Tuesday, November 30

A Christmas mantel

Joy to the world! The Christmas season is upon us!

Each year, we get a live Christmas tree on the weekend after Thanksgiving. As soon as the tree is up, I begin decking the halls in earnest, and I usually start with the living room mantel. Here it is this year:

The most important elements of the mantelscape, of course, are the stockings. The one in the middle was the first of our collection--purchased 19 years ago, when our oldest son was a baby. We added stockings in 1993 and 1997 when our second and third sons were born, and finally bought one for Dad and one for Mom. Now they hang in order on the mantel, where they'll stay until they're filled on Christmas Eve.

On top of the mantel, I work around the Flemish floral painting that's there year-round. The colors in the painting lend themselves to traditional Christmas decor, which is just what I like. On one side are the moss topiaries I made last year:

And on the other side are inexpensive candlesticks that I painted with Oil-Rubbed Bronze spray paint and topped with red pillars. I like the subtle glow of the candles when they're lit:

The greenery on the mantel came from my yard. One of the wonderful things about using greenery is that you can hide any unsightly elements of your mantelscape. My candlesticks and topiaries are elevated on a motley collection of boxes, but those all disappear beneath the beautiful greenery. And the wonderful Christmasy smell of pine and cedar is a welcome bonus!

Across the living room is my wall of crosses, and you can see the reflection of the mantelscape in the mirror:

As usual, one of our doggies has curled up in front of the fire for a cozy nap. She'll have to move for Christmas morning, though, because this chair is the favorite spot for boys to open their stockings.

I'm joining the beautiful Layla at The Lettered Cottage for her mantel party. Visit Layla to see dozens of beautiful mantelscapes!

The Lettered Cottage

Monday, November 29

A winner!

Happy Monday, everyone, and thank you to everyone who entered my Favorite Things giveaway. The winner is:
#46: Judy at His Doorkeeper!

Judy, I'll be in touch to get your address, and I'll send your package right out to you.

Thursday, November 18

My favorite things: a giveaway!

Darling Melissa from 320 Sycamore is having a Favorite Things party this week. I think this is a great party for Melissa to host, since she's definitely one of my favorite bloggers! Here are a few of my favorite things.

Beverage napkins. So useful, so pretty, so easy to keep on hand! Here's one of my favorite drawers in my kitchen:

It doesn't look too bad at first glance, but every one of those stacks contains four packages of napkins. . .

I may have a bit of a napkin fetish.

Welcome signs. Right now I have two on my front porch, one on my back porch, and one in my back entrance hall. I love the very word "welcome"; that's the feeling I try to evoke in everyone who comes to my home.

Snail mail. I love email and use it all the time, but there's just something about getting something out of the mailbox--something other than catalogs and bills, that is. So I like pretty notecards, too--like this beautiful one hand-made by Leslie from Goodbye House, Hello Home:

Books. I dearly love to read, both fiction and non-fiction. Some of my favorite books are like old friends. I read and re-read, underline and highlight. One of my favorite authors is Richard J. Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline and Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home. His books are just splendid.

Product Details

Candles. I love candles and candlelight. Leather-scented candles from DeeJay's Candles are my all-time favorite.

Crosses. I have a collection of crosses that started many years ago with an Easter gift from my husband. Since then, I've enjoyed finding a special cross as a souvenir of the places I've traveled. My newest one is from Notre Dame in Paris! Most of my crosses are on display in my living room, with many of them on this wall:

That's my kind of gallery wall.

And if I need to choose a line from "My Favorite Things," I'd have to go for "brown paper packages tied up with strings." I hope that's one of your favorite things, too, because I'd like to send a package to one of you!

I've collected a few of my favorite things to give away--beverage napkins, a welcome sign, pretty notecards, a book by Richard J. Foster, some leather-scented candles, and a cross. It'll make a nice brown-paper package tied up with string, don't you think? Leave a comment to enter; I'll choose a winner one week from today. Just click on "Comments" at the bottom of this post; you don't have to have an account to post a comment. (If you're reading this as an email, you'll have to click on the title of the post to go directly to my blog; then you'll see "Comments" at the end of the post.) You can simply check "Anonymous" and leave a comment--but be sure to leave me an email address or some way to get in touch with you if you win! And you don't have to be a follower to enter, although I'd be honored for you to follow along if you like.

