Fixing a hole where the squirrel gets in…

For those of you who don’t know the continuing saga of the squirrel I refer to as Rocky, a quick back story to fill you in. About a year ago, in the very room where I am typing this blog, I started hearing loud, scratchy noises. Something was clawing its way up inside the wall, across the ceiling (and my head!!) and down the other side-yikes!! I pounded on the wall- hearing the 150-year-old horsehair plaster come tumbling down-and the scratching sound went away. I figured I scared the little guy outta there! Wrong!

The Trapping Part I: Caught Rocky on the roof in a Havahart trap using nuts and peanut butter. He finished his snack, switched his tail and busted out of the trap before our very eyes!

The Trapping: Part II . Success! Caught him red-pawed in the basement digging through a trash bag-so I promptly used my McGyver-like skills to create a trap using an old sheet and electrical cord (not plugged in, my mistake). Dragged the bag across the street and set him free into the lovely conservation land. Returned to the house and, according to the squirrel guy, Dennis the Mennis (nope, not making that up) he was back in the house before we were!  He was now using our home as a flophouse and a storage facility. We found piles of Daisy’s dog food inside my husband’s sneakers and ice skates! Try explaining that to the clerk at the skate shop..

Three Unfortunate Souls: Persistant, destructive little guy.  If we boarded up one eave, he ate a hole in another to get back in, causing thousands of dollars in damage. Early one morning, I heard the unmistakable chirping of teeny, tiny birds coming from somewhere very close to my bedroom window. Set the scene: At 5am, I climbed out the bathroom window onto the roof in my PJ’s. I  pulled the chewed molding off with a hammer, only to find a bird’s nest with a freshly-hatched chick! As I yanked out the nest, it fell out onto the roof and rolled into the gutter, lifeless. Sadly patched up the hole, buried the bird. End of story-right? You should know me by now. Down the stairs to fire up the Keurig, passed by the downstairs bathroom and heard the unmistakeable chirping of teeny, tiny birds! The other two babies had fallen INTO the house and were now in the ceiling of our downstairs bathroom!! One way in, no way out. Reminiscent of  Edgar Allen Poe’s The Telltale Heart, the chirping drove me to the brink of madness, and by the third day I was ready to take a Sawz-all to the ceiling to free them. But the chirping finally stopped. Poor unfortunate souls. End of story-right? Read on.

It’s summer now, and Rocky seems to have moved on.  I am leaving to join my husband in Scandanavia for a much-needed vacation. We had hired a contractor to repair all of the squirrel damage and he was scheduled to do the work while we were away. I get a call from the painter. He tells me not only is there a squirrel in the front (yet-to-be-repaired) eave, she has babies in there!!! Apparently Rocky had been “busy”. Or perhaps Rocky was actually Rosita! I left a message for the contractor to get Dennis the Mennis back, get rid of that nutty family and I get on a plane to Copenhagen. The story ends here. Right?

Fast forward to this past Sunday. While doing laundry in what I refer to as the dungeon (my basement), I spotted what appeared to be some wood shavings on a table. While I had noticed them before, and assumed it was from some recent electrical work we had done, the pile was most definitely growing. Grabbing my flashlight, I peered up between all the new wires attached to my basement floor joists, and there it was-the point of entry! Now I am no varmint expert, but I believe that a 3 inch hole in your 150 year old wooden sill with freshly chewed shavings is an indication that Rocky the Squirrel is using your home as a B & B. Lots of nice laundry in baskets for a cushy night’s sleep. And since I had repeatedly set out traps with Cheezits and peanut butter, breakfast included. Sooo, what to do? I grabbed a can of this great stuff- literally called Great Stuff! It shoots a foamy expandable insulation out of a long straw that fit neatly between the wires. I plugged the hole, hopefully forever ending the saga of Rocky the Squirrel. Perhaps.

But I’ll keep you posted.

