December 19, 2018:


I can't believe we're less than a week away from Christmas and I haven't yet really decorated the kitchen and dinette! I've got the small cardinal tree up on the peninsula counter and my Christmas cards are shaped in the form of a Christmas tree and taped to a wall by the dining table; I put up my colorful teal floral curtains with lots of gold and red, my cardinal prints and added a red tablecloth to the dining table, but that's it! Enough, I suppose.

The tree is done! It seemed to take forever this year to decorate but I am loving the result. It looks like the kind of mish-mash everything on it but the kitchen sink kind of tree I remember from my childhood. The only thing missing is the bubble lights, but I'm too frugal to buy them!

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and that the dreaded Polar Vortex stays away!


Sunday, January 6, 2019

A New Year and a New Christmas Tree for 2019

Hola everyone and Happy New Year!  May all of us have a wonderful healthy and prosperous New Year.

I swear, this has to be the earliest I have ever had my tree down after Christmas, wowsers!  I started deconstructing it on January 2nd and took off all of the decorations over 2 days, just dawdling along.  Isn't it amazing how quickly you can strip a tree down, when it takes so long to dress it?

Today, after sitting there naked for several days (the white sheers are once again closed so the tree's modesty is preserved), the tree itself came down. 

Classic Fraser Fir from Tree Classics (online vendor).

I have been hemming and hawing this season over whether to buy a new artificial Christmas tree.  After experiencing a couple more rows of lights dying on my 6.5' 10-11 year old pre-lit tree, and then running out to try and find "warm white" lights to thread into an already decorated tree so I wouldn't have huge dark spots at the top, middle and bottom of the tree (yes - it's ridiculous - all of a sudden most of the original lights decided to just go out this year, all at different times!), I decided maybe it's time (1) to get a new tree and (2) downsize to a smaller tree.

The idea of a smaller tree has been kicking around in my head for some time.  After struggling this year to haul the old artificial tree up the basement stairs, smaller and lighter has become very appealing.  My buddy Ann mentioned a few years ago that she downsized to a table top tree.  I'm not as strong as I used to be but I figured a shorter, lighter tree (not pre-lit!) that I can place on a stand about 12" tall and then cover the tree base plus stand would work very well in front of my large picture window, and will be easier to get up and down the basement stairs.

I'd heard of Balsam Hill and looked at their trees online.  Gorgeous - and very very expensive!  Too expensive for my budget even on sale.  But most (maybe all) of their trees are formed using PE (not PVC) in injection molds that result in very soft, flexible and extremely realistic needles, and that appealed to me a lot.  They really are gorgeous trees, full and luxurious looking, but just too expensive for my pocketbook.

So, I've been hunting around online for a "PE artificial Christmas tree," hoping to score a super bargain on sale or clearance.  Several vendors try to pass off their trees as PE, but when you read the specs, they're PVC and not PE!  I found some trees that are blended trees of both PE and PVC needles, but not one that I liked enough to consider buying (they are a lower price point because they are not 100% PE "real feel"[TM]). 

But today I did find one tree at Tree Classics online that I liked.  Its tips are made of PE (injection molded) and other needles are made of PVC to fill out the branches.  It's a blended tree, and so a compromise from the 100% PE trees I can't afford, but I liked the tree style and color and the height is perfect at 4.5'.  It's also a space saver, which I wanted.  On sale at $129.99 (just call it 130 bucks and be done with it, geez) with free FedEx Ground shipping.  It is also not pre-wired, which was important to me.  After having lights burning out in large sections of my old tree last year and this year, I much prefer to put short strings of lights on and off myself so that trying to hunt down bad bulbs and/or fuses is easier in the future.

So I ordered it, and now we'll see.  I know I'll have to open it up and check it when it arrives and now wait until December 2019 - not looking forward to that but it must be done.  Imagine not opening it but letting it sit for 10 months and then opening it, only to find it's defective in some way or even the wrong tree!  EEK!  So I will just have to do what most rational people do and open the box to check to make sure it's the right model and all is in order.  UGH! 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree


How quickly time has flown by, wow.  Tomorrow is Christmas.  I have some baking to do and a bit of cleaning, and then I'll settle in and watch my favorite and sentimental movies for the rest of the day and night, and later I'll "make" a fire in my gel fuel fireplace -- that consists of opening cans of gel fuel once I peel off the outside paper wrap and lighting them.  Voila!  Real flames, real crackling and real warmth, as I sit in the living room admiring how pretty the tree looks at night.

Here are a few photos of Christmas trees that a friend and one of my sisters sent to me, as well one I took at a local well known watering-hole and long-time dining establishment.  Enjoy!  HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND MERRY CHRISTMAS TO EVERYONE.

