The Rebel Tree

Most years, I thoroughly embrace the holiday season.  But, every now and then, I hit a wall.  Last year, it happened around mid-December.  The holiday decor that I’d been so excited to bring out after Thanksgiving suddenly seemed like just more clutter.  And it all needed dusting.  

This season, I hit the wall even earlier.  Before Thanksgiving, thanks to social media, I’d already seen too much too soon: Too many heavily flocked trees groaning under the weight of too many glitzy baubels. 

And all I could think was “This again already?”

So this year, I decided to rebel against holiday glitz – not the holidays, just the glitz. 

My husband, Chris, always looks forward to having a tree, so I knew we had to have one.  But it would be scaled back, simplified, and, well, un-glitzy. 

And it would be given room to breathe.

 

Finding The Right Tree

I wanted a pre-lit artificial tree, but with a specific look:  It had to be very narrow – with lots of space between the branches, and a thick wooden trunk.

I’d seen that kind of tree around.  They are sometimes called alpine trees, and they look similar to these trees. 

I found a very inexpensive five-foot alpine tree at a local craft store.  The tree was not great quality, but I was not deterred.

I brought it home, assembled it in minutes, and fluffed the branches. 

Chris looked a little disappointed. But I had a plan.

Making an Artificial Tree Look Natural

The tree was already mounted on a metal base, and there were 18 inches between the base and the first branch.  So I simply plopped it into a 10-inch tall (and 15-inch wide) peck basket. 

Artificial tree base in a peck basket.

I had some plastic bags on hand that I’d been collecting to send out with our recycling. So I tucked them around the tree trunk and filled the basket with them.  This plastic bag “stuffing” would support the sheet moss that I would be placing on top.

I cut the sheet moss to size and placed it on top of the plastic bags, tucking it into the basket around the edges.  (Sheet moss has really been my friend lately.  I also used it for this fall vignette and in a setting I created for this holiday house.)

How to make an artificial tree look natural
Sheet moss placed at the base of the tree.

I used Buffalo Snow to conceal the cut edges of the sheet moss and give the tree base a wintry look.

How to make an artificial tree look natural.

Now it looked more like a live tree planted in a basket.  Chris was starting to feel better about this whole thing.

Except for the lights, there could be nothing sparkly or shiny on this tree.  So I added just a few frosted pinecones and small white bells that I already had on hand. 

And I used these cute pinecone sprigs from last year’s holiday chandelier decor.

holiday pinecones on a 1920s era chandelier.

 

I tried adding some of my Christmas ornaments – the ones that were made of natural materials or were otherwise non-glitzy.  But even that was going too far.

I also thought about adding berries, but in the end I decided to ban red from the tree altogether.  The tree is a quiet, soothing combination of green, white, and brown.

How to make an artificial tree look natural.

And I chose the peck basket because it also looks natural and has no sheen.

How to make an artificial tree look natural.

 

If I use this tree again next year, I might go with red – maybe plaid garlands or bows.   But who knows, by then I might be in the mood for glitz again – or ready to go back to our old, nicer-quality tree.

I think the mistake I’ve been making all along is that I tend to get sentimental about the ornaments that I’ve collected, and I feel obligated to use all of them every year.   

It was just another case of my stuff controlling me instead of the other way around.  

But this year is different.  I am getting more enjoyment from the few things that I have chosen to display. 

Sometimes less is more.

Vintage putz church

Happy Holidays!

This is my last post before I tuck this blog in, once again, for its long winter’s nap.  Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, and for your input and encouraging words. 

I’ll be back in January.  Until then, may all of your holiday dreams come true! 

Happy holidays

 

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

Holiday Reading

The novel Year of the Angels begins and ends with an Old-World Christmas.  But it’s what happens between those two Christmases that makes this book so fascinating.

Year of the Angels

 

Lillipost

Lillypost is the #1 way for parents to discover new books that their little ones will love every month, for up to 50% off of regular retail prices.

 

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Our Little Sunglo Greenhouse
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Nature-Inspired Gift Wrap – And Nature-Inspired Gifts

The short days and weak light of winter always have me feeling like I’m missing out on the beauty of nature.  So I look for small ways to bring nature indoors. 

Last year, I frosted alliums for holiday decor. 

Frosted alliums

And every year, I start paperwhite bulbs indoors for the holidays. 

Starting paperwhites indoors

For my annual DIY holiday wreath, I usually forage my neighborhood for the materials.

A wreath made of found materials.

When it comes to holiday decor, give me nature over man-made glitz.

Shopping My Own Garden

So last year, I shopped my own garden for natural materials to make “bows” and decorations to use with my holiday gift wrap.  These little package adornments were fun to make, unique, and nature friendly.  And they cost me almost nothing. 

And today, I’m sharing my two favorites.

A Boxwood Mini-Wreath

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I cut short twigs from our boxwood hedge for this buttoned-up little wreath that measured just 5 1/2 inches in diameter.

 

A boxwood mini-wreath

To make it, I bent 19-gauge steel wire into a 3 1/2-inch diameter circle.  Then I used brass-colored beading wire to wrap two-inch lengths of boxwood to the wire circle.  Of course, since I was working with wire, I wore gloves.

I had to work with it for a while to get it right.  I tucked in additional boxwood sprigs where it still looked thin.

Then I tied it up with a bow made of narrow cloth ribbon.

Simple, and it looked so nice on the package.  But it could also be used as an ornament.

A holiday package with a boxwood mini wreath

Fragrance “Bow”

For a bow that smelled fresh and wonderful, I used rosemary sprigs and  bay leaves from the garden and then added a couple of sticks of cinnamon.  

I tied them into an attractive bundle and simply taped the bundle to the package.

A natural fragrance "box" for a holiday package.

 

Since the the fragrance bow consisted of herbs and cinnamon, it was a nice garnish for a kitchen-themed gift.

Holiday packages

These gift wrap decorations were eco-friendly because, once the ribbons and wires were removed, they could be composted.  Or, in the case of the bay leaves, they could be used to lend flavor to a roast or a stew.  

