Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from Our House to Yours


The Tree


Special Ornaments


Collected over the years



Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Decorating Continues Indoors

Photobucket My decorating continues in stages all through to mid-December. After adding just a few decorations on the bare wreath at the side door, I decorate the mantle. I prefer using fresh natural evergreens, but since the boughs on the mantle cannot easily be kept moist, I use fake boughs. Just before guests arrive during the Christmas season, I always add a few fresh sprigs of fir to the fake boughs for a better effect.
In previous years, the thick candles decorating the mantle at Christmas time were always real beeswax candles. This year, to avoid having open candle flames so close to the wall, I decided to use battery operated candles that come with an outer covering of wax giving the appearance of real candles. In the evening, these candles radiate a similar glow.

Most of the remaining decorating in our house is done with fresh natural boughs except for the tree ornaments I have collected over the years. Last weekend we purchased the Christmas Tree at my favourite garden centre, Sheridan Nurseries. It is a Fraser fir eight and one half feet high. When buying a real tree it is always a struggle bringing it into the house and setting it up. It has become easier ever since we've had a swivel base stand. We bring the hard plastic trunk receptacle cover to the garden centre to be fitted neatly over the tree trunk. The people at the garden centre also loosely tie the tree to make it narrower for transporting. For further transport protection, the tree is placed into a long bag. When we get home all we have to do is make sure the base is ready and positioned in its designated place sitting on a plastic sheet for further protection of the floor. It takes two of us to bring in the tree bottom first. The base of our tree stand has a lever to straighten the tree in the event that it is not quite straight.

This year, we chose the perfect tree which took twenty minutes to put up from the moment we arrived home. Of course, adding the lights is the difficult part of tree decorating. A stepladder always helps. The lights are on the tree, and it is now ready for our tree trimming party on the 23rd when our dinner guests will help us hang the ornaments.

The Christmas cactus which began blooming for the American Thanksgiving continues to bloom for Christmas.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Decorating the Outdoors for Christmas

Christmas, a magical and spiritual holiday, takes place at the darkest time of the year making us want to add brightness to our surroundings. The anticipation of Christmas is almost as enjoyable as the Holiday itself. During the pre-Christmas Advent season, we do so many delightful things to prepare for the celebration. My parents never wavered in making Christmas a wonderful time for us, and many of the preparations that were repeated every year became our traditions I now share with my family. Decorating the outside of the house is one of the first things we do.

The weekend of the American Thanksgiving is my marker of the beginning of the Christmas season. It is the weekend I go to the garden centre to purchase the evergreen wreaths and boughs for the entrance doors and the outdoor planters. Except for the lighting, I limit the outdoor decorations to fresh evergreens and natural accents as much as possible.

Christmas,decorations,outdoor decorationsSheridan Nurseries,Christmas outdoor decorations

Sheridan Nurseries, the garden centre, has an outdoor area protected from the wind, rain and snow with heaters in strategic places. A welcoming pot of hot apple cider keeps the shoppers from becoming numb with cold. Sheridan’s choice of decorations is extensive and is always beautifully displayed. Their floral arrangers gladly help customers by creating outdoor or indoor arrangements ready for display.

Christmas outdoor decorations,Christmas wreath
I always buy ready-made wreaths, but I enjoy creating my own low-key arrangements for the planters. For the front, I found the largest wreath my door will allow. This year, my choice of wreath is one already decorated with cones and is made mainly of Fraser fir boughs with a few sprigs of bluish juniper, pine, and some cedar.
Two small cut fir trees are for the urns on the back patio.

Fir, pine boughs and pussy willow twigs fill the planters near our side door.

This year the earth was not yet frozen making the anchoring of arrangements in the planters and urns much easier than in previous years.

The side door is also welcoming with its small plain Fraser fir wreath that I will decorate with cones and some small faux red berries.

The last task is to add white lights to the globe cedars and square yew, the rooted living plants growing near the front door. White lights also light up the little fir trees in the urns on the back patio. This year we added timers to the lighting keeping in mind that many people in our neighbourhood walk late in the evening to enjoy the crisp fresh air and the seasonal lighting displays.

Now all that is needed is the dusting of real snow which we can expect naturally by Christmas time.

Christmas outdoor decorations,Christmas lights

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Christmas Traditions

PhotobucketAt this time of the year, many of us begin planning for the festive season. Whether we celebrate Channukah, or Christmas most of what we do and plan for the holidays is based on our religious traditions and the traditions we and our families created to make the Holidays more meaningful. These holidays in the darkest part of the winter are meant to bring joy, hope, and giving to our friends, families, neighbours, and especially to the children.

