October 29, 2017

Black Cats, Jack-o-Lanterns and Pumpkins

Miraculously, it has only been about 4 weeks since my last post...so I'm back to chat for a minute about Halloween. It's not one of my favorite holidays and I'm not sure why, because my birthday is the next day, but after childhood, it never really did much for me. I wasn't keen on going to Halloween parties for teens or adults...it just seemed silly to me. I don't love ghoulish, zombie-like make-up, either, but I do love kitties, including black kitties.

The last in a long line of kitties with whom I've shared my life and home and consider family is the only all-black kitty (save a tiny spot of white on his neck) that I've ever had. He's my pal and nearly 18, I think. I've had him since he was born, and I've had black and white kitties - two great ones, in fact - but none all black, or nearly all black like him. What a good kitty he is, too. So, in honor of my nearly all black kitty, I have hung this cute little wooden ornament of a kitty with a jack-o-lantern. My late mother gave it to me decades ago and it now gets pride of place just under my mantel for Halloween.

Above this smiling black Halloween kitty is a bit of papercraft I picked up in a shop in the Hudson Valley that specialized in primitives. It's a simple little stiff paper banner that reads "Halloween...The Witch Is In...Halloween." It just amused me...so up it goes each year under the mantel with the black wooden Halloween kitty. Trick or Treat!

On top of the mantel I have the rest of small decorative items that I break out for Halloween each year - my ceramic pumpkin teapot that I posted about a few years ago here, a pair of simple metal votive candle holders with charming pumpkin cut-outs, and a terra cotta pottery candle holder with a slightly less charming jack-o-lantern face, and a couple of pretty ceramic pumpkins.

It's  not a lot of Halloween stuff at this point in life, but it's a few fun things to make me and my guests chuckle.

Years ago. being in upstate New York and a reader and collector of The New Yorker magazine covers for many years, I also have a few choice New Yorker covers that I've saved in my collection. You can see them online now on Pinterest and other places, but here is one of my favorites, from November 1, 1975 by artist Eugene Mihaesco, who provided 70 covers for the magazine from 1972-1992:

I like smiling jack-o-lanterns, or in this case, jack-o-suns...Happy Halloween!

October 2, 2017

Fast Forward Two More Months...and Fun Project

It has been a busy summer, leaving little time for posting, but thought I'd catch you up with a fun score I made over the weekend and the project that resulted...goodbye, September, hello, October!

I was out in the country on Saturday, doing my usual errands, and on my way home, I swung by a local Habitat ReStore. I've known of the store for years, stalked its merchandise on Facebook, and finally made a point of stopping in. I was looking for some interior doors, since a minor flood (caused by a spontaneous leak in the washing machine hose - ugh!) did some damage to some doors that I wasn't crazy about anyway. New interior doors are NOT inexpensive, so the reStore and comparable historic preservation organization parts warehouses are terrific outlets to find perfectly viable older items at reasonable prices.

I did find some door possibilties, but what I actually purchased - for a whopping $15 - was a nice, small but simple, though somewhat grungy, 5-arm metal chandelier in what I think was meant to be bronze. It was brownish, and not quite the color I had in mind, and definitely in need of some cleaning up, but the perfect size and style for what I wanted. I'd known for a while that I really needed to replace a grostesque monstrostity of a hanging light fixture that came with my home...it's a crystal and brass confection that is so ridiculous and huge that it's really not funny. Maybe it would work in someone's home, but definitely not mine. I'd meant to replace it right away, but just hadn't gotten around to it - and I don't use it since it's not on a dimmer and is MUCH too bright. 

My dining area is not large, and my taste runs to traditional simple lines - definitely not crystal and brass combined. So I wanted a traditional early colonial style iron chandelier, nothing too elaborate, and it had to be the right scale...5-arm was fine, 4 would have been even better, but the bottom line was the bottom line. I did not want to spend more than $20 if I could help it. (It can be done, but one does have to look around to find the right light at the right price.)
I'd perused eBay (where I buy and sell regularly, so it's a viable option for me), and the local big box home supply stores, but everything was more than I wanted to spend. I've found lovely chandeliers in the past for various homes that I've bought at auction (in person) and at thrift stores. I have a minor passion for them and, while screaming bright brass is so passé now, I can't pass up a classic chandelier with good bones. You can always age the brass or, if necessary, paint the fixture.

So, there I was, looking for interior doors, when I saw the small but jam-packed lighting fixtures section. I looked around at the lamps, then I looked up to check out an array of hanging fixtures, including some chandeliers. And there, kind of hidden behind a few others, was a lovely 5-arm metal beauty. It was a bit dirty but the bones were there and the white plastic candle "sleeves" were all there, too, and easily cleaned up or, if necessary, replaced. I was delighted by its shape and its very reasonable price.

