the best laid plans.

One thing I don’t think I’ve mentioned about our recent trip is why we originally chose to visit Charleston in April.  The timing was supposed to coincide with the blooming of the azaleas.

According to my research, azaleas bloom anywhere from mid-March to late April in South Carolina.  I was never able to take a trip during azalea season while I was employed because that was also the exact timing of our annual audit.  So one of the items on my post-retirement bucket list was a trip to see the azaleas in bloom (another is a trip to the Netherlands to see the tulips in bloom, maybe next year?).

But as all of you gardeners out there know, the timing of spring blooms can be somewhat unpredictable.  The weather can have an impact, it can depend on how soon things start to warm up.  So even though we visited Charleston the first two weeks of April, we pretty much missed most of the azaleas, except for that little patch of them in Waterfront Park that I shared earlier.

  I suspect that the storm we flew in on (with torrential rain and high winds) didn’t help either.

My grand plan for viewing azaleas included a trip to Middleton Place, the oldest landscaped gardens in America.  The gardens were originally laid out in 1741 and they were inspired by the gardens at Versailles.

Here is how I was picturing the gardens at Middleton (photo borrowed from the web) …

And here is how they actually looked.

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans …

And although I was disappointed to have missed the azaleas, I definitely was not disappointed with our visit to Middleton Place.

You have to remember that when we left home there was still snow on the ground, and actually, it was snowing when we returned home too!  So I was quite happy to wander around these gardens and just admire the green.  The fact that is was also a gloriously sunny day and around 70 degrees didn’t hurt either.

It was not crowded at all the day we visited.  Probably because most people were aware that the azaleas were done.  I suspect that when the azaleas are at their most magnificent, the place is packed.

There were a handful of azalea blooms here and there, and a few of the camellias still had flowers as well.  So I did see some color.

But Middleton Place is definitely worth a visit even if there isn’t anything blooming.

There are 110 acres full of paths, formal gardens, and secret gardens to explore.

Just beware that, as all the signs say, the gators are real.

Yikes!  I have to admit, those guys freaked me out a little.  But they pretty much seemed to be minding their own business, and we didn’t get too close to them.

Prior to the civil war, the house at Middleton Place consisted of a main center building with a ‘flanker’ on either side.  It was burned down by union troops in 1865.  The south flanker was the least damaged and thus was repaired and continued to function as a home until 1975 when it was turned into a museum.

It’s certainly a lovely building, but probably not quite what you picture in your head when you hear ‘plantation’.

You can pay extra for a guided tour of the inside (which is the only way to get inside), but we chose to forgo that.

You don’t have to pay extra to explore the stable yards which serve as an open air museum with costumed artisans explaining the functions of the various buildings and the craftmanship of the era.

We chatted with the blacksmith who showed us how they made nails, the cooper who was making wooden buckets, the potter who was making clay pots, and the seamstress who was spinning wool.  All four of them knew a lot about their craft and it was very interesting to visit with them.

They also have livestock including cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and horses at Middleton.

Now you know I’m always keeping an eye out for furniture inspiration, and I found some in the candle making building.

Isn’t that an awesome chippy cupboard?  I love the zinc top that is nailed all around the edge.

Despite missing the azaleas, I enjoyed visiting Middleton Place.  However, if you’re looking for a more traditional visit to a “plantation” while in the south, this may not fill the bill.  There are a few other options in the area including Drayton Hall and Magnolia Plantation.

Do you have any recommendations to share with others?  If so, be sure to leave a comment and let us know!

south of broad.

On our recent Charleston vacation, we stayed at the La Quinta Charleston Riverview, which is just across the Ashley River from the historic part of town.  Let me just say, this hotel was not great.  The traffic noise in our room was deafening, the hotel staff were awful (we had two hangers in our room and when we stopped at the front desk to ask for more we got a shrug and ‘I don’t know if we have any extra hangers’).  The included breakfast was so bad we only ate it once (and that was with a spoon because when we asked for forks we got another shrug and ‘we don’t have any forks’, apparently there is a hanger and fork shortage in the south).  I could go on, but suffice to say, I do not recommend staying at this hotel.  There must be better options out there.

That being said, we chose it because it was on the cheaper end … so I have to remind myself that you get what you pay for.  Lesson learned, it might be wise to pay a little more for your hotel.  I will say that it was in a pretty convenient location though if you have a car.  It was less than a 10 minute drive into the heart of historic downtown, and there was plenty of free parking at the hotel.  Although their website says that they have a free shuttle to downtown, when we arrived we were told that they no longer provide a shuttle.  Fortunately, we had rented a car and weren’t counting on their shuttle.

After our formal guided walking tour the previous day, on day two in Charleston we decided to just wander the historic district on our own.  We drove to an area called the Battery because my research told me that there was free parking to be had if you got there early.

  Since we’re early risers, and we were skipping that bad hotel breakfast, it was no problem to be parking the car in one of those free spots by 8 a.m.  Although it was overcast and the forecast called for rain, we never did get wet.

We walked along the battery towards Bakehouse Charleston where we knew we could get good coffee and some pastries (and FYI, their frozen mint lemonade is totally delicious too).

It’s a lovely walk where you can admire beautiful old antebellum houses along one side, and pretty water views along the other (and there are those free parking spaces in the foreground, as you can see they were filling up already).

This house along the Battery caught my eye.  It stood out because it was looking a little worse for the wear (this would have been a good one for your dad to fix up Connie), I wonder if it’s a popular stop on the many ghost tours that are offered in Charleston.

Check out that big ol’ crack in the foundation.  Yikes!  I can just imagine how expensive it is to maintain these old homes.  I’m so glad there are people out there willing to do it.  And FYI, this was the exception, not the rule.  For the most part the homes along here were in immaculate condition.

Once we were fortified with coffee and pastries, we headed out towards Waterfront Park.

This is where I found some of the only azaleas blooming for the entire trip (more on that in a future post).

This is also where you’ll find the Pineapple Fountain.

It’s a lovely place to just stroll around.

Just a sidebar note for any of my fellow cruisers out there, there was a Carnival ship docked right there at the pier.

