Wreathed in Smiles

Colonial Williamsburg, December 2017

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We had to laugh and smile when we saw these deer themed Christmas decorations along Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg yesterday.  The cheeky population of deer over-running the neighborhoods is a frustration shared by so many of us living around this area.

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Herds of them rampage through the ravine behind our garden.   Drivers stay on their guard, knowing a deer could run out into the street at most any time, especially at dusk.  We find hoof prints and deer scat in the garden, a calling card for the  lonely doe or fawn who snuck in for a snack.

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The floral designers at CW showed a mischievous sense of humor in their designs this year.  Beyond the staid circles of pine needles ornamented with apples or pomegranate, there were a few energetic and amusing creations that caught our attention.

We know that whoever created these deer themed pieces must live nearby and have their own deer tales to tell.

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Ironically, more deer live in James City and York Counties now than in the Colonial era.  These beautiful animals were prized by the Native Americans who once claimed this rich region of coastal Virginia.  Every part of the deer was useful to them, and so the deer were freely hunted.  Colonists valued the deer as well for their meat and fur.

With no natural predators, the deer population in Virginia is held in check these days only by recreational hunters.   Although development continues to carve slices out of their habitat, the cunning deer have adapted to live quite well in our neighborhoods.

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A troupe of costumed minstrels played and sang as they rode through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg in an ox drawn cart yesterday afternoon.

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We rarely see deer wandering the streets of old Williamsburg, but we did see quite a few horses, and even a team of oxen yesterday.   There are always lots of dogs to admire, even one with this troupe of interpreters entertaining us yesterday.

Often, we’ll find small herds of sheep or even bulls grazing in the CW pastures.

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The workshops of Colonial Williamsburg aim to keep the old everyday arts of artisanal manufacture alive.

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Many of the wreathes serve double duty as advertisements, cleverly luring curious customers into the shops.

Someone asked me the other day, “Do they re-use the wreathes at CW year to year, or are there new designs each year?”

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That is an interesting question.  While much stays the same in terms of style and materials, there is a fresh interpretation and presentation every year.  The wreathes are freshly made from scratch each November, and hung in time for the Grand Illumination, which boomed and thundered the holiday season into our community last Sunday evening.

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We have thus far photographed only a fraction of this year’s offerings.  We started near Merchant’s Square and explored only as far as the Governor’s Palace.  We intend to return throughout December, and I will share the best of them with you, as we also enjoy the wreathes of Colonial Williamsburg  this month.

 

Woodland Gnome 2017
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This deer themed ‘chandelier’ is hanging on a Colonial Williamsburg porch, near the deer themed wreathes. Male deer lose and re-grow their antlers each year. Discarded antlers are sometimes found on walks in the woods.

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Cheeky

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Will you join this year’s Holiday Wreath Challenge?

 

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Re-Inventing A Wreath

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Making a wreath for the door is always fun.  Coming up with ideas, gathering the materials, pulling it all together, and finally hanging the finished wreath is one way I celebrate the change of seasons.  And not just at Christmas; I make wreathes throughout the year.

I remember many cold December days, when I wandered around the garden with clippers and a large bucket of water, pruning the evergreens in preparation for making Christmas wreathes.  I usually attach bundles of mixed greens to straw wreath forms with U shaped wire pins.  And oh, my hands get so cold and sticky and scratched in the process, though the evergreen branches smell wonderful!

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Holly

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Today has been sun-drenched and passably warm, after the morning’s frost burned off.  As the day wore on, I decided it was a pretty good day for the annual cutting of the greens, and went in search of my supplies.

A spur of the moment decision to make our wreathes ended up demanding yet another trip to the craft store.  I need two wreathes for our front porch, and could only find a single straw form.  This of course drew comment from my partner about the dozen or so retired wreathes hanging in the garage.

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A finished wreath from 2013

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But we headed out to the store anyway, and I searched aisle after aisle for the forms I had in mind.  Finally, in the back corner of the place I found three sizes of straw wreath:  huge, small, and tiny.  None matched the medium wreath form waiting at home.  What to do? 

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A wreath in progress…. 2013

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We walked around the store for another 10 minutes or so with two large straw wreath forms in the cart.  And all the while I was weighing the effort it would take to rehabilitate some not-so-gently-used retired grapevine wreathes resting in the basement, against the too many dollars it would require to buy these jumbo straw hoops.

A look at the long line waiting for check-out clinched the deal.  We left the new wreath forms for someone else, and headed home to see what could be done with what we had.

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Now, the grapevine wreathes waiting for us in the basement  were lovely when they were new.  And I have remade them at least once since.

But the hot glue which once held them together was pulling loose, the bright green reindeer moss had faded to grey, and they were a sad lot, to be kind.  I pulled the remaining shells away and cleaned them up a bit, before taking them out to a patch of sunshine in the front yard.  It was barely warm enough to gild them, but gild them we did.

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2014

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Gold paint makes most things a bit better, or at least a bit more interesting.   I left the wreathes to dry in the sunlight, while I set off with the clippers for a bit of green.

My first stop was the Eucalyptus.  It froze back to the ground last winter, but has come out strong again this year.  Knowing that it might be ruined again by cold weather, I didn’t hesitate to cut quite a bit of the newest growth.

