Hope your day is cozy and full of warm feelings.
Hope your day is cozy and full of warm feelings.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
You know the verse.
But, can you tell me …
what, exactly, is a sugar plum?
My first thought:
Fresh, juicy, and sugar-sweet—much like the ones that grow at my farm.
But history says that my vision of a sugar plum is not accurate, at least not in terms of Clement Moore’s famous poem.
Here’s what my days are about. Momma “Sweetheart” nurses baby Charlie while Auntie Sally O’Mally sleeps nearby. Etta Jane and her baby, Eliza Belle, snooze out of view. Maizy and Miss Daisy are in the barn asleep. Otis, Yore, Brie, and Beau Vine snuggle in another barn. Milky Way and Samson in yet another shelter.
When Charlie isn’t tucked under momma, he and his older sibling, Eliza Belle, run like the wind. Run! Eliza Belle kicks up her heels sideways (too cute), and Charlie leaps likes a deer through the snow. I mean, he LEAPS. Bounds. I’ve never seen a calf leap like he does. It I weren’t trying to get my cow book done, I’d move in with my lovely cows. “Hay guys, is there room at the inn? Your beds look so cozy.”
Meanwhile, down at the farm … peace on earth.
How about a Christmas tree that’s roughly four feet tall, perfectly symmetrical, and very much alive? In late September, my local nursery puts their trees on clearance, so that’s when I usually adopt my soon-to-be Christmas tree for around $60. Some years there’s another local endeavor selling live trees for $125 but not this year.
My feelings are identical to the way I felt when my parents let me pick out a puppy or choose from a litter of kittens. This one! Its roots are securely tucked into a root ball covered in burlap. Each year, I bring a tree home and carefully and routinely water it until I can get it planted, usually in March sometime.
Grown and out the door, my farm is home to a couple dozen trees I’ve fallen for over the years. Some of them are now HUGE! Thought to protect homes from evil, it’s no surprise we want them indoors with us. Outside greenery, brought inside, is the centerpiece of our holiday season.
The worship of trees goes back to the time of the earliest Pantheists. (Pantheism is the worship of nature.) Integrated into our holiday customs are early Christian and Jewish practices, Roman traditions, medieval pagan rituals, and Victorian nostalgia. Germans introduced Americans to the Christmas tree (tannenbaum), but they weren’t the first to believe that evergreen trees represented eternal life because of their perennial green color during winter. Ancient homes were decorated with boughs and the tops of trees turned upside down to entice the spirit of nature inside for prosperity and good health.
Cut, faux, or alive—what’s your centerpiece this year? Having tried them all, I can make a convincing argument for all three. For every Christmas tree cut, two are planted. With over a million acres set aside to grow Christmas trees, one acre provides the daily oxygen requirement for some 18 people, but there’s just something sad to me about that lifeless hulk slowly turning brown out the back door. And I can’t for the life of me envision Pan, the god of woods, fields, and flocks, coming into my home to play his flute for my faux tree, even if it is an “eternal” tree.
Check out www.livingchristmastrees.org, a Portland, Oregon-based company that’s been in business for over 20 years delivering full-size Christmas trees and then planting them at schools, churches, and parks after Christmas.
Maybe you’ll be getting a new deck of cards this year in your Christmas stocking. If so, here’s an idea for what to do with your old deck. I made this scrapbook-inspired advent calendar last year from an old deck of cards.
In the spirit of upcycle and on a mission to make an advent calendar, I rummaged through my craft boxes, finding spare scraps, odd buttons, random thread and lace, and numbers, and then scrounged some holidayish-looking items. Using a fabulous vintage frame I’d been saving and an old deck of cards, I started cutting and pasting, the old-fashioned way. The cards have special meaning because my grandpa, now gone, gave me this deck many years ago after teaching me card tricks. Casino issue, the whole set had been punched with a hole upon its professional retirement, perfect for this project.
Most of my advent calendar is upcycled, but I did use a new alphabet stamp set and pad for some of the numbers and a dear friend lent me her Cricut machine that cuts paper into all kinds of shapes and sizes. Even the styrofoam backing is a scrap I snagged from the ‘shipping warehouse’ side of our farm.
When I showed my mother the finished project, she asked how on earth I burned all the edges of the paper and cards so evenly. Here’s a handy tip: rub the edges of your paper with a brown stamp pad, and it instantly looks rustic, aged, and even a bit burned in places.
