Thinking Inside the Boxwood

Author: Kirsten K., Holidays, Home & Garden, Inspiration

Thinking Inside the Boxwood 1In an early post on this blog, I confessed to being botanically-challenged. I thought I was cunning in my use of dried flowers and specialty vases to disguise my deficiency, but the person who came up with an ingenious method for preserving this ornamental evergreen shrub was really thinking outside the box—and inside the boxwood. Long used in outdoor gardens to create hedges and parterres, boxwood is a popular element in decorative wreaths and topiaries. Its sturdy stems give structure and form to arrangements, while the glossy, deep green leaves look dramatic on their own or as part of a floral display.

Boxwood can be preserved by soaking the stems in a mixture of water, glycerin, floral dye, and citric acid. This gives it the look and feel of fresh greenery, requiring only a misting with water once a month or so to keep it supple and vibrant indefinitely. Preserved boxwood wreaths, balls, and topiaries can be pricey, but when you consider their beauty and longevity, they’re a good investment. Kirsti purchased a live boxwood wreath this holiday season and it already died, whereas mine will still be around next year…and the next.

Thinking Inside the Boxwood 2Preserved boxwood wreaths can adorn a wall or door year-round, with embellishments added seasonally, if desired. At the holidays, I like to tie on a single red bow. You can also use a wreath to frame a small mirror, giving you the sense of peering through the hedge of a secret garden to gaze at your reflection. Topiaries bring the feel of a formal garden indoors, which is where they should be kept, since the elements can wreak havoc on even the most well-preserved specimens.

Despite its price, excellent deals on preserved boxwood can be found during post-holiday sales, so look for bargains online. I hope to find a good buy on a large boxwood sphere to fashion into a Victorian kissing ball for next year. By the time I lure an unsuspecting gentleman to view my handiwork, he’ll already be under the mistletoe. Now that’s boxing clever!

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Preserved Boxwood

 

A diverse collection of preserved boxwood items can be found at Bella Marie. For instructions on how to preserve your own boxwood cuttings, visit wikiHow.

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Cut the Gourd

Author: Kirsten K., Holidays, Inspiration, Nostalgia
Cut the Gourd 1

These faux pumpkins can easily be mistaken for the real thing.

I love Halloween. When I was little, I’d start planning—and sometimes making—my costume in the summer. My crowning achievement occurred in 8th grade. I’d seen and read Gone With The Wind months before and decided I wanted to dress up as Scarlett O’Hara. I made a petticoat out of an old bed sheet and attached a hula hoop and two macramé hoops underneath to give it the proper bell shape. I couldn’t fit down the narrow walkways at a few of the houses, so Kirsti (dressed as a Playboy bunny) had to trick-or-treat on my behalf.

Cut the Gourd 2

“Isabel” looks innocent enough by day on a tiny Tiger Cub Fun-Kin…

Carving the jack-o’-lantern was part of the fun, but it was almost an afterthought. My father did the actual carving while my sisters and I sorted through pumpkin guts to extract the seeds for roasting. I remember the large knife and how difficult (and dangerous!) it was to cut the classic face of three triangles for the eyes and nose plus a grinning mouth full of jagged teeth. Then, just as I began to outgrow trick-or-treating, Pumpkin Masters came on the scene and changed everything.

Cut the Gourd 3

…but the night reveals that inside she’s a bad (pumpkin) seed.

My sister Heidi was the first person I knew to carve a pumpkin using a Pumpkin Masters pattern and tools. Blown away by the precision and level of detail, I thought she was an artistic genius until she explained the simple process. After that, my obsession switched from costumes to pumpkins. I’m no artist, but I can follow a pattern like nobody’s business, and this method seemed foolproof for someone with a steady hand and a little patience.

Cut the Gourd 4

This real pumpkin was only five inches tall, so I dubbed it Mini Mo.

Each year I’d search out new patterns to carve and marvel at the effects that could be achieved with just a few judicious cuts. I also became fixated on carving smaller and smaller pumpkins (the hollowing out of large pumpkins being my least favorite part of the process) and using increasingly complex patterns. When I’d see my hard work begin to shrivel up within 24-48 hours, I would always become a little wistful, but I took pictures of each carved pumpkin as a memento. I briefly considered soaking my pumpkins in bleach to make them last longer, but it seemed wrong to defile an organic substance that way. Better to let nature take its course and be Zen about the whole thing. That is, until I became a victim of “Skullduggery.”

