Ornamentation, 2021 Edition

Over the years, my tree has gone from perfectly curated (and totally impersonal) when Steve and I were first married, to a hodgepodge of kid-produced ornaments, nods to favorite local spots (there’s a whole Mount Vernon collection on there) and ornaments picked up on our travels. The newlywed me would have been horrified, but I prefer it this way. We’ve made a tradition out of buying at least one ornament every time we travel – and picking one up from each national park we visit, whether far afield or close to home – and it turned out we were on the go rather a lot in 2021, so there are quite a few new additions on the tree this year.

I bought this adorable wood slice ornament at a boutique on the main drag in Lake Placid this summer. I like it because the hikers are approximately the same height proportions as Steve and me (heh) and because it’s true: life really is better on a hike in the Adirondacks.

Not purchased in Lake Placid, but ordered from Etsy in the fall – I will always have nods to my favorite state park on my tree. (Also note the Cornell ornament photobombing in the picture on the right! That’s one of three Big Red baubles I have on my tree.) I consider myself a Virginian to the core, but New York has its place in my holiday decorations.

As second homes go, Washington State is newer than NYS, but I’m starting to feel awfully attached to Seattle after traveling there twice in less than three months this year. My employer is headquartered there and I’ve been flying past Mount Rainier a lot. In October, Steve and the kids accompanied me and we spent a weekend at Olympic National Park. The park store actually had no ornaments (how?!) so I ordered this memento from an Etsy seller when I got home.

Our Thanksgiving travels took us to three legacy national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison) and a national monument (Colorado), and I gleefully added to my ornament stash at each one; my brother and sister-in-law were as committed as I was to tracking down the best ornaments in each park store.

It’s such a delight to hang travel souvenirs on my tree every year and reminisce about past adventures. 2021 was a good one for that, as it turns out. (And I think I more than doubled my national parks ornament collection – I already had Shenandoah, of course, and Joshua Tree and Channel Islands.) Wonder where 2021 will take us, and if I’ll be adding any more parks to the stash? I’ve got my eye on Great Smoky Mountains.

Have you added any meaningful new decorations to your stash this year?

Tales From the Exurbs, Vol. I: Strange Bedfellows

(Seen on my neighborhood run.  Toto, I don’t think we’re in the city anymore…)

Yesterday morning, this casual conversation took place…


Steve: There was a firefly in our bedroom last night.

Jaclyn: You’re serious?  Did it light up?

Steve: Yeah, that’s how I knew it was there.

Jaclyn: Well, did you escort it back outside?

Steve: Nah, I figured fireflies are harmless, so I just went back to sleep.


Worth noting: I love fireflies; they’re my very favorite bugs, so I found the idea of one flying around my bedroom sort of delightful.  (Although I do hope it found its way back out to its family and friends.)  If it was a moth, this would be a very different blog post.

Goodbye to the Yellow-and-White Kitchen

I have always wanted a white kitchen.  Airy painted cabinets, cheery bright walls, warm hardwood floors.  For the past four years, that’s what I’ve had.

When we moved into this house, we knew it was temporary – but we looked forward to it, all the same.  We were excited about the prospect of walking to our favorite restaurants again, of living close to the library and the playground, of wandering down to the waterfront and feeling the breeze off the Potomac.  Inside the house, though, I was most excited about the kitchen.

I signed the lease for this place on my living room couch, with direct line-of-sight into the tiny apartment kitchen in the temp townhouse in which we’d been camping out for six months before we moved home to NoVA.  It was a miserable little shoebox of a kitchen.  I tried to make the best of it, whipping up my homemade vegetable-and-bean soups with determination.  But the kitchen was so small that if one person was cooking and one person was doing the dishes, we would literally step on each other.  And more than that – it was dark, cramped, and inefficiently designed.  No matter how much I chanted “Anna Thomas wrote Love Soup in a kitchen smaller than this!” I couldn’t enjoy cooking there.  And forget baking.

This kitchen, by contrast, is like sunshine.  The high ceilings and white cabinets make it feel spacious and bright, and the walls are a happy yellow.  (We won’t talk about the mauve accent walls.  If I owned the place, I’d paint them immediately.)

