WPC: Warmth

December 26, 2014 Warmth 019.

Boxing Day dawned warm and bright, sunlight flooding through the windows. 

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December 26, 2014 Warmth 033

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We have a respite before wintery wet weather returns on Sunday.

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May your home be warm and bright, bathed in love and happiness this Christmas weekend.

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Begonia

Begonia

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The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge:  Warmth

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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December 26, 2014 Warmth 017

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A Circle Unbroken

December 17, 2014 wreath 001

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It is evening of the seventeenth of December.  Those of us who celebrate Christmas have entered “crunch time.”

The preparations feel endless sometimes.  Our shopping lists and “to do” lists telescope.  After the second visit this week with our friends at the main Williamsburg post office,  I am breathing a bit easier that “Christmas” is in the mail to loved ones who live far away.

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The final wreath I plan to make this year is complete, and in place on the dining room table.  It is an old grapevine wreath I made years ago from "found" vines.  I added reingeer moss and oyster shells.

The final wreath I plan to make this year is complete, and in place on the dining room table. It is an old grapevine wreath I made years ago from “found” vines. This year I’ve added reindeer moss and oyster shells.

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It is, perhaps, the repetition, year to year, of those small family rituals of the Christmas season which make this such a special time.  Every December we are drawn back to the music, the aromas, the tastes, and the much loved Christmas decorations we have enjoyed so much in years passed.

Saturday’s task was making fruitcake for my parents.  They love our recipe, passed on from Grandmother,  based on an applesauce spice cake she loved to make when my mother was a child.   We add many different fruits and nuts, jam, cherries, and pineapple to this basic cake recipe.

I found my notes from the epic batches I used to make in the 1980’s.  That recipe called for two dozen eggs.  The other ingredients were measured in pounds.  It took an entire day of effort, and yielded at least a dozen cakes.

I only doubled the basic recipe this year, a modest effort.  Yet from cooking down the apples for applesauce to wrapping the finished cakes felt like a day’s work.

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Moss fern will thrive here in bright, indirect light.  It is in a "semi-terrarium;" partly, but not fully grown in glass.

Moss fern will thrive here in bright, indirect light, in the center of the wreath.  It is in a “semi-terrarium;” partly, but not fully grown in glass.

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Fruitcake is one of the flavors of Christmas in our family.  Tomorrow I’ll make another batch of blond fruit cakes, which Mother calls “Dundee Cake.”  It will be rich in cherries, walnuts, pecans, and dates; perfumed with a little fresh orange zest.

We’ll  have this cake ready to serve friends who stop in and to enjoy ourselves with a cup of chai.

Wreathes speak of this repetition; the unbroken circle of the year turning back to Christmas once again.

Every December I go out early in the month to cut fragrant Cedar and collect pine cones.  I cut herbs, and sometimes roses, for the year’s Christmas wreathes.  Cedar is one of the aromas of Christmas which speaks to me most poignantly.

We always went out to cut a cedar tree from a friend’s field when I was a child, and then brought it home on the roof of the car, and set it up in the living room where it filled the house with its fresh spicy green aroma.  We knew it was finally “Christmas” once our tree was lit and decorated in the living room.

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We always had an Advent Wreath on the kitchen table when I was growing up, and lit the candles each night at dinner. We lit an additional candle each week as we counted the days until Christmas. This is a gesture towards remembering that beautiful Advent wreath my mother always made for us.

We always had an Advent Wreath on the kitchen table when I was growing up, and lit the candles each night at dinner. We lit an additional candle each week as we counted the days until Christmas. This is a gesture towards remembering that beautiful Advent wreath my mother always made for us.

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Every family has its own cherished customs.  Our expressions of Christmas are as unique as our thumbprint. 

And in the spirit of sharing our unique expressions, I offered a Holiday Wreath Challenge this year for anyone willing to share photos or a post about the wreathes and decorations you have created this year.

One of the first responses came from Jenny, who hosts the One Word Photo Challenge on her photography blog.  Jenny created a beautiful wreath from the clay she uses to construct her amazing miniature scenes.

Jenny's beautiful wreath, handmade from clay.

Jenny’s beautiful wreath, handmade from clay.

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Please visit Jenny’s post to see how she constructed her wreath, step by step.

Then a dear friend and neighbor shared photos of the wreath she made around Thanksgiving time for her front door.

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Wreath by Farrokh

Wreath by Farrokh

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The berries came on a vine she found in the New Town area while shopping one day in mid-November.  She was amazed to find them lying on the sidewalk under a tree.

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wreath F1

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I’ve since found the same vine in the same area, but don’t know its name.  It makes for such a beautiful wreath of multicolored berries  mixed with cones.  An unexpected gift from nature; so beautifully used!

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wreath F3

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It was several weeks more before Eliza Waters shared photos of her Christmas wreathes.

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Eliza

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Eliza lives in Massachusetts, and has already enjoyed snow.  In fact, snow over Thanksgiving weekend brought down some large branches of Balsam Fir which she salvaged to use in a whole series of gorgeous Christmas decorations, along with pine and pine cones.  Please visit her post to see them all. 

Next, Barbara Scott, who lives in Amelia County, Virginia shared photos of her elegant Christmas decorations.  Barbara and her husband have breathed new life into a grand Virginia country home.  She has used Blue Spruce, sent by a friend along with Magnolia and other evergreen materials in her garden to craft several stunning arrangements indoors and out.

