Friday, August 10, 2018

August Dahlias

I am so happy that we finally have some pretty dahlias to cut from the garden. This year's dahlia garden has been pitiful. Some of my favorite plants from previous years -- like dinner plate-sized yellow ones and these dramatic red and white ones) didn't come up at all. But the apricot beauties (which have consistently produced flowers year after year) and the deep purple variety are producing some good specimens.

Hey, I'm now on Instagram. My handle is claudiabungalow (hope I'm using the correct terminology ... I'm still learning). Check it out! I'm a little late to the Instagram party, but I'm having fun with it.

How is your summer going?

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Thoughts on August and a Few Summer Essentials

I've come to realize why I always feel sad when August 1 rolls around. It's because August is the beginning of the end of summer. Even though the first day of autumn isn't until September 22, there is a general feeling that summer ends with Labor Day (Sept. 3 this year). Kids go back to school here in August, which is another unofficial sign of the "end of summer." Ever since summer has become my favorite season, I'm always sad to see it end. At least we have warm (sometimes very warm) weather through September and even sometimes into October. In 2016, my husband and I took advantage of some warm, sunny days in late October by going swimming in a nearby lake, as I detailed in this post. The water was chilly, for sure, but the sun was warm and wonderful.

Since June, I've intended to write a post about summer essentials. Summer's not over yet, so I'll share just a couple of my favorites here. The first essential is a good sunscreen -- actually, this is important year-round. A brand we like a lot is Aveeno. It goes on easily and stays on until you wash it off. It has a light, pleasant smell and doesn't leave you feeling sticky. And it's effective! We have all three SPFs: 30, 50 and 70, as well as 50 SPF for the face.

Another summer essential for me? Skorts. I have six of them and wear them all the time -- including to work on casual Fridays. I purchased my first two skorts from Title Nine many years ago and they are like new to this day! They are made of nylon/spandex and have two side pockets plus a zippered pocket on the thigh. One is light grey, the other is light khaki. I think when I bought them they were in the $50 range, which at the time I thought was pricey. But when I divide the price by the number of years I've owned them, they're a great value. Title Nine skorts can cost as much as $79 now. They come in lots of bright colors and prints. The Clamber skort below is the most similar fabric and style to what I have. Most of Title Nine's skorts are stretchy knits, which are great for outdoors activities like running or cycling.

I also have a black, stretchy athletic skort that I wear to the gym (the label says Moving Comfort), and three Eddie Bauer Horizon skorts, like the one below. I have one in black, one in dark smoke and one in charcoal grey with a light grey floral pattern.

Eddie Bauer has great sales, and an excellent satisfaction guarantee. My husband had at least six pairs of EB cargo shorts, all of which had faulty buttons that broke in the center. Over time, he replaced all of them with the spare buttons that came with the shorts. Then each of the spare buttons broke as well, sometimes soon after he sewed them on! For a guy who wears shorts every day of the year to work (including in 10 degree winter weather), the button issue became a crisis. He contact the store, and without hesitation or questions they encouraged him to return them for a store credit, giving him full-price value (we most certainly hadn't paid full price for them). He used the credit to buy new shorts, plus a few other items including a down vest for me (so sweet). So far, the new shorts have been problem-free.

In addition to my summer skorts, I love wearing sandals. My feet are happiest in the summer when I can wear sandals, both dressy and casual. I have two pairs of Eddie Bauer Kara wedge sandals. They are super comfy and give me an extra 2.25" of height (I'm 5'7"), which I like.

My Teva sandals are my favorite casual sandals. I can wear them with skorts, pants and even casual dresses. I don't think Teva makes this style any longer -- I wish I had bought two pairs back when I purchased these. I love how minimalist they are with their thin, simple, single-color straps. They're so comfy, I can even go for walks in these sandals.

Those are a few of my favorite summer essentials. What are some things you can't do without in the summer months?

