Holiday Decorating & Cooking: Cottage at the Crossroads
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, email@example.com
As Christmas approaches, most of us tend to haul out the same old decorations, hang them in the same old spots, and make the same old holiday recipes. Some of that is tradition and probably shouldn’t be tampered with, but there is room for innovation, improvisation, and creativity. These are three attributes Lamar resident Jane Windham embodies, and encourages in others through her popular blog, The Cottage at the Crossroads.
Jane and husband Leo Windham moved into their beloved cottage – located at the intersection of Hwy 403 and Hwy 401 – about six years ago. The house was Leo’s childhood home, located on land the Windhams have owned since the 1700s, and it seemed the perfect spot for the couple to downsize, unwind, and enjoy their retirement. Little did they know that they were beginning a whole new career centered around gardening, cooking, decorating, and beautifying that sweet little house, or that documenting their efforts online would win them a sizable number of fans who appreciate their hard work and dedication.
Christmastime offers a chance for Jane’s decorating instincts to shine, and she spends weeks searching online for inspiration (Pinterest is a frequent stop), planning her indoor and outdoor themes, and gathering supplies to bring that vision into reality. Frugality is a virtue at the Cottage, and Jane says she tries to recycle items from previous years to extend their usefulness and keep costs down.
“I don’t have the money to buy all new stuff every year, so I try to reuse things whenever I can,” says Jane, noting that last year’s gardening décor simply migrated from the interior to the front porch, clearing the way for this season’s living room theme: Peace.
“With all the terrible things that have happened around the world this year, I though this was appropriate. We could all use more peace in our lives,” Jane says.
Improvising around that premise, Jane decked out the Cottage living room in shades of green, the color of life and renewal, and white to represent purity and serenity. Long-leafed pine garland (artificial but realistic) strung through with fairy lights surrounds the fireplace mantel, enhanced by snow-tipped pinecones and custom-sewn stockings bearing the Windham’s names. Jane found a pair of rustic wooden reindeer at a garden center and dressed them up for the season, and gave the mantel display some vertical interest with lit green spire trees.
Bargain hunting was key in assembling the display, and Jane says she searches for deals online and at local spots like the So-Lina Auction Market on the Lamar Highway. While items found in auction bargain bins might initially look like throwaways, Jane says its important to evaluate what that junky item could become with a little cleaning and a touch of paint.
“I’m a scavenger… there are things I use that I just picked up for free at the end of an auction, things that were just kind of cast aside and nobody wanted,” Jane says.
For example, a somewhat gaudy porcelain Christmas town set from the 70s became an elegant, snow-capped mountain village through liberal application of chalk paint, glitter, and Epsom salt. A bargain bin reindeer statue now looks like a department store display item, nestled salt-and-glitter snow under a half-price glass cloche. A wooden curtain ring became a tree ornament with the addition of a paper backing and some tiny greens and pinecones plucked from an old potpourri assortment.
On the blog, Jane offers tips for making your own holiday decorations to celebrate special occasions all year long, and provides projects you can do yourself or share with youngsters who enjoy crafting.
“This year, I’ll be putting up instructions for how to make a little handsewn gingerbread man,” says Jane, adding that the gingerbread man sewing project is easy enough to share with young children.
While Jane has the decorating instincts, Leo focuses on maintaining the Cottage’s amazing garden, where the Windhams grow a beautiful variety of fresh produce – much of which they cook up in their own kitchen, sharing recipes with readers along the way.
Their blog offers lots of great recipes and cooking tips for appetizers (the Lowcountry Crab and Pimiento Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms look amazing!), entrees from seafood gumbo to pot roast, and dessert ideas for pies, cakes, and pretty parfaits. Canning recipes include spicy pear chutney, creole sauce, cucumber relish, spicy pickled okra, and a recipe for homemade canned spaghetti sauce that drew more than 150,000 page views – a figure that proved eye-opening for Jane and Leo.
“We just never expected that many people would be reading,” says Jane, noting that the generous public response makes it worth all the work to stage and photograph and write up new posts every week.
Visit cottageatthecrossroads.com online to see more of Jane and Leo’s gardening tips, recipes, and decorating ideas. And if you’re up for some great music programmed by Leo (a veteran radio personality), tune in Crossroads Radio by clicking the “Radio” button on their homepage. Mobile users, please click link to view more photos: Cottage at the Crossroads Gallery