Check out all the Favorite Things posts at Melissa's!

favorite things button

Tuesday, November 16

Giving thanks for another chance

An odd thing happened to me today.

After I'd just written a post about my bathroom, the events of this morning conspired to prevent me from taking a shower. Nothing was wrong, really; I just wasn't able to bathe before I needed to be dressed and out and about. I'd taken a shower yesterday morning; I wasn't disgustingly dirty or stinky. I just wasn't freshly clean.

By midday I felt sticky and itchy. Oh, how I wanted to smell fresh and soapy. I longed for my skin to feel smooth and satiny. I coveted a deep breath of the aroma of freshly-laundered towel. I was cranky.

So I took myself off to my nice, big, clean shower. I stood under the steady stream of steaming hot water. I lathered up lavishly with my lovely body wash. All was right with my world again. "Boy, I'm thankful for a good shower," I thought to myself.

And then it hit me: the ugly truth, right square between the eyes. Actually, I'm not at all thankful for a good shower. To tell the truth, I rarely give it a second thought. Only on a day when I was prevented from having it at the usual time did I stop to realize that it's a blessing.

How many, I wondered, how many busy mothers just like me would love to be able to bathe once a week? Even once a month?? How many would give nearly anything to stand in a shower of clean, hot water? How many would consider it the height of indulgence to wash their bodies with the soap I use every day?

I am struck by the fact that this everyday blessing which I take so lightly is actually a great luxury. I think wryly to myself that there's nothing wrong with me that a flood or fire wouldn't cure. And then I wince at the knowledge that there are many who have endured flood or fire or even worse, while I sit here securely in my nice snug house.

Thanksgiving? Dear God, what would I have left if I were to lose all the things for which I never stop to give thanks? I think I must begin my prayer of thanksgiving with one of confession.

I never intended to be blase' and complacent. I didn't mean to be ungrateful. I realize now that ease has affected my perspective. I spend too much time thinking of all the things I don't have and not nearly enough time being grateful for all that I do have.

I want my perspective to change. I need my perspective to change. Dear God, I confess my poor attitude, my thankless heart, my ungrateful spirit. Change me, Lord. Please.

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

Psalm 51: 1-2; 10-12

How about you? Are you, like me, grateful for another chance to be grateful?

--Unwrapping this gift with Emily at Chatting at the Sky

Monday, November 15

On being a thankful guest

The holiday season is upon us, and that means that many of us will be guests in other people's homes. Many of us like to show our gratitude to our hosts and hostesses in some way. Money can be tight this time of year, though, and many traditional "hostess gifts" are pretty pricey. So how can you say "thank you" in a special way without breaking the bank or breaking your neck?

Here are a few ideas:
  • A homemade food item that the hostess can use later (not something to be shared at the party). Examples: a batch of muffins for the next day's breakfast, a loaf of bread (click here for the world's best pumpkin bread recipe), a sampling of your family's favorite treats. By all means tie a festive ribbon on your gift and write a short note telling your hostess how much you appreciate being included in the party.
  • A small seasonal decoration, such as an ornament for the hostess's Christmas tree or a pair of beautiful candles--something small that can be put to use very easily. If you want to give a little larger gift, try tying a seasonal decoration to the top of a food gift.
  • A small potted plant or a bouquet of flowers already in a vase. Your hostess doesn't need to leave her guests to go hunt for a vase, so present plants or flowers in ready-to-use form. You can find nice plants for less than $5.00 at grocery floral departments or home improvement stores. Wrap the plastic pot in gift wrap or kraft paper, tie with a bow, and you've got a nice gift. Or make a weathered pot (directions here) to put your plant in. As for flowers, buy a bouquet of all one kind of flower for just a few dollars and arrange them in a thrift-store vase (cheap) or a jar wrapped in burlap (even cheaper--directions here). With plants, add a little moss on top of the dirt to make the plant look like it came from a florist. With flowers, cut the long stems off so that just the blooms are visible above the vase.

  • A small, usable item such as a pretty stopper for a wine bottle, a bottle opener, or a package of paper napkins. Beverage napkins are some of my favorite things, and I often find them for less than $2 at TJMaxx and Tuesday Morning.

