Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Travel Companion Checklist

There are lots of packing and travel checklists available. None of them seem to cover a very essential part of a perfect journey: the travel companion.  

Strange food, frustration with canceled or delayed flights, and language barriers can bring out a person's true identity. The adventure lover in me doesn't mind any of that much at all. People watching being at its most interesting when things are falling apart. Travel can make us feel as if we are on unsure ground. Periodic exhaustion is a given. The old saying is that you don't know anyone until you live with them. Please. Living with them is nothing compared to flying, sailing, or taking a bus tour with them. Here are some qualities you are going to want in a travel partner.

  • A sense of humor: It's first because you are going to need it. It can salvage the direst of situations and make a good day more hilariously fun than you can imagine. Laughter also translates well often erasing language barriers.
  • Flexibility: If they can't roll with the punches and be happy with changes in plans...leave them at home where they can be in control.
  • Promptness: A must. You not only don't want to be with the person who is holding up the tour, but you don't want to be the companion standing around making awkward apologies and assuring everyone your roommate will "be down any minute." 
  • A spirit of adventure: It is going to put a damper on your trip if your companion is always saying "Oh, I don't want to do that." You want someone who will do (most things ;)) at least once. 
  • Gracious manners and cultural sensitivity: Do I really have to explain how embarrassing it can be to travel with an example of "the ugly American?" You are looking for someone with graciousness and an appreciation of other lifestyles and cultures. 
  • Curiosity: Learning something with someone else and exploring are great fun if your companion if inquisitive. 
  • A love of knowledge: A person who is well read is practically widely traveled even if they've never been anywhere. Connections to books and information make travel a deeper experience.
  • An interest in history: Knowing what happened in the places you are visiting is an essential step in understanding a culture. 
  • A love of food: Eating is a vital part of the travel experience. You aren't looking for a travel mate who is constantly trying to find the McDonald's.
  • Low maintenance: People who need constant reassurance and attention should be left behind.
  • A light packer: Last but not least you want someone who can travel without every piece of clothing in their wardrobe. It expedites every step along the way of a journey.
Find your travel soul mate and get busy planning a lifetime of adventures together!

Happy travels, Y'all!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Why I Always Celebrate the Ides of March

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Being a four-year Latin student in high school meant black armbands to mark the day. When I homeschooled my kids it meant reading Shakespeare's, Julius Caesar. It's always been one of those weird days I celebrated. Like October 3rd for Mean Girls fans or May 4th for Star Wars lovers.

If you want to celebrate today, pay your bills. For the ancient Romans, the Ides of March was considered a day to settle debts. 

The Ides of March will forever mark one of the most wonderful days. Nine years ago today I was traveling in Rome with a dear friend and marking the NUMBER ONE thing off my bucket list. We were literally giddy for nine entire days. It was a such a magical happenstance that a couple of years ago we were at a baby shower for her daughter. We started to reminisce about it and we both began crying. Crying, Y'all! 

The young ladies present were asking her daughter if we were okay. "Yeah, they're just remembering Italy."

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Tomorrow I leave to embark on another adventure with her when we will cruise to Mexico to celebrate her niece's 21st birthday.

I wish I had planned ahead. I would have had a teeshirt made that said: "53 is the new 21." 

I thought this would be the perfect time to share about that trip since it is both the exact same date and we are finally getting to travel together again. I was going to just repost my original blog but oh my goodness! When I started blogging it was pretty bad. Bad storytelling. Bad pictures with the wrong dates. Even bad fonts and format!

But in my defense, as you will see, these posts were being written by the snarky Mr. Suitcase at the time. 

If you want to check out how far my posts have come since I started blogging check these out:

White Knuckles from Milan to Venice

Venetian Blind


Florence: Part II


From Assisi to Rome

When in Rome

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Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor
Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Spring Honey Update

I'm starting to get a lot of people asking about honey. Everyone has eaten up all the fall honey and can't wait for that spring honey that tastes like a bouquet of flowers. I never can decide which one is my favorite. 

Here's what is going on in the bee yard right now.

I popped the hives open a couple of weeks ago on a warm day. Of the six hives I had heading into fall, I lost one. There were very few bees inside that appeared to have frozen in place during a cold snap. When I went back and checked my notes from last year I saw a pattern of weakness that they just never recovered from. I had given them frames of brood from other hives several times in an effort to boost their numbers.  I'd fed them. I'd taken steps to keep the hive beetles at bay. But in the end, it was still a weak colony.

All the other hives all had larvae, and brood, which means the queens are laying. Capped brood means there was a laying queen at least 3 weeks ago. Larvae indicate she was laying 3-9 days ago. All the hives had lots of bees.

Now I just have to hope I didn't crush any queens during my inspections. 

