An Al Fresco Autumn Dinner and Thanks to Jackie

RANCHO LA ZACA-Calif. I’m on a gratitude kick lately.

Autumn picnic table
Grapevines in their autumn colors, eucalyptus, and Jackie's (shhh) artificial bittersweet - but who would know?

Decorating tips to follow, I promise, but bear with me: In last Thursday’s post, One Little Thing, I talked about the big benefit of doing the one little thing of a gratitude journal. The idea came from author and motivational speaker Jerry Posner, who, in his reply to that post invited us to join him in Grati-Tuesdays on Facebook and Twitter. I answered that I was all in, so I’ve just posted on his wall, and here’s another:

Jackie and Wyatt
Wyatt Cromer and Jackie Rosa, treasure and finder of treasures, prepare the fire for last Friday's dinner. Wyatt is also a treasure, btw!

I’m grateful this Tuesday for Jackie Rosa. Jackie helps out here at the ranch when we entertain. Some people are seekers; Jackye is a finder. There is lots to say about Jackie, a sort of bohemian earth-mother with a ready smile and a twinkle in her eye, but for now I’ll just say she is always finding things. Mostly recently she retrieved a cache of fake (gasp!) bittersweet from the dumpster (don’t ask) of a local nursery-gift shop. I don’t advocate using artificial anything but boy, nowadays they do a really good job on some of it. Jackie knows I am always scavenging things from the woods and the roadsides to use in arrangements or to decorate the table or the house. Word has gotten out about this tendency of mine and now friends scavenge for me as well. (Grateful for them all!)

I’m also grateful for the beautiful warm weather we’ve had, both here and back East. The Friday after Thanksgiving we had a shoot for the neighbors and dinner afterward in what we call the old picnic area. It’s situated by the vineyard and has a rustic outdoor kitchen and bar, and a great big firepit.

The firepit in the old picnic area. Photo by Julie Farrell.

It’s where we had Cowboy Wyatt and Brie’s rehearsal dinner in September, if you recall. We set up three picnic tables end to end and strew them with grapevines, eucalyptus, and Jackie’s wonderful bittersweet winding its wired, plastic way up Pottery Barn lanterns in different sizes.

Autumn al fresco
Green napkins tied in the evergreen of surrounding oak trees and were a nice complement to the warm autumn colors.

It was simple, but lush. You know my rule: Have just what you think you need, and then add a little more. Abundance is the look I’m going for almost always.

Dinner at Old Picnic Area
A post-Thanksgiving al fresco feast, featuring a killer gumbo by Chef Stephanie Valentine, who also took this picture. (She has many talents, all of which we are grateful for!)

I may as well go ahead and confess that this bittersweet isn’t the only artifice I’m allowing into my holiday decorating schemes this year. Sacrilege, I know, but honestly, when you mix it with real plant material and live greenery, you’d never know. Except of course that I just told you.

My mama always said, “Frances, you don’t have to tell everything,” but I usually do. So what are your dirty little holiday decorating secrets? I’d be grateful to hear – I bet everyone would.

Twilight view
The view at twilight from the old picnic area. Bigtime grateful for that.

P.S. If and when you do encounter the real bittersweet, whether in the woods or in your own garden, have at it. It is beautiful in arrangements but awful for whatever you find it growing in. Obnoxiously invasive, the vine will eventually strangle its host shrub or tree. When I first moved in to Bee Cottage, bittersweet was winding its evil way through my privet hedges. Whack!

Frances and Frannie
Frances Dittmer, right, and me


    1. I’m going to remember that and place an order next year. Let’s hear it for Ace Hardware in Tarboro and Bernice! Thank you, Shari! x!

  1. Gosh…I’m impressed that I know someone who can wear a turtleneck, a shirt, a blazer and a cape (?) all in one outfit and still look slender as a rail! I’d look like Medea! What beautiful pictures and a wonderful blog. Thanks!

    1. Don’t be impressed, Walker; the turtleneck was sleeveless. Besides I know what you look like and you couldn’t look like Medea if you tried, child.

  2. Frances,
    Your blog is wonderful. I love your writing, your ideas, tips, recipes, photos….the whole thing. I’m thrilled I finally came across it.

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