“A Green Tree….”

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“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver. “Martin Luther

I can’t claim credit for this idea.  Like many good ideas, I saw some amazing book trees on Pinterest, and we decided to try our own at the high school where I work.  I think it turned out really well, don’t you?  I probably should have taken some time to post this before the holidays, but, oh well.  We already have some ideas for improving our design for next year, so I hope you’ll check back in about 11 months or so!  It’s New Year’s Day, so, technically, I can still say, “Happy Holidays!”  May lots of green trees and good books await you in 2013!
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For the Creative Book Club: “The Thirteenth Day of Christmas”

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“Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.”  –C.S. Lewis

(This is a quote from the book.  Marva gives Charlee’s dad his own special apron with this saying to honor his penchant for storytelling.)

“This new Christmas novel by New York Times bestselling author Jason F. Wright is filled with laughter, tenderness, and of course, hope as these delightful characters watch an old Christmas favorite turn into a  true Christmas miracle.”  Shadow Mountain Press

I recently reviewed this book for my upcoming article in Amy Powers’ Inspired Ideas.  It’s not too early to start thinking about a good book for your book club’s holiday gathering!  This book is a fast read, and would be perfect for the busy season when many of us are caught up with holiday preparations.  So, if you want to make your next book club gathering extra-special…. here are some fun ideas!

Food: 

One of Marva’s favorite aprons from her collection was embroidered with the quote, “If life gives you lemons, throw them through the candy shop window and grab some taffy.” That’s not the only reference to candy in the book! Charlee’s father describes her hair as the color of “Hershey’s Kisses.”  Miss Marva fills her advent calendar with gumdrops (except for the 26th day, of course). Oh, and Charlee receives some yummy Milk Maid caramels as one of her secret gifts. Why not fill some sweet little candy dishes with saltwater taffy, Kisses, gumdrops and caramels and place them around the room for your guests to enjoy?

If your plan is to just serve munchies, don’t forget to fill some big bowls with popcorn.  After all, Marva and Charlee spent a beautiful afternoon decorating for Christmas which included stringing, and eating, popcorn!

If you want something more substantial, and you don’t want to try to recreate Miss Marva’s entire Thanksgiving dinner with all of the trimmings, perhaps you would like to make “Anything Goes Nachos” that the Alexander’s they enjoy when Charlee comes home from the hospital.

Decor:  This one’s easy!  Since the book is a Christmas story, it’s fitting to decorate for the holidays. However, in the book, it’s important for Marva to have Christmas lights and her nativity, so you won’t want to forget these.

In decorating for this book, you absolutely MUST have an advent calendar.  Can you find one with 26 days?  If so, that would be the ultimate tribute to Marva and Charlee!  If you don’t have one, perhaps you might want to splurge and give yourself an early gift.  The one pictured here is available from WilliamMarie Designs on Etsy.  Check it out!

Any decorations that pay homage to the “Twelve Days of Christmas” would also be appropriate.  I might not be able to resist this set of drinking glasses from The Sisters Pick on Etsy.

Finally, Miss Marva is very proud, both of her apron collection, and also her habit of hanging her clothes on the line to try.  How about hanging a string or wire across an open area, and using clothespins to display a collection of vintage aprons, or perhaps some cute ones made with lovely scrapbook paper.  Better yet, have each guest come to the meeting wearing an apron of her choice – with a prize for the one that Miss Marva would have appreciated the most!  Like this one from CreativeMama213 on Etsy….

Or this one from Sweet Magnolia’s Farm

Discussion:

* Let everyone in the group share a special holiday tradition.  Each of us has such unique and special ways to honor the season.  Why not share them with others?
*Talk about the ways you can, or already do, extend the attitude of Christmas beyond December 25.
*Tell about a special adult mentor or friend who made a difference to you when you were young.

Activity: 

In Charlee’s family, it was a birthday tradition to gather after dinner, and before cake, to say something that they had learned that year from the person celebrating his or her birthday.  This would be a fun, easy activity for book club.  Have each person choose another member of the group and share something they learned from her this past year.

Ask each member of the club to bring a gift inspired by the Traveling Elves during the “Thirteen Days of Christmas.”  Gather these gifts and deliver them to a children’s Christmas charity in your community.  What could they bring?  Rubber ducks, stuffed toy dogs, kazoos, a Big Bird stuffed animal, purple gloves, or perhaps even a stuffed monkey like Charlee’s beloved Melvin.

