January 1, 2020

And We Begin Again...

It certainly isn't a surprise as another year has ticked by, but it's always a little daunting when that year launches a new decade, as well. Welcome, 2020...I hope you bring us all good tidings and cheer to last all the year long.

I have enjoyed the holiday season thus far, spending time with dear friends nearby who are as much like family as my relatives, all of whom live far away now. It doesn't bother me at all, but it's interesting that they all followed paths that took them to lives spent in places far from where all of us were born. I have never felt compelled to leave this region of eastern New York, even though I've stated here more than once that I'm not at all a fan of the winter season's cold and snow here, but, fortunately, winter is only three months of the year's 12 months, and those remaining nine months of spring, summer and fall are that part of the annual cycle that gives a certain balance and pattern to my life.

The arrival of spring after a long winter sleep for Mother Nature's trees and plants, and the warmth of summer that is rarely so oppressive for any extended period, and the glorious color display that is autumn - which I truly love best - are simply parts of life here that I would not trade for living anywhere else. That change of seasons is so worth being here and winter is the time I get to re-charge and plan for those other months. I won't say I'll never leave here in winter, because I would love to spend time somewhere warmer for a few weeks or months as I get older, but I know I wouldn't bolt until after the holidays, for sure.

And there are some fun things about winter that I like no matter where I am. Valentine's Day is such a lovely tonic, with its infusion of bright reds, its heart-warming sentiments of love and affections, and, honestly, who can resist those pretty, multi-layered vintage Victorian-style Valentine's cards that were, and still are, so pretty? I always loved those as a child, and still do. I only have one or two, but I have a few other keepsakes from the Valentine's Days of my childhood that make me smile each year when I bring them out.

My year really is defined by the seasons and the holidays that occur within them. They are reminders of days, weeks and months that keep annual traditions alive, and allow me the opportunity to exercise my creative inclinations as I set  seasonal or holiday tables for small gatherings, or toss a pretty pillow on my couch to mark a certain occasion or to change the color palette for a new season.

My approach after the holiday season is to scale back on lots of reds in January, but to keep deep, rich greens - dark forest and muted olive - and embrace the calmness of winter's natural elements - evergreen boughs and pine cones in pretty containers as reminders that spring really isn't as far off as one imagines.

As the calendar advances and I shift the decor in my home to reflect this shiny new year and season, I'll be sharing some of my favorite things starting with these four plate settings that I assembled during the holidays. They are mostly newer items from my collection except for the octagonal taupe plates that appear in each image ("Dots" by Martha Stewart Everyday with a dot-beaded edge), but they all serve as a reminder that you don't need to spend a fortunate to create an inviting table setting. I originally picked up those taupe MSE plates as part of a 20-piece service of four 5-piece place settings that I found at my local Goodwill for a song about 10 years ago.

The faux wood chargers (underplates) and the plaid charger in the last photo each came from Big Lots. They're both stylish and affordable and a reminder that you can find great, attractive and affordable things at places like Big Lots, Target and similar retailers with moderately priced items. Of course, I have found all manner at things at thrift stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army and smaller, local next-to-new nonprofits and consignsment shops - don't pass up stopping and shopping there! You'd be amazed what people donate or consign - there are many great bargains to be had!

These salad plate below with the inset quail, rabbit and deer vignettes within the red and green "plaid" border and hounds in tan within the white inner border are from Noritake's "Royal Hunt" pattern that I bought on eBay on Christmas day. I have loved that pattern for years, but never owned any as I already have plenty of Christmas dinnerware, and I didn't need more dinner plates or full sets of any dishware, but I love creating an interesting table with some of the basic pieces I already own as the base and adding just a few pieces from another pattern, like these salad/dessert plates. It's so much more affordable to buy just a few of the smaller pieces and mix and match them to compliment my existing pieces.

The plaid dinner plate in the first photo above (which has a white center not seen in that photo because it's obscured by the taupe salad plate) and the salad plate in these last two photos below are brand new from 222 Fifth's "Wexford Plaid" pattern that I found at HomeGoods in my area  right after Christmas.

