Sunday, 24 January 2016

Be Odd If It Makes You Happy

You know it has been the best of Sundays if you find yourself smiling at nothing in particular. ~

I can honestly say I never thought, at the age of 64, I'd be hanging out with chickens. It certainly wasn't any part of my life plan. But, hanging out with those girls does make me happy.

Today I cleaned the ashes out of the woodstove ~

and took them out to the coop to add to the dirt bath the girls have made under the quarantine coop. Clever girls to find a place that will stay dry all year!

It made me happy to see they had a great time fluffing their feathers in the ashes. ~

If you have a fireplace or woodstove, put your ashes out for the wild birds to bathe in. As long as there is nothing but clean firewood that has been burned, it's good for them to be able to clean their feathers in the winter.

It was a cold day and, in the afternoon, I made some oatmeal for the girls.

Who wouldn't be happy to see them all lined up, making little hops of excitement when they know I am coming? ~

I didn't even mind staying out in the cold to see if they liked their treat and to make sure old Vivian gets her fair share. ~

I know it is odd to prefer watching chickens to shopping or travelling or fine dining but I've done all those things. They were fine for their time. For the present time, hanging with chickens is what makes me smile.

The sun was setting and I looked at the tracks crisscrossing my yard. Tracks from my feet and the two-year-old girl who is so excited about being able to identify her prints, mine, a squirrel, a raccoon, a cat and a rabbit. They are the prints of life going on all around me.  They are my life.

I take my fair share of ribbing over being a Chicken Lady. I really don't care if I'm a little to the left of centre. Orrrr - even a lot to the left.

Be as weird as you like this week and soak up all the happiness you can! Sing marching songs at the bus stop, wear your hair in pigtails, dance down the hall at the office, eat chocolate cake for breakfast; whatever sets your sails, just do it.

I'll be here, hanging with a cool bunch of chicks!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Collecting Vintage Napkin Rings

Napkin rings are ideal to begin collecting. They don't take up much display room, are functional, plentiful, affordable, useful and the design variations are endless.

They first appeared on the dining tables of the upper crust sometime in the 1830's, probably in France. Throughout the Victorian era, they were widely in use on all but the poorest dining tables.

The beauty of collecting rings is they don't have to be matched sets. The original purpose was to identify who the napkin itself belonged to. Each member of the family had their own ring, with a distinct design or engraved with their initial.

At the end of the meal, the napkin was folded and put back inside the ring. Table linens were only washed with the once weekly laundry and you used the same napkin all week.

Place setting purists only use napkin rings for informal dinners, the theory being that the ring denotes a used napkin and that's probably not going to make your guest feel all that comfortable. I take the liberty of assuming my guests know I gave them a clean napkin and go against the purist rule.

My rings are silver plate but you can find them spanning all eras from the 1830's on, and in a wonderful range of materials. From the Victorian era to Art Nouveau, Arts & Crafts era to the 21st century, they have been made in everything from sterling silver to glass, bakelite, French Ivory and wood.

Foral designs were popular with the Victorians and in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco eras.

I've picked up most of my napkin rings for around $5 each. Figural rings are more expensive unless you find one like my horse ring that has had a tragic tail bobbing.

Some appeal to me because of the shape.

Some commemorate a special event, such as a world fair or coronation. I snapped up this one from the 1937 coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth for $6.

My favourite ring has the crest of the SS Duchess Of York set with enamel. The ship was part of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Co. fleet. She was one of three sister ships named after duchesses and nicknamed The Drunken Duchesses for the rather rambunctious handling of the ocean waves. Someone brought this napkin ring home as a souvenir before WWII saw the Duchess Of York pressed into service. She made two trips from Britain bringing evacuated children to safety in Canada.  Then, she ferried Canadian troops overseas, brought injured service personnel and German POWs back to Canada. Sadly, the Duchess of York came under enemy fire and sank off the coast of Spain in 1943.

If you are my guest and I give you that napkin ring, you will know you have a favoured spot at the dining table.

I just realized all the napkins are in the rings upside down in these photos. The pointed end of the napkin goes toward the guest. We're already breaking one etiquette rule by using rings at a formal dinner so let's not compound our offence!

I have eight vintage, silver plate rings so far and on the hunt for many more just to seat my immediate family.

Each one will come with its own story and I hope our happy gatherings around the table will add much more to their history.

Happy collecting!