The tree above is my sister Darlene's.  It's beautiful.  Tall (12 feet?), looks like it's decorated with blue and clear (or silver?) ornaments and icicles, with cascading wide gold metallic ribbon.  There are classic all white lights and an angel on top.  Wowsers.  What a lot of work to decorate a tree that large!

This is my friend Ann standing in front of a tree that had overgrown her front yard, that she donated to the City of West Allis.  The tree was removed by the City and ended up inside a reconstructed log cabin representing a typical home of southeastern Wisconsin settlers in the very early days of the 1800s.  The tree was decorated with home-made ornaments by local students from a grade school.  Isn't it gorgeous!   Looking at the decorations brings back memories of childhood.  How well I remember now making paper chain garland and stringing pop corn!

The piece de resistance is Kegel's annual Christmas tree.  Kegel's is a long-time family owned (the current operator is a nephew of the third generation of family owners) bar and restaurant in the heart of the South Side of metro Milwaukee - but I believe the bar's address is actually West Allis.  Every year they come up with a new decorating scheme for giant size trees that anchor the corner of the bar area, divided from part of the dining area by a half-wall.  Here is the 2018 version:

Sorry for the not so great photo, sometimes my hands shake a little. As you can see, it's one of those crazy upside-down trees, LOL!  And decorated gorgeously in all white glittered ornaments.  It's spectacular!  It also rotates!  Oops!  I see one red (red and gold?) ornament on it.  Hmmmm, wonder what the story is behind THAT?  This is the first time I'm noticing it, wowsers!  My friend Ann and I had dinner there the night I took this photo, I'll ask her if she knows what that's all about, if she even noticed it herself!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Living Room Is Decorated For Christmas

Happy Holidays to everyone!

It seemed to take me forever this year to get the tree together.  It seemed harder than ever this year to drag it upstairs from its basement storage and when I got it upstairs and unwrapped from its duvet cover, I realized I only had 2 of the 3 parts in the wrap!  And it was still so dang heavy??? 

Anyway, I couldn't remember where I put the very top part of the tree, eek!  After digging around for what seemed forever but was probably less than 5 minutes, I found it stuffed into a large box right next to where the rest of the tree had rested for a year.  Makes sense, right?  Even THAT little thing not even 2 feet tall seemed heavier this year.

But the tree was duly assembled and the plugs were plugged together.  The lights didn't work.  After diddling around I managed to get most of the sections of lights lit, but I have to face the fact that the tree is old and some of the sections of lights have burned out.  And darned if I'm going to try and figure out which light(s) are bad ones - I just do NOT have that kind of patience!

 I wanted to do a theme with red this year.  I haven't had any red on my Christmas tree and in my living room decor for years.  I started decorating and got to a point pretty far along - and didn't like  how the tree looked.  ARRGGGGHHHHH!  Off came everything. It wasn't working.  The cure was relatively simple, though.  I added more matching red plaid French ribbon to the part of a roll that I still had from a few years ago I'd used for other things - lucked out and found it at Walgreens, dug out some REALLY old boxes of ornaments and found a stash of red bulbs and other colors, and just started throwing about everything up on the tree.  The eventual result, after putzing with it for at least a week, off and on, is this:

In the areas where the tree lights did not light I tried to weave in strings of new lights.  I did that with one 40 string of lights last year, and this year I added a 100 year string of lights to the top and lower middle sections of the trees when, after about a week of use, the lights in those areas suddenly decided to go dark on me, too.  I also added several strings of battery operated lights.  None of the light colors or sizes match although they're all identified as "warm white."  If I squint, it looks okay, LOL!  Have you ever tried weaving lights in and out of branches on a tree that's already been decorated?  Geez Louise!

Of course I keep tweaking the poor tree (and have added more lights).  I sit in the living room at night watching my streaming shows and there she is, all beautiful, and I get up and I move 2 ornaments around.  And then 2 more; and then 2 more.  It's like an addiction or something...

The tree "skirt" is a synthetic silk sheet I thought I had given away in a charity box years ago - turns out it was still stashed in the linen closet, along with matching pillow cases, so I used the pillow cases to wrap the white lumber cushions on the wing chairs:

I hauled up my traditional patterned red and black wool rug and plopped it over the flame stitch black and cream area rug.  And on the sofa, which normally sits in front of the picture window with a sofa table and 2 lamps behind it:

I added two red cushion covers from Bed, Bath & Beyond ($14.99 each), a $30 chunky knit throw with faux fur trim from Steinart and covered the center pillow with the white and gold starred cushion cover purchased some Christmases ago from Ikea.  At night I snuggle under the afghans if I don't have a fire going in the fireplace (gel fuel).

