November 22, 2015

A Thanksgiving Mantel

My mantel, like those of many others who use the surface as a source of display and inspiration for an upcoming holiday, is a reflection of one's life, of special items and trinkets, images and message that "speak" to us.

This year's Thanksgiving mantel has evolved from my Halloween mantle, which I wasn't clever enough to photograph this year before I re-arranged and replaced some of the items - sorry! It's the first time I've placed so many 5" x 7" picture frames of favorite postcards and greeting cards on the mantel. I've accumulated both frames (most made of wood and sourced from thrift shops or church rummage sales for just a dollar or two - great sources for nice frames and glass!) and seasonal autumn and Thanksgiving images that I enjoy, so I decided to give some of them pride of place on the mantel this year.

I also picked up six pretty pumpkin-colored taper candles for 25 cents each at a local thrift shop in my area that helps generate support for local at-risk teens and families. I love this little store that always has some terrific items at very affordable prices that I invariably come away with something neat to use, give as a great gift and even to re-sell on eBay. I sent two of the candles to the life-long friend who sent me the first card on the left (above) with the pretty autumn leaves a few years ago. I always hang onto cards and images that I love -- you never know where they'll work for some other purpose, whether photocopied or used as is.

And speaking of eBay, I got two of the four ceramic candle holders with leaves and acorn bands around the base at Goodwill, and found the other pair on eBay. I think smaller items like this work best in quantity -- two is nice, but four is better - they make more of a statement.  I also find eBay is the best source for appealing and affordable vintage Thanksgiving postcards from the early 20th century -- they're beautifully detailed and have a wonderful timeless appeal for this most timeless of holidays. I try to pick up at least one each year.

It's a little hard to see the small square image on left above - it's a card I bought years a go of a tiny photograph of a country road surrounded by leaves. I love images of scenic rural roads in autumn...there's something so special about that subject - pulling you into the scene and inviting you to travel down that road in your imagination, especially during a season that's so visually glorious, yet so fleeting, so ephemeral.

Smack in the center of the mantel is a beautiful jar (missing its lid) in one of my favorite pottery patterns -- Mason's Fruit Basket in their red variation. This jar is similar to another one I've had for years, but it's slightly different since it has an iridescent glaze that reflects the colors of the rainbow as the light bounces off its gleaming surface.

Just to the left of the jar is a tiny, porcelain, hinged trinket box with a "turkey" surrounded by fruits and vegetables on its lid. I found this in an antiques store in the region two years ago and had to have it, along with its companion cornucopia hinged box below.

The two little ceramic pumpkins were enclosed inside the cornucopia -- how darling are they? So sweet! They're barely the size of a pea or bean! I love these little vintage treasure boxes!

The cute terracotta turkey votive candle holder came from another Goodwill store in the region. Might have been a dollar...certainly not much more than that.

I can't recall where the pretty carved gold frame came from, and the card was just one I picked up several years ago because I loved the image of pumpkins in, and next to, a wire basket atop a rustic dusty blue/aqua wooden box, and its simple message "Gather Together" that reminds me of the traditional Thanksgiving hymn, "We Gather Together" that we sang at school every year for 12 years. That's what I love about Thanksgiving - the traditions. It's not a religious holiday, per se, but a quintessentially American celebration of appreciation of the things we all have to be thankful for -- our freedom, our bountiful land and harvest, our friends and families -- that the "new world" provided to the European pilgrims who initially settled here, joining the native peoples who preceded them and things that we sometimes take for granted so readily today.

Enjoy all that this special holiday brings to you and your life. 

October 23, 2015

Tea Time in London Town - A Warm Memory

It's no secret that there's something wonderfully comforting about tea for those who enjoy its taste and charms. I've been a tea-drinker since childhood - probably a function of my maternal grandmother's influence (as a native of Northern Ireland).

Tea was, and is, always there when I was chilled or wanted something warm and flavorful. I enjoy a wide variety of blends, but Earl Grey is my strong preference. Something about the scent of the bergamot orange is like a warm embrace to me. I prefer my tea with cream (or milk) and sugar.

Often lately, this chilly autumn weather has brought to mind a memory of one of my most enjoyable tea experiences.

I was traveling for business to London, and was booked into a charming townhouse hotel in Notting Hill.

Typical for those flying "across the pond" from the west (I departed from Boston), I arrived at Heathrow airport at about 6:00 a.m. local time, so it was very early to arrive at the hotel. The lovely young woman who greeted me when I arrived, explained that my room wasn't available yet - no surprise, since the current occupants probably weren't even awake themselves at that hour, let alone checked out. As an alternative, she invited me to relax in the "lounge" - a cozy, den-like living room overlooking the garden behind the hotel (essentially a townhouse).

