Sassy Living Below the Mason-Dixon Line

The Poetry of A Christmas Tree

My Christmas tree has lights, tinsel (the old-fashioned kind), icicles and branches filled with colorful memories.  As I look at it, I see a narrative poem that weaves the many friends and family who have moved through my life.

Here are my Mom’s favorite tea-pot vintage Shiny Brite, a memento from a long-ago London trip, a specially inscribed china ball from Pem’s years in Holland, rabbits galore collected by Sarah, and a sweet Radko bunny compliments of Margaret.  My Aunt Nancy, who was a Roanoke librarian, always sent me a book for Christmas with a knitted bell tied to the ribbons.

Our former next door neighbors, the Rupps, shared a lot of friendly jokes with my parents about the multitude of squirrels, so a painted squirrel ornament reminds me of those fun times.  Nutcrackers are a favorite theme, and look at the cute Rudolph face from childhood friend, Bettie!  Teri, a veteran of the German Christmas Markets watched a glassblower create an angel and brought her home to me.  Owen keeps me on my home decor toes with a Jonathan Adler memento that I keep up year-round. I can’t resist stitching needlepoint ornaments, although I think it is time to stop!

My favorite ornament is a small, gold ball with my name carefully inscribed by a secret santa while I was an undergraduate student at Radford.  I am in awe of the care it took to create something so special.

Ho ho ho . . .













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Shop Local Day!

Saturday was “Shop Local Day” and I spent it browsing Winchester’s  very sophisticated gift/linen/china emporium — Kimberly’s!  This has been a favorite home decor haunt of mine for many years.

The owner, Kimberly Sowers, also runs a nearby children’s shop, and a new menswear store in General Sheridan’s former headquarters!  (Dear readers, he is a distant cousin of my great-great-grandmother Sarah Sheridan Ward, but let’s just keep that to ourselves.  General Sheridan was an unwelcome presence in Shenandoah Valley in the summer of 1864, and memories are very long if you catch my drift.)

Kimberly’s stocks my favorite Kate Spade, Gien and Juleska china, and the shop also has the most fabulous stationery, candles, scents, ornaments, linens (be still my heart), with a wide range of prices for any purse.  Kimberly is very fashionable herself, and has such refined taste that it would be worthwhile just to come in with your Christmas list and follow her lead.  Here’s a holiday peek …























Elizabeth Linley Sheridan

I have embarked on an exciting new creative project!  It involves my great-great grandmother Sarah Sheridan Ward.  She was a prose writer and poet in the 1800s, and researching her has been so much fun.  I am amazed at how many writers are on my family tree, beginning with Sarah’s cousin, Richard Brinsley Sheridan.  He was famous for founding London’s Drury Lane Theatre and writing the English comedy, The School for Scandal.  His wife, Elizabeth Linley was even more extraordinary.




She was born in 1754, one of seven children of the harpsichordist and composer Thomas Linley.   At the age of twelve, Lady Linley was already singing at Covent Garden, and her success was so great that her father could buy a substantial house in Bath, England with her earnings.  Thomas Gainsborough was so besotted with her that he painted her at least four times, and The Honourable Sheridan eloped with Lady Linley to Calais, France.

That’s why I love the holidays (and being a writer) — being thankful for family you didn’t know you had, and feeling kinship with them as an artist.  Here are several of Gainsborough’s paintings of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan.  The above portrait hangs in Washington’s National Gallery of Art, directly opposite Napoleon and just round the corner from George Washington!






Get set …T-day is almost here!

Hello dear readers — a few ideas on getting ready for Thanksgiving.  Can you believe it’s next week?  Your mind is probably twirling with how long to cook the turkey and a list of sides (farm these out to the guests) that need to be prepped and served.  I, of course, am always obsessed with what to serve them on — I know, I know but presentation is important.  And, presentation my friends doesn’t necessarily mean expensive.

I love ETSY and boy do they have some great items for the feast.  My friend Jan has a fabulous site and she is offering this  lovely tureen.  The color is so chic and modern and could be used year round.



Georgia decorator James Farmer (Southern Living Magazine’s editor-at-large) has some great ideas for using what you have and mixing in natural and traditional to create a fresh looking presentation:











Or if you are into a grand style, you could channel Aerin Lauder who is an absolute goddess of tablescapes and atmosphere:








No matter what you have, make the presentation yours and do so with all the gusto you can muster!



Set the Table!

