An Old Toy Truck

Are you a Pinterest addict like me? I can spend hours drooling over beautiful photographs and gathering ideas. Last year around the holidays, I came across a decorating idea I loved and decided that I would start looking for a way to replicate it. It was an old toy truck that had been decorated for the holidays as a table centerpiece.

I came across this picture on Pinterest and it became my inspiration. Photo courtesy of Janet Collazo.

A few weeks ago I found my truck! I visited a new-to-me thrift store and sitting right at the front of the shop was my toy dump truck. Best yet, the price had been marked down from an outrageous $75 to only $6. I’m not sure why it had been marked down so drastically but I don’t ask questions when I see these kinds of deals–I just do my inner happy dance and snatch them up!

While I initially intended to use it only for Christmas decorating, I quickly realized that it could be outfitted for fall as well. I immediately filled the bed of the truck with fallen leaves, dried foliage, sprays of orange berries, an acorn squash, and white mini-pumpkins for a natural fall display. I even placed one mini-pumpkin at the rear of the truck to make it appear as though it had fallen off during transit.

After enjoying it decorated this way for a while, it was time to look forward to Christmas. The truck’s original bright yellow color had been painted over with black paint and while it wasn’t terrible, I knew I wanted the color to be a little more vibrant for the holiday season. I was leaning heavily towards red but ultimately decided that green would be more versatile.

Milk paint comes as a powder and is mixed with water to create paint. It is a completely natural, non-toxic substance that works well on metal as well as a variety of other surfaces.

Knowing that milk paint adheres well to metal and makes for a old fashioned matte finish, I decided that this was the type of paint I wanted to use. I like its chalky texture and knew from a previous project that it was easy and forgiving to work with. I researched my options on line and purchased a fairly bright Tavern Green color.

After two coats of milk paint and a light brushing with an antiquing glaze, the truck has the rough vintage look I was going for.

After the first coat, I could tell the color was going to be a little brighter than I had hoped so I added a second coat and then brushed on a brown antiquing glaze to tone it down a bit. To add more detail to the truck, I added an accent of cream colored paint on the tires to create “white walls.”

A couple of packages were placed at the rear of the truck to appear as if they had fallen off during transit.

I love how it turned out! I tucked in some evergreen cuttings and placed a small artificial Christmas tree in the bed of the truck. I added a string of fairy lights to the tree to enliven it and filled the bed with a load of tiny wrapped gifts. A couple of the packages were placed at the rear of the truck to create the impression that they had fallen off during transport. To decorate the front grill, I added a tiny spray crafted from a sprig of rosemary, a brass bell, and some faux berries.

The toy truck adds a spirit of fun and whimsy wherever it is placed and I just love how versatile the piece is. I can envision it filled with a pretty spring flower arrangement in the summer or pots of succulents in the summer. I may even use it as a serving platform for party favors, drinks or utensils at an outdoor party. Rest assured, you’ll likely see it again in a future post!

Perhaps you have an old toy truck that once belonged to your children–or maybe you saved one from your own childhood. If you’ve got one packed away somewhere, I urge you to bring it out and use it in your seasonal decor. It is likely to bring smiles to the faces of everyone who sees it.

 

An Enchanting Fall Gathering

Fall is my favorite season. I love to take advantage of the ideal combination of warm days and cool nights by hosting an annual outdoor dinner party. It is the perfect excuse to gather friends around a beautifully decorated table and serve up some delicious comfort food. In this post, I share my thought process for creating the decor and table setting for this dinner party.

Several years ago, I purchased a set of antique English transferware at an estate sale. It provided just the sort of rustic elegance I desired for this dinner party. Its cream colored background and floral pattern consisting of brown, gold, and orange colors perfectly reflected the fall theme and became the starting point for the entire table setting.

Because nothing is more elegant than a white linen tablecloth, this was the table’s first layer. Another vintage tablecloth with a yellow-orange damask border was positioned diagonally across the center. Overlays such as this create an opportunity to introduce additional color and texture while giving the table a luxe feel. Matching napkins were gathered up in the wine glasses to add height and dimension to the setting.