Even without opening the hives, on days when it's too cold for fear of chilling the brood by breaking the cluster, a beekeeper can tell a lot. Observation of what's happening at the entrance of the hives is very telling. It's great fun to watch the girls bring in loads of different colors of pollen and is a good sign that all (or at least most things) are well.

Cooler than normal temps this week mean that honey production will be delayed. My bees usually fly when the temperature hits 53-54 degrees. Beekeeping makes you a keen weather observer. 

According to my notes from the last several years, the time most likely to expect swarming is the first and second week in April. In this area, the possibility exists throughout the month and into May. Usually, if they haven't swarmed by June it's all good. Just like beekeeping has made me more observant of the weather, it has made me more observant of nature in general. I'm sure there have been swarms of bees over my head every spring of my life but I never noticed them.

I'm going to be traveling next week and really wanted to do thorough inspections before I left but the weather is just going to be too chilly. You can bet the minute I get home I'll be checking for queen cells and seeing who is ready for more room.

Meanwhile, if you are waiting for honey, remember, I work for the queen.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

How I Failed at Minimalism

I tried. I really did.

I have spent the last 35 years clearing out. I thought I was chasing Minimalism but in hindsight was trying to keep my head above the clutter watermark. I had a yard sale every year for 20 years. Let that one sink in. 

The stuff that got sold, tossed, or donated fell into four categories.

First: The things my husband owned when we married. Has any new wife ever been excited by her husband's bachelor decor? Brown velour sofas and Fight Club posters. 

Second: Detritus from every stage of my kids' childhoods. Pacifiers to prom dresses, kids come with a never-ending phase by phase tsunami of clutter and much of it has emotional tentacles that grab and make it hard to let go. On top of plastic junk made in China and toys they outgrew, some idiot invented something called a participation trophy. They better hope I never find them.

Third: Relics of a life lived. Not my life.  Empty peanut butter jars, broken jewelry, and treasures of one kind and another. Estate sales and thrift store drop-offs for the life accumulations of 3 relatives. Stuff is so much easier to discard when it's not yours. 

Read about coping with other people's things here. 

Fourth: My own possessions. Things I had needed or loved at one time that had ceased to be important or useful. But I also battled hard against my own things often to make room for all the things that were important to the rest of my family. I was as hard on myself as anyone when it came to painful choices about what to part with and what to keep. This was especially true when the kids were at home and the house felt it would burst with one more thing. Have I ever gotten credit from my family for this? Nope. I'll be they don't even remember the book stand I let go of. 


If you've been around a while you might remember my brush with Minimalism. But once I was rid of other people's stuff I realized that I enjoy a certain amount of abundance of the things I love. I mean, my stuff is fantastic!

Remember this if you see me on Hoarders. 

As I looked around after I'd cleared the obvious clutter, I realized that I like groups of things. I like home to be cozy and just the right amount of full. When there is too much I get antsy, but the same thing happens in reverse when the decor is too spare.

My Pinterest boards should have been a clue.

I also realized I tolerate more things in some rooms than others. I don't want a clutter free studio. I want an abundance of materials as well as inspiration. The bedroom, on the other hand, is calmingly free of extras. I hate things sitting out in the bathroom, but love a living room filled with pictures and treasures from travels. Rocks and bird's nests mixed with silver cups and champagne buckets.

It looks like a kindergartener and Holly Golightly decorated my dining room. 

Remember when I was purging hard and looking at everything wondering if my kids would say "Why did she keep this?" Read My Morbid Exercise For Purging Clutter. I still do that sometimes but just as often think "Eight silver mint julep cups will look great at the estate sale."

I know. It's still morbid. 

There's no right way. There is only the way that makes you happy. There is only the thing you and your family need for this time in your life. It will change. Forget what you should be doing and ignore all trends. Collect when you feel like collecting. Purge when you feel like purging. Curate and edit constantly.

The end. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

How the Power of Perception Changes Reality


I had been having a really good time on our vacation. We were with some dear friends, the ship was beautiful, the ports were indescribably gorgeous, and the crew was one of the best we've ever had.

A few years back on our first family crews my kids and I were caught in a group of people getting off the ship who had obviously cruised a lot. They were talking loudly enough to let everyone know it and they were full of complaints. My daughter and I gave each other the telepathic look that means "how bratty and annoying is that?" Later when we discussed our observations we talked about how ungrateful they were. We made mental notes to never take something so wonderful for granted.

On this latest trip my husband and I spent an evening lounging near glass windows overlooking the Norwegian sea with every conceivable food or drink available somewhere on the ship. We sat with our friends and discussed how completely grateful we were. As we talked we named so many ordinary things we were blessed with daily that seem like sparkling miracles to most of the world: running water, indoor plumbing, refrigeration, etc. I know that for me so many nights I am so appreciative for my bed and heat and air conditioning that make our lives not just tolerable but comfortable.


