Friday, December 31, 2010

Flakes of Feathered Snow

When he spoke, what tender words he used!  So softly, that like flakes of feathered snow,  they melted as they fell.

John Dryden

Photo:  Bucky, enjoying a cozy comforter and warm sunshine filtering through curtains on a winter day.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Homemade Games

Sis brought a homemade game for each family to our Christmas celebration.  It's a simple game, but challenging for all ages!  Called "Backwoods Board-em", the instructions say this:

The goal is to balance all ten nails on the nailhead.  Seemingly impossible problems can have simple solutions if all work together as a team!  When ten are mastered, increase the number of nails!  Tales of 40!

Groups set to work around the house, working on this puzzle.  Within ten minutes, Brandon had the solution and once others saw the results, they followed his plan and balanced their nails as well.  Would you like the solution?  I will share on another day.  For now, go find eleven nails and a piece of wood.  Pound one nail into the wood to create a center post and then try balancing the other ten nails on the nailhead.  You can do it!

[The solution to this puzzle can be found here.]

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Cup for a Winter's Night

Brew me a cup for a winter's night.
For the wind howls loud and the furies fight;
Spice it with love and stir it with care,
Ad I'll toast our bright eyes,
my sweetheart fair.

~ Minna Thomas Antrim ~ 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

All the Faithful

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels!
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord. 

~ Adeste Fideles ~

Friday, December 24, 2010



Christmas Greetings

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Peace

"I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely."
~ Charles Dickens ~

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Wreath for Peace, Hope, & Dreams

A wreath is a well-known object of decor during the Christmas season.  It is a symbol that represents eternity.  As it encloses and unifies, its simple shape it represents desired peace, hopes, and dreams of all who celebrate Jesus and His purpose gift to humanity.  Wreaths are traditionally used on doors to welcome family and friends to a home, but are also used indoors as wall decor, as part of a tablesetting, or as something to hang from a ceiling.  They can be made from just about any substance, thereby creating natural Christmas decorations appropriate for every locale.  When searching the yard or nature trails outside, useful elements can be found for wreath making.  Twigs, natural greenery, stems, leaf fronds, berries, seedheads, herb bundles, and pine cones all in combination or alone are interesting materials to make wreaths from.  Even tumbleweed can be fashioned into a pretty wreath if that's all you can find to work with.  The addition of a flocked red bow or one made from burlap or calico adds a final touch and a cheerful and welcoming wreath is the result.  When traveling during the holiday season, I always enjoy seeing how those who decorate for Christmas create unique and interesting wreaths.  The wreath pictured on this post was photographed in a tiny, non-commercial ghost town in Arizona.  It created a charming reminder that although it may appear that a place is forgotten, the holiday spirit still lives.

Here are a few other natural items that can be used to make a homemade Christmas wreath:  bay leaves, baby's breath, dried berries, dried fruits like whole apples or oranges, fir cones, dried artichoke heads, ivy, hydrangea heads, thistle heads, fresh or dried moss, eucalyptus leaves, nuts in their shells, cinnamon sticks, dried lavender or rosemary bundles, dried mistletoe, boxwood, and variegated holly. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Santa Claus Wassail

1 can grape juice concentrate
3 grape juice cans of water
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup brown sugar (optional)
3 sticks cinnamon
1 Tbsp. whole allspice
1 Tbsp. whole cloves

Combine first four ingredients in a large saucepan. Place spices in a tea infuser or tied in a cheesecloth. Simmer the juice with the spices for 20 minutes. Remove spices and serve hot in a pretty mug or clear glass teacups. Enjoy this festive and healthy beverage!

Teapot Ornament

Ornament Teapot

If you enjoy afternoon tea, I think you will enjoy seeing this.  The magazine, Living Crafts, featured an article in the Winter 2010 edition about conducting an ornament exchange.  They shared patterns for four of these ornaments  on their blog.  One of them is for this charming teapot ornament which is made from felt and floss.  If you would like the pattern, you can click here and scroll down to download it.

Each Christmas I like to decorate a small tea themed tree in addition to our regular family tree.  I am looking forward to making a set of these teapot ornaments for next year's tea tree.  I love the blue delft theme of this ornament, but want to try to replicate some of the teapots from my own collection as well.  I think an Old Country Roses version would be a delight!

Enjoy the patterns! And have a tealightful Christmas!

Update:  It looks like they have pulled the pattern.  If you would like my copy, please see my message in the comments section.

