Creativity DIY Flowers Gardens Inspiration Plants


So, I’m keeping with the theme of “Abundant Spring,” with these exquisite flower arrangements. I have two more today, from a couple of my Garden Club friends. Each of them are color-filled and glorious! Please feel free to send me pictures of your to help us celebrate the beauty of the season. They can be large or small, fancy or simple–they are all lovely!


As Lauren T., creator of this gorgeous arrangement, says, “It’s like a yeast culture….you add to it every day.”
And, Anne C., another arranger extraordinaire, explains, “I love it when the flame azalea starts to bloom and the daffodils are still blooming…and the cameo japonica too.  It is all about the colors.”


Culture DIY Home Decor Home Projects Plants Uncategorized


While we may be confined, Nature Abounds! Spring is truly “Springing.” If nothing else, Mother Nature provides a little mood-lifter in the forms of budding leaves and flowers, as they peek out from garden beds! My friend, Anne, is constantly creating exquisite tiny arrangements that just make you smile. I am going to share a few, and invite you to send me pictures of your own floral “festives!”

Enjoy and share with your friends! Thank you! My email is:

This little beauty bedazzles in a jelly jar! Don’t you love the blossoms, grape hyacinth and nandina!

Mint, grape hyacinth and star of bethlehem are a delight!!!
Don’t you love this combination peony, lady’s mantle, redbud, cosmos, hosta, euonymous, lamb’s ear flower?

History Inspiration Uncategorized

Elizabeth Van Lew

By Elizabeth Bickford

By Elizabeth Bt“Crazy Bette,” that is one of the names by which Elizabeth Van Lew was known. A very effective Union Spy in the Capitol of the Confederacy, Miss Van Lew cut a wide swath through Confederate plans and Richmond, Virginia’s social circles.  Born in Richmond on October 15, 1818, she was the only daughter of John Van Lew, a prominent and prosperous hardware merchant who had relocated from Long Island. Elizabeth’s mother, Eliza Baker, from Philadelphia, was the daughter of Hilary Baker, abolitionist and an early Mayor of that “City of Brotherly Love.”

From an early age Elizabeth and her brother, John Newton, were exposed to abolitionist thoughts and ideals. When she was quite young her parents sent her to be educated at a Quaker School in Philadelphia. This time spent with her relatives, their friends and other students at the school, galvanized Elizabeth into a full-fledged abolitionist. When she returned to Richmond after her father’s death in 1843, her heart burned with a passion to see slavery overturned. The first place to begin was at home, because, despite his wife’s abolitionist leanings, John Van Lew owned slaves. 

Upon his passing, Elizabeth convinced her brother, John Newton, to free their father’s slaves. Staying true to her mission, Elizabeth then took her entire inheritance and bought the relatives of their former slaves so that she could free them, as well.

The American Civil War provided an ideal opportunity for Miss Van Lew to pursue her cause in earnest.  At first she ministered to Union prisoners who came to Libby, Belle Isle or Pemberton Prisons. Her contact with fellow abolitionists strengthened her zeal. She was perfectly situated, in society and, within the City of Richmond, to be able to gather secret information about the Confederacy and send it on to Union Generals. And, in addition to gathering secrets, she also smuggled people across enemy lines. Further, she set up an underground network of spies and established funding that was used to bribe officials for information.

Her incredible espionage abilities, such as creating networks, identities, raising monies,  disguising herself, and committing acts of derring-do, elevated Elizabeth to the head of the Union Spy Network in Richmond. She held that position until the end of the Civil War.

After the war was over, President Ulysses S. Grant, a man with whom she had much contact during the previous five years, granted her a Postmaster’s position in Richmond.  Feisty to the end, it is reported that one Sunday morning in church, the minister was extolling the virtues of the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee, and Miss Van Lew arose from her seat, and exclaimed, “I came to worship Jesus Christ, not Robert E. Lee,” as she strode out of the chapel.

And, while she was beloved by her Unionist colleagues, she was reviled by her Confederate neighbors.  She had no family, and after her death, her house was burned to the ground by residents of Richmond.

