Fabulous Outdoor Décor For Fall

I am astounded each year at how much money is spent on Halloween decorations for the outside. Surveys show that Halloween is by far and away the second largest holiday we decorate for. I know I am an old-timer but growing up, the most anyone did was put out a pumpkin that became a jack-o-lantern for Halloween.

Now, it seems that all front doors have at the very least a pumpkin per child in the family.  Don’t get me wrong; I am not opposed to this.  But, what for years and years was a one-night festivity has turned into a full-blown holiday season.  Manufacturers and retailers now provide us with every imaginable way to decorate for Halloween.  Lights, moving figures, spooky music – you name it, you can find it in a store to buy for decorating.

I love Halloween.  I will never forget the Halloween when I looked like I was carrying my own pumpkin because I was a couple of weeks overdue with my first child, Benjamin.  Or the time I was in charge of his sixth grade Halloween party.  I can still see him cringing in embarrassment as I turned the jam box volume up on “The Monster Mash”.  I think I was a tad too enthusiastic for him.  Those were the days…

And I am the first to admit that I do enjoy the varying degrees to which people decorate for the candy holiday.  Just the other weekend while driving to Wisconsin to go apple picking, my David and I laughed hysterically at the massive black spiders we saw on the roller coaster at Six Flags.  I mean they were HUGE even from the interstate!  Traditionally every Christmas season my family and I have driven around at night to see all the different holiday lights and decorations.  Now I find myself doing it during “The Halloween Season”.  See?  I even refer to it as a season without realizing it.

Go natural the day after Halloween

Obviously, the colors of Halloween are also symbolic of autumn.  Why not convert your outdoor décor to simple fall décor the day after Halloween?  Get rid of the spooky.  Get rid of the creepy.  Get rid of anything that has to do specifically with Halloween and think fall.  Let the front entrance of your home honor the season as we approach Thanksgiving.  Let the colors of fall emblazon your home and send a welcoming message to those that enter or merely drive by.

Seasonal Mums

Seasonal Mums

Nothing beats what nature provides for us.  Go natural with your outdoor fall décor.  Fill your planters and urns with seasonal plants such as mums, ornamental cabbages and pansies.  Keep the pumpkins, too- at least the ones you didn’t carve.  Ignore the fact that you are giving the squirrels a feast to nibble on everyday.  Do what I do and enjoy their show!  Add gourds, Indian corn and cornstalks.  Think Pilgrims!

One of my decorating mottos is less is more.  A simple natural fall wreath on your front door speaks volumes.  But, add whatever makes you happy.  Just make it unique and inviting.  Remember, the outside of your home is the first impression you give of how you live in your space.  Make sure it reflects whom you are.  As with all things you do in your homespace, honor yourself in this way.

A simple fall decor

A simple fall decor

As I said, I love Halloween.  I remember many years as a kid walking in the dark with my sister, Mary Ann carrying our pillowcases door-to-door for treats.  We walked until we couldn’t hold the heavy pillowcases much longer.  When my kids were young, Halloween signaled “Bat Stew” for dinner and then the night that the dads in the neighborhood took over.  Kids in tow, they walked the neighborhood while we mothers handed out candy and enjoyed the moments of alone time.  And, since 1987, I celebrate every Halloween lovingly remembering my own dad as we buried him Halloween afternoon and then took all the grandkids trick-or-treating that night on October 31, 1987.  My dad loved candy more than anyone I ever knew.  How fitting that he was buried on the candy holiday!

Happy Halloween to all of you and may tonight’s fun fill you with laughter and love.  And, cheers to you Daddy.  I think I’ll eat some Mary Jane’s for you!

Fall on the farm

Fall on the farm

To celebrating fall…

A Breath Of Fresh Air

Funny how we use the phrase, “a breath of fresh air”.  This signals that we certainly understand that there are benefits to fresh air.  For example, you might describe someone new that you meet as “a breath of fresh air”.   Yet, very few of us actually take a breath of fresh air.  Why not use this phrase literally and reap from it what you can?

Fresh air has restorative powers waiting for us all.  We can take in this tonic outside OR we can bring it indoors.  Either way, it’s magical.

Breathing fresh air indoors

In any space, the oxygen content goes down continually as you breathe out carbon dioxide and other wastes.  For many of us the spaces we live and work in go from heat to air conditioning followed by heat and then air conditioning once again.  Staying in an environment that is closed-in like this for a long period of time means you are breathing in the same air over and over again.  One big vicious cycle if you ask me.  Fresh air rectifies the situation and breaks this nasty cycle by allowing for a steady supply of oxygen for both your brain and your entire body.

Have you ever noticed the stale morning smell that lingers in a bedroom that has had the door closed throughout the night?  There’s a reason for this.  While you sleep you breathe moisture, breath odors and tons of microorganisms into the air, your pillow and your bedding.  Added to that you perspire, exude skin oils and body smells.  Multiply the amount of all these smells in a room by how many people sleep there.  No wonder it’s stinky.  For goodness sakes, open the windows and let some air into the room!  Better yet, follow the lead of what many Europeans have been doing since the beginning of time and air out your bedding.  Years ago while living in the Washington, DC area my dear friend, Peggy Love’s family bedding hung out each bedroom window airing out for the coming night’s sleep.  I loved seeing this and it made perfect sense to me.  Peggy knew the restorative powers of fresh air for the family bedding.  (She also had one gorgeous silver tea service but that’s a story for another day!)

