Friday, December 2, 2016

A French Country Christmas

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas here at the foot of the Rockies!

I had such fun decorating the house this year for Christmas and didn't spend a fortune.
I like using the things that have been passed down over the years
and those things I already have but can be used in a new way.

Like this vintage candelabra.
It usually sits in the front living room window facing the street
but this year I decided to add a little Christmas spirit to the kitchen.
It really makes the kitchen feel festive.

In the farmhouse sunroom, silver bells bejeweled with red satin ribbons 
line the windowsills and the top of the seed bin. 
A family tradition, Ron's mother gave him a new bell every Christmas and he now has about 40!

A metal Christmas tree adorned with Shiny Brite bulbs sits atop the farm table. 
When I was unpacking the bulbs, one fell onto the tiled floor and shattered. Mwaaa!

The foyer halltree has a cheery look with Santa hats . . .

. . .  and a French market basket filled with stuffed toys.

Draping a couple of thick scarves on the halltree hooks adds texture and warmth to the entry. 
I love this scarf from the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. 
The Stanley was made famous in the movie "The Shining."

In the living room, we decided to put our little tree in the front window.
It's simply decorated with white twinkly lights and silver bulbs that I've had for years.

An old toy horse on wheels is hitched under the tree with more bears.

The mantel always takes on a new look each year. 
This year I placed my red-berried wreath on the mantel instead of on the front door. 
Surrounded by vintage books and holiday decorations,
it looks warm and cozy with a battery candle nestled inside it.

The dining room mantel is spiffed up with stockings and red accents. 

A simple centerpiece lies on the dining table with a linen runner and an old ironstone tureen.
I couldn't resist adding a few deer sheds. 

So, from our house to yours, a very Merry Christmas . . .

and a Happy New Year!


A Holiday Conversation with Susan Hays

December 2, 2016

I'm so pleased to feature a special holiday conversation with Susan Hays, the creator of the beautiful blog: "Our French Oasis." Susan lives in a small French village with her husband,
five children, two dogs, two cats and lots of chickens.

How is Christmas in France different than the UK?
The biggest difference is in France the main meal, usually with seafood and/or oysters as an appetiser, is on Christmas Eve, continuing until well after midnight, whereas in the UK the main meal is on Christmas Day and centres around our traditional turkey. Christmas in France tends to be relatively quiet, at least it is here in the Charente Maritime. It is centered far more around family. New Year is the time to party!

How do you decorate (inside and out) for Christmas?
I absolutely love decorating for Christmas and am itching to get started! However, we never begin until after the 1st of December as is far more traditional in France. Our village and town lights will be turned on the first Friday in December and that's when things start to get festive. We start with some twinkling white lights outside around the front entrance and along the driveway gates. Every year, I make a big natural wreath which we hang on the front door. With the cooler winter weather it lasts happily until the beginning of January and is a great welcome for friends and family. Inside we decorate all the rooms we use. I love getting the children involved as much as possible. It gets everyone in a great frame of mind and it becomes very much a family affair.

What is your holiday decorating style?
We tend to be fairly traditional. There is something quite magical about bringing out the same decorations year in year out, things go in the same place and the mantel in the sitting room is always the first to be decorated, a long evergreen garland dotted with small white lights. We always go and choose the tree en famille. It's never a simple job, getting seven people to agree on which tree to choose. We all decorate it with Christmas music playing, a glass of champagne for the adults and sparkling apple juice for the children. We have ornaments that the children have had since they were babies, they each have their own special ones.

Do you have any advice on how to decorate your home in an authentic French Country style?
There are so many different takes on French Country Style and each person has their own personal favourite. For me, it is all about comfort and atmosphere. My home should be a place where friends and guests want to linger a while, where they feel at ease. I like a fairly simple colour scheme with rich textured cushions and fairly bold pieces of traditional furniture. In addition, for me, there should be plenty of candles and a couple of vintage chandeliers, with rugs on the floor and fresh flowers. Plus I have to admit I have a love of French Louis XIV style antique chairs; I love their shape and style!