I wasn't looking for plaid dishware at all, but I love traditional plaid, being a big fan of classic wool fabrics like woven plaids and tweeds, etc., so I succumbed to the charms of this pattern with its reds and olive green. I knew it would compliment my existing pieces and would work in table settings from autumn clear through the holidays, mid-winter and well into March, where it's still fairly cold and snowy here, before I start craving the freshness and lighter feeling of spring florals.

I also have several sets of flatware, one in sterling that I inherited, and several in stainless, including a service for eight of casual stainless pieces with turned, natural wood handles that would work quite nicely with these more casual, "lodge-like" settings. I have just four plates in certain patterns, but I can create a table setting for up to eight people simply by alternating them with four complimentary plates in a different pattern, which is a nice bonus of having pieces that work well together.     

So, while I'm gradually putting away my Christmas decor, I'm not abandoning the cozy, warm feeling of nesting that is evoked from these nice chargers and combinations of plates. I'm looking forward to continuing to use them during the next few months before I put "winter" away for another year.

Happy New Year to all, embrace the new year and the decade of the "20s" wherever you are, and thanks for reading!

December 25, 2019

Merry Tidings

Just a quick message to share my illuminated but otherwise unadorned Christmas tree that went up on Christmas Eve, and wish all of my readers a merry and joyous Christmas, happy Hanukkah or whatever holiday you might celebrate during these waning days of the year. Enjoy the day!

December 8, 2019

Santa Buoy, Baby!

Because Thanksgiving was so close to December 1, I packed up all of the autumn and Thanksgiving decor literally hours after the holiday ended, put it away in storage for another year, and gradually began to pull out the things I wanted to use to decorate for Christmas this year.

Over the years and several moves, my collection of holiday items has evolved, growing with the items inherited and acquired, eliminating the items I no longer love so much, gifting to friends and family who would appreciate certain pieces, selling some online, and donating the rest to my favorite local organizations. It's more important to me to keep the things that have enduring appeal and special meaning.

Among those I have kept is this charming vintage wooden Santa buoy that I purchased about 25 years ago at a church holiday craft fair in Virginia during a business trip to Washington, D.C. I've never been a boating or water sports person, but boating, in particular, was something in which I was  involved for several years for my job at the time, so I found this particular local artist's booth at that church fair so appealing. The primary color scheme of my interior decor was (and still is) navy blue with deep red accents, and his color combination and rustic feel was just right for my country home. I no longer own that particular country home, but I still have him, so I am pulling him out again this year to reside on his usual perch on my fireplace's raised hearth, next to one of the pair of tall and slender illuminated faux trees that flank the firebox as a cheerful reminder of special times and special holiday memories.

It's a bitterly cold day again - just 1F degrees (!). It's not normal for this region at this time of year (late January maybe, but definitely not early December!), but neither was the nearly two feet of snow that blanketed us just a week ago. I'm spending the day inside and will continue to unearth some of my holiday treasures to decorate the house while I'm waiting for the "heat wave" to arrive tomorrow - we're supposed to hit 50F on Tuesday. It's crazy, but after a week of shifting gears into "instant winter" (even though it, technically, is still autumn until December 21), I'm starting to "sail" into the holiday spirit, regardless.

December 1, 2019

Farewell Thanksgiving, November and Welcome the Snows of December

What a whirlwind November in upstate New York was this year! No sooner had the unusually balmy weather of Halloween passed and we were whipped around and flung into the deep chill of autumn by the strong winds of a powerful November 1 cold front. It was a bit of a shock, but nothing compared to the atypical winter-like weather that followed, light snow included. It literally took most of the month before we had what likely was the last "warmer" day of the fall, just two days before Thanksgiving when the temperature hit nearly 60F!

Thanksgiving itself was a fairly brisk late fall day, falling as it did this year toward the very end of November, with chilly winds and temperatures in the 30s. The winds were so strong that, due to safety concerns for pedestrians and handlers, they threatened to ground the famous high-flying balloons of the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the heart of Manhattan! Fortunately, the balloons were allowed to fly but at a lower height than they normally would, to ensure that any strong gusts were not an issue.

