Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Look Ma, I made a Wreath!

Sort of... Okay, I bought a plain wreath and decorated it. But aren't you impressed with that bow?!
First I wrapped it with white twinkle lights, around and around and around... I started wrapping at the plug end to be sure that the plug stuck out where I needed it to (who know that that bizarre outlet in the middle of my kitchen wall that I've been cursing as as eye-sore would be so useful in the end!)

Next I wrapped it (loosely) with the ribbon (which I had purchased at Target's after-Christmas sale last year- can I tell you I lugged that stuff through two moves this year?!) Around and around you go, starting where you want your bow to be, sure to leave about 6 inches of extra ribbon with which to secure your bow.
To make the bow you use the tail end (the part coming off the roll) of your WIRED ribbon (SOOO much easier with wired ribbon) and fold it back and forth on itself, twisting the ribbon once (alternate directions) every time you pass the center (hold the center down with your finger) which makes it easier to fan the bow out. Secure the center by wrapping your tail end around a few times, then tying it to that 6 inch section you left out at the beginning. Fan the looped bits around and puff them up to cover your knot. VOILA!

I also wrapped cinnamon sticks in gold ribbon and wired the clusters into the wreath.

And I may not have made the wreath, but I did make a pomander ball!

You can do this yourself by sticking cloves into an orange (I used a clementine so it wouldn't be too heavy for my wreath) and rolling the finished product in a mixture of Ground Nutmeg, Ginger, and Cinnamon. (I've also read that Orris root is recommended, but I couldn't find any and Mom says she never bother with it and her lasted 20 years!)
If, like me, you want to skip poking holes for the cloves and just push the cloves themselves into the orange (really only possible on the thinner-skinned citrus fruits), I recommend using a thimble, because OW! The top of the cloves are spikey, too.

A NOTE ABOUT SPICES: You can find MUCH better prices on spices like cinnamon, clove and ginger at ethnic markets than you can at super markets. Indian, Armenian, Middle Eastern, I've found great prices at them all. My super market (Stop and Shop) wanted about $1 apiece for cinnamon sticks, whereas the large bag (probably about 25 sticks) I purchased at the Indian store cost me $2.95. No difference in the spice, mine just came in a plastic bag instead of the fancy glass jar.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Outside

Here are a couple pictures of the lights and fun outside the house:

Limited funds required me to get creative with what I already had, so I lined the path to the back door with my collection of glass lanterns and put LED tea lights in them.
The gold star on the door is a red star I found abandoned in the garage and spray painted (with the same can that did all the pine cones and boughs in my centerpiece.) I also used glitter glue to paint a very elaborate design on the star which, much to my chagrin, wasn't able to survive the crazy ice-storm, snow-storm, sunny 60 degree, humid rain weather-swing and peeled away almost completely before Christmas Eve...

I think next year I'll skip the icicle lights on the roof (a perilous sort of addition anyway...) and run some out to the apple trees instead. I do like the lights in the cedars by the door, although the big one has lights that the previous owner seems to have put in some years ago and are a little hard to see, so I'll have to pull those all out and redo them (and trim that tree!) this summer. I also put red bulb ornaments in the smaller tree and ringed the larger one with bittersweet boughs (that fell off almost immediately since I said, "Oh, I'll wire them in tomorrow" and then we got the ice storm...)

It was a little slapped together looking, I think, but not an altogether failure for a first try.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Big Kitchen Reveal!

When we moved in, the kitchen walls were a pale yellow (that looked sort of greenish) and the light fixture was an ugly standard (the cheapest they sell at home depot.)
Here is a picture:

I wanted to paint it a nice cheery yellow, but found that all that very red woodwork made finding a yellow to stand up to it very difficult. (That's the ugly light fixture.)

The one on the left was a strong enough color not to look green, but it made the wood look cheap, and it also looked very orange in daylight, which wasn't what I wanted.

That's the same color in different light...

So I decided to go for a more subdued wall color with a crazy fun chandelier.

The paint is Morning Gold from Freshaire Choice at Home Depot.

The chandelier is from Gallery 802. The color the fixture came in was more of an eggnog than an ivory, so I spray painted it ivory before I hung it. And those red shades are from Lowes.