The mantel is decorated.  It's nothing too fancy this year:

I used my three faux metal deer from Walgreens, my mercury glass votives purchased several years ago from TJMaxx, a string of battery operated white lights, a battery operated lantern, and two topiaries that my niece Godchild purchased for me years ago when Bombay Company was still in business.  They have since been wrapped in warm white LED lights to add some extra light to the mantel at night when I don't have the votives lit (I use real candles, I find that battery operated votives don't generate enough light to give a good display). 

So, that's it for this year - I'm done decorating!  I love the look of the tree even with the hodge podge of ornaments and lights on it, or maybe because of that!  It's not perfect but I gave up trying for perfect years ago, LOL!

I wish everyone a wonderful and blessed holiday season and new year in 2019.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Planning for Red for Christmas this Year

I will be rearranging the living room soon in preparation for bringing up the Christmas tree from basement storage after Thanksgiving.

One of my close friends has a birthday on November 23rd and I always treat her - and myself - yearly to a night out to see a show at one of our local theatre venues and have a nice dinner.  And then we go to Candy Cane Lane and join in a parade of cars driving slowly through about a 6 square block area of a local neighborhood where the neighbors decorate their houses for Christmas to raise funds for the MACC Fund (Milwaukee Area Childrens' Cancer Fund).  They have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past many years.  That's how I kick off my Christmas season.  This year we're going to see the stage play "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley" at the Pabst Theatre downtown.  I love all things related to Jane Austen, including off-shoots by other authors from her work. I am really looking forward to seeing this play!  It's gotten good reviews and who can resist a story about one of the most neglected of the Bennet sisters - Mary!

Not sure why, but for some time now I've been stewing on the idea of using some red in my living room decor for the first time.  I have used my red cardinals and red/black/green plaid ribbons, of course, in my kitchen and dining area for decor, but the living room and tree have been decorated primarily in gold, silver, sparkles and glass.

So, I made some modest purchases -- two rich red colored throw cushion covers for the sofa and a chunky knit faux-fur trimmed throw blanket to add to the room for snuggling before the fireplace.

Here is one of the throw pillow covers I scored online from Bed Bath & Beyond Manhattan Square Throw Pillow Cover in red ($14.99).  It's soft and silky feeling with a nice sheen to it.

The second throw pillow, also from Bed Bath & Beyond and also $14.99,is a red velvet with a gold quilted diamond pattern, plush, lush, soft, lux:
MYOP Quilted Diamond Square Throw Pillow Cover in Red
Here is the Nina Campbell throw blanket I scored at Steinmart for 50% off:

I am loving this throw!  It is super-soft and chunky and warm!  It is a deep red but not burgundy, called "Chili Pepper."

Speaking of the fireplace, I had my first fire of the season yesterday.  It was raining, super-windy, damp and dark out all day and I felt chilly in the house although the heat was kicking in on a regular basis.  So I had a 2-can gel fuel fire and it was glorious! It lasted for 2 and 1/2 hours as I sat in one of the wing chairs in the living room with my feet up enjoying the flames and and crackling - because it's actual fire burning in the fireplace behind the faux logs and the real fire screen, and the room warms up.  Lovely! 

Back to the red - I have my nearly 30 year old red and black "Oriental" pattern wool rug to bring up from basement storage for the holiday which this year will be layered over the black and cream chevron pattern area rug in the living room.  The red/black Oriental traditional pattern is a 5 x 7 and much smaller than the 10 x 12 black and cream, so there will certainly be some contrast there!  But I think it will work, and if it doesn't I won't care, as to me decorating is intensely personal and not about appealing to an audience.  I've used the rug in this retirement version of Maison Newton before - in the dining area.  No photos of it on this computer, it will be a "surprise."

I'll probably add some red plaid French ribbon to the Christmas tree decor this year, too for some red color on the tree. I can get it at the Family Dollar for $5 for a large roll.  I do believe I even have a few (a very few) red ornaments but I'll have to unbury them from boxes of Christmas decorations in the basement!

Stay tuned. 

November Already???

Holy Hathor people!  Where did my summer go?  And tomorrow is election day, wow.

I have updates, but haven't kept up posting anything.  I was busy doing political stuff all summer though, decided to get off my butt and get involved.  I will take a short break after the election tomorrow and then jump back in.  If I were younger, I would seriously consider running for office myself.  It's not that I feel "old" at 67, but I certainly don't have the energy I used to have either, and I don't want to upset the apple cart with what health issues I have, which substantially improved since I retired from my extremely stressful job in early 2015.  But, like many other women all across the country since the start of 2017, I have been motivated to get involved in local politics like I never was motivated before.

