God grant you the light of Christmas, which is faith; the warmth of Christmas, which is love; the radiance of Christmas, which is purity; the righteousness of Christmas, which is justice; the belief in Christmas, which is truth; the all of Christmas, which is Christ.
~ Wilda English ~ Photo: some of Aunt Cella's Christmas decor
Each time our family visits Aunt Cella, the two of us make a special effort to spend a day at tea. That's right, not just an afternoon tea, but an all day long tea! This year was no exception. We didn't sip and eat the entire time, but spent much time chatting, looking at linens in her cedar chest, and admiring old-fashioned handiwork and vintage tidbits from Grandma's life.
Two years ago we enjoyed a Peter Rabbit tea together. You can read about it here or for the entire post, check the archives for December 30, 2005. This year Aunt Cella chose to use her Moss Roses Tea Set. What a pretty presentation it made! Although it's December, we always have our tea parties outside on the porch. The warm Arizona sunshine is pleasant and comfortable, making the tea party a cheerful and enjoyable experience.
Aunt Cella and Uncle Mike lived in Germany for thirty years. Yearly they would take a trip to beloved England (sometimes together, sometimes individually) to explore the countryside and to take tea at manor houses, castles, and cottages. The tea offerings available at each place they stayed were always considered when selecting accommodations. Aunt Cella enjoys hearing all about how Americans have altered the afternoon tea experience to our own expectations of 'proper'. And she has added elements of her own to a traditional English tea. More like a high tea, Aunt Marcella's teas are always delicious and satisfying.
Our menu this year included:
* fresh baked whole wheat bread with butter * peanut and celery sandwich spread * dilled cucumber slices in dressing * peanut butter stuffed celery sticks * miniature tomatoes and romaine * boiled eggs
* sultana scones * prickly pear cactus jelly * apple butter * apricot jam
* date and nut filled cookies * prune cake with cream cheese frosting and walnuts
* Calli tea * Casablanca tea * milk
Aunt Cella selected a beautiful embroidered tablecloth which enhanced the table-setting nicely.
A lovely verse on the napkins added to the welcome feeling of the table.
Aunt Cella is always a gracious hostess and the conversation is lively, entertaining, and informative. From family topics to serious spiritual discussions, our visits are always cherished and precious.
Aunt Cella has perfected the art of baking a dense and delicious cake. She is known for her Jewish Apple Cakes, Oatmeal Cakes, and Prune Cakes. Here is the recipe for the Prune Cake that she baked for our afternoon tea ~
Aunt Cella's Prune Cake
3 eggs, beaten 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 cup oil 1 cup chopped cooked prunes 2 cups sifted flour 1 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. cinnamon 1 tsp. salt 1 cup buttermilk 1 tsp. soda 1 cup chopped nuts
Blend together eggs, sugar, and oil. Add cooked prunes. Set aside. In another bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add buttermilk to liquid ingredients and alternatively mix liquid and dry ingredients together. Fold in nuts.
Bake at 375 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Frost and garnish as desired.
Add 1 tsp. nutmeg to dry ingredients if desired (optional)
Christmas decor takes on a desert aire when evergreens are not plentiful. We enjoyed decorated mesquite along one roadway we traveled. Ten to fifteen decorated trees were embellished by a variety of themes for several miles along our route.
Honoring American soldiers
Red Hat Society
Extra sparkles!!! They really show up in the desert sunshine!
Enjoy a lovely day and your Christmas decor, no matter what style or design you share!
Although the Christmas holiday is one known for love, peace, and joy, it's also a season that can be fraught with stress and fatigue. Sometimes we put unnecessary expectations upon ourselves and overload our time with tasks that could be streamlined or eliminated. Choosing what is most important and discarding the rest can help make this season more meaningful and enjoyable for all. Even in the midst of long lists of things to do, taking a break is important to nourish the soul. Spending time reading, walking, or taking a drive in the car can all help give us a break from the busyness.
This week I enjoyed stopping to walk along this little road by the river while traveling home from an appointment. I was attracted by the calmness of the river and the snow that sprinkled the bluffs in the distance. Today I made the same journey and the mule deer were abundant, feeding low in the hills beside the highway. I've never seen them here in such quantities before. Evidentially the grass was more abundant and easier to get than up on the snowy ridges of the bluffs. The journey and walk was such a wonderful respite.
Finding alternatives to the shopping, cleaning, decorating, baking, and 'to do' lists of the Christmas season is very helpful in relieving stress. I've been trying to continue to get fresh air and exercise routinely. Keeping life's focus is important. Sometimes it's really hard to fit exercise into the schedule, but the efforts are well worth it in positive results.