To this day, Elizabeth Van Lew’s skills and bravery are lionized. She is a member of the United States Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.

Sources: Van Lew


 Image:           “Van Lew, Elizabeth ,” House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at   Dickinson College,

Food Holiday Recipes Thanksgiving Recipes Uncategorized Vegan

Vegan Cheesecake: EASY to Make!!

So, I was on the horns of a dilemma — it was the proverbial 11th hour and I had to come up with a vegan dessert for a “FakesGiving” (a.k.a. early Thanksgiving). I did happen to be near a Trader Joe’s and thought that they surely would have something pre-made that was vegan.  No such luck! After circling the same aisles about 10 times (what’s the definition of insanity: trying the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome…) I came to the conclusion that I was just wrong.  “Back to the dairy counter,” I thought! And sure enough, they had vegan butter, vegan cream cheese and coconut creamer.  I already had some vegan flax eggs in the freezer. I knew I could do something with those ingredients.

Once at home, I looked up cheesecake recipes and found one on the KRAFT website that was adaptable (at least I hoped it would be).




So, I combined:


3 8oz packages of vegan cream cheese

3 flax eggs (1 flax egg = 1 tbsp flax egg powder and 3 tbsp cold water)

1 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp triple sec



1/2 cup vegan butter, melted

1.5 cups gluten free flour

1/3 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

Heat oven to 325

Butter (vegan butter) a springform pan

Put crust in the bottom of the pan and bake for 10 minutes

After the pan has cooled own, add the filling

Bake at 325 for one hour

Remove from oven and once the cake has cooled, refrigerate for at least one hour (longer is better).

Take sides off of pan and remove the cake using a large spatula.


I made a ganache by combining a large amount of vegan butter with 2 large chocolate bars (broken into bits), some triple sec and a little salt in a large metal bowl and then poured scalded coconut creamer over the mixture.  Just as with any ganache, you stir til it is cooled and all the pieces are incorporated.

Et Voila!  Let them eat cheesecake!


Culture History Inspiration Museums Realizing Your Dream Stories Uncategorized Vintage

Making a Museum: Establishing A Collection-This one is focused on Everyday Life


What does it take to start a museum? What is the impetus? What do you want to say or explore? Is there a topic upon which you want to expound, examining its’ multitudinous dimensions? Are there stories that highlight a specific theme that you want to tell? Do you want to preserve specific memories?  These are the driving forces behind establishing a collection/museum.

In the first of this several-part-series that focuses on creating displays that cause conversation, I’m going to cite the Museum of Everyday Life in Glover, Vermont.  Charmingly situated on the edge of the road, on the shores of a small pond (where, one of my compatriots, told me, a large set of plastic shark’s teeth used to jut out of the water, evoking JAWS!), this old barn beckons you to ENTER!

According to the Museum’s website, the Museum

“…is an ongoing  revolutionary museum experiment based in Glover, Vermont. Its mission is a heroic, slow-motion cataloguing of the quotidian–a detailed, theatrical expression of gratitude and love for the minuscule and unglamorous experience of daily life in all its forms. We celebrate mundanity, and the mysterious delight embedded in the banal but beloved objects we touch everyday.”

And, true to their mission, the Philosophers who staff, curate and direct this most un-stuffy and unusual exhibition have collected quotidiana that defies definition.  In fact, as their First Manifesto states:

“The Museum of Everyday Life is proud to launch its mission of glorious obscurity.”


While, mostly, the objects on display underscore our desire to grace the very ordinary with a little bit of life, the staff is also interested in discussing why we need these items.  For instance, toothbrushes are one category of household necessities is well-represented.  The Philosophers ascribe the need for the humble toothbrush to our interest in foods, particularly sugary ones, vis-a-vis our equally strong interest in preventing tooth decay.  One of the most eye-catching dental devices on display is a “His and Her Toothbrush,” an alligator  who comes apart. The chopper cleaner that was crafted by Katherine Nook is brightly colored and sure does bring a smile.  It makes you wonder why she didn’t make more of them!




Pencil Sharpeners



This is fabulous pencil art!

