Your Florist - Tips and Tricks

In my last blog I wrote about the perfect flowers for a southern wedding and it got me thinking about my florist days and some tips and tricks I learned along the way.

I have worked for a very large florist, a very small florist and one in between and there are a few things they all do the same. The “bread and butter” of the floral business is the constant calls from customers for “cut flowers in a vase,” “spring colors,” about $35. These arrangements are sent for almost every occasion except perhaps a funeral. And here is what happens – at a large florist these arrangements are made up in the beginning of the week when the floral shipments arrive. We would do a “line” with about 24 vases lined up at a time and each florist would have certain stems they would add to the arrangement. The vases would be “greened” with cheap leather leaf and then we would go from vase to vase and add our flowers. The more seasoned florist got to add the pretty flowers and the rest of us added the fillers. We would complete one line and start another, using up the flowers in the cooler until we had made enough to fill about a week’s worth of orders. The line is reminiscent of my days in college at the candy factory where my best friend and I were “Lucy and Ethel” dropping candy in boxes on a too-fast conveyor belt.

I learned two things – if you are ordering this type of arrangement, do it early in the week when the flowers are fresh. On second thought, don’t order them at all. Be specific about what you want, even if all you say is “all pink” or “yellow tulips with iris” – this forces the florist to order new flowers for you or make your arrangement up fresh since the ones in the cooler are always mixed arrangements. Be as detailed as you can, ask for nice greens and you won’t be charged more but your arrangement will be so much nicer.

When ordering through a service (like a FTD type thing) be forewarned that even if you choose a picture from their selection book, the florist receiving the order will send out what they have available. Be sure to ask the recipient if the flowers are what you ordered and how fresh they are when they arrive. You can even have her e-mail you a photo if there is any concern. One thing a good florist will do is very happily replace a poor arrangement – they all know goodwill and happy customers keep them in business. They should be super gracious to you and send something out at once.

Stay away from the supermarket floral departments unless you are just buying a bouquet. The personnel generally are untrained and except in rare circumstances cannot make a custom arrangement. And even though it is a dollar or two less, don’t order your son’s prom date’s corsage from the grocery. When my kids were in high school, the teen making the corsages was one of their friends who admittedly didn’t know what the heck he was doing. Some of his corsages went from the wrist to the elbow and if you want a happy prom date (and maybe you don’t) go to a real florist -
they even package them prettier.


Sweetly Southern

Sarah Z. writes “Becky, I am doing the flowers for a friend's wedding in August and I could use your help. Have you any ideas for interesting, inexpensive and pretty floral arrangements? Her theme is 'Southern Belle Afternoon Affair' and her colors are purple and pink. She has purchased short vases."

I just love questions like these since I get to relive my bridal florist days and talk to my floral friends. If the theme is “Southern Belle” we need to go soft and pretty with a “fresh from the garden” look, as in loosely arranged. I wish Sarah had mentioned how wide the mouth of the vase is since that makes such an impact. If the vase has a wide mouth, it will of course take more flowers which means more $$. One way to combat this is to use one large anchor flower (like hydrangeas) cut close to the edge of the mouth, then fill in with less pricey flowers like lisianthus. Use a soft drapey green like plumose fern or fresh ivy. If hydrangeas are too pricey, use lilies. They are fragrant and each stem has two flowers and a bud so they can fill in a good sized space if used with enough nice support greenery.

For a nice fresh mixed look, use white daisies, pink tulips, a few lavender roses (Blue Bird are incredibly fragrant), and add some lisianthus for the sort of less structured look that is so pretty. Tulips are available year round at a reasonable price and the colors are so nice. Use a single pink color for greater impact, then add the purple touch with limonium and greenery and then tie or glue a beautiful purple ribbon around the vase and let it drape. Other pretty garden flowers are ranuculus, asters (beautiful rich colors), iris, snapdragons, and delphinium. Another purple flower is liatris, which stands straight and tall. Sarah, you have such a great theme to work with. Have fun!!

*Becky Knows Everything: If you are using short vases like Sarah Z., be sure not to make the centerpieces too tall - guests need to see each other across the table. Another thing to keep in mind that Sarah didn’t mention - the size of the tables. A too tiny arrangement will be lost on a table set for 10. Use candles or ivy or other greenery to help out.


