Once Upon a Kitchen Reno

Once upon a time there was an old castle in need of renovation, which contained an ancient kitchen which was an eyesore to the castle inhabitant, a crotchety old woman who was never home as she was out ruling her kingdom and when she was home she seldom cooked, (although she did like to bake cookies for the neighborhood children).   When the old woman retired from kingdom running she looked at the ugly kitchen and exclaimed, “Something must be done.”

Kitchen Reno Before Pic

The Before Picture

The original mahogany cupboards were thin and plywoody plus the U shape closed in the room from the adjoining banquet nook, and despite being custom build in the previous century, none of them were the same size.    Although the Castle Owner was aware that they might qualify for the minimalist look which was back in style, she was tired of them and dreamed of something Bright and Snow-Whiteish.  

The Vision:  

Kitchen

Vision Board – Thanks Oprah!

As per her 2019 Bucket List, The Castle Owner had envisioned a new kitchen for years, and it was time for action. 

The Previous Renovation Wars:

Now the old woman had been through her fair share of castle renovations, many with disastrous results and was wary of any more endeavors and in truth a bit low on gold bullion.   It could even be said that she suffered from PRSD (Post Renovation Stress Disorder), which explained why the kitchen was still in it’s dreary dungeon-like state. 

Years of renovating had worn her down.   First there were the new windows and doors, where the installer had cut the hot water heating pipe along with  the brick for the new French doors onto the deck, which required an emergency welder to be dispatched from another kingdom to fix stat on the eve of a major snowstorm.  Then there was the deck, a no-maintenance castle-gray Veka with white vinyl trim, a thing of beauty from which to survey the surrounding countryside and which had come at a very reasonable price as the newly hired sales rep had underestimated many such projects and was subsequently un-hired.   Unfortunately the inexperienced peasants installing, being illiterate of blueprints and such, had ignored the Do Not Dig hydro markers and plans, (in truth there was no actual reading involved just orange flags) and placed the pilings too close to the hydro line, so when the ground froze and heaved the following winter, the lights subsequently dimmed so that lanterns were required to find one’s way around the castle interior.   A temporary generator was hooked up outside by the Hydro Kingdom on a cold January night and then it was up to the property owner to find someone to dig a trench under the deck so the lines could be reconnected.   After interviewing NINE electricians from far and wide, most of whom were never heard from again, she finally found one who agreed to take on the job – for a price, thus turning the bargain deck into the Taj Mahal of decks.   (Where were those voles when you needed them?)    Then there was the roofer, a charming Jester who promised he would have his hand on every  shingle, who dropped two kids off on Monday and was not seen again until Friday when he returned to do the chimney flashing leaving it in such a state as to cause continuous commentary among all the male neighbors.   At 4:30 he tore out of the driveway like a bat out of hell to return the scaffolding to the rental company, never to be seen again.   Then there were the twelve dead ash trees which had to be removed from the castle grounds, and the tree cutting truck which got stuck in the mud of the Ides of March who tried to remedy the situation by putting down sheets of plywood AFTER it was stuck, and the resulting fortune paid out to the landscaping company to repair and reseed the lawn.   And last but not least, the new asphalt driveway, which became a moat of sorts as it wasn’t quite level near the garage so it turned into an in-ground pool for the birds every time it rained, and it rained a lot.   So much that Castle Basements had to be dispatched twice to fix the water pooling in the dungeon which required more trenching.

The Research:

So the crotchety old woman (she wasn’t even that old, but this explains why she was crotchety), was battle-weary and extremely leery of taking on anything new and proceeded with extreme caution.   She wasted the month of April with sessions and quotes from Ye Old Lowes and Castle Depo.   Ye Old Lowes was particularly pointless as after a whole afternoon of much pencil-erasing on graft paper, it was revealed the design employee was going for training the following week.    The quotes were all way too high, but more importantly they had nothing she wanted, which was old-fashioned white bead board with glass doors.  (see Vision Board)  Most castles now being into the minimalist look, the pickings were slim.   Finally, she decided to visit the showroom of Castle Cabinets, who specialized in supplying new homes and whose kingdom had been building custom cabinets for fifty years, and there on display were the cupboards of her dreams!     

After a month of consultation with the in-house kitchen designer and some tweaking, which went on for far too long as the Castle Owner was a bit of a perfectionist and indecisive too, a bad combination, which caused the  designer in exasperation to repeat the mantra, “It’s whichever you prefer Joni,” a final plan was decided upon.   

The blinding white cabinets of her dreams had morphed into a soft Cloud White.   The mullions in the windows became plain glass, apparently mullions are out.   On May 27, the contract was signed.   The Castle Owner had been told six weeks and was expecting a bit of a reprieve to enjoy the nice weather, but Castle Cabinets was not terribly busy as no one could afford new castles anymore, so the installation date was set for the end of June, thus leading to three manic weeks of appliance shopping for a dishwasher, Over the Range microwave, sink, faucet, and lining up an electrician, plumber, demolition crew and lastly and with the most difficulty, a painter, a rare breed – good luck trying to find one who wasn’t booked up for months.   Once found, the painter promptly did a disappearing act.   He said he would get back with a quote, a week went by, many messages were left, but he finally answered one night in Ye Olde Pub (the Raptors were in playoffs, there was a party in progress in the background) and yes he’d have that quote the next day, which came and went.   But eventually he agreed and squeezed her into his already hectic schedule and then he too came and went over six days, (strip wallpaper border, clean walls, sand, prime, ceiling, paint one coat, two coats).   It all went well, except for a few days when he never showed up at all, but the Castle Owner, being eternally grateful to have found anyone at all, refused to nag and eventually it was done.       