Nature-Inspired Gifts

So if I can make nature-inspired bows, why not wrap up a few nature-inspired gifts?

And especially since, often times, natural or eco-friendly gifts are made by small companies of artisans.  I’d be helping to support the “little guy,” and I always love that.

Here are just a few of the gift ideas that have me dreaming today.

Gifts for Warmth and Comfort

These comfy-looking Merino sheep woolen natural slippers by MerinosShop are treated with Lanolin.  I can’t vouch for the science, but Lanolin, a natural wax, is said to help relieve inflammation.

Merino Wool Slippers; photo courtesy of MerinosShop

 

I’m guessing even the woman who has everything might not have these natural yak woolen gloves by Handcombed.

Eco gloves; photo courtesy of Handcombed.

 

An Oatmeal and Honey Deluxe Bath Bomb by CopperCatApothecary would make a fun stocking stuffer for someone who needs a little pampering.

Oatmeal and honey bath bombs; photo courtesy of CopperCatApothecary.

Gifts for the Cook/Baker

It seems embossed rolling pins are everywhere this year.  This “Herbs” rolling pin by MoodForWood is designed and made in Poland using wood from environmentally responsible sources.  

“Herbs” embossed rolling pin; photo courtesy of MoodForWood.

 

These spools of biodegradable, eco-friendly cotton baker’s twine by DoltYarns would make wonderful – and affordable – hostess gifts or stocking stuffers for the cooks or crafters on my list.

Eco-friendly baker’s twine; photo courtesy of DoltYarns.

 

I love the look of BackBayPottery’s four-cup batter bowl, which is handmade in California.

Batter bowl; photo courtesy of BackBayPottery.

 

Gifts for the Bird Watcher

I’d never heard of bird nesters before, but they seem like a great way to attract birds to the garden by providing them with fibers to build their nests.  And some bird nesters are also very decorative – like this llama fiber bird nester by FoxHillLlamas.

Llama fiber bird nester; photo courtesy of FoxHillLamas.

 

This spiral birdseed wreath by PartyInTheBarn would make a cute stocking stuffer for the bird watcher on my list.

Spiral birdseed wreath; photo courtesy of PartyInTheBarn.

 

And in case you’re looking for a little more holiday gift wrap inspiration, check out these easy holiday gift wrap ideas.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials or endorsements.

Holiday Reading

The novel Year of the Angels begins and ends with an Old-World Christmas.  But it’s what happens between those two Christmases that makes this book so fascinating.

Year of the Angels

 

 

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The Storybook House

Once Upon a Time, in a quiet seaside neighborhood, there was a little shop with the most charming window display in all the land:  Old, forgotten books had been magically transformed into a village of holiday houses.  The covers of the books were the roofs, and the pages were the exterior walls.  The theme was black and white  – printed words on white paper. 

I was enchanted with these holiday houses, and I vowed that one day I would try this project myself.

Fast forward three years.  And my little niece is shaping up to be a bit of a book worm.  So I used her as my excuse – I mean my reason – for making a colorful version of the holiday houses by using a children’s book.  

But, unlike the holiday houses, my “Storybook House” would have a door and a window to view interior scenes.

The Materials

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I headed to the thrift store to find a children’s book with charming illustrations of both indoor and outdoor scenes.

Now, this book was going to be cut up, pages torn out, completely reconfigured.  So I would not be looking for a rare classic.  I found this adorable Little Golden Book, which is still in print.  

The  book measured 6.5″ X 8″.  I would be using the book cover as the roof of the house.   I found a box that measured 7″ X 9″ X 5″.  It would work for the body of the house.

DIY Craft Project Using Books - materials
The book and the box.

Cutting and More Cutting

It was time to turn the box into a house.  For this, I mostly used a straight edge, scissors, and a utility knife.

The House Frame

I cut away at the top of the box until I had a “roofline” to support the book cover.  I folded the two bottom side flaps of the box outward to make the house more stable, and I securely taped the remaining two flaps to form the house’s subfloor.

DIY Craft Project Using Books - frame

Then, I used Mod Podge to adhere Kraft Paper to the box.  This was just to smooth out the surface. 

The Floor

I also cut an extra piece of cardboard to use as the “floor” of the house.  There was an inside lining page in the book which consisted of a charming white-on-pink pattern.  I cut that page out and used the Mod Podge to adhere it to the cardboard piece.  Now I had a floor with a cute “linoleum” pattern.  

DIY Craft Project Using Books - frame
The house frame and the “linoleum” floor.

Then I measured, drew out, and then cut out a rounded doorway and a split window.  After all, there would be a lot going on inside this house, and I wanted it to be visible.

Decorating the House

Finally, it was time for the fun part:  Deciding which scenes from the book I would use for my house.  

Of course, I looked for indoor scenes to paste inside, and outdoor scenes for the exterior.  Then it was just a matter of cutting them to the size I needed and pasting them to the house using the Mod Podge

It was a very forgiving project – if I messed something up, I just pasted something else over it.  After I had everything pasted on, I painted a layer of Mod Podge over the whole house to protect it and give it a satiny sheen.

A Pre-Roof Tour

Here is a little tour of the house before the roof was attached.  

We’ll start with the front entrance.  Here we can see through to the back wall, where a Dad mouse is reading to his children.

DIY Craft Project Using Books - house before roof

 

This is inside the front door.

DIY Craft Project Using Books - house before roof

 

Here we see a bit of the kitchen and, to the right, a chipmunk is peeking in a high window.

DIY Craft Project Using Books - house before roof

 

Back outside, we can see through a window that a tired Dad bear is giving his cub a piggyback ride, while a chipmunk looks out the window of an apple tree.

DIY Craft Project Using Books - house before roof

 

And here you can see the little split window that I cut out.

DIY Craft Project Using Books - house before roof

My work is far from perfect, but the roof pulled it all together.

The Roof

I cut the remaining pages out of the book with my utility knife.  I was careful not to cut into the spine of the book.  I wanted an intact book cover.

And yes, I did feel a little bad about cutting up this cute book.  I’m saving the remaining pages and scraps for possible future projects.

