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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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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Friday, November 4, 2016

Weekend Treasure Hunt

The Rocky Mountains are dusted with snow, 
as if a giant baker has sifted powdered sugar onto their peaks. 
Autumn has slipped quietly down the mountains and into the city 
where it seems the leaves have turned golden almost overnight. 


It's a lovely time of year here in Denver with cool nights for sleeping and bright sunshine during
the day. Everywhere you look the leaves have turned yellow and plum, red and orange. 


It's also a lovely time for end-of-the-summer yard sales.


True, there aren't as many sales now but the prices are better 
and some people prefer to hold their sales in cooler weather. 


So, there are still bargains if you're willing to look for them. And, of course, I am.

I've found some real treasures lately, some dainty like this pretty painted tin 
with three triangular bottles for perfume or lotions that snug perfectly together.


I adore this clip-on lamp shade I found that sparkles when you turn it on, 
revealing pinpoints of light like a starry sky shining through the tiny holes. 
With gold trim, it's a perfect size and fit for my kitchen counter lamp.
And it was a "gift with purchase" by the sweet lady hosting the sale. 


This scale was a great find hidden in a garage crammed full of greasy tools. 
I love the cream and black colors and how it looks in my kitchen.


I think this lampshade from another sale looks like it just came out of a chic Paris apartment. 


I've been watching for a mannequin head form to display a cloche hat 
but all I could find were those ugly plastic or styrofoam ones. 
A neighborhood sale offered this wonderful old linen head and I snatched it up for $10!



Another little jewel of a find was this silver music box that once held loose powder and a puff. 


The sides of the tin are worn slick in two spots where someone's fingers turned it over 
and over to wind the music box. Such a story it tells with each note. 
Was it a young girl dreaming of romance or a mother who played it for her sleepy baby? 
Or maybe an elderly woman with special memories to treasure every time she heard this song?


Always with an eye out for old ironstone, I discovered this elegant gravy boat at a local sale
to add to my collection. Sometimes it's hard to remember what's on the shelf at home 
but for $5 I took a chance and was happy to find I didn't have one like this (in the back).


At the same sale, I spied a large platter with heavy crazing, muted brown tints
and faded blue flowers. I was thrilled when I saw it was Limoges. Be still my heart. 


I love to uncover tablecloths with substance and texture piled under a stack of plain white sheets
and pillowcases. The big red one with apples was made in France while the small red and white check with fringe is perfect for dining al fresco. And there's the blue one that makes my heart sing. 
I even found one that someone had made out of toile, edged with checked fabric.


When I discovered these wonderful red garden obelisks, I just had to bring them home with me.
$5 for the pair!!
 Come back in the spring to see them in big pots planted with flowers.


We probably have a couple of weeks before cold weather hits.
And that means a few more weekends of yard sales.


Who wants to go shopping with me?

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