Nurse Becky and the Hernia

Last week my husband had surgery for a double hernia. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but he had 3 incisions when it was all over. I am sure, however, that having surgery means giving a man license to turn into a sissy baby – we all know that men in general make the worst patients ever! I’m surprised my husband could even use the remote. I have had major back surgery and two children (14 hours of labor each) and never fussed this much. Thankfully, I only rarely have to play “Nurse Becky” - the kind, patient, do anything for you person since that is SO NOT ME.

Here’s how the day went:

9:30 a.m. Must be at outpatient surgery center waiting room.

10:30 a.m. Still waiting to be called. Mike is impatient, swears they are calling up people that came in after us, and goes up to the desk to inquire. They tell him to sit down. He has been fasting since the night before, so now he is STARVING. (I have peanut butter cups in my purse for me). Regis and Kelly are on the TV without sound and I think I like them better that way.

11:15 a.m. They call his name and tell me to stay where I am – they are taking him back for pre-op stuff.

11:45 a.m. They come and get me. Mike is in a really ugly grey mini check patterned hospital gown. He has an IV he says took the nurse 4 tries to get in. It’s OK however since the nurse, Candy, is perky and pretty. Thank God. And yes, her name was really Candy. He has blue footies on his feet and a wristband to remind him who he is.

12:00p.m. Mike’s spots his surgeon leaning against the nurse’s station gabbing away with another doctor. He says “I don’t like that – shouldn’t he be studying my case or reading up on it? Why is he standing there talking?” I remind him the doctor has probably done this a million times, but that doesn’t reassure him. All this and he has had no drugs yet.

12:30 p.m. Mike’s surgical nurse Kelly comes over, asks a long slate of questions and tells us she will send over the anesthesiologist. She says the delay is because they have to clean the operating room. Mike wonders what has happened in there – like did someone explode or something?

12:45 p.m. The anesthesiologist arrives, asks the same questions and tells us it will all begin soon. The surgeon stops gabbing and joins us, asks the SAME questions again and tells us a few post op things like Mike will get a prescription for Vicodin and he can take all he wants. The surgeon tells him they will shave him and he is completely alarmed. They also tell him not to shower for 3 days. Just what he needs – a license not to shower.

1:15 p.m. They finally wheel him away and I am told to go to the main lobby and wait. They tell me to check in at the desk. After a myriad of hallways and elevators, I find the main lobby, mostly since I see the signs for the gift shop. I check in and the volunteer person gives me a pager so they can notify me when the doctor calls after the surgery. Reminds me of the Outback and THAT reminds me how hungry I am.

1:17 p.m. I am in the gift shop – love these places. They usually have some interesting gifts and tons of candy and snacks. I buy a Baby Ruth and go to take a seat in the lobby. The lobby is very crowded and very noisy BUT they have a popcorn making machine that is popping FRESH popcorn and is manned by an elderly volunteer. A bag is $1.00 and of course I need one of these. The reading material in the lobby is so old – my “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine was from May 2008.

3:15 p.m. My pager goes off. I mean this thing beeps and squawks and lights up and I think – my Bloomin Onion must be ready! Oh wait, I am not at the Outback. Then of course I spill my popcorn. I go to the desk and the surgeon is on the phone and tells me all is well, Mike is in recovery. He says they will page me again when they are ready for me to go down. I start to wonder who has to clean up all the spilled popcorn in the lobby and am SO glad it is not me.

4:00 p.m. I am paged again and this time only my Diet Pepsi jumps with me. I go to recovery and there is Mike!! (First I go to the wrong cubicle since all I can see are feet sticking out and of course they are all wearing the same sox – that was a little weird). Mike is doing well, only a tiny bit groggy and he is downing a Coke. He says he is OK and did I know they have REAL COKE? The recovery room nurse, Aileen, pops in and shows him how to work the TV. 24 HOUR ESPN EVEN IN THE HOSPITAL. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I try to steer him to Oprah but she is doing a show on male menopause and he refuses to watch it. (Actually, I made that last part up just to entertain you and me).

4:45 p.m. Aileen returns, asks him to sit in the chair in the room. He accomplishes this with only a bit of groaning. She is encouraging and eventually helps him to get dressed and releases him. After paying a whopping $8.00 for PARKING, we are on our way.

5:20 p.m. We arrive home and Mike goes straight to his recliner and turns on, yes, yes, you guessed it - ESPN. Don’t they ever get tired of this stuff??

5:30 p.m. He is so hungry, so I make him a chicken sandwich when what he really wants is ice cream.

UPDATE: Other than a bit of nausea, he has been doing great, and it only took a couple of days of me playing Nurse Becky to get through this. He should be back to “normal” soon – whatever that is. At least he eventually could take a shower.

