Monthly Archives: May 2011

How to get a thank you note

We all know the best way to give gifts is to give something personal. (Personal meaning “thoughtful”, not “icky and inappropriate”.) This is one of my favorite gifts to give:

This is the “Felicity” album, by one of my all-time favorite photo and frame catalogs: Exposures. (You can link to their catalog here or directly to these albums here or by clicking on the picture above.)

Have you ever known anyone to say, “Oh, no. Not another photo album!”? Me, neither. The Felicity  album is only $30, on sale right now, and includes 1 line of FREE personalization. And, as you can see, it comes in 3 sizes and 17 (!) different colors.

I mention these Felicity albums now because we are almost to June, which is still the #1 month for weddings. This is a perfect gift for those couples who only register for a few household things, or for a couple to whom you want to give a more personal gift.

Just to prove how great they are, and that I practice what I preach (keeping it real, friends), here is one of our own Felicity albums:

This is their classic 3-ring album. We bought this album right after we got married. It’s just our own simple way to lovingly remember how we celebrate each anniversary.

We are already sheepishly saying things like, “Um…what did we do for our 3rd  anniversary again?” So, this album should be a real help when we get closer to 40 years of marriage. (Some of you might have noticed, I also use this album to use up scrapbook paper left over from this project.)

I like the quality details of this album, like the silver lettering and that the inside of the albums are lined with a beautiful cream fabric…

…and that you can customize all the pages of the 3-ring binder to hold exactly what you need them to hold. Each album holds 40 pages and they have all kinds of photo pages and pockets available. You can buy the pages, at a very decent price, here. My favorite, basic pages for any album are these:

I like that the cream paper matches the fabric album lining and that the plastic cover on each page really wraps around the card stock and pictures.

What other occasions, besides weddings, could you give this album for? Here a few ideas:

  • New Baby – Allow families to make their own baby book or grandparent books to share.
  • Mother’s Day  or Father’s Day – This would make a great gift for a new parent to help them remember all of their future special days.
  • Graduations – Send a new college student off with a great album in their school colors or college grad off with an album for their new life.
  • Great Vacations – Make a new one each year and really enjoy all those fun photos and quirky mementos.
  • Retirement Party – A beautiful way for a new retiree to show off pictures, cards, certificates, etc. from their special party.
  • Christmas – Use an album to gather all of your Christmas card pictures and gifts-under-the-tree photos in one, elegant place.

Putting a little extra thought and planning into a gift for a special occasion is always rewarding when you see the smile of the face of the gift recipient. Writing you a thank you note will easy for them because you have given such a personal, memorable gift.

I hope this helps you with any future gift-giving occasions in your life! When we find a great idea or a real bargain, it is always fun to share with friends. Now it’s your turn. Do you have a fabulous go-to gift you like to give? How could you use this album in your home? Do you remember writing a thank you note for a particularly lovely gift? Leave a comment!

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Stay-cation: Have to getaway

This post is a follow-up to last week’s sources for local area stay-cation ideas. You can read that original post here.

Today, we are going to talk about a budget-friendly stay-cation solution that will help you out when you “have to getaway”. (Props again to Ms. Belinda Carlisle.) Ready for a little adventure?

There are these places near your home. They offer all of these amazing sights and outdoor activities. Sometimes, there is some history involved and sometimes even a great historic house tour.

The owners of these places spend millions of dollars every year to keep them looking great. However, you can spend a whole day there often for just the cost of the getting there. They let you bring your own food to save on costs, too. They encourage it, as long as you clean up after yourself.

The staff who work there are really helpful, too, making these places continuously welcoming. They are real experts on these places and you can always find them easily because they all wear patches that look like this:

Now, before you think, “Oh, I know all about this already”, let’s test that knowledge. We all have an image of famous historic monuments, but most people don’t realize how many park options there are out there to explore.

Since 1916, the National Park Service has been working hard to preserve our nation’s most beautiful and important places, 394 of them so far, for all of us. Have you really explored all of them? Why not give them a second look?

My top 10 reasons why you should include National Parks in your stay-cation:

1. It’s cheap. Most park sites have entrance fees that are less than $15 or FREE and you can stay all day, with full access to all of their grounds. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it outside. Unless you visiting a unique urban area, there is plenty of parking. Want to budget how much it will cost in gas to get to your park? Use this fantastic calculator, linked to AAA by the National Park Service.

2. You’re an owner. The National Parks has an annual operating budget of approximately $3.14 billion. A good chunk of that money comes from American taxpayers. Aren’t you interested to see how your contribution is being spent? You may discover one of the most rewarding investments that you have forgotten you ever made. Want more number details? You can find more interesting stats here.

