The Beauty of Fresh Flowers

Helpful Hannah Tip #2
Bring fresh flowers into your homespace.

Just recently I got a Facebook message from one of my nieces’, Jackie O’Connell.

She wrote, “I bought fresh flowers at the market today.  My inner Aunt Jamie came out.”

I wrote her back and said, “That’s not just music to my ears but, a full symphony!”

You see I love nothing more than to know that my love of creating beauty in the home has filtered through to my family.

Jackie and Sarah Shrader (her sister, my niece) had been shopping in an open-air market near Richmond, VA for a dinner that Jackie and her husband, Scott were hosting that night.  They came upon some beautiful bouquets of fresh wildflowers and stood there debating whether or not to buy them.

Suddenly, Jackie and Sarah looked at each other and said, “Aunt Jamie would!”

They were right.  For ten dollars, heck yeah.  In my view, the flowers would set the tone for the evening.

They did.

Jackie later told me that everyone that came into the house noticed them.  Smiles erupted each time they took the flowers in.  Even Ryan Sink (Jackie and Sarah’s brother-in-law, Christy’s husband, another nephew-in-law of mine!!!) exclaimed about their beauty when he saw them.  What compliments for ten bucks!!

So- here’s my Helpful Hannah tip:

Bring fresh flowers into your homespace.

Like Jackie, take the opportunity to bring the beauty of flowers into your home.  It will bring freshness and joy into your homespace, guaranteed.

Magnolia blossom

Photo credit: Sammi Blake

There are so many choices in the summer months.   Here are some ideas:

  • You can include your children on walks of nature hunting for flowering honey suckle.  My kids used to love to put sprigs of honey suckle in glasses of water on their dressers to smell the fragrance and let it fill the air.
  • You can find fresh lilac growing and bring stems into your homespace to perfume the air.
  • Cut stems of flowering outdoor plants such as lavender  to add to fresh flower arrangements.
  • Pick up inexpensive wildflowers from farmer’s markets in your area and put them in unusual containers such as crockery.
  • Pick wildflowers on nature walks to bring inside (make sure you are in a place where this is permissible).
  • Pick flower stems from the ones growing in your yard.  Cutting the flowers on a regular basis will make them produce even more flowers.

I am so happy that my nieces enjoy their homes.  More importantly,  I am happy that they are teaching their children to as well.  Another niece-in-law, Crystal  (aka “The Domestic Diva” on my Fan Page of Facebook) let her daughter, Ryleigh choose some flowers for the kitchen table just the other day.  Ryleigh chose some orchids that were on sale at Lowe’s for three dollars.  Ryleigh is learning both the importance of being frugal as well as learning how to bring beauty into her home.

My daughter-in-law, Kathleen Aliff is the consummate hostess.  Every dinner party or gathering of friends includes southern charm with her use of beautiful sterling silver to display her delectable food choices.  And, what does she always remember?   Fresh flowers of course!  She has even been known to call me excited with the unusual ones she has found for her home.  Nothing thrills me more!

Kathleen entertaining with sunflowers

Kathleen entertaining with sunflowers. Photo credit: Kathleen Aliff

So, go out and explore the abundant choices of flowers that summer has to offer.  Bring them inside.  It will make you and your homespace come alive!

One thought…

Flowers bloom and can make us bloom, too.

Go blossom!

Purple wildflowers

Photo credit: David Solganik

An Asian Inspired Relaxation Garden

When my wife and I were house hunting, for myself, it was not the great neighborhood, yard or even the house itself that had me sold.  They were all wonderful, but it was the courtyard in the center of the home that sealed the deal.  When we bought the house the courtyard held a fish pond, but I knew it would only be a matter of time before the pond became a garden.  It was the perfect space to bring the outdoors in and was destined to become a place to enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.  In fact, I am enjoying the courtyard as I write this.

Koi in pond

Japanese koi in pond

The most important point to take away from this article is not how to create a garden with an Asian theme, but rather to inspire you to build your own relaxation space.  Japanese gardens speak to me the most, so our space would incorporate those aesthetics.  Your relaxation garden should also be personal and may be completely different – a shady spot in the backyard, an ivy covered alcove between buildings or a rustic bench by a lazy river.  What matters most is that it is a space where you can get away to enjoy some personal time.  We all need to recharge and what better place than in your own garden.

Designing Your Relaxation Garden

Since our goal is to create a space to relax in, the following are suggestions to keep it that way.

