Get Here Quick! North Carolina Botanical Garden

School’s out for the summer! Translation: I’m making a long list of fun activities, projects and field trips to keep Gemma and I busy when we’re not traveling or running to local camps over the next few months. With Kindergarten starting in late August, I’m hoping to make the most of these last few months of freedom.

We kicked off the first day of summer break last Friday with a trip to the NC Botanical Garden. We’re so lucky it’s just a few miles down the road and offers up an afternoon of fun and exploration for kids and adults.

NC botanical garden sign

We’ve been to the Garden before but this time I challenged Gemma to a scavenger hunt!  After finding our shady parking spot, we set off through the mountain terrain, on the lookout for the “not so obvious”. She had to find two butterflies (each of a different color/family), one dragonfly, one bee, a tadpole and a turtle. Within the first 5 minutes she’d spotted all but the tadpole and turtle; these two beings proved a bit harder to spot.

g leading the way  g and a pond

g kissing the man in stone  selfie at gardens


The Garden is alive with blooming flowers, including pitcher plants and other carnivorous plants. This particular collection is one of the best in the Southeast, so we spent quite a while checking out the Venus flytrap, orchids and other rare species. These flowers are STUNNING and well worth the trip!

pitcher plants red  g at gardens

pitcher plants in bloom  pitcher plant bloom sihouette

pitcher plant blooms

There are several different gardens and habitats to explore including a garden, mountain and Piedmont terrains, display gardens, fern collection and water plant exhibits. You can easily spend a few hours wandering through and sighting various plants, insects and water features. And aside from the main Garden property, there are kid-friendly trails, part of the Piedmont Natural Trails system, you can access through back gates located behind the Education Center. The Botanical Garden also manages Battle Park Pedestrian Trails, Coker Arboretum and Forest Theater, all on or near the UNC Chapel Hill campus.

Here are a few more findings from our afternoon adventures:

pink flowers  red flower

red and yellow bloom  lily pad with drops  white speckled flowers  purple flower

creamy roses  herb gardenlotus and water lily pads  irisespretty pink blooms

g and big leaves

Special Notes:

  • Visit the NC Botanical Garden website to learn more about what’s in bloom seasonally, and plan your visit. The center also offers a variety of adult and youth classes, demonstrations and storytime, as well as summer camps (which unfortunately are on a wait list at this point).
  • There is no admission fee, however the foundation gladly accepts donations to further their mission and maintain the grounds.
  • The main building also houses a very nice Garden Shop. Be sure to stop in if you’re on the hunt for a unique gift item, including live plants, botanical prints, gardner’s books and outdoor embellishments.




Pickin’ Berries

As promised, I took Gemma to pick strawberries Friday morning. It was shaping up to be a lovely day…72 degrees with blue skies, perfectly fluffy clouds and almost no humidity.

We set off mid-morning to Phillips Farms in Cary, NC (about 12 miles from our house). We had hoped to hit up Jean’s Berry Patch, where we grabbed our flat of berries earlier this week for our strawberry pies; however, we learned their fields were hit by a gang of rogue deer, and they suspended self-picking for the season! Bummer!

phillips farms strawberry sign cary, nc

When we arrived and began searching for the best row for pickin’, we noticed the fields were full of plump, red strawberries! To our disappointment, we learned Thursday night’s storms and heavy rains left at least half of their ripe berries in a state of mush. Luckily, we were able to weed out a full basket of their best fruits and look forward to bingeing on strawberries all weekend!!

picking berries

sneaking a bite of strawberry

basket of strawberries

A Personal Fav: House of Turquoise

What’s your favorite color? Look around your home, open your closet…chances are you decorate with and wear your favorite color almost every day. It’s your signature. It sets your mood and frames your personality.

I’m perpetually drawn to turquoise, a beautiful shade of greenish-blue which is incredibly fun, flirty, intense, sophisticated and calming all at the same time. It’s a great color to use in home accents, ceramics, fashion, art…you name it.

