Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I'm dreaming of a turquoise Christmas

Well, turquoise and red, to be precise.  Since so much of my house is decorated in turquoise, I decided to punch it up a bit with hints of red and silver.

The wreath is one I found at Michaels, to which I added ornaments and a pretty bow.  The bow itself is made from satin fabric, rather than ribbon.  For the record, all the ornaments are shatterproof.  With five cats, it's sort of important!  

The candles are apple crisp scented.  I removed the labels and painted on snowflakes with matte white acrylic paint.  It was super easy!  

The pumpkin... see below.

This is a mini-pumpkin that I bought much earlier this fall. A few coats of white acrylic paint, a brushing of pearl blue paint, and sprinkles of fake "snow," and there you have it.

I liked it so much, I did a few other colors.

At first I wasn't so sure about the turquoise and red combination.  It's a little unconventional, but I've decided I love it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holiday decorations & why I've been scarce

Hello, all!

I've been terribly scarce lately, and it's not because I don't love you.  We've been having issues with a sick kitty in the Handyverger home, so I'm afraid design and decor have been pretty low on my priority list.  The bad news is Sir Lancelot has lymphoma.  The good news is that we're treating it, and so far, so good.  We have no idea how long we'll have him with us, but for now, he's happy, active, playing and eating - it's all we can ask for!  We're trying to enjoy every moment we have with him, and with the other "kids."

Lancelot sleeping under the prayer shawl 
given to him by one of the 
chaplains at my hospital.

That being said, Lancelot has had a good day, so I took some time to do a tiny bit of decorating for the holiday season.

Balls!  (That's what she said.)

My pineapple sage is still sort-of kicking.  It looks much better with the polka-dot bows.

It's hard to see from here, but there are glittery floral picks in each of the pots of greenery.

I trimmed some boughs from the bushes around the house (which are way overgrown, by the way), and arranged them in my now-empty flower pots.  A few bows and a few shiny pine cone ornaments later, and there you have it!

I also did a tiny bit of decorating indoors.

 Couldn't we all use a little peace this season?

Lancelot and his dad.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Happy Harvest Hearth

How's that for alliteration?

I've mentioned before that I find the shelves over our mantel hard to style.  I finally decided to stop whining about it and do something about the problem.  I cleared all of our knick-knacks off the shelves, moved all the candles, dusted everything thoroughly... and started from scratch.  Here's a hint of how they're looking now.

A quick tour of some of the near-and-dear things that I've styled:

Bottom center shelf:
Books!  Yay books!  I don't tend to like reading hardcover books (I find their size unwieldy), but we do have some.  I removed the dust jackets (I know, sacrilege!) and arranged them here.

A pair of prints by Cate Parr.  Love the colors and detail in these!  I have two more that I haven't yet found a home for.

A leather tankard that I found years and years ago at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.  It holds a copper rose that Mr. Handyverger gave me for our Copper Anniversary.  He gets me a rose every year, so I have a collection of roses in quite a variety of materials.

The tray in the center is one that my father brought home from Okinawa in the '70s.  He had given it to his aunts as a Christmas gift.  When both of my great-aunts died, my uncle Steve found the tray and tea set in their house, and passed it down to me.  It's inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and I treasure it!

In front of the tray, a glass hummingbird dangles; I found it in Juneau, AK.

My glass skull from target sits next to a bookend; geek points if you recognize the bookend!

Center shelf, second from the bottom:
In the center, a lovely feather fan, again, purchased at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.

Beautiful red, green and blue goblets that were given to us as a wedding gift.

More books!  A few Harry Potter titles are on this shelf, and appropriately, a couple wizard and dragon statuettes given to us by my brothers.  We're such nerds.  I considered putting all my nerdity away and trying to be trendy... but that's just not me.  Gotta let my geek flag fly!

