Winter Solstice

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.

orangesI 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.

SantasYoung 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…

Christmas in Williamsburg VA

A little nostalgia today as I am thinking about Christmas in my hometown of Colonial Williamsburg VA and re-posting some photos of the holiday decorations from 2010. It’s such a exciting time of the year with CW residents and shops participating in a decorating contest. All materials in the wreaths are found locally and would have been available to colonists. What fun it is for tourists and hometown folks to walk the ‘DOG’ (Duke of Gloucester Street) and marvel at the original, the simple, the complex, the large, and the small adornments on homes and stores. Enjoy!

Click photos for close-ups.

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a stroll down Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg. Doors, windows, gates and walls are trimmed with wreaths and swags fashioned from natural materials. Magnolia leaves, boxwood, holly, pine, dried flowers, wheat, cotton, fruit, berries, cones and more form the foundation for creative and artistic decorations that provide a treat for visitors and inspiration for making our own holiday adornments. Here are a small sampling of the 2010 holiday trimmings.

Christmas for the Birds

As a special treat to her feathered friends, my daughter added a handful of shelled pecans to the sunflower seeds on her window feeder. She wondered whether the birds would even like the nuts, but lesson learned. It took 15 minutes before all the pecans were gone. Click to enlarge photos.

First the chickadee eyed them.

chickadeeIt was the titmouse’s turn next….

IMG_7500…followed by the white breasted nuthatch.

IMG_7497All the regulars, the nut lovers, arrived to share a gourmet Christmas treat. Joy.

Buckeye Bars

It’s been eons since I’ve whipped together this sweet for my children. Just hearing my daughter talk about making it for her children gave me a hankering for this super chocolate-peanut butter treat. It’s such an easy recipe with just 5 ingredients and no cooking! Is there anything better than the blend of peanut butter and chocolate?

Buckeye Bars

1 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups peanut butter (creamy or crunchy) + 3 tablespoons
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt butter by microwave and add to graham cracker crumbs and powdered sugar. Stir until smooth.

Buckeye BarsAdd peanut butter (I love crunchy!) and mix well.

Buckeye BarsPress evenly into a 9 x 13 casserole dish. (Optional: Line the pan with parchment paper for ease of removal) Melt chocolate chips and 3 tablespoons of peanut butter in the microwave. Stir until smooth.  Pour over peanut butter in casserole, covering all of the peanut butter mixture. Refrigerate for an hour. Cut into small squares. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Take out 10 minutes before serving.

Buckeye Bars

There’s just something about snow

There is something magic about the first snowfall of the season. It transforms the drab colors of fall into a pristine blanket of white. Somehow it transforms us, too. The stresses of daily life seem to fade, allowing our minds to slow down and simply enjoy the moment.

New Hampshire had the first REAL snowfall over the weekend, super timing for the weekend when most could thoroughly enjoy the experience. The snow fell softly through the night, covering bare branches and blanketing evergreen boughs, shrubs and the ground, allowing us to see nature in a fresh way. Mister gardener and I donned our boots, down coats, scarves and hats and enjoyed walking through the drifts to a neighborhood Christmas party where the excitement of the holiday season, enhanced by the falling snow, was contagious.

snow 12/14/1013In the stillness of early morning, we shoveled our way to the bird feeders to make sure our feathered friends were well taken care of and an ice dam had not frozen the food supply. And we sprinkled enough seed over the snow to assist the ground feeding birds.

Shoveling to the feedersWell-received by the birds is our new heated birdbath, not for bathing, but allowing a fresh drink of water in this frozen landscape.

heated birdbathAlas, the peacefulness of a snowy morning was eventually broken by the din of snowplows, jolting us back from the land of snow castles and daydreams and hot chocolate to the land of must-do’s and our endless lists of chores.

snow removalOh well. We’re back on the road again… but I’m thrilled that the weatherman announced that the accumulation of snow we received over the weekend guarantees us a blanket of snow for Christmas. Matter of fact, over half of the USA is covered in snow, said to be the most in 11 years on this date. It should be a white Christmas for many!

