Gathering Dusk and A Christmas Tree

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Light fades slowly from the winter sky, blushing, as the sun eases below the horizon.

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Late afternoon found us at Colonial Williamsburg on Christmas day.  I wanted to photograph the huge Christmas tree, ablaze with lights, that we had found the evening before.

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We were out on Christmas Eve enjoying the lights in our part of town, when we spotted a blazing tree, covered in white lights, visible from Francis Street.

And I vowed to return, camera in hand, to photograph it in all its brilliance at dusk.

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And so I lingered nearby, watching colors shift in the evening sky as lights popped on against the gathering dusk.  But the Christmas tree remained unlit.

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My partner parked and eventually joined me.  And we waited together as the minutes crept past.

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We watched a silent flock of geese glide overhead.

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Clouds glowed bright, illuminated by a sun no longer visible from where we stood, moving ever further beyond the horizon.

But the Christmas tree remained dark, melting into the shadows of the coming night.

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We began walking towards our car, shivering now in the evening chill.  Slowly, hoping for a flash of sudden brightness to draw us back, we covered the blocks of the old town still filled with visitors and costumed staff.

But the only lights greeting us flickered in windows and on lamp posts.

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And though a little disappointed to have missed the photo I hoped to take, we were glad to be a part of the community in this place and on this special night.

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It was the following evening when we found the tree lit again in all its glowing glory.  We had been away all day, and drove to the tree on our way home.  It was already long past dusk when we arrived, but the Christmas tree was lit, and I hopped out while my partner circled the block.

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One feels the weight of years and lives here most at night.  Shades of those long gone from daylight still linger in the shadows near these historic places.

The elder trees, still growing, hold memories, too; as they stretch their protective branches over the land.

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But the blazing Christmas tree drew me ever closer, and I set off alone across the field.   Others were gathering around it too, basking in the warmth and comfort of its lights.

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In this season we celebrate the power of the light.  We reaffirm our deep belief in the powers of goodness and love to push back against the gathering and ever-present darkness of our  world.

We know there is an ever shifting balance between darkness and light; greed and generosity; kindness and anger;  love and ambivalence.

And all of these forces live and shift within each one of us; none of us is beyond their power.

But it is always ours to choose; to seek the light, even when we must walk through the darkness to find it.   And as we journey ever closer to the light, we find good company sharing the walk with us; so that we are never left alone in the darkness.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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“It is neither wealth nor splendor,

but tranquility and occupation which give happiness.”
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Thomas Jefferson

Seashell Topiary

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Do you enjoy making Christmas gifts and holiday decor ?  Crafting has remained a part of my December preparations since I was little.  And quite often I find myself turning to beautiful seashells for my projects.

When I was young, we came home from beach vacations with bags full of beautiful shells picked up along the islands off of North Carolina.  I worked those into wreathes and Christmas tree ornaments, and lit tabletop trees.  I remember one year hundreds of beautiful moon shells washed up along the northern end of Virginia Beach after a late summer storm.

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I lived in Virginia Beach for many years, before moving to Williamsburg, and sea themed Christmas decor became a way of life there.  I still love seeing shells worked into wreathes and garlands.

Now, finding shells on the beach has become a rare treat, and I end up buying bags of shells for my projects or relying on friends to share shells leftover from shellfish meals.  But there are many shell ‘beads’ wherever beading materials are sold, pearl tipped floral pins, and of course freshwater pearls to add a bit of elegance.

Back in the 70s and 80s many crafters finished their shell projects with a heavy coat of shellac or polyurethane.  I find this look dated and heavy.  I begin by wiping each shell with a light coating of mineral oil, which seeps into the shell’s structure and gives a more natural luster.  This brings out the beautiful colors, as though the shell were still seen through the surf.  The mineral oil lasts, but can be renewed easily should the shells ever begin to look dull.

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I made three shell topiary trees last December.  We enjoyed them so much that they never quite got given away or even put away.  They are still there on the mantle in the den waiting for the Santas to come out of storage.

I’ve made a new one this year; a taller one.  And I took lessons learned from earlier projects to make this one even better.  You see it here with little folk art Santas we picked up at a local crafts fair yesterday.

Shell topiary trees can be crafted in many different ways.  You might find these beautiful, or hopelessly tacky.  But on the chance that you feel a little inspired to make one for yourself, know that this is a fairly easy project to accomplish in  just a few hours.