Now I want to show you a hostess gift that was given to me on Halloween weekend. Several college students, all friends of my son's, used our house as a "home base" during a weekend reunion. One of the girls presented us with this:

It's a seasonal photo storage box; she had just written "THANKS!" on the front label. And look what was inside:

Homemade sugar cookies that said "Thank you!" plus some fun candy treats.

Can you imagine my delight in receiving this? My guest spent a few dollars and some of her precious time just to say thank you--and she made my day. I was delighted for her to stay at our house, so I didn't need a thank-you gift. . . but it surely made me happy to receive it!

Can you think of some other simple, inexpensive hostess gifts? If so, please leave a comment, including links to posts of yours if you like. And may you be invited to many fun gatherings at which you can try these out!

Friday, November 12

Bathroom beauty

The topic of bathrooms is awfully interesting. Not that many years ago, people would never have spoken openly about the room in which they did such private things as taking a bath. After all, taking a bath is something that one does (gasp!) unclothed. People were glad to have a room inside the house for taking care of their private business, but they'd certainly never talk about that room.

Things have changed, haven't they? The rooms that were once small and used only for that private business have become real rooms to us--places where we're happy to spend time. Sometimes the only private time we get is in the bathroom!

Here's a look at our master bathroom. My husband's end of the room:

My end:

A glance at the water closet:

A few little details:

Seashells in a hurricane make an inexpensive yet pretty candle holder.

Rolled-up towels look pretty and are handy to the tub.

A re-purposed dining chair works well as a vanity chair.

This little table I re-finished adds a fun pop of color to the water closet.

There is one really special thing about our bathroom I'd like to show you. See the tub at my husband's end of the bathroom? The artwork above the tub is pretty special to me:

Can you guess what that painting is? My husband took some photos of me at the beach one year, like this one:

And then he sent the photo to allpopart.com and had them make it into a Lichtenstein-style portrait. Can you imagine? I was so flattered. We've been married 25 years now, and he still likes to take pictures of me! I'm glad this is the guy I share a bathroom with.

**Linking to Show Us Your Life at Kelly's Korner and The CSI Project

Thursday, November 11

Veterans Day

Today is Armistice Day, the day when the armistice was signed to bring the fighting of World War I to a halt. It is also a very special day in the U.S. Today is a day to remember and honor our troops--all who have served and all who serve now.

Memorial Day in the spring is a sacred day, a time set apart to honor those who died in service to their country. It is right, of course, that we should devote a special day to that remembrance.

But Veterans Day is a day for honoring all who served. Each man or woman who has ever spent time in service to this country deserves to be thanked and honored. Each one has made sacrifices. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.

Thank you, troops. God bless you all.

And to the Lord who loves every member of those armed forces: we thank You and bless Your name, and we ask your protection on those now in harm's way.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bids the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

O Christ, whose voice the waters heard,
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walkedst on the foaming deep,
And calm amid the storm didst sleep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea.

O Holy Spirit, who didst brood
Upon the waters dark and rude,
And bid their angry tumult cease,
And give for wild confusion peace;
O hear us, when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

O Trinity of love and pow'r,
Thy children shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them, wheresoe'er they go:
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

William Whiting

Tuesday, November 9

Pillow talk

I love the movie Pillow Talk starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson (Is anyone else a fan of old movies?), but even more than that, I love pillows! Even the word "pillow" is nice and soft and fluffy, don't you think?

Earlier this fall I had some fun making pillows out of drop cloths for my front porch:

and a couple of autumn leaf pillows.

Soon, though, it'll be time to exchange the autumn decor for Christmas decor. I treat my front porch as an outdoor living room, so I love to decorate it for Christmas. So I transformed my autumn leaf pillows into

Christmas ornament pillows!

You can click here if you'd like to read about how I constructed the pillows--it's a simple square pillow, made of drop cloth fabric and stuffed with a pillow I bought at a thrift store (and washed in hot water). To make the Christmas ornaments, here's what I did.

