Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winter morning

 Peace on earth.  

That is what recent snows brought to the landscape outside my windows-- a deep peace, one that lingers within me even now as I look at these photos while sitting at my desk at work, miles from my cottage in the woods.

Early morning sunlight has painted a tender blush upon the sky. 

Two ancient box elder trees stand like guardians at the western edge of the property, remnants of the old farmstead that once occupied the land where my house sits now.

With this view accompanying my morning cup of coffee each day, I awaken feeling very blessed.  With each sip, my thoughts invariable drift upward toward the vast sky.

These images were taken the other morning through a window in my "great" room, looking off to the south and west.  With the loss of summer leaf cover, so much more is visible, like the neighbors' house across the field and stream, the barns dotting the hills and valley, and the contours of the landscape itself.  The spareness of winter brings its own type of beauty, albeit an austere one.  It appeals to the latent minimalist in me.

Wishing moments of deep peace to you as well.  In the hustle and bustle of a busy holiday season, it seems we need this even more.

Until next time...


Monday, December 9, 2013

An unexpected gift

A winter storm, fierce and forboding, descends upon the land
We brace ourselves for the squeeze of its icy fingers
A fire blazes inside to ward off the chill, seeping through the windows, 
rushing in through the opening door, 
as the puppy bounds outside in wonder at the newness of it all.
Stillness settles in.
 Snow flakes gently fold themselves into one another, 
a pillow of softness for weary souls
The earth heaves a sigh and snuggles beneath the billowing blanket of infinite white.
Mother Nature hums a lullaby:
Time for rest, darlings, time to dream.

Sometimes a gift can come in the form of adversity.  Things that seemingly make our lives more difficult can be small blessings in and of themselves.  Our recent snowfall has been this way for me.  Luckily, there was plenty of warning about the winter storm, and we were able to stock up on supplies-- food, drinking water, fire wood, pet food, household water.  We were expecting to lose power, which would have shut down our well pump and out heat pump, but fortunately, that never happened.  

The long days have been filed with simple pleasures, such as napping with my cats.  Newcomer Griffin with his own infinite whiteness, is like living art.  And he blends into my decorating scheme just beautifully.  Though I was hit with a momentary desire to warm up my decorating scheme for fall, now that winter weather has hit, white once again seems right.  

One of the most profound gifts of being snowed in has been the gift of time.  The days have been deliciously long and as productive as I have wanted them to be.  I have had time to read, to write, to create, to dream, along with the necessary chores of meal preparation, laundry, and cleaning.  

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to warm up and the roads will begin to thaw.  I will return to work, and this sweet winter respite will be over until my holiday break begins at the end of the month. Despite the heavy work of shoveling the driveway, cleaning off the cars, and splitting kindling, these few days have been a time of calm and simplicity, and for this, I am grateful.  Watching snowflakes fall is meditative, and my tiny house, with its wall of windows, provides a front-row seat to Nature's spectacular performance.

Wishing you a break from the busy-ness of life and time for reflection and presence, snowstorm or not.

Until next time...


 Poetry and photos in this post are property of Anne Silver.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Holiday crafting on a snowy weekend

This is what we awoke to Friday morning, and it continued to snow most of the day, leaving us buried beneath about 14" of snow and a layer of ice beneath that.  A state of emergency had been declared, with law enforcement officials telling people to stay off the roads due to hazardous conditions.  Living 4 miles from the nearest town, down twisting, hilly roads, we thought it wise to heed the warnings.  Our Prii (the plural of Prius, don't you know?) haven't left the driveway in days.  

What's a crafty girl to do besides spending the day in front of the blazing fire drinking coffee splashed with Irish Cream liqueur?

Get out the Mod Podge of course!

Using card stock, printed scrapbook papers, Mod Podge, and some rudimentary tools, it is very easy and fun to create one-of-a-kind cards for any occasion.  There is an infinite array of printed papers available at crafts stores.  I have been collecting them for years. 

Last winter I spent hours cutting scrap book papers into 1" to 2" squares and have been using them for art projects and hand-made cards ever since.  I strongly recommend getting a paper cutter if you decide to take on this project.  Getting square corners is nearly impossible without it.  Working with these papers is very much like quilting or doing abstract painting.  It takes no artistic experience, only a little time, and a willingness to play around with color, pattern, texture, and contrast.  To keep the mountain of little squares organized, I purchased some cheap stackable bins and have grouped the squares by color.  This makes it much easier that sifting through literally thousands of paper squares to find just the right one.

