GETTING READY FOR OUTDOOR LIVING

Text: Lori Malone

“Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.” —Sam Keen

Every year at this time, as most people excitedly anticipate spring and all its promises—birds in song, flowers burgeoning and a reprieve from snow—I’m excitedly anticipating preparing and arranging my outdoor furniture. Yes, outdoor decorating excites me. The wall-less rooms marked by ornaments and seating that are defined by tasks like grilling, reclining and marshmallow toasting remind me that the lazy days of summer, which beg to be spent outdoors, are well on their way. However, the readying of an outdoor lifestyle requires more forethought than the ease of its name would imply. Now is the time to sort through what you have, decide what you need and prepare your furnishings for the great outdoors. Doing this in early spring rather than the night before the Memorial Day barbecue will ensure a more relaxing time with guests and a more convivial environment to entertain in.

The furniture
I am not one that likes matched sets of anything. So my idea of outdoor decorating includes the unconventional use of furnishings and materials that add more charm and interest to an outdoor space than a purchased, preassembled patio set can ever hope to offer. Repurposing yard sale finds or your own furniture cast-offs is also good for the environment and your pocketbook.
Good paint can go a long way in making indoor furniture suitable for outdoor use. Paint, in the same shade or coordinating tones, can also unify mismatched pieces. Be sure to use paint and a top coat suitable
for outdoor use. Using tarps and outdoor furniture coverings will help maintain the finish and longevity
of your furnishings.

Now is the time to repair wobbly legs and loose screws, and remove mildew and rust from existing furniture. A fresh coat of paint and new cushions will help existing patio furniture last another season with a renewed
presence.

Accessories
If you seek out excuses to add chotskies to level surfaces, then outdoor decorating will inspire you. Unlike more refined objects of art we use in our indoor living spaces, outdoor accessories are more playful, rustic and should be somewhat useful. Lanterns, flower pots, area rugs, screens, pillows, containers, lighting and sculpture all lend to a cozy, well appointed space. Galvanized tubs, for instance, can be painted to match your decor and serve as a place to store horseshoes and badminton equipment or filled with ice and beer for a party. Lanterns of various sizes look splendid grouped on a table or console. Twinkling lights woven into bushes, up trellises or strung overhead with plastic shades cast a warm ambient glow for late night entertaining.

Fire and water features
A popular and attractive component to outdoor living is a fire pit. Whether you buy a manufactured one or build one yourself, this element adds so much to an outdoor space. Like a home’s hearth, the outdoor fire pit begs to be gathered around. It sets the tone for stories to be told, songs to be sung and marshmallows to be toasted.

Check your town’s ordinances to ensure you are permitted to use a fire pit in your locale. Practicing a safety drill is also recommended.

The sound of water is very relaxing. Including a water feature in your outdoor space creates a lovely focal point, and has the added benefit of drowning out traffic noise. With many manufactured and easy-to- install fountains available, finding one to fit your taste and budget shouldn’t be difficult.

Dining Al Fresco
Growing up in Brooklyn, dining al fresco meant a slice of pizza on the front stoop. Country life provides something a little more enchanting. Outdoor dining can be casual or sophisticated, depending on your preference.
Outdoor dining also provides ample space for larger gatherings. To accommodate more guests, consider using two or three saw-horses with a sturdy board placed on top and brightly colored cloths or quilts to cover the board. Don’t be afraid to use fine china and crystal outdoors. Be creative and mix and match several sets.

Entertainment
Keeping family and friends amused during their visit requires little more than a few downloads and the purchase of some games. Sing-a-longs are always fun, especially when gathered around an open fire. Simply select traditional campfire songs like the ones found at Ultimate Camp Resource,www.ultimatecampresource.com. Or maybe your guests would prefer Classic Rock anthems or Show Tunes; an internet search will help you obtain lyrics to most of your favorite songs. Simply download song sheets from the internet and pass out to guests.

Games like backgammon, checkers, Yatzee, Scrabble and cards are always great to have on hand and can be enjoyed in both good or bad weather. Horseshoes, badminton, bocce and ring toss are great yard games and if maintained, can last many years. Rules and court regulations can be found at www.familybackyardgames.com.

Insects
Keeping pests like ants, wasps, flies and mosquitoes at bay is probably the most challenging aspect of outdoor living. Finding environmentally safe methods to deter these creatures from making a nuisance of themselves during your outdoor celebration is not as difficult as you might imagine. The first line of defense it to make sure that standing water in birdbaths, dog bowls and gutters, are replaced at least twice a week. Planting marigolds around your outdoor dining area will also help keep flying insects away. Here are some natural alternatives for pest control.

Mosquitoes: If you’re using the barbecue, throw a bit of sage or rosemary on the coals to repel mosquitoes. Topically, oil of eucalyptus at 30 percent concentration prevents mosquito bites for up to two hours. For a longer period of protection, try a making a natural bug repellent, mixing one part garlic juice with 5 parts water in a small spray bottle. Shake well before using. Spray lightly on exposed body parts for an effective repellent lasting up to 5 hours. Strips of cotton cloth can also be dipped in this mixture and hung in areas, such as patios, as a localized deterrent. Safe, nontoxic pheromone-based mosquito traps are now commercially available.
Flies: Use mint as a fly repellent. Small sachets of crushed mint can be placed around the garden to discourage flies. Place a small, open container of sweet basil and clover near food. A few drops of eucalyptus oil on a
scrap of absorbent cloth will deter flies too. Leave in areas where flies are a problem. Safe, nontoxic, pheromone-based outdoor and indoor fly traps
are available.
Wasps are attracted to protein foods. Any food exposed, such as pet food, picnic scraps, open garbage containers or uncovered compost piles should be removed or covered. Wasps imprint food sources, and will continue to search an area for some time after the food has been removed.
In late summer and early fall, wasps prefer sweet scents. Open cans of soda, fruit juice, fallen fruit from trees and perfume will attract wasps. Keep sweet things covered and forgo wearing perfume. Don’t swat wasps. When a wasp is squashed, a chemical (pheromone) is released which attracts and incites other nearby wasps. It’s best to walk away from a hovering wasp.
Ants: Keep a small spray bottle handy, and spray the ants with a bit of soapy water. Leave a few tea bags of mint tea near areas where the ants seem most active. Dry, crushed mint leaves or cloves also work as ant deterrents. Ants on the deck? Slip a few cut up cloves of garlic between the cracks. Clove oil-based commercial ant deterrents are also available.


Cleaning Tip:

A natural way to remove mild mildew and rust stains from outdoor cushions is to use a half-cup of lemon juice and a quarter-cup of salt. Mix ingredients together, creating a paste-like substance. Rub in clean areas where mild mildew or rust stains have affected the material. Set to dry in direct bright sunlight for a day.


To remove rust from metal furniture, use a stiff metal brush and steel wool. Use a mask to prevent ingesting particles and eye wear to keep loosened debris from getting in your eyes.
Power washing is also a great way to freshen up existing furniture, umbrellas, outdoor rugs and seat cushions.

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