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I’ll offer just a few tips to ease your efforts should you want to make your own shell tree.  I begin with a Styrofoam base, and cover the base with fabric.  A good low temperature glue gun is the essential tool for this project.  The actual Styrofoam cone may be anchored in a flower pot, on a wooden base, or even on shell ‘feet’ depending on your style.

After sorting and polishing the shells, begin by hot gluing the larger shells on to the fabric.  Anchor one shell to its neighbor where they touch with a touch of hot glue.  It is important to work slowly and cautiously at this stage to avoid burning oneself on the glue gun’s tip or on freshly squeezed hot glue.  Remember to carefully consider each shell to use it to best advantage.  Most shells have more than one beautiful side, and can be glued in several different ways to showcase different parts of the shell.

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Keep turning the tree as you work and work from bottom to top, building up your design layer by layer.  One can  overlap shells slightly to cover any broken edges or flaws.  Some crafters keep gluing here, and build up a second glued layer of shells to completely cover the base.  But I prefer a different approach.

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Once the tree is mostly covered, and a ‘top’ glued into place, it is time to fill in the spaces to cover every tiny bit of fabric possible.  I’ve used a combination of small shells sold as beads, bits of shell sold as beads, and freshwater pearls.  Each of these smaller pieces came pre-drilled with a hole just the right size to accept a straight pin.  Depending on your taste and purpose, you might even incorporate some glass or metal beads at this point in the design to embellish the tree.

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Again, I work around the entire tree, turning it frequently.  I usually complete the top first and then work down to fill in the spaces with small shell ‘beads’  and pearls.  At some point, all of the spaces are filled and you know your tree is finished.  And other than letting the tree sit undisturbed for a few hours while the glue hardens, that is all there is to it.  Your tree is now ready to display.

This tree will serve as decoration for a holiday gathering next week before heading out to a loved one’s home for the remainder of the holidays.   But I’m keeping these cute Santas, and will bring their brothers out to join them one day soon!

Happy Holidays!

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

What’s Hanging On Your Tree?

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What hangs on your Christmas tree this year?

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I hope the ornaments give you joy, whatever they may be; are fun, and hold good memories.

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Our friend brought us a beautiful hummingbird last night, made by her daughter, who is a potter.

The top half of our Christmas tree is always covered with birds.  I’ve been collecting them for more than 40 years now, and some of the originals are still with us!

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I also collect stars and snowflakes, loving their beautiful geometry.

The only snowflakes we’ll see this  Christmas are the porcelain kind.  But that is really fine. 

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We have our snowflakes on the tree, and the garden remains full of flowers instead of blanketed in ice and snow.

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And I was inspired to make a new set of ornaments for our trees this year, which celebrate the beauty of bare branches against a winter sky.

These are simply glass balls decorated with free hand drawings of bare trees.

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They bring to mind the traditional Yggdrasil, the World Tree, which allows one to travel between the worlds.  The roots of all of these trees connect.

It is as though each orb is covered with a forest of small trees, which really are only one tree growing out in all directions.

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Our Christmas decorating has also been minimalist this December.  We are enjoying the simplicity of it.  Most of our traditional decorations remain packed away.

We didn’t plan it that way; I was busy with other projects and left the decorating to the last minute this year.

But we have our lights and our trees.

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And we greeted the sun’s rising this Christmas morning, barely visible behind the  mist  and clouds.

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Beauty always surrounds us, when we remember to remain in the ‘Now.’

Merry Christmas!

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Woodland Gnome 2015

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge: Now!

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We found this Great Blue Heron on her nest, along College Creek this afternoon.

We found this Great Blue Heron on her nest, along College Creek this afternoon.  What a beautiful gift to find this majestic bird on Christmas Day!

Christmas Tree Topiaries

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This year I’ve been inspired to make tabletop topiary Christmas trees.

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A few friends and I are hosting a Christmas luncheon next week.  I wanted to make a small Christmas tree for each dining table, and also some for the buffet tables.

It seemed like a fairly easy project as I dreamed it up…

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After several days of research, studying photos online and visiting Sharon’s beautiful Crafts ‘n Coffee blog a few dozen times; I was ready to begin assembling the materials.

After looking at many different topiary trees, constructed from various materials, I finally had a few basic ideas for tree designs.