Physiologically, fresh air makes a healthier environment for us.  There are psychological benefits as well.  Psychologically, the feeling of being closed-in can be constraining.  I was talking about this just recently with one of my many niece’s, Sarah Shrader.  I was visiting her new home in Richmond, VA and she was talking about how different it was compared to her home in San Diego.  In her home in San Diego the windows were always open.  Now in Richmond, she tended to keep them closed and it made her feel confined.  I understood exactly what she meant by that.  My body actually craves fresh air and regardless of the weather or the temperature somewhere in my house there is at least one window cracked.  Even in the middle of a Chicago winter!  And if weather permits, I have every window possible open.  I do right now.

Breathing fresh air outdoors

Hiking in nature

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Many of us spend very little time outdoors.  If we exercise, we do it on the treadmills or machines in our homes or we go to the gym.  Just the other day a friend told me she asked her son to go for a walk after dinner. He was actually baffled and asked her why she didn’t just get on her treadmill.  She told him that the fresh air would do them both good and they could also spend some time together.  He grudgingly went thinking all the while she was weird.  Unbelievable.

In past posts on this blog I have expressed the restorative powers that nature has for us.  (An example is my post, Let Nature Restoreth Your Soul (And Your Home).)  I learned this first hand myself.  I have always been a lover of the outdoors but it wasn’t until the past few years when I became inundated with way too much trauma-drama that I understood the healing powers of nature.  Let me explain…

I moved to the Chicago area a little over two years ago.  I came here kicking and screaming.  I left my business, my friends, my organic garden, my beautiful yard and my family back in Charlotte.  Seriously, I thought God had decided a traumatic divorce, a stalker, a chronically ill child, serious health issues of my own and an earth-shattering chance encounter on a plane weren’t enough to send me over the edge.  God had to throw me one more curve ball.  A Mack Daddy one to boot.  I had to move away from my kids, their spouses and grandchildren.  How could I hover over them so far away?  Weren’t they supposed to move away from me and not the other way around?

In the woods

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Home was with my David so I moved.  Once in Chicago I was faced with endless time on my hands.  I took to walking in nature.  With forest preserves all around me, it gave me something to do besides gourmet cooking and Law And Order reruns.

I started feeling better.  I noticed I was less angry and grumpy.  (So did my David for that matter.)  I slept better.   I smiled more.  The bliss began…

I owe it all to nature and fresh air.  No two ways about it.

The benefits of fresh air

Regardless of whether your are outdoors or inside, fresh air is vital to your essence.  Ponder these benefits you reap:

  • Fresh air helps the airways to your lungs dilate more fully.
  • Fresh air improves the cleansing action of your lungs.
  • Fresh air rids your body of accumulated impurities.
  • Fresh air improves your heart rate, blood pressure and metabolic rate.
  • Fresh air strengthens your immune system.
  • Fresh air soothes your nerves.
  • Fresh air improves your sleep.
  • Fresh air improves the serotonin levels in your brain.
  • Fresh air clears your mind.
Fresh air

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Recently I found myself unexpectedly back in Virginia.  My stay there was action packed to say the least and so any time I could, I spent it outdoors.  I played on the swings with grand nieces and nephews, Gavin, Ellie, Whitt and Logan.  I took a walk with niece Marli and the crew of babies and kids.  Even my niece, Christy wanted to make sure two month old Carina spent time outside.  She told me that her pediatrician actually prescribed outdoor air daily for precious Carina.  (You go, Doc!)  So, one evening her husband, Ryan and I stood outside with tiny Carina asleep in her stroller and five month old Maya nestled asleep in my arms.  Both babies were getting nature’s tonic of fresh air while Ryan and I talked.  What could be better?

Find ways to get a breath of fresh air.  Both you and your homespace deserve it.  Like the words in an old 60’s song by Three Dog Night, titled “Mama Told Me Not To Come”, open up the windows and let some air into the room.  Otherwise you’ll choke on the smell of stale perfume!

You’ll be glad you did.

To a breath of fresh air…

Homemade Pancakes – What Could Be Better?

I don’t know about most of you but I associate certain foods with certain seasons.  This is not just for the obvious reason that fruits and vegetables have specific growing seasons.  Rather, food for me has memories and feelings associated with it specific to different times of the year.

For example, summer for me includes daily trips to the local Farmers’ Market for the makings of a summertime feast.  (Unless it comes from my own garden!) Give me a meal of mouth-watering slices of watermelon, silver queen corn, tomatoes fresh off the vine topped off with freshly made iced tea and cobbler and I’m a happy camper.  (You can find my recipe for cobbler on my post, Quick Summer Fruit Cobbler.) And, what summer doesn’t include outdoor barbeques?  Nothing beats the aroma wafting through the air of something on the backyard grill.  It signals summer for me just as much as the smell of freshly cut grass does.

For many of us, the autumn chill signals football and tailgating as Chef Ryan writes in his post, Tailgating- A Great American Tradition.  For me, the changing season signals pancakes.

The smell of pancakes cooking on a cool autumn morning does much the same thing for me as smelling a backyard grill in the heat of the summer.  For me, pancakes are a way to feel warm and cozy as the weather changes.

The tradition in my home is to have pancakes every Sunday morning.  It is something both David and I look forward to as it is really the only breakfast of the week that we actually sit down and enjoy together – the rest are eaten on the run or are eaten quickly to merely fortify our bodies and start the day.  Sunday morning pancakes are a total feel good experience for us!