3. It’s more local than you think. How many National parks are in your area? You may be surprised to find a lot of little places you’ve never been to before within an easy drive from your home. Day trips can be just what you need to feel like you’ve gotten away from it all, without squeezing your budget. Explore your state parks or the state next door using this link.

4. Get back to nature. You know what makes for a satisfying break? A real change of scenery. With over 84,000,000 acres of land, our National Parks offer plenty of room to stretch your legs, take some deep breaths of clean air and rediscover why nature conservation is so important. You can learn more about current Park Service ecology research here.

5. Brush up on your history. Learn about Native American culture, walk in the footsteps of American Revolution patriots, discover the danger of the Underground Railroad, visit the daily life of a Spanish mission…the options are endless. What history can you re-discover in your area? Browse some sample museum collections and great stories here.

6. Expert guides are available for all of your questions. The National Park Service employs over 28,000 people, including historians, park rangers, archeologists, botanists, biologists, forestry managers and museum professionals. If you have a question or you want to learn more on your park visit, these pros are there to help you. You can also explore other NPS employee projects here.

7. Families can find activities for all ages. Whether you prefer a nature hike or a new history lesson, the NPS has developed activities and in-park presentations to engage young minds. The online “Webrangers” program offers over 50 games to help learn about our nation’s history and wildlife. You can even earn patches as you play! Find out more details here.

8. Plan the ultimate sleepover. Many sites offer popular camping locations within the parks. You can find and reserve a campsite here. Tents not your thing? Consider one of the many budget-friendly lodge and cabin options available in some select parks. Find more details by state here.

9. Discover a new hobby. Did you know you can get trained to teach about locations on the National registry of Historic Places? Get free lesson plans here. Did you know the Park Service holds an annual national photography contest with winning photos being published in a calendar on the NPS website? Learn more details here. Did you know you can volunteer at your own favorite park? Find out more information here.

10. Help shape the future. The NPS works hard to share the beauty of the National Parks by supporting those who shape other communities. Teachers can find free curriculum ideas here. You can find interesting ways to get involved as an individual here.

All of the scenic pictures in today’s post are from individual park locations with the National Park Service. Like what you see? Check out the amazingly thorough National Park Service website to see what you can discover, then get out there!

How many National Parks have you visited? Have any great sites you can recommend in your own state? Leave a comment so we can plan fun trips!

Savoring Home: Lazy brunch perfection

This post doesn’t really need me to write an introduction. Does it?

  • Do you like to sleep late on the weekends?
  • Do you like a nice brunch with very little effort?
  • Have you ever had to bring something to a brunch?
  • Would you like to entertain with brunch food more easily?

I think you see where I’m going with this… The weekend is almost here, leaving you just enough time to grab a few inexpensive items to make these recipes. Let’s get started.

The Perfect Fruit Salad

Ingredients:

Whatever fruits you think are perfect in a fruit salad

Directions:

  1. Chop the fruit into bite-sized pieces
  2. Toss all fruit together in a bowl
  3. Keep refrigerated until serving

Simple enough, right? We often forget that some of the best recipes can be the simplest. This is also one of those recipes you can make the night before (possibly allowing you to sleep a little later). Just be sure that you add any apples or bananas to the salad right before serving. Nobody likes brown apples or bananas that taste oddly like lemon juice. Here’s a favorite salad of ours:

Red grapes and chopped Fuji apples, drizzled with a very tiny bit of honey. The honey mixes with the fruit juices to make a light syrup. Just enough sweetness to go with the rest of the menu.

Perfect Savory Brunch Bread

Ingredients:

1 8.5 oz. box corn muffin mix (we like the Jiffy brand)

(European readers can click on this picture for a link to order online.)

1/3 cup/80 mL milk

1 egg

1 cup/235 mL (approximately) of diced/minced ham

We use this or a turkey ham variety.

1/2 Tablespoon/7.5 mL (approximately) of flour

1 Tablespoon/15 mL (approximately) chopped chives

Make sure your dried chives are still fresh!

1 cup/235 mL (approximately) shredded cheddar cheese

Butter, some for greasing baking pan and some for serving

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 400° F/200° C/ Gas mark 6
  2. Chop and dice, almost mince, your ham:

    We chop up the whole ham and store it in smaller containers in the freezer to toss into separate recipes.

    Make sure the ham for this recipe is diced rather fine to mix well with the batter.

  3. Then toss the chopped ham with the flour. This is an old baking chemistry technique to keep anything heavy in a batter, such as berries or chocolate chips, from sinking to the bottom of the pan while baking:

    Use just enough flour to coat your quantity of ham.

