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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Kitchen French Style, Reset, Evolution

Monday, October 26, 2015

Do you ever start thinking about something after reading another blogger's latest post?  That happens to me often and is one of the reasons I love reading blogs.  Of course, I love seeing all the beautiful pictures of tablescapes, recipes, remodels, DIY, and vignettes.  The photos capture my attention, but the content of the post is what starts me thinking and keeps me coming back to that blog.

 Marty at A Stroll Thru Life posted Updating Your Style, Marion at Miss Mustard Seed posted Room Reset Challenge-part 3, and Kim at Savvy Southern Style posted Evolution of Kitchen this past week.  Each started me thinking, and reading all of them about the same time really started my thoughts to evaluating my own style, my journey, and how my home has evolved.

Most of my home's evolution has been for maintenance, not for updating my decor style. And, when I began listing the changes, I was amazed at how much has changed in just six years, especially in the kitchen.

The Kitchen

In the past six years, the following things have been repaired, recovered, and/or replaced.
  1. stovetop
  2. microwave
  3. garbage disposal
  4. wooden shelf over the sink
  5. dishwasher
  6. breakfast chairs 

Miss Mustard Seed's Room Reset Challenge talks about seeing your rooms with new eyes by removing everything from them, starting with a fresh empty space, and making changes, not just placing everything back like it was.  

Last winter, my old stovetop was falling apart, like in pieces of metal coming off the burners.  I really thought I was going to make a change with a new stovetop by getting a state-of-the-art smoothtop.

I fail MMS's Room Reset Challenge.  

You have to look hard to see any difference from the old stovetop with the new stovetop.  Yes, there is a change.  

I replaced the old grill drop-in with a two-electric-burner drop-in at the same time I replaced the existing two-electric-burner with a new unit.  After researching what it would take to replace my downdraft stovetop, I realized the options were very limited, and it would be much easier to keep my Jenn Aire and to replace the worn-out drop-in components. 

There is nothing exciting about a garbage disposal, but it sure is nice to have.  The old disposal was over twenty-five years old, and begin making weird sounds like the ball-bearings were going out.  You can see the old sink drain for the disposal in the right sink above.  The finish was badly chipped.  There is not photo of the new disposal's sink drain.  Trust me, it is much nicer, shiny stainless steel. 

The white-painted shelf above the sink looks pretty good in this photo, but it was not.  The blue flower pots hide the scratched, chipped paint. 

After stripping the white paint, I decided to leave the shelf a natural pine.  This was a small, fast change, but really refreshed the sink area. The sink shelf is often updated with new plants since I have a tendency to kill indoor plants.  

Here is how the kitchen looked in 1989 right after we finished our house, long before I began blogging.  The biggest and best change was painting the cabinets white around 2006.  The old black dishwasher remained until around 2010 or 2011.  It was a great dishwasher; why change it just to match the new white cabinets?  Then, it began falling apart inside.  The wires rusted completely through in the baskets.  It was past time for a new one before I finally replaced it. 

A new white dishwasher with the white-painted cabinets make the kitchen so much brighter and cheerier.  

The microwave stopped working and had to be replaced.  Once again, I failed MMS's Room Reset Challenge.  I replaced the old microwave with an updated version of the old one.  Part of the difficulty in making changes is the size of the appliances.  My kitchen was built when many kitchens had 30-inch ovens and microwaves.  Today, most new kitchens have 36-inch ovens and microwaves. That limits what is available for replacements in my kitchen without making major structural changes to the cabinets. 

This photo of the breakfast sunspace in the kitchen was taken in December 2008 before I began blogging and shows the upholstered floral chairs.  The cats loved these chairs way too much and shredded them!  

Christmas 2013, I used a mixture of French chairs around the table while I looked for new fabric to reupholster the breakfast chairs. 

Here's how the breakfast chairs look today.  As much as I love the French white ladder back chairs I used for a while, I love sitting on comfy padded seats more. 