Create a Simple Garden

Regardless of the type of garden you design, my first suggestion is to keep it simple.  The Asian garden would draw from nature and use subtle tones for a calming feel.  Incorporate a natural color palette and pay attention to the textures you plan to include.  You do not want it to be too busy.  For example, I love variegated plants, but an entire garden of them would be distracting.  Instead, use them sparingly as accent plantings.

Keep it Low Maintenance

Cat on mossy stepping stones

Pets need quiet space too!

While I find gardening therapeutic, this space is meant for relaxation.  Select plants that are hardy, easy to grow and that do not require a lot of special attention.  Our garden is shady, so we included hosta, ferns and Solomon’s Seal.  You may prefer grasses for sunny spots or cacti for areas where water is an issue.  I recommend perennials that return year after year, but it helps to “grow what you know.”  You do not want to be worrying about whether your plants will do well.  Plan the garden and consult a nursery if you have questions.

Since this article touches on Asian gardens, I feel compelled to steer you away from planting bamboo.  And that is coming from a self-confessed bamboo addict!  Unless you keep it in pots or really understand what you are planting, it is best to use the canes as decoration or to stay away from it entirely.   Other potentially invasive plants to avoid would include aggressive vines and groundcovers like Vinca.

Mulch and rocks are useful in low maintenance gardens.  Mulch helps control weeds, keeps the soil moist and adds nutrients.  This means you will be spending less time weeding, watering, and your plants will be healthier.  Rocks are virtually maintenance-free, so think about incorporating a nice specimen or decorative gravel.

Develop the Mood

Consider all your senses to help enhance the mood of your garden.  Ours has a stone lantern that is nice during the day, but adds something special to the garden at night when lit.  We also have a moss-covered pathway in our courtyard that we use to get from our living room to the kitchen.  Moss between rocks feels great on bare feet, or substitute with Corsican mint that gives off a minty fragrance when you walk on it.  Flowering plants offer an unlimited variety of smells to work with.  Plant something that only blooms during a particular time of the day, like a Moonflower, for a special treat during your time off.  Water features are great as well.  Even a simple fountain, like a boulder or pot that recirculates water, can add a very soothing touch.  If you want something really unique, build a suikinkutsu.   Choose bells or chimes if you prefer those sounds.

Think Seasonally

Snow in Japanese garden

Our courtyard in winter

My final suggestion is to remember that your garden will change throughout the seasons, so keep that in mind when you are planning it.  Pay attention to which plants will be seen during each season and their colors, as they may change.  Use evergreens for consistent color and texture.  Flowers, trees and shrubs can all be used for seasonal color.  Select plants that bloom at different intervals to have something blooming throughout the season.  Also, try to think past blooms and foliage – specimens with interesting bark can add color and interest even in the dead of winter.

Under the Asian Influence

If you are truly interested in designing an Asian garden, I suggest starting your research with the image search on Google.  Save images you like in a folder to refer to later.  Keep an eye out for features that make a garden distinctly Asian and learn more about them.  A few of my favorites include:

  • Asymmetry – Asymmetrical balance is a core tenet of Japanese art and culture.
  • Shakkei – Concept of “borrowing” scenery to make your garden appear larger than it really is.
  • Wabi-sabi – Incorporate weathered objects to give your garden an ancient feel.  Paint moss on lanterns and rocks to simulate aging.
  • Yūgen – Partially obscuring objects to suggest their beauty. This leaves something for the imagination.

Regardless of the type of relaxation garden you design, keep it simple and personal.  The most important thing to remember is to enjoy it.  Visit your garden often and experience the changes throughout the year.

Happy gardening relaxing!

Quiet Spaces Quiet the Mind Part II

About three years ago I buckled under the weight of some health issues.  I firmly believe these issues had manifested physically due to years of mental fatigue and stress from severe trauma-drama.  In fact, while going through some of the worst of the trauma-drama I even told myself that I knew one day all this was going to wreck havoc on my body.  It only made sense.  The trauma-drama had been like toxic fuel coursing through my body, carried throughout each part damaging it in ways I could not have begun to understand.

So, I decided that I needed to take ownership of being part of what created the mess.  If stress could create health issues by golly then, learning to de-stress could possibly change things for the better.

Meditation called to me.

Now here’s the funny thing about meditation.  I first learned of meditation in junior high school.  If I remember correctly, it was in Miss Hahn’s geography class.  We had someone come speak to our class about “T.M.” or Transcendental Meditation.  It sounded so intriguing and something I wanted to learn.  I went home after school and announced to my mother that I wanted to learn how to do this.  I still remember her look of horror- after all, she was a good Catholic!

With absolutely no preamble she said,

“No! That is hippie stuff!  It used to worry me that you would become a nun and now this? No!”

End of discussion.  Period.

(You see, I remember my grandmother, Nana telling me that my mother worried over how “religious” I was and she sure didn’t want me to become a nun.  I guess she wasn’t such a strict Catholic after all!)

Meditation, the best use of “Quiet Space”.

But, once in my early 50’s, I knew meditation was something I wanted to explore.  Thankfully, in my search I found Ranjit Deora with Charlotte Meditation.  After meeting with Ranjit, I called this time in my life a “before and after” time as meditation opened the door to an entire shift in me.  There was the “before meditating” and the “after meditating” division of my life and what a blessing.  Oddly enough, I sought to learn to meditate for my health.  What it brought to me was so much more.  It brought me full circle to the very essence of who I am ~ a loving, spirit filled child of God.  Thank you Ranjit for being at just the right place at just the right time for me.  I am truly forever grateful.  By the way, feel free to check him out on his website,  Tell him Jamie sent ya!

Now I meditate at least once a day.  It has become as important as taking a shower, brushing my teeth, eating, exercising and sleeping.  My body needs it and I have even created a private quiet space in my home specifically for the purpose of meditating.

I know lots of people that meditate as well.  For example, my daughter, Sammi meditates.  My brother-in-law, Dave Buergler practices what is called “conscious relaxation”.  This is a technique he first learned while his children Blaire and Carl were learning ways to prepare for dives and dive matches.  I know Carl uses “conscious relaxation” constantly as it helps him to visualize the entire process of a dive.  It is amazing that in doing this, his mind and his body work together to produce the best results of his athletic endeavor.  (By the way, today Carl is considered an elite junior diver.  This makes him one that college coaches watch and follow for the future.)

Consider learning to meditate.  It certainly takes practice but, the changes in your life that you will get from it are immeasurable.  In my view, meditation is the best way to achieve the benefits of being quiet.  And, as a Reiki Practitioner, I have learned first hand its’ benefits.

Silence is rejuvenating.

So, what does all this mean for you?  Do you make time for quiet?  Better still, while reading this are you understanding what quiet does for you?  Your children?  Your partner or spouse?  Your students, staff, friends?

Here are some interesting things to consider:

  • In many countries, certainly America- we are a nation(s) of chaos with many of us going, going, going- just like “The Ever-ready Bunny” on the commercial.  We are teaching our children to do the same thing.  This going, going, going greatly increases our stress levels.
  • Periods of “quiet time” give the mind and the body time to relax and center.
  • “Quiet time” is non-competitive.  Most everything else we do in life is.
  • “Quiet time” needs no special place- you can simply sit on a rug in your bedroom with the door closed; find a private spot in the yard; rock on the porch; swing in a hammock; walk in the park.
  • Breathing often changes during quiet moments making the mind more peaceful.  Blood pressure often drops as well.

Make a quiet space in your home.

Having said all this, creating quiet spaces in the home does help point you in the direction of observing silence.  Think about incorporating both “quiet time” and “quiet space” in your own homespace.  It can be as simple as a reading nook or a corner of your garden.  Or you can find a great place in the backyard for a hammock- my parents did and ask any of my nieces or nephews, they all remember being squished in together for quiet time while Papa served Tom Collins’s (boy, he could make the best) to us grown-ups at cocktail time around the pool.  And, my step-grandchildren Addison and Austin used to head straight for the backyard hammock whenever they came to visit while we lived in Charlotte.  Memories in the making!

The possibilities for creating quiet spaces are endless.  So, get started. And once you do or if you already do, feel free to share with other readers your ideas.  You never know, your idea of a unique “quiet space” might inspire others to make one, too.  Oh, and look for Sean Kalooky’s upcoming post on his Zen Garden.  You will love it!

One thought…

Silence is golden.

Sunset over rooftop

Photo credit: Sammi Blake

Quiet Spaces Quiet the Mind

Today would be my father, Don Balzer, Sr.’s 87th birthday. We lost him to a valiant struggle against cancer almost 24 years ago. I want to honor him on this day with remembering his love of quiet.

Perhaps he needed quiet because he lived in a home filled with six kids that constantly included friends hanging out. Perhaps he needed quiet because he spent his days working diligently to create and build what became a very successful business, Balzer and Associates that upon retiring from, he sold to my brothers and brother-in-law who then carried the torch to building an even more successful company.

Regardless of his reasons, my Dad loved quiet time. And, his quiet time was always spent in the same place- the living room where his favorite chair sat. He read almost nightly in this chair. For years he sat late into the evening with a good book, legs crossed and a lit pipe in his hand. I can still see him there puffing away, the smoke and aroma filling the air.

Today, his chair he read in sits in my niece, Marli’s home she has with her husband, Wally. (More on that in a later post.) They are expecting their first child in August and I hope this chair becomes “the reading chair” to share with their special child in the years to come. Passing on a space for quiet to another generation! It just doesn’t get any better than this!

My quiet time growing up was spent reading as well. I especially loved Saturday mornings. I was an early bird (still am) and I loved nothing more than to wake up, raid the crystal candy dish in the living room of peanut M&M’s, grab a cold glass of milk and then, get back in bed, snuggle under the covers and read. (More on the candy dish later, too.) All the while, my sister, Mary Ann never stirred. I loved these times, as they were the quiet moments for me while the rest of the Balzer family slept.

Later as a mother of three kids, I was often alone with them a lot. I needed to find ways for quiet- not just for me but for my kids- Benjamin, Sammi and Jimmy, too. So, I had what I called enforced “quiet time” each day- particularly in the summer and even sometimes in the car after a long stimulating day. These times could be spent in each person’s room reading, drawing, napping or just daydreaming. In other words, they were allowed to find their own use of quiet time. I needed it. And, intuitively I knew they needed it, too. For example, I do not think my son, Benjamin would have used his imagination so fully with his imaginary friend, “My Friend Monkey” when he was little had he not been given opportunities for silence. Or my son, Jimmy (yep, my baby) might never have learned the real joy of quiet had I not given him opportunities almost daily while living in Columbia, SC to visit neighborhood ponds and sit quietly and fish while his big brother and sister were in school. Jimmy has made fishing part of his career and has become an expert fly fisherman. A man living his passion! A man loving the peace and quiet of nature!

Jimmy fly fishing

Jimmy Aliff. Photo credit: Tom Turletes

You see, quiet spaces quiet the mind. Everything slows down-immediately.

Quiet time is a treasure. It is a gift. It is something we all deserve and quite frankly, need.

Ben and Cameron by the pond

Ben and Cameron by the pond. Photo credit: Kathleen Aliff

My quiet space by the garden

My quiet space by the garden. Photo credit: David Solganik

Do you observe quiet time? Have you created specific spaces in your home for quiet time? Feel free to share with other readers’ tips, ideas and solutions to gaining more quiet spaces and quiet times in the home. And, l hope you will stay tuned for Part II of this post that talks about the benefits of meditation, what I call, “The Ultimate Form of Quiet”.

I leave you with some treasured photographs of quiet time and quiet spaces. I hope you enjoy!!!

One thought…
Silence is golden.

Find time for quiet…

Oh, and Happy Birthday Daddy/Papa! We all love you and miss you!

Donald Balzer, Sr.

Donald J. Balzer, Sr. July, 1924- October, 1987 Photo credit: Bee Buergler

Our Homes Must Express Our True Essence

I know this to be true. Further, I believe that often our homespace does not match our true selves.

This happens for various reasons. Here are a few:

  • We are out of balance with who we really are.
  • We live and define our homespace by someone else’s standards.
  • We are insecure in our true selves and stifle our unique expression in our homespace décor.

How do I know this to be true?

I have experienced it myself. Let me explain…

A few weeks after my husband decided to separate and move out of our family home (shortly before my 40th birthday-ouch), I had landscapers come remove an enormous river birch that was overtaking and overshadowing the front of our house. We had planted it as a small tree several years earlier not realizing how quickly it would grow. Well, it soon came to resemble Jack’s beanstalk. Seriously, it was so tall that it reached for the clouds.

This tree had become an eye sore to me and I had complained about it to my husband for quite some time before our separation. This had always fallen on deaf ears SO, once my husband decided to leave, DOWN came the tree.

Empowerment feels wonderful.

It was like a Mary Tyler Moore moment for me when she looked skyward in the opening clip of her TV show years ago and threw off her hat. Empowerment at its finest for me! And, symbolically just as the tree came down to open up the beauty of my home, I began to open up and slowly become more authentically who I am.
Next came the new built-in bookcases in the living room to transform the space into a reading room…

I guess you can say that up until the river birch came down, I had never expressed my true essence in the décor of my home. Quite frankly, for years I had been guilty of succumbing to all the reasons I listed above in creating my homespace.