After I had the book cover separated from the pages, it was no longer a book cover.  It was a roof.  And I carefully glued it to the house using plain old Elmer’s Glue-All and making sure there were no runs.

All Done!

The house doesn’t really look Christmassy.  It could be used any time of the year.   But an early winter storm just blew in, and snow is creeping up on the Storybook House.

 

 

DIY Craft Project Using Books - The Storybook House

The interior needed a little light.  I would never use a real wax candle in this little house, for obvious reasons.  So, I added a battery-operated candle sitting on a thread-spool “table.”

DIY Craft Project Using Books - The Storybook House

 

DIY Craft Project Using Books - The Storybook House

Nervous Aunt Heidi’s Child Safety Warning: 

I’m sure you already know that the Storybook House is not a toy.  It’s a decoration.  But it never hurts to share one of the formulas that I live by: 

Babies/Small kids + just about anything = disaster.

And we can’t have that because the kids, the rabbits, the chipmunks, and the bears, well, 

They all lived happily ever after.

 

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

Holiday Reading

The novel Year of the Angels begins and ends with an Old-World Christmas.  But it’s what happens between those two Christmases that makes this book so fascinating.

Year of the Angels

 

 

Lillipost

Lillypost is the #1 way for parents to discover new books that their little ones will love every month, for up to 50% off of regular retail prices.

 

Want to see more? Browse my photo gallery or check out these categories:

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Treasures from the Forest Floor

I had some fun decorating my front porch for Halloween this year.  But, after Halloween had passed, I needed to find new decor inspiration for the porch.  And I got it from that old, underrated source:  The forest floor.

More specifically, the floor of my woodsy little shade garden.  There are plenty of mosses, lichens, berries, and fallen branches there this time of year.  And they can be so beautiful.

Lichens, mosses and berries

None of it looks perfect but, to me, fall is all about the imperfect beauty of nature. 

Recreating Nature

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So I took these treasures, and some store-bought moss, and created my little “slice of the forest floor.”

Natural fall decor

I added a rusty flower frog to the mix.  I wanted the whole thing to look a little like something you might find on a walk through a forgotten garden.  

natural fall decor

I got the chunk of moss that the arrangement sits on by wrapping sheet moss around a large, overturned terracotta saucer.

One thing I learned about this look, especially if you’ve had some fun foraging for materials, is that it’s easy to go a little overboard.  

This was my first attempt – cute, but too busy and too “styled.”

natural fall decor

I like the pared-down version I ended up with.

Natural fall decor

A Rustic Wreath

But I still had a lot of good moss left.  So I re-worked the twig wreath I made earlier this year.  The reindeer moss was beginning to lose its color.

Twig wreath before revamp

I pulled it off and added newer reindeer moss – plus some lichen-covered twigs from my shade garden.

 

 

Twig wreath: natural fall decor

The slice of the forest floor and the rustic wreath should make for a nice transition from fall into winter.  So, no worries if I’m slow getting around to holiday decor for the front porch.

But this lichen-and-moss look will stay outside for one reason:  Tiny critters.  Since most of the materials came from my garden, who knows what is living in that moss.  Whatever it is, it (and I) will be much happier if it stays outside.

Resources:

Bags of assorted mosses and lichens can spare you the work of finding your own – and the possibility of ride-along critters.

Sheet moss is a user-friendly liner – and a foundation for many creative projects.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

Holiday Reading

The novel Year of the Angels begins and ends with an Old-World Christmas.  But it’s what happens between those two Christmases that makes this book so fascinating.

Year of the Angels

 

 

Want to see more? Browse my photo gallery or check out these categories:

Our Kitchen Remodel Series
Our Master Bath Remodel Series
Entertaining
My Shop
Dan’s Workshop
Decorating and Holidays
Our Little Sunglo Greenhouse
Floral Design
Garden Design
The June Bug Diaries
Our Laundry Room Remodel
Exploring

 


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Our European Adventure – Part 2

Here we pick up where Our European Adventure – Part 1, left off:  Chris and I had been bouncing around Europe on our own for a week. But now, we were about to meet other passengers to board a ship in Budapest and begin an eight-day Danube River cruise.  

A Problem

That was the plan, anyway.   But a few days prior, we had started receiving emails from the cruise company informing us of a problem:  Because of the long, hot summer, water levels on the Danube River were low – too low for the ship to make it to Budapest.  And perhaps too low for it to even reach Vienna.

It was almost certain, they said, that we would spend the first three nights of the cruise in hotels instead of on the ship.  And instead of sailing, we would be going by bus.

I was very disappointed.  I had been looking forward to cruising the Danube River, not riding a bus.  But every cruise company on the Danube was facing the same problem.

So we checked out of the hotel where we’d been staying in Budapest and into the hotel that the cruise company had booked for us to replace our first night on the ship. 

Good News!

The hotel that the cruise company had booked for us was the Hilton on Castle Hill.  It was a five star hotel.  And once I saw the location and stepped inside, I started feeling like this was a pretty darn good replacement for our first night on the ship.

Not only was it nicer than anywhere we would stay on our own, it came with a fun history:  Although constructed in 1976, it was built around the remains of a 13th century church and cloister.

So little pieces of ancient history were sprinkled all over the public spaces of this hotel.

Hilton Budapest
An ancient wall is incorporated into a hallway at the Hilton in Budapest.

Next we met our cruise director, Alex, who gave us some good news:  Conditions on the Danube had improved.  And, although we would travel by bus to Bratislava tomorrow, we could board the ship when we arrived.  No second night at a hotel!

No More Going it Alone

From this point on, we were firmly in the clutches of the river cruise staff.  I don’t particularly enjoy traveling in a pack or being told how I will spend my day.  But we’d been on our own for a while now, so it was actually nice to let someone else do the thinking for us.

And one thing I do enjoy is being pampered.  And on a river cruise, that definitely happens!

That evening, all of the ship’s soon-to-be passengers boarded a bus for dinner at a restaurant out in the Hungarian countryside.  There, we were entertained with traditional Hungarian music and dance.

I was even pulled from the crowd to mix it up with the dancers!

River cruise experiences

Luckily they kept it simple for me.

