Fall Colors & Falling Leaves

Browns & Leaves: This Marc by Marc Jacobs cotton scarf (a recent thrift store find) will be my go-to wrap for fall. Pictured with it, a necklace that pairs a vintage cameo with a leaf charm. It might seem like there’s an endless summer in Los Angeles, but we have leaves that fall from trees. (Note the cat cooperating for a photo op with fallen leaves.)

Green and Gold: My high school colors were green and yellow, like the pictured zucchini from the Santa Monica farmers’ market. I’m reminded of cross-country races at Sunken Meadow Park during the peak of fall foliage season on Long Island. While autumn is less dramatic in Los Angeles, the difference can be felt during morning hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Capturing Sentiments: Photos Taken After September 11

I have always loved to take photos. I like to document experiences, places, and the faces of loved ones. On any given day, I will take aim at sunsets, seascapes, flowers, and the cat looking cute, but I especially love when a photo can tell a story or express a sentiment. These days, when my eyes linger on an image, I love that I can reach for my smartphone and capture a moment with ease.

I did not take any photos on September 11, 2001, or during the immediate days that followed. This was the pre-iPhone era and I used a camera with film to take photos during that time. After standing on the roof of my building and seeing that the towers had fallen, I packed a bag to temporarily flee my downtown apartment. I did not pack my camera. Even if I had, I’m not sure if I would have taken images of those first few days. Then, like so many others living in New York, I walked around feeling shocked, saddened, fearful, and uncertain.

But after several days, when I was back in my apartment, I started noticing signs of solidarity and patriotism everywhere I looked. I started to see American flags hanging where they had not been before. There were stars and stripes in shop windows, too—along with red, white, and blue fashions on mannequins. Walking the streets, I saw windows filled with patriotic displays that were thoughtfully and artfully arranged. My favorite is a miniature brass sculpture of a woman sewing (or repairing?) the American flag. With a smartphone, I certainly would have photographed more, but I’m glad I captured the images I did. They remind me of the hopeful days that followed.

MORE: Photos of NY Windows After September 11

Old-Fashioned Watches: Low-Tech and Loving It

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Even though it was expected and should not seem surprising, I find it amusing that Apple is releasing a watch product when so many people now check the time by lighting up their smartphone screens.

I love wearing a watch and I have several to choose from when I get dressed each day. It’s true that none of the watches in my collection will count how many steps I’ve taken, let me view cute cat photos, or allow me to update social media accounts. But I wear my watches like jewelry and, as stylish and sleek as the Apple watch appears to be, it looks like an electronic device on a wristband. I’m not going to say I will never get one—through the years, I regret saying I would never wear a lot of things, like Birkenstocks or white after Labor Day—but I’m already feeling nostalgic for the good old-fashioned, time-telling watch.

I choose a watch like I do my earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and rings—and my clothing, other accessories, and handbags (bags—don’t get me started on handbags!). Like so many others, I express myself with my style choices and I love clothing and accessories that have been selected with care. Today I’m wearing my Wenger Swiss Army men’s watch, which is a memento from one of my first jobs. After five years with the company, I was told I could choose a work anniversary gift from a catalog that was filled with crystal vases, landscape paintings, and other dust-collecting items that would have ended up being donated to a thrift shop. Wisely, I chose the watch. It tells time reliably and has a date function (although it’s off by 10 days, give or take, since I last changed the battery). It’s classic.

On any other given day, I might wear the Baume & Mercier watch that cost a whole paycheck when I bought it at a shop on Fifth Avenue in New York several years ago. I remember nervously handing over my credit card—how could I spend this much money on a watch?— but I have never regretted the purchase. Like any beautiful and well-made accessory, I instantly feel pulled together when I’m wearing it. I love to look down to see the numbers around the dial, the hands that move with precision, and the weight of it on my wrist.

For special occasions or when I’m feeling fancy, I wear one my vintage Bulova watches; one was passed down from my grandmother and the other was one of my mother’s Sweet 16 birthday gifts. Both are dainty and make me feel lady-like and ready to take a swirl around the dance floor. A favorite Swatch from my teen years shows the inner workings of the watch on its face and usually sparks nostalgic conversations about the ’80s whenever I wear it.

I no longer have all the watches I’ve owned, nor do I feel the collection is actually complete. (I went through a phase in my twenties of wearing ring watches I purchased from flea markets and street vendors—and wouldn’t that be a fun new way to add to the collection?) The watches I have now are still worn and used, with the exception of the wind-up Snoopy watch I got as a gift from my parents after receiving my Holy Communion. I no longer wear it, but I like seeing it among the timepieces. It started ticking when I wound it up earlier and Snoopy’s front paws can still move around, all these years later.

Memories of Parks and Beaches: Celebrating the Wilderness Act

When I recall some of my treasured childhood memories, I picture myself either surrounded by trees and mountains or sand dunes and an ocean that stretches out as far as you can see. Parks and beaches were the best playgrounds and I was lucky to have them so close, as well as parents who exposed us to the great wonders of nature and taught us to appreciate and respect the wilderness.

It was a childhood packed with outdoor adventures. When I go back as far as I can remember, I’m at a park near our house feeding ducks and walking through the woods to climb a tree we named Irving. Our family’s summer vacations were camping trips to state and national parks, where we played in lakes, rivers, and oceans and hiked the Appalachian Trail. The rest of our summer days were enjoyed close to home at the beach, splashing in the white water then learning to jump waves and swim out past the breakers.

