CHRISTMAS ESSENCE … how to give your home the fragrance of Christmas

The days before Christmas should be long and lingering.  Days to enjoy.   One needs to treasure the simple things.    In an unhurried manner.  No frantic trips to crowded malls.  I start my Christmas  in November.     Creating Christmas cards.   Gathering wrapping paper and ribbons.  Unpacking the boxes of Christmas ornaments and decorations – all in a leisurely manner.

This is the time to enjoy treasured memories.  I still have the Santa my son made in kindergarten forty-five years ago.  Battered and faded it always graces our tree front and centre.      The polar bear cookie jar appears on my kitchen counter.  His name is lorek Byrnison, from the book The Golden Compass.       This is how you slow down in the days before December 25th.

To give our home the perfume of Christmas preparations I  simmer an all natural Christmas essence on the stove.  You’ ll love the fresh, crisp, spicy fragrance, and you probably have everything to create it right in your kitchen.


Chop the peel of a large orange and a large lemon.    Into a medium sized saucepan put the peel, plus 2 sticks of cinnamon broken, 12 whole cloves and 4 bay leaves.  Add 4 cups of water and bring to the boil.  Immediately reduce heat to a very slow simmer.  A word of caution, don’t let it simmer dry.  Just keep adding more water.


I will tell you a story.

I have a house in Paris.



The door of my little house opens onto a quiet street.

Around the corner the open-air market.   Every morning  I fill my basket with rich cheeses and plunder from the country.

There’s an old bookstore.  Shelves musty with words.

And a tiny bistro with a zinc bar where my wine glass makes circles of happiness.




I have a little house in Paris with a courtyard.

Where grinning lions spill water into a stone-gray trough.

Water  to refresh body and soul on a hot summers day.





I have a little house in Paris.

With  sparsely furnished rooms leading into one another  – enfilade.

And ancient wooden floors that creak and complain.




Tall windows overlook the courtyard of my little house,

Tall windows where I hang linen curtains that  float and dance with every breeze.

The kitchen in my little house in Paris has cold stone floors.   An  ancient stove.   A wooden table scrubbed white.

My house,  my little house in Paris is in my mind.  To journey to it I have but to close my eyes and I am turning the key on the big front door.






















Homemade cards are so beautiful and so personal those who receive them sometimes keep them around all year.  Cards tucked into mirrors,  used as book-marks, fastened to the refrigerator.

I continue to practice “slow Christmas”.  Each day doing a little decorating. Today gracing the fireplace with fresh cedar from the garden.

Wrapping gifts to mail to my sisters.

I fuss over the wrappings.

Lingering over my collection of beautiful ribbons.

Searching for just the right color.

My sewing room/atelier floor glitters with fairy dust.

There ‘s a pile of paper  rustling and whispering to me.

Pages from a discarded music book.

Past Christmas cards to beautiful to be discarded.

I have silver glitter in my hair.

Gold dust on my face.

A discarded song book gives me the words.

I play at paper dolls  or rather paper angels.

Glue them to the cards and embellish them with ribbons.

Photographs from long ago lends inspiration.

“Tis the season to be jolly”

I’m having fun with this old photograph.

Stern, unsmiling she needs to have a little fun.

I’ve tacked holly to her hair and filled her arms with Christmas cheer.

The cards are done.

I mail them at the post office in the village, and receive a handful of red and white striped peppermint candies along with the stamps.

This is how Christmas should be.  No malls, no strident music, no jostling for parking space. It’s been a”slow Christmas”.

The very best kind of our home here on The Farm.




This is a story about a dated, old piece of furniture, a stack of art, and a gathering of treasures – and how they turned a sow’s ear of a room into a chic French purse.



Years ago I painted this heavy oak buffet a cheery red and added a folk art design in the style of Peter Hunt.  Back then it was the latest shout.  But after four decades of red I was tired of the look.  It didn’t fit with the decor I had in my head.

I turned the big laundry room into a butler’s pantry.  Moved in the seldom used microwave, ice cream machine,and  special occasion dishes and platters.  I covered the walls with French photographs, maps and art.

Then the search for the perfect French gray paint began.



Paint samples came and went.

At last I found the perfect gray.

A gray reminiscent of the gray you see  on old furniture in France.