What is the favorite part of your house?
The favourite part of my house has to be the kitchen. It is very much the heart of our home and is dominated by a large walnut table which we had made for us several years ago. We handpicked the wood in a yacht builder's yard! I always have a vase of flowers in the middle, even in the depths of winter, there is always something I can pick from the garden if I am a little inventive! We also have a collection of antique silver candlesticks and they too live on the table. We light them every evening for our family supper, even if it's a simple bowl of soup and a crusty baguette, candles set the scene and make every meal special. We have a highly efficient wood burning stove in the corner and in the winter it is permanently alight. It's always warm and cozy and welcoming. In the summer the French doors are opened wide to the terrace and it becomes an extension of the room.

Thanks so much Susan! You can read more about Susan's life in France on her blog at

Happy Holidays from our house to yours!


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Friday, November 25, 2016

French Country: Brilliant Ways to Use Bottles and Jars

Some of the least expensive and most beautiful accessories for your home are old bottles and jars.
Their rustic simplicity and practical uses make them perfect for a French Country Farmhouse look.
Easy to find in thrift stores or yard sales, you can often pick them up for a song.

When the light shines through their colored glass, these old bottles come alive, 
sending flashes of light around a room. 
Set them in or near a window where they can catch the changing light throughout the day
and watch the show. 

These muted green bottles are not only pretty, they also have an interesting history. 
I found them at a yard sale; the owner told me she had lived in Asia 
and had found them in a dump. The embossed writing on them looks Japanese. 
I love the shapes and the soft mossy color.

I have two bottles that are actually a window into my own history. 
One is a Shawhan whiskey bottle.
In tracing my genealogy, I discovered one of my ancestors 
on my maternal grandmother's side actually founded the Shawhan Distillery 
and is credited with bringing the bourbon industry to Kentucky.

The paper label, which is hard to find in good condition like this, says Merry Xmas
and Happy New Year and the bottle is imprinted with the words "Shawhan Distillery."

The other bottle is imprinted with the words "Shipley, Wheeling, West Virginia." 
Since my family is originally from Ohio near Wheeling, there's a good chance one of my relatives had something to do with it. I think it probably held some kind of "medicine."

These tiny bottles look sweet in an old window frame, tied with ribbons.

Another type of bottle I love comes snugly wrapped in woven wicker. 
Probably from some sunny place like Italy or Portugal or Spain, 
the warmth of the wicker makes these bottles a popular accessory. 

The large demijohns wrapped in wicker are gorgeous too but a little too pricey for me.
These smaller ones are more affordable and just as pretty.

Of course, the classic is the Mason jar. Used for canning, these teal-colored jars are great for storage in the kitchen, bathroom, or even the home shop. I like to top them with old zinc lids.

Mason jars were invented by a Philadelphia tinsmith named John Mason in 1858.
They were produced by various companies including Ball, Kerr and Atlas.
Most come in either aqua or clear glass. These have wire-bail lids.

Old coffee jars are handy to hold flour and sugar on the kitchen counter.

Bottles and jars make a perfect vase for a simple bouquet or to hold a candle. 
Fill half of the jar with sand and nestle a candle into it.

Whether it's a fancy demijohn or a humble jelly jar, 
bottles and jars are simply brilliant!


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Friday, November 18, 2016

French Country Reflections : Old Mirrors

In an earlier post, I talked about how to use old mirrors in decorating 
to add sparkle to a bland wall or to set a mood, whether cheery or romantic.

How to add light to a dark room by hanging them across from a window. 
And how to create elegance or a sense of history with lovely patina on old frames and hazy glass.

But this post is not about decorating with mirrors per se.
In a way it's about what we see in the mirror and how that reflects who we are. 

Mirrors do reflect the room they're in 
but they also cause us to reflect about ourselves and what is important in our lives.

Have you ever tried this little exercise?
If your house was on fire and you could only save three possessions, what would you take?
Of course, pets and family members are not possessions so they don't count.
And they would certainly be the most important things to save. 

I'm talking about those material possessions that matter most to us.
That personify who we are and in which we see ourselves reflected.

When I asked myself this question, I walked through my entire house,
looking at everything and you know what? 
Nothing jumped out at me and yelled, "Save me!"

But the more I thought about it,
the more I realized I am, to some extent, my stuff.
We personalize our homes with our possessions.

