Category Archives: Decorating

TGIW: Random advice

by Libby Sternberg

Nothing deep or even narrative today. Just some random tips and advice I’ve picked up along life’s journey. Some might be obvious, but they weren’t to me when I discovered them:

tablecloth rosetteShortening too-long tablecloths: I have a couple tablecloths that are a tad large. My tables shrank. Or maybe I kind of bought the wrong size. They’re okay when we have the leaf in the dining room table (just barely), but not so much when the table is its smaller size. I saw a caterer do this trick, though, and have tried it myself: gather a bunch of the tablecloth where it’s too long. Slip a rubber band around the “bunch” to create a rosette effect. See picture.  This is great if you’re worried about guests tripping over the ends of a too-long tablecloth during a buffet serving.

Grab a stool from the bar: Shopping at JC Penney with a friend and don’t have anywhere to sit while they’re in the fitting room? Grab a stool from one of their silly “jeans bars” and park yourself on it. You’ll probably be doing them a service. As readers know, I was no fan of the recently fired Penney CEO Ron Johnson. One of his “innovations” was to create these “jeans bars” within the stores with tables full of jeans and stools pulled up to them. (For what? The mind boggles.) Anyway, if we can get an army of folks moving these stools to places in the stores where people really do want to sit…it’s a corporal work of mercy, I tell ya!

Scrambled eggs: Listen to Ina–Garten, that is. Slow and low. She advises not cooking them too quickly, and I have to say this does result in a softer scramble. I also read somewhere that adding a little seltzer water to the mix can make them fluffier, but I haven’t tried that.

Put nutmeg in your pancakes: I’ve been doing this for years, ever since I figured out why a particular eatery’s pancakes tasted so yummy. Just add a sprinkle or two to your batter.

Dress your onions first: I like onions in salad, but I don’t like that raw onion taste that lingers. So, I slice onions very thinly, place them in the salad bowl and dress with vinaigrette first. They hang out while I make the rest of the dinner, then I throw the greens and other veggies in and toss right before serving.

Take your shoes off: You have a gorgeous pair of shoes, but they get a tad uncomfortable after a while. You wear them to a wedding or other gathering. The floor might be dirty but it’s not strewn with broken glass, so…just take your shoes off and dance. At a recent wedding, I was delighted to see many guests dancing barefoot (or in their stocking feet). I walked around after my beautiful, but rarely worn, silver shoes started to make my feetsies ache. Amazingly, no one commented on this.

Sparkle: I’m a big proponent of sparkly jewelry, sparkly apparel and sparkly…personalities. When I was younger, I favored chiffony clothes and sparkly jewelry, but then the sixties came along and ruined everything with their bell-bottom jeans uniform. Nowadays, however, I wear sparkly jewelry even with jeans. I have learned not to save nice things for so-called special occasions. Every day is special.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Buy her books so she can buy more shoes and sparkly things.

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TGIW: Decorating with found objects

by Libby Sternberg

I have many cousins, but most live far away. One, however, is but a half hour’s drive from us, and it is a great joy to see Bill regularly for barbecues, family dinners and more. He has a mischievous sense of humor that translates into creative rule-making during summertime games of croquet (“Everyone with a hat on gets an extra turn!”), and he always brings…door prizes.

A flea market aficionado, he brings a box or two of his finds to gatherings. After the meal, we’ll play a game — croquet if the weather’s good, Bananagrams or charades for other days — and door prizes are won by the victors. Or sometimes by the vanquished. Depends on the prize–one of our rules is that you can either choose a prize for yourself or bestow one on another guest. Bill’s one rule is: If you discover the prize has value, don’t tell him.

door prizes

I’m proud of my door prizes.

I treasure my wins, which include a domed cheese dish, a rectangular serving plate I use often, a decorative bowl, several spectacular vases (one of green glass, the other blue) and a few candlestick holders.

