Christmas Tea in the Library

As a nod to Downton Abby, I decorated the second floor sitting room of our barn home as if visitors were about to take tea.

Dried everlasting wreaths crafted from the Farm Grove gardens hang on the celadon door and above the green velvet Mother/Daughter love seat.  The silver tea tray takes center stage.  An icy centerpiece strung with tiny LED lights makes a sparkling presentation.  The Christmas tree cozying-up the corner next to an over-stuffed chair is decorated with silver-green ornaments and celadon green ribbon.

An antique pastoral etching hangs above the vintage drop-front desk that belonged to my maternal grandfather.  An art deco print hangs above the love seat that was in the collection of my parents.  More silver ornaments are hung from the chandelier.

Merry Christmas!



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Vintage Music Star Garland

Vintage Sheet Music Star Garland

Make a star garland for Christmas.  Decorate the Christmas tree or fill your home with stars to celebrate that night when the Christmas star announced the birth of the “bright and morning star,” Jesus Christ.

You will need:

  • Vintage sheet music, preferably with yellowed paper
  • Mod Podge water-based sealer or Elmer’s white glue
  • 1″ paint brush
  • Stardust Fine White Glitter or Vintage Mica Flakes [Santa Snow]
  • Star pattern
  • Thin twine
  • Hot glue gun
  1. My template/pattern is for 3 3/4 inch stars.  My garland has 20 stars on about 12 feet of jute twine.  For a variation on the design, use different sizes of stars.
  2. Begin by gluing two sheets of music together to make the stars thicker.  Apply a thin layer of glue or Mod Podge on a sheet of music with music scores on reverse side.  Place another music sheet on top and smooth out any bubbles.  Each double sheet can be traced with 6 stars using the 3 3/4 inch pattern or template on the top sheet.
  3. Working with one traced double sheet at a time, paint star patterns with more Mod Podge or white glue and sprinkle with Stardust glitter.  Mod Podge only the star shapes.  Set aside to dry.  Continue until there are about 20 star patterns glittered.
  4. When dry, cut out stars.
  5. Using a hot glue gun, glue non-glitter side of the stars to the twine by a tip, spacing them about 6-9 inches apart.  Leave about 6 inches of open twine on each end; knot twine into a small loop on ends for hanging.
  6. If you wish, the backs of the stars can also be painted with Mod Podge and glittered after they are cut out.

Special messages can be written on each star between the music measures in fine-line black markers.  Seasonal messages such as “Joy,” “Silent Night,” “Morning Star” or “Christmas Star” can personalize the garland.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!



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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.

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