Christmas 2012

I can say nothing that has not already been said about the tragedy in a quaint New England town last week. The event has impacted us all. It has changed us. Days that followed grew gray and cold in New Hampshire, matching the somberness in our souls.

fiveEventually, we knew that continuing with traditions of the season and tightening our family bonds would help sustain us.  Gathering together, conversation, music, color, seasonal evergreen decorations, and holiday baking have helped us manage our emotions and deal with the tragedy in our own way. There is a reason for the season and honoring that nourishes us all.

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Christmas Pomanders

caramels

Butter Caramels

Holiday Traditions

Some years I’m just not ready for the hustle and bustle of Christmas when December 1 rolls around but, honestly… today was different. As if on cue, we awoke to snow this morning…  lovely large flakes of an early season storm that continued for the entire day. Watching the snow fall across the meadow and pond, a cup of coffee in hand, songs of the season on the radio, triggered a festive feeling in me. Greens I left outdoors overnight were embellished by lovely white trimmings.

GreensWe decided then and there to put on our coats and visit University of New Hampshire’s Seventh Annual Poinsettia Trials Open House. The event is held to display the school’s research and breeding information for breeders, growers, and the public. We were greeted by a massive poinsettia Christmas tree and over a hundred varieties of poinsettia plants in such all colors, shapes, size, and variegation, lining the halls and the greenhouses.

treegreenhouseWe were encouraged to vote for our favorites among the new varieties in different color groups or the novelty category. We had fun doing this along with lots of other visitors!

IMG_0011

IMG_0016IMG_0007IMG_0051IMG_0049We then visited the greenhouse full of poinsettias for sale, all with splendid names. Can you guess what color we bought….?

 

IMG_0024Well, if you guessed we bought a red poinsettia, you’re right. Sometimes long standing traditions cannot be changed.

redIt’s Christmas Eve in Bedford Falls on television tonight. George Bailey, with help from his guardian angel, Clarence, will learn for the 66th year in a row that his life of sadness and regret is in fact, a life of prosperity, good fortune and love. I will watch (tissues in hand) the 1946 classic It’s A Wonderful Life  tonight and maybe one or two other times throughout the holiday. It’s another long standing tradition to ready me for the festivities and the reason for the season.

All I Want for Christmas….

Dear Santa, Honestly, I’ve been pretty good this year… err…except for that one time, but I hope you still have me on your Nice List.  I don’t need diamonds or pearls or designer purses this year but I have a Christmas Wish List that I hope isn’t too hefty.  It’s just a Wish List which means I don’t all have to receive all of these goodies.  One or two of these things would make me smile.

1. Gloves. I’m really, really hard on garden gloves.  In one season, I either wear a hole in a pair or I am missing the mate (the dogs?). I like those gloves best with fabric backs and rubber on the palms.  I promise to be better about not leaving them on a bench, tree limb or on the ground for the dogs to find.

2. Bulbs: Gosh, you don’t have to go far, Santa. Brent & Becky’s Bulbs are just down the road and they’re having a 50% off sale on bulbs for indoor forcing.  I’ve already planted my outdoor bulbs this year but it would be fun to have a few blooms inside this winter.  You’d better be quick though.They’re only on sale until December 21.

3. Fine Gardening Magazine: Santa, real gardeners, just like I aspire to be, get to the meat of gardening in this bimonthly journal.  Even the ads are worth reading! The English Garden is another magazine that I would pore over and read again and again and again.

4. Gardening Book: It would be fun to curl up this winter with a hot cup of tea and Ken Druse’s Planthropology. Or how about Piet Oudolf’s Designing With Plants?

5. Black and Decker cordless  18 volt leaf blower:  This lightweight rechargeable leaf blower is just the ticket for me to clean the hard surfaces around the home.  All I need is 15 minutes and I’m done.  No gasoline. No extension cord.

6. Troy-Bilt 20 volt lithium-ion battery trimmer: All my edging dreams would come true with a battery that holds a charge for one hour. The time I would save over hand edging would allow me to develop another bed.  My long-term goal: all beds, no grass.

7. For a Christmas surprise (and birthdays and anniversaries), I would love to find a truckload of compost from the facility in Yorktown!

8. Drip Irrigation: It’s hard to think about water right now with our saturated soil but the droughts will someday return and I want to be ready.

Well, that about does it for this gardener.  I’d sure like to know what other gardeners have on their Wish List for Christmas.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester