Waterfall in autumn

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

As an Interior Decorator, I have been privy to many homes and offices.  I love what I do for many reasons.  An obvious reason is that I love to create beauty. I often say I have the best job in the world as I am always creating what I call new dollhouses.  But, another reason is that I love anything to do with psychology and absolutely, positively, undeniably I believe that a person’s most private space is a window to their psyche.  So, working in a client’s most private space gives me a glimpse into who they are.  It is utterly fascinating.

What I have discovered through the years is that often the homes I have worked in mirror my life and what I am experiencing at that given time.  In other words, they seem to become an outward manifestation of my inner self.  I know this might sound strange to some of you reading this but, I believe it to be true.  I believe that everything on the physical/material plane is a manifestation of the inner workings of our lives and becomes symbolic of what is going on both on a spiritual and emotional level.


Living in clutter

No wonder for a few years I seemed to be drawn to homes that personified the word “cluttered”.  My life at the time was one great BIG cluttered mess due to some ridiculous “trauma-drama”.  Seriously.

Path of life in autumn

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

A few homes I began to work in had to go through months of third party “decluttering” before we could even begin the project I designed.  It was as if these homes outwardly got decluttered while I set about inwardly decluttering my own life.  I call this a direct mirror I went looking for to reflect my inner self and the struggles I was dealing with at the time.

I am happy to report that the work I did on my “inner” home was successful.   It has taken way too much Blood, Sweat and Tears but hallelujah, I am clutter free!  (Rediscovering Nature was my tonic as I write in my post, Let Nature Restoreth Your Soul (And Your Home).)

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the homes I worked in.  Once my projects were completed, the owners went back to their old habits and the clutter returned.  I believe the reason is simple – clutter can be an indication of underlying issues.  It’s that “mirror” thing again – your exterior space mirrors your inner space.

Clutter in your space really does clutter your mind.  Or more importantly,   clutter in your mind clutters your space.

Where there is clutter, there is work to be done for sure – both figuratively and literally.

Reasons for clutter

I think the reasons why people have clutter in their homes are usually for one of the following:

  • Lack of proper storage space
  • Life changes such as a move, a new baby or anything that throws life out of whack
  • Poor time/life management skills
  • Psychological issues such as depression, family dysfunction, low self-esteem, poor personal boundaries and even attention deficit disorder

I call the first three of these reasons “temporary clutter”.  In other words, all three are easy to fix with a little effort and determination.  Still, clutter from any of these sources is clutter and it can be unsettling to your mind.  My recommendation to you if your homespace is cluttered for any of these reasons is to find simple solutions for them.  Your stress will decrease and your feel good vibes will increase!  I guarantee it.

Now, the fourth reason – that’s a tough one.  It takes a lot of work to rid your homespace of clutter if there are psychological components to it.  Mind you, I am not talking about the extreme of hoarding here.  That’s a whole other ball of wax.  I am talking about routine clutter that detracts and distracts from your sanctuary – the place you call HOME.

Here is a list of some of the spaces in your home where clutter accumulates and what the clutter there might symbolize:

Kitchen – Difficulty with emotional nourishment for yourself or others

Main Living Space – Feelings of isolation

Hallways – Obstacles in your life

Bedroom – Distancing from partner and/or intimacy with others

Bathroom – Low self-esteem

Closets – Hidden Issues

Basement – Ignored Issues

Garage – Confused about direction in your life

Exterior and yard – Low self-worth and a sense of giving up

Anyone find the symbolism of clutter in these spaces thought provoking?  I certainly do.  I think every homespace is worthy of reflecting the best of those that dwell within it.  And,   this means that if  spaces within your home suffer from clutter, look inside (both your inner self and your home) and get to work.  Honor yourself.  You are worth it.  Those that live with you are worth it.  Your homespace is worth it.


Your home is your sanctuary

Absolute calm

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Yep, your home is your sanctuary.

It is where you deserve to have peace and comfort away from the outside world.  It is meant to be your safe haven and should calm your mind.

Clutter in your space clutters your mind.  Clutter in your mind clutters your space.

Free every space that is part of you and your HOME from the mess that clutter creates.

HOME is also where the heart is.  Fill your heart with love and your home(s) will reflect it – both your inner home and the one you use for shelter from the outside world.  Now, that’s another thing I can guarantee!

To loving life…

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 222 user reviews.

Turkey breast on charcoal smoker

Turkey breast on charcoal smoker

It’s 8am on a fall Saturday.  You’re fumbling around with the coffee maker trying to get the black gold percolating.  In a few hours, you’re supposed to be down at the stadium to cheer your team on.   While you’re gathering your game day gear, many dedicated fans are already set up in the parking lot with charcoal burning, food marinating and beers cooling. They are the “true” tailgaters.  It’s what they live for!

How to Tailgate Like a Pro

For many sports-loving Americans, tailgating is as important as the actual game.  The pre-game tradition of socializing, playing low-impact sports like frisbee and cornhole, showing off your team spirit, and predicting how much your team will win by are half the reason folks show up in droves to attend sporting events.  All this excitement builds up an appetite. Remember those folks that were up getting ready for the game around the time you were going to bed?  They have food, and not just any food.  They have a tailgaters dream – brats, ribs, burgers, chili, steaks  – you name it – it’s probably cooking in the parking lot somewhere.

