It took an afternoon and a morning to finish but our Christmas decorations have been carefully packed up and stored away for another year. The house has been vacuumed and furniture returned to its proper place in rooms. It always looks a little bare once decorations are removed but it was time to break down boxes for recycling, get the trash to the street for pickup tomorrow, and mentally start planning for the new year.
One decoration that I had great fun with this season was dried oranges. I’ve loved to use dried slices to make wreaths, ornaments, and gift adornments. I’ve dried the oranges in my old oven with varying luck. Using the lowest possible heat setting of 175°, oranges had to be watched carefully and turned over a couple of times, and it took hours. The end result varied greatly. Many developed black or scorched areas and had to be discarded.
But this year was different. We are the proud owners of a new oven… an oven that has a Dehydrate setting built in! As the Barefoot Contessa would say, “How easy is that??”
It was so easy that I went overboard this holiday and made so many dried oranges that I had to give them away by the bag full. It was just too easy and fun to dehydrate this year. The slices were practically dry in 2-hours.
I moved on from oranges to lemons and nectarines and hung them as ornaments on one tree and as orange slice swags on the other. I them tucked into the evergreens on the sideboard and mantle and into the arrangement on the dining room table.
I held a Christmas floral design workshop for our garden club and took a Ziploc bag of dried oranges for anyone to use. Some did. Most did not. So it was at that workshop while I was re-bagging the leftover oranges that a friend asked, “Have you ever used dried oranges and lemons in tea?” What???? It was such a simple suggestion that turned out to be an extraordinary one for me. It had never occurred to me to re-hydrate the slices of lemons and oranges in a steeping cup of tea. I just might have a use for all those oranges after all.
I tried it as soon as I got home. And guess what. It works…. it’s delicious…. it’s brilliant…. it’s simple…and I thank you, Becky, for the suggestion!
Today is the winter solstice and instead of a few feet of snow in New Hampshire, we have a winter soaker rolling up the east coast with high winds and areal flooding alerts. Postponed is our neighborhood winter solstice bonfire planned for dusk tonight. For months, one enthusiastic neighbor has piled cut tree limbs and yard debris in a cleared area awaiting this day where we would gather at dusk with marshmallows and hot chocolate to celebrate on the shortest day of the year. We will still gather to celebrate the winter solstice but it’ll be after Christmas when the days are beginning to grow longer in the Northern Hemisphere.
I had early thoughts of not doing much in the way of decorating for the holiday this year, but that did not happen. With Christmas just a few days away, not one, but two (artificial) Christmas trees have finally been decorated, stockings are hung by the chimney with great care along with greens on the mantle and wreaths and swags on front and back doors. We’ve baked several goodies, made cookies and more. Cards have been sent, gifts have been mailed out and gifts are still arriving in our mailbox. Dehydrated orange slices are adorning our holiday trees substituting for the multitude of older ornaments passed on to the next generation. I think I like the oranges for a change anyway.
Young grandchildren have visited, eaten sweets and been thrilled over decorations of bright lights and ornaments, hanging evergreens with nutcrackers, Santas and reindeer in every room.
We’ve gathered with friends for holiday cocktails, luncheons, open houses, shopping, and a holiday flower arranging workshop that I chaired this week. I guess sugarplums are dancing in heads everywhere.
It took me a while but I finally decided that sugarplums are very good thing. I hope I remember this next Christmas…
Every year I debate whether to put up a live Christmas tree or an artificial tree. I have live greens indoors festooning the tops of mantles, sideboards, tabletops. Outdoors, I always put out our big painted Santa, a live wreath on the door and a small evergreen tree covered with winterberries that the birds will eventually eat. But I wrestle with the tree decision every year. Since Thanksgiving day, I have spotted lovely Christmas trees through living room windows as I drive in the evening. I want to have ours up and decorated now, too.
The problem is I love a fresh tree…but putting it up now for me guarantees a dry, brittle tree with faded needles, drooping branches, dropped needles and decorations askew by Christmas Day. And when the tree is taken down, more fallen needles have actually clogged the vacuum in years past. Needles can hide in places that I discover months later. I’ve tried all the tricks to keep a tree moist. None have worked.
Every other year I’m certain I’ve solved that problem by buying an authentic looking artificial tree, but by the next year I’ve fallen out of love with anything artificial. I’ve given a lot of artificial trees away. One realistic one sat full of lights in my mother’s home. One is decorated yearly at my brother’s home and another one completes multi-tree holiday decor in my daughter’s home. The one I bought last year, a cute tabletop lifelike tree, sits in a box in the basement. I liked it last year but I can’t even bear to open the box now.
It’s definitely not bah-humbug because I love the season and go the extra mile getting the home ready… complete with music and hot chocolate all month-long. It’s just the tree dilemma. As the days progress, I know I’ll come across a perfect live tree that will smell wonderful and look great for days…. and when the tree is finally dragged to the curb and cleanup is done, I may be looking at artificial trees once again. Sigh…
We’re lagging behind everyone we know in decorating the home for Christmas. Two daughters are sharing photos of their multiple trees adored thousands of lights, themed tree ornaments, and rooms devoted to Dickens, Williamsburg, Disney…. so clearly I needed some inspiration this year get started. First things first: Santa came out of storage yesterday and, as he has for 30-some years, greets visitors at the front door.
Churchill’s Gardens, just down the street, provided the perfect showcase for inspiration with their holiday greens, twigs, and berries for sale and a wonderland of Christmas in their showroom. Holiday music, themed trees, several Santas and reindeer were there to greet us in this North Pole atmosphere. mister gardener and I spent time absorbing the ambience, bought a ribbon and some southern magnolia leaves, and returned home to invite Christmas to our home.
So far, something simple for the door…..
…..and our planter we filled with gathered greens, berries, twigs, and the southern magnolia, which greeted us this morning with the season’s first snow. I can’t think of anything better than a nice snowfall to inspire us for the Christmas atmosphere.
Old Man Winter is quietly slipping into New Hampshire. On our morning outings we see more signs that he has a foot in the door.
Vibrant colonies of the holly shrub winterberry (Ilex verticillata) dot the brown landscape in ditches and low lying areas.
What a showstopper! I read in the blog New Hampshire Garden Solutions, that due to low fat content, birds may not have these berries at the top of their menu in the winter. Therefore the berry laden branches are available for folks to cut for Christmas decorations. I like to purchase cultivar branches at nurseries so I can enjoy the native berries in their natural surroundings.
You don’t see cord wood like this in Tidewater Virginia, but homes around here are often heated with wood. I am still stopping to stare at sights like this! This family is ready for winter.
Most mornings finds thin ice covering low-lying area ponds and creeks.
Running water falls from an icy ponds and leaves have fallen from deciduous trees allowing the evergreens and berries to take center stage this time of year.
It is also common to see small flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows foraging beneath our feeders. These birds are likely migrating from Canada to warmer climates for the winter… although some stay here. Both are in the sparrow family, flock together and are known to produce hybrid offspring.
Lastly, with the leaves gone from the mighty oaks and maples, a synchronized scene is taking place in every yard in Exeter. The last of the leaves are being blown, mowed, raked or bagged all over the area. Let’s hope that most end up in a nice compost. How GREEN!