From Russia with Love

On this week’s episode of Wanderlust Wednesday, we are off to the magnificent city of St. Petersburg, Russia, one of the stops on our Baltic Sea Princess Cruise. Touring for two days, there was so much to see, and to share, so today I will just show photos from the State Hermitage Museum.  This simple bronze sign on the building’s facade shows no indication of what awaits inside.

Begun with a collection of art from Catherine the Great, and housing over 3 million works of art and artefacts of world culture, this is one of the great museums on the planet. Oppulent cannot even begin to describe the decor- every surface glimmered in 24k gold.

Spectacular chandeliers graced every room. 

With only half a day to spend touring here, we were limited to the main building, The Winter Palace. Greeted at the entrance by these enchanting dancers, 

we kept pace with our tour guide, walking through room after impressive room, filled with velvet and gold

at breakneck speed, snapping pics along the way while she pointed out the works of famous artists and sculptors: “We’re walking, we’re walking, keep moving folks! Here are the Picassos

oh, and here is the Renoir collection (this happens to be one of my own personal favs: “Boy With A Whip”)

Would you like to see Michaelangelo’s “The Crouching Boy”

Or perhaps Leonardo Da Vinci’s Madonna and Child!?

“We’re walking, folks, please keep up!” Overwhelming is probably the best way to describe this day at the museum.

So much to see,

so little time.

At one point I believe our guide said it would actually take someone a full year to see this museum’s collection in its entirety. Certainly not going to happen in half a day! Following our whirlwind tour, we were treated to lunch at Cafe Literaturnoye, a spot frequented by the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

We were bearly able to relax with some Russian vodka before we were back onto the bus for the rest of our tour! You’ll have to tune in next week for the castles and churches of from Russia with Love. In the meantime, I think I may have some of that vodka left…time for a martini!?! Susan 

Happy 100th Blog Day!

Unbelievably, this is my 100th post on Country Design Home! What started out as a marketing class project in the spring has blossomed into an almost-daily reveal of the trials and tribulations of my DIM (Do It Myself) life. My hope is that by sharing this ongoing saga, you will be sometimes moved, sometimes inspired and mostly entertained by my crazy attempts of decorating our lives in my little red house.

So it is only fitting that today, on my 100th post day, that I continue on with the Hall of Shame saga, one of my very first writings. What started back in April as a pre-Easter project has dragged on all summer and into the fall, as I have attempted a dozen different non-toxic ways of removing 150+ years of lacquer from the railings and balusters of my front hall.

I have scrubbed and sanded them, tried several “eco-friendly” deliciously-scented stripping products that transported me to a luscious citrus grove (that could have been the fumes talking…)

but never quite did the job. So this past Sunday, determined to finish this project in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I brought out the big guns. Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher. Big yellow can. SKULL AND CROSSBONES. POISON. DANGER.

Takes off the finish, but not the original color. Perfect. Opened all the windows, got all the fans blowing. Readied the supplies.

Donned my Nitrile disposable gloves, grabbed the steel wool. Go. Within moments, the lacquer melted away, leaving the lovely patina and soft caramel color of perfectly aged wood.

Finally! So, as I am moving along the railing, scrubbing away years of lacquer and grime, I started thinking about all the hands that had gripped those railings, including those of our children, now grown and gone. Over the years, they ran up and down those stairs a million times, grabbing that railing, leaving indelible fingerprints and memories that can never be scrubbed away with a steel wool pad… Snapped back to reality when I happened to look down and notice that, along with the wood finish, the liquid appears to be eating away the tips of my disposable gloves!

Hmmm. Check the front of the glove package: “perfect for painting, stripping paint, chemical handling”. Then, the disclaimer on the back:not intended for prolonged, direct exposure to harsh chemicals. Do not use if glove is torn or punctured“. Yikes! Grabbed my industrial orange Home Depot gloves (these are great for anyone that does lots of home and gardening projects. They come in a package of 5 pairs cheap). 

