what makes a house become a home, I thought through many different directions I could take to discuss the topic.  After going on lots of different tangents, I realized the best way to express this belief was to ask others to collaborate.  So, I have asked friends and family members to give me their own version of what makes a house become a home.  I hope you enjoy reading some of their answers.  I also hope your own feelings about your homespace mirror much of what you will read.  Enjoy and feel free to share your version, too!

Susie Sale; Charlotte, NC
“Yes, everything does begin at home…that is where I regroup and find my strength. The flowers are lovely… looking at the petals on a flower make you see the beauty of God and what a wondrous person he really is.  How can anyone doubt him?”

Blair Kernodle Scheepers; Pretoria, South Africa
“All our treasure we’ve found around the globe.  From the African folk art we picked up in Cape Town to the birdhouse we bought in the North Carolina Mountains.  Each piece helps tell the story of us and makes our house a home.”

David Solganik; Westmont, IL
“A house becomes a home when the refrigerator is stocked.”

Beth Borum Ketchum; Portsmouth, VA
“When you first walk into the house you get a warm feeling.  The house just flows from one room to the other and the colors continue from one room to the other.  It is fresh and inviting.”

Lindsay Cannata Solganik; Cleveland, OH
We made our house our home by creating an environment fitting to our needs.  A place where can spend time together as a family, cook meals, create memories, and rejuvenate from the drains of daily living. Our goal was to create warm and inviting comfy spaces that are all extremely usable (including the living room and dining room!) We love to unwind together in the family and living room, cook yummy meals in the kitchen, and eat in the dining room! Our home has become our safe place - the place we retire to at the end of every day and week feeling comfortable, safe, and at peace.

The best of all

I think my daughter summed up her view of home perfectly in a recent phone call.  She called to tell me that she had completed one of her chores she had given herself on her “summer’s to do list”.  She had tackled the kitchen pantry- a chore she was dreading.   And, what a surprise she found!  Tucked way back on a shelf was a lunch box I had given her one year as an Advent gift (more on that tradition later).  It was a lunch box depicting the cast of The Wizard of Oz.  This movie was her all time favorite when she was growing up.  In fact, each morning when she woke up she would walk down the hall; thumb in her mouth, night-night trailing between her legs asking, “Watch ya-ha-ha please.”

Wizard of Oz lunchbox

Photo credit: Sammi Blake

That’s what she called the movie, as she was both scared and fascinated with the wicked witch!  Day after day she wanted to watch this movie.  Day after day she sat mesmerized.

Anyway, she had forgotten about this lunchbox as she had put it in the pantry to hold recipes in and well, like I said, it got forgotten.

When she rediscovered it during her cleaning craze, she was thrilled and decided to put it on one of the shelves in Ansley’s nursery.  Sammi told me that as she carried it up the stairs to the nursery, she turned it around and read,

“There’s no place like home.”

Things had come full circle for Sammi and me that day.  Her love of the movie (and my memories of Sammi all those years ago) was what inspired me to get the lunchbox.  Now she had her own daughter to share it with and as Sammi said to me,

“You know Mom, there really is no place like home”.

Yep, she’s right.

Two Colors Every Homespace Needs

There is a school of thought called ecopsychology that is very intriguing. One renowned expert in the field, Dr. Michael Cohen has written a book titled, “The Web of Life Imperative”.

colors of nature

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

It fascinates me. To paraphrase what Dr. Cohen believes, he says that nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and spiritual satisfaction. In other words, nature-connected people enjoy greater health and more peaceful relationships.

Makes sense to me. How can we remove ourselves from nature when we are part of it ourselves?

But, we have. We have all gotten so busy in our lives with work and obligations that we don’t take the time to immerse ourselves in nature. When we do take the time to relax, it is often by taking part in man-made entertainment. (As discussed in Lindsay Torry’s blog post, “Over-consumption”.) It is time to wake up and get back to the basics. Or at least find ways to bring nature inside.

If you haven’t started to return to nature, start now. Take baby steps at the least. The feel good rewards will soon follow.

My own story of color

Years ago while in college (Go Hokies!!) my summer job was with the Parks and Recreation Department in my hometown – Roanoke, VA.  Throughout the county we had free summer camps set up for neighborhood kids to attend every day.  I was a camp counselor at one of the schools.  If you ask me it was a great set-up for parents.  We opened camp around nine in the morning and closed at five.  It was free babysitting for the parents and built-in fun for the kids.  We took field trips, did arts and crafts and played all sorts of games both inside the school gym as well as on the playing fields.  (It was even with a busload of camp kids that I first saw the movie, Jaws.)

One summer as head counselor, I came up with a great idea for an art project.  I decided we should paint all the picnic tables as they were in terrible shape.  Now mind you, this was in the 70’s.   It wouldn’t happen today- too much red tape I’m sure or worse yet, someone might be allergic to the paint!  So, at a time before rules and regulations were extreme, I took it upon myself to spiff up the picnic tables.  The kids loved the idea.