Are you shocked? A subdued (comparatively...) color!
Now my only problem is that I find my kitchen clashes with my living room... which I confess I suspected would need to be repainted in the near future about three strokes into painting it blue. Not that I don't LOVE that color, ADORE the blue... but it's maybe a bit much for the living room.

I'm thinking more pink... a nice salmon-y seashell-y pink... Only time (and about 75 paint chips) will tell...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in the Dining Room

This is where the great family Christmas Eve dinner will be taking place:

There's still no proper floor in there, but I figured that was no reason not to dress it all up for the holidays.
The curtains certainly make it feel like a more finished room, and will even more when I get a proper rod for them (they're currently tied up with twine.) I got the idea for the lights behind them (they're icicle lights strung side to side) from a Christmas special I saw on HGTV, and it really does add to the holiday ambiance.

I also finally hung this cute shelf I picked up on the sale rack at target a couple of months ago. The votive holders are the same ones we used for the centerpieces at our wedding. And yes, those are the notorious branches! These were sprayed gold and interspersed with the bittersweet vines (hard to see against the orange walls without the candle lit behind it...)

And while I was having fun with the spray paint I went ahead and did some pine cones (there were lots to be had in all the fallen branches from the storm!) I thought I might tuck them in the tree, or a wreath, but to store them I just put them on a gold plate that was sitting on the dining table (I had switched it out from the fireplace a couple weeks ago and hadn't quite gotten around to properly storing it), and lo! A centerpiece was born!!

I may add a couple red bulbs to the plate and a candle on either side, but what a happy accident that setting was!

I also dressed up the hanging iron baskets I'm using as mini-chandeliers in the corner:

And since the palm tree had to come into a warmer room (there's a door between the dining room and the main house, so we don't normally heat it) I picked up a small potted evergreen to put in his place for the winter months. I will put him in a proper pot and dress him up in sparkly ornaments as well!

There's no such thing as too much sparkle this time of year!!

Okay, who am I kidding? There's NEVER such a thing as too much sparkle!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holy Winter, Batman!

It's been snowing here in the MA suburbs pretty much non-stop since around noon on Friday, and it's supposed to keep going (with another 5-7 inches accumulation) until sometime tonight.

Thankfully we haven't had any more power outages since the two days from the ice storm last week (which did a number on all those lovely White Pines in the neighborhood.)

Who would have ever thought my chiminea would make such a perfect snowman? It makes me regret buying only baby carrots... Another few inches of snow and I really am going to have to go stick some eyes on that thing, the top hat effect is just too perfect!

Our yard has become a cut-through for all the neighborhood kids to get the the field to go sledding. I'm trying very hard to discourage my husband from stockpiling snowballs on the deck for a sneak attack next time he sees some kids. They travel in large packs, I think he would lose, and I worry about my windows...

Which, by the way, are home to some lovely and very dramatic icicles. If you look hard you can see that one goes to the bottom of the picture and beyond. (If you look very hard you can also see a preview of the new kitchen chandelier in the reflection!)

I think Toby-cat has begun missing the garden, because he's hanging out in the parsley pot...


Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Decor is up!

And constantly being changed and shifted and updated... but I thought I may as well get some pictures up here now before Christmas has come and gone with me still trying to figure out where I want everything!

So today I will show you the tree:

And here's a shot where you can see it a little better:

I have up the usual assortment of old wood ornaments, new sparkly ones and the bulbs I decorated in college. This year I've also added a peacock element (an homage to the new wall color):

I stuck feathers in all over the tree, and clipped on three of those peacock ornaments (from Target.)

I had to buy a new topper this year because in all the moving my toilet paper-tube angel got crushed beyond repair. Target, Pier One and Home Goods all failed me in my hunt and I was about to break out the glitter and craft paper again when my Mom called to say she'd found me this one:

At KMart! It came with an ugly plastic cone to make it stick up on the top branch of the tree, but I prefer it snuggled down in the branches like this.

In this shot you can also see the ribbons that I personalized (wired ribbon and glitter glue.)