Recently I enjoyed a walk at the wildlife refuge next door to where we live. The Canadian geese, white swans, mallards, wood ducks, coots, and more were all flocked by kind and were feeding or sleeping in sheltered hollows in the pools.
By careful observation, many interesting and frequently unnoticed things can be discovered on nature walks. This quiet road around the wildlife refuge pond leads right past an osprey nest! Bug and snake tracks can be seen in the summer, but on this walk I found none. It's too cold. Instead I followed literally dozens of coyote tracks in the sandy soil. They must have been sleeping in a hollow somewhere, because I didn't see any, but at nigh time they frequently put up a real howl! They can make a very wild and lively chorus! Near this spot I came upon a quiet pool and unwittingly surprised four or five white swans that were sleeping soundly. One had his head tucked way back under his wing feathers! They were surprised at the human company and flew away suddenly. It seemed like lift-off took forever as they slowly lumbered upwards and flew off into the distance. If they'd only realized that I meant them no harm they could have stayed and continued their nap.
Little tidbits of nature, time for exercise, and a break from routine can help lift the spirits and give us a healthy break from the duties of life. I believe nature is God's second book, and what a beautiful book it is! I hope you can find some time for a nature walk today. . .and may it help you enjoy the real meaning of Christmas!
Christmas traditions are passed down through families. Sometimes they change with time, evolving into something different than the original, but uniquely meaningful to the family they serve. Traditions also blend together, melding into new traditions when couples marry and start homes of their own. Some traditions are carried on exactly as remembered, and other are discarded. Finding the joy of the Christmas season requires that the traditions serve us rather than us becoming slaves to them. Sometimes a tradition is celebrated sporadically, maybe not every season, but during key times when family visits or the celebration is at home rather than at someone else's house. What are traditions that you cherish in your family?
For me, Christmas has always meant learning about other cultures and how they celebrate the holiday. I can remember being in a school pageant when I was in first grade. The entire program presented Christmas traditions from around the world. My role was to sit in a rocking chair on stage and pretend to knit while my classmates sang a song from Norway. In later years, my mother who was a kindergarten teacher, taught her students all about celebrating Christmas in other parts of the world. She brought many of these traditions home and we incorporated them into our holiday each year. One of these traditions was to bake Christmas breads from other countries and to learn the specific story that went with each one. It's a tradition that has been carried on to my children and my sister's as well. Sometimes mom decided that we needed to start a 'new' family tradition and she would research it and carry it out. Once such tradition was having flaming English steamed pudding for dessert at our Christmas dinner. Mom was English, and she loved this dessert and it's traditional service. Dad, on the other hand, was German with an entirely different taste in desserts. I don't think he was ever fond of the pudding, but he willingly accepted the style and manner in which it was festively served by mom each year. Who can resist a flaming pudding surrounded by holly leaves and berries as it's presented to those at the table after a delicious Christmas dinner? I am quite certain that mother's English family never served steamed pudding at their Christmas dinner. They surely missed out on a lovely part of their heritage.
Here's one of our favorite recipes for Christmas Cane Coffee Cake. This tradition served us well before our 'gluten free' days. Although I generally blog 'vegan and gluten free', for the sake of memories, I'm posting a traditional 'heritage' recipe from our family archives.
Christmas Cane Coffee Cake
2 packages active dry yeast 1/2 cup warm water 1 1/4 cups buttermilk 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup butter 2 eggs 2 teaspoons baking powder 2 teaspoons salt 5 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/2 cups snipped dried apricots 1 1/2 cups chopped drained maraschino cherries glaze
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add buttermilk, sugar, butter, eggs, baking powder, salt, and 2 1/2 cups of flour. Beat on low speed, scraping bowl constantly, 30 seconds. Beat for two minutes. Stir in remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.
Turn dough onto well-floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Divide into 3 equal parts. Roll each part into a rectangle, 15 x 6 inches. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Make 2-inch cuts on 15-inch sides of rectangles at 1/2-inch intervals. Mix apricots and cherries.
Spread 1/3 of the fruit mixture lengthwise down the center of each rectangle. Crisscross strips over fruit mixture. Stretch each rectangle to 22 inches curve to form cane. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, about 1 hour.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake until golden brown, 18 - 20 minutes. Drizzle glaze over the canes while still warm. Decorate with cherry halves or pieces.
Mix 2 cups powdered sugar and about 2 Tbsp. water until smooth and of desired consistency.
This one is always a favorite and very delicious! In Sweden, the Christmas season begins on Luciadagen, St. Lucia's Day, named for the legendary young saint who symbolizes hospitality. In Sweden the daughter's of the household rise early on December 13 to serve their parents coffee and this delicious saffron buns.