Deviled crabs

Deviled crabs

Tailgating cuisine rules the pre-game festivities.  If you have great smelling food then you can expect to make some new friends.  When I speak of tailgating, I don’t mean a Bojangles “8 Piece Tailgate Special.” I mean real food – the kind that you plan and prep ahead of time.  I realize that many folks may believe they don’t have the culinary know-how to prepare a tailgate, opting instead to pick up fast food on the way to the game. Additionally, tailgating requires equipment like grills, charcoal, tables and chairs, not to mention dealing with putting everything away in a safe place before heading into the game.  I’ve been to too many games where a “novice” has prepared a really tasty meal right before the game starts, but has no idea what to do with the smoking hot grill and coals.  Any chef or experienced cook will tell you that careful planning of your time is one of the keys to a successful event, no matter how big or small.  So make sure to plan your meal, pack all of your supplies, get to the stadium early, and most importantly, have fun!  Master these skills and you’ll be a pro in no time.

Tips for Successful Tailgating

Beer butt chicken

"Beer butt" chicken

Here are a few tailgating tips to make your next game day safe and fun:

  1. Keep a tailgate cooler packed with items like plates, utensils, cups, paper towels, garbage bags, wet-naps and extra condiment packets (ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, soy sauce, etc.).  Just don’t forget your cooler!
  2. Start your charcoal at least 3 hours before you plan to enter the stadium.  This will allow you time to get the grill hot, cook, eat, clean up and let the grill cool before putting it back in your vehicle.
  3. Cook items like ribs or chicken wings the night before.  On game day, reheat them on a grill to save time and ensure that your food is cooked all the way through.
  4. Experiment with seafood. Oysters and clams are two examples that are easy to share with your group. All you need is crackers and hot sauce.
  5. Pack a few wood chunks in your cooler and throw them on the grill with your food.  A little smoke will add extra flavor to your tailgate!
  6. Plan on feeding extra people.  Bring more than enough food and make some new friends!
Ribs fresh off the smoker

Ribs fresh off the smoker

If you follow these tips, you are sure to have some happy tailgaters in your group! Remember, it’s important if you’re grilling to start early so that the grill cools down before you pack up and head into the game. Clean up as you go and be sure to recycle. It’s also a good idea to coordinate with your friends so that they can pick up drinks, sides and snacks. As with any event, preparation and timing are the “keys to the game.”



Happy Tailgating!

Chef Ryan

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 191 user reviews.

I grew up in a household that included three brothers and two sisters.  From the earliest that I can remember, we had pets.  Usually, we had several!

You name the type of animal and while growing up, the Balzer family had it one time or another.  Dogs, cats, rats, mice, snakes and yep, a squirrel.  I will never forget the day I got off the school bus and came home to a baby squirrel.  We named him Peanuts.

Now, I know this is hard to believe – often when I tell people about Peanuts they figure I am confused with where he lived.  Surely he lived outside, or surely he lived in a cage is what people say.  Nope, Peanuts lived in our house and had the run of it.  Of course, he did have a cage – but most of the time he ran freely and went where he wanted to.  I remember often sitting in the den watching TV and in Peanuts would scamper.  He would jump onto the sofa and then jump onto my shoulder to nap nestled there snug as could be enjoying the warm sunshine coming through the window.  It is hard to imagine it all now but he was treated like any other family pet!

Cathy and Colby

Cathy and Colby

We even had chickens once.  My youngest brother, Tommy was quite persuasive when he wanted something.  (Maybe he should have gone into politics!)  He convinced our mom to get chickens so we could have fresh eggs everyday – I guess he saw this as a great value kind of thing. (Of course, he is also the brother that once charged admission to neighborhood kids and moms to watch him walk the telephone wires!)  I don’t remember getting many eggs but we sure got tons of complaints from the neighbors from their noise!

The chickens didn’t last long…

Life with pets

Randy and Miso

Randy and Miso

Having a family pet livens up your homespace.  I will never forget George.  He was my cousins’, the Purvis family’s pet duck.  My cousins, Shell, Tony and Andy lived at the beach (Sandbridge, VA).  I loved our visits with them and it was great fun to watch George running around.  He was nonstop entertainment!

My Step-grandson, Austin has a pet turtle named “Spike”. For months and months he had begged for a turtle.  His dad, Brent and my daughter, Sammi told him that once he began to show responsibility enough to have one, they would try to get him one.  Austin set about doing anything and everything to prove his responsible side.  That made Sammi start to fret over how they would get a turtle as they aren’t the easiest pets to find.  One day Austin’s dream came true and what joy for me to get to witness it.

Austin and Spike

Austin and Spike

I happened to be visiting them in Charlotte and  Sammi and I took a nature walk on the greenway.  Out of the corner of her eye Sammi spied a baby turtle.  I just happened to have a small box handy in my purse (don’t ask why, my lips are sealed) so Sammi reached into the water and scooped the turtle up.  When Austin got home from school that day he got a surprise!  Since then Spike has gotten bigger and bigger and Austin has been able to learn more about life as he has cared for him each day!

