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! ~

I'm sharing this with:

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!

I'm sharing this with:

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!

Thursday 29 October 2015

Twice Baked Potatoes Are Perfect For The Freezer!

In one of those around the kitchen table conversations, my cousin Kathy mentioned she buys baking potatoes when they are cheap in the fall and freezes them. Any conversation that has cheap and potato in it has my full attention!

This is the same cousin who clued me in about freezing apple slices in pie plates so they would fit perfectly into a pie shell while still frozen. You can read about how she does it here. Kathy and her husband were ranchers in Alberta and she could feed an army on a moments notice. Even now that she is retired to town, she keeps her freezer well stocked.

I didn't actually get around to doing potatoes for the freezer yet but I told my friend Wendy about it and she did. She not only made them, she gave me some for my freezer. Yay!

I'm always run off my feet shutting the yard down for winter and getting the chickens snug before cold weather hits. Yesterday was even more of a panic with battening down the hatches before the tail end of the hurricane brought us some nasty weather.

Out came one of those frozen twice baked potatoes to pop in the oven with a simple meat loaf. ~

There are lots of recipes online for twice baked potatoes if you haven't made them before. For the basics, you can click here. Once the potatoes are baked and stuffed, freeze them on a cookie sheet. Once they are frozen, you can bag them individually and they will be good for at least three months.

The frozen potato goes in a 350 degree oven, lightly covered with tinfoil, for 30 mins. Remove the tinfoil and continue to bake for 15 mins. more.

A perfect comfort meal ready for me when I came in from the yard! ~

Thanks Kathy for the tip and thanks Wendy for getting it done!

Sunday 25 October 2015

Let's Talk Holiday Season and Overspending

Really, Maureen, you say. You want to talk about money management at the most expensive time of the year???

I do and I'll tell you why. I'm constantly hearing from people around me that their financial situation is changing or they're afraid it's going to change. Unexpected expenses with kids, divorce, job insecurity, loss of a spouse, stock market fluctuations making pensions insecure, the government cut backs on assistance programmes, illness or disability, world financial crises, rising living costs and unstable property values. On and on the list goes and we don't seem to know how to prepare ourselves for any of it.

We could begin by making friends with our money. ~

We start by taking stock of what we have and what we owe. Seems simple enough. Unfortunately, we prefer a head in the sand approach more often than a dose of reality.

I was just reading a Ladies' Home Journal from 1932. The Depression has devastated rich and poor alike. The article said,

"We must learn the new values of money ...  Keeping up with the Joneses is out of fashion ... Where we were specialists in spending, we are becoming specialists in living. There is a new thrift for new pioneers."

My immediate reaction was that it is rather difficult to be thrifty with the holiday season creeping up on us. My next thought was, that there would never be a better time than now, before the credit cards and cash cards get pulled out to host lavish dinners and buy expensive gifts. I count on spending about $200 to give a large family dinner, including wine and spirits. Is that entirely necessary? Somewhere in the last 30 or 40 years we got the notion we had to have enough selection in alcoholic drinks in the house to make a small tavern look understocked. Next I considered the number of side dishes that have been added to the menu. There certainly weren't eight selections of vegetables at my parent's festive meals and tomato juice, milk, coffee and tea were the drinks I see on any of their tables in the old photos. I could pare it down a little and have the added bonus of the fridge not being packed with leftovers. 

That train of thought reminded me of when a family member fell into dire financial straights a few years ago. One of the endless recessions was going on and he was let go from an executive position. Finding a new job took a couple of years and they were getting by on a fraction of their former income, earned by taking low-end jobs and his wife going back to work. 

As we chatted on the phone one day, he told me one of the things they missed the most was having friends over. I said it was too bad that we couldn't entertain the way we had when we were young. We'd make a big bowl of spaghetti with hardly any meat in the sauce and serve it up with some crusty bread. There were no salads, appetizers or dessert as a general rule. The guests usually brought a bottle of cheap wine. We listened to records and talked and if there weren't enough chairs in the living room, some of us sat on the floor. 

