Tree Fairy Tales for the your holidays…..

A little Tree Fairy kept me grounded through a month of windstorms, power outages, health challenges for both Mike and I,  and the usual “what do we want to do about Christmas”.  I shared her through a series of stories on social media. For those who do not interact with me on social media, I want to share her here and hope you find her to be a bit of delight in your life.

She and I wish for you Happy Holidays! Happy Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Hearts!

Tree Fairy came to me with her little potted tree, which I offered to decorate, but she ONLY wanted candles, no other decorations. She was VERY particular!

I don’t argue with fairies.

The next day she comes back and wants me to decorate a big deciduous tree, saying they’re the ones needing color in winter and mumbling something about people decorating conifers, already green & pretty.

I told her the Alders and Big Leaf Maples here were too tall to decorate. She gave me a cross look. .

I decorated an alder for her.

Tree Fairy loves her trees but can be very grumpy about people.

On December 9th I told Tree Fairy about Worldwide Candle Lighting Day. She became very sad thinking of young children who have died. She doesn’t tolerate adults well, but she loves children, helping them when she can.

She went and got a very large candle (for her, she’s only 3 1/2″ tall), then left to go into the woods to light her candle and be with her beloved trees.

She too has lost many loved ones this year. .

She told me the souls of all little ones who die, of any species, go to a beautiful forest in a heavenly world. I don’t know how she knows this.

Tree Fairy did not return until Friday when she came to say Happy Solstice! In good spirits, she looks forward to the coming light, knowing her beloved trees will appreciate the longer days, some already budding in anticipation. She brought some friends (not sure who they are, seemed rude to ask, I believe they are tiny seed fairies). .

She’s returned to her trees, we’ve had wind storm after wind storm, she wants to help those who got hurt.

She is happiest amongst her trees, she said come visit wherever you go to be with trees. She loves people who love her trees.

Those that don’t. Well, a cross fairy has her ways…….she is a warrior!

To see more of my recent and seasonal botanical creations check out page two of “Flora Mandalas”

Holiday Full Disclosure and Tolerance

The winter holiday celebrations can be as divisive as politics. Which is sad given what they celebrate. There are some Christians who say Santa, trees, etc. have nothing to do with the birth of Christ, and non-Christians who say most traditions of Christmas were stolen from pre-Christian celebrations. Some Jewish people put up Christmas trees, others say that isn’t right. There are people who love Christmas music, those who hate it……the list goes on and on of other religious and cultural controversies this month.

a bit of whimsy made by a local carver

I thought I was becoming cynical about Christmas. Even Solstice. We celebrate both. What I thought was cynicism was the feeling that I have to be so sensitive this time of year around pretty much everyone as to not offend anyone, and very private about how we celebrate. Often I don’t even know which way is the “right” way to avoid offense.

Here’s an illustration of what I mean. One Christmas, when I had been very ill for months, Mike and I were enjoying a rare, leisurely, festive time together a few days before Christmas. At the gallery of a local artist who illustrates children’s books, Mike purchased a print of a little shepherd boy, taken from a book about the Christmas story. Mike loves Christmas and because of his Basque heritage he identifies with the shepherds in the Christmas story. (The Basque who came to this country, including his maternal great uncles, herded sheep in the isolated hills of California, Nevada and Idaho. A job no one else wanted). We walked out of the gallery and saw a friend to whom Mike enthusiastically showed his purchase. The friend’s only comment, said with disdain after Mike said why he bought it, was “but it’s so Christian.” My heart aches even now when I think of how crestfallen he was.  This person would not think of them self as intolerant. Yet this is the sensitiveness many people have around this season.

Though we celebrate in our house the way we want, it is like belonging to a secret society of two. How we celebrate has changed over the years, adopting new rituals, traditions, letting go of older ones. That’s the way life is. Of course new religions incorporate the traditions of older ones, its human nature. Archeological finds show just how long we’ve been adopting the ways of those before us, or from other places and cultures. Life is not either/or, people are not either/or……well, yes they are, and we see the results of that in our divided, polarized country, and in other countries, where everyone on all sides of the political spectrum talk of the “others” as though they had nothing in common and were from another planet. This intolerance of differences generates violence, at least in thought, and too often in action. Violence toward others is not taught in any major religious or spiritual tradition that has stood the test of time.

I’m quite certain I have much in common with someone who may have voted differently than me. We may both love birds, read plant books, support women’s shelters, have had cancer, drive the same car……who knows. I choose not to talk politics with people with different political ideals, but politics is not all life is about. Political choices may represent important individual values, but I know people who vote as I do and do not share all my values. They may not even tolerate how and what I celebrate this month. We are far more complex as a species and as individuals to put each other in boxes and categories based on limited knowledge of the “other.”

So here in our secret society of two, where Decembers past has often been a time of healing and recovery (i.e. recovering from surgeries, colds, flu, etc.) our celebrations are low key. Up until a few years ago we spent Christmas Day with family, usually elsewhere, occasionally here. We miss these family gatherings, but also enjoy just being “home for the holidays”. I have had a long standing “bucket list” item of spending Christmas in a cabin somewhere, then I remember – I live in a cabin somewhere.

the greeter on our front door

So here at this cabin in the woods is what is important to us when it comes to holidays. I apologize if any of this offends you. Actually, I don’t want to apologize, rather invite you to share with me what you celebrate this month that might be different, maybe I would enjoy your traditions and celebration also. Or perhaps you don’t celebrate anything you just enjoy December plain!