Pets teach life lessons

Without a doubt I believe that having pets in your homespace broadens your education and impacts you in a multitude of ways.  I know it did for my siblings and me. I feel for kids that grow up in homes that don’t have pets.  I think they are missing out on learning valuable life lessons.  Here are a few life lessons I know having pets teach us:

Sonya and Natasha

Sonya and Natasha

  • Pets give you someone to constantly love and nurture.  They never get enough and love in return unconditionally.
  • Having a pet gives you companionship and can make you feel less lonely as you always have someone to talk to, to touch and be touched in return.
  • Pets encourage and create times of laughter in us.  We find humor in playing with them and love watching them for entertainment.
  • Pets teach children about responsibility.  Helping to take care of the family pet is often a child’s first chore and responsibility as part of the family.
  • Pets teach us to love and also how to accept loss.  The loss of a pet is sometimes a child’s first experience with death.  Though extremely difficult, coping skills and the process of grieving are learned.
  • Pets teach young adults how to “parent”.  Young adults and young couples often bond with their pets in a way that plants the seeds for later parenting.  (I believe that it is no coincidence that many pet names these days are what are normally human names such as Maggie, Hazel, Gretchen and Duncan.)
  • Pets often help get us exercising more, particularly dogs.  Pets needing exercise give us a chance to do the same.
  • Pets can lead you to more social contact.  People very often interact with other pet owners through their pets.  How often have you known someone as Moe’s Mom (or whatever the pet’s name is)?
  • Pets relax us and can help reduce stress.
  • Pets become part of our families.

Spread the love



Interacting with animals impacts us all in many positive ways.  I say spread the love in every direction you can with your pet.   Share your pet with others that aren’t fortunate enough to be able to have one.  One way to do this is to visit folks that live in Assisted Living Facilities.  As often as we can we Balzer siblings take our pets to visit our mom at Richfield where she now lives as I discussed in a recent post, Creating Comfort In An Assisted Living Facility.  She loves interacting with them and so do the other residents.  Another way to spread the love is to visit shut-ins with your pet.  More often than not elderly folks and those that are confined to their homes love playing  and visiting with pets.

Pure and simple, pets open our hearts and open our minds with their unconditional love.

Enjoy the love…

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 215 user reviews.

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…

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 267 user reviews.

Quiet time is important for all of us.  It is up to us parents to teach the love of quiet to our children.  One way to teach them this love of quiet is to share reading time with them.  You can do this as early as when they are infants.

It is never too early to start reading to babies

A scene from the movie Three Men and a Baby pops into my head.  In an attempt to calm the baby, one of the “dads” reads The Wall Street Journal to her in a high-pitched, sing-song voice and guess what?  It works!  Although I don’t encourage this, the point is that it’s more about how you read and less about what you read.  It’s important to remember that you do not have to be married to the text.

Reading with babies is simple.  You can begin your baby’s reading experience by labeling one picture on each page as they attempt to turn the pages of a board book.  Even better, use the pictures or story to create silly sound effects or exaggerate sounds in the story.   Sneezes, yawns, animal sounds, “Crash”, “Boom” and “Beep Beep” are ones that you can have fun with.

My fifteen-month-old daughter, Logan has a book with a cow finger puppet that pops through the page.  She is totally engaged reading this book!  My husband, Scott created a reading routine with her:  He pops the cow through the page and says “Peek-a-boo”!  Logan attempts to imitate his word, pushes the cow back through, waves and says “bye bye”.  She is laughing, talking, turn taking and interacting and Scott hasn’t read a single word of the book.


When reading to babies do not make it forced or stressful.  Getting in a word here and there as the child explores (or chews) the book is success!  Gradually, their attention span will increase and you will be able to have more fun reading.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

As you baby’s attention span improves and language skills develop, you can begin to tell short stories.  Most likely you will have to shorten the story or even skip sentences to keep his or her interest.  Easy stories to share with your baby have very few if any words such as one of my favorites, Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann.

After your baby’s first birthday, he or she will begin to show definite book preferences.  Remember, you can never read a book too many times.   Your mantra with your child should be, “Repetition, Repetition, Repetition”.   Repetition is the absolute key to language development and early literacy skills.

Toddlers will begin to anticipate what’s coming next in a favorite book and chime in sound effects or words.  You can even create a pause before the key words or sound effects to encourage participation from your little one.

As your child gets older, begin to point out where the words are located on the page, talk about the title and together guess what the book might be about.  Also, discuss new vocabulary words, ask lots of questions and talk about how the characters feel.  Don’t worry over letters, phonics and spelling – that will come later.  For now, be creative and have fun.


As long as you are reading and talking, language and reading skills will continue to build as you find new and exciting ways to stimulate your child’s brain.

Share a love of books

My almost four-year-old son, Gavin has a hand-me-down book that his grandmother gave him.  It was his dad’s favorite book, Miss Suzy by Miriam Young.  As a child, Scott read it over and over again.  The other night Gavin said, “Daddy, let’s read this book tonight because it’s your favorite”.  What made this moment so special was that Gavin really doesn’t like this book.  Six mean red squirrels chase poor Miss Suzy out of her tree house home. It scares Gavin.  I had suggested this book several times before and he always turned it down.  Now, he was choosing  Miss Suzy on this night to bond with his dad.  It wasn’t so much about the book he chose but about the quality time he was spending with Daddy!  And not only this but, Gavin realized his dad thinks reading is cool!

Create a homespace for reading

Gavin and his magazine-rack bookshelf

Gavin and his magazine-rack bookshelf

It is important to create quiet spaces in your home for reading and sharing books.   For example, Logan’s reading space is a cozy glider next to a basket of books.  She is able to read independently by pulling books out of the basket.  Gavin’s reading space is usually in his bed.  He chooses a book (or two) from his magazine-rack bookshelf.   The books are stored with the cover facing outward which allows Gavin to see the illustrated covers to entice him into reading.  This type of bookshelf (Gavin’s was  made by a family member) is a great space to hold books for children that haven’t started to read yet.

Here are a few tips to be aware of when creating homespace for reading:

  • Choose  a comfortable space
  • Choose a space that has minimal distractions
  • Books should be easily accessible
  • Clean-up should be simple

Reading is one of the most important life skills

Bedtime reading routine

Bedtime reading routine

Setting aside quality time to bond with your child over books is one of the most important things you will do as a parent/grandparent/godparent/guardian.  In doing so you are giving your child the special attention he or she deserves.  You are also laying the groundwork for future literacy skills and teaching the joy of reading!

Make reading a part of your home.  For my family, reading is part of the bedtime routine for each of us.  Scott and I do not have a TV in our bedroom – in fact, none of the bedrooms in our home have one.  So, there is nothing to distract us from our nightly reading ritual!

Enjoy the world of reading with your child…

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 178 user reviews.

Picture yourself preparing for a photo session.  What do you do to prepare?  What details are important for you to cover for the shoot?  Hair?  Makeup?  Outfit?  Backdrop?  Attitude?

Smile for the camera!Asking these questions takes me back to the yearly professional photography sessions I had my children endure.  In particular, I remember one that all the cousins were in together.  My daughter, Sammi was about 8 months old at the time and was a constant thumb sucker.   The photographer walked up to her right before he clicked his camera for the first shot and popped her thumb out of her mouth.  Big Mistake.  She set off on a wailing session that outlasted the photo session.  When I look at that family picture even today, the tenseness in her brother, Ben’s face and all the cousins is clear.  Sammi having her thumb pulled out ruined the picture!  Not the best Kodak moment by a long shot!

As an Interior Decorator, I have had many photo sessions for my portfolio of client projects.  (Thanks to Cameron Triggs!)  Taking part in these sessions is truly eye opening.  It can take hours to prepare for a simple shot of a room.  Every detail needs to be perfect because the camera lens is unforgiving.  What looks OK to the naked eye can look cluttered and unkempt through the lens of a camera.

Flowers in kitchen

Photo credit: Kathleen Aliff

Which leads me to how others see our homespace.  We tend to live in our homes.  I mean really live in our homes.  Being in them from day to day we get used to ignoring certain aspects of our space such as clutter on shelves,   poorly arranged knickknacks and crooked pictures on the walls.  Not to mention obvious dust, cobwebs and throw pillows that have seen better days.  We get used to these minor little things and overlook them but, others that enter our space see things more objectively.  In other words, what we see in our homes is not the detail someone else sees just like the detail a camera picks up is so much more than we see.

My Helpful Hannah Tip

So here’s my Helpful Hannah Tip for achieving a more pleasing space.

View your homespace as if through the lens of a camera.

Seriously, literally go room-by-room, area-by-area and look at each part with your hands shaped like a camera lens. (Do this by making L shapes with the thumb and pointer of each hand and joining the thumbs to form a three-sided square shape.)  What you will pick up will be amazing.  You will begin to see every little detail.

Nursery shelves detailed

Photo credit: Cameron Triggs Photography

My dear friend (and realtor with Allen Tate Realty), Nancy Poe told me that whenever she meets with new clients to discuss preparing their home for sale, she urges them to go room-by-room and take pictures with their camera phones.  She tells them this really gives them an idea of what others will see when they come to look at their home as a potential purchase.

Over the years, I have helped Nancy stage, declutter and rearrange the interiors of many homes in preparation for being put on the market.  I have done simple things like take stickers off the backs of picture frames, remove dead leaves on plants, change shades on lamps, vacuum sofa cushions and remove personal items from bathroom sinks that no one else needs to see.  In other words, I have made the spaces picture worthy- without spending a dime on new things!

So, why is this important you might be asking?  Let me tell you why.  Your homespace is an outward reflection of you.  Just as you want to look your best when you go to work, school or a social function in order to give good impressions,   your home should look the best for the same reasons.  We are a direct reflection of how we live.  Treating your homespace with respect translates to respecting yourself as I express in a recent post, Treating Your Homespace With Respect.

What the camera picks up

While viewing your home through this “handmade” camera lens, look for problem areas such as:

Exquisite dining room

Photo credit: Cameron Triggs Photography

  • Clutter
  • Dirty windows
  • Smudges on mirrors
  • Dust on tops of doors, windows, and molding
  • Clutter
  • Pictures hung too high or too low on the walls
  • Crooked pictures on walls
  • Toilet bowl rings
  • Clutter
  • Messy electrical cords
  • Cobwebs
  • Dirty upholstery and rugs
  • Clutter
  • Plants in the wrong size containers
  • Dead plants
  • Improper wattage light bulbs
  • Clutter

By the way, did you notice I kept repeating the word clutter?

Absolutely, positively the number one thing that detracts from the beauty of your homespace besides an unpleasant smell is clutter.

Get rid of the clutter.  Period.

Make it pleasing to the eye

Lily's room

Photo credit: Sammi Blake

The saying, “A picture’s worth a thousand words” applies to your homespace.  Make a picture of your space through your handmade lens and create detail befitting you.   Make your space pleasing to the eye room-by-room.  The thousand words you will hear from those that enter you home will be words like beautiful, warm, cozy, uplifting, inviting, enjoyable, charming, exquisite, refreshing and so on and on.  I can guarantee it!  And, you deserve to live in a space that best reflects you!


Enjoy the living of life…

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 265 user reviews.

I first met Lisa, aka “The Nail Lady” or “The Purple Lady” a few years back while visiting my sister in Roanoke, VA.  Lisa does my sister, Mary Ann’s nails – has for many years.  In fact, she did my mother’s nails for many years and still does on occasion when Mom takes field trips with Mary Ann from her new digs at Richfield.  (See my Blog post, Creating Comfort In An Assisted Living Facility.) Lisa boldly lays claim to understanding our family dynamics better than we do.  You see, Lisa doesn’t wear blinders when she works with clients.  She sees what she sees plain and simple.  Oh, the stories she could tell…

Anyway, my sister and my mother both had nail appointments so I tagged along.  Truth be told, I saw this as a fun time to visit with Mom and Mary Ann while enjoying the peace and relaxation of watching them get manicures and pedicures.  We even stopped along the way and picked up munchies for the three of us to enjoy while we were there.   (Lisa is so easy going that when we three women made it a social gathering she was fine!)

Loving the color purple

Photo credit: Cathy McAden

Now remember, I am an Interior Decorator.  Imagine my surprise when I walked in the front door of her home and salon (the salon is built on the back of the house).  Her salon being an extension of her home should have been my first clue as to the unique world I was entering!   The world of “The Purple Lady”.

Purple, and lots of it was everywhere.  I mean E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E.!!!

Oddly enough, I found it incredibly charming.  Then I entered the doors to her salon…

Where are Ouiser, Shelby and gang?

Stepping into Lisa’s salon was like being smack dab in the middle of Truvy’s Hair Salon in the hit movie, Steel Magnolias.   I realized that her salon, like Truvy’s was a meeting place.  It was a place to gather, confide in and receive support from other women.  What fun!  No rush, no clock ticking and no need to hurry.  Going to Lisa’s was an experience in rejuvenation.

Pampering purple pedicures

Photo credit: Cathy McAden

Since that first visit, I have gone back whenever I am in Roanoke and my sister has an appointment.  I wouldn’t miss being treated to Lisa’s world for anything.   Just like Truvy’s salon, Lisa’s shop is sheer delight and you never know who is going to stop in to chat or what is going to happen while you are there.   I love everything about it and now understand how perfectly well her colors match her.

The Psychology of Purple

In the western world, the color purple symbolizes wealth and royalty.  Varying shades of it such as violet symbolize good judgment.  The color purple is very often the favorite color of adolescent girls.  As adults, it symbolizes creativity and eccentricity.

Well Lisa, no surprise there!  You fit the bill for being creative, eccentric and still in touch with your inner child!

Purple has both mental and physical affects on us as well.  As I stated in my Blog post, The Power of Color, color affects both mood and behavior.  Purple’s affects are to calm, uplift and offer a sense of spiritual peacefulness to those exposed to it.

No wonder Lisa does so well in her chosen career.  By the way, most of her clients have been with her for over the entire span of her career, close to twenty years or so.  I have no doubt that her soothing surroundings add tremendously to her success.  Of course, there’s something to her listening ear, too!

Nail Lady's purple chair

Photo credit: Cathy McAden

Funny what color can do to folks.  Lisa told me that one time she decided to repaint her salon.  She changed it to a really shocking pink.  Lisa told me that it was fascinating to observe the changes in her clients.  While sitting and getting nails and toes done, many clients acted moody and irritated just like Ousier Boudreaux (played by Shirley MacLaine in Steel Magnolias) when in one scene she summed up her sourpuss attitude by saying, “I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a bad mood 40 years”.  Lisa absolutely believes the bold pink affected her clients in ways they didn’t even realize so what did she do?  She repainted the salon the soothing violet!  Attitudes went back to normal instantaneously.

She’s proud as a peacock!

Exotic print chairs

Photo credit: Cathy McAden

When I first decided to write about Lisa and how she lives in a world of purple, I visualized a peacock.  Strutting her stuff just like a peacock showing all its living color, Lisa is the perfect example of someone true to her spirit.  Not only that but, a peacock usually has some teal in its body and guess what color Lisa retires to every evening in her most personal space, her bedroom?  Teal, of course!  Like a peacock, Lisa spreads her beauty for all to experience.

You go girl!   Keep spreading to others your multitude of gifts all the while immersing them in calming shades of purple!

To life…

And now for the back-story:

Larry the Peacock

“Larry” Photo credit: Mary Ann McAden

As I said, when I visualize Lisa I think of a peacock.  So, I wanted to use a shot of one for the opening picture.  Since resident photographer Susan Muehl had not yet captured the beauty of one for me in nature, I knew I was out of luck and would have to use something else for the opening picture and so I readied the post with a picture of a beautiful purple flower.  To my absolute surprise, the next day Mary Ann randomly texted me a picture of a peacock that had appeared in her yard from where we don’t know.  The peacock seems quite tame and has been named “Larry”.  I call this “Synchronicity at its finest”.  I needed a peacock and Larry showed up!

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I was first diagnosed with a chronic illness at the ripe old age of twenty.  In many ways, it came as a relief.  I now had an explanation for all these problems and a course of action.  But, at the same time it labeled me.

I have Fibromyalgia.  Not only had I never heard of it, I could hardly even pronounce it.  This came coupled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a host of other issues later down the road.

Chronic illness impacts everything

Every aspect of my life was impacted.  I had to quit my fulltime job because I could no longer do the things my job required of me such as standing on my feet for numerous hours a day.

Mountains and sulfur spring Wyoming

Photo credit: Sammi Blake

I had to deal with friends and family members who did not understand at all.  (Pain is relative and everyone has a different threshold for pain so it is difficult to understand just how much pain someone is or isn’t in.  Besides, I had no outward physical manifestation of my illness for others to see.)  When people began to understand that this was a condition I would live with for the rest of my life, it seemed to almost be something no one wanted to discuss or show concern over.  Pain from a surgery or disability that is visible is easier to talk about.  Who really wants to hear about constant pain that will be around forever?Because of this I often felt alienated from others as if they didn’t care when in actuality they probably just didn’t know what to say or do.

I had to spend a lot of my time resting and recovering when I did any activity such as exercise.  I had to plan my life completely differently.  Things such as traveling were difficult as I knew when I traveled somewhere riding in the car for a long  period of time, it resulted in a subsequent “flare-up”.  Another problem area was sleeping in different beds.  That was really tough as well and often took days to recover from when I returned home.

Changes in my home

After attending an eight-week program in the hospital on managing and living with chronic pain, I made changes in my space that were suggested to me in the program.  Though simple, they actually were big for me as I tend to be somewhat obsessive.  For example, on days when I knew no one would be coming over, I would not make my bed.  It was one less task I had to do.  This may sound silly because making a bed only takes a few minutes, but when you live with a chronic illness you learn to pick and choose what to do each day.

Other changes I made included how I handled every day cleaning.  I had always liked my home to be in perfect order all the time.  I learned to not be so rigid on normal days and save the “perfectly clean” days for when I was having company over.

Huge changes were made in my eating habits as well.  It was recommended to me through my Rheumatologist that I avoid caffeine and white sugar completely.  He also suggested I use organic products and produce as much as possible.  It was amazing the weight that dropped off and more importantly, how tied to food my pain levels were.  In other words, if I “cheated” at times like Thanksgiving and had sweets or foods that contained preservatives, the next week my pain levels would be far more intense.  I am a real example of what food can do to the body- so choose carefully what you put in your mouth!

Everything doesn’t have to be perfect ALL the time

This is a lesson I had to learn.  It really could be a lesson for everyone: Let some things go!

Try it yourself.  I can almost guarantee you will feel good letting one little thing go.  Trade it for doing something that makes you feel comfy!

Almost a decade later

Life continues to change for me.  Married with two wonderful stepchildren and now a beautiful daughter of my own, I have made even more changes in how I live in my home.  The pantry and refrigerator aren’t as well organized.  (OK, the labels no longer face forward equally spaced apart!)  I have too much to do, too many bigger things to be involved in than something as silly as that.  But, my health issues are still a daily challenge so with these added responsibilities I am ever more mindful of ways to counteract my issues.  I have learned even more ways to adapt.

What has evolved with the changes in my life is I make sure I have comfortable relaxation areas in my home.

Here are some examples of how I relax:

  •  Soothing music
  •  Comfy pillows for sleeping and resting
  •  Special spaces designated for quiet
  •  A bubble bath while reading a good book
  •  My comfy, old PJ’s (some of my favorite T Shirts I have had since elementary school)
  •  A comfy bathrobe and slippers

Tips to live by

I have learned through trial and error what helps make me comfortable in my home.  Here are some of the things I have learned to do:

  • Eat organically or as locally grown as possible.
  • Know the importance of sleep and relaxation.
  • Use natural products for cleaning as often as possible to eliminate toxins in the environment.
  • Understand the importance of exercise and stretching. (Remember The Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz needing to be oiled? So do we by moving and stretching!)
  • Prioritize and choose what you do carefully.
  • Let the small things go.
  • Practice calmness.

Absolutely, one of the biggest changes I made in my life when I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia was to begin eating organically.  It is certainly more expensive but, my body and I deserve the best I can give it.  Now that I have a daughter of my own, I plan to instill in her all these same habits – particularly, eating healthy. I make all her baby food with organic products and will continue to feed her organically as much as possible.  In future articles I plan to share with you some of my ventures into teaching healthy habits to my daughter.  I hope you identify with my parenting style and enjoy my message!

If I could sum up what I have learned with my illness it would be this

Hot sulfur spring Yellowstone

Photo credit: Sammi Blake

Everyday that I live with this chronic illness, I become more and more aware of the need to be positive.  I have found that it actually takes more energy to think and act negatively than it does to be positive.  Although I still have tough days of wondering why I was given these challenges, I choose to try to overcome them and live in the moment I am given to enjoy.  All of us have obstacles.  All of us have “disabilities”.  It is up to us to rise above them and exhilarate in life.

Enjoy life…

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On June 20, 1782 the Bald Eagle was chosen as the emblem of the United States of America to symbolize all our nation stood for – long life, great strength and absolute freedom.  Today this majestic creature continues to stand for what we proud Americans have always believed- our country is the home of the free.

Something happened though to put a kink in our belief system about America.  The events of September 11, 2001 gave all of us living in America a shocking wake up call.  Home no longer felt as secure.

Out of nowhere planes crashed into The Twin Towers  of the World Trade Center in New York, The Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside killing many Americans, all in the name of politics.

I believe that those that perished made their way to a better home.  Those left to pick up the pieces, the grieving families and friends of those that died had to begin to redefine what “Home” means.  I suspect some have worked through much of the grief and have a renewed sense of what matters in life and cherish each and every moment.  But, others I feel sure are still grappling with the process.

I was shocked on September 2001 just as everyone was.  As I mentioned in my post, Houseless Not Homeless, I was in Richmond, VA doing some work at my brother, Don’s house.  Richmond is but a few hours from Washington, DC and that in and of itself was eerie.  But, the sounds of silence were deafening when we walked outside that day- no planes in the sky anywhere.  Period.  I was scared to death and stunned that our country had fallen prey to such evil.  I, like most Americans was used to things like this happening on the soil of other countries- not ours.  In a matter of minutes I had a feeling of vulnerability, insecurity and simple gut wrenching fear.  Most of us did.

But, I had already come to know this fear of losing my sense of home well.  Before September 11th I had lived with it for many, many years.

Let me explain…

Losing the sense of home

Bald eagle perched in tree

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

In the late 1990’s I became a statistic of divorce.  Married almost twenty years and with three kids, my world unraveled in what felt like a skinny second.  Everything changed.  I mean everything.  What happened?  More than a divorce, I lost my family unit.  That was the most important thing to me in the world.  It didn’t matter where I lived, what I was doing, or what I was facing, when my family unit was in tact I felt safe.   Home for me had always been defined as my family and now my safety net was gone.

In losing this safety net I lost what grounded me.  In fact, up until just a couple of years ago I carried a pit in my stomach at all times.  I can only describe it as a pit of fear –  fear of the unknown.  You see, my world had been uprooted and I couldn’t figure out how to reconnect and secure it again.  At the same time that I carried the pit in my stomach, I was plagued with almost nightly dreams that took place in the last house I lived in with my complete family.  Oddly enough, the dreams constantly varied in the details of what was happening but, the house was always the same -  the one in a neighborhood called Giverny in Charlotte, NC – the place I called home.  In some dreams I was putting new curtains up, others I was working in the yard planting flowers and still others I was sitting with friends on the front steps. Regardless of the dream situation, it was clear to me time after time that through these dreams I was processing a redefining of “Home”.  Hence, the new decorating and landscaping in my dreams!  Psychologically, I took from these constant dreams that I now needed to redefine what home meant to me.  I needed to regain the safety and security I had lost.

Then, out of nowhere came a wake up call.  A chance encounter in December of 2006 (oddly enough, approximately ten years after my marital issues arose)  forced me to reckon with my past and all I had lost.  Though the ensuing years have been full of ugliness, drama and consequences I have emerged on the other side of this encounter more centered, fulfilled and blissful than I ever could imagine.  In the process, I learned where “Home” really is – in my heart and soul.  With it there, I have no chance of disconnecting from it ever again.

Now I am in the refining “Home” phase. How exhilarating!

Home’s rightful place is in the heart

What I learned was something I need to pass on.  I learned that I had inaccurately defined home all those years.  I had put the meaning of home outside myself.  It should have been centered in me- smack  dab in my heart and soul.  If I had first had it there, I could have been better prepared for losing my family structure.

Remember my article, Houseless Not Homeless?  Remember how Kenny never lost his sense of home because all the while, even living in his red truck home was in his heart?  Kenny understood better than anyone I have ever met the truth about where home needs to reside.

Bald eagle watching nest

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

A few weeks ago by sheer coincidence (and I really don’t believe in coincidences) I learned about a tragic event that had occurred in the house David and I are renting.  Oddly enough, I learned about this event two days before my post, “What Makes A House A Home was published.  In the article I mention my landlord and her near obsession with this house.  In fact, I talk about how it is her “house” but, it is my “home”.  I assumed she was obsessed with the house because she had wanted to sell it and was worried about “renters” living in it. Oh my gosh, was I ever humbled with news of what had happened here.  It just goes to show you, assumptions are only that- assumptions.  The truth was she absolutely positively lost her meaning of home one tragic evening here in this house.   Dear God, no  wonder she is so attached to it.  I only hope she someday redefines home and I hope this place called “Home”  moves into her heart.  It is her only chance to live again.

Baby bald eagle

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Which leads me back to defining what home is.  I do not for a second believe that I have experienced the worst of the worst in losing my sense of home.  Never have I been without shelter (like so many, many people), never have I been forced from my house (through acts of evil) and never have I faced horrific living conditions (such as concentration camps, relocation camps, political prisons).  I cannot imagine what levels of strength it would take to rise up after an experience such as one of these and try to find home again.  Nonetheless, up until a few years ago my life was missing the wholeness I had once had when my family was intact.  So, I looked inside myself and found it again.

Wake up America

My chance encounter in 2006 was my wake up call to redefining home and putting it in its rightful place- my heart.

Kenny has it in his heart and I pray that my landlord finds a way to put it in her’s as well.

All of us can take adversity, trauma and tragedy to create the balance in our lives we so desperately need.  I believe it begins in the home.

Fly like an eagle

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

On a larger scale, this is what we Americans have had to do as a Nation after the horrible events of September 11, 2001.  Every single one of us has had to redefine what home here in the United States means.  This place called home cannot live outside of us.  No one can create it for us or provide it for us.  It must come from within.  The truth of the matter is that if we have accurately redefined “Home” we are better for it.  We smile bigger smiles, laugh deeper laughs and love with abandon.  For if we put “Home” in our hearts, nothing but love can burst forth.

I urge each of you to embrace the shift that September 11, 2001 and now its 10th anniversary has given us the opportunity to make.  Shift your priorities, shift your values and shift your attitudes to a more basic level of love.  As the country music duo, “Big and Rich” urged the audience to do the other night in concert at Naperville’s Last Fling, get on board the Love Train.

Don’t be left behind at the station.

When you get right down to it, love is everything.  And remember, everything begins in the home.

Love with abandon…

NOTE:  Nature Photographer, Susan Muehl has been capturing the beauty of these magnificent bald eagles throughout the last two years at a lake near her home, Lake Accotink Park in Springfield VA.  They gave birth to twins this spring – to life and living in the U.S.A.!

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The beauty of color

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Ever wonder why certain colors become the latest trend?  For instance, the trendy colors as I write are gray and yellow.  Just look closely at the backgrounds of magazine covers, the words on magazine covers, the wall colors on top-rated TV shows, commercials, movie-set décor, clothing worn by models, actresses and actors- the list goes on… right now those in the know use the color gray accented with varying tinges of yellow.  Just pay attention to a Sprint commercial on TV next time you see one.  Everything you see is gray and yellow.

Why these colors?  Why now?

The psychology of color

The use of color is a form of non-verbal communication.  It communicates meaning.  Consider these examples of the psychological power of color:

  • The impact of color is direct.
  • The impact of color is instantaneous.
  • The impact of color is emotional.
  • The impact of color can alter moods and behavior.
  • The impact of color often determines the choices you make.
  • The impact of color is much like the impact of smell- it stirs up memories.

Back to gray and yellow

So, I cannot help but try to psychoanalyze why these two colors are the latest trend.  Consider what they symbolize:

  • Gray symbolizes security, stability and conservatism.  It is a balanced and neutral color that doesn’t evoke strong emotion.  A great example of this is the traditional gray suit for men- practical and timeless.
  • Yellow symbolizes joy, happiness and optimism.  It is the color of sunshine so it makes you feel warmth.  A great example of this is radio talk show host and Oprah B.F.F., Gayle King.  She has decorated her home in yellow and look at how we listeners of her show perceive her as upbeat and full of life!

Put the two colors of gray and yellow together and what do you get?  Perhaps you get a combined feeling of optimistic conservatism and stability?  Is this an indication of our economy and the government wanting us to feel secure, stabile, happy and conservative?  Makes you wonder…

Golden mushroom

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Remember when the trendy colors were chocolate brown and blue?  (This went on way too long if you ask me!)  Now, I don’t know for sure but I was told from reliable sources in my industry that the chocolate brown craze was because of Starbucks coffee.  Can you imagine?  If this is true, isn’t the power of persuasion (and marketing) fascinating?  Did we all go out and buy more coffee from Starbucks?  Were chocolate brown and blue truly our favorite colors to decorate our homes with or were we caught up in thinking we liked them?   I can tell you I really, really tired of doing chocolate brown and blue in home after home.  I wanted extraordinary, not ordinary.  See what I mean?  Don’t you want to be extraordinary?  More you?  Unique?  True to your essence?

Think about it.  Really begin to understand what color speaks to you the most and then ask yourself why this particular color or colors do.   And while you do, I will give you a short lesson on other colors, the feelings they evoke and what they have come to symbolize.

The colors of the rainbow

Red ~ Passion, Energy, Excitement, Impulsiveness

Pink ~ Love, Beauty, Healing, Passion

Green ~ Health, Well-being, Prosperity, Nature

Purple ~ Royalty, Richness, Power, Ambition

Orange ~ Encouragement, Stimulation, Courage, Strength

Blue ~ Patience, Tranquility, Wisdom, Youth

Dainty yellow flower

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

I have to mention these colors as well although they are not colors of the rainbow:

White (Absence of color) ~ Purity, Truth, Peace, Spiritual strength

Black ~ Power, Sophistication, Depth, Formality

In an earlier blog post, Color Your World I talk about the importance of being true to yourself through the colors you use in your homespace. So, what color(s) do you use?  Why?  Do you honor yourself by using the color(s) that accurately match who you are?

Manipulating your energy with color

Advertisers, retailers and corporate America all take advantage of the subliminal manipulations color can achieve in us humans.  Think about the colors you usually see in hospitals, doctor’s offices and other health care providers.  The color palette used is most often soft blues, greens and grays. Colors to soothe, calm and center you.  No coincidence there!  By using these colors throughout these buildings, moods and behaviors are altered.

Power of color

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

This holds true for your personal homespace as well.  Just as important as using colors that are true to your essence is understanding that infusing other colors in subtle ways in your homespace can actually help balance you.

So why not start allowing color to influence your homespace and balance the energy?   A little bit goes a long way.  It won’t infringe on your décor scheme either.  Just be sensitive to adding color in simple ways such as with throw pillows, accessories and artwork.

Is your personality a tad on the high-strung side?  If so, add small touches of calming colors such as soft blues and greens in your homespace.   (Do the same for your wardrobe, too!)

Are you meek and mild and want to project more gumption?  Infuse bold colors such as red and orange in both your homespace and clothing choices.  It is amazing what a pair of red boots or a bold tie does to a simple black ensemble.

I read somewhere once about the impact of color on men and women.  I wish I could remember where it was but I do remember being fascinated by the psychologist’s theory that perhaps women live longer than men because women routinely wear more colors to brighten their appearance, which in turn brightens their moods.  Ever since then I have become an advocate of my David wearing really, really colorful ties with his suits each day!  I’ve gotta do everything I can to keep the man around for a long time!  And, I obsess over the news anchors on the TV each morning critiquing their ties and paying attention to their choices.  George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America sure wears some great ones!

What color choices say about you

Color of passion

Photo credit: Krisitn Vining Photography

I would love to hear from you about what colors you use in your homespace and why.  Undoubtedly, unless you are following the latest trends, there is a reason you use the colors you do.  Do these colors match your personality?  How?

Also, just for fun I will follow up this post with a few  more posts on specific colors expressed in homes of friends and family.  I love knowing people that live and breathe their true essence through their homespace décor and I want to share their stories.  Once I tell you a little about the personalities of these people and their color schemes, you will begin to understand how harmoniously they fit each other.  Take Lisa, aka “The Purple Lady”.  What a hoot.  She’s a woman totally in touch with her inner self!

Be on the lookout for these upcoming posts.  I think you’ll enjoy getting a glimpse into other people’s lives.  And, you never know, you might decide a color change is in order for you!  If so, I say go for it!  Life is short so color it in style.  Your style, of course!

Think color…

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