Years ago I thumbed my nose at pancake mix in any pre-made form.  Seriously, what could be better than homemade pancakes?  I can whip up a batch in less than ten minutes using all organic ingredients that are better than any out of a box, can or bag. Last Sunday morning when David and I sat down to eat he looked at me and said, “Pancakes together on Sunday morning is my favorite time of the weekend”.   My David loves food but, this Sunday morning ritual is what he looks forward to as much as the yummy meal!

How to prepare pancake batter

Getting started

I do have one secret step in making my pancakes that I want to share.  It is a step that in my view absolutely, positively makes the lightest and fluffiest pancakes ever.  I witnessed this step years ago while I was in junior high school.  I had a friend whose mom was Swedish and so every Saturday morning she made Swedish Pancakes.  I was always thrilled to be invited to Laurie’s house, as I loved these pancakes.  I noticed one day that Laurie’s mom let the batter sit on the counter for a long time untouched.  Nosy me, I observed this and watched the batter actually rise up with tiny bubbles forming on the surface.  (I later realized this is what crepe recipes call for you to do.)  Once I began to make pancakes myself, albeit the traditional kind, I did this as well.  I soon learned that perfect pancakes are the result of letting the batter sit untouched for about 45 minutes.  So, every Sunday morning after I have started brewing a pot of coffee I make the pancake batter and let it sit.  David and I enjoy our mugs of coffee, play scrabble on our IPad and wait for breakfast.  This Sunday morning ritual of relaxing while the pancake batter rises gives us both warm fuzzies!

Here’s my recipe:

1 ½ c. flour                    1 egg, beaten

2 T. sugar                       1 ½ c. milk

3 t. baking powder      3 T. butter, melted

1 t. salt

Cooking homemade pancakes in an iron skillet

Cooking in the iron skillet

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Combine in a separate bowl egg and milk; blend well.  Add egg mixture and melted butter to the dry ingredients until the batter is stirred.  Be sure to leave it lumpy.  Let sit for 45 min. to an hour.  Cook preferably on a griddle or cast iron skillet.

Get creative:

Add any fresh berries or fruits you want.  You can also add nuts such as pecans or spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.

Enjoy!

Best homemade pancakes

Mmm,Mmm good

Everything begins in the home.  How you live in your home, the way you interact with others in your home, the traditions and rituals in your home and the foods you eat in your home all evoke feelings in you.  Each part of the goings on in your space is vital to your essence.  Be cognizant of the importance of this!

Food does more than nourish our bodies. It nourishes our hearts and souls as well.

To living and loving life…

I know Chef Ryan is the resident foodie on this blog but every once in a while I feel compelled to share with you one of my own favorite food recipes that for me adds to making a wonderful recipe for life!  Look for Chef Ryan again soon!

How Music Can Influence Your Space

While taking my daily walk in nature this morning,  the weather changed and what started as a slight mist turned into a gentle rain.  Without realizing it I began singing an old song  in my head by B.J. Thomas, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”.

Once I realized what I was doing not only did I chuckle but, I realized how good I felt even while walking in the rain with no umbrella handy.  This upbeat song was making me feel good!

Music has the power to do this.

The power of music

Music has the power to influence our attitudes and behaviors.  It can make you happy, it can make you sad.  It can give you inspiration and it can keep you stuck.  It can fill you with all kinds of warm fuzzies and it can fill you with anger.  It can affect you and even make shifts in you that you are unaware of.  It’s no coincidence that medical offices, elevators and other places that have the opportunity to heighten stress levels in us use soothing background music.  My own dentist offers you earphones to listen to soothing music while sitting in the dental chair.  Retailers market music for our babies with offerings of CD’s of soothing sounds and lullabies.  All you need do is spend an hour in a baby store and you will see what manufacturers believe every child should hear!

Colors of nature

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

As far back as 1974 in a high school psychology experiment I hypothesized that music had incredible psychological power. I had a great teacher, Mrs. Jackie Wilkerson and she really made  class fun.  During the year she assigned us class projects and I decided to do mine on the influence music has on our eating habits.  My study was based on the hypothesis that if you increase the beat and rhythm of a song, the rate of chewing also increases.  I did my experiment on kids in the school cafeteria.  Now I am the first to admit that the study had to be full of incredible extraneous variables that I didn’t have the wherewithal to include or allow for in my experiment.  Nonetheless, for a high school psychology experiment, the results were conclusive to my hypothesis.  Kids did chew faster during fast tempos and slower during slower tempos.  I call that food for thought!

(By the way, I actually called my old high school teacher the other day to let her know I would be writing this article.  Mind you, I haven’t talked to her since 1974 and wasn’t even sure if she would remember me.  Wow!  Mrs. Wilkerson is now Dr. Wilkerson, a licensed therapist.  What an inspiration to know that her work as a high school psychology teacher led her to go for the gusto and live her passion in such a way!)

In researching data for this post I came upon some interesting findings.  Because I don’t care to have my posts full of statistical data and more about what I have learned  for myself first hand, I choose not to site various and sundry articles that I have gleaned data from. However, feel free to contact me if you want to know where I get some of my information. I will be happy to pass it on to you. With that said, these are some of the interesting tidbits of research findings about music I have read that give pause for consideration:

  • Music can slow down or speed up the heart rate.
  • Music can reduce muscle tension, improve body movement and coordination.
  • Music can regulate stress-related hormones.
  • Music can change our perception of time and space.
  • Music can strengthen our memory.
  • Music can enhance romance and sexuality.
  • Music can aid in digestion.
  • Music can generate a feeling of safety and well-being.
  • Music can enhance an unconscious receptivity to symbolism.

