Christmas at the Cabin

We have a large area to decorate for Christmas, which gives me an excuse to begin on the second floor of our barn home before Thanksgiving.  Spreading out the work makes each project more fun.

The theme of the guest bedroom that is used by our daughter and son-in-law is Christmas at the Cabin.  The decorations enhance the country blue and quilt-bedspread look which already has décor of hunting and fishing.  To continue with the natural look, I arranged bare river birch branches above the dresser mirror and hung them with a bit of English Ivy, which will dry in place.  A deer-print package is decorated with pheasant feathers and the same join more birch branches in an English blue transfer-ware pitcher.  The quilted runner on the dresser echoes the quilt on the bedstead.  A vintage platter showcasing three deer adds more to the theme as does the “deer feed” feed sack pillow I needle-felted with the image.  The wording was added with fine-line permanent marker.

The wide window is a great place for rustic bird houses from the porch to create a Christmas village that looks as natural outside as in… another trailing strand of ivy adds realism to faux’ fir trees.  Two ornamental deer cavort among the houses and the side table holds the birdhouse chapel and a nesting pheasant.  Hanging next to the bed from the wainscoting are two woolen socks standing in for Christmas stockings.  I added the crocheted collars.

The most fun my creative brainstorm took was to drape the head board with fresh Virginia Creeper vines from our hedgerow. They were twisted together and tied to the posts with twine.  Ivy is also lavishly threaded through the vine creating a natural bower.  I love this look.  The ivy retains its shape and color but will become fragile.  If not tampered with, it will last extremely well throughout the season.

At the foot of the bed is an antique primitive blanket chest–a perfect place for the tiny lit tree as it has its original weathered red paint.  Vintage and handmade decorations create a woodsy vignette’ for the “cabin” and remind us that a bit of Christmas in every room celebrates the season in a special way.

Tricks of the Trade:  Enhance the décor you already have in place and use natural as well as faux’ decorations.

Posted in Cottage lifestyle, Cottage Projects | Tagged | Leave a comment

Turning to the Holidays

We live in a restored barn. We were in the retail specialty business for over 13 years and in the collectable business for another 13.  We have a 5 acre country estate with six buildings. For all of the above reasons, decorating for Christmas can be daunting.

I have been collecting Christmas decorations from wholesale sources, estate sales and auctions for over thirty years so I have an abundance of things to work with, but there is still a lot of area to cover if I add seasonal touches to both our home and the chapels on the property used for weddings.  But because I want to enhance the natural, country feeling of Farm Grove, I also do not want to rely on artificial decorations entirely.  I try to work in natural greens like boxwood, pine and holly and Virginia Creeper and wild grapevines into the décor, which all grow on our property.  The dried herbs from the garden are also used to make seasonal wreaths and door swags. But put it all together and I am decorating for weeks.

So it is that this year I am starting early on the upper floors of the barn and finishing projects that can go into place after Thanksgiving.  The trick is to add to the décor already in place rather than starting from scratch.  For instance, the library is becoming “Christmas Tea in the Library” with the addition of a silvery-green tree, icy centerpiece and silver tea set.

The most dramatic touches that make our home look festive is to fill the outside planters with greens, but I cannot strip our living trees to find enough to go around.  Because Costco sells very nice Frasier fir Christmas trees for $40 each [I think they are 6 footers], the answer was right in front of me.  As soon as they get their first truck load, I am going to buy a tree and cut off all the branches to fill the planters at the barn, the buckets at the big chapel and the urns at the small chapel.  Add a little crab apple, English ivy and holly and we will be good to go.  Then I can save my best berries and boxwood for the indoor arrangements that can be kept in water.

Because the Frasier branches will be placed in planters with wet soil, they last all winter long and add much-needed color to our winter landscape.  We actually purchase a 10-foot Frasier for the great room of the barn the first week of December, but the firs at Costco are a great buy if you need a fragrant shorter tree.  The Frasiers also do not easily shed their needles.  FYI

Posted in Cottage lifestyle | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pear Canning

Pear Tree in Chapel Orchard

We have a variety of pears that take forever to get soft enough to eat.  They usually end up on the ground and are fair game for the yellow jackets before I collect them.  I was cruising the Chapel orchard taking plant debris to the burn pile when I noticed several pears on the ground were bright yellow and soft enough to can.