You may also have noticed that I finally did something with that large pile of branches that I evilly forced my husband to harvest with me in sub-zero (Celsius...) temperatures.

Not that you can see it very well in this picture... but I sprayed them lightly with silver and sprinkled them with crystal glitter, and those are tiny red glass bulbs hanging on there. It looks pretty when I light the candles under it.

I also did something with gold spray paint and the other bunch of branches, but that's in the dining room, and you'll have to wait until tomorrow to see that!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

FreshAire Choice Paint

So I've been wanting to paint my kitchen before the family descends for Christmas...
Which necessarily means that I will be painting with the windows closed. So you might understand why I developed a sudden very strong interest in low VOC, odor free paints. I had done some research on ones I saw ads for and found that were they quite expensive and weren't generally available in stores near me, so I would have to order online. There wasn't much user information available on them either, which made me very reluctant to cough up the $50-60 plus shipping for one gallon.

BUT THEN!! Then I saw that Home Depot is selling a zero VOC paint called FreshAire Choice, and it was under $40 a gallon. So I went to check out the colors and was incredibly pleased to see that their paint chips aren't those useless tiny ones, but 4 inches square! Which makes it so much easier to test the color! The color selection is rather limited, sticking mostly to neutral tones, but they are lovely saturated versions of those colors. And one of them looked quite nice with those difficult wood tones in my kitchen (I won't tell you which yet, because I want the big kitchen reveal to be a surprise!) so I went ahead and got a gallon. The colorant (which is also zero VOC) looked like a package of henna powder, which they dumped in the can and then put in on the shaker. So here's what I found out about the paint:

The PROS: Really, honestly, absolutely NO odor! REALLY! Easy water cleanup, no special tools needed. The paint is pretty thin, so it patches spots very nicely. (blends well)

The CONS: You definitely need 2 coats, I was changing color but staying within one or two tones and could definitely see through places. Also, since the paint is so thin is does scratch off pretty easily, so you've got to be really careful for a couple of days after. It seems to have hardened well in 48 hours, but I confess I haven't really tested it!

CONCLUSION: A little more work than Dutch Boy (which coats very heavily and rarely needs a second coat!) and shamefully limited color pallette (I'm REALLY hoping they expand it soon!), but the total lack of odor and the saving-the-world feeling make me very excited about using this paint over and over again!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


What a time to be in Chicago! Less than a month after their senator is elected president, less than a week before their Governor is arrested- I was there!

The weather was quite cold while I was there- though I've since been informed that the 20-30 degree weather and snow was considered seasonably warm by locals. I said to my sister after I got home that Chicago politicians may have earned the city the nickname "the Windy City", but the weather certainly could have done it on it's own! Though now I think really the politicos are giving the weather a run for it's money...

I had a great time entertaining myself while the Hubby was hard at work during the week- I spent a shameful amount of time shopping, tromping up and down the Magnificent Mile, though that was also incorporated with as much sightseeing and admiring of architecture as the weather allowed (it's hard to look up to all those sky-scrapers when ice is falling from the sky...) But what architecture I did see was pretty incredible.

This is the entrance to (one of the) Bloomingdale's. That Moorish looking entrance was paired with incredible stained glass windows and towers topped with Moorish domes on either end making it look an awful lot like this building was at one time a mosque that some genius preserved and turned into a department store. So much better than tearing down that beautiful building and putting up a big block!

I also got to spend a little time wandering around Millennium Park , admiring the sculptures and crazy stage there.

You can see "the Bean" there in the background. I was bummed to realize that there had been caroling there the night after we'd arrived, which I would have loved to see had I known it was going on. And while I didn't choose to go skating myself I hung around and enjoyed watching these (clearly inexperienced) fellow tourists trying to make it once around the rink.

I did get over to the Art Institute and said hi to the festively dressed lions.

And of course I went in and spent a few hours getting lost, which was made incredibly easier by the construction going on in the "modern wing". They didn't mention that half the rest of the exhibits are also in upheaval during the transformation. I did get to see the American and European wings with their centuries' worth of paintings and furniture, which is what I was really in the mood for anyway.

