Thursday, December 31, 2015

Downsizing ... Slow, Steady Progress

I made only one resolution for 2015.  At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to remove one item from our house for every day of the year.  Sounds like a lofty dream ... but it turned out to be much easier to do that I thought it would be.

Donation made in October.  Those gold lamps are the ones that were on our dresser before I found THESE lamps to replace them.

I keep a large moving box, that we call The Donation Box, in an out-of-the-way corner of our living room.  Any time I move something, put away laundry, rearrange a cupboard or closet, I subject the items to a simple test ... Is this item useful and does it bring me joy?  Answer "Yes", and the item is kept, put to use, or stored away till it's time to use it.  Answer "No", and it get dropped into The Donation Box.

When The Donation Box is full, I catalog the items, load them up, and take them away.  My most favorite place to donate things is to Re-Tail, a thrift shop on the other side of town, whose proceeds benefit an all-breed animal sanctuary.  

This is what The Donation Box looks like right now.

Today is New Year's Eve, the 365th day of 2015.  Without including the items that are currently in The Donation Box, which will probably go to the thrift store next week or later, 374 items left our house and went to outlets that support causes that benefit people and animals in our community!  374 isn't a huge number, considering how much extra stuff we still have to deal with.  But, it's a start ... and that lofty goal that I set for for 2015 has led to a habit and a system that will allow us to continue to make progress toward living with WAY less stuff in the future.  

Thursday, December 24, 2015

... Not a Creature Was Stirring ...

Please accept my most sincere wishes to you and your family for the happiest of holidays ... Christmas, it is for us.

Thank you for spending time here with me, reading what I write, sharing stories, offering advice and support, and contributing to this community that my little blog has created.  I am grateful for every one of you.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The 24-Hour Quilt

Thirty-plus years ago, when I was pregnant with our first child, I made a little quilt for the new baby.  At that time, it was rare for parents to know the sex of their baby before its birth, so I used red fabrics to make a bright, gender neutral quilt.  Simple pattern, six-inch squares and a diagonal pattern, tying the layers together with yarn, nothing fancy ... made to be used.  Use it we did, for all three of our daughters.

Daughter #1.  Hard to imagine that this little cherub is all grown up, with two children of her own.

When Drew (grandson #1) was born, he used this quilt, too.  Caleb (grandson #2) has it now, and he takes it along with him everywhere he goes.  It's a bit threadbare now .... the fact that Caleb picks at it has accelerated the decline.  

This picture is about two years old.  The old quilt is a lot more worn right now.

Because the old quilt is now little more than a rag, I decided to make a new quilt for Caleb for Christmas.  Like the original, I wanted it to be simple ... shouldn't take too long to make a small quilt like I had in mind.  A quick trip to the fabric store, and this is what I decided ...

Rainbow colors, in a mix of patterns ...

Six-inch squares, with a diagonal pattern, and half squares on the border.

As with most important projects, I had help.

Dorothy holds down the layers, as I sandwich the top, batting, and backing.

Pinning the layers, with Maggie's help.

I used yarn to tie the layers together, just like I did with the original.

Alice and Maggie supervise while I mark where the yarn ties will go.

Four knots per square.

A quilt hoop helps hold the layers straight while I tie them.

With all the ties in place, I trimmed the batting and backing, then used the sewing machine to attach the binding.

It took a couple of hours to carefully fold the binding to the back and stitch it in place by hand.  Dorothy kept me company while I worked.

After a quick trip through the washer and dryer, the quilt was finished.  

24 hours, start to finish.  I even surprised myself with how well this came together and how little time it took to make it.

I know that Caleb will love it ... but I don't hold any hope that he will agree to replace his old quilt with this one.  My vote is that he will now carry both quilts wherever he goes.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas This and That

I really like our prelit artificial Christmas tree.  It's shaped as much like a real tree as I have ever seen ... perfect size and shape ... no muss or fuss with putting on lights every year.  Simple and beautiful ... except for when stuff like this happens ...

For some unknown reason, the top string of lights stopped working.  All the connections appeared to be correct and tight, no missing bulbs, no explanation.  

Solution?  Remove this defective string of lights (which took FOREVER!) and replace them with new ones.  

Problem solved ...

... sort of.  There are still a few places here and there where portions of other strings of the original lights aren't lit.  

My plan is to buy a LOT more new lights, taking advantage of sales after Christmas, and to completely remove and replace all the old lights on the tree.  Not a job that I am looking forward to, I assure you.