    Use your hands and make sure all the ham is coated.

  4. Set the ham aside and in a separate bowl, make the corn bread mix batter, using the milk and egg, according to the package directions.
  5. Add your chives to the batter and mix well.
  6. Add your cheese to the batter, as much or a little as you like. Just eyeball it. (Did you notice how many approximate measurements there were in the ingredients section? I put “Lazy” in the name of this post for a reason.)

    Yep. Shredded cheese from a bag. Embracing "Lazy".

  7. Add the ham into the batter and mix well.
  8. When it is all mixed together, it should look like this:
  9. Then pour your batter into the butter-greased baking pan of your choice:

    The fancy large muffin pan...

    ...or the more rustic 8x8 inch brownie pan.

  10. Bake according to package directions!
  11. Allow to cool slightly before trying to cut or remove from the pan. For best results, use a silicone spatula to remove the bread from the pan.

Special notes:

  • You can make this bread the day before and then warm it in small bursts of heat (10 second increments) in the microwave.
  • Use this recipe, without the ham, as a great side for any BBQ meal.

Perfect Brunch Eggs

Any style eggs go well with the fruit salad and the savory bread/muffins. However, I’ve discovered many people feel nervous about poaching eggs, so I’ve included an easy how-to in this post. Poached eggs are great for entertaining because they cook so quickly and you can make several servings at a time.

Ingredients:

Eggs, normally two per person

White vinegar – a MUST for poached eggs (white vinegar only)

Water

Directions:

  1. Bring a big pot (pasta pots are great here) of water to boil on the stove.
  2. Crack all eggs into individual bowls, to keep them separate for cooking:

    (The BEST kitchen timer in the world. Click this picture for the Amazon link to buy it.)

  3. Add approximately 1/4 cup/60 mL white vinegar to boiling water:

    Vinegar keeps the eggs whites attached to the yolk in the boiling water.

  4. Ever so gently, slide the eggs into the pot, one at a time, spacing them apart from each other:

    Careful not to break the yolk!

  5. Cook eggs for exactly 2 minutes (Seriously. 2 minutes only.)

    Watch as the feathery egg whites change from clear to white.

  6. Remove eggs from pot using slotted spoon, allowing the water to drain from egg white edges.

    Drain gently. The egg yolk should still be "soft".

  7. Serve!

Put It All Together

Your work is done! Time to eat!

Fancy: Poached eggs with savory muffins

Home-style: Eggs over-easy with savory bread

A special shout-out of thanks to Mr. CARO, who patiently sipped his coffee while I took fussy pictures of our breakfasts. I am grateful every day that I married a morning person, especially since I’m not one!

Are you a morning person, too? How do you prefer your eggs? What does “lazy” mean for your weekend mornings?

Mood Board: Small balcony meets nature

This outdoor room was designed for a client dealing with a common problem: the too-small balcony. The balcony in question extends off of an apartment in a high-rise apartment complex, overlooking an adjoining park. Like many apartment balconies, it seemed like an architect’s afterthought. The park offers some nice views, including a lovely fountain, but the balcony’s size had kept the client from using the space as anything beyond a view from her dining room. However, after several years of ignoring the problem, the client wanted a real space where she could enjoy her green view after work with a good magazine and a glass of wine…

The grey wall color you see as the background of this mood board is the color of the brick wall and the concrete floor of the client’s balcony. I’ve included it in the mood board because, although we did not paint the brick wall or the floor, it is important to see as a color reference.

The first step was to separate the floor from the three walls by breaking up the solid grey color with an indoor/outdoor rug. The natural texture and the warm colors woven into this narrow rug really help define the space as another living room of the apartment.

As the client had already discovered, standard patio furniture is just too deep for this narrow space. By letting go of trying to squeeze a matching set of furniture onto the balcony, we were able to search for other ideas that offered more individual character. This long garden bench has a classic furniture profile, but looks more modern in its lemon yellow color. The bench cushion and pillows were chosen to add more pops of color and tie into colors already in the space’s fourth wall: the park view.

The small table in a dark wicker finish offers a practical place to set down a drink or book. We also changed out the standard porch light for an antique-looking bronze fixture, which now gives the client a softer reading light. Both the table and the light fixture are in an older style, which helps give the balcony a slightly worn-in, cosy feeling.

Next, we added some green to the space, which helps link the space visually to the view beyond in the park. We added several balcony rail planters that the client plans to use as a mini herb garden. In the same black iron finish, we also added 2 multi-tier plant stands. Floor space is at a premium on this balcony, so the plant stands can help add color to the corners without sacrificing the traffic pattern.