Gone to the Dogs

If you are family or a friend of our family, you must love dogs. Even if you don’t have a furry companion living under your own roof, chances are that you’re sure to encounter some muddy pawprints and a cold, wet nose no matter what or where the family celebration. In our immediate and extended families, the dog count stands at 11 and cats round out the pet quotient to 14. We are a pet-loving family, and they’re all treated to the finer things in life.

At 16 years old, Winston the Westie is our elder statesman, and following closely behind him at 14 is our rescued Lab Mutt Daisy. Nipping at her heels is Jesse, a beautiful Black Lab.We have big boys Harry (he’s visiting with his pal Milo) and Brooks

& little dogs Bucky, Bartlet and Chessy

And then there’s Finn and Astro… Adorable, mischievous and incredibly sweet.

The newest family addition is Ronan, a handsome southern gentleman recently adopted from the Animal Shelter.

Now as you can see by the photos, our dogs are part of our lives. Most of them have free run of our homes including the comfiest sofas, beds and occasional tabletops. That’s a lot of fur flying around!!! Which is why I am happy to share this helpful posting from HGTV: 9 Tips for a Chic and Pet Friendly Home from the great book Animal House Style.

The pet journalist, Julia Szabo, presents tips on how to live in a house with pets (she has a dozen!) while keeping it clean and pawprint free. An author of several books, a writer for the New York Post’s Pets column and a frequent guest on Martha Stewart Radio’s “Morning Living” Show, she knows her pet stuff! Several of the tips are common sense, including vacuuming daily- the whole house-Yikes! That’s a lot of sucking up-literally- unless you have one of those little iRobots that magically keeps your house dust and dander free. She also suggests ditching the wall to wall carpeting and using washable covers and bed linens, which I do have on every soft surface.

And how about choosing fabrics and furniture that match your pets?! For my niece Lindsey, this seems a tad impractical, since her three dogs are black and white, which would surely limit her decorating and her wardrobe! Speaking of which, I have one additional suggestion:

If you have a pet that sheds, DITCH THE FLEECE. Got that? DO NOT WEAR FLEECE & TOSS THE FLEECE BLANKETS!

Pet fur and dander imbeds itself in this fabric, and it is virtually impossible to get it out unless you pick each hair out individually. Which really lengthens your daily prep time to get out the door. So unless you want to wear that North Face hoodie looking like an old “cat lady”, switch to cotton. In a color that matches your dog. While you vacuum.

Indigo Blue

The title of today’s style update email from Crate & Barrel was “The Color Report: Spring’s Coolest Shade is the crisp, classic Indigo. This royal ink has all the dark edge of black, but with a depth of color that is infinitely blue.”

Indigo Blue. Serene. Cool. Bold. Mystical. Wisdom. Sophistication. Justice.

Water.

Ice.

Sky.Darkening clouds reflected in the canals of Venice

Freshly picked basket of blackberries

One perfect pair of jeans

The evening horizon in Stockholm, Sweden

My first brand new car-Midnight Metallic Blue Chevy Camaro

View from the Seine in Paris

A poncho to protect you from the elements

Nightime in Zurich, Switzerland

You have to be fearless to decorate with Indigo. Unlimited styles, infinite possibilities. You will make a statement, create a mood, set the stage.

Indigo can be modern

or timeless

or so soft country pretty

Indigo can be many things, but one thing it will never be is forgettable.

Antiquing Essex

Sunday was yet another glorious day here in the Bay State. Warm & sunny, not a cloud in the sky-not bad for March 18! Time to take the shrink-wrap off the porch. Huh?! Well, last fall we had our old deck enclosed and transformed into a screened-in porch. We didn’t have much time to enjoy it before the winter months were upon us, so rather than packing away all of the furniture and accessories that we had flea-marketed last fall, we decided to wrap the porch in plastic, creating a greenhouse effect while protecting the freshly painted wicker. They shrink-wrap boats, don’t they?! Turns out that since it was such a nice winter, we actually were able to use the porch for sitting and enjoying the outdoors, without actually being outdoors, all winter long.  Now that the plastic is gone it’s time to shop for some porch decor- going with the simple pretty country style- lots of red, white and blue, wicker and old wood and iron.