One of my favorite blogs, House of Turquoise, offers up inspiration and lifestyle/retail choices in all shades of my favorite hue. These are just a few of the beautiful images from the site:




This week I’m a happy girl to see a special House of Turquoise collection on Joss & Main, a popular online shopping site. (Sale ends May 20.) The collection is coastal-inspired and features a mix of natural woods and upholstered furniture, fiber rugs and sea glass lamps, as well as nautical wall art and fresh, contemporary throw pillows.

Here are some of the beautiful pieces available in the sale…


Check it out if you’re looking to refresh your living space or just want to lose yourself and browse at pretty things!

Special Note:

  • You can subscribe to Joss & Main to get daily emails with special collections and sales. It’s like an upscale, online Home Goods…love!
  • And, if you like Joss & Main, take a look at One Kings Lane to see daily collections of quality products at discounted prices.
  • Over the past few years, I’ve ordered pillows, rugs, ceramics, accent tables, bedding and picnic/outdoor living items through these sites, and I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the products and shipping times.

Pre-K Graduation and a Refreshing Teacher Gift

Where does the time go? The end of the school year is upon us! Gemma graduated from Pre-K today, and I was a bit teary-eyed as she performed her last preschool show and walked to get her certificate before shaking hands with her teachers.

pre k grad certificate medal

family pic pre k grad day

We have been very blessed to have such a warm, engaging preschool environment at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Preschool for the last three years. Gemma’s teachers over the years were always such a joy, offering their kind souls, encouragement, guidance, patience and smiling faces every day in each classroom. If you live in the Durham/Chapel Hill area and are searching for a wonderful preschool, I highly encourage you to check out St. Stephens!

To honor the Pre-K teachers at the end of this school year, the parents got together to give our three classroom teachers, a music teacher and the preschool director a fresh, practical gift they and their families can use throughout the year, especially during our warm summer months.

water infuser, citrus fruit and mint plant

We gifted each teacher with a water infuser/pitcher (Crate and Barrel) filled with lemons, limes and a sprig of fresh mint plus their own potted mint plant (Home Depot). We included a recipe for Citrus-Mint Infused Water, and the kids all autographed a special card.

Citrus-Mint Water

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 4-6 mint leaves
  • 1 half-gallon of cold water

Cut citrus into thin slices and remove seeds. Insert citrus slices and mint leaves into infuser insert. Fill pitcher with cold water. Insert infuser into pitcher. Chill in refrigerator. Sip and enjoy!!!

I also love these four recipes from Lauren Conrad (orange-lemon-lime; lemon-raspberry-mint;  lemon-cucumber-mint; and blackberry-cherry-lime). If you get bored with plain ice water, as I do, an infuser is a great way to offer your body nourishment with a wonderful flavor!

infusers and citrus fruits

citrus mint water recipe

teacher card

mint plant

gemma and teacher gifts

Special Notes:

  • Recycle those paper bags from grocery or retail purchases! Don’t want the Whole Foods logo emblazoned on a gift bag? Just use colorful paper (or some of your child’s drawings on paper) to mask the logo and create a fun, colorful bag appropriate for gifting!

recycled gift bag

  • When gifting a potted plant, be thoughtful of your recipient’s ability to transport (if it’s not going to their home directly). I made sure to drain as much water from the pot base before placing the pot on a stack of coffee filters (to help absorb moisture) and then wrapped the base of the pot in a plastic bag to catch additional leaks. You can then use ribbon or a bow to decorate the bag or pot and give it some flair.

mint plant prep

Strawberry Season and a Family Treasure

It surely doesn’t get any better than the taste of a warm, sweet strawberry eaten straight from the garden!

We’re in prime strawberry season here in North Carolina, and I’m super excited to take Gemma pickin’ this Friday. With her preschool schedule, Friday’s are the only day we can get out early to snag some good berries before the fields are picked clean.