People can be incredibly creative!   There are so many ways people have designed topiary Christmas trees from simple Styrofoam cones!

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Choosing ribbon for the first set of topiaries helped establish the color scheme: soft greens and a golden cream.  I found a coordinating sueded fabric to use with the shell trees.

All four of these designs are enormously simple to make.  Tracking down the materials was the most challenging part of the project.

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All begin with a Styrofoam tree form and a square wooden base purchased at the crafts store.  The ribbon trees were made entirely by attaching ribbon to the form with straight pins, then embellishing the trees with glass beads and pearl topped straight pins.  The tiny birds are actually metal beads.

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The shell trees were assembled on a fabric covered Styrofoam base.  The shells were hot glued into place, then the trees finished with shells and freshwater pearls, attached with pearl headed pins.

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Many shells can be found pre-drilled and strung, wherever strings of beads are sold.  Most shells come rather dull when found on the beach or purchased in bulk. 

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I polished these with a cotton swab dipped in pure mineral oil to bring out the colors of the shells.

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Finally, the wooden trees were the most interesting to assemble.

There are five different sizes and cuts of wooden sticks, found at several different craft stores, in addition to bamboo skewers from the kitchen.  I’ve added sheet moss to the undersides of the Styrofoam cones and to the wooden base for these trees.

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A ‘trunk’ is made by gluing broken sticks into the base of the cone in a roughly round pattern; about 1.5″ in diameter.  Glued to the styrofoam and to the wooden base, this makes a fairly sturdy foundation for building the trees, which are quite heavy.

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A friend made the miniature gnomes and rabbit for me a while ago.  They originally lived in a ‘fairy garden’ amid some shade loving plants.  Now they will live under these trees.  The larger gnome, and the mushrooms, came from the craft store.

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Interestingly, each tree came out differently. The wooden sticks are glued both to the Styrofoam, and to each other.  Larger sticks can be broken, and both ends used.  so long as the rough edges are covered by another stick, construction continues.  The bamboo skewers help cover gaps and holes.

The largest tree was constructed over two days.  I ran out of wooden sticks and had to finish after a shopping trip the following day.  I can see a difference in style from each session working with the trees.

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I hope these little trees inspire you to try something new this holiday season.

The shell trees are on our mantle at the moment; the other trees on the buffet in the dining room.  Since we start late with decorating here, these are bringing a little holiday joy to our home as they await their day at the luncheon.

Since we don’t truly need nine topiaries, we’ll find new homes for most of these after the luncheon next week.

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I enjoyed working on these topiaries and learning some new techniques.  And, I”m still inspired by the fascinating photos of others’ trees discovered in my search.

There are free form driftwood trees, trees made with Cinnamon sticks, button trees, scrap fabric trees and trees covered in shiny glass balls…

Please do visit Sharon if you enjoy making things with your hands.  She has some wonderful designs, and offers clear and easy to follow instructions for her projects.

I appreciate the inspiration and guidance she offered as I was exploring ideas for this project.

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It always surprises me how much cheer a little Christmas decoration can bring as we descend into winter and the short dark days of December.

Whatever we can do to brighten the world for ourselves and for others is a good thing, I believe.

And I hope these little trees end up making the season a bit brighter for you and for all who see them.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

A Forest Garden 2016 calendar is available now.

What Sits At the Top of Your Christmas Tree?

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Mark Roberts "Golden Age" fairy sits at the top of our Christmas tree.

Mark Roberts “Golden Age” fairy sits at the top of our Christmas tree.

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What sits on top of your Christmas tree? 

Hugh Roberts, of East Sussex UK,  is politely curious.

In fact, everyone who responds to his query will help add another pound sterling to the charitable contribution he plans to make in January.  His goal is L250. That is a lot of Christmas beauty!

Blogging friend Sue posted her tree topper earlier today and alerted me to Hugh’s challenge.  What lovely Christmas postings you’ll find from Sue!

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Mark Robert's Sugar Plum Fairy

Mark Robert’s Plum Pudding  Fairy

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When we moved to this home (and garden) a few years ago, a Christmas tree left behind by the previous owner was waiting for us in a huge box in the garage.  It was a pre-lit tree, with white lights, and we decided to make it our “den” tree that first year.