Music speaks what the soul feels (or should)

I absolutely, positively believe in the power of music.  It has certainly affected me through the years and when I look back on specific times in my life I realize that the music I listened to often mirrored what my heart and soul were feeling at the time.  (Or vice versa.)  I suspect it is the same for most people.

Leaves falling in water

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

For example, during the months and months of enduring an extremely painful separation and subsequent divorce I started listening to country music for the first time.  I can remember times when the kids would be at school and I would turn up the volume full blast on soulful ballads and sing my heart and lungs out while I walked through the empty house feeling safe to express my grief.  I never listened to perky music.  Instead I listened to music that was full of angst, sorrow and despair.  I would cocoon myself in songs like this while I grieved the death of a marriage and a family unit.  In hindsight, I believe I should have chosen songs with more positive lyrics instead of ones that kept me glued to my pity pot.

Listening to music with positive messages, an upbeat tempo or simply a soothing instrumental song can change the energy of you and your space.  The only thing is that like the chicken and the egg, I am not sure which comes first.  DO we choose our music based on what our Soul is feeling OR is our Soul affected by the music we choose?  Regardless of the answer to this, we all should consciously choose the music we listen to in order to enhance our true selves!

Allow music to make your heart sing

Leaves among the rocks

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

The fact that I unconsciously began singing, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” today while I was out walking in nature doesn’t surprise me.  Through all the trauma-drama in my life I have emerged on the other side full of bliss.  My choices in music mirror that, even the ones in my head.  Sure I still love Reba McEntire and some of the other great country songs.  I just fill my head with the positive ones like one of my all-time favorites by The Dixie Chicks, “Wide Open Spaces”.  To this day that song reminds me of two women I deeply admire – Lori Saylor Milan and Blair Kernodle Scheepers – both of whom went in search of wide open spaces for their souls.  Or, for a quick smile I listen to Jimmy Buffet’s song, “Cheeseburgers In Paradise” as my son, Jimmy and I used to love to dance in the kitchen around the center island to the song while systematically pulling from the fridge all the ingredients in the song.  More often than not though, I enjoy the sounds of silence as I expressed in my post, Let Nature Restoreth Your Soul (And Your Home) in order to hear life around me!

Choose music that can do all kinds of wonderful things for you.  Choose music to positively impact your energy and the energy of your space.  The music you choose is a choice you make.  It is that simple.  Choose music that speaks what your soul feels.

I read somewhere that music IS the heart of a person.  The heart is formed in the home, which again speaks to my firm belief – everything begins in the home.  Honor your home with the best you can give it.

There is music in all of us – we just need to listen…

Decorating 101 – A Lesson For Lilly

I like to think that every moment presents us with a chance to learn something – “a teachable moment” to use a catchy, trendy phrase.

So, when dear friend and client, Jennifer McNally asked B&A Interiors, LLC  to redo her daughter, Lilly’s bedroom, Sammi and I took the project on with one stipulation.  Although this was to be considered a birthday present from Jennifer and Sean, we wanted Lilly to be involved in the decision making process.  Jennifer was in!

In particular, I wanted her to understand the use of color, textures and patterns to create a pleasing atmosphere for her.  As side benefits she ended up learning about budget and patience (which she exemplified as she waited and w.a.i.t.e.d for the job to be finished).  Decorating 101 for Lilly!

Here’s what Lilly learned (at least that was the intention):

Color your world

The project started with a simple question I posed for Lilly.

What are your favorite colors?

In grown-up words, I was asking her what colors spoke to her as I think this is first and foremost the question to know the answer to in any new decorating project.  As I said in my post Color Your World, it is vital to your essence to be true to yourself in how you decorate your space.  Your choice of colors must match who you are in order for your soul to be blissful.  Even a young girl like Lilly needs to feel the color and know it matches who she is.  Learning this so young in life is a tremendous step in the right direction of becoming authentically you.  Furthermore, learning to express who you are in any capacity is a lesson in assertiveness.  Letting Lilly be a part of the decision making process taught her to speak her mind.       

Once Lilly expressed to us what her favorite colors were, Jennifer, Sammi and I hit the design showrooms in search of fabrics. Obviously, we wanted to make sure that Lilly was guided in directions where color, texture and pattern were combined to create a beautiful look for her room.  So, we put together three different sets of choices and then let Lilly make the final decision.  It was a win-win for all of us.  Lilly got to choose the color palette, we gently guided her with fabric selections and then she took ownership in the final decision making.

The colors of nature

Another lesson for Lilly to learn was my firm belief that every space should infuse the two basic colors of nature.  In my post, Two Colors Every Homespace Needs, I explain the importance of this.  The two basic colors of nature (green and blue) when used in interior spaces instantaneously connect you with nature.  And, all of us can benefit from this.

Lilly’s treasured vanity from Aunt Liz

Lilly’s treasured vanity from Aunt Liz

Incorporating these two colors into Lilly’s design was super easy.  We needed to work with a piece of furniture in Lilly’s room that was very special to her that just happened to be a beautiful shade of soft green.  This piece of furniture was a sweet vanity table from her Aunt Liz.  We wanted to make this piece a real focal point of the room in honor of her aunt so, we worked with the vanity’s color by accenting it with a skirted chair using blue for the cushion’s seat.  Lilly can now sit at the vanity primping and preening while remembering Aunt Liz.  It just doesn’t get any better that this!

