Peonies are finally here -- something I look forward to all year. Pink peonies are my all-time favorite flower.

One of the longest-lived perennials -- if properly planted -- a peony can outlive the person who planted it. It may even outlive his or her children and grandchildren. Pricey, but well worth the time and investment.

'Paula Fay' is always the first to show her lovely face in my garden. Beautiful, vibrant pink petals with yellow centers will put a smile on anyone's face. They make beautiful cut flowers. I would not recommend using them in a mixed bouquet unless they are very tight buds just starting to open. Once open, they last just a few days and emit an unpleasant odor.

Let's take a look.

'Paula Fay' grows on strong, upright waxy green stems and foliage. The blooms are not heavy like some of the fuller peonies, so they don't have to be supported.

{buds starting to open}

{in full bloom }

Once open, the petals fade to a lighter translucent shade. They almost look like tissue paper. I've had many people ask if they are real when I bring them inside.

Because they are so spectacular, they look best on their own.

Or, display them in groups of three.

{bubble milk vases from}

{snartig vases from IKEA -- $.79 cents each!}

An American Peony Society Gold Medal winner, 'Paula Fay' would be a nice addition to any garden. Consider gifting one to a favorite gardener in your life.

Visit Walter Reeves for tips on how to grow peonies in the south and which varieties do best here.

Starting to bloom: 'Festiva Maxima' and 'Mons. Jules Elie.'

Destination Zürich

I'm excited to introduce my first European travel post by Sara Lynne Mofatt author of bringingbeautyhome. Sara is a Canadian living in Switzerland. She decided to take a break from her corporate life last year to take in the world so to speak. She is a travel enthusiast who has great eye for art, design and architecture. And, a true appreciation for good food. Anyone who likes to take an afternoon break for a glass of prosecco is okay in my book. Sara and her husband are fabulous photographers. She'll take us on a tour of one of her favorite places -- Zürich. Let's get to know her first.

Q: Dogs or cats? Cats – three! Julien, a spinach-loving Tabby, Charlie, a very chatty Burmese and Zoe, an elusive Norwegian Forest, live with us. 

Q: Spring or fall? Spring for those first warm sunny days when everyone wears a smile and bistro patios open. Fall for its display of colours and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot.  

Q: Beach or mountains? Mountains!!! This is me hiking on Ebenalp in eastern Switzerland. 

{i can certainly see why she loves mountains! photo image: husband, Jörg Albrecht}

Q: Favorite city?  Paris, France for its incredible variety of architecture, culture and cuisines. 

Q: Best meal you've ever had? While the best meals I've ever had are those spent at home in the company of family and close friends, three travel meals stand out. 

A flavourful, perfectly-served dinner at the River's End Restaurant in California (where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean) was accompanied by this magnificent sunset. The evening was topped off with an overnight stay in one of the on-site cabins. 

{photo image: Jörg Albrecht}

Feasting on the chef's tasting menu at Restaurant Tim Raue in Berlin. Lucky for us, two six-course tasting menus were available the evening my hubby and I were there. We tried both! Among the dishes was roasted suckling pig belly with star anise, cinnamon blossom, spring leek and a pomegranate sauce. 

 {photo image: Sara Lynne Moffatt}

A bit more rustic, yet equally memorable, was a lunch of macaroni, potatoes and cheese (aka Älpermagronen) chased down with an ice cold beer at the Gasthaus Schäfler.


Since relocating to Switzerland three years ago, my hubby and I have had many opportunities to visit its largest city, Zürich. Located an hour from our quiet, quaint home-base of St. Gallen, Zürich is where we head for some local big city life.

{Zürich, Switzerland. looking across the Limmat towards the Grossmünster}
{photo image: Jörg Albrecht}

The city is home to about 2,000 restaurants; I've eaten at a number of them. However, it's the late afternoon pastry, coffee and prosecco breaks that I've enjoyed the most. Cafe Conditorei Schober is a few minutes walk from the Grossmünster. They offer light meals and scrumptious pastries. The patio at the front of the house is a perfect spot for people watching. Just across the laneway is Schwarzenbach, one of the best coffee houses in the city.  