So if you ever end up on a cruise that stops in Charleston, I can tell you that you are going to be docked right in the heart of the historic district and everything I’m sharing with you in this post is within easy walking distance of the ship.

And this brings me to one of the absolute highlights of our trip, for me at least.  Wandering through the neighborhood called South of Broad.

First off, if you want to avoid the crowds, this is one way to do it.  We did see the occasional horse drawn carriage full of tourists,

but for the most part Mr. Q and I had these streets all to ourselves except for the locals out walking their dogs, and the gardeners who were out cleaning up after the previous night’s storms.

My goal was simply to admire the houses …

and the gardens …

up close and personal-like (gosh I envy their boxwood!).  And there’s no better way to do that than on foot.

I’m fairly sure that Mr. Q deserves a medal of some kind for being OK with just wandering around this neighborhood for a couple of hours, stopping every 30 seconds so I could take another picture.

And even being willing to pose next to a giant planter to show the scale.  Seriously, that thing was huge.

Speaking of huge planters, check these out.

Aren’t they gorgeous?

Charleston is known for something called a single house, and there were quite a few examples in this neighborhood.

A single house is one room wide, with a porch running the length of the house down the side.  That door you see in the photo above leads to stairs up to the porch.  The actual front door to the house is in the middle of the porch.  If you want to learn more about single houses, check out this informative article from

Another really cool detail on the houses in Charleston were the gas lanterns.  I initially thought the flickering flames they gave off were some kind of fancy light bulb, but I asked our guide on the Alley tour and he said they were genuinely gas fueled flames.  Since it was a rather dreary overcast day, those lanterns added a warm, cozy feel.  They also go a long way towards convincing you that you are visiting a bygone era somehow.

Now, get ready for some serious eye candy … well, at least for my fellow gardeners out there.  I totally stopped and drooled over every garden we passed by.  Some of them were front and center for everyone to see.

While others were tucked away behind wrought iron.

Wrought iron being another thing that Charleston is known for.

Is there any better combination than wrought iron and wisteria?

This planted staircase also caught my eye.

Isn’t that unique?  I don’t know that I could do anything like that here in Minnesota.  What plant would survive our winters in that little amount of soil?  And how would you clear a foot of snow off those steps without disturbing the plants?  Hmmmm.

I’m afraid I might be coming off as some kind of snoop here, peering through gates and over hedges (and just to be clear, I did not trespass.  I stayed on the public sidewalk or street the entire time).  But my philosophy on gardening is this; if you go to this much trouble to have a beautiful garden, you probably want other people to see and admire it too.

Tell me fellow gardeners, am I wrong?  Does anyone garden simply for their own enjoyment, unwilling to share the beauty with others?

I didn’t just admire the gardens, I drooled over the houses too.

Our self-guided tour was made even easier by the frequent presence of plaques giving the history of notable houses.

We saw quite a few of these, and they gave lots of interesting information.

So if those aren’t an invitation to snoop around, I don’t know what is.

If you ever get to Charleston, I absolutely recommend taking some time to just walk around this beautiful neighborhood.  Get some coffee to go at Bakehouse Charleston and then just stroll around.  While it’s easy to get turned around, the area is small enough that you never can actually get lost (kind of like Venice, right bff?!).  There always seems to be a glimpse of the water around the next corner to re-orient you.

Although I have some more posts coming up about some day trips we took from Charleston, this is the last one about Charleston proper.  Just in case any of you are planning a trip there, I can also recommend the following things we did:

Touring the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.

This is a great way to learn about the history of Charleston.

Visiting the Gibbes museum of art.

The Gibbes is small (at least compared to our MIA here in Minneapolis), but really well done.  If you’re interested in furniture (um, you are, right?), it’s worth a quick visit.  My favorite exhibit was the miniature portraits though.  Definitely go see those.

Taking a food tour with Bulldog Tours.

This is a great way to learn a little bit about the cuisine in Charleston and how it was formed by the varied cultural influences of French Huguenot and English settlers, and of course the African slaves, combined with the local food sources available.  I admit, I never did quite understand where the banana pudding came into play, but it was delicious.

Eating amazing BBQ at Home Team BBQ.

They have a few different locations, we ate at the one on the Ashley River Road.  It’s fairly unassuming looking from the outside.  We just stumbled upon it when driving back to our hotel one afternoon.  Mr. Q had the BBQ nachos with pulled pork, and yes, he ate all of it!  I discovered my love of Carolina mustard based bbq sauce there.  Yum!

So, I’m curious.  What’s your favorite thing to do on vacation.  Would you also be content to walk around and admire beautiful houses and gardens?  Do you enjoy museums?  Are you interested in the local cuisine?  Or do you prefer more adventurous activities like rock climbing or skiing?  Or maybe you’d rather just a sit on a beach with a cocktail (don’t worry, that activity is coming up later too).  Leave a comment and let me know!

the hidden alleys of charleston.

As I mentioned recently, I have a thing for alleys with the exception of Minneapolis alleys that have a 6″ thick crust of ice in the winter and you’re trying to load a dresser into your van.  But otherwise, alleys always have a mysterious allure that draws me in and makes me want to see where they lead.

And the narrower, the better, right?  Well, as long as you’re on foot.

I think part of the appeal of the alley is that you can get a sneak peek into areas that aren’t necessarily seen from the regular street, without getting arrested for trespassing.

So when I saw that there was a walking tour in Charleston called Charleston’s Hidden Alleys & Passages, naturally I had to book it.

We booked the tour for our first morning in Charleston so we could get the lay of the land and have an idea which areas we wanted to go back and explore further later in our stay.

We were a little worried about the weather forecast.  We had flown in the night before during severe thunderstorms and a tornado watch (something I absolutely do not recommend).  And there was the potential for more severe thunderstorms the day of our tour.  As you can see in my photos, things were definitely wet.

But miraculously, aside from a brief light drizzle, we stayed pretty dry.  We never even pulled out the umbrellas we’d brought along.

And really, I think the overcast skies just added a misty romantic ambiance to the experience.

From a photography point of view, the gray skies made it much easier for me to get great photos in these alleys where the shadows would have been very deep and dark on a bright, sunny day.

One of the alleys we visited was the Philadelphia Alley.