Added another layer of plastic gloves under the orange ones, just to make sure I still have fingertips when I am done-did you read the can?!?Three hours later, I ran out of stripping liquid and steam. The top railings and balluster are finished and look amazing! The rest of the hall looks more like a crime scene than a DIM project…

So I go to open the front door to let in some more fresh air, and find a very sweet surprise!

“Bee”atrice, my beekeeping friend, has left me a jar of her very special home grown, freshly-harvested honey! A few months ago, I wrote about her new hobby in “The Secret Lives of Bee-Keepers“.  I am excited to give the fruits of her labor a try! In the meantime, it’s back to Home Depot for more stripper and gloves. And, a special thanks to all of you for reading my blog (over 20,000 hits!) and sharing your comments about our crazy DIM lives in those past 100 posts. As long as there are projects to complete and lives to live and moments to share, I’ll be blogging about them! Susan

Heard It Through The Grapevine

With fall here and my decor most definitely taking a rustic turn, I thought I should make a new grapevine wreath to replace the old pre-fab one I bought a few year’s back at my local craft store.  That’s right, make a new one. Because, as most people do, I have a grapevine arbor in my back yard. I know, I mean, seriously?!

Years ago we disovered the vines down behind the barn, and one summer coach decided to build an arbor to keep the grapevine off the barn. We don’t typically have grapes on the vines, which is unfortunate, since I do like a nice glass of chardonnay…

This is the perfect weather to gather up a bunch and wind them into the shape and size I would like. This is the basic how-to: You can use a pre-shaped form, but I prefer a freestyle, more natural appearance. Start by cutting a whole bunch of grapevine. Snip or pop off all the leaves, leaving the curly tendrils (the look nice and they are functional too!)

Using a thick, long vine, create a circle approximately the size that you would like the finished wreath to be.

Begin adding more vines, winding as you go, using the curly tendrils to hook each layer on the next.

Keep adding and winding until you have the size and shape you like.

The nice thing about decorating grapevine wreaths is that you can pretty much just tuck in the ends of the garland or leaves without glueing.

Adding some pumpkins and berries with my trusty glue gun keeps them secure.

I have never been adept at making bows. One of my big craft fails

But I sought a little help from my good friends at Pinterest and voila! A really cute bow!  I attached that and my  little chalkboard welcome sign with some jute, which also serves as the hanger.

Welcome Home! I hope you fall for grapevine wreaths too! (and if you need any grapevine, I happen to know an arbor you can visit- just bring the wine)  Susan

High Five for HomeGoods

So while I was taking photos of our guest bedroom for my blog,  I started looking around and realized that most of the decor in the room was purchased at HomeGoods! It was not intentional, and it was all purchased at different times over the past couple of years since my daughter moved out. Since her childhood bedroom has become my dressing room, I have decorated it with things that make me happy. Pink is my color, and I really can’t use it anywhere else in the house, so I have decorated the room inspired by this happy rug, purchased at HomeGoods.

I have slowly built a palette of black and white toile, with pink and green accents.  This vignette, with the exception of the photo of the extraordinary Jackie O (the frame yes, the photo, no) 

was all purchased at, where else, HomeGoods.

The vanity was a plain jane gray when I purchased it, so I spruced it up with some black and silver paint, and added the mirrored tile top.

The shimmery paisley ceramic garden stool gives me a great place to sit and apply my makeup.

Although the rocker was a vintage piece I painted a yummy watermelon color, the pillow and throw were HG as well.

The iron and brass daybed has been in this very spot for over 25 years, and I really don’t have the heart to paint it, scratches and all.

Everything on the bed was from HG, with the exception of the vintage doll and bear. Now by looking at this, I would image you must be thinking, “well, how often does she go there exactly?!” The perfectly honest truth is, often enough. And remember… which means it’s time for a shopping trip! Susan

The Luckiest

“And where was I before the day
That I first saw your lovely face?
Now I see it everyday
And I know
That I am, I am, I am The Luckiest”  Ben Folds

In this Year Of The Weddings, 2012, last Saturday’s nuptials were just as charming and fun as the young couple-Chris and Amy- who declared their vows before loving family and friends at a pretty little church in our hometown. Chris, who’s nickname is Lucky, was lucky enough to have found his true love, Amy- and it is clear that the same holds true for her.