It consumed about two hours time from start to finish to see five quarts of canned pears on the kitchen counter but I felt I must give at least token time to the fruit.  The motivation was to have fresh pears with the pork roast for Sunday dinner.  It was worth it.

Peel, core and slice the raw pears into quarters and fill sterilized quart canning jars.  Pour hot, light syrup of boiled water and sugar over the fruit [1 cup sugar to 4 cups water], leaving a half an inch head space.  Place new canning lids and rings on the jars and tighten finger-tight.  Place jars in a hot water bath canner and fill canner with water to cover jars two inches above tops.  Bring to a boil.  Boil for thirty minutes.  Remove the jars with  canning jar tongs.  Let cool.  Tighten the rings.  Label.  Store or enjoy.

Posted in Cottage Gardening | Tagged | Leave a comment

Autumn In A Glimpse

Autumn Front Porch

“Overnight” is usually an exaggeration–but the leaves in Central Illinois are literally changing overnight.  I was lamenting that the warm weather and lack of rain is causing our leaves to brown and fall without turning, but now suddenly trees are turning to vivid colors.  Hurrah!  Forecasts are warning that our autumn will be quite short-lived this season, so go out and celebrate it now.  Take a drive down your favorite back road to a pumpkin patch place or apple orchard.  Our kids recommend Jonnamac Orchard near DeKalb.  We are planning a visit to Tanner’s north of Peoria near Speer this Friday.  Ackerman’s on 150 and Roth’s Pumpkin Place Playground on Mueller Road outside of Morton are fun local places for autumn entertainment.   Our Groveland Chapel is also decorated for autumn and open to the public.  [Groveland Chapel, Springfield Road, Groveland, IL]  Happy fall!



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



Autumn Front Porch

The fragrance of a new season is in the air. Toasty smells and tinged leaves signal the coming of fall.  I am ready for a new season and grew pumpkins, corn and squash just for the occasion.  They deck the front porch and the farm stead–no such thing as too many pumpkins for this autumn-lovin’ gal.  Look for great prices on mums and pumpkins at Aldi.  I just bought another big guy Charlie Brown pumpkin for under $3 at the Big A, just after I told my husband I didn’t need any more pumpkins.

Vintage Wash Tubs

Using “real” materials  instead of artificial for seasonal decorating is growing in popularity.  Although fresh materials have a limited shelf life compared to faux’ materials, real harvested items have an inherent nostalgia.    Grouping your materials around vintage articles creates a charming vignette.  Above, bronze mums sit in vintage wash tubs.  Out of view is a rustic pallet fence with an Aldi big boy pumpkin on the other side of the rear door to the chapel.   A worn bushel basket holds a golden corn shock.  On the chapel porch, a weathered press-back chair holds another mum in a basket.  Wild grapevine  and birch twigs twine with the chair back and fence.

Autumn Vignette

Fresh pumpkins sit on our dining room table among stacks of old books and candles.  The large peach-colored  pumpkin with “warts” on the great room table above is from Door County.  After the season, I will harvest some of its seeds to grow more Cinderella pumpkins next year.  I was able to grow 3 white and peach pumpkins with unusual shapes from last year’s Door County pumpkin.

I’m looking forward to giving a demonstration to the Peoria Herb Guild next month using seasonal materials to design wreaths and arrangements.  I have been collecting goldenrod, bay leaves, rose hips, bittersweet, twigs, moss, corn, squash, celosia, Lady’s Mantle, wormwoods, and fillers like sea lavender.  Some are drying in the rafters of the great room kitchen.  I have also dried the roses my husband has given me throughout the year.  Roses dry beautifully and add depth and color to dried wreaths.  The crab apples are red in the chapel garden.  As the leaves fall from our Autumn Blaze maple in crimson and orange-red, I will press them between sheets of waxed paper with a hot iron to preserve and dry them at the same time.  These can then be glued into the autumn wreaths.

Bringing the harvest up close and personal is a lovely way to celebrate the season.