During all the repairs and replacements in the kitchen, I updated the decor some along the way.  With every change, I looked for ways to incorporate French Country, and always was drawn back to blue and white. The blue laminated kitchen counter is original to the house, and I still like it. 

Have you looked back at your style, decor updates, and evolution of your home over the past five years?  Check out Marty's, Marion's, and Kim's recent posts for great ideas about decor updates, challenges, and a kitchen's amazing evolution.

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French-Inspired Gold Mirror

Sunday, October 18, 2015

For several years I have been trying to add more French-inspired items to our house.  Whenever something needs replacing, I look at possible replacements through a French-inspiration filter. Will the replacement add to an overall French look?

Adding French touches with small accessories is not very hard.  A fleur de lis here, a gold-crowned white bird there, and the arrangement is French inspired. 

Small items like the little bird are easy to move around and to store when not in use.  He can sit on a dining table, the mantel, atop a stack of books, inside a bird cage, in a flock, or alone.  He adds a French touch to Christmas, spring, fall, and birthdays. Wherever he flies, he adds French inspiration. 

White flowers also add a little touch of French design in any room.  White stock stems from Trader Joe's cost very little and are easy to arrange.  They even gracefully lift their arms upward after being placed in the vase. 

When it comes to larger items like beds, chests, chairs, and mirrors, I found it harder to find just the piece that meets all the requirements.... size, color, style, budget... What if the new piece does not really add to the over French feel I want?  Small accessories can be replaced easily, but large-ticket items are around for a lot longer.  Even longer now that I am retired, on a fixed income. 

For the past two years I have been working on my master bathroom, changing it from an American country feel to French country.  One of the things I have been looking for is a French-style large mirror to replace the builder-grade sheet mirror over the vanity.  Last fall I looked for days at the Round Top Antique Show.  

Life has a way of taking unexpected twists and turns.  This mirror was my mother's.  Over fifty years ago I went with my dad to pick out a Christmas present for my mother.  I don't remember if Daddy knew Mother wanted a beautiful gold framed mirror, but this mirror is what I helped Daddy choose for Mother's Christmas present that year. We only went to one furniture store, no other place.

The mirror first hung over the sofa in our living room in the house that had a crystal chandelier.  Maybe the chandelier is why we selected this ornate three-dimensional frame and the beveled edges on the mirror. Over time, my parents lived in three other houses before building their final retirement home.  The mirror hung over the fireplace in that house for over twenty years. 

Many years ago Mother told me the mirror would be mine one day.  The mirror has special meaning to me because of the memories of buying it with my dad for my mother.  In late August, the mirror came home with me.  

I think it has a French style and definitely fits the French way of living in which French families use cherished pieces from their parents and grandparents to furnish their houses.  Yes, this piece adds an overall French look.  

You may like to view the following related posts also. 

The little white bird

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7 Steps-New Redwood Deck Design

Friday, October 16, 2015

Where to begin?

When your deck is over twenty-five years old, it has problems.  Like pulling away from the house.  Like rotting boards with gaping holes.  Like substructures tilting.  Like U G L Y!

However, one of the most important issues could be a design that has many levels that creates a significant problem for aging legs.

So, what do you do to upgrade your old, tired deck?  You completely remove the old deck, and replace it with a new redwood deck that has an improved design.  This is how the new east deck looks this sunny October morning.  I love it!

The new deck includes many upgrades and design changes from the old deck. 

1. Upgraded support system

To securely attach the deck to the house, a new ledger board was added to the house.  There had been a ledger board, but it was old and needed replacing. The deck dropped about 2" away from the house last spring during the heavy rains.  (Technical deck builder term... ledger board, new to my vocabulary.)  A new pressure-treated pine substructure insures long-lasting support.  Beautiful redwood decking fits right in with the woods around the house. 