The next day, we headed by bus to Slovakia.

Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava, or Pressburg as it was once called, had been the capital of the Hungarian kingdom.  Later, it was under the rule of the Habsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian empire. 

St. Martin's Cathedral, Bratislava
St. Martin’s Cathedral, where Queen Maria Theresa, from the House of Habsburg, was coronated.

Since Bratislava is fairly close to Vienna, it has a strong musical history.  This is where Mozart performed as a professional when he was only six years old.

Bratislava, Mozart
Mozart was here.

Later, Bratislava fell in (under duress, as our local tour guide explained) with the Nazi regime.  And, of course, it fell under Communist rule. 

More recently, it saw the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, which split into two separate countries: Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

And Slovakia chose Bratislava as its capital city, making it currently the youngest capital city in all of Europe.

Now, Bratislava is enjoying a bit of independence.  And, because of a strong auto industry, it is thriving.

To me, the city was a fun mix of old and new. 

It has a vibrant and user-friendly old-town district with charming shops and cafes.

Bratislava

 

 

Bratislava artist

And its own UFO (with a restaurant inside) atop a bridge.

Bratislava's UFO bridge and tower.
Bratislava’s UFO bridge and tower.

Vienna

Next stop:  Vienna!  Chris and I had spent several days in Vienna on a previous trip.  Since we only had a day here this time, we skipped the guided tour and revisited our favorite place:  The Museum of Natural History.

This is where science meets stunning interior architecture.

Museum of Natural History, Vienna

 

Museum of Natural History, Vienna

The displays are interesting and unique.  (They even have a coelacanth – that rare fish previously thought to be extinct.)  But between the architecture and the Edwardian-era display cases, this museum always makes me feel like I’ve stepped back in time. 

And speaking of time, we never seem to have enough of it when we visit here.

Museum of Natural History, Vienna
The coffee shop in the Museum of Natural History in Vienna.

 

That evening, we joined other passengers to  attend a concert in a small venue.

Vienna concert

We would sail on later that night and wake to a very charming small town.

But let’s stop for a moment here and talk about the cruise ship itself.

Life Onboard the Ship

We were on one of the more budget-friendly cruise lines.  In fact, as I mentioned in Part 1, the whole reason we’d decided to do this was that we’d found such a great deal on a river cruise.   

Since it was a budget cruise line, I didn’t really know what to expect.

But we were pleasantly surprised.  The deal we’d found came with an upgrade to a “balcony cabin” – although the balcony was really just a huge window with a slider.  Still, I loved the big windows and fresh air.  The cabin was larger than we’d expected and nicely appointed with lots of storage.

River Cruise Experiences

Every evening, the schedule for the next day would be waiting for us in our cabin.  The schedule made it clear that we would not go hungry:  There was early breakfast, breakfast, lunch, tea time, happy hour, a four-course dinner, and a late-night snack.

Between the meals, the tour itinerary, and the onboard activities, we were kept busy.

River Cruise Experiences
Cocktails and scenery on the top deck.

And we were making new friends.  Sometimes we’d spend the day with them, sightseeing, and sometimes we would just meet up later, over happy hour or dinner, to share the experiences of day.

Often, the ship sailed at night, and we would awake to a  new location in the morning.  I usually left the curtains open so that, whenever I awoke during the night, I would see new scenery. 

Sometimes it was just the water reflecting the moon.  Sometimes it was a little town.

And sometimes it was a wall of concrete – because there are ship locks on the Danube.  Lots of them.  

One day while we were going through a lock, I stuck my camera out the window to catch this guy climbing out of the lock chamber. 

Going through locks on the Danube
Hurry up, guy, not much room to spare here!

Now let’s get back to that cute little town where we were headed.

Dürnstein

Dürnstein’s claim to fame (besides being absolutely adorable) is that, in the 12th century, Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in the castle here and held for ransom.  

The castle is now in ruins and accessible by a hiking trail from the village.  To us, it was definitely worth the scramble.  We started out early to get ahead of other tourists.

Durnstein Castle

 

Durnstein Castle
Perhaps Richard the Lionheart was kept in here.

Views from the castle were gorgeous.

View from Durnstein Castle

And the area was surrounded by vineyards, some of them within the old defensive walls of the town.

View from Dürnstein Castle
Vineyard in Dürnstein with the Danube River below.

Back in town, we wandered the beautiful little streets.  Old-world charm was everywhere.

Durnstein

 

I didn’t have much luck staying out of the shops.  They were all so adorable.

Dürnstein

But it was time to get back to the ship and sail along the Danube to Melk.

Melk, Austria

The big attraction here is the beautiful and impressive Melk Abbey, which sits, of course, on a hill above the town.

Melk Abbey

Touring this huge Benedictine abbey was a fun way to spend our afternoon.  We learned about all the aesthetic changes that had taken place over the ages – and why they happened.

From there, we had a spectacular view of the city and river below.

View from Melk Abbey

But my favorite part of the abbey was the garden with its lovely Baroque pavilion.

Melk Abbey Garden Pavillion

Inside was a darling coffee shop.  And although I will show you an even cuter (in my opinion) coffee shop later in this post, this one was a close second.

Melk Abbey coffee shop

We chose to walk back to the ship (instead of taking the tour bus) so we could get a quick look at the town.  It would have been nice to spend a little more time here.

Melk, Austria

But we had to sail on.

Linz, Austria

Our day in Linz was slower paced, which was a welcome change by now.  After a brief guided tour, we spent the day with a couple of our newly found friends checking out the town center.

Linz, Austria

Then we all rode a tram to a church (called Postlingbergkirche) that sits on the hill above town. 

The tram was filled with locals of all ages ready to enjoy their day – because up on the hill there was also a zoo – and restaurants, coffee shops, and other sweet little discoveries.

Linz, Austria

Linz is the home of the famous Linzer Torte, and near the church we found a coffee shop where we could sample this delicacy.

Passau, Germany

I have one more city to show you – Passau!  It was raining when we visited, but I still loved this city.

Passau, Germany

Passau is called “The City of Rivers” because it’s situated on a peninsula where three rivers converge.  This strategic location has been populated since at least Roman times.