Kitchen Reno - Paint samplesSelecting the paint had been an ordeal reminiscent of Goldilocks.  Who knew there were so many different shades of beige.   This one was too gray, this one too green, finally a Benjamin Moore employee recommended Muslin (as in the Jane Austen attire), and it was just right.   The Google Kingdom confirmed it as the perfect neutral shade for a north-facing room.   

The Players

The Castle Owner met many nice people during the reno.   The electrician was a retired troubadour who played bass guitar in a band of merrymen and so had to leave early several times for gigs and band practice.   He was there 4 or 5 days, so you get to know a bit about your royal subjects from spending so much time with them.    The hydro had never been upgraded in the old castle and the circuits were not labelled and every appliance needed its own separate wiring.     The plumber, well known with a gruff but efficient manner, refused all offers of brownies and sweets.  He simply did not have time to eat, although he had time to critique the cute but cheap bathroom taps and the lack of a contractor.   He also installed two new bathroom sinks, having located the last remaining relic in a separate kingdom, (reflected in the bill as extra travel time).    The Castle Owner did not like the satin brush kitchen sink (she was expecting stainless steel as his secretary had emailed), and could a Delta faucet possibly be that expensive, but wisely kept her mouth shut.   A good but reasonable plumber is hard to find.   Finally, the prep work was done and by late June, the Castle Owner had been demoted from Contractor to Supervisor and Chief Baker – in addition to brownies, there was rhubarb streusel cake, strawberry shortcake and date-nut loaf to feed the hungry mob, all made in advance while she still had a stove.

As the installers did not wish to assume the liability of scratching the floor, Castle Movers were contacted to move the stove and fridge into the dining room, where the Castle Owner dined, sitting on a stool with the stove top for a table, digging utensils and plates out of boxes, the dining room table and chairs being covered with all The Kitchen Stuff.    There being no stove for two and a half weeks, she ate healthy salads and microwaved dinners and happily lost several pounds. 

Salad Meal

Lean Cuisine

In the last week the kitchen cupboards were emptied (with many treks up and down the stairs to the storage dungeon, exercise is good too), revealing flower-power shelf paper not seen since Woodstock.    

Kitchen Reno - Woodstock

Yellow/orange/lime green?

The demolition went well, despite being a king’s ransom for a few hours work on a Saturday morning. 

Kitchen Reno - Tear out

The crew was finished by 11, their donkey cart loaded for the dump, although two brownies were deducted for the snarky comment about the ancient dishwasher. 

Dishwasher

Harvest Gold or Avocado Green?

As in Shakespeare’s time (“It was the lark, the herald of the morn”), all the trades people started at an unholy hour.   The Castle Owner was not a morning person but she enjoyed taking pictures of the dew on the roses and thought she might get up early more often.     

Roses

Stop and smell the roses

After the demolition, there was a week of sheer madness when the painter and electrician descended to work their messy magic, resulting in the Castle Owner promptly turning into Cinderella each evening, sweeping up bits of plaster and drywall once again.   But weep not lady, there was a deadline to be met.   

Then came the actual installation day.    All went well, but of course not on schedule and it lingered on and on as is the expected course with these things.   The Castle Cabinets installer was a perfectionist but looked permanently tired as he had one-year old twins and a long commute.  (Fortunately he left every day at 4 pm, which allowed the Castle Owner to take a long nap – like Sleeping Beauty reposing on the couch,the smell of sawdust didn’t disturb her at all so soundly did she sleep).   The doors weren’t spray painted on time and required another visit the following week.   The broom closet turned into pantry shelves did not line up and needed to be re-cut.  One piece of floor molding did not match and had to be redone then resprayed.      

The Big Reveal:

Kitchen Reno

The After Picture

Finally, it was finished, and they all left.   The castle owner breathed a big sigh of relief the first day NO ONE was scheduled to come and she had her house to herself again and could sleep late and drink her coffee and check her emails in her PJ’s without the sound of pounding or drilling.   Except then she had to cart all the kitchen stuff back up from the dungeon and place it in the new cupboards.   A whole afternoon was spend looking for the perfect matching shelf paper, and then another with measuring and cutting it.   She tried to channel Marie Kondo and place only those items which were useful and which sparked joy back in the cupboards.    She was amazed at how cluttered her cupboards had been before, and how simple they looked now, with the aid of a few new accessories from Dollarama. 

Kitchen Reno

Dollarama treasure

She was also amazed by how much stuff she had that was never used.   She tried to sort through it all, putting things aside for the Goodwill or a garage sale (the gold coffers needed replenishing and that $35 once used French press coffee machine might bring in a few coins), but by late July she said, “the hell with this” and threw the rest of the boxes back down in the dungeon where they would sit until some frosty day in January.   There was still six weeks of summer left to enjoy.   