Following the ceremony, we were off to the Danversport Yacht Club

for the reception, a beautiful venue on the North Shore of Boston with landscaped outdoor grounds overlooking the water.

A perfect greeting when we first entered the venue: strawberries and champagne

The centerpieces were colorful orchids floating in clear cylinders with a candle that burned all night!

The bridal party’s bouquets were a perfect complement to their deep aubergine dresses.

The first dance by the new bride and her groom. It is evident just seeing them together how perfectly meant for each other they truly are.

The sweetheart table photo cake- created by yours truly- was a surprise for the bride and groom, orchestrated by his mom and me.

Covered with black and white photos of them as children and the beautiful young couple they are today made for a fitting centerpiece.  The topper was their invitation on one side and a current photo of them on the other.

The real (scrumptious) wedding cake provided by Cakes for Occasions.  I love the We Do little love birds on the top- so cute!

The mark of a great wedding is when the dance floor is still full while the DJ is playing his last call dance.

Great wedding, great music, great family and friends, great food, and a great time was had by all. Congratulations to the luckiest couple! Susan

Beachy Bridal Bliss

This past weekend was a bridal blowout, with a fabulous wedding on Saturday and a beautiful bridal shower on Sunday. Boy, are my feet killing me from wearing heels all weekend- couldn’t wait to get back into my sneakers! The shower, held at The Rudder in Gloucester, with a view of Rocky Neck harbor, was in honor of my lovely niece Lindsey and her awesome fiance Matt,

who are being married on the island of St. John USVI at the end of November. So naturally, the shower’s decorations, all hand-crafted by the mother of the bride, her gorgeous sisters Jamie and Sarah

and her bridal party, were natural and beachy. So cute! Our takeaways were bottles of wine with specially printed labels- Eat, Drink and Be Married- LOVE THIS!!

They were wrapped in hand-made and stenciled burlap bags, tied with jute and a starfish bottle stopper.

And for the little girls, there was soda pop with special labels-colorful and cute.

The tables were decked out in white linen cloths and hand-fringed burlap runners, with stunning white arrangements of hydrangeas

and white flower bouquets surrounded by white votives.

Handpainted driftwood signs- perfect for a beach theme!

The cake. AMAZING. Delicious and gorgeous!

So after eating and drinking my way through this weekend, the reality sunk has in that in two months time, I will be on a beach in St. John. Found an amazing dress. To make it work, I need a tan and a waist. Sparkpeople here I come! Anyone care to join me?!?

The Turquoise Project. Two Months. Twenty Pounds.

Any words of wisdom, help or encouragement would be greatly appreciated. The countdown begins today. Wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted! Susan

That’s A Wrap!

Do you ever have an image in your head of a specific product, and you can’t find anything like it in a store? No? Well I do. Drives me nuts. Don’t know why I just can’t be like everyone else and do things the easy way!  In preparing to wrap a gift for a bridal shower today, I knew I wanted to go with an old-fashioned look for the package. I tried to find wrapping paper that would fit the bill, but nothing even came close to the look I was going for. Since I couldn’t find the right paper, with little time to spare, I decided to create my own.  Quick, cheap and easy. (I’m sure there is a joke in there somewhere…) Grabbed a roll of kraft paper (made from 100% recycled materials-yay!) 


a pre-cut stencil

and some brown acrylic paint.

Rolled out and cut the right amount of paper to cover the gift. Placing the stencil in a repeat pattern all over the paper, I applied the paint with a piece of sponge, with a light touch because I wanted a more faded, aged look.

Once complete, I allowed it to dry- almost instantly- then wrapped the package. For the ribbon I used some jute.

And created the bow with a touch of blue hemp, because the bride-to-be really likes that color combo.

For the tag, I made a little chalkboard sign that she can re-use. (Instructions to follow soon…)

Finished! A gift with my own personal stamp. (Sorry, not a great pic, but you get the idea, right?)

