Tag Archives: Christmas

A Better Gift from a Better You

When your family and friends gather around this Thanksgiving and Christmas, give a gift that is priceless and cannot be bought in any store: time spent with the loneliest person in the room. That’s usually the elderly, but it could be anyone.

Because when the tree has been taken down and the decorations are put away, the shine is off of the presents and you’ve forgotten what you got and what you gave, the gift of your time and attention will still be a warm memory to the recipient.

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Lone Star Antique Mall, Christmas 2015

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Some of my favorite booths all decked out for Christmas at Lone Star Antique Mall, Haltom City, Texas.

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Books Read in November, 2009


Mary of Plymouth (1910), by James Otis
An absolute gem. If you like the American Girl series, or Dear America, you will probably like Mary of Plymouth. It is the fictional story of a girl who undertakes the journey on the Mayflower with her parents and their first few years in the New World.

While not exactly a diary, the writing is more that style than story form with plot, rising action and climax. Otis did his research well, and the book is a treasure trove of daily practices of what the Pilgrims did and how they used what was available to survive in a new land with nothing prepared for their arrival.

Highly Recommended.


Home to Harmony (2000), Phillip Gulley
First in the series of Harmony novels, it is the story of Sam Gardner’s return to his home town.


Just Shy of Harmony (2002), Phillip Gulley

Set in Midwest farm country, this book series focuses on the Quaker church in the little town of Harmony. This is entirely fitting, since the author is actually a Quaker minister himself. Just Shy of Harmony is the second book in the series and the main plot-line follows the pastor’s crisis of faith. A better description would be the wearying of his faith. He despairs over the lack of real Christianity in his church. Gulley is a clever writer because the character and plot developments seem real. Sam’s Christianity is not perfect, his congregants are not all fleshly.

“Cozy” is a good classification of this story with one startling exception: Asa Peacock has a very disturbing nightmare concerning his job at the chicken factory. I had to skip a couple of pages. It was a troubling scene and my desire is to diminish my own nightmares, not add to them.

Other than that, it is a charming book.

Why do authors do that?

Christmas in Harmony (2002), Phillip Gulley
Perhaps, familiarity is breeding contempt but some of the plot devices in the Harmony series are getting a little irritating. Dale Hinshaw is the political conservative and the out-of-place evangelical in the Quaker congregation and the butt of Gulley’s humor and a gross caricature. As I am not a pacifist, this overwriting of buffoonery for his philosophical opponents is getting tiresome. The books are okay, and a whole lot better than much of what’s being printed. Perhaps I need a break before continuing with the others.

Postern of Fate (1973), Agatha Christie
One of Dame Agatha Christie’s last books, it’s a tale of retired Tommy and Tuppence. Upon moving to a small village and buying an old house, complete with some furniture and lots of books, Tuppence stumbles upon an aged mystery and sets off to solve it. This is an absolutely delightful book, one not only for mystery lovers but book lovers as well. Later, I’ll do a post on it alone.

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Books Read in December, 2009


Village Christmas, (1966) Miss Read
First published as what Miss Read would call “a slim volume”, this edition of Village Christmas, along with The Christmas Mouse, was included in an omnibus entitled Christmas Tales. Set in Fairacre, it is the story of 2 aging sisters who are comfortable in their set ways, until their world is invaded by a young family who moves in across the road. Diana Emery and her husband have 3 cheerful little girls and another baby due any minute. Margaret and Mary are constantly shocked by the Emerys: Diana smoked, wore torn stockings, sent the children over to borrow a bit of string for a parcel, and was actually friendly.

“As Mary had foreseen, her Bohemian garments scandalized the older generation. An then, she was so breath-takingly friendly! She had introduced herself to Mr. Lamb in the Post Office, and to two venerable residents who were collecting their pensions, shaking hands with them warmly and asking such personal questions as where they lived and what were their names.

‘Wonder she didn’t ask us how old we be,’ said one to the other when they escaped into the open air. ‘She be a baggage, I’ll lay. I’ll take good care to steer clear of that ‘un.’ ”

While not exactly a spoiler, I just have to include a passage from the last few pages, because, of course, everything turns out to be okay. New babies have a way of changing things.

” ‘D’you know what Vanessa said when her father fetched her?’ asked Margaret. ‘She said” “This is the loveliest Christmas we’ve ever had!” ‘Twas good of the child to say it, I thought, after such a muddling old day. It touched me very much.’