Photo:  used by permission from the Living Crafts.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fruit Candy for Christmas

My mother loved fruit desserts.  Fruitcake, fruit bars, Christmas puddings, sauces, and cookies with fruity bites.  This morning I have been going through her recipe file and found this delicious sounding recipe for Fruit Candy.  It's simple, easy, and healthy.  It's a nice last minute treat for the Christmas!

Fruit Candy

1 pound figs
1 pound dates
1 pound raisins
1 pound nut meats
1 Tbsp. orange juice
2 Tbsp. honey (or agave syrup)

Grind the fruuit and nuts through a fine food grinder.  Add orange juice and honey.  Mix well.

Line a pan with wax paper.  Then fill with fruit candy mixture.  Level and smooth the top.  Weigh down with a heavy object.  Leave for five hours.  Then cut into squares.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bloom, O Christmas Cactus

Zygocactus ~ Christmas Cactus

My Christmas cactus has foliage that is thriving!  It continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  If only it would bloom so generously.  I'm still working on creating conditions that are favorable to blossom.  Last week a quarter of my plant budded and is blooming.  It's all at one side and the rest of the plant remains barren of color.   I think I am trying too hard to get it right.  I've also been curious about why some zygocactus blooms at Thanksgiving and others at Easter.  It's like they become confused with the seasons.  Today's newspaper has a few answers to my questions about .  They confirm some of my own conclusions and it appears that I just need to be more careful about how I treat my plant.  Essentially, I am giving it too much TLC.  The extension agent author also outlined the reason why some cacti bloom in December and others in November or March or April.  Here is a condensed version of the information they shared:

1.  There are three kinds of cacti ~ Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.  The Thanksgiving cactus blooms from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  Its blossoms are red, salmon-orange, lavender, or white.  The foliage segments have  two to four saw-toothed points.  The Christmas cactus blooms from Christmas through March.  It has red or white flowers.  There are four rounded scallops on the edges of each foliage segment.  The Easter cactus blooms sometime between March and May.  Occasionally it will bloom again in the autumn.  Its segments are smoother, with wavy edges and brown bristles at the very tip.  The blossoms of the Easter cactus are generally pink or red.

2.  The bloom of these cacti is triggered by short days and cool temperatures.  They should be grown in a room that gets natural, bright light and gets dark when the sun goes down each night.  They thrive best in rooms that are 65 degrees F. or less.  

3.  They shouldn't be over-watered.  Soil kept on the dry side is desirable, especially in the period leading up to their blooming period.  

4.  Additionally, Alma's friend, Janet grows beautiful Christmas cactus.  Her secret is to grow them outside all summer, bringing them into the house in October.  At that time she adds 1 - 2 Tbsp. of castor oil to the soil.  She believes this helps them to bloom.  She waters them minimally year around.

My diagnosis of my Christmas cactus is that it needs to be moved from the living room where wood heat keeps it too warm!  And that I need to give it a little bit less care when it comes to watering.  My Thanksgiving cactus, on the other hand, spent the summer and fall on the back porch.  It was looking so neglected when I brought it into the house that I nearly threw it away.  I didn't, and it rewarded me with a plethora of beautiful blossoms at Thanksgiving.  

Do you grow zygocactus?  What are your tips for abundant blooms?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

At Christmas

If you look for me at Christmas
You won’t need a special star~
I’m no longer just in Bethlehem,
I’m right there where your are.
You may not be aware of Me
Amid the celebrations~
You’ll have to look beyond the stores
And all the decorations.
But if you take a moment
From your list of things to do
And listen to your heart, you’ll find
I’m waiting there for you.
You’re the one I want to be with,
You’re the reason that I came,
And you’ll find Me In the stillness
As I’m whispering your name

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Candle

Light a Christmas candle
And let it warmly glow
From out a friendly windowpane
Across new-fallen snow.

Someone lone in passing
Will catch the strong, bright beam
To cheer the rugged path ahead
And set the heart to dream.
Let the warm, glad light-shine
From your own candle's ray
Glow deep within your loving heart
On each and every day.

Light a Christmas candle
To glow within your heart
And touch the life of someone dear
With blessings to impart.

Kay Hoffman

Peppermint Patties

There's nothing like a good peppermint patty.  And Christmas is a great time to try a new recipe.  This is easy and refreshing for the holiday!

