The Great Pumpkin

Perhaps there is no greater symbol of harvest festivities and autumn holidays than that of the great pumpkin. First introduced as a highly nutritional food and medicinal source to the early-American settlers by their Native American neighbors, the use of the pumpkin quickly evolved to everything from early renditions of pumpkin “pie” (custard) to pumpkin beer, templates for haircuts (thus some New Englanders were known as “pumpkinheads”), and Jack-o-lanterns.

While there are four basic species of pumpkins, there are dozens of variations and each of them serve a specific purpose in food preparation, carving, and/or display. Traditionally, we are all familiar with the typical, Connecticut Field or Howden pumpkins that are often used for carving and decoration and these are what we utilize here at our home to brighten our fall celebration.

There are many ways you can use a pumpkin to bring a natural feel to your autumn décor. If you have children, then carving or painting your pumpkins may be the choice for you (as always, when carving, be sure to provide the appropriate adult supervision) as it provides an enjoyable way for you to teach and engage your child about early American history and pumpkins in general. You may even opt to decorate a pumpkin to give away as a gift to a friend or a teacher.

Incorporating an un-carved pumpkin into a natural setting can also be a great and simple way to bring the flair of autumn to your home. Using pumpkins among fall table settings, on the fireplace mantle, or among a few bales of hay, colorful leaves, some smaller gourds, flowers (such as yellow, orange, or maroon mums), dried corn stalks, and of course, a scarecrow, are just a few creative ways to make this time of year a festive occasion.

Happy Autumn!

©Copyright 2014 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

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Home For Christmas

The Christmas Season has arrived in southwest Ohio and we’re ready to celebrate. The tree is decorated, the fireplace is lit, the smell of seasonal spices and baking is in the air, and the classic holiday sounds of Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Andy Williams are streaming from the radio. Christmas is such a special time!

While we are aware that many of you have special traditions and meanings in your holiday routines, here are some of our own creative customs and practices that have made this time of year so festive for us:

1.  Home Decorations

Over the years we have discovered that “less is more.” Balancing the quantity of decorations (both inside and out) may provide you more quality – less stimulation and more room to relax, breathe, and discover some real “peace on earth.” Natural and/or country-style garnishes and trimmings may soften your home, making it warm and inviting. You may also explore a house-wide “theme” and/or a theme for each room where decorations meet the everyday styles and colors.

2. Seasonal Traditions

Christmas celebration comes early at the Rhoades’ house, at least in the form of music. Scott customarily pulls out the holiday music in mid-September as a creative way to imagine and capture the meaningful depths of the season.

For the past several years, we’ve also enjoyed attending and participating in Christmas Eve church services as a means to focus ourselves on the true meaning and spirit of our celebrations. This is often followed by a quiet evening at home where we enjoy a course of dried meats, cheeses, and crackers, and an exchange of smaller “stocking” gifts. Major gifts are reserved for Christmas morning.

Just as the music begins early, so the decorations stay up longer. Scott grew up in a very diverse ethnic and religious community, so it was not uncommon for everyone to continue celebrating up until the Russian Orthodox New Year. So, if you visit the Rhoades’ home in January, be prepared for some extended “comfort and joy.”

3. Seasonal Wishes

Whatever your customs and traditions, may your home serve as a haven for family and friends and may your holiday be filled with peace and goodwill. Merry Christmas!

©Copyright 2013 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

Fancies of Fall

Autumn is in full swing at the Rhoades household. Oh, how we love this time of year! The crispness of the air, the changing colors of the foliage, the migrating geese, the scent of burning leaves, and the harvesting of the crops provides us the awe-inspiring opportunity to celebrate the blessings of the past while preparing us to find relentless courage for the cold, icy season to come.

So, how do we celebrate this season of change? Here are some creative ideas we’d like to share with you:

1. Home Decorations

Karen and I love the warm and cozy atmosphere fall decorations bring to our home, and while purchasing commercial, retail products is an option, the prices can quickly add up. Some inexpensive decorating ideas we have used in and around our home include pumpkins, gourds, hay/straw bales (outside), apples, ornamental flint or Indian corn, colored leaves, wheat, and grapevines to form decorative wreaths.

2. Autumn Scents

Don’t you enjoy the phenomenal odors we associate with this special time of year? We certainly do and candles, oils, plug-in aroma dispensers, and natural baking odors are a great way to immerse yourself into the spirit of the season. Scientists have proven the powerful effect odors have on our psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physiological well-being and they also serve to evoke those precious and endearing memories associated with celebrations of the past. The smell of fresh pumpkin, spices, burning wood, bread, and baked goods can bring a sense of relaxation, decreased anxiety, and recapture moments in grandma’s kitchen or beside the glowing fireplace.

3. Seasonal Foods

As the temperature drops and the nights grow longer, it’s natural to seek those warm and appetizing comfort foods. Who doesn’t want a nice big slice of pumpkin pie or cranberry bread with a big mug of warm apple cider or hot chocolate or a big bowl of butternut squash soup? The good news is you don’t have to sacrifice your health in the process. Recipes are available to provide you the same great tasting cuisine while keeping your body in check. A simple internet search or a stroll through the cookbook section of your local bookstore can provide you with a variety of resources where you can locate delicious, low-calorie, seasonal delights. Always remember, moderation in everything.

4. Seasonal Traditions

There are a variety of ways you can celebrate the autumn season with your friends and family! Don’t forget to visit that corn maze and/or local pumpkin patch, fall festival, haunted house, or find a local farm for a good old fashioned hay ride. Most importantly, make it your tradition and create a memory to last a lifetime!

We trust you are enjoying this autumn season and hope these ideas will help you create a warm and welcoming home and seasonal experience for you and your family and friends.

Happy Autumn!

Back To Basics

Is your frustration with money (or the lack thereof) keeping you from attempting to create a warm and welcoming haven for you, your family, and guests? Perhaps you have a plan for a major house renovation, but you’ve abandoned the idea because you’re discouraged with the tallying of the estimated costs and now you don’t feel you can do anything. Well my friend, take heart, because while you are budgeting and saving for that next big project, here are a few small things that can make a difference:

1. Keep it clean. It doesn’t matter if you live in a mobile home or a million-dollar mansion, keeping your environment clean and fresh can make all the difference. My, what a little soap, water, and elbow grease can accomplish!

2. Keep it organized. Organizing your surroundings will often times help you organize your thoughts, yours actions, your days, and your lifestyle. Take advantage of “to do” lists, files, folders, drawers, and totes to keep you on top of your busy household and schedule!

3. Un-clutter. Schedule times throughout the year and unload the excess baggage. Donate items that are in good condition to the local thrift store, church care closet, or to someone you know who might be able to use them. If you’re looking for some extra change (to save towards that big project) or want to donate some funds to a worthy project, have a yard or garage sale

4. DYI (Do It Yourself) projects. Changing or updating fixtures on kitchen cupboards, lights, switches, etc., can give any room a new appearance. A little fresh paint can provide a new look or dimension to an old space or item. Simple throw pillows can add a different element to living spaces. Restoring old furniture or an antique can give any room or the outdoors a fresh look and a bed and breakfast feel. Adding flowers, greens, and mulch around shrubs, walkways, and/or trees can totally redefine your outdoor landscape.

Making small, gradual changes will allow your living spaces to take on a whole new personality and charm, while providing you a relaxed and comfortable surrounding that will simply welcome you home.