What color to paint them became the tough decision to make.  The school colors?  The colors of the rainbow?  Psychedelic?  Everyone had an opinion.  So, after a few hours of open debate I made the executive decision to choose the colors myself.

greens of nature

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

The colors of nature

I looked up at the sky.  I saw a beautiful blue.  I looked down at my feet.  I saw lush green grass.  Blue.  Green.  The basic colors of nature.  Perfect!

The next day we started.  Painting the tables outdoors was easy peasy, too.  No mess to worry about as nature would eventually wash it away!

I have to admit at first some of the kids were unhappy.  They were hoping for something far more creative.  But, I had previously explained to them the reasons why these colors would work and once the job was completed, they agreed.

We had brought nature harmoniously together.

Every day that we sat at the tables for lunch, arts & crafts or just to hang out, we connected with the colors of nature.

Bring the colors of nature in to your space

So, my “Helpful Hannah Tip” for you is to bring nature inside by adding splashes of blue and green throughout your homespace.

Regardless of décor, style or taste every homespace should infuse these basic colors of nature.

Kankakee State Park

Photo credit: David Solganik

Have a modern style with a monochromatic theme?  No problem, simply decorate with live green plants in your homespace.  Or add fresh flowers to your homespace like hydrangeas or plants such as  African Violets with shades of blue flowers.

Use only black and white for your colors?  Why not add splashes of green and blue in accent pillows or sofa throws?

Like sticking to a neutral scheme such as varying shades of taupe?  Why not accent with artwork depicting scenes of nature?

Every homespace décor can find some way to infuse these primary colors of nature.  Just look around you, I bet you have more ways in your home than you realize.

Ways to bring nature’s colors inside

If you are looking for suggestions, here are few ways to add  colors of nature into your space:

  • Collectibles such as glassware
  • Framed photographs of family in nature
  • Fresh flowers
  • Coffee table books
  • Baskets to store things in
  • Throw pillows
  • Dishware
  • Candles

As the saying goes, “The sky’s the limit”!  Get busy and bring nature inside!

Happy decorating…

Quick Summer Fruit Cobbler

Summer means lots of things. Outdoor barbeques, beautiful flowers, the smell of fresh cut grass and my favorite, lots of fresh fruit choices.

There is nothing better than a slice of watermelon. Who cares if the juice drips down the side of your mouth- that’s part of summer isn’t it?

My Dad’s favorite summer fruit was cantaloupe. He used to slice one in two, scope out the seeds and then put vanilla ice cream in the hollowed out middle. Not for me, I like mine just like nature made it- pure and simple.

Summer months in my house growing up included canning vegetables and fruits. I used to love to do it with my Mother. I cannot tell you how many times I scalded my hands while coming too close to the boiling water bath or blistered my fingertips lifting the jars out of the bath when they were ready. Still, maybe it was the inner “Laura Ingalls Wilder” in me – but, I loved the canning season. My Mother and I used to giggle over every new “pop” from the jars as they cooled. Pops meant they had sealed properly!

Blackberries from the market

Blackberries from the market. Photo credit: Sammi Blake

I continued this tradition when my children were growing up canning green beans, tomatoes and fruit. Mostly I canned fruits like peaches, apples and homemade applesauce. I plan to get back into canning again- next summer. Home canned peaches and apples make the best pies, breads and cobblers!

Speaking of cobbler- I found the best ever recipe for a quick cobbler while living in Columbia, SC. many years ago. It came from our church cookbook (Spring Valley Presbyterian Church) and I still use it today. I hope you will try it. Let me know what you think!

List of ingredients

2 c. fresh fruit             1 c. plain flour
1/4 c. sugar                 1 c. sugar
1/2 stick butter         1 tsp. baking powder
1 c. milk

Optional:  Dash of cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice
Note:  I use all organic ingredients.
Preheat Oven:  350 Degrees

Making the cobbler

Start by putting the butter into your baking dish and melt it in the oven.  I use a round 11/2 qt. casserole dish for my cobblers.

Combine fruit and 1/4 c. sugar.  Let stand at least 20 minutes.  Mix together flour, 1 c. sugar and baking powder.  Add the milk and stir briskly.  Lumps will remain.  Pour this mixture into the casserole dish of melted butter.  Top with fruit.  Do not stir.

Bake for 45 – 55 minutes until it is slightly brown with crispy edges.

Blackberry cobbler

Piping hot right from the oven. Photo credit: Sammi Blake

Now for the ice cream

All warm cobblers right out of the oven deserve a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  There’s nothing better than a spoonful of yummy cobbler with the ice cream slightly melting.  For leftovers (if there are any) simply reheat individual bowls of cobbler.  Don’t forget the ice cream!

Enjoy!

If I can sneak one more recipe in without Chef Ryan looking, I will share my Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.  All organic ingredients even.  And if I do say so myself, these cookies are the Bomb!  I made some last night.  Hope these pictures wet your appetite!

Organic chocolate chip oatmeal cookies

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies. Photo credit: David Solganik

Chocolate chip oatmeal cookie

Who took a bite? Photo credit: David Solganik

As for canning,  Chef Ryan has told me it can be my domain.  Look for some of my recipes and how to pointers next summer!

Happy eating!