Archive for the ‘Decorating’ Category


DSCN4326DSCN4311Come April, our garden club hosts its annual luncheon. We get all “gussied” up, meet somewhere different from our monthly venue, and have a floral related presenter who awakens us to all the possibilities of flower arranging. We take time to thank our retiring officers, dutifully swear in our newly elected ones, and enjoy each other’s company. A member is honored as “woman of the year” (congratulations Jan).  Among a bevy baskets, filled with wonderful raffle items, lively conversations ensue -and we all feel a little lighter for a few hours.

This year, the luncheon’s theme was Stepping Out. It was one of our very best, due in large part to the efforts of the event’s chairwomen and the committees that worked to make it enjoyable. It was topped off with tablescapes that were a phenomenal potpourri of the creative juices of our members.

The centerpieces are usually constructed by our Designs and Exhibits committee. Sometimes, however, they are made by the members at large. Several months ago, we were given the challenge of individually crafting centerpieces – using shoes! You can, I am sure, imagine women and their shoes, but, can you visualize round tables, adorned in white tablecloths with black burlap runners and every possible make and model of shoes on top? From the small Mary Janes of a grandchild and seaside “flip flops” of a sand lover, to golf shoes and sequined high heels, the soles of our members tripped fantastically across the tabletops, giving way to the young girls hidden in all of us.

Here are but a few of the shoes that were allowed, for an afternoon, to dance atop our tables.

Do click on for a better look.



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The Christmas Room

DSCN3584Isn’t it amazing what children remember? This past summer, when our Minnesotan contingency came down for a visit, the first in  eighteen months, Keziah sat in the dining room, a room she designated as where she will always eat breakfast, and recounted her Christmas in the living room. The interesting thing is that Kezzie was only 18 months old the last time her family had been to our house for Christmas. Nearly half her lifetime ago. There she sat, telling about where the Christmas tree was, where her mommy sat, and how we opened presents.

Since early summer, to our pleasure, they traveled down several times. With each trip, the living room has developed a persona of its own.  Kezzie began referring to the room as the Christmas Room. “Yia Yia, can I go in the Christmas Room?” was suddenly queried. It is now a favored spot for us to cuddle and read a story, or for her play the “pinano” with Uncle Jason, and Papa and Kezzie watch for the deer and squirrels out the expansive window – all in the Christmas Room.

When Tom’s eye surgery was postponed with an unknown date lingering, we thought about putting up the tree earlier than usual. When Katy’s family decided to come down for Thanksgiving,  visions of sugar plums began to dance in our heads, and the idea was cemented.

Our little lass waited patiently, through the Thanksgiving feast, then Papa stringing the lights, and Friday night’s feast of the leftovers. DSCN3605Finally, the ornament boxes appeared.  The time for “making the Christmas tree” had at long last arrived. Auntie Jenny got Kezzie started, pulling out birds and balls and angels, showing her how to attach the hooks, and reveling in the joy of a child trimming the Christmas tree. By the time Tom and I entered the Christmas Room, Kezzie was going full throttle, with birds aligned, all in a row, on the same branch, for birds do need to keep each other company,  and sheep cavorting with sledding penguins. A new world order in a small Cutoff corner. She worked for two hours, never leaving the Christmas Room, independent and determined to place each and every (and I mean every) ornament in just the right spot. Owls, you see, must face the outdoors, so they will know what is going on.

We are not yet sure how our days of December will play out this year. We are , however, sure of exactly where all of our wildlife ornaments are. There is some small comfort in that. They are, of course, all on the lower branches of the tree, where they will  remain, no matter what may be, building new memories and new traditions, in our Christmas Room.


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Image from Wikepedia.

Image from Wikepedia.

Several years ago, WGN radio pulled a popular weekday segment from their daily line-up, to the utter dismay of regular listeners. Kathy and Judy were friends who sat down with us daily in our kitchens or cars, as we were out working in our gardens, heading home from a day at the office; whatever we were doing mid-afternoon. Listening to them was like a “coffee clutch” – or “coffee and”. They talked of things women talk and laugh about, sometimes serious, often irreverent, always entertaining. It rocked our daily lives when they were suddenly dismissed; a void that was never filled in their old time slot – until recently when the “Kathy and Judy” show was revived on Saturday mornings on WGN.  While it isn’t a daily time slot, their show does fill a Saturday morning, and I try to tune in when I can, listening and laughing, shaking my head, voicing my own opinions out loud.