‘She spoke the truth,’ replied Mary slowly. ‘Not only for herself, but for all of us here in Fairacre. ‘Tis a funny thing, sister, but when I crept up the stairs to take a first look at that new babe the thought came to me: “Ah! You’re a true Fairacre child, just as I was once, born here, and most likely to be bred up here, the Lord willing!” And then another thought came: “You’ve warmed up us cold old Fairacre folk quicker’n the sun melts frost.” You know, Margaret, them Emery’s have put us all to shame, many a time, with their friendly ways, and been snubbed too, often as not. It took a Christmas baby to kindle some proper Christmas goodwill in Fairacre.’ ”

The Christmas Mouse, (1973) Miss Read
The second Fairacre story in this volume is the story of old, widowed Mrs. Berry, her young widowed daughter Mary and Mary’s two little girls and a couple of unexpected guests on Christmas eve. It’s a bit longer than the previous story and is also a morality story with a good bit of wisdom in it.

No Holly for Miss Quinn, (1976) Miss Read

This third Miss Read Christmas story is also set in Fairacre, with a different set of characters. Miss Quinn is an efficient, executive secretary for a businessman. Her life is well ordered and just the way she wants it, with very little fuss and certainly no big celebration at Christmas. Then her brother sends out a call for help with his children when his wife has to go into the hospital and he, being a vicar, is busy with parish duties.

Caring for a whole household is a new experience:

“With a shock she remembered that there had been no preparations made for lunch at home. For the first time in her life, she bought fish fingers, and a ready-made blackcurrant tart. How often she had watched scornfully the feckless mothers buying the expensive “convenience” foods. Now, with three children distracting her and the clock ticking on inexorably, she sympathized with them. Catering for one, she began to realize, was quite a different matter from trying to please the varying tastes of five people, and hungry ones at that.”

It’s a lovely story, with even a touch of romance, and I read it again nearly every year.

Christmas Scrapbook, (2005) Phillip Gulley

A second Harmony Christmas story by Gulley, concerns the Quaker minister’s attempts to make a really special gift for his wife, a scrapbook of her life. Gulley is a real-life Quaker minister and I’m a little uncomfortable with the casual lying in which his protagonist engages. It’s an okay book, but no great shakes, and unlike the Miss Read pieces, I won’t reread.
Esther’s Gift, (2002) Jan Karon

If you’ve read any of the Mitford books, you know that Esther Bolick’s claim to fame is her Orange Marmalade Cake. This story is about her preparation of several to give as Christmas gifts and her struggle with generosity.

Once I read that when Jan Karon first mentioned the cakes in her series, that she didn’t have a recipe for it, just the idea. Memory fails me as to how she finally came up with it, but I’m glad that it’s included at the end of this story. It sounds mouth-watering.

Same Kind of Different as Me, (2006) Ron Hall and Denver Moore, with Lynn Vincent

Not a Christmas book at all, but simply an incredible story, Same Kind of Different as Me, is a double first hand account of redemption and freindship. More on this book later. Here is their website.

Christmas Cookie Murder, (1999) Leslie Meier

Really, I should know better. A couple of weeks ago I was at our local library and looking for some light reading and picked this one up. One of the Lucy Stone series, it’s set in a little town in Maine. Lucy is a wife, mother and part-time reporter for the local newspaper. Meirer’s story lines are mildly interesting but they drip with political correctness.

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The Reason for the Season

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 9:6-7

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Merry Christmas Eve

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Candlelight Home Tour

We don’t live in a Victorian mansion, a Craftsman cottage, a Prairie house or a 1920’s bungalow.

But I can dream.

Rose Cottage Garden B & B, Weatherford, Texas


And that’s what I do this time of year when we go on one of the Candlelight Home Tours in the towns around North Texas. In the past, we’ve attended ones in Fort Worth, Decatur, Cleburne, Waxahachie, Granbury, Keller, and most frequently of all – the one in Weatherford, which is sponsored by the Parker County Heritage Society. We try to make it to theirs every year but have missed a couple of times.

The houses are usually old (although Decatur had almost all new houses in 2001) and grand; some a little too grand for me. I’m not a grand person – probably more Jane Darwell than Joan Crawford.

The owners decorate for Christmas, some lavishly, some just a few accents.

Opulent decorating (like Traditional Home magazine) is not my cup of tea, although it’s beautiful. What draws me is the cottage look, very vintagey; country style kitchens, old family photos, rocking chairs on the porch and as few changes from the original as possible. I don’t know why, but more often than not, there’s just one house each year that stands out among the rest.

Here was my favorite this year. It had been a full day by the time we even started the tour. We had driven over to Mesquite to have lunch with a really lovely Christian couple, then drove back home, went to the radio play production “It’s a Wonderful Life” by the Off 380 Players in Bridgeport then on to Weatherford. (That’s almost 200 miles of driving by the time we started the home tour.) My joints were protesting and I was fairly fatigued. Joe asked me if I wanted to skip the last house and go on home, but I said why didn’t we first drive by and see how it looked.

Wow.

