Friday, June 22, 2018

Books I've Read

Here's what I've been reading since March. After finishing Kent Haruf's Our Souls at Night and falling in love with his simple yet deeply moving writing style, I borrowed Plainsong from the library and loved it as well. There is something magical about Haruf's novels -- something I can't quite explain. His writing style is simple, yet his characters are richly developed through their behavior, their interactions with one another and their dialogue. The Colorado landscape and weather also play an important role in Haruf's stories.

The small town life of fictional Holt, Colorado, is portrayed through several characters whose lives are subtly woven together. One could argue there is no plot, yet I found it hard to put the books down. I found myself thinking about the characters when I wasn't reading the book. I told my husband about them, as if they were real people I had met. The children are some of my favorite characters, their experiences and dialogue heart-wrenching at times.

When I finished reading Plainsong, I rushed to the library to get Eventide (Plainsong #2). Many of the same characters from Plainsong return in Eventide, and new characters are introduced. I started Eventide while at the beach and finished it last week. Next up: Benediction (Plainsong #3), and after that I will read his first published novel, The Tie that Binds. Our library doesn't have Where You Once Belonged so I will have to find it elsewhere. Sadly, Kent Haruf passed away in 2014 of cancer at the age of 71. It's sad to think that once I finish reading these books of his, there will be no more. I recommend you read this Wall Street Journal article about Kent Haruf, the love story between him and his second wife, and how his last novel, Our Souls at Night, was written and published. It's an amazing story! And if you've not read one of Haruf's novels, I highly recommend you do.

Other books I've read since March include The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, which was an unusual book described as "a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable," and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng -- an easy book to read, but the story is a bit depressing and the characters not very likeable. I personally didn't care enough for either of these books to recommend them.

What's on your summer reading list? What books have you read recently that you loved? Click on "comment" below to share your thoughts. I hope to hear from you. Thanks for visiting My Little Bungalow.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Garden Tour

There was a garden tour over the weekend in an historic neighborhood near ours that I attended, despite the sweltering heat. I took a bunch of photos, but many of them didn't turn out as well as I had hoped. It was right in the middle of the day -- I was there between 11 am and 2 pm -- so the sun was very bright. Nevertheless, I wanted to share some of the photos with you. Perhaps they will provide some inspiration for your garden.

This first garden featured several outdoor "destinations." There is a pond with seating area, plus two other distinct areas, one with a swing and fire pit. The home owner also beautifully landscaped the garden in the front of the house between the fence and the curb.

At another home, this painted shed brightens up the back yard and brings some art to the garden.

This 1925 Craftsman was my favorite home and garden. The owners, a young couple with young children, were so pleasant to talk to. The husband even invited me inside to see the gorgeously restored interior, complete with original (never painted) dark woodwork and original fireplaces. I love the unique design of the window mullions upstairs. The same pattern is repeated on the windows on either side of the fireplace downstairs. The ground cover in the front yard was very nice, and I liked how they used large stones in their landscaping.

In another garden, a curved, brick-edged path in the front yard leads guests from the driveway to the front porch.

I'm thinking of getting a mason bee home like the one below for our yard. Leaf cutter bees also inhabit it. We have a store locally that sells these, as well as beekeeping and chicken-raising supplies, but this gardener bought his at Costco. Amazon is another source. Apparently mason bees are excellent pollinators. I will have to read up on them!

Another garden featured this rustic water feature. A seating area nearby allows the homeowner to enjoy the soothing sound of trickling water.

I hope you enjoyed this garden tour! Thank you for visiting My Little Bungalow.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Our June Beach Vacation

Hello! I'm back from a week at the beach feeling relaxed and refreshed. The beach restores my soul like no other place. It's a blessing to be able to get away to such a beautiful location, connect with nature and spend time with my husband and two dogs. We had a really great time.

We've been going to Edisto a long, long time, and it feels like a second home to us. We were very fortunate this year to have had nearly perfect weather -- only one day of rain, but even that didn't deter my husband from fishing. He caught two red drum, several speckled sea trout and a few other fish. I used the time to catch up on some reading, which I'll share in another post.

Each morning we got up early to watch the sun rise as we drank our coffee, then headed to the beach with the dogs while it was cooler so they could get some exercise. They loved it! We had the beach almost completely to ourselves in the early morning. There were good breezes to keep us cool -- and no bugs! During the heat of the afternoon, the dogs and I enjoyed the shady screened-in porch overlooking the creek, while my husband canoed and fished in the marsh. He nearly hooked a four-and-a-half-foot shark on his fly rod! He had some awesome, super-close dolphin sightings, too. From the way the dolphin were behaving, he was fairly sure they were mating.