A history and homage to The Match is another amazing exhibition. A matchstick rollercoaster,  working instruments made of matches, the story of Prometheus and a giant match are some of the objects that kindle the imagination with their luminescent wit!




This stunning beauty is made of all things metal — and she sure does shine!

Significant collections of safety pins, keys and locks explore humanity’s needs to hold things together and keep them locked up.  Clare Dolan, Chief Operating Philosopher, together with her Co-Philosophers, have amassed amazing arrays of these pins, locks and keys and explore their uses with depth and wit. 

When it comes down to it, the Museum of Everyday Life provokes discussion about how we live by taking a gander at some of the material culture that comprise our day to day existence. I like what Clare Dolan said in a Vermont Public Radio interview, and I’m paraphrasing here, that she hopes this will inspire others to start their own museums featuring their own stories!

For an online tour of the Museum, and, lot of interesting information about its’ history, programs and current exhibitions check out their website

They also have a cool Facebook page.  And, speaking of similar concepts, check out the Museum of Everyday Life in Iceland: Hversdagssafn – museum of everyday life.



DIY Fashion Home Projects Uncategorized Vintage

Mama’s Got A Brand New Bag!

Vintage clothes, antique hats, old fashioned frippery, they can all be so chic, so stylish, so hip and so dirty! Stains and smells easily ruin the look and contaminate cachet.

What do you do with those gorgeous gowns or prestigious purses bedazzled with beads, especially if you are working on a budget or don’t have access to tailors or others who are used to working with antique fabrics.

In the course of wading through my mother’s things, I found a beautifully beaded evening purse that I just couldn’t give to Goodwill or a local Theatre group or throw away. It is awfully pretty and awfully stained.

First, I tried using a stain remover, something guaranteed to remove any discoloration, but it just did not work (for me at least). In fairness, that purse is old and the stain is probably almost as ancient. So, getting it out might be a fools errand, so to speak.  I might do more damage to the bag if I bleached it. So, if that’s the case …. why not just go with it and try covering up the stains with a new stain?

A few years ago I learned about tea-staining linens from a lady who I knew.  She had a real flair for decorating and mentioned that she often dipped clothing and towels into tea to achieve a certain effect. So, I tried her idea and dyed a dust ruffle by soaking it in a big bucket of hot tea. It occurred to me that I could accomplish the same thing with this little evening purse.

Using tea is a simple, affordable and easily accomplished solution, so I decided to give it a go.  In essence the purse became an extra large tea bag!

Start with a large pot of water …….

  and, bring it to a boil…..                                                                                                                   

Add a Tea Bag         

      Let it steep.

Pull lining out of the purse.


Lower purse into hot tea and let it steep for an hour or more.  Remove and let dry.


It sports a new shade of chic-ness!  Let this dry for a day or more….And, Mama’s got a brand new bag!


Death DIY Estate Legal Documents Uncategorized Wills and Trusts



I have been away because I have been working assiduously on my mother’s estate and now have some new information to impart.  Again, my experience has been, at least partially, determined by the fact that I live in Virginia, and, thus, am subject to the laws of the Commonwealth, but, I think that some of these points are universal.

In terms of getting rid of stuff:

This sounds easy, but, believe me, unless your relative/friend was uber organized or had already given everything away, and/or designated which items were intended for specific people, this can be a huge job.

There are a number of options:

Goodwill and Salvation Army are two obvious choices. The Salvation Army will accept/pick up furniture that is clean (i.e. in good shape, not covered in pet hair, etc.)

Other choices include: The Celebration Church and some “Pickers”/Junk Shops.

1-800-Got- Junk charges to pick up.

In some cases you may want to go to Auction houses — usually you will have to transport the furnishings yourself.  Frankly, after a million trips to Goodwill and the Dump, I am tired of hauling stuff. Find someone who will pick up!

Some thrift stores will accept old clothing — but, they will want clothing that is very fashionable and, frankly, they don’t pay you very much for the beautiful old dress or coat that reminds you so much of your departed loved one.