Cut the Gourd 5

I went out on a limb for this “Skullduggery” design, which led me to branch out into faux pumpkins.

Last year I attempted my most ambitious carving. Years before, I’d discovered the witty and macabre designs known as Killhouettes when my sister gave me one as a gift. I thought they’d make perfect pumpkin-carving patterns, except for the fact that most of them seemed too complicated, but I finally decided to take a stab at the one titled Skullduggery. In the picture, two men in bowler hats face off with knives drawn behind a picket fence with a lamppost in the center, creating a skull in the negative space between, while tiny tree branches stand in for cracks in the forehead. I painstakingly cut the pattern and was pleased with the result…until I took it out of the fridge mere hours later to find that the delicate branches had shriveled up before the first trick-or-treaters had even arrived!

Cut the Gourd 6

This skull at Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns was created entirely with Fun-Kins.

I’d heard of Fun-Kins, which are faux, carvable pumpkins molded from living versions, but I considered myself a purist and only wanted to use the real thing. Not anymore! I was ready to trade in my environmental principles for the unspoiled glory of polyurethane foam. When Kirsti and I recently went to Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns at Descanso Gardens, I asked an employee if the large and elaborate displays were made from faux pumpkins, and she confirmed that, while many of the pumpkins throughout the exhibit were real, the showstopping arrangements were composed of carved Fun-Kins. I went home that night and placed my order.*

Cut the Gourd 7

Here comes the “Bridezilla”…

The pumpkins are lightweight and hollow with walls about half-an-inch thick. No scooping required. There was a bit of a learning curve as I got used to this new medium. It is easier to go around tight corners and carve tiny details with a real pumpkin, since the flesh has more give, but a Fun-Kin is more forgiving when it comes to precarious elements that hold on by a thread. I’ve had a few mishaps over the years with real pumpkins where a fragile piece broke off and needed to be staked with a toothpick, but Fun-Kins are sturdy. Based on the examples at Descanso, they lend themselves particularly well to etched designs, but I haven’t yet mastered the art using a linoleum cutter or similar tool to scrape an image into the surface of a pumpkin.

Cut the Gourd 8

…all dressed in a white Brookester from Fun-Kins.

This year, I’m already enjoying my pumpkins instead of frantically carving them the afternoon of Halloween or doing so the night before and hoping the designs hold up in the fridge until the trick-or-treating commences. I’ve put them in my front window, each with one of Fun-Kins’ own battery-operated tealights to illuminate the design. I’m still going to carve a real pumpkin to put on the front porch with an actual candle inside. After all, you have to leave something for the juvenile delinquents to smash. But the pressure is off. I can use a simpler design and not worry if it rots or gets destroyed. There’s no reason to limit myself when I have so many choices, because attempting something like “A Rose for Lady Ravencourt” on a real pumpkin? I’d have to be out of my gourd.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Pumpkin Masters
Fun-Kins

 

The “Isabel,” “Skullduggery,” and “Bridezilla” pumpkins are based on designs created by John Fair for Killhouettes. Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns can be seen in New York, San Diego, and Los Angeles through November 1st.

*My Fun-Kins arrived within two days of placing my order, so there’s still time to get yours before Halloween if you order in the next few days.

 

If Once You Have Slept on an Island

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dinner, Food, Food & Drink, Inspiration, Recipes, Savories, Travel

If once you have slept on an island
You’ll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you’ll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you’ll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh! you won’t know why and you can’t say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You’ll never be quite the same.
— Rachel Lyman Field

Eagle Island 1

The first time I stepped foot on Eagle Island, it was so foggy I could only see a few steps in front of me. My boyfriend (now husband) Aaron had been telling me about this island since we met—his most special place, his Disneyland, his Paris. We had traveled by plane, car and boat to get there. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me, but the moment I stepped foot onto the shore, I understood that I was in a rare and magical place.

Eagle Island 2Eagle Island is only about a mile-and-a-half long by half-a-mile wide, but there are so many self-contained universes. There is a farmhouse in the middle of a big meadow, which is the hub of the island; a forest that has mysterious fairy bowers hidden throughout the trees, which no one lays claim to; an old schoolhouse from the 1800s that has not been touched inside for more than half a century; a small, but beautiful, cemetery; a lighthouse; a tiny post office; and a handful of gasp-inducing beaches so cinematic that they make you want to spontaneously burst into a rousing sea shanty.