Our first stop was Essex, a pretty little Cape Ann town (pop. 3500) steeped in ship-building history- a go to destination for a leisurely afternoon drive. The town center is surrounded by marsh lands and the Essex River, which leads out to the Atlantic Ocean. Just 25 miles north of Boston, Essex is known for its art galleries, funky antique shops and delicious and plentiful seafood, especially lobster and fried clams. Legend has it the “Chubby” Woodman invented the fried clam back in the early 20th century. On any given summer day, you will find the long lines of hungry tourists and locals alike waiting patiently in lines that snake around the building and down the street for a taste of Woodmans fresh seafood.

Antiquing in Essex is an adventure, and the old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” surely comes to mind. Most of the shops are housed in antique village homes -full of charm and character-each room stuffed to the rafters with junk/treasures. You never know what you might find as you make your way through the packed, narrow hallways and into the yards and sheds of the shops, most of which are within walking distance of one another. Because of its rich maritime history, there is an abundance of nautical art and artifacts available. Everything from buoys to boat models, lobstah traps, maps and brass are available, all prices negotiable.

We came to Essex searching for some hanging pieces to create lighting for the porch. Beyond excited to find these rusted old planters, soon to be transformed into hanging lights for the porch, that will add more of that vintage country style that we love. Pics to follow (once I figure out how to make them). Happy Spring, everyone!

When Irish Eyes are Smiling

A few years back, while our college-aged daughter was studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland, we had the opportunity to visit that pretty, pretty country. We toured cities and colorful villages, criss-crossing the countryside, enjoying the sights, the sounds and the amazing people. Yup, that’s me upside down kissing the Blarney Stone!

With only one major mishap (let’s just say that it is quite important to check what type of petrol to use BEFORE you pump it into your rental car), our visit to the Emerald Isle was not one to be soon forgotten.

The scenery appeared to be torn from the pages of a Fairy Tale Book, with soaring castles and crumbling forts, thatched-roofed cottages and miles of emerald green countryside playing a stark contrast to the brilliant blue ocean and the oft-gray skies.

Now I cannot blog about a trip to Ireland without commenting on the fabulous cuisine. Whether fine-dining, or helping ourselves to the carvery at the local pubs, the food we enjoyed was hearty, plentiful and so delicious! One item we didn’t find on menus? Corned Beef and Cabbage. What?! Well, after doing much research, I have it on great authority that this boiled dish we Americans all think of as so traditionally Irish is actually not consumed in Ireland much at all! Apparently, most Irish in Ireland do not identify corned beef as native cuisine- this is primarily an American dish with Irish roots.

Along with the great classic Irish music, one thing we did find in every pub? Guinness. If corned beef is more of a myth, then the story of Guinness is legend. It began with a signature in 1759. Arthur Guinness purchased a disused brewery at St. Jame’s Gate in Dublin, Ireland and began brewing porter and ale. Today, over 10 million glasses of Guinness are consumed DAILY, and it is shipped to over 150 countries world wide. Now since Guinness is the most popular beer in Ireland, it seems fitting, on this St. Patty’s Day, to share my favorite recipes that use the famous dark stout as a featured ingredient.

Guinness acts as a meat tenderizer and adds a deep, rich flavor to everything from stews to cupcakes. I have made this Guinness Beef Stew many times, and am always delighted at the depth of flavors. Click on the photo for the recipe:

To serve along with the stew, some lovely Irish scones- this is a basic recipe sent to me from across the pond, that allows you to add whatever flavors you wish. Savory or sweet, scones are most definitely a traditional Irish favorite. And finally, an amazing cupcake recipe featuring Guinness, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Jameson’s Irish Whiskey- three of my favorites! I hope you enjoy these recipes, and enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day-Slainte!

