Beach bound...

Do you have any beach trips planned for the summer? I do!

From trips past...

Time to unplug. I'll be back soon.

p.s. You might be able to find me on Instagram.

Destination: Füssen, Germany

I'm delighted to introduce my first expat travel guest -- Maggie of maggieoverbystudios. Maggie is an American living in Germany. She is an accomplished architect, interior designer, DIYer, photographer, former business owner and dedicated wife and mom. She has managed to keep up with all of these endeavors in the midst of moving nine times over the past 14 years for her husband's military career. With each move, she creatively transformed all of her temporary digs into lovely homes away from home for her family. All on a budget. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Maggie is going to take us on a tour of Füssen, Germany. Let's get to know her first.

Q: Dogs or cats?
I have both, but I would say the cat is more my speed.
Q: Tea or coffee?
I would have said tea up until about year ago when I became a total coffee drinker.
Q: Cooking or baking?
Baking, especially cookies.
Q: Spring or fall?
Spring. I love to see the new flowers in bloom.
Q: Beach or mountains?
Beach! I’m a southern girl, so I will take hot over cold any day (That’s why I moved to Germany, Hah!).
Q: Favorite city?
I know my opinion is biased, but I love New Orleans (my home town). We have lived all over U.S. and now Germany, but there is absolutely no place like home!
Q: Funniest travel experience?
There are so many. Growing up the rest of the family called us the Griswolds (from National Lampoon’s Vacation). We always seem to have some sort of travel calamity wherever we go. Recently, -- while following GPS directions in Strasbourg, France -- we were instructed to drive right through the middle of what I believe was a pedestrian-only area filled with vendors, pedestrians and bicycles. (We couldn't read the signs, so we will never know for sure.) We had no idea where we were or how to correct the mistake, so we just kept following the GPS instructions taking us deeper into what seemed like a totally illegal drive. By the time we came out onto an actual road we were completely hysterical and hoping they would just write us off as crazy Americans and not cart us off to jail.
Q: Best meal you’ve ever had?
Okay, I am from New Orleans, so I have had some really amazing meals, and have a great love of food. I would have to say the best meal I have had recently was at the Weisser Bock Restaurant in Heidelberg, Germany. It was Thanksgiving evening, so we decided to splurge on a nice restaurant. We had been in Germany a week, and I was ready for something other than German cuisine. Although Weisser Bock does have a few German options, it offers primarily “international cuisine.” Whatever they call it, the food was fantastic! I ordered off the menu and my husband chose the preset five-course meal. Every single item that was brought to the table was absolutely perfect! If you are ever in Heidelberg I highly recommend it.

I asked Maggie some additional questions about expat life…

Q: What do you miss most about home?
Ice! A super cold Diet Coke with lots of ice!
Q: What you miss least about home?
Having lived in Germany a year now, I have come to realize how much the American culture has been shaped by lawsuits. There are so many things companies prevent you from doing to protect themselves from getting sued. There is no longer an “at your own risk policy” in the U.S. In Germany, you are expected to follow the rules and use your own common sense. Guess what? It works!  
Q: What do you love most about living abroad?
The shear history of Europe is so long compared to what we know in the U.S. Two or three hundred years seems old to most Americans. In Europe, I have visited beautiful Roman Gates that date back to 180 A.D. This baffles my mind, but I love it.
Q: What do you like least about living abroad?
That my house is not my own. Living in a rental. I am limited to doing only projects that are reversible. I am so ready to get back to tearing out walls and redoing floors. I can hardly stand it.
Q: Tips for others who take the leap?
Embrace the fact that most of the time you have absolutely no idea what is going on, how things work or what language you are supposed to be speaking. You’ll order a meal or attend an event and what happens is a complete surprise. I have come to accept this, and have found that sometimes the surprise is exactly what you didn’t know you wanted.

Füssen, Germany

Just after our move to Germany, we took a family trip to Füssen – a small city near the Alps at the German/Austrian border -- just before the school year started. We wanted the kids to feel like they got a real summer vacation.

We rented a two-bedroom apartment at Ferienhaus Berger -- a guest house just outside of  Füssen near the Hopfensee -- one of the many beautiful lakes in the area. I’m sure it is packed in the winter for the ski season, but in the summer it was a quiet retreat.


