Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Decorations: A Steampunk Tree

We have been tinkering for awhile now with a master bedroom renovation. The concept is Jules Verne's dream bedroom - a blend of masculine Victorian, industrial, vintage travel, and fantasy. I'll be sharing more on our changes later.

Anyway, since our son begged for a larger Christmas tree last year, our beloved twig-tree moved into our room this year. That meant a completely new set of decorations - and since they were for our bedroom, we got steamy.

Not THAT kind of steamy...I'm talking steampunk. Budget-style.

The tree is a 3' tall German twig-tree. We placed it atop our stacked suitcases, so it would be a prominent decoration in the room. Winding 'round the tree, is a homemade paper-chain made from antique book pages, edged with a bit of copper German glass glitter.

The tree-topper is a homemade paper top hat - complete with hatpin, made by stringing glass pearls & goldstone beads onto straight pins.

The paper mache globe ornaments were given to me by my mother last year. They had been sitting with her decorations unused, and when she heard about this tree she insisted that we HAD to take them. I think they go perfectly!

We found a set of five metal keys at Michaels for $1 apiece last summer, and couldn't come up with a  place to display them until the tree went up. They add just a bit of metallic shine.

Our splurge last year, was a set of three brass clock-hand snowflakes! At $18 for the set, they were well worth it.

I wanted hot air balloons, and found  tutorials using solder, glass-blowing, and  incandescent lightbulbs. Opting for a simpler approach, I printed out silhouette images, and glued them to create 3-d ornaments.

My husband found a pair of earthtone blown glass mushrooms on sale after Christmas last year... and at $.20 apiece I certainly can't complain about the price!

I also found a few post-season ornaments last year... a pair of bookish owls that seemed perfect for a set of bibliophiles!

The only other decoration in our room, is a pretty embroidered pillow from the thrift store. I'm not usually one for throw pillows, but this one had such a pretty handmade look that I had to bring it home. It looks SO pretty against my matelasse duvet! It doesn't quite fit the steampunk look of our tree, but it looks as if it was made to rest on our mid-Victorian era bed.

It's taking me forever to get my decorations up this year, but slowly everything is coming together.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Decorations: Sweet Surprises

I just have to share... because this TOTALLY made my day! My UPS man showed up this afternoon, but we hadn't ordered anything recently. When we opened it up, I found a lovely snowman ornament from one of my dear sweet friends. It ABSOLUTELY made my day, and I immediately popped him onto my antique sewing machine next to another snowman-friend so they could keep each other company.

What a wonderful unexpected surprise - and what a sweet couple these two make together, sitting where I can see them from the entire living area.

A few of my other smaller decorations are now tucked about the place as well. In my kitchen niche, I've tucked my reproduction snowman bubble light, and my husbands' Bing Crosby album. 

Across the top of my crafting shelves, I've arranged a vintage shawl under a variety of pretty white candleholders. 
It's a simple display, but it offsets my red and white feather tree so nicely.

My men have spoiled me this year, by surprising me with a trio of sweet mouse ornaments.  How fitting for Miss Mouse, wouldn't you say?

I have felt SO spoiled this  past week with all these amazing surprises!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Christmas Decorations: Bottlebrush Trees

I tell people that I have 37 trees in my house for Christmas, and it's true.

Most of my trees, however, are bottlebrush trees. I LOVE how many ways there are to use them, and place mine in various vignettes about the house.

Near the front door, I crocheted a a pool noodle and tucked a few bleached trees into it along with a pretty wooden church ornament for a simple "White Christmas" wreath.

Atop the sewing machine under the wreath, is this tiny display - with a paper church, and tiny lanterns. 
 In the dining room, I tucked several more bottlebrush trees into some cotton batting, and added several wintry animals for a natural look. My husbands antique car nestled nicely into a nest of feather boa, with one more bottlebrush tree tied to the roof for just a touch of whimsy.

This year has been particularly difficult. I have been saying that I'm ready for next year to begin because it MUST be better. However, I am choosing to live the rest of my winter by this quote by Anne Bradstreet:

If we had no winter,
the spring would not be 
so pleasant:
if we did not sometimes
taste of adversity,
prosperity would not be so welcome.
 May all our winters lead to pleasant springs.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Christmas Decorations: Two Beautiful Nativity Scenes

I love nativity scenes. I love the simplicity of wooden-block ones just as much as the complexity of a full 300-piece Fontanini set. I also LOVE the creative ways people find to display theirs. Our house may be small and our storage-space limited, but I have two complete nativity sets.

Near our front door, visible from nearly the entire living area, is my Willow Tree nativity. I love the way the Willow Tree figurines speak to my heart -with their simplicity and subtlety.

