My name is Lisa and I'm a crafty girl with wanderlust working as an engineer by day. My blog chronicles projects in my home as well as pictures and stories from my travels.




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Entries in Autumn (18)


Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am in charge of desserts for the meal this year so I have been having a fun morning in the kitchen baking. I was hoping to do some of the prep work earlier this week but work was crazy (I worked nearly 40 hours in three days) so I had to do everything today.

I'm making pumpkin pie, apple pie and a cranberry upside down cake. I'm actually waiting for the pumpkin pie to finish baking right now so that I can head over to the festivities.

After spending today with Frank I am heading out to St. Thomas to visit my sister for the rest of the holiday weekend. I am so excited to see her and can't wait. My first trip to visit her on her island was actually for Thanksgiving in 2006. It was so hot and her stove wasn't working so we decided to make turkey sandwiches to celebrate Thanksgiving that year. It wasn't very traditional but it was a lot of fun!

What are you doing to celebrate Thanksgiving this year? Are you making anything tasty? What do you usually do to celebrate?


Simple Autumn Appetizer Party

Last fall I hosted a simple appetizer party for my friend's birthday at my home that I thought I would share the recipes. With a vegetarian guest I kept my menu selections vegetarian with autumnal ingredients.

Baked Brie in Puff Pastry
This is a go-to recipe for me when I am entertaining. Simply coat a wheel of brie with apricot preserves and wrap in puff pastry, tucking the ends under the brie. With the scraps of leftover pastry I cut out some vines and leaves and attached them to decorate the top with a bit of water. I brushed the puff pastry with an egg wash (an egg white whisked with 1 Tbsp water) to make it glisten and baked it at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. To serve it I topped the brie with some pomegranate seeds to add a little color. 

Frozen Puff Pastry Tips: Make sure that the pastry is fully thawed and at room temperature before you roll it out. Also, to prevent needing to use flour to keep it from sticking when rolling it out, try rolling it on parchment paper.

Fig and Gruyere Palmiers
This is another simple recipe using puff pastry. I rolled out a sheet of puff pastry into a large rectangle and sprinkled it with a cup of shredded gruyere cheese. I rolled up each of the sides toward the middle and then cut the resulting roll into 1/4" slices, placing them on a parchment lined baking sheet. I melted 1/2 cup of fig preserves and then brushed it on top of the palmiers. I baked them for 12 minutes at 400 degrees and served them warm from the oven.

Endive with Caramelized Pears and Blue Cheese
I used this recipe (originally in December 2006 Cooking Light) to make this endive appetizer. In the past I have also substituted pecans for the walnuts which has worked quite well. I really like the recipe and love the sweet and savory aspects that it combines.

Butternut Squash Spread
This spread was slightly adapted from this recipe (originally in September 2007 Cooking Light) with me omitting the pumpkin seeds (just didn't have any) and halving the amount of garlic. I served the spread in a small bowl with a few sage leaves for garnish. This spread has a little kick to it which I really quite enjoy.

To set my table I put out an orange table runner that I have from Ikea and topped it with some red leaf felt placemats that I picked up from HomeGoods. I placed my appetizers on the table along with a bowl of baguette slices to go with the brie and squash spread. For drinks I served hot apple cider with sticks of cinnamon.

It was a fun little celebration and everyone loved the food. These simple recipes meant that I spent minimal time in the kitchen but still had a beautiful spread for my guests to enjoy.

Do you have a favorite fall entertaining recipe? What do you like to serve?


Autumn Front Garden Bed

With the colorful autumn leaves that decorated the trees in my yard having finally all fallen, things look a little bleak outdoors around here, especially since we have been hit with a recent rainy spell.

The one bright spot in this dreary weather are the autumn plantings in my front garden bed. Winter is so long here in Michigan that I like to have some color outside as long as I possibly can. Planting kale is a surefire way for me to do that. Mums will generally last me through until early November (I had two large pots of yellow mums on my steps until recently) but nothing outlasts kale for me. I have had luck in the past with kale looking lovely in my yard until December which is really quite wonderful.

Typically flowering kale can be a touch on the pricey side so I usually wait a little while until they go on sale at the end of the fall planting season. I got the large purple kale for $3 each at Blocks Farm Stand and the little green ones from Lowes for $1.50 each. I planted them in a border along my front stone bed wall in front of my boxwood shrubs and then added a fresh layer of mulch to keep things looking tidy and clean.

Seeing a little bit of vibrant life left in my yard as I pull up to my house really cheers me up. That purple really is striking!

Have you planted anything this autumn? Is anything still left alive in your yard?


Halloween in Japan (With a Hello Kitty Piñata Tutorial, Of Course)

Halloween is such a part of American culture it seemed hard to let it pass unnoticed while I was living in Japan. Another one of the American expats, who was from Arizona, was keen to host a Halloween party at his place and thought a piñata would be a perfect addition. Actually, he really just wanted an excuse to have a piñata and Halloween fit the bill since candy was involved.