There was very little Christmas joy as I tried, in vain, to get all of the lights working.  I finally gave up and just put a string of colored lights on top and used this as our “overflow” tree for ornaments not displayed in the living room.  This tree held lots of childhood memories and fun ornaments given over the years by students and extended family.

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Mark Robert's "Mistletoe and Holly" fairy

Mark Robert’s “Mistletoe and Holly” fairy

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That January, we decided to just leave this tree assembled, covered in plastic dust covers, in the basement.  The ornaments were packed, but we just left the lights in place.  We’ve used the tree another time or two, but last year was so hectic that it never saw the lights of Christmas.

Earlier this month my partner began the discussion about discarding this old tree.  I think he planned to use its component parts in the deer barriers down in our ravine.  But I kept putting him off… and finally, took the trouble to go and lift the dust covers.  Not bad….

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I had been half-heartedly  shopping for a “new” artificial tree for the den.  I love the lights in the area where we sit and cook, and really wanted to bring some of those old ornaments out again.  But nothing I had seen online or in stores seemed worth the asking prices.  (Yes, I know, after Christmas sales…)

And so in a moment of sheer stubborness I wrestled this old tree up from the basement and plunked it down beside my chair.

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A new "Santa" ornament handmade from a cypress knob by a local artist.

A new “Santa” ornament handmade from a cypress knob by a local artist.

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There wasn’t much enthusiasm in the house, I must admit.  But when I plugged in the string of lights, it did look festive.

We began “fluffing” the tree.  The tree stood there the rest of the day with just the lights burning.  I was off to my parents’ home for the day, and needed to get on the road.  I planned to decorate it the following day.

Well, my partner continued to fluff it and bend it back into acceptable shape.  Its cheery glow greeted me when I returned home that evening.

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I was at peace with the decision to save the tree.  That is, until the following morning when I plugged it in on the way to the coffee pot.

The lights lasted maybe two minutes, and then nothing.  I tried and retried the plug, the fuses, the cord… Nothing would bring those old lights back to life.  They were more than 10 years old, but I still hated to give up too easily.

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My partner is no fan of non-functioning Christmas lights.  He helped out by disentangling them from the tree.

I plugged them into another outlet and went through the string bulb by bulb.  And again, and again.  No amount of jiggling or replacement bulbs brought them back to life.

By this time he was on his way to Walgreens to find us some new lights.

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But there was still the problem of the factory lights, burned out and hard wired onto the tree.  Most of the bulbs were blackened from their little explosions years ago.  They were clumsily attached, and just marred the tree in every way you might name.

And so faithful partner went to work with wire snips, pliers, and brute force.  He liberated the tree.

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Handmade "Santa" purchased from the same local artist last year.

Handmade “Santa” purchased from the same local artist last year.

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Hours later, we were finally ready to place the new strings of white lights.  What light!  What brightness! 

This was no longer a cast-off.  It was transformed into a thing of beauty.  And I decorated it accordingly.

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Our Mark Roberts Christmas fairies, usually enchanting the mantlepiece, took places of honor on the tree instead.  We decided to dedicate this tree to the magic of Christmas.

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It holds many of our Santa Claus ornaments, including  one crafted from a cypress knob by a local artist, which we purchased from her earlier in the month.

We created this tree to celebrate the love, generosity, kindness, and miracle-making magic the Christmas season always brings.

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A gift on my first Christmas.

A gift on my first Christmas.

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It is decorated with gifts I have  received from my very first Christmas until this one.  It celebrates the power of belief, the power of persistence, and the power of love. 

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Another gift from one of my childhood Christmas celebrations.

Another gift from one of my childhood Christmas celebrations.

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So will you join me in answering Hugh’s challenge?  If you blog, just make a post about your own Christmas tree, and link back to Hugh.  You’ll find instructions on his page.  If you don’t have your own blog, he explains how you can join in, too.

It doesn’t cost a penny to participate… only a loving heart full of joy and goodwill!

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Merry Christmas!

Woodland Gnome 2014

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Is It Christmas Without A Tree?

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We are chin deep in preparations for Christmas today.

The morning was devoted to writing cards and wrapping gifts. We have brought our cut tree inside, and the last hour was devoted to getting last year’s lights working. We will enjoy unpacking the ornaments and hanging them this evening.