1) A nativity set, there are several to choose from, the tiny one from my childhood or various wooden ones. I have few friends who put up a nativity, but to Mike and I that is what Christmas is about.

2) Lights and candles are important because that’s what celebrating the Solstice is about, bringing back the light, celebrating the cycles of dark and light. And because here in Washington December is just plain dark and days are short.

3) We listen to a lot of music. (Mike can watch the same Mormon Tabernacle choir Christmas special DVD every year, me not so much, I like something new!).

back porch trees, two golden crest cypress

4) Though I often vow NO TREE, and NEVER thought I’d have an artificial tree, we always have a tree, sometimes a small table top artificial one, or a potted tree on the porch outside the window, or a cut tree. Sometimes more than one. Mike is delighted when we decorate a tree. In his younger adult years, up until we married, he didn’t really celebrate Christmas with anyone. Thirty Christmases later, he is still making up for it.

advent wreath

5) We now do an advent wreath to help us stop and focus on the spiritual aspect of this holy season, we light a candle each week, do a reading, meditate and slow down. Mike was in the emergency room last Sunday so we postponed our candle lighting to Monday, it helped “ground” us back into the season’s vibrations after a stressful Sunday.

6) We try to take a ride in the mountains, a walk somewhere quiet, depending on my body’s willingness. Connecting with Nature and the calm gray/green of winter in the northwest is very important to me this time of year. Nature reminds us human species that it truly is a time of peace on earth, and at least in the northern hemisphere, a time of rest.

7) Gift giving is minimal, fortunately an attitude shared by extended family and close friends. Something simple or homemade, if anything at all. (And this year I liberated myself from Christmas card sending by sending Thanksgiving cards.)

8) We have a special Christmas meditation with those in our meditation group.

little angel from my childhood on this year’s indoor tree

In a small house, where there isn’t a lot of room for decorating, besides the tree and nativity, you might find these favorite symbols of the winter season and holidays – snowmen, angels, deer, a variety of evergreens and their cones, red and white carnations, and (I have a mixed relationship with them) maybe a poinsettia, which Mike loves.

So if you’re in the neighborhood and don’t find our holiday celebrations offensive, drop by, we’ll share a cup of wassail! And if you too like the songs of the season, we could have a sing-a-long!

little china snowmen quartet

Just a few of many other posts of the season…

Solistice Thoughts

Christmas Eve Lessons From Nature

A message of peace

Sweet Silver Bells

Solistice

Seasonal Reflections

Solstice

“In a way winter is the real spring, the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.” Edna O’Brien

Living in the woods, I miss the sun on the days it shines because it hides behind tall conifers. Looking forward to the sun coming out of its hiding places!

There is a moody magic to winter with its extremes of brisk windy days and calm still days. Perhaps because the northwest is my birth place and is “in my genes”, I find cloudy days and rain bring comfort. Though there is much going on around us that is upsetting, stirring the energies of our hearts and minds, try tuning into the winter message to go within, find your own stillness, make time to allow yourself to rest and incubate dreams and actions for the new year and prepare oneself for what the new year brings.

Animals know far better than we do how to honor the shifting energies of the seasons, using those shifts for their own well-being.  Some animals hibernate in winter, especially in colder climates, some semi-hibernate, coming out on warmer days to restock winter stores, clean house, and get a little exercise, those who stay active all winter sense the weather changes and behave appropriately, bedding down for a cold winter’s night or storm. A matter of survival? Perhaps we need to learn from them for our own survival! Instead, most of us  ‘soldier’ on at the same pace, winter, spring, summer & fall!

Wishing you peace and love however and whatever you celebrate during this mid-winter time!

Winter posts:

In my last post, Nature’s way & a few mandalas!, there are listed other posts for the Solstice.

The previous post, Decking the halls – wandering thoughts on seasonal decorations, lists many Christmas posts.

Spice up, warm up, your winter days! is good for self care and warm coziness through the winter!

I also highly recommend a blog post from Amadea Morningstar, a person who has been a mentor and Ayurvedic health practitioner in my life. It is a thoughtful piece to consider during these dark days of winter and challenging times, especially as we move to a new year: Moving into the new with intention and the five elements.

 

Decking the halls – wandering thoughts on seasonal decorations

Most know traditional decorating ideas for Christmas go waaayyy back, ‘borrowed’ from early pre-Christian holidays in Celtic, Scandinavian and Germanic cultures. Whether to decorate or not has been as controversial as Christmas itself.  Just as there have been bans on celebrating Christmas, such as in 1647 when under Puritan Oliver Cromwell there were punishments for such celebrations in England (the political climate changed, the King restored, and so was Christmas), there are now bans on Christmas decorations in many schools and public places.  There are Christian churches that celebrate sans decorations.  On the other hand, there are Jewish families that always have Christmas trees, some jokingly calling it their Hanukkah tree.