My plush pumpkins, most of which I made.
Halloween cats!
Candelabra, which was a housewarming gift from my mother.
Woven basket, which was a part of a wedding gift from my maid of honor.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dressing up the front porch

Before I went to Alaska in September, I did a little bit of outdoor decorating in honor of my mother's impending arrival for our adventure.   A little craft paint dressed up a few pumpkins, making it much easier to spot which house was #72.

I decided, during the first week of October, to move the pumpkins further back from the street.  We live in a nice neighborhood, but occasionally teenagers (I hope) wander through and wreak a little havoc; we've had eggs thrown at our cars, as well as actually having something spray painted on our car.  I'm a fan of spray paint, but not in that application!  And while I like the band Smashing Pumpkins, I didn't think these ones deserved to fall to that fate.

Quite a few of my plants were still doing very well in early October, as you can see.  As we reach the end of October, the only ones that aren't still looking great are the impatiens.  I suspect some critters decided they needed to put on a little extra fat for the winter, and my impatiens made a tasty try.  I found them all stripped of their leaves and flowers - just naked little stems jutting up from the potting soil.  Ah well.

You can see that our evergreens are a wee bit shaggy, here, but you can also see that I've hung a fall wreath in the front door.  I still plan to paint the front door a pretty color - that's on the project list for next summer.  Don't tell Mr. Handyverger, but I'm also hoping we can replace the dated screen door next summer.  I'd love to just take it off, but with five cats who think the outside is fascinating, it's not a great idea.

Also, I didn't realize just how long alyssum stayed in bloom!  It might finally be losing its last petals now, but there are still quite a few tiny white flowers on my plant, even now.  I consider them a must in my planter garden.  When they're in bloom, their fragrance wafts through the front door whenever it's opened.

Here are my pumpkins, happy as can be.  I've added a few Halloween-type decorations to celebrate the season, such as a few black cats and a cauldron.

I just love the color of the coleus here!  One of them is a Hot Lava Coleus, and the other is a something-something Dragon coleus.  Helpful, right?    You can see my potato vine (the purple one) is still quite happy.  At this point, a couple weeks later, it still looks good, but its leaves are turning a little bronze.  It's so pretty!

My peacock blue chairs have found a home for the winter.  Hopefully this will protect them from the elements.  Also, I'm a giant sucker.  Neighborhood cats often come and curl up on chairs on our porch when the weather's chilly.  We don't discourage this - I like them to know they can have a little shelter if they really need it!  (Of course, I'd much rather folks just kept their kitties safe and sound indoors, year-round.)  I'm realizing just now that the welcome flag is practically an advertisement for them to hang out there, but I swear they started showing up before I hung that!

Finally, a peek at how my margarita potato vine is doing.  This was a few weeks ago, but it's still going strong now!  Love, love, love the bright green, especially next to the purple elephant ears.  This is on the steps leading to the other front porch, the sunroom.  I realize this makes the door difficult to access, but that's intentional.  The cats like to spend time out there (while we're home), but I've found that delivery people will just open the door and put packages inside.  We lock the door, but making it clear that this isn't the main entrance helps, too!  This also discourages packages from being left on steps that are completely open to the weather.

That's where we're at with fall decorations in the Handyverger household - at least, outdoors!   How are your outdoor plants faring where you live?  I'm amazed at how well mine are doing in a New England October!

Mrs. H.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012


Hello, all!

I'm sorry to have continued to be so absent - I can't believe it's October 14th already!  We've had some trouble with one of our cats, so he's generally been the focus here at the Handyverger household.  You see...

Lancelot came to us in April, and he was initially a very fearful kitty, but his reaction to fear was aggression.  We gave him lots of time and love, and even after a month, he hadn't gotten much better.  Our poor little guy was so miserable!  So in May, we started him on an antidepressant, at the recommendation of our vet.

It definitely helped, and Lancelot began to come out of his shell.  He and our alpha cat, Karma, still don't get along, so we've been continuing to do a lot of work introducing them - and separating them as necessary.

Lance explores our friends' baby carrier.  
Or, "My new bed," as he likes to call it.