So you can imagine my surprise when I arrived a couple of mornings later to grab a cappuccino and hear the woman in front of me tell the barista that this "has been the cruise from hell!" You see her card was apparently fine to use at any of the many bars on board but not at the coffee shop.

You see where I'm going here.

She informed him that this was just one of a long list of things that had gone wrong. I mean you have to wonder about the other tragedies she'd endured.  She stormed off. I immediately regretted not saying out loud what I was thinking... 

Pretty sure the cruise from hell was the Titanic.

This is a fantastic example of our own thoughts creating our reality. The ship wasn't sinking. We weren't caught in a dangerous storm. She obviously wasn't seasick. The power was on. The plumbing was working. We weren't overtaken by pirates. They hadn't even run out of coffee. We were having lobster for dinner, for crying out loud!

It's a wonderful practice to count one's blessings. Anger and  fear run out of oxygen when you do it. We all have those moments when we forget all the good things about our lives and let our negative mind take over. There is also the law of familiarity which I think was the problem with the ingrates my daughter and I encountered. We can too easily begin to allow the marvelous to become mundane if we don't check ourselves.

be thankful

Take some time every day and think about how rich you are on a global scale. The things we take for granted remain glittering dreams for the majority of the people on the planet. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Watching Paint Dry: Miss Mustard Seed's Milk Paint for Faux Scandinavian Charm

Watching this paint dry might just be the most exciting DIY project you do today. Except mixing it up! Miss Mustard Seed's Milk Paint comes as a powder that you add to water to create the paint. Watching the color emerge is part of the fun!

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A few years ago some friends were moving and were putting this little chair on the street. I brought it home and spray painted it white. It's been having a useful life for a long time in the bedroom. It serves two purposes: 1. a place to put a large decorative pillow every night. 2. A place for us to sit and put shoes and socks on.

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This wasn't exactly a tragic look for such a utilitarian piece hidden away in the bedroom but it wanted to be more than it was. It wanted to be a darling Scandinavian piece that would fit in with our bedroom inspired by a trip to Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Stockholm. 

Check out the before and after of the master bedroom in this post! 

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Milk paint is non-toxic so I didn't have to be too worried about Mr. Cleo's curiosity. The chair looked better immediately after a coat of Miss Mustard Seed's Dried Lavender, a color that has been discontinued, unfortunately.

The exciting thing about Milk Paint is that watching it dry is actually fun! It has a natural desire to chip. See what I mean?

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You can take any flat tool and scrape off the flaked paint. Note: The paint doesn't chip everywhere but unless you use a resist like beeswax you can't predict where the chipping will happen. You kind of have to be okay with that, but it is so worth it!

Come on. Live a little! 

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This is how the chair gets used at night. I love the bold Scandinavian looking print on this pillow.

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If I had wanted to invest more time and energy into this project I would have painted it first with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint so I could have used an aging wax over the finished product. I skipped that step knowing it wouldn't do anything for the slick spray painted finish. As always though, I sealed the MMS Milk Paint with clear wax.

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When I was all finished I thought it would be a darling touch to use Modern Masters Warm Silver paint on the little details. This sent it over the top to where it wanted to be. Now it looks like some amazing find from an old Swedish home!

Or you know, a little faux Scandinavian bedroom in Tennessee. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

First Hive Inspection of 2018

Okay, y'all. Here we go. Spring is busting out here in Tennessee and the weather was finally fine enough for me to pop the hives open this week and take a peek. We had super cold temps in January a long with everyone else. Five degrees and several days when the mercury doesn't rise above freezing are pretty unusual for us so I was a bit concerned about how the girls were faring. On the other hand I wishing an icy death to all the pests that plague them. February brought record rainfall. Of the 28 days in the month it rained 21 of them! We broke a rain record set in 1948.

Enough with the weather report (being a beekeeper means I pay more attention to the weather than a normal person).  Let's look at the bees!

I went into last summer with 7 hives but a couple were struggling and I combined then in the fall. They morphed into a super strong hive that came through with flying colors.

In the photo above you can see a gorgeous brood pattern. Each of those little brown circles is a capped brood cell which means they contain baby bees! This is the thing that makes a beekeeper's heart go pitty pat, or buzz, buzz or something. Anyway it's a very good sign.

When I opened this hive I noticed that the outer cover was rotten and needs to be replaced. Flaky wood is just the kind of place the dreaded small hive beetles would love for a hiding spot.

More bees and beautiful capped brood. The stuff on top is called burr comb and will get cleaned off when I do more thorough inspections.