In the meantime, you might enjoy a little post I wrote this time last year about Christmas trees. Like so much of the holiday traditions, it is hard to imagine a time when families didn’t decorate a Christmas tree each December. But Christmas trees are a fairly modern innovation in the Yuletide celebrations.

And I’m so glad Christmas trees gained acceptance in the United States, because I’ve always loved having a tree full of lights and color at Christmas! It took only a few minutes for the fresh, crisp aroma of our tree to fill the house.

This is the wonderful smell of Christmas we enjoy so much.

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Forest Garden

Our community Christmas treeOur community Christmas tree

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My dad used to always know someone with some property in the country where we could cut a tree for Christmas.  It was a much anticipated family outing in the week before Christmas.  He brought his old hand saw and some rope.  We would walk together around the fields, considering one cedar tree and then another, until we found the perfect Christmas tree for the year.

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Cedar trees growing along the bank of College Creek in Williamsburg.Cedar trees growing along the bank of College Creek in Williamsburg.

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It needed to be taller than Dad, but not too tall.  We looked for one that was full and fat and without obvious holes or defects.  Once we had all agreed on the best tree, Dad cut it, and we helped carry it to the family car, where it was carefully tied on top.  Once home, Dad brought it into the living room and set it…

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WPC: Twinkle In Glass

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We bring these hand blown glass ornaments out early in December each year, to hang on our Norfolk Island Pine, draped in white twinkle lights.

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Most of these ornaments are from the Glass Eye Studio out of  Seattle, Washington.  I’ve added a few ornaments, hand blown in Portugal, to our collection in recent years.

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We love how these glass ornaments catch and reflect both sunlight and twinkle lights.

We enjoy them all winter, until the weather has settled enough for the tree to return to its spot out of doors in the spring.

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Woodland Gnome 2014

 

In response to The Weekly Photo Challenge:  Twinkle

Have you made a wreath for the holidays? 

Please share photos in our Holiday Wreath challenge! 

I will put together a post early next week with photos you send me or a link back to your blog post about your Christmas wreath and other holiday decorations. 

Join in this Christmas “blog hop” and share the beauty you have created this Christmas season.

Please create a link back to any of my posts about the challenge, or email your photos to woodlandgnome@zoho.com. 

 

Decorating for December

A handmade wreath for sale at The Homestead Garden Center in Williamsburg, VA.

A handmade wreath for sale at The Homestead Garden Center in Williamsburg, VA.

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The first Christmas lights are shining on nearby homes and businesses.  Trees are illuminated with tiny white lights on Duke of Gloucester Street, and white candle lights fill the windows in Williamsburg.  It is such a welcome sight to see them glowing in the early evening twilight.

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The Homestead Garden Center on Saturday offered so many beautiful decorations for Christmas.

The Homestead Garden Center  offers so many beautiful decorations for Christmas.

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And we have begun decorating for the holidays.  Saturday afternoon we visited the Homestead Garden Center to select our tree and admire the gorgeous wreathes the Patton family have created this year.

They not only offered handmade wreathes and garlands, they also had a great selection of fresh greenery for customers making their own evergreen decorations.

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Some friends and I spent Sunday afternoon decorating our community center for Christmas.  We hung wreathes, decorated our gargantuan tree, and filled the windowsills with candles and greenery.

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A friend is well known in our community for her beautiful floral arrangements, and fills our windowsills with fresh Magnolia and white candles..

A friend who  is well loved in our community for her beautiful floral arrangements fills our windowsills with fresh Magnolia and white candles..

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It was a warm and sunny afternoon with light pouring in from the many windows.  What a beautiful day for coming together to decorate!

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We were so appreciative for the good weather!

I used the warm and dry weather today to begin decorating the front of my parents’ home.  We could work at a leisurely pace in perfect comfort.   No frost bitten fingers or toes for us!

I’ve made wreathes and hung lights many years in freezing, wet weather.  This weekend’s warmth has given us all a head start on our decorating plans!

I topped off their bird feeders before I left.  The weather turns back  tomorrow to a more seasonal chill.

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Have you made your wreath yet?  I made two on Saturday evening.  My neighbor donated fresh Magnolia leaves, and I used cedar branches and herbs from our yard.   We brought home the bottom branch trimmings from several Christmas trees, including our own.  The whole house was filled with the most wonderful fragrances as I constructed the first of this season’s wreathes. 