How amazing is it that this alley was created in 1766 and we are still walking on it today.

According to our guide the bricks making up this alley were made by slaves, and the slave children had the job of turning the bricks as they dried in the sun.  As a result, their small handprints can be seen in many of the bricks.

Legend has it that this alley was also a popular spot for duels and that it’s haunted to this day by a man who lost his life there.  I didn’t run into him, but hey, you never know.  I will admit that between the ghostly handprints and the story of duels being fought, it was a little spooky.

One of the last stops on our tour was the Gateway Walk.

The Gateway Walk is an informal trail through gardens and graveyards.  It’s named for the many wrought iron gates that you pass through along the way.

Part of this walkway leads you through the Unitarian churchyard.

Oh my gosh you guys, is this not what you picture every southern cemetery must look like?

Filled with ancient tombstones and trees draped with spanish moss?

And camellias?  It definitely should have camellias.

Is that the most perfect shade of pink?

I really couldn’t stop taking photos of this place.

You might be wondering to yourself why the Unitarians don’t take better care of their graveyard, keeping it mowed, weed-free and tidy.

Instead it looks overgrown and unkempt.

But apparently this churchyard “is a garden that is allowed to flow and blossom and bloom right over and around the many old gravestones. This natural state is in keeping with Unitarian beliefs about the web of creation.”

I kind of love that concept, how about you?

Although this tour was very well done, I have to say that I wish our guide had focused more on the alleys themselves.

He led us through the alleys while talking about the history of Charleston in general.  So, while it was lovely to be walking through all of these amazing spots, in many cases he never even mentioned the name of the alley or any history associated with it.  I found a lot more information online while writing this post and I wish he had shared more of that with us.  This is not to say that he wasn’t incredibly knowledgeable about the history of Charleston, super charming, and quite entertaining.

Would I take this tour again?  Absolutely.  In a heartbeat.  It was a great way to get some background history on Charleston, and to get your bearings.  It also was definitely off the beaten path.  And trust me, that beaten path in Charleston is pretty well beaten.  But if you want to save yourself the $30/person we paid for it, with a little research and planning you could also easily wander these alleys on your own using info available online here and here.  My next post will explain how we did exactly that the following day, so be sure to stay tuned.

the window boxes of charleston.

First up, congrats to Jill H.!  I drew her name at random to win my giveaway of paint from Dixie Belle’s new Desert Collection.  I’ve got a couple more giveaways planned for the next month or two, so if you didn’t win this time, don’t give up.  There will be more chances coming soon.

Well dear readers, I have to confess that I have pulled a fast one.  Mr. Q and I were in Charleston, South Carolina over the past two weeks.  I probably err on the side of caution, but I’ve always felt it unwise to broadcast it to the world when our house is going to sit empty … well, semi-empty anyway.  Our cat, Lucy, was on guard duty.  And Ken kept an eye on Lucy, and things in general, from next door.

But now we are back!  And we had an amazing time.  So, fair warning, you’re going to see a few Charleston themed posts coming up because I took a lot of photos.  Charleston has to be one of the prettiest places I’ve ever visited.  It has a lot going for it, gorgeous old homes, stunning gardens, delicious food, and lots of history.

I’ll be sharing more on all of those things, but for today I wanted to share something that I saw all over the place in Charleston … beautiful window boxes!

As you may know, we have several window boxes at our house.  So I was definitely scoping out the various combinations of plants to get ideas for my own window boxes this year.

One trend that I noted in Charleston were window boxes that included some perennials in the mix rather than just relying on flowering annuals.  The lime green heuchera in the box below is gorgeous combined with pansies and petunias.

Here is another box that used the same lime green heuchera.

I love how they used a lemon cypress to add some vertical interest in the middle of that one too.  I may have to copy that idea.

This next box includes a deep purple heuchera that contrasts beautifully with the variegated leaves of that tropical looking plant (I don’t know what that plant is, so if any of you are familiar with it please be sure to leave a comment to let us know).

That box is a great example of using foliage rather than flowers to make a statement.

I would guess that you can keep perennials alive in a window box year round in the southern climate of Charleston (hardiness zone 8).  Unfortunately, here in Minnesota our winter temps get far too low to keep most perennials from freezing beyond recovery unless they are in the ground.  The rule of thumb for a perennial surviving winter in an above ground planter is to choose a plant with a hardiness zone two times lower than your normal zone.  Since the twin cities are a zone 4, I’d need to find plants hardy to zone 2 before I could expect them to survive the winter in a planter.

Of course, I could also simply treat the heuchera (or any perennial) as an annual and replant it every year.

I saw a few other options for more permanent window box plants, like boxwood.

At least I’m fairly sure that’s boxwood (if any of you know differently, let me know).  There aren’t many varieties of boxwood that do well in my area, so I’m not that familiar with it.  But I love the idea of underplanting an evergreen of some kind with flowering annuals.

Here’s another example of a box using an evergreen.

There were a few gardeners who were really thinking outside the box (pardon the pun) when it came to plant choices for their window boxes.

I love the use of cyclamen in this one …

And how unique is the use of orchids in this next one?

Now, I’m not sure, but I believe that big round leafed plant is a leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum).  Apparently this plant used to be considered a ligularia, but has been reclassified.

Here is it in another box …

I saw quite a lot of this plant growing in the ground as well.  Clearly whatever it’s called, it does very well in the Charleston climate.

I would never have thought to use a calla lily in a window box, and here it is combined with more of that lime green heuchera and some yellow pansies creating an amazing bright pop of color.

I have to admit I’m not usually a huge fan of yellow, but that combination is gorgeous.

I’m going to go off on a tangent for just a moment and admire the green color on those shutters and how beautifully it works with the plant choices in the window boxes as well.

Around the other side of this same house, they went in a slightly different direction with their plant choices incorporating some purple tones.

I saw window boxes with more monochromatic themes in Charleston too.

Such as this one with white begonias, euphorbia and bacopa.

And this one in purply pinks.

I was thinking that tall plant is a mandevilla.  I’ve only seen mandevilla’s as a vine, but apparently they come in a mounding variety as well.  Or maybe that is a different plant entirely, does anyone know?