For the two grey side walls of the balcony, we added two small black iron trellises. The client had always liked climbing vines, but had never considered them for her own space. We gave her two places to grow some color on those grey walls. With the balcony’s great sun exposure, she plans to train some purple clematis vines.

Finally, a little art and a little artful convenience adds some decor to this balcony. The aged outdoor thermometer allows the client to check the temperature every morning. The small bronze quail statue nestles onto the floor into a corner with one of the plant stands for a little touch of whimsy.

Thinking beyond common furniture design allowed this balcony to find its own character. By embracing the landscaped view in the design, this narrow outdoor space feels larger and more welcoming to everyday use.

Unique, affordable, comfortable living.

Mount up!

Have you ever noticed that most framed “art” is always mounted on some sort of matte board? Here’s an example of what I mean:

The color of the matte does add some nice extra color to the frame, but unless you have a standard-frame-size piece of art, all of that matting can quickly get expensive.

Is matting really necessary? Well, yes, but there is also a savvy budget solution!

Yes, it matters:

Mounting any art or photograph on to a matte protects the surface of the art. When exposed to light and heat (like sunlight), glass will bond to the surface of paper. When you go to remove the art or picture later, it will be stuck to the glass and can tear easily.  Like this:

Image courtesy of photorestoration.co.nz

Ouch! That is a lovely, old family photo…ruined.

So, mounting art to a matte board does matter because it protects the life of the image.

However…what if we didn’t frame the original? Could we avoid some of those mounting costs?

Savvy Budget Solution:

Make your scanner or a good color copier your new best friend.

Scan and print or copy your pictures to the size you want. (If you are using a copier, be sure to use the color “photo” setting for the best resolution.)

Now store your original art or photograph safely in an album or art storage box, away from light. If you ever need to replace a copy, the original is safe and sound.

Next, take your great color copy and let’s run an errand. We are going here:

There is an almost-secret area in this store that I am going to show you how to use for your copied art. First, we have to find the custom frame section:

Okay, now we don’t want an actual custom order, but we want to look at the other framing supplies available in this area. So, look around until you find an aisle that looks kinda like this:

Now, go to the end caps at the back of these aisles and you’ll see one that looks a little like this:

This is where all of the rejected custom frames, custom mattes and scrap pieces of expensive matte board go to be sold at clearance prices. Score!

Dig through those racks and look at all the options. You can find a custom cut mattes in great colors at a steal!

$1.25?! I can afford several of these!

But wait, let’s get savvy. We don’t actually have to have a matte for our art, because it is just a great copy. Let’s just get the look of a matte mount for a lot less!

Look at the plain scrap pieces of matte board. Find a color you like and a size that would look like a matte if we put it behind your art.

Now flip over that matte board and look at the price:

$1.00

Amen to cheap prices. We’ll take it! Now we just need to find the mounting tape. Off to the scrapbooking section of the store for another savvy deal…

Dig around in the glue/tapes/other sticking things bins of the scrapbook section until you find this:

This roll of little square stickers are a photo-safe (meaning the glue won’t eat through the paper) way of mounting art to other paper. You get 500 of these little babies for around $4.

Time to ring up our $5 purchase and go home to frame it all!

When you get home, cut the matte board to the size of frame you will use. Then, just use the sticker squares to mount your art in the center of the matte.

Just to show you how I have used this in my home, here is a color copy of a pretty, sentimental note card card I have mounted on a scrap of matte board:

And here it is in its frame:

Can you even tell the art is mounted on top of the matte board? Not really.

Bonus Points:

Want to add in some more style for little money?

Consider using big sheets of scrapbook paper in place of the matte board. You can find big pads of coordinating scrapbook papers for decent prices.

Most of these pads come with a couple of sheets of each pattern, which would allow you to pull together an easy gallery of matching mattes.

You can also find multiple sizes of these pads, so you only have to buy what you really need.

Looking for something a little more mod? There are some great papers that use photographed images as the paper’s pattern.

How can you use this art mounting technique in your home? A gallery of your children’s art? A framed collection of great vacation photos?  What about a cheaper way to give great photos as gifts? What is your idea?

Colonel Mustard, in the library…

Today, I wanted to share one of my favorite design vocabulary words. Most people can immediately conjure up an image of this term instantly, even if they don’t know there is a proper name for it.

A jib door.

Can you picture it? No?

A jib door is any door that is designed to look like the wall it which it stands.

