We prepare our hearts and homes for Christmas. My prayers are more reflective now, my gratitude expands. It’s the season of Advent, the weeks before Christmas.
We also decorate our home with memories of those we love. Each activity, each object reminds us.
Like the year I proudly set the table — and my husband decided it was blah. Out came red and green candles and Christmas glasses instead. Now it’s tradition.
By early December each year, the memories start nudging: it’s time to decorate.
Older daughter and son-in-law couldn’t make it from the US, but memories of the whole family together always return on the day we decorate the tree.
Husband, younger daughter and son-in-law haul in the fresh Fraser fir, haul out the boxes of decorations, string up the lights and we all sip hot cider. The family room’s a happy mess.
We laughingly remember previous Christmas trees: too small, too thin, or lopsided. But this year, we got it right.
The ornaments also bring back memories.
My mother’s gratitude and wishes for the following year are written on a scroll in this cylinder. How we all miss her!
My times working in S. Africa, where these Ndebele dolls were made.
Some ornaments are just for fun. Like “the disco ball”, that always makes us grin, with memories of the disco days.
Memories upon memories.
Tiny Mr. J.C. finally gets tired of all the activity and lies down to sleep, paws up. *Can you see him on the sofa below?* It’s our first Christmas without his best friend Dawson, who would have been asleep at this point too.
Do dogs miss their companions? We do.
All is calm now. Extra-special thanks are given.
And, as the fire glows in the hearth…
Santa and the angels look on approvingly, I think. They, too, have kept us company through many a Christmas.
From our home to yours, wishing you peace this Advent, good memories, and joyful times at Christmas.
Last year, I chose the tree myself– and suffered a thousand criticisms because it was so small. No-one would admit what I knew: this tree was tiny but perfect.
This year, my husband and younger daughter were sure they’d do better. They drove to a tree farm, hopped onto the farmer’s tractor-pulled wagon…
… and cut a tree. They declared it “perfect”.
Until they brought it home. Neither could explain how their perfect tree turned into a strange creature with few branches on one side, even fewer on the other – and a bare backside, to boot.
Truth is, our family has a really bad record when it comes to picking Christmas trees: too tall or too short, too thin or too fat, too sparse.
The first winter we spent at my husband’s family farmhouse years ago, getting the tree was a no-brainer. We’d simply walk down the hill of the 100-acre farm to where the spruce trees grew, and cut one.
It was particularly snowy that year. We slipped and slid down the long hill, Barclay the dog beside us. But we cut the “perfect tree” and tied a rope around it. Then came the long journey uphill. We slipped and slid again and our knees nearly buckled in the deep snow.
We eyed Barclay, now grown and strong, wondering if we could tether the rope to him and have him do the work, but abandoned that idea swiftly. He was having a lot of fun eating the snow or digging himself out of it.
“What use are you?” we teased him. “We sure could use your help right now.”
By the time we reached the top of the hill, the branches on the tree’s bottom side were battered and broken. To hide the damage, we positioned the tree’s flat side against one wall of the large dining room, but what a sad thing it was.
“It’s a Charlie Brown tree,” I told everyone that year. “It’s got a charm all its own.”
“A tree only our family could love,” my husband muttered, shaking his head in disappointment.
This year, despite all the ornaments, our daughter was shaking her head in disappointment, while her father kept claiming that the tree “has character”.
But that tree gave me a chance to feel like a domestic diva. As you know, that’s a rare thing.
I fetched the branches that my husband had cut from the bottom of the tree, and some peacock feathers, and tried to fool the eye into thinking the tree wasn’t as bad as it was.
Or maybe the only eye that got fooled was mine. Oh, well….
From the home of imperfect Christmas arrangements and trees – I wish you peace, love and joy.
Inge had a way of always putting the best forward. A Danish-American living in California, she always found a positive way to view a challenging situation.
She fell off a ladder once. Broke her arm and sustained multiple bruises. The fact that she fell from a ladder while decorating her house for Christmas might have made the situation extra challenging. Who wants to go through Christmas battered and bruised? But it didn’t stop Inge from being cheerful. Her daughter is my good friend, and it was one of the things we marveled about: both our mothers’ capacity for seeing the positives. Both women had been through tough times, but came out the other end of it with joyfulness.