Not anymore. I was beginning to blossom.

Much more happened to me besides beginning to express my true self through the décor of my home.

Everything happens for a reason.

I believe there are no coincidences. I believe there are no accidents. I believe that everything happens for a reason. Out of every situation you can find a teachable moment.

My true path opened up for me after my divorce and several other devastating situations. I call these types of experiences “trauma-drama” because that is what they are: trauma because of the horrific feelings and fall-out that accompany these difficult situations, drama because of the fact that there is usually way too much of it in the situation.


What I came to discover is that each of these situations helped to teach me who I really am. In the worst experiences of my life I have learned the most. I have even built a career out of it and now live my passion.

All of us can do this. All of us can take these extremely difficult times and make them positive. Use your homespace as a means to help and support you in doing this.

Let your home be the outward manifestation of your true self.

When your homespace is not in balance with your true self there is always something that feels a little off. It is as if you are trying to be comfortable in a sweater that just doesn’t fit you right. It doesn’t work.

Take this moment to begin to look at your homespace. Ask yourself the question, “Is this really me?”

If not, consider reconstruction of your homespace- what I call “The Four R’s” of reconstruction:

  1. Redefine
  2. Redesign
  3. Renovate
  4. Refine

Look for later articles on “The Four R’s” and by the way, the same techniques can be applied to reconstructing your inner self as I explain in my upcoming book, “And so… The Shadow Woman Emerged”!

One thought…

Your homespace should be as unique as those who dwell within it.

Feel empowered…

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Color Your World

Color gives expression. Color creates mood. Color can enhance and add beauty to your space.

Know what color speaks to you.

I have no memories of getting to select the color palette of my bedroom growing up that I shared with my sister, Mary Ann. But, I can tell you exactly what color was my favorite as a child- olive green.

Do any of you remember character books in elementary school? If not, these were social notebooks in my school (not ordained by the teachers and principal of course) that kids used every year as a means of expressing who they were. These character books were the thing- and were passed around to friends for you to have them write answers to the questions you posed on subsequent pages. Looking back these character books left a lot of kids out as not everyone got the honor to write in them. Sad but, very true. Sometimes I think these 1960’s notebooks were a precursor to Facebook. You chose what “friends” could write in your book and share things about themselves with you and anyone else that got to be a friend in your book!

Anyway, year after year the question of, “What is your favorite color?” was asked. I always responded that mine was olive green. To this day it is still my favorite color. I use it in my homespace décor accompanied by other warm earth tones that compliment it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Your color choices in your homespace often change and even evolve over time. In my early years of creating homespace I fell victim to the trends. Yes, I went through the blue and rose stage and then later the blue and peach stage. Once I was compelled to paint my most personal space (my bedroom) vibrant Chinese red. No coincidence there, it mirrored my inner self at the moment. A newly single woman letting the world know, “I am woman, hear me roar” if you will.

None of this was wrong and was part of my path of discovery. But, what I have come to learn and understand through life experience as well as my career experience is that your choice and use of color in your homespace should be what uniquely fits you and your lifestyle. It defines you and those who dwell within the space. It sets you apart from everyone else in your own unique way.

Photo credit: Sean Kalooky

Be true to yourself.

Know your color and use it in your homespace décor. Let the colors you use in your home accurately express who and what you are. And, if you still find it important to follow the trends- use these trendy colors in small ways as accents to your color palette. Or better yet, make use of the trendy new colors in your fashion wear.

Also, keep educating yourself about color. Look for upcoming articles on this blog site discussing specific topics of color such as the psychology of color and the symbolism of color. I will also post articles on the science of color with splashes of statistics about the use of color. I hope you will find these to be thought provoking and empowering. Just remember, let your homespace reflect your true self. Color is one way to achieve this.

Allow your homespace to express your uniqueness. Be true to yourself. By doing so, you will make a bold statement about yourself as you allow the true essence of your soul to emerge.

One thought…

Your home should embrace you with open arms of comfort.