I particularly enjoyed this painting in the American gallery, but forgot to label it when I took the picture and, despite my best efforts at searching AI's fantastic website, I have no idea who this is painted by. If anyone happens to know...
NOTE: I found it! This painting is called Morning by Claude Joseph Vernet. Turns out I was clever enough to jot the name down on the map of the museum. (just not clever enough to remember I'd done it...)

While my poor husband missed most of the sightseeing as well as the museum, he did get to enjoy quite a few of Chicago's great restaurants. Our personal favorite was one I picked from the hotel guide called Alhambra.

Really you need to go to their website to see the pictures of the interior because, while the food was really very good, the decor is what blew me away! (and without a flash my pics didn't turn out very clear) Be sure to click on the four blocks at the bottom of the navigation menu to see all the rooms. That was where we had our last dinner, and what a final impression to leave with!

Oh, final except for the holiday decorations at O'Hare airport, which were so cheery...

A SIDE NOTE: All of the pictures in this entry were taken with my Samsung Sync camera phone. Not bad, huh? If you click on the images you can see larger sizes- check out that lion!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Beautiful Jewelry I can Afford!

Last weekend (two weekends ago? who can keep track... )

Sometime in the recent past... I accompanied my mother to a Gem and Jewelry Show.

I'd never had much interest in going to one because frankly the word "gem" is out of my price range. I didn't realize that fully half of the show is things that I can afford, like beads and wire to make my own jewelry, jade and pearl creations from China, and the occasional much more expensive looking gem (look, turns out I can afford to use it!) buried amongst the rest. Here is the one I found (and obviously took home with me!):

That's a rather overexposed shot, so here's an underexposed one to balance it out:

The designer, Babrbara Garwood, was manning the table herself and was more than happy to tell me the wonderful story of how her pieces are created. Inspired by designs she sees in museums, Ancient Byzantine being one of her favorite influences, she sketches out each piece and sends her sketches to Mongolian master-craftsmen where the pieces are constructed from silver wires, enamel, jewels and stones and coated in 24 karat cold. Even the backs of her pieces are gorgeous!

She has a website where you can see some of her other stuff and see the unbelievable prices. I practically got this pendant for free because as pieces sell out at her show, she takes the odd men left from sets (like someone else bought the earrings and necklace that match this) and puts them in a box and marks everything $34! So with tax my pendant was $35! Unbelievable...

Someday, these earrings will also belong to me...:$88!!

Though these are gorgeous, too...:Ahh, to shop, perchance to dream?...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Let There Be (Pretty) Light!

I've finally found a fixture to replace that awful (ok, not awful, but awfully plain and traditional) light on my dining room ceiling!
This is the fixture that was up there before:Except the shade was a pure white, which cast an awful, glaring light.

And this is what I've replaced it with:

I also installed a dimmer switch for it (and when I say "I", I mean the same friend that helped us do the window-sills,) which might have helped the old fixture be more user-friendly.
I'm so happy that before the family descends for the holidays I actually have lighting that will simultaneously allow me to create a lovely candlelit atmosphere, and the guests to see their food!

I confess that this wasn't my first choice, I wanted something arm-y that wasn't flush mount so that when we get a real table set (to replace this patio set we stole from our deck, which is bar height) we can lower the light accordingly. But my husband loved this one (as did my mother) and it was one of my top three choices, so I guess with this style it doesn't matter so much if it's not 30 inches above the table top, right?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Baby, It's COLD Outside!!

Is that ICE on my River?!!!

Yes it is. It's been below freezing for a little over a week now, but I didn't think a moving river would freeze so quickly! Shows how much I know...

Despite the below-freezing temperatures, Saturday afternoon I evilly forced my husband out on a bittersweet collecting trip. I thought, ,"He's always complaining that we don't spend enough time outside, he loves a little hike, and he skis, so the cold really shouldn't bother him." Boy was I wrong!

Bittersweet is a vine that grows around other plants (and trees and telephone poles) and in the fall grows beautiful reddish-orange berries. The vines make wonderful holiday wreaths and garlands, and though I've never made either before I thought I'd give it a try.

So we took a trip back to the fields we'd taken the dogs running a couple of weeks ago, where I knew there was plenty of foliage to be found. Clippers in hand, we hiked out and partook of the bounty.