The wildlife sightings from the house were awesome as well. From the porch we saw a manatee surface in the water between the edge of the property and the boat dock. We couldn't believe how close it was! We'd heard about a manatee that frequents the area, but had never seen it until this year. Very exciting! The next day we spotted it again, but this time it was in the sound. There were several older kids out in the water swimming, completely unaware that the "sea cow" was so close by. We mentioned it to the parents so they wouldn't be alarmed. They had seen it, but didn't know what it was. Not long after, they called their kids in from the water, but I think it was because the waves were picking up and the water getting rougher, not because of the manatee (which is a harmless plant-eating creature).

Another day I had the pleasure of spying a river otter. I can thank a little Green Heron for that. He was raising such a commotion over the otter, and my curiosity was piqued. It's amazing what you can notice in nature when you open your ears and your eyes and pay attention. I walked down the pier to see what the bird was so upset about, and there was the otter on a floating wooden platform between a neighbor's boat and the dock. I could hardly believe my eyes. I'd never seen an otter in the wild before. I had my phone with me, so I videotaped it the best I could, while yelling "Otter!" to my husband who was out on the deck playing guitar (he thought I was yelling "Louder!" Ha!). The otter then began rolling around on its back, the way our beagle does when she's happy. It didn't seem to mind at all that I was standing so close by (and yelling). Then it glided gracefully into the water and was gone. What a special moment!

The house we stayed in faces north, so we had spectacular sunrises (above) and sunsets (below). Each evening we'd hop in the car with the dogs for the short drive to the sound to take in the breathtaking sunsets and the nightly dolphin "show." Dolphin like to feed and congregate at the point where the sound, creek and river meet. They put on quite the show for us, at times jumping clear out of the water. I never get tired of watching them. When the sun was almost completely set, and most people had left the beach, we'd walk with the dogs and enjoy the cooler temperature and get some end-of-the-day exercise. The dogs would be worn out by the end of the evening and slept well, as did I.

The photo below shows the house and the proximity to the water where we saw the manatee, right about where the bird is. Being on the creek provided day-long bird watching opportunities. Below is a Great Egret, which has a yellow-orange bill and is much larger than a Snowy Egret, which has a black bill, black legs and yellow feet. We also saw Green Herons, Tricolored Herons and Snowy Egrets, brown and white pelicans, and various gulls.

What are your summer vacation plans? Do share by leaving a comment -- just click on "Comment" below. I'd love to hear from you! Thanks for visiting My Little Bungalow. I hope you have a wonderful summer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Refreshing Cranberry Spritzer

Drink recipes that have four ingredients or less are right up my alley! I found this refreshing drink online, but made just one-quarter of the recipe to make one drink. Simply double the recipe below to serve two. This is a nice porch-sipping cocktail to enjoy on a hot summer evening.

Refreshing Cranberry Spritzer

2 ounces (1/4 cup) vodka
3/4 ounce (1-1/2 tablespoons) St. Germaine elderflower liqueur
2 ounces (1/4 cup) cranberry juice
3/4 cup club soda

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine vodka, St. Germaine and cranberry. Shake well. Strain into a tall, ice-filled glass. Top with club soda and stir. Cheers!

Do you have a favorite summertime drink? If so, leave a comment and let me know what it is.

Need some ideas? How about one of these 7 summer cocktails, this pretty razzmopolitan, a tequila sunrise, or a greyhound, a favorite of mine that combines grapefruit juice with gin (or vodka). Also check out my Beverages board on Pinterest.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

6 Ways to Honor Memorial Day

I received a lovely email this week from Southern Elegance Candle Company about the meaning and importance of Memorial Day and how we can honor it. The message was basically this: As Americans, we have a wonderful, special blessing of freedom that we must never take for granted. And, on Memorial Day especially, we remember those who have fought and died for our freedom.

Rather than just look at Memorial Day as another holiday and day off from work, think about the ways you can honor the brave men and women who gave their lives for us. Here are six ideas to make your Memorial Day more meaningful.

Hang the American flag outside your home. This is something Paul and I do year-round. Sometimes when I walk through our neighborhood, I like to count the number of homes that fly the American flag. It always makes me proud. On Memorial Day, proper etiquette is to fly the flag at half-staff from morning until noon, then raise it fully after noon.

Attend a religious service to pray for those who have died and their families. Our church has Mass at 9 am on Memorial Day and Independence Day, and we enjoy attending these special services.

You can visit with a local Gold Star family whose family member died during a military conflict or operation, and offer them your support.

Volunteer to lay wreaths or place flags in your local veterans' cemetery.

Attend a Memorial Day parade.

And, wherever you live, you can take time to reflect and pray for those lost during the nationwide minute of silence at 3 pm local time in an act of national unity.