Here's the chandelier before I'd finished spraying it so you can see the original color nearest the camera...kind of brown and, well, definitely grungy:

I took it home and did some cleaning with a scrub sponge to remove the surface grime and let it dry. I removed and washed the candle sleeves, which cleaned up nicely. Then I covered each exposed bulb socket and wiring with a bit of newspaper so the electrical connections would be protected from any spray paint. I laid down newspapers on the floor of my garage and broke out my can of oil-rubbed bronze spray paint.  In a matter of minutes I had a fresh and new looking chandelier! 

Here's a view of the painting in progress...it's shiny where I'd just sprayed, but it dries to a nice, dark, matte finish:

And here's the refinished chandelier, with candle sleeves back in place, hanging on a plant hook on my fence outside so you can see the whole thing: 

 Here's a bit closer look at the finish:

I couldn't be more pleased with this chandelier and how it turned out. I'll be installing it soon in place of the crystal-and-brass monstrocity and can't wait to see it all aglow with new bulbs and some lovely shades. I'm thinking natural beige/tan linen for the shades...something like that..."country contemporary," of course, 'cause that's how we roll here at the Country Contemporary blog!

I'll share when the fixture is installed with its shades, so stay tuned!

July 16, 2017

Fast-Forward 4 Months: From Snows to Spring to Bunnies to Blooms to Summer to July 4th and a Patiotic Parade

Here I am again, very slow to update the blog (for a writer, I'm a very delinquent blogger)...but from the last post on late season big snows in mid-March, I managed to completely miss any blog posts on St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, and Father's Day. That brings us up to July 4th (nearly 2 weeks ago) and practically the first of August! I have NO idea where the time goes, but it seems to fly at warp speed lately. Maybe I should just plan to update the blog quarterly rather than monthly, so I'll have more to say, if a little less often. Anything has to be better than every 4-5 months!

After the annoying snows of March, I did manage to take a few shots of the flowering shrubs planted in front of my home that provided a nice burst of color in May, along with a large and fragrant lilac bush. I've forgotten what these two shrubs are called - each about 4 feet tall and nearly as wide - but I did look them both up and made a note (just can't find it at the moment)...

Thought I'd also share a few photos of a couple of bunnies that seemed to think my yard has the most tasty grasses of the spring in June. There was a large bunny (the mother, I suspect) and at least two younger ones. Usually, I would see just one munching, then skipping through to the next patch. Here's a view of one of the little ones through the branches of my potted rosemary and sage... 

I love bunnies, but I'm not inclined to have any as I am a cat person and have one of those, so I just don't want to go there, where bunnies are concerned. They're fun to watch, though, now that I've moved any potted plants that were particularly tempting. Here's another view of the same one through my somewhat foggy patio door - I didn't want to scare him (her?) away, so I shot the photos through the glass...

I have a window box planter (not attached to a wall, so just freestanding on a patio table) in which I like to grow leaf lettuce. My ruby lettuce has been growing nicely since late spring and is just too tempting for bunnies to leave the planter accessible to them sitting on the patio, so it's up out of their reach on the table nearby. It's an heirloom variety of lettuce called Salad Bowl Red and it's very tasty, so I do understand why the bunnies find it so appealing...

And, finally, I did make a short trek to my favorite annual July 4th parade at a small, upstate New York hamlet in the Hudson Valley. In the 35 years I've been attending this parade, it never fails to amuse - it is blissfully short, which is the nice part, but it's always a little bit loose and funky, so a hoot! Gotta love a patriotic parade with a vintage Ford pick-up truck, a pretty older mare (a Morgan for those wondering) nicely adorned for the occasion - the only horse in the parade this year (it's horse country, so prior years have seen quite a few from tiny ponies to full-size horses) - a wooden wagon with one small, bewildered child, and two little cuties with flags who were just too adorable not to include:



 And, now, on to the rest of the summer!


March 19, 2017

The Historic Snows of the Ides of Mid-March

 Historic Snowstorm of March 14, 2017 - 26 Inches in 24 Hours in Upstate New York

The weather prognosticators gave us all plenty of warning...a mega winter storm was coming our way. A classic Nor'easter, meaning the winds circulated counterclockwise off the Atlantic coast, spreading their snowy bounty inland across the Northeastern US (the Mid-Atlantic, New York and New England), and in historic quantities in some areas.