See if you can recognize this famous example:

Image courtesy of mirror.co.uk

Those big windows are actually jib doors that lead onto the balcony of the White House. Here’s a view with the doors open:

Image courtesy of whitehousemuseum.org

Can you see how the doors are part wall and part window? The White House balcony was only added during the Truman administration, so the architects had to figure out how to put in doors where there were already (famous, historic) windows in place. Their clever solution? Well, you see it from the exterior in the news almost every day, don’t you?

Are you a great mystery fan?  How about this type of jib door?

Image courtesy of centralcitymillworks.com

When I was a little girl in England, one of my friends lived in a very grand old house that had a huge jib door built into the enormous bookcases in the formal living room. The door only led to a large walk-in closet under the stairs, which her parents used as a bar. However, that didn’t stop me from wishing, every time we opened it, that Hercule Poirot would be standing on the other side. I would have even settled for Colonel Mustard, maliciously waving around a candlestick.

Some jib doors really are almost indistinguishable. Can you see the jib door in this room?

Image courtesy of marie-antoinettequeenoffrance.blogspot.com

(I’ll give you a hint: look on the wall left of the bed.)

This was Marie Antoinette’s bedroom at the Palace of Versailles. She had two of these doors in this, her “public” bedroom, leading to her “private” bedroom and “study”. Zut alors!

I’ll leave you today with quite possibly the most popular jib door in all of literary and film history.

Image courtesy of warnerbros.com

I do hope you’ve remembered the password.

Now daydream with me: If you could put a jib door your home, how would you use it? Leave a comment and let me know…

Stay-cation: All you ever wanted

Pardon me while I channel my inner Belinda Carlisle…

It is almost time for the summer vacation season to begin. You can always tell because city and neighborhood festivals start to appear. Here are a few shots from our annual Baltimore Flowermart this past weekend:

Mmmmm. They had us at “Funnel Cake”.

I mention this today, because now is the time to do some vacation planning. And by that, I mean realistic vacation planning. (Read more about Real Living philosophy here.)

The economy is still recovering, no matter how you choose to define the word “recession”. Even if you have survived this economy un-scathed, now is the time for us all to do some conscientious saving. A “Stay-cation” may be just right for you.

Now, don’t go rolling your eyes at the trendy term. Vacations are a great way to re-prioritize…IF you embrace the full opportunities of a good Stay-cation.

The best vacations include:

  • Change of routine
  • Change of scenery
  • A bit of adventure
  • Great pictures and/or souvenirs

We all want to have a good time and no one wants buyer’s remorse (especially at these gas prices). So, how can we find all we have ever wanted in a vacation at home?

Fortunately, we all have some great solutions right in our own areas to ensure all of these priorities are included in our stay-cation. Here’s where to start looking for them:

This my city’s magazine. Your city probably has a magazine, too. Now is the time of year when they print big, glossy spreads about things to do in your city over the next three to four months. Get out your calendar and start filling it up with things that sound fun! Pick and choose from great entertainment while you can still get tickets.

"U2 is coming to Baltimore?! Where is the phone?!....."

Now is the time to find and list all of those neighborhood street fairs and festivals on your calendar. Get out and visit with your own neighbors or explore those neighborhoods you have always meant to get to but never have had the time to see.

Skip cooking dinner a few nights and eat out. You can afford it, since you spent so little of your budget traveling to get there. Besides, half the fun is in the company you keep.

You can almost hear the dog thinking, "Drop it...drop the turkey leg...just let go..."

Don’t get your local city magazine? Most Barnes & Nobles stores keep a nice stack of local magazines, including other cities near you. Expand your local search area to see the best summer activities in other towns. Now is the time to plan, so you don’t miss out on a fun…dare I say it…FREE event!

You can also check out area newspapers around this time of year for summer fun ideas. Nearly every local media source is gonna list some sort of article like this:

You could even find articles on your local media websites. Use your “downtime” or “coffee break” at work to surf the web for events and any possible discounts you can score because it is still pre-season.

So what are you waiting for? Get scheduling your stay-cation!  It’s almost time to re-stock the sunscreen!

Like this idea and want more? Stay tuned for next week’s post on finding more adventure in your area! You won’t believe the deals!

All of the magazine images in today’s post are courtesy of “Baltimore” magazine. “Baltimore” is America’s first city magazine and has been celebrating our city since 1907. To learn more or subscribe, visit here.

Do you have a local festival you love to attend? Leave a comment and we can all share the best ideas with each other!

Museum Hopping: The Benaki

It’s time for another museum field trip! Who made the decision that adults no longer need field trips? Weren’t field trips one of the greatest perks of grade school? If you missed our first Museum Hopping trip, you can go on that trip in this post.