The one dead hive had two small clumps of bees on the frame so I think the cluster was just too small to generate enough heat to stay warm and they froze during a sudden cold snap too far away from their food source. I'm starting this season with 5 healthy looking hives and enough extra equipment on hand to make splits if the bees build up and look swarmy as the weather warms.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Saying a Fond Farewell to Winter and Welcoming Spring

While scientifically it's still winter, for most people March marks the beginning of spring on the yearly calendar. Is anyone actually paying attention to that groundhog? These last days of February already look like winter is over here in the mid-south. Daffodils and forsythia are in bloom and green shoots of day lillies and mint are popping up everywhere.

Some years I have looked forward to it with great anticipation, a few especially sick or depressing winters come to mind. When my kids were at home there were a few winters where someone was sick all the time and it seemed to go round and round. During years like that warm weather and open windows cannot come soon enough. But this year I'm in no hurry to see winter go. I've enjoyed it as any beekeeper should by thinking of it as the "off" season.

I love the change of seasons and appreciate the duality of some of my favorite things. I've made a list.

Things I'll miss about winter: 

Roaring fires every night.
Animals curled up fireside.
Great coats
Cocoa by the fire
Plenty of excuses to stay in
Saving time on pedicures and shaving
No yard work or pulling weeds
Not having to check on the bees so often
Silent snowfall

Things I'm looking forward to about spring:

Open windows
Dogs lying outside in the grass, the cat in open windows.
Not dragging a coat around
Light airy dresses.
Coffee on the back porch
Longer days mean getting out more.
Blossoms falling
Bare feet
Red toenails and smooth legs
Planting flowers
Bees. Bees. Bees.
Buzzing gardens

March isn't coming in like a lion in Tennessee today, it's coming in more like a wet bedraggled dog. We've had days and days of rain. I'm cheering myself up by taking note of small happinesses and things I enjoy.

What's on your list of seasonal joys?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Golden Elixer: Fighting Inflammation on the Daily

Several years ago I started drinking a golden chai at bedtime if I felt bad. Since then, I have fought off several colds and shortened rounds of several nasty bugs during cold and flu season. The trick is to do it immediately when you start to feel run down or at the first hint of a cold. Going into spring time I often drink a cold version of it in the morning for an energy boost and anti-inflammatory.

I was adamant about it last week while suffering from a debilitating pulled neck muscle. But it's a good morning habit to be in since we know so much of what goes wrong with the body long term starts with inflammation.

Here's the original version.

I came up with the cold version because I had been buying an Indian turmeric kefir at Sprouts and they suddenly stopped carrying it. While throwing my normal protein smoothie together a few days later it dawned on me that I could add turmeric, pepper, and ginger and come pretty close. That was when I realized I was making a morning version of my favorite bedtime drink.

Add blueberries for even more anti-inflammatory properties!

My recipe contains 20 g. of protein which isn't in my night version. Protein is a hunger suppressor and I can easily not think about food until 1:00 most days. It puts mid-morning snacking to an end, a problem for years when I ate cereal or other grain based foods to start the day. 

Here's the daily:

Coconut milk
20 grams protein powder
frozen banana
coconut oil

Depending on the day I might add nutmeg, or almond butter, cocoa, or walnuts as well.

Here's a trick if you are looking for a food hack: Have the same breakfast and lunch every day. Not using up your decision making energy early in the day makes it easier to make good choices at dinner or to say no to the treats your co-worker brings in.

Though it sounds boring, making healthy food a habit instead of a choice is one of the most effective ways to keep to any regimen. Read about the power of making every day decisions automatic here! 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Glamping in the Guest Room

This week I am glamping (glam+camping) in the guest room so my husband can get some sleep.

If you are following on Instagram or FB you know I have a wretched neck muscle injury and have been in terrible pain all week. Who wants to try to sleep next to someone who may randomly yell out in pain when turning over? Yeah, that's right. No one. Thank goodness for an extra bedroom.

Our guest room was originally my son's nursery when we moved into this house 26 years ago. His crib sat where the bed is now. He grew up in this room then took over the entire upstairs when his sister moved out. She moved back home with millions of other kids during the Great Recession and into this room since her brother claimed her larger one. Eventually everyone moved out and  I claimed the entire upstairs in Project Empty Nest 2013. 

 When I was finished the guest room looked clutter free and clean.

When my son got his first solo apartment I made several contributions from this room so it was looking a little drab. I'd been so focused on the guest cottage this room had been neglected, but it bothered me every day as I walked by it. 

Read about how I'm using my daughter's old room here.

Recently at IKEA I found this duvet cover I'd been looking at for a long time marked down to half off. They only had the king size but the wonderful thing about owning a sewing machine is that sizes for things that have straight seems and simple shapes don't matter so much. I stitched a seam to make it a full size and trimmed the excess.

Are you ever too old for pink? And check out these precious  Fleur de lis printed sheets from Target!

Very little was purchased. Mostly things were just moved around to freshen it up.  And just in time for me to use it to rest and recover. 

From a workout. 

That sounds so lame.