Because my tables are somewhat narrow, I needed a centerpiece that would not interfere with the flow of food or conversation. I placed a rustic lantern in the center as an anchor and created a “runner” of greenery consisting of eucalyptus and other leafy clippings from my yard. I topped this base with branches of ornamental eggplant, also known as “pumpkin on a stick.” These cute mini-pumpkins added color and texture while giving the table a whimsical touch. Tiny white fairy lights and votive candles were dispersed throughout the plant material for extra sparkle.

I recently started collecting mismatched vintage silverplate flatware and I set the table with it. Though tarnished, worn, and imperfect, it was a nice compliment to the antique china which was also crazed and imperfect. Incorporating older pieces, even when in less than pristine condition, can add loads of character and personality to a table.

As a party favor, each guest was given a loaf of homemade cranberry-apple bread in a ceramic baking dish. Wrapped in cellophane paper and banded with dotted orange craft paper, a name tag that doubled as a placecard was attached with jute string. After guests were seated, the breads were removed and placed off to the side so that the table would not get too crowded. The favor was returned to each guest at the end of the evening to take home as a memento and perhaps to be enjoyed for breakfast the next morning.

Menu cards stood in little slices of tree branches to announce the coming meal. I designed the menus and name tags using clip art I found on line.

The meal was designed to be hearty, seasonal and comforting. Each course was paired with a wine that had been recommended by a nearby wine shop to help bring out the best in both the food and wine.

In anticipation that the weather might turn chilly by nightfall, cozy polar fleece blankets were folded over the backs of the chairs. A patio heater was positioned at one end of the space and the fireplace was lit at the other end so that warmth would be evenly distributed. I purchased a few white plastic tablecloths from the local dollar store, gathered them up, and stapled them to the top of the beams at the entrance of the patio. These easy, inexpensive makeshift curtains created a sense of intimacy, as well as helped hold in the heat.

Once the meal was over, we lingered around the table enjoying one another’s company. While the glow of the candles, the crackle and warmth of the wood fire, and the jazz playing on the stereo created lovely ambiance, it was the company of good friends gathered around the table that made it a truly enchanting fall evening.

The fireplace mantel was decorated symmetrically with candlesticks and pumpkins flanking each end.  Leafy plant material, fairy lights, and votive candles added fullness. For additional reflectivity and sparkle, a metallic bronze garland was threaded throughout the display.

 

 

Dessert Pizza

A few weeks ago I gave you my recipe for easy overnight pizza dough. While everyone knows that savory pizzas can be made from all sorts of sauces, vegetables, and meats, did you know that pizza dough can also be used to make dessert?

Just like a regular pizza, you’ll need a “sauce” to act as the base of your dessert pizza. Here are a few ideas:

  • Nutella
  • Peanut butter
  • Ricotta with honey
  • Cookie dough spread
  • Almond butter
  • Raspberry jam

There are endless toppings to choose from to coordinate with your base. Consider things like:

  • M&Ms
  • Crushed Oreo cookies or graham crackers
  • Chopped strawberries other other fresh fruit
  • Caramels
  • Coconut
  • Chopped nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Miniature marshmallows

First roll out your dough, and dot it with butter. Bake for about 8 minutes in a 500 degree oven. Keep an eye on it as you don’t want to overcook it. As soon as you see it puff up and become light golden in color, take it out.

While it’s still hot, spread on your favorite base. For this pizza I used Nutella. It will begin to melt as soon as it is applied to the hot crust. Just spread it out evenly over the crust. Then add your favorite toppings. I added chocolate chips, slivered almonds and chopped white chocolate in this example, but let your imagination be your guide. You could even drizzle the finished product with butterscotch or caramel sauce for extra decadence!

Pop it back in the oven for about 3 minutes until everything is melted and gooey.