While the high-end shops -- such as Chanel and Hermès -- lining Zürich's famous Bahnhofstrasse are enticing, I usually head to the unique boutiques in the Kreis 4, Kreis 5, Niederdorf and Bellevue areas. A few of my many favourites are:

UNA for exquisite handmade gloves and accessories by Helen von Albertini. One of my sisters came across this treasure box when she was visiting. A former long-time resident of Zurich, Ms. von Albertini is now based in the village of Ardez, which is located near St. Moritz. There, she designs and creates the beautiful leather, silk and wool gloves and other accessories that are available at UNA.

Neumarkt 17 as much for the exploring the quirky store interior (check out the metal grids suspended over a pool in the photo below) as for the fab selection of contemporary home furnishings and lighting.

{interior view of Neumarkt 17. photo image: Sara Lynne Moffatt}

Einzigart for fun gifts, gadgets and home accessories. Located about a 10-minute walk from the central train station, the shop carries many prototypes and one-of-a-kind designs.

Meandering along the narrow downtown laneways and the lake promenade is one of my favourite things to do in Zurich. There are plenty of special events, historic sites and museums to take in as well. 

Here is a selection of photos taken during my visits to Zürich. 

Just one of the many winding laneways in the old town. 

{photo image: Jörg Albrecht}

Soaking up the early spring sun along the lakeside promenade…

{photo image: Jörg Albrecht}

Detail of a pavilion in the Chinese Garden...

{photo image: Sara Lynne Moffatt}

Museum Rietberg...

{photo image: Sara Lynne Moffatt}

To view a wonderful collection of non-European artworks, I highly recommend spending a few hours at the Museum Rietberg. The museum hosts a number of special exhibitions throughout the year. I recently enjoyed an exhibit of works by artists from Africa's Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, photographs weren't permitted. However, I've included a few taken of the museum’s regular collection.

{Clockwise from top left: detail of a house post in the form of a tattooed ancestral figure - New Zealand Maori culture, pre-1900; painting of a woman with a brush and poem card by Japanese artist Totoya Hokkai (1780-1850); 11th century sandstone sculpture of Ganeshi – India, Chandella dynasty; melon-shaped silver box with mouse – China, Tang dynasty (618-907).} {photo images: Sara Lynne Moffatt}

And, to experience Zürich at its liveliest, go during the annual Street Parade

{photo image: Jörg Albrecht}

When visiting the city, consider purchasing a ZürichCARD. For the price of the card, you can tour many museums, ride the public transit and receive a 10% discount at specific shops. A card valid for 24-hours is currently priced at 24 CHF per adult and 16 CHF per child between the ages of 6 and 16 (free for those under six). With a typical museum entrance fee running about 14 CHF per adult, and a single tram ticket costing just over 4 CHF, the card offers great value.

As for hotels, I would recommend B2 Boutique Hotel and Spa. It's housed in a historical industrial site, the former Hürlimann Brewery. The hotel's interior is refreshingly contemporary, from the leather-strapped library chairs to the wide-plank flooring and Tom Dixon Beat pendant lights. Located in a quieter area of Zurich, B2 is a quick tram ride into central Zurich and a pleasant 10-15 minute walk to the Rietberg Museum. Price-wise, it's about average for Zürich (not known to be a city of bargains). See New York Times review of the hotel. More affordable hotels can be found closer to the airport. The airport is only one train stop away from central Zurich, so staying near the airport could work well for budget-conscious travelers.   

If I were to do it again, I would spend an evening at the opera.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks for stopping by, Sara. If I had 36 hours to spend in Zürich, I would do all of the above. Be sure to visit Sara's blog for in-depth posts on travel, art, design and food. Or, just to view her beautiful photos.

Kay Douglas...

Last week I wrote about my recent trip to South of Market in Atlanta. As promised, I'll take you on a quick a tour of a house Kay Douglas designed in Rosemary Beach.

Kay's signature style is using neutrals with pops of color to make things fun and informal. She's also known for her knack for repurposing old objects. One tell-tale sign of her work is the extensive use of rustic chic lighting fixtures and large-scaled drum shades.

Let's take a look at some of my favorite features of the home.

I know from personal experience that bedside tables are hard to come by. I had a really hard time finding some for our master bedroom. They don't have to match, but take a look at these rustic tables.

{love the lamps, btw}

Upon further inspection…

You'll notice this was once a dining table that was split down the middle to make two end tables. Smart, right. I plan to steal this idea some day.