In this kitchen, I have…

Finally conquered my fear of baking yeast breads.

Burnished my pastry skills.

Cooked Thanksgiving dinners for my family – multiple times – assisted by my adorable sous chef.

Speaking of my sous chef – I’ve baked many a pie, cake, banana loaf, and batch of cookies with her.

And kneaded loaf after loaf of sourdough with my other sous chef.

I’ve whipped up gallons upon gallons of homemade vegetable soup and filled glass containers with sliced veggies and fruit.  And I’ve stood at the window in the early morning dark, using all this bounty to pack school and desk lunches with a steaming mug of black tea next to me, and my sweet neighbors’ silhouettes moving around their warmly lit kitchen, behind filmy white curtains, going about their mornings right next door – a comforting view.  Less fun, I have sat at the kitchen table late into the night and before sunrise of a morning, clicking away at my laptop computer, churning out legal briefs.

I’ve supervised pumpkin decorating and carving.

And wiped up many spills.

After countless cups of tea, loaves of bread and batches of soup, it’s time to move on.  We are ready.  Ready for (a little) more space, a spare bedroom to host family, and better public schools.  Ready to save on rent money and school tuition and put those dollars into our retirement accounts instead.  Ready to sleep uninterrupted by sirens and car alarms (except for the ones emanating from Nugget’s toy box at 5:00 a.m.).  My new kitchen will be black-and-white – slightly smaller and darker, but with a breakfast nook so that we don’t fall over each other when we’re sitting down to family meals – and I’m already dreaming of the memories I’ll make and the dough I’ll knead on the black granite countertops.  I’ve been measuring the space, deciding where my cookbook collection will go, and hauling trunkloads of appliances and lunch-packing supplies every weekend for the past month.  I’m ready.

But all that said – I am going to miss this yellow and white kitchen, and I will take with me all the memories I have made here.

Shelf Love: A Newly Cozy Corner

This corner between the television and stairs has been giving me hives for three-and-a-half years.  It’s too small for an armchair, which would overwhelm the room.  But it’s too big to just ignore.  Other than December, when the Christmas tree lives here, it’s just a yawning abyss – until now, that is.

Tired of looking at a mess of television and video game console cords for eleven months out of the year, and tired of double-stacked bookshelves on the other side of the room, I had a brainwave recently and pulled an old bookshelf out of the basement.  I don’t actually like this bookshelf, mind – I’ve had it since college and it puts me in mind of dorm rooms and temporary living situations – but I like it a good bit better than electric cord knots.  So I set it up (along with baskets of blankets and children’s books and a terrifying time-out chair that my grandmother painted) and stocked it with books – the best part, obviously, since reorganizing my bookshelves is almost as much fun as reading.

Top shelf: Persephone books and Persephone Classics; Penguin English Journeys paperbacks, NYRB Classics.

Middle shelf: Lodestars Anthology and Persuasions journals; British Library Crime Classics, books about books, and ecclesiastical architecture books (oh yeah, it’s a thing all right).

Bottom shelf: All the big stuff.  Coffee table books not currently in coffee table rotation, vintage Saturday Book and Elizabeth Goudge hardcovers, and my Cornell yearbook.

Anyone else constantly reshuffling their home library?

Garden Tasks: April 2019

Hurray!  It’s finally April – planting month around these parts!  According to the Old Farmers’ Almanac, the average final frost day in my region is April 2, which means anytime after that is relatively safe to put the year’s crop into pots.  Some years we get too excited and waste a crop by planting in March, and other years we end up so busy we don’t plant until May and have to wait until late summer for the tomato crop.  This year I’m determined to do it right and I’m off to a good start: we planted last weekend (first update of the season coming soon).  Here’s what’s on my to-do list for April:

  • Buy a couple of new planters (I have my eye on some purple ones with thistle decorations at the local garden center).
  • Pick up the 2019 garden crop.  I’m still sticking with transplants, because I’m not confident or organized enough to start seeds.  This year I’m thinking tomatoes (of course), herbs, salad greens, beans, and berries.  And then…
  • PLANT!
  • Mix up a squirrel repellent spray and get into the habit of applying it regularly to my pots and plants.  (Probably not necessary yet, since I won’t have tomatoes for them to steal for weeks yet, but it’s never a bad thing to be proactive.)
  • Weed my front flower bed thoroughly, and plant ground cover.
  • Buy a new bird feeder.  Mine has served me well for a few seasons, but it’s clogging on a weekly basis and the squirrels break the squirrel-proof ledge every single day.  (Literally.  It’s become my routine to fix it every evening as I walk up my front steps on my way home from work.  And the next day, it’s always broken again.)  Time to switch it up.