Beach umbrella

Overall the Castle Owner was satisfied with the way it all turned out.   Even the things she had dithered over for weeks, like the hardware pulls and the laminate, looked good.

Kitchen Reno - Cupboards

She wasn’t sure how her red accessories/curtains/rugs would go with the new look, but they were fine and saved the added expense of buying new ones right away.   Even the red and blue dishes blended well together.  Kitchen Reno - Red and Blue

Unlike some of her previous projects, (see Renovation Wars) she was pleased with the trades she had hired.  They were all nice and trustworthy professionals.   (Trades are in such short supply in this part of the kingdom, we should be encouraging more young people to consider them).    

The Castle Owner lived happily ever after in her new kitchen – except now everyone wanted to see her new domain and she was expected to cook more – for there can be no better excuse to entertain than a new kitchen – Gobble, Gobble.    Happy Thanksgiving from my kitchen to yours!

Tom Turkey - AMc- 2013

Some Bits of Advice:

Unless you have a contractor, or a plumber, electrician and painter lined up, allow yourself plenty of time between signing on the dotted line and the actual installation date, because all these trades are super-busy.   I was extremely lucky and used references from people I knew who had been through a reno themselves.   The plumber was frankly horrified that I had not hired a contractor, but I didn’t think I needed one – it was just kitchen cupboards, could it be that big a deal?   Yes it was, and it wasn’t like I was even tearing down any walls – although I wish I could have, I had to work with the small space available.    Line up as much of the other stuff (appliances, hardware, paint) ahead of time if you can, unless you want to spend a crazy stress filled month like I did. 

One of the most frustrating things was picking out the paint as I had expected to paint after the installation, not the week before.   How do you decide what color to use if you don’t know how it’s going to look?   In retrospect a darker wall color might have contrasted better with the light cupboards, but I grew frustrated with all the graige (gray-beige) samples which matched the the laminate in the store but not in the room, and opted for safe and neutral.   I painted the bulkheads the same Cloud White as the cupboards so they would not stand out.   

Don’t be afraid to change your mind.   I had carried around the idea of a blue and white kitchen in my head for years but practically I knew bright-white would not go as well in my house which is mostly beige and warm tone wood.    I even gave in on the clear glass cupboards and am happy with them, as the smallish cupboards would have been too cluttered for mullions.

Don’t stress too much about mistakes.   While I was happy with everything, except for the brushed satin kitchen sink, after awhile the mistakes didn’t bother me as much.   I can always buy a new sink at Lowes if this one doesn’t stand up.   In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff.   On the other hand, if something really bothers you, don’t be afraid to speak up – it’s your money. 

Do lots of research and budget wisely.   You don’t have to spend a fortune on a new kitchen, unless of course you want to.   Some of the quotes I got were crazy…..as well as ugly.   My small kitchen came in under budget for the custom-built cupboards with another $5000 or so for the trades/paint/appliances etc.   I did run over on the trades as my hydro had never been updated.   I still have to upgrade my fridge and stove to stainless steel, but frugal me hates to give up my old  faithful Maytags for those electronic models which barely last five years.  (I obviously jinxed things as the fridge is now making strange noises so I may be hitting the Black Friday sales this week).   The OTR microwave is also great and frees up counter-top space.   I’m happy to have a dishwasher again and am using it more than I thought I would.    

Kitchen Reno - Stove and Pantry

They wisely left me room for a bigger fridge with small cupboards above, which are basically inaccessible so therein resides seldom used items such as my liquor supply, one lonely bottle of rum for the Christmas cake.

Kitchen Reno - Stove & Fridge

Laminate has improved and is now a popular choice again.   It came with my package so I chose the best of what they had and although I wondered if it was a bit too busy, my choice (Spring Carnival) pulled the gray of the stainless steel and the beige of the wood floor together.   I had decided if I didn’t like it I could always upgrade later but as well as the extra $5000 for granite or quartz it would have added another three weeks to an already drawn out six-week process, plus travelling to a city an hour away to pick out a slab, another set of installers etc.    Be realistic about what your investment will return when you go to sell your house.   For me, trying to avoid trendy stuff was important and the  classic farm-house look went with my older cottage style home.    

Kitchen Reno - Dinette

Removing the one wall of cabinets opened up the space to the dinette but now my old table doesn’t match.  I draped my grandmothers lace tablecloth over it to hide it, but wonder if I should move my beige and and oak dining room table in there, although it’s really too big for the space.   I’ll live with it for awhile and decide later, always a wise option. 

Kitchen Reno - Lazy Susans

I’m very happy with the two Lazy Susans, even though at just nine inches they were a tight squeeze in the corners, and the pull-out shelves in the pantry, the best invention ever, and also the large drawer for pots and pans.    Splurging on these small things made everything  very functional and efficient and did not add that much to the cost.   The designer talked me into using pulls on the glass cupboards instead of pretty knobs, so as not to mark up the new cupboards when your hands are messy from cooking, a practical tip I had not thought of.    Because a kitchen isn’t just for show, it’s to cook in too! 