This is not a sponsored post.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Blueberry-Oatmeal Bars

Blueberries. How I love them! We usually go to a blueberry farm to pick our own, but this year my husband visited the same farm and purchased four or five gallons of pre-picked berries. He cleaned and froze most of them for use in smoothies throughout the year. But he reserved a large bowl of fresh berries for me to use for baking. 

I think blueberry desserts are my favorites to make in the summer months. Over the years, I've posted several great blueberry recipes here on the blog, including:
- Blueberry crisp

- Blueberry-lemon bundt cake
- Blueberry tart (this might be our all-time fave) 
- Blueberry crumble

In each of these recipes, blueberries are the star ingredient. Today I'd like to share a new favorite blueberry dessert that I just made last week: blueberry-oatmeal bars. 

The aroma that fills the house while these bars are baking is amazing. And they are just as delicious as they smell. I love the oatmeal cookie-like base and the crumble on top. The blueberry filling is sweet and thick and full of blueberry goodness. You can make this dessert gluten-free by using a flour alternative, such as Cup4Cup, which is what I did. If you love blueberries, you'll love these bars. Give 'em a try!

Blueberry-Oatmeal Bars

Ingredients for the base and topping:
1 cup flour, or gluten-free flour substitute (I use Cup4Cup, which produces excellent results)
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg yolk 

Ingredients for the filling:
2-1/2 cups fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat bottom and sides of an 8" square glass baking dish with cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, oats, sugars (1/2 cup granulated and 1/4 cup brown), cinnamon and salt. Stir in the melted butter and egg yolk and mix just until combined. Reserve 1 cup of oat mixture and press the remainder into the bottom of prepared pan.

3. In another medium bowl, stir together the blueberries, lemon juice, sugar (1/4 cup granulated), and cornstarch. Pour berry mixture over the oatmeal base. 

4. Dollop reserved oat mixture over top of berries (use your hand to gently squeeze the mixture into large clumps).

5. Bake for about 40 - 45 minutes (I checked it after 35 minutes and left in for a total of 40 minutes). Berries should be bubbly and the topping golden brown. Let cool at room temperature about three hours. Cut into bars. Cover tightly and store remaining bars in the refrigerator.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka

Here in the South, summer means icy cold sweet tea ... or lemonade ... or both! For a delicious adult version, try mixing up a cocktail with Firefly Original Sweet Tea Vodka and lemonade. 

Firefly Distillery is on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, south of Charleston. Have you heard of their Firefly Original Sweet Tea Vodka? It's delicious. But be warned -- it tastes just like sweet tea, so it's easy to overdo. It can be enjoyed straight up or over ice, or combined with a mixer.

I recently tried a recipe from their website called The McFly, shown above. Combine 1.5 ounces Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, 1/2 ounce whiskey and 2 ounces lemonade. Serve over ice.

Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka is great with just lemonade, too. For a refreshing cocktail, combine 1 ounce vodka with 1/2 ounce lemon juice, a couple teaspoons simple syrup and 2 ounces of lemonade (Simply Lemonade is what I used).

Another drink recipe from the distillery's website is the Firefly Fizz, which combines sweet tea vodka with cranberry juice, soda water and lime. I haven't tried this one yet, but I plan to!

For more drink recipes, visit Firefly's recipes web page. Firefly also makes plain and flavored moonshine, from apple pie to peach to blackberry and more. 

This is not a sponsored post.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Clawfoot Tubs

I love clawfoot tubs. They can be used in a variety of bathroom styles, from traditional to modern, and anything in between. The three photos here are good examples of how different they can look. The first photo is my favorite because I love the overall look of the bathroom, from the wall and floor tiles to the medicine cabinet and the sink -- I love the sink! The black tub is very retro, but I think I would prefer the feet in nickel rather than white. 