My theory is that in the short, often dark days and long dark nights of winter, people, past and present, restricted from being outside, needed something to ‘change the scenery’ of their housebound lives, a reason to add color and light.  Ancient yule time festivities brought gaiety and light to the dark mid-winter.  Jesus came along and what better way to celebrate a birthday than with lights and decorations! Okay, the earliest record of celebrating his birthday in December is from the middle of the second century, when Christians were still a persecuted minority, so maybe they didn’t decorate too much.

(note: As for those “modern” Christmas lights that light up dark nights, in 1895 Ralph E Morris of the New England telephone company took tiny strings of lights made for telephone switchboards, put them on his tree to replace the not-so-safe candles, and the rest is history!)

Christmas decorating and decorations in homes is very personal. Look at someone’s tree and you see ornaments full of family tradition and stories. Our trees are so familiar to ourselves, but to an ‘outsider’ it’s like peering into a private room in the house! I do not have children, yet like many families, I have child-made Christmas decorations from nieces. Everyone has ornaments and decorations given as gifts, or bought on a special day, or a vintage find, or maybe an after-Christmas deal on a  box of pretty glass balls. Most trees are a miscellaneous collection of family history.  Yes, there are those who carefully arrange and coordinated “designer” trees, with color themes and ornament “collections”, those trees too give insight into the decorator.

60s set of gauzy angels – my first very own decorations.

The decorating touches people place around their homes, hang on their doors, or put outside often have stories too. If there’s no story, they at least reflect something about the person or family. As traditional and universal some Christmas decorating themes might be – Santas, snowmen, angels, wise men, the nativity, reindeer, bells, etc., individual expression and interpretations of those themes are endless, and new themes often very unique!

When cleaning out my parents house I brought home a few Christmas decorations. Some of the old ones held childhood memories. Though sentimental, I realized those  ornaments made from tin can lids, covered with glitter, were really old, no longer attractive and I was never going to use them. I kept only a few items from mom’s decorations.

50s ceramic ornaments made by mom

One year, after we’d all left home, Mom decided she wanted a blue and white tree and went out and bought blue and silver balls and white birds. Sort of a “designer” tree.  She used those ornaments exclusively only a year, maybe two. Soon more colorful family ornaments were added back in and most of the blue-tree-theme ornaments were stored away, along with the old glass ball ornaments of our childhood. Her tree eventually became an eclectic collection of little wooden figures and craft ornaments, no glass balls.

Closest I came to a “theme” tree was the tiny-teddy-bear tree one year, the santas & snowmen tree, or the all-angel tree, though none of these were without small red, green, silver and gold balls. In a small house, even a “big” tree is relatively small and easy to “themeize”.

My love of decorating for Christmas began to wane not long after Mike and I married. Besides decorating at home, I decorated the Quilcene Community Center for 9 years, and later the Port Townsend Visitor Center for 7 years, plus various parties for seniors, volunteers, etc.  I was decorated out! Marrying at 43, Mike had never celebrated Christmas as an adult, never had a tree in his “shed-boy” cabin, and he enjoyed the wonder of all my little ornaments. I kept at it quite a few years, but over the past decade, as my health and energy has been more challenged, half my ornaments have gone to garage sales and Good Will.  A pattern set in where every year I’d announce in November I did not want to “do” Christmas and if I did, it would be minimal. In early December I’d put a few boughs in a vase, set out some angels, a few Swedish gnomes and santas, gifts from my friends in Sweden, hang lights around the window, make a swag, get out the music (we both love Christmas music) and say, “that’s it.”

Then a week later I’d go in the attic, (or the years I couldn’t due to recovering from some surgery or broken bone, I’d ask Mike to go in the attic, it’s the crawl in type) to find the box of nativity sets. I’d see favorite little snow angel ornaments, or tree shaped candles, or the Lenox Christmas bowl, or we’d want more lights for dark NW evenings. Out would come boxes and suddenly there’d be Christmas everywhere! One year, after swearing we’d have no tree, I bought a previously cut, but rejected, small noble fir at a local already-closed-for-the-season u-cut tree farm on Christmas Eve and decorated it by the time Mike came home from work. For several years I decorated a potted tree on the porch with outdoor ornaments, within view of the living room. Then came the table top artificial trees (one I’d bought for mom) something I, Nature girl, NEVER thought I’d do, but a great show case, that takes up little room, for favorite tiny ornaments. Then after Christmas, every year, I’d say, as I gathered, boxed up, and put away all the stuff I’d dragged out – I’m NOT doing this again.

So here we are – first week of December. I made my November announcement. Yesterday I put boughs in a vase (they’ll dry before Christmas and need replacing – maybe with a little artificial tree?), set out a few bits of Christmas stored in my closet, played Christmas music off my iPad (forget the box of CDs, tapes, and old 33 rpm albums).  Crippled up with a painful foot (re-injured this week by a #@#* doctor), I can’t walk and can’t possibly go up to the attic. This may be the year I succeed at minimalist Christmas decorating. But there ARE those little snowman angels, the tiny nativity set and I’ve got three weeks to go.

(P.S. Mike read this and helpfully headed to the attic! I complained as he pulled out boxes, but with great reservation, took only a few more items and sent the rest back to the attic!)