The cool color scheme of this next one with its pop of blue pansies and purple Scaevola aemula combined with white alyssum and snap dragons really appeals to me.

You’d have to swap out the pansies when the weather becomes too hot for them (they like it cool).  I’m guessing that the owner of this window box pulls them out and puts something else in for summer.

I was especially impressed by the combination of gerbera daisies and kalanchoe in this next window box.  Those pinks match each other almost perfectly.

And to cap it off, this one was decorated for Easter.

See what I mean?  There are little eggs tucked in here and there.  It’s subtle, and I love it.

As you can see, everywhere I looked in Charleston I saw gorgeous window boxes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing them as much as I did.  I’ve certainly come away with a few ideas that I plan to use in my own window boxes this year (you know, once they finally thaw out).  How about you?  Do you have any favorite plants, or combination of plants that you like to use?  If so, be sure to leave a comment and let us know!

I also hope you’ll stay tuned for more posts about our recent trip to Charleston.

life is a journey.

I’ve got one last post today from my recent trip out west.  Be sure to read all the way to the end, because we’ve finally gotten to the giveaway!

When I was out at my mom’s place the first time this year, back in February, one of the things she wanted me to do was paint her front door.  Well, that is a project that is right up my alley!  And so much more fun than washing windows or doing her taxes, which are the typical sort of things she wants my help with.

So we popped out to her local Lowes to pick out paint for her door.  She wanted either a navy blue or a dark green.  We picked a lovely color from the sample chips and went up to the paint mixing counter to have it whipped up.  And you know what?  They couldn’t do it.  They did not have the appropriate dark base paint to mix up a dark color!  I have to admit, I was flabbergasted.  I mean, I’d been hearing that people were having some trouble getting paint these days but I guess I just didn’t expect Lowes to tell me that all they had available were pale shades.

Since I knew I was going back to visit again in a few weeks, I told my mom that I would bring some Dixie Belle paint with me for her door.  She ended up deciding that she wanted dark green rather than navy, so I chose Midnight Green from Dixie Belle’s new Desert Collection.  After all, a color from the Desert Collection seems appropriate for a door in the Mojave desert, right?

The beauty of the Silk All-in-One paint is that it has a built in primer and top coat.  So I only needed to pack the one 16 oz. jar in my suitcase.  I wrapped it in bubble wrap, and then enclosed it in a zip lock bag as an extra precaution.  I have to admit, I was a little nervous that the jar would explode in my suitcase and I’d be wearing paint splattered clothing for my entire visit (not as though wearing paint splattered clothing would be anything new).  But it survived the journey just fine.

To prep the door, I cleaned it with some spray cleaner that my mom had on hand and then I sanded it with a 180 grit sanding block that I did find at her Lowes.  Then I gave it two coats of Midnight Green.

Her door went from boring brown …

to a vibrant green.

One thing I hadn’t considered was how incredibly fast paint dries in a desert environment.  It was a gorgeous day, somewhere around 70 degrees, so not hot.  But the air out there is really dry.  I struggled to maintain a wet edge in order to avoid brush strokes on the large surface of a door.

But my mom loved how it turned out, so that’s the important thing, right?

Have you seen all of the colors in the Desert Collection?

There is the Midnight Green on the lower right.

I used the Mojave on the inside of a washstand I painted earlier this year.

I wasn’t sure what I thought of this color at first, but it really grew on me after using it on this piece.

It pairs beautifully with Dixie Belle’s Drop Cloth.

Since I happened to be out in the desert, I decided to see if I could find some of the paint colors from the Desert Collection at the Ethel M Botanical Cactus Garden.

Cactus was easy.

It’s a cactus garden after all.

I was really hoping that Prickly Pear would be easy too, but this vibrant pink is the color of the flower.  Apparently Prickly Pear cactus blooms in May through July, so there were no blooms to be found.

I think you can get a hint of Mojave in the spines on these cacti.

They don’t really have an oasis at the cactus garden, but I thought maybe Oak Creek from Sedona would count.  The color is certainly right.

I also found a bit of the Morning Sunrise color during one of our sunrise hikes in Sedona.

There are 5 more colors in the Desert Collection, but I’ve chosen these five to include in today’s giveaway!

But before we get to that, I had to share this funny coincidence.  When we popped inside the Ethel M Factory after checking out the cactus garden, there were signs announcing their revamped packaging that pays homage to the color palette of the Mojave Desert.

There is Fiery Sky, Midnight Green and Morning Sunrise.

And here is some Mojave.

And here is Umber.

OK, of course these colors are not based on the Dixie Belle colors, or exactly the same, but I just had to share the fact that two entirely different products (paint and chocolates) on two opposite sides of the country (Florida and Nevada) were thinking the same thing at the same time.

That brings me to my giveaway!

It will include five colors from the Desert Collection; Morning Sunrise, Cactus, Oasis, Mojave and Prickly Pear.  Plus some Prickly Pear taffy that I picked up in Sedona, as well as this bracelet, also from Sedona …

I purchased one of these bracelets for myself, and then thought it would be fun to include one in the giveaway as well.  Life is a journey, not a destination.  Although, as destinations go, Sedona was a pretty good one 😉

The rules:  Simply leave a comment on this blog post to be eligible to win.

Your comment must be left on this blog post, not on Facebook or Instagram.  You are not required to follow my blog, although it would be awesome if you did!

I will randomly draw the name of a winner for today’s prize from all of the comments left on this post by Friday, April 15, 2022 at the stroke of midnight (U.S. Central time).

The fine print: no purchase necessary, you must be 18 years of age or older to win, void where prohibited by law, the number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning, approximate retail value of prize is $160, if the prize is not claimed by Friday, April 22, 2022 another name will be drawn at random to win, blah, blah, blah.

Thank you to Dixie Belle Paint Co for providing the paint I’m giving away today.

practically famous.

My sister and I often drive out to Boulder City, Nevada while visiting my mom.  Mom lives in Henderson, Nevada.  If you aren’t familiar, Henderson is a huge suburb of Las Vegas that has grown tremendously over the last 30 years.  It’s southeast of Vegas, and if you’ve ever gone to Hoover Dam from Vegas you’ve gone right through Henderson.  All of that to say that it’s only about 20 minutes from my mom’s place to Boulder City, Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam.