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Barbara

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These are pure eye candy, so please take time to enjoy Barbara’s posts.

Speaking of “eye candy,” you may also enjoy seeing photos Chris VanCleave, The Redneck Rosarian, posted of some stunning Christmas arrangements featuring red roses and red poinsettias.  Gwennie, at Gwennie’s Garden has also pulled together some elegant and lovely Christmas decorations.  She and I share a love for luminous blue glass, which she has used  so beautifully here.

It always fascinates me to see how friends and loved ones celebrate Christmas, and what is important to their joy each year.

I love exploring trees full of antique ornaments, and seeing the keepsakes friends bring out to enjoy each December.

I like tasting cherished family recipes and trying new concoctions with chocolate, nuts, and fruit.

And I’m always fascinated with the wreathes, door decorations, and light displays which brighten up the neighborhood in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

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December 17, 2014 wreath 004

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It brings us full circle. 

We close the year by re-visiting those things which bring us joy and comfort. 

We reach out to those people we hold dear. 

And we celebrate all things bright and beautiful in this season of light.

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Woodland Gnome 2014

 With love and appreciation to everyone who contributed to this post.

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My front door this December, decorated with bits from our garden and wooden birds.

Our  front door this December, decorated with bits from our garden and wooden birds.

A Living Centerpiece

December 11 arrangement 019

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Early December is often spent sprucing up our inside spaces for the holidays.  Not only do we spend more time indoors, but many of us will have family, friends, and house guests visiting this month and next.  We clean up, freshen up, and bring out our Christmas decorations in anticipation.

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December 11 arrangement 002

All of the components for this arrangement

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I love to have a beautiful holiday centerpiece on the dining room table, because that is where we gather with friends with our cups of tea or coffee.   A beautiful centerpiece brings a smile and lightens the spirit even when it is just us enjoying it.

This year I found a beautiful bowl I wanted to use as the base for a living floral design.   Living, so there are no dropping needles or berries  from cut greens to clean up late in the month.  I hope this looks even better in February and March than it does today.  Eventually I’ll move these ferns out to other pots and reclaim the bowl for the kitchen.

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Frosty Moss Fern, Selaginella kraussiana

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The frosty moss fern, found at Trader Joe’s, is a tough little houseplant.  I bought my first ones  this time last year, and they lived in the window sill all winter.  Moved into a larger pot in the spring and grown out on the deck; they tripled in size, growing happily in the shade.  These cascade as they grow and send out aerial roots.  They like humidity and constant moisture.

The bird’s nest fern, found at Lowe’s, is another excellent house plant which enjoys the same growing conditions.  I moved the little Rex Begonia and fern planted a few months ago into the edges of this arrangement.  Their bowl was too little for them to grow long term.  I hope the Begonia will bounce back to fill in the edges of this arrangement.  I know the fern will grow well here.  Finally, I added one more tiny Rex found at Lowe’s in a 1″ pot to the edge of this design for some immediate color and contrast.  The ivy is a rooted cutting from ivy growing outside.

~December 11 arrangement 011

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When planting in a pot with no drainage, it’s important to add a few inches of coarse material to serve as a reservoir for water.  This helps prevent the soil from getting waterlogged if you over water.  I used a few inches of sea shells and gravel, and then added good potting soil with food mixed in.  Next came the plants, more soil to fill in the spaces around them, and finally a layer of gravel to dress the soil on top.  Always break up the root balls slightly and splay the bottom few inches of root to encourage their growth out into the surrounding soil.

Finally, I gave the entire arrangement a light spray at the kitchen sink to settle the soil and to rinse off the gravel.  These ferns appreciate the moisture on their foliage and will enjoy getting sprayed with cool water from time to time.   All of these plants enjoy high humidity and will dry out quickly.  It is important to check them every few days by touching the soil.  The top dressing helps conserve moisture.  Observing the color and texture of the foliage is another clue to the health and happiness of the plants.

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When choosing plants to enjoy indoors during the winter, make sure to choose plants which can thrive in low to medium light.  If they begin to stretch out for light, move them to an area closer to your windows during the daytime and  when you aren’t at home, then move them back to the dining table in the evening or when you’re entertaining.

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Another small fern, and a Rex Begonia are planted on the back side, where they should begin to fill in within a few weeks.

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Other excellent choices to work in a similiar container would be poinsettias, orchids, cyclamen, and ivy.  All of these tough and beautiful houseplants offer color and beautiful form, bloom during the winter, and are widely available in December.  Christmas cactus doesn’t make my list because it demands brighter light, and the flowers are messy when they drop.  I grow them, but keep them closer to the windows and grouped with other plants.

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So go ahead and construct a living holiday centerpiece now with an expectation to enjoy it for at least the next six to eight weeks.  Let its beauty and color add to your enjoyment of the holiday season.  It is not huge investment at all, especially if you use a container you already own.  This arrangement, including the $10.00 bowl, came in at about $22.00.  Every piece of it will be used again in another way after the holidays.

What a beautiful gift for your own family, or for a loved one.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome.

“If you really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile?…Smiling helps you approach the day with gentleness and understanding…Smile with your whole being. ”

Thich Nhat Hanh

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