I happened to be out and about this past Saturday morning and tuned into the Kathy and Judy show. They were doing a segment about hoarders, which led to Kathy (or was it Judy?) say that she was down in her basement for some reason when she realized how many boxes she had kept.  A conversation ensued, viewers called in, opining, and I chuckled. You see, just last week I went down to the bowels of our basement and started to consolidate the hordes of objects that have accumulated, making piles of “giveaway” items, and carrying bigger boxes, now empty, out to the garage to recycle,  a little embarrassed at all of the gift boxes I have kept. I could relate to the show’s topic.

DSCN3492Saturday afternoon our niece Heather and her family, along with several of grandnephew Scott’s friends, came over to help Tom and Penny rake leaves. With two acres falling down around us, we certainly appreciated the help, and our Kezzie had fun pulling the tarp and running around with her cousin Jake.

During a break in the raking,  Andrew came in, carrying a somewhat familiar  white boxes with big, black lettering; lettering we were quite familiar with. Being decades long time patrons of a Chicago retail institution, Crate and Barrel, we knew the logo well. Our niece knows us  just well. Our Christmas tree wears Crate and Barrel ornaments from 40 years ago. I have silverware almost as old. I still use the Crate’s  working glasses for our drinking glasses and flowers still fill ribbon vases. from year’s ago.  What a sweet surprise it was to receive this  customized box – which we will definitely “hoard”.

Saturday was, indeed, a boxed in day!

Do you keep boxes? What is the oldest box you have? Have you ever shopped at Crate and Barrel?


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DSCN2321DSCN2366I wish you could see this flowery lady on the left in person. She is the belle of the ball, the queen of the prom , the next top model; a real live gal, in an earthy sort of way.  Actually, you CAN see her if you live in the Chicagoland area and come to the 2013 Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire on Sunday.

The Garden Walk committee is busy with last minute preparations, and the homeowners are even busier. We had a delicious rain on Monday, with a bit of lightening – just the thing to to keep the blooms going and give the soil a good soaking. but, if you are opening up your garden to hundreds of visitors, the few days before are filled with activity.

The Elmhurst Garden Club presents An Afternoon in the Garden each July. This is our 18th year.  I must say, the selection committee did an outstanding job with this year’s choice of gardens.  All seven, unique in their own way, make for a pleasant day of inspiration. Tickets are still available at a reduced price of $15 until Saturday. All the proceeds go to local endeavors and for scholarships to worthy applicants. The Elmhurst Garden Club has awarded more than $185,000.00 in proceeds throughout the years,which is pretty impressive for what I can a gardening band of 100 or so women with dirt on their hands. Proceed benefit not only scholars, but school gardens, summer camp attendees, and the rebuilding of public gardens damaged after Hurricane Katrina, to name but a few.  Information on the walk can be found here.

If you are in the area, please consider purchasing a ticket and visiting the gardens, and the fair in Wilder Park as well.

If not, won’t you consider a local garden walk in your area? They will inspire and refresh you, and they always benefit some good causes.

Okay, I’ll stop talking and show you a few photos.

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DSCN0971In the midst of opening boxes filled with ornaments and decorations that wanted to be on the tree or mantle, atop a table or settled onto a shelf, I’d temporarily placed some glass ornaments on top of the old chefferobe. It was there the sunlight found them, bouncing off the pretty glass globes in the most alluring way. Prisms of light danced around the walls and the cut glass basket magnified the assortment of ornaments. They were like bowls of crystal candy and I could not help myself. Out came the camera as I tried to freeze a few moments in time.


The glass basket was a wedding gift of my mother and father-in-law’s: a common present in the 1940′s. It often sat on their dining room table, sometimes with flowers from Tom’s mother’s garden. I always admired it and was happy to have it one day come into our home where it has sometimes held flowers and, this year, held Christmas ornaments.

The sugar bowl was a gift from a friend. Linda found it to match a pitcher that came from Tom’s great aunt, Ethel. It is the thistle pattern and was just waiting for this orange ball to stop by and rest. I love it when old things marry well with new.

DSCN0978The chefferobe is an old dresser that sat for years in the bathroom of the family’s old farmhouse. Towels and linens were kept in it. The mirror tilts. I can imagine Ethel fixing her hair in front of it or her brother Richard shaving. It is Ethel’s pinwheel and molasses cookies that fill our house with the fragrances of the holidays each year and it was Richard who often did the icing.