Of course, renovating one area, makes the rest of your house look old and tired.   I have to tackle window treatments next – I’m thinking shutters if they are not too expensive for those big front windows – really a house is just a money pit!

I was happy when it was over, and wished I had done it sooner, but never again.   Two conflicting thoughts – but anyone who has ever done a kitchen renovation will know what I mean!

PS.   Do you have any renovation stories/nightmares you wish to share?

  

  

 

 

Signs of Spring

Spring is late again this year.  Having survived a particularly brutal winter, which started early and never let up, we’re all tired of the snow and the cold, and anxious for the first signs of spring.   So, here’s my take on the Six on Saturday Garden post….   

March 20 – The first official day of spring – saw my first robin, who was uncooperative for a photo-shoot, hopping away every time I got near.  Unfortunately the zoom lens on my camera is broken so this is as close as I got.  Robin

March 22 –  The tulip and daffodil tips are peeking through on the south side of the house and some of the rose bush stems are starting to turn green.

daffodil tips

March 23 – Went out for a walk for the first time in weeks, the wind was cold but the sun was bright, and the neighbor’s snowdrops were out in full force.  

snowdrops

March 25 – The Angry Bird  – I opened the front door to check the temperature this morning and saw the morning doves have returned.   One was sitting on the front step, looking quite perturbed now that it has to find a new place to nest.   They are life long lovers and creatures of habit, but as they didn’t build a nest last year I thought it was safe to install new light fixtures.    I’m feeling guilty but my new lights are so much nicer than the old.  

Morning Doves

Mr. And Mrs. Lovebird

light fixture

March 26 –  So nice to see a blue sky again, especially against a budding maple tree.Blue sky and maple buds

March 27 –  saw my first crocus while returning a book to the library.   Their flower beds are always gorgeous because they have professional gardeners maintain them.  

crocus

March 28 – first spring-like day, 15 C, and first milkshake from the Dairy Queen –  chocolate of course.   Drove home with the windows down.  Dairy Queen Milkshake

March 29 – The ice is gone from the river and the sunlight is sparkling on the water again.    river view

March 30 – our first all day spring rain flooded the back forty, but brought a tinge of green to the grass.  spring rain

March 31 – brought a return to winter and a couple of inches of snow – the robin was not amused.    The snow hung around for a more few days – is this some kind of April Fools joke? Robin

A pot of hyacinths can provide a small dose of beauty, hyacinth

while we wait for this.        

Daffodils and hyacinths

What wonderful sights await us in a few more weeks.   Happy Spring!   

A Chestnut Wreath

fall tree

Autumn is very late this year – the trees are just starting their annual decorating.   I remember gazing out at this tree when I was in grade eight, as my desk was close to the window.   While the teacher would be droning on about some uninteresting subject, I would be rejoicing in the glorious fall colors.   We used to play soccer in the field after school, kicking the ball around under a canopy of orange and gold.   It is still standing, although the other trees are gone, made way for a parking lot.    I still get the pleasure of looking at it when I walk, I think of it as my tree, even though we are both a bit the worse for wear after forty plus years.   

Chestnut trees are also a fall favorite of mine.   My grandmother’s farm had chestnut trees in one of the fields and every Thanksgiving (Canadian, so mid-October), my little brother and I, brave but ready to run at the first sign of a big dumb cow, would gather them up and then use them to build fields for his barn set  – what fun we had lining them up as fences for his toy animals.  As a young girl who was horse-crazy, their glossy finish always reminded me of a chestnut mare or the sleek racehorses we would see at the fall fair.    We have two giant chestnut trees in front of our library so when you go inside to pick up your books, you’d better beware lest you be boinked on the head by a falling chestnut.    Last year one of the librarians displayed a chestnut wreath she had made on the checkout desk.  She emailed me the instructions, but I was too late, so this year I was prepared and gathered up several baskets after the first windstorm. 

chestnuts

 First I shellacked them with a coat of  acrylic varnish to maintain the shine, as they will dry out quickly.    I raided my mothers art cupboard and used a spray can, which was quick and easy but you might get a more even application by painting it on.   I did this a few days ahead of time to let it dry.  

acrylic finish

straw wreath

Next I took a ten inch straw wreath, (but any size would do, I started small to experiment, but hers was quite large and impressive), and wrapped it tightly with some nice decorating tape.   Make sure any loose ends are secured with straight pins, as you don’t want it unraveling after the glue is on. 

wreath supplies

Then using the trusty old glue gun, attach the chestnuts in any pattern you wish.  I must admit my first attempt was not perfect, as I have too much spacing between some of them.   When collecting it is better to find chestnuts of different sizes and some with flat bottoms for odd spaces.   The librarian had filled in the holes in between with Spanish moss, but after googling I found others have used small acorns to fill up the spaces.    I prefer mine having the pretty decorating tape showing through.   

chestnut wreath

It could be hung up with wire, but is fairly heavy so a table wreath with a candle in the middle is a nice option.   I decided to place mine on a wicker tray and added some bows in the corner and some fairy lights.  

chestnut wreath

You could use this for a centerpiece for American Thanksgiving, and then swap out the bows for something Christmasy.    These are not the kinds of chestnuts you roast on an open fire however, as these are horse chestnuts, which are toxic to humans and animals.   (The difference is in the shells, smoother vs spikier and the point). 

horse chestnuts

horse chestnuts

Total cost – around $10 – $4 for the straw wreath, $4 for the ribbon (with Michael’s coupon), glue sticks, chestnuts free for the taking.   All told it took me less than two hours to make, so this would be a nice idea for hosting a tea/craft afternoon.  