This is a unique dessert that is fun to serve for company. Guests can even customize their own pizzas. You can set out a spread of small bowls filled with various toppings and different types of spreads. Kids can have fun rolling out their own mini-pizzas and creating their own masterpieces.

What combinations would make your perfect dessert pizza?

Living Room Refresh

A change of seasons makes me crave a change of scenery. Not only do I enjoy adding seasonal decor to my home, but sometimes I like to rearrange my furniture for a fresh look. Now that we’ve lived in our home for over a year, it felt like a good time to change things up in the living room. The room is ample in size and lends itself to an evolving layout.

This is the living room before rearranging the furniture. While this layout functioned well, a change of scenery can help you see your space with new eyes and provide a greater appreciation of the features of the room.

Here’s the room’s previous layout. The sofa was placed directly across from the fireplace and two matching arm chairs flanked it. The coffee table was centered in the middle of the seating arrangement. The mahogany server was placed in front of the large window facing the street. My antique dough bowl held a place of honor on top of the server (see above picture).

After measuring my walls and furniture to make sure everything would fit with the new plan I had in mind, the sofa was moved in front of the large window that faces the street and the mahogany server was positioned on the wall where the sofa had been. The arm chairs now hold down the side of the room opposite the sofa. I reoriented the sea grass rug and the coffee table. A round end table from another room was added so that a lamp could be placed next to the sofa.

With this new arrangement, an accent table was needed to go between the two armchairs. Since there is an abundance of square and rectangular shapes in the room, I wanted a round table to soften the hard edges. I found this table on Amazon and thought it would work well. The black metal frame repeats the black metal on the coffee table and connects the other black accents in the room. The transparency of the glass keeps it from feeling too heavy and adds a reflective texture to the room.

I placed the dough bowl on the floor in front of the fireplace on an old hearth to elevate it a bit. It will likely move around the room once we begin using the fireplace, but for now it works fine here. It also helps draw the eye to one of the best features of the room. 

Throw pillows in golden hues were added to the sofa. Two of the six prints that had hung over the server were moved to the wall space under the sconces which flank the front window. The added artwork provides symmetry and visual weight to the area behind the sofa. The four prints remaining over the server are now centered, and I believe the smaller gallery arrangement still carries sufficient weight to anchor the wall.

I could only keep the cat out of the photo shoot for so long! (See him sleeping in the chair?)

The room feels larger and more spacious now. There is ample space to bring in additional seating when needed, and there are more surfaces upon which to place food and drink. It should work even better for entertaining than the previous floor plan did.

It’s amazing how simply moving furniture around can reinvigorate a room. When is the last time you rearranged your furniture? Is it time for a refresh?

The Gift Stash

Ever find yourself needing a last minute gift with no time to run out to buy something? Ever gone to the store for a gift and not been able to find a thing that fits the person or occasion? I think this happens to us all at least occasionally and it can be a source of unnecessary stress. I solved this problem by creating what I call my “gift stash.”

I have a drawer in my home dedicated to little gifty goodies that I purchase as I’m out and about. I pick up soaps, lotions, candles, kitchen and bath items, hand towels, gourmet foods, and other things that I can assemble into a nice gift whenever the need arises. I take advantage of sales and I try to keep items on hand that I think would appeal to most people I know. I stash these items away so that I am always prepared whenever an occasion comes up that necessitates a gift.

The items I gravitate towards tend to be things I’d personally enjoy receiving. They also tend to be somewhat practical in nature. I think just about everyone enjoys a new dish towel, pretty picture frame, scented candle, or a luxurious bar of soap. I also keep a few gourmet items and extra bottles of wine stocked in my kitchen for gift giving. For example, a jar of gourmet olives, a hunk of tasty cheese, and a box of fancy crackers presented in a pretty serving bowl would be much appreciated by a foodie friend.

I also maintain a supply of gift wrap and bags, baskets, cellophane paper, ribbons, tissue paper and other wrapping supplies to make the presentation effortless. I look for good deals on these items at the end of each season when they can easily be found on sale.