To learn more about Memorial Day, visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

May you and your family have a safe and blessed Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Easy Mediterranean-style Salad

This easy-to-assemble Mediterranean-style salad makes a great weekend lunch. I made it last Saturday and we enjoyed it on the porch with a glass of wine -- I love dining outdoors, especially before mosquito season starts! (Check out this previous post about our trusty mosquito repellent that really works).

Inspiration for this light lunch came from last summer's issue of The Magnolia Journal. Have you seen this magazine of Joanna Gaines'? It's great! The suggested ingredients for this salad include sliced cucumber, which I partially peeled, assorted olives, sliced grape tomatoes and feta, plus a simple dressing of olive oil, white wine vinegar, garlic and Dijon mustard. I took the quick (and lazy) route and used bottled balsamic dressing instead (Whole Foods brand, which is excellent). To this assortment I added falafel and hummus, plus some sprouts I had in the fridge, and sprinkled chopped fresh parsley from our garden over the top. It made a delicious, light lunch -- perfect for al fresco dining.

The falafel balls are by Yves Veggie Cuisine, which can be found at many grocery stores. They are vegan, cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat and a good source of fiber. Their website does not state that the product is gluten-free, but I don't see any ingredients listed that would contain gluten, and I feel fine after eating them.

When it comes to hummus, I like HOPE brand; their products are gluten-free and vegan. My go-to flavor is the original recipe, which has a bit of spiciness to it, thanks to the cayenne. But HOPE makes many more hummus flavors, including Spicy Avocado, Thai Coconut Curry, Sriracha, Kale Pesto, Black Garlic and Buffalo Bleu, just to name a few. They also make guacamole, which I have not tried.

This is not a sponsored post. The content reflects my personal opinions and recommendations only.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Spring Home Tour

I love historic home tours and I'll drive an hour or more for one if it's really good. There is a tour each May that my husband and I enjoy (this is the second year in a row we've been, and it didn't disappoint either time). Unlike most other home tours, this one allowed photography indoors; I asked several times to make sure! Here are a few highlights. The kitchens and the gardens this year were great!

House #1. This was the first home we visited on the tour and it tied for first place as my favorite, along with house number 2, which you'll see below. Look at the lovely pool!

I really loved the mostly-white living room and the unique coffee table. Just off the living room was a cute screened porch for dining. The over-the-stairs pendant light, below, was cool. See the pool through the window?

House #2. This house looks small from the front, but it's deceptive. The addition in the back adds a lot of square footage. I loved everything about this house.

The kitchen was gorgeous. To be honest, the only thing I didn't love were the light fixtures. I know this lantern style is all the rage now, but it's just not my taste. The extra wide subway tile with its uneven edges and dark grout was one of my favorite features, along with the fabulous fridge, dark range hood, the cabinetry and counter top. I love the contrast of black and white!

The master suite was one of my favorite rooms, with views out the window of the beautifully landscaped back yard. I really liked the master bath too, especially the vanity color and the use of the rug with its pattern and warm tones.

House #3. The living room was my favorite room in this house. The pillows, rug and mirrored cocktail tables add a touch of glam -- love the touches of gold in the chairs and pillows. The lamp with its mid-century style shade, the original fireplace painted white and the windows on either side of the fireplace lend character and charm.

House #4. This home is used as a second home for a couple who live in another state. The decorating was a bit sparse, but the kitchen was especially nice. We liked the stone used on the island's counter top, and I thought the round tile back splash was fun.

There were several other homes on the tour. All were lovely and unique in their own way. Each home featured a vendor who offered some sort of complimentary treats, from food to hard cider and beer. The tour organizers also arranged for a local bicycle company to lend bikes free of charge for tour-goers, which made the experience even more fun. We had great weather too -- overcast and not too hot! All in all, a very fun day, and worth the drive.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Porch Plants

It's time for this year's porch plant update. Over the weekend I went to my favorite garden shop to purchase a selection of shade tolerant annuals for the front porch. Every year I include asparagus fern in my planter. Even though it's a sun plant, it does very well on our north-facing front porch. Next I choose a coleus or two; this year it's Vino, a dark red variety. And I usually include begonia or impatiens -- this year, a six-pack of white impatiens and Big Bounce pink made the cut. 

You can see last year's planter here. One of my favorite planters is the one I made in 2015, which you can see here. The pale pink double impatiens were so pretty!


For a smaller pot, I bought a tuberous begonia, below, called Nonstop Mocca Mix. It has gorgeous white blooms and coffee-colored foliage. I added the remaining two white impatiens beside the begonia. I hope the begonia will do well this year. In the past, I've had mixed results with tuberous begonia. This variety does well in full sun or shade. 

I also bought a caladium called Carolyn Whorton for the front steps. I love the vibrant blue of this planter!