Happy decorating!

See photo below for a tree from the late 1930s. my dad’s family (he’s in the middle) and a very tinseled tree (tinsel, originally made of silver in Germany, was eventually made of lead until the 1970s when it was realized lead was toxic. Yikes!)

My favorite book of Christmas trivia, used in writing this:

The Christmas Almanack, Gerard and Patricia Del Re, 1979. (Yes, that’s how they spell almanac)

other December and holiday posts:

A Christmas Eve lesson from Nature

Sweet Silver Bells

A Chaplin’s Christmas message of peace

Solstice Thoughts About Our Thoughts

O Tannenbaum!

Seasonal Reflections

A Christmas Eve lesson from Nature on Gentle Strength

christmas-eve-mandalaAs I thought of each plant while making the mandala above, (neither as pretty or even symmetrical as I’d hoped for Christmas Eve!) I pondered how in Nature gentleness, softness or diminutive size are traits not exclusive of strength and purpose.  A lesson from Nature.

Dusty Miller’s soft fuzzy leaves hardily survive in the garden next to plants blackened by below freezing temperatures. Flexible Cedar trees sway in the wind, thin tops vulnerable to breaking out in strong storms, yet baskets woven of cedar bark will carry stones and some have survived hundreds of years.  Star Anise’s fruit, fleshy and soft, when dried hardens into pods hard as the shells of nuts, protecting tiny seeds.  Delicate white blossoms of the spider plant are fragile, yet spider plant is a powerful detoxifier of polluted air. The Lilliputian ‘cones’, barely noticed on the forest floor, fall from Red Alder, a tree straight and tall whose wood, strong enough for building houses and making furniture, makes for hot fires. (My analogies aren’t a perfect fit, but you get the idea! And there are many more examples!)

The celebration of Christmas focuses on the birth of a tiny babe over 2000 years ago who grew up, according the gospels written after his death, to teach of love and forgiveness, to teach that in the eyes of God everyone was equal and anyone, regardless of social status, whether they were criminals or ‘sinners’, men or women, could find the “kingdom of God within“.   The stories and events of his life will forever be discussed and debated, but it is known that he lived at a very tumultuous time in history and was likely seen as a revolutionary leader with a growing following who, among other acts of defiance, confronted greedy money changers and disagreed with the ‘temple tax’ every man had to pay.  An advocate of the poor and working class at a time of tyrant leaders, Jesus represented a caring, protecting presence and gave hope to those who followed him, but to those in power he was a rebellious troublemaker.  He died young, a victim of political conspiracy because  he was ‘anti-establishment’ and his ability to attracted great crowds of people was a threat to religious and political leaders.  He was, from what was written after his death by those closest to him, a compassionate person, kind to all, who could be strong as steel and hot as fire when he needed to be, especially in the face of what he saw as injustice.

Whether you are celebrating the birth of Jesus this weekend, or the the miracle of light as Hanukkah begins, I hope you have an opportunity to spend time in Nature on these wintry days and see what she has to teach you.  In the winter Nature can be peaceful and calm, for it is a time of rest before the energy burst needed for spring. But she also has a powerful stormy side as witnessed in winter storms.  She can teach us the same lessons that Jesus and other great religious leaders have taught – be gentle when gentleness is needed, and strong when strength is needed.  Love all, protect those in need, and stand up to those who are unjust and driven by greed for power and money.

Not much has changed in 2,000 years has it?

Peace and Happy Holy-days!

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Solstice Thoughts About Our Thoughts

A few seasonal thoughts and a warming recipe with star anise, my gift for you!

from-the-dark-to-the-with-glowHere in Northwest USA, where days are quite short on the Winter Solstice, frosty fog obscures the sunlight, a fitting welcome to this turning of the seasons! Outside my window three deer munch along the trail into our yard, hesitate, and munch back up the trail. I have not seen them in months and it is a sweet solstice gift to know they survived hunting season.

If you are not feeling celebratory as we enter this holiday season, I hope this quote posted on Facebook by a friend, might help you along.

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.            img_6473-2
All things break.  And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.
L.R. Knost

Christmas and Hanukkah both celebrate hope, love, peace.  Because many are feeling we are entering a time, not of light, but of darkness and despair,  it is doubly important to embrace the message of hope, love and peace and carry it into the New Year in all we do.  Let it influence how we relate to others as we fulfill our responsibilities at work, in our families and in our communities.  Let it influence actions we take, decisions we make.  Most of all, let it be in our thoughts.  Regardless of outer circumstances, or who is in “power” we alone control our thoughts, and our thoughts have power.