It was the week between Christmas and New Years and they decided to give it a try. They didn't invite one of the couples that were used to coming over when the food and drinks flowed like there was no end to funds. Instead, they had a couple they liked but had not spent much time with. They told the guests it would be a simple meal and a chance to spend a quiet evening together. The guests offered to bring wine as their contribution. The hosts baked a loaf of fresh bread and made a big bowl of spaghetti. 

Serve that on a checked tablecloth or even put a checked tea towel in the centre of the table and you have an instant Italian bistro! ~

The next day I had a phone call from the host. They had the most wonderful evening they had in years! That was the year So You Think You Are Smarter Than A 5th Grader was all the rage. Their daughter had received the game as a Christmas gift. They were talking about how hard the questions were to answer and the guests said, "Bring it out and let's see how we do!". They spent the evening laughing and playing a kids game and formed a firm friendship that has grown beautifully over the last few years. 

That 1932 Ladies' Home Journal article said, "New  satisfactions are being found in simpler living and simpler pleasures".

Maybe we could lower our stress levels a notch or two (or a thousand) by taking some of that old advice to heart. Leave a little more of the money in the bank and we'll all enjoy the season a whole lot more!

I'll still have the turkey dinner and I'm sure a few bottles of wine will be served. But, I will look at finding ways to make the meal special without the excess. 

Look out Pinterest, here I come and I've got my craft on!

Wednesday 21 October 2015

You Won't Believe What's In This Cookbook!

I preordered happy hens & fresh eggs because the author, chef Signe Langford, is a friend of my daughter. Signe has been a good chicken mommy to many of the rescued battery hens that my daughter brought to her farm for rehabilitation and rehoming. 

What I didn't expect was my absolute delight in the book itself. It has everything I love in a good read!

Where else will you find beautiful photos of gardens, vintage kitchenware, backyard chickens, coop plans, and practical information on caring for your own flock?  Okay, maybe you could find all that in one book but how about 100 egg recipes by the author and contributing chefs!

The photography is beautiful. ~ 

If you daydream about keeping your own chickens, Signe walks you through the highs and lows of having adorable feather balls hopping up on your knee as you sip a cup of tea in your garden and gives peeks into her stylish coop dubbed Cluckingham Palace. She also lets you know what happened to her meticulous landscaping when those feather balls started scratching and chomping their way through the garden like miniature, ravenous dinosaurs. You all know what my gals did to my yard so that won't surprise you much. There's lots of practical chicken keeping advice from Signe and two bloggers I regularly follow, Karen at The Art Of Doing Stuff and Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily.

The author is as passionate as I am about stopping cruel factory farm practices and I was thrilled to see a picture of my granddaughter, holding a rescued hen, included in the book. ~

I couldn't put happy hens and fresh eggs down until I'd read it cover to cover and by then I was famished! 

I flipped through the book and settled on whipping up Hangry Eggs. They turned out beautifully and tamed the 'hangry' beast in me! ~

Tomorrow, I'll try something a little more refined. I think iles flottantes will do nicely. ~

The gals in the coop have their work cut out for them. I intend to cook my way through the entire book! ~

Luckily I  have lots of 'happy hens & fresh eggs'!

To order (and I highly recommend you do!) click here to take you through to 

Friday 16 October 2015

Some Serious Pruning In The Raspberry Patch

When the Burning Bush looks like this ~

and the Sumac looks like this ~

I know it's time to prune the raspberries.

This particular patch was planted three years ago and it's time to thin them out as well as do the usual annual pruning. If you are new to raising raspberries, you may be reluctant to prune too many canes out, so it's helpful to know how raspberries grow.

Raspberry roots send up new shoots each year. The first year, a cane produces only leaves. The second year it produces leaves and fruit. After the fruit matures on the second year canes, the cane dies.