The candle and aspen shavings were inspired by THIS beautiful scene. I wanted to add a warm backdrop, but after MONTHS of searching I still hadn't found anything that felt right. As I put everything onto the shelf last night, inspiration hit and I placed an embroidery hoop with warm brown fleece inside and everything fell into place beautifully. I LOVE how it silhouettes Jesus, Mary, and Joseph without taking away from the simplicity.

Our other nativity is a tiny porcelain set. I picked this up initially to place inside my giant lantern, but they looked so small and delicate that they just didn't fit well there.

After some fussing, I came up with a display I feel good about. Mary and Joseph are resting on a doily crocheted by my grandmother, and the Bible is my husbands' Great-Grandmother's Norwegian Bible, opened to the second chapter of Luke.

I will be sharing more of our decorations over the next few days, but I wanted to begin sharing with two of my newest and favorite pieces - those that tell the TRUE meaning of Christ-mas.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Dear Mom - final garden post of 2014

Dear Mom,

It's been a month to the day, since you passed away. I still can't write that, without my eyes going blurry. We finished your zucchini relish for you, and we'll be putting your gardens to bed for the winter over the next few weeks. I don't know how we'll do, since you were the one to tell us which plants needed extra hay covering them and which ones benefited from a handful of mulch, but we'll figure something out.

We spent yesterday and today, getting our own deck-garden ready for the winter. Next spring, we'll be planting it just like you & I talked about - with the zucchini trellises, the tomatoes against the wall, and the extra herbs. The one change I've made, is to plan on adding Chinese longbeans in with the zucchini. It seems as if those beans we discussed not planting for next year are the perfect companion for greedy zucchini. What I wouldn't give, to be able to double-check that decision with you.

Anyway, our garden is as ready as we can get it. You'd be proud, I did everything just like you taught me.

To the north, we've uprooted everything and hand-tilled the soil - removing roots, clumps, and squirrel-planted peanuts until everything is ready for next spring. That Santa-Fe pepper you sent back to my house? It's STILL going strong! I'm seriously considering bringing it in for the winter, to see how many more peppers it will produce before it gives up. I counted 9 blossoms yesterday afternoon.

To the west, everything is dug up, churned over, rearranged, and ready for spring. And you were right - those carrots we planted, tasted awful. It'll be the specialty carrots next year, or radishes for us. The rabbits thanked us, for our pitifully small carrot harvest.

Along the south, we still have several things growing. You were right about the lemonbalm, too. Two plants WAS one too many! You were also right about the marigolds. They're still blooming this late in the season. I'm tossing the seed-heads into the yard below, in hopes of those volunteer plants you suggested might crop up.

In the southwest corner, our flowers still look and smell amazing. And yep, the lemon thyme is still in there too, thriving and smelling amazing.

In the southeast corner, the mint is still struggling to stay green as well. I'll be trimming it back like you taught me, but I know if it doesn't come back next spring I can run over and snatch a few cuttings from your abundant supply.

We went to the store last night, to find two more of those blue bins for the zucchini, but look what we found instead! Four awesome planters, that will look positively amazing next year, and be a far sturdier deeper pot for those zucchini! And I got them on sale too! I wish you could see them Mom, you'd love these.

The garden's ready for winter now, just like you showed me. Now we just wait for the spring, to start the cycle all over again. I don't know if they have binoculars in heaven Mom, but if they do - you might want to take a peek at next year's garden. I think you'll like what you see.

I miss you, Mom.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2014 Garden Review

I spent a good part of this afternoon, out in the garden getting my containers ready for winter. Nearly everything has been harvested, and it's time to review what worked and didn't work this year.

For starters, my original layout was a failure. Because our deck is less than 4' from the sidewalk, we have had problems with people reaching through the deck-rails and stealing our produce. Not to mention the four 8' tall bamboo poles that were swiped from around my melon-plants. So halfway through the season, we ended up moving all our tomatoes up against the house. That was TOUGH when the tomatoes had already grown to over 6' high. So for next year, we have a completely different layout.

Our tomatoes? From 6 Bumble Bee cherry, and 6 Vorlon beefsteak plants, we had a bumper-crop of cherry tomatoes and a fair crop of beefsteaks. So for next year, we'll be growing eight Bumble Bee cherry plants and skipping the beefsteaks altogether. These were the best tomatoes we have EVER had! So rich, so flavorful, and so split-resistant! Cucumbers were slow to start producing, but once they did we harvested 2-6 golf-ball sized yummy mini cucumbers every single day for over 6 weeks. We'll be planting those again next year as well! And all of our herbs grew wonderfully... the one change we will make for next year is to ONLY grow a single lemonbalm plant. Growing two of those was TOO much!

The pole beans were the same as always; out of 6 plants, we enjoyed four side-dishes of beans. Not great, but nothing to complain about either. For next year, we're going to try Chinese long-beans - mostly for the novelty, but also because next year we will be growing ZUCCHINI! Originally we had thought we would be trading the beans for zucchini-space, but when I searched companion plants for the zucchini I found that beans were perfect because of their nitrogen production. 

My peppers were a bust. I have NO clue why, but I grew about 18 pepper plants from seed. None of my sweet peppers even germinated, and I sent about a dozen of my hot pepper plants to my parents' house. The six I kept here did almost nothing; I yielded 8 undersized flavorless peppers. The ones I sent to my parents produced a bumper-crop, just like I saw at my place last year. I'm calling the peppers a fluke, and trying again last year. The carrots - yuck. The Parisienne carrots we loved last year had sold out by the time we ordered our seeds, and the half-length carrots we chose to plant instead were puny and bitter. Next year it's Parisiennes, or NO carrots for us! 

Our complete failures were the melons, and pumpkins. Every year, we grow pumpkin plants that put out plenty of beautiful blossoms, but no actual pumpkins. We're giving up on pumpkins - that pot is needed for zucchini next year. The melons, since this was our first year trying them, we will give them another try next year. But our plants never got higher than about 8" tall, and the only yield we saw was a single marble-sized melon that was good for nothing but laughter.  

All in all, I'd say it was a good year! We had some amazing crops, a few not-so-spectacular crops, and a few flops... but it was fun to grow, easy to care for, and a pleasure to sit on the deck & sniffle the wonderful marigolds & alyssum - that are STILL perfuming the deck, even this late in the season! I can't wait to see how NEXT year's garden will turn out! 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Spooky Author Display 2014: Gaston Leroux

Back in 2010, my kids asked if we could do something "spooky" during the month of October. Since we don't celebrate Halloween, I initially balked at the suggestion. But since I'd promised that I would always take ALL suggestions with due consideration, I thought about it for awhile and after a brainstorming session over zucchini bread & hot cider, we came up with a creative compromise.

Each year, during the month of September, we learn about a "Spooky Author". This might be an author who wrote spooky stories or poetry, or an author who lived a particularly spooky life. We study their life,  as well as a selection of their most famous works. These studies then result in a collaborative display that is "spooky" without having anything to do with witches or ghosts.

In 2010, we learned about E.A. Poe. Not really sure what to put into the display that would steer clear of the macabre, we opted for a simple black-and-white display, with a faux raven nicknamed Nevermore who still finds his way into our fall decorations perched over a basket of sunflowers.

Their favorite poem? The Bells. Their decision? Mr. Poe must have had the worst luck of anyone, ever.

In 2011, we studied Mary Shelley. Our display became much more colorful, and we had some creative fun using a miniature pumpkin as Abby Normal's brain, as a nod towards the movie Young Frankenstein.

Their favorite part of this study? Revisiting Frankenstein's Laboratory at the Bakken museum.

In 2012, we chose to research Lemony Snickett. Rather than create a display about the author, out of deference to the author's desire for anonymity we chose 13 iconic items; one for each of the books, to display along with a few items to represent each of the main characters.

My son thought it was immensely amusing that we used HIS leg to create a photograph of Count Olaf's ankle tattoo, and my daughter adopted the crocheted Inky the viper I made after the display came down.

And last year, after life got a bit ahead of us, we made a last-minute attempt at creating a display around our studies of H.G. Wells. We never did find a flat-fronted Altoids tin to create a mock-Farnsworth, (ala Warehouse 13) and while we WANTED to put a model time machine into the display - every option we found was far too expensive. 

The highlight of this study, was listening to a remastered copy of the original radio drama from 1938. Again, and again, and again...

With the waning interest of last year, I considered skipping our annual display this year. But I had been hoping to create a display based on The Phantom of the Opera and decided that even if the kids weren't interested, I would do the research myself for one last author.

What started with a playbill from 1993, a red rose, and a mask - quickly turned into my favorite display yet. I learned that M. Leroux researched multiple strange goings-on at the Paris Opera House as a newspaper reporter for years before writing his most famous book. So many parts of the book, and now-famous opera are actually based on FACT that I styled the display after a criminal investigation board (with notes in French) on the whereabouts of the mysterious Erik. I would share more, but because the kids will actually be doing their studies on M. Leroux NEXT month due to our late-start this year, I can't ruin their surprises. Let's just say that sometimes, truth is BETTER than fiction!

I don't know if this will be our last Spooky Author display, or if the secrets of M. Leroux will renew our interest for next year. What I do know, is this was a TON of fun to put together, and well worth the effort - even if I'm the only one who ends up appreciating all the secret nuances!