The silver-gray of the dust that covered my shoes when I walked the streets of Paris.

Benjamin Moore’s DEEP SILVER!

I repainted in my version of instant French paint finish.  Two coats of Fresh Start  – a high-hiding all-purpose latex primer .   Little touches of white around the trim .   When completely dry – two coats of Minwax clear wax.  What could be simpler.


In the pantry I resurrected  a Beaujolais wine barrel used in one of our restaurants.



Then I created  a mise en scène from bits and bobs  – found treasures gathered over the years.

Into the garden to plunder the lavender.

My Paris Pantry is complete.


This adoration of fine art.

It fills one soul.

Captures ones imagination.

And, takes your soaring through the centuries.


A dusty old used bookstore on Queen Street in Toronto.

Treasures are always waiting to be discovered in stores like this.

The bookstore is  “picking up sticks” and moving .  EVERYTHING is on sale.

Books soaring to the ceiling.

Piled in pyramids on the floor.

The discovery!!  A stack of portfolios containing copies of old masterpieces.

I shuffle through them.  Painting after painting.  Masterpieces I had admired in art galleries in cities around the world.    The pile – a bit tattered around edges  – one dollar.

I knew exactly what I can do with this paper treasure.


Take one unpainted canvas in a dimensions closest to the size painting.


Give the canvas a coat of black acrylic craft paint.


Now paint over the black with dark brown paint and then gently rub some away.  The trick here is to try to match the background of the painting.


Cover the canvas liberally with Modpodge .  I have put a large book under the canvas to act as support to the canvas.    Centre your painting on the canvas.  Press firmly down on all parts of the paper.    A brad(a type of roller used for wall paper seams) is perfect for this.    (This is why you need support under the canvas).  Give the painting two coats of ModPodge using a criss-cross motion that leaves brush like strokes.  It adds to the authentic look of your work.


The unfinished canvas  will look  like you’ve discovered your little bit of joy laying neglected in an attic.  The simplicity so much more elegant that an elaborate gold frame.  How brilliant is this!!





The chair discarded.

Cast out with stacks of boxes, old bicycles and plastic lawn furniture.

I couldn’t ignore it.

I brought it home and the conversation began.

How long am I to languish  here.

I want my life back again.

I want the morning paper and cafe au lait.

Afternoon tea and coffee cake.

I want a glass of Prosecco and conversation.

For three years the chair talked . . . and talked . . . and talked.

Stop.  Just stop.

You’re condition is so dreadful  I don’t know if I can give you back your life.

You must trust me.  Perhaps a tuck there.  A splash of paint.  A few tacks.

And so the story ends.

The chair has its life back.


(This tale inspired by THE TIN MAN)



Once a year  our garbage collectors pick up almost everything people leave by the side of the road.  There is a lot of good stuff available just for the taking.  Our neighbors put out this wreck of a chair.   It wasn’t until I got it home that I realized it was in terrible shape.


Someone had started the job of reupholstering the chair.  The fabric and the padding had been removed.  All that was left was the foam seat.  It wasn’t a particularly well-made chair.  Instead of the usual  webbing it had cardboard.  This was not going to be  an easy job.  Was it worth the effort???


It sat in the garage for three years. I had almost decided to put it out in the yearly pickup.  I couldn’t see the sense in spending a huge amount of time and money on this rambling wreck.


My solution was simple.  I painted every part of the chair with gray water base primer – cardboard and wood.  Two coats.    Then I added a little water to thin out ordinary flat white wall paint.   I used this diluted paint as a glaze.


I brushed this white glaze over the gray paint.  I put lots of white into carvings,  and used a damp cloth to rub away some of the glaze on the rest of the wood.  This entire procedure took just a couple of hours.  When the glaze was dry I rubbed clear wax over the wood and polished it.   Finished!


I covered the existing foam with heavy cotton twill.


I tacked the fabric in place with upholstery tacks.    I had seen this “unfinished upholstery” look in several of my French magazines.


The seat finished I glued padding to the back of the chair and covered it with light weight cotton.  Then carefully tacked the finishing fabric over this.


My French beauty finished!!

The final  touch is the kidney pillow I made using Paris graphics from THE GRAPHIC FAIRY.  Oooh La La.  And to think I was going to throw this chair away.