It’s actually a fairly short list.  Other than the burst of activity around actually getting plants into the pots, April is a fairly easy month in my little urban container garden.  There’s not much watering to do because we’re still getting spring rains.  It’s just about tending the baby plants and giving them lots of love as they take root.

What’s on your garden to-do list this month?

Garden Tasks: March 2019

I’ve been feeling really inspired to get my hands dirty and get into the garden this season.  I’m not entirely sure why, because last year’s garden was such a failure.  We got a paltry handful of cherry tomatoes and a few herbs, and lost everything else to the neighborhood pests – birds and especially the squirrels.  But past failures aside, the garden is calling to me this year and has been for months – so I’m trying something new.  In addition to the regular garden updates I’ve been doing for several years now (which will begin in April) I am going to share my to-do list for each month in my little urban patio garden.

Here’s what I’m hoping to accomplish in March:

  • Clean the weeds and moss out from between the patio bricks and take the waste to the local compost drop.
  • Filter out the detritus from Nugget’s sandbox (and order new sand, if necessary).
  • Buy seat cushions for the patio set and propane for the grill.
  • Salvage what I can from the rosemary pot and make dried rosemary for the kitchen.
  • Thoroughly clean the soil in the tomato and herb pots, take out dead leaves and roots, and mix in new container gardening soil to prepare the pots for planting.
  • Clean out the bird feeder in the front yard.
  • Weed the front yard and research ground cover.

A relatively short list for a relatively small garden!  March is mostly about preparing the space for planting in April, because I know myself – once the weather is warm enough to get the plants in the pots, I will have no patience for those preparatory tasks.  Better to get ready now, so that the fun can begin in earnest next month.

Do you have a garden?  What’s on your to-do list for this month?

Tree Trimmings, 2018

Recently, someone asked me whether my tree was “designy or personal.”  The answer is – personal; definitely personal.  Back when Steve and I were newlyweds, I had the idea to make our tree coordinated and – I guess “designy” would be the right word.  It was, for maybe a year or so, but it fell by the wayside fairly quickly.  Today it’s a hodgepodge of kid-created ornaments, things picked up during our travels, and reminders of where we live.  But that conversation reminded me that it’s been years since I took you on a tour of our Christmas tree.  So how ’bout we do that?

This old favorite might look familiar – it’s the lighthouse from Block Island.  My brother lived on the island for more than two years and he gave this to me one Christmas.

More old favorites – Mount Vernon as a gingerbread house and two teapots in the Washingtons’ china patterns.  We bought these before we moved to New York for three years, to remind us of Old Dominion.

We have political statements on the tree, too.  No Stamp Act!


And there are other nods to George and Martha, too.

Still on the Virginia theme, I bought this handmade clay ornament at the Torpedo Factory Art Center.  It looks (a little) like our house here.

In recent years, we’ve fallen in love with Little Washington, the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains.  We missed this year’s Little Washington Christmas parade, but at least we have this nod to the famous Inn at Little Washington on our tree.

Speaking of the Shenandoah Valley, a couple of years ago we decided to start collecting ornaments from every national park we visit.  One of the first to be added to the new collection, of course, was an ornament from Nugget’s happy placeShenandoah National Park.

We also have this one, from Joshua Tree National Park.  I’d love to get back there someday and camp in the park.  The night sky over the desert must be incredible.


We have other ornaments picked up from our travels, too – like these handmade pottery ornaments from the Outer Banks – the Hatteras Light and a great blue heron.


And the Adirondacks.  A loon and a red canoe (couldn’t find a kayak) to commemorate paddling on Mirror Lake this past summer.  (We’ll have to add a kayak after our trip to the San Juans this coming summer.)

And no tree would be complete without a nod to Cornell, too.  This happy snowman is ready to take the Big Red straight to the Frozen Four!