Passau
Mail delivery on the narrow streets of Passau.

But the city has an old nemesis:  Floods.

The flood gauge on the side of this building shows you how bad it can get.

Passau

As you can see, the year 1501 was a humdinger.

With all this water damage, it stands to reason that Passau would have some of the quirkiest cobblestone around.  This is not the place to wear stiletto heels!

Passau Cobblestones

Passau is home to the gorgeous St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Passau

In it is the largest pipe organ in Europe.

But more importantly, just around the corner from the cathedral, Chris made a surprising discovery.  While I photographed the town fountain, he ducked into an out-of-the-way coffee shop to get some change.  And what he saw made him come rushing back to show me.

He had found it:  The most charming coffee shop either of us have ever seen!

Stephans Dom cafe

Of course we had to sample their cakes.  Research, you know.

Cakes at Cafe Stephan’s Dom, Passau

And this is where I will leave you for now – in Passau on a rainy day, enjoying cake and coffee in the cozy surroundings.

The final installment of my Europe trip is coming soon.  In it, we’ll be driving to two cities that are near and dear to my heart – and I’ll share some of my travel tips!  

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

 

Want to see more? Browse my photo gallery or check out these categories:

Our Kitchen Remodel Series
Our Master Bath Remodel Series
Entertaining
My Shop
Dan’s Workshop
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Our European Adventure – Part 1

Here’s a little unsolicited advice:  Keep your passport current.  You never know when you might need it.

Chris and I had been planning to take our little trailer, the June Bug, on a trip along the Oregon Coast in September.  But then we stumbled upon a last-minute screaming deal on a Danube river cruise.  And, unlike the screaming deals I’d seen in the past, this one offered a free cabin upgrade and some prime sailing dates – including late-September.  We’d been wanting to try a river cruise, and this was our chance!  So we jumped on it.

It was an eight-day cruise, and I started thinking about how silly it was for us to travel all the way to Europe for only eight days.  No, we needed to add things to this trip to make it worthwhile. 

So we did.  And we came up with a crazy little itinerary that made sense only to us.  But since we visited a few out-of-the-way places along with some more popular stops, I thought I’d share the highlights.

This post is only for fun.  It doesn’t delve into the mechanics of how we did or found certain things, or how we kept the trip affordable.  I’ll be sharing a lot of those details later in a “Travel Tips” post.  

So for now let’s get to the fun stuff!

Bacharach, Germany

We would be flying into Frankfurt, Germany and arriving mid-afternoon.  Since we’d probably already be tired when we arrived,  I wanted us to spend our first night somewhere charming and fun – but close to Frankfurt.

Well, the little village of Bacharach, on the Rhine River, is only about an hour’s train ride from Frankfurt.  And we could catch the train right there at the airport.  Once we figured out the slightly confusing ticket vending machine, we were on our way!

That short train ride transported us to a whole different world.

Bacharach Germany
Bacharach on the Rhine River.

When we arrived in Bacharach, it was late afternoon.  We were determined to stay up until at least 9 p.m. to adjust to our new time zone.

We dumped our luggage off at the B&B, which was located on a hill above the town center.  Our host recommended a little-known hike that started across the street from the B&B.  It wound through the vineyard hills and ended up in town. 

Who could resist that?

Bacharach’s history of wine trading goes back hundreds of years.  And the vineyards themselves seemed very old, with ancient-looking stone steps that lead workers to the terraced vines.

Stone steps on a vineyard in Bacharach

Several ancient towers dotted the hillside.  The hike went right through some of the towers.

A tower in Bacharach, Germany

In the vineyards around Bacharach Germany

The sun was getting low in the sky by now, and we reached town just before dark to enjoy a late al fresco dinner.  Not bad for our first part-day in Europe.

Bacharach Germany
Is Chris yawning in this photo? We had been awake for about 30 hours by this time.

The next day, we rented bikes from our innkeeper and rode along the Rhine River.  I had been dreaming about doing this since we first decided we were going to Bacharach!

As we rode, we saw castles on the hills along the Rhine.  We stopped at the one our innkeeper had recommended:  Rheinstein Castle. 

Rheinstein Castle

Rheinstein Castle was built in the 1300s.

Rheinstein Castle, the Rhine River, and the terraced vineyards beyond.

Later, Prince Frederick of Prussia owned the castle, and it was renovated.

But now the castle is open to commoners.  And for us, it was definitely worth the stop.

Rheinstein castle.

Strasbourg, France

We headed to Strasbourg next because Chris had been wanting to visit that city for some time.  Strasbourg is located just across the border between France and Germany.  

And that border has shifted several times in the past.  So the city feels as much German as it is French.

The outskirts of the city were unexceptional but, once we got into the old town center, we found a college town with both old-world charm and a youthful energy.

Strasbourg
Charming storefronts abound in Strasbourg.

 

La Petite France, StrasbourgThe La Petite France neighborhood in Strasbourg.

 

Strasbourg

Strasbourg has a huge Notre Dame cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg). Construction began in the 11th century and continued for several centuries after that.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg at night.

Actually the photo above doesn’t really show how massive the cathedral is.  Check out the photo below to see how huge just one entryway is!

One thing I hadn’t realized about Strasbourg is how much water there is.  Several forks of a river with the funny name of Ill (yes ILL) run through the town center.

Strasbourg

We took a sightseeing boat cruise – a great way to get acquainted with the highlights so we could come back to them later on foot.

Strasbourg is a very user-friendly, walkable town.  There were an incredible number of charming restaurants and cafes, and several museums, within walking distance of our hotel. 

Strasbourg

We try not to eat too many sweets, but on day two of our visit we caved in and tried a local pastry at a charming patisserie.  Plums were in season, and this pastry, some sort of plum torte, did not disappoint.

Budapest, Hungary

So we’d started in a small village (Bacharach), moved on to a medium-sized city (Strasbourg), and now we were headed to a big city – Budapest!

Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest
The Hungarian Parliament Building from Castle Hill.