Eagle Island 3The quiet splendor of this island rivals any great city I’ve ever been to, but what makes Eagle Island so special is that you feel like it belongs to you. You have to try hard to come in contact with other people here, so you can have the rare experience of not battling crowds, not angling for a better view or a perfect spot on the beach. You can just be still. You can listen to the sounds of insects buzzing. You can smell the ocean and feel the breeze on your skin. It’s not often we can be truly alone in beauty, and the island is restorative in ways other places can never be. The island belongs to you and you belong to it, and it’s a relationship you don’t take lightly. You want to nestle into her and whisper, “Your song is heard. Your people are dear to me, too. I will keep your secrets.”

Eagle Island 4Only a handful of people own cottages on the island, but there are many cottages of all different sizes that are available for rent. There is the Doll House, which is adorably tiny, all the way up to the Hill House, which has six bedrooms. The cottages have a cozy, vintage vibe that you usually only see in magazines meticulously curated by a dozen city people who may never have even been to an island. Treena and Krista are your island hostesses, and their bohemian loveliness is sprinkled over everything.

Eagle Island 5Aaron and I were able to spend a week on Eagle in August and we had, as always, the most wonderful time. The first several days were foggy, but warm, and the mist gave the island a dreamy New England feel. Then the weather changed and everything was sun-dappled and beautiful with seagulls singing in the sky and sailboats gliding through the sea. It’s hard to believe, but on an island with so few people, we had a very active social calendar. We had friends over for dinner, ate fresh lobster caught that day, and ended the evening with a sing-along. On another night, we went to Krista’s cabin for dinner and watched one of the best sunsets I have ever seen. Another night was a surprise cocktail party for Aaron’s moms’ anniversary. We were also invited to a lovely brunch, took long walks followed by long naps, had an impromptu lunch at the farmhouse where Krista whipped up the most delicious pasta with kale picked from the garden, read, and even made a short horror movie. We did everything and nothing and every second was grand.

Eagle Island 6

Several years ago, after visiting the island for more than 25 years, Aaron’s moms built a cottage on the island. Actually, they call it a cabbage—part cabin, part cottage. It’s warm and inviting and filled with laughter and music and has the most glorious view of the ocean. I love to sit out on the deck with the family, talking, drinking wine and watching the sunset. Even as we chat about this or that, we are each in the moment, recognizing the specialness of where we are, knowing how lucky we are to be able to sleep on an island—Eagle Island—and aware that none of us will ever be the same.

Eagle Island 7
KRISTA’S EAGLE ISLAND KALE PASTA

INGREDIENTS
I lb. penne pasta
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
2 bunches kale, cut from the ribs and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
¼ cup salty, pitted green olives
2 Tbsp. capers, drained
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
4 Tbsp. (or to taste) Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (you can substitute soy sauce)
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, torn
salt and pepper, to taste
grated Parmesan

INSTRUCTIONS
Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium low heat. Add kale and garlic and sauté until kale is soft, making sure not to brown garlic, about 7-10 minutes. Turn heat up to medium, add cherry tomatoes, olives, capers, red pepper flakes (if using) and Bragg’s Aminos and sauté 5 more minutes, until tomatoes are soft and heated through. Stir in basil and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, cook penne in lots of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add kale mixture and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan and serve. Makes 6 servings.

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Eagle Island

 

If you’d like to rent a cabin on beautiful Eagle Island, please contact Treena and Krista at Eagle Island Rentals.

 

Have Cake and Tea with Your Demons

Author: Kirsti Kay, Books, Inspiration, Literature, Wellness

Have Your Cake 1Do you ever have those moments when you could use a little uplifting, but you don’t have time to read a self-help book? Or you try to meditate and all you can think about is all the other stuff you should be doing? If this sound like you, I have a great book to share that is perfect when your soul needs a quick attitude adjustment. It’s called Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa, and I wish I could have it permanently implanted in my brain for quick access at all times.

Have Your Cake 2The book is a collection of beautiful ink drawings with delightful ideas and suggestions for opening up your heart and finding peace and calm in a universe that is sometimes overwhelming and hard to navigate. You can easily read it in one sitting, which I did the first time. But now, when I need a little Zen, I flip through and just read a few pages. It always brings me back to center and reminds me how much there is to appreciate in this crazy world. It’s also a great book for people who would like a dreamy guide to inner peace without going full Chopra.

Have Your Cake 3With lessons such as “Have Cake and Tea with Your Demons,” Yumi deconstructs spirituality into bites we can easily digest.