On Saturday, our neighbors across the street had a yard sale, and I snagged the nice basket below for only $5. We bought a palm to go in it. I decided that this year I'll forego hanging Boston ferns and use this palm instead for greenery on the porch. Ferns can be rather messy and require a lot of watering, and the water always runs through the bottom of the containers, which is a hassle. I'm hoping this palm will do well on the porch. We've had them before and I think they were happy, but if the afternoon sun gets to be too much, I made need to move it.

In the back yard, our dahlias are getting a slower start this year, probably because we had a cooler spring. Paul added new dahlia tubers to the garden last fall, and I'm so excited to see what they'll look like. On Sunday, in addition to the palm, we bought a couple of hibiscus plants -- one pink and one yellow -- and Paul planted them in the back yard, one along the back fence which used to be too shady for hibiscus. But not anymore. A week ago, a very large tree in the yard behind ours was removed. A month prior, a large, dead limb broke off and landed directly on our canoe, putting a big dent and hole in it. It also busted our new wheelbarrow. We contacted the property owner (the house is a rental), and after assessing the situation, he decided to remove the tree.

We've been dealing with branches from that tree falling in our yard and damaging our plants and shed for some time, but we've never said anything to the owner. The tree roots have also encroached into our yard, breaking up the concrete slab our shed sits on. Despite all this, I was still very sad to see the tree go. I spent the entire afternoon feeling sick about it. I worried about the squirrels and birds that made their homes in the tree. I worried about the chickadee babies in the pottery birdhouse on the side of our shed, which was once shaded, but now gets full sun. Would they get too hot and perish? I checked on them one day and the two of them were near the opening, panting. I'm happy to report they survived and have since flown the coop. Boy, were they adorable!

With the tree went the shade it provided from late morning through the afternoon. Now our entire back yard is full sun until later in the afternoon. It's a huge difference. However, this new situation means we can put in plants that like full sun. We're already thinking about planting a tree, perhaps a Japanese maple that will grow taller and give us some shade and privacy. We're discussing adding a deck or gazebo (of course those tree roots will have to be dug up in the process). Already I'm beginning to adjust to how our yard looks without the tree, but the one thing I can't get used to is the lack of privacy. Along with the tree (which was so big, the trunk alone provided privacy), a lot of scrubby plants were also removed. They weren't attractive plants, so in the long run, I think these changes will all be for the best. It's just a little hard to get used to.

Friday, May 4, 2018

French Martini

The French martini is a simple cocktail comprised of vodka, Chambord (black raspberry-flavored liqueur) and pineapple juice. Garnish with a piece of pineapple. A wedge of fresh pineapple would be ideal, but I used what I had on hand: a piece of canned pineapple. Hey, it's better than nothing! A fresh raspberry would be pretty too. 

I made French martinis last evening, which my husband and I sipped while sitting on the porch, enjoying the beautiful warm weather. Why not try one this weekend! As they say in France, à votre santé (to your health)!

The French Martini

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine 1.5 ounces vodka, .5 ounce Chambord and 2 ounces pineapple juice. Shake well and serve in a martini glass. 

Visit my beverages board on Pinterest for more cocktail inspiration.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Cuban Black Bean-Quinoa Bowl

The recipe for this Cuban black bean-quinoa bowl with spicy lemon-cashew dressing is one I discovered on Pinterest. It's from the website Heather Christo, Deliciously Allergen-Free Recipes. I made it last evening for supper. What a great meal to end the weekend on!

I changed only a few minor things. I don't keep agave in my pantry, so I used honey instead in the dressing. I didn't have fresh parsley on hand, so I added some dried parsley to the quinoa, but you could omit the parsley altogether. For the sweet potatoes, I would use one tablespoon of oil next time, rather than two (when roasting veggies, I use avocado oil instead of olive oil). In step 2, I would advise not seasoning the cooked quinoa with additional salt. Or be sure to taste it before deciding if it needs more salt. I followed the recipe without tasting first, and my quinoa turned out a bit too salty. For that reason, I added the rinsed black beans to the quinoa and did not season the beans with salt. This evened out the taste a bit.

While this recipe has a lot of prep and is labor intensive (all these healthy "bowls" seem to be), it is very much worth the effort. The flavors in this dish are amazing, including the dressing -- don't substitute with prepared dressing, no matter how tempting it is to save on time and clean-up! The sweet/spicy/tart flavors of the dressing combined with the cumin in the quinoa and the cinnamon on the roasted sweet potatoes is a winning flavor combination. 

I served the quinoa bowl with some gluten-free Yehuda onion matzo crackers. They're made in Israel and are delicious! We're addicted to both the onion and plain varieties. 

Let me know if you try making this Cuban black bean-quinoa bowl. I think you'll love it, and it's hearty enough that you won't miss the meat.

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