When I was at Monticello for the wreath-making workshop, I spent a few minutes in their gift shop.  Saw this on the counter by the cash register.

That Ben Franklin sure was a wise one!  Just another reminder that it's better to do things today, instead of putting them off till tomorrow.  (Speaking of which, I HAVE to finish my Christmas cards this afternoon.)

Last year, I couldn't resist buying a potted Amaryllis.  I do the same thing almost every year.  In theory, one can keep an Amaryllis over the spring and summer and have it flower again in the fall/winter.  I have never succeeded with this ... until now!

Last year's Amaryllis spent the spring and summer on our deck with some other potted plants.  When the weather got cold in October, I brought it inside to my basement workshop grow room, not expecting it to do anything.  To my surprise, the a bud began to appear last week and another one sprouted a few days ago.  In a few weeks, we should have flowers!

This meme has been making the rounds on Facebook and via email.

I normally only glance at stuff like this, but this one struck me in the heart.  

1.  I have been practicing this one for a long while now.  Most of what tries to pass as news is actually commentary and opinion for the purpose of influencing viewers, not informing them.  Don't even get me started on Presidential debates (which I have completely ignored).  I listen to news only for as long as necessary to be informed, then I turn it off.

2.  Be positive, in attitude and in your vocabulary.  Give compliments whenever you can, to friends, family and strangers. 

3.  Make sure that your most precious people feel that way.  Call someone just to say that you love them.

4.  Decluttering and downsizing frees space in your home and your mind and gives us room to breathe.  I will talk about this more another time.

5.  My break has been to try to think of things differently, react to situations in ways other than I am used to, and to chart a new path whenever I can.  At 56 years old, it's easy to fall back on old habits and skate through life.  

Now it's your turn ... what sort of This and That have you been up to?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Reality

Today's weather is perfect, if this were October ... low 70s, sun in and out of light clouds, comfortable breeze.  Hard to believe that it's actually mid-December.  

The practical part of me keeps hinting that I should take advantage of the amazing day and be out in the garden, planting the last of my fall bulbs.  The weather outside may be perfect, but I believe that this is the best way for me to spend the day.

Winnie and I are watching football.  Okay, not exactly ... I'm watching football and Winnie napping in my lap.

I can play in the garden tomorrow.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Weekend Full of Christmas Cheer

The first weekend in December has more than its share of fun Christmas things to choose to do.  For me, no surprise, I was away from home doing stuff all day on both days.

Saturday ... Culpeper Christmas Tour of Homes.
Culpeper is about 45 minutes from here.  It's where my parents and my sister live.  Its downtown area and surrounding residential neighborhoods are VERY historic.  Saturday morning, Mom and I toured this year's homes, all decorated for Christmas by local garden clubs.  Saturday afternoon, we worked a shift as hostesses at one of the homes.  The day was sunny and warm ... it was a perfect day to snoop through tour some beautiful homes.

Here are a few representative photos from the day.  (We were allowed to photograph inside the homes, which is unusual in my experience.  I took photos of decorations, and steered clear of any of the homeowners' personal things.)

Crowds were steady all day, but the wait time for each home was short.

Magnolia, greens, and pomegranates on this mantle.

Holiday arrangement, with a beautifully set table.

Christmas tree in the dining room bay window.

Model log cabin displayed in one of the kitchens, decorated for Christmas.

Primitive cupboard, and Home Sweet Home.

Nothing more classic than a wreath on a bright red door!

This was my favorite mantle of the day.

Red lights on the porch and greens in the window boxes of this Victorian.

Skinny tree in the living room of the home where I was a hostess.

Sunday ... Wreath-making workshop at Monticello.
Every year, Monticello hosts workshops that teach folks how to make a boxwood wreath and decorate it with natural materials gathered from the gardens.  Last year, my first year doing this, Mom and I made wreaths.  This year, I brought along my friends Kim and Gale.  We had so much fun, and our wreaths turned out beautifully ... how can they not, with such wonderful things to choose from to decorate them.

Boxwood and other greens were washed and prepared ahead of time, and available in plastic bags.  Floral picks and tape in those little baskets were for preparing the decorative things.

Tables stretched the whole length of one wall of the room, full of so many things to choose from.

Hydrangea, apples, Lunaria, Pine cones, Miscanthus, Tansy, okra pods ...

This was my favorite of the display wreaths, and I used it as inspiration for the design of my wreath.

This is my wreath ...