(The rendering at top and photo above are from the now-former hotel's brochure.)

Thoughtfully, she asked if I'd like some tea -- that was just the thing. I was weary from traveling and it was a chilly, early November day. Nothing could have been more welcoming and soothing after a nearly 6-hour trans-Atlantic flight.

I recall vividly the blue and white china on which my "arrival" tea was served. It was a familiar traditional pattern offered by several different makers - Johnson Brothers "Blue Denmark" is one version. You can see it in the photo above as the tea service to the left on the coffee table.

For whatever reason, that lovely china pattern always makes me think of that wonderful cup of tea and of time spent in London, nearly 20 years ago. I returned to that hotel twice more thereafter, in part, because it had two resident cats who were a delightful reminder of my own kitties at home.

The hotel was renovated a few years after my stays there, and it was operated for a few more years before being sold and converted back into a residential property. It probably was the best possible outcome for such a charming old building, but certainly a loss for travelers who appreciated its warm and welcoming environs.


October 18, 2015

Same Time, Same Place, Different Year

Last year, at about this same time - mid-October, I was struck by these glorious sugar maples that shade a path between horse paddocks in the countryside of New York's beautiful Columbia County, in the Hudson Valley. I was passing them again yesterday and I stopped to snap another photo (above) of their incredible, fiery orange/red brilliance. Mother Nature truly is the best artist of all.

After picking up my mail (I still get it delivered at the charming, tiny local post office), I passed these crimson beauties again en route to my favorite annual church sale. The sale always draws a big crowd and there are fantastic bargains to be found, but like any good garage, tag or estate sale, it pays to be early -- and to come back later for mark-downs.

I've been going to this sale for more than 20 years and it never disappoints. I had recently decided that, while I love the various holiday themed transferware Thanksgiving plates that feature wonderful, elaborate images of the feathered and robust "Tom Turkey", surrounded, of course, by border vignettes of gourds like pumpkins and squashes like these English ones from Myott/Queen's,

I have been leaning lately toward a slightly different, but equally historic image of a 1797 3-masted East Indiaman merchant ship, the Friendship of Salem. I'd recently come across several dinner plates of this Johnson Brothers pattern at my local Goodwill. They were in mint condition, so I bought them for about $5 thinking they were an interesting take on the historic theme. No turkeys to be seen, but the ship images are in brown on a white background, so they fit the color palette for the holiday nicely, with its golds, browns, rusts, etc.

So imagine my surprise - and delight - that I came across not one, but two more dinner plates, also in perfect shape, at the church sale in the "make an offer" tent. I didn't hesitate to snap them up and add them to my growing pile of items.  I had at least 12-14 items in hand and paid $10 for it all, so that means the plates were less than $1 each. Quite the coup!

I'm thrilled I got them, of course, but I'm still kicking myself for not acting quickly enough soon thereafter in grabbing a set of 8 of the same plates, 8 cups and saucers and 8 small finger bowls of the same pattern (!!!) located in the nearby church hall, where the more expensive items were individually priced. The set of 8 settings were priced at just $15 for the set. Less than 50 cents each for 36 pieces, but before I could make my way back to the table where they were located, someone was already in the process of buying them. All I could think was the old adage, "He [or in this case, she] who hesitates is lost"...or, equally applicably, "the early bird gets the worm".

I didn't get that particular worm, but I came away with soom good finds and contributed to the church's good works in the community. There's always next year, and a keen reminder during this season of giving thanks, that if you have things you aren't using and a garage sale isn't in your program and you wish to donate them, make the effort to take them to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or, if there isn't a convenient outlet near you, give them to a local house of worship that collects such things for their periodic or annual sales. I've both donated and bought and they're equally gratifying.

I also arranged for a storage unit this week that I'll begin to use starting in November. I have had storage units in the past, and have been without a nearby unit for about a year, but the trade-off in cost savings is having seasonal things take up space at home that really belong in storage until their seasons return next year. As I begin to move toward my "post-employment" life and other pursuits that interest me, access to the storage unit becomes an even more important resource. I don't have to pay to heat it or cool it, and it just becomes an important adjunct to my living space. The garage, which has served as the overflow outlet during the warmer months, must be freed up to accommodate the car during the snow season. (There is nothing I dislike more than scraping ice and snow off my car - I want it under cover during winter - it's why I live in a home that has a garage.)

The next few weeks will be spent moving things into the garage that are going to storage, so I can load them into the back of my car easily and take them over to the unit. I'm looking forward to having the living space being just that - living space - again and not a variation on expensive heated storage.  I'll have a lot to be thankful for come Thanksgiving - that's for sure!