But now I'm settling in for winter.  We had a stretch of hot weather in early October, but since then it's been below normal temperatures and lots of rain.  We have more than an inch above average last month along with wind storms that seemed to come every few days!

Even with the sudden turn here in temperatures, though, the leaves took their time turning this year, or so it seemed to me.  It was only within the last couple of days of strong winds once again that there are now more bare trees than leafed trees.  I will have to rake again. And if it doesn't rain again tonight or tomorrow I will pull out the lawnmower and give everything a last mow-over for the season.

And then - it's countdown to Thanksgiving and to Christmas! 

I had a good turn out for trick or treaters this year.  It seems, sadly, that every year fewer of the neighbors participate in our neighborhood trick or treat night.  Every year a flyer arrives on my front door handle from one of the neighbors announcing the date for our neighborhood night time trick or treat (official city trick or treat is held during the daylight hours of 1 and 4 p.m.)  Personally, I enjoy seeing the kids in their costumes, some of them were very clever again this year and of course the young moms bringing out their toddlers for their first-ever trick or treat is one of the things I greatly enjoy!  It reminds me of when I was a kid in the 50s and early 60s when everyone went trick or treating at night and our costumes were masks, usually home-made and our treat holders were shopping bags with handles!  Since it's only once a year, I don't mind spending a little money to make sure I have enough snack size candy bars on hand and a large variety so the kids can take what they most like out of the treat bucket.  Surprisingly to me this year, Hersheys regular chocolate bars and Kit Kat were the most popular, outscoring Snickers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  I also buy Mounds and Almond Joy (I love them both) and some non-chocolate treats.  I usually have some left-overs of them, which I then snack on for a few weeks after the holiday :)

I didn't take any photos of the house decorated for Halloween, probably should have although I don't do things up the way a lot of people do!  I string up orange lights in my two living room windows and put battery-operated candle lanterns out on the front stoop, a couple of "spooky" decorations and put an orange porch light in.  It's 2 hours out of my life each year having fun and saying hi to parents (most of whom accompany their kids for the nighttime trick or treating) whom I rarely otherwise see except as they drive by and beep if I'm out cutting the grass or sweeping the gutters out.  Yeah, that sweeping the gutters out is an old Polish lady thing, har :)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Fourth of July (Hooray for the USA, Happy Birthday!), Heat Wave Continues, Trellis for Front Yard

Hola!  First and foremost, I wish everyone a Happy 4th of July.  Depending upon whether you date Lady Liberty's age from 1776 (Declaration of Independence), in which case today we are celebrating the 242nd year of our country's birth, or from 1781 (Articles of Confederation forming the United States signed by the original 13 states) if she's fudging on her age a bit, and is a frisky 237 years young today!  Whoop whoop!

It's hot as Hades here again today.  No relief for the wicked?  Maybe we're all being punished these days, certainly feels like it in this neck of the woods.  Unrelenting heat wave after heat wave, each worse than the last.  The air is so thick and still this morning you can literally see it slicing if you swipe a butter knife through it!  'truth!  So thick, it's hard to breathe, even standing still.  I delayed cutting the front lawn until 7 p.m. last night, hoping to catch some marginally cooler air as the Sun started its descent in the western sky.  Didn't work.  After 45 minutes of cutting I was sweating like a stuck pig and covered in yechy!  It took me 15 minutes to scrub myself down in the shower, it was so thick.  It seems no matter how much liquid I drink, the sweat gets thicker and ickier the hotter it gets.  There was no breeze to speak of last evening, nothing to even pretend you're cooling off! 

This morning I was out by 6:30 a.m. to sweep up the grass clippings from last night and contemplate whether I should trim or not.  I really should trim, but it's not going to happen in this weather.  The Sun is full up now above the house and the front will be drenched in sunlight until around 7:30 p.m. this evening.  I didn't want to pull out my grass trimmer this morning at 6:30, taking my neighbors into consideration!  I limited myself to sweeping, a silent activity.  I worked for about 40 minutes and gave up.  I had to come in and take another shower.  Geez, and I can't even use the waste water to wet down the garden beds, that's the worst of it, sigh. 

Now it's 10:30 a.m. and I'm hearing some brave soul out there (on the 4th of July???) cutting their lawn.  IN THIS HEAT AND HUMIDITY.  That person is mad, I tell you, mad.  Or under 20 years of age. 