I'm sharing this with: Show & Share

Saturday, 16 January 2016

My Simple Life Got A Whole Lot Simpler

There I was all geared up with all kinds of Christmas projects completed, photographed and ready to blog about when two things happened to take my deliberately simple life and turn it positively pioneer.

The first thing that happened was I blew the brake lines out on my car. It's an old car and not really worth putting any significant money into repairs. Since I opted for semi-retirement last year and discovered I didn't have nearly enough money to get by on comfortably, I had to go without a vehicle until I could find a good deal on another used car. Have I mentioned I LIVE IN THE COUNTRY! That freed up a whole lot of time I would have used for last minute Christmas shopping.

The second life altering event was getting caught between internet providers. I cancelled the original service only to discover that the new provider was at capacity for customers and I would have to wait and wait and wait until they could determine whether they could get me enough signal, send someone out to test and set up an appointment for installation. Did I have any options to waiting weeks for service? No, because I LIVE IN THE COUNTRY!

I decided to zen out about it all and assume this was a sign that I should slow down and reassess my daily life. What did I want to keep and what did I want to let go? What did I enjoy and what did I do out of habit? What makes me happy and what has become a burden?

I discovered things I had no idea were going on in the house. The mystery of why the onions I planted weren't growing was explained by seeing where Clara Jane chooses to take her afternoon nap.

 The unseasonably warm weather we've had here in Ontario gave me a third harvest of lavender on the 23rd. of December! ~ 

Now, there was time to take the lavender buds off all the bundles I had drying and the fragrant stems are in a basket by the woodstove to add a little something special to the evening fire. ~

I'm minding two little girls, one and two years old, each Monday for a friend. Their regular babysitter can't take them that day for awhile. I'm sure it was a shock to them to discover they were in a house with no cable TV. But, the age old things that have entertained children for generations still work.

We baked Christmas cookies. ~

They taught me there is no such thing as too many sparkles. ~

Clara Jane learned that the safest place in a house with two toddlers is the top of the fridge. The one-year-old learned to say, "Tzee tzee (kitty) is high! ~

Serves Clara Jane right for killing my onions!

There was time to devote to a grandson that chose to come for a five-day visit. This is a big step for him for, although he is a teenager, he has many developmental and emotional issues and has not stayed away from home before. It was quiet here and no car meant no running around to entertain him and that stopped any chance of sensory overload for him. We did fine together and he was making plans for a month-long summer visit before he left. In fact, he decided it would be best if I left the house to him in my will and he could move in and take care of my cats and chickens. I kind of like that plan. He's an old hand at chicken keeping and the cats love him.

They say nothing ever really happens by accident. I think I had this enforced slow down so I could spend some time on things that matter a little more than what I was doing.

I'm glad I've had this time to gather my thoughts together and begin the new year in a more conscious way. One thing I know for sure is I'll block out lots of time for whatever kids need me.

And, I know you'll still get lots of chicken posts because slowing down reminded me of how much I like to go out into the dusk and see the trees silhouetted against the sky as I put my girls to bed for the night.

Nothing calms the soul more than the cooing of happy chickens as they settle down for the night.

I think this past month I have been cooing in the evening myself!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A Bit Of British Styling On My Sideboard

Clara Jane and I have been decking the halls for Christmas.

The first area we tackled was the sideboard in the family room.~

The sideboard is a William IV piece from Britain so I went for an English country look. Or, what I imagine an English country look is. I've never actually been there, but I think I've seen enough BBC costume dramas to fake it.  You Brits reading this will have to let me know how close I am.

I started with a garland of cinnamon sticks, apples, twigs and greenery; fake, of course. ~

The ceiling slopes down on this side of the room until it is only 7 1/2 feet tall. To give the illusion of height, I pulled the garland up to where the ceiling meets the wall and added a large, red bow. It's a decorator's trick that we often use when hanging draperies to give a window more presence.

I'm minding two little girls, one and two years old, every Monday for a few weeks and will have my own one-year-old grandson here over the holidays, so all decorations have to be well back out of reach on the sideboard.

Clara Jane is helping weave a string of beads through the pierced compote dish. ~

The pedestal bowl dates from the mid-1800's. I picked it up for next to nothing because clear glass never sells well in antique stores. Because this one has a pierced edge to the bowl it always dresses up nicely with some ribbon or beads wound through it.