Today’s field trip takes us all the way to the heart of sunny Athens, Greece. I had the pleasure of working in Athens several years ago and I used my off time to explore all of the city’s beautiful museums. There are many great museums in Athens, but my favorite, for many reasons that I’ll show you, is The Benaki Museum.

Before we go inside, I have a little confession to own up to about museums. I have been to a lot of museums. I mean A LOT.  Hundreds. I love museums for learning about a country’s culture. However, I have also learned (the hard way) that you can easily over-do your museum experience if you aren’t careful.

I think everyone has a maximum limit of glass cases they can look down into, red velvet ropes they can shuffle past, sculptures they can walk around and paintings that they can gaze upon. It is different for every person. After you hit your limit, your brain goes into what I call “Museum Glaze”. You are walking around, looking at priceless things, but they all start to blend together until youcan’trememberifyou’vebeeninthisroombefore… Museum Glaze can strike anyone, anywhere, even when you’ve finally reached the front of the line to see the diminutive “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre.

Image courtesy of venere.com

So, when I tell you that The Benaki Museum (pronounced: “ben-AH-kee”) is one of the best museums I have ever been to, it is in part due to their lovely collection. It is also due to the fact that they’ve skillfully laid out the museum to fight the dreaded Museum Glaze. It’s fantastic! The Benaki should give master classes to other museums.

The Benaki Museum was founded by Antonis Benakis (1873-1954). Born into a wealthy family with a strong civic devotion to Greek culture and history, Antonis had always been a collector of fine art and folk art. Here is Antonis with one of his sisters, Penelope Delta, who was a celebrated children’s author:

Don't they look like people you would like to know?

Antonis came up with the idea of using his collections to create a museum for all Greek citizens to enjoy fine items from their history. His brothers and sisters liked the idea so much that they offered their collections for the museum, too. They also had a great idea for the museum’s location. Why not use Dad’s old family home (umm…mansion) to house it all?

The Benaki family home in 1930

The family home was inaugurated as a museum in 1931. Established as a public-benefit organization, the museum is run on the monetary donations of benefactors and artistic donations of collectors. Here’s an example of how the earliest galleries of the museum looked:

Can you see how this is a rather small room? It could have been a spare guest bedroom before the house was a museum. My theory is that using these smaller rooms as they were is one of the many ways the museum feels approachable and intimate. (Take that, Museum Glaze!)

Major renovations have occurred to the original mansion over the years, as the collection has expanded. As of 2011, the museum now includes 7 different buildings across the city. Let’s go inside…

This what greeted me in the first gallery.

I’m not gonna lie. My first thought was, “Oh dear. I hope this huge mansion isn’t full of ancient pottery shards.” (I did warn you that I am a very jaded museum visitor.) Happily, my attitude was very, very wrong.

This bowl was in the Neolithic gallery of the museum. It dates from 5,300-4,500, BC. Think of how many everyday dishes you have broken in your own kitchen and then realize that this glazed bowl (I get the “glazed” irony, believe me) is over 7, 000 years old. I was impressed.

A few rooms later I found a few of these:

I love these types of Grecian urns, properly called “hydria”, because they all tell stories. Some tell the stories of great Greek myth heroes and others, like this one, show scenes of daily life. I love to see how other people lived, even if it means staring at their version of Corningware.

A few rooms later brought me to this:

This gold wreath of oak leaves dates from the late 2nd century, BC. It was made by pounding gold into flat leaf, then cutting and decorating the gold to resemble oak leaves, then mounting the leaves on a decorative gold headband.

Can you see the flowers attached along the “stem” of the headband, too?  The leaves are so thin, I found myself holding my breath as I leaned in for a closer look. I can’t imagine securing something so delicate to my hair. How on earth did this survive for 4,000 years?

And there was more:

Can you guess what these are? For all you art history lovers out there, these are masterpieces from Hellenistic and Early Roman gold work. Look directly below the big circles at the top. Can you see the little muses reclining as they play their lyres? Remember that these are hand-made: coiled, carved, pounded and sculpted from gold. Any guesses as to what these are? They’re earrings. (I’ll wait while you ogle them some more. Just don’t get any drool on the glass case. Museum directors don’t care for that…)

Just when you think you can’t look down into one more glass case, we are changing floors and changing exhibit items. It’s now time to see how the Greek people have lived in their homes over the past centuries. I’m only going to show you some of my very favorite items. There are a lot more treasures to discover when you visit someday!