(You can read more about my love of incorporating family treasures in your home in my post, Creating Beauty In Your Homespace With Family Treasures.)

Even the fabrics we chose for all the custom work had nature’s gifts of color in them along with the bold colors Lilly wanted.  Now that the project is complete, the colors of nature flourish throughout the room.

Make sure your space is peripherally pleasing to the eye

Just as I wrote in a recent post, The Peripheral View Of Your Home, I explained to both Lilly and Jennifer that it was important for the entire space to embrace you in a pleasing way.  So, in the design plan I made sure that regardless of where Lilly was standing in her room, out of the corner of her eye (using her peripheral vision) the colors carried throughout the room.  To highlight these colors, I changed the original soft pink of the walls to a neutral off-white from Benjamin Moore called “Monterey White” as this color is a wonderful backdrop when you are using bold fabrics.  This color (or lack thereof) allowed the bold color scheme to carry throughout the room seamlessly without adding extra busyness.

Lilly’s new memo board

Lilly’s new memo board

The main fabrics infused both green and blue along with the colors Lilly wanted to use in her bedroom.  Window Treatments, Bedding , Lilly’s Custom Memo Board and the Vanity Chair all incorporated these colors.  These colors were even continued into her bathroom where the wall color, a soft green (this was the original color and we left it this way)  was perfect to showcase the bold use of color in the shower curtain and the funky artwork on the walls.

Living in perfect harmony

Lilly’s birthday present of a new look for her bedroom turned out to be so much more than just a present.  I believe that by allowing Lilly to be a part of the decision making for the color choices, she was able to give voice to her essence that she is just beginning to understand and be comfortable with.  This allows Lilly to feel that her personal space reflects who she is and what she is about even at this young age.  She is already learning the joy of living in harmony with herself through how she lives in her space.  Thus, she stands to be better prepared to live in harmony with her family, friends, classmates and anyone she interacts with.  I firmly believe it.

Everything begins in the home

Loving quiet time in my new digs

Loving quiet time in my new digs

Lilly is fortunate to know the importance of home and appreciates what her home gives her – a place of safety and an atmosphere to thrive in.  Her “new do” in her most personal space, her bedroom gives her ownership in how she expresses herself.  I chuckle over how much she loves it.  Jennifer has texted me that Lilly loves showing everyone that comes over to her house, regardless of who it is, her bedroom make over.  She even explains the intricacies of the fabric patterns and how her pillows have two usable sides!

Everything really does begin in the home.  What happens in the home from what we smell, what we eat, what we hear, what we see, what we feel and what we are surrounded with carries over into adulthood and forms us in ways that are incredibly complex.  Starting life in a positive atmosphere full of beauty can make all the difference.

I am deeply grateful to have been part of creating such a wonderful space for Lilly to blossom in. Plus, I am grateful for the opportunity to have been able to teach Lilly and not just present Lilly with a finished project.  Several years ago, I decided I could better serve my clients by teaching them “how to fish” instead of “feeding them the fish”.  It might make for less clients overtime but, I think it is important to empower people to embrace their space themselves once they learn some basics.  For me, Lilly was no exception.

I know Lilly loves her new space and will always remember this first lesson in decorating – what I call “Decorating 101”.  Next on the list for this class of instruction is my dear step-granddaughter, Addison.  Watch out Addison!

Decorate your life not just with color but also with love, Lilly…

Always express your true self through your space! To see a full album of Lilly’s decorating project check it out on my Facebook Fanpage, livinginperfectharmony.  By the way, can you guess what colors that Lilly loves?

The Peripheral View Of Your Home

Remember wondering if your parents had eyes in the back of their heads when you were growing up because they seemed to see and know every move you made?  Actually, what they were probably doing was they were using their peripheral vision, which allowed them to see the whole picture of what was going on. We undervalue what our eyes observe peripherally so using our peripheral vision to view our homes is probably something most of us don’t think about.

The science of peripheral vision

Heron

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

The vision we use called central vision is focal point vision.  It is what you see straight on as you are looking at something.

Peripheral vision is what you see outside central vision.  It is referred to as side vision or indirect vision. In simple terms, peripheral vision is what you see to your right and to your left while you are looking straight at something.

What the peripheral tells you

Obviously, peripheral vision takes in much less detail than central vision does.  But, I believe that it is in the peripheral area of vision that we actually get a fuller picture of something for our brain to process.  That’s because peripheral vision  mentally combined with central vision helps your brain see the whole picture.

Viewing space

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Whenever I am assessing a client’s space, I use several different techniques such as the one I discuss in a recent post, View Your Home Through The Lens Of A Camera.

(Fortunately or unfortunately, I do this in every home I enter be it a family member’s, a friend’s, acquaintance’s or client’s as I obsess over detail of space constantly.)

One of the most important techniques  of assessment I use is what I call “The Peripheral Vision Test”.  I am not sure if you would ever see this technique explained in a design manual or learn it in the classroom but, intuitively I know it really gives a good picture of the area or space I am critiquing.

Why not try it yourself?

Using the technique for yourself

It is really a simple technique to use in your homespace.  You can go room by room, area by area and do this to assess how your space makes you feel.  (Remember it is what you feel that matters as you look at something.)