In August, Lancelot scared us by having a seizure.  Mr. Handyverger was working in his office, and he heard a loud thump.  When he came into the dining room, he found Lancelot in the middle of a seizure.  It stopped, Lance had an emergency trip to the vet (who stayed past closing on a Friday to take care of him), and then he had blood work the next day.  Almost everything came back normal.  Except one result that suggested he might have FIP (feline infectious peritonitis) - or he'd been exposed to the virus that causes it.  This nasty little virus normally just causes a stomach bug for cats, but in some cats, it hides in some of their white blood cells, then mutates to make the cells start attacking the cat's body.  It's one of the Big Bads of cat diseases.  There is no cure.  There is only supportive treatment, and it is ultimately fatal - and we lost a cat to it six years ago.  The test only showed that he'd been exposed to the virus, but we were on high alert.

Lancelot did fine until the end of September, while I was in Alaska.  He had another seizure then.  And he had a third on October 4th.  We were pretty sure it was "just" epilepsy, but it could have been quite a few other things - liver disease, some infectious disease infecting his brain, a structural abnormality, a tumor... that's the scary list.

So last Monday we took little Lancelot to the neurologist.  He was not a happy kitty, so instead of doing the work-up bit by bit, and bringing him in multiple times, we did the whole thing at once.  Lancelot had a liver work-up, including a pre- and post-fed blood test.  He had a spinal tap.  He had an MRI.

Lance snuggled up in blankets between procedures, while his anesthesia wore off.

So that was Monday.  Monday night, we came home and Lance was doing great - until the last of the anesthesia wore off, and he started feeling miserable.  He went and sat in the litterbox - which he never does.  Not just used it - sat in it.  Poor kitty.  After a panicked call to the hospital where his procedures were done, we decided to wait it out, since it probably was just the anesthesia.  We moved Lance to our bed, turned the lights out and let him rest.  It was a long, scary night, but he was back to himself by morning.

Lance stalking moths.  Moths are awesome. 
And yummy.

And later in the day Tuesday, the neurologist called with the good news that everything came back normal - it really is "just" epilepsy.  We started him on medicine Wednesday, and he seems to be doing just fine.  And that's the story of why I've been absent. I hope to have a few posts in the upcoming week, now that we're sure what's going on with our boy.  Thanks for understanding!

Yes.  That's an inhaler in the background.  For one of our other cats.  
And pills.  For another cat.  Aren't cats supposed to be easy? ;)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fall Entry

Monday, Monday, Monday.  Ugh.  Even if I'm not working, there's just something about Mondays.  Of course, maybe it's the dentist appointment that's coming later in the day... never my favorite thing!

On a brighter note, I did a little updating of the Handyverger entryway for fall.

I'm still waiting for a nice, sunny day to be able to take better pictures, but patience has never really been my strong suit.  The wreath on the door is looking a little sparse, so I think it might be time to update or upgrade.

However, behind the door is one of my new acquisitions - another owl!

He's actually a felt placemat from Bed Bath & Beyond.  At $2, how could I say no?   I had no idea what I was going to do with the placemat, when I saw it in the store, but once I got the owl home, I realized I had the perfect spot - there was even a nail there, just waiting!

Although it's not the clearest of pictures, this one shows the pretty candlelight, and a hint of one of my weekend projects.  I made plushie pumpkins!

The only one I didn't make is the patchwork pumpkin, but I whipped the other three up Saturday afternoon.  I used this tutorial from Brown Paper Packages, and it wasn't hard at all.  I sewed them by hand, since I was way too lazy to get out my sewing machine for this.  The tutorial is really well laid out, and it should be easy for even a novice sewer.