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Rosemary, which goes into all of the evergreen wreathes I construct.

Rosemary, which goes into all of the evergreen wreathes I make.

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I hope you will send me photos of the wreathes you construct this year, or create a post about your own wreathes and send me a link.  I plan to pull all of the photos and links together after December 13, and share them all in a great Christmas blog hop.

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Christmas is in the air, and excitement is building.  Please create something beautiful for the season, and have a great time doing it!

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2013

Colonial Williamsburg, 2013

Holiday Wreath Challenge

What Hangs on Your Tree?

Our Waterford Byzantine Santa is new this year, found last week at the Re-Store, which supports Habitat For Humanity.

Our Waterford Byzantine Santa is new this year, found last week at the Re-Store, which supports Habitat For Humanity.

What hangs on your Christmas tree?

I’m always delighted and intrigued by Christmas trees.  Each is so personal and unique.

Birds always live in our Christmas tree.

Birds always live in our Christmas tree.

Although we all begin with an evergreen tree, or shrub, and we all use basically the same components of lights, ornaments, garlands, ribbon; every single tree takes on its own personality.

If you’ve ever spent time wandering through a Christmas shop you’ve probably gotten lost, as I have, in the bewildering assortment of decorations.  I am always attracted to the brightly painted glass ornaments from Europe shaped into birds, beasts, cars, trucks, people, and even green pickles!

Glass Amanita muscaria mushrooms are popular ornaments in parts of Europe, where their original connection to Winter Solstice celebrations is remembered.

Glass Amanita muscaria mushrooms are popular ornaments in parts of Europe, where their original connection to Winter Solstice celebrations is remembered.

Years ago we attended a breakfast with Santa when my daughter was a child.  It was part of a larger charity event which included a Christmas tree auction.  Various individuals and groups had decorated Christmas trees for the display and auction, and each tree had a theme.  The most interesting one was decorated with small glass bowls, each cradled in  a little net sling.  A Siamese fighting fish swam in each little bowl, like a jeweled ornament, on this beautiful tree.

A Margaret Furlong heart collected many years ago.

A Margaret Furlong heart collected many years ago.

Our own tree is far too small to hold all of our ornaments.  I could probably decorate a half dozen trees with the treasures I’ve collected over the years.  Each year a slightly different collection comes out of the boxes for a few weeks to take on new life on the tree.

But a few aspects remain the same.  I prefer white lights on a Christmas tree.  Not only are they much brighter, but they look like stars twinkling in the tree’s branches;which was, of course, the original idea.

This owl reminds us of the owls living in our forest.

This owl reminds us of the owls living in our forest.

My tree is always the host to a collection of birds.  From the very first tree in my very first apartment, I’ve collected bird ornaments.  I have some little nests with birds sitting on eggs, several cardinals and feathered doves, an owl and an eagle acquired here in Williamsburg, crystal hummingbirds, and geese.

One of those early Christmases brought me an early Christmas gift of a Nanday Conure.  He escaped his cage one day as I was trying to hand train him, and roosted in the top of the Christmas tree for the next several days, flying around the apartment whenever I tried to coax him onto my hand and put him back into his cage.  Since that tree, I’ve always wanted to fill my Christmas tree with small birds.

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This 80’s vintage snowflake was offered by the Smithsonian Museum gift shop.

I also collect stars and snowflakes.  I’ve found them in silver and brass, porcelain, plastic; and we even have a few crotcheted from white cotton  decades ago by my grandmother.

A have dozens of angels, mostly made in crystal or porcelain.  And a goodly portion of “For My Teacher” ornaments given by favorite students over the years.    My parents have given us the White House Christmas Ornament each year since they lived in Washington DC for a while.

A Santa given to me when I was a child.

A Santa given to me when I was a child.

I have ornaments from my childhood, commemorative Christmas balls from all over, many little Santas and elves,  and souvenir ornaments given by traveling loved ones.   The tips of our tree’s branches are hung with crystal icicles.

All in all, it is sparkling, with lots of green, living tree allowed to shine through.  It is topped with a beautiful blown glass top we found while preparing for our first Christmas together, and a golden angel.

This little snowflake is a gift from my friend, on Yalda.

This little snowflake is a gift from my friend, on Yalda.

We celebrated the festival of Yalda among dear friends on Saturday night with sliced watermelon, roasted nuts, a delicious dinner, and the poetry of Rumi.