Most of our meals were child-friendly so we didn’t dine anywhere fancy. Unlike food at tourist attractions in the States -- where you often pay jacked up prices for mediocre food – German attractions tend to have good options at reasonable prices. The food in the area close to the two Ludwig II Castles we visited was really good. In between the Neuschwanstein castle (the castle that the Disney Cinderella castle is modeled after) and the Hohenschwangau Castle we ate at a lovely restaurant Alpenrose Am See overlooking the picturesque Alpsee. The setting was beautiful, the food was good and even the kids meals were well presented. The highlight of the day however was the treat we bought from one of the vendors up near the castle itself. I wish I could remember the name maybe someone here could help. They were similar to a donut hole only more cake like with sour cream in the batter I believe. They were fried to order and then sprinkled with powdered sugar similar to a beignet. They were heaven!

{lunch at Alpenrose Am See}

Funny aside: While having lunch at the restaurant by the Alpsee my 8-year-old son wanted to go check out the lake and the ducks while we finished up and paid the bill. We had a clear view from the table, so we let him go have a look. Not too long after he left, we noticed a group of girls (tourists from China) gathered around, taking pictures with him, and chatting away.  He was hamming it up posing for photos answering questions thinking he was Brad Pitt, I’m surprised he wasn’t signing autographs. We walked over when we finished up and they were kind enough to pose for a photo. My son the star.

{son's fan club}


As with most German cities Füssen has an Alstadt (old town) area that is primarily pedestrian and full of little shops and restaurants. While in one of the shops, I saw a beautiful white cuckoo clock. I figured these would be easy to find all over Germany, so I didn’t buy it. I still regret not buying that clock, because I haven’t seen one like it since. Now I have a good excuse to go back.

What to do

We stayed right near the Hopfensee so we rented a paddle boat and spent the day paddling around the lake enjoying the mountain scenery. The kids dared each other to jump into the freezing water to swim. You would think we took them to Disney the fun they had.

The Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles are the most popular points of interest in the area. While I don’t regret visiting them, they were teeming with tourists. For me, the amazing mountain scenery was the main attraction. A drive through the mountains, a walk along the lakes or a hike through the woods are a must.

{Hohenschwangau castle}

{Neuschwanstein castle}

Beautiful views from hiking above the Hopfensee lake...

Travel tips

A typical breakfast in Germany usually consists of a wide variety of fresh breads, sliced meat and cheeses, as well as fruits and yogurt. Honestly, my personal favorite is real German butter. You can't beat it anywhere else. At large hotels you will also find fancy coffee machines offering cappuccinos, lattes and any other coffee combination you can think of. Many hotels offer this breakfast for free and it is delicious! If your hotel includes breakfast be sure to go down and have a sample. You will not be disappointed.

If I were to do it again, I would…

Definitely stay longer and spend more time just relaxing. Sometimes you feel like you have to rush out and see all the sights, but here I felt like the sights were all around me. All I had to do was sit back and enjoy.

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks for stopping by, Maggie. If you're planning a trip to Europe, definitely pop over to Maggie's blog. You can read about her adventures in France, Germany and Switzerland. You can also read about interior design trends, DIY projects and her home and garden in Germany. 

{Maggie with her adorable family at Hohenschwangau castle fountain}

Memorial day...

Yesterday, we had the privilege of placing roses on gravesites at the Decatur Cemetery of American men who were killed during their tours of duty. Most of the graves we adorned were for members of the Air Force. This was an especially meaningful experience for me and my family as my dad was in the Air Force. He died when I was pregnant with my first son. They never got to meet him. My father-in-law, who they see often, served in the Army.

Today we will take a few moments to remember those who have died for our country and those still in service who continue to fight for our freedom, safety and peace.

Happy Memorial Day!

Small talk...

We are co-hosting a political fundraiser at our home next week. I won't be the only host/hostess there, but I'll be at the helm setting the tone for the meet and greet. I do love to entertain. But, one thing's for sure, I'll never be in the political spot light.

I spent the first 30 years of my life in Washington, DC. As a young professional, if you don't know how to network in the capital city, you're pretty much screwed. While I am a good networker and make friends easily, I suck at small talk. For me, it's fascinating to watch adept small talkers at social gatherings. You know who I'm talking about, right? The people who work the room glad-handing and yucking it up from one person to the next. No matter when or where you see them, they are always on. Truth be told, this often turns me off. I don't feel like I ever get to know the real person inside. I loathe disingenuous people. I once worked with a woman like this. I never really trusted her. I also had a friend in high school who told her bridesmaids to work the room at her reception. Enough said. I don't want to get started on a rant.