Travel isn’t the only thing we celebrate on our tree, though.  Miss Austen graces a branch.

And we have some seals in winter knitwear, because Peanut has a longstanding love affair with pinnipeds.  (I’m trying to convert her to Team Cetacean, though.)


Speaking of Peanut, we have some familiar faces on our tree, too.  Miss Peanut and Mr. Nugget doing their favorite things – picking flowers and hiking, respectively.


And, finally, no tree is complete – at least, not in a house with young children – without some kid-made ornaments.  The gold handprint on the left is courtesy of Peanut, and the little fingerprint snowmen in the right are Nugget’s work, both from their time at Westminster Early Childhood Programs back in Buffalo.

What special holiday decorating traditions do you have?


Garden Update, June 2017: The Good News and Bad News Edition

I can’t believe it, but it’s been almost a month since my last update, and – I’m shocked to report – things are growing.  And not just our stash of watering cans and ceramic pots – some plants are even growing!

It’s been a wild ride and I have some good news and some bad news in the garden.  Getting the bad news out of the way first:

  • While the tomato plants are all growing, and all fruiting, they don’t seem to be doing equally well and I can’t figure out why.  The plant on the far left is doing best – it’s the tallest, the healthiest, and it was the first to grow ripe fruit (read on!).  The plant in the middle is shorter but still seems to be doing decently well.  And the plant on the far right, while it is still fruiting, has some brown patches on the leaves.  I’m hoping that it is just a function of where it is situated in the garden – maybe it’s getting the most sun? – and not verticillium wilt (although I suspect that might be the problem).  I’m giving it extra water and praying that solves the problem.
  • My mint has the dreaded aphid.  I first realized that I had a problem when I noticed hundreds of ants crawling over my mint leaves – ewwwww.  Reading up on what might attract ants to mint (they’re supposed to dislike it, so what gives?) the answer on the gardenwebs was pretty unanimous: aphids.  Turning the leaves over – yup, there they are.  So far, they haven’t spread to the other plants, which is good.  I’m going to try a soap-and-cayenne spray (yes, cayenne again!) and if that doesn’t work, I’ll pitch the mint and start over.  I want to use the mint in beverages and I’m pretty grossed out by it at the moment.

Now for the good news – as I said before, things are actually growing!  Please excuse my complete and total surprise at this.  I’m not a very good gardener and have never successfully grown anything beyond lettuce and extremely hardy herbs.  Red tomatoes are new territory for me.

As you can see – lots and lots of little green fruits – I have high hopes for these guys, as this is my best plant! – and a few little red ones.  WUT!  Once we had a few things to pick, I rounded up the kids for a mini harvest.

This is Peanut’s yes-mom-I-know-I’m-only-picking-the-red-ones face.  Does she look like a teenager or what?

We also had a few green beans that were big enough to harvest from our bean plant.  This was a very pleasant surprise – Peanut came home from school with the bean plant one day this spring; I believe it was the result of a unit on seeds.  I planted it, because why not?

Heyyyyyy.  There are quite a few beans sprouting on the bean plant.  Not bad for a plant that randomly appeared in my kitchen one day.

Happy harvester!  We successfully picked six little cherry tomatoes (which we ate for dinner – Peanut even tried one and said she liked it, so SUCCESS) and four green beans (which no one but Mom will touch).  And all while dodging Nugget-planted obstacles like extra watering cans strewn about with a partially-deflated “soccers” ball to keep things interesting.

Yay, gardening!  If you planted this year, how’s it going?  Anything to report yet?

Garden Update, May 2017: The Don’t Be Like Me Edition

Well, it’s time for a garden update and I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that the garden seems to be doing reasonably well – or at least, some of it does.  We’ve had a lot of rain recently and it’s making a big difference.

The bad news: to the extent the garden is thriving, it doesn’t seem to be to my credit, and if I decide to get involved with the care of a plant I seem to kill it.  Steve says that if I go against every single one of my natural instincts, I might still have a garden by the end of the season.  How’s that for a vote of confidence?


