Al Fresco Entertaining

garlic decoration

Try decorating with your ingredients.

Now that the weather is warming up it’s the perfect time to start using your outdoor spaces. Even if your patio or deck hasn’t seen a lot of action in the last few months, a quick sweep or morning of power washing can ready your backyard for dining al fresco.

Most people assume planning a meal outside means plastic lawn chairs and paper plates, but just because you’re not equipped with a dimmer switch to set the mood doesn’t mean you can’t make your meal an elegant affair.

When considering lighting, make sure it matches the mood you’re trying to set. Floodlights can be harsh, and tiki torches (although fun!) are typically used for very casual events. Instead, opt for outdoor string lights. Available in different shapes and brightness, you can string them from tree branches, wrap them around your deck railing, or wind them up your outdoor umbrella. They’ll keep your backyard bright with a soft, complementing glow. Don’t worry about having an electrical outlet—it’s relatively the same cost to buy solar-powered outdoor lights.

string light garland

Many outdoor string lights are now solar-powered, so you can put them anywhere.

Keep your tablescape congruent with your upscale-casual feel. No need to iron linens, but a thick solid-colored tablecloth will give your decorations a base for continuity by providing a main color or accent color to work with.

For the menu, make a seasonal favorite by incorporating ingredients from your own garden or the local farmer’s market. You’ll be able to ensure what you’re making is fresh, and it can help you keep the cost down. Try some simple chicken breasts marinated in fresh rosemary, garlic, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Grill at medium-high heat until no longer pink in the middle. The simple, herb-infused taste pairs perfectly with any fresh garden veggies and a crisp local white wine.

herb decoration

Use herbs from your own garden both in dishes and for decoration.

If nothing in your garden fits with your menu plan, consider some of your herbs or flowers to make a rustic-chic centerpiece. Complementing aromatic herbs or colorful flowers will enhance your table’s look.

To give the setting a final detailed touch, play music through some wireless speakers. Place them strategically so that you can hear them no matter where you stand in the yard. If you don’t have wireless speakers, an iHome or any speaker system will work just fine when set with some of your guests’ favorite tunes.

I can empathize that after a long week you might not feel up for entertaining at home. Instead of dealing with the dishes you can try a few al fresco dining options in downtown Raleigh. Located in the heart of the city, Jimmy V’s Osteria & Bar has the largest outdoor patio in the Triangle – an impressive arrangement anywhere, but appreciated even more so by those who want to people-watch downtown. The restaurant supports the Jimmy V Foundation and donated $40,000 to the cancer research fund early this year. If you’re going out, at least you’ll know your money will be going to help a good cause!

driftwood restaurant raleigh

Driftwood Restaurant’s ‘Picnic Basket’

We recently dined al fresco at Driftwood Restaurant in North Raleigh’s Lafayette Village. Their picnic basket menu option was great to enjoy outside.

Why My Son Stopped Me From Going to Target

Let me first start out by clearly stating this is not a negative post about Target!  I love Target.  In fact, if I had to pick one place to clear the majority of my to do list, it would be Target.  Nor is this a promotional post of any kind; Just a mommy sharing her experience of why my son stopped me from going to Target…literally.

So, why did I stop going?  Well, I happened to find Amazon…at just the right time!

One of my first trips out of the house while pregnant at 28 weeks!

One of my first trips out of the house while pregnant at 28 weeks!

A few years back when I was pregnant with my son (now two years old), I was sick as a dog.  Around the clock, bent over, couldn’t smell, eat, look at food, sick!  Dehydrated, losing weight and completely miserable.  I was a borderline IV candidate and walked the grey line with cranberry juice diluted ice chips for weeks.  It started at week 6 and by week 8, I couldn’t believe what I had gotten myself into.  I was the one cursing all of you ‘glowing’ pregnant women, blatantly envious of nothing more than your ability to walk up and down stairs unassisted, brush your teeth without gagging and merely function!  From week 8-20, I was imprisoned by my own home, unable to even watch TV, in fear a Lucky Charm’s commercial might put me over the edge.  I told my husband, the only thing I wanted or craved was fresh cut grass.  I certainly didn’t want to eat it (even though I’ve heard of crazier things), but the smell was the only thing that even remotely sounded reasonable to me.  Weeks 21-28 improved some, and that is when I found Amazon!