UPDATE #2: Today Mike tells me he feels nauseous and might throw up – I think he is just trying to buy another day of good will from Nurse Becky


Bridal Place Card Holder

As wedding season is upon us, I wanted to share with you the essentials of making a card holder to beautifully display table numbers at your reception. I highly recommend assigned seating so all of your guests have a place to go when the doors open. I have been to a few weddings where the only people I knew were the groom’s parents and without assigned seating you just sort of wander until someone looks welcoming. (Not all that different than the lunch room in junior high).

While looking for table card holders for my daughter’s wedding last year, I scoured the internet and searched the bridal magazines and never found anything unusual or that I had not seen a zillion times before. Creatively speaking, I wanted something pretty and useful and memorable. Inspiration hit me in
T.J. Maxx of all places. I saw resin figures designed to be necklace holders in the home décor section. I am sure you have seen these. They are female figures, dressed in elaborate molded gowns in different colors and designs. I knew my designer’s imagination could use these figures as a starting point. I purchased 20 figures, one for each table, but figured I would start with one and see how it went.

First, I bent the 2 “arms” to the front, almost like clasped hands. Then I bent the 2 back spokes upward and the 2 front spokes down, forming a perfect spot for a card.

To begin the craft portion I sanded each figure with a fine grain sandpaper. The figures had been painted with an enamel paint – I knew another paint would not go on easily without first sanding the surface. Carefully, I removed all the dusty particles and began to paint the figures white. I used
Delta Brand Ceramcoat, which is a water soluble acrylic paint (all that means is that it can be easily cleaned and mistakes have a better chance of being fixed). Using a decent small brush, the paint applied easily, except for the fact that I am a terrible detail painter and some of these figures had molded dresses that had one skinny strap and pearls around their necks or halter tops. I once had to pay a ceramic instructor to paint the eyes on a Thanksgiving figure I had made since I goofed it up so many times. She charged me $1.00 per eye (like I would only have her paint one eye).

Anyway, you will have to paint each figure twice or even three times if the gowns are dark in tone. Use a tiny brush for detail or even a toothpick. When they are completely dry, the real fun begins!! You get to decorate them and make them look like brides. Using tacky glue (the brand I like best is Aleene’s), pour some glue in a small bowl and pour water in another bowl. “Paint” the figures with a glue/water mix and do one side at a time. As you complete a side, quickly spread on white sparkly glitter. This is messy, so shake or pour on the glitter over a shoe box or it will still be on your kitchen floor at Christmas.

When the glitter is all on all the figures, decorate them with teensy white silk flowers. I bought these very cheaply at craft and dollar stores. You need flowers with flat backs and they need to be small. Using hot glue, attach the flowers wherever you want. Sometimes I had to glue them over painting mistakes but I am sure that won’t happen to you.

I glued a cluster of flowers to one of the “hands” to form a bridal bouquet and glued narrow white satin ribbon (NOW, you finally have a place to use that skinny, skinny ribbon that is 3 spools for $1.00 you never knew what to do with).

Let’s make the veil. I use the term lightly since this is a headless figure. The veil is actually a train off the back of the figure. I gathered up white tulle and tied it tightly about an inch down from the top with a satin skinny ribbon to form a pouf and left long streamers. I glued flowers to the streamers and glued it all to the back of the figure, about waist high. The final touch was to add pearl sprays on the dresses wherever it needed any extra touches. These were the prettiest table card holders ever.

The photo below, provided courtesy of Broadway Photography and Video is the final result. The bridal ladies were so pretty on the reception tables. Also, I ordered my table cards from a great company, Documents and Designs. They had a huge assortment to choose from and they were very easy to work with.

*Becky Knows Everything: A note about numbering - do not make your bridal table #1 in the reception area. Usually the bridal table is in the center and if you begin numbering from the center of the room your guests will be confused. For your own entertainment, you can watch them scurry around, but it really isn’t very nice. Table #1 should be the closest table to the entry doors.


Mandarin Chicken Salad

This concludes my chicken recipes for Jamie P. I hope she found them to be just what she was looking for. I am sure she will impress anyone she invites to dinner.