Since the weather is cooler now and more conductive to baking, I made Date Nut Loaf, using the recipe from my farm cooking bible. 

date nut loaf

This is a quick and nutritious tea bread – buy the bite sized dates to save time.

If you are interested in more fall decorating on the cheap, check out last years (unpublished) blog, Autumn Decor, for some dollar store finds. 

Book of the Day:

For more decorating ideas and recipes, see the Susan Branch book – Autumn from the Heart of the Home (published in 2004), for typical New England (Martha’s Vineyard) fare, or check out her website and sign up for her free monthly newsletters….they are always a cheerful read.  

Autumn from the Heart of the HomeAutumn from the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a big fan of anything Susan Branch, this book one of my favorites. I re-read it every year to get in the mood for the season, for the inspiration, the decorating tips and the yummy recipes.   Let the leaves fall….it’s time to get cozy.

 

The French Touch

Paris Victoria and Journal

We cannot always have Paris, but we can all have a touch of Paris in our homes.   I was surprised when I looked around my humble maison, (which more resembles a B&B), how much of a French influence I have in my surroundings, but they are small touches, understated, like the French themselves, where less is more.    The French way of life is one of order, elegance, proper routine and a good dose of perfectionism – of course this might just be a myth perpetuated by smug French women!    (The Victoria magazine cover Oct 2000 is just so French – I collect the back issues and the annual French edition is always inspiring.  This years French edition is in May/June).

Victoria Magazine French Edition

Victoria – May/June 2018 French Edition

A favorite flea market sign from Winners, in my front hallway.  (Note B&B wallpaper as I have not finished renovating the house yet, although the outside is done, but I don’t mind the wallpaper so it may have to stay).Paris Flea Market

My first and only attempt at stenciling hangs in the dining room, (don’t look too close, you really have to glue those stencils on well). Paris Sign

Who doesn’t love lavender.   I have lavender everywhere, in bowls, sachets, vases, soap….

 

Paris hatboxes and journals….

 

A special Renoir journal for jotting down blog ideas.

 

A silk scarf a friend brought me back from Paris many years ago, in my favorite color blue. Paris

And of course no aspiring Parisian would be complete without a navy striped boat neck sweater, (and some red lipstick).Paris striped shirt

HappyHauteHome, (check out her elegant blog on the modern French country home) posted about a French provincial home for sale, which looks like my dream house, but until I win the lottery, I will just have to be content with my petite accents.    To be French is an attitude, a state of mind, oui?

What blog would be complete without une recommandation de livre.

The French way of life is a call to pay attention, an appreciation of all matters large and small, including food, which is to be savored without guilt or worry.   I can smell those fresh baguettes already.    French Women Don’t Get Fat.

French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for PleasureFrench Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable read, this book certainly provided a different way of looking at eating, for pleasure and without guilt about calories or cholesterol. I think I’ll go for a long walk to the boulangerie….like the French do!

After reading so much about their chocolat chaud, I decided to try making my own.   I added four squares of Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate (but any good dark chocolate would do), to a bit of water and microwaved it well until it melted into a nice chocolatey gooey mess, then a few teaspoons of sugar and the milk, and microwaved it again until hot.  Um….like drinking a chocolate bar.   Maybe best to add  only add two squares……  

My only venture into French cooking was a failed attempt at beef bourguignon which I ruined by using a cheap red burgundy, despite the advice of the LCBO clerk that I should trade up to a better vintage.  She was adamant, I did not listen.   I hadn’t shopped at the liquor store for years (other than an annual trek at Christmas to buy rum for the pudding), and was horrified by the wine prices, when I only needed a cup and a half?    The best that could be said for it was that it was edible….if you were very hungry and very poor like Hemingway in his early days.

One day while shopping at a very expensive bakery ($55 for a birthday cake – let them eat Betty Crocker!), I spied a lovely tray of pastel macarons, and even though they were $2.50 per cookie I decided to splurge – totally tasteless.    If this is what Proust was going on about with his French madeleines, I think I’ll pass. The best part of the cookie by far was the turquoise color.   It’s good to try new things sometimes, if only to find out what you don’t like.   I do like crepes though, my favorite tea shop used to offer an excellent chicken and mushroom crepe until they closed due to a rent increase.   On my farewell visit I asked the owner for the recipe, and she said just make a basic roux, so I did, but my roux was thick and pasty from too much floor.   Julia Child I am not, so I will need to try again as I do miss the tea shop.  We have no need to fear the cream filled calories of France however, as gardening season will soon be here and now that spring has sprung, we can walk it off.     Next week we will be in Italy, along the coast, bring sunscreen.   Until then enjoy the spring flowers.

