Someday . . .

Someday I’ll get caught up.

Someday I’ll tell you about the craft show and the trip to Florida and autumn in upstate New York (except now it’s over . . .)

Someday, I’ll update you on a lot of weaving and hand sewing I’ve been doing. Someday, I’ll be a regular correspondent here . . .

But not today.

Today is full of outside errands and chores, helping my mom adjust, keeping up with the basic details of family life.

So, today I’ll just show you a couple of photos that makes me happy–handwoven Christmas towels!

They started here.

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And now they’re done.

 

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Advent, My Way #24

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My favorite Christmas song, from my favorite Christmas album.

In all my ambivalence about the religious aspects of Christmas, I know one thing—I hope you all will find happiness and contentment at this season.

As the song says,

I bid you pleasure and I bid you cheer,
From a heathen and a pagan,
On the side of the rebel Jesus.

The Rebel Jesus, by Jackson Browne

The streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for all God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

They call him by the “Prince of Peace”
And they call him by “The Saviour”
And they pray to him upon the sea
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worshipped in
From a temple to a robber’s den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

But pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure and I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.

Advent, My Way #19

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Christmas cards—yea or nay?

Christmas cards have never been part of my holiday regimen, not even in my Martha-Stewart-wannabe stage. I don’t make ’em, I don’t send ’em, and, predictably, I don’t get many.

I’m not even sure this is a tradition beyond the United States—for those of you in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Great Britain and other assorted locales—is the sending of cards, specifically for Christmas, a holiday practice?

There are so many variations on the theme of holiday cards and they seem to change and come in and out of fashion.

Plain cards, fancy cards, handmade cards.

Cards that include long missives about a family’s accomplishments and adventures for the year that is waning.

Cards that are little more than a photo of adorable families/children/pets dressed up in holiday finery.

I imagine Christmas card sending has dropped off in the Facebook era—we keep up with even far-flung friends so much more frequently and easily now that the holiday card may have become largely obsolete.

In spite of my disinterest in the whole “Holiday Greetings” endeavor, I love this little collection of Christmas postcards that were sent to my grandfather, “Master Willie Wright,” when he was a boy in the early 1920s. They come from as far as North Carolina and Niagara Falls to a little boy in Saranac.

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I don’t know if all children received so many cards or if this was just something he loved especially. He wasn’t a sentimental man but these cards were kept and saved for his whole life.

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Given the condition these cards are in, I believe he did play with them!

They please me in their vintage look and style, the few words on the back done in that lovely old penmanship.

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They are a collection of pretty snowy scenes, with lots of red and white and pine and poinsettias. The messages focus on happiness and good cheer, much as today’s cards do.

I am surprised, though, that they are not at all religious in tone—not one of them features a nativity scene or mentions the “reason for the season.”

I wonder if, in another 100 years, there will exist a collection of Christmas cards from the early 21st century. If we’ve traded the sending of cards for the evanescent greetings of social media, what gets tucked away and saved?

Where do Christmas cards fit in your holiday? Do you send them? Do you keep the ones you receive? Or is this all a thing of our past?

Advent, My Way #17

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For many of you, this may be a holy scene, but I have been having very unholy thoughts about it for days now.

This is a diabolical, stress-producing picture.

Oh, not the scene itself, but the way it has to be achieved.

The scene comes from the Christian New Testament book of Luke, 2:8-11:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2: 8-11)

The Annunciation of the Shepherds. Nice. A bucolic scene with everyday people and an angel, plus a few sheep for good measure. Lovely.

Not so lovely!

This depiction is on an antique puzzle that I found in my aunt’s attic. When I saw it, it stirred dim memories of being brought out at the farm at Christmas.

I thought, “Oh, good! More memories of a splendid childhood Christmas! Something I can put together real fast and blog about!”

That was days ago! I have never had so much trouble with a puzzle before! Sturm und drang and gnashing of teeth!

It’s not really a jigsaw puzzle, you see. The pieces don’t hook together with those little tongues. The pieces are all either triangles, squares, or rectangles.

You place them gingerly next to each other, and, if you look at them cross-eyed, they shift.

I dug out a tablecloth to anchor them on and that helps, but only a little.

And, if a curious cat comes by, all progress can be undone in a split second.

We have no box to show us what the finished product should look like. As we make progress, it becomes apparent that pieces are missing. All the remaining pieces are plain dark blue.

I am over it! If Christmas is supposed to be mellow and relaxed and serene, I need to stop right now and be happy with this the way it is.

I hope you can enjoy it more than I have!

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Advent, My Way #16

IMG_4003Christmas candy.

Christmas and candy.

Candy and Christmas.