Keeping a stash of gift items and supplies is easy to do and doesn’t require a lot of space. You can dedicate one drawer in a dresser, a shelf inside a closet or cabinet, or simply keep a box under the bed. Additionally, keeping a gift stash makes each shopping excursion fun as I perpetually keep an eye out for interesting items to stock it with.

Do you keep a stash of gifts at the ready? What kinds of items do you find make great gifts in a pinch?

Easy Overnight Pizza Dough

Pizza is a bit of an obsession at our house. Calling for delivery stopped being an option several years ago when I discovered a super easy, ultra-forgiving way to make pizza dough at home that tastes far better than any delivery service pizza I’ve had.

Before I discovered this method, I thought yeast-raised dough was temperamental and time-consuming, requiring lots of watching and kneading. Nothing could be further from the truth! With this recipe, I simply mix up my ingredients the night before and refrigerate the dough overnight. By the next day, the dough has risen and is ready to be used. It just requires a few hours on the counter to reach room temperature and it’s ready to be rolled out.

First, mix yeast with warm water and a little honey to proof the yeast. See those small bubbles? That tells you the yeast is alive.

 

I love the flexibility of this recipe. Something comes up and can’t use your dough the next day? No problem, it will wait for you. Can’t use it for a few days? Just add in a tablespoon of flour (so the yeast has something to eat and can continue growing) and it will keep a few more days. You can actually prolong your dough for quite a long time this way. You can even freeze this dough. When you’re ready to use it, leave it out for at least 12 hours so that it has had time to thaw and reach room temperature.

Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the dough before covering and placing in the refrigerator.

 

Here’s my recipe. I am giving approximate measurements as I have learned that being exact is not required for this dough. In fact, I don’t measure any more and just kind of “eyeball” the proportions. If you don’t use salt, leave it out. If you are cutting out sugar, leave out the honey or use another type of sweetener instead. I like to use an Italian XX flour as I find it gives a crispy bite and a nice chew, but it is certainly not necessary. 

Overnight Pizza Dough (makes one 16″ pizza)

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup warm water

1 teaspoon yeast

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 teaspoon salt

Add honey to warm water and sprinkle yeast on top. Let sit for a few minutes and then gradually add flour and salt. Stir until ingredients are incorporated. Once all the flour is incorporated you should be able to form a sticky ball. If it’s too wet, add more flour; too dry, add a bit more water. Drizzle a little olive oil on top of dough to keep the surface moist and place in a covered glass container. Refrigerate overnight. Remove at least 2 hours before you plan to roll it out. Roll out on a floured surface, then transfer to baking sheet. Top with your favorite sauce and toppings. Preheat your oven to its hottest setting (up to 500 degrees) and bake for about 10 minutes. Enjoy!!

If you find your dough snaps back and doesn’t allow you to roll it out easily, let it rest another 10 minutes. See those air bubbles? Those air pockets will create a crispy light pizza crust.
Topped with tomato sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, peppers, pepperoni, mozzarella and fresh basil, this is our favorite Friday night dinner.

 

Falling for Majolica

I’m not sure exactly when I fell in love with majolica but I have been collecting it for some time. This colorful, whimsical pottery always brings a smile to my face. While majolica can be found in all the colors of the rainbow, I prefer the rich greens and golden hues, particularly for displaying during the cooler months. I think it enlivens a space and creates a warm festive feeling.

Majolica typically features themes of fauna and flora, with an abundance of leafy patterns, which are my favorites. Antique majolica is tin glazed earthenware which has a distinctive metallic sound when “pinged.” The glaze in early pieces often contained lead so it’s more decorative than suitable for food use.

Majolica, also known as maiolica, takes its name from the Spanish island of Majorca. It was originally made by 14th Century potters and was popularized in the mid-15th Century. It was exported from Majorca to Italy during the Italian Renaissance and debuted in the United States at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876.