Gifts/Favors:

I’m sure everyone in your group would be honored to receive a lovely apron with a cute or wise saying on it.  Each time they put it on, they would be reminded of Marva and her selfless acts of kindness.  Or, you could create some of these mini-aprons from the blog Hostess with the Mostess in Christmas fabric and they could be used as little favors.

Feeling Crafty?  I’ll bet you could make something simple and special with these charms from Etsy shop Jewel Be Charmed.

Final Thoughts:

I hope your book club will enjoy this heartwarming book during this holiday season.  Ideally, each person who reads it will be inspired to do something kind for someone in need, and if it leads to your own version of the “Thirteen Days of Christmas”  all the better!  Perhaps a new tradition will begin this year — as a tribute to Marva Ferguson!

I hope you and your book club will enjoy this sweet, holiday story.  I would love to hear from you about your group’s discussion, and whether or not any of these creative ideas worked for you!  Happy Reading, and Happy Holidays!

Photo Credits:  <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/veggiefrog/2145862702/”>veggiefrog</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/unprose/67242158/”>unprose</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sebastian_bergmann/334297130/”>Sebastian Bergmann</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/375042268/”>Thomas Hawk</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mukumbura/4180968389/”>Mukumbura</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Book Review: “A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life”

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“At the worst, a house unkept cannot be so distressing as a life unlived.”    –Dame Rose Macaulay (1881-1958)

A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life:  How to live creatively with collections, clutter, work, kids, pets, art, etc… and stop worrying about everything being perfectly in its place. (Rizzoli New York)                                     by Mary Randolph Carter  

Have you ever read a book, and thought that perhaps it was written specifically for you?  This lovely book is likely to strike a chord with many of us who live with: collections, memories, children, pets, clutter, work and lots of creativity. Mary Randolph Carter, author of several books dedicated to “junk,”  has written a book that provides much-needed affirmation for those of us who experience a love-hate relationship with our houses.  We hate the burden of keeping them clean and tidy all of the time, but we love to bring lovely things into them, and fill them with the items that speak to us and bring us joy.  Somehow these two desires create a conflict.  Carter’s solution?  Give up the idea that our houses have to be perfect, and simply live in them in a way that brings comfort and joy not only to you, but perhaps more surprisingly, your guests as well!

Seriously, think about the houses you enjoy visiting.  Are they the stark homes in which you feel nervous to set foot inside?  The homes where not a picture frame or throw pillow is out of place?  If you’re like me, you much prefer your friend’s house where you can admire the refrigerator filled with family pictures, paw through the stack of books on the ottoman, tuck your feet under you in a cushy chair, and delight in the creative vignette of collected whimsical items on the mantel.  A little dust?  Who cares.  A friendly dog giving you a friendly greeting?  All the better!

This book is a treasure-trove of lovely photography that gives readers a glimpse into the collected items and lovingly “lived-in” homes of not only the author, but a host of other diverse folks.  These are the kind of homes you want to sneak into and peer into every nook and cranny admiring the chipped vases, distressed picture frames, frayed quilts and stacks of books.  (Take a look at the picture on page 114-115 and you’ll see what I mean!) Truthfully, when I look at the homes featured in many decorating magazines, I say to myself, “No way!  Where’s all of there STUFF?”

Take Away’s:

1.  There really are other people out there who have a compulsion to bring something home from the side of the road or from a junk shop.  They don’t NEED this item, they just love it for some unexplainable reason, and it makes them happy to look at it.

2.  For many beauty lies in the imperfect and the informal.

3.  It’s okay to embrace your home less with the “housekeeper’s broom and more with the homemaker’s heart.”

5.  On page 131, Carter shares her practice of keeping a personal welcome book… a place for friends to jot down their memories of visiting your home.  This idea stuck with me and it is my intention to purchase a simple blank book and some colored pens to encourage my guests to chronicle their time at our cabin in the mountains.  Isn’t that a fun, simple idea?

6.  There’s a fine-line between living with our treasures and being on the next episode of Hoarders.  Be mindful that you don’t cross the line!