This was a weekend jam-packed with family and friends and loads of fun, with a wedding and a wedding shower on the calendar. Whew! Hope you had a fun weekend too! Monday, Monday… Susan 

My Desktop Cookbook

Can you believe it’s Friday already?!! The summer flew by, and we are well into fall and then (dread) winter. With the holidays fast approaching, my thoughts are already turning to yummy delicious recipes that I’ll be serving for dinners and parties. Over the years, I have accumulated stacks of cookbooks and printed recipes, some well-loved and worn, most of which now sit idly in my kitchen cupboard.

Although I still enjoy thumbing through hard copies for inspiration, when I need a favorite recipe at my fingertips, I turn to my Desktop Cookbook 

on my Ipad, this week’s High Five For Friday! Feature.

This FREE! app allows me to search for, save, share and print recipes, my own best-loved, and the millions more being added from every cooking source imaginable. Once you download or input a recipe, you save it into a category along with any additional information including the recipe’s origin, how many it feeds, the best wine pairing.

So, so many times I have stopped at the grocery to grab a couple of ingredients for a recipe, without, of course, a shopping list in hand. I just open the app on my phone, look up the recipe and go. Or, I bring a goodie to work (hello, cookie swap!) and everyone asks for the recipe. Just open up the online cookbook and print the requested recipe. A second High Five goes to the Chef Sleeve. The sleeve is a sheer plastic sheet that slides over my Ipad to keep my greasy fingers and messy splatters off the screen, while allowing full touch screen control. Cooking session ended, sleeve tossed, sparkling Ipad. Brilliant! Now, since I do have my cookbook open, I figured I would share one of my favorite fall recipes: Apple-icious Streusal Cake. This cake is so moist and absolutely delicious, is a perfect dessert with ice cream or a treat with my morning coffee. You can use any type of apples- how many bushels have you picked so far this fall?! Just make sure you peel ’em!

I guarantee this cake will become a family favorite! If you have any questions about the recipe, you know where to find me- in the kitchen, on my Ipad, gathering recipes for the holidays. Unless I am out shopping for shoes for the next fabulous wedding we are attending this weekend. Blog to follow.  Susan

Sweet Switzerland

On this week’s episode of Wanderlust Wednesday:

A couple of summers ago, when Coach and I were headed to Italy for a family vacation, we decided to take the “long way” and fly to Amsterdam, followed by a train trip to Zurich

and then another train ride through the Alps to Milan, Italy.

Coach and I are often the topic of our friends’ travel jokes, as many of our trips are truly on planes, trains and automobiles and well, boats. The plus side? You use frequent flyer miles so it’s cheap and you get to see more stuff.  The down side? A quick trip across the pond can turn into a mecca. C’est La Vie.  Sometimes you just have to sit back and enjoy the view.

The movie Heidi, starring Shirley Temple, was a favorite when I was young, and Switzerland was definitely on our bucket list, so a stop there made perfect sense. And so, although we only stayed one day and night, we had a chance to tour the beautiful city of Zurich. The city streets were lined with colorful buildings,

Swiss flags in full display

and even an occasional cow on a condo balcony. (I have no explanation for this)

Zurich is a city that is, in reality, as breathtaking as the postcards and travel posters would have you believe. 

Our hotel, the Schweizerhof, was situated directly across from the train station, which made for easy transport of our luggage. Oh, wait, that’s right, the airline LOST our luggage in Amsterdam, so we arrived with only carryon bags in tow. I spent the entire day fretting about how I was going to have to go shopping to replace everything I had packed for our Tuscan vacation. Do you have any idea how expensive Switzerland is?!?So while I obsessed, we strolled through the city, from our lovely hotel at one end, to stunning Lake Zurich at the other. The shopping and tourist district flanks both sides of the Limmat River that flows through the center of Zurich.  

Coach and I stopped for lunch at the outdoor Cafe Odeon. Apparently many famous personalities have graced the patios of this eating establishment, including Albert Einstein, James Joyce and Mussolini (I guess that explains the great train system). I am going to assume that most were smart enough not to order this gigantic Bagel Bacon Cheeseburger that Coach did. Gross.