Muguet du bois,

Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley

 

 

 

 

Easter Chicks

Spring Fling - AMc - 2016

Spring Fling – 2016

After the earthy tones of winter, we are all craving the colors of spring.   Pretty pastels, soft greens, yellows, purples and pinks, all the colors of nature when she’s decides to put on her spring fling.   Even though it’s not yet warm enough to sit out on the deck, we can always dream, and decorate with a few Easter egg touches until mother nature agrees to cooperate.   Never fear, this blog is mostly pretty pictures.   (There may be cake at the end.)

Paperwhites, started in January, can be an early reminder of spring and it is wonderful to come home to such a heavenly smell.   Hyacinths are great too.

 

I forgot to buy Paperwhites this year, so I made do with a new candle in one of my favorite scents, rose water.

Rose and Ivy Candle

Victoria magazine is one of my favorite reads.   I have a collection of old editions in the basement and like to browse through them for seasonal decorating ideas.   For those weary of winter and in search of an early dose of spring the new 2018 March/April edition is a feast of gorgeous color.   Victoria Spring 2018

Victoria Daffodils

I found this garden gate table decor at Winner’s a few years ago and thought it might make a nice centerpiece, with some daffodils in the middle.

 

Also found this cute little guy to put inside one of my indoor bird cages.

Baby Bird

I saw my first robin yesterday, but he was camera shy and got away before I could point and shoot.  They will soon be getting plump and fat, and preparing their nests.   This is a well behaved bird, who chose her birthing bed wisely, a sturdy tree with lots of supporting branches.Robin in nest

This is a badly behaved bird who chose her nesting place just to annoy me.    morning dove Apparently morning doves mate for life, and these two lovebirds have insisted for years upon building their nest on my front light fixture, so I have just resigned myself to never ever getting new light fixtures because what would be the point.

Morning Doves

Mr & Mrs. Lovebird

They are very efficient creatures who can assemble a home in a day, and often the nest is built and the eggs laid before I even realize it, and then I don’t have the heart to do anything.   But last year I was ahead of the game and brushed the twigs off before they could get a head start.    After a few days of this build and toss tussle, they finally gave up and went elsewhere, but then I felt guilty.   I had destroyed their home, when they were just trying to feather their nest, the same as I do.   This year I am hoping we can co-exist somewhat peacefully, except they do tend to coo a lot, which is annoying so early in the morning.

The crocus usually pop up where ever ever they feel like it, sometimes in the middle of a bush, seldom where I planted them.  There must be a secret underground passage for wayward bulbs.  My elderly more sensible crocuses are still hiding under the lavender but these younger braver souls are blooming in front of the library. Crocus

These pretty blue flowers are one of the first signs of spring, but spring has been very late this year so this is a picture from last year.   It’s not my yard but I wish I could get them to populate on my grass.

blue flowers and forsythia

The annual trek to buy the windup Easter chicks…..they break after a few hours but what little one doesn’t love them.

Easter Chicks

My mother always had an Easter lily on the farm, and coming home after church for our family dinner of ham and scalloped potatoes is associated with the smell of the lily on the kitchen counter near the sink.  (Perhaps I remember it so well because of the two hours spent washing dishes by hand pre-dishwasher days!)

Easter Lily

Can you smell it?

Traditionally, we would either have a cherry cheesecake for desert or coconut angel food cake or a pineapple upside down cake.   This year I made a pineapple upside down cake, using the recipe from her old Purity Flour cookbook.   Sprinkle brown sugar (I like lots), in the bottom of a well buttered cake pan, lay out the pineapple slices and pour the cake batter on top – voila, a fast and easy desert.

 

I nixed the cherries though because of the red dye, (we didn’t worry about such things back then), although they do make a festive touch.  You could try strawberries perhaps?    If you haven’t time for that, President’s Choice makes a perfectly acceptable frozen cake in individual portions.  (Note PC is a Canadian brand.)

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

PC Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Although we can’t bring our spring clothes out just yet, I have noticed the weather girl on my local tv station has switched from her winter scarfs to her spring ones. Spring scarf If I had such a vast collection of colorful artfully tied scarves I’m sure I could learn to love inclement weather too.   I am sure there must be a stylist on set to drape all those scarves just so……the art of the scarf might be a French technique? She is predicting possible snow flurries for Easter tomorrow, so I hope the bunny bundles up.

Happy Easter!  May the Easter bunny bring lots of chocolat français.

The Easter Bunny

 

How to Make Your Home Hygge

 

Ski Lodge - AMc - 2016
Ski Lodge – 2016

            Now that I’m no longer working and my daily commute is a walk through the snow drifts to the mail box, I’ve realized that my life is already pretty hygge, at least compared to what it was.   No more watching the weather forecasts for potential snowstorms or laying awake half the night worrying about the roads, (I had one of those jobs where the only option for staying home was if you called in dead), or driving home late at night through whiteouts, where the only good thing was that you were the only fool on the road and hence could drive down the middle of it.    One of the benefits of getting older is that you don’t have to work anymore, and if you are elderly like my mother, no one expects you to go out at all, so you can stay at home and paint.