7.  It’s okay to have a “purposeless room!”

Favorite Quotes:

“At times you may think you’re crazy to own all these things or else brilliant for finding these treasures so many other eyes missed!”— Liza Carter Norton (p. 27)

“Clutter is the poetry of our homes.  It is a fingerprint of an experience, a souvenir of our childhoods, an expression of our humor, a collection of things that we just can’t live without… Embrace it, make peace with it, take control of it, share it, reorganize it, and when the time seems right, bid it farewell.” (p. 51)

“Never stop to think, “Do I have a place for this?” (p. 259)

Happy Reading! I hope you will pick up a copy of Carter’s book soon.  I found mine at my local library, of course!  Sit down in a comfortable chair with a glass of ice-tea  (Be sure to bring the sticky-notes so you can mark all of the pictures and quotes you will want to re-visit!)  and spend a few quiet hours honoring your creative, imperfect home.  After all, you can dust later!  (You might also like my review of Dottie Angel: the Peachy Crafty World of Tif Fussellhttps://kerriemore.com/2011/10/06/dottie/)

Aside:  On more than one occasion, I have mentioned my favorite magazine Where Women Create created by Jo Packham –  which is a quarterly gallery showcasing the creative spaces of a diverse group of artists.  If you are a fan of this publication, you will know what I mean when I say you want to slow down and savor each picture, admiring each lovely item in these creative spaces.  I felt the same way about Carter’s book. On more than one occasion,  I would put the book right up close to my nose to try to figure out what lovely item was tucked on the corner of a shelf or under a table.  That’s how I enjoy each lovely issue of “Where Women Create”!

(Photo CreditsA Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life by Mary Randolph Carter published by Rizzoli New York.)

Copper Countertops at Camp More

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“If you are careful…if you use good ingredients, and you don’t take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day…                                                     ― John Irving, The World According to Garp

I’ll admit that we do most of our cooking at the cabin (aka Camp More) outside on the grill.  However when we are inside, it is the amazing copper counter tops that serve as the stage for our recipes.   

I’m lucky that my husband was able to fabricate these with his exceptional skills and access to tools and materials. Because we were able to DIY these counters, they were fantastically inexpensive! (Have you priced counter tops lately?)  Copper counter tops are always changing, as they react to the acids from food.  We love the dynamic quality of our counters, and I think they look like well-worn leather.  We wax them periodically to protect them and give them a fresh shine.  They do require some maintenance, but it’s a small area, and because it’s the cabin, we don’t mind the extra care that they require.

If you’re thinking about trying copper in your kitchen, hopefully you will be inspired by our country cabin!  Whatever you cook today, enjoy your kitchen time!

Simple “Pots of Gold”

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‘Tis better by far at the rainbows end to find not a pot of gold but the heart of a friend.’ — Irish saying

I hope you will enjoy a peek at my latest thrifty finds.  I don’t often see cute, vintage St. Patrick’s Day treasures, so this was a true “pot-of-gold” that made my day. I also love to gather up vintage books with retro graphics such as this little story-book and the Reader’s Digest Condensed edition peeking out from below.  They are so much fun to use in decorating because of their great colors and patterns.

St. Patrick’s Day is about celebrating a few little fun things:  a bright-green scarf, a tasty plate of corned-beef and cabbage, and perhaps the lucky little “pots-of-gold” in your life: a cozy home,  a shelf full of good books, a hot mug of tea and a faithful companion with whom to share the blessings.  Wishing you nothing but luck this week and all the year through.

For the Creative Book Club….

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Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience:  this is the ideal life.        ~Mark Twain

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a book review for Keeping the House by Ellen Baker.  If you’re looking for some creative ways to make your book club discussion of this book fun and interesting, I have gathered some ideas to make it festive!

As a member of a book club that has been meeting for 15 years, I know that sometimes finding a good book for discussion can be a challenge.  So, that’s why I’m suggesting this book as your next selection.  You will be talking about a wide variety of things…. The role of women in the early-to-mid 1900’s; the impact of both World Wars at home and abroad; the way small town life can be a blessing as well as a curse; the importance of communication in a marriage; and the way things have changed as well as how they have stayed the same!

First of all, head over to Ellen Baker’s website for some excellent background of the book including great discussion questions as well as some fun recipes from the book.  I think the recipe for Dolly’s Lacy Raisin Wafers would be perfect! In fact, take a look at these free recipe-card printables. Wouldn’t it be fun to print out the recipes on these cards and give them as favors to your guests?

LACY RAISIN WAFERS
Dolly brings these cookies to her first Ladies Aid gathering to try to make a good impression…

¾ cup sifted all-purpose flour
½ teasp. baking soda
½ teasp. salt
¼ teasp. nutmeg
¾ cup light or dark raisins
½ cup salad oil
¼ cup water
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teasp. vanilla extract
1 ½ cups uncooked rolled oats

½ cup chopped nuts

Sift flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg.  Rinse and drain raisins; mix with salad oil, water; mix in sugar, vanilla, oats, nuts, then flour mixture.  Refrigerate 1 hr.  Start heating oven to 350 degrees F.  Drop dough by teaspoonfuls, about 2” apart, onto greased cookie sheet.  Bake 10 to 12 min., or till crisp around edges.   Makes 3 ½ doz.
From the Good Housekeeping Cook Book, 1949

Are you feeling extra crafty?  Perhaps you could get some of these cute clothes-pins from Etsy, or make some using this tutorial,  and add a magnet to the back so your guests can display their recipe cards at home. How darling would these be, holding your recipe cards nestled next to your table settings?