September 25, 2015

Been Gone a Long Time, But I'm Back Now

Consider this a very long overdue (and I mean really long!) morning greeting, a "Hello, how are you?" inquiry...and something of a blog peace offering. I've been gone for what seems like forever...I know. It has been far longer than I realized. It's something of an embarrassment, because, well, I hate following blogs where the authors suddenly disappear for extended periods, leaving little behind except wondering/worry. In fact, I stop following them because I find it frustrating and disappointing.

I tried for quite a while to keep this blog breathing, at least, if not thriving. But life always seems to intervene and time escapes into the veritable ether. I wish I could do better, but working full-time surrounded by a busy life beyond work has made focusing on the blog more time-consuming than I could afford. And, realistically, I do this for me and to be worth the time of the few who have been following here. I appreciate that others find what I have to say of interest, but finding time to share it has been challenging for most of 2015.

I won't promise to do better because I'm not sure that will be possible for a while, but I'll try to do what I can when I can. I have a long-range goal, but it's still a few years away, when I'll have the time to devote to such indulgent pursuits, but that time hasn't been much of this year, unfortunately.

Still, this moment is one of those elusive times when I can share, so here are a few tidbits from recent days that have made me smile and give a hint at what I'm working toward.

First, the planter of flowers above have made me smile all through the late spring, summer, and now into the first days of fall. Those bright pink impatiens started as tiny transplants from a few six-packs of shoots back in May. It never ceases to amaze me how they literally consume much of that planter! The purple and white taller flowers are perennials and I'm trying to decide how best to keep them through the winter. Not sure yet if I'll put them in another, smaller pot and whether that should stay outdoors through the bitter cold or perhaps in a more sheltered location in the garage. We'll see on that.

Then, just two days ago, I scored two nice coups. I'd been at my local Michael's store on Tuesday to pick up some paint for a tiny repair project and saw, once again, a cheerful rooster throw pillow I'd seen weeks earlier and admired, but thought was a tad pricey at $29.99. It now was sitting in the 50% off grouping of selected autumn items, but even at $14.99, I still was not motivated to grab it. It was a good size and did have a nice removable beige cotton cover with a pretty, contrasting twisted stain rope trim in a nice rust color. But I still passed.

Then, while at work on Wednesday, I got a promotional email from Michaels alerting customers on their mailing list to a BIG, limited time sale - most items could be had for 20% off, whether regular OR sale price - with the coupon in the emal flyer, but only on that day and for a few short hours. Bingo! I popped in after work and picked up the pillow for $12.83 including tax!

I'm a fan of roosters (though not to excess) and have always had a lot of blue in my decor. This pillow fit the bill for my currently very loosely slipcovered wing chair (a nice, new slipcover I nabbed on eBay this week for $20 is on the way, too).

I haven't broken out the pumpkins and all the other pieces of my fall decor yet this year, but I'm thinking this year's autumn theme will incorporate more touches of blue and red to the oranges, yellows and greens.  Along those lines, I picked up a nice platter at Goodwill few weeks ago that I actually had listed to sell on eBay, but now that I see it with the pillow, I'm thinking it's the perfect complement to this decorative scheme since it has what I think of as "blanket stripes" but not the traditional Hudson's Bay motif.

It's a bit hard to tell in the photo, but that middle stripe below the red actually is a nice, deep olive green, and the platter does pick up the colors of the rooster rather nicely, so I'm keeping the platter for now and will put it on the white and red painted steamer trunk that I've had for 50 years and currently serves as my "coffee" table in front of the fireplace. I'm liking the insertion of these nice blues into the usual seasonal oranges, yellows, golds, rusts and browns of autumn decor. Maybe I'll sell the platter later, but, for now, I want to enjoy it as part of my decorative scheme for the fall.

Then, as if my good fortune in snagging the pillow wasn't enough, I happened to be scrolling through the local furniture listings on Craigslist and spotted a pair of classic, weathered teak wood deck chairs being offered by a seller nearby. Her post had only been up for 3 hours, so I promptly contacted the seller and got the two chairs for $30. Quite a nice buy for a great pair of foldable chairs that complement the weathered arm chairs and bench I've had for a number of years. While it's getting to be a little late in the season to enjoy them outdoors for much longer, I'm happy to have them to use in the future, whether indoors or out. (Hint to savvy, late summer/early fall is a great time to seek out terrific buys on outdoor furniture...most folks just want it gone and you can get some serious bargains on some very good stuff!)