If you’re anything like us, we pick way more than we could possibly consume (before the mush and mold set in thanks to our humid climate…more on this dilemma later). One year, we picked two flats (or 8 quarts)…we made a few pies and ate berries for breakfast (sliced on cereal), lunch (as a side dish), and dinner (with sweet corn and grilled chicken). A year later, my mom was in town, and we got so many strawberries I was able to freeze 6 quart-sized ziplock bags of them before they expired…and then it took a whole year of smoothies to use them up.

I hate to say I won’t make that mistake again…but let’s be real…I’ll gladly make that mistake again if it means I can indulge in locally grown, succulent strawberries!

While our real ‘field trip’ isn’t until this Friday, G and I cheated and grabbed a flat of berries from Jean’s Berry Patch earlier this week so we could share with you my grandmother’s famous strawberry pie recipe!

Oh, and here’s a trick for washing your berries so they stay fresh longer…“How to Wash Your Fruit” from the Made from Pinterest blog.

I truly hope you enjoy this family favorite as much as we do!!!

strawberry pie recipe

Grandma Bratland’s Strawberry Pie


  • 1 quart fresh strawberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 ounces cream cheese (let stand to room temperature)
  • 1 pie crust (I prefer to use the Pillsbury pie crust from the roll section but you can make from scratch or use a frozen pie crust already in a foil pie pan, as well.)

Step 1. Bake pie crust according to instructions. Let crust cool completely. Here

  • Brush your crust with a coat of lightly beaten egg white to help give it a shiny, golden finish. Visit the kitchn for tips on how to achieve various results with different glazes, including this one: “Finishing Touches: How to Get a Perfect Golden Pie Crust
  • Cover the edges of your pie crust with aluminum foil to avoid over-browning of your exposed crusts. I typically bake per pie crust instructions, then remove the foil 2-3 minutes shy of total baking time…allows the crust to brown without getting too crispy.

strawberry pie shells

Step 2. In a mixing bowl, whip room-temp cream cheese until it reaches a spreading consistency. Carefully spread cream cheese mixture onto bottom of cooled pie crust.

Step 3. Cut 1/2 quart of strawberries into slices and place them (flat) over top of the cream cheese layer in pie crust.

layered strawberries on cream cheese base

Step 4. Cut remaining 1/2 quart of strawberries into small pieces and put in saucepan. Add sugar and cornstarch and cook ingredients over medium heat until sauce thickens and berries soften (approx 30 minutes).

strawberries sugar cornstarch  strawberry sauce

Step 5. Allow sauce to cool and then pour over previously layered berries in pie crust.

strawberry sauce in crust

Step 6. (WARNING: THIS IS THE HARDEST STEP!!!!) Chill 3-4 hours in refrigerator. After pie has set, slice and serve with homemade whipped cream (I like this easy tutorial from My Frugal Adventures) or Redi-Whip.

finished strawberry pie

I think this one’s a winner!!!

strawberry pie winner





Vintage China Cabinet

Last fall, in a moment of pure adrenaline, I snagged a china cabinet from our local ReStore. I had great expectations and quickly removed all the hardware, then let the poor thing sit idle in a corner of our dining room until last week. With our big, multi-family garage sale coming up this week, I knew I needed to give this beautiful beast a makeover and find her another home.


Luckily, the bones on this girl were solid, and I didn’t have any major issues during her transformation.

I used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Old White on the exterior (and inside the lower cabinet) and Duck Egg inside the upper cabinet and inside the single drawer. She has some great lines and I love the lattice-work overlay on the glass doors. The medallion drawer pulls were in perfect condition and only needed a little CLR to remove some rust and shine them up.

She’s now listed on craigslist (for a mere $250) and will be on display this weekend. Fingers crossed she finds her “soul-home”!!!

Here are a few more pics showcasing her details and road to stardom:


image (15)

image (16)

image (17)

UPDATE: (May 11, 2014)

I sold the cabinet!!! Yay! So glad she found a home and will be proudly displaying a Raleigh woman’s 1950’s-era bone china set in her dining room. It’s a little like letting go of a child. While I didn’t have a personal connection to the piece per se, it did take some blood, sweat and tears to get her into a valuable state, so it’s a bittersweet day. Now…what do do next???!!!