Cake and tea, you say?
And by having this little party with my demon I can come to realize my demon just wanted love and compassion and time? And then we hug it out and dance? Count me in!

Each page is a sweet little present to your well-being or, as the book jacket says, “a hand-drawn path to inner peace.”

And don’t we deserve more presents?Have Your Cake 4

Yumi Sakugawa is an award-winning comic book artist and author. I’ve been following her on Facebook and love every new post. Her whimsical ink drawings (sometimes with color) are so full of life and warmth and continually display increased depth and complexity the more you look at them. Her drawings are usually accompanied by a poetic thought that makes you feel better instantly. Best of all, there are no complicated pop psychology terms to look up, no existential concepts that confuse you, and there isn’t a ton of reading to slog through to get to the point. With a lovely drawing and a happy thought, your spirit is uplifted and you are ready to move on to all the other stuff you should be doing.

Read Yumi. Feel better. Repeat. Becoming one with the universe has never been so easy or so fun.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe

 

 

Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters, and a variety of online retailers.

 

Update 11/11/15:

Have Your Cake 5Yumi Sakugawa just released a new book called There Is No Right Way To Meditate And Other Lessons, and it’s as delightful and uplifting as Your Illustrated Guide To Becoming One With The Universe. Yumi has a gift for combining her sweet drawings with simple text to explain sometimes complicated concepts in a way that makes you instantly feel better. Meditation can be daunting, but Yumi makes it accessible and fun. I read this book aloud to my husband and we both giggled and smiled, which in itself was a meditation—Yumi style.

Find out more about There Is No Right Way To Meditate, including where to purchase the book, on Yumi Sakugawa’s website.

High and Dry

Author: Kirsten K., Flowers, Home & Garden, Inspiration

Whatever is the opposite of a green thumb (a black pinkie?), I have it. I’d love to surround myself with live plants and flowers in my home, but, like those people who have trouble growing long hair or nails, I simply can’t grow them. They eventually give up and die in my presence. It’s a curse (in fact, my nickname rhymes with cursed, but that’s another story).

Purchasing cut flowers from a florist or market is an option, but can be pricey to indulge in on a regular basis. Plus, I always forget to change the water until the putrid funk of decomposing greenery escapes the confines of the vase, nearly causing me to swoon (and not in the good way). But the alternative—artificial plants and flowers—is so joyless. Even high-quality versions can gather dust and fade with time, and they won’t decompose in a vase…or a landfill.

High and Dry 1The solution: dried flowers. They’re already dead, so I can’t kill them. They’re already faded, so they won’t change with time. And if they gather dust, I can throw them in the compost bin with a clear conscience.

There are a number of rose bushes in my yard that are far enough away from my aura that they haven’t been affected by the curse. When they’re in bloom, I like to cut the best specimens for drying. I hang them from the rafters in my garage, but you can hang them in a closet, a laundry room, or anywhere that’s relatively warm and dry where they can be suspended upside down and undisturbed for at least two weeks.

High and Dry 2When I first began drying flowers, I tied them with twine, but some of the stems slipped their moorings as they shrunk. I came up with a quick fix by threading the twine through the handles of small binder clips before tying them to the rafters. After that, it was an easy task to hang the stems, and the clips held tight throughout the drying process.

Since the flowers in my yard that dry well are limited to roses, and since I don’t have much of a knack for arranging bouquets (my horticultural handicaps are legion), I appreciate a vessel that does most of the work for me. I snagged a Wedgwood for Williamsburg Restoration five-finger vase on eBay, but the Williamsburg Marketplace sells a similar version, along with beautiful tulipieres that also make flower arranging idiot-proof.

High and Dry 3Waiting until after the roses have dried to remove the thorns makes snapping them off a snap. I also removed the leaves, because I was going for a flowers-only theme, but you can use your own creative license. I grouped bunches of blooms in similar hues, arranged them in a symmetrical fashion, and put them in each “finger” of the vase, working from the center outwards…et voilà! I have a simple, yet swoon-worthy arrangement that requires no more care than occasionally blowing off the dust with a hairdryer.

With spring here and summer on its way, I’ll have plenty of blooms to dry and arrange for the next few months. I may even attempt something more ambitious without the crutch of a special vase. Who knows? It might just blossom into a new talent.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Williamsburg White Five-Finger Vase
Williamsburg Blue In Bloom Tulipieres

 

Binder clips can be purchased at Staples and Office Depot.