Spring Stylings for the Mantel

I know you are anxiously awaiting the results of the Hall of Shame project, but that is still ongoing, and clearly will take longer than I first anticipated. In the meantime, I thought I would share some other design changes happening in my Little Red House.

The family room was in desperate need of a spring overhaul.  Added a creamy slipcover to the sofa, a new tribal rug for the floor, changed out the curtains and added a fresh spring face to the focal point of the room- the fireplace mantel. 

I find fireplace mantels, in general, to be a tricky design challenge. Whether you are using your mantel to display your prized posessions

or using mirrors for drama

or to stylishly decorate a flat-screen TVt

or to warm up an outdoor space-wow!!!

the scale has to be correct (2-story rooms require LARGE design!!and the overall effect should reflect the room decor

So I did some online shopping on Houzz.com and Pinterest to see how other folks are decorating their focal points. I found some eclectic and amazing ideas, including using mantels as headboards and barn doors to hide TV’s

If you need more ideas, or just some Mantel Inspiration, click here. Time to start sanding again… Susan

Sleep is Overrated…

Sleep eludes me tonight. The full moon, the wine with dinner? Perhaps. But since 3am I have been wide awake and thinking about all the things on my Easter “to-do” list (see Hall of Shame #5) that are still not done.

The hall is a mess, to put it bluntly. Since my last post, sanding the bannister has been an ongoing and endless grind. Won’t be done by Sunday. C’est La Vie. One of the things I love most about my family is that there are no pretenses. If they arrive on Sunday to a wall with taped up paint chips and wallpaper, the reaction will be “hey, doing another project, huh? Are there margaritas?”So no worries there.

Since sleeping was no longer an option, getting to work seemed the next best thing. So I did a load of laundry, added a slipcover to the sofa and re-hung some curtain panels in the family room. Time to lighten and freshen the family room decor for spring! Painted the first coat of Linen White to a mirror I am re-purposing. Emptied and filled the dishwasher and defrosted the turkey I will be roasting in the morning (I guess that means now). Filled the candy dishes with pastelly eggs and peanut butter cups. Is there anything prettier than Easter Candy?!

Sunday’s Easter celebration will be an open house buffet, so started looking at Pinterest to get some decorating ideas. Stunning! Too bad I don’t have a long white antique table. Or crystal chandeliers. Or lilacs. But I do have a stepladder I could prop.Who wouldn’t want a bunny bread belly filled with dip?

Rest assured that I will not be making brussel sprout trees.

Wish I had thought of this before. Perhaps it’s time for another  trip to Iparty! I wonder what time they open…

The Hall of Shame Updated!

Since I wrote my last blog “The Hall of Shame” on Sunday, I vowed to focus my energies on my current project, hoping to have it completed by Easter Sunday. Soooo, that hasn’t happened. While working on this project was my top priority, I also had to work, take Daisy to the vet,

walk the lake, make repeated trips to the paint store, Home Depot, the bank, HomeGoods, blah, blah blah. So here it is Wednesday, and although the progress is intermittent and the pace is slow, things are coming along. Of my to-do list that I posted, the accomplishments thus far are:

1. “Make a Menu” Done. Menu created for Easter dinner, shopping list made, email invites sent. Casual attire, bunny ears optional.

2. “Re-paint and wallpaper something” I began the wallpaper stripping, the puttying, the sanding and general prep work to complete the transformation successfully. Can I tell you how much I hate prep work!?! The walls below the chair rail were covered in wallpaper- 3 layers deep, my doing, that I decided to remove to start with a clean slate. Using my handy Wagner 905 Power Steamer made this job a bit easier. It’s an all-purpose steamer that I use everywhere in my house to clean and sterilize without any chemicals! Along with a spray bottle filled with Vinegar, Dove dish soap and hot water, the stripping took approximately 4 exhausting hours. Puttyed and sanded all the holes, dings and scrapes. I typically use these sanding sponges because they fit into small corners and cracks, and you can rinse and re-use them. And this is the putty-Drydex. It is creamy pink before you apply it and turns white when dry. And I love pink!

And then came the bannister and railing. Curvy and dark, very beautiful, with 150 year old varnish that is virtually impossible to remove. The remaining progress has come to a screeching halt as I work my way slowly up the railing. I may hand everyone a sanding sponge on Sunday- do you think they will work for Peeps?