Contemplating these wins made me realize how much of my household is decorated with hand-me-downs. I’d say a good 80 to 90 percent of each room is furnished with pieces given to us by family members, from the gorgeous Belgian rugs in living and dining rooms to the end tables in the family room, to the headboard and bedframe in our bedroom. Of the few pieces of furniture we’ve purchased on our own, several have come from a consignment store where I love to shop.

The repainted chair and the plastic planter.

The repainted chair and the plastic planter.

I enjoy using found pieces outside, as well. On our front porch sits a rocking chair a neighbor was giving away for free (I took it and repainted it), along with a big old plastic flower pot my middle son had used in his college apartment for a bamboo plant. I use it for flowers; its, well, cheesiness, is somewhat obscured when viewed from the road. I’ve used flagstones and bricks found on our property for pathways, too.

Early in our marriage, I felt acutely the challenge of not having enough money to adequately decorate. But now that we can afford to buy pieces, I find myself cherishing the used items that have come our way, and I think I’ve done a good job of integrating the pieces into a pleasing decor. In fact, I feel a little bit guilty buying new things when so many wonderful used pieces are on the market.  brick pathway

Now, when I look at the barrel-back chair in our living room, I remember crawling into it as a child, seeing it as the sheltering symbol of unconditional parental love. When I view our love seat and piano, I think of my very special mother-in-law. When we gather around our dining room table, I remember sitting at that table as a newlywed when my in-laws lived outside of DC.

Each piece tells a story. If I had all the money in the world to redecorate, I’d probably keep things as they are.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.  TGIW=Thank God It’s Wednesday.

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Fruitcake, balls and tornadoes

Like Ahab hunting Moby Dick, I’ve been on an obsessive search–to find those big, fat, shiny ornaments you hang on deciduous trees outside. Finally, I hit the target. I mean Target, the store. That’s where I found them. And I’ve hung them outside as my own clenched-fist protest against the winter sky–its shortening days and longer nights:

christmas 2012 big ornaments

Speaking of things Christmasy, let’s take a break from making fruitcake jokes to actually make…fruitcake. Or, rather, fruitcake bar cookies. Believe it or not, until I was in my twenties, I’d never tasted fruitcake. But after I married, I discovered that my mother-in-law not only liked it, she made batches of it every Christmas, all soaked in apple brandy, to send as gifts to friends and relatives. Her recipe was very good–a dark, dense cake filled with candied citron, orange peel, cherries and nuts and raisins, too. When she lived in Maryland, she’d go to Lexington market to find these candied treasures.

She is gone now, and I can’t recreate her fruitcake success. Her recipe was for many cakes–I tried one year to make only one loaf by doing lots of math (long division, even!) with the recipe. Me + lots of math = not-so-good-fruitcake.

Not to worry — she also left us a recipe for fruitcake bar cookies, a lighter batter but still moist and sweet. So if you happen to be among the few, the happy few, who enjoy fruitcake, here’s the recipe:


Cream together:

  • 1/2 cup butter (one stick)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsns milk


  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tspn cinnamon
  • (dash of nutmeg if desired)

Mix dry and wet ingredients. Batter is VERY thick.

Add: 1/2 cup raisins, 1/4 cup candied cherries, 1/4 cup candied orange peel, 1/4 cup pineapple — whatever candied fruits you like and, really, as many of them as you like.

Spread with spoon (or your clean fingers!) in a greased 9 x 13 pan and bake at 350 for 1/2 hour. Cool and cut into bars.

Fruitcake cookie

Fruitcake cookie

I saved the recipe in my new recipe book. The one I made. Yes, I did.

Finally, a note about a previous post…

I wrote about my recent trip to Kansas where I met long-time writer pals for the very first time after corresponding with them for more than ten years. In looking through my photos of that trip, I came across this one, from the Kansas City Airport:

ks tornado shelter sign

Hmm….I guess they have tornadoes out there sometimes. Would make a great setting for a fantasy tale….


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