2. Raised level of the deck

The new deck is at the same level as the French doors' threshold so that a wheelchair can easily roll out of the house onto the deck. There is still a slope away from the door for water to drain away.  The deck also has a slope of 1/8" per foot away from the house.  

3. Added safety railing

For decks more than 30" off the ground, a railing with no more than 4" openings is required. The old deck did not have a railing which was a constant concern.  Raising the deck level higher caused even greater concern for safety. However, no railing meant the views were clear, all the way to the ground when you fell off.  Fortunately, no one has ever fallen off. 

4. Installed utility wire panels 

A dilemma... safety railing with open views.  Here is a solution!  Welded galvanized utility wire panels (4" openings) fade away from sight and allow the view to shine through.  Remember those railings at the Whisper Mountain house? Another bonus is the wire panels cost less than traditional redwood spindles. 

The view of the greenhouse and garden shed from the living room French doors is not blocked by the wire panel railings. 

In Texas, the local Tractor Supply store keeps in stock all the things needed for farming, for ranching, and for raising animals for the annual stock show.  You may not have visited your local Tractor Supply because you do not farm, ranch, or show stock, but you should check out the sturdy supplies that can used around the house for other reasons. 

5. Applied water seal 

To help keep the deck beautiful, Thompson's clear water seal was applied.  Periodically another coat will need to be applied to protect the deck. 

6. Added solar lights

Copper solar lights designed to cap 4" square posts are the perfect color for the redwood.  Perhaps they will age to a faded green patina.   You can dream, can't you?

Talk about easy to install.  They just popped right onto the post and are secured by two small screws that were included. These came from Home Depot and can be used so many places.  What about on posts along a walk way, or at the end of the driveway, or in the garden?  

The solar collector needs about 6-8 hours of sun to recharge its battery, and the deck may be too shaded for the lights to work well.  There may be only a soft glow at night which still will add a coziness to the setting. 

The little copper tops are beautiful and will protect the posts whether or not they shed much light. 

7. Relaid the existing walkway

Rather, re-laying the existing walkway.  A work in progress, the paver walkway has to be raised also. Having the walkway and the deck come together without a level change allows easy maneuvering for a wagon, garden cart, or hand dolly.  Moving plants from the greenhouse to the deck will be a breeze. (Is that a new ant bed being built in your sand?  Where is the spray?)


When you have a part-time handyman and you do the contracting work yourself, projects can seem to take forever.  You need a 2x8 redwood board as the final board on the deck edge, but only have 2x6 redwood boards.  There is only one supplier of redwood decking in your area.  You call the lumber yard that is an hour away in Dallas, and they only have 2x8 redwood boards that are 16 feet long.  Plus, they close in an hour, and it is rush-hour traffic time for Dallas commuters. A 16-foot board will not fit into your car.  Then you remember you have hauled 8-foot boards before.  Call the lumber yard back.  Yes, they will cut the 16-foot boards into 8-foot lengths, at no extra charge, but it is Friday, less than an hour until store closing. The lumber yard is only open Monday through Friday.  No boards for the handyman to use this weekend to finish the deck border. 

Yes, a work in progress.  There are decks on three sides of the house, and you need to replace all three.  One down.  Two to go.  

The new south deck will be raised about 24" to be at the same level as the new east deck.  There are no promises for when you will see photos of the new south deck.  Who knows how many times you will need to go to Dallas to get more boards? In your car, during rush hour. 

No compensation from any source.  All the information is provided for readers who want to know details. 

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Goldenrod in a Vintage Watering Can

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A vintage watering can was not on my list when I went to The Market on Chapel Hill in Pike Road, Alabama last weekend.  No, I went looking for white stoneware sugar bowls, but arrived too late to  buy them.  They were all gone.

As I wandered out of The Chapel and down the hill into the big tent with several small vendors, I was "just looking" without a plan in mind.  Does anyone else tell salespeople that you are "just looking" when you aren't sure what, if anything, you want to buy?  Several things caught my attention, and I picked them up.  Like a galvanized minnow bucket with chipping blue lettering.... Hmmm... too expensive...

