Tag Archives: Christmas

holiday makes

I sewed up a few things for holiday gifts this year. Not as many as I had in mind at first, but about a week before Christmas I told myself it was ok if I did not make all the things on my list, and I believed myself!

First, I made Seamwork Mag‘s Denali vest for my brother-in-law.  Each year the siblings and in-laws in William’s family draw names, and I drew my hard-working farmer brother-in-law.  I knew I wanted to make something for him and saw the vest.  Perfect.  I ordered the fabric and got the pattern printed.  I am not a huge fan of pdf patterns (patterns only available to download and print yourself), but most independent patterns that I love come as pdfs.  They either have to be printed on your home printer as 8×11 pieces of paper that you have to line up and tape or glue together, or you have a print shop print off the pattern on large paper.  I usually, now, choose the later because I can get our local print shop to do it for me for a few dollars (and that is totally worth the time and tedium of taping all those sheet together).  I picked up the printed pattern and the fabric arrived and I set to it.  This fully lined vest came together quickly and I was very happy with it, so I put it aside for other projects until Christmas Eve night, when I went to put in the (expensive) snaps.  And of course, everything went wrong from there.  Every other snap seemed to bend, but I got one side done.  Then, when I went to put in the male snaps, nearly all of them just punctured holes in the vest and pulled right out.  I was very frustrated and was left looking at a ruined garment and gift.  Kindly, my brother (Will) who had come by, getting out of the house he was staying in while Santa was visiting, was very positive and helpful with suggestions of what to do to fix the problem.  He and William found some tools to help get the remaining snaps removed from the vest.  I gave up the idea of gifting the vest for Christmas, but planned to fix it and deliver it sometime later.  William and Will suggested I cover the strips of holes with fabric and put in a zipper.  That is what I did.  And, it turned out great.  I gifted it on the 30th, and I think he liked it!

vest1

vest

denali

Pajamas are my other annual gift to our children.  This year, I made pjs for all but Steven.  Steven has so many pjs (some gifted, many hand-me-downs) that his drawer over flows.  Even though I did not make him any, I pulled out a pair he got last year for Christmas that were too big at the time, and he was happy.  I made sets for the other three over a few nights, using organic cotton jersey and waffle fabric from a warehouse sale at Spiritex.  I like making pjs because I can experiment with my sewing.  I self-draft the tops and use an Oliver+S pattern for the bottoms (sews up quickly and is comfy).  I can try new stitches, use my serger, do some color blocking, experiment with hem finishes, etc.  These were quick projects, and I hurried through them as well.  I gifted these on the 23rd, just before we went to the Polar Express (where they were supposed to wear pajamas).  And, just like years past, but still surprising to me, the children were absolutely delighted by them.

pjs

days of christmas

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Someone got a hold of my phone during the happy chaos!

carols

I thought I would write down some of our Christmas traditions, or what we do that makes it feel like Christmas.  Some of these have been passed down through our families, some are new.

1.  Christmas Spode plates, like these.  All the women in our family have these dishes.  My grandmother gifted them to me at Christmas for a few years when I was in college (not exactly what a college-girl gets excited about, but I love them now).  I think I may have a few from my grandmother’s collection as well when she started to downsize many years ago.  I don’t have very many, but enough that they are used everyday in December through early January.  We all feel like they are a special treat.  Also, poisetta glasses.  These were also passed down to me from my grandmother.  They don’t do well in the dishwasher (it removes the paint), and I’ve lost a few to the concrete floor (Steven smashed one yesterday).

2.  Christmas tree – right after Thanksgiving.  We’ve gotten our tree from the family property and from a local tree lot.  Either way, I like getting our tree fairly early and keeping it as long as possible.  I love how excited the children are to decorate the tree, and how awed they are by the beauty of the tree lit up at night.  Hythe insisted that we keep the tree lit all the time, even in the day – and he wanted us to keep all the house lights off as soon as it got dark so that we could admire the tree.  But, I had to point out that I could not cook supper without lights, but we would keep it as dark as possible.  This year, I took the tree down early – yesterday, actually.  I usually keep it up until January 5 or 6, but this year, the tree looked dry (despite having water) slightly brown, and droopy, as if the weight of the ornaments was too much.  It wanted to come down.

3.  Crafting.  I love making gifts for our family, friends, and neighbors.  I do some sewing of gifts, but I love to have the children help out with creating also.  We’ve made lots of things from hats to granola to cookies – some crafts I suggest, others they come up with on their own.  This year our big projects were soap (the girls helped out with a few batches of soap) and rolled beeswax candles.  The candles were fun and easy enough for the older children, and I personally love the candles.  We also had a day this year when cousins came over to do some crafting with us.  One of the cousins said, “you’re a family that makes things.”  I felt greatly complimented.