             A big part of hygge is appreciating the things you have and do that make winter a bit more bearable.  (see previous blog Comfort and Joy: How to survive January, for more on hygge, which is a derived from a Danish word for “well-being”).   So, what are the things that make a home hygge?   The Danes are big on coziness, candles, coffee, blankets, fireplaces, mulled wine, sweets, relaxed decor, soft lighting, comfortable clothing and casual entertaining.   Sounds like a recipe for a snow day. Hygge is even better if you can arrange for a snowstorm, preferably one with howling winds, the kind where the weather forecaster tells everyone to stay inside and off the roads.   Then after it has passed, and the world is a winter wonderland, you can go outside and make a snowman.  

Blue Snowman - AMC - 2017
Blue Snowman –  2017

      And of course no snow day would be complete without grilled cheese and tomato soup, it’s the stuff childhood memories are made of.  

          There’s nothing worse for your house than to feel bare and cheerless after the Christmas decorations have been taken down, (your house has feelings too, see Tidying up blog Jan), so I keep some of them up until the end of January, sometimes mid-February, if it’s a particularly harsh winter.  You can put the Santa and reindeer stuff away for a much-deserved rest, but the greenery, pine cones, berries and fairy lights can help provide a hygge atmosphere.     15781418_10154920876079726_6554042033651567829_n     

      The Danes are the biggest consumers of candles, (mainly unscented), so light some pretty candles.  

     Comfort food is a big part of hygge.  Homemade beef vegetable soup simmering on the stove, leftover turkey pie, mac and cheese,

 

 

or a big pot of chili, with a simple green salad and some warm bread, all make a nice evening supper.   Dempster’s baguettes are so good, you could pass them off as homemade – eight minutes in the oven, and they come in whole grain and rosemary/garlic too.   Baking itself is very hygge, brownies from a box are quick and can bribe snow shovelers, while a date nut loaf takes more work but can give your house a wonderful smell.    If you don’t want to bake, you can spray some cinnamon room spray around and buy some treats.

      The Danes love reading nooks, so a plump lounge chair with some cozy pillows and a throw, is a good place to sip cocoa and read your favorite magazine,  even better if the chair faces a window where you can watch the snow falling outside or the cardinals at the feeder. 

         If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace, then nothing beats reading a book by the fire.  You can start in on that stack you got at the second-hand sale last year.  Popcorn and mulled cider make a nice fireside snack.  Add some mellow music, Ella Fitzgerald is always good.

       If you haven’t got a love to keep you warm, a cat is good company, maybe two, but no more than five.  

        Reading in bed with a cat purring, and tea and cookies, is pure hygge.

 

             There is something about plaid that is so cheerful.  I put a red plaid flannel duvet cover on my bed before Christmas and leave it on all winter.   It looks nice with crisp white sheets and lacy pillows, an idea I saw in a decorating magazine once.    A plaid flannel housecoat with a fleece lining (Vanity Fair at Sears before they closed, but L.L. Bean carries these too), can keep you warm and cozy while you do your final check around the house before bed, and when you look outside, yes it is still snowing.   It’s really piling up out there, you may be snowed in tomorrow too.   As you drift off to sleep, listening to the north winds howl, may you have sweet dreams….of summer!            

Song of The Day:  Our House – Crosby Stills and Nash – music link

 

 

How to Deck the Halls Like Scrooge

      We need more Christmas decorations – said no one ever.    Well maybe the pagans during the winter solstice.   Ever since the time of the pagan festivals we have felt the need to bring light and festivity into our homes during the coldest darkest month of the year.   While the pagans may have been content with a few laurel wreaths with lighted candles and some boughs of holly strung through the drafty halls of their medieval castles, we have evolved into a much more sophisticated consumer of all things bright and shiny.   Christmas decorating has become a big business all on it’s own. 

It wasn’t always so.   This was the Christmas decorating of my childhood. A string of Christmas cards

Does anyone remember stringing cards along the wall or decorating the windows with a can of artificial snow?    Christmas trees were simpler too (and real), and their decorations were a hodgepodge of bright colored baubles collected over the years, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 and often made of glass.  Of course every year one would break and there was sure to be a sibling argument over which child would be blamed?  If you look closely you can see that plastic angel on the tree below. 

Christmas tree angel &  me
Christmas tree angel & me

I still have that family heirloom, plus the fuzzy candy canes, a glass partridge from the 1940’s I inherited from a great aunt and the tin-foil covered star my dad made in 1932 when he was seven, which always held the place of honor at the top of the tree. 

