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! 


November 4, 2014

From Mid-Summer to Mid-Autumn - Whoosh!

Wow...once again, I'm lagging far behind in this blogging thing. The high-speed activity level of the year has continued unabated and I barely have time to think, let alone write, but I'm grabbing these few minutes to update a bit.

I'm limited these days to using the fireplace mantle as my outlet for creativity...there just hasn't been much time to do more in the house, so the mantle it is.  About six weeks ago, as the leaves were just starting to change here in the Northeast - I took the photo above at a lovely horse farm nearby at the height of peak fall color about 3 weeks ago - so I decked out the mantle for fall - well, actually for Halloween more precisely. I've managed to accumulate quite a few fall items that I carry forward from year-to-year, so it was a treat to break them out again even if I wanted the warm days to linger for a while. Fortunately, the warmer temperatures did linger, so I cannot complain. It has been a lovely autumn season and there are still many trees with brightly colored leaves, though the "peak" of the foliage display has passed.

So, for autumn/Halloween, I used some new pieces and some treasured items.

The centerpiece of my autumnal decor is that sweet pumpkin teapot. It's an exact replica of one that my late mother gave me about 20 years ago as a birthday gift, but, sadly, it was broken by one of my mischievous kitties (at my former home). I realized over the years that it was a special keepsake and I wanted to find another just like it, if I could. Well, don't you know, I did find one on eBay and at a reasonable price, so now it takes pride of place at the center of my mantle for the fall season.

The teapot is surrounded by some Halloween items I've had for a few years - none particularly costly - many picked up at local discount stores, thrift stores or church sales, but I just liked their style or feel. Most were less than a dollar.  The larger faux pumpkins/gourds I picked up last winter when my local K-Mart was closing. (Glad there's still another one about 15 miles away or I'd be very sad -- K-Mart is great for fun things like this -- sometimes they're a bit hokey and overdone, but easily re-made or minimized with a change of ribbon, etc. for a more elegant style.)  I also love the little metal votive candle holders with the cut-out pumpkins - they're a bit hard to make out in the photo, but so fun at night when illuminated!

For another inexpensive seasonal element, I cut out two sides of a six-pack carton of Blue Moon pumpkin ale. I'm not a big beeer drinker, but if I do have a pilsner on occasion, I like the fuller flavored brews like the richly flavored ales one finds at this time of year.  I thought the appealing graphic design of Blue Moon's pumpkin ale carton was very well done - and fun! -so there is one side of the carton adding a bit of bright blue contrast to the orange of the pumpkins. I found the little blue terra cotta jack-o-lantern votive holder at Goodwill a few years just spoke to me.

If you look closely, you'll see a small wooden black cat hanging ornament with an applied jack-o-lantern just to the left of the teapot spout. I think my mom gave me that one, too, for my birthday one year (November 1), so I gather she thought it was a cute combination of elements that would appeal to me, being a cat person, too. In the foreground is a charming small banner that I picked up at a delightful gift shop in Kinderhook, NY, several years ago that features beautifully hand-made primitive items. This banner consists of three sections of a stiff paper, faux-painted to mimic wood with a pinked edge and, cleverly hand-lettered with "The Witch is In" and "Halloween". The sections are strung together with heavy black thread and it's a hoot! 

I must confess Halloween, while fun for me as a child, has never really been my favorite celebration. As I've gotten older, I sometimes avoid the fray and go out for dinner - no more costume parties for me, thank you - but a commitment kept me at home this year, so the handful of trick-or-treaters I did greet wasn't much of a bother and, fortunately, I was prepared for them.  I just remind myself that it's always a fun tradition for the kids - especially the littlest ones - so I just rolled with it. It was fine.

Now that Halloween has past, I've put away those items and have started pulling out the Thanksgiving pieces, but before I get heavily into that celebration, I'm giving the mantle a bit of focus on just the fall season. I've replaced the pumpkin teapot with a fun new one that I just found recently that works perfectly.  I'll be posting images of the current mantle display soon, so stay tuned for that and the change-up to Thanksgiving. The holidays are rolling in fast and furiously now, so I promise it won't be long!

July 5, 2014

A Very Bunny July 4 Mantle

This year, I'm still getting settled in my new home, so the festival holiday decorating is, out of necessity, restrained and contained. Still, I do like to use the fireplace mantle as the focal point for any celebratory displays.  Since my July 4 decorations were somewhat limited, as well, it seemed the best way to use them was atop the mantle.

I picked up Mr. and Mrs. Independence Day bunnies at a July 4 festival in central New York about 25 years ago. I was heavily into my "country home" period and they just appealed to me. (My only stuffed animal to survive from childhood was a beloved bunny, so this pair spoke to me instantly when I saw them, snapped them up and brought them home.)

To my disappointment, I discovered that Mrs. bunny lost one of the tiny wooden beads that served as eyes (as you can see on Mr. bunny). Not sure how that happened, but they've been in storage in an uncovered box for some months so I can only assume the single thread keeping it tethered simplly broke and I didn't notice. Still, the beads are quite small and I thought she could do with some larger "eyes" and I found a pair of pretty, bright blue buttons that I though would do the trick very nicely. (I'm thinking about a similar pair of red buttons for Mr. bunny in due course.)