When I last left you, we’d gotten plants into three pots (which we moved from New York, much to Steve’s chagrin – they are heavy – because I love their colors).  Peanut and I planted lettuces in the big pot, beans in the medium pot and rosemary in the small pot.  We’d jumped the gun just a bit on buying our plants and hit the garden centers before many edibles were ready, with the result being that I had to buy something to avoid a preschooler meltdown.

Fast-forward a few weeks later.  Things were doing reasonably well, and the garden centers had more tomatoes and herbs, so I decided it was time to roll up my sleeves and really dig in.  (#gardenpun).  I visited Lowes and picked up a couple more pots, which I am hoping are big enough for tomatoes.  (Some quick internet research indicated that tomato plants need a fairly large pot for their root systems.)

And that’s when I made my first mess.  I decided to move some plants into pots that were more appropriately sized for them – planting things in the wrong-sized pots was a planning fail to begin with, but see above – I just had to go with it and buy the plants too early, to avoid a preschooler tantrum, and things ended up in poorly sized plants as a result.  Yeah, I suppose I could have put more thought into it in the first place and then I wouldn’t have had these problems.  Well – whatever.

It started out okay.  I moved the rosemary into the medium-sized pot and added some newly acquired parsley and thyme, and planted mint in the small pot (so it could be alone).  But in order to do so, I had to move the beans, and that’s where things started to fall apart.  I tried to untangle the bean plant from the trellis (which was too small) and I ended up killing the poor thing – look how sad it is after I replanted it in the barrel and tried transferring it to the Ultimate Tomato Cage.  Whoops.

Other failures of this iteration of the garden – the lettuce bolted, and someone ate all of the leaves off my purple Thai basil and tormented the poor thing until it gave up the ghost.  I was blaming squirrels (read on) but Steve mentioned he’s also seen some black birds lurking around my pots.  Sounds like I might need a scarecrow.

On to Act III of this little play.  I made yet another trip to the garden center after the weather had warmed up a bit, and picked up more tomatoes and herbs.  I grabbed some more mint to add to my mint pot (now I have a mix of chocolate mint and julep mint in there – yum) and another basil plant to plop in my tomato pots.  The herbs are looking decently well.  We’ve had a ton of rain recently and they’re loving it.

Also looking well – my original tomatoes!  The plants have shot up and I’ve even spotted a few yellow blossoms.  For awhile, the leaves were looking a little brown and sad, but all the recent rain has really helped.  And the beans that Peanut brought home from school, which Steve planted and then I moved.  Why am I so trigger-happy when it comes to moving plants around?  No wonder I have a black thumb.  I need to learn to leave well enough alone.  Thankfully, the beans seem to be happy enough in their new pot, which they’re sharing with some more tomatoes I picked up from the garden center last weekend.  I wanted lettuce, but the garden center was pretty much out, and the few plants they had left looked sort of sad to me.  So I decided – this is going to be a tomato and herb garden this year.  Farmers’ market lettuce for everyone!

A few more tomato plants – I spy lots more yellow blossoms and a few little green fruits!  I totally cheated and bought a couple of plants that already had fruits.  Hey, I’m trying to set myself up for success here.  I bought Rapunzel, Fantastico, and Green Zebra tomatoes in addition to the cherry variety I was already growing.  It’s going to be all tomatoes, all the time this year. 

Bringing me to my second “don’t be like me” tip.  So, remember how I said I thought I was having a squirrel problem?  We do have a lot of squirrels in our neighborhood, and they’re hardcore, bold urban squirrels with no respect for people’s property.  So I googled “how to repel squirrels from garden” and came up with a few tips, including – cayenne pepper.  Apparently, they don’t like the smell.  (Of course, the same website also said they don’t like the smell of mint, and something was digging up my mint plants.  In thinking about it – maybe Steve is right, and the problem is crows, not squirrels.)  Anyway, I decided to give cayenne a try, and on Tuesday morning before I left for a business trip, I traipsed out my back door in my slippers with a jar of cayenne in hand, which I proceeded to sprinkle all over the soil.  It definitely looked intimidating.  Then I thought to myself, “This cayenne is pretty old.  I wonder if it’s potent enough to repel the squirrels.”  I leaned down, took a whiff, and… HOLY $(@*$&%(#(#& IT IS POTENT ENOUGH TO REPEL SQUIRRELS OH GOD #@@)%*@#&$.