Our  friend has decorated her first Christmas tree since moving to America a few years ago; a regal Norfolk Island Pine she has raised up into a great, full sized tree.  It is happily covered in white lights and decorated with a few white snowflakes and stars.  We were so happy to share a white porcelain star  with her, for her first Christmas tree here in the United States.

May it attract peace and light to her heart and her home.December 23, 2013 ornaments 009

What is on your Christmas tree?  Does it express your wishes for the future?  Does it commemorate the person you’ve become?  Is it a collection of memories from the people and places which have shaped you?  Does it reflect your travels?  Your interests? Your children?

The 2000 commemorative Christmas ball from Maymont Park, in Richmond, Va.

The 2000 commemorative Christmas ball from Maymont Park, in Richmond, Va.

I’ve always felt that making a Christmas tree is a potent form of magic. 

It is both a blessing of gratitude and an affirmation of all we want to bring into our lives in the coming year.  It is a beautiful reminder of those we love and the things which bring us joy.

May your Christmas tree fill your home with light, your heart with joy, and your life with the magic of Christmas.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Visiting the Homestead Garden Center

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We visited Homestead Garden Center today to pick out one of their beautiful Christmas trees for our own.  We love the freshness of these trees.  They are  picked on a farm in the mountains and brought here early in the season, and then kept in water until sold.  Each tree has its own little dish of water.December 13 2013 poinsettias 002

Although there are only a few trees left, they are all beautifully grown.  The small table top trees are especially nice.

Wreath making is underway in the workshop and greenhouse, each a beautiful combination of evergreens and decorated with cones, fruit, and berries.

Poinsettias fill the shop.  There are so many hybrids now it is hard to choose which one to bring home.  Whether you love the creamy white ones, or prefer red, pink, spotted, or marbled; they are all healthy and ready to go home and bloom for the next month or so.

December 13 2013 poinsettias 003Poinsettias are members of the Euphorbia family, native to Mexico and Central America.  Poinsettias were introduced to the United States in 1825 by our first Minster to Mexico, Joel Poinsett.  In their native Mexico these plants grow as shrubs or small trees.  Some of the leaves, known as “bracts”, begin to turn red, orange, white, pale green, or pink when the days grow shorter.  They need several weeks of nights 12 hours or longer to change colors.  The actual flowers are actually tiny and yellow, located in the center of each bunch of colored bracts.

A light pink poinsettia in the Homestead Garden Center shop.

A light pink poinsettia in the Homestead Garden Center shop.

Poinsettias enjoy bright sunshine during the day, warm temperatures, and a steady supply of moisture.  They can live outside during most of the year, but are brought in to protect them from frost, which will kill them.

The poinsettia industry in the United States dates to 1900 when the Ecke family began raising poinsettias on their dairy farm near Los Angeles.   The family began selling them from street stands around LA, later developing a special growing technique to produce color on every single branch of their bushy, compact plants.  They were the only growers in the nation with the secret for growing florist quality poinsettias, until the 1990s when a university researcher discovered their technique and published it.  Poinsettias are now grown all over the United States.  They are also popular in Turkey, Egypt, Central and South America, Australia, and Malta.

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These Rose series poinsettias come in several different colors.

If you want to keep your poinsettia after the holidays, make sure to keep it watered and in bright light until the weather settles in spring.  Poinsettias prefer morning light.  Prune the plant after the holidays to remove all of the colored leaves and tiny yellow flowers.  Keep the plant fed and watered all summer, protected from afternoon sun, and watch it grow into a small shrub.  It will probably need a new, larger pot in early summer.  Poinsettias enjoy moisture, but must never sit in water.  They require good drainage.

Bring the plant indoors before first frost to an area where it will remain in darkness for at least 12 hours each night.  Soon, the leaf bracts will begin to turn bright colors again and you can enjoy it for another holiday season.

A whole new palette of plants comes available in December for those of us who love to keep flowering plants indoor during the winter.  Cyclamen are in their prime now, as they enjoy cool indoor temperatures.  They grow best near windows where they enjoy the bright winter sunshine and cooler air.  Christmas cactus are in bloom now as well.  And the first perennials of spring, little Primulas, have shown up for sale at Homestead.  The gardening year rolls on and on, with something beautiful close at hand to greet each new day.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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