Chili’n Out

I have rediscovered the wonders of my Crock Pot. By mid-week I am looking to cook something yummy that requires little prep work, makes little mess and provides tonight’s meal, plus leftovers that will take us to the weekend and that I can save right in the pot. One of my favorites? Turkey Chili. Or Chili Con Carne (chili with meat). You brown the meat, chop a few onions, open some cans, then dump all the ingredients in the pot and off you go- the magic crock pot does the rest! Chili is fast and simple to prepare, one recipe makes enough for a small army (see below) and served with some shredded cheddar, a dollop of sour cream and some blue tortilla chips or corn bread-it is so delish!

Before I give you my Sparkpeople Healthy Recipe for Turkey Chili with Corn and Black Beans, a little “chili’ng” history via Wikipedia:

“In Spanish, the word “chile” refers to a chile pepper and “carne” means meat. The first documented recipe for “chile con carne” is dated September 2, 1519. The ingredients were boiled tomatoes, salt, chiles and meat. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, one of Hernan Cortez’s Captains and the source of the recipe, states in his book, that the Cholulan Indians, allied with the Aztecs, were so confident of victory in a battle against the Conquistadors the following day that they had “already prepared cauldrons of tomatoes, salt and chiles” in anticipation of a victory feast. The one missing ingredient, the meat, was to be furnished by the Conquistadors themselves: their own flesh.” YIKES!!!

Nowadays, we are a bit more civilized and typically purchase our meat at the local butcher shop or grocery store. My only conquest is beating everyone to the 10 items or less checkout line!

Now, although I am a country girl at heart, I am certainly not The Pioneer Woman, so I do not have a professional photographer handy to film each step of my cooking process. Instead, just click on the link for the Turkey Chili Recipe on Sparkpeople.com– it is low fat, low calorie-212 per serving, and it is filling, spicy and delicious! I have made a couple of adjustments to the recipe: instead of frozen corn, I add this yummy stuff:

And I usually throw in whatever else I have in the fresh veggie bin that would benefit from a spicy bath, like mushrooms, zucchini, peppers. And if I have a little calorie “wiggle room” (that does NOT refer to my thighs), I will add some shredded low-fat cheddar cheese and a dollop of light sour cream. The best one I have ever tasted-Trader Joe’s Light Sour Cream- if you didn’t see the label you wouldn’t know it was low fat and low calorie- absolutely delish!

Now, if you happen to have a crockpot recipe- can be meat or vegan- low calorie or not, as long as it’s tasty- that you love to eat and would love to share, please send it to me @ countrydesignhome@gmail.com and I will be happy to post it for everyone!

Old Cape Cod

“If you’re fond of sand dunes, and salty air, quaint little villages, here and there, You’re sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod”- so the song goes.

We are fortunate to live only a little more than an hour’s drive away from our National Seashore, and equally as fortunate to have children who generously gifted us a weekend away at the Chatham Bars Inn. For those of you who have never ventured over the bridge to “The Cape”, Chatham is the quintessential Cape Cod town. Picture a quaint little village sitting on the ocean’s edge, cedar-clad homes and shake shingle roofs, the village lighthouse with it’s beacon lighting the way home for incoming sailors.Winter on the cape is calm and quiet, devoid of the thousands of tourists who flock there in the summer months to take advantage of miles of sandy shores and magnificent beaches. This time of year, solitude reigns, and while walking the beach with a few hardy souls, you may encounter a seagull or two, or the occasional pawprint in the sand, but this is the best time to enjoy all the beauty that the cape has to offer without fighting the crowds.