The only advice I would give is that when you're gathering the vertical seams (the ribs in the pumpkins), gather them as tightly as you can and tie the thread off.  (This will make more sense if you read the tutorial and/or try it yourself.)  Once that's done, start stuffing, and make sure you take lots of little pieces of stuffing and wedge them into all the little pockets that the gathering has made.  The rust colored pumpkin looks a little flatter than the others, and I think that's because I didn't gather the seams as tightly as I could have.  That made it harder to stuff the pumpkin to wonderful plumpness.  The green microsuede pumpkin is the last one I made, and by then I'd gotten the hang of the gathering and stuffing. I plan to make a few more, here and there, just because I think they're adorable.

Mrs. H.

Sharing at:
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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Playing with My Food: Harvest Pasta

It's a well-known fact in the Handyverger household that I am physically incapable of following a recipe.  I always start out with the best of intentions, with my recipe printed out and in hand, all my ingredients bought and ready to start.  And then I start.  And then partway through, I look at what I'm cooking and say to myself, "Hm, I wonder what would happen if I added..."

I'm going to hang my head in shame now, since I've been sternly told more than once that the first time you make a recipe, you should follow it to the letter - improvise the next time.  I just can't help myself!  I have poor cooking impulse control!

So, tonight, I improvised on a pasta dish I've made in the past, Val's Proscuitto, Asparagus and Parmesan Spaghetti.  I've varied the recipe a bit each time I made it.  It's particularly delicious if you take the time to caramelize the onions first, and I've also made it with shallots in place of the onions.  I've added more garlic.  More mushrooms.  Made it without the prosciutto.  Made it without the heavy cream - light cream works decently in this recipe, but fat free half and half, less so.  I'm still working out the kinks in making it a lower fat recipe.  I've also made it omitting the cream altogether and just adding in parmesan cheese.  All the variations have been fantastic.

I was going to make this pasta for my mother's visit right before we went to Alaska, but I couldn't find any decent asparagus in the grocery stores (in fairness, it's very much out of season in New England).  I started thinking about more seasonal food and then it hit me - butternut squash!   That was the first time I improvised my Harvest Pasta.  My mother helped me cook (and by help, I mean watched), and she remarked that watching me cook was like watching a dance.  I decided not to ask her what type of dance. She might've said the Funky Chicken.

Tonight, my shallots were a bit mushy, so a little more tweaking occurred.  I can't give an exact recipe, since I rarely measure things once I've made something once or twice.   Basically, you mince your garlic (I used 3 cloves), and if you want onions or shallots, caramelize them in olive oil over medium heat along with the garlic.  Add a container of pre-sliced mushrooms (or slice them yourself), and sautee until the mushrooms are soft and golden around the edges (in other words, cooked!).   Use either a 3 or 4 oz container of prosciutto, torn into smaller pieces, and add to the pan.  Cook until ... cooked.  (I'm so helpful, right?)

Once the prosciutto is cooked, add your squash.  I used frozen "winter squash" that comes already mashed up, rather than cut in cubes.  If you're not lazy like me, you could cook your own butternut squash for this.  I find that using the pureed squash helps give the sauce a creamy texture without adding heavy cream, though.  Stir the squash in thoroughly, and try not to be too horrified at the unnatural shade of orange your sauce is.  At this point, I added some golden raisins to the mix, and about 1/2 cup of fat free creamer to thin the sauce out a bit.

This is where it gets fun (for me).  I seasoned the sauce to taste with cinnamon, onion powder, black pepper, chili powder, curry powder and a few fresh basil leaves.   The key is to add only a little at a time, and to learn what tastes "go" together.  I used a decent amount of cinnamon, a good bit less of curry powder, a hint of black pepper and the tiniest smidge of chili powder.  I also added about 1/4 cup shredded asiago and 1/4 cup shredded parmesan.  You might want to add salt here, as well, but I prefer not to add salt to recipes in the cooking stage as much as possible.  I prefer to season at the table, and that way, each person can adjust to his own tastes.

While you're doing all this, you should have been boiling water and cooking pasta (oops, should have mentioned that earlier!).  For something with a heavy sauce like this, I like to use a good, dense pasta.  Angel hair pasta was great with the asparagus & parmesan version, but I used cavatappi for this one.

