Sunday, December 16, 2018

Christmas Long Ago

"Frosty days and ice-still nights,
Fir trees trimmed with tiny lights,
Sound of sleigh bells in the snow,
That was Christmas long ago.

Tykes on sleds and shouts of glee,
Icy-window filigree,
Sugarplums and candle glow,
Part of Christmas long ago.

Footsteps stealthy on the stair,
Sweet-voiced carols in the air,
Stocking hanging in a row,
Tell of Christmas long ago.

Starry nights so still and blue,
Good friends calling out to you,
Life, so fact, will always slow...
For dreams of Christmas long ago."

- Jo Geis, Christmas Long Ago

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Plans For The Winter Solstice - Part 2

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Good Saturday morning, my friends, and welcome! Today's post is a continuation of my previous post, Plans For the Winter Solstice - Part 1, where I discussed a few of the ways we have celebrated this lovely day in the past, and how I am carrying on those traditions into the present.  Today I am going to continue on that theme, and share with you some ideas for a few crafts you can make, and books you can enjoy reading together to add to your festivities.  I'll also include the recipe for Grammy's Cabbage Soup that I mentioned in my previous post, but now, on to the crafts!


One of my favorite crafts to enjoy on this day is making orange clove pomanders. This is such a
lovely craft, and they look so pretty when you place several in a basket along with a few little springs of greenery. One little trick I'll share with you that makes studding them with cloves a little easier, is to mark your design with an ice pick or perhaps a wooden skewer, and then insert the cloves into the holes.  These are great fun to make, and they smell absolutely wonderful! I usually dust mine with a bit of ground cloves as well, and the fragrance is just divine. They look equally as pretty tied up with a length of red ribbon and hung in just the right spot. I plan to set out a few in a little basket, as well as tie up one or two in some black and white checked fabric strips for a little primitive touch.


This year I plan to make a solstice lantern, and **maybe** I can even entice Kate to join in the fun! I came across this idea several years ago, inspired by this post. You will find the instructions for how to make them there, but I am going to variate a little in making mine.

Instead of sequins, I plan to use shapes cut from black construction paper. Following are links to the templates I plan to use. There are a number of designs for stars, here,  and here are a few for the moon, and finally, here is the one I think I'll be using as my pattern for the sun. My thought is that I will print the templates out and trace around them on the construction paper. If you need to adjust the size of the images,  just right click on the image and save it as a picture and then insert them into a document and adjust the size. I hope that makes sense. If you happen to have them, stickers might be another option, especially for the stars, and you could use scrapbook paper to make the shapes, as well!

I also plan to add a wreath of greenery around the top, and perhaps, a handle. I thought it might be nice to take the lanterns and go out on a solstice evening walk. I know I discussed this idea in my previous post, so you could either choose to time your walk just as the sun is about to set, or even later in the evening when it is dark.  The lanterns would also look lovely without a handle, sitting on a shelf or to adorn your dining room table while you enjoy a hot bowl of Grammy's Cabbage Soup! Here's the recipe.


1-2 pounds of pork, roast or loin
4 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch slices (2 cups)
 2 medium stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
4 cups chopped cabbage (about 1 medium head)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 cups water
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (you can use less if you don't like it too spicy!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 chicken bouillon cubes
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes, undrained

Mix all ingredients in 3 1/2- to 6-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low heat setting 8 to 9 hours (or high heat setting 4 to 5 hours) or until pork and vegetables are tender.

And now onto the books!


❅ Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here
by Jean Craighead George

This little book is my absolute all time favorite for sharing with children on this day.  But who am I kidding? I read it again on the winter solstice every year, and probably will again and again!

I am going to share two passages from this book with you that illustrate why I love this particular one so much!  Among other things is that it is presented as a letter between a grandmother and her granddaughter, a sweet sentiment that makes the read all the more lovely!