The perfect place for a weekend getaway, the Chatham Bars Inn has a long and storied history. Construction of the inn began in 1912, when wealthy Bostonian Charles Hardy purchased several parcels of waterfront land, with the intent of building a hunting lodge. Over the years, the inn has undergone additions, renovations and refurbishings, and what stands today is a spectacular historic resort with buildings scattered over 25 acres, all facing the Atlantic Seaboard.

Now this is not going to be a Hotels.com or Tripadvisor.com review, but I will tell you that the service was impeccible, the room was lovely, breakfast was delectable and the main inn was breathtakingly, simply elegant. Not lavish and overdone, our room was so “Country Pretty”- white trim, soft blue accents, heavenly plush bed and a view of the ocean. A perfect place to unwind and reconnect before heading home for another work week.

It’s A Sign

There is a scene in Sleepless in Seattle when Meg Ryan and Bill Pullman are celebrating Valentine’s Day in a New York skyscraper- remember the “Dom Deloise” champagne scene? As “Annie” is pondering their future together, she gazes out the window and is taken aback when she spots the Empire State Building slowly blinking into a thousand red lights creating a 15 story valentine heart. She breathlessly states “It’s a sign”, hands over the engagement ring and takes off to meet Sam and Jonah (and Howard ) on the top of the Empire State Building. Happily Ever After.

Signs are everywhere. Sometimes confusing. Sometimes amusing. 

They inform us, guide us to our destination and welcome us safely home.

Signs are also a harbinger of things to come: the first budding crocuses are a sure sign of spring, and the anger of a dark green sky warns of a threatening storm, a valentine’s heart the sure sign of a budding romance.

Trending right now in design, decorating with signs is a creative way to tell your story. Any home catalog or magazine you browse through, any Pinterest Board you find, any decorating websites you drool over all feature signs as a way to add colorful art to your walls while sharing something about yourself.  Signs can be artistic, nostalgic, funny or sarcastic- the possibilites are endless-but in your space, they should tell the story of you.

The signs I have scattered around my home tell my story, and trigger memories of people and places in my life. This montage is at our back door, so arriving guests can be welcomed into the chaos, enjoying the humor in our home.

The Red Sox have broken my heart for countless summers, but this sign evokes images of hot summer nights at the ballpark with a hotdog and beer, rooting on the home town team.

You can’t look anywhere without catching a glimpse of this Keep Calm and Carry On sign that was a poster produced by the British government in 1939 during the beginning of the Second World War, intended to raise the morale of the British public in the event of invasion. Now adapted into hundreds of humorous designs, Keep Calm is one of my favorites (click on the cupcake sign for some of my other favorites on Pinterest), and serves as a daily reminder that when my crazy life gets a bit out of control to just stop, take a deep breath, then keep moving forward.  I think its a sign.

Country Design Home Unplugged

I know what you were thinking, that you were going to be treated to some soft, acoustic country music while you read my latest blog. Yeah….no. Today’s topic: how to unplug your toilet. When you live in a house built in 1857 (Click here for quick History 101), there are always ongoing repair and restoration projects-old wood, old wires and old pipes make for a constant drain on the pocketbook and the patience. Recently we have noticed that our toilet was running very slowly, and taking two to three flushes to clear it out. Could it be due to our recent brush with a stomach bug? Not to be indelicate, but a lot of time was spent on the “throne” in the past couple of weeks- let’s just say we should’ve had stock in Charmin’.

Speaking of thrones-nice segue, huh?- while we were in Paris a couple of years ago,we were fortunate to be paired with an incredible tour guide named Thierry. He educated us about all things French while we strolled through the palace and grounds of Versailles , entertaining us with anecdotal stories about King Lous XIV & Marie Antoinette. One of everyones favorites: back in the day, toilettes were placed in plain sight of everyone, so you could do your “business” while you were doing business! The king had several highly stylized toilettes, think Kolher by Elton John- decorated as if they were “thrones”, where he perched throughout the day. Not sure if this is true or not, but it made for an enjoyable afternoon of pondering the inner plumbings of the king while visiting the city of lights.