4.  Baking – cookies and Christmas cake.  Unfortunately, I did not get around to the cake this year and I have missed it.  And, I only made a few batches of cookies, but, they were good!

5.  Advent calender.  This calender was made for me by my maternal grandmother (Mom-mom) when I was born.  It is sweet, simple, and lovingly crafted.  The children love it – and they never argue over who puts up the ornament for the day (unlike my brother and I when we were young).

6. Church.  Singing hymns, listening to the choir, remembering the magnificent gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love that were offered through a baby.  Remembering that we can offer these gifts to the world ourselves.

7.  Advent wreath. This tradition is new to our family, but I really like having the reminder at our table of what this season really stands for.  It is not perfect or symbolically correct, but each of the 4 candles stand for hope, peace, joy, and love – one is lighted on each Sunday of Advent.  A daily reminder of what’s been brought to the world and what we can do in the world.

8.  Snowflakes.  I often help the children cut snowflakes, but this year I hung them above the table.  They loved the display.

9.  Stockings.  I love watching the children open their stockings and exclaim over the little presents Santa leaves in them.  Santa is very modest at our house, but the stockings are such fun.  Even toothpaste becomes exciting!

10.  Christmas Eve Santa visit.  Santa comes to the Big House (William’s grandparents’ house) on Christmas Eve afternoon.  I think originally he came to amuse and give the help (house keeper, nanny, farm hands) their Christmas presents.  After many years, there were so many children and grandchildren that he started bringing presents to them too.  Often Santa comes in some strange way (on a motorcycle, in a large box, in an old car).  He brings one present to each child.  The child is called forward, and is supposed to sit on Santa’s knee.  Santa asks if they have been good that year and traditionally everyone in the “audience” (siblings, parents, cousins, friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents) can yell out “yes” and “no” and the good or bad behavior of the child.  It is all in fun and there is lots of laughter.  Then, the child gets a wrapped present.  It is a fun tradition, full of excitement, treats, and laughing.

11.  Big House Christmas supper.  The Big House is always decorated with ivy and boxwood garlands from the gardens, candles (for light, too), and large white table clothes.  The large family exchanges gifts (from a draw), and happy chaos ensues.  We have close to 50 family members for a seated supper, lots of wonderful food, lots of talking and laughing, and finally we end the night with a carol sing.  William’s aunt plays the piano and everyone (who makes it to the music room) sings one of the 40+ carols from the old family carol book.  This gathering is one of my favorite things on Christmas day.

These days after Christmas (and leading up to Christmas) have been gray, misty, and chilly, making me think of Scottish highlands or northern Irish weather.  I often feel better about gloomy weather if I can imagine I am somewhere more exotic.  These days after Christmas also bring a conflicting time of excitement-passed (slight feeling of disappointment that it is over) and the fun of winter break with “nothing” to do.  The mess of Christmas (wrapping paper, packaging, cookie crumbs, tree needles) and the supposed quietness of winter.  Slowing down, yet the time seems to rush by.

I am trying to enjoy all our moments – pause to savor them.  Let the children get to play with friends and visit with grandparents and have time at home to be with each other.  It is a beautiful time of year.

preparations and celebrations

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We’ve been preparing for and enjoying this Christmas season – and only one more day till Christmas!  It has been busy and joyful.  Cookies have been baked.  But . . . this year, I only got around to making two batches of cookies.  I am not sure what happened, except that I found myself one night at 9:30, by myself (everyone else was in bed), incredibly tired, in the kitchen searching for eggs – no eggs.  So I drove over to my in-laws and borrowed 5 eggs only to come back and not be able to find the coconut and then couldn’t find the pecans.  I was feeling very un-holiday-ish and I realized I really did not have to bake more cookies.  The only person who would had that expectation was me!  So, to bed I went.  The only cookies I made were ones you see above which was a recipe from my great-grandmother’s collection, an unusual but delicious sesame seed-cinnamon cookie, and (my favorite) what we call St. Nick Cookies but everyone else calls Mexican Wedding Cookies.

I bought a gorgeous wreath that my sister-in-law made at their farm and used it as an advent wreath for the table.  I did not have candles so i made roll-up beeswax candles every week – and after teaching myself, I taught the girls how to make the candles.  Though, we were a little slow getting some weeks’ candles in the wreath, they are all there now.

Kids made gingerbread houses at church and they were cute for a couple of days until I noticed teeth marks on them and candy that had been gnawed off.  So, we said they had 10 minutes after dinner to eat as much as they could off their house – then the desecrated houses went in the trash can.  They had fun!