2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. water
1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. peppermint extract
3 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. vegetable shortening
12 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 small peppermint candy cane, crushed

Using an electric mixer, stir together water, corn syrup, lemon juice, and peppermint extract.  Then, sift in half of the powdered sugar.  Then add the shortening.  Mix on medium speed, and slowly add the remaining powdered sugar.  Remove from mixer bowl.
Knead the mixture into a ball.  If necessary, add 1/2 teaspoon water to make the dough workable.  Using the bottom of a clear glass pie pan, apply firm pressure to flatten the ball between sheets of waxed paper until it is approximately 1/4 inch thick.

Lay the waxed paper-covered disk on a cookie sheet and freeze until firm (about 15 minutes).

Place the frozen disk on a cutting surface and remove the paper.  Using a small, round cookie cutter, cut out small circles.  Place them on a parchment-covered cookie sheet.  Gather scraps into a ball, flatten and cut more circles until mixture is gone.  Freeze the circles for 10 minutes more.

Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler.  When melted, dip and coat the patties.  Return to the parchment paper.  Sprinkle each peppermint patty with some of the crushed candy cane.  

Harden the finished patties in a refrigerator for at least an hour.  Store in the refrigerator between sheets of wax paper.  They will keep well this way for up to one month.

Enjoy and happy holidays!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A "Make It" Christmas: Felted Soap

Since I grew up in a teaching family, preparations for Christmas usually didn't start until school was out for the holiday.  Then our house turned into "Santa's workshop".  Each family member would get busy creating meaningful gifts for the others.  Mom's gifts usually involved a sewing machine or crochet hook, and Dad's his woodworking tools.  Sis and I enjoyed making glue, glitter, and fabric scraps into works of "art".  A "making it" Christmas was always the best!  Don't you love homemade gifts?  Sometimes ideas come too late in the season, but they are always useful for "next year" or "last minute" stocking stuffers.

Here's an idea from Earth Guild for making felted soap; perfect for a "make it" Christmas, this year or next!

Felted Soap

A curious idea, but the result can be very pleasing. Make a bar of soap with a built in wash-cloth, good for gentle exfoliation.


  • A bar of soap (one that is round or has rounded edges will be easier to cover evenly; edges are apt to make thin spots)
  • Wool roving or batts - it doesn’t take much (colorfast; rich colors should be checked to make sure they will not run)
  • A stocking or piece of similar mesh or netting
  • A ribbed mat, such as a washboard, a felting board, a sushi mat, a ribbed container lid, or a piece of bubble wrap (not absolutely essential, but useful to speed up the process)

The Process

  • Wrap a thin layer of wool around the soap in one direction.
  • Wrap a second layer at right angles to the first.
  • Wrap a third layer on top of the first.
    These layers can be all the same color, or not. Cover the soap as evenly as possible, paying special attention to corners and edges.
  • Add wisps of wool in various colors and directions.
  • Carefully put the wrapped bar in the toe of your stocking, or wrap it up snugly in whatever mesh or netting you are using. Gently dribble on warm water, till the wool is wet through.
  • (If you are not using a mat, skip to the next step.) Gently rub the wrapped soap on the mat of your choice, all sides and all edges, for about ten minutes. It should lather up.
  • Roll the bar around in your hands as if you were washing them. When the wool is well adhered to the soap, remove the stocking or mesh wrapper.
  • Rinse with cold water. The cold will shock the wool and may give the felting process an extra boost.
  • Rinse away the suds, squeeze the bar a little bit to remove water, blot on a towel, place on rack to dry.
    Between uses, the bar should be placed on a rack so that it can dry out.
© Earth Guild (You may reproduce this if it is unaltered and our name stays on it.)

Supremely Blest

Home, the spot of earth supremely blest,
A dearer, sweeter spot than all the rest.

~ Robert Montgomery  ~

Mother's oak china closet now sits in my family room.  Dark and somewhat dated, it would look beautiful painted in shabby chic white, but for now I cannot bear to change it.  Instead, bits and pieces of vintage decor grace its shelves and touches of crocheted lace lighten dark spaces.  Its presence in the room provides comfort and familiarity, a touch of home, and objects that bring back memories of times past.  Old books, vintage plates, old silver, tea pots, and teacups fill its useful spaces.  For now it is simply. . .perfect.  Home sweet home.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

TEA: An Ideal Prescription

"It was George Eliot who earnestly inquired, 'Reader, have you ever drunk a cup of tea?' There is something undeniably heartwarming and conversation-making in a cup of steaming hot tea. . . It is an ideal prescription for banishing loneliness. Perhaps it is not so much the tea itself, as the circle of happy friends eager for a pleasant chat."

