How to survive frigid temperature while making colorful ice balls!


By Elle

colored ice ballsDespite having lived my entire life in Northeast Ohio, I’ve never been a snow bunny, preferring to cozy up inside with a mug of steaming tea than go sledding or build a snowman on wintry days.  Now that I’ve reached mid-life though, I’m more tolerant of cold temps. During winters of late, I can’t ride in the car with a coat on, I keep the thermostat in the bedroom set at a brisk 62, and I often dream of sleeping on a slab of ice.

That said, the temps this coming week will put even my tolerance to the test. Luckily I just bought a new down coat from Lands’ End (still on sale!) that is rated for -40° to -9° Fahrenheit. I can comfortably wear it outdoors, but the moment I step inside I’m ripping it off like it’s going to consume me alive — because it will.

Lands' End Women's Stretch Long Down Coat

Here’s what I love most about this coat:

  • snug knit cuffs that keep the wind at bay
  • adjustable hood that really works
  • faux fur lining that helps give it the warmest rating
  • removable faux fur on the hood (important for washing the coat)

Because I’m on the petite side, the coat falls to a little below my mid-thigh.

I’ve long been a fan of down outerwear, owning several down coats. I swear by them. Most down coats are rated warm, warmer and warmest, so you can buy the right coat for the right conditions and the right activities, such as making colorful ice balls for the yard!

During the first polar vortex a few years ago, Arkady and my granddaughter Brenna, then about 8, made ice balls using balloons and food coloring. They made about 10 balls and scattered them around the front yard. The temps were frigid for about a week, so the balls naturally lasted that long. Here’s a quick tutorial, the only difference being that Arkady peeled the balloons off the ice balls after they were frozen solid.

colored ice balls

More recently, my 5-year-old granddaughter, Rosie, hunted for magic fairy ice gems (aka colored ice balls) hidden in the woods at the Holden Arboretum. During the hunt, which was part of her Winter Nature Experience class, the kids filled tin buckets with the fairy ice gems, created with the help of magic dust from the trolls who live in the forest.

colored ice balls

There is something magical about spying brightly colored globes scattered across a monochromatic landscape, whether the globes are created in your kitchen or by a team of fairies and trolls.

colored ice balls

Fireplace reno project nears a close


By Elle

Oh, friends, it’s been a long time, I know. We’re awfully preoccupied with taking care of elderly family members right now, so thank you for your patience as we try to carve out time for blogging…and for finishing some of our long-abandoned home reno projects such as our fireplace.

The fireplace feels done enough to reveal photos. First, the before. When we ripped out the dining room carpeting and completely replaced the floor with hardwood, we also tore out the fireplace hearth, the bricks from which now live underneath our backyard patio extension, photos to come. (Recycle, reuse is our motto!)

We felt the hearth took up valuable real estate, and it was certainly a hazard for our many grandchildren, one of whom I miraculously saved once from a probable cracked skull as she careened, head first, toward the hearth’s sharp corner. So out it went.

We still wanted a hearth, just one that was flat, so we carved out a spot for it and installed the hardwood floor around it, which you can see on the left in the photo below.

We knew we wanted to update the brick somehow so we’d applied a limewash to it and didn’t love the outcome. Eventually, we just painted it with three shades of copper paint, and that did the trick.

While we were renovating the dining room, the empty fireplace made a great storage spot for all our tools and supplies!

Because the hearth extended about 16 inches up the face of the fireplace, we needed to deal with that mess. We tossed around several ideas and finally settled on facing it with the same porcelain tile we would use for the hearth.

For uniformity, we also lined the inside floor of the fireplace with the tile. We then installed a wall-mounted electric fireplace that offers flame, heat and Bluetooth capability so that we can play music from it. The sound quality is perfect for the room.

The porcelain tile has a metallic finish, which complements the copper color of and gives a modern feel to the traditional brick. One warning though: Although gorgeous, the tile is tricky to cut because of its metallic finish — they have a tendency to chip. Let’s just say it’s a good thing we bought extra.

What’s still undone? Grouting the tile, touching up some of the copper paint and replacing the wood trim around the brick.

I especially love how the metallic tile looks against the cherry and maple floor, and, best of all, no one can trip over or fall into it and get hurt! That said, I’m updating this post to note that I’m not fully in love with the entire look. I feel like it’s what you’d get if a fireplace and a farmhouse sink mated. What do you think?