I recently listened to an interview with Anthony Ray Hinton, sentence to death for murders he did not commit, held on death row in solitary confinement for 30 years.  His story is compelling. I read other articles and interviews of him, wanting to know all I could about how a person survives such a horrific journey into darkness.  Anthony Ray, a good person, raised to live a decent, law abiding life, was convicted because he was black, though evidence did not prove he was even at the crime scene. Anthony Ray went through many phases of anger, mental escapism, and spiritual faith.  He said he learned he could take his mind wherever he wanted to go. For 30 years he went every where, beautiful places, football games, to visit the Queen of England. No, he did not lose his mind and go crazy.  He survived through the power of controlling his thoughts, for his surroundings and circumstances where not intended for his survival.  He consciously and with intent created a life through mind power, a life he was deprived of by an unjust criminal justice system. Bryan Stephenson, attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative worked for 16 years to open the case with new evidence, and was turned down three times. Finally, the case was reopened, the evidence examined, and April 2015 Anthony Ray was released into a world he knew only in his mind.  (His case was not overturned because of DNA, but DNA testing has resulted in many other people freed after equally long prison terms for crimes they did not commit.)

Anthony’s story is an example of the power of the  mind, not the usual example where people say they ‘manifest’ what they want in their lives, or bring about miracle healings, etc., compelling as some of those stories are.  His story is the power of the mind to bring light and beauty into ones soul regardless of outer circumstances. To survive in the face of feeling powerlessness. It is a story of hope.

Let your mind take you where you want to go in the New Year, let it envision the world as you would like it to be, regardless of how outer circumstances may appear.

Have a wonderful holiday season, celebrating in whatever tradition you celebrate, the message of hope, love and peace!  Let peace guide your actions, carry hope in your mind and love in your heart, even when outer circumstances do not seem to reflect any of these three.

Below – a recipe for a warm, spicy, easy winter comfort food, made from most the elements of this mandala. You’ve probably made it yourself, if not, it’s a yummy treat alone, or as a condiment or sauce with other foods.  To make it sweeter, I recommend adding maple syrup to taste. (Makes everyday morning oatmeal a holiday treat!)

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I’ve add many seasonal mandalas to my mandala page: Flora Mandalas.

spicy-apple

Odsc01752ther posts for the season:

Seasonal Reflections
Sweet Silver Bells
Spice Up Your Winter Days
Christmas
The Turtle and The Star
The Chaplin’s Christmas Message

Sweet Silver Bells

 

IMG_3888Whether silver, brass, tin, ceramic, glass or some other material, bells are as much a part of winter holiday celebrations as holly, mistletoe, and twinkly lights. Bells have a long, rich history, and have been rung for many reasons – to warn people, gather people, guide ships, to celebrate. Bell making grew with the advancement of metallurgy. Beginning in China and spreading throughout Asia, the art of bell making eventually spread to Europe where early monks were among the first to create bells of different distinct tones and use them to create music.

IMG_3858Bells seem to have a role in all major religions and spiritual traditions. Their association with Christmas likely is due to church bells calling people to worship, a tradition some say began with St. Patrick. Church bells called folks to weddings (thus the term ‘wedding bells’), funerals, and other festivities and celebrations. Bells were thought to not only call out to mere mortals, but to ring to the heavens above!

IMG_3892Whatever the reason, bells are a part of Christmas and other winter celebrations…..sleigh bells, silver bells, Salvation Army Bells, jingle bells, bells on elves shoes, on reindeer harnesses, on trees, doors, in choirs and orchestras. There’s a long list of seasonal songs that feature bells. My personal favorite, especially when played by a bell chorus, is “Carol of the Bells”IMG_3951

 


“Sweet silver bells, All seem to say, Throw cares away.”

The original lyrics of Carol of the Bells had nothing to do with Christmas. The song was a Ukranian folk song written as a “winter well-wishing song,” according to Anthony Potoczniak, a Rice University anthropology graduate student who studied the song’s history. Photoczniak explains:

“Written in 1916 by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovich and titled ‘Shchedryk’, the song tells the tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the plentiful year that the family will have. The song’s [original] title is derived from the Ukrainian word ‘shchedryj’, which means bountiful……”

Potoczniak explains that American choir director and arranger Peter Wilhousky heard Leontovich’s work and it reminded him of bells so he wrote new lyrics to convey that imagery.

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These bells, likely made in India, and have a beautiful floral design on them.

Another favorite is I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day based on a poem Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in 1863, two years after the death of his beloved wife from an accidental fire caused by a candle. Longfellow’s oldest son ran off against his father’s wishes to fight with the Union army and was severely wounded. This news caused the already grieving Longfellow to write this poem of despair, ending with hope. In 1872 the poem was first put to music by English organist John Baptiste Calkin, though there have been many other musical versions of it.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

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Tiny china bells, part of childhood Christmases.

Written during a bloody war that tore our nation apart, by a grieving man, it became a Christmas song of hope, justice, peace.

May the bells on this holy-day, 152 years later, when it again seems “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men” also ring “loud and deep” a message of peace on earth, hope and goodwill to all.

IMG_4028Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, Hanukkah blessings……. whatever you celebrate….let your bells ring out!

Read about famous bells, bell making, the story of the largest bell ever made  (it  lays at the bottom of the sea), and a brief history of bells at: historyofbells.com

To read more of the history of:  Carol of the Bells

 

A  youtube version for listening:

 

Spice up, warm up, your winter days!

Star Anise, not as common as the other spices I write about in this post, is also a warming spice. Used in a lot of Chinese cooking. From a small, evergreen magnolia tree grown in Asian countries, the stars add decoration as well as sweet anise taste to warm holiday beverages.