To create the cards:
Simply arrange paper squares on the face of the card, overlapping them as desired.  Brush the backside of each square with Mod Podge and adhere to the card, smoothing it as you go.  Mod Podge dries clear and flattens out easily, sans lumpy spots.  I prefer the matte finish, but it also comes in a glossy one.  After all bits of paper have been glued down, brush Mod Podge over the surface of the card as a sealer, making sure all corners are smoothly affixed to the card.  The glue dries in about an hour.

These are just a few of my finished pieces.

And so I am sending this out as a greeting card to you-- Happy Holidays, Dear Friends.

I hope you are enjoying the season.  If you decide to try this idea out, please share the results with me. I would love to see what you have done.  May all your snow days be happy ones!

Until next time...


Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Touch of Nature

The Natural Decor philosophy is all about incorporating things derived from or taken directly from nature.  Each vignette in my house, from this newly constructed shelf behind the wood stove, to objects atop the counter, has a connection to the natural world.  

In the photo above you'll notice wood in the form of the small box and planks cladding the wall, metal, a pressed botanical specimen, earthenware, and shed deer antlers.

Surrounding the sofa, there are more objects from nature:  house plants, gourds, a cashmere throw, a pumpkin wrapped in honeysuckle vine, more wood, and a dried seed head. 

 In the kitchen, you'll see potted herbs, marble tiles, more wood, porcelain, and pantry staples in glass jars.

Potted plants dot nearly every surface of my home.  This house gets phenomenal light, and my plants are most happy here.  

The centerpiece of the dining table is a collection of gourds given to me by my daughter, which are corralled in a wooden tray.

Incorporating natural objects into decor enriches a home in several ways.  These items add texture, color, life, contrast, and layers of interest.  They are also inexpensive, and readily accessible.  A home abundant with gifts from the natural world feels authentic.  Just as no two people are alike, no two homes should be alike.  I do not want a home that looks like someone else's.  My home must reflect my personality, my interests, my relationships, and my personal history or it does not feel as if it is actually mine.  All items shown in this post do those things.  They are a part of my story.   

Wishing you a warm, peaceful, and authentic Thanksgiving.

Until next time,

Friday, November 15, 2013

Getting cozy

 With fall upon us, some colder nights have set in, and so has my deep desire for spaces that are warm and inviting.  This is a departure for me, but the house seems to telling me that earth tones are what is needed to get us through the cold seasons.  These colors echo the landscape outside.  The fields beyond the house have turned to tan and fading greens.  The bare trees and those still bearing some leaf cover are a patchwork of browns covering the hillsides.  Inside I have bid goodbye to the whites of summer, and embraced a new palette of grey, tan, coffee, and cream.  

A shawl draped over the arm of the couch repeats the color of the pumpkin my daughter gave me and the silk pillows on the sofa.  A cup of tea always elevates the coziness factor.

Our new wood stove was installed a few weeks ago, and on cold nights, we have been warmed by its glow and its radiant heat.  This morning is surprisingly balmy for this time of the year, hence it was not cold enough for me to light a fire.  I hope you can visualize dancing flames within.

A wool rug laid overtop the sea grass one brings major coziness.  It also set the tone for the colors in the room, as it has some soft greys and creams amid the many shades of brown.  The green gable wall is still one of those things I live with but do not embrace.  It coordinates relatively well with the earthy color scheme.

Looking down from the stairway, you get a sense of the layout of furniture.  This is a tiny room, and there is not much in it, yet there is still enough room to support a proper dining table.  We are hosting Thanksgiving in this new house, and I am looking forward to having my family gather round the table.

One design faux pas of which I am guilty is this carpeted cat tree in the corner of the living room.  It is a necessary evil when you have multiple cats, as the hierarchy needs to be accommodated comfortably.  Since losing Pyewacket, we had adopted one cat from the Humane Society (the white one on the top shelf) and then a week later, the sleeping tabby wandered up to the house one evening.  She was too gentle and loving for me to turn her away.  The siamese has only been with us since June.  We now have a houseful.  As pet owners, we all make concessions for the happiness of four-legged friends.  I guess it could be worse that a cat tree placed discreetly in the corner!  Someday, perhaps, I will have one of those stylish, modern ones made of acacia wood.  Ot perhaps a system of shelves and cat walks leading to the loft.  But for now, this does the trick.  

I hope you are all well and warm.  May your holidays be a delight.  I am grateful for being able to share my home with you and for those of you who take the time to read and comment.  One of the most basic human needs is to be heard, and I am so appreciative of you who allow me to feel heard.  I also thank you for your patience during my extended absences, as I am not one to post regularly, I am grateful for your willingness to hang with me despite this reality.  