To me, Budapest was a study in contradictions:  It was gritty yet glamorous.  Stunningly ornate architecture sat side-by-side with stark Communist-era buildings.

Even the name Budapest is, in a way, a contradiction.  The city that is now Budapest was once actually two cities:  One called Buda and one called Pest.  Buda was on the west side of the Danube, and Pest was on the east side.  

And the two sides of the city are as different as night and day.  The “Buda side” is clean, quiet, classy, and set on hills.  This is where Castle Hill is located. 

Budapest
The Buda side from the Danube River

The “Pest side” is bustling, flat, noisy, and, in places, decaying.  But the urban decay is embraced.  Pest is home to the “Ruin Pub.”

Sooty, quirky ruin pubs are popular nightlife attractions in Budapest. 

Ruin Pub, Budapest
Csendes ruin pub

But I also enjoyed visiting Budapest’s rooftop bars.  There was a wonderful rooftop bar just around the corner from our hotel.

From there, the city was all around us.  And at night, it’s gorgeous.

Budapest at night
The Hungarian Parliament Building.

 

Chain Bridge, BudapestThe Chain Bridge.

 

Chain Bridge, Budapest
Lions guard the Chain Bridge.

Budapest takes advantage of the thermal springs it sits on.  Soaking in a thermal bath in Budapest is a highly popular passtime.  We spent a relaxing afternoon getting massages and “taking the waters” at the beautiful Gellert Bath and Spa.

Gellert Bath and Spa, Budapest
The lobby of Gellert Bath and Spa.

But it’s not all fun and games in Budapest.  The city is steeped in a rich and sometimes sad history.  A small memorial museum on the grounds of the Hungarian Parliament Building help us remember the unsuccessful 1956 Hungarian uprising.

The Hungarian flag with the Communist coat of arms cut out was a symbol of the 1956 uprising.

And Heroes Square pays tribute to the important figures that shaped Hungary for over a thousand years – including the seven Magyar chieftans who, with their armies, conquered the area in the ninth century. 

Budapest

They are widely considered to be the ancestors of today’s Hungarians.

At this point, Chris and I had been on our own in Europe for over a week.  But that was about to change, because it was time to start our river cruise right there in Budapest. 

To read about what happens next, check out Our European Adventure Part 2.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

Resources:

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Rick Steves’s article about Strasbourg, which appeared in our local newspaper, is what caught Chris’s interest and ultimately took us there.

Had it not been for my Rick Steves Germany guide book, I probably would never have learned about Bacharach. 

And we would have been lost trying to navigate the confusing world of Budapest’s thermal baths without our Rick Steves Budapest guide book. 

 

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Fall Decor Inspiration

If you’re one of my regular readers, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything lately.  That is because Chris and I have been in Europe for the past three weeks!  For someone as fascinated with history, old-world charm, and architecture as I am, it was a dream trip.  Of course I took a million photos, so I will be sharing some of them with you soon.

We just returned, and I am way behind on my fall decor.  So in this edition, as I sit here wide awake at 4:30 a.m., I would like to share some fall decor ideas from seasons past.

Bulbs are Beautiful

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Last fall, my Mom removed some of her crocosmia plants.  She offered me a handful of the dried plant stalks that she’d pulled out of the ground, bulb and all, so that I could use the seed heads in floral arrangements.  

But the bulbs and roots looked so interesting that I decided to use the whole plant as decor.

Fall decor inspiration: Crocosmia

It was simple:  I filled a shallow clay pot with floral foam and then covered the foam with forest moss.  I inserted a small bamboo garden stake in the middle and then secured the crocosmia stalks to it with garden twine.

I loved the look of the bulbs and winding roots.

Fall decor inspiration: Crocosmia

A Creepy Planter

A couple of years ago, I discovered a very interesting plant called a cushion bush (Calocephalus ‘Silver Stone’).  It became the centerpiece for my creepy little black-and-white Halloween planter.

For more on this planter, check out this post.

Gleaming Pumpkins

For a look that goes past Halloween and into Thanksgiving, I gave some mini pumpkins a gold leaf finish.

 

And I touched up a few birch leaves with the same treatment.  For more on how I did it, check out this post.

 

I found that gold-painted leaves are an elegant addition to Thanksgiving tables.

A Festive Fall Dinner Party

While we’re on the subject of festive tables, one of my first posts shared a lovely fall dinner table that my Mom had created.

But let’s go outside now.

A Hoppy Harvest Wreath

When making a wreath, I like to shop my own yard for material. A few years ago, I made a silly wreath using only hops.

Haunted Hatchlings

I’ll never forget the time that a nest of goofy, terrifying haunted hatchlings landed on our front porch.  

 

This look was fun to create, and it’s explained in this post.

A Lazy Woman’s Fall Front Porch

Last year, feeling lazy and thrifty, I shopped my house and garden for fall decor.    

Fall decor inspiration: Front Porch

I used what I already had on hand:  Pots, urns, dried flower heads, berries, and fall leaves.   

Fall decor inspiration: Front Porch

 

 

Fall decor inspiration: Front Porch

To my surprise, a strawberry plant I was keeping behind the garage was popping with fall color, so I moved it to the front door.

Fall decor inspiration: Front Porch

On the other side of the door, a begonia plant was starting to wind down after blooming all summer.  But its show wasn’t over yet.

Fall decor inspiration: Front Porch

As we got closer to Halloween, I changed the look just a bit.

Fall decor inspiration: Front Porch

Okay, I splurged a little with this fun new pillow cover that I’d found on sale at World Market.

Fall decor inspiration: Halloween pillow

Skeletons and pumpkins worked together to ward off the uninvited.  This is about as scary as we get around here.

Fall decor inspiration: Halloween lights

As you can see, I was too lazy to even remove the tag from the skeleton lights.

But now I need to get cracking on my fall decor for this year.  See you again soon, and I will share photos of some of the cool things we saw in Europe!