Just another delivery from Amazon

Just another delivery from Amazon

Amazon allowed me to be a wife again, to help stock our home with the essentials without ever leaving.  It allowed me to prepare the nursery and get ready for Mommyhood with all the goodies including, nursing bras, butt paste and diapers.   I no longer had to use the excuse (while valid) of being sick to miss birthday gift giving and free returns allowed me to buy without second guessing my decisions.  In case you were unaware, pregnant women are notorious for emotionally second guessing decisions…about almost everything!!!   Amazon Prime offered me huge inventory, great prices and free shipping. I could basically dream up anything I wanted and have it on my doorstep in 48 hours.   In fact, there were times where I ordered Method cleaning products at 3PM on a Monday and they were delivered by noon on Tuesday!  My husband kept saying, “Amazon is revolutionizing the world.”  To some degree, he was right.

Stocking the Cleaning Cabinet

Stocking the Cleaning Cabinet

So, here’s my thank you to Amazon for getting my orders right about 99.9% of the time and for making sure my orders were delivered as estimated about 98% of the time.  If I were to factor in traffic, this year’s crazy weather and my redundant impulse buys when visiting my local hardware, big box or grocery stores, you definitely have a better running precision record than I do.  And to Target, I miss you old friend.  I miss grazing through the aisles with no intended purchases and spending over $100 every time I landed in the bullseye.  I miss going in with a grocery list and walking out with DVD’s, clothes, beach bags, new sheets and make up every time I set foot in your store.  I appreciate your fair prices, great selection and chipper sales associates.  I do not miss the screaming children, parking lots and tangled shopping carts.  I promise to continue to visit you online and always “Expect More…” 🙂

Party in Pictures

So the two year old birthday party has come and gone.  It was absolutely worth the “fussing” and prep work as outlined last week here. I still can’t believe another year has past and I am officially mommy to a two-year-old toddler!

Welcome Sign Birthday Party


Saturday started off as most other Saturdays do with the typical morning books, potty and breakfast routine.  However, when 11:30AM rolled around I began to panic.  I realized I had a ton to do and needed to get my little bug down for his nap earlier than normal so he would be able to greet his guests with a chipper smile at 4PM.   Thank goodness Daddy came to the rescue with some outdoor play time which allowed me to loose my little shadow (at least for an hour) and complete my indoor responsibilities.  It was also a blessing to have aunties Marissa and Rachel around for the weekend festivities.  Sister time, a little wine, great food, completely entertaining conversations and birthday help = perfect combo! Here’s another thank you to you two:-)

Marissa Enjoying Chocolate Milk

Marissa Enjoying Chocolate Milk

Someone must have been looking out for us as my other concern was completely eliminated when the weather literally changed overnight!  It went from 40’s and rainy to 60’s and sunny.  It offered the perfect day for an indoor/outdoor gathering.  The rest of the afternoon was enjoyed with windows and doors propped wide open.

Perfect Weather

Perfect Weather

Here are a couple of images chronicling our get together.  Thank you to everyone for making it a memorable second birthday and for the fantastic company.  We are truly blessed with great friends and family!  Cheers…to birthday number two;-)  xoxo





Always need a "Potty" sign :-)

Always need a “Potty” sign 🙂

Milk Anyone?

Milk Anyone?



Treat Bar

Treat Bar

Gift Time

Gift Time

Best Friends

Best Friends

Treat Bags

Treat Bags

What Was Daddy's Surprise Gift?

What Was Daddy’s Surprise Gift…Perhaps a Future Post?

Second Southern Snow & Indoor Activities

Wow!  This year is beginning to impress me with the wild card weather.

Ice Glazed Tree in My Backyard

Ice Glazed Tree in My Backyard

I think I can speak for many that live in the south when I say we certainly didn’t expect another measurable event this year.  Especially after the last Southern Snow was so anticipated and Came and Went without lingering.

Snow has been the talk of the town since Tuesday with the first system moving through Raleigh on Wednesday at noon and the second on Thursday at noon.  Six inches of snow to start.  Sleet and freezing rain to pack things down. Kind of a gut punch that disabled most sledding or snow ball efforts.  But, pretty on the trees.  Then a redemption with a couple more inches of the white fluffy stuff over top to allow for some more outdoor play.

Almost White Out Conditions!

Almost White Out Conditions!

Raleigh was basically crippled this time around.  Hundreds of motorists were stranded while trying to commute home on Wednesday.  We made national news a few times this week for our honest, but pathetic clean up efforts.  I know we get a lot of heat from the Northerners and Midwesterners who think we over react.  Perhaps, but we try hard.  I know many doctors  and nurses who spent over 96 hours at the hospital just to serve our citizens and NCDOT crews who have worked back to back shifts to clear the highways.  In fact, I even heard of some grocery clerks spending the night at the store, just to make sure they could open for guests who may have real needs.  I would call that Southern Sacrifice.  If possible, I still agree with the Governor’s advice: Stay home people. And, help your neighbors.