I'll be the first to admit that it's important to be a good conversationalist -- something I always need to brush up on. I read a recent article on by Laura Venderkam on how to master the art of small talk. She contends that small talk gets a bad rap, and shared some advice from Debra Fine's book The Fine Art of Small Talk. Having not read the book -- just the examples in the fast company article -- I'm guessing her angle is how to chat up people who can get you somewhere -- maybe open up some doors either on a social or professional level. "Every conversation," says Fine," is an opportunity for success." A few of her basic points are helpful, but others seem contrived. Like practicing answers "to how are you?" before you go to an event.

I like Derek Blasberg's five tips on how to strike up a conversation from his New York Times best seller Classy. You know I love his books.
  1. Compliment someone on what he/she is wearing. Turn it into a question: "I love your vintage derby hat. Where on earth did you find it?" Just make sure the compliment is sincere.
  2. People love expressing their opinions, so ask someone for theirs. For example, if you're partying at someone's house, ask other people what they think of it. You might ask something like: "Maureen's house is gorgeous. She has such a great eye for design. And is always the consummate hostess. What do you think about her grace and style?" (Just kidding of course.)
  3. People love to hear their names. Go up and introduce yourself and ask for the person's name. Remember it (a tough one for me) and use it with liberal abandon.
  4. Show off your knowledge of current events. This is why I keep reminding you all to read theSkimm religiously.
  5. When in doubt, go with the old standbys. What's up with this weather? Have you seen any good movies lately? What are you reading? What did you do today? Any travel plans this summer?
"The most important thing when meeting new people," says Eric, "is to come off as friendly, genuine, honest and interesting. Ask questions. Ask follow up questions. Listen and smile."

In social situations, what are you more likely to do: spread yourself evenly among guests making small talk, or say your hello's and spend most of your time with a small group of people you already know?


Iris. Have faith. Believe in the impossible and never give up on the dreams of your heart.

I'll admit, I wasn't a big fan of irises until some made themselves at home in my English ivy. A gift from the wind I suppose. Or perhaps a message.

A stylized iris is the flour-de-les emblem of France and Florence. It is named after Isis, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, who traveled along the arc to pass messages between mortal and immortal realms. Because she was a messenger, the flower symbolizes a message -- often a promise of love, as well as wisdom and valor.

The meaning of irises varies according to color:

purple: beauty
blue: faith and hope
yellow: passion
white: purity and perfection

Do you love irises? If you do, it's  because beauty and elegance are important to you. Being a perfectionist, you believe that a job that's worth doing is a job well done. You aspire to do great things in your life all done with diligence, intelligence and graciousness. 

One of these days, I'm going to dig out those irises and plant them in my perennial garden. For you gardeners, some good companions are peonies, foxgloves, lupines and columbines.

For now, I'm enjoying them inside.

{this is how you can arrange them using the technique I showed you last week}

A closer look…

It's always nice to have a bloom or two in your powder room for your guests to admire…

Now that I've become better acquainted with irises, I like them. I guess we were destined to meet.

Source for history and meanings: The Secret Language of Flowers by Samantha Gray.

Traveling solo...

Never to go on trips with anyone you do not love.
-- Ernest Hemingway, A Movable Feast

For those of you who haven't read A Movable Feast, it chronicles Hemingway's life as a young, aspiring writer in Paris. I read it when I was footloose and fancy free just before going to Paris with a platonic male friend. I wished I had heeded Hemingway's words of wisdom before we embarked. It turned out to be -- what I thought at the time -- a nightmare. I won't go into the details here. But decades later it makes me and my friends laugh out loud.

There is something to be said for traveling alone. Here are 7 reasons why from via Travel Girl Magazine:

(1) You are forced to grow up -- you have to figure out everything on your own
(2) You can do what you want when you want
(3) You become more immersed in other cultures
(4) You come out of your shell more
(5) You have more time to explore
(6) You meet more people
(7) You learn how to budget your money better

I will always have Paris. But the next time I go it will be either solo or with loved ones. I also plan to stay at a lavish hotel, eat at fancy restaurants and shop at chic boutiques. Because if you're going back to Paris, you better get it right the second time.

What do you like about traveling alone?

photo image via

Stitch fix...

Do you all know about Stitch Fix? It's the same concept as Birchbox. Instead of a beauty products, you receive clothing and accessories. Here's how it works:

You create a fashion profile for yourself by viewing fashion boards and answering questionnaires online. Questions go from broad to very specific, and give you the opportunity to request or reject certain items or styles. You can also specify your price range. Most items average $65.