An old pale used as a basin for the powder room sink…

Wall mounted faucet. Beautiful patina. You certainly wouldn't have to worry about keeping this sink shiny and clean.

In the master, she used a rustic table for the vanity with a vessel sink on top. Another wall-mounted faucet is mounted directly on the mirror. As a mentioned in my earlier post, iron sconces and chandeliers abound at her shop. Love this one.

Moving on to lighting.

The tall ceilings in the master afforded enough height for this enormous drum shade pendant that is centered over the bed.

{notice the reflection of the triple-height bay windows across the room}

From another angle you get a better look at the prints hanging over the headboard. Love them.

The home's color palette is neutral -- dark browns and white slip covers. This bright red over-sized drum pendant adds a big splash of color in this bedroom. It's really the only vibrant color seen in the house.

 Here, she has framed maps that pick up the red tones in the shade.

Wire pendants with white canvas liners that look like cafe curtains hang over the kitchen island.

That's all for now. The house is at located at 383 West Water Street. Watch the video on the rental site for the full tour. While you're there, check out 384 West Water that was being built during our last visit.  With a bit of snooping we discovered the house is owned by HGTV's Vern Yip and his adorable partner Wag-A-Lot owner Craig Koch. It is amazing.

To read more about Kay's beach house designs, including photos of her Rosemary home, visit Coastal Living for her ten tips on how to age a new beach house.

Massaged kale salad….

Last month I went on my annual girl's weekend in the Blue Ridge mountains. As with all girl's weekends, we ate and drank a lot. We did manage to squeeze in one super food -- Alisa's massaged kale salad. Delicious and nutritious. And, easy to make with a few short cuts.

Alisa's Kale Salad (adapted from Mel's KitchenCafe)
(Serves 6)


1 10 oz. bag Trader Joe's Tuscan kale cut, washed and ready to use. (short cut)
3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries/craisins
3/4 cup small diced apple
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts*
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

{i use my herb scissors to cut off stems} 
  1. Cut off any remaining tough stems from kale. Place kale in a large bowl, add salt and massage for 2 minutes with your hands. You'll notice it start to turn a darker green and the texture will begin to soften.
  2. Toss in craisins, apples and pine nuts. In a small bowl whisk together the oil, vinegar and sugar.
  3. Pour over salad and toss. Sprinkle feta cheese on top and serve.
*Place pine nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet in 325 degree oven until golden brown. I tend to get distracted in the kitchen and have burned nuts on many occasions. If this is an issue for you, check out Mario Batali's how to video on toasting nuts and spices.

The salad can be refrigerated for up to five days, so make a big batch and snack on it all week.

Serve it as a side salad or box it up in Chinese take out containers for a picnic...

Have a happy and healthy weekend!


Spring is my favorite season. This year it is exceptionally welcoming after such a brutal winter. New flowers are starting to show their blooms all over my garden.

Let's start with my fave right now -- viburnum. They have been in full bloom for a couple weeks fading from bright chartreuse to white snowballs, and should be hanging around for another several days if they don't get pummeled by rain. In the language of flowers viburnum very aptly mean "idleness." They make lovely cut flowers on their own or in a mixed bouquet. If you're ever in the market for them for a special occasion, they are commonly called "guelder roses" at floral wholesalers.

Here they are hanging around in my garden.

 A few snuck in among the azaleas.

Wondering how I display them in my house? Of course you do.

I brought a big bunch inside in the morning to condition them for arranging. Viburnum are woody stemmed flowers so you should split them vertically about an inch up the stem to draw in more water before placing in a vase.

I placed a few tiny snowballs in a frog cube for my powder room.

And, these made a lovely, bright table display.

 {mercury glass vases from west elm}

Pull out your julep cups and mix them with something sweet like ranunculus -- another one of my faves. If you live in Atlanta, Trader Joe's has a nice selection right now.

Flower heads tend to get heavy and flop when making large arrangements. I usually gather a bunch in my hand until I like the shape, and then tie them together at their necks with twine before placing in an urn or wide-mouthed vase.

Simply plop them in. Done.

Enjoy them while they last!

Destination: Trans-Mongolian Express and South East Asia...