Then I spotted the vintage galvanized watering can filled with stalks of opened cotton bolls.  No cotton bolls for me; I can get armloads free from extended family and friends who farm cotton all around my family's Alabama home.  Cotton is one of my favorite fibers to wear, but I've never wanted to decorate with cotton bolls.  You know how it is.  I saw cotton growing all my childhood. My grandfather was a "share-cropper" who raised cotton as a cash crop.  I played in cotton fields. My uncles chopped cotton into the early summer and picked cotton in the fall.  No, cotton has never been a decor item for me.

But, the vintage watering can?  After checking the price tag, I knew the little can was going home with me.  Here I was looking for white stoneware sugar bowls and instead, found one of the things that has been on my wish list for the past couple of years.  Does that ever happen to you?

Truly vintage.  That worn rough wooden handle is not reproduction.  That kind of wear and tear comes from repeated use and water splashing onto it over several years.  At one time, it was B L U E, but now only a handful of blue paint chips cling to the rough wood.

Speaking of blue, the small chippy blue painted child's chair was in the same vendor's booth.  I could not resist it. 

So, what did I do with these unexpected finds?  Out I went into the countryside to gather bundles of goldenrod.  Goldenrod blooms everywhere in Alabama along ditches, in hedgerows, and in open sunny areas near woods.  

The muddy green spotty rubber boots and red handled clippers were my mother's. Both of these were used often by her and are not just photo props.  Some of that mud was added to these boots when I clipped the goldenrod.  Mother's shoe size is larger than mine.  The boots are way too big for me, with my feet sliding around inside the boots, but I did not have any of my own boots with me.  

As I clomped around a newly mown ditch near a country road, I stumbled over the too-large boots and fell into the soft grass cuttings landing on my knees and outstretched hands.  It did not even really hurt because the grass cushioned my fall, and the ground was wet from rains the week before. Yes, I added some mud to the green spotty boots. 

Goldenrod, an abundant humble wildflower, seems appropriate for an equally humble galvanized watering can past its prime.  It also seems right as a fall arrangement. 

At one time, goldenrod was the state flower of Alabama, but the women of Butler County lobbied to have it replaced by the camellia.  Ironically, the camellia is not indigenous to Alabama; rather, it comes from China. 

The little blue chair has been many colors including goldenrod yellow. 

A little bit of the south of France, a bleu and goldenrod color combination, is also a perfect fall combination for the north of Alabama. 

The trip to The Market on Chapel Hill was also a  little bit of a French experience. The French way of life includes seizing unplanned opportunities instead of being disappointed for opportunities lost.  Live in the moment.  


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Market on Chapel Hill, Alabama

Friday, October 9, 2015

Do you fantasize about vintage furniture, white stoneware, or repurposed metal pieces?  White sugar bowls, oversized pitchers, irregular-shaped plates, zinc-topped tables, adorable wooden carousel horses...   Do you daydream about attending well-known antique fairs?  Lucketts Antique Market, Round Top Texas Antiques, Country Living Fairs, The Market on Chapel Hill...

Yes?  Then we could be shopping friends.

However, most of my shopping is really virtual shopping on blog sites, not real shopping where I can actually buy any of the wares.  My latest obsession was with Miss Mustard Seed's posts this past month where she showed the items she was taking to the October 3, 2015, market in Pike Road, Alabama.... The Market On Chapel Hill.

Keep reading for tips for shopping an antique fair IN PERSON.

Source:  Miss Mustard Seed - Market on Chapel Hill
The two white stoneware sugar bowls missing lids just kept me going back repeatedly to look at Miss Mustard Seed's post.  Paperwhite narcissi at Christmas time are some of my favorite Christmas flowers, and I love planting them in white containers.  Visions of Ziva paperwhites in these sugar bowls kept appearing in my mind.  How I would love to buy both of these sugar bowls.  But, Pike Road, Alabama is a L O N G way from north Texas, about 656 miles.

