The Eve of the Eve

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Winter kept us waiting. But yesterday seemed to seal our chances for a white Christmas. Curtains of snow fell, finally blanketing the last of the kale in the garden, and coating each branch with nature’s best holiday tinsel. Even the animals seemed to enjoy the snow.

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129twigandvine_winterberry2The last of the bold red winterberry—uneaten by the birds—shone out against the monochrome sky.129twigandvine_felt_garland

I strung a collection of felt beads into a garland and hung it from the cupboard above the teapots and bowls. 129twigandvine_snowfall3

The world is still after a windy night. I filled containers to make ice lanterns (how to make them here). The mercury will dip well below freezing tonight.

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A friend sent me a lemon curd recipe and the house filled with the sharp crisp scent of citrus as I zested three lemons this afternoon. Sun streamed into the kitchen—a welcome sight after a gray week—and the curls of zest cast their own inner glow. 129twigandvine_lemon_zest

From the eve before Christmas Eve I wish you and yours a festive holiday time of togetherness, warmth and gratitude. May the peace of the season be with you all.

Mushrooms, and a Seventies Christmas

Photo by Tim Evan Cook.

I found this photo via Nest Design Studio, and it conjured up all sorts of memories from my childhood home on Blue School Road in southern Pennsylvania.

For one, it was the Seventies. Therefore, mushrooms were part of the décor in our kitchen.The late 1800s farmhouse we moved into in 1972 had a circa 1952 (give or take) kitchen. There was red linoleum on the counter tops which were edged in aluminum strips. The knotty pine cupboards had black wrought iron hardware. The drop tile ceiling had a few water stains, and a wide hulking white enamel range presided over the whole thing. The big pantry at the back of the kitchen was the show stopper. Oh, how I’d love to have even half the pantry that we had in that kitchen.

Throughout the living spaces there were pink and red combinations—pink cabbage rose wallpaper paired with low pile deep red carpet with little black flecks. The single bathroom was tiled in yellow and black and the fixtures were an unnameable shade of green—somewhere between avocado and apple.

Lots of things had to wait to be changed until my parents had more money and time, but the pink cabbage wallpaper didn’t last long. The carpet, however, was in good condition, so we forced ourselves to live with it until it began to wear through on the staircase about 10 years later.

In the kitchen my mom covered over the ugly gray linoleum back splash with funky mushroom contact paper. On the window sill over the sink there was a handmade pottery mushroom with a little elf underneath (made by a dear friend of my grandmother, Esther), along with an ever growing collection of mushroom things given to her over the years.

In this environment we made gingerbread houses, cut dozens of Christmas cookies, smelled pies baking and cut into big pillowy loves of homemade bread (Dad was the pie and bread baker in the family).

On Christmas Eve, fondue was served in the knotty pine dining extension off the kitchen, with its built in corner cupboard full of family dishes, and the big bow window with Mom and Dad’s bottle collection. The many colored bottles caught the morning sun rays and splashed them across the room, or dimly glowed against streaks of raindrops or a still snowy landscape.

Each year Mom and I put old glass silver and blue Christmas ornaments in the tops of every bottle. I now have a few of the bottles from that collection, but I’ve never had a bow window in which to display them. Still they reside on the sill over my sink and there I place my silver and blue balls, and a few colored ones for good measure.

We’d make hot chocolate, put on the Christmas record with Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, and Dinah Shore, and lay with our feet right up to the hot air duct in the living room. Votive candles lit on the old pump organ and up the shelves by the stairs put off the scent of bayberry. The tree was adorned in the fragile glass balls of family past (my favorite one shaped like a raspberry), and the hand-sewn puffy calico ornaments of crafty aunts, and cut-out, glittered Christmas card ornaments from Sunday School or classroom sessions. It was strung with huge colored bulbs that put off  a lot of heat and set the spinners twirling in some old lantern ornaments my brother and I loved to watch (which now spin limply in comparison over LED strings of lights).

There are no mushrooms in my kitchen. But this photo reminds me that I may soon need to change that.

Arcs of Meaning

We are in the midst of a raging snowstorm. The kind with high winds, low temperatures, drifts and hollows, and howling in the chimney. The cat is the only one of us who was willing to venture out this morning. And that was surprising.

But there is a fire in the woodstove and the house is doing its best to fend off the drafts and chill. Still warm in my memory are the events of Christmas Eve. My extended family lives in a village a few miles from here. It’s a small village five miles from the paved road, where the townsfolk still wait for high speed internet, but otherwise live firmly in the 21st century, while living in a village that resembles a card from Currier and Ives. There is no other place I wish to be on the fourth of July or on Christmas Eve. This town knows how to celebrate and when I go there I am known and welcomed and love to feel part of the revelry.

This year Christmas Eve was crisp and starlit. The tall narrow windows of the small white church at the crossroads of this village cast trapezoidal golden shapes on the snow. Outside, Tina was lighting the candles in the dozens of ice lanterns she creates each year for the entrance of the church. Inside, Heather welcomed us into the vestibule and we followed Suzanne and Shona—carrying their instruments—into the sanctuary. Soon fiddles, cello and guitar filled the space with carols and jigs. The service commenced with music, stories, song and contemplation. We were challenged to think of arcs of meaning on this long dark night. We lit candles for those who couldn’t be with us, those just born, and those who had just left us.

Pouring out of the church into the night—our breath visible in the night air—we followed the crowds to the bonfires lit in the field below the church. Randy—who had shared his clever illustrations while singing “The January Man” during the service—was serving hot cider and adding generous tipples of bourbon for the grown ups. Around the fires, we warmed ourselves and chatted amicably. I realized that we were standing in the same spot of the summer greased pole contest, and just a few feet from the fire’s glow was the bank we scrambled down to go swimming in July. I could have stayed for hours, but dinner awaited at my parent’s house, only a quarter of a mile down the road. Christmas would dawn the next day and there was a child to tuck in, a stocking to fill, further toasts to make.

The January Man

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