The glass ornaments are from Tom’s and my life together. Some are blown glass, others hand-painted, all gaily colored holiday magic and whimsy. I appreciate the way these little works of art sat in and on the past while catching the future in the early morning sun.

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DSCN0964Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void.  

Kathleen Kelly via email to Joe Fox in Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail.

As I wended my way home the other day, the streetlights suddenly came on. Have you ever been out-and-about as the streetlights come on? It is a magical moment that always takes me by surprise. For just a moment I imagine it has occurred just for me. Imaginations are good that way, aren’t they? They can make you feel good just when you want them to.  It was a perfect moment to end a perfect afternoon. I sighed and smiled and felt the grace in leading such a life.

On Sunday, you see, I had received a lovely email inviting several women to Carolyn’s house to see her Christmas tree. We were given two days to choose from for a few hours in the afternoon. It was so sweet and unexpected. I sent a reply and eagerly awaited my chosen afternoon to arrive.

DSCN0956Our holiday season has already been busy with a few things weighing heavily on my heart. It is what it is and I’m not complaining, but time has been often spent hurrying here and there, a few late nights, rushing off to whatever is next while carrying a extra pounds of worry.  A few gracious hours of sipping wine, nibbling on homemade poppy seed cake,and  engaging in interesting conversation while wrapped in the softer side of the season was a balm for my soul.

Carolyn’s house was built as part of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. It was at some point moved from the lakefront to its current suburban spot. It is a charming house made all the more so by its owners’ appreciation of antiques, art, and family history.

Wednesday’s attraction, however, was the magnificent fourteen foot fir, resplendent with dripping tinsel DSCN0963and adorned with ornaments that seemed to take on a life of their own. The tree was fresh,  having been cut just days before by Sam and Carolyn. The distinct fragrance of pine filled the room as only a fresh cut tree can. For all its height and breadth, this fir wasn’t an imposing dictator, but rather  a benevolent character in a Christmas pageant, acting his part, drawing me in and making my small but valuable life fuller.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate more and more these moments in time that help to center me and remind me of the simple joy of friendship and conversation. How about you? What small yet pleasurable moments have come your way lately?

I think I need want to watch You’ve Got Mail soon.


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Ah, that changes from season to season, day to day, but my favorite spots for reading and relaxing are

on our red leather coach, a cup of tea and honey nearby, in the livingroom.

It is also the perfect spot for daydreaming. This is the view.

Sometimes, especially on a cold but sunny winter’s day, it is in the library/den, on this chair.

In the heat of summer, this is a cool, comfy spot.

The best reading light in the morning is this corner our bedroom.

How about you? Where do you go in your home to read and daydream?

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What do Slinkys, water snakes, sunglasses and sponges have in common?

A fun and quirky tablescape, of course.

I attend several luncheon events each year that involve a program of some sort where gardening folks are introduced to new floral introductions, tools of the florist trade, and different techniques in flower arranging. There is always an arrangement or two that invokes ooo’s and ah’s from the audience, cameras click, note paper comes out, someone asks “where can I get that rose stripper?”.

 The rose stripper was a “must have” tool that had the ladies chattering away at Friday’s luncheon. It resembles those silicone pot holders you can buy these days. You simply grip it, rather like a pot holder, and run it down the thorny stem of a rose. We chatted about it at our table, someone mentioned googling it, then we all looked shocked then laughed as ladies do when we realized the double meaning and what would likely be links to a google request for rose stripper.

I digress.  In between the rose strippers and the angel hair lights, our presenter  dashed out a door and then quickly back in again carrying this really fun arrangement. The crowd grew wild. Well, as wild as a congregation of 100 women or so with a median age of about 65 can be.

Wouldn’t this be fun for a summertime pool party? Water snakes are pool toys that float and bend. Here, they are wrapped with Slinkys. A sponge for a face adorned with Dollar Store sunglasses and out comes the Creature from the Blue Lagoon. The presenter put some tulle around the bottom then surrounded these creatures with smaller glasses of floral sundaes. The point is that the sky is the limit with how one decorates with flowers, even bringing in a cast of worms.

Made me want to go out and buy a huge Slinky and some water snakes.

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A crow is perched quite handsomely atop one of our Christmas trees. A red satin ribbon he found somewhere, quite regal, wraps around his neck and trails down the tree, which is decorated with all sorts of nature inspired ornaments; birds, fox, a racoon gnawing a branch, nests that were found after heavy winds. A dove flutters nearby, keeping the peace in the kingdom. The tree faces the road, the landscape and beyond. It is where we sit to watch the meandering herd of deer, ghost walkers in the snowy night,  and the birds that visit for seeds and water. It is where we spy horses trotting, only to disappear into the woods. It is where we read and reflect and dream. It is where our nature tree sits, adorned with all manner of ornaments that remind us of nature and it is where our Christmas morn begins.

A more traditional tree, real and fragrant with old fashioned ornaments and bits of memory sits in the back family room. It is smaller this year. It, too is well adorned and crowned with a now ratty raffia angel my sister brought back from Mexico many moons ago. She couldn’t be more beautiful, in spite of her years of topping.

Antler Man hunts for the real tree. I’m a “Charlie Browner” whilst he’s a “Rockefeller Center” when it comes to trees. I don’t mind. He always finds the best, going from tree lot to tree lot, bargaining as he pulls out and twirls each tree. A winter waltz among firs and balsams and pines. He always brings the best dancer home.

There are legends of our Christmas trees; the ones that have fallen needles galore, the ones that have simply fallen, the ones too big for the door and the one that opened so wide one year we couldn’t come in the door. One year, there was a tree so big and round it consumed our tiny apartment as Tom and brother-in-law Mike came in, looking rather sheepish, with grins on their faces and whispers of the really good tree lot where brandy was being served.

We two, the Antler Man and I, are as sappy as the juices flowing from the firs when it comes to our Christmas decorations. Romantics at heart, I sometimes think we try to contrive a Christmas that really wasn’t but we imagined it to be. A Dickens or  Currier and Ives, mixed in with Alcott and Wilder and Rockwell and a little James Taylor ballad. Our marriage brought on a wedding of traditions that morphed into our own. Molly speaks so well about transitions at Christmas here and Corey takes us to her home and environs in France here. She got me to thinking about how we all top our trees. Then there is Rachel. This fine lass from Great Britain, who is interning in NYC,  does more for that city than any tourist board, not to mention her excellent book reviews. Read her here.

Yesterday morn, working here at my desk, I heard a cawing outside the window. I looked, and there, sitting on the barren branches of the snowball bush (absent all snowballs, of course) was a magnificent bluejay. We stared at each other for just a few seconds before he flew off. I kept looking, hoping he would come back and sit for a spell. He was likely looking at his own reflection, rather than me, but, I was enchanted just the same. Bluejays became rare here a few years ago, plagued with the West Nile virus. It is good to see their return. I watched and waited, then sprang from my chair (lest I forget Clement Moore) and went into the livingroom to look at our tree. I guess I wanted to make sure the crow was still there.

He was, but he was slightly atilt. I wonder what mischief he was in when I wasn’t looking?

Who tops your tree?

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The Nutcracker

Susan Jeffers' illustrations of The Nutcracker

When I was teaching first grade, a lifetime ago it now seems, a friend and colleague took me to see The Nutcracker. It was a birthday present and my first time of seeing this ballet live. Gemma knew it was something I longed to see and she surprised me with tickets. We went to an afternoon matinée after school recessed for Christmas vacation. We drove downtown to the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place where the ballet was staged especially for children for 31 years.  The Nutcracker was then, and still is, most often performed here in the most magical month of December. The audience that afternoon was filled with little girls, all dressed in holiday finery, and little girls at heart like Gemma and me. The curtain rose and I was transported with Clara and her nutcracker, the army of mice and Herr Drosselmeyer, and the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. I can close my eyes and hear Tchaikovsky’s music and be brought right back to my seat, stage right, a few seats from the aisle, about one third of the way back and I have never forgotten Gemma’s kind gift to me.

You will not be surprised to learn I have a wonderful children’s book about the Nutcracker, nor would you be surprised to learn that it is illustrated by one of my favorites, Susan Jeffers. She also illustrated The Song of Hiawatha and Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, among many other picture books.

I have a nutcracker. He is red and getting old and he stands this year on the mantle, guarding Jeffer’s Clara, who sits on an easel next to him. I wondered as I placed them there, together, if they would come alive at night and dance around the living room. I won’t mind if they do, as long as there are no mice involved. 

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