Until next time...


Monday, October 14, 2013

A new home for my campaign bed

After we moved in to our country cottage, my dear friend, Chania at RAZMATAZ, had asked if our campaign bed fit anywhere in the new house.  The only room in our tiny home that has a ceiling tall enough to accommodate the bed's canopy is a loft, which we have made into our bedroom.  

I have always loved the act of climbing stairs to go to bed at night.  For me, this little ritual creates separation from the busier spaces of the house, and there is a sense of both anticipation and arrival as the ascent is being made. I sleep better here than I have slept in many years, and I think climbing the stairs has something to do with that.  Literature on sleep hygiene suggests that our brains associate little cues like walking upstairs or any other bedtime ritual with signaling the body that the time for sleep is near.  

The bed takes center stage in this room.  Sleeping on this bed makes me feel like a princess, with its stature and romantic, domed canopy.  Its sculptural lines have a commanding presence in any space.  
Furnishings here are sparse, contributing to the restful feel of this room. Accessories are organic and muted, such as the straw hat on the wall and linen lamp shades.  

The angles lines of the canopy echo the roofline.  A panel of fabric behind the headboard adds a cocoon-like feel to the bed without obstructing the view out the east-facing window.  Every morning since we moved in I have watched the sun rise through this window.  This morning bands of coral and salmon streaked across the sky, casting a glow over the forested hillsides.  Waking with the sunrise is one of the simplest and most exquisite pleasures I know.

My cats are also quite fond of this space, a high vantage point for watching the birds and comfy spot for napping.

The walls in this room are painted the same dark sage green that the rest of the house was when we moved in.  I am planning to lighten them up a bit with the same neutral creamy-taupey-grey, Sherwin Williams Neutral Ground, that I have used in the main downstairs room.  The continuity of paint colors keeps things simple and allows one to move furniture and accessories easily from one room to another.  I find colors other than neutrals to be limiting and confining.  The neutral color spectrum offers more flexibility and freedom.

Taking photographs of small rooms is extremely challenging.  It is hard to convey the relation of items in the room to the overall space itself, and thus I am having a hard time relating the way the room feels beyond the bed.  I hope these photos give you a taste at least.

Autumn has completely arrived here.  I hope you are able to enjoy the beauty and peace that come with this time of year.  

Until next time...


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Making additional progress

Slowly, ever so slowly, our cottage in the woods is taking on a look and feel that suits my taste.  In the past couple of months, I have been working to make it less knotty pine cabin, more French country eclectic.  The primary area of focus has been the kitchen.

I used 3" x 6" carerra marble subway tile for the back splash, and I am simply in love with the way it turned out!  It has a luminescence similar to moonstone, my favorite gem.  I also painted the cabinets Sherwin Williams Neutral Ground, the same color I am using throughout the home.

The post rack is from Pottery Barn.  Stainless steel cookware also glimmers like jewelry and ties in with the appliances.

Right after moving in I tiled the counter top with 12" x 24" porcelain tiles in an attempt to mimic the look of concrete countertops.  This is a solid, durable material.  Larger tiles minimized the number of grout lines. 

Open shelves provide easy accessibility to dishes and keep the kitchen feeling lighter.

So this is the kitchen before.

And this is it now.  Much lighter and brighter.  I finally painted my windsor chairs black.  Little bits of black add drama and contrast to the white and gray palette.

This is the view from the front door.  The entire living, dining and cooking space is only 14' x 24'.  I still have not gotten around to painting that gable wall.  Some day soon it will get done, along with the rest of the trim.

The large expanses of glass and the high ceiling add to the sense of space.  You can see saw horses on the deck through the sliding doors.  There is still some work to be done here.

I have not yet decided what to do with the banister and railing.  I have considered leaving them the natural pine, painting them the same creamy white as everything else, painting them a medium gray.  Any suggestions or comments?
In 2 weeks, the tiled space in front of the stairs is going to be the home to this...

via Napoleon Wood Stoves

Napoleon wood burning stove.

Once the stove is in, I will be ready for winter winds to blow.  

In the meantime I am enjoying the beauty of the amazing autumn!

I hope you are able to do the same.  

As I stated in my previous post, decorating is my favorite distraction and my passion.  It helps ease the pain of recent loss and gets my body and mind energized.  

Until next time...


Saying goodbye

A couple of weeks we lost our beloved kitty, Pyewacket.  After years of incurable respiratory infection and the development of Cushing's disease (also incurable) we had to put her to sleep.  I have loved and lost many pets before, but have never felt grief this intense for one of my cats.  Looking at her picture still brings tears to my tired eyes.