None of this is very fancy as holiday gestures go, just a few things that are in keeping with the spirit of the holiday, all linked by some fun red foil-covered wire with stars to provide the requisite "fireworks" and sparkle. It's the best I can do at this stage...more elaborate decor will be possible in the months ahead, I'm sure, but I should have the full compliment of July 4th regalia for next year.

After a somewhat rainy start on the 4th, the weather in the Great Northeast is expected to be summer perfection for the whole weekend!  Hope your July 4th was a fun and festive celebration and the holiday weekend is a happy, healthy and safe one! 

June 21, 2014

Fast Forward to Summer!

I admit it. I've been AWOL. It has been a busy crazy spring and I have no other excuse, but I'm hoping posting today, on this first day of summer, that I'll be forgiven.  I've got some photos to share...nothing spectacular, but better than none at all.

As I mentioned the last time, I moved into a new home at the first of the year.  I'd rather not get into photos of the home itself because it has been - and continues to be - a rather protracted settling in process, but I have been spending time out in the yard and creating the start of a pleasant environment out there.  My home has a lot of northern exposure, so doesn't get a ton of direct sunlight inside (except through the skylight at mid-day), but as the sun moves around during the day that yard gets a good bit of direct sun from about mid-day on and plenty in the afternoon.

Since I don't have the time or energy to get into creating a vegetable garden, I am experimenting with container plants, mostly flowers and herbs that I can shift around to capture maximum sun.  I've picked up some of the usual annuals - geraniums, petunias, a few snapdragons, some vinca vine - and have been enjoying their constant blooms since late spring.

I also decided I'd be a little bit ambitious and start some annual flowers from seeds, just to see if I could create a real display of vibrant color. I've always admired the brilliant zinnias that a friend grows annually, so I'm giving them a go, along with morning glory and some cleome.  I've grown the latter two in the past and always liked them, but it has been quite a while since I've grown anything from seed, so this will be a little bit of an adventure.  Perhaps in another month or so, I'll have some new colors in bloom...we'll see.

In the meantime, here are a few shots of my efforts to date.      

February 1, 2014

New Year, New Home

Well, the 2013 holiday season (post-Thanksgiving) came and went, and while I'd started a Christmas Day post, I only got as far as the first word..."I".  Now, more than a month later, and after several interrupted attempts in January, I'm finally back to give it another go on February 1, so belated Happy New Year (plus 31 days)!

To be fair, I had something of a legitimate excuse for my absence -- I moved.  Again.  Seems like it is something I've done several times during the past few years - actually I have moved twice since 2010 - so while I've learned never to say "never" and certainly nothing is forever (sigh), this move was a deliberate one to a very neat place that I looked long and hard to find. 

The latest move was driven, in part, by my changing job situation and location, so once the job location was settled, I set about to find a place that would meet my fairly short but very firm list of needs.  The past few years have been ones of some compromise involving the location of my residence, and being the "mom" of several beloved if somewhat aged felines that have been with me since the day their little furry selves were born at my former farm in the country, they were the number one non-negotiable.  Where I go, they go.

Fortunately, after several months of scouring the market (which, fortunately, is something I also do as part of my job, so fairly easy to manage), I found the perfect place.  Another requirement was that it be very near my workplace.  That's not something that was important to me in the past, when I actually preferred to be in the country and just far enough from the office (25 miles) that it wasn't too nearby, but was easy to get to via the nearby interstate highway network.

But times change, preferences change, and I've reached a point where, even though I've always loved driving and travel, my days of commuting more than a few minutes are done.  Gas is no longer as cheap as it was back when I had that easy, 30-minute commute, so the goal at this point was to find a place that met my needs in a pleasant location that was convenient to work and to all the other amenities I need regularly (grocery, bank, cleaners, gas station, and a little discretionary shopping and dining).  In other words, a place in suburbia.  Hard to believe, since I abhorred that notion of suburban living for at least 30 years, but age and life have a funny way of reminding you that it's time to adjust the residential priorities. So I did.

Now I'm five minutes from my office and the aforementioned amenities are even closer...yet just enough removed from my home that they're not "in my face" - just a short ride away.  I truly never believed I'd say this, being the city-born girl who is a country girl at heart, but love it!  Sure, I miss the rural landscape right outside my door, but it's only a 15 to 20 minute ride away, so not far at all.  All I really need at this point is a private little patch of grass, some trees, a few pots of flowers, my bird feeder and the ability to watch the neighborhood squirrels figure out where to find nuts, berries and my bird seed.  It's okay...I'm happy to share with all of Mother Nature's creatures, and they provide endless hours of entertainment for the kitties on the other side of the sliding glass door. No, I don't see wild turkey or deer out my kitchen window any longer - sigh - but when I do see them in my travels in the country, I appreciate them even more.

I only arrived at my new suburban abode on New Year's Day, so I have only just begun to get settled, and it will take a while before I have a sense of the rhythm of this place, but I'll be back as often as I can to share the latest evolution here at the abode as I gradually transform this plain box it into what I hope will be home for me and the kitties more than just a few years.  We'll see how it goes!