Gardening pro tip!  Snorting cayenne pepper hurts like a mofo!  Don’t do it!

And if you don’t know, now you know.

Last thing – while I’m telling you about all this other garden equipment I’ve been acquiring – plants, pots, cayenne pepper… there was one item that has proven to be absolutely necessary.  If I didn’t want that happy little dude to dig up my plants, fling soil around the patio and dump handfuls of gravel over my most delicate herbs – all of which was happening – some sort of distraction was needed.  Enter the sandbox!  I’d been meaning to get one for awhile but was hung up on finding the best safe sand.  I finally found an acceptable option (Sandtastik, for my mom friends who might be in the market) and as for the box itself – well, clearly I had to go for the Fisher Price turtle.  Can’t beat a classic, amirite?  Both kids love it, and more importantly, so far, the sandbox seems to be fulfilling its purpose of distracting Nugget and keeping him out of the garden.  Of course, now every surface in the house and on the patio is covered with a layer of sand.  You can’t win them all.

Gardening friends: have you planted yet?  How’s it going?  Have you also snorted cayenne pepper in an effort to repel squirrels?

Garden Update


Wow!  I can’t believe it’s been a month since Peanut and I planted our garden.  As expected, some things are growing well and other things… aren’t.  This year is all about learning what works and what doesn’t, and hopefully after the season ends I’ll have some good knowledge to build on next year.  So, with that, here’s how things currently stand:



The lettuces (one pot of red leaf and one of mixed leaf) are doing well.  I worry that they’re a little crowded in the pots, but they must be happy enough because they’re consistently producing plenty of nice, tender leaves.  I’ve plucked quite a few salads from these pots and the lettuces grow right back.  At this rate it’s looking as though I won’t have to buy salad greens all summer, and I couldn’t be more delighted about that.


The herbs are a mixed pot… errrrrr, bag.  I knew when I planted the mint I knew there was a chance it would try to take over the entire pot, and that does appear to be what it’s attempting to do.    It’s probably claimed a third of the pot for itself and the rest of the herbs are trying to hold onto a little of their own.  The parsley is doing okay, but not great; the dill and rosemary appear to be fighting back and hanging on; but the poor basil has, I think, bolted.  I probably should have planted the mint in its own pot – next year, I will – and now I’m trying to figure out how to rescue the basil.  I’m not sure if moving it to its own pot will do the trick at this point, or if it’s a losing battle.  The good news is, mint is my favorite herb.


The strawberries are growing decently well.  Every couple of weeks, we seem to be getting a little handful.  (These were eaten, so we don’t have anything right now, but I’m sure we will soon.)  We’re not going to get enough at any one time for me to make a dessert out of them – we’d need a few more plants for that, I think – but it’s fun to have them growing out there and to pluck a few now and then.



The tomatoes are not doing very well.  The stalks have grown much taller, but that’s the only progress I’ve seen.  There are several stalks with yellowing leaves and we’re just starting to see a couple of buds – and no little green fruits.  I’m sad that these seem to be struggling, and again I think I may have planted them too close together.  Pruning the stalks, and possibly thinning them out, is high on my list for the next few days.  Hoping that will have some effect.

image  image

As for my gardening buddy, she’s still really enjoying the activity.  I’m careful to space out the tasks on which I include her – I don’t make her help with more complicated stuff, and I don’t drag her out to water with me every day – because I don’t want her to get burnt out on gardening.  She probably joins me in watering every three or so days, and the rest of the time I do it myself.  And I always bring her out to pick with me when I’m grabbing some lettuce or herbs – she loves helping me fill up the colander.  As expected, she enjoys picking (and eating) the strawberries most of all – it’s a challenge to get her to wait until I’ve washed the berries before she takes a big bite.  So cute!

All things considered, this garden is doing about as well as I expected it to.  I have never been a green thumb, and I’m hoping that a little experience will change that.  But the fact that I’ve gotten several salads out of this garden, that I have enough mint to last a lifetime, and that Peanut and I have an activity we’re enjoying, is enough for me to call the experiment a success so far.  Further updates to come as the season progresses!

Do you have a garden this year?  How’s it doing?