Here’s the how to:

Stand in the center of an area of your home.  For example, stand in your entryway.  Look straight ahead with your arms down by your sides.  What do you see?

Now, concentrate on using your side vision looking straight ahead.  What do you see?

What thought comes to your mind when you take the entire picture of this space into your mind?  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is what I see pleasing to my eye?
  • Does the complete picture of what I see have a good flow?
  • Is the complete picture cohesive?
  • Does anything I see jump out at me or seem out of place?

You can repeat this vision test throughout your home.  It really tells you a lot about your space and can help you ascertain any changes you might need to make to it.

Bird's eye view

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

For example, back in the foyer test I just used – you might realize that the room colors you have in the spaces to the right and left of the entryway don’t really flow well with what color you have on the walls in the foyer because you don’t feel good vibes from what you see overall.  Or, you might realize a piece of furniture needs to be moved slightly.  It is as if you have a feeling that something is just a tad off.  Question this and figure out what changes you need to make.

Now, if you find that you are not comfortable doing this yourself or don’t trust yourself, ask a close friend or family member to do this test in your home for you.  As long as you know that you will get an honest opinion, anyone willing to concentrate and take the time necessary can do this!

Here’s to getting a passing grade on this test!  Let me know how your home stacks up.  I would love to hear from you with the results of your experience in using your peripheral vision assessment test of your home.

Remember, it is just one more interesting way to observe your most private space- the space you call HOME.

Take the test…

Aromatherapy In Your Home

Antique recipe book

Mom’s first recipe book

Consider this recipe that I recently found in my mother’s decrepit family recipe book:

Peppermint Oil – To stop vomiting, saturate a cloth in peppermint oil and lay it across the bare stomach.

Amazing isn’t it?  I am guessing this recipe dates back to the early 1900’s  as it is from my great-grandmother, Ma’am Beech’s original recipe book passed down through the family.  It later became part of my mother’s first recipe book as a young woman in the 1940’s.

Pure peppermint oil placed on the stomach to soothe discomfort!  It sure beats all the commercial medicinal treatments by a mile!

Buckeye butterfly on flowers

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

My friend and colleague, Jannette Semenic (well educated in the field of aromatherapy) told me one way she uses peppermint oil.  She said, “I use peppermint oil as a natural breath freshener.  I simply dab a few drops of the oil on my tongue”.  It certainly makes you wonder why we all buy Tic-Tacs and Lifesavers that are full of ingredients we don’t need in our bodies.  Jannette knows that the simplicity of what nature has to offer us is the best tonic for us.

A history of essential oils

Natural oils are derived from flowers, leaves,  the bark of trees, roots and any other part of a plant or tree that has medicinal properties.

From the earliest of times, oils have been used for medicinal purposes.  In fact, as far back as 4500 B.C. there are historical records of the use of essential oils.  Furthermore, the Bible is full of notations about herbs and essential oils.  Considered mankind’s first resource for medicinal purposes,  oils were at one time even more precious than gold.

Essential oils in modern times

Purple wildflowers

Photo credit: David Solganik

Today, essential oils can be found in many of the products we commonly use on a daily basis.  I for one think retailers and corporate America have manipulated us with these products  because in truth they rarely contain much of the essence of the plant from which they originate.  Yet, we spend endless amounts of money on these new products every single day knowing full well they often contain a mere smidgen of nature’s gold.  Amazing.

Here’s an example- one day recently I was really missing my precious little granddaughter, Ansley (you know, God’s Littlest Angel) and so instead of using my normal hand lotion, I used a lotion I have for when she visits.  It is a product for babies.  It is meant as a calming lotion for bedtime and has the words lavender and vanilla on the front of the bottle.  Not to discount this product but, in reading the list of ingredients there is no mention of what percentage of oils this product contains.  So, how much calming from the lavender and vanilla is really going on?  Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?  Why not simply put a dish of fresh lavender in the baby’s room?  Or diffuse through the air a mixture of distilled water and organic lavender oil prior to bedtime?

Using essential oils in a form such as a diffuser is one form of Aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is the practice of using natural oils to enhance both physical and psychological well-being.  As I said in a recent post, The Smell Test, the number one crucial ingredient required to make your homespace beautiful is a wonderful smell.  Seriously, the nose knows and the brain remembers.

Soothing the energy of your space with fragrance

Busy bee

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Smells can transport you to other times in your life.   How many times do you smell something and immediately connect it to a memory of something?  My friend, Jannette and I were talking about this.  She told me how she always remembers going to her grandmother’s home and seeing fresh orange peel hanging in the kitchen.  To this day she uses essential oils such as tangerine to transport her back in time to being with her grandmother.  Talk about creating warm fuzzies!

For years as a young mother I had a special pot I used to keep fresh cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg in on the stove.  I would keep the pot of spices (in water) on a low simmer so that the wonderful aromas of these spices would fill the air. This was my first use of aromatherapy to create beauty in my home.

Wyndmere Ultrasonic Nebulizer

My Wyndmere Nebulizer

Now, I use a nebulizer for diffusing essential oils into the air.  After having tried several, I have settled on one that works best for me.  It is manufactured by a company called Wyndmere and can be bought in stores or online.  Every single day I use it in my home office to bring fragrance and medicinal therapy to the air.  All essential oils have specific benefits to them.  My choices of which oils I use each day are for whichever benefit I am aiming for.  (You can bet if I am working late in the evening at my desk I have a mixture of lavender and lime in the nebulizer filling the air to prepare me for a restful night!)