Underneath each card is a smaller card with a note that is a 24-day treasure hunt for my children. Every year, I come up with things like, “Where on earth might your dollies be?” And then, underneath their sleeping dollies, sugar-plum lollipops await them or the promise of an extra-long bedtime story.
This year we’re having fun with the Elf on the Shelf. Anyone else doing that?
Wouldn’t you love to be shopping for groceries when …
Whether you’re hosting this holiday season or heading out to visit friends and family, simple gestures of thoughtfulness and hospitality are a sure way to warm spirits and make everyone feel right at home.
1. Soothing Sachets
There’s nothing like lavender’s calming scent to relax a weary traveler. Welcome a special guest to a good night’s sleep with a lavender sachet on her pillow. A quick way to make your own no-sew sachet is to place a generous pinch of lavender in the center of a lace-edged handkerchief, pull the corners together, and tie a ribbon around the bundle.
Everyone appreciates personal space while visiting others, and gracious hosts go the extra mile by offering the comforts of home. Invite relaxation with a low-watt lamp and a mesmerizing selection of reading material in the guest bedroom. An alarm clock is requisite, but how about a CD player with a couple of soothing seasonal discs? Provide a pretty take-home journal too, encouraging guests to jot notes and musings from their holiday stay.
3. Relax and Recharge
After a day of play in the brisk outdoors, gather your guests for a revitalizing afternoon warm-up. Replenish spirits with bottomless cups of homemade cocoa and organic local wine. Add a cornucopia of satisfying winter snacks to tide hungry tummies over until the dinner bell rings. Easy and energizing munchies include dried fruits and nuts, sausage, cheese slices, and a platter of fresh-from-the-oven walnut-raisin focaccia bread made with my quick Organic Focaccia Bread Mix.
4. Discovery Jars
Looking for an intriguing party favor to break the ice among dinner guests? Try a “Discovery Jar.” Place a handful of trinkets in a lidded jar, fill jar with sand to about 2 inches from the top, tighten the lid, and attach a list of clues to help identify the buried treasures. For example: Frosty’s nose was a … ? Button! Each guest reads a clue, then shakes the jar to try and find the matching object in 1 minute. When time’s up, pass the jar.
5. Bath & Beauty Basics
Don’t wait for guests to worry that they’ve forgotten toiletries. Stock a cute caddy with all the “green” basics and beyond: Preserve’s Recyclable Travel Set of toothbrush and razor, Cinnamon Clove Toothpaste from Tom’s of Maine, J.R. Liggett’s Old-Fashioned Bar Shampoo, and Avalon Organics Hand and Body Lotion (all available from vitacost.com). Include a couple of plush towels and a soft pair of slippers to bathe your guests in luxury.
6. Bundle ’Em Up
With winter visitors on the way, have extra outerwear—stocking caps, scarves, and mittens—on hand for kids and grownups so that no one is stuck indoors at sledding time. Wool socks will warm toes after the snow and make thoughtful spur-of-the-moment gifts too!
7. Spiced Sampler
Gift baskets are classic tokens of thoughtfulness, whether toward host or guest. The best offer bountiful goodies both practical and luxurious. Instead of settling for pre-packaged, create your own sampler of spicy scents that echo season’s greetings with an undeniably personal touch. Thrift stores are often a wealth of castaway baskets waiting to be repurposed. Fill with anise star pods, flowering teas, votive candles, and essential oils.
The perfect side dish for a cold winter night makes a delicious edible holiday gift.
Mix 2 cups uncooked polenta with 2 T finely diced sun-dried tomatoes, 4 t coarse salt, and 1 t dried rosemary, and transfer to a quart canning jar. Top with 4 oz. mixed dried mushrooms. Write recipe directions (below) on card and attach with string.
12 cups water
contents of gift jar
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan, optional
4 T butter, divided
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a small pan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add the dried mushrooms. Soak for 15-20 minutes, or until thoroughly softened.
2. In the meantime, bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pan. Reduce heat to medium-high and slowly stir in polenta. Whisk constantly for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan (if using), 2 T butter, salt, and pepper. Cover and set aside.
3. In a small sauté pan over medium high heat, add 2 T butter, the mushrooms strained from their liquid, and ¼ cup of the mushroom liquid. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes.
4. If polenta has thickened too much, add ¼ cup water and stir to thin. Reheat, ladle polenta into a serving bowl or individual bowls and top with mushrooms.