Crafting is happening everyday in our house now, too.  I am trying to get some sewing projects done for Christmas (originally for Solstice, but that letting go of expectations thing was great).  Snowflakes cut and hung. The girls and Hythe are making presents and decorating gift bags.  It has been fun.

I am looking forward to spending time with family and taking some hikes in the next few days as we celebrate a beautiful holiday.  Blessings to you!

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Sesame Seed Cookies
½ cup sesame seeds
¾ cup butter
1 ½ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ¼ cups sifted flour
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. cinnamon (I accidentally used 1 tsp, which was fine)
Toast seeds in heavy fry pan, stirring constantly so seeds won’t burn.
Cream butter and brown sugar till fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time with vanilla. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir in sesame seed. Add to creamed mixture, mix. Line cooky sheet with waxed paper. Drop by tsp. onto waxed paper. Allow room for cookies to spread. Bake in 325 oven for 20 to 25 min. or till cookies are done and slightly brown.
For a change, replace cinnamon with ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice or ¼ tsp. cardamom.
Makes 6 doz.

These come out crisp and delicious!  Make sure you only drop tsp sized cookies and give them plenty of room to spread.  Next time I want to try them with the cardamom – and maybe a little cocoa powder!

 

christmas cake

One of my new favorite Christmas foods is an Ohio Christmas Cake.  I found the recipe a few years ago when I was transcribing my great-grandmothers hand-written recipes.  I stumbled across it again last year when I was looking for Christmas cookie recipes.  Now, my grandmother (maternal) and her mother were known for their extensive Christmas cookie baking.  They would bake at least a half dozen types of cookies.  I remember chocolate covered peanut butter logs, fruitcake cookies, sticky sweet bar cookies, what we called St. Nick cookies but were really Mexican wedding cookies, molasses cut-out cookies, nutmeg cookies, and sugar cookies among the offerings.

But, back to the cake.  I liked the sound of it because my father (both my real father and step father) were from Ohio.  My step father loved fruitcake and the recipe resembled a fruitcake–lots of nuts, candied citrus peel, dried fruit, spices.   And, my grandmother (maternal) also always made fruitcake at Christmas, usually to give away as gifts.  One of my holiday baking memories is making fruitcake with her when I was about 9 years old.  She took me shopping for the ingredients and we made the cake together as a gift for my step-father.

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I decided to make this Christmas cake last year in memory of my stepfather.  The recipe was obviously old.  It only listed ingredients (such as “one glass jelly” and “candied citron”), and then said “bake in slow oven”.  I consulted with a local professional baker about the recipe and she helped me decide how to go about making the cake.  She also suggested making a half or even quarter recipe since it was a large recipe with expensive ingredients (pounds of nuts and candied fruit).  So, I spent about a  week making the recipe.  First, I made orange-ginger marmalade for the “glass jelly”, then I candied orange and lemon peel.  I did not know what candied citron was, though I saw it on-line for $15/half pound.  Finally I mixed up half a recipe.  I made it into small loaves to give to grandparents and my father-in-law as gifts.  I kept one small loaf for myself.  William and I tried it and fell in love.  I made another half batch just for us.  It had a great flavor, was not heavy or too sweet.  The candied citrus was wonderful in the cake–fresh and bright and a little bitter.  It was not a fruitcake, though.  It was a fruity, nutty, citrus-y cake that was not as dense, sweet, moist, or rummy as a fruit cake.  That may sound like a turn-off for fruitcake lovers, but they would be missing out.

citrus an nuts

I made the cake again this year–a full recipe.  I gave some away as gifts, but kept at least half for us.  We keep the cake cool and eat thin slices a few times a week–sometimes for breakfast or afternoon snack.  I almost crave it at times.

batter

It will become a holiday tradition for me.  I plan to make it each year and enjoy the cake until it is gone, then wait until the next December to enjoy it again.

christmas ham

When I was growing up, we always had a country ham for Christmas dinner in addition to the turkey and other fixings.  I would always take a few paper-thin slices and eat them with a roll or the dressing.  I did not LOVE the country ham, but I knew that the ham came from one of the hogs off our farm and my grandfather did LOVE it (plus it you could get a piece without fat–one of my biggest childhood(?) food dislikes).  So, I liked it fairly well.  Once my grandfather sold his hog farm and Smithfield implemented vertical integration, we did not have country ham at our holiday meals anymore.