Inge also collected Nisser – the tiny elf-people that visit people’s homes. Not surprisingly, she collected the kind, cheerful Nisser, the ones you may see in Scandinavian homes at Christmas.
Inge died a few years ago, and her daughter has inherited some of the Nisser. So they will be visiting her own home this Advent and Christmas, a fact which makes my friend very happy.
(Yes, I know the ones in these photos are dolls. The real Nisser are usually invisible.)
But my friend warns that the “drille Nisser” – like the one who made my family’s appliances break down recently — could still come out on Christmas Eve! We are advised to leave out a bowl of sweet porridge for them the night before – preferably with lots of cinnamon.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Inge, and to all who take joy in Christmas.
As Christmas approaches, Marilyn Mirabelli is a very busy woman.
Marilyn, the person behind one of my favorite websites, has a tea catering company called Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, you’ll find her filling clients’ orders and preparing to cater afternoon teas for tree-trimming or other Christmas parties. Marilyn Mirabelli knows her tea. And, since 2004, she’s been living her dream of having a thriving tea business.
As you’ll see on Marilyn’s website, she’s revived the afternoon tea in classic style:
“ASimply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teaunfolds with the well-appointed tea table: Crisp white tablecloth and tea napkins; china teapot and cups and saucers; freshly-made tea sandwiches that are trimmed and quartered, small cakes, biscuits, and of course, classic English scones with imported Devon double clotted cream. This is accompanied by the choicest loose leaf teas.”
Marilyn is also a talented writer who produces a series of high-quality, interesting stories on her website. It’s like having some tidbits of history with your afternoon tea, and enjoying it too! Here’s something I learned from Simply Splendid:
“Queen Victoria made afternoon tea popular, very ‘it’. But she did not invent the tradition. That honour goes to Anna, Duchess of Bedford, a Lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and prone to fainting spells in the afternoons. The royal doctor was called; he diagnosed Anna’s fainting spells as hunger from the long stretch between lunch and supper and prescribed a cup of hot tea and buttered bread whenever a fainting spell was coming on.
Anna found this so agreeable, she invited other Ladies-in-waiting to join her. Pretty soon Queen Victoria cottoned on to a good idea and she asked for afternoon tea too. The rest as they say, is history!”
As well as bits of history, you’ll find interviews with interesting personalities on the website. It makes you realize that the person behind the site and the company is both extremely knowledgeable and passionate about afternoon tea.
But you won’t find a great deal about Marilyn herself on the website, so here’s a tidbit about her:
The former journalist and communications consultant says she read a book called Dreams Don’t Have An Expiry Date by Deanna Rosenswig in the early 2000’s and decided to start her tea business. She was determined that her cakes, sandwiches and other offerings would all be made to order from fresh ingredients and she’s kept that commitment. Her tea selections come from estates monitored by the Ethical Tea Partnership.
As the company’s fame spreads, a wide variety of clients – individuals, families and corporate workplaces — have asked Marilyn to cater afternoon teas for special occasions. Former broadcaster/politician Isabel Bassett described the tea Simply Splendid prepared for her daughter’s baby shower as “exquisite… the guests are still talking about it.”
I was raised in the tea-drinking capital of Jamaica – Manchester. Afternoon tea wasn’t just a hot drink: it was an occasion, and for some, an almost-sacred ritual. (See “Afternoon Tea”, Ch. 10 in A Good Home.) So I was thrilled when the Simply Splendid website chose A Good Home as its favorite book for the month of July. It was a great boost – the book had only been released weeks before.
Then, this autumn, Simply Splendid gave me a delightful surprise when they created a special apple cake which they named “Lady Cynthia Cake”.
Within days, friends, acquaintances and strangers alike were trying out the recipe, to oohs and aahs of delight. The cake was served at an afternoon tea in Whitby, Ontario, where it was declared “delicious”. Then, a friend invited me for tea in her home, and surprised me by serving the Lady Cynthia Cake she’d just made. Again, delicious.
Marilyn’s tea blends, cakes, sandwiches and other creations are, simply, splendid. Congrats on living your dream, Marilyn, and we wish you well.
For more information about gift packages, special tea blends or to book an afternoon tea – do visit: splendidafternoonteas.com