"Dear Rebecca, I turned on the lights to eat breakfast this morning and put on my coat to go outside. Winter is here. It was brought by by little hands of darkness. Each little hand is a few minutes long. In summer they began bringing winter.  They pulled the night over the edges of the dawn and dusk and made the days shorter.  On June 21, while you were cooling under the house, winter began."

and towards the end, is this lovely passage;

"I light the fire in my fireplace.  You sing jolly songs with your friends. And while you are singing, summer begins. On the 22nd of December, little hands of light begin to push back the edges of the darkness minute by minute. Before very long, you will take off your shoes and and jump over bluebells. I will eat my breakfast outdoors in the sunshine. The birds will return as the days grow longer. The frogs and turtles will come out of the warm mud, and the next thing you know, I'll be writing. Dear Rebecca, summer is here!"

Oh my! I don't know if these words move you as they move me, but they just thrill me!  Perhaps it is grounded in my love of the changing of the seasons, or memories of my own grandmother, though I don't recall her ever writing me a single letter! But I think at the heart of it, it is the kind of grandmother I hope to be. Sharing snippets of my day, things I observed in nature, quotes and passages from books, with my own grandchildren, even in letters! They may find it fun when they are young, or leave the letters unopened in their teens, perhaps. But I do hope they will keep them, and that one day, when they are older, they will be able to return to those sweet sentiments and meet with me again, even after I am gone. I don't mean to sound glum, I really think the idea is lovely. I know I love having things that once belonged my grandmother, and if I had personal letters, that would be all the sweeter!

But now, before I forget, here are a few other books we've enjoyed over the years, all of which are lovely to share with the littles in your life, or even for yourself!  I know for me, I will never grow too old to enjoy a beautifully illustrated picture book!

❅ The Shortest Day
by Wendy Pfeffer

❅ The Winter Solstice
by Millbrook Press

❅ The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales From Around The World For The Winter Solstice
by De Capo Press

The following titles do not focus on the solstice, but make lovely reads on this day.

 The Story of the Snow Children
by Sibylle von Olfers

❅ The Tomten
by Astrid Lindgren

And now, my friends, I will close.  I do have a few other books, more along the lines of the history and how to celebrate line and geared more toward adults, that I want to share with you, but I am going to wait and share them on Monday.  Today I hope to finally get around to baking some cookies, and I need to get an early start!  I pray that your day is blessed and that you have been inspired to indulge in your own celebrations!  And if you have your own traditions for celebrating the solstice, please leave a comment and share them with us!

Until then,

Friday, December 14, 2018

Plans For The Winter Solstice - Part 1

"Early nightfall. Crisp mornings. The sharp silhouette of leaf-bare branches. Orion marching across the evening sky. These are some familiar signs of winter. We often speak of turning inward during these darker months, becoming quiet and introspective, staying home more often, sleeping longer. Yet there’s another side to winter that contrasts with our natural inclination to rest and contemplate—a side that insists we shop til we drop, eat and drink more than we care to, and rush around busy airports. Regardless of our spiritual or cultural heritage, if we live in North America today there’s a good chance we find ourselves caught up, perhaps involuntarily or out of habit, in a commercial swirl known as “the holidays” that leaves us depleted in more ways than one."

- Susan Wasinger, Mother Earth Living

Enter, the winter solstice, which will officially arrive on December 21 at 5:23 p.m. For reasons I can't really explain, this is, perhaps, my favorite day of the year.  There are many days that hold special, personal meaning to me, and this is definitely one of them! I love Christmas and all that it entails, but there is just something about the winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year, that is special to me.

We have observed this day over the years with various, simple celebrations, but as the girls have grown up, my celebrations have become much more personal in nature. Building upon the traditions of the past and adding a few new, "just for me" touches,  I have made the observance and celebration of this day, for the most part, very much my own.  And so today, I thought I would take some time to share some of these traditions, both past and present, in the hopes that you might be inspired to indulge in your own celebrations. I will warn you now, this post is LONG, and it's only Part 1! Did I mention this was one of my favorite days? But before I get into the how to celebrate, lets first begin with why.