... and here is a group shot of all three of our completed wreaths.

I used American Boxwood as the base for my wreath, and I decorated it with Magnolia leaves, pine cones, Miscanthus, Lady Apples, dried orange slices, Tansy, Juniper berries, Okra pods, and, of course, rose hips.

This is what it looks like on our front door.

My wreath is fluffy, busy, going every direction, and borderline out of control ... a lot like me, now that I think of it.  :)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Blogger Problems

I'm trying to work on a Christmas post about stuff that I did over the weekend, and Blogger is being difficult.  When I got to the point in the post where I wanted to add photos, I clicked on the photo uploader icon on the tool bar, it was quick to tell me that I can now drag and drop photos directly into posts.  Okay, sounds like a new feature.  I clicked the 'Got It' button, to indicate that I understood, and now, when I click the icon to upload photos, all I get is a blank box.  It should contain the upload features and previews of my photos ... GRRRRRRR!!

Seems to me that Blogger updated something and broke it in the process.  

Anyone else having this problem?

Edited to add:  I shut down  my computer, started it back up, and now the uploader seems to be working.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Pretty Miraculous Thrift Store Find

I have a thing for lamps.  If I find a cool or funky lamp for a good price, it's almost as if I have an innate need to bring it home with me.   Two or more years ago while I was at Goodwill, I came across this awesome baluster lamp.

I initially thought that I would paint it to get rid of the turquoise parts.  After it sat around for a while, the turquoise began to grow on me and I decided to leave it as is ... and then I put it in the basement with the rest of my treasures, since I didn't really have a place to use one lamp.

A few weeks ago, at a different Goodwill in another town, I found this lamp.

It's the same lamp!  Looks like you're seeing double doesn't it?

Now that I have a pair of these beauties, I knew exactly what to do with them.  I figured that they would be perfect on the dresser in our master bedroom.

The shades on these lamps are ones that I already had on hand.  They are totally the wrong size and color, and they're borderline worn out, but they do the job for now.

One day I will think about what to put on that big blank wall ... eventually.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Six Days in Ireland

I bet you were wondering where I have been.  Did you miss me? 

My husband does quite a bit of traveling as part of his job.  Most of this is to conferences and meetings here in the US.  From time to time, he does some international travel.  I tagged along last week on his trip to Ireland.  He left a few days ahead of me, on Saturday 11/14, to fulfill his business commitments, and I joined him five days later to extend his trip to do fun stuff.  What made the trip even better is that our friends Kim and Andy came along with me.

It was a whirlwind adventure, put together almost last minute.  I'm going to share it with you in this one long, long post ... 86 photos, so settle in and enjoy the journey.


As we waited at Dulles Airport for our flight, the rainy sky parted and it looked as if the end of the rainbow was squarely on our plane.  I took this as a good omen, considering we were jetting off to the land of Leprechauns.

Great big plane from Dulles (DC) ...

... overnight to London (Heathrow), then onward to Dublin, Ireland.

Hello, Ireland!  It was Friday when we landed in Dublin ...

... picked up our rental car, and drove to Cork.  This was the view from our hotel room.

Our dinner destination.

A war memorial in Cork.

Christmas decorations.

St. Finbarre's Cathedral.

I made a mental note to go back here when it was open.

Finished the first evening at a pub across the street from our hotel ...

... with a pint of local beer.

Does this look like the face of someone who hadn't been to bed in close to 36 hours?  Yes, yes it does.

After a full night's sleep, the four of us ate breakfast at the hotel then hopped into the rental car to head west.  Kim was our designated driver, since she has the easiest time switching her brain to think on the opposite side of the road.

Delicious hotel breakfast buffet.

First stop.

Kerry Woollen Mills.

Yarn!  I wanted it all, but I only bought one skein.

Sweaters, and scarves, and hats!  It was a wonderland.

Grey sky and green Irish countryside, on the left side of the road.

Church in Dingle.  The tree is a Cordyline, native to New Zealand and common along the UK coast.

Interesting building in Dingle.

One can get Chinese carry-out anywhere in the world.

Dingle Crystal.  Founded by a former master artist from Waterford, and it's the only company left in Ireland that produces their product IN Ireland.

Sheep and cottages... so VERY Irish.

Cliffs and coastline along the Slea Head Road, which loops around the Dingle peninsula.

Roadside sheep.

We spent the entire day at Blarney Castle near Cork.

View of the castle itself as we approached.