Mandarin Chicken Salad

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 c. of any store bought teriyaki marinade (or just blend ½ c. soy sauce with ½ c. water)
1 tbs. vegetable oil
1 pkg. oriental flavor ramen noodles (optional but they give a nice crunch and only cost TWENTY CENTS or if you don’t like these, use crunchy chow mein noodles)
½ c. sliced almonds (don’t buy the weird white slivered ones that look like skinny false teeth)
1 tsp. sesame seeds
One bag of mixed greens (I always add a few handfuls of good old chopped romaine since these mixed greens look too much like weeds to me)
3 green onions, chopped
½ cucumber, sliced
8 oz. can of mandarin oranges, drained
One bottle of any ginger, sesame, teriyaki salad dressing (there are a bunch of them out there and they are all pretty good, even the low fat ones).

Marinate chicken in sauce for an hour or longer in refrigerator. When ready to serve, remove from bowl, discard marinade and grill or broil until chicken is cooked through. When slightly cooled, cut in thin slices on an angle. Meanwhile, in sauté pan using the oil, lightly brown the almonds, broken up noodles and sesame seeds. On each plate, assemble mixed greens and romaine. Add oranges, green onions, noodle mix and chicken. Top with dressing. I think you will like this one – it’s spicy and so flavorful too.

*Becky Knows Everything: I flatten the chicken breasts so they cook more evenly, but if the pounding drives you nuts, just cut them in half horizontally.


Happy Birthday Mom

In our family, my sister Bonnie and I have a tradition concerning Mom’s birthday. For the past 20 plus years we each give her 6 small presents on her birthday so she has a gift to open each month all year. Now, like anything else, the gifts and their value go up and down with our finances, time constraints, etc. We try to take advantage of seasonal sales and we alternate months. Well, of course, after 20 some years Mom has a zillion holiday pins, dish towels and apparently (if you read the blog on a regular basis) a ton of knee highs.

We have had a lot of fun along the way. One year I gave her a pajama top for April and Bonnie gave her the bottoms in May – took Mom the entire month to get the joke. Another time for my 6 months I gave her 6 white tops since that is pretty much all she likes to wear. She never did catch on to that one! It is so cute – she piles the gifts on a chair in her bedroom and the first of each month she unwraps a gift. She even has her beautician (I’m pretty sure they aren’t called stylists in Lorain, OH) asking her what the gift was every month.

Anyway, this particular year I am on a tight budget so I decided to get creative and make her a gift! I went to
Michaels (that crazy, gigantic craft place) and I purchased a pair of hot pink flip flops for 99 cents! (I know what you are thinking – who gives an 84 year old woman a pair of flip flops, but Mom is steady on her feet). I also bought a small roll of polka dot grosgrain ribbon. I knew I had some other supplies from previous projects.

First, I hot glued a length of ribbon to each plastic strap. I glued an artificial flower (get small ones with flat backs) over the raw edge. I made small bows (7 for each foot) and glued one in the center and 3 spaced evenly on the side. Then, I added flowers and individual pearls for fun. Be sure to pull off the glue strands as you go since they accumulate quickly. Pretty soon the straps were totally covered and I was so excited I went back to Michaels and bought 3 more pair – for Bonnie and my daughter and me! I WAS IN A FLIP FLOP FRENZY!!


Lemon Loves Chicken

Here is one more idea for Jamie P. in response to her request for some fancy but light chicken main dishes suitable for entertaining.

Lemon Loves Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts that have been “filleted” or pounded to be even in thickness
1/3 c. olive oil
Zest of 2 lemons
4 cloves minced garlic
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice
2 tbs. fresh parsley, chopped (I told you all to go buy that mini chopper)
½ tsp. dried, crushed rosemary (I know fresh is good but it gets so woody and sticks in your teeth and who needs that with company coming)
½ tsp. kosher salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients, whisk, then add chicken. Marinate chicken in sauce for an hour or longer in refrigerator. Grill or broil for about 5 minutes each side and serve. This is a very simple recipe, but the fresh lemon, as always, adds a “WOW” factor. I would serve this with fresh asparagus and small red potatoes that have been boiled gently and then tossed with melted butter and a sprinkle of rosemary.


Entertain with Chicken

Jamie P. writes: “Becky, I have some spare time on my hands and am cooking more. Can you give me some chicken recipes that are fancy but light and festive enough for company?”

Jamie is a 30ish grad student with a cute boyfriend and loves to entertain - so I have a few good recipes for her that are not too $$$ but are different and delicious. The recipes are easy for a novice cook, but really tasty and you will be proud to serve them. I will post a few recipes over the next couple days. Tonight, let's start with Chicken Brochette.

Chicken Brochette

Marinade: Mix all together – ½ c. soy sauce, ½ c. vegetable oil, 3 green onions, chopped, 1 tbs. brown sugar, 1 clove minced garlic, 1 tsp. vinegar (not balsamic or red wine but rather white or cider vinegar).