For good or ill, Christmas and candy will forever be associated in my mind.

When I was small, my grandmother made her homemade caramels only at Christmastime. We kids all loved those caramels and were more than happy to help with the chore of wrapping each one in a small square of waxed paper. We knew that sampling and tasting and snitching would be part of the game.

By the time I was in graduate school and then working my first job, I was making the Christmas caramels. I had my grandmother’s recipe and a lot of sentiment, and no candy-making experience.

Because the recipe said to add the butter “bit by bit” and the milk “drop by drop,” I did just that. Because I was afraid of burning the mix or letting it go too long and get too hard, I cooked the syrup VERY slowly and believed I had to stir constantly.

For three hours or more.

I would sit on a kitchen stool, next to the stove, and stir. I would try to avoid splatters of hot caramel falling on my skin—there’s no worse burn in the world! I would attempt to read while I stirred but was so tense about something going wrong that mostly I just obsessed.

Then, about 7 years ago, I decided I wanted to dip those caramels in chocolate—doesn’t that sound so good? I bought a book about candy making, found that tempering chocolate isn’t so hard and that dipping the caramels got easier with practice. And they were so good!

Well! Then I wanted to make all kinds of other candies and I started experimenting and having fun. When I retired, I decided that I needed to find an outlet for all the candy I was making—we couldn’t eat all of it, for heaven’s sake—so I began to sell candy on Etsy.

When I did that, Christmastime became, fully and intensely, candy season! I would sell odds and ends of candy from October through April but from mid-November until a week before Christmas, all I did was make candy.

I was buying a dozen huge 11-pounds bars of chocolate at a time. I had caramel making down to a near-science and had gotten a lot more sanguine about the process. I figured out I could double the batch and make about 400 caramels at a time, and it sure didn’t take three hours any more!

I made candy, I cut candy. I dipped candy pieces in chocolate. I chopped nuts and candy canes and dried fruits. I put all those little candies in little candy cups, put the candy cups in boxes, and put the boxes in bigger shipping boxes. I made address labels and return address labels and then begged my husband to drive to the post office.

So I could stay home and make more candy.

Sometimes, a good thing can go too far.

It was a lot of fun to make candy and I found it very gratifying that people loved it, this endeavor that all started with my grandmother’s caramels. Her caramels were my most popular items and I felt that validated her worth and honored her memory.

But for 5 years, Christmas was pretty much entirely about making candy.

We would fit in buying a wreath and getting those Santas out, to line up along the mantel, but I had no more time to think about our Christmas because I needed to make candy. Christmas was tense.

I’ve kept a journal for years and when I go back and read my entries from the last few Christmases, it’s apparent that mostly I just wanted the season to be over. Because I was tired and stressed and sick to death of chocolate, I wanted Christmas behind me.

Things are so different this year!

I made a decision that I was ready to limit the kinds of candy I make and stop doing holiday boutiques and stop promoting the Etsy shop. I have been offering candy on Etsy, in a minimal way, getting sales, but it’s all much mellower than it had been.

One of the things I no longer offer to customers, because of the time involved in making them, is my grandmother’s caramels. I haven’t made caramels this Christmas for the first time in probably 35 years.

That makes me a little sad but the year off will do me good. Already, I am enjoying this season more than I have in years because I have simply had the time to do things other than churn out more candy.

By next year, my intention is to be out of the candy-making business altogether. Then I will be able to make candy for fun again, to make the kinds that I like to make and that my family and friends like best.

Next year at Christmas, you will find me making caramels simply for the nostalgic pleasure of reliving happy moments from my childhood and honoring my grandmother’s memory.

And Christmas can be Christmas again.

Advent, My Way #14

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A Christmas story with all the ingredients to make a reader like me happy:

Drama in the form of a good human, willing to sacrifice all to save his friends.

A setting in a place familiar to us, and beloved.

A storm at sea.

An heroic cat who saves the day.

And a happy ending at Christmastide.

Put it all together in a book with beautiful illustrations and it becomes the story of The Mousehole Cat, by Antonia Barber and illustrations by Nicola Bayley.

This is another book I put out at Christmas when I remember, and I am always glad when I remember, to take time to re-read this beautiful book and enjoy it. It’s a children’s book and yet . . .

The book is set in southwest England, in Cornwall, in the tiny village called Mousehole. That’s pronounced “Mowzle,” unless you’re an uninformed American tourist (don’t ask me how I know this. I just do.) This is a beautiful region; we’ve been there, to see the tiny harbor at Mousehole and the wild sea beyond the harbor wall.

As the story goes, old Tom, a fisherman, and his cat Mowzer live in the town. They live alone together, their families long grown and gone.