The preparations and anticipation of Christmas are part of the celebration and are in themselves enjoyable.

Mid-November marks the beginning of my Christmas traditions. Every year at this time I go to lunch in the downtown shopping area with the same group of friends. Last Saturday, our annual lunch lasted almost four hours. Although we see each other during the year, we still seem to have lots to share. We choose the restaurant for its ambience, aesthetic quality, comfort, and good food, in that order. Among the restaurants we’ve enjoyed in the past are the Courtyard Café at the Windsor Arms Hotel , and the lobby bar of the Four Seasons Hotel . This year we returned to the Holt Renfrew Café where the salads and tartines are like no other.

After lunch, we always visit a few of the stores on Bloor Street, including some of the clothing stores. As you can imagine, all of the stores are decorated for the season and filled with the excitement of the coming Holidays.Photobucket When William Sonoma and Pottery Barn first came to Toronto, we were delighted and added them to our favourite spots.

One of my favourite stores is William Ashley China. One of the delightful things to see on Bloor Street is their Wall of China. They must carry every fine china and crystal pattern currently made. Can you find your favourite pattern?Photobucket

Birks Jewellers, formerly Henry Birks & Sons, on the corner of Bay and Bloor is a lovely store to visit.Photobucket

The teddy bear at the door of The Toy Shop has been tirelessly blowing bubbles for a number of years and seems to be as happy in the warm weather and when it’s below freezing. Look at that huge bubble in the photo.Photobucket

The Lego Santa Claus greets the passersby.Photobucket

Do you know a child who would like this rocking horse?Photobucket

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Toile de Jouy

A few years ago when the carpeting on the stairs needed to be replaced I decided to go with a blue and white colour scheme. Blue and white repeat the colours in the living room, and are favourites of mine, especially blue which is a serene colour having a calming effect. At that time I had already made the decision never to buy another carpet made of synthetic fiber.Photobucket
Wool lasts for a lifetime and seems to get better with age taking on a subtle sheen. It’s beautiful even when it shows a little wear. It is also easy to clean and stays clean longer. I still enjoy living with this carpet which covers the stairs, the landing and the second floor hallway. With some forethought at the time, I had three area rugs made of the same carpet for the master bedroom, planning to possibly redecorate in blue and white toile de Jouy.Photobucket

Toile printing on fabric was first done in 1760 in Jouy, France. It is a repeat printing of a fairly complex theme in one colour on white or off-white fabric. The favourite themes in the eighteenth century were rural, or pastoral. Later, historical and chinoiserie themes were sometimes used. Toile de Jouy has remained popular until today and has become a classic. When it is used, a room is usually decorated with no other pattern but toile de Jouy.Photobucket

Early in the summer, I finally found a colour to go with the blue in the blue and white area rugs. The colours did not need to match, but the tones needed to be compatible. I opted to have the shams, the bedskirt, the curtains for three windows, the tablecloth for the skirted table, the duvet cover, and the upholstered headboard slipcover done in blue and white toile de Jouy. The mahogany-framed headboard is an antique I purchased at an estate sale while I was purchasing inventory for my store.Photobucket

The curtains for the two small windows on either side of the bed created some design questions. There is always a question of how to treat a large window with an old radiator beneath. All the windows have window shades which made an easy choice of having only panels on either side of the large window. The table lamp needs to be replaced with a clear glass lamp. I will search for a vintage one during one of my estate buying forays.67

I worked with a local fabric store to get this project done. From start to finish, the project took three months with many unnecessary visits back and forth to the store. I’ve learned my lesson and will work with an interior designer the next time I have such a large project.

You’ll find a decorating project will still be within your budget when hiring an interior designer. I found that interior designers always receive sizeable discounts at the top fabric stores that include the sewing. This discount is never offered to one who deals with the store directly.

A designer will work with you to make sure you get exactly what you want. Let her know what you want and then let her take over. An interior designer will solve problems and give you lots of different options to solve the problems. Her expertise will prevent costly mistakes. She has access to a wide range of the best people to do the job and will make sure the job gets done right down to the final details.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Starting Fresh

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As you were first setting up house, what advice did you get from your parents, relatives and friends? The rule of thumb when setting up house is buy the best you can afford of the basic larger pieces of furniture, then add the smaller pieces as you can afford them. If you’re on a tight budget, making some of those decisions requires discipline, foresight, and vision. It makes sense to keep the old slogan in mind, “Never buy cheap unless you can afford it. Good quality assets which will last are more cost effective than buying things that are cheaply made.