Last year, we were visiting my cousin in Richmond at Thanksgiving and I saw a country ham in a Virginia agriculture products store.  It was a fairly upscale store, but the smell reminded me of those country hams from my childhood.  I have come to really like good country ham, especially on a biscuit or roll or in greens.  So, I decided to buy a ham, cook it and serve some at a Christmas party we were hosting.  I know we would have some left for Christmas dinner, too.  It was fairly expensive, but we took that ham home and I scrubbed it, cooked it, and William carved it.  It took most of a day to cook it and most of a night to carve it.  I had no experience cooking a country ham, despite some knowledge absorbed by osmosis at those long ago holiday dinners.  And, William had not experience carving a country ham.  We also realized we’d bought a very large ham.  It was really good, though, and it lasted us through the party, through Christmas dinner, through New Years celebrations (where we flavored everything we ate with ham), and through the next 4 months whenever we pulled slices from the freezer to use in meals.

Layden's Country Store

This year, I did not plan to buy a country ham, but we went to Layden’s Store in Belvidere when we were visiting my family for Thanksgiving.  When I saw his hams hanging, I decided we needed another country ham for the holidays.  These hams were smaller (and cheaper) that the one from last year, but I got them to cut it in half since I knew a smaller section it would be easier to deal with. William also had them slice a few thick slabs off to fry up for breakfasts.  I cooked this ham when we got home and William carved it.  We now have lots of sliced country ham in the refrigerator and the freezer.

carving the ham

carving the ham

I LOVE pulling out some to use to flavor a meal or to put on a roll with mustard and brown sugar.  I think of country ham as more of a condiment rather than a main part of a meal–it is so strong and salty.  But, I really like having it around.  I think we will make this something we do every year now.   Maybe I will try different methods of cooking it (I did not realize at first there were different ways to cook a country ham, but there are).  Maybe, one year, I will try to cure my own ham (I already have ideas).  But, we will have it and I hope my children will appreciate it as part of our tradition.

What about you?  Do you like country ham?  Do you have a secret to cooking it?  A favorite place to get your ham?

oh, christmas tree

on the way to get our tree

We got our Christmas tree this past weekend.  We drove to some family property where years ago, some in the family planted Frasier firs to be cut for Christmas trees.  This property is fairly remote, higher altitude than where we live, and really beautiful.  The headwaters of a river run through it, gracing it with 3 awe-inspiring waterfalls, and long stretches of peaceful pools and rapids.  We all love to come out to this property, William especially–it is a relaxing place.  We usually only come here to vacation, which is really glorified camping in a very rustic old house.

This weekend, however, we came for a very quick trip.  Our goal was to cut a couple of trees to decorate our house and a cousin’s house for Christmas.  Usually, we can drive over dirt trails and get fairly close to the tree “lot” even in a non-4WD vehicle.  But, it has been raining quite a bit lately and the trails were a bit overgrown.  We needed to walk back to the firs.

lichen on old apple tree

It is a pretty walk without much incline and not very far, but we had to consider our options when we realized we had to get 4 children and one heavy chainsaw to the lot and 4 children, one heavy chainsaw, and 2 trees back to the car.  The walking children started complaining pretty quickly about have to “walk so far”.  William thought maybe we should cut some white pines since they were so close to the car and we were not really sure how many Frasier firs were left or what condition they were in.
white pines
But, we went on–if only to get a little woodland hiking in that day and get children outside (in spite of complaints)–to check out the firs.  As soon as we got to the fir lot, complaining stopped and everyone enjoyed looking for the right trees.  We quickly found one that was right by the trail.  It was very tall, but since the lot is old, we often have to cut down a fir and cut the top out for a Christmas tree.  This one was also damaged on the bottom from bushhogs or other traffic that had nicked it and damaged the lower branches over the years.  William cut it down, cut it up, and cut off the top.  I realized then that if he cut another one of that size, it was going to be very difficult to get back to the car with two trees.  That tree was heavy–the trunk, even at the top, was larger than your normal Christmas tree trunk.  So, I picked out the next tree.  A scraggly, thin, 9 foot tall fir, bunched up next to some sapling poplars and right beside the trail.  It was not healthy.  It was yellower than the first tree and had dead needles in the center.  Most of the dead poplar leaves were decomposing in the branches.  But, it would not weigh much, it was the perfect height, was thin and tall, and I figured it would look fine when decorated.  The children liked it, too.

cutting the tree
got one tree
got two trees
carried the chain saw back

We got the two trees (I carried the chainsaw since William had the firs), headed back to the car and headed home.  Naps in the car on the way home helped everyone enjoy decorating the tree that evening.

tying on the trees

decorating

our tree

Isn’t it beautiful?  The children certainly think so.  I think we got the perfect one.

My family did not cut trees from the woods to use as Christmas trees, though I remember for a few years, my brother and I would cut down some small pine trees, put them in our room and decorate them. They took up all the spare space in our bedrooms. One day, I would like to have a red cedar as a Christmas tree–a wild and native one. What did my great-grandparents do for a Christmas tree? I never thought to ask.