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

Sources:  

  • Floral foam and forest moss were used in the crocosmia arrangement.
  • The premium leafing finishes that I used on the gleaming pumpkins are made by Precious Metals.  There are 8 colors available.
  • For the black eggs that the haunted hatchlings emerged from, I just painted clean cracked egg shells with a roughly 50/50 mix of Mod Podge and folkArt acrylic craft paint in Wrought Iron.  The Mod Podge helped strengthen the egg shells a bit and also added a nice sheen.
  • I love the Victorian skull pillow cover that I found at World Market.  I don’t know if they will be carrying it this year, but I do know that changing out pillow covers is one of the easiest ways to decorate for Halloween.  Etsy has a ton of fun Halloween pillow covers that go from farmhouse to frieghtening, and everything in between.  

I think this one by PamperedHomeDecor is especially fun.

 

 

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The Centerpiece That The Squirrel Planted

The only thing better than growing your own vegetables is having a squirrel do it for you.

Earlier this summer, I noticed a vine growing under a manzanita shrub. The large leaves told me that the mystery vine was something squash-related.  Over the summer, it wound its way through the branches of the manzanita.  The vine seemed to thrive in its location – a location I would never have chosen for it. 

How did it get there?  I can only speculate that a squirrel buried the seed last winter.   I waited to see exactly what the squirrel had planted for us.

White Pumpkins!

Thank you, thoughtful squirrel, for supplying me with one of the most popular fall decor items out there – white pumpkins!  Well, white-ish anyway.

white pumpkins on the vine

A Quick Centerpiece

Recently we decided to host one last dinner on our back patio.  The table we use is long and narrow, so we couldn’t have a bulky centerpiece. 

And I avoid using floral centerpieces outdoors even though it looks so dreamy on Instragram and in magazines.  In the real world, flowers can attract bees to the table.

The white pumpkins were not quite ready to harvest, but I decided to sacrifice one to use in a simple centerpiece.  

pumpkin centerpiece

I tucked a few hops in around the pumpkin.  

pumpkin centerpiece

You might be wondering what in the world the pumpkin is sitting on.  No it’s not a candlestick – it’s what’s left of this urn after it took an unfortunate tumble.

I hate to waste anything.

Lighting

With my centerpiece done, I just needed to come up with some after-dark lighting for the dinner party.

So Chris and I wound a couple of strings of lights through the frame of a patio umbrella to make a quick chandelier.  

DIY patio lighting

We secured the strands with clothespins.  Next time, we will come up with a more elegant method for attaching them.

And Chris set a couple of his vintage Coleman lanterns in strategic locations.

Coleman lantern

With our heat lamp cranked, and using some of these tips to help keep bugs away, we all stayed cozy and comfortable.

Goodbye Summer

Chris’s first attempt at smoked ribs was a success, and one of our guests brought a wonderful blueberry pie.  

patio party

 

 

patio party

Seems we always try to squeeze in one final patio dinner before the summer ends, and this one went off without a hitch – thanks in part to one very talented squirrel.

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Wondering where I got those crazy dinner napkins?  I made them using batik fabric quarters (also known as “fat quarters).  The fabric quarters are just the right size for a dinner napkin, and I simply double-hemmed the edges. 

But for anyone who doesn’t like to sew, there is a lovely assortment of handcrafted batik napkins on Etsy.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

 

 

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A Rusty Bed Spring Becomes a Trellis

Procrastination

Back when my brother was still a bachelor, I helped him get rid of a few things that were cluttering up his basement.  One of those things was an old steel bed spring that had been left there by the former owner.  Judging by its size, it was probably from a child’s bed.  

I thought it would make a fun garden trellis if I painted it, so I took it home.  I stashed it behind some bushes along our driveway fence – just temporarily, of course, until I had the time to paint it.  

That was about 10 years ago.

Earlier this summer, when Chris rebuilt our driveway fence, he came across the bed spring – still sitting, unpainted, where I’d left it.  The steel had rusted over the years, and the rust looked (to me, at least) more interesting than any type of paint. 

Sometimes it pays to procrastinate.

DIY trellis from an old bedspring

Finding Inspiration by Accident

It was time for me to either do something with this piece or give it away.  But I couldn’t think of where in the garden we could actually use it.  

Where, oh where . . . 

Chris propped it in front of our greenhouse  just to get it out of the way.  

Voila! It was almost the perfect width for that space.  And its vintage industrial look worked well with the greenhouse.  

Now it was officially no longer a bed spring.  It was a trellis.

DIY trellis from an old bedspring

 

But we (and of course by “we,” I mean Chris) had to figure out a way to attach it to the greenhouse.

 

Attaching the Trellis to the Greenhouse

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Our goals:

  • Of course our number one priority was to not disfigure the greenhouse in the process of attaching the trellis.  Impact on the greenhouse had to be minimal.
  • The trellis should stand straight and be secure.
  • And no potential for rust stains on anything.  So the trellis shouldn’t actually come into contact with the greenhouse or the bluestone pavers that were installed a couple of years ago.

The Solution

To keep the rust off of the pavers, Chris built a wooden frame around the  bottom of the trellis.

 

Near the top, he used two L brackets to attach it to the greenhouse.  And for this he only needed to drill three small holes into the greenhouse frame.

Now the trellis sits a couple of inches out from the greenhouse, but it is securely attached.

DIY trellis from an old bedspring

 

And it will be easy to remove if ever, in the future, we look at it and say, What were we thinking?

 

All Done!

I moved my potted mandevilla over to the trellis.  I used plant clips to attach the vines without harming them. 

DIY trellis from a rusty vintage bed spring

 

Now it looks as if the plant has been growing there all along.

 

A DIY trellis from a rusty vintage bed spring

 

A DIY trellis from a rusty vintage bed spring

 

In winter, the mandevilla will live inside the greenhouse, and I’ll have fun putting Christmas lights on the trellis.  

Other Details

I just love to dress up my dollhouse – I mean greenhouse!  Our house and garage are both from the 1920s, so my goal is to make the greenhouse, a recent addition, look like it’s been here all along.  It’s fun to add touches like this trellis and the brick veneer I did a couple of years ago.  Some additions, like my burlap greenhouse shadesthe industrial-inspired lights that my brother made, and the addition of a small trailer sink, also add to its functionality.