 

      Last year I went on a downsizing frenzy and cleaned out my whole house (watch for January New Years Resolution blog).   I got rid of tons of tacky decorations, except for a few favorites for sentimental reasons.   I organized what was left in the basement storage area so it was easier to find things, and patted myself on the back for having all that space.   Then at an outdoor craft sale in Sept, I saw this adorable little ladder – it was a husband and wife team, he did the wood, she did the decorating, and for only $15.  The husband told me they didn’t make any money on it, they just liked to craft together – how could I resist?  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I spiced it up with a red plaid bow – 2 boxes of ribbon – Winner’s $10 – because our topic is how to save money while Christmas decorating, or rather how to justify buying new decorations when we already have way too many…   

      Things were fine until December…but that is always a dangerous time of year – the stores are full of such glittery sparkly things.   I did splurge on a Lemax skating rink (Canadian Tire $45) in mid-November as I had always wanted one, but was unable to wait for a sale as previous years they had sold out.   I realize you can buy these online, but you can’t actually see the little figures whirling around. 

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I placed the rink on a silver placemat from the dollar store ($2), and wove some ribbon lights ($11 Michaels with 40% off coupon) around the base, (ribbon lights are also good for along a fireplace mantel), then I sprinkled some artificial snow around. ($2 dollar store).  

      My other splurge was a glittery crystal Christmas tree (like a lava lamp), ($50) which I had bought as a present for someone, but when I went to wrap it up, it looked so nice I decided I had to have one too.  It is important to be charitable to yourself at Christmas too.

 

I bought a glittery green garland ($4 – dollar store, where else, by now I own stock), for around the base, but see how pretty they look together on my dining room table, and the best thing is they can keep small children (and big ones) entertained for hours.  There is something mesmerizing about light and motion.

          Thrift shops are good options for wreaths, (someone else’s clearing out project), especially if you will be putting them outside.  I found these three wreaths for $2 each, and put one on my front door, with some ribbon.  (Can you have too many wreaths?)  

 

 

But the blue wreath, (75% off after Christmas Sears), was too pretty to put outside.    Continuing with our thrifty theme, these outdoor wreaths for the picket fence were $5 each, with an ornament and some plaid ribbon added for a festive touch.

 

           I have been known to stock up on bird cages at Michael’s when they go on clearance, (so much so that once a five year old visiting my house for the first time, asked me if I liked birds.)   You can do a lot with bird cages, both outside, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and inside – this one was $25 at a Big Sisters craft sale, but I am sure you could make it for less….just add some greenery, a bird and a string of lights.

 

             I saw this idea at the entrance to a restaurant last year – take any festive container (I used a blue bowl to match the balls), line it with a strand of lights, and add some pine cones and Christmas balls. 16002728_10154978745004726_4173701965934975852_n

          My biggest scavenging find (literally), came when my friend offered to help me do a Christmas urn with some greens she had foraged in the woods – those years of buying pathetic looking greenery for $7 per bundle are over!   I would say her results were much more professional than any of my previous attempts.   She used real berries on hers (which had quite a horrible smell), but I used artificial on mine.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you can arrange a little snow, it looks even better…. 

 

There is a reason those partridges prefer pear trees…..shelter from the storm.   

 

Not that much snow……maybe this much….

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 Just enough snow to make it look pretty but still allow Santa to get here.

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Santa’s boots

        Anyway, I hope this gives you some ideas for cheap and cheerful Christmas decorating.  

        One final thought, when I was in Canadian Tire early in the season I saw the nicest Nativity scene.  

 

I was tempted, but it was huge, $400 and I didn’t own a church, plus there were no animals or shepherds, but then I remembered I already had the nicest nativity scene ever.    My dad built the barn for it in 1952….that is his homemade star on top.   Remembering the reason for the season. 

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May all your presents be as glittery and shiny as the star in the east.

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Autumn Decor

October Trees - AMc -2014

October Trees – 2014

Mother Nature is starting to decorate for fall.  Despite the warm days, the tips of the maple trees are starting to turn red and gold.   I love to decorate for fall inside too, mostly with dollar store finds, but you can get very creative with dollar store finds if you weed out the tacky ones, the plastic pumpkins and fake looking wreaths.    Every year I haul out the same things from the basement storage area and spend an enjoyable hour or two making the house look cozy for the cooler days ahead.  I put away the seashells and the starfish from the fireplace hearth, string the mantel with fairy lights, and switch out the floral pillows for plaid.   The days are getting shorter and soon it will be dark at five pm and time to hibernate inside, because as lovely as autumn is, winter isn’t far behind.  Enjoy it while you can.   In the words of Anne Shirley, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” (Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery)

I put two $4 swags from the dollar store around the lantern on my dining room table and strung fairy lights underneath ($11 at winner’s with a 40% coupon) for a romantic fall centrepiece.

A $3 garland of fall leaves lines the mantel, with small bittersweet wreaths decorating the candles at both ends.

Add some fairy lights – and it’s magic!  

More fairy lights in urns on the side, and a bowl of apples on the hearth.

I bought this bunch of Indian corn at the grocery store last year, and the bouquet of autumn leaves is another dollar store bargain.

More bittersweet wreaths around the candles…(you can see I still have wallpaper….it is an old house and I have not finished renovating it inside, but I kind of like it….it’s very B&Bish)

Even the cat gets into the act….

Now it looks as colorful inside as it does outside.   Happy Thanksgiving! 

Tom Turkey - AMc- 2013

Tom Turkey – 2013

 

Farewell to Summer Song:   Chad and Jeremy – click here for music link