I prepared my version of "personal pan poultry", better known as Rock Cornish game hens accompanied by a sausage and mushroom stuffing, roasted red potatoes, my own, home-grown butternut squash, and tasty Brussels sprouts. I often prefer the small hens to a larger turkey - they're easy to prepare and so quick to roast in the oven - no more than an hour-and-a-quarter. Beats a long four-f to five-hour siege of roasting! Dessert was a lovely, locally made apple/caramel/walnut pie...so tasty!  

And now we're looking at the accumulation of the first major snow storm of the season. It's somewhat fortuitous as the larder is stuffed to the gills, thanks to the holiday, so I'm staying in, waiting for the storm to pass and then will venture out into the snows in a few days - after the plows have done their job.

November 9, 2019

Halloween and November's Winds...

View of my copper metal Halloween pumpkin with votive candle illumination 
to greet my trick-or-treaters.

Halloween was a beautiful, and oddly balmy warm day of 75 degrees (F) in upstate New York. It was gorgeous and a perfect day for trick-or-treaters, despite the forecast of rain that was due to roll in -- at just about the time when most young, costumed children would be strolling the neighborhood streets. Fortunately, the rains did hold off for most all of the late afternoon and early evening, but the warmer, calm weather was not to last for too long.

The winds didn't kick in in earnest until later that night and early the next day, on the first of November. I had gone out that day to run an errand and never looked into my side yard to see the damage that the winds had wrought on my fairly precarious stockade fence section. This fencing is at least 30 years old and long past its useful life, for sure. I didn't notice the damage until the next day when I had gone out to deal with some of the last of the plants that I had out for the summer and early fall. Usually, we're dealing with a serious frost by early to mid-October, but this has been an extraordinary weather year here in upstate New York. By that point, I typically have brought most all of my plants indoors to protect them from the bitter cold and frost, but not this year. A small number of the most hardy plants had remained outside, but frost was expected, so I went out to move what remained and saw the damage to the fence panel from the intense winds.


My fallen stockade fence panel - view from within my side yard toward the common area 
between residential properties. (Note the dog-eared panels at the rear.) 
 View into my side and back yard beyond from the common area between residential properties.

Replacing all of the stockade sections has been on my list of repairs and improvements needed for my home, as I prefer the look of wood dog-eared panels rather than stockade, but I hadn't been able to tackle them before the storm hit. I actually would like to remove the wood panels across the back of my yard and replace it with a fencing material that allows a view of the natural wooded area just beyond, but that will have to wait until the replacement of these very aged stockade panels along the side yard, which provide me with the privacy I crave. 

At the same time as the damage to the fence panel, the powerful, 50-60mph winds that blew through that day also managed to bring down a lot of the leaves still remaining on the disiduous trees - hardwood maple and oak - within, and just beyond,

 my immediate yard. I usually tackle the fallen leaves by Thanksgiving and try to get most of them up off of the lawn by December and any significant snow accumulation. This year, it was a much easier task with so many leaves having fallen by Halloween night, and they were drier, and therefore much lighter, than in years past. I've never had such lightweight brown paper lawn-leaf bags as I did this year. A blessing in disguise, I think. All told, I had about 15-18 bags of leaves lined up for the town to pick up - a nice perk for residents. They use them for mulch in the spring, which is one of the nicer features of living here. I have a bit more to do, but now we've got temperatures below 20F in the morning - certainly much colder than usual for this time of year, so I'm waiting until things warm up to do my final raking and yard clean-up.

Something tells me it's going to be a long winter and we're not close to that season starting yet!

October 15, 2019

Autumn in Full Glory

With autumn's arrival in earnest three weeks ago, the leaves have finally caught up with the calendar and are in their full glory in my part of eastern New York State. They've been well into peak color up north of me in the Adirondacks, but my area a bit farther south takes a little while to get into full swing, but we're there now and it has been a colorful season, if just a shade late to arrive.

I recall autumn seasons when we were at full, peak color in early October, but it is always driven by the arrival of colder temperatures that precipitate a real, vibrant leaf color change. We have had a fairly warm late summer and early fall, so, while I'm not complaining about that, we only had one night when temperatures  dropped into the mid-30s  - not quite a hard frost - to help hasten the usual change of hues this year. Still, it's great to have the leaves be well underway now, as this truly is my favorite time of year in this region. I'll be sad when it's all done and the time change back to standard time brings the end of daylight after 5pm - it's a real adjustment and, by contrast, the start of my least favorite time of year as winter looms closer. I'll be glad when we round the corner into the new year and the daylight begins to return, day by day.