A fishing village, Mousehole flourishes until one year at Christmas when a great storm rages for days. Mowzer knows it’s the Great Storm-Cat brewing.

The fishing boats of Mousehole cannot leave the harbor and, as Christmas approaches, the people, not to mention the village cats, are starving.

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Tom tells Mowzer:

Mowzer, my handsome, it will soon be Christmas, and no man can stand by at Christmas and see children starve.

Someone must go fishing come what may, and I think it must be me. It cannot be the young men, for they have wives and children and mothers to weep for them if they do not return. But my wife and parents are dead long since and my children are grown and gone.

Because it was the same for Mowzer, and because, if old Tom did not come back, she would not care to carry on without him, Mowzer decides to join old Tom on his boat.

Mowzer and Tom set off and the Great Storm-Cat toys with them, plays with them, batters them, as a cat with a mouse, swatting the small boat around, threatening them . . . and enjoying the game.

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At the critical moment, though, when the Great Storm-Cat comes in for the kill, Mowzer starts to feel “a sudden, strange sadness for him” in his loneliness, and sings to him, and purrs.

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And her purring rose like a hymn to home above the noise of the Great Storm-Cat’s howling . . .

Puzzled, he paused in his howling, bending his ear to catch the strange sound. It seemed to him that he had once heard such a song long before, when he was no more than a Storm-Kitten . . .

Then the Great Storm-Cat began to purr with Mowzer, and as the soft sound grew, the winds waned and the waves weakened.

Night fell and the little boat sailed back across a slackening sea . . .

Mowzer and old Tom return to their village and find all the people and cats keeping vigil for them.

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They come back with a hold full of fish. On the night before Christmas Eve, the townspeople cook and fry the fish and bake half a hundred star-gazy pies.

“Then, people and cats, they feasted together, until the hunger was no more than a memory.”

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Sigh. I love a happy ending. And a sensitive, sweet cat who uses her purr to good effect.

This isn’t a traditional Christmas story. No Christ child, no manger, no Santa, no snow, no red-nosed reindeer.

But it still honors the best of humans (and cats!) at Christmas–community, compassion for the less fortunate, sacrifice, peace, plenty, and thanksgiving.

Do you know a more beautiful book for this time of year?

Advent, My Way #10

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One missing piece changes everything.

A pub with no beer. Just an empty room, kind of smelly.

A clock with no tick. Just another tchotchke, if it doesn’t tell time.

A fireplace with no flame. Just a cold hole in the wall of a room.

We’ve been looking at a cold hole in the wall of our living room for a couple months now but last night we got a wonderful Christmas gift—we have our flame back!

Our fireplace is powered by a gas insert and, when we had it serviced this fall, they found a warped section and a hole in the firebox. That meant that carbon monoxide could, possibly, leak out. And that meant we could, possibly, wake up dead.

The good news, other than the fact that we didn’t wake up dead, is that the fireplace was under warranty. The bad news was that there was no telling when it would be replaced. No promises were made.

We had a pool, Don and I, guessing when we’d have it functional again. Don was the optimist and guessed, “before Christmas.” Pessimist Kerry said, “end of January.”

Just this once, I am so pleased to have been wrong!

I do love a fire blazing in the fireplace. I love it all winter long but especially at Christmas.

It’s cold here in the North Country of upstate New York. The winter wind comes mostly from the north and bangs right up against our living room windows. That fireplace dispels the chill that can get into one’s bones.

But, of course, the fireplace is more than simply a practical way of getting warm. It brings back those memories I cherish so much of early Christmases on the farm. The “good” parlor was where the Christmas tree stood, next to the fireplace that would be lit Christmas morning, for the frenzy of unwrapping gifts.

In the frenzy of unwrapping gifts, the gift wrap would be added to the flame. Some years, when power cords and cash went missing, it was acknowledged that they, too, had probably been added to the flame . . .

A fireplace sums up what I want my holiday to be at this stage of my life as well. Warm, cozy, bright. Quiet, simple, understated.

Now that our fireplace has been mended, we will finish our simple decorating. The Santa contingent can take their places on the mantle and a few special linens will be added, and we’ll call it done.

On Christmas Day, while others are going over the river and through the woods to visit relatives, we will hang out in front of the fire, just us two, with a warm drink, a good book, a little hand sewing.

The cats will jostle for position in front of the fireplace. With luck, a light snow will fall outside the windows and we will welcome the North Wind to blow.

The spot formerly known as a “cold hole in the wall of the room” will blaze with color and heat. The room will get, maybe, a little too warm.

But, really, can a room, at Christmas, ever be too warm?