Keep decorating…

Photo credit: Sean Kalooky

A Chef in the Garden

Some of my fondest childhood memories took place in and around our garden.  The 20 x 30 foot fenced in plot behind our house served as our personal farmers market when we were cooking at home.  Tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, eggplant, peas, beans, yellow squash, corn and a variety of peppers were the staples each year.  I remember checking the garden each day to search for ripe cherry tomatoes and sweet peas, which I would usually just eat off the vine.  Our garden salads were true to the word and the experience of watching the veggies grow and picking them at their peak of ripeness was something that I will always carry with me.  These days the garden is smaller, but it’s still a part of my life.  I am lucky enough to have a nice 10 x 10 garden where I grow my cooking essentials.  It consists of a blend of herbs and vegetables that I use on a daily or weekly basis.  It is truly a pleasure to harvest and share homegrown produce with friends and family.  And starting a small garden is easier than you may think.

Black raspberries ripening

Black raspberries. Photo credit: Ryan Kalooky

A Practical Herb Garden

Many of us simply do not have the time to maintain a garden at home.  If this sounds like you, I encourage you to start a basic herb garden.  Many herbs are easy to grow, add great flavor to dishes and are expensive to buy on a regular basis.  You can plant them in the ground if you have space, in pots on your deck or balcony, or even indoors on a windowsill that gets some good sun.  You don’t have to plant a little bit of everything – my advice would be to plant what you like and what you will use regularly. The table below lists some of my favorite herbs that are very simple to grow.

Basil A must for fans of Italian food.  An annual, but easy start from seed and to root from cuttings.
Chives Add to scrambled eggs or accent a seafood dish.  Be sure to use the blossoms, which are a great garnish for soup!
Dill Add small sprigs to your salad or add to a buerre blanc for a salmon or trout dish.
Mint Excellent for summer drinks, spring rolls, or combined with garlic, ginger and cilantro for a unique salad dressing.  Once you establish your plants they will come back each year.  Also very simple to root from cuttings.
Oregano A versatile herb that I use throughout the year in sauces, seafood dishes, and in salads.  Easy to grow and root from cuttings.
Parsley The flatleaf or curley varieties are excellent for adding a “green” flavor to any dish.  Use the entire unchopped top of the sprigs in salads for a refreshing, clean change of pace.
Rosemary A powerful, “piney” herb that compliments pork, beef and chicken.  Chop up and add to roasted potatoes or use the leftover woody stems as skewers for chicken kebobs.
Sage Use this excellent, unique herb with scallops or roasted chicken.  Try frying whole sage leaves for an inspiring garnish.  It’s not just for Thanksgiving time!
Thyme My favorite perennial herb – add to eggs, pan sauces, stock, and marinades.  Pairs well with garlic, onions, and potatoes.  Incorporate into compound butter.

Tips for Cooking with Herbs

So you’ve planted your herbs, allowed them to grow and mature, but simply can’t find the time or enough occasions to use them?  Below are three simple suggestions to help stretch your herbs throughout the year:

Aromatic oils – add a tablespoon of your favorite chopped herbs, 5 or 6 black peppercorns and a bay leaf to about a cup or two of olive oil. Heat until simmering, strain, and allow to cool to room temperature.  Once cool, you can put the oil in a small container, label it and pop it in the fridge.  Use a spoonful to sauté veggies or to enhance a salad dressing.  Allow a few tablespoons to come to room temperature and add a pinch of salt for a fast, simple and tasty dip for fresh bread.

Compound butters– let two sticks of unsalted butter come to room temperature.  Fold in fresh herbs, garlic and freshly ground pepper (or any combination).  Roll up in plastic wrap (in the shape of a dowel – about the diameter of a half dollar or quarter) and place in the freezer.  When needed, you can cut “coins” off the roll and use for cooking.  This is a great method for inserting butter under the skin of poultry since it will hold its shape and not melt immediately in your hands like refrigerated butter.  The compound butter will keep for months and is great for finishing pan sauces or for a quick and tasty topping for a baked potato or steamed veggies.

Stock – don’t throw away those herb stems!  If you have leftover thyme, sage, or a few cloves of garlic, you can make a quick vegetable stock using a few scraps of onion, carrots, and celery as a flavor base.  After you simmer the veggies and herbs for 30 or 40 minutes, strain, cool, package and freeze.  You can easily make a few pints of stock for future use – most importantly, you won’t have to buy expensive stock from the grocery store next time you make soup.  I routinely make chicken stock and vegetable stock.  Make sure to label (name and date) your stock, as it will lessen in flavor the longer it’s left frozen.