Other brochette ingredients - 8 cherry tomatoes, one fresh pineapple cut into chunks (you will only use about 12 chunks), green or red pepper pieces (think enough to fit on a skewer) and about 12 fresh mushrooms.

For four people I use 3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut in nice size chunks. After you mix up the marinade, drop in the chicken and let the mixture sit covered in refrigerator for an hour or more (you can even do this in the morning before work and let it marinate all day).

When you are ready to go (allow 20 minutes to get it all together) thread chicken on 2-3 skewers. If you don’t have the metal ones, use wooden ones that you have soaked in water for a few hours so they don’t burn up. On different skewers, thread alternating pieces of pepper, pineapple, mushroom and tomatoes. Brush these skewers lightly with olive oil.

You can cook these a number of ways – do them under your broiler, on top of your stove on a grill pan or outside on a grill. The vegetables will go quickly, just make sure the chicken is cooked through (about 5 minutes each side, but cut a fat one in half before time is up to see how they are doing). By the way, once you flip the chicken, start the rice (I use minute rice since it tastes the same to me as regular and never gets gummy). If you time it right, the rice will be done when the meat is ready.

To serve, assemble the plates in the kitchen, dividing the meat and veggies on the four plates with the rice. Serve with a nice green salad.

*Becky Knows Everything: I use chicken broth with a dash of soy sauce for the liquid I cook the rice in. Also sometimes it is nice to serve some cold, fresh pineapple with dinner. Sweet and refreshing.


Becky's Guest Room List

So if you’ve been reading the blog you know that we’ve been working on a design project for a former client of mine. We started off talking about bedding and paint colors for her guest rooms and then moved on to accessories and the bathroom. This got me thinking about a number of things you might want to have on hand to make your guests feel comfortable.

Becky Knows Everything Guest Room List

1. Provide pretty soaps, lotions, etc. in the bath – you might also have a new toothbrush, dental floss, and toothpaste available.

2. Have a warm blanket and extra pillow in the closet – remember this is like a hotel.

3. Provide a nice decorated box filled with CANDY and shortbread and nuts and some bottles of water.

4. In that same box, put a mini book light so one guest can read while the other sleeps (or as in my case, snores).

5. A fan is my favorite thing, since it can cool you off and provide the essential background noise.

6. Depending on the guest, provide some reading material – I mean something fun like a “National Enquirer” or the latest issue of “People” or a trashy paperback.


Jack and Jill Accessorize

So we've been working on a design project for a former client of mine. A few days ago in "Jack and Jill United", we were focused on bedding - but today we are all about the bathroom and accessories.

The colors we are working with are a soothing aqua green, a soft lime green and periwinkle blue – the “watercolors”. I suggested a periwinkle paint for the connecting bath but it could also go in the more sophisticated of the two bedrooms. Pottery Barn offers some great bath rugs and towels. For this project, I suggest the cornflower blue or clover green. In the bath be sure to use towels that pick up the colors in both rooms. For the window treatments one idea is to buy roller shades (they have come back BIG) like the Ribbon-Border Roman Shade in parsley from Pottery Barn. Roller shades come in cool colors now too. Or, we can just use the existing wooden blinds.

The Company Store is a great source for linens and accessories. They have wonderful 500 thread count sheets in the nicest, softest sateen finish. Check out Eloquence Supima Sateen Sheets - I prefer the woven dot in skylight. If you can, it is really nice to give your guest the best sheets you can afford. They will last longer and launder nicely, too. The Company Store also carries tone on tone striped bamboo blankets and throws and these are SO soft and nice. This is also my source for down comforters, for those winter months. Folded on the foot of the bed, they just look so luxurious.

Since our rooms are to be used for guest rooms only, we don’t need a lot of storage - now may be the time to replace the dated chest with a painted white bookcase with drawers or a nice desk. Your guests need to have somewhere to put away a few things, but they don’t need an entire dresser. (We don’t really want them to stay too long, do we?) On the bookcase put a pretty decorative vase or plate or colorful baskets and boxes. Use white wooden frames and a framed white decorative mirror (a good, large mirror is essential) like the Brighton Mirror mirror from Crate and Barrel below.

Accessorize with some unusual pillows that don’t match the bedding. I also recommend purchasing a different dust ruffle than the ones that come with the matching bedding. Buy a contrasting color or pattern so it gives a custom look. Be sure to have some nice lighting on your nightstands too. Your guests are sure to rest comfortably!