This called a “sperveri”, which translates roughly to “curtains for the bridal bed”. It comes from Rhodes and the 17th-18th centuries. I’m not a skilled seamstress, so I am really impressed by the perfect symmetry of the patterns embroidered in silk on this fabric. So beautiful. This bed is also rather small when you stand next to it, which is another great reminder of how much humans have grown over the past centuries of better nutrition.

Speaking of bridal things:

This is a bridal costume from the 19th century Attica region of Greece. The gold cloth you see is actually entirely embroidered with spun gold thread. (Eat your heart out, Kate Middleton.) Doesn’t this look comfortable?

There are many more costumes to see, but maybe this is enough fabric for you? Time to change it up again. (I’m telling ya, these museum directors are genius!) House tours time:

This is a reconstruction of a 19th century home on the island of Skyros. See the clean, white washed walls? You can also see some beautiful ceramics here, which was common way to decorate a home around the Greek War of Independence. I think this looks very cosy and comfortable. I love the colorful embroidered pillows!

Here’s a few older homes:

These two 18th century reception rooms (above & below) were actually re-located in their entirety from their original homes for preservation in The Benaki Museum. You can stand in these rooms in the museum. These pictures do not do them justice.

I have always been a big fan of a window seat, so a whole room full of them seemed rather modern and chic to me.

Whew! We’ve done a lot of walking, but The Benaki has your back. We are three-fourths of the way through the museum and we need a break. And right here is where find the inviting museum cafe and outside terrace.

Remember: Europeans refer to the American "2nd Floor" as the "1st Floor". We are on the American "3rd Floor" on this map. Let's get a drink and relax for a moment.

I’d love to show you a picture of the beautiful view from the terrace, but I can only offer you three words: camera battery fail. (*sigh*)

While we’re taking a little break, I also want to mention that this museum also features galleries of Islamic art:

modern acquisitions:

Diploma for the 1963 Nobel Prize for Literature (I had never seen one before.)

and several galleries titled: “Greece through the eyes of foreign travelers”. I found this outsider’s perspective of your own country’s history rather original in a national museum. I wish more countries embraced this open-minded idea.

Removal of the pedimental sculptures on the orders of Lord Elgin. Sadly, you have to go to London to see these original statues in the British Museum. Watercolor by Sir William Gell, 1801

The top floor of this museum is four small galleries celebrating The War of Greek Independence. This part of Greek history is riveting and I knew very little about it before I visited Athens. The Greek people struggled to free themselves from Turkish occupation for 11 years (1821-1832) before gaining their independence. The Greek Revolution embodies many of the same ideals and memorable characters of the American Revolution. (You learn more of the basics about it here.)

Wandering through the galleries of Greek revolutionaries was not unlike standing in front of great portraits of Patrick Henry, John Adams and George Washington. Here is an elegant example of a Greek patriot:

He seems heroically fierce to me. What a gorgeous uniform. I would certainly want him on my side in a war. Did you notice the room he is standing in?  It looks just like the reception rooms we visited earlier in this post. Real living, 19th century style.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our field trip to The Benaki Museum today. I’d take you to the gift shop, too, but the dollar-to-euro exchange rate is really working against us right now. Still determined to browse? Here’s their online gift shop.

All of the images you have seen in this post are courtesy of the generous Benaki Museum. I know I have raved about them a lot today, but the museum staff at the Benaki are some of the most welcoming and helpful I have ever run across, especially if you are a guest who doesn’t speak Greek. I think Antonis would be proud of today’s Benaki Museum.

If you ever find yourself in Athens, Greece, be sure to put this museum on your things-to-see list. They also offer fabulous concerts, book signings, lectures and special events. In the meantime, you can also browse the English version of their website here:  http://www.benaki.gr/index.asp?id=40207&lang=en

Now it’s your turn! Did your like our museum visit today?  Have you ever experienced “Museum Glaze”? Do you have a great idea for a future Museum Hopping post? Leave a comment!

“The Last Time I Saw Paris” free mood board

May’s free mood board, with all of the sources included, is a bedroom called: “The Last Time I Saw Paris”. (Those of you who know the song, feel free to hum along as your browse.) It’s a little bit of retro-glam, a little bit of modern luxury and whole lot of Ooh-la-la.

You may remember when I told you about my new Pinterest account (you can read that original post here) that I promised to offer a free mood board every month. That’s a full room design…for free. You can DIY the whole room for your house or just choose the elements you love.

The great thing about Pinterest is that you can link right to each item’s store page by clicking on the picture twice. See something you like? Click to the link. Easy shopping!

Want to get there now?  Click on the blog’s sidebar link that looks like this:

Then choose the board that looks like this:

Remember: This mood board will only be up for the month of May. Once we get to June, this board is gone forever!