Were I to downsize to just the basics, would I (the person that I am today) still exist?

I'm all about simplifying and getting rid of clutter but I'm definitely not a minimalist.
I look at my belongings, those things that I have collected over the years,
and I remember where I found each thing or it found me and what it meant to me.
And still does.

So, what would I save?
Of course, I would save personal photographs and my old teddy bear.
These things have an emotional value to me.
They reflect my love of family and friends.

And how could I not save my favorite pieces of ironstone
 after all the estate sales and thrift stores I've sought out to find that special piece?
Ironstone reflects my down-to-earth simple style. 

I love the vintage furniture I've brought into my home, especially those cherished wooden pieces.
Somehow, I'd find a way to save my antique English hutch and my chippy red farm table
even if I had to ask the firemen to help me carry them out!
These sturdy old pieces reflect my love of history and respect for hand-crafted things.

I'm not saying material possessions are who I am; they don't define me.
But, when it comes down to it, I recognize myself in them.
What I see in a mirror is not just a room full of furniture and accessories.

These things have become part of my personal history. My story.
My home and my possessions reflect my journey. 
And I see that story reflected in my mirrors. 

And what I see in my mirror's reflection is not a house but my home
-- a solid yet intangible thing --
(that I fervently hope the firemen save if there's a fire!)

Yes, it is about possessions but not simply materialism. 

It's more of a feeling that my mirrors reflect back to me. 
Of safety and shelter and comfort and memories.

And so I hold my mirrors' reflections dear as I save them . . .
in my mind and in my heart.


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Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!


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Friday, November 11, 2016

A Simple Thanksgiving Story - Homeward Bound

You wouldn't think the muddy banks of the Ohio River would be a likely place for
a Thanksgiving story but it's a place I always think of this time of year.

It's easy to remember the wide brown river since it was essentially in our back yard. 
The river was on one side of our house; railroad tracks clacked from the other side.
 I grew up watching slow-moving barges travel up and down the river in the summer 
and floods creeping towards our house in the spring,
while hoping to get out of school as the river's muddy waters quietly filled our basement.

We watched fireworks from our little boat drifting in the river's dark depths 
and we helped Dad plant a little garden on its banks. 
The soil was rich and the water supply was close by but we never reaped much from it. 
It was almost as if the vegetables disappeared before they could make it to our supper table. 
And in a way, they did.

Dad said it was a hobo garden. 
He planted it for the men who rode the boxcars through the Ohio Valley looking for work.

I never knew what the word "hobo" actually meant until years later when I'd moved away. 
I learned it's an abbreviation of "homeward bound." 
That phrase seems to put a whole different meaning to the word. 
Hobos weren't homeless. They were riding the rails, building little campfires at night to take the
chill from the damp air, and looking for work until they could make their way back home.

A hobo was different from a "tramp" who worked only if he absolutely had to 
or a "bum" who usually stayed in one place and didn't ever work.
A hobo, on the other hand, was a traveling laborer. 
Hobos' numbers soared during the Great Depression era of the 1930s. 
With no work or prospects at home, many took to the rails
looking for whatever work they could find.

Some famous hobos included Jack Dempsey, Woody Guthrie,
Jack London, Carl Sandberg and Louis L'Amour.

Photo by Arthur Rothstein, 1939

I remember my father telling stories about his riding the boxcars as a young man
during the Depression, picking up odd jobs along the way in exchange for food,
always thinking about going home. 

Perhaps that's why he had a soft spot for his garden hobos.
If Dad saw a hobo in his riverbank garden grabbing tomatoes or pulling up carrots, 
he didn't chase them away from his hard-earned crop.

No, my Dad invited them to come home with him for supper! 
We didn't have a lot but Mom always fixed a little extra because she never knew 
when Dad would bring someone home to have supper with us.

After a home-cooked meal, Dad would take the hobos up to the edge of the Georges Run Station
rail yards in Mingo Junction so they could catch the next train out. 
Then he'd quietly give them a few dollars before they took off, homeward bound once again.

I know these men were thankful for a good meal and a little help on their journeys.
I hope, when they finally made it home,
they fondly remembered my parents on Thanksgiving as I always do each year.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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