Maybe you can imagine how excited I became when, all-of-a-sudden, I realized my trip back to north Alabama was Sept. 29 - Oct. 7, and The Market on Chapel Hill was happening during that time!  North Alabama to Pike Road, Alabama takes about 3.5 hours over 222 miles, the closest I ever was going to be to Miss Mustard Seed in my life.  Texas, my home, to Pennsylvania, Miss Mustard Seed's home, is 1,345 miles.  The closest chance I would have at actually buying her white stoneware sugar bowls was in Pike Road, Alabama. 

My sister-in-law and another friend were game to drive to Pike Road.  We got up 4:00-4:30 a.m., and left north Alabama at 5:00 a.m. thinking we would arrive at The Market by 8:30 a.m. before the doors opened at 9:00 a.m.  The last time I remember getting up that early, except for work, was to see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon.  I was pretty excited hoping to meet Miss Mustard Seed. 

When we arrived in Pike Road we couldn't find the subdivision where the antique show was located and drove around for several minutes looking for it.  Finally, I reached someone at Chapel Hill by phone and got directions.  We arrived inside the Chapel Market around 9:30 a.m. 

My heart sank as I looked from display to display in Miss Mustard Seed's booth.  

All these cabinets had been filled with white stoneware.  You can see how they looked at   Now they were stripped bare.  

There were a few white bowls and some transferware in this cabinet, but none of these were on my wish list.  

Wait...  the blue and white wooden horse was on my wish list.  There he sits above the nearly empty cabinet.  As I walked closer and closer to him, I was hoping he was in my price range. 

Yes, that is a SOLD sign, but not sold to me.  He was already sold before I got there.  Sigh...  
At least I got to see him in person and up close. 

Still, it was a good day.  

Miss Mustard Seed, Marion, is just as gracious in person as she is on her blog.  She cheerfully posed with a big smile for a photo with me.  Others asked and also had their photos made with her, always with a big smile.  Even if I did not buy anything from her, it was a real treat to get to meet her.  Did I forget to tell you it was a rainy day?  My hair was limply stuck to my head from all the moisture and humidity.  So, you don't get to see the photo.  A really bad hair day! Marion, on the other hand, was cute as a button with perky hair. 

Did I go home empty-handed?  No.  In a few days, I'll show you some of what I found at another vendor's booth.  

~ ~ ~ ~ ❦ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here are a few suggestions for anyone who plans to attend ANY antique fair to shop. 

1.  If possible, spend the night before in the area of the antique fair so you can arrive very early on the day of the antique fair. 

2.  Then, arrive very early at the antique fair.  Shoppers lined up as early as 7:30 a.m. for the 9:00 a.m. opening time at the Market on Chapel Hill. 

3.  Some venues offer early-bird shopping at a higher entry fee.  If there are certain items you have your heart set on, take advantage of the early-bird shopping. 

4.  Double check directions the day before leaving for the event.  If possible, do a test drive to the site and locate parking spots. 

5.  Read tips and guides written by the antique show organizers and/or by the vendors.  Miss Mustard Seed posted her booth's layout on her blog the night before the show.  This helps you know where to find that special item you are looking to buy. 

6.  Browse smaller booths after visiting the well-known vendors' booths.  A small booth had something similar to the items I had been looking for at Miss Mustard Seed.  Since there was only one of the item, it could have been overlooked by other shoppers.

7.  Study how the vendors display their goods for ways to use antiques in your own decor.

8.  Enjoy the location, sights, and people.  Buying is just one part of the antique fair experience. The Market on Chapel Hill is located in The Waters subdivision comprised of new homes built in vintage styles around a lake.  Seeing the houses with the yards decorated for fall was an unexpected bonus.

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