If you begin to feel a case of cabin fever coming on, or are stranded on Valentine’s Day tomorrow, here are few activities that may lighten the mood and please the whole family:

Bake. Simple, fun and easy for everyone to participate. Try a new recipe.  Google ingredient substitutes if you’re short on something.  Who knows, you may discover a new crowd pleaser.  Warm cookies or muffins never tasted better than with a cup of hot chocolate on a snow day!


Blueberry Muffins

Do Movie Day.  Pick a trilogy or rotate between mom and dad picks and kid picks.  Make popcorn, eat peanut butter and jelly.  M&M’s anyone?

Make Valentine’s Day Cards.  Tomorrow is perhaps a ‘Hallmark holiday,” but it is a fun way to reach out to friends, neighbors and relatives and let them know you love them and care.  Use construction paper, glue, glitter, markers, crayons, finger paint, cotton balls.  Get the whole family (and pets) involved.  Paw print cards anyone…so cute!

Easy Valentine's Day Cards.  Put a photo behind the heart with a sweet message.

Easy Valentine’s Day Cards. Put a photo behind the heart with a sweet message and glue to construction or cardstock paper.

Play Dress Up with the kiddos.  Dress up the family dog and take pictures.  Do a skit.  Mom and dad vs. the kids!

Take a Bath.  I honestly cannot remember the last time I took a bath.  Some candles, good music, a glass of wine (or spiced apple cider), and a break from…everything!  Sign me up please.

Build a Fort.  This was one of my favorite activities as a kid!  I loved tacking up sheets, old blankets and using pillows to create my ” indoor cabin.”  Maybe even be so crazy as to move some furniture around and use a whole room.  Or pitch a tent indoors and camp in with flashlights!

Pitch a Tent Indoors!

Pitch a Tent Indoors!

I guess the little girl inside of me has officially received what she asked for this year…and then some.  I appreciate the snow.  Mostly, when it’s falling and fresh.  I suppose I am finally ready for cropped tops and the first signs of spring, but for the next little while, I am going to enjoy being bundled up and cooped up and treasure the family time.  After all, it is a SNOW DAY!

Celebrating 43 Years of Marriage


Honoring Jerry & Jan’s Vow Renewal in Hawaii a few years ago…

This past week, February 6th, marked another special family occasion.  It was my father and mother in-law’s 43rd wedding anniversary.

Before I go any further, I must congratulate you, Jerry and Jan, for maintaining your humor and sanity for over four decades!  And most importantly, for setting a fine example for us younger folks regarding love, commitment, sacrifice and marriage.

Personally, at just 6 1/2 years in, I can assure anyone reading this who isn’t already married, that it isn’t easy.  Worth it? Yes. Work? Yes. Painful at times? Yes. Rewarding? Yes.  And perhaps, your greatest investment.

Forty-three years is certainly impressive by anyone’s measure and so we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate with a little family get together this weekend.  Some red meat, red wine and all, very appropriate conversation (for once).

Here is a recap of our time together.

Table Prep

Table Prep

Hand Card for Grandpa & Grandma

Hand Card for Grandpa & Grandma


Candle Light

Food Prep

Food Prep | Menu: Filets of Beef, Sautéed Mushrooms & Onions, Roasted Assorted Potatoes, Asparagus, Sundried Tomato Bread, Kaylee’s Famous Spinach & Goat Cheese Salad, and Select Sweets for Dessert

I must say, it was a privilege to share the evening with our family.  There isn’t much else that makes me happier than breaking bread together and creating memories.  My personal highlight is caught in this photo…four generations(ranging  from 91 years old to almost 2 years old), all smiling.  Perhaps this offers some motivation for all marriages.

Four Generations

Four Generations

Dinner Party Ideas: Oscar Night

oscar dinner party

During the annual Academy Awards ceremony, everyone is usually focused on who the stars are wearing. Reports revolve around which silhouettes and colors are successes, and of course, the disasters. If you are planning a dinner party for Oscar night, you need to be focused on another dress:

How should you dress the table?

For an Oscar-themed dinner party, your table’s decorations will set the tone for the room. I am notorious for tending more to my table than myself! One dinner party I hosted, I was too busy decorating the table that I quickly got dressed a few minutes before guests arrived. Then a guest pointed out I only had mascara on one eye! Whether you plan on having a formal sit-down meal before cozying down on the couch or in your home theater, or you want an impressive display of heavy hors d’oeuvres and crudités for guests to enjoy while watching the awards show, your table’s “dress” needs advanced planning and attention:

hollywood walk of fame

Table settings. One of the must-see attractions in Hollywood is the Walk of Fame. Hundreds of iconic actors are awarded a gold star. Honor guests with a gold star table setting with their name. If you’re not planning a sit-down meal, use stars to display the names of the different items served. Feel creative? Create dish names inspired by the names of Oscar nominees. If you plan to have food displayed near the television – choose low serving ware and avoid large bowls to prevent blocking guests’ views of the screen.