You can see the dead wood easily at this time of year. ~

All of the dead canes need to be cut off at ground level with sharp pruners and removed. They harbour bugs that over winter in them and stop air, water and sunshine from getting to the new canes.

After three years of growth, my patch was becoming too dense with new canes as well and needed to be thinned out. They are a heritage variety and a little harder to control than the modern raspberry canes. They tend to be floppy and I need to cut them back to about 3' high in the fall and trim another 3 or 4" off in the spring to stop the canes from bending over onto each other. In the interests of plant biodiversity, I'm willing to go to a little more trouble in my patch.

The chickens loved this before version of the patch as their secret hiding spot. ~

Sorry girls, you can't do much hiding in the pruned raspberries! ~

I never mulch my raspberries in the fall. They are very hardy plants and I feel wood mulch takes too much nitrogen out of the soil as it's breaking down. Raspberries love nitrogen!

This time of year is a race against the elements in the country. I have a little more work to secure the chicken coop for the winter and, of course, there are the never ending leaves to blow, mulch, rake, burn, compost.

The leaves are starting to turn a pretty red on the canes today and we won the race against the snow warning for this week!

Sunday 11 October 2015

Reviving My Gratitude Journal

Daily life has seemed to be contrary lately and even my favourite season of the year, Fall with all the beauty and abundance it bestows on us, failed to inspire me to decorate.

As I was leaving a friend's house, she asked me if I would like the Hydrangea blooms from her garden.

I put them in an antique crock on the dining room table. ~

The crock gave me the idea to add the stoneware jug that was my mother's first antique purchase as a new bride. ~

An antique glass compote filled with apples struck my fancy and a primitive, wooden crow joined the grouping.

These solid lead cast farm animals, a child's toy from the 1800's, always bring a smile to my face and I added them to the side of a berry wreath. ~

It struck me that I was choosing items that gave me happiness just by seeing them. Why not add a bowl of eggs, daily gifts from my tiny flock of chicken friends? ~

And, why not enjoy the sight of an inquisitive cat that has to be part of the decorating process? ~

Grouping things I find beautiful together made me stop and see the beauty I was overlooking. I could have filled that table in minutes with everyday items that bring me joy when I take the time to acknowledge them.

I went to my library shelves and pulled out a book, Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. That book was a great comfort to me fifteen years ago when I was going through a very difficult time. Sarah introduced me to the idea of keeping a gratitude journal.

Each day I wrote down in my journal five things that I was grateful for in the day that was ending. It was difficult to think of anything to be grateful for in that stressful and heartbreaking year. I started with little observances of sunsets, horses grazing in a field or a warm fire. It became a habit to keep my eyes open for nice things in my day so I had something to write down that evening. Soon, I had more than five things to put in my journal. I was seeing beauty, kindness and goodness all around me. My situation hadn't changed one bit; only my way of viewing my world had improved. But, that made all the difference between wallowing in misery and stepping back into life with all its wonder and joy.

Putting together some Thanksgiving Day displays reminded me of all that I am blessed with if I will only stop long enough to see it. ~

Sarah's thought for the day I started decorating was perfect. ~

We all have different ideas of what is beautiful. It only matters that we see the beauty we already have around us. A gratitude journal is the best way I know of healing a wounded soul. It says to the universe, "I appreciate all that is good in my world and I'm offering back to the universe my sincerest thank you for the gifts I receive." 

I pulled out my old gratitude journal and made a new entry. I listed the Hydrangeas first, not just because they were beautiful, but because they were a gift from a friend. a perfect way to begin a Thanksgiving weekend that was filled with love, sharing and happiness.

Today, I will write in my journal that I was fully present and enjoyed every moment of the day spent with my family. Every hug, every joke, every conversation, every snuggle with a grandchild was a gift. My heart and soul were full of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. May you find many wonderful memories to take up a pen and write in your journals!