I may have mentioned somewhere in my last few posts that I was thinking about buying something, possibly a trellis, to add some "pop" to the large blank space.  I spent some pleasurable time window shopping online, and I actually bought one!  It came in pieces, and I assembled it recently in my living room:

All the parts, spread out in my living room.

Assembly in progress.

All assembled and ready for outside!  You can catch glimpses of my egg collection
and my collection of pink elephants inside the china hutch - tons of storage below, too.

It's 75" tall and 28" wide, so it will give me some much-needed vertical interest on that side of the house, and the white will show up well against the siding above the lower stone veneer on the house.  It was purchased from Home Depot, the Wellington PVC trellis.  The total cost was $57.27 including tax.  Shipping was free. 

Keeping a running total, the cost of my outside curb appear updates is now $359.67.

The trellis is now outside in place, but I'm not going to show any photographs of it until the great and final "reveal" of this summer's curb appeal project.  Because of a hiccup that I'll write about in my next post, I won't be able to wrap things up until the 3rd week of July as it now stands. Darn it all, $%&^@%^*!.  Yes yes, I know - patience is a virtue...

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Cost List for Adding Curb Appeal Projects

Hola!  The heat index hit 102 degrees F today here in my hometown.  The "lows" this evening will drop down to the high 70's, so the AC will stay on this evening and the windows will remain closed, sigh.  Relief is promised for Tuesday when a cold front from the north is supposed to start pushing through dropping the temperatures into the more normal for this time of year 70's with much lower dew points.  Again today the dew point is over 70 and it feels like a combination of an incinerator oven and too much steam in the steam bath outside for me to be comfortable.

I was out again, however, between 7:00 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. cleaning out and adding fresh water to the concrete bird bath (acts as the equivalent of Grand Central Station in NYC), watering a few shrubs and plants that did not get the benefits of the thunderstorm we had Friday night/Saturday early morning, and sweeping up nut shells from my tribe of squirrels - the mess never ends even if the weather keeps them away in their nests for most of the day.  A few of my squirrel tribe who have nests around my house do come down to the yard and lay in the shade in the grass, with their hind legs stretched out behind them, just like dogs do.  So cute!

I thought you might like to know what it's costs me thus far to embark on this round of adding curb appeal projects to my front yard.  As I've mentioned before, I'm retired and on a fixed budget, so I keep a close eye on those "miscellaneous expenditures!  So far, this is what I've spent to add some pizzazz to my front yard.  Cost includes shipping plus sales tax, if charged:

New red mailbox:  $47.99
New black porch light:  $60.58
Apple Red Rustoleum Paint for front door:  $8.65 (32 oz., which will be more than enough to provide me with two coats of paint for the door)
Black shutters for picture window (15" x 70"):  $68.89
Two artificial 3-ball topiaries:  $49.93

Total:  $236.04

This does not include the cost of installation of the new porch light, or the mailbox and shutters, which requires a masonry bit on a power screw driver/drill and a good ladder tall enough to reach the top of the picture window framing.  I am going to ask a neighbor who owes me a favor if he has the tools and know-how to do this and if he would be willing to help me out.  If not, I will have to hire a handyman to do these 3 installs for me.

Stay tuned.  I am dreaming of lush front yard garden beds extended out from the house to cut down on the amount of lawn I need to care for/cut, and have been day-dreaming over endless Pinterest photos of gorgeous front yards that would be ridiculously labor intensive to keep looking that good.  My reality is that my well-tended stretch of lush green grass actually needs to be cut RIGHT NOW both out front and in the back yard, but I'm not going to attempt it with the heat index over 100 degrees F and dew points in the tropical zone, I'd keel over in 10 minutes tops!  If I'm going to have to cut the grass every 5 days during this time of year, I want to minimize the area that needs cutting for sure!  That means expanding the flower beds.  That is something I think I may be able to afford to hire a landscaper to do for me (remove sod and add edging, I'll do the planting and primping).

However, tomorrow I am going to be calling around to firms that specialize in poly-foam injections to raise concrete slabs and sidewalks, etc. to arrange for free estimates.  I want to find out exactly how much it would cost me to have my front sidewalk raised where it needs to be so I don't have a giant size step to the first step on my front porch. From what I've read, it supposed to be more stable over time than the traditional mudjacking technique using concrete and soil injection to raise a slab, etc.  I've been sitting on that project since I moved into this home nearly 4 years ago, and it's time to get it fixed.  No more procrastinating, Jan!

Updated June 18, 2018:  Oops - I made a mistake.  The two topiaries' cost (including shipping) is $116.29, not $49.93 as I previously reported above.  Thus, the total expenditures for my planned front yard pick-me-ups is $302.40, not $236.04 as previously stated.  Me bad, mea culpa!