Rosemary plant

Rosemary. Photo credit: Sean Kalooky

Happy cooking,

Chef Ryan

21 Days To Kick a Bad Habit

Our homes are often a mixture of thoughtful planning and pure happenstance.  Rarely do any of us pay strict attention to complete detail to everything in our space.

Room for improvement in your homespace

It is time to ask:

  • Is there anything negative in my house I would like to change?
  • Is there something I do over and over again like a bad habit that really bugs me and it shows in my homespace?
  • Is there room for improvement in a particular area of my homespace?

My guess is you can answer yes to at least one of these questions.

Examples of bad habits in your homespace

Over the years in my career as a decorator I have been privy to many different bad habits.  Ask yourself what yours are.  Here are some that might apply to you:

  • You procrastinate about taking down holiday decorations even when another holiday is right around the corner.
  • Dirty laundry stays piled on the floor.
  • Dust bunnies are allowed to grow into dust monsters.
  • You never remove the sofa cushions from your sofa for a good vacuuming.
  • You never make your bed or teach your children to do the same.

We often pay more attention to the appearance we present to the outside world than the appearance of our homes

I am often amazed at the sense of style people feel it necessary to present to the external world while neglecting the truly important world right inside their homes.  This is in the form of how they wear their hair, how they dress and what type of car they drive.   Very few of us would go to work, shopping or to the gym without making sure we are presenting ourselves the way we want others to see us.  All the while homes get neglected.

So, do you want to change?

21 days to kick a habit

Did you know that scientists believe it takes approximately 21 days to change a habit?  This is because we naturally resist change.  It is important to understand that:

  • Change will need intention.
  • Change will need focus.
  • Change will need discipline.

Begin now to take a personal inventory of the habits in your homespace that you wish to change.  Give yourself a plan of how and when you will begin the change.  Just remember:

  • Change will need time.
  • Time needs time.

But you are worth it.  Each time you conquer a bad habit it empowers you to conquer another.  Slowly but surely your homespace shows positive change one day at a time.

You can do it!

Your homespace deserves it!

One thought…

A home that is honored is full of joy.

Conquer those bad habits one day at a time…

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

The Smell Test

How our homes smell is vital to creating a homespace that exudes good feelings, or what I call “warm fuzzies”.

This is important for you and all that dwell in your homespace.  It is also important for those that enter your home to get these same “warm fuzzies” from the smell of your home.

The Science of Smell

The olfactory nerves in the nose send information about the smell (scent) to the primary cortex of the brain.  The cortex is linked to the amygdala and the hippocampus of the limbic system.  The amygdala processes emotion.  The hippocampus is responsible for associative learning.  So, your brain forges a link between smell and memory.

When you first smell a new scent, you connect it to something such as a person, place or thing like an event.  Thus, the perception of smell consists of not only the sensation of the odors themselves but also of the experiences and emotions associated with these sensations.

Feel Good Memories of Smell

Think back to your childhood.  Do you have certain smells that bring back memories of childhood or days gone by?

Here’s an example.  My grandmother had holly bushes that grew outside her home.  I loved my grandmother dearly and looked forward to visiting her every summer.  Every visit began with the smell of those holly bushes as they were at the steps to her front door.  To this day whenever I smell hollies, I smile in memory of my dear grandmother, Nana.  Always.

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Take the Smell Test

Here is how you can test your homespace.

Leave your home for a while, preferably several hours.  Upon re-entering your home, stand in the foyer or entryway of your home with your eyes closed.  Breathe in.  Do you smell anything?  Does it smell good, bad, or indifferent?  Continue this test in other areas of your home.  Obviously, you hope for good test results.  If you have something that smells distasteful, you know what to do- find it and remove it!

Do this test regularly.  If you are comfortable with asking a close friend to take the smell test in your home for you, do that as well.   Just make sure to ask them to do it with their eyes closed- it makes all the difference. Just be prepared for their response, as you might be surprised!

Creating wondrous smells in your homespace

Smell can bring a flood of memories, influence people’s moods, and even affect productivity.  This is why you want your homespace to have a pleasing smell.

If your homespace can use some help in the good smell department, there are numerous ways to achieve this.  Here are a few:

  • Open your windows regularly to let out stale odors.
  • Clean more often.
  • Remove trash and animal litter regularly.
  • Bring fragrant flowers indoors and place them all over the house.
  • Make bundles of dried lavender to use in your home.
  • Keep herbs such as fresh rosemary in your kitchen/home.
  • Use candles (safely of course) that are earth friendly.  I love having one lit in my kitchen at all times as even the flicker is soothing to the atmosphere.
  • Use diffusers with 100% essential oils.
  • Use odor eliminators (again, earth friendly).  My all time favorite is Fresh Wave.