Book of Etiquette 1921

Monday, December 13, 2010


Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holidays & CHOCOLATE Fruitcake

This morning I looked at the countdown to Christmas on my blog sidebar and realized that there weren't enough days left for me to get everything done on my list!  Each year I resolve to start earlier in the year with my Christmas preparations, but other things consume my time.  I believe that in my heart I have learned to enjoy the moment; to live in the present.  I embrace and enjoy each holiday, season, and event as it comes along.  But sometimes there isn't much time between holidays and events to get a lot done for whatever upcoming event is next.  For me, simplifying is the answer.  Not one to completely redecorate the entire house, I rely upon little things that give festive flair and are easy to implement.  Table-settings, centerpieces, candles, and holiday foods set the stage for each season, holiday, or event as it comes along.

All this to share a recipe with you; one for a holiday food.  It is for the infamous holiday fruit cake!  I would probably be better off baking Christmas cookies or a cheesecake of sorts, but I recently found a recipe for Chocolate Fruitcake in the newspaper, and it brought back so many memories that I knew I had to try it.  My very English mother loved fruitcake!  It was her Christmas treat.  In fact, for her it was a wedding treat as well (she baked fruitcake for her wedding and mine as well, bundling up tiny pieces in foil and tulle tied with satin ribbons for each guest to take home with them).  Since my own family doesn't care very much for fruitcake, I have let the tradition fall to the wayside until this year.  But finding a recipe for CHOCOLATE fruitcake sounded too good to be true.  I had to try it, and as I speak, ten little loaves are cooling on a rack on kitchen counter.  Adaptations and alterations were not complicated with this recipe.  Vegan and gluten-free versions only require a few substitutions, like Ener-G egg replacer or Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flour blend.  Here's the recipe, though, in its original form.  You can make adaptations to fit your individual needs.

Chocolate Fruitcake

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
3 egg
3 1-oz. squares unsweetened baking chocolate
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons milk
3 cups candied fruit (lemon or orange peel; pineapple; mixed fruit)
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, chopped
2 teaspoons butter
Cocoa powder

Heat the oven to 275 degrees F.

Cream together the shortening, sugar, and eggs.  When smooth and creamy, slowly add melted chocolate.

In another bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  Slowly add the flour to the creamed mixture, alternating with milk.

Gently stir in the walnuts, raisins, and candied fruit.

Coat 5 small loaf pans with butter (or vegetable shortening).  Dust with cocoa powder.  Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until done (knife inserted in center of loaf should come out clean).  Remove from oven and cool in pans.

*Delicious!  But next time I will not dust the pan with cocoa powder because it makes it look like it is burned (even though it wasn't).  You can use larger loaf pans or a tube cake pan, but will need to increase the baking time.

**Better with age and so yummy with hot cocoa.  I'll be making this again!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bliss on a Winter Evening


A cozy winter evening is the perfect time for curling up on the sofa with a good book.  Timeless classics are the best!  Do you remember this quote from Laura Ingalls Wilder?  

"A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their little house in the Big Woods. . ."  

Bliss on a chilly winter evening.  A book.  A cozy place to read.  A warm fire.  Contentment.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Relaxation Body Salt Scrub

There's nothing nicer after a busy week than spending some time in quiet reflection and rest.  I love these words from Isaiah which remind us to take some time away from a hectic pace.  "In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength."  [Isaiah 30:15].  With the spinning activities of the holiday season, this is an especially good reminder.

A little recipe to help you soak into some quiet reflection and relaxation can be mixed up quickly at your kitchen sink.  Using the shower gel and lotion from your favorite fragrance combo, create this easy body scrub:

Relaxation Body Salt Scrub

2 cups sea salt
3 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 1/2 Tbsp. favorite bath & shower gel
4 1/2 Tbsp. favorite lotion (in same fragrance as shower gel)

Stir the ingredients together and place in a pretty little dish or jar.  Place by bathtub.  Relax with a bubble bath --- and scrub with these fragrant salts!  There's something about your favorite fragrance that can help sooth frazzled nerves and tired feet and legs.  Enjoy!

December Days

The days grow shorter as the year rolls on towards its end.  Too soon it seems the light grows fainter and the nights descend... Brief the journey of the Sun.  December days are drear.  But they bring us to the morning of another year.  

And at this point upon the road the heart is strangely stirred --- for far away we hear the music of an April bird...  With brighter hope and lighter step we tread the wintry hills --- having caught upon the wind the breath of daffodils.

