Advent, My Way #5

Some years, Christmas might be low key.

Sometimes, Christmas might be minimal.

We might forgo the tree and the wreaths and the white lights.

But no Christmas ever comes without Santa, and one Santa in particular.

This guy:

IMG_4145.jpg

With his friends, these guys:

img_4147

On this stocking:

IMG_4144.jpg

Made by my guy:

don-stitch2

My husband stitched this stocking for me over 10 years ago. As he stitched, he kept track of the hours spent stitching and, every year when the Santa comes out, I am reminded of time and energy and, yes, the love that went into the making.

Don has made several other Christmas stockings over the years, for other people he loves. I wrote about them here.

I know some of you have made Christmas stockings, too–raise your hands!

I can only hope they are cherished as much as mine is!

img_4154

Advent, My Way #2

img_5572-1

As luck would have it, the quilt on my quilting frame right now is red and white, perfect for this time of year!

I like the traditional colors of Christmas best–the white of pure, new snow, the red of a feisty Cardinal, the green of pine boughs.

If you celebrate Christmas, what colors do you favor? Or do you celebrate a different winter holiday, with its own traditional colors?

img_5568

Advent, My Way

IMG_4092

December is here, and for many people, that means one thing—Christmas.

Christmas is a complicated holiday for me.

It means little.

It means a lot.

Three sources conspire to create my mixed feelings.

First of all, I consider myself a “cultural Christian.” I’m a non-believer but I grew up in a very religious, Evangelical Protestant home, full of Christmas pageants and soaring hymns. I don’t believe in the stories but they hit me, at Christmas, on a very nostalgic, sentimental level.

Second, I am not a shopper and that means a lot of the focus of preparing for Christmas is lost on me. All my close family is the same—we don’t enjoy shopping and we buy what want we want or need when we need it. It has been years and years since we went the route of piles of Christmas presents.

Third, I live far from those close family members. The people I would want to celebrate this holiday with, who understand the holiday the way I do, all live far enough away that hours of driving and/or flying time would be involved. And no one wants to travel at Christmas.

For most of the year and most of the month of December, I’m fine with all of this. I’m all aloof and logical.

The month goes by and I don’t shop and don’t think much about decorating. I tell myself no one is going to see it but us and decorating is a lot of trouble, just to take it down again in January. We buy a wreath or two, do minimal fuss, and move on.

I don’t do special baking, although I like to bake, because we always have tons of chocolate around the house and we have friends who love to bake, and give, Christmas goodies. And if I bake cookies, we’ll just eat them!

I don’t shop because we’ve all agreed not to. Obligatory Christmas spending seems silly.

See? All aloof and logical.

But then Christmas Day comes, and I feel let down.

I tell myself it’s just another day

And yet . . . it feels like it should feel special.

I always reach Christmas Day wishing I had done a little more. Not more shopping or baking, but more to get in the mood, to remember my roots, to honor tradition, to make the end of the year feel warm and cozy and satisfying, even if the religious aspect isn’t meaningful to me.

So, this year I’m going to try to do that and focus on the advent, not of a religious event, but of a time of year that has had, and still does have, significance in my life.

I’ll be doing posts that encourage me to “think Christmas” and enjoy the mood and small projects and meaningful memories of the season.

To start this, I want to remind myself, and you, of a post I did a couple years ago. One thing we do find time for every year is the making of pomanders. To be honest, this is almost entirely my husband’s project but it is one that I love the best.

Pomanders are made with big, lovely oranges and whole cloves. The minimal time invested will provide weeks of incredible, powerful fragrance that seems the essence of the season. This is the perfect time of year to make pomanders, before all the other preparations get too overwhelming. Believe me, the pomanders will last, until Christmas and beyond!

You can find the full instructions here. We can make these together!

IMG_4089


By the wonders of polygenesis, my blog friend Kathy is doing a similar blog project this month. She’s taking a more spiritual approach—you can find her here.

Christmas Senses: The Smell of Oranges and Cloves

IMG_4089I like my Christmas to smell.

Yes, I want to see bright lights and colors, as well as snow on the ground. I want the taste of peppermint and the feel of flannel PJs but mostly I love the smells I associate with the winter holidays.

You probably know the smells I mean. Evergreen boughs. Cookies baking. A wood fire. Caramel and chocolate and mint.

And the best smell of all, to my way of thinking—oranges studded with cloves.

Every year at this time, my husband gets a big bag of oranges and a big jar of whole cloves and makes pomanders while he watches football on TV.

He has done this for many years and, because the cloves dry and preserve the oranges, we probably have pomanders around here that are older than some of you!

Pomanders make a wonderful addition to holiday decorating.  They are natural and rustic and nostalgic but can also look quite modern, with the geometric design and bright contrast of colors.

And they are very easy to make. And pretty inexpensive. And they last, it seems, forever. You can even put them out in the fall and leave them out all winter because they don’t scream “Christmas.”

But, really, we make them mostly for that heavenly, spicy, zippy smell of bright citrus mixed with exotic clove.

Are you ready to start?

IMG_4061You’ll need:

Oranges—get small to medium ones. They don’t have to be perfect and expensive. Save your money for the zester (see below).

Whole cloves—don’t buy these in the little tins in the baking aisle, unless you only want to make one or two pomanders—they’re expensive that way! Try a restaurant supply store or a place like Sam’s Club, or order online, where you can find a whole pound for about $15-20. That big jar in the photos holds 11 ounces and has lasted a long time.

You won’t need but you’ll want:

A good zester—you can make pomanders by sticking holes in the orange with a skewer and putting cloves in the holes. But my husband’s method is so quick and sensible that, if you’re serious about this, you should consider it. He uses a heavy-duty zester—the brand is Rosle. This zester sells for about $25, which, I admit, is a crazy price for such a tool but it makes this job so easy! And I’m sure you occasionally want zest for a cocktail or something, right? Or is that just me?

To make your pomanders, use the larger hole on the side of the zester, called a channel, to carve a design in the orange. It’s very sharp so you can easily do stripes or swirls or spirals or a happy face. You can probably do monograms if you choose! Be sure to carve enough lines for a lot of cloves—remember you’re trying to preserve the oranges.

IMG_4072Once you have the design carved, stick the pointy ends of the cloves as far as they’ll go into the white pith of the orange. The cloves should go in close to each other, almost touching. Don’t be stingy—remember you’re trying to preserve the oranges!

IMG_4077How easy is that?

So easy that, while you’re doing all this, you’ll have plenty of time to breathe deeply. Smell that wonderful smell. Finish one pomander and make another. And another. Tuck them into baskets and bowls and tie ribbons around them and hang them from a wreath or a tree.

IMG_4092You may find it quite addicting! And next year, you’ll make new ones to nestle up against the ones from this year. The old ones will be dried out and a little pale and not as fragrant but, hey, that happens to all of us eventually!

IMG_4073Pretty soon you’ll have generations of pomanders and a new family tradition. Start now!

_______________________________________________

One more thing—don’t throw the little scraps of orange rind and broken cloves away!

IMG_4100Put them in a sauce pan on your stove with some water and maybe a cinnamon stick and let it all simmer. Pay attention and add more water when needed and fill your home with the smell of Christmas!

IMG_4095