My mom had advised me to look at the things I learned while loving and caring for her, that perhaps the meaning of her short life was to teach me things about myself, life, and love.

These are things I have learned:
(1) Breeding of flat-face Persian cats is inhumane.  The flatter the face, the more intense the respiratory problems.  These animals are born with a great disadvantage in order to conform to an arbitrary standard of what some consider to be beautiful.

(2)  The more we fight for something, the more attached we become.  In the nearly 2 years that Pyewacket lived with us, I cared for her as I would have a sick child.  She always needed something from me, from daily grooming to face washing to administration of medicine.  I fought to help her overcome her illness, just as she did, but even together our efforts were not strong enough.  As a result of the fight we shared, our bond was deep and lasting.

(3)  I have learned the vets do not know all the answers.  My vet was supportive and very caring and always told me that they at his office were just trying to help us.  I believe him.  But aside from invasive surgery to ream out her sinuses and nasal passages, which we opted not to do, the only treatment we could perform was to use the one antibiotic she could tolerate when the infection began to rage again, as it always did.  We also used a few grains of zyrtec daily, which helped her breathe a little more easily.  Persian cats commonly have allergies also, which can contribute to the sinus infections.  Giving medication to cats is tremendously difficult and stressful for both the cat and her humans.  The vet tried his best in this case, and I do not blame him for Pyewacket's death.  She was a very difficult case and such a fragile creature.  I know that he was just trying to help, and she came close to dying 8 months ago.  He actually saved her that time and gave us 8 more months with her.

(4)  I have learned to trust myself even more.  There were occasions where I told the vet I thought that steroid injections, which were sometimes given along with the antibiotic, were causing her fur to fall out and her skin to become flaky.  He said steroids don't usually do that, that there was probably something else going on. At her last appointment, when he said she appeared to have Cushing's disease because of the way her skin looked and her loss of fur, he stated it could have resulted from steroid overuse.  It could also have resulted from a tumor on her adrenal gland.  We will never know for sure, and knowing won't bring her back.  On my other pets, I will insist that steroid use be the last option.  The side effects often seem to overwhelm the short-term benefits.

(5)  Persians are inherently different from other cats.  They have a gentleness I have never before experienced, which goes beyond their calm natures.  Pye would often brush my cheek ever so softly with her right paw when she wanted affection.   She would raise up on her hind legs to receive a pet.  She was always happy, always eager to interact, always loving, despite the illness and daily struggles to give her medication.  Living with Pyewacket made me smile and sigh with deep pleasure.

(6)  I have learned (again) how little control I have.  We all like to think that if we do certain things just so and plan and work very hard, that things will go our way.  This is an illusion we buy into, and sometimes it works out for the best, but other times, it does not.  The death of someone we love is a great reminder that sometimes our plans and desires have nothing to do with what the universe has in store.

(7)  My capacity to love has not been hindered by the many losses I have had in my life.  Love, and not just romantic love, is the reason for our being.  I choose to keep my heart open and to allow the infinite well-spring of love to flow into and through it.  I know there will be more loss and more pain, yet to exist in a state with a closed heart and lack of emotional connection is not an option for me.  I choose love.  And I have the sweetest of memories to comfort me during times of grief.

I bid farewell and safe passage to my sweet Pyewacket.  Others may come after you, but none can replace you.

And so, I have been continually working on making this new house one that reflects my style and my personality.  These are things over which I do have control.  Focusing on them helps to ease my grief and affirms life by caring for those in the here and now, celebrating beauty, and connecting to the abundance of the natural world.

Stay tuned for the next post where I share changes I have made to our little cottage in the woods.   After all, decorating is good therapy!

Until next time...


Friday, July 19, 2013

Simple Country Pleasures Part II

The joy of discovery...

Since moving to our new home in the heart of the national forest, we have made an awesome discovery-- a real-life swimming hole!  It may not look like much from the photo above, but the wide spot in the middle of the image is actually deep enough to completely submerge oneself in and will accommodate at least 2 people on lounging floaties quite nicely.  The creek is spring-fed and remains refreshingly cool.  The water here is pristine, with a limestone creek bed and an abundance of small fish that gently nibble at one's water shoes.  