Star Anise, less common  then the spices I write about, is also a warming spice. Used in a lot of Chinese cooking, these pods from a small, evergreen magnolia tree grown in Asian countries  adds decoration as well as the sweet anise taste to warm holiday beverages.

Cold, damp winter weather in northern climes calls for comforting ways to warm body and soul. In both western and Ayurveda herbal traditions, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, the fragrances and tastes associated with winter holidays, are considered warming for body and spirit!

Cinnamon, the fragrant dried inner bark of the cinnamon tree, grown mostly in Sri Lanka, is a warming spice. Both sweet and pungent, it is good for circulation, respiratory health, muscles and nerves. In warm milk or warmed juices such as apple or berry, it can bring comfort and relief to a body chilled from stormy weather or a cold ‘bug’. It also harmonizes the flow of circulation.

the ground cinnamon shown in here is a much sweeter and finer tasting cinnamon than what is commonly sold as cinnamon, If you can find it, try it in your holidays baking and beverages.

“Cinnamomum verum”, considered the ‘true cinnamon’, is sweeter than what is commonly sold as cinnamon, which is from a related species and referred to as “cassia”.  If you can find it, try this ‘true’ cinnamon it in your holiday baking and beverages.

You probably already use ground cinnamon in baking holiday cookies, pies, and other desserts. It can also be used in meat and vegetable dishes, especially when combined with other spices. Cinnamon sticks are used in mulled wine or juice. Add the benefits and taste of cinnamon to your winter days by sprinkling it on your favorite tea, coffee, or other warm beverage.

the forms of cardamon, the green, dried pods, the seeds from in side the pods, and fresh ground cardamon.

The  green, dried pods; the seeds from in side the pods; and fresh ground cardamom. Oh how I wish this post could smell like cardamom!

Cardamom, an ancient Indian spice, is another sweet/pungent warming spice. Good for the respiratory system (I take long, deep cardamom breaths when I grind it!), nerves and circulation, it is a rock star for the digestive system. Not surprising, as the perennial shrub is a member of the ginger family and ginger root is the premium digestive spice. The little seeds found inside the fruiting pods of the cardamom bush stimulate digestion and can calm an upset tummy.

Cardamon tapioca pudding with toasted coconut & almonds.

cardamom tapioca pudding with toasted coconut & almonds.

Used in Scandinavian baking year round, it is especially favored at Christmas in cardamom breads and cakes. Cardamom, which reduces the mucus forming properties of milk, is delicious in a cup of warm milk at night. I use cardamom in many vegetable and grain dishes, as an ingredient in a spice blend I often use, and with cinnamon and nutmeg in cooked fruit deserts such as baked pears or apples or a fruit compote, or cobblers. My favorite use is in tapioca pudding, (which I make with coconut milk, no eggs). Cardamom/vanilla tapioca, with a hint of coconut and sweetened with honey or coconut syrup, served warm (or cooled) is a soul warming sweet dessert on a wintry night!

IMG_3803Cloves are the dried flower buds of the clove tree, a tropical member of the myrtle tree family. It’s name, from the Latin clavus, means nail, which the dried buds resemble. Also pungent, and sweet, it is considered a mild aphrodisiac, good for the lymph system, lungs, stomach, it is also found in many herbal salves for pain. A long-standing use has been for tooth pain. Used in combination with cinnamon and other spices, it is popular in holiday baking, as well as meat dishes. A strong spice, too much can cause stomach irritation, and the flavor can over ride other flavors. It’s a good thing in moderation! A “classic” holiday decoration is clove buds stuck in an orange and hung to scent a room or closet. Easy to grind, the flower buds last longer whole then pre-ground.

store bought, dried ground nutmeg, and fresh grated nutmeg, showing the beautiful patterns inside the nutmeg fruit.

Dried ground nutmeg, and fresh grated nutmeg, showing the beautiful patterns inside the nutmeg fruit.

Nutmeg seems to have two primary uses in most western kitchens….holiday eggnog and desserts with fruit, such as pies and cobblers. It can also be used in cooking vegetables. A pungent spice, it works well with cardamom and ginger to aid digestion, especially in the small intestine. A superb spice for calming the mind, up to 1/4 t. of nutmeg in warm milk (or milk substitute) before bed time can help with sleep. Nutmeg and mace (another spice) come from the same evergreen tree native to Indonesia. You can buy the whole “fruit” or purchase it ground. Grinding nutmeg in a spice grinder takes a good sharp blade. It can also be grated. The resulting fresh ground or grated nutmeg will be stronger flavor than the dried, pre-ground spice.

one of my latest favorite beverages is fresh ginger tea with bilberry juice, which is thick like a nectar, added. The bilberry juice sweetens the tea and adds the health benefits of bilberry. I sprinkle cinnamon on top, though a cinnamon stick could be put in the cup as a 'stirrer'.

A favorite beverage of mine is fresh ginger tea with bilberry juice. Thick like a nectar, bilberry juice sweetens the tea, adding the health benefits of bilberry. Sprinkle cinnamon on top, or add a cinnamon stick as a ‘stirrer’.