The winter solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year, meaning there are less hours of daylight and more hours of darkness on this day than on any other. This is in contrast, of course, with the summer solstice when there are more hours of daylight and less hours of darkness, the longest day of the year.  The word solstice comes from two Latin words: sol meaning "sun" and sistere meaning “to stand still” because it appeared as though the sun and moon had stopped moving across the sky. Many years ago, in fear that the days might be becoming darker and that the the sun might never return, our ancestors began observing a number of customs that were designed to hopefully entice the sun from departing.

I love what Richard Heinberg has to say in his book, Celebrating the Solstice: Honoring the Earth’s Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony

"This longest night of the year, followed by a renewal of the sun, demonstrates the cyclical order of the cosmos. In this way, celebrating the solstice can be a beautiful remembrance that our lives are part of a larger order, always changing, always renewing."

Following are some ways that you and yours can celebrate this lovely day,  just as our ancestors have done for many years. I've included some personal notes on how we/I have celebrated and will continue to celebrate. Rituals and traditions ground us, at least they do for me! No matter how the dynamics and make-up of our family may change, ("always changing") with children growing up and moving on, traditions remain the same, and with a little thought and tweaking, the old can become new again, (always renewing)!


One story tells of the battle of the Holly King (The King of Winter/Darkness) and The Oak King (The King of Summer/Light).  This battle takes place twice a year, on the summer and winter solstice,
At the summer solstice (around June 21—the longest day and the shortest night) the days begin to shorten and the Holly King defeats the Oak King and reigns supreme in the dark times (or days getting shorter). But in December, following the winter solstice, the days begin to lengthen and the Oak King conquers the Holly King and reigns during the light times.  As odd as it seems, the winter solstice actually welcomes summer, as with each successive day the light gradually increases and the days become longer. And then in the summer the opposite happens, and the days following the summer solstice gradually become shorter, welcoming winter.  There is a lovely children's book that I'll reference in my follow up post, that it explains it so beautifully! I can't wait to share it with you!

Though I have never done so, I think it might be sweet to make a couple of peg dolls in the form of the Holly King and the Oak King,  adorned with a little holly crown and perhaps another made of tiny acorns.  You could display them on a shelf, perhaps,  and share the story of the battle of the two kings with your children or grandchildren.  The reigning king would then take his place of honor and reign over his respective season, while the other is tucked away until it is time for battle once again.


Many traditions include a bonfire, and this is one that we observed a few times over the years.  The idea is that the offering of warmth and light might appeal to the sun to warm the earth once again. One custom suggests that each person write down one habit they want to rid themselves of in the coming year and throw it into the bonfire. If you do decide to build a bonfire, it might be fun to make up some of the these spicy fire starters in the days before your celebration. It willt make your start up a little easier, and the fire starters themselves are quite lovely!


The solstice spiral is one my favorite observances for this most special day, and is a celebration of the return of the light!  Solstice spirals are popular in Waldorf schools, and you can read about that, here for context.

I do a much smaller table top version for my observance, using apples with white birthday candles, and in a pinch, I have also used tea lights and the presentation was just as lovely. I typically set it out on the kitchen table the night before so that it serves as a sweet reminder that we are cycling into a new season. This helps to build the anticipation, especially for young children. Then when the sun sets, I light the candles and allow them burn for awhile, illuminating our own little celebration of the return of the sun.


This is a new tradition that I began last year and I plan to make it a regular part of my observance. Thankfully we live in an area that is plentiful with woods, and it makes for a lovely setting. Last year I went early in the afternoon to soak in the last rays of sunshine before the early darkness set in. But this year I am considering going out about thirty or forty five minutes before sunset. I like the idea of returning to the warmth and shelter of home, lighting the candles on my solstice spiral, and then enjoying a festive meal, which I'll share more about below!  If you do decide to make your own solstice spiral, large or small, going on a walk might also serve the purpose of collecting some greenery. And now, about my meal plans!