  • I googled "image Christmas ornament," found an image I liked, printed it out, and then enlarged it. I traced that image onto a piece of red felt and cut it out to make an applique'. My red felt was a little too bright for me, so I wiped some stain onto the felt to tone it down a bit.
  • I cut an oval out of the center of my felt ornament, then taped a scrap of gold ribbon to the back of the applique'.

  • I used fabric glue to attach the applique' to the pillow.
As simple as 1-2-3, and I have fun new Christmas pillows!

Saturday, November 6

Christmas decorating preview: mantels

I love to decorate for Thanksgiving, and I don't start putting up Christmas decorations until the weekend after Thanksgiving. But I do like to spend some time in November planning my Christmas decorations and getting ready to deck the halls. So I was glad to see that, to get our holiday decorating juices flowing, Beth from The Stories of A to Z is hosting an impromptu Christmas mantel party.

Here's my 2009 Christmas mantel:

My Christmas mantelscapes are usually pretty simple. This painting is always on my mantel, and I didn't want to take it down, so I just work around it. Every year I hang all five our stockings in order: Dad, Mom, Oldest Son, Middle Son, Youngest Son. Last year I just added red candles, clippings from our Christmas tree and some cedar from the yard for greenery, some little red ornaments, and my DIY moss topiaries.

I like symmetry, don't I?

Here's the mantel the way it looks through most of the Christmas season:

Snickers (the beagle) and Cocoa (the pound puppy) love this spot in front of the fire. As you can see, the "No Dogs on the Furniture" rule didn't go over too well at my house.

Check out Beth's blog for more Christmas mantel inspiration!

Friday, November 5

Special alert: Christmas gift idea and a money-saving coupon

If you have an Advent calendar or would like to have a special Advent calendar, I have a gift idea for you.

Each year, LEGO makes an Advent Calendar set. I love the LEGO Advent Calendar--it's boxed with 24 doors to open, one for each day of Advent. Behind each door is a little bag with a miniature Lego set to build for that day. If you have your own Advent calendar, these would be wonderful toys to stuff in each gift box.

Of all the things I ever did for my boys for Advent, this is far and away the thing they enjoyed most. As it happens, one of my sons is still a huge fan of LEGO, so we're still buying the Advent Calendar every year!

This set is not cheap--it retails this year for $34.99. But right now, it's available at Target, and Target has this book of toy coupons:

Have you seen it? At my Target, there was a large display at the front of the toy section with these books. There's a coupon for $5.00 off the purchase of the Advent Calendar. It's good through November 24.

If you're interested in learning more about the LEGO Advent Calendar before you decide whether to purchase it, you can see a review of it on YouTube.

The review was done by my youngest son, also known as LegoLee329. He definitely gives the low-down on this set! Even if you don't want to watch the whole review, it can be helpful to get a glimpse of the product.

No one is paying me to tell you about this set--it's just a product I love and I wanted to pass along the news of a good deal.

Wednesday, November 3

Thanksgiving decor

Welcome, November! I love November. . . when days are short, skies are gray, and temperatures are chilly. There's something about this month that makes me want to curl up with a cup of hot cider and read a good book.

Before I start reading, though, I like to put away the Halloween decorations and get out the Thanksgiving decor! Our tradition is to begin decorating for Christmas on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Until then, I keep the decor autumnal. Here's what I've done so far.

The dining room with its Thanksgiving bounty:

I love my cornucopia. I got it just after my oldest son was born, so this is its 19th Thanksgiving. It's made of papier-mache. I stuff it with gourds and corn and nuts. And since my family roots are from Kansas and Tennessee and all my ancestors were farmers, I like to add the staple crops from those two states--wheat and cotton.

In the living room, I added autumn hurricanes to the chest on my wall of crosses.

I'd admired the double-walled hurricanes at Pottery Barn, so I made my own by putting Dollar Tree vases inside hurricane globes I already had. Then I simply added autumn leaves.

You can barely even see the inside glass, but the leaves are kept safely separated from the candle. Love it!

I'm not sure if I've shown y'all my latest addition to my cross collection. See that beautiful tassel? It was custom-made for me by Heather of Butterfly Genes. I think she can make a tassel topper out of almost anything, and she does the most beautiful work. Thank you, Heather!

What about you? Do you decorate for Thanksgiving? Or are you chomping at the bit to get the halls decked for Christmas?