When I think Swiss, I think of two things: watches

and of course, Swiss chocolate. Seriously!?! Have you ever seen a more exquisite candy storefront than this?

Rows upon rows of chocolate-dipped fruits and cookies enticed shoppers to come in for a tasty sampling.

As the day turned to dusk, the buildings along the river glowed in the evening sunset.

Coach and I retreated to our hotel, only to discover that our luggage had not yet been found. Until 2AM. Knock on the door. Luggage outside. Yay! In the morning we took our trains to Florence, Italy, where we picked up our car to head to San Giminano. All of a sudden, Coach reaches into the pocket of his shorts and pulls out this GIANT 3# metal key fob from our Zurich Hotel!! Room 522. Yikes!

A great (unintended) souvenir of our stay in sweet Switzerland. If anyone is heading to Zurich, let me know. I’ll give you the key to return it. In the meantime, always remember to find joy in your journey, no matter how long it may take. Susan

“Fall”ing for Vintage Flair

Taking advantage of another gorgeous fall Sunday, Coach and I headed back to the Vintage Bazaar at Pettengill Farm in Salisbury, Mass. If you recall, we visited back in the spring, and instantly fell for the vibe of this rustic country bazaar. If you love re-furbished antiques and junque, like these adorable re-purposed suitcases from Yellow Chair Market  from Melrose, Ma.

or this stunningly colorful repurposed silver-turned-enamelware by BMc Vintage Design Studio)

or just taking in a quintessentially New England fall fair, this is a go-to destination! I love the sights and sounds of a fall country fair featuring live music, local foods and hundreds of shoppers happily strolling though the fields filled with imaginative offerings. Where else could you find life-sized pumpkin people

or perfectly pretty hand-crafted ceramic teacups and plates from Elizabeth Benotti

and funky furniture from her sister from My Simple Home Life who Renovates, Revamps and Remakes castoffs?

We discovered unique shelving and benches created from old wooden palettes,

all-natural, deliciously flavored goat milk soap from Magic Moon Soapworks (great for the complexion, I am told)

and spectacular re-purposed glass flowers spilling out of a garden pot from Creative Glass Works?  Creative Glass Works BostonOn our previous visit, we had discovered the work of Jess from Jwrobel, an artisan who re-cycles time-worn pieces into new treasures. Loving this bench re-purposed from an old headboard.  

The folks from a new vintage shop in Newburyport called Ivy Lane

were introducing an eco-friendly line of yummy paints and waxes from CeCe Caldwell. Even the quart containers are bio-degradable! Can’t wait to try these on my next D.I.M. project!

This time around, the fair was sharing their grounds with a vintage motorcyle show. This sparkling aqua Harley-Davidson was a show-stopper.

Can you imagine me out and about on this so pretty pink Vespa?!?

The vendor was trying desperately to entice me to purchase one (for a mere $4,000!), and I was strangely drawn to this PINK bike, until she mentioned the hot pink matching helmet. Yeah, my hair and helmets, not so much. Just a bad hair day waiting to happen. Move on.

Pettengill Farm, “a flower farm of distinction” that hosts this bi-annual vintage bazaar is a charming family-owned endeavor, with just the right touches of vintage and modern scattered throughout the property. These “cat shovels” were cute (I cheer whenever I see something that may have ended in a land-fill being repurposed into something fun and decorative) This recycled ostrich sculpture is fun- I think he would have looked great in Coach’s garden!

Kept spotting these peacefully charming fish sculptures scattered throughout the gardens

so I floated on over to “Fish in the Garden“. These life-like creatures are created from ceramic and stainless steel, and they curve in a way that mimics a school of fish. Lovely. Peaceful.

Along the way we ran into some local friends who had read my previous June blog about the Vintage Bazaar and decided to check out the fair for themselves. They were having a great time, with grandchildren in tow wearing crazy balloon animal hats. Happy to discover that my blog is reaching and informing my readers, and that helps to reinforce the small part I play in the blogging world. Have a terrific Tuesday everyone! Susan

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