I'm delighted to introduce you to Claudia author of the travel blog designclaud who I met virtually during a blogging e-course. Claudia is an interior architect from the Netherlands. Just to clarify (because I was curious), an interior architect is a European designation for a designer who draws architectural plans, as well as interiors design.

Claudia is an addicted and passionate traveler. She and her boy friend have spent nearly two years on a whirlwind world adventure. More on that later. Let's get to know her first.

Q: Dogs or cats? Dogs.

Q: Tea or coffee? Coffee In the morning and after lunch. Tea after 4 o’clock!

Q: Spring or fall? Spring, more sunshine!

Q: Beach or mountains? Difficult question. Mountains intend to impress me more.

Q: Favorite city? At the moment, I would say Hong Kong, Singapore or Sydney.

Q: Funniest travel experience? When you travel through South East Asia you shouldn’t be afraid of dirt and filthiness. One night, we ended up on the streets of a small town in northern Vietnam where we found a Bia Hoi. This is a place where you can drink very cheap beer for about 20 cents. The beer is brewed daily. It’s best to drink it that same day. So we started with some beers, and some more beers until I had to go to the toilet. I never thought about the toilet until that moment. When I asked the owner where it was she pointed to a canvas that was set up as a small little space. I walked in and got the biggest scare of my life. In the middle of the canvas was a big bucket, almost filled to the limit with pee and other disgusting items. This was NOT where I wanted to let my pants down. So I walked to the other side of the street where I saw a small cart on wheels. Again, in Asia anything could be a toilet, so I hoped this was one. I opened the door and saw the exact same thing; a bucket but this time with a small hole and a hose to the drainage of the street. I climbed in the small cart on wheels and closed the door tightly. The cart moved while I was trying to not touch anything and get over with it all. Eventually I survived and only touched the heck to open the cart and close it. I can’t believe I did it; it must have been the beer that gave me courage.

Q: Best meal you’ve ever had? Again, such a difficult question. The Vietnamese are such good cooks, so I would go for a fresh spring roll in Hanoi.

Q: Where have you traveled? Do you have time? Haha, it’s a long answer. After travelling through Australia on my own about 4 years ago, I was hooked. After 8 months I went back home and started saving money again. My boyfriend and I decided to travel around the world for two years. We started in Moscow and saw Russia by the Trans-Mongolian Express for a month. The train took us through Mongolia, where we stopped over for a month. Beijing was our last stop on that adventure. Next, we went to Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan and South Korea, back to China and then took a train to South East Asia. We went to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia. In Singapore we decided to take a break on Bali to relax for a few months.

Q: Where you stayed? Oh, we stayed at so many different places. We slept in trains, buses and planes. In yurts in Mongolia, dirty hostels, fancy apartments in Japan. Japanese guesthouses with matrasses on the floor, tents, camper vans, villas and even in the back of a boot.

Q: Where you shopped? Everywhere, especially in South East Asia. Everything is so cheap and handmade that you have to buy it. We’ve sent many boxes home with souvenirs we loved from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. If you are looking for great shops, you definitely have to go to Singapore and Tokyo. Best shopping ever!

Q: A few of your favorite things? I have some favorites that I intend to keep for the rest of my life. For example, the Vietnamese crockery we bought in Hoi An. Three boxes full of porcelain arrived safely in the Netherlands after three months. Also the decorations we bought in Bali are waiting at home and are just so gorgeous. I love a house filled with stuff from all over the world. Stuff that has memories and a story.

Q: Favorite points of interest? During almost 21 months of travelling I’ve seen many interesting places that I would love to revisit one day. Places that inspired me and amazed me like the Water Temple in Bali or the temples in Siem Reap. These are places and architecture that is so different from what we know in the western world. That is what amazes me -- new experiences and a new world.

Q: Favorite place you visited? Bali. We stayed in Bali for three months. And they were the best three months ever. Bali is a very special island because of its people, religion and nature. The people are incredibly friendly, sweet and generous. The Hindu religion is inspirational with its traditions, ceremonies, clothing and other decorations. And of course the nature in Bali is very unique. The island has volcanoes that have erupted a few times in the past. Some of the beaches of Bali are therefore black, but you will find lots of white beaches as well. Around these volcanoes the Balinese have created gorgeous scenery with their rice fields and palm trees. It’s just magnificent.
A good place to stay in Bali is Canggu. It’s still a bit under developed, but within the next few years will be a tourist place. So go there before it all disappears. I also loved Ubud, it’s very spiritual place, but also has lots of tourists and the additional shops for them. 
On Sunday night you should go to Deus in Canggu. They have the best live music on the island, a great place, an awesome shop and good food!
I always ate at local restaurants (warung) because their food is just the most authentic and the best. But, there are lots of great restaurants run by western people. For example, Betelnut in Canggu has great food and a gorgeous terrace overlooking the rice fields.
Surf spots are very popular in Bali. Go to Canggu, Kuta or the peninsula where you can surf at Uluwatu. Lots of surfers there!