I got an excellent tip on another place to dispose of those old, cool pieces of clothing and other items: high school and college theatre departments.  This is especially true with high school theatre departments because they truly have no budget for costumes or props.  It makes me feel better that these clothes/hats/dishes, etc. will have a new and dramatic life!


I have been told that some people actually enjoy this aspect of handling the estate.  I think I would not have minded it so much if I haven’t felt like the stakes were so high.  I’m probably too nervous about it, but, here’s the skinny:

If you have to remember anything, remember to SAVE EVERYTHING and MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PAPER TRAIL.


1. Make sure you have bank statements from the date of death, which is frequently not the date that the Estate opened. The Commissioner of Accounts will want this to verify the value of the bank accounts as of the date of death. And, will want to see the expenses (funeral, etc.) that between the date of death and the opening of the estate.

2. DO NOT use online bill pay. This is something that no one really tells you. The Court wants a true paper trail of all financial transactions and online bill pay makes that difficult to establish. So, play it safe and pay by check!

3. Be sure to keep your deposit slips and copies of every check that you deposit — even little ones.

4. Keep all copies of invoices/bills, etc.!!!

5. If you do a distribution to the heirs, make sure that they endorse the checks, rather than having a spouse or someone, deposit the check directly to the bank account. The Court wants to make sure that the person to whom the check was written was actually its’ recipient.

You are going to need those invoices, cancelled checks, bank statements, even deposit slips, as back up when you submit the Accounting. Make copies of everything for yourself, because the Commissioner of Accounts will take the originals.

In Virginia, the Commissioner of Accounts can charge you extra if they don’t “like” the way the Accounting was done.  It varies from locality to locality, mostly because some Commissioners of Accounts are more persnickety than others. 

I’ll keep you posted. I’m thinking, give everything away, go off the grid and get a trust. This ain’t pretty….just sayin.


Cynthia Erdahl: Answering the Call of Creativity, Again and Again by Elizabeth Bickford

Cynthia with a few of her paintings.


Polychromatic pigments seem to flow from Cynthia Erdahl’s mind through her fingers and onto canvas, paper — really whatever surface she can find. “Color, Color, Everywhere!” could almost be a mantra for this artist who came to her calling by a circuitous route.

After years of city case work in foster care and building a counseling practice, Cynthia, who has a Master’s Degree in Social Work, decided to strike out on her own and start an independent practice. “In order to market myself better, I started going to Toastmasters as a way of developing my public speaking.  It was great and led to many opportunities!”

One of her first discoveries was that she was good at it — enjoying the people that she met and the spotlight so much that she began entertaining the idea of appearing on stage. In one of her first plays, Cynthia was featured in a  comedy, where she portrayed a glamorous 1950’s housewife/beauty pageant contestant. Bitten by the acting bug, she kept on tripping the footlights, in addition to keeping her business going.



Play reading group.


One day she idly did a drawing of the beach and later showed it to a friend who was blown away. Her friend, a fellow creative, saw Cynthia’s talent right away. “She told me I needed to do more art. So, I did some pen and ink drawings of places around Richmond and had them made into cards, and started going to shops to see if they would carry them.” Sure enough, the cards were a hit! So, Cynthia moved out to other markets such as Nags head, Ocracoke, Wrightsville Beach, Fredericksburg, DC. and met with success at every turn.





I remember, when I first met Cynthia in a painting group. “Success in Making and Selling Art,” was an often-discussed topic, because each of us wanted to pursue that end in some way.  This was many years ago and at that point, though Cynthia was relatively “new to the game,” she had already garnered excellent experience.  She passed on some very good advice,  “Just have a pad and pen with you at all times and draw everything you see. Draw everything that interests you.” That and DON’T GIVE UP.



Simple, yes? Cynthia has done that and more. Her ability to find markets for her work, excellent classes from myriad artists and teachers, as well as opportunities to show and sell is phenomenal. How does she do this? Devotion to creativity and to her art, and an open mind about her style and media. Staying FRESH. It’s pretty darn impressive when you think about someone who had no prior training or inkling and, now, keeps at it, constantly creating new art.