The roaring, wild twenties.

The beginning of jazz.

Women started taking a stand for more equal rights.

And  women abandoned their restrictive clothes and shortened their skirts.

I’m involved in a high school project – The Roaring Twenties.  Fanny the Flapper needs a costume that reflects the era. This is a challenge  for my teen-age friend.  Could I?  Would I?  Help?




Pining and pattern  planning.  I’ve found the fabric – now to make the pattern.  This is fun.




It’s a tiny dress form but the process for making a dress is exactly the same;  facings cut on the bias, pleated skirt and perfectly trimmed edgings.





The dress is finished.   It was part of a bigger project.  Oh yes – the project got an A mark.


prince albert keyhole castle

I grew up in an old and elegant town on the edge of the Great Northern Forest in Saskatchewan.  Prince Albert was built by “second sons” and adventurers from Britain.  On the hill they created a world of magnificent homes with ballrooms, sterling silver chandeliers, and often a  porte-cochére for waiting carriages and red clay tennis courts.

prince albert post office



On the flat up from the river on Central Avenue they built a Gothic City Hall.  On side of the City Hall were watering troughs for horses.  The taps were lion’s heads verdigris with age, water trickling from their gaping mouths into deep troughs.  On a hot summer day we would plunge our arms into the cooling water.  Each side of the trough large iron rings were imbedded in the concrete curbs.    Teamsters would water their horses then tie the reins to the rings.

prince albert band stand being built

On the other side of our City Hall was a small park and the bandstand.  Every summer Sunday night the city band, splendid in red and gold uniforms, played.  We listened,  sang,  waltzed and marched to the music.  Sunday night band concert was a traditional family outing.


Our shiny black beast of a car, complete with tasseled blinds, carried my two sisters and my dog Scamp, down town.  First stop McConnell’s; part cigar store, part magazines and newspapers and most important part ice cream parlor.      It was a long, narrow store with creaking wood floors, and the heady aroma of cigars and newsprint.  At the back of the store one could sit on wire ice-cream chairs at small round marble tables, and have fountain drinks and ice cream.  Our father would buy us ice cream cones.  My favorite was cherry custard.    We would stroll down Central Avenue  to the band concert  trying to make our ice cream cones last as long as possible.


When the shadows lengthened the band would play God Save the King.  We would stand very still and very straight.  Reluctantly and slowly we would make our way back to the car, humming the music and taking the magic of the night with us.


alice and box

It’s rather like going down the rabbit hole – this Thrift Shop treasure hunting.  One simply jumps in and the fun begins.

Sharp eyes are required to ferret out the gold from the dross.

To find the  brand-new pink linen Max Mara jacket consorting with   black polyester jacket from Le Chateau.   It’s not my size but it would look fab on my dear-to-my-heart friend Amy.   How can I go wrong at four dollars.

When you’re in the rabbit hole it is a good idea to always look up.

Way way up on the top shelves.

To find the second treasure of the day.  Three gorgeous Panama straw hats dreaming  together and ignoring the gray clouds and rain.    Magenta, red, and black hats and just one dollar each.




Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador from the pleated leaves of the toquilla straw plant.    Originally they were shipped first to the Isthmus of Panama and from there to the rest of the world.    Now you know why they call them Panama hats.       Glorified since the 19th century the Panama hat is considered the prince of straw hats,   or in this case the princess.


My beauties simply called out to be dolled up.  Spiffed up and tricked out to become the soigné of all Panamas.   I riffle my trunk  filled with ribbons and trims.  A red Panama will be crowned with an enormous red rose and trimmed with a little grograin ribbon.   A hat to wear on the beach at Cap Ferrat.





A black Panama speaks of Paris  and late night supper.    I trimmed it simply with Chanel inspired ribbon.   A hat for Deuville should be able to go to the beach or to  the races.






When a hat is pink it should speak of romance.  Of  lingering looks across a crowded room.  Of dancing on the beach  under the  stars .  Gray silk flowers the colour of moon light caress this hat of love.




All you have to do is follow me down the rabbit hole.   Have tea with the Mad Hatter  and dance in the moonlight.  All it takes is a Panama Hat.