Gingerbread and ginger cutout cookies are two favorite winter time baked goodies. Ginger is warming and “grounding” (it is a root after all!). Dried ginger is drying and heating to the body, fresh ginger warming but not drying. I prefer using the fresh in cooking soups, making tea, and some baked goods. The dried powder ginger is good in spice mixes and in baking. Ginger, considered a universal medicine, is good for many ailments, especially those of the digestion and respiratory system, and for blood flow ( it is a mild blood thinner). From baked goods to spicy soups, it is perfect for spicing up warming winter meals.

This post, long enough, barely touches on all the medicinal and culinary uses of these wonderful warming spices, nor does it cover the interesting history of them. Important as medicines and culinary use, all have been used for centuries. They are as ancient as the holidays we celebrate this month!

buy fresh, whole spices and use them to warm up and spicy up winter days and nights! I will soon be making wassail, and most of these spices will go into the pot!

buy fresh, whole spices and use them to warm and spice up winter days! Soon I will be making wassail and most of these spices will go into the pot!

A few tips: For best flavor from an herb or spice, grind fresh what you need, never buy more pre-ground than you’ll use in a month, and buy from a source that keeps spices fresh (forget the little tin cans in supermarkets!).

Store spices in a tight jar. If the aroma is lost, toss. The fragrance of spices, from the volatile oils in them, generally tells how fresh the spice is, (this is especially true of dried green herbs like oregano, thyme, sage, etc). Once ground, these oils are released, which is why buying whole spices and grinding what you will use in a short period of time gives optimal flavor and fragrance. Of the spices above, I buy ground dry ginger (but use the fresh more) and ground cinnamon, as well as the sticks. (Cinnamon “sticks”, pieces of the rolled bark, can be hard to grind fine at home, buying ground cinnamon is useful for baking, but consider cinnamon “sticks” for beverages.) Occasionally I buy ground nutmeg, preferring to grind or grate the whole. Grinding whole spices brings out a stronger flavor and makes your kitchen smell wonderful! Use a small coffee bean grinder you designate as a spice grinder. They are a affordable, the task is pleasant, and the difference in flavor in your favorite baked goods and culinary dishes will be worth it.  If you value fresh fruits and vegetables for flavor and health benefits,  the same applies to spices.

Have a very merry spicy holiday!

two books on my book shelf about spices:

The Yoga of Herbs, by Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad, 1986. Gives the medicinal properties of many spices from the Ayurvedic tradition of healing.

The Complete Book of Herbs and Spices, by Claire Loewenfeld and Philippa Back, 1974. An older favorite, gives a little history, botanical info and uses of most herbs and spices.

 

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Christmas

IMG_0414_2It’s Christmas Eve morning and all through the house, many creatures are stirring…..

Especially the mouse in the ceiling over my bed.

Abby is snoring, as is Mike, but I’m awake with a Christmas cold, and it’s a fright.

Out in the road there rose such noise, it broke the night stillness with swishes and pops, the sound of cars and trucks headed to work and the mall.

But the stillness prevails, and the woods stand still,

Bleak winter gray light barely coming over the hill.

It is, after all, the holiest of days, a time to sing Ava Maria and Silent Night,

I sink back into bed, the mice settle down, I’m not going to town with this cough, it’s not right.

So I wish you all joy and Christmas delight

But most of all wishes for a peaceful Christmas Eve night.

IMG_0382Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Apologies for my non-rhyming poem. Getting sick at Christmas, surgery recovery, needing to be in Seattle for physical therapy, too sick to go, missing Mom this Christmas, looking forward to Christmas with my “Whidbey/L.A.” family, hoping I’m better by morn, thinking of loved ones struggling this holiday time……all weigh heavy on me as this magic day of Christmas Eve unfolds.  It will, I pray, wash away my dark humor and woes, as I hope it will any troubles of yours.  (Did I mention the dog was sort of sick?)

I’ve written more thoughtful holiday posts……check out some from seasons past…. 

Oh Tannebaum!A Chaplins Christmas MessageThe Turlte and The StarSeasonal ReflectionsEvergreen Ever Growing

See you next year!

ME:PJ

Abby gets pretty bored with family picture taking.

Oh Tannenbaum!

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this is one of a set of angels I have had since I was a little girl….looong ago!

A lighter note of Christmas is the tree saga that goes on in our house. No doubt many of you have your own tree sagas! This is a picture story, as what are decorated trees for but to stare at in wonder!

Most of you know the various theories of why trees are decorated at Christmas time. There are Christian legends about barren trees bearing fruit when Jesus was born, thus trees are decorated at Christmas, but everyone knows trees were decorated long before Jesus was born. Older legends vary from people bringing evergreens into their homes to remind them of the coming spring, to people decorating trees outside because they felt when the leaves fell from a tree the spirit of the tree abandoned the tree (not a good thing). By decorating a tree the spirit would be happier and stay.  (Here is an interesting article about Christmas Tree traditions). Regardless of the legends and traditions, my theory is people in the Northwest decorate trees because it is generally so dark and dreary this time of year, and the days so short, any good reason to have lots of lights on to brighten things up is reason enough! And all those ornaments only add to the sparkle.