By the 1870s, majolica was being mass-produced for an expanding middle class in countries like England, France, Sweden, Portugal and the United States. Griffen, Smith & Hill was a prominent Pennsylvania manufacturer, who sometimes marked its pieces with “G.S.H.” or labeled them as “Etruscan Pottery.”

Over the years, it has fallen in and out of fashion, but was particularly attractive to 19th-century collectors. For the Victorians, with their heavy drapes and dark wood-paneled interiors, it brought much desired light and life to homes. This tactile pottery with its naturalistic shapes, vibrant colors, and often humorous themes appealed to a growing consumer society.

This plate is Japanese and was probably made in the 1940s for export. Japanese majolica is still fairly easy to find and is quite affordable.
This begonia leaf dish is Etruscan and dates from the 19th century. This much-loved design was reproduced in many different colorways.

 

Due to over-production, majolica fell from fashion by the early 1900s. But it began to be re-discovered in the 1960s, and because of its popularity, reproductions abound today. Modern majolica is food safe as lead-based glazes are no longer in use.

Majolica is soft and porous and chips easily, so older pieces that have survived can be quite valuable. I have purchased most of my pieces at antique shops, estate sales and online, but occasionally I see a piece at a flea market or thrift store. Even with a chip or hairline fracture, I feel quite lucky if I find a piece for under $40 and when I do, I snatch it up! However true collectors covet early pieces in excellent condition which can be much more costly, in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

For my fall display, I added in a couple of small ceramic pumpkins, some beaded fruits in warm colors and a burlap covered wire basket. This display should transition nicely into the holiday season. After Thanksgiving, I will likely change out the pumpkins and beaded fruits for a few Christmas ornaments and perhaps add some twinkle lights. Stay turned for its next incarnation.

 

 

Healing Energizing Eucalyptus

I recently purchased a bunch of seeded eucalyptus as filler for a flower arrangement and noticed that the eucalyptus long outlasted the rest of the arrangement. I didn’t want to toss out this fragrant plant material and considered how I might reuse it. Knowing that the lovely fragrance would intensify with steam, I decided to tie it up with some kitchen string and hang it from the handle of my shower.

Eucalyptus has a clean, menthol-like fragrance. When exposed to steam, it releases beneficial oils that are thought to have numerous health benefits.

It is antiseptic and soothing to wounds. It is also antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and decongestant in nature, which makes it a useful ingredient in many medicines that treat respiratory problems, including allergies, sinusitis, and bronchitis. Using it in the shower is a perfect way to open up stuffy sinuses.

The moisture from the shower extends the life of the eucalyptus and makes the entire house smell wonderful.

Eucalyptus oil also has a cooling, refreshing effect that is thought to remove exhaustion and mental sluggishness. Who wouldn’t benefit from that when getting ready in the morning?! It can also be used as a bug repellent and in homemade cleaning solutions. Added to a carrier oil and massaged into the skin, it is great for sore muscles and arthritis.

I think it looks pretty hanging in the shower and it makes me happy just walking by.

Could you benefit from hanging a bunch of eucalyptus in your shower?

Watercolor Menu Cards

For my end of summer dinner party a few weeks ago, I decided to go with a beach theme. I love the anticipation a menu provides and enjoy preparing menu cards for my guests. Because the beach theme lent itself to a watery, free-flowing design, I thought a little watercolor art would be well-suited. This project requires little to no artistic talent and it was fun to do. Here’s how.