Do you like clawfoot tubs? Which of these photos is your favorite?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Blackberry Cobbler

Blackberry season calls for a delicious, freshly baked dessert. I found this "cobbler" recipe online and made a few tweaks to it. To me, it seems more like a buckle. My husband loved it, too -- and he doesn't usually care for cobblers. I think it would be lovely with blueberries ... maybe even raspberries or sliced peaches. Or, a combination of two of these fruits could be fun! I hope you give this easy recipe a try.

Blackberry Cobbler

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 1 cup flour*, 1 cup sugar, 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add 1 cup whole milk**, 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Whisk to combine. Batter will be on the thin side.

Pour batter into a greased 9" round cake pan. Place 2-1/2 to 3 cups blackberries over top of batter, distributing equally. Sprinkle 1/8 cup granulated sugar over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle top with an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar. Return to oven and continue to bake another 10 to 15 minutes, or until cobbler is golden brown. 

*For a gluten-free dessert, use an equal amount of flour substitute, such as Cup4Cup (my go-to brand). 
**We don't keep whole milk on hand, so I used a combination of roughly two-thirds 1% milk and one-third whole cream to equal the 1 cup of liquid.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Favorite Summer Wines

Happy Independence Day! I hope you and your family have some fun celebrations planned. Aside from enjoying fireworks later tonight, we are just taking it easy today. My husband actually has a cold and isn't feeling very well on this day off, poor guy. 

Today, I thought I'd share some of our favorite summer wines. These wines go well with light, summer foods and are great for sipping on the porch. 

First up, Cederberg Bukettraube from South Africa. This award-winning wine is currently one of my overall favorites. In fact, I'm enjoying a glass of it now, as I write this post. It is well balanced, slightly sweet with crisp acidity. It has a lovely floral and peach nose. It makes a wonderful aperitif and pairs well with slightly spicy foods. The Bukettraube grape originates from the Alsace region (currently in France) when it was part of Germany in the 19th century. We purchased this wine at a local wine shop for $15, so it is a well-priced, excellent quality wine.

Next is a red that's perfect for summer: Eppa Red Sangria. We discovered Eppa (pronounced eh-PAH) at a wine tasting event. I was skeptical because I've tried other bottled sangria and haven't been impressed. But Eppa is very tasty -- and it's organic! Made from a blend of pomegranate, blueberry, blood orange and acai juices, it's fruity and perfect for summer when served chilled or over ice. Add a few slices of citrus and some berries. Eppa also makes a white sangria. See their website for some fun recipes using their sangria. If you're in the mood to make your own sangria, try this red sangria or this raspberry-mango sangria that I've shared here on the blog previously.

Next is a French white, Christian Salmon Sancerre. Made of Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown on old vines in the Loire Valley of France, this wine is crisp, but not tart, with flavors of mineral and citrus. It's very easy to drink. We purchased this at Total Wine; it's a little more pricey at $27 a bottle.

Riesling, which ranges from dry to sweet, is a favorite of ours in the hot months of summer. My husband and I prefer a slightly sweeter Riesling. Some of the best Rieslings are made in Germany. Dr. Heidemanns-Bergweiler Riesling, from the Mosel region, is a favorite. It runs about $13 a bottle. Riesling labels provide information on the level of sweetness. A Kabinett ranges from dry (not sweet) to off-dry (slightly sweet). Sp├Ątlese is sweet. Auslese is sweeter still. Beerenauslese is very sweet and the sweetest is Trockenbeerenauslese (try saying that three times fast -- or even once, for that matter!). My husband and I like the Kabinett and Sp├Ątlese Rieslings.

Another nice German wine is Sun Garden Riesling, which I bought at World Market for $10 (Total Wine sells it as well for a couple dollars more). The funky color of the bottle and the label might make you think it's not a serious wine, but we like it very much.

So those are just a few of the wines I recommend for your summer drinking pleasure. What are your favorite summer-sipping wines? Or do you prefer beer? Please share by leaving a comment (click the word "comment" below). I love hearing from you! Enjoy the rest of your holiday, and thanks for visiting My Little Bungalow.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Lucia Candles and Room Spray

Hello there! How are you today?