When it comes to setting the table, there are so many great options. Aren’t these dishes great?  You can pick up lots of retro dishes at thrift stores, of course.  Perhaps your relatives have some to borrow. I know my mom has some really great pink melamine coffee cups and saucers. (I wonder where they are….)  These lovely ones are available online.

I have a co-worker who collects vintage tablecloths, and once in awhile I run across one at a thrift store for a good price, but they are a little hard to come-by.  Maybe you have one waiting for a good excuse to show it off!  (Since Dolly is a member of the ladies’ sewing circle working on a quilt throughout the novel, you could also cover the table with a quilt!)  One of my favorite bloggers, Dottie Angel, is a master when it comes to finding and re-purposing vintage linens.  I wish I had this one for book-club!  In fact her blog is full of inspirational ideas that would be perfect for this book-club gathering!  Her dishes, her linens, her aprons… Go visit her site now!

I can’t think of anything more fun than having each book-club member join-in the theme by arriving in a vintage-inspired apron.  The cover of paper-back version of the book, with its colorful apron, is so charming!  Most ladies will have a lot of fun finding an apron to wear to book-club.  Check out the inspiration for vintage aprons like this one.

Finally, I adore the idea of using graphics for display that include cover images of the magazines and journals quoted in the book.  If you can get color copies of covers from Ladies Home Journal or Good Housekeeping, place them around the house along with some of the quotes from the book that you type-out and print on vintage inspired paper. I just love this picture of a ladies sewing circle from a vintage magazine.  It looks almost exactly how I envisioned it in the book.  Or how about this picture of a wife happy in the kitchen?  I found it on an article entitled: From a 1950’s high school home economics textbook, teaching girls how to prepare for married life.    Take a look at the suggestions given, and find a way to print them out and incorporate them into your creative book-club gathering!

My favorite?  #7 Make him comfortable: Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

Finally, in the novel, Dolly was so determined to be the perfect wife that she ended up resenting the fact that she couldn’t follow her dream to fly an airplane.  By the end, we are happy that Dolly will fulfill that wish.  Encourage your book-club members to follow their dreams and “fly” by giving each one a mini-charm to remind them that they have wings!

The sky’s the limit (no pun intended) with your creative book-club for Keeping the House!  If you try some of these ideas, please send me a note and a few pictures of your festive gathering!

McCoy, Red Wing, Haeger, Oh My!

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“The collector is an artist in his own way, by the way he puts things together. You can read a person’s soul from their collection.”
– Ayers Tarantino, Art and Antiques, Dec 2008

Confession time….. I’m obsessed!  With pottery.  Specifically white pottery.  Several years ago, I picked up my first piece at a thrift store for a couple of bucks.  I brought it home and looked up the name on the bottom, McCoy.  I was then very, very happy at my good find, as it turns out, McCoy is a very collectible brand!   Well, since then, I have been unable to resist these creamy vases of beauty, and I have amassed quite a collection.  I absolutely adore the way they look together, and don’t mind filling-in with a piece that bears absolutely no name, but looks as if it may have been lovingly painted by someone’s great-aunt and fired at the local ceramic shop.  I also love little surprises, like my latest find at the thrift store labeled: Frank Moreno.  I’ve looked it up, and it appears he is someone of note, and his pieces are sold in galleries.  I don’t really care about making money on my finds, I just enjoy the serendipity of finding something unique for a good price and adding to my happy little (okay, large) collection.  That first piece, however, is still my favorite, and I look at it as the beginning of a beautiful relationship…. with pottery.

Some of my favorite brands:  McCoy, Haeger, Red Wing, Hull, California, USA, Franciscan, Bauer…. Although, who really cares what name is on the bottom if you really love it!

Book Review: “Decorate” by Holly Becker and Joanna Copestick

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“Your home should tell the story of who you are, and be a collection of what you love brought together under one roof.”  Nate Berkus

Rooms That Tell a Story:

I have always been captivated by design books. Just like going on home tours, or glancing in an open window while driving by, reading books like Decorate lets me peer, if only briefly, into the world, and stories, of others.  Pick up this amazing new book and find yourself transported into some of the most visually interesting and inspiring rooms you have seen in a long while.  Decorate is a visual feast of the kinds of rooms we want to live-in today. The author, Holly Becker, is the creator of the enormously popular design website Decor8.  Gone are the matchy-match furniture groupings from the local furniture store.  Gone are the impersonal, super-modern, sterile rooms that represent “status”.  This book brings to our attention the inspirational designs of those who recognize our need to tell a story with our homes.