Last night on the phone, as we talked Christmas trees, my brother said, “I thought you cut trees off the roadside?” Well, yes, many years ago, pre-Mikey, I use to go to the road bank of our property, usually after work, in the dark, and cut a small tree.  Then in the light of day I would discover that besides being gangly, it was a rather yellowish tree, road bank soil not being terribly fertile, but in my termination to cut only trees that weren’t going to make it anyway, I would decorate my malnourished tree, and of course the transformation was always magical!

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A happy snowman!

Then there were the potted trees of various sizes and varieties. One, a non-native spruce, my parents planted for me after Christmas behind the pump house. It is now very tall, doing well in its new homeland, with roots creeping into the well. There are cautionary consideration with potted trees.  Another ex-potted tree is politely staying compact and doing well elsewhere in the woods.

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our resident potted tree, which looks more magical at night with the lights on.

One tiny potted tree, the kind sold in groceries stores, died in the pot only to be reborn many years later when a small shoot appeared. For decades, as it has grown, we have hauled it on the porch each winter and decorated it. Now it is so large, and in such a large pot, it stays in the back yard where we adorn it with lights and plastic, wind-hardy ornaments. It is a member of the family, I have lived with it longer than with Mike. Like a child who grows up and doesn’t leave home!

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the branch in the vase thing never looks as good as it does in magazines, but it is a place to put lights and ornaments!

For a few years we went to the local tree farm where we would cut a small, but beautiful tree, large enough to fill our living room and be filled with a lifetime collection of ornaments.  Though I’ve sold many at garage sales over the years, I still have the usual lifetime collection of ornaments.  I use to have a second-string collection of ornaments I would haul to work each year, whether at the Community Center in Quilcene or the Visitor Center in Port Townsend, to decorate workplace trees.

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Last year’s angel tree.

My life collection is down to favorites for small trees. There are the angels, whose population has grown enough that last year our tree was a tiny all-angel tree…using a ‘fake tree’ (a sign of aging?). There are molded metal Santa’s, snowmen of various materials, tiny teddy bears, the misc. collection of wooden ornaments, some from my friend in Germany, and other misc. one-of-a-kind gift ornaments.

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One of the three birds…..they are red, gold and blue. Aren’t they sweet?

And then there are the three birds. Over the past several years I have proclaimed at the beginning of December “I am not going to put up a tree” (generally I’m the one who takes on this task, though Mike has willingly helped a few times). Then I remember the three birds. These are glass birds from Poland, bought at the old Wild Bird Store, the one that burned on highway 101.  I adore these birds. One year I bought a metal tree-like thing just to hang them on, with a few other sparkly ornaments. That was a non-tree year. I’ve done the branches-in–a-vase thing (which never looks like a tree, as Douglas Fir branches tend to hang like weeping willows when put upright in a pot) just to have some place to hang the three birds.

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Sparkly snowflake, gotta have sparkle to enhance the lights!

This year I made the no-tree proclamation early in December. Burned out from the sale of mom’s house, having a lot of shoulder and back pain, I had no interest in crawling in the attic and getting out boxes of ornaments. Bah humbug.

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The ultimate Charlie Brown tree, this year’s potted tree…was happily put back on the porch, still ornamented, once the Noble Fir was brought home. Nativity set made in Quilcene by a very talented retired gentleman.

Until I remembered the three birds (which do not live in the attic, never ever).  I found a sad looking lopsided redwood (I think) in a pot, a gift months ago to Mike from neighbors down the road.  It is waiting to be planted. My most Charlie-brown looking tree ever, I put it on the porch with a few small balls on it. There, that was going to be our tree this year. I brought it in a few days ago to the safety of the house so I could hang the three glass birds on it.

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a tiny mostly-Santa tree.

Feeling festive, two nights ago I got out the small ‘fake’ tree and put tiny Santa’s on it.

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Santa’s amongst the branches of the Noble Fir

Yesterday, after a walk on the beach, I stopped along the side of the road to enjoy the gorgeous sunset, and there were small, perfectly shaped, only slightly yellow, Douglas fir trees.  This time of year every Douglas Fir looks like a Christmas tree, and this little collection of trees looked like a family of miniature Christmas trees. I almost did it, I almost ‘poached’ a tree. After all, they aren’t all going to make it.  I resisted, got in the car, and drove straight to the tree farm.  It was dark and very foggy, I knocked on the door and asked, “Are you still selling trees?”  Well no, not really, but they had two already cut noble firs whose bottom branches had dried out in the drought.  If I wanted something small they could cut the top off one and sell it to me. Hmmm…not many branches on one, the other way too wide for our small living room. We negotiated, I hesitated, then went home with my first noble fir Christmas tree. $20 for a Charlie Brown noble fir Christmas tree!

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Ta-da! Our sparsely branched, but heavily decorated with all those beloved ornaments, Noble Christmas Tree.

Mike came home and was ecstatic! Some of you have children and grandchildren, I live with Mike, and when it comes to the lights and sparkle of Christmas, there is no one better, for me, to share the magic with! (Our tastes in Christmas yard displays differ greatly……but that’s another story.)

In your ‘spare’ moments today, I would love to hear your Christmas tree stories, feel free to share in the comments section!

Oh Tannenbaum, oh tannenbaum! How lovely are your branches!