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Rather than re-decorating. . .

and given the need for less change once you have a man in your life,  I had to find smaller creative outlets.  So here are some of the projects The Girl and I embark on when the seasons change (or when I get a bug about something).


Summer Fireplace

Because I don't have an outside fireplace yet.

That was the question, wasn't it?

I was lucky enough to have an outside fireplace when I lived out West.  It was a cheap little something I picked up at the local big box building supply, and had to put together myself.  But it was open all around and that meant it wasn't the most efficient gadget I'd ever bought.  

Frankly, the sun and the stars had to align before you could actually light it:  

Too hot, who needs it?  Too windy, can't light it.  Too cold, go inside.

Same goes for firepits.  Plus, no matter where I'm sitting, that's the direction the smoke is going.

I set out wanting to have an actual woodburning fireplace on the patio.  Not such a good idea.  Those little cinders going up the chimney?  The chimney that keeps the smoke going in one direction?  

Well, they can land on your roof, or anywhere else on your house and that's not good.  Turns out, we would have had to build a chimney two stories high and free-standing.  That was not an engineering project I wanted to tackle.  Firepits?  No different, which means it would have to be someplace out in the yard and not on the patio.  

Back to the drawing board.

I have come up with another idea for an outdoor fireplace, but have not executed yet.  Maybe next year.  In the meantime, I found a simple solution that feeds my need for fire, even in the summer.

Candles.  In the fireplace.  I've seen it done with just candles or candleobrahs in the fireplace, but it looks just like that.  No real charm.  The secret is to use Birch Logs as a background for the candles.

I've done this a couple of different ways: 

  1. Rout out circles in the front bottom log so you can place votive holders in the circles.
  2. Slice off a piece of the bark for the front bottom log so the votive holders can sit level on that log.
  3. Luck out and find just the right candleholder that sits across the grate in front of the bottom log. 

If you are going to cut the logs to hold the votices, the trick is to get logs of two different sizes.  The bottom two should be about 6-8 inches in diameter.  Then you want one about half that size for the top log.  Place them on your fireplace grate with the two larger logs on the bottom and the smaller one sitting between the two on the top. 

When it's raining out and you can't sit on your porch, light the candles in the fireplace.  The candlelight against the birchbark is what makes the difference between the metal candleobrahs and a real fire.


Summer Beach Mantle

Its official.  I'm crazy.  At least that's what my husband tells me.  My guests seem to enjoy it though.  Who decorates their mantle for every season?  Why that would be me.  I just don't like the summer kitchy crappe you find around here.

I do have a few sources for decorating that always have the best stuff.  I found these twig lights to replace the strand of cheap white Christmas Lights that shorted out a couple of weeks ago.  Not cheap.  I also found them online here. But please don't leave my site yet!  

Anyway, back to crazy.  I decorated with rocks.  And beautiful shells, but mostly rocks.  River rocks you can probably find at your local landscaping center.  And any kind of teal blue glass objects I could find.  In this case, we were at the Brimfield Antiques Fair last month, and I found these insulators used years ago to protect the connections on telephone polls.  Because Telcom been berry berry good to me.


citronella mason jars

Chris and I had the fortunate experience to build a new house, and one of my requirements was a covered, wrap around porch with a view.  Didn't care what the view was, just something nice to look at.  After looking at 75 houses, we found it. Another wish come true.  Our home overlooks one of Connecticut's vineyards.  That was another surprise coming back from California.  That I would get to live next to a vinyard in New England. 

(There was once a time when everyone in my age group dreamed of owning a vineyard and winery.  After living next to one, I would now say that it's somewhat like having a boat.  They are much more money and work than you think, and it's always best just to have friends that own one.)

Now, I'm wedding cake when it comes to mosquitos, but I didn't want to screen in the porch.  My good friend Susan recommended a more natural method of bug control:  fans and citronella.  After we installed the ceiling fans, I went searching for citronella plants, but got some very funny looks at the garden center.  I’ll have to ask Mr. Van Wilgen if he knows anything about actual plants.  In the meantime, I was forced to consider either liquid or solid citronella.  My visual sense is offended by what constitutes citronella candles in the seasonal aisle at the big chain grocery stores, so I decided to create something myself.  We went antiquing, or as Chris is fond of saying, we went junking.

Me:  “How about that antique shop?  Can we stop there?”

Chris:  “No.”

Me: “Why not?”

Chris:  “Because they couldn’t find a sign that says Ye Olde House of Crappe, so they put up one that says Antiques.” 

After several Saturdays we found what we were looking for.  Mason Jars.  I went mad for Mason Jars,   particularly the ones with the wire bales and the glass caps.   I purchased simple clear glass votive holders, and citronella votives.  Regular Kosher salt holds the votives level, and raises them up just enough that the scent gets out, but not so much that the breeze from the fans will take them out.  (I did try using the tea lites, but found that just as they are starting to give off enough scent to keep the bugs at bay, they’re done.) 

We surround ourselves with these jars, lighting them about an hour before you think you need them.  Mosquitoes won’t fly over the candle scent and can't againsts the fans.  Done.


Green Glasses for Summer Beverages

Here are the results of my Green Glass mission.  To be fair, Chris bought me the etched stem glasses from Pottery Barn, and the butterfly etched tumblers I found at Home Goods.  The remainder were foraged all over The Shoreline, at countless shops, but none carrying the name "Antique" in them.