You pay a $20 styling fee to receive five items hand picked by a Stitch Fix stylist.

You have exactly three days to try them on, make an online purchase or return items. The more you buy, the less you spend. If you buy all five you get a 25% discount. The $20 styling fee goes toward your next fix.

I decided to try the service based on several positive reports from friends. Plus, I loathe clothes shopping. I was a bit worried, because I'm a chronic returner. My rejects tend to sit around my house for weeks, sometimes months on end. Three days was really pushing it for me.

It took about a month to receive my first fix. It arrived May 2 -- exactly as promised. Your fix includes a note from your stylist about your items, as well as styling cards showing you different ways to wear them day and night. And, how to mix and match with what you already have in your closet.

Before I show you what I got, I'll share a few preferences I provided in my online profile. No horizontal stripes. No v-necks. Nothing sleeveless. Hem lines either above the knee or maxi style.

Let's take a look at my fix:

1) Margaret Elizabeth 'eliza drruzy' stud earrings. Cute and versatile, but returned. I like Margaret Elizabeth jewelry. Just not in the mood to buy right now.

2) Donna Morgan 'peggy' mix print faux wrap dress. Really cute. Nice colors -- pink is my fave. But, v-neck and horizontal pattern, especially unflattering in shoulder area on me. Returned.

3) Toss 'cassy' ruffle trim chevron cotton tank (See polyvore for actual style card I received). Love the colors. Sleeveless and horizontal stripes. The collar is a bit clownish. I did ask for tops that hide my muffin top, but this is more like a maternity top. Returned.

4 &  5) Lily poppie geo print swing skirt (that hits just below the knee) and Eight Sixty 'jana' floral print cross-front knit top. My stylist Shuchi recommended styling these two pieces together for the perfect print-on-print look. What did she not understand about my hem line instructions? Skirt returned. I decided to keep the top because it is really comfy and looks good with white jeans -- a staple of my summer wardrobe.

{the shirt is black the skirt is navy. would you wear these two pieces together?}

I plan to provide Stitch Fit with detailed feedback, and give them another try. The more direction you give, the better they are at finding clothes you love. We shall see.

Has anyone else had a fix? Fab or flop? How many items did you keep?

Food rap...

I'm way behind on restaurant reviews, and haven't had time to try out any new recipes. So today I'm going to share a new find -- Jules Destrooper Rice Crisp Crunch. You European readers may be familiar with the brand. I happened to stumble upon them at Publix this week. Delicious Belgian chocolate-covered (milk and dark) cookies with crispy rice. They taste like a gourmet Nestle Crunch with a cookie inside that has the slightest hint of ginger. Yum.

They are so good that I've hidden them from my family. Stock your pantry to have some on hand for unexpected guests.

Perfect with your morning coffee...

{one or two is not enough}

Have a good weekend!

Floral design: how to line a clear vase like a pro...

I frequently use glass vases to arrange flowers. Lining them with greenery is an easy way to enhance the look of the arrangement and disguise the flower stems. I'll show you how to make several affordable designs with three ingredients in three simple steps.

Here's what you'll need:

(1)  Clean glass vases. I get most of mine at IKEA. If you want to splurge on something that will last a lifetime -- or buy someone a nice wedding gift -- I recommend Simon Pearce.

(2) Your favorite flowers. If you're cutting from your garden, be sure to do so in the morning before it gets hot. Always condition them properly before arranging.

(3) Flat green leaves -- real or faux. You know I loathe faux, but this an exception. Most apartment, loft and condo dwellers don't have yards or gardens. And my go-to foliage is not in season during winter months. Of course, you can get real green stuff at your local florist, farmers market or floral wholesaler year round.

{hosta, aspidistra (aka cast iron plant) and aspidistra ribbon}

Here's how:

Step 1:  If you're using cast iron plant, fold the leaf in half and cut the thick vein away from the back side of the leaf to make it more pliable and easier to work with. Cut away any unsightly dead or brown spots.

Step 2: Simply roll the leaf in your fingers, and place it in a dry vase. Once inside, you can unroll and adjust it to cover more of the interior area.

Fill the vase to leaf top height with water.

Note: If you don't feel super confident about your floral design skills, you can hold the arrangement in your hand and keep adding flowers and greenery until you're pleased with the look and shape. Like this:

{okay, this looks pretty good}

Step 3: Carefully place flowers and filler in the vase and edit as necessary. You're done!