In my last post, I shared a DIY oatmeal facial mask and talked a bit about scented products. I am picky when it comes to scented beauty products and items for the home, such as candles and room sprays. Some products I prefer to buy unscented, such as foundation, and sometimes body lotion (Alba Botanica is a favorite of mine), though my husband dislikes the smell that comes with "fragrance free" lotions (yes, they do have their own scent). But more on that in a future post.

On the other hand, I do love my scented candles and room sprays! But I'm choosy when it comes to these fragrances. There is a cute little boutique shop nearby that sells Lucia candles, room sprays and soaps. The scents are heavenly!

Last month,  I gave a friend a candle and room spray in the Tea Leaf & Honey Flower scent for her 50th birthday. I have the votive candle in this scent, which I keep on my nightstand so I can smell it when I go to bed at night and when I wake in the morning. I was naughty when I was shopping for my friend -- I bought the room spray in the same scent for myself. It's a lovely fragrance. One spritz perfumes almost our entire house (another benefit of living in a small home). The company uses organic-grade essential oils, no petroleum byproducts ... and don't get me started on that gorgeous packaging! Like a lot of you, I'm sure, I'm a sucker for pretty packaging. I can't resist it! I even have a packaging/identity Pinterest board -- check it out. 

What are some of your favorite home fragrance products?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Oatmeal-Yogurt-Honey Mask for Sensitive Skin

Soothing Oatmeal-Yogurt-Honey Mask for Sensitive Skin
  • 1/3 cup cooked oatmeal made with water, cooled to lukewarm
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
Mix together cooked, cooled oatmeal, yogurt and honey. Apply to face with fingertips, leave on for 10 minutes, then rinse with lukewarm water. I used a couple of wet paper towels to remove the lumpy oatmeal before rinsing my face (we have old plumbing and I am careful about not clogging the pipes). 

This recipe makes way more than can be used in one application. I even used some on the backs of my hands. I stored the leftover in a container and refrigerated it. If I use it again, I'll try adding some water before heating in the microwave. I think it would feel icky if applied cold.

I talked my husband into letting me give him a facial too! He's such a good sport. Of course, he had to make a million jokes about it, like, "Oatmeal, it's not just for breakfast anymore." And the dogs took quite an interest in why daddy had something edible smeared over his face (except for the goatee, which looked very funny). I didn't dare get my camera out!

So, are you wondering if I liked the results of this oatmeal mask? The answer is yes, I did! It left my face (and hands) feeling softer and firmer. After rinsing my face, I applied Derma E's Vitamin C Renewing Moisturizer and my skin felt great. I asked my husband if his face felt any different and, well ... that led to another series of jokes.

While we're on this topic, I have a confession: I have a weakness for skin care products, lotions, body washes, shampoos. I don't spend exorbitant amounts of money on them (no $80 facial creams for me), but I enjoy indulging in higher-end drug store brands, like Avalon Organics and Derma E -- products that are more natural with no parabens or phthalates, no synthetic fragrances or colors, GMO-free and not tested on animals. For me, going into a Walgreens is like a kid walking into a candy store.

I have a few different facial moisturizers. At night I use either Derma E vitamin C moisturizer ($20 for 2 oz.) or Avalon Organics Intense Defense Renewal Cream ($21 for 2 oz.), which has a wonderful orange-citrus scent. In the morning, before putting on makeup, I use Purpose Dual Treatment Moisture Lotion with SPF 10, which is unscented.

One day I'll write a post about my favorite skin care products. Scents are really important to me. I'm the one at the store unscrewing the tops of each product for a sniff test before making a selection. If I can't open a product in the store to smell it, I won't buy it. I stick with products that have light, natural scents or are unscented.

What are your favorite skin care products? Have you ever made a DIY facial mask? Let me know by leaving a comment. Thanks for visiting!

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.

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