Stone gate posts at Blarney Castle.

The Blarney Stone is at the top of the castle.

The climb to the top begins with gentle, wide staircase with a substantial handrail ...

... and soon turns into narrow spiral stairs with a rope to hold onto.

View from one level of the tower into a lower room.

Here we are, at the top.  I did not feel the need to kiss the Blarney Stone.  Those who do are said to receive the gift of eloquence.  I have enough of that, thank you very much.

The castle grounds are gorgeous.  This is The Poison Garden, planted with poisonous plants with descriptive plaques.

A tropical border.

Stone gateway.

Herbaceous border.  The wooden arches are planted with rambler roses ... alternating 'Francois Juranville' and 'City of York'.

'Francois Juranville'

'City of York'

Photo of my husband a much-more-rested me, under the roses.

The most photographed tree at Blarney Castle, an ancient Thuja plicata.

The Fern Garden.  The tree ferns in this garden make it feel as if a dinosaur could wander by at any moment.

Blarney Woollen Mills, billed as the largest Irish shop in the world.

Our dinner destination, at the suggestion of our hotel desk clerk.  I had smoked haddock, and it was superb!

Sight-seeing around town in Cork.

Climbing the hill to St. Anne's Church.

Let's see the sanctuary.

Beautiful stained glass window!

Let's climb the tower!

The first level of the tower had a display of figures that were once on the outside of the tower.

Visitors are encouraged to use the song book and play a tune on the church's bells ... not too much, though, out of courtesy to the neighbors.

About the church.

Hearing protection is provided.  Look how narrow that staircase is ...

... and it has the familiar rope handrail for safety.

Next level, and we can see the bells themselves.

We had a wonderful 360-degree view of Cork from the top of the tower.

Singer sewing center in Cork, with all-over floral design on the building.

I couldn't resist photographing this building.

An Aran sweater tea cozy in the window of a yarn shop.

The much-anticipated return to the book store!

There was a small selection of rose books ... nothing that I was tempted to buy, though.

The four of us hit the road in the rental car again and headed half-an-hour south of Cork to Cobh ... which was the last stop of the Titanic to pick up passengers before it headed for open ocean.  Our destination was the Titanic Experience museum.

First stop was lunch at the Titanic Bar and Grill.

The museum recreated examples of passenger cabins.  In third class, I was surprised to see that these were luxurious (by the standards of the passengers) with running water and meals.

As expected, First Class cabins were well decorated and comfortable.

Cobh Cathedral.

Memorial to the Titanic.

Fishing boats in Cobh, tied up for the night.

Time to leave Cork, and head 2 1/2 hours back to Dublin.

It was a grey day, as I took that last look at Cork from the glass elevator in our hotel.



We stopped in Johnstown to fuel the car.  This little lady and her friends were across the street from the petrol station.

Quick snapshot of the cemetery in Johnstown, taken from the moving car.  We didn't have time to spare for me to wander around there.  (I'm okay with that.)

Hello, Dublin!  

We had only the afternoon to walk the town and see a few sights. 

Our main objective was to go to Trinity College to see The Book of Kells.  The exhibit was super, and the book itself was a beautiful thing, with perfect lettering and detailed illuminated drawings, gilt work, and borders, all produced around the year 800.  (No photography permitted, though, dang it.)

Included in admission to the Book of Kells is a walk through The Long Room, part of the library of Trinity College.

The Long Room is an awe-inspiring space!

To finish the day, we wandered through Dublin's city center.


Colorful store front.

Christ Church.

Guinness Storehouse and Factory.  It was late, and we were hungry, and we just wanted to visit their gift shop.  Access to it was only included in the tour price (20 Euros), so we declined.

Dinner was chosen on a recommendation from our cab driver.  I ordered fish and chips, billed as the best in Dublin ... it was delicious!  Ordered peas as my side dish.  Server said, "They're mushy peas, is that alright?"  I replied, "That's perfect!"

Travel Day.  We returned our rental car, and caught the shuttle bus to the airport.

The place was full of big green airplanes.

Our trip to Ireland ended as it began, with a rainbow.

Bye bye, Ireland ...

... and hello, Virginia!

Back at Dulles.

Ireland has always been one of those places that I really wanted to see.  When my husband floated the idea of tagging along on the end of his business trip there, all of the necessary details fell into place perfectly.  We found super affordable air fare, my parents were available to keep the dogs for us, and our daughter looked after the cats at home.  It was an unforgettable adventure.

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