Despite being so close, we’d never hiked on the Historic Railroad Hiking Trail in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area during our previous visits.  So this time around we thought we’d give it a go.

The parking area for the hiking trail is located just past the Lake Mead Visitor Center.  I took the photo above from the Visitor Center, and the parking area you see off in the distance on the right side of the photo is for the hiking trails.

The trail is an out and back trail (not a loop) and is around 7 miles round trip if you do the whole thing.  We only did the part of the trail that goes through all five tunnels, so about 5 miles total.

While the scenery on this hike wasn’t quite as spectacular as the scenery in Sedona, it was pretty interesting to go through the tunnels and to read some of the history of the area on the trailside signs.  This trail is built on the old Hoover Dam railroad bed that was constructed for the purpose of moving supplies and machinery by steam or gas locomotives to the dam construction site.

I was especially fascinated by the explanation of Ragtown, the area where workers from the dam and their families lived in wooden cabins, tents or even cardboard shacks during construction of the dam.  They had no running water and no electricity (in other words, no air conditioning and not even a fan).  With daytime high temps reaching close to 120 degrees, and not a lick of shade in sight, I can’t even imagine how miserable the conditions were.  And keep in mind, the dam wasn’t finished yet so the lake wasn’t there and you couldn’t just jump in to cool off.

Alongside the trail are sweeping views of Lake Mead.  Below is a view of the marina.

I’ve always thought it must be fabulous to have a boat on Lake Mead.  It’s so huge and there never seems to be a lot of boat traffic (ironically, I just watched Pam & Tommy on Hulu and discovered that their infamous sex tape was filmed on a boat on Lake Mead, so proof positive that you can find some fairly secluded spots I think).

We had a picnic lunch after our hike and then headed in to Boulder City.  I’ve written about Boulder City here on the blog before.  I think of it as the southwestern version of Stillwater, MN.  It’s a cute little historic town with restaurants and quite a few antique shops.  There’s also a section of town with the most adorable 1930’s bungalows.    I guess if you were higher up on the food chain of those who worked on the dam, you got to live in a pretty bungalow in town rather than in a cardboard shack in Ragtown.

I never manage to get any photos when passing by the historic neighborhood, but I grabbed one off the internet for you.

The next time I’m in Boulder City I really want to just walk through this neighborhood and take a few photos.

My sister and I did head into a few shops while we were in town including the Boulder City location of Bloom.

Full disclosure, I took that photo last year.  I neglected to get a storefront photo this time around.  I mentioned the location of Bloom that is in The District in Henderson the last time I visited my mom.  They are IOD retailers, so I always try to stop in to see what they have.  I purchased the Rose Chintz paint inlay there.  This time around I was hoping they had the brand new Cheers transfer, but they did not have it at either the Boulder City location or The District location.

However, I did manage to find several other things to buy this time …

I don’t know what possessed me with that giant rubber stamp.  I’m always drawn to the stamps, but to be honest I typically don’t like the way stamps look on anything other than paper.  But I’m going to do some experimenting with the IOD ink and see if I can do anything fun with this one.

We also stopped in to Goatfeathers Emporium in Boulder City where we found the usual suspects like jadeite …

and copper …

I had to snap a quick shot of this Pfaltzgraff Yorktowne stoneware and text it to my friend Sue.

I recently pointed out to her that pretty much every thrift store we’ve been in has at least one piece of this stuff if not more.  It’s kind of a joke between us now to find it and point it out each time.  Are any of you fans of this stoneware?  If so, you should be thrifting it and not buying it in an antique mall, FYI!

Before heading back to my mom’s house, we also stopped in at Bella Marketplace.  This place was definitely more my style than Goatfeathers was.

Just check out this adorable kid sized hutch …

The display of vintage linens on an old wooden ironing board was fun.

And you know I love old cupboard doors turned into signs or peg boards.

This shop also had a vendor selling with prima transfers and DIY paint.  They didn’t have any of the newer prima transfers that I’ve had my eye on (such as the blue toile, or the London Love), but I did pick up some of DIY’s Liquid Patina in Dark & Decrepit.  I’ve wanted to try this product for a while now.  I’ll be sure to let you all know how I like it.

As I was studying all of the furniture painting supplies that were available I caught something out of the corner of my eye.

You know how it is when something is totally out of context and your brain takes a minute to register what you’re seeing?  Yeah, it was like that.

I thought, ‘hey, that looks just like my guest room bed’ …

It took me a second to realize … hey … wait a minute … that is my guest room bed!

How cool is that?  I’m practically famous!

That project goes back to when I was a content creator for with prima, so it makes sense that one of their retailers would be using it for marketing.  It was really fun to see it being used in this way.  I don’t know whether or not the owner of this booth follows me here, but if you do, then thank you!  I enjoyed my visit to your shop.

I like to search for brick and mortar retailers of products I use when I travel, it’s a fun way to find shops that I think will appeal to my aesthetic.  And speaking of which, Mr. Q and I are going to Charleston in April!  I’ve done a little searching and see a couple of shops in Summerville that sell IOD or Dixie Belle products.  If any of you can recommend fun shops to visit, or other awesome things to do in Charleston, be sure to leave a comment and let me know.

And if you don’t have recommendations for Charleston, leave me a comment and let me know if you’ve ever been to Boulder City.  If you’re a regular visitor to Las Vegas, and have never made the trip out to Boulder City, I highly recommend it.  Assuming that, like me, you enjoy seeing some historic homes and visiting antique shops.

 I have one more blog post to share from my trip to Mom’s, and it’s going to include a fabulous desert themed giveaway, so be sure to check back for that later in the week!

rope dropping sedona.

Those of you who visit Disney parks will know exactly what I mean when I say ‘rope dropping’, but for the uninitiated, rope dropping is when you get to a park before it opens to try and beat the crowds.  Back in the day they literally had a rope across the entrance that they dropped at opening time, hence the name.

My sister and I are expert rope droppers, we wouldn’t do Disney parks any other way.  They get so crazy crowded later at mid-day.  These days I find that the only enjoyable time to be in the parks is early morning, or late evening.