Essential oils can do wonders for our homes and our bodies.  Absolutely, positively I believe they have medicinal benefits.  Look for future posts about specific oils such as Lavender, Lemon, Sandalwood, Lime, Frankincense and my favorite, Fragonia by Wisdom of the Earth.  In these posts I will give you an explanation of their uses and benefits.  I hope you enjoy learning about them and decide to infuse your home with oils yourself.  I cannot stress enough the restorative powers nature has for us in essential oils.

Go for the gold

Using essential oils is one way to honor yourself and your homespace.  Simply by infusing oils in the air you can manipulate the energy around you.  You can change negativity, lower stress and restore harmony.

Nature's wondrous scents

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Also, by using oils that evoke good memories attached to them, you continue to create an atmosphere of good feelings.  In this busy, busy world we live in we want our homes to create a sanctuary of calm for us to surround ourselves with.  Pleasing fragrances are certainly one way to help.

Using essential oils to beautify your home is also being kind to the earth.  Keeping things as pure and simple as possible is living with global consciousness in my book.  I believe that as part of humanity we must both singly and collectively connect with nature.  Using 100% natural oils in your home is one step in this direction.

Yep, essential oils are liquid gold – for many, many reasons.   Beautify your home with the aroma of nature.

Go for the gold…

“Always remember, there is nothing better for your home than a breath of fresh air.  Occasionally open your windows and let nature inside!”

Creating Homespace Beauty With Family Treasures

Ancestral medicine chest and Papa’s clock

The ancestral medicine chest and Papa’s clock

All of us like to get our decorating ideas from magazines and catalogs.  Not only does this allow us to know what the latest trends are but also, there is a certain amount of security in decorating how companies such as Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn show us to.  If these companies like it, well certainly we should, too.

Now I know that as an Interior Decorator I am supposed to represent the latest and greatest in the industry. I certainly do think that part of my job is to educate my clients with what the latest trends are but I like to think that I do so much more.

First of all, just like I espouse in my recent post, The Power of Color, not everyone likes the latest trendy colors.  More to the point, I believe that we shouldn’t change our color scheme every single time the industry gives us a new “in” color – that makes us far too much like everyone else.  (Reminds me of when I used to strive to be a Stepford Wife but I won’t go there…)

Home furnishing styles should also fit whom you are and how you choose to live – which leads me to my second point.  If we all decorate our homes like everyone else we become B.O.R.I.N.G.  Who wants to be that?!?

Be extraordinary not ordinary

For me, B.O.R.I.N.G. is just another name for ordinary.  Having your home décor be just like the house next door or the one down the street doesn’t show one iota of imagination.  Furnishing your home like you see in the catalogs or latest monthly magazines is oh, so ordinary.  You and your homespace deserve to be extraordinary.

There are a myriad of ways to become extraordinary.  (Remember the word extraordinary as I will be using it a lot in upcoming posts to show you other ways to achieve this level of distinction as well.)

My favorite way to live in an extraordinary environment is to infuse family treasures in it.  Now, notice I didn’t say heirlooms.

Nana’s blue and white pitcher

Nana’s blue and white pitcher

That’s because treasures are much, much more fun and important to us than heirlooms since they bring out emotion in us.  Heirlooms usually have a financial component, treasures need not!

I first learned about family treasures when my mother and her sister, Betavia were dividing up their mother’s estate.   I happened to be there with my mom to help with it.  After my mom and I loaded up all her share of the estate, we took it to our family home to later be divided between the six of us siblings.  That was back in 1976 and to this day, my greatest “treasure” is the blue and white pitcher I got of Nana’s (my grandmother).  Since 1976, it has been given a place of importance in each home I have lived in.  It instantly connects me with the grandmother I loved so dearly.

A military sword, a crystal candy dish and a silver lighter

Flash forward to February, 2011 and my siblings and I began the overwhelming task of dividing up our mother’s estate since she was now living in an Assisted Living Facility (Richfield) that I discussed in my post,  Creating Comfort In An Assisted Living Facility.

We siblings had planned this task as strategically as any business would plan a huge undertaking.  My brother, Tommy even had a written agenda complete with rules and regulations for how items in the estate would be picked by the six of us.  (And yes, we even had two fifteen minute breaks and a designated lunch hour each day of this task!)  Each evening the out-laws greeted us with wonderful meals to decompress from the emotional day we had just had in order to unwind and ready ourselves for the next day.  To say it was tough would be the understatement of the century but, we made it through.  At the end of several days of working through the estate, we celebrated with inviting old friends over to say goodbye to the family home and to celebrate the baby of the family, Tommy’s 50th birthday.  Thanks to our dear friends, we ended this chapter of our lives with fond memories!

Prior to the task  of dividing the estate, each of us siblings had polled our own children as to what they would like from their grandmother’s home.  I was and still am fascinated by what the different nieces and nephews wanted.  Every single item was in some way a memory, a treasure they wanted.  My three kids were no exception.  Ben wanted his grandfather’s military sword from Yale University, Sammi wanted the  crystal candy dish that sat in the living room and Jimmy wanted the silver lighter that always sat on the coffee table in the living room.  So, these three items were my first picks in the draw.  What joy for me to know that my kids not only wanted these things but that they held such wonderful memories of them and that now they would become family treasures in their own homes.  As for all the other grandchildren, each and every one of them now has family treasures from their grandmother’s home.  What might seem like little things such as the green salad bowl that Christy wanted will now become items to help tell family stories and history lessons to their own families and friends in each of their homes!