This is the same creek that I can see from my windows, but the swimming hole is further downstream and has to be reached by winding past forested hills and valleys on narrow gravel roads.  This drive to the swimming hole is part of the fun for me.  It is way out there, surrounded by two designated wilderness areas which are part of the nearly 300,000 acre national forest.  On its website the Illinois Sierra Club says, "Hutchins Creek (eligible for designation as a Wild & Scenic River) has formed a wide, flat valley bordered by steep forested slopes, rocky bluffs, and V-shaped creek drainages. This area is relatively undisturbed by humans, with a couple of old farmsteads and cemeteries the only evidence of past human usage of the land. The mixed mesophytic forest and the clean, spring fed creeks, typical of the Ozarks, provides habitat for wildlife including neo-tropical songbirds, wild turkey, deer, bobcat, and many smaller mammals."  

The Sierra Club failed to note the possibility of our most recent, encounter.
 Last weekend we headed over to swimming hole and there were a couple of young families there-- see the umbrella and chair in the left of the photo.  When we got out of the car with Sadie, our border collie/lab mix, we were cautious because it seemed there was another dog tethered to a tree up ahead, which was odd.  Most dogs we meet around here are off leash, so we were concerned that perhaps this one was a bit aggressive.  My husband went ahead to check out the situation, and he came back to the car with a sly smile on his face.  "It's a pig," he said.  "A what?" I asked.  "A pig," he repeated.  I walked up and sure enough, there, attached to a long rope was a miniature pot-belly pig.  I asked if I could pet him, and his owner said sure.  His name was Elmer.  As I petted him, his tail wagged non-stop.  In fact, his tail wagged the entire time we were there.  He was quite friendly and calm.  Sadie sniffed him and, uninterested, ran ahead to splash in the creek.   

Small though it may be, this swimming hole seems magical to me.  It is a far cry from an over-crowded, noisy, public swimming pool.  Out here we are serenaded by birdsong and calling frogs.  I think about the early settlers whose farm houses are still seen on these gravel roads and imagine the joy and relief they must have gotten from a dip in the creek's cool waters.  When I swim here I feel a connection to them.  I also think about the protection of our national treasures and am so thankful for the establishment of a national forest system that preserves the sacred beauty of this area, and others like it, in perpetuity.   Barring any disasters, natural or otherwise, one hundred years from now this area will look as it does today, as it did one hundred years ago.  I am but one creature whose life has been enriched by the clear waters of this creek, like one small fragment of limestone scattered along the creek bed.  I realize how intimately connected all life forms are and am struck by the universality of our most simple, basic needs.   

Wishing you a weekend of simple pleasures.
Until next time...


Monday, July 15, 2013

Making progress and thoughts about painting wood...

Little by little, I have been putting my stamp on this new home of ours, and it feels wonderful!  Last weekend I did some more painting, focusing this time on the wall of wood below the open staircase.

My husband had been outside mowing the lawn when I began working on this project.  I had told him weeks ago that I planned to paint the knotty pine walls.  He had said at that time that this was fine with him, but when he walked in the door on Friday afternoon, hot and tired, to get a drink of water and saw me painting the wood walls, he GASPED.  Audibly.  It took him a second to recover.  I was very casual and just said,"Hi, are you thirsty?"  He asked if I was sure I wanted to do this, and I said that of course I was sure.  Besides, at that point I was committed.  There was already paint on the wall.  

So, we went from this below... 

where the sunlight, along with the natural pine on the floor and walls, gives the room a very yellow cast,  

to this...

where my boston fern looks so very lush, and the yellow cast is gone.

When I told some friends I was going to paint the wood, they, too, had a similar reaction to my husband's, although not quite as audible.  I have written about painting wood walls before, and how many people find them to be sacred, where it is akin to sacrilege to blemish them with paint.  I am of the mind that your home should reflect your deepest desires and fantasies.  In the cottage of my fantasies, all the wood walls are painted.   The texture of the tongue and groove planks actually is more evident when the wood grain is not visible.

When I painted the drywall, no such gasp was heard by him.  Others cautioned me that painting things a shade of white would ruin the character of the cottage.  I disagree entirely.  The walls I have painted seemed to recede a few feet after the soft white paint was applied to them.

My efforts to banish the sage green from the house are on-going.  The wall with the patio doors is about 20' tall.  I haven't yet had the gumption to bring in the extension ladder and completely move all of the furniture out of the way in order to paint.  One must work up to these things slowly.  Eventually I know that I will wake up one day and decide I simply cannot take it anymore, and that will be that.  That is typically my way.

So, as I stated at the beginning of this post, little by little things are coming around to being the way I want them to be.  Decorating houses, like picking a partner, requires that one stay true to oneself, and not follow the preferences and tastes of others.  After all, we are the ones who live with our choices, not well-intentioned friends, and not all mistakes are easily fixed by covering up them up with a coat of paint.

Until next time...



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