So, she has shown internationally numerous times in the “Artificium of Humanitas” East meets West Show,” held in the United States and South Korea. Other opportunities were in China and Uzbekistan. In Richmond she has shown at artspace gallery, Artemis Gallery,The V Tashkent Biennale: Results and Reflections,” Quirk Gallery and many,many other places.

Still toiling away in her studio, her latest show, “Revive” on May 4 in Richmond, at Hummel Associates, 223 North 1st Street, Richmond, Virginia, will feature a range of her work in differing styles, abstract to (quasi) representational. The pieces may wander the map in terms of style, but each is filled with an essential delight, a celebration of life that makes you think, and feel happy, and…… of course, there’s “Color,Color, Everywhere!” Here’s to persistence and painting the world in a panoramic palate!



Dance Fitness Realizing Your Dream





Candice Dion Braxton has a  gentle presence as you sit and talk with her, but, make no mistake, she has a true commitment to fitness, which she pursues with an incredible ferocity.  She began her fitness journey in 2008 when she took her first step on a treadmill. At that time she was working as a Nanny and the woman for whom she worked had a small home gym, where she encouraged Candice to start working out.

Walking on the treadmill led to working out at the Inches-A-Weigh gym, a weight loss center for women with toning and exercise equipment. Loving the feeling of being fit, Candice branched out and started working out and taking classes, specifically Zumba, at the Tuckahoe YMCA in Richmond, Virginia.  Not only was she shedding pounds, but she was also learning the ropes of lifting weights and dancing her way to excellent health by taking Zumba classes.  And, she was good at it!  Over the course of about 2 1/2 years she lost well over 100 pounds.



Candice lost well over 100 pounds. And, she did it the old-fashioned way: with Diet and Exercise! 

But, what about Zumba?  Candice is very modest in her answer to that question.

“I really enjoyed the classes and I kept improving. Everyone in my class kept encouraging me, so, I decided to take the course and become a certified Zumba instructor.” She started teaching in 2011,  right after becoming certified. At first she was leading classes part-time, but that all changed in 2013 when her job ended, and she felt like it was a God-given opportunity to pursue her passion for helping others become physically fit.

How does a Zumba teacher come up with music and the routines? That is a big question, because each instructor has their own style.  Candice likes to mix latin, soul, hip-hop, middle eastern and more. “I listen everywhere I go. If I hear a song I like, I’ll look it up on my phone and save it to listen to later. Music means so much to me and I like to mix it up, with different styles of songs following each other.”

Packing studios has become the norm for Candice.  She teaches corporate classes at:

Capital One, Altria/Philip Morris, Dominion Power and the Department of PublicServices. These Zumba courses, held at workout facilities on their respective campuses, are for the benefit of the employees.  Candice also teaches at two YMCAs in Richmond, and then, there is “Dancing With Dion.”

“Dancing With Dion,” a series of Zumba classes that is open to anyone, brings hundreds of people in every week.  Candice has worked with many local businesses to establish her own dance studios. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays she leads her students through swinging, swaying, marching, twirling, moving and shaking, thoroughly enjoyable Zumba routines. These classes are spread out, so, you can take one of these Zumba classes held at workout facilities in Midlothian, on Forest Avenue or on South Laburnum Avenue. *Candice has worked with many local businesses to rent out different spaces for her Dancing with Dion Zumba classes.Her work routine is dizzying, too, because she is  an instructor, fitness trainer, Certified Natural Health Counselor and a DJ.

It’s true that music, fitness and health have combined to make a very full life for Candice. Her love of music and dance spurred her to learn how to spin records, mix sounds and start a business as a Disc Jockey.  She is completely self-taught and has purchased all her own equipment so that she can go anywhere to liven up the party. She loves to see people get up and onto the dance floor! Gigs include weddings, birthday parties, celebrations of all kinds and middle school dances. Candice smiles when I ask her about DJing for Tweens and Teens. “I have had to acquire a whole different set of music for them,” she laughs. “But, I honor every request that they give me! It makes me feel so happy to see them having a good time!