OK, back to modern day plumbing. We tried plunging it and flushing it repeatedly, with little result. So, rather than call the plumber, I turned to the internet (thank you, Al Gore) for the solution to my dilemma. I read several articles about how to clean it out naturally, and this seemed logical, and cheap, so I gave it a shot. For complete instructions, click the toilet. Essentially, you pour a generous amount of dishwashing soap into the toilet, add a large pot of boiling water (do NOT do this with bare feet!) poured from high above the toilet, wait a minute, then flush. Rinse, repeat, if necessary-which it was. I hated wasting that big bottle of Dawn Hand Renewal infused with Oil of Olay, but I figured it was a lot cheaper than the plumber’s bill, and it made the bathroom smell amazing! And guess what-it worked!! But only for a short time, so now we are back to square one. Anyone know a good plumber I can call? I know it won’t be Joe the Plumber-remember him from the last presidential campaign? Apparently he just won the Ohio Congressional Primary- too bad he wasn’t from Flushing, NY. Now that would have been great blogging material.

The Three “R’s” – Re-Imagine, Re-Purpose, Re-Love

Like most working women, I treasure the weekends. They allow us some free time to catch our collective breath and unwind, before gearing up for the upcoming work week. Saturdays are cleaning and errand day, but Sundays are usually saved for special projects that I have set aside, typically involving crafting, sewing or home improvements. Today was a “3 R’s Project”: Re-Imagine, Re-Purpose, Re-Love. I was a DIY fanatic well before HGTV and the DIY Network came along. My mantra? “Sure, I can do that!”

Over the years, I have created extravagent wedding cakes, painted folk art, and more recently, I create and donate T-Shirt Quilts through “Threads Of Hope”– all the while working on refurbishing and restoring my 1850’s homestead. I never shy away from a project, whether its re-clapboarding the front of the house, baking a fantastic cake for a party, building a fieldstone wall, adding wainscotting to a room or crafting a quilt for an auction. I’ll try anything, with the exception of electricty. Attempted to splice some wires once with shockingly bad results. Lesson learned. I love re-using, re-cycling, re-beautifying things and giving them a new purpose.

Today I re-covered two pillows for my living room due to the “decorating domino effect”. Not sure what that means? I’ll explain. My living room is decorated in shades of blues and creams with brown accents. Recently I purchase a new rug for my dining room-red and white and gorgeous! So now the dining room rug has found a new home in the living room. Unfortunately, the transported rug is in shades of blues and reds, so exit the brown accents from the living room and enter the reds. Therefore, the brown and blue pillows needed new covers to co-ordinate-got that?

Now, dropping $50.00 for a new throw pillow is not something I am able or willing to do. My shopping is a constant struggle between want and need, and throw pillows typically don’t fall into the need column within my limited decorating budget. So, having two perfectly good down-filled pillow inserts, it was time to pull from my fabric grab-bag to re-cover them. Disclaimer: In a previous blog, Map It Out, I described my husband as a pack-rat. I want to state here that I do have my weakness when it comes to saving:fabric.

I save left-over fabric pieces, curtains, sheets, bedspreads, pretty dresses, in the event that I might need a scrap or two for a project someday. In my defense, I do a lot of quilt-making, painting and crafts, and fabric scraps are used for everything from rags to ruffles. Today, I pulled a lovely old blue Waverly Toile Valance out of my bin, and with that discarded window treatment I made two new covers for my living room throw pillows-love them! The cost? $1.78 for the covered button kit I purchased at Joanns (using a 50% coupon, of course). Had I gone shopping for those same two Waverly-covered, down-filled pillows, I would have paid upwards of $45 each, and with all due respect, they would not be nearly as pretty as the ones I created today.

So another Sunday gone, another re-purposing project completed-time to go clean up the dining room and gear up for another Monday morning. In the meantime, I can check pillows off the list of things to re-imagine, re-purpose and re-love.

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