{roses & parrot tulips with filler from my yard}

Faux aspidistra is not cheap, so use it sparingly. An easy way to measure the ribbon is to first wrap the outside of the vase before you make the cut. Then follow step 2. You can hide the seam while you're arranging later.

I used a square vase and variegated ribbon for this arrangement.

Here you can see the ribbon below the flowers. It makes a big difference visually. Don't you agree?

I like to give low vases some height by placing them on top of books around the house. They also make lovely centerpieces, especially grouped in odd numbers.

Hostas are flexible and easy to work with. Just cut off the stems and follow step 2. Don't be afraid to use several leaves and overlap them. It adds nice color variation and texture.

{one of my favorite Simon Pearce vases}

Floral designs with one type of flower are very easy to arrange. Here I used pink and white peonies. Add a few buds in between the flowers for contrast.

I line these hanging vases in my sunroom with a strip of cast iron leaf and add one statement flower. Peonies are perfect, as are gerbera daisies and fully-opend roses. Simple, yet elegant.

{vases from Pottery Barn are no longer available, but these are cute}

I hope this has been a helpful tutorial, and that you're inspired to go get some flowers and make your home come alive!

Destination: Puerto Rico part 2

I covered food, lodging and relaxing in Puerto Rico earlier in part 1. If you plan to visit the island, I recommend putting these activities on your itinerary for adults and families alike.

Old San Juan

We spent half a day exploring Old San Juan. It is the second oldest city in the Americas, so it's well worth a visit. There you will find churches, plazas, museums, restaurants and many historical sites from the Spanish empire. Because our time was limited, we strolled around the town's very narrow windy roads -- some with original cobblestones -- and took a tour of Fort El Morro, which was Puerto Rico's chief defense site for several centuries. It is now maintained by the U.S. National Park Service.

The fortress stands 140 feet above the Atlantic with 40-foot thick walls. 

 {sentry box}

{U.S., Puerto Rico and Spanish Empire flags float over the fort}

 {inside the fort -- a room with an incredible view}

At the fort base you get a nice view of the Caribbean-style row houses painted vibrant colors.

My fave…

Some interesting architectural details…

Mermaids are popular…

{nice patina on door hardware -- love the mermaid knocker}

Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve

Located in Fajardo just a few miles down the road from our hotel,  Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve is a great way to learn about Puerto Rico's ecology, especially for school-aged children. Tours cover three important ecosystems: mangrove swamp, dry forest and rocky coastline. We took two tours  -- a day tour and a night tour. You are transported through the park in open trams and hop out at several points to walk on boardwalks around the lagoon, the beach and lighthouse. The mangrove swamp is one of the most diverse and predominant ecosystems on the island. The night tour covered pretty much the same route as the day tour, but focused on light pollution and bioluminescence with a stop at a sandy beach. The bioluminescent bay is a must see if you travel to Puerto Rico. You can visit bio bays in Fajardo, as well as Vieques and Lajas. Unfortunately, it was too dark to get any good photos. Star gazing from the lighthouse observation deck at night is spectacular.

My favorite part of both tours was visiting the Cape San Juan Light House located within the reserve. Built in 1880, it is one of the many lighthouses Spaniards built around the perimeter of Puerto Rico. In addition to its setting, it is an architectural gem now owned and recently renovated by the Puerto Rican Conservation Trust.

{as first glance, this logo has a striking resemblance to the City of Decatur's -- my home town}

Let's take a look.


{i love the color palette of the facade -- vibrant green and blue grays}

{the tower -- notice the green door up top leading out to the observation deck}

Come on in...

{beautiful view of the lagoon -- with a few modern conveniences added, I could see myself living in the lighthouse}

You can handle sea creatures in the touch tank on the first floor...

After an educational program, you are free to climb the antique winding iron staircase to the observation deck. From there you can view the 316-acre reserve, as well as the ocean dotted with islets. On a clear day you can see St. Thomas.

{beautiful staircase}

A closer look…

Next stop: the stunning, unspoiled rocky beach...

Lush sea grape bushes surround the area. They are so pretty and the grapes are edible, although I didn't sample any.

{rocky coastline -- important ecosystem}

Sea treasures abound. Perfect for kids to build with…


{brain coral}

{sea fans}

That's it. There are many more things to do in Puerto Rico. Researching the area will help you make the most of your time on the island.

Hope you enjoyed the tour!

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