Here are  my “Take-Away’s” from the book:

Take-Away #1:  First of all, I love that the rooms look specifically “undecorated” and more amassed over time with meaningful objects.  I am in awe of the current trend toward purposeful mixing of patterns and layering textures.  In one room, a pastel floral watercolor painting hangs next to a mount of deer antlers; which is  flanked by a geometrically patterned, Victorian-inspired sofa; all of which is accompanied by a modern, clean-lined coffee table.  The message is:  There really are no rules!  A quote from the book that communicates this idea:  “Enjoy the hunt—it’s worth waiting for something special… and you’re bound to find other bits along the way.” – Emily Chalmers (inside cover)

Take Away #2:  How liberating it is that you can mix all of the following in a very beautiful and visually interesting room: architectural salvage, flea-market finds, family heirlooms, your daughter’s crayola drawing, high-end pieces mixed with thrift store finds…All of which embrace the patina of objects that have had a story.  “Decorating is an extension of your personal style.  Finding your decorating style depends on knowing what you love at a gut level.” –Carrie McCarthy, author

Take Away #3: From reading this book, I have determined that my style leans toward “Flea Market Style”  I absolutely swoon for things like clocks taken from warehouses, industrial metal shelving units, collections of vases and old advertising signs.  Love, love, love this section of the book!  I also identify with the section: “Eclectic Style.”   It is amazing to me that modern decorating will let you pair your parents’ cast-off lounge chairs (recovered, of course) from 1970 with a funky bohemian wall hanging and your grandmother’s needlepoint pillows.  Toss in some bright shiny metallic vases and anything else you have collected over the years and suddenly you have a room that sparks conversation!  This kind of decorating lets you tell a story and honor your past as well as your present.  Thank you, Holly Becker, for showing us that we can fill our rooms with affordable, sentimental items and that we don’t have to go to an expensive furniture store and buy an entire room at once!

Take Away #4:  If you’re reading this, perhaps you know I’m a huge fan of books.  For reading, for decorating, for crafts…. for everything.  Decorate is filled with pictures of rooms in many different styles, but something I notice is that most of the rooms contain BOOKS. On tables, piled high, stuffed on shelves… The message is clear, books are the staple that completes a room’s story!   On page 97,  I am inspired by the picture of books…. the combination of colors and the mood it inspires. It says,  “Vintage books with distinctive dust jackets are delightful objects in their own right, whether used for reading, displaying, or as sosurces of inspiration for decorating.”  I couldn’t agree more!

Without a doubt, I have been coveting this book since I got to hear Holly’s keynote at The Creative Connection Event in St. Paul. Her presentation was my favorite of the weekend, and when I returned from Minnesota, I blogged about my favorite quotes of the weekend; one of which was from Holly (You can check out this post here.)  All of her books were sold-out, so I was very disappointed that I couldn’t get a signed copy.  However,  at the end of the weekend, I had the opportunity to meet Holly, and she couldn’t have been more lovely and down-to-earth… just like her book!

Christmas: Thrift Store Style

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“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” — Edith Sitwell

I don’t really have a lot of space in my house for decorations, so I enjoy creating small “vignettes” for each season.  This tends to keep my small decorations clustered, so they have more of an impact.  Yesterday, I made a fruitful stop at my favorite thrift store and hit pay dirt.  First of all, I have a huge addiction to cream pottery from manufacturers such as California, USA, McCoy, and Haeger.  My thrift store has created a new room for antiques and collectibles, and has begun to price these items somewhat higher.  However, they missed this gem…. a Haeger cream planter.  I found it with the other common “junk” for $2.50.  There’s a small crack on one corner, but hey, turn it around, and no one knows!  The next find was the cute little round, green vase/planter.  I’m a sucker for the glassware! The small wooden tray was nothing special alone on the shelf, but it’s the perfect place to cluster my treasures.   Then there was a great box of vintage Christmas tree decorations, so I pulled out this green one for my display.  Oh, the finds continue…. I found a small bag of blocks, and lo-and-behold “NOEL!”   (I also picked-up a great old wooden box of dominoes – which is prime for another project!)  The snowmen were a previous years’ gift to myself, and they make my display come to life.  I love it when I come out of the thrift store with so many wonderful treasures!