Once the pasta is ready, drain it and return it to a large bowl.  Spoon your sauce on top, and stir thoroughly.  I cut up some grape tomatoes and added them to my pasta, and sprinkled a little extra Parmesan cheese on top.

Feel free to send any questions along! And don't be afraid to play with your food a little.


Mrs. H.

Sharing at:
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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Caturday Quickie: Wreath Update

Hello, dearies!

Just a quick post on a dreary Saturday.  A couple weeks ago, before my trip to Alaska, I decided my feather wreaths needed a seasonal update.

This is, of course, the very same wreath that is pictured here:

I removed the blue flowers (made super easy by just pinning the flowers onto the styrofoam wreath form), made some new ones using the same technique, and voila!  A wreath that looks more fall than summer.

A few close-ups of the new flowers.  In addition to some quilting weight cotton prints, a shimmery satin, my chocolate and ivory zebra fabric, and some velvet, I tested tissue paper in the flowers.

Again, most of these are from the scrap pile.

I'll be updating some more of my feather wreaths around the house in the upcoming weeks, but here's a last shot of the wilder, more autumny wreath (is autumny a word?).

And since it's Caturday, Lancelot says hi from amidst his counter surfing.

Mrs. H.

Sharing at:

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Autumn Pianoscape

Although I have a mantel, it's large, and I find it very hard to style, mainly because of the built-in shelves over it.  They're fantastic, really - I just don't know what to do with them!  A very unstyled collection of knick-knacks has built up there, needing some serious editing.

So, for now, I'm satisfying myself with styling my piano for fall.  This is how it started out at the end of August.  Let me also note that while I've figured out my camera for landscape photography, I'm still working on interior shots!  Sorry!

And now?

See the real mantel in the background?  Fantastic potential, but I'm at a loss!

I added some fall leaves, pumpkins and some spooky decorations.  Yes, I know it's a little early for Halloween, but why not live a little?   Let's take a closer look.

The pumpkin is an artificial, carvable one (as is the other on the piano).  That way, I don't have to worry about it rotting, and it'll be around for next year.  The rat is one of my ratues; I thought it was seasonally appropriate, in an Edgar Allen Poe sort of way.  And the owl is a find from Juneau, Alaska.  I popped into a cute little store called Trove, and there he was, just calling, "Take me home!" How could I resist?

 The leaf garland is from my wedding, 10 years ago.  It's in surprisingly good shape, and I bring it out every fall.  In the back, you'll see I've added a mercury glass looking skull.  Thank you, Target!

And finally, the candlesticks are from Mikasa; they were a present from my mother.  I never realized I'd get so much use out of them, but they're so simple and elegant - they go with everything!

Once again, sorry for the photo quality.  Like I said, I'm still learning my camera, and the weather outside is sort of gray, meaning that I can't get a decent photo without a flash.

Mrs. H.

Sharing at:
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Back from Alaska

Hello, all!

I'm back from my self-imposed hiatus to deal with life and a trip to Alaska.  The trip was fabulous!  The scenery was absolutely breath-taking, and I managed to snap more than 1000 pictures.  Quite a few of them turned out nicely - nicely enough that I'm considering having them printed for framing and hanging in the Handyverger home.  Here are the candidates:

Taken in Glacier Bay.  If that's not cold water, I don't know what is!

Another from Glacier Bay.  This is Johns Hopkins Glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier, outside Juneau, AK.

View from a float plane, headed toward the Misty Fiords 
National Monument outside Ketchikan, AK.

 Otters outside Sitka in Redoubt Bay.

 A view from Kidney Cove/Redoubt Bay (if memory serves me correctly).
Humpback whale, diving, taken in Sitka Sound.

 Sunset on the way from Ketchikan to Victoria, BC.

So, which ones would you have printed?  I'll be back later today with an updated fall piano-scape!

Mrs. H.