I hope the stories of these fun scores have been some small consolation for the many months I've been absent. I'm in that inevitable phase of life where I'm preparing to transition from being a full-time worker for others after many decades to being a full-time worker for myself. I'm not calling it "retirement" - that's not  the game plan at this stage - but working at what I want to do is something I'm looking forward to for a long time. As I said earlier, it's a process and is not happening all at once, but I am moving toward that goal and hope you'll stick with me as the path unfords. I'm excited about the possibilities ahead, but not ready (or able) to leap just yet. In the meantime, I'll continue to share stories of fun events and little coups along the way.

January 24, 2015

Mid-Winter Musings...

Well, my last visit here was a long-overdue attempt to catch up on the holidays and life in general. I've managed to get back here to post less than three months later, which in itself is something of an accomplishment.

With the holiday frenzy past, it's really a time for quiet reflection, and an opportunity to take care of some things at home - you know, the things that you put off for a winter day because it's too nice outside the rest of the year to be stuck inside.  But stuck inside we are lately - it has been bitter cold, not necessarily terrible weather (thank heavens!) but frigid and not a fun time to play outdoors, unless you really love all those winter sports that make you put on layers and puffy attire that makes one look like the Michelin Tire man...not a good look for most folks, if you ask me.

I've got stacks of things to deal with piled up at the abode, so grey winter days like these are truly perfect for sitting down and tackling them to try to make a dent in the accumulation. It'll take a few of these weekend days to get through them, but there's no compelling reason to go out right now, so that's my plan.

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, though I think it's a good idea to try to do certain things differently, or better or just be a better person, etc.  I did make a couple of unofficial resolutions late last year - one was to have more fun.  It seems a simple notion, but sometimes I get so focused on work, or taking care of essentials at home, or laundry, or whatever, that I don't do as many of the things that I used to in years past that I still enjoy.  Mind you, I can have fun just having a quiet day or evening at home, and rarely do I go out to do something "fun" for its own sake unless it's really appealing to me, but I am going to make a point of doing more of those things I enjoy.  I'm sure I'll do them when the weather is milder in spring, summer and fall, but I've resolved to make a concerted effort to do more now, when it's not so nice outside.  For example, I can't remember the last time I went to a museum or art gallery - something I love to do - so I've already made a plan to visit an art gallery that I've wanted to visit for nearly a year.  It's not nearby, but it's not so far that I can't get there in less than 90 minutes, so I'm headed there in February when I'll be en route to another destination that's farther still - about 2 1/2 hours from home - that I enjoy and haven't visited in a few years.  I'm looking forward to enjoying them both.

I've also been of the view for years that the best way to make the long cold months of winter feel like they're going by more quickly is to plan activities periodically that I can look forward to.  It breaks up the season, so by the time one gets into February, things feel like they're moving more quickly toward spring...always a good thing in my view.

In the meantime, I had a craving this week for a menu item that used to be a very popular in years - okay, a few decades - past, so I picked up the ingredients in my grocery store and made it today.  No one will suggest that there's anything to recommend the calories or fat or anything else that this decadent item delivers, but it's one of the comfort food tastes of those years ago, so I made it.  I give you my classic quiche Lorraine!

Yes, the one with eggs, cream, Swiss cheese, crumbled bacon and sauteed onions all contained in a crust (ready-made in this case) within a classic, fluted quiche dish.  I haven't made it in a long while, but I made it, or variations on it, so often that I didn't need a recipe and it turned out perfectly.  It puffed up beautifully, baked in a 400F oven for 10 minutes, then turned down to 325F for 40 minutes more and voila!  I love my quiche dish, too. It's one of the traditional ceramic pottery ones that was made by Pfaltzgraff for their Yorktowne line and mine has been used so often that it shows all kinds of vintage crazing - I happen to love that in this dish in particular - it shows how much it is a favorite for all kinds of items.

So, bunndle up, put another log on the fire, relax, have a glass of wine (or whatever), a slice of traditional French quiche, a bit of green salad, and enjoy!


December 29, 2014

Mid-Holiday Musings

It's always a challenge when work and life create a schedule that's just non-stop and such was the case for me in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It was so frantic that I literally didn't have a chance to do any real decorating for the holidays - not something I'm happy about, but sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day.

I did put a few things on the mantle, but just a few and they were small. I never really fully unpacked the storage boxes. I just didn't have the time or energy to make a big production of Christmas this year.  Last year, at this time, I was literally in the process of moving to my current home, so I had an excuse then, too.  This year, I was changing jobs, just starting the new one and I was flat-out exhausted getting up to speed.  It's only becuase I had a few days off last week and will have a few more this week that I can start to relax and breathe.