Posted in Cottage Projects | Tagged | Leave a comment


Sunset at Cave Point

Door County, Wisconsin, is a peninsula of calm between Green Bay and Lake Michigan.  After a demanding summer repairing out buildings, gardening, teaching and helping our children ready The Groveland Chapel for business under their management, we are ready for an escape to apple orchards, farm markets, boutiques, specialty shops, light houses, white sand beaches, excellent restaurants, cooling breezes and turning leaves.  We are ready for Autumn along Lake Michigan!  It seems odd to be going on vacation with much of the country under stress, but my prayer life does not take a vacation.  I pack it to go.

Posted in Cottage lifestyle, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Garden Maintenance–Where Did My Morning Go?

A Variety of Tomatoes

Sling for a Melon                                                    Butternut Squash [winter squash]

Butternut Squash Taking Over the Garden

Leaving a second cup of coffee on the counter, I ducked outside–just to water the containers on the back porch, mind you…  Two hours later, I am reheating the coffee in the microwave and wondering how my morning  schedule was destroyed.

Watering the pot plants required starting the pump on the pond to refill the empty rain barrel.  [We could use a good rain.]  Since I already had the hose out and the pump on, I thought I should water the new starts of cilantro in the farm tub and the strawberries I planted last month.  Well–I might as well water everything, I thought.  The geese were cute as they tried to stay out of my way.  I turned a light spray on them to see if they wanted to play but they rebuffed me.  The yard is full of goose poo–it became a moral imperative to hose off the stepping stones to the garden so at least one path could take me through the worst of it.  Goose droppings are a natural fertilizer, but when they begin flocking, the application becomes a bit overwhelming.  Let’s just say there is no croquet in August and September…

The geese are having a regular pool party in our pond.  Between breaks in water sports, they come into the yard to gnaw on fallen apples.  I would estimate over thirty Canada geese spread out between the back yard and the Chapel garden where the fallen peaches are…

As I watered I noticed squash bugs on the pumpkin vines.  I set the hose spray on the herb bed and returned to the lower level of the barn to get the Seven spray.  I was wishing I had worn something cooler than jeans by this point, but then I wasn’t planning on staying outside, was I… I put on a Niki terry cloth sweat band that I kept downstairs as my face was beginning to perspire.  Back outside, I moved the hose to another spot and began spraying Seven.  The large sprayer would not work; I recalled Butch also had trouble with it.  So…back inside to get the small hand-held sprayer.  I used what was left in it and returned…again…to the garden room in the basement to refill the little sprayer from the big sprayer.  Sigh.

As I watered, I spotted more cantaloupe than I thought I had.  When I purchased my cantaloupe seed, I think there were winter squash seeds mixed in as I have Butternut squash everywhere.  [See vine picture above.]  There are so many squash vines, I have given up finding cucumbers.  I didn’t believe I had any melons at all but found one vine with two melons on it a few weeks ago. Today, I found four more melons, only about the size of goose eggs. These are hanging from their stems on the rabbit fencing.  I have already had squash that have broken from their vines and certainly do NOT want to lose any melons to gravity.

My grandmother would use her old nylon hose to tie up melons and squash–the old-fashion kind of nylon hose.  I cannot see using my old panty hose for anything exposed to view but did resort to making slings with recycled plastic bags.  If anyone had asked me what I would be doing today, making baby slings for cantaloupe would not have come to mind.

As I turned the spray on the green beans, I looked out at the Chapel Garden and thought the four large decorative planters should be watered as well.  As I pulled the hose to fill up the water barrel, I remembered I should pick the tomatoes.  While the barrel was filling, I waded into the tomatoes around the squash vines.  The barrel was still filling so I filled three buckets in the back of our John Deer Gator vehicle and drove out to the chapel to water the planters.  On the way back, I decided to water the pots in the front yard using the lake water and returned to the hose to refill the buckets–then drove to the front yard to water the four planters, two hanging pots on the porch, and the fern in the corner.

I refilled the two bird baths and decided the green beans could wait until later.  The bed was newly watered and would be muddy anyway, I reasoned, making my excuse more palatable.

I really did intend just to water the pots on the back porch and finish my second cup of coffee.  I’ll just have it with lunch.




Posted in Cottage Gardening | Tagged | Leave a comment