Some shiny apples and a pomegranate give an old time Christmasy touch. My dad and I always shared a pomegranate at Christmas. No one else in the family liked them and it's always nice when you are one of six kids to have something special you share with a parent. Dad isn't with me anymore, but I keep the tradition up.

The bowl shares space on a vintage, silver edged tray with a green depression glass dish of sugared nuts and a candle kept contained and far back from little fingers. ~

A little tree I covered with buttons from my Grandma's button box and a wooden Santa carved by my brother in law stand in front of a triple mirror. ~

On the opposite end of the sideboard is a darling wooden soldier painted by a friend, a vintage book bundle tied with lace and a pinecone and the letters JOY that I dressed up with gold foil. ~

All done but for the sconce chimneys drying out after a wash! ~

I have to show you one more photo. That's tiny Maeve guarding the tissue paper. I'm thrilled that her fur has grown back in and she's feeling well and playful after two months on the homemade cat food. I honestly thought I was going to lose that girl and it's Christmas present enough for me to have her on her way to wellness!

Friday, 4 December 2015

My Music Christmas Tree!

I can never resist vintage music books when I find them in flea markets and thrift stores. The artwork on the covers, the aged pages with music notes dancing merrily across them and the thought of people gathering around to hear someone play these songs draws me in every time.

This Christmas I was determined to use some of those books to make one of the wreaths or trees made entirely of sheet music that I've been admiring on blogs and Pinterest the last couple of years.

I won't say this was a quick craft. Thank heavens I settled on covering a 10" styrofoam cone and not an entire wreath! ~

The process is simple, but it does take a few practice shots to get the roses shaped nicely.

My music pages were 12" X 10" each and I cut them into four sections. I stacked the four sections so I could cut them all at once and rounded the corners to make the rough shape of a circle. Then, I cut a spiral into each circle. ~

Be sure to leave a round piece at the end of the spiral. You will need it to push a pin through when you assemble your tree. ~

From the opposite end from the round piece, begin rolling the spiral tightly until you have wound all the way to the centre. give it a pinch with your fingers at the bottom and release the paper. It will begin to unfurl into a rose shape.

Stick a pearl topped straight pin through the centre of the rose and make sure it has gone through the centre of the round piece that is now covering the bottom of your rose. ~

Stick the pin into your styrofoam tree.  I added a dab of hot glue to my roses to make sure they stayed put, what with grandkids and cats that are sure to be touching them. ~

If you are as lucky as I am you will have a supervisor for the assembly process. I feel I should put an 'inspected by Clara Jane' label on my tree. ~

Keep on cutting and rolling, pinning and gluing for the next four days until you have the whole form covered. I cut the sheets into smaller sections to decrease the size of the roses as I moved toward the narrow end of the cone. At this point I'd stabbed myself with the pins and burned my self so many times with the glue gun that I was seriously considering handing the whole project over to Clara Jane to finish! Instead, I roped my friend Wendy into rolling some of the roses.

You won't need to finish the bottom of the styrofoam form unless you are attaching it to a base that raises it up. I was putting mine on a hand turned wooden base that I had in my stash and some of the white styrofoam on the bottom showed, so I added a bit of fringed trim to cover that up.

That brought the whole decoration up to 19" tall and makes a showy piece for my Christmas decor.

There are lots of musicians, professional and amateur in my family and I'm hoping they love this ode to music as much as I do! ~

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Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Sign, Sign - Everywhere A (Christmas) Sign!

It's been a Christmas craft marathon here for the last two weeks. A month ago I said I'd have a booth at the craft bazaar in the neighbouring, small town.  I've no idea what possessed me to agree to such a thing except that it was the first one for the organizers and they didn't have enough people participating.

The fact that I didn't have any crafts made for such an event should have told me this was a bad idea! As fate would have it, I was very busy with work leading up to the bazaar and it all had to be done in about 12 days.

When all else fails, paint signs!

My sister was getting rid of a sign that she had purchased at a thrift store, intending to paint it over to her own taste. That got a coat of white paint. I traced the lettering on a stencil to make painting a little faster than doing it freehand. I chose a rusty red colored exterior paint so this sign can be hung outdoors.

What to paint the next one on? Aha, I had some new, wood shelf boards that I picked up at a thrift store for $1 each. A friend cut two grooves in the boards and I drilled holes for a wire hanger.

I really liked the idea of a countdown to Christmas sign. A cedar closet freshener already had the hook attached and 3 coats of chalkboard paint was all it took. It is easily removable to write on.