We were greeted at the door by a gentlemen in an 1800’s striped suit and top hat. He was the father of the husband and very cordial. The owners were a fairly young couple who had kept the house as original as they could, but it looked like a real family lived there. They said their goal was to show that a normal family could live in an old house without it being museum-like.

The wife had wonderful taste and a very good decorating eye. Joe struck up a conversation about the antique piano with the docent in the parlor, and played Silent Night for them.

Ceilings were the original height and soaring. Over the tops of the kitchen cabinets, the lady of the house had displayed her collection of old children’s domestic toys (like stoves and cooking equipment); on a narrow wall, a bookcase held a large collection of cookbooks. The window overlooking the back yard was curtained with a vintage tablecloth.


Upstairs the younger girl’s bedroom was like something out of a story book; there was a very low closet that had been outfitted kind of like a hidden playhouse. My guess is that it was originally a suitcase storage.

The wife’s sister was the docent in that room and she pointed out the cloud ceiling and the small hand painted mural of the Parker County Courthouse. What a fun room for a little girl.

And out in the hallway, were framed pages from the oversized Dick and Jane readers that teachers used.

A lovely home and gracious people.

I’m already looking forward to next year.

To see more photos of another beautiful, old restored Texas home , click here to go to Hill Country House. This link is for that particular post, but her whole blog is interesting.

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Filed under Childhood pastimes, Christmas, Cozy, Events & Museums, Fun, Local Shopping, Texas, Theater

Vintage Christmas Cards, III

Christmas 1957

Every year my family sent out lots of cards at Christmas time and received many in return. In the photo above, there are over 90 cards on our living room wall. Mama always like to display them festively, doing something different with them annually.

Candles and bells were my parents’ favorite illustrations on Christmas cards. Those seemed to have been among the most popular depictions in the 1940s and 1950s.

I associate them with my parents and because of the fond memories of happy and simpler times, candles and bells are some of my favorites symbols of Christmas, too.

The fondness for this tradition is evident is this passage from Chapter 3 of Miss Read’s cozy tale, A Christmas Mouse:

“Mary sat down thankfully and drew the packet of tags towards her. The presents were destined for neighbours, and the tags seemed remarkably juvenile for the elderly couples who were going to receive the baskets. Father Christmas waved from a chimney pot, a golliwog danced a jig, two pixies bore a Christmas tree, and a cat carried a Christmas pudding. Only two tags measured up to Mary’s requirements, a row of bells on one and a red candle on the other. Ah well, she told herself, someone must make do with the pixies or the cat, and when you came to think of it the tags would be on the back of the fire this time tomorrow, so why worry? She wrote diligently.”

This post is linked to Vintage Christmas Monday ~5 at Anything Goes Here.

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Filed under 1950s, Books, Christmas, Cozy, Ephemera, Family, Internet links, Using What You Have, Vintage Christmas, Vintage Christmas Cards

Remarkable Fudge

1971 edition

There are 2 theories about fudge making (that I know about). One is what I think of as the old-fashioned kind: a little grainy and thin, the kind my mother made.

The other is the marshmallow cream kind, which is what my husband prefers and has made every Christmas season for over 30 years.

Both are wonderful. My mother’s recipe is the one that I make. It’s not the instant kind (with powdered sugar), but it’s a lot faster to make than Joe’s. He allows 2-3 hours from start to finish.

It’s called Remarkable Fudge and it is indeed. We had the last pieces from this year’s batch with coffee yesterday morning and I miss it already.

Because of the the time and attention required, it probably takes a serious cook or at least one who is serious about fudge to undertake the endeavor, but it really is wonderful. Candy shop fudge has never been as good to me since we discovered this recipe.

The size of the flame.

Last year we realized our candy thermometer was broken and I forgot to replace it.  So he used the old standard soft-ball test and it worked just fine.  Joe ices down the water for the test.

This is what it looks like after cooling down.

For something this time consuming, it pays to use real butter and vanilla.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

This post is linked to Food on Friday at annkroeker.

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Betsy McCall Paper Dolls, Part II

McCall's magazine, December 1963

McCall's magazine, December 1966

McCall's magazine, December 1967

For a larger image, click on the picture; if a magnifying glass appears as you run your cursor over the enlarged image, it will enlarge one more time. I think the final enlargement will be about the size of the original in the magazine and is good for printing. I recommend using cardstock, or at least adhering the doll to something stiffer before cutting out. Regular typing paper will be about the right weight for the clothes. Also, I’ve had trouble getting a good print when using draft on paper dolls, therefore I now use a higher quality setting for printing.

For more pages and some Betsy McCall links (some of which are printable), go to my previous post here.

Hope you enjoy them.

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Filed under 1960's, Childhood pastimes, Christmas, Ephemera, Fashion, Vintage Magazines