He had looked online to see if there was any way to get piñata sent to Japan. When he came up with no leads, he asked me if I knew how to make one knowing I was crafty. I had never done it before but I always like trying new things so I agreed to help out.

Since we were in Japan we quickly settled on Hello Kitty as our piñata subject. To make the form we used two large balloon with the pointed ends tilted out for the ears. To fill in the space and make the head oval we blew up a little balloon and placed it in between the ears using a little bit of tape to hold the balloons together.

Next we paper-mached the balloons. We made paper mache paste mixing together 1 part flour to 2 parts water. We cut up pieces of newspaper into 1" strips, dipped  them into into the paste and layered them over the balloons. In order to get a strong piñata we made sure to cross the strips and put on several layers.

Once the paper mache was dry we popped the balloons, cut a hole in the bottom, filled it with candy and taped the flap back shut. Finally it was time to decorate. We cut up squares of white paper, crinkled them, put a dab of glue on the back of the middle and pressed them onto the form. I used some black duct tape to make eyes and whiskers and an oval of yellow paper for the nose. With a red bow from the Hyaku-en Store the Hello Kitty piñata was complete and ready for the party. If you want to make your own piñata just arrange balloons into the form you want and then follow the rest of my instructions.

My friend lived in an American style apartment complex that had a courtyard and he figured out a way to string up the piñata between two of the buildings and a small tree. I apologize for the crappy pictures but it was nighttime and even I am not so dorky that I would bring a tripod to a party.

The piñata was a big hit (haha, I am punny!) at the party. We had made it a good strength and it took 18 people before it was finally brought down. Most of the people in attendance were not Americans (a mix of Japanese, Europeans and Australians) and so they didn't get the whole "rush to gather the candy after the piñata breaks" part of the tradition. I, of course, love candy so I was gathering it up by myself while everyone else looked on like I was crazy. More for me, right? Well, actually I figured that I had an unfair advantage since this was not my first piñata so I passed the candy around.

All in all it was a really great night and the piñata was a fun, non-traditional addition to the Halloween evening.  


Mini Pumpkin Wall Art for Fall

After making my sweater vase I thought I would create some wall art to continue with my Autumn decorating in my living room. I wanted something that would work for both Halloween and Thanksgiving and figured that mini pumpkins would be a perfect fit.

I came up with the idea of mounting the pumpkins in a little three by three grid and headed to Lowes to figure out a good idea of something to serve as a mounting board. I toyed with the idea of planking together some boards, but when I saw that I could get a 1/2" thick 2' x 2' oak plywood panel for $8.50 I was sold on that solution. I picked out the panel with the prettiest grain and picked up some white mini pumpkins on my way home.

With supplies in hand I started by staining the plywood with Watco Danish Oil in Dark Walnut. I like using it because it is really easy and you can't really screw it up. That's my kind of staining! After you prep your surface by sanding and wiping it down, you simply flood it with the Danish Oil and use a rag to spread it around until the whole surface is covered. After letting it penetrate for half an hour you apply the Danish Oil in the same way again. Fifteen minutes later you wipe off the excess and your piece is ready to use eight hours later. Here is my plywood before and after I stained it:

Since I was using plywood I had to figure out a way to cover the rough edges. I decided using some white iron-on melamine banding would be fun and help set it off from the wall. The edging I had was 3/4" thick and I thought it would look neat if the board seemed thicker so I took some scraps that were 1/4" thick and used wood glue to attach them around the perimeter on the back. After that I simply cut the lengths of the banding that I needed and ironed it onto the edge.

Next up I tackled the mini pumpkins. I had purchased white ones, but they are really cream colored and I thought a true white look would be better for my project, especially since I had used the white band for the plywood. That was an easy fix with a can of white spray paint. With two light coats of matte white I think the pumpkins almost look like little ceramic sculptures.

Once everything was dry I was ready to start assembling. On the back of the board I marked the center and then marked the remaining eight locations for pumpkins in a grid with 5" spacing. I drilled pilot holes at each of the locations and then started 2" screws in each hole. To mount the pumpkins I held them over the pilot hole in the front and the drilled the screw from behind the plywood into the pumpkin.

With the pumpkins mounted I thought it looked really cute but needed a little finishing touch. I took some scraps of white vinyl contact paper cut it into 1/4" wide strips and made a border around the pumpkins.

I think my mini pumpkin wall art turned out really cute. It is festive, but the neutral color scheme doesn't clash with the colors in my living room.

Are you doing any decorating for fall? Have you ever spray painted pumpkins?

P.S. If you are interested, I've gathered together a gallery of my autumn related posts: Gallery of Fall Posts & Projects


Picture of the Day: St. Paul's Cathedral in Autumn




















London, United Kingdom


DIY Sweater Vase

I've been wanting to do a little fall decorating in my living room but since it is neutral color scheme with light green and teal accents I was a little stumped about what to do until I thought of making this little sweater vase. Since it is definitely sweater weather around here in Michigan it has a fall vibe even though I used a turquoise sweater to match the room.