Until then, I'll be out enjoying Mother Nature's greatest display and gathering my favorite harvest-time ingredients for hearty autumn dishes to warm those chillier nights to come!

September 17, 2019

Hints at Autumn's Impending Arrival

With the landscape changing so quickly as the temperatures drop even further overnight, I felt the need to keep pace with Mother Nature and swap out the blog's header...yet again. This time I opted for a "watercolorized" verison of a shot I took in October 2014. It's of a favorite location and stand of maple trees near where I lived briefly, in the country, of course. The colder temperatures overnight were just the thing to trigger the start of the leaves changing color dramatically, although they've been hinting at making their long-awaited change for several weeks.

Autumn, which was only a few days away when I first posted this, is upon us full bore now, so I broke out my autumn decorating accents for the season. (Please see my apologetic note below on my uncharacteristic post publishing error as I started, but never finished ny original post, so I've rectified it here.)

I have a lot of deep, rich blues and deep red in my decor, which, fortunately is the perfect contrast to the stark brightness of brilliant orange pumpkins. That said, I have noted with some interest, if not amusement, that pale turquoise seems to be THE thing in autumn decor this year, at least if one believes the decor-oriented retailers.

Here is a shot I took earlier in the season (really very late summer), of a display of faux pumpkins at local outlet of a major, national chain, when I noticed this sudden trend.

I'm sure those in the world of agriculture have been aware of these varieties for years (and I remember Martha Stewart showcasing them early on in her publishing empire, so I've known about "blue turbans" for a few decades now), but I think this is really the year when the blue/turquoise pumpkins have emerged as the latest "new" thing in mainstream retail world. Hardly, new, I'm sure, but they certainly give some interesting contrast to the standard orange pumpkins.

As a creative, artsy sort since childhood, I have to say, I love the unusual in the common perception of traditional fruits and vegetables. I'll take these pale blue and turquoise, and even white/off white, pumpkins and squashes any day...and certainly they're pretty to look at. That said, I am not a proponent of adding turquoise into my Christmas decor color scheme. It's jarring and I lean toward dark, rich reds and greens, and lately this autumn season, I'm embracing deep plums and olive greens with just a touch of turquoise thrown in. In fact, it's the color combination of my Ralph Lauren Chaps handbag that I brought out of storage for the season.

The color combination just makes me smile, so much so that I'm leaning toward using more olive and plum in my Thanksgiving holiday color scheme. In fact, my favorite Thanksgiving dishes are these beauties from The Victorian English Pottery called "Woodland Pheasants".

 I'm thinking of pairing them with these nice Botanica plates in olive green with raised leaves around the border. I have some of each plate pattern, so it would be easy enough to make them the focus of my dining table for my very favorite annual holiday (the one with food and gratitude at its core).
I also have a nice set of olive green corduroy placemats, so I'll probably break them out with a nice, neutral table cloth. We shall see what I ultimately pull together, but I do have the elements needed for a festive seasonal table in hand, so stay tuned when the holiday gets closer in late November! 

I've had traditional turkey dinner plates in the past, similar to the pheasants, but, while I like a lot of the various classic turkey motifs on fine dinnerware, I really am fond of those patterns that can be used readily throughout the autumn and winter), so I've sold my turkey plates and have replaced them with these nice pheasants. I also have a number of other decorative pheasant items that I like to break out during the autumn, as well - it's that crisp, fall harvest season that I so enjoy. I do love my region most of the year, and it is gorgeous right now, but how I would love to have a second home in an area where there's little winter snow and where the temperatures area a bit more temperate during the earliest months of the year - that, to me, would be heaven!   

(As I noted above, I offer humblest apologies to those few who read the earlier version of this post when it first appeared in mid-September. I thought it was ready to go at that time, but, apparently, I got distracted and hit publish when I should have hit save, so I've rectified that by augmented it with more text and photos, as originally planned, but rather belatedly on Oct 17. Mea culpa!)