Remember:  The smell of your homespace is the first thing that greets you (besides the family pet) and all that enter.  It sets the tone immediately.

Begin now to understand the importance of your homespace’s smell.  It doesn’t just affect the day-to-day living.  Your homespace’s smell has the power to create memories for you, the members of your family and all who enter.  Make sure they are warm fuzzy memories.

Also, look for upcoming articles on aromatherapy for the homespace!

One thought…

Beauty is not just viewed with the eyes.

Keep decorating…

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Our Bodies are the Homes to our Souls

“Watch this!” Steve exclaimed with sheer delight, “I haven’t been able to do this in years!”

I had met Steve less than an hour before when I offered him assistance with a treadmill in the fitness center that my husband owns and operates. As a head custodian in a local public school, Steve was participating in a program geared towards helping at-risk students, faculty, and staff make healthy lifestyle changes. He had told me upon our initial greetings that he was so thankful for what my husband, Ché, was doing for him and the other participants. Now, after having completed his work on the treadmill, he was bubbling with the joy of meeting a couple of his top goals. His first: to walk a mile “without stopping”. He quickly let me know that not only had he achieved this, but was now jogging a little “here and there” throughout his mile so that he could eventually run the whole thing. His second, which he proudly and promptly demonstrated: to bend over to pick something up off the floor. “Two weeks ago I would have had to put a knee on the ground and then do some work to stand myself back upright, but now, look, I can do this all day long,” he went on, beaming with pleasure, as he repeatedly squatted to pick up some imaginary object from the floor. “It might not seem like much to some people, but believe me, it makes a big difference in my line of work!”

The Ultimate Homespace

With the newfound abilities and functionalities of his body, Steve had experienced a sense of accomplishment that is incomparable. Our bodies are the homes to our souls. Throughout our time on this Earth they are our primary and permanent homespaces, if you will. It is disheartening that in this age of obesity and innumerable other life-threatening illnesses we focus so little on the cultivation and maintenance of our health. Don’t get me wrong, we are overly concerned, some even obsessed, with the outward appearance of fitness and wellness. How many people do we know whose goal every New Year is to get back in shape to look good in a bathing suit for the upcoming warm season? I admit, the thought of prancing around half-naked in front of family, friends, and strangers alike is enough to motivate anyone to cut out some sweets and give the gym a few visits! The disappointing part is that we are often setting ourselves up for failure. When we focus on the superficial aspects of fitness… looking good in a bathing suit, losing just 5 more lbs., we inevitably set immeasurable goals and choose methods to reach them that we know we can’t maintain for any substantial length of time. Are we really going to eliminate all carbs for the rest of our lives? Never again eat sugar? Is it reasonable to commit to several hours a day in the gym? Forever? Not likely. So why do we continue to do this to ourselves? What if we begin to see the maintenance of our ultimate homespace, our body, as an outward expression of our soul?

walking on trail

Photo credit: Lindsay Torry

When we focus on the spiritual and profound implications of a healthy body, we experience changes that are indescribable. If we approach nutrition and exercise from our inner selves and focus on the functions of our bodies, health and fitness become authentically integrated into our lifestyles. Ask the 80-yr-old man who just walked up a flight of steps for the first time in ten years, the 50-yr-old physician whose exercise halted her menopausal symptoms, or the 25-yr-old who was just taken off of medication for high blood pressure. Setting and reaching fitness goals will inevitably change your physique for the better, but the real change in your appearance will be in your spirit. It will light up your face with joy, you will radiate positive energy, you will approach life with determination, you will exude confidence. And you won’t quit! How many people do you know who train for one 5k and then never do another one again? Not many, because when the motivation is from the inside, it grows and multiplies. As you approach meeting one goal, like Steve, you will already be planning your next goal!

What’s your goal?

Young girl climber

Photo credit: Lindsay Torry

So the question is, where do you want to start? Swim 100 meters? Walk a mile? Run 3 miles? Bike 10 miles? Set a goal for yourself! Make nutritional changes to help fuel your body to reach it. What if you replace 1 soda a day with a glass of water? What if you add an extra fruit or vegetable to one meal a day? Yes, your body will change, but MOST importantly, your life will change!

Happy training!


Toddler on excercise equipment

Photo credit: Kelly Walsh