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Monday, September 28, 2015

The Busy Season -- Looking Ahead to October!

Every month I receive a handful of magazines I enjoy and see even more on the store racks that pique my interest. I'm always eager to see what is in store for the given month -- new ideas for decorating and entertaining in particular. But by the time the magazine arrives, I often realize that I just don't have the time to implement all the fun things I noticed.


Holiday Issues are the classic example. You' find wonderful craft ideas, entertaining menus and tablescapes, delicious recipes, terrific gift and decorating ideas. And if you can master any of those after December 1, you are a far better person than I am! By December 1, my house better be decorated, gifts under control and parties planned if I'm going to pull it off with the other activities or travel that may happen that month.

Now, I don't advocate over-pushing the season. Believe me, I don't want to see an overabundance of Christmas before Halloween. But thinking and planning ahead may help alleviate some of the stress that comes with the Busy Season.


So, beginning this month on the Marmelade Gypsy,  I'm going to feature a "Look Ahead" around the middle of the month. I may (or may not) include some ideas you can implement, but more likely, it will include things to think about so you can get your plans in order well ahead of the rush.


Believe me, I know that so many of you are so filled with ideas, I'm quite certain I might be restating the obvious! Hopefully you'll be reminded of something that works, learn something new or share some of your favorite tricks in the comments!

Let's start with October -- harvest, Halloween and fall!

Halloween 

This is a big one, especially if you have little ones. If you have more self control that I do, thinking about buying your candy now. If you live in Goblinland, you will soon have witches, princesses and oversized bumblebees and ladybugs ringing your bell! Yes, you may find good deals leading into the holiday. But you may also find them now. Even if the price is the same, you won't have to worry about getting the leftovers (the necco wafers that may bring tricks!).

Pat's easy "Phantom" pumpkin. Simply carve out and make your mask with acrylic paint. An LED or battery light inside keeps it safe.

Consider ordering online if you prefer. (And if you are like me and hide the candy after you buy it well ahead of time, leave yourself a note on your calendar or something you are likely to see as to where you put it. Otherwise, you may have lots of mini-bars in the Christmas stockings -- which isn't a bad idea, either. (In fact, if you have a good deal of self-control, the after-Halloween sale is a great time to stock up on sweet stocking stuffers.)


I'd be remiss in not also suggesting non-candy giveaways if you can find the right thing. Stickers, pencils, silly toys are all good ideas. Web sites like Oriental Trading Company often have bulk buys. And I know -- some of that stuff is tacky but to an eight-year-old kid, it's kind of cute. (And do you really care what the teenaged boys dressed as something creepy really think about your treat? Only if you're in a "tricky" neighborhood!)

Inexpensive, no-sweat centerpiece: Creepy skulls from the Dollar Store enshrined in a glass bowl (or cloche -- even better!)

There are lots of good online sources for Halloween party planning, including plenty of recipes for creepy centerpieces (olive eyeballs sitting in greasy water). Google "haunted house" or "creepy decorating." If you're thinking of a Halloween gig for your kids, check Pinterest or get your ideas now because making shrunken heads out of beets takes time. (That's a Martha idea.  I did this once. They are very creepy but I didn't make the cloak -- I just stuck them in plants. Sewing crepe paper cloaks for beets just was too over the top for me.)

Fall Decorating 


I know a lot of you bloggers are already into this. If you haven't started, it's time! Take a look at what you have and decide if you still really want to use it and where. (If you don't, Goodwill will love it. Or, dissemble pieces and use them in your crafty projects.)


Remember the power of gourds! Picking up a bag at the grocery (or selecting your favorites from a bin) can offer instant decorating. Put them in a bowl or basket, add a bit of sparkle (if you like) and you are good to go!

 
Don't forget lighting! Why save those holiday lights just for Christmas? The tiny ones can make for an eerie and lovely focal point or gently brighten up a dark corner. (And bonus points -- they're already untangled when it comes time to decorate the tree!)

 

Mums are plentiful at this time of year and they are lovely inside or out. Check around for the best deals. You may be able to find lovely plants with lots of buds that will get you through the season. (And if you have garden space, don't forget to plant the hardy mums -- one less decorating task for next year!) Silks might work better for set-em-and-forget-em areas. There are some lovely ones out there at reasonable prices. (You might pay a bit more but find somewhat better quality in floral shops as opposed to craft stores) Mix and match them with your favorite gourds or pumpkins.