Well, as we discovered on our trip out there last week, Sedona, Arizona is a bit of the same.  Debbie and I put our expert rope dropping skills to work in Sedona!

But let me start at the beginning.  After flying out to our mom’s house, we got up early the next morning, packed up the car and headed for Arizona.  It takes just over 4 hours to drive from Henderson, Nevada to Sedona, Arizona.

We drove to Flagstaff, and then took 89A, a.k.a. the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive, south from there into Sedona.  I took this photo from the Oak Creek Vista just so I could show you guys what that road looked like.

Uh, yeah, it was kind of scary.

Rock wall on one side, massive drop off on the other.  My mom was cool as a cucumber in the back seat, but Debbie and I white knuckled it the whole way down.  The scenery was absolutely spectacular though.

If you head into Sedona from Phoenix or Tucson you won’t be coming this way, but it’s worth taking the drive up and back just for the scenery.  Just take 89A north out of Sedona.

Just to mess with our heads, we were traveling on the first day of daylight saving time.  Plus, Arizona is a different time zone than Nevada.  Plus, we had just flown in from Minnesota which is in even another time zone.  Plus, Arizona doesn’t do daylight saving time, but Nevada does.  Seriously, wrap your head around that.  We had a heck of a time figuring out what time we needed to leave my mom’s house in order to be in Sedona for a 2 p.m. tour we had scheduled.

But we managed it.

Prior to leaving home, we had read a travel tip that suggested taking a trolley tour when first arriving in town to get a good overview of the area and to decide what areas you want to go back to explore further.

So we had booked the Sedona Hi-Points Tour through Red Rock Magic Trolley.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed when I realized that our tour was in a van, not a cute little trolley.  Once again, I hadn’t read the fine print.  Only the shorter 55 minute tours took place in a trolley, our 2 hour tour was with a van.  But in the end, it was a fantastic tour.  In addition to the three of us, there was only one other couple in our group so it really felt like we had a private tour.  Our guide was super nice and very knowledgeable about Sedona.  We visited Bell Rock, The Chapel of the Holy Cross, and Airport Mesa.  Our guide explained the energy vortexes that Sedona is known for, and even did a little demonstration at the Airport Mesa, which is considered to be the most powerful vortex in Sedona.  I have to admit, I’m a bit of a skeptic about these things.  I didn’t get any sort of magical tingly feeling, but hey, maybe my chakras were a little cleaner after that.  Who knows?  My mom wasn’t up for much walking so she opted to stay in the van at Bell Rock and at the Chapel and our guide stayed with her and regaled her with stories of Sedona.  He was super nice to her and didn’t make her feel like she was an added burden at all.  It was handy having a driver to drop us off at both of these locations because they were very crowded and parking was a nightmare, so the tour was worth it just for that.

After our tour concluded, we settled in to our hotel.  We stayed at the Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble Hotel in the Uptown area.  The view from our patio was pretty spectacular.

Just behind the hotel you can walk down to Oak Creek, and my sister and I did that just before sunset on our first night.

It was so peaceful and picturesque.

And having just flown in from Minnesota (where it was 7 degrees) the previous day, it just felt amazing to be outside in such beautiful surroundings.

The hotel also offered a fire pit.

Seriously, does that look like a fake backdrop or what?  Nope, that was our actual view.  Some other travelers at the hotel joined us out there after dark and it was fun chatting with them.

The pool area was lovely as well.

Although it was fairly cool while we were there, the pool was heated and people were using it in the afternoon.  We hadn’t brought swimsuits though, so we missed out on that.

I should mention that this hotel is right smack dab in the heart of the most touristy part of Sedona called Uptown.  I didn’t get any photos of that area, but it’s full of over-priced restaurants, cheap souvenir shops and LOTS of tourists.  It’s a strange juxtaposition to have all of that beautiful nature out the back, while being steps away from all of that intense action out front.  It was interesting to note that everything closed up fairly early though.  By 8 p.m. the area out front was practically deserted.

I have absolutely zero complaints about this hotel.  The customer service was fantastic.  In fact, on our last night there were weren’t able to get into the safe in our room and my sister had put the car keys in there while we went to dinner.  After the hotel staff couldn’t get it open either, they located someone at 9 pm to come and drill the safe open so that we wouldn’t have to give up our plan for a sunrise hike the next morning.  The included breakfast buffet was really nice too.

And speaking of breakfast, I think the best advice we got from our tour guide was to get up before dawn and do some of the popular hikes before breakfast to avoid the crowds.  In other words, we had to be at the trailhead at rope drop!

Now, I should preface this next bit by pointing out that my sister and I aren’t getting any younger.  She’s nursing a knee injury, and I have tendonitis issues in one of my heels.  Add on to that the fact that we are both afraid of heights.  So we planned on hiking the easier trails in Sedona, and not doing any climbing.  But for those of you in the same boat, these hikes are still well worth it for seeing some pretty spectacular views.

Our sunrise hike on the first morning was to Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte.

We started off down this trail headed towards Bell Rock just as the sun was coming up.

As you can see, the trail is pretty flat at first.  You can opt to climb Bell Rock, and there were plenty of people doing that, but I got sweaty palms just looking at other people standing at the edge up there.  So we chose to just walk around the perimeter, which still offered awesome scenery.

Just to be clear (for those who may also want to take this hike), the trail wasn’t flat sand the entire time.  There was some easy rock scrambling involved too.  But it was very doable.

Next we headed off towards Courthouse Butte.

The butte is pretty darn impressive.

By the way, a butte is defined as an isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top (similar to but narrower than a mesa).

As impressive as that view is, if you turn around, the vista from here is even more spectacular.

After hiking for a couple of hours, we headed back to our hotel for breakfast.  After breakfast we decided to check out a popular shopping area called Tlaquepaque.

None of us are big shoppers, but the area was so pretty that we could have wandered around in there for quite some time just admiring it.

Tlaquepaque was designed in the 1970’s and the design was based on traditional Mexican villages.

There were pretty little plazas around every corner.

And the tilework was really gorgeous.

I really did feel as though I was in another part of the world entirely.  But then, this is completely different from anything you’d find in Minnesota!

