Saturday, November 26, 2011

Holiday Season Kicks off with Color

The sunrise nearly burned through my matchstick blinds this morning.

I'm so glad I was up to see this.

And as quickly as the color faded, Thanksgiving turned to Christmas...

...which meant hopping in the car and heading up to Wilson Farm in Lexington, Mass.

I don't know why I don't come out to this wonderful place more often.

It's a little bit nursery and greenhouse...

...a little bit farm stand...

....a little bit grocery store...

...with a whole lot a charm.

It's a great place to get your Christmas or pagan greenery, wreaths, Christmas trees...

...poinsettias in all the latest colors...

...and one of my winter favorites, winter berry.

I just hope it's hip to be square.

All of these colors...
...were a great way to kick off the holiday season.

I'm already in the spirit!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Dinner: Triumph and Tragedy

Everyone waited patiently for Thanksgiving dinner to be ready.  We all had a great time and, even though everything didn't go smoothly, new memories were created.

A friend promised to bring a bottle of Opus One, a special bottle indeed.  We uncorked it and immediately smelled the bouquet....of vinegar!  Fortunately we had a few backup bottles that were enjoyed with an appetizer of roasted fresh figs with gorgonzola cheese and walnuts. 

I'm not sure if you would consider my nut experiment a success or a failure but not a single nut was cracked.

Although the texting and internet searching was kept to a minimum, I had to capture this picture of technology in action.  My friends were able to use their phones to touch base with family and friends.  One of my friends even skyped with his family in California on his cell phone.  I thought that was pretty cool.

The roasted Brussels sprouts with fig balsamic (found at Wilson Farms in Lexington, Mass.) were a big hit.

But Martha's Maple-Glazed Carrots and Parsnips caused a little bit of scene.  In the middle of roasting, I opened the oven to shake the vegetables which apparently flipped a piece of bacon out of the pan on to the bottom of the oven.  When I opened the open a few minutes later to shake them again, the bacon grease burst into flames.  Smoke filled the kitchen until I was able to find a cake pan to cover the fire and extinguish it.  No one was hurt and we'll laugh for years about the Thanksgiving I started a fire.

I gave up on baking this year and consigned dessert to Flour Bakery.  It takes a little bit of work off my plate and they do a much better job than I ever could.  

(If you couldn't tell, I love taking these food photos.)

Today were all relaxing and enjoying an extra day off.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving creating some new memories.

And now the Christmas season begins!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Memories

Flowers in vintage industrial mold from Bow Street Flowers

Holidays always seem to spark memories.  I have many more Christmas memories than I do Thanksgiving memories but I do remember my grandfather, who lived next door with my grandmother, going to pick up my great grandparents so they could have Thanksgiving dinner with us.  My grandfather, the son and grandson of Baptist ministers, was a very stern man.  He and my grandmother always ate dinner with us and there were strict rules.  Children were not to speak unless spoken to at the dinner table.  My father worked very long hours so my grandfather was the disciplinarian.  A few severe trangressions resulted in my brother and I having to go in search of switches which we subsequently received across our backsides. He was always gruff and barked orders like Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.  My grandfather loved the west and I'm sure John Wayne was a role model. 

My grandparents actually took me to see True Grit at the theater.  I was a young boy, probably too young to see it, and I had no interest in it.  I swear it ran for about 12 hours.  I would have fallen into the rattlesnake pit than spend another minute in that theater. 

Another thing I recall about Thanksgiving is sitting around a the table after dinner playing card games.  There were bunches of red and green grapes, all filled with seeds that my mother insisted would block your bile duct if you swallowed them.  My mother had her gall baldder taken out so we assumed she was an expert on things that would block our bile ducts. 

I also recall bowls of mixed nuts.  I have to wonder, in today's world of immediate gratification--cell phones, texting, Twitter and a movement of people demanding jobs right now--if nuts in their shells are an anachronism.  Are people still willing to crack in to a whole pecan and pick out the morsels from the broken shell?  It seems like a lot of work to go to when I can buy the same shelled nuts in a plastic container and just dump it in a bowl, ready to eat a handful at a time.
As I watched the 24-hour news station last Saturday morning while enjoying my Keurig coffee, I surfed through 900 some-odd channels of television shows and movies-on-demand and I saw a listing for True Grit.  I was curious about about the movie and I hit record on my DVR.  I watched the movie later that evening through different eyes. 

My grandfather died when I was a teenager so there are a lot of things I never had a chance to ask...or to iron out.  Seeing those panoramic landscapes must have been breathtaking on the big screen.  My grandfather would have really appreciated that knowing my mother has boxes and boxes of photographic evidence taken of scenery from my grandparent's trips out west.  I can't say I loved the movie but I enjoyed it...and perhaps I understand him just a little bit better.

I hope to make this Thanksgiving a little slower than usual.  I'll use my everyday plates mixed with some of my grandmother's transferware and other odd pieces I've found here and there over the years.

Carrots and Parsnips image via MarthaStewart, Brussels Sprouts via Pinterest
We'll enjoy a tradtional Thanksgiving dinner at the Urban Cottage. A four-day weekend is a vacation for me and I'll spend that time with family and friends with whom I can make new memories...hopefully better and more clear than the fading ones.  

And I have a bowl of mixed nuts.  They will just sit on the table waiting to see if anyone will take the time to slow down and enjoy them. 

* * * * *

This year I'm particularly thankful for the new friends, both local and worldwide, that blogging have made possible. I never could have imagined when I started this blog to document the process of getting a variance to add a porch to the front of my house, that anyone would be interested in what I had to say, or that I would make new friends, or that a magazine would want to photograph from my house in their decorating book.