And of course, your pumpkins stand a good chance of lasting through Thanksgiving, depending on your climate.

Now is the time to pull out those cozy quilts and use them! Drape them over the back of a chair or (if you have neat eaters) use as a pretty table cover. (I love that concept but I don't have the nerve to eat on my antique quilts. Too much pasta in this house...) There's a cozy, homey feel that comes with sharing -- and using -- your quilts that goes beyond having them neatly folded on your quilt rack!


You can do my favorite pre-Christmas trick with your fall things as well. Bring what you can -- wreaths, certain decorative pieces, small boxes -- up to the guest room or another non-trafficked space -- whenever you come upstairs from laundry or litter boxing. When the time comes to put it up, it's close at hand. (This only works if you aren't expecting guests!)

Entertaining

Don't you love the party and entertaining ideas you see in magazines? I do! So, think about the kind of fall gathering you might want to have now and get "ready" for it. Are you planning a fun tailgate for homecoming? Maybe a soup-and-salad dinner or a harvest feast. Maybe it's a Halloween party -- for adults or kids, complete with pumpkin carving and costumes.

Invitations. I know evites are all the rage and certainly less expensive. Sometimes it's the only way to go. But if you are like me, you appreciate an invitation in the mail and if you are a crafty type like me (and believe me, I know not everyone is!) it's kind of fun! You can find many templates online that are computer-ready -- just fill in your info. If you have storage space, check out invites after the holiday (this is especially good after Christmas) and get them on sale. Consider photo sites where you can drop in favorite photos or information. Or start making them when you get the idea! Craft stores are filled with blank card templates. Cull through your fall images and paper stash, mix and match. Making your own isn't everyone's thing -- but it can be fun and memorable!

Shop Early. Shop for color-related things early, while you have the best selection. If you're going the paper plate route for a tailgate, consider the dollar stores, which have a fairly good selection of seasonal items and often have your team colors. Party stores carry the color themes to a greater degree. Get enough, which means more than enough. Trust me, if you're buying paper plates, you'll find tons of good ways to use the extras!) And don't forget extra plastic forks, especially if you're serving a forky dessert. Check the dollar store for those, too.

Think Ahead. Consider items you might be able to use later during the fall season. You might find a great platter that will be put into service for Thanksgiving, too. (Again, don't discount your dollar store or discount decorating stores.) I always get extra red paper plates at Christmas -- Valentine's Day is just around the corner.

There are lots of great pumpkin soup recipes online. Don't forget to add your own touches -- apple or cranberries, a favorite spice. A low centerpiece of gourds, creepy candlesticks and seasonal placemats make for an easy table setting.

The Grocery Connection. Pick up non-perishable or frozen items at the store while they are on sale, even if your gig is a few weeks away. (I'm doing this for Christmas baking now when I see good deals on butter, nuts, chocolate and staples). Canned pumpkin often goes on sale -- an orange pumpkin soup for Halloween, your pies or pumpkin rolls in November. If you're tight on cupboard space in the kitchen, get a plastic tub with a lid (it can even be an under-the-bed box) and store it there -- well, not the butter!)


The Food Plan. Get your food plan in order long before your event. Again, this allows you to shop sales and possibly bake or at least prep food ahead. Check out new recipes while you're watching telly or find some of the old favorites. Did you collect those recipe books to sit on your shelves?

Keep it simple, keep it low! Wooden tones and raffia make this centerpiece one that will disappear in no time!

Don't Overcomplicate! Remember, don't over complicate things! There are lots of wonderful tablescapes with many details that are prize-winning in every way. I see a lot of them online and I love them! But if you don't have the space, the time or a large enough table to accommodate a table fit for Downton Abbey's biggest party, don't worry! A simple centerpiece (keep it low, please!) with seasonal flowers, an arrangement of gourds in a basket or even a festive fall piece from your decorating stash may be all you need to set the mood. Add the right placemats or tablecloth and you are good to go!

Party Favors.  If you are a party favor person (and I am), here are a couple of ideas for inexpensive take-aways for your guests. Of course it depends on the size of your group but for a gathering of fourteen to sixteen people try one of these harvest ideas.