Q: If I were to do it again, I would? Definitely make a few different choices. I wouldn’t change the places we went to, but would set off on the journey differently. For example, choosing themes and objects to photograph. Document more about my travels. Use my film camera more. When I look back on this trip, I realize we were so new to this. It was so overwhelming that I didn’t capture the experience at first the way I would have liked to.

Q: Where to next? So, after 20 months we are reaching the end of our around the world Part 1 trip. We’ve got one month left in Fiji and California before we fly back to Amsterdam. For how long -- who knows?

Q: Please share some of your travel tips.

1) Do NOT plan too much before you leave. People intend to book the trip, book the hotel, book the transfer, book the food and leave no space for any spontaneous things. The thing is, when you plan everything and you bump into nice people, a good offer or a better hotel on the way, you can’t change anything anymore. Even in high seasons, it’s not necessary to book ahead. This is what they tell you on the Internet, but it’s not true.

2) When traveling for long periods, luggage is important. Pay more for good quality and travel light. Don’t buy a big suitcase or a backpack that is twice your size. The less you take, the better off you’ll be. I recommend packing a week and a half’s worth of clothing. Wash and wear again. One of our best purchases was a combi bag from Osprey. It’s a backpack and a trolley – the perfect bag!

3) Don’t book anything with travel or touring companies. Often they cost too much and if you do a bit more research, you can plan it yourself for half the money. Every time we do book a trip with a travel company, we are either disappointed by the service and quality or we find out that we could’ve planned it ourselves.

Like most travel bloggers, Claudia is an amazing photographer. Here are some photos of the sights and people she captured during her trip.

{water tower temple in bali}

{claudia and her boyfriend in front of the water temple}

{on top of the volcano batur in bali}





{little india in singapore}

{china town in singapore}

Thanks for sharing your wonderful travel experience with us, Claudia. I hope you’ll come back to tell us about Part 2. I know there will be one soon.

Be sure to check out Claudia’s blog. If you’re planning a trip, chances are she’s already been there. She has many valuable travel tips. My favorite column is “A room to sh*t” where you can see a photo of the water closet she used in Vietnam. 

South of market...

Last week I headed over to Peachtree Hills to check out South of Market owned by interior designer Kay Douglas. The industrial chic shop is filled to the rafters with antiques from France and Belgium, repurposed objects, upholstery and a huge selection of unique lighting fixtures. Since my last visit, the shop has added some kitchen wares to its inventory.

Let's take a look.

 {welcome to SOM}

I like the way the black and white kitchen and dining wares and accessories are displayed on the white subway tile wall. So neat and orderly. 

 {ceramics, cook books and straw shopper baskets --  i spy Gwyneth's book}

{and more, including candles and reindeer heads -- at least I think that's what they are up top}

Ming vases and pots...

Moving into the main part of the store, you'll find furniture, lighting and accessories. Although I love the design and style of the pieces, the scale is just way too big for my 1920s bungalow.

Rustic antiques…

Contemporary upholstered pieces. Here you can see one of her industrial repurposed pendants.

Enormous drum shade fixtures...

As well as iron chandeliers.

In the midst of all the dark browns and neutrals, I was delighted to see some very colorful vignettes.

Like this one with bright pinks and purples with Moroccan influences juxtaposed by the industrial globe lights.

And this background wall of vibrant wool throws.

Suffice it to say that I will not be purchasing any furniture or lighting from SOM for my home in Decatur. Perhaps for my beach house when we buy one. Still dreaming. I'll be back soon to show you how Kay designed a Rosemary beach house with her signature style. I was lucky enough to have stayed there.

South of Market is well worth a visit, especially if you have soaring ceilings and plenty of square footage.
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