~ Patience Strong ~

~ Little sled painted by Mom/Marj

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Distraction & Enjoyment

"The tea party supposes neither appetite nor thirst, and has no object but distraction, no basis but delicate enjoyment."

Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

~ Tea with Paula and Jacque ~

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

For the Joy

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and Friend above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled,
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our grateful song of praise. 

Composer: Conrad Kocher, 1838

Monday, December 06, 2010

Of Handmade Molded and Stamped Cookies

Cookie molds and presses make unique and beautiful cookies.  Each is truly a work of art and can be considered hand-made from start to finish.  Cookies molds from "Brown Bag" or "Pampered Chef" come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  My collection has been used to bake cookies as well as for craft-making.  You might remember my tutorial about making beeswax ornaments and seeing my molds here.  Friends and family have been recipients of lovingly created beeswax ornaments over the years.  Just thinking about the molds brings back memories of a summer day when my mother and I spent hours, carefully creating molded shortbread cookies in preparation for the piano recital of one of the children.  Each cookie was carefully wrapped and placed in the freezer in anticipation of the event.  When recital day came upon us and we were packing up punch, cookies, and table decor, I went to the freezer to get the cookies.  Not a single cookie could be found!  A quick inquiry of the recital honoree  revealed that he had eaten them, one by one, until none remained.  It was a good thing it was his recital and not his brothers!  Although mother-me was not pleased, the show went on and the recital guests had store-bought cookies.  Lessons were learned that day and life went on.  The experience has now become family legend and I am the one who enjoys relating it to others most.  For some reason, the recital-guy would rather forget the entire experience!  

In addition to cookie molds, cookie presses create beautiful shortbread cookies as well.  They are easiest to find in small sizes, but occasionally they can be purchased in sizes that are similar to those of cookie molds.  The afternoon tea themed cookie press shown in the photo above was one that was given to me by my mother as a treasured Christmas gift one year.  It is timeless in its appeal and has become a part of Christmas tradition for me.  

Everyone seems to have their own special shortbread cookie recipe, but if you would like one that is vegan (dairy free, egg free), mine is posted below.  If you are looking for a vegan and gluten-free version, simply replace the all-purpose flour with your favorite gluten-free flour blend.  One made with tapioca and potato starches would work especially well.

Vegan Shortbread for Cookie Molds

1/2 cup Spectrum shortening, organic, vegan
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup Florida Crystals powdered sugar, organic
1 cup cornstarch
2 cups all-purpose flour

Place the shortening, coconut oil, and powdered sugar together in a mixing bowl.  Cream until light and fluffy.  

In another bowl, mix corn starch and all-purpose flour together.  Combine well.  Then slowly add to the creamed mixture.  When dough gets too stiff to mix, knead by hand.

Roll cookies into small balls and place on a baking stone or a prepared cookie sheet.  Using a cookie press, squash the balls flat to about 1 cm. thickness.

Bake at 300 degrees F. for 25 - 30 minutes.  Bake only until golden, not browned.  Remove from heat and allow to cool on the pan before removing.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Christmas & All Time

is the day
that holds all time

~ Alexander Smith ~ 
Photo:  Sally

Friday, December 03, 2010

Beautiful Eye Catchers!

"Let the most obvious eye catchers in any room be beautiful, not utilitarian.  You see not the ironing board, but a rose."

~ Anne Ortlund ~

~ Photo:  The studio at Crab*apple Hill ~

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Fudgy Carob Balls

Fudgy Carob Balls

1/8 cup carob powder (or cocoa)
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/8 cup rice bran

Mix all ingredients together. Drop by teaspoon onto wax paper. Spray hands with vegetable cooking spray. Roll into bit-size balls. If desired roll into chopped cuts or coconut.

Pictured are Clarice's yummy chocolate truffles and her beautiful tea table.  At her party, served Summer Hill Tea, a combination of lavender, rosemary, and black tea.  It was so delicious!  It's on my list of 'all time' favorite teas now.

Have you visited her blog at Storybook Woods recently?  She always has such nice things going on there.  

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A Spirit of Celebration

"A home needs not only candles and confetti to make it joyful --- a home also needs connection.  Candles offer the spirit of warmth.  Confetti adds the spirit of celebration.  And connections tie warmth and celebration together with love."

~ Lindsey O'Connor ~

Table-setting:  Our family Thanksgiving meal using the vintage '70's wedding china, individual herbal bouquets at each place-setting, candles for warmth, and hot cups of tea for celebration.