St. Lucia's Crown
1/8 tsp. crushed saffron 1/2 cup lukewarm milk, scalded 2 packages active dry yeast 1/2 cup warm water 1/2 cup sugar 1 tsp. salt 2 eggs, beaten 1/4 cup butter 4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 up citron, chopped 1/4 cup almonds, blanched and chopped 1 Tbsp. lemon peel, grated Powdered sugar glaze Candied cherries
Stir saffron into milk. Dissolve yeast in warm water in large bowl. Stir in saffron-milk, sugar, salt, eggs, margarine and 2 1/2 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in citron, almonds, lemon peel and enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.
Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, about 1 1/2 hours.
Punch down down. Cut off 1/3 of the dough for top braid and reserve. Divide remaining dough into 3 equal parts; roll each part into 25-inch strip. Place close together on greased cookie sheet. Braid strips; shape into circle and pinch ends to seal.
Divide reserved dough into 3 equal parts; roll each part into 16-inch strip. Place close together on another greased cookie sheet. Braid strips; shape into circle and pinch ends to seal. Cover both braids; let rise until double, about 45 minutes.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake until golden brown, 20 - 25 minutes. When cool, make holes for 5 candles in small braid. Drizzle both braids with Powdered Sugar Glaze; garnish with cherries. Insert candles. Place small braid on large braid.
Powdered Sugar Glaze
Mix 1 cup powdered sugar and 3 to 4 teaspoons water until smooth and of desired consistency.
Traditions glue our past to the present and to our future. A tradition that I have enjoyed since I was a very young girl was to attend the annual Christmas Concert at the university church. Each year the choir, orchestra, brass ensemble, pipe organist, and steel drum band perform a concert that is joyful and celebrates Christ's birth. Last night was no exception. The candlelight concert was superb!
This post is especially for my friend, Toshiko. She is a faithful daily blog reader who lives in Japan. We met several years ago on a homeschool parents chat list. Eventually we each sent our first-born children to the same university. Last summer I was honored and delighted to meet Toshiko and we enjoyed a lovely time sharing tea and conversation. Toshiko is home again in Japan, far away and unable to attend special events for parents, concerts, and programs at the university. Her beautiful daughter, Bethany, is a gifted (and award winning) pipe organist and a music performance student at the university. She sang in the choir last evening and my heart was with Toshiko, as I know she would have loved to have been there to hear her daughter sing. I enjoyed it for her and then asked Bethany if I could take her picture to post on my blog and share with her mom.
So Toshiko, dear friend, this is especially for you! Bethany was beautiful and gave a splendid performance. You raised a daughter of whom you can be so proud --- gracious, polite, and an honor to you and your family. I'm glad I could be a connection in some small way.
Christ is Born! Silvery shimmer of trumpets. . .gossamer whisper of wings. . .moment of anticipation. . .suddenly, all Heaven sings! Beautiful blending of voices. . .awesome outpouring of praise. . .centuries later, the story continues to thrill and amaze!
For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.
May His presence be your peace, your joy, and your light this Christmas.
It's my belief that the seasons are meant to be enjoyed rather than rushed. Seeing Christmas items for sale before Halloween really annoys me! My January edition of Romantic Homes magazine arrived before Thanksgiving. I was not in the mood for New Year's resolutions! But today I was delighted and happy to find the February 2008 issue of McCall's Quilting magazine for sale on the magazine rack at Fresh Market. I went there looking for it specifically, as I heard they were featuring quilting blogs in this issue.
In this issue author Holly Holderman contributes an article called Hollyblogs: Quilting Blogs I Love & the Fascinating Stories Behind Them. In it she talks about how blogging creates communities with those of like interests. Features like "Show and Tell" give people an opportunity to show what they are creating and gives many a "grass roots" way to present their knowledge on a subject. Her article is specific to quilters, but if you are a blogger, you know that this applies to all in the land of blog.
I purchased this issue of McCall's Quilting specifically because my blogging friend, Lucy of Quilting with the Past was mentioned in Ms. Holderman's article. I'm so excited for her! Here's what was said about her:
"One of Bonnie's friends, and fellow Maverick ring members, is Lucy Van Der Sluis (LucyQuilting.blogspot.com) of the Netherlands. Lucy is the most prolific quilter and blogger I have seen online. Oh, the beautiful quilts! Since she started her blog in late 2005, Lucy seems to have finished more projects than I imagine most quilters make in a lifetime. Like Bonnie, Lucy works with more traditional fabrics and has a really good eye for color and design."
On a side note, if you've followed Lucy's blog for a long time, you'll know that Bonnie is her best friend and an avid quilter from the USA. I've really enjoyed reading about their travels to one another's homes and their perspectives on travel and quilting in their native countries. If you'd like to read Bonnie's blog is called Quiltville's Quips and Snips. She shares some lovely quilt patterns there, by the way. I always enjoy reading her blog as well.