This one is done with green lettering shadowed with bright red. ~

The third sign was the most fun for me to make. My sister wanted an 'Oh Deer' sign.  I couldn't seem to find just the right sort of deer image for such a cheeky sign until I came across an elf and deer picture my granddaughter had drawn for me.

Love the funky take on it! I scanned the picture and sent it to Picmonkey to invert and turn to black and white. Once that was done, I printed it out, and trimmed it as close to the image as I could ~

I painted a coat of Modpodge on the ink side of the design.  Then you position the picture, glue side down, on the board and smooth out any bubbles. Leave overnight and in the morning, dampen the paper with a sponge and slowly begin rubbing the paper off until the image appears more black than grey.

Here she is all done! ~

There's still lots of time to paint whatever sign grabs your fancy.

For the most fun of all, immortalize your tiny tot's artwork on a Christmas decoration to bring out year after year!

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Wednesday, 11 November 2015

I Remembered Them All Today

Today is filled with memories of all the war veterans I have had the privilege to know in my life. So many of them have passed away and their stories may be forgotten.

I live only a few miles away from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and today many of those carefully preserved WWII planes have rolled out of the hanger and proudly flown over my house on their way to do a flyby over the various cenotaphs in the surrounding cities and towns.

It's a special treat to me to see the Lancaster bomber fly overhead. Only two of these remain in the world, one in Britain and the other a star in the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. ~ 

My father was only 18 when he signed on as a tail gunner for the Lancaster bomber. ~

As I watched the planes fly overhead today, I remembered the first flight of the newly restored Lancaster back in the '80's.

I was going into an important meeting with the comptroller for the wealthy man who had loaned me the money for my business. Some restructuring of the repayment schedule was critical to getting the business on it's feet. The comptroller was a no-nonsense man that I had never seen crack a smile and I was nervous entering the meeting. He seemed such an unlikely business manager for the open and friendly man who had given me the loan. I knew he was a devout Christian and stay at home kind of guy, yet I'd been told he had been best friends with his wealthy boss, a jet-setting, devout Jew, for 40 yrs.  It was a mystery to me.

As I entered the meeting, I had to tell him that I would have to leave to go outside for a few minutes to see the maiden flight of the Lancaster. I was very apologetic but firm about it. He looked carefully at me and asked me why it was so important to me and I told him my father had been a tail gunner on Lancs during the war. He smiled and said my father must have been a very brave man. The tail gunners didn't make it out if the plane was shot down. They didn't even have parachutes.

I told him the piano tuner was in the building and he would be joining me to see the flyby although he never flew in the Lancaster. He had flown gliders into Holland. The comptroller gravely asked me if he could join us and have the honour of meeting the piano tuner. I must have looked very surprised because he offered an explanation. He had been a navigator on the Lancaster bomber and my wealthy backer had been the pilot.  Now I understood the bond between these unlikely friends!

Then he said, "Hands down, though, your piano tuner is the bravest of all airmen and I would very much like to meet him". 

That conversation led me to do a little research on glider pilots during WWII and find out what the quiet, unassuming piano tuner had done.

These gliders were enormous wooden boats, with no engines and no armaments.They were tugged into the air like kites and set free to be flown on air currents. They transported men and equipment and landed behind enemy lines, usually to take key positions such as bridges. Once the glider landed there was no way to fly back out.

The two pilots and the servicemen they carried had to secure the position and hold it until Allied troops reached them. The battle my piano tuner flew into was to secure the north bridge at a place called Arnhem in Holland. It was the largest airborne operation of WWII. The Allied forces were not able to reach them and of the 11,900 men who were flown into the area, only 3,900 escaped or were evacuated. Of the remainder, 1,400 were killed and 6,500 became prisoners of war.

I've heard it said that WWII veterans say the G in the centre of the insignia worn by glider pilots doesn't stand for 'glider' but rather for 'guts' because that's exactly what it took to do the job!

I'm so glad I had the chance that day to learn a little more about the sacrifices that were made for me by those who fought to secure freedom for all.

We went back to our meeting and I continued presenting my proposal for refinancing. The comptroller listened seriously to what I said and picked up the papers to take back to his boss.

On his way out of my office he gave another of those rare smiles and said, "I'm sure this will be fine with him. We can do that much for a tailgunner's daughter."

I remembered them all today and saluted the warplanes as they flew overhead. My gratitude knows no bounds!