I love this season!  My creativity comes alive, and I freely indulge my love of tabletop.  Linens have been important in my family for generations, and I continue to build on my grandmother’s collection.  My favorite are these Indian cotton napkins my mother bought at the now defunct gift emporium — The Richmond Art Company.  Even after much use, they still look great.  Good  quality cotton will last forever — obviously!




The Southern designer Miles Redd advises to always be party ready.  I’ve organized my buffet accordingly.  Here’s how I plan to mix and match napkins, placemats and napkin rings to create interesting tablescapes throughout the season.  Cheers!
















Are you a Barefoot Contessa fan?  I am, and the good news is that Ina Garten makes cooking easier than ever with her new cookbook, Make it Ahead:  A Barefoot  Contessa Cookbook (Clarkson Potter/Publishers).  ‘Tis the season to get some great tips and recipes for making a meal so you can enjoy your guests.   She even gives advice about which dishes are better when they are prepared in advance.

Ina features some of the new recipes on her blog, which will give you a taste (pun intended!) of this fabulous new book. Here are the types of food dishes you can expect: Make-Ahead Roast Turkey with Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy, Crusty Baked Potatoes with Whipped Feta, Skillet Brownies, Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes and Overnight Raspberry French Toast (my FAV).




Make it Ahead also follows Ina’s other book formats with conversational language and examples for how to prepare an actual meal in advance.  She also spotlights her food mentor Lee Bailey, who I was introduced to by my Aunt Nancy when I was in my early twenties.  While I was living the urbane lifestyle of Washington, D.C., Lee Bailey’s City Food was the blueprint for my fledgling entertaining style — how grateful I am for his advice to give guests a simple, good meal.  It’s exciting to see that Ina and I have the same food idol.

The holidays are upon us, so start them right with this book which will make entertaining easy and fun.  Thanks for my friends at Clarkson Potter for sending me this book to review.





‘Tis the Season — Almost!

The season has begun!  I know, Halloween was just  a moment ago, but at Wharf Hill in Smithfield, Virginia, an elegant open house today announced the official beginning of Christmas.   My friend Teri and I took the Jamestown Ferry to the Isle of Wright, and stopped in the historic area store, where country living and decor is raised to a high art.  (Think Martha Stewart meets Ralph Lauren on a chic sleigh ride.) They begin their holiday festivities the first weekend in November, so it seemed the whole town was in attendance.

Smithfield, you might know, is located on the Pagan River not far from Jamestown.  Famous for hams and other pork products, the town was established in 1752 by Arthur Smith IV as a seaport.  Wharf Hill is a nod to this illustrious past.  Take a look and better yet, take a trip!












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Glen Burnie!

Happy Labor Day!  I am enjoying an end of summer visit with my family in Winchester.  We toured the recently renovated Glen Burnie House & Gardens adjacent to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. On a gorgeous, peaceful day, it is hard to imagine that 150 years ago (plus a few), this was the site where Union and Confederate troops violently clashed.  The area traces its historical roots to George Washington and the early days of our Republic.

The Glen Burnie House sits on land that Winchester founder James Wood surveyed, claimed, and then settled in 1735. The oldest portions of the house were built by Wood’s son, Robert, in 1794 and 1797.  Take a look…































Banana Leaf Wallpaper!

Did you watch the Emmy Awards?  I was always do, and it got me to thinking about great Hollywood interior design.  What could be more famous than the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Banana Wallpaper?

I am totally obsessed with how glamorous and classic it is.  In my dream journal, I hope to see it in person one day, but until then, here’s an overview.
















Southern Season Opens!

Southern Season has arrived in Richmond!  Located on Staples Mill Road in the near West End, it is a gourmet emporium, cooking school, restaurant and a food lovers paradise.  As you all know, I love beautiful tabletops, and this exquisitely designed and styled marketplace has everything to set the stage before the food ever arrives.  Fabulous Root Candles, Williamsburg Brand Jason Mats, Lynn Chase China and a collection of white cookware that would look good in the oven, and even better on the table.

Made in Virginia food items.  Artisan Chocolates.  Great Wine selection.

I was so thrilled to be included in the preview party last Wednesday, where I sampled cheeses and wines and grits/shrimp and other delicacies from Season’s huge array of offerings.  Their restaurant, Southerly’s, is already a new favorite, since I had a sumptuous stack of blueberry pancakes there yesterday.

There’s a great coffee bar, a nod to their beginnings, where I plan to go tomorrow and read the New York Times.  How about meeting me there?