Ah, Those Summer Lights


With all the rain (not to mention my wallet’s dearth of dinero), I just haven’t done a lot of entertaining out in my backyard this summer. You too? Well, heck, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet. Let’s do something about this.

After getting your guest list together and before pulling out your favorite recipes, I suggest you point your attention toward the matter of light. The fanciful kind, the little boogaloo of candlelight that’s as magical amid a gathering of friends as the food and music. Consider these options for their beauty, affordability and versatility.

1. Looks good, does good.
My favorite find is the Winter White Home lantern. I love the way a tealight’s flame peeks through the white and gold terra-cotta scrollwork. And more than that, I love that it is handmade in rural Bangladesh by the Christian Organization for Relief and Rehabilitation’s Jute Works group and sold by a fair-trade Web site. It’s 9-1/2 inches tall and costs $17.50.

2. The sale days of September.
A lot of stores are clearning out their garden accessories—including lanterns. Pier 1, for instance, is offering a handsome metal-and-glass lantern. They were $8 and now are $1.98. And everything (oil lamps and all sorts of lanterns included) is marked down 30 percent to 50 percent at Smith & Hawken, which, sadly, is going out of business.

3. DIY the simple, affordable way.
Make your own lanterns with:

  • glass containers (anything from baby food jars to Mason jars to tall, cylindrical glass vases)
  • something interesting to wrap around the glass (translucent, patterned scrapbook papers or scraps of burlap or screens for screen doors, even oversize green leaves)
  • something to tie around your wrap (raffia, twine or wide grosgrain ribbon, for example)
  • votive or pillar candles, depending on the size of your glass container
  • sand (or rice, dry beans, fish gravel, river rocks—be creative)

Set the pillar candle in the glass container; pour in sand (or your choice of filler to hold the candle in place and catch wax drips). Wrap glass container and tie it up. Not only is this affordable, but there’s also a lot of potential for reuse. And we all love reuse, right?

4. Swimmingly sensational.

If you’ve got a big galvanized steel washtub, put it in a strategic spot, then fill it with water and drop in a half-dozen or so decorative floating candles. Light. Voila. (I found a great price on a 32-inch-long steel tub here at $29.95, but check your local hardware store, too. Bonus: You’ll be able to find many uses for the tub after the party’s over.)

5. Canned heat.
OK, so you love to make things, you’ve got some time and you love a challenge. Making punched tin luminarias with empty tin cans of any size—from soup to paint—is for you. Find instructions here.

And let the parties begin!

Elaine Matsushita is the girl behind “”The Snoopster,” a blogzine (www.thesnoopster.com) for Chicago-area folks looking for home inspiration and ideas. Elaine is the former editor of the Chicago Tribune’s House & Homes section.

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