For the crafty, another easy party favor: Using gourds, jack-be-littles or small pumpkins, highlight with a gold glaze (I used USArtQuest) Tie on autumn flowers, leaves, raffia, moss. You can use them as a centerpiece or have by the door for guests to take when they leave. Time per pumpkin -- five minutes painting; five minutes embellishing (max) after brief dry time.)

Package mini-loaves of homemade pumpkin bread, fall cookies or your favorite savory in the decorative paper bread pans that you can find at stores like Michael's, Home Goods or T.J. Maxx (and I'm sure others -- those are all in my neighborhood). Just cover with plastic wrap and tie up with a fall ribbon. Leave them in a basket by your door so it's easy to remember to take along when your guests leave.

Or, you can take inexpensive (think Dollar Store) vases, tie with raffia and fill with fall flowers. These can be part of the table setting (including name cards, if you like) and a pretty takeaway.

We were all happy to take away the Cork Poppers favor Barb created. Glueing corks to an inexpensive base, she topped each off with a single rose, some raffia and our place cards.

OR, go slacker-simple. Pick up two or three bouquets of fall-themed flowers (and yes, you can get these at the grocery store, which quite often has respectable flowers). Put them in a tall vase near your entry -- a lovely greeting arrangement. As your guests leave, let each guest take home a flower or two from the arrangement.

And did I mention that most of this can be done ahead of time? Bread or cookies baked next week and frozen. Vases (little glass spice jars are cute for this, too) can be collected at any time. Looks for sales and coupons. The flowers at the door? Get those fresh!


The point is, we are entering the Busy Season. Families with children will have all the school activities pulling at their time. Even if you don't do much with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah tend to be major events and they come back to back. Holiday travel may be a part of your plans. There will be holiday gatherings with friends and offices.

And we want to enjoy it.

A clever pumpkin "sculpture" from the 2010 Ghoultide Gathering (artist unknown)

I know I'll still get stressed this season. But if I can take my own advice, I can count on it being a little easier.

Look for November's look-ahead in mid-October!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

September at the Lake -- A Change in the Air

I recently read an article in the New York Times in which the writer spoke of the departure of the summer people from the Hamptons and how the environment changes. While my small, two bedroom cottage is nothing like the Hamptons homes I see on television, I have to admit that the same thing happens at the lake.

 

I was there this past weekend for a couple of days, heading north so not to miss my cousin Mark and his wife who were having a last northern weekend of the season. It was clear that being at the lake in mid-September and being there before Labor Day have little in common. While the trees are still mostly a bright green, there is little doubt that autumn is here.


During my summer walks, I am likely to encounter at least a dozen people, sometimes more, who are walking, jogging, biking, airing their dogs. During my two walks on this weekend, I saw only one person each day, one being walked by his two dogs, the other in full control of his canine.


I notice things that are more likely to get drowned out in the summer clutter when I walk in the fall. I can hear my footsteps on the pavement, birdsong from five or six different kinds of birds, distant highway noise, the sounds of the leaves as a gentle breeze rustles them, the faraway bark of a dog. All these sounds are muffled in the summer, eclipsed by road traffic, playing children, beach music, motor boats and jet skis. I notice the morning light on birch trees and hear the numerous acorns that drop at my feet as I walk along.


The lake is quiet. Rather than the usual parade of power boats and jet skis, I hear the gulls as they fly overhead and the ducks as they approach the shore. The odd fishing boat makes a gentle putt-putt sound and yes, I can hear the splash of the fishing lure as it hits the water.



The crowds in town are lighter. We had no need to wait in line for a breakfast table on Saturday morning at a popular restaurant. There were plenty of tables to be found. My few forays into stores found me next in line each time.


A road trip to a larger lake a bit north brought a walk on the docks of a marina.

 

Many boats had been pulled from the water. Others were still docked but there were few people at this usually bustling spot on a crystal clear, blue-sky day.


The only spots of autumn's reds and golds were the brightly colored skeins in the shop at the fiber mill.


And no, I couldn't resist.


