Fireside tea

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last night my daughter and I had some friends over for tea and a movie. It was a wonderful opportunity to create a lovely setting in which to enjoy the company of our dear friends. It is cold here so we all enjoyed hot tea and a fire, and, as we settled down to watch a second movie, pulling out cozy afghans and blankets to snuggle under.

We had these wonderful little cookies called "stroopwafles." They are just the right size for laying on top of a hot cup of steaming tea. The heat of the tea softens and melts the caramel filling inside. I found these at World Market.

My daughter made her delicious cherry pecan scones from her Aunt Sarah's recipe. I found a set of these green plates on Ebay a few years ago. The pattern is The Florentine by Johnson Brothers. 

I made some little tea sandwiches on thin white bread with strawberry cream cheese spread and thinly sliced strawberries and chive and onion cream cheese spread and cucumbers. I cut the edges off the sandwiches and then cut them into tiny triangles.

The white coffee pot with the gold trim (above in the foreground), which I filled with Constant Comment decaf tea, was my great-aunt's. She lived to be 95, and after she died, my mother went out to Maine to help sort through her belongings. Knowing my love of all things tea-related, she sent me this pot and the matching set of six cups and saucers. I only saw Great-Aunt Esther a few times in my life, but I remember her as a twinkling-eyed, fun-loving woman, who never failed to send me cards on every birthday and holiday throughout my childhood. This is the only thing I have of hers, so it is especially treasured.

No tea table is complete without flowers. I love winter whites.

And really, every tea table does require some chocolate as well, don't you think?

Every tea deserves proper linens and silver. So many of the heirlooms I have inherited sat in china cupboards and linen drawers for years, decades even. I know I risk damaging them by using them, but I decided a long time ago to use them as often as I can. I want to be able to enjoy them and bring the beauty and memories they represent into our everyday life. Over all the years, I've only broken two teacups, and maybe stained a couple pieces of linen, a small price to pay for the enjoyment I receive in using them. And even though I don't generally enjoy ironing, there is something very satisfying about ironing old linens.

We had a lovely night of conversation, good movies, and pot after pot of tea. This tea party didn't break up until 1:20 a.m.!

I am linking up with Rose Chintz Cottage for Tea Time Tuesday and A Delightsome Life for A Return to Loveliness. A very grateful thank you to those of you who have encouraged me in my new blogging endeavor! May you all have a wonderful 2014.

Also linking with Between Naps on the Porch for Tablescape Thursday

Thank you notes

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Today's the day for writing my thank you notes for the Christmas presents I received from friends and family far away. It's the 28th already and I don't want too much time to pass before I get them out. I want people to know how much I appreciate the homemade fudge, the handmade necklace, the donations to charity, and other gifts I received.

Handwritten cards and letters are getting rarer, but aren't they wonderful to receive? Who doesn't get excited to see a handwritten envelope addressed especially to them? I have a large box filled to overflowing with letters I have received, going back to childhood. They represent and tell part of the history of my life and the histories I share with others. A letter can be re-read and shared and kept for the next generation. Just seeing my grandmother's handwriting takes me back in time and brings her close to me, even though she's been gone for almost 30 years.

 Handwritten letters are in danger of becoming a thing of the past, as emails and texts replace them. Of course, we can always print out our emails or save them, but it's too easy to just delete them. And it's not only the letters themselves, but the handwriting that goes into creating them. Handwriting bears witness to the personality of the writer -- neat and careful, upward-slanting and exuberant, punctuated with hearts and exclamation points, flowing and graceful, large and loopy -- each hand tells us something about the writer and conveys more than just words.

 Cursive handwriting, in particular, is almost a lost art. Some are unable to read it anymore, let alone write it. I used to have very nice handwriting, but I noticed it becoming a little sloppy, so I am making an effort to make it look as legible and beautiful as I can. I want to continue to practice this art and not find my fingers getting stiff or numb through disuse or an over-reliance on the computer keyboard.

Have you ever looked at the handwriting from a couple of generations ago? It was almost uniformly even and beautiful.  I like to look at the vintage postcards at our local antique mall and enjoy the Spencerian-type writing on them. There is something about writing our thoughts out on paper that forces us to slow down and think. There are a few famous authors who hand write the first drafts of their books because they say it gives them more time and space to be creative. Slowing down, carefully considering our words, and knowing that the mail only comes once a day gives us a chance to reconsider what we have written before simply pushing the send button.

So I am going to pour myself a cup of tea, and try to write out some cards that will bless the recipients, as they have blessed me with their gifts. 

A sparkly Christmas and more . . .

Thursday, December 26, 2013

People know I like sparkly stuff. Here is a charm bracelet I got yesterday . . .