Traditionally, I always make a big pot of Grammy's Cabbage Soup.  Everyone in our family loves this hearty soup, which I really consider more of a stew, it's much heartier!  Although I was considering trying out this recipe, Crock Pot Cranberry Orange Pork Tenderloin, I think I might save it for the new year and stick with tradition. There is just something about keeping the menu simple that appeals to me, and I like the **homeyness** of a pot of stew. I think I'll find a nice loaf of bread and serve it up with a cheese spread. Once I have the particulars of my menu figured out, I'll post more about that.

But regardless of the main course, it wouldn't be the winter solstice without gingerbread and lemon sauce! Gingerbread conjures memories from my childhood, when my grandmother would make it for me every time we visited! I especially enjoy it during the long winter months, and traditionally make it for the time each season for the winter solstice.


Ginger is a favorite solstice and holiday spice, and gingerbread is a favorite from my childhood.  My grandmother made it for me often, and I always think of her when I make it today. And though I enjoy gingerbread throughout the year, I traditionally always make a loaf on the winter solstice.  Here's the recipe I have used for years.

 Butter (for the pan)
 Flour (for the pan)
 2 cups flour
 1 cup molasses
 3/4 cup buttermilk
 1/2 cup sugar
 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
 1 egg
 1 teaspoon baking soda
 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
 1/2 teaspoon salt Confectioners’ sugar (for sprinkling)

 1. Set the oven at 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square pan, and dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess.

 2. In an electric mixer, combine the flour, molasses, buttermilk, sugar, butter, egg, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and salt.

3. With mixer set on its lowest speed, beat until blended, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase speed to medium and beat for 2 more minutes, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.

4. Transfer the batter to the pan. Bake for 1 hour or until top springs back when pressed lightly with fingertip. Cool on a rack. Cut into squares and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Serve with lemon sauce.

 2/3 cup sugar
 2 tablespoons cornstarch
 1/4 teaspoon salt
 2 cups cold water
 1 egg, lightly beaten
 Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

 1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt.

2. Slowly add the water and egg. With a heatproof spatula, stir constantly until the mixture just comes to a boil and thickens.

3. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the lemon rind and juice.

 4. Serve with gingerbread.

And while spiced cider has been our traditional beverage of choice, this year I'm giving serious consideration to this recipe for winter lemonade!  I may do dual service and enjoy a cup of cider over tea earlier in the day.

Another observance I began last year is eating dinner by candlelight.  In todays world, illuminated by  gadgets and technology, and faces aglow with constant media all hours of the day and night, the winter solstice is an opportunity to pause and give tribute to the natural rhythms of life.

And NOW, I am going to close and I will continue in a second post with some ideas for crafting, books to read and enjoy, as well as the recipe for the soup I mentioned above!  Two recipes in one post is just making this too long, even for my "wordy" self.

Until then, my friends!  I pray your day is blessed!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Tuesday Afternoon Tea (On A Wednesday)

I stopped for a few minutes this afternoon for tea. which was rescheduled from yesterday, because when your husband wants to spend the afternoon Christmas shopping with you, you don't turn him down.  I was beginning to think it wouldn't happen today, either, and while it wasn't exactly the setting I prefer for tea, I simply had too much to do to get my hand made Christmas gifts finished.  I have two boxes going out to family members this week, and then on Sunday my girlfriends and I are taking a trip to Charlottesville and sharing in a ~~**COZY CHRISTMAS**~~ gift exchange.  I can't wait, not only to spend time with my girls, but to visit Trader Joes, Wegmans and Whole Foods! 