We did a shorter sunrise hike the next morning before heading back to mom’s house.

I have to say that the hike into Fay Canyon wasn’t quite as impressive as the previous day’s hike, but it was still rather magical.

As with the Bell Rock hike, there was only one other car in the parking lot when we arrived, but it was almost full when we left.  All the way back to the hotel we saw cars lining the roads at each trail head that weren’t there when we arrived at dawn.

So my biggest q tip for you if you ever get to Sedona is to be sure and rope drop the hiking trails.  They are absolutely gorgeous in the morning light.  You won’t have them entirely to yourself, but there won’t be hoards of people on them yet.  And best of all, after all of that hiking you don’t feel one bit guilty about that extra sausage you’ll have with breakfast later!

Be sure to stay tuned because I’ll be sharing the rest of my trip out west next week and I’m planning a fabulous giveaway to go with it.  In the meantime, I have a dresser that I just finished up that I’ll be sharing on Friday.  See you then!


how to dress for cold weather.

I was googling up some good cold weather quotes to use for this post and I saw this one:


I never follow that advice though.  If I did, I’d probably have to stay in bed for about six months out of the year here in Minnesota.

I was exchanging emails with one of my readers over the past weekend and I mentioned to her that it was 11 below zero here.  She’s from Los Angeles, and she was wondering if anyone goes outside when it’s that cold (yes, I’m talking about you Connie!).

So the next day, when my sister, niece and I decided to go to Como Park for the afternoon I was thinking about Connie’s question.  As it turns out, yes Connie, we do go out when it’s that cold.  Sometimes we even go to the zoo.  We just have to dress accordingly.

That’s my niece Kris, my sister Debbie, and then me on the right.  I have to mention, that hat I’m wearing is the warmest hat I’ve ever owned.  It’s fleece on the inside and faux fur and knitted on the outside, and you can wrap those furry tails around under your chin to keep your neck warm.  Super toasty.

I found it rather comical that masks were required even in outdoor areas at the Como Zoo.  Do you think Covid can live in sub-zero temperatures?  Does anyone know?

Well, no matter.  The masks were great for keeping our faces warm.

One of the big benefits to going to the zoo on super cold days is that you have the place practically to yourselves.  Pretty much none of the benches are taken.

Another benefit is that the polar bear is really active.  He (she?  I don’t know which polar bear this was and the zoo has three of them) was in and out of the water (just look at that steam coming off of him), rolling around in the snow and trying to get that frozen hunk of meat detached from the ice.

And also apparently posing for photos.  My sister took that photo.

Other animals that seemed oblivious to the cold were the reindeer, the arctic foxes, the wolves, and the bison.  They were all out and about.

But for those humans that don’t happen to be cold weather lovers, you can always head inside the conservatory.

Once inside you’ll find lots of tropical plants …

not to mention lots of people trying to pretend like they live in a tropical climate in January.  I saw one girl meditating in the lotus position on a bench in the fern room.  I’m fairly sure she was chanting in her head “I’m in the Bahamas, I’m in the Bahamas, I’m in the Bahamas” or something like that.

But really the main reason I like to go this time of year is to see the poinsettia display.  I almost missed it, but it runs through January 9 so we made it in time.  They had an interesting display for 2021 with red, orange and yellow ones.

The red one in that photo is a new variety called ‘Christmas Mouse’ because of its more rounded bracts that resemble the shape of mouse ears.

I love that they change it up every year, but I have to admit that this particular color combination was not one of my favorites.  It was very cheerful and colorful, but I’m just not a a yellow and orange girl.  And definitely not for Christmas.

As we were heading out after our visit to Como Park, all three of us agreed that our favorite part of the day was having the outside mainly to ourselves.  I guess all three of us are truly Minnesotan’s at heart.  Not only do we prefer cool temperatures outdoors, but we also prefer cool colors in our poinsettias.

and I’m back.

Why is it that vacations go by so quickly.  It feels like you’re anticipating it for so long, and then bam!  You’re already back home again.

My sister and I had a great time visiting our mom again.  After our last visit, I shared the makeover we did on her patio …

It was fun to be back to see how things were holding up.  Unfortunately, I totally dropped the ball on getting an updated photo for you guys.  But I can tell you that most of the plants I put in died (due to temps in the 100’s, and my mom in the hospital and unable to water regularly), but the bougainvillea (pink flowering plant in the pot shown above) was doing great and in fact we had to go out and get a trellis for it because it had gotten so big.

My mom was also doing great.  After my last visit in March I was really worried about her health, but she seems to be doing much better now (knock on wood).  I could tell that she was feeling better by the amount of cooking she did for us!  She made our favorite pork chops, corn casserole, egg bake, two kinds of strawberry desserts, homemade caramel rolls and lasagna.  It was awesome.

My sister and I also took full advantage of the fact that her new townhouse (my mom downsized from her 4 bedroom house to a two bedroom townhouse in January 2021) has a pool.  This was our view every afternoon …

It was in the 90’s with a perfectly blue sky every day we were there, and we pretty much had the pool all to ourselves (except one afternoon when two other people were there).  We just relaxed by the pool and did some reading each day.  It really was heavenly.

We also visited the Henderson Bird Sanctuary while at my mom’s house.

It was a lovely day, and we enjoyed the visit.  But I have to say we didn’t see very many birds … with the exception of the mechanical kind.  The sanctuary seems to be located right under a flight path to the Vegas airport and those airplanes kept coming in one after another, after another, like clockwork.

My sister and I also checked out Ethel M Chocolates in Henderson.  It’s a great place to buy some really expensive (and delicious) chocolates, but they also have a lovely botanical cactus garden, one of the nicest I’ve seen (compared to a couple I’ve been to in the south of France, like this one).

They had started putting up lights for Christmas already, and I’m just betting that they put on an amazing holiday display.

It was quite hot the afternoon we visited, and you might wonder how you can get your chocolate home safely in those kind of temperatures, but they put ice packs in your shopping bag along with the chocolate.  Isn’t that a thoughtful detail?