The Pink Champagne Flutes in the back come under the heading of Starbucks Habit. Several years ago my Financial Planner asked me if I had a "Starbucks Habit" meaning, do I spend $5 a day on coffee that I could be saving for retirement. 

I don't have a Starbucks Habit, thank you.  I make my own coffee.

I do, however, have a Chochkte Habit.  When I admitted this to him, he didn't know what Chochkties were, so I sent him this definition:

CHOCHKTE:  (CHOCH-KEE): Anything you find in discounts stores, import places, home decorating bargain stores, or the gift department of any major mall anchor store. Typically sells for $29.95, and five years later, you put them in your tag sale pile.

I was in a rather expensive establishment which specializes in upscale tropical clothing and home decorating when I spotted these glasses.  

I gasped, they were so beautiful.  

When I turned them upside down to see the price, I nearly fainted.  $70.  Each.  I put them back on the shelf and congratulated myself that I delayed gratification for the sake of my future retirement.

And then a very loving friend bought them for me as a going away present, when I moved back East, and I treasure them.  They are used exclusively for Easter Brunch.



I used to collect dish sets. 

For every occasion. 

They were my toys.

Until I moved cross country.


Fact is, they weigh too much, they take up a lot of space, and they are expensive. 

Why I thought I needed service for 12 when I was single and had no children I don't know.  So, now I am down to only four sets, and two of them are white.   One set for every day, and the other is formal.

But I found some new toys.  Not nearly as heavy and take up almost no space.  (I'll not comment on whether they are expensive or not.)

Tablecloths.  The old ones woven of different colors into damask patterns.  They were seen on those formica kitchen tables from the 50's.  Cotton, washable, fun.  Usually small.  They were not for formal occassions.

I found a Summer one in Italy.  Matches all of the aqua blue I have around in Summer.

So when the seasons change, the plates stay the same, and the tablecloth changes.  Here are my Spring and Summer versions.  If you look back at some of the pasta recipes I published during different seasons, you will see Fall and Christmas. 

I even found one for Halloween.


Market Day

I had hoped to find some interesting glassware in Italy, but it turns out we were in Ceramic-town, not Venice.  

We were inundated with shop after shop, all offering brightly colored ceramics, Limoncello, and pepperoncini.   You just get numb to it, because there is another shop selling the same thing just 10 yards down the street.

I was interested in going to Market Day, and arranged to go with the Chef, Angelo, to the Friday Market Day in Maiori. 

Can you say “Flea Market” in Italian?  It was more like the swap meet in Orange Country, or the Big Pine Key Flea Market in Florida.  Tents filled with tube socks, cheap Italian speedo underwear, sunglasses and plastic wallets.

But then we got to Ravello.  A charming, mountaintop town, centered on a perfect piazza of cafés, shops selling beautiful and unique Italian goods, and two magnificent ancient villas.  Villa Giobrani and Villa Rufulo. 

I managed to hobble all the way up the nearly ½ mile of stairs it takes to get to the Villa Giobrani, passing by some exquisite shops containing Italian knits and textiles, and ceramics.  You would think I would have been numb to the whole ceramic thing, but when you finally get to see something that is truly beautiful and very high quality, it practically jumps into your shopping cart.  At least it did to me. 

We passed by the shops on the way up to the Villa (why carry all that stuff both ways?).  By the time I got to the ristorante, it was time for my pain medication. 

Chris and I sat in the gardens, drinking beautiful drinks, until we got hungry, then made our way back to another ristorante we saw on the way up.  Much less fussy food, and much less expensive. 

Charming.  Outdoors.  Breathtaking views.  Simple food.

After lunch and vino, I now had to continue negotiating down the mountain steps.  However, with the pain medication taking hold, I was now in the perfect frame of mind to shop.  Inhibitions and judgment in low gear, I purchased a linen tablecloth the likes of which I have never seen in this country, and practically screaming to be included in my collection of antique and vintage tablecloths.



I don’t have the space for every dish set I see, so I’ve learned to use white plates, and dress them up with different linens, flowers and different serving pieces to change the look of my table and countertop.   


Sparkling Pinot Grigio

This particular wine was a gift from a friend who gets to Trader Joe's outside of CT on a regular basis.  (In Connecticut, TJ is not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages).  We loved it so much, that when she finds it, she picks up a case for us.  At $4.99 a bottle, we can afford to do that.  We have tried to source it elsewhere, but it must be one of those Trader Joe's exclusives, much like Two Buck Chuck.  It is exactly as described, a fresh, light Pinot Grigio with a generous fizz to it. 

Wonderful in the Summer with fresh fish.


Inside Mason Jars

The Outside Mason Jars led me to thinking about using them inside the house as well.  I’ve gotten very cautious about having lit candles around, particularly when there are adult beverages involved.  I've had some close calls, so now I always use some type of votive enclosure for a lit candle. 

One of my favorite shops in the Summer, is Taken for Granite, in Stony Creek. This is the kind of place that you walk into, and you instantly want to go home, throw everything out, and start over. 

Chris, on the other hand, claims no man should go into this shop by himself.

I purchased beach glass by the scoop at this shop.  You want something in the jar to keep the votive holder level.  The beach glass is transparent and creates a glow when the candles are lit.  Shells, colored glass beads, all would work. 

Tea lites work best, rather than full size votives.  I just use needle-nose pliers to reach in and replace them.  They burn just about enough for an evening, and if you forget to blow them out, no real harm done.  The adult beverage theme can work against you here and I promised my husband I wouldn’t burn down the house.