Today I made my tea in my favorite tea steeping cup from Tea Forte (non-affiliate).  I just love this cup, so much that I have the one pictured,  which is called cranberry, and I also have the cherry blossom design. I've got my eye on another one as well, pistachio, which is a lovely green and just happens to be on sale right now.  My choice for tea today was another blend from The Spice and Tea Exchange, Cinnamon Plum and it was SO good!  I didn't have any special treats, as I still haven't been able to get any baking done! I hope that I will finally be able to do a little on Friday. And finally, the lotion you see there in the corner is just lovely, and you can believe it, I got it at Dollar Tree? I'm going to go back at some point this week and see if they have any more because I really like it, and what's not to like when its only a dollar, right?

And now I must be off. I think I'm going to cozy up in bed under some warm blankets and cross stitch for awhile.  But I'll be back soon and we'll catch up then!

Until then,

Monday, December 10, 2018

On A Monday

We are still digging out from yesterday's history making snow storm.  Local meteorologists say it was the largest December snowfall since 1908, with most places in our area seeing a foot or more of snow. Bill measured it when we went out yesterday and it was right at 11", but I know it continued to snow for a good while after that, so I'm guessing we probably ended up somewhere in the 12" - 14" range. It was absolutely lovely, and in all honesty, I was hoping it would linger a bit longer. But with most of the major roads being passable today, Bill went in to work. Kate, however, being 19 and having never driven on snowy roads, was able to negotiate her work schedule and spent the day working on school. She's got one more week in this semester and she'll be able to fully engage in and enjoy the holiday season a little more. Knowing she had a busy day ahead, I made up a batch of her favorite cinnamon rolls this morning. Nothing special, just Pillsbury, but they are SO good! I may have had one or two myself, ;).

Last week she and I went out and did a little Christmas shopping and American Eagle had their flannel shirts marked down to 50% off. I could not resist, and while purchasing this one means I will need to eliminate something else in my closet, this one was just so lovely it was definitely worth it! I also came across these absolutely beautiful socks, also on sale. I am such a sucker when it comes to flannel shirts and socks! It's kind of an obsession. But honestly, aren't they both just beautiful? They are so warm and soft! It's made today truly ~~**COZY**~~, especially with my favorite fleece lined leggings. I got them at Target back in September and I hope to get a black pair, soon.

I did a little decorating over the weekend and put up the greenery. I'll be sharing more pictures in the days ahead, but this particular shelf is in my bathroom.  I decided this year to put all of the snowmen in the bathroom and I just love the way it turned out. I also did some crafting, and this morning I began work on a cute little bunting. I'm not sure yet if I will keep it for myself, or give it as a gift, or perhaps I'll just make two? They work up rather quickly, so maybe I will. I do have a number of things left to make for my annual gift exchange with my aunt, and I'm taking part in a "Cozy Christmas Gift Exchange" with a few friends. I won't post pics of those until after they've received them, though. What fun would there be in that?

And now I must be off.  I've got a meat loaf in the oven and mashed potatoes on the burner waiting to be mashed up. I pray that you will have a blessed evening, and I'll see you back here tomorrow for Tuesday Afternoon Tea!

Until then,

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Advent Snow 2018

"I like misty autumn mornings, and cold snowy winter nights.
Rainstorms give me inner peace,  thunder sets my soul aright.

I care not for summer, days too long, the heavy heat.
Give me candlelight evenings, early darkness, a silent street."

- Natalia Crow

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Gathering - .03

1. Quietly, Quietly, An Advent Reflection
Tomorrow is the second Sunday of Advent, but even if you're a little late to the games, this sweet reflection is worth spending some time reading.

2. Can Reading Make You Happier?  Personally, I would say yes!

3. Three Christmas Traditions For A More Joyful, Focused Holiday

4. Making Mary's Prayer of Adoration Mine

5. An Old Fashioned Christmas - Simple Things That Make All the Difference

6. 15 Ways To Love Your Neighbor This Christmas

"Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!" 
~ Hamilton Wright Mabie