And sparkly leopard print slippers . . . 

And lots of lovely-smelling, colorful goodies, in pretty packaging . . . 

Here were the 20-somethings' nails . . . 

Kind of matched the punch . . . 

I didn't want to be left out so I matched the candy canes . . . 

We ate a lot. Here is my son whipping up potatoes, butter, sour cream, and cheese to go in the twice-baked potatoes . . . 

This peppermint cake was delicious.

The presents and the food were wonderful, but the best part was just being with family. 

All my sparkly stuff, all my shelves of books, all my vintage china, every thing I enjoy and appreciate, is just that, a thing. I enjoy the material blessings I have and see them as good gifts, but hopefully I hold onto them loosely. One day they will all be dust. The only thing that will remain in the end will be the love we shared with others.

The best gifts are the ones we give. I had so much fun this year shopping for Operation Shoebox, sponsored by Samaritan's Purse, to fill a shoebox that would be sent to a little girl somewhere in an impoverished part of the world. We picked out a pretty top, some hair bows, toothpaste and brush and soap, markers and crayons and stickers and more. We also sent money to Compassion International to help with relief work after the devastating typhoon in the Philippines in November. We still don't know whether the girl our daughter has been sponsoring is okay. We gave money to our church in support of the Dalit people of India, the so-called "untouchables," who are regarded as outside the caste system, and whose plight surely represents one of the worst human rights tragedies imaginable.

We also gave the gift of prayer. We prayed for friends whose son battles with autism, and prayed that he was well enough to enjoy the Christmas carols they were going to sing to him on Christmas Eve. We prayed for another friend who was hosting Christmas for her family, but is dealing with Type 1 diabetes symptoms, her constant companions. We prayed for another friend whose wife is struggling with breast cancer. And the list goes on . . . 

Love and prayer, family and friends . . . these are what truly matter . . .  

I am grateful to spend the next few days reading and knitting in front of the fire, eating leftovers. The twelve days of Christmas have just begun! Don't be in a hurry to pack it all up. Soak in the peace and warmth and joy for a little while longer. Hold your loved ones close before they head back out into the world of work and school. Besides, there are still goodies to enjoy . . . 

Traditional Puppy Chow (recipe on the Rice Chex box), with red and green M&Ms thrown in for a festive touch . . . 

Rolled sugar cookies

Monday, December 23, 2013

We had a sugar cookie party on Saturday. These are the best sugar cookies we've ever made.

My son rolled out the dough.

Rolled Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

In large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt.

Cover and chill 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters, sprinkle with colored sugar if desired, bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 6 to 8 minutes. Cool completely. Makes 5 dozen.

Absolutely delicious. These are softer sugar cookies, which I like, rather than crispy.

Be sure to take time for a cup of tea and a little treat with someone you love.

Almost here . . .

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Today we light the fourth candle on our Advent wreath, the candle of "Love."

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Christmas dinner table

Saturday, December 21, 2013

I am linking up today with Tablescape Thursdays at Between Naps on the Porch.  Otherwise, there is no way I would have got my Christmas table decorated and set already. Thank you to Carolyn from Aiken Home and Gardens for inspiring me to use my red transferware. I was going to use either my Christmas dishes or Friendly Village set. But this red definitely seems Christmas-y to me.

My table has lots of memories on it. I have my mother-in-law's silver that she bought before she was married, piece by piece every Friday night after getting her paycheck from Dodge Main in Detroit. I have the champagne glasses she got as wedding gifts in 1949. Some of the red transferware is from my grandmother, who purchased it with her first paycheck working as a tour guide at the Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, where Louisa May Alcott wrote her famous Little Women.
 My table also has linen napkins that are probably around 100 years old, from my mother's second husband's first wife's mother. Yes. And somehow I got them. Barely used, they are soft and lovely.


An angel smiles benignly down from a red cake stand, surrounded by glittery poinsettia leaves and pine cones.

This china is Bristol by Crown Ducal. I inherited eight place settings from my grandmother, but a number of the pieces were chipped and crazed. The cost of buying additional pieces was prohibitive, so I began a piece-by-piece search for red transferware in antique stores in the area and even out of state. I have a nice collection now, and mix them up altogether in my table settings, but my favorite pieces remain those from my grandmother . . .

We got the table and chairs years ago from someone in our neighborhood having a garage sale. We had packed up the kids to go off for a picnic at the lake one Saturday and passed by a driveway where I saw this beautiful table with six chairs, the seats all embroidered in different floral patterns . . .

The wood was blond, but we sanded it down and painted it an antique white.

hmmm . . . I wonder if kitty will leave my table alone?
Made With Love By The Dutch Lady Designs