In summer, the greenhouse sits empty, having done its job in fall, winter, and spring.  Container plants surround the greenhouse.  This year, that included a few fun succulents – a couple of which had spent this past winter in the greenhouse.

Echiveria with lobelia

 

Sedum

 

succulent

In two rectangular pots alongside the greenhouse, I mixed zinnias and salvia with rainbow chard starts.  This should be a nice transitional look from summer to fall. 

Zinnia and salvia with Swiss Chard starts.

 

Zinnia and salvia with Swiss Chard starts.

In late fall, once the zinnias and salvias start to crash, I’ll remove them and let the Swiss chard really take off.  At least that’s the plan.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not intended as tutorials.  No greenhouses were harmed in the making of this post.

Sources:

Our little greenhouse is a Sunglo.  

 

 


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A Garden Update and a Found Treasure

Back in June, for about twenty minutes, I thought my garden looked almost perfect.  We’d cleaned the flower beds and mulched, and everything looked so fresh and orderly.  But now, with the dog days of summer upon us, the garden is once again an out-of-control monster.  

But that’s okay. There are birds and bees everywhere, and they are happier when I leave things alone.  

Amid the chaos that is our garden, there were a few things that went right – things that I enjoyed this season.  So I thought I would share them with you.

We’ll start with my most recent addition to the garden.

Found Treasure

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On a walk in the neighborhood, Chris and I came across this footed ceramic pot that someone had kicked to the curb.

It had a few chips, and I didn’t like the color or the heavy glaze.  It was also top heavy and not very stable.  Still it had possibilities.

Ignoring the advice of several family members to leave it be, I sanded the pot with 400-grit sandpaper.  The sandpaper didn’t have much of an impact on the heavy glaze, but it did leave tiny striations. 

Then, hoping to etch the glaze even more, I sprayed it with the home made rust accelerator (basically a DIY acid) that I used to make my DIY soup can planters.  I’m not sure if this step actually did anything.  (Note:  When working with any acid, be sure to follow all recommended safety precautions.)

Then I sprayed it with Rust-Oleum Universal Advanced Formula in Oil Rubbed Bronze.  This spray paint is said to work on wood, metal, plastic, masonry, and more.  I can only hope that “and more” includes glazed ceramic.

The paint adhered well to the pot – with no runs.  Only time will tell if the paint actually holds up on glazed ceramic, but I will be bringing this pot indoors in winter to protect it.

Summer garden design

 

I turned it upside down, placed a potted plant on it, and used it as a plant stand – which is what I had in mind for it all along.

(As an aside: Since this Rust-Oleum spray paint is made to use on plastics, I also tried it on a small resin pot.  The result was not the same – too dark and shiny for my liking.)

The Front Porch

Earlier in summer, poppies and Spanish lavender were blooming near the front porch steps.

summer garden
Poppies and Spanish Lavender

In the flowerbed on the opposite side of the steps, birds enjoy the new birdbath that I found at a statuary for only $30. 

The birdbath was damaged:  It originally had two clunky butterflies attached to it.  But one was broken off.  So once I got the birdbath home, Chris removed the remaining butterfly.  No big loss since the butterfly looked more like a moth – or even a bat.

 

A couple of new decor items – a pillowcase that I’d purchased at a farmer’s market in Hawaii and an outdoor rug – give our front porch a bit of a tropical vibe.

Summer garden design - tropical front porch

 

This is my favorite place to sip coffee and feel guilty about not doing more yard work.

The Back Patio

My favorite place for sipping wine is our back patio.  It’s cool and quiet here on summer evenings.

Summer garden design

 

 

summer garden

 

 

Summer garden design

 

Little Details

Sometimes it’s the little things that add personality to a garden.

For months, these sweet, tiny flowers have been blooming in our front walkway.

Isotoma Blue Laurentia fluviatilis

The little cuties have spilled into the lawn, where they are short enough to escape the lawnmower blade.

Not as long blooming but almost as cute, these little bellflowers like to surround this potted quince.

My garden chair has a new cushion this year:  baby tears.

Summer garden design

Meanwhile, lavender and lysimachia are working together to swallow this urn.

Lavender and lysimachia

Lots of plants withered in the heat this summer, but my mandevilla, which I overwintered in our greenhouse, has been blooming like crazy for months.

Mandevilla

Near the back door, plume poppies lean toward the sun.  They must love their location, because they’ve been such a reliable perennial.

Summer garden
Plume poppies

I grew zinnias from seeds and planted them in front of the plume poppies and the Bishop of Llandaff dahlias.

Summer garden
Zinnias

I got the zinnia seed packet last fall at a country vegetable stand, and the packet contained a fun variety of seeds.

Zinnia

A Little Progress

Since I began writing this post, I’ve trimmed a few hedges and dusted off some walkways.  The garden is still chaos, but I’m feeling much better about it.

 

Summer garden design

And it really didn’t take me that long.  It was a good reminder to me that having the right tools makes all the difference. 

I used my Ryobi 18v cordless hedge trimmer and my Ryobi 18v cordless blower.  These tools are probably not for heavy-duty jobs, but for my needs they work because they are lightweight.  A rechargeable battery means no annoying cords or smelly fuels.  I use the same battery for both tools, and it’s easy to move from one tool to the other.

Summer Dreams

But that’s more than enough about yard work.  Warm summer breezes are meant for downtime, dreams, and daydreams.  Here is what has me dreaming today.

The attainable dream: 

Although I love the tropical pillowcase I found in Hawaii, I can’t help admiring these four watercolor/bohemian pillowcases.  And what a great deal for a set of four.  

The “I can dream, can’t I?” dream:

If our porch was just a bit bigger, and I was just a bit lazier (yet also somehow richer), I would want a daybed swing similar to this one.    Mint julep anyone?

Thanks for coming along today on this little tour of our garden.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not intended as tutorials.

 


Want to see more? Browse my photo gallery or check out these categories:

Our Kitchen Remodel Series
Our Master Bath Remodel Series
Entertaining
My Shop
Dan’s Workshop
Decorating and Holidays
Our Little Sunglo Greenhouse
Floral Design
Garden Design
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Exploring

 


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