When asked what is one of the most gratifying aspects of her very multi-faceted career helping people, Candice reflects, “My students range in age from 5 years to 80 years old, it’s a very diverse group. I think that being able to teach people who are older, younger and don’t look like me, makes me a better teacher.”

And, what of goals for her burgeoning business? She smiles, and says quietly, “I would love to have my own fitness and health center one day, where I can teach, counsel people on natural health and more.  But, that’s a ways away.” In the meantime, we all twist and turn, shuffle, shimmy and salsa and sweat off the pounds to Candice’s righteous playlist and feel a lot better after every class!


Top Down vs Bottom-Up: The Battle to Understand Speech

by Kathi Mestayer

(This article also appears on the “Hearing, Health and Technology Matters,” site

Top-down grabs wheel, runs into ditch

There are two different ways in which we make sense out of speech – “top-down” and “bottom-up.”

I first read about this in The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, in which he describes how we take sound input and make sense of it as speech. Let’s start with the top-down system, since it’s the one we’re more aware of.

Top-down auditory processing is more, shall we say, thoughtful, using tools like context (dinner table, board meeting, classroom), expectations (past experience, person speaking), and nonverbal cues (facial expressions, body language).  It considers those factors, along with the speech sounds, and does its best to interpret what was said.

The bottom-up system, on the other hand, makes a lightning-fast, best guess based on the raw sound data. Period. No consideration of context or those other complicating, time-consuming factors. As a result, bottom-up attempts can be comically wrong, like the mis-heard lyrics of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, “he is trampling out the vintage where the great giraffes are stored.”  A thoughtful, deliberative system, like top-down, would not report those lyrics, especially if you’ve heard that song a thousand times. But bottom-up’s job is to get you an interpretation really, really fast.  No editor, no proofreader…a hip-shot.

But sometimes a fast reaction is needed, because we’re busy using up top-down capacity with things like multitasking or making a tough decision.  In those cases, our brains opt for the bottom-up mode and hope for the best.

So, who makes the decision about delegating tasks to the slow road or the express lane?  Our brains do, usually without consulting us, and that’s how we end up on the receiving end of ‘great giraffes’ or ‘national pelvic’ radio.

Top-down and bottom-up, toe-to-toe

Because it has a few more milliseconds to work with, it’s natural that top-down, the more deliberative process, is correct far more often.  But not always.

Take the other night in a noisy restaurant, when my brain handed the task to top-down, assuming that it would be in a better position to tell us what was being said. I was sitting with two friends who were chatting away, when the waitress came up to me and asked, “Are you ready to order?”

“Yes,” I answered.  Then she turned and walked away.

Hmm, what just happened?  I sat there for awhile, puzzled.

A few minutes later, the waitress came back to our table, and said, “Are you ready to order now?”

“Didn’t you ask us that the last time you were here?”

“No, I asked if you needed a little more time.”

At that point, top-down started whirring away, figuring things out. Putting the pieces back together, I see that my top-down system took over as the head interpreter, elbowed bottom-up out of the way, and made the call based on what it expected the waitress to say as she approached the table – were we ready to order?  Nice try.

In so doing, top-down completely ignored what speech sounds were available in that noisy space (which, in fairness, were pretty garbled).  Bottom-up would have given me, “did you betty the border?”  And bottom-up plus top-down would probably have gotten it right.  But top-down, in this case, was about as helpful as the great giraffes. Of course, bottom-up gets a kick out of this. He’s usually the one who gets things wrong. It’s not as amusing as hearing canned spinach instead of the king’s speech, but a new kind of lapse.

Good thing I’m not a control freak. Now, I have two different kinds of mistakes to look out for.  I’m just batting clean-up.  Who’s on first?


Kathi Mestayer writes for Hearing Health MagazineBe Hear Now on, and serves on the Board of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing.  She has kindly contributed this article to Every Girl’s Dream, but it also appears on the “Hearing, Health and Technology Matters,” site       

In this photo she is using her iPhone with a neckloop,audio jack, and t-coils which connects her to FaceTime, VoiceOver, turn-by-turn navigation, stereo music and movies, and output from third party apps, including games, audiobooks, and educational programs.