For about 20 minutes.

After which my husband was complaining so loudly of the cold that I gave up!

We did manage to come home with two big arm-loads of bittersweet and enough birch branches to fill my two big vases.

These branches in the blue living room I'll spray a silvery white and sprinkle with an opalescent glitter. I'll make a trip back to the Christmas Tree Shop to see if they still have the battery operated mini lights, which I'll weave in the vase and lower parts of the branches.

And these in my orange and red dining room I'll try to give an antique gold coating. I may have to make my first attempt at gold-leafing to get the look I'm thinking of! For the lighting on this bunch I've put a short pillar candle behind it so it up-lights the branches, casting a really cool pattern on the ceiling.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Great New Christmas CD!

Rachel Ray has come out with a Christmas CD, and it's fantastic!

No, no, she hasn't taken up singing (probably a good thing since she always seems to be losing her voice,) she has gathered together a bunch of classic Christmas songs on one very well priced CD. I picked up How Cool is That Christmas at Borders books for $5.99! What makes it really great is that while they are songs I recognize, they are versions that I haven't heard on the radio a million times (and I'm one of those people that listens to 103.3 as soon as they start playing the holiday tunes, which was the day after Halloween this year!)
Strangely, Amazon is selling this same album for twice as much money...

I also received Harry Connick Jr's 3rd holiday album, What A Night! I have been playing his first, When My Heart Finds Christmas, for about 6 years now, and while I adore it, my husband was getting a bit sick of it. I wasn't sure if this one would live up to the legend of the other, but it's pretty darn good! It's jazzier than the first was, but while I'm less tempted to sing along I think it will be great to have on in the background while cooking (and you know, dancing around the kitchen!) And best of all, it sounds different enough from the first one that the husband has no cause to complain!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Christmas is A Comin' !!

I know, I know! It's not even Thanksgiving yet! I know because my husband keeps yelling that at me...

And although I can't begin playing Christmas music (when the husband is home...) until after the Turkey has been eaten, and can't go buy my tree until someone is actually selling them (yes I still buy real ones and spend the intervening year sweeping them up,) no one can stop me from planning the decorations!

So I spent the afternoon on looking for inspiration, and here's what I found:

I love the traditional look of this red white and gold theme. It always seems so hard to get that wonderfully full look they have achieved here. How to do that without looking like a rats nest?

They've done a good job of that on this slightly more Toyland tree, too. Though since my living room walls are now blue, I don't think the classic Christmas green will look quite right against it.

I am strangely drawn to the white trees this year. Strange, of course, because I have banished all the white walls in my house... But I like how easy it is to do a shimmery ethereal effect, or...

go for a real POP!

Sadly, a pretty white tree is neither in the budget, nor the list of allowed items my youngest sister (who has taken over planning family Christmas at my house) has issued. Maybe I'll find a nice one at the after-Christmas sales and have two trees next year...
On an unrelated note, I adore that coffee table! Or part of that coffee table... it depends on what those insets are: tile good; glass bad! And is that wall above the fireplace bronzed?

Speaking of tables, I found some interesting ideas for that, too.

I like the combination of the natural and shiny elements. Though the shininess of the orb candles on the stag is somehow distracting... possibly it is less so in real life. But what a striking stag that is! I would love to find something like that. Though, frankly, I would never spend the money required to purchase one that large! But a nice idea...

And while this one isn't quite so striking, I have a scarf that I could use for that table runner, and I have some gold chargers and cream pillar candles... so really I copied this because I could conceivably do that with what I already own! And though I can't see it completely, I am fascinated by that chandelier!

And finally:

The guest bedroom! I have plans to paint the guest bedroom a nice spring green, and how cute would it be to turn it into a little Christmas suite with pops of red and gold?! I also really like the effect of the twinkle lights in the glass vase. The Christmas Tree Shop had tiny strands of battery-operated mini lights for like $3 that I liked but couldn't think of anything to do with, and those would be perfect in a vase! Maybe with some sparkley branches stuck in there... ooh I like that idea!

I don't suppose my husband could complain if I just started experimenting with decorating ideas... it's not really decorating then, right??