For this new world of opportunities and for all of you, I am extrmely thankful. 

I hope you and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Narrow Ledge Vignette

After my Vignettes 101 post, a few of you left comments that you have really narrow ledges on mantels and have a really difficult time time getting them to look good.  When I was planting my first of three Amaryllis bulbs, I had an idea for a woodland inspired vignette that I thought would work on a narrow ledge.

Here are the items on my dining room table.  The amaryllis is planted in the brown crock topped with moss.  There are several little zinc pots that I purchased from Whiteflower Farmhouse with a little moss tucked in each one.  I took a few clippings off a Boston fern that's still sitting out on my back porch and added those to a few of the zinc pots.  It's finished off with a few vintage antler sheds and a sprinkling of  Japanese maple leaves for a little contrast.

By the way, these two amaryllis are named "Lima" on "La Paz" and they're available at Terrain.

And here it is set up on a six-and-a-half-inch ledge.

I ended up adding an even larger brass pitcher in the middle so I had more variety in the size of the elements.  I like how the color of the tarnished brass works with the frame and the antlers.  Even though everything is pretty much lined up in a row having the framed piece behind and the antlers tucked in gives a layered look.  I like mantel vignettes that are unsymmetrical but balanced and think this would look great on mantel for the holidays.

Don't have zinc pots?  Perhaps a few little terra cotta pots spray painted with a metallic finish.  No antlers?  Maybe you could get a few tender branches to weave in and out.  Red dogwood branches would be beautiful.

I hope this gives you some inspiration for your narrow ledges.

Be back soon with a Thanksgiving post.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Most of the leaves have fallen and we've already had our first snow.

The Christmas trees have arrived at the local garden center.

And my Zephyrine Drouhin rose is blooming?

The nasturtium is putting on a show right near the bittersweet?

One the next street over...

a cherry tree is coming into bloom?

...right next-door to a rose?

And my perennial geranium have started to bloom?

Despite the confusion, I pulled my frostbitten Dahlias to put them away for the winter.

Lavender, which can be a little intolerant to our severe winters...

...gets packed tightly with leaves for insulation.  

It's worked for three years so I don't mess with success.

Amaryllis "Lima"                                         Amaryliis "La Paz"

For the inside, I bought a few different Amaryllis bulbs
that I'll start every few weeks so I can pretend it's spring all winter long.

If Mother Nature can be confused, a few bulbs should work for me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Vignettes 101

I've seen this photo of my sea-inspired vignette all over Pinterest so I have to assume that there are at least a few people that connected with it.  So I thought I would talk a little about it and hope it helps shape your ability to critique your own vignettes, compositions, arrangements--whatever you want to call them.
I don't claim to be any kind of expert on the subject but I have developed some clear ideas and I've gotten a lot of positive feedback; in fact, to quote one of my design (and comedy) gurus Sherry Hart,"Dude, what are you, the vignette angel?" I take that as a huge compliment coming from this pro.

I like to--well, okay, I have a need to--analyze these compositions.  Sometimes I can make sense of everything and sometimes I can't.   I also like to name them.  If they're easy to name, they're usually well done.  I know, it's crazy; but I'll get to that in another post.  Sometimes I just can't figure out why I'm attracted to them or why they work.  I guess these are the abstract paintings.  I
 don't know why I like them, I just do. 
The simplest way to create a successful vignette is using a theme.  Here's another vignette inspired by the sea that I really like.  Everything in it belongs.  The pieces all speak the same language.  They tell a story. The rope, the whaling that a blow fish in the front?  The book could be a ship's manifest.  Even the beaten up dark wood table seems perfect.  
I would imagine this vignette started with the engraving of a whaling scene.  It just takes being inspired by something.
The inspiration for my vignette came from a rather unusual place.
The legs of the little table I set up.  After looking at the beautiful turnings for a while, I was getting the vibe of...

...a ship's wheel.  So I used that "language" that the legs were speaking to me as my inspiration and started to pull things together that spoke that same language.

The frame I used for the table top was lined with paper that had a watery color palette.  I also thought the pattern was reminiscent of waves without being too literal.  So this became my "sea."

And then I scoured the house--the prop supply in my basement--for items that fit.  Most are obvious.  The pond boat, the coral, the tortoise shell (which is gessoed and painted).  The bottles (although handmade) are something that might have been thrown into the ocean and a coral grew atop.  The old Chinese bowl perhaps something from an China Trade shipwreck.  I'm not sure a new Chinese bowl would work.  It speaks a different language.

I needed the coral to sit higher just for a variety of heights so I used some old books to raise it up.  I've seen some people criticize the use of books as platforms for other objects but I think these old books fit the story.  They could be old passenger lists or ship's manifests.

The modern artwork, at least in my mind, fit the story. The collage, by Marblehead artist Bernd Haussmann, could be an abstracted seascape.  I upper beige field has the same color and texture as the sails in the boat.  There's angular line in that color field that also repeats the shape of a sail.

Here are some other things I like to take into consideration.

Size of the shapes.  Notice how there's variety in the size of the shapes.

Dominance.  I think a dominance of one quality over another is important.  In this vignette, there are more straight lines than curved lines.  There's also a dominance of hard surface over soft surface (the sails).

So let's just recap a few things that I consider when putting a vignette together: 
  • Inspiration or idea, theme or story.
  • Do the objects fit the story.
  • Variety of shape sizes
  • Dominance of one or more aspect
Next time I'd like to take a look at some vignettes using some of these criteria and see how they stack up.