It snowed non-stop from about 4am on Tuesday, March 14 (one day before the legendary "Ides of March") until sometime 24 hours later (on the very Ides themselves). My corner of the region went from literally no snow on the ground whatsoever for the past month or so to an epic amount, with the accumulation logging the most snow to fall in the immediate area of upstate New York in March...ever...26 inches in 24 hours. Areas in the Adirondacks to the north got upwards of 30-plus inches. That's a LOT of snow in just one day.

There were some consolations in all of this white stuff...first, the snow was constant but not heavy, it was like a light, white mist...literally a snow shower for 24 hours. None of that big, white cotton-ball-like heavy stuff laden with moisture. This was white powdery stuff. Great for skiing, if you're into that sort of thing.

One couldn't avoid the memo that the weather media was circulating well in advance. Don't got out on the roads if you could avoid it. Driving was treacherous and unless absolutely necessary, was best avoided until the snows ended. No problem at my end. I was more than happy to stay home, do some things around the house, roast a chicken, and eventually make my way out to clear the driveway before the volume would totally overwhelm my already behemoth snowblower. (Don't let anyone tell you that wrestling with a massive hunk of motorized metal that weighs about 250 pounds isn't pretty serious exercise. It's not for the faint of heart. I've ridden fairly large horses that were easier to maneuver!)

Did I mention chicken? Oh, yes, I picked one up on sale at the grocery on Monday since I knew I'd be stuck inside the next day and thought it was the perfect comfort food for a mid-March snowstorm. There's little about chicken, whether one I roast myself or one I buy already rotisserie cooked from the grocery store (my favorite), that goes to waste in my kitchen. I'll stuff the bird loosely with a chopped up onion, and, if I have some, add apple, fresh herbs, or whatever else strikes me.

 Snow Day Roast Chicken

Once roasted, I'll make an array of things with the left overs from salad, chicken stock and soup - whether classic chicken noodle or an Italian version with some sort of fun pasta and topped with grated cheese - to reducing the drippings to make a gravy base. Any leftovers of those by-products I'll put in containers (labeled and dated, of course) and freeze for another use later.  As I said, nothing goes to waste if I can help it.

From the last rotisserie chicken I bought pre-cooked recently, I made stock, strained it and put it right back in the pot to use it as the cooking liquid for cubed red potatoes. They, in turn,  became the base for a favorite rich, rustic curried potato and onion cream soup that is finished with evaporated milk and seasoned with basil and topped with chopped bacon. It has been a no-fail, go-to fall and winter soup for me for 40 years and I think it originally came from a Better Homes and Gardens magazine recipe in the early 1970s that a friend had made for a lunch we had together. It was wonderful, and my first conscious experience with curry - and the rest, as they say, was culinary history for me. I've never stopped making it since and I do it all "by feel" without a recipe...don't need one at this point.

The other major consolation of this mid-March snowstorm is just that...it's mid-March. The temperatures were unusually warm in February, and while we've had some bitterly cold, January-like days since the storm, the sun in March is that much warmer than it is in the dead of winter, so the snows of March 14 have been quick to start melting.

We also have some pretty solid snow clearing capability here in the Northeast - it's a science that we have pretty much perfected over the past seven decades or so (and, I must add, puts most southern states' efforts to shame when they get an aberrational dusting or glazing). Our main roads were down to bare pavement 24 hours after the storm ended, and the local roads were well on their way to cleared, too. (You wonder why our taxes are so high in the Northeast compared to much of the rest of the U.S., well, there's a bit of part of your answer. It's not cheap to keep the many miles of roads and highways clear of the white and icy stuff when it hits here as predictably as it does, but where would we be if we couldn't get that done? It's essential for safety and for commerce to continue uninterrupted, and part of the price we pay for living here in the "Great Northeast.")

We've lost about half - or a full foot - of the original accumulation of almost a week ago just due to the wonderful, warm, melting effects of the sun, which has been apparent every day since "snowmegeddon" on March 14. Love that! I'm thinking, barring any further colossal convergence of weather fronts blowing in from the northwest and the east, that this last foot could be nearly gone by this time next week. I certainly hope so, because, Spring will be here officially tomorrow...and it has been, in the words of Lennon and McCartney, a long, cold winter, but here comes the sun!

Come on in, Spring - we've been waiting for you!   

February 11, 2017

Valentine's Day and February Snows

I'm not even going to begin to express my regrets that I haven't blogged since July. It has been a very busy time, but I wanted to catch up a little here, and ahead of Valentine's Day, which is one of my favorite of celebrations.