Probably the most fun part of our trip was heading off to Disneyland though.  My sister and I took a quick flight from Las Vegas to the John Wayne airport in Orange County, and then we spent 4 nights at the Grand Californian in Disneyland.

It had been a while since we’d visited the original Disney park.  I’d almost forgotten how much smaller it is, especially that castle.  See it down there, at the end of Main Street?

It’s almost comically small compared to the one at Disney World.  But hey, back in Walt’s day I bet it was totally magical, definitely something never seen before in an amusement park.

By the way, that gal driving the horse drawn carriage is Ashley, and she was super friendly and told us all about how they care for the horses that work at Disneyland, and how they used to have some stables on the land that is now part of Galaxy’s Edge, but now they have relocated them to a ranch that is about 30 miles away.

My biggest q tip for you today, if you ever visit a Disney park, is to always make a point of chatting with the cast members (that’s what they call the employees there).  They are always super friendly and informative, and on this trip in particular they were all really enthusiastic and welcoming.  I think maybe they are all just really happy to be back at work after the park was closed for more than a year due to covid.

One of the highlights of our visit was seeing the Haunted Mansion all decked out for Halloween.

My photo doesn’t really do it justice, but it was covered in candelabras that flickered as though loaded with 100’s of real candles, and there were jack o’lanterns everywhere.  It was perfectly spooky!

We also enjoyed having some drinks in Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge.

We had some super geeked out Star Wars fans at the table next to us and they were wearing full on Star Wars costumes and brandishing their new light sabers.  So fun!

I’m back in the real world now though, and planning to spend the weekend out in my workshop starting work on some of my Christmas items (I know, I know, way too early, but it will be here before we know it).  How about you?  Are you starting to think about Christmas decorations already?  And tell me, have any of you been to both Disneyland and Disney World?  Which is your favorite?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

who needs tuscany when you have farmington?

A while back my … gosh … I don’t really know what to call her … my virtual work colleague?  I was initially thinking my ‘online friend’ but that seems to have the wrong connotation 😉 Basically, Deb is the contractual ambulance biller assigned to our account at my day job.  We have one of those work relationships that are conducted almost entirely over the phone and via email.  I’m pretty sure I’d literally only met her in person twice (or was it even only once?), but I speak with her on the phone several times a week and email her almost daily.  Recently she purchased the Farm Fresh Shelf from me and when she and her husband came to pick it up we got to chatting, and they invited us to help with their grape picking this year.

Deb and her husband own Crazy Legs Vineyard in Farmington, MN (check out their Facebook page).  They sell their grapes wholesale to local wineries.  As soon as she mentioned it, I knew that such an event would be great fun for me and my sister.

So bright and early this past Saturday, Debbie (my sister, the other Debbie in this story) and I loaded up the Bug with some lawn chairs and garden gloves, put the top down, and headed to Farmington.

As soon as we got there I knew we were in for a treat.  Just check out that barn!

And the gardens …

I wanted to just take a tour of the place rather than getting straight to the grape picking!

I absolutely loved this little side building …

Wouldn’t that be a charming spot for a little vintage shop?

I don’t actually know what’s inside.  It’s probably used for something far more practical.  But it sure is cute, and I love the arrangements in the window boxes.

Without a doubt, they just made the grapevine wreaths (I’m guessing they have plenty of vines to hand), and it looks like they might be painted in a faded barn red (I may have to borrow that idea for my own fall décor this year).

And isn’t this little courtyard area next to the pole barn charming?

They had a really fun and unique combination of flowers in the window boxes here.

I tried Angelonia (tall purple one in the center) in my front window boxes once and they were a complete failure, but they look amazing here.  I’ve never had great luck with Torenia (low purple ones on the side) either.  And I love how they combined these with the variegated New Guinea Impatiens.  Really unique and pretty fabulous.

Ultimately, I had to tear myself away from my own self-guided tour to do some actual grape picking though.

After some quick instructions on what to do, we set to work.

These vines were just loaded with grapes.

Apparently hot, sunny and dry is great grape growing weather.

We picked  a lot of grapes!

OK, we didn’t pick all of those ourselves, but we did pick a lot!

I was surprised when I loaded that photo onto my computer and realized that you can barely even see the bees.  There were A LOT of bees buzzing around that container.

  They were making quite a racket!

Here’s a quick q tip for you, if you are afraid of bees, or allergic to their sting, then grape picking might not be for you.

But neither of us were bothered by the bees, for whatever reason they didn’t seem to mind that we were cutting away their grapes.  They just moved on to the next bunch.  There really were plenty of grapes for all.

By noon, we were pretty much grape picked out.  Our gloves were totally saturated with grape juice and it was starting to get pretty hot out there under the noon-day sun.  Luckily it was time for lunch, wine, and some live music.

I totally enjoyed the band, The Dang Ol’ Tri’ole.  It was the perfect afternoon for sitting in the shade, enjoying a glass of wine and listening to some music.

To cap off the event, Deb’s son shot a cannon out of his … I don’t what you would call this thing … a giant pumpkin shooting cannon thingie …

Oh, and just to be clear, that little guy in the photo is not Deb’s son.  He was a spectator.

I’m fairly sure that someone in the next county over is wondering where that smashed pumpkin in their corn field came from.  Deb was just hoping it didn’t hit someone’s cow.  I don’t even know how far away that pumpkin landed, I never did see it come down!

And speaking of pumpkins …

They also grow pumpkins and squash at Crazy Legs Vineyard, and they sell them at the end of their driveway.

In addition to your typical orange pumpkins, they had lots of white ones …

plus a bunch of really unique varieties that I managed to not get a photo of.  I did manage to purchase a couple of them though, along with a few unusual gourds, and here they are …

I’m not exactly sure yet how I’m going to use these, but I’m sure something will come to me!

As we were heading down the driveway when we first arrived, we were chatting with another couple that was there for grape picking.  They joked that they couldn’t go to Tuscany this year, but this was the next best thing.  I have to say, I think this was even better!  Beautiful scenery, grape picking with friends, delicious pasta and wine for lunch, followed by live music.  We’d have paid a fortune to do that in Tuscany, and this was totally free (except for the pumpkins I purchased at the end) and no need for the 10 hour flight.

Who needs Tuscany when you have Farmington?