A walk down the beach reveals docks and boat hoists pulled high into the sand. Cottages that only a few weeks ago were bustling with children and summer people have yard chairs stacked outside by their garages and power boats covered with tarps in their back yards. They will probably return again, as we will, to button things down for the winter.


When we aren't rushing to make the most of our summer we have time to have a leisurely conversation. My "Lady of the Lake," Fran, shared reflections on her recent 98th birthday and I chatted with my cousin's next door neighbor, Phil, as he helped me try to piece together the "Who lived here way back then" of his family.


There are no campfires now, no spots of flame on the beach after the sun has gone done. But it's clear that more than one cottage is being warmed with a fire inside. Meanwhile, the pitch black night skies with hundreds of thousands of stars sparkling above evolve into a mass of giant cotton balls against a blue velvet sky when the morning fog clears.


The light has changed, too. The sun rises later and sets earlier, the days of 10:30 p.m. dusks being a memory of July. I look out in the morning where a foggy mist rests on the lake for a few hours, then revealing a beautiful sun, a rich blue sky and hundreds of thousands of sparkles reflected on the lake.


And the sunsets are glorious.


The sun appears to be setting a bit more to the south. This weekend, as a special gift, I spotted a sun dog, it's prism reflection sparkling on the water.


A sun dog is a "false sun." They are an atmospheric phenomenon consisting of a pair of bright spots on either side on the Sun (that's Wikipedia talking and believe me, the article is fascinating.) They are extremely unusual in our parts and there was just enough cloud cover that one could nearly miss this one. Fortunately, its prism-like reflection on the water was a give-away clue.

                     

As the sun gently slipped lower in the sky, ducking quietly behind the clouds, one couldn't help but look at the sky in awe.


How many more times will I see this magnificent sight this year? Who can say? I just know that this quiet time is a time I cherish, the sunset a gift.


The winter is only a month or two away. But this day I am warm and peaceful. And very happy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Back on Track

Well, now that September is here, I feel somewhat compelled to get back on track -- whatever that means! I've been spending time at the lake, trying to wring the last bits of glorious summer out of the sky and I was wringing so hard it started to shed tears! Two days of dark skies and rain!

Just before the storm
No power loss this time, but it was pretty dramatic. I felt especially bad because Rick was on his bike ride at the time and camping along with it.


Since blogging wasn't much of an option (I think I'm finally pretty well caught up!), I found myself digging into books (the new Maisie Dobbs, "The Girl on the Train," a Ruth Rendell that was more than creepy, Martin Fletcher's "The List" and Marie Kondo's tidying tirade. I may have to do a post on that one but as my northern neighbor noted, I get too agitated when I talk about it! So, I need to calm down.)

                         

I also got a few art bits done. Some new Christmas boxes for our November sale...

                                

...and some pieces using bits of the sea.


     

I finished up three mini-canvases and one I won't even show because I hate it so much!


A slew of tags are finished except for adding their ribbons, which were at home.


And, I carved my next linoleum block in anticipation of the winter holidays!


Much of this time I was by myself but on the Sunday before Labor Day I did go to Mackinaw City to pick up Rick from his four-day, 400-mile bike ride.They don't look too bad after 400 miles over four days, do they?  It was good to see him and his gang, all in one piece!


And what do you think of the ride's jersey this year? It was designed by my friend and gouache guru, Barbara Hranilovich. I wish Rick had bought one!


Of course, there were some decorating projects -- chalk painting this desk, to be specific. Everyone needs an assistant. I wouldn't recommend this one. My friend Claudia calls her the "Snoopervisor." I think I have all the paint out of her hair, though she hated it when it was digging it out of her ear flaps! There was a bit more art-type painting while I was away, too. I did this postcard of the cottage to add to some I was sending out. Rick says it isn't quite right and he's correct -- but it's close.


Trips to the lake won't end this week of course! September and October are beautiful months there. But life picks up down here, too, so the stays will probably be a little shorter. And while I'll love the color season, it brings with it colder days and nights!


But now that I'm home, it's more Goodwill hunting (I cleaned the sock cupboard yesterday, so Marie motivated something; onto the closet floor next!), catching some movies ("Clouds of Sils Maria" and "Testament of Youth" are finally coming!).and cutting back the garden. Theatre board meetings have started and I'll finally be in one place long enough to catch up with friends. And really, isn't that the best?

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