Although January is nearing a close, please accept our best wishes for a happy, healthy and magical New Year!

What’s the best beauty advice you received from your mom?


By Elle

Dear readers, I think this will be our last post for 2018. Between having the flu, which grabbed me by the shirt, threw me up against the wall and held me there for two weeks, and preparing for the winter holidays, I’m frankly exhausted.

So for the last post of the year, I was thinking it would be fun to share the best beauty advice you ever received from your mom (or other influential person in your life).

The advice I’ll share relates to external beauty, but obviously beauty emanates from within as well. In fact, one of my favorite quotes about beauty is from my beauty idol, the incomparable Audrey Hepburn:

“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows, and the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.”  ― Audrey Hepburn

So the best beauty advice I ever received from my mom is this: When I was about 16 or so, I recall my mom catching me furiously rubbing my eyes, a practice that sometimes just feels so good. Rubbing your eyes relieves tension and feels invigorating. It’s like a mini facial massage. I remember her telling me, though, that I should avoid rubbing my eyes, and especially the tender skin beneath my eyes, because it will contribute to wrinkles later.

Even though I was an unruly, sassy teenager, I took her advice to heart. Hell, I didn’t want wrinkles. So I adopted a new technique, which I still use today: I use my ring fingers (which apply the least pressure) to clean my eyes and the area beneath them, and routinely use olive oil or vitamin E oil on my face to keep my skin moisturized.  Been doing this now for about 40 years, with acceptable results, so thanks Mom.

I’m not sure how my daughters would answer this question, but I do recall often telling them that their body is a temple and they should treat it with great respect. I tried to teach them the difference between good food and bad, the importance of sleep and avoiding those things, such as smoking and drugs, that poison the body.  “Worship your temple,” I’d say. “It’s the only one you have.”

So what’s the best beauty advice you ever received? Please share the wisdom that was handed down to you. We’re eager to hear and learn something new!

PS: Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday and happy, healthy New Year.

Easy fall outfits and how to slow down time


Abby & Elle Upstairs Fashion & Design fall fashionBy Elle

Fall is the perfect season for styling outfits. The cooler temperatures allow you to play with different textures and weights, and layering offers the chance to create a variety of no-hassle looks.

This year, fall has me thinking less about chunky sweaters and cozy leggings and more about aging. I feel obsessed lately with time and the way the naughty clock is ticking my life away. Now it’s clear to me what it means to have a mid-life crisis — and to create a bucket list, which I haven’t done because I don’t have the time.

I’m trying to engage boredom and embrace quiet moments. I’m trying to quiet my mind. I’m trying to shake up the routine and predictable moments, like occasionally driving a different route to and from work — woo hoo, I know. Instead of checking my phone when I have a minute of down time, I pay attention to my surroundings in an attempt to notice something new. Novelty, as it turns out, allows our brains to perceive time as moving more slowly.  Continue reading

Two looks for fall paisley dress, and what’s in your pocket?


By Elle

This past weekend, I pulled out my fall raincoat, complete with lining, because it’s so dang chilly outside. Whenever I put something on for the coming season, I immediately check the pockets in hope of finding, of course, cold, hard cash. What I almost always find, however, are wads of Kleenex, sometimes new, sometimes used. This time, I found, yes, Kleenex, along with something new.

Continue reading

The unsolved mystery behind my latest acquisition


Abby & Elle Upstairs Fashion & Design antique painted shade lampBy Elle

I work hard at not acquiring too much “stuff” — would you believe my beloved just laughed at that? — but every now and again something tugs at my sleeve and won’t let go. Case in point: this lovely antique brass table lamp with a parchment paper shade depicting four Parisian cityscapes that I found, naturally, at the Craft & Antique Co-op in Painesville.

My maternal grandparents were huge collectors of “stuff;” their basement was, quite literally, covered wall-to-wall (including ceiling!) with finds from “rummage” sales, and much of what they collected was high quality, thanks mostly to my grandmother, Rose. She had a good eye for quality glass; my grandfather, Wally, on the other hand, had a good eye for the ladies, and he liked to collect naughty things. I remember being horrified the first time I peered into one of his tiny handheld viewers and discovered a smiling topless woman. I vaguely recall asking my mother why Grandpa liked those things and getting a giant eye roll and sigh in return.  Continue reading