Coming in the middle of February, I've always been grateful to have a holiday that provides us with a warm sentiment - simply love - and also delivers a most welcome explosion of vibrant red during an otherwise frosty, often grey skies and white landscape with trees barren of their emerald leaves.  It's a reminder that life will go on, just have faith in Mother Nature to bring spring soon.

As areas of the Northeast have been blanketed with upwards of 8 to 10 inches of the white stuff in the past few days (where we previously had practically none), and the temperatures are in the 20s and 30s (and single digits at night in some areas), the good news for folks like me, who don't adore winter in the Northeast, is that it won't last  forever and the warmer temperatures and green grass will return. In the meantime, Valentine's Day is a visually colorful, as well as emotional, relief.

So last weekend, I broke out the Valentine's box filled with vermilion treasures accumulated over the years. Among them are a few bears (see the photo above), even though I'm not a massive bear fan, including one that started the collection. It's the one in the center with the enameled red heart affixed to his chest. This sweet bear was given to me by my late dad when I probably was about 9 or 10 years old. He might have made the selection for me, or maybe my mom did, but he certainly was the one who gave it to me. And I've kept it all these years...how could I not? My dad also gave me the pair of sweetly embroidered little pillow sachets...the scented disks that perfumed them are gone, but they're still charming little keepsakes that compliment the bears.

Knowing of my propensity to acquire small stuffed white bears with red ribbon collars as Valentine's keepsakes, my now late mom gave me, many years later, the largest "gift" bear below. He's a Hallmark bear holding a little red gift box with white hearts. I don't recalwhat the box contained, if anything, but he seemed a fitting addition to my small collection of Valentine's bears.

In anticipation of February 14, the bears take up residence on the mantel and are surrounded by a few other items that celebrate the holiday of Love with hearts and flowers.

I've had this cute little rocking horse ornament for many years - I think my mother gave me that one, as well, since I've been a life long horsewoman - and I originally hung it on my Christmas tree. But I decided a few years ago that he really belonged with my Valentine's accoutrements and now he comes out, with his red hearts and lace mane, for February - a perfect Valentine's pony!

This carved wooden angel ornament originally was part of a group of carved natural wood ornaments designed for Christmas, but, once again, I appropriated her for the Valentine's display. She originally came from the charming shop in Rhinebeck, New York, that was owned by dear friend who now lives in coastal North Carolina, so it always reminds me of my friend and reminds me to get in touch with her. 

At the center and just below the mantel is this small twisted twig heart. I don't recall who gave it to me, but I've had it forever, too. It originally Day. It originally hung in the bathroom of my first home in the country and was festooned with a light "country blue" ribbon and small eucalyptus branches, but the leaves became rather aged and tired looking, so I removed them. What I couldn't remove was the dried glue that kept them affixed to the heart, so I just turned that side to the wall and hung the heart this way. I was never a big fan of "cutesy country" and prefer the simple, natural look and it seems to work just fine hanging there, I think.

I painted my dad's classic old olive green Army trunk in bright white with red trim when I was a young teenager 50 (eeek!) years ago. It originally served as my very first real "tack trunk" for my growing collection of equestrian gear, but it is currently my coffee table in front of the fireplace. (I've never parted with that trunk, either. Are you sensing something of a pattern here?...lol.) On top of the trunk is a red metal tray I picked up at Goodwill a few years ago, I think, holding some stray pine cones (left over from January's mantel and hearth decor) and a sweet heart-shaped twig basket in which I placed a sweet stuffed polka-dot cotton heart ornament that my oldest and dearest friend (from first grade through high school!) made and gave me decades ago. (We've remained in touch and lately we communicate via email almost daily - it's is a lovely thing to have that kind of enduring friendship at this stage of our lives since she lives several hours north of me in northern Vermont.)

Next to the tray is a small bowl from Pottery Barn that I picked up at Goodwill a few years ago - I found its blue and white checkerboard punctuated with pale red hearts so cheerful, so it comes out for Valentine's Day, too.       

I don't usually add much to the Valentine's Day collection these days, but I was in a local thrift shop last weekend and spied a very tarnished, small, metal heart basket for just 50 cents (!) and I couldn't resist it. The label on the darkened bottom read "L'Argentiere - Italy Style" so I knew that it was, at the very least, silverplate, if not sterling. (There was no stamp to suggest it was sterling.) I didn't care either way since it was delightful and, as I suspected, it polished up beautifully.  To borrow and revise an expression from the marvelous Ina Garten, how sweet is that?!

I hope you have a few small treasures and keepsakes to remind you of beloved family and friends, and that your Valentine's Day, and every day, is filled with delightful surprises and that most wonderful of sentiments....lots and lots of Love.