We went to the beach even during the colder months to walk the boardwalk nature trail. I didn’t know then that the area—the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness—was protected as part of the Wilderness Act, which was passed 50 years ago today. It was right down the road and also housed a nature center where park rangers would answer questions about the displays on the barrier island ecosystem. What a gift.

DIY Natural Bug Repellent Spray

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My love for the great outdoors is deep and eternal, but the threat of bug bits is a constant and nagging concern. I’ve tried a lot of the DEET-free insect repellents on the market and found many to be effective, including non-toxic and better-for-you bug sprays made by Badger and All Terrain. Most natural insect repellents use essential oils I already have, so I started experimenting with making my own by consulting different DIY homemade recipes found online—often bending over bottles in my kitchen laboratory while repeating “I’ll get those mosquitoes!” My preferred bug repellent spray is made with apple cider vinegar diluted with distilled water, a combination of essential oils, and vanilla extract. For each cup of the diluted apple cider vinegar, add approximately 50 drops of essential oils and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

DIY Bug Repellent Spray with Apple Cider Vinegar, Vanilla and Essential Oils

Fill a bottle with:

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup distilled water

15 drops citronella essential oil

15 drops peppermint essential oil

5 drops lavender essential oil

5 drops rosemary essential oil

5 drops rose geranium essential oil

5 drop grapefruit essential oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Tip: In addition to putting this natural bug repellent in a spray bottle, fill a travel-size perfume spray bottle to pack in your bag when you expect to be outdoors (especially during the evening, when mosquitoes like to feast).

Drink Up: Daily Tonics and Teas for Good Health

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Two recent conversations inspired this post: hearing about a family member who suffered from dehydration after a long day in the sun without adequate fluids, and a friend who has been bothered by a recurring cold since she started working in a new office. To both I say, “Drink up!” In addition to eating clean, staying hydrated is essential in the maintenance of good health. Below are a few good-for-you drinks I consume daily.

Hot Water with Lemon Juice
I love starting my day with this lemon juice tonic. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a glass or mug and fill with just-boiled, filtered water that has cooled for a few minutes. I remember my grandmother drinking hot lemon water (she would also squeeze a lemon slice right into her mouth without making a face!). It naturally provides a fresh-from-the-fruit dose of vitamin C and is said to kick-start the system, detoxify, and provide balance.

Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic
Stir one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into a glass of water—cold or warm—for a boost of detoxifying vitamins, enzymes, and minerals. Be sure that the apple cider vinegar is organic and unrefined (I like Bragg’s) and shake the bottle before use. Optional: stir in honey and sprinkle in some cinnamon (the cinnamon never fully dissolves but adds some flavor and provides another antioxidant boost). I like to have this tonic mid-afternoon, right around the time my energy starts to wane. Instead of reaching for something sugary, I’ll drink this to feel revived.

Flavored Water
Sometimes I add cut fruit (fresh or frozen), sometimes cucumber slices, sometimes fresh mint or lemon verbena. It’s so easy and good—just drop into a pitcher or container of water and refrigerate. Also consider adding something to your reusable water bottle when you’re on-the-go and add frozen fruit to your water bottle instead of ice cubes on hot days. I also like adding a splash of chilled hibiscus or chamomile tea (see below).

Hibiscus Tea
Hibiscus tea is an infusion easily made with dried hibiscus petals and hot water. I love the tart flavor and drink it straight-up, combined with green tea, or chilled and sweetened (agua de fresca). It contains vitamin C and minerals and studies suggest it could help lower blood pressure and ease digestive woes. To easily enjoy it all week long, I make a batch and keep it chilled in the refrigerator. It’s also good for topping off a hot cup of tea or adding a boost of flavor to water or regular iced tea.

Green Tea
Green tea, long known to be an antioxidant, is my go-to for an afternoon cup of tea. When it’s cool out or I’m working in an air-conditioned office, I reuse the tea bag and refill my mug with hot water all afternoon—this keeps me warm and limits my caffeine intake. Extra boosts to add: hibiscus tea or a few dried hibiscus petals; lemon juice or a lemon slice; grated ginger. Or, stir with a cinnamon stick.

Chamomile Tea with Apple Cider Vinegar
Here’s my bedtime drink: half a cup of chilled camomile tea with a splash of apple cider vinegar. Chamomile is known for its calming effect and I heard that consuming apple cider vinegar helps ensure restful sleep, so I’ve combined them. I make several cups of chamomile tea in advance and keep it chilled in the refrigerator.

Buried in the Sand: Beach Glass and Clams

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It doesn’t feel like summer unless I have the chance to stroll along the shore in search of beach glass. Where I grew up on Long Island, it’s easily found and I have been a collector of sea glass for as long as I can remember. I think of it as treasure-hunting and usually stop only when my eyes tire and my back begins to ache from bending—or if the sun is beating down and I feel compelled to jump right into the ocean. In another life, I might have been a gold-digger. During a recent family visit, I picked up 20 pieces on a beach walk with my parents.

Another fond childhood memory I have of searching along the shore is for clams. Our parents would send my brother and cousins to go clamming in the sand and we would fill our buckets with them, then take them home to be served. I remember steamed clams and pasta with clam sauce, but my favorite was baked clams. The bread crumb mixture was similar to the one we used for stuffed artichokes—with olive oil, garlic, fresh parsley, and parmesan cheese—but we added oregano and lemon to the mix for baked calms. For the kids who weren’t fond of the slimy clams, Uncle Mike would chop them into small pieces to blend with the bread crumbs before baking. After a long day at the beach that made me feel nostalgic for childhood beach days, we picked up clams and I prepared them for dinner. Just as good as I remember.