Making the vase is super simple and doesn't require much time or energy. All you need for supplies is a round vase and a sweater you don't mind cutting up. My vase is a dollar store find and I picked up the sweater at a thrift store. The only thing that you need to be careful about is to make sure that the sleeves of the sweater will slip over the vase snugly and not be too loose.

To make the vase I trimmed one of the sweater sleeves about an inch longer than the glass vase. I then slipped it over the vase aligning the cuff with the top of the vase. To finish it off I tucked the extra edges under along the bottom. Super easy-peasy!

I decided to place some solidago in the vase since it has a lime green color and seemed to evoke fall to me. I paired the sweater vase with a small ornamental kale in a white Ikea pot and a tiny cream colored pumpkin. I think it looks really cute together and is quite seasonal without using traditional autumn colors.

The other thing that I really like about this little sweater vase is that I can easily use this in the winter, perhaps by putting some holly branches or evergreens in the vase and swapping out the pumpkin for a glass ornament.

Are you doing any fall decorating? What seasonal items do you have in your home?

P.S. If you are interested, I've gathered together a gallery of my autumn related posts: Gallery of Fall Posts & Projects


Picture of the Day: Pumpkin Patch




















New Boston, Michigan


Autumn Leaves in Korankei Gorge

Japan is famous for its maple trees with tiny delicate leaves and in the autumn the trees put on a wonderful display turning amazing colors. The autumn leaves can be referred to in Japanese by either momiji or kouyou. Both words are written with the same kanji, 紅葉, which literally means "crimson leaves".

The Japanese love their four seasons and what hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is to Spring kouyou-gari (literally meaning autumn leaf chasing) is to Fall. Websites will give reports about the status of the kouyou front letting people know when the colors are likely to hit their peak in places famous for autumn colors. It is a popular activity in the fall to travel to see the changing leaves.

Lucky for me, one place known for beautiful fall leaves, Korankei Gorge (香嵐渓) in Asuke (足助), was not too far from where I lived in Japan. The gorge stretches just short of a mile upstream of the Tomoe River and is lined with maple trees. I had visited the gorge earlier in the spring and had found it a lovely place and promised myself to come back in the fall to see the leaves when they changed color.

I actually made more than good on my promise by visiting not once, but twice in the fall. The first time I visited after work when it was already dark. That may not sound interesting, but in November when the leaves are at their peak color, the trees are light up by spotlights at night for evening viewing.

I wanted to see the leaves during the daylight as well, but it was hard to make time with me being at work during the daylight hours during the week and the weekends quite busy. The first Sunday of December I was taking the JLPT (Japannese Language Proficiency Test) and when I was finished with the exam I headed to Asuke to visit Korankei Gorge as a little celebration and to relax. It was late in the day and already dusk, but I did have a little time before the sun set.

I'll start by sharing my pictures from the second trip first, since it makes more sense to see what the gorge looks like in the light before seeing it all lit up at night. The gorge has two red bridges spanning it and a typical visit would find a person doing a loop, crossing over the main bridge, walking along the paths along the river and then crossing over the smaller pedestrian bridge to circle back. 

The paths along the river are quite lovely with the large maple trees seeming to create tunnels of leaves. It is hard to tell in pictures just how lovely it is. 

The variegation of the scarlet leaves was really amazing and so flamboyant looking.

Along the main path were scattered some moss covered lanterns and some stepping stone paths.

Since it was the end of the season, many of the leaves had fallen, carpeting the ground in a sea of red with a few patches of moss still peeping through.

I especially loved how the fallen leaves crept right up the the river bank, half burying the stones along the water's edge.

At some points the river was quite still providing lovely reflections of the moss, stones and leaves.

In other areas the river rushed by creating tiny little rapids among the rocks.

I didn't have much daylight and by the time I crossed the pedestrian bridge the sun had set. Of course, there happened to be some yatai stands (festival street food stands) set up on the town side of the river so I grabbed a treat (or two, or three) and headed home.

Going back in time, on my first autumn trip to Korankei Gorge, as I approached the view looking at the small pedestrian bridge was stunning.

The lights made everything an amber colored wonderland that was reflected in the water. The leaves that were scarlet during the day now looked different shades of yellow and orange standing in stark contrast to the night sky.

There were a number of visitors to see the leaves, especially scrambling along the rocks along the bank to see the leaves better.

Taking pictures was hard since the light was low and I didn't have a tripod, but I didn't think about that too much because I was so enchanted with the spectacle of the illuminated foliage. It was quite surreal looking.

Here is a view looking up at the night sky and the leaves above me. Beautiful!

The small pedestrian bridge was popular with several people posing to take pictures there.

Both of my visits to Korankei Gorge were lovely (that's why I went twice!) and I would highly recommend visiting if you are in Central Honshu or Aichi in November.

Do you have a favorite memory of seeing autumn leaves? Where was it? Do you have a place you recommend to see fall leaves?


Picture of the Day: Lanterns Lining the Street in Sakamoto




















Sakamoto, Japan