Beauty in your home need not include conspicuous consumption

Wally’s windows from his childhood bedroom

Wally’s windows from his childhood bedroom

I recently visited three of my nieces’ homes in Richmond, VA.  Each home was as unique as them (and their spouses).  I loved spending time in their homespaces and with my roving eye, took in what they were all about.  My niece, Marli and her husband have the coolest fireplace mantle décor.  Two large window frames that were the windows from Wally’s childhood bedroom are there for all to see.  I still smile over this unique touch of décor.  I bet everyone that visits them remembers what is on their mantle because it is so unique!  Oh, and best thing about this- the windows were sitting in the corner of Wally’s mom’s garage just taking up space.  They were free!  They didn’t go to the dump!  Now, I call this recycling life, living without conspicuous consumption and creating  a clever décor  all wrapped in one!  You go Marli and Wally!

The family crock for making eggnog

The family crock for making eggnog

As for me, I love all the new treasures I now have from my mother’s home.  My great-great grandfather was a doctor and I have his medicine chest he used and guess what?  It is solid wood!  And, you can bet this Christmas season I will be making eggnog in the crock that my parents traditionally made eggnog in year after year when I was a child.  I still can hear the peals of laughter as the night got later each year they hosted their “eggnog making “ party.  I never could understand why as the night got later, the laughter got louder.   Years later I learned that the eggnog was spiked!!!  Everyone was getting smashed!!!  Who knew?!?

Decorating your homespace with family treasures doesn’t involve spending money.  Who doesn’t find that appealing?  Also, decorating with family treasures sets your space apart from anyone else’s.  It makes your space unique.  Again, who doesn’t find that appealing?  Finally, decorating with family treasures makes for carrying on tradition and family legacy while keeping history alive.  THAT’S appealing!

Look in the attic, look in the garage and look through the closets for hidden family treasures that might just take your homespace from ordinary to extraordinary.  I guarantee that your home will become unique!

Here’s to life and for me, memories in the family home of 50 years!  5242 Shelby Drive we will miss you!

Our home and Tommy are 50

Our home and Tommy are 50

To life…

“I hope this article encourages searching for family treasures and storytelling in your family.  Feel free to share snapshots of your own family treasures on my Facebook Fanpage, livinginperfectharmony.”

Top Twelve Best Indoor Plants For Purifying The Air

Peace Lily

Peace Lily

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

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

What NASA says about houseplants

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

The science of plants

Snake Plant

Snake Plant

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

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

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

The top twelve air purifiers

‘Janet Craig’

‘Janet Craig’

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

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

Helpful tips to know

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

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

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

Happy Fall!!!

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

Bring The Glory Of Autumn Inside

Fallen leaves

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

By now if you have been reading many of my posts on this Blog, you know that I place tremendous emphasis on nature.  Almost without exception, each of my posts speaks to not just the beauty of nature but also, the absolute necessity to connect with it.  Time after time I remind anyone that will listen (or read) that as part of humanity we must both singly and collectively connect with nature.

As an Interior Decorator and a Homespace Coach, my goal is to bring nature inside and bring interior spaces alive with all that it has to offer season after season.  In one of my summer posts, Celebrate Summer And Bring It Inside, I gave my “Helpful Hannah” tips on how to do this.  The season of fall offers just as many wonderful ways to bring nature inside.

Bring elements of nature specific to the season inside

Wonders of fall

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

I love all things found in nature.  I would much rather grace my homespace with “found things” than anything I can purchase in a store.  Just recently I put away my collections of seashells and starfish to make the transition for my fall décor.

What I enjoy so much is not just the fun of decorating but, the fun I get out of immersing myself in nature in order to collect fall’s treasures.  Being outdoors in any capacity feeds my soul and getting to bring into my homespace what I find in nature is what I call more toppings on the ice cream sundae of life!

Here are a few of the “found things” that  I have used to add natural beauty to my home:

Sarah, Ellie and Whitt Shrader

Sarah, Ellie and Whitt Shrader

  • Pinecones (placed in fun baskets)
  • Varying colorful leaves (placed on table tops after being pressed)
  • Dried grasses (used in floral arrangements)
  • Acorns and other nuts (placed in a glass bowl for display)
  • Fallen tree bark (hot glued onto candles)

Of course, the obvious things like pumpkins and gourds are also part of my fall décor.  But, instead of purchasing them from the store I have gone right to the source and enjoyed the fall excursion.  Why not do this for yourself or as a family event?  There is nothing like a trip to the pumpkin patch for memory making.  Year after year I enjoyed this with my children.  Hay rides, apple cider and pumpkins make for a wonderful day!

Make autumn come alive

Exploring autumn

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

As with every one of the seasons, the sky is the limit to how you can bring nature inside.  One of my favorite long lasting ways to do this (that can be enjoyed year after year) is to take an annual photograph of you and your family specific to the season outdoors in nature.  Then, every year you can bring the past season’s photo out to enjoy and thereby create a family tradition called “The seasons of life”.  What fun to watch the yearly changes in these family photographs each changing season.  What better way to make autumn come alive year after year?

Get out there and explore.  Hike, bike or simply stroll through the wondrous beauty our earth has to share with us this fall.  Then bring it inside!

Enjoy the color…