  1. I used 4″ X 6″ heavy card stock for my menus but you could also use watercolor paper which is more textural and durable. You want your paper thick enough to be absorbent and hold up to the water, but not so thick it won’t go through your printer.
  2. I used an inexpensive palette of watercolor paints from the craft store and a paint brush I had in my art supplies. Fill a small container with water. Dip your brush into the water and then into the paint.
  3. Experiment a bit on inexpensive paper before working on your card stock to get a feel for how the paint will look. I used mostly blue, light green, purple and tan colors for this project. If the color is too dark, just add more water to your brush and it will become more translucent. If you want more saturated color, use less water and load up more paint on the brush.
  4. Once you are confident with your technique, start applying the paint to the cards.
  5. Swirl, blend and mix the paint colors together until you are pleased with the results.
  6. After I was finished with the background art, I loaded up my brush with paint and tapped it across my finger spraying each card with paint to mimic the look of splashes and bubbles.
  7. The paper will likely be damp after you are finished. To keep it from curling, press it flat under a few books for a few hours or until dry. This will also help it to go through your printer. (Note: be sure to change your printer setting to thick or photo paper before printing.) 
  8. Design your menu layout. I used a sea shell motif from a free clip art website and the “Fortunates December” font which has a breezy casual feel. Click here for the free download.
  9. Once your design is ready and your cards are dry,  print out your menus.

This technique is really easy and the results are surprisingly professional. Plus, I like that each guest can take home an original piece of “art” as a memento of the evening.

The same watercolor art was used to make tags for the parting gift I gave my guests. I placed small containers of sea salt in cellophane bags and added nautical wooden medallions from the craft store. Blue and turquoise markers were used to paint the wood medallions. Tied up with a piece of raffia, these favors complimented the theme of the party and let our guests know we appreciated them coming.

This is a fun and easy project that can be used for many things, e.g., place cards, gift tags, craft projects. It can also be adapted to the seasons or holidays. Can you picture it in golds, oranges, greens and browns for fall? Or how about vibrant floral colors for spring? I can.

End of Summer Table Setting

It’s September already and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to usher in fall. But as a last hurrah for summer, I invited a few friends over for an end of summer dinner party.  Today’s post will focus on the table setting for that dinner.

A relaxed beachy vibe seemed an appropriate way to bid summer adieu. After searching around my house, I realized I had most of the items I needed on hand. Here’s how I put it together.

Layers are key to setting an interesting table. I initially decided to forego a formal tablecloth because I wanted to allow the wood dining table to be exposed. The table has a rustic rough-hewn quality that I thought was fitting for a beach theme. But after a trial run, it looked a little too stark, so I added a striped cotton Turkish towel diagonally across the table. The diagonal placement allowed some of the wood to show and kept the table casual, while the additional fabric warmed up the table and added subtle pattern.

I used a gauzy piece of wide sisal ribbon as a runner and placed it down the length of the table. Its color and texture reminded me of sand. Instead of flowers, I placed a few conch shells and a piece of driftwood in the center of the table as my centerpiece. Tea lights in wavy glass votive holders were placed around the centerpiece and a few sprigs of gray-green foliage from my yard were tucked in here and there to add additional color and life.

A round woven sea grass placemat gave each place setting its foundation. I decided to use a set of handmade white plates for the main course. Their organic, uneven texture reflected the relaxed vibe. Set on top of the sea grass placemats, they became the base upon which the other dishes were placed.

Vintage majolica plates were placed on top of the white plates for the second course. Their leafy veining resembles the look of seaweed and the blue-gray color reminds me of the sea on a cloudy day. The undulating edge is reminiscent of the waves of the ocean and further reinforces the theme.

I needed small bowls for my first course, a chilled cantaloupe gazpacho. I found a boxed set in various shades of watery blues and greens at a discount store and thought they were perfect. At only $12.99 for a set of eight, how could I resist?

The linen napkins were a lucky find at a thrift store. I thought the sand color and metallic stitching on the border recalled sea shells on a sandy beach. I gathered them up simply with turquoise sea glass napkin rings.

Hand painted menu cards announcing the coming meal were placed to the sides of the soup bowls. I used watercolor paints to create streaks, swirls, and splashes on each card. These unique hand painted menus became mementos each guest could take home. Stay tuned next week for a tutorial on how to make these menu cards.

 

Once the cutlery and glassware were added and the candles were lit, the table really began to sparkle and glow.

That sparkle and glow only intensified when our guests were seated around the table enjoying the meal. I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to summer.