Red carpet. Not only will you probably have a red carpet in your foyer, but think about adding one to your table. Red table runner leftover from holiday decorations? Repurpose it as the “red carpet” running the length of your dinner table.

What to serve. The night is all about awards, right? If you prefer not to make your own meals and snacks for guests, look for award-winning restaurants in your area and have the evening catered. Another option: Invite your guests to bring a dish or dessert and create a silent ballot. At the end of the night, tally up the votes and have a prize or a chocolate Oscar award for ‘best dessert,’ ‘best supporting dessert,’ ‘best original appetizer’ and more! Don’t be afraid to dress up your food too—tuxedo cake (or cupcakes) looks and tastes great.

Of course, don’t forget about the host and hostess’ attire! If your decorations are themed around red carpets, gold Oscars and stars, think about what complements the palette: Royal blues, whites, or classic blacks will pair well with the décor. Check out the gowns throughout Oscar history and make your outfit a homage to a favorite screen icon.

This year marks the 86th Annual Academy Awards.
It will air at 8:30PM EST on Sunday, March 2nd.

What’s in Your Water Cabinet

I am sure many of you have a version of liquor cabinet or friends who may share theirs.  Some displays are far more impressive than others with elaborate collections of top shelf brands and fancy bottles, others may offer select indulgences for the occasional backyard party, boy’s poker night or girl’s get together .  Even if you rarely partake, I have found it nice (when entertaining) to have something other than wine (or beer) to offer my guests.  Pinterest and other online resources are full of boastful images and creative bar design ideas.  But, let me ask you this…has anyone heard of a water collection?  If you think the bottled water world is wasteful or you cringe at the idea of another pointless piece of plastic entering our precious earth, please don’t be offended when I make my next confession…we, have a water cabinet!

So what exactly is a water cabinet?  Please let me share this phenomenon with you.  My husband is a very gracious host and enjoys entertaining at it’s fullest.  Priorities at the top of his list when inviting guests to our home for dinner or even an afternoon football game include having a variety of choices.  Options make him happy and while it doesn’t always make my life easy, I appreciate the care he invests in our guests.  If you ever join us for dinner, I can assure you will never have one appetizer, one entrée and one side. We typically have an assortment of just about everything from the starters to the desserts and everything in between.  So when we only had one kind of water to offer our guests this summer, he decided to make it his personal mission to locate the Fiji’s of the world and ship them in!  Yes, we contribute greatly to the almost 12 billion dollar United States annual spending on bottled water.

Here is a (small) sampling of our selections.


about 1/4 of our collection today

And for those of you who don’t believe bottled water tastes any differently then tap water, I must argue otherwise.  I am a PWD (primarily water drinker) and I enjoy some brands significantly more than others.  While there are no regulatory guidelines to bottled water in our country, the sources or means are identifiable and some just happen to taste much better than others.  In fact, to all you naysayers, I challenge you in a blind taste test.  The key is to select water from a variety of sources and serve at room temperature.  The results may shock you!

So here’s to drinking more water, however you choose!

Still Decking the Halls

Okay, we have officially crossed over the midpoint in January and I am the pathetic neighbor still rocking my garland, wreaths, mailbox ornaments, Christmas tree and gold deer in the front yard!  In fact, until yesterday, I left my outdoor lights on…I finally decided to turn them off after I thought about our recent community power outage (where my street was the solely lighted street for miles) and how incredibly grossed out my neighbors must have been when trying to cook, get dressed, entertain kids and shower in the dark while my house still screamed, “Come on over for Eggnog and Santa Cookies.” Sorry to have been so thoughtless!
I guess considering we all had a late start this year with the shortened gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I don’t feel like my glitter and sparkles have been up all that long. Perhaps it’s the dread of overworking my gluteus medius muscles and carting ridiculously stuffed storage bins two flights of stairs to the attic or maybe I just can’t let go of the ‘season’ this year considering we still have unopened presents under our tree…topic for another day.

Christmas decorations


So today, I woke up with some new found motivation to take Rudolph, Santa and Baby Jesus down and store them in their respective ‘off season’ homes. I figure I should wrap up tomorrow with a little bit of help from a friend and cooperative toddler; starting the weekend off right. Perhaps I will redeem myself next year…Now, onto reorganizing my attic (because I noticed how unbelievably sad it was while packing up Christmas) and planning a two-year old birthday party. There is always, ALWAYS another task!