Do you like a retro-glam bedroom look? What item on this mood board calls its siren song to you? Have an idea for a mood board you would like to see? Leave a comment!

Like our linked Pinterest account?  You’re welcome to browse around! Become a CARO Interiors fan on Facebook or follow along on Twitter and you’ll get an instant link whenever I add a fabulous new find to the Pinterest account! I have some great gift ideas coming up…

Measure for Measure

I struggled with coming up with the right title for this post. Other working titles included:

  • “The easiest tool you’ll ever use”
  • “Don’t leave home without it”
  • “How to look like a super hero in unexpected places”

These will all make sense in a moment.

If you look at the top of the page, on the menu bar you’ll see the link to the “Toolbox” page:

The “Toolbox” page carries all the links directly to our tool posts. The page now has two tool posts in it, including this post, but more will follow soon!

Every adult should have and know how to use a basic set of tools. Not only will it make your home look more beautiful (hammer+nails+art=lovely decor), but it will save you a lot of money over your lifetime.

Picking out tools can be intimidating if you don’t know where to start, but we are going to solve that problem. We’ll look at what each tool is for, how to use the tool and how to choose affordable, quality tools that will last a lifetime.

In short, we are gonna fill that “Toolbox” with useful and practical know-how. Build your own home’s tool box as you follow along. If you missed the how-to-swing-that-hammer post, check it out here.

(Hint, hint: Tools are a great gift idea, both for giving and receiving. Would some affordable tools fit into your future gift planning?)

Today, we are starting with “the easiest tool you’ll ever use”. And you already know what it is:

THE MEASURING TAPE

I know, this hardly seem like rocket science right now, but we are building our tool collection with practical must-haves.

You must have a decent measuring tape in your collection. That old yard stick in the corner of garage just doesn’t cut it. Time to upgrade!

HOW TO BUY

Here’s what to look for when buying your own measuring tape:

  • 25 foot tape length, minimum. Some craftsman prefer a 50 foot tape length, but that can become a cumbersome weight and risk putting you in the pesky track-and-field measuring tape areas.

  • One hand operation. You should be able hold the tape and operate the measurement lock with one hand. This means the lock should not be too stiff that you have to use your other thumb to help lock it.

  • As sturdy plastic outer case, preferably with grips, around the tape. It only takes one time of dropping this baby while you are up a ladder to see why this matters.

No.

YES!!!!!

  • A belt hook on the case. This can be a pain to use on your actual belt, but it can hook like a dream on any pocket of your jeans.

When you find a great measuring tape that meets all of these qualifications, buy it.  Measuring tapes will break over time from natural wear on the tape, just like your old VHS tapes after about the 800th time you rewound them. However, a good measuring tape should not cost over $20 and will last for years.

Put your name on your tape in permanent marker and “don’t leave home without it” when you are shopping for DIY supplies. (Or else you’ll have to be that kinda dorky person that uses one of the measuring tapes they sell in the store and have to put it back on the right shelf before you check out…not that I know anything about that.)

HOW TO USE

I’m guessing you can already handle this one by yourself. If you’d like to feel more like a pro, you can practice catching the hook end of the tape:

and stretching out the tape while holding the hook in place. Baseboard molding corners are great for this practice.

You can also practice stretching out the tape to a long length and retracting the tape carefully and responsibly, rather than whipping and cracking it around like you’re a lion tamer.

BONUS POINTS

or “How to look like a super hero in unexpected places”

Buy a smaller, 12 foot measuring tape and keep it in your purse, ladies. (It will probably fit in either the zippered lining pocket or that weird extra pocket next to the cell phone pocket. You know the one I mean.) The tape will be lightweight due to its size, so it won’t be a bother to your daily travels.

You will be amazed at how often you use that tape when you are out and about. Decor, rough clothing measurements and will-that-fit-in-the-trunk problems are banished forever. And it only takes one time of producing that measuring tape for someone else, exactly when they need it, to make everyone stare at you like you’re a super hero. Just smile and say, “Yeah. I’m that organized.” (then zip your purse closed so they don’t see the rest of your clutter …been there).

Yep. That's my own purse. Keeping it real.

Not feeling self-sufficient in your own home can be very frustrating. Having decent tools in your home can make all the difference and really boost your self esteem. Even if you have never considered yourself handy, jump in and give it a try. Project by project, tool by tool, and in this case, “measure by measure” (yes, I did) your confidence will improve and you’ll be amazed at what you can do. It is a great feeling!

Do you need to replace the measuring tape in your house? Do you like the idea of a well-stocked toolbox for your home?  What tools do you have questions about?  Leave a comment !

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