3. “Clean out and mulch the garden”  (No, this isn’t my garden, it’s Monet’s in Giverny, France. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Ok, well I hired someone to do the front part. He only did half and hasn’t come back to finish. Not gonna name names, yet. During the great stretch of weather we had a couple of weeks ago, I started raking down in the “back 40”.  Kept looking at the white picket fence and thought that it needed a nice new coat of paint. So I started painting that, and then I ran out of paint. Where’s Tom Sawyer when you need him? So I haven’t finished raking. Or mulching. Or painting.

4. “Wash all the windows” Haven’t finished yet, but I did make a great head start using this crazy “As Seen On TV” “Streak-Less Microfiber Cloth” that someone just gave me! You wet it and wipe the windows-no cleaners required and guaranteed not to streak! Guess what?!? It works!!! It only takes seconds to wipe each window, even the one’s with Daisy’s nose prints all over them. When the cloth gets dirty you wash it and keep using it. Crazy stuff. Too bad it won’t remove varnish from the railings…

5. “Buy a Ham” Hubby does the shopping. It’s on the list. He just asked me what size ham- the size of a football or a basketball? 

So there’s the update. I have four days left. Wish me luck.

The Hall of Shame

With Easter coming up next week, it’s time to make my “to-do” list, since we will be hosting the family celebration at our home. Typically, prior to most holidays, my lists look something like this:

1. Make a menu (this one’s not mine, but it looks good!)

2. Re-paint and wallpaper “something”- in this case, the front hall.

3. Clean out and mulch the garden. 4. Wash all the windows.

4. Buy a ham.

5. The night before- prepare the side dishes and desserts, clean the house, set the table, create some fabulous decorations for the holiday.

For some reason, it never occurs to me to NOT do a full-on reno project right before a holiday. So many times, with the deadline looming, the projects are not fully completed, or don’t get done properly. New wallpaper slapped over older wallpaper that never gets stripped, paint only gets one coat, the surfaces not properly prepped and sanded.

On several episodes of Modern Family, Phil Dunphy makes a mad dash up his stairs, tripping halfway up on a loose stair tread. As he mutters “I’ve got to fix that thing”, I think of our front hall. We use it 100 times a day, but at some point, we just stopped seeing it- the scraped walls, the torn wallpaper, the threadbare carpet.

Our “Hall of Shame” is like poor, overworked Cinderella. With some loving care and a glass slipper, it could be the Belle of the Ball, but right now it is the ugly stepsister. It was updated back in the 80’s, with cherry burgundy carpeting that is now thread-bare and worn from years of kids’ cleats and muddy paws. The floor is stick-on faux marble black and white check, with most of the ends curling up. The wallpaper has been changed a couple of times, but always with a nod to the horrible carpet. The bannister and railings? Well, they have been sanded and sanded and stripped and sanded some more, but never completed. I spent one whole summer stripping the paint off of the stair treads, only to find that that the wood was so worn, I went ahead and repainted them. BIG mistake!

So this time I started a week early-lol! But this time I am going to take my time and do it right, from the ceiling to the floor, both upstairs and down. I am creating my “mood board”, choosing my colors thoughtfully and adding the accessories carefully. As this week goes on, I will keep you updated on my progress. And if it is not done by Easter Sunday, so be it.

Hopefully, for my guests it will conjur up lovely images of faraway rustic Italy. I will just pour some wine, carve the ham and no one will even notice my latest work in progress. It’s gonna be a long week…

Happy Renovating! Susan

Would you like an App to start?

Would you like an App to finally start managing your photos on your Ipad? To anyone who owns an Ipad, you know how frustrating it can be to sort and store your photos. Whether you are downloading shots from your Iphone or content from websites like Pinterest, the pics just get added to file names like Last Import and Saved Photos. Not very helpful when you are trying to present a slideshow of your portfolio to a client, or just looking at travel photos and dreaming of your next faraway adventure.

Not sure why Apple didn’t think that people would want to name and sort their pics on their Ipad, because it is such a great port for showing off your photograpic genious.

I just found an amazing $2.99 App: The Photo Manager Pro by Linkus. This app allows you to sort your photos and create photo albums in multiple category file folders.  It also allows you to share and sequence your pics, name or rename them and add captions to them as well. Once completed, you can view them individually or with a slideshow presentation with music you choose from your Itunes!

Once sorted, you are also able to transfer what youare doing to and from your computer, assuming you are using the same WIFI for both. It is so user-friendly, and takes little time to sort all of your existing photos into albums. Of course, if you want to name and caption all 915 shots you took in Scandanavia & Russia, that takes time!

For all of the technical information that you may need to decide if this is the app for you, click on this link to Photo Focus that gives Photo Manager Pro a great review!

Happy Picture Taking! Susan

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.



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!

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