I'm hoping that by this time next year my life won't have yet another major event to create the crunch that I've felt so keenly during the holidays for the past two years. I didn't even have a chance to take any decent photos of the late fall/early winter season. The one above is from last winter - February, actually - because we have no snow right now...thank goodness. We did have some snow - we were hit the day after I started my new job about 3 weeks ago with a heavy snowstorm that left 8 inches of the white stuff behind.  What a treat that I was trying to adjust to a new commute to a new place and gauge how much time I needed to allow to arrive on time each morning. Ugh!

The good news is that we've had some unusually warm weather in the days since that big snow, so it's essentially gone. Did I mention I'm not a big fan of snow?  Yes, I grew up right here in the area and snow is nothing new in upstate New York, but I'm not a skier, not a skater or a hiker or any kind of winter recreational's just not my season, except to curl up in front of a fire with a kitty and a good book, or cook hearty, comfort food and periodically refill the bird feeder.

Speaking of the bird feeder, that's something of a misnomer, I fear.  It's really a squirrel feeder now...the birds stop by, but the resident squirrels have command of that area of the yard. Despite the squirrel baffle, the feeder is just close enough to the privacy fence that the squirrels - there's a ringleader among them, I'm sure - have  fairly easy access.  I have to say, I don't really mind...any wildlife is entertaining for me and the kitties to watch each morning and I'm happy to help them survive the winter's cold.

As you can see if you look closely, there's one squirrel actually perched on the feeder enjoying a morning meal, while his (or her) friend is climbing up the fence. (There's quite a lot of seed on the ground below as a result of the squirrels' leaps onto the feeder swings wildly whenever they land or take off.) There are several squirrels who make daily stops by the breakfast cafe that is my bird I said, it's fine. There's plenty of feed and the birds get their share, too.

Like the holiday season, I'm hoping the winter flies by and we'll be gearing up for spring again. It can't come soon enough for me!

Happy New Year!


December 6, 2014

Playing Catch-Up: Post-Thanksgiving Review

Once again, I'm playing catch-up. November was a busy month, and it had barely gotten started when I was hit with a cold/flu/bug/thing on the 8th that made everything even more challenging. I was pretty well under the weather for the first two weeks, and gradually have been feeling less like I was hit by a bus, but not quite 100% a full month later.  Who knew?  Certainly not part of my plan for the month, but I am so rarely ill that when I am, I hunker down, do what I need to do to get better, though sometimes these bugs take their own sweet time to leave your body and your life.

Happily, I'm nearly there, but Thanksgiving, which is one of my favorite holidays, was essentially a non-event for me. I knew early on that I would be declining any invitations to join others' celebrations.  I had ear-marked the time to catch up on as much sleep as I could, and I had already made my own preparations for a simple holiday meal that I fondly call "personal pan poultry" - aka Cornish game hen - and a bit of home-made traditional bread stuffing and Brussels sprouts.  

For those of you who live in the Northeast, and for anyone who was attuned to the news in the weeks prior to Thanksgiving, you'll know that Western New York was beyond slammed with a huge snowstorm in early November - not uncommon for that part of the state, but the volume - 8 feet and more! - was well beyond typical for the region in mid-autumn.  And it just wouldn't quit.  I spent a few years dealing with Western New York  (along with a good chunk of the rest of the state) in a previous professional life, so while I don't live there, I did feel the locals' pain. What a nightmare! 

Fortunately, my part of the state was relatively unscathed, but eastern New York had its share of early season snow on the day before Thanksgiving - about 8 inches by the time it was done on Thanksgiving morning. When I got home that Wednesday at about 4pm, I was well prepared to hole up indoors and not go out -- and I didn't venture out until the Saturday after the holiday.

So, in belated honor of Thanksgiving, I'm sharing the above vintage postcard that I purchased on eBay several weeks ago from a seller in Tennessee. It was a nice card, certainly, but there was something else about it that compelled me to spend a few dollars (very few, fortunately) to buy it.  It was inscribed on back in ink (clearly from a fountain pen) by "Addie" to her brother, "Fred" and - although neither stamped nor postmarked - it was addressed to a rural route located in Schaghticoke, New York. Huh? Where, you ask? Well, Schaghticoke (pronunced SKAT-ti-coke) is a small, rural town in eastern New York not far from the Vermont border (in Rensselaer County, actually) that I know quite well, and which isn't very far from where I live.  It seemed only appropriate to buy it for the few pennies being asked so I could bring it back home to upstate New York.

I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving and you're gearing up for the December holidays and festivities ahead.  I'll try to get back here to post before they've passed!