When my husband and I first set up house, we very nearly depleted our budget buying a sofa, two bergère chairs, coffee table, bed, and bedroom chests of drawers. After our large initial spend, we were still without a dining table and chairs. For a table, one choice might have been a Pembroke table, a rectangular table with folding or drop leaves on each side. A Pembroke table is a good choice as a starter dining table because it fits easily in a small space with the leaves down when not in use. This type of table can later be put to use in a hall or as a sofa table.


Although we didn’t have enough room in the kitchen at that time, we did have a formal dining room space with enough room to easily accommodate a table and chairs. Because I’ve always had a great love for old houses and old well-made furniture, I decided to check the auctions and estate sales in the area. I finally found an antique round maple pedestal table that came with a centre leaf, and four oak chairs. The table and chairs were solid, well-made, and straight. The chair seats were covered in leather. The whole set cost $45.


The table and chairs served us well as a dining table for a few years until we moved to a new home relegating them to the breakfast area of the kitchen when we purchased other dining furniture. Once there, to cheer up the space, I purchased a 5/8-inch glass top for the table to put over a floor-length tablecloth. The chairs have seats and cushions to match the tablecloth. In the photo, you can see the table at which we have enjoyed many family meals, children’s creative projects, and games. At mealtimes, we usually cover the glass top with another tablecloth.


This table has given us such great joy that all four of us could not bear to replace it when we had a recent kitchen renovation. Apparently, the diameter is about four inches too large for the space. Because of the many good memories and because I always think it best to hold to something of value, decided to put up with having a table just a bit too large in our breakfast area.


I couldn't resist adding a photo of the bi-colour northern hibiscus beside our patio still in bloom in late September.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Container Gardening in North Toronto

Spring and summer is a special time of year where I live in the Toronto neighbourhood of North Toronto. It seems, as soon as we are sure the chance of frost is past, we go into a frenzy of gardening activity beginning with planning our containers to add instant colour to our gardens. The rule of thumb is that the final date for possible frost is Victoria Day, May 24th.Those who are both thrifty and impatient begin the process two months earlier by starting seedlings indoors. Even those who don’t normally garden are sure to display potted plants or flowers on their patio or balcony.

Beginning on May 20th for about two weeks, we head for the garden centres to buy flowers, shrubs and trees to replace, and replenish our existing plantings. My favourite garden centre is Sheridan’s on Yonge Street near Glengrove. The queues at the cash register during this time are often as long as those on December 24th. This year, I saw a woman who had rented a U-Haul truck to transport all of the purchases for her city garden.

When I visit friends during the summer I enjoy seeing how they are expressing their individual style, creativity and taste in their container plantings. Each one is different, adding colour to a door, window, or patio. Some of them even add some large pots of flowers bringing beauty to the utility area of their yard.

The two photos above show a friend's lovely green ferns she plants every May without fail in her black concrete urns. She painted them black to mimic cast iron. Her front entrance is inviting with a formal elegance.

At the right is another friend's cast iron urn brimming over with petunias and million bells. She doesn't fill her urns with the same types of flowers every year, but she loves pink and purple flowers. Typically, her urns are the first ones ready in the neighbourhood in the spring, filling us with great delight.

The container below is done with fuchsia pink geraniums and lobelia. So lovely with the blue spruce shrub.

Below is a large vase planted with vines of different colours topped off with a dramatic pink semi-tropical flowering vine. This is suitable for the dramatic front entrance.

I love visiting another friend whose garden encompasses urban sophistication and cottage garden elements. It is artistic, eclectic, and forever changing. Her garden shed's window boxes are filled with yellow begonias.

On the fence in the perfect spot near the shed is her wall fountain.

The potted vine hanging over her stone wall looks like it was just casually placed giving this garden a relaxed inviting appeal.

Another example of this is the antique coal basket used as a container to fill with perfect pink geraniums. The rush filling, and the rustiness of the coal basket give a cottage feeling to this corner of her garden.

How pleasant it is to live near the people whose container gardening I've featured. All of them have their own special artistic flair with attention to detail, giving their gardens their own brand of beauty. They help make North Toronto a very special neighbourhood.

I have two examples of my own container gardening. The globe cedars on either side of the door have survived in their vintage concrete containers for four years helped by double liners to keep the roots protected from harsh winter frosts.

Thunbergia and orange impatients at the side door.