Next, I pruned the lowest branches from a rogue seedling of Virginia red cedar.  The tree is about 6′ tall now and a bit of limbing up did it no harm.

Finally, I gave the large old Rosemary in our front garden a good trim.  The cold will darken this summer’s leaves soon enough.  I cut a generous portion for our wreathes.

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That was plenty of greenery for the design I had in mind, which would allow some of the grapevine and original decorations to show as well.

That said, I quickly realized that the pins I’d gotten last month for the wreathes were going to be a challenge to use on the grapevine frame.  Basically, there is nothing to grip them.  But a bit of tweaking with needle nosed pliers soon bent the ends around the strands of vine, at least enough to hold my bundles of greenery in place.

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If you are making this sort of wreath, simply combine 6 or 7 sprigs into a bundle, wrap it with a bit of wire, and secure it to the form.  Each bundle should be about 5″-7″ long, depending on the circumference of your frame.   I used the same three plants in each bundle, in the same order, for a fairly uniform appearance.  But you might also alternate the bundles for a different effect.

I covered about two-thirds of the form with greenery, leaving the original wreath to show in the open space.  I re-attached some of the gilded moss and woody flowers, and also glued the shells back to the wreath before finishing with a fresh sparkly gold ribbon bow.

I’m rather pleased with how they turned out, and even more pleased that I recycled, rather than retailed, for this project.

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Have you made your holiday wreathes yet?  If not, I hope that you draw some inspiration from this little effort, and craft your own this year.

I ended up buying our front door wreathes last year.  They were beautiful, but I also missed the DIY Christmas I’ve grown to love.

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Making a wreath is simple and satisfying.  I challenge you to DIY this year, and create something uniquely yours.   Once you’ve made your holiday wreathes, please photograph them and share their beauty with the rest of us.  Please post photos on your site, and leave a link in the comments so I can enjoy them too!

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My second wreath today

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We will enjoy a walk through Colonial Williamsburg one day soon to enjoy their beautiful seasonal wreathes.  When we do, I’ll take lots of photos to share with you again this year.  I am always delighted by the fresh takes on using fruit and greens, nuts, cones, shells and other natural (and manufactured) items in the wreathes in the historic district of Williamsburg.

Whether you love glitz and glam at the holidays, or prefer something handcrafted or inspired by nature, there are a million ways to express your holiday spirit.

I hope you will join the holiday wreath challenge this year!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Wednesday Vignette: Reflections

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“Sometimes, you have to look back

in order to understand the things that lie ahead.”

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Yvonne Woon

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“Just as a snake sheds its skin,

we must shed our past over and over again.”

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Gautama Buddha

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“Silence is a time of reflection

to bring peace and meaning to your life,

and to those around you.

This deafening quiescence will mean

different things to different people

but if they listen carefully, they will understand…”

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Virginia Alison

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“There’s always a moment

that separates the past from the future,

and that moment is now.”

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Aniekee Tochukwu Ezekiel

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

All photos taken in Colonial Williamsburg

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Sunday Dinner: Merry Christmas !

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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind.

To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy,

is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

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Calvin Coolidge

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“Are you willing to stoop down and consider

the needs and desires of little children;

to remember the weaknesses and loneliness

of people who are growing old;

to stop asking how much your friends love you,

and to ask yourself if you love them enough;

to bear in mind the things that other people

have to bear on their hearts;

to trim your lamp so that it will give more light

and less smoke, and to carry it in front

so that your shadow will fall behind you;

to make a grave for your ugly thoughts

and a garden for your kindly feelings,

with the gate open?

Are you willing to do these things for a day?

Then you are ready to keep Christmas!”

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Henry Van Dyke

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“Christmas, my child, is love in action.”

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Dale Evans Rogers

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“Learn to light a candle

in the darkest moments of someone’s life.

Be the light that helps others see;

it is what gives life its deepest significance.”

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Roy T. Bennett

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“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell,

but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them.

Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer

hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old,

the bell still rings for me,

as it does for all who truly believe.”

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Chris Van Allsburg

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“The Warrior of the Light is a believer.

Because he believes in miracles,

miracles begin to happen.

Because he is sure that his thoughts

can change his life, his life begins to change.

Because he is certain that he will find love,

love appears.”

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Paulo Coelho

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“I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit

in jars and open a jar of it every month.”

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Harlan Miller

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

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Where the Paths May Lead

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The last few days of December find  us nostalgic for other times and places. 

As the little ones among us look ahead to Christmas Day and the promises of wishes made real; many look back across the years to joyful moments passed.

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We remember loved ones no longer with us.  We look back along the winding pathways which led us to this particular moment.

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It is a time to take out stored memories, like the treasured ornaments we place on the Yule tree each December.  Normally wrapped up and put away, we allow them to breathe and shimmer for a short time each year.

As our collection grows it takes on a certain luster of age, a patina wrought of familiarity.

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Some recollections bring us an echo of joy across the wide space of years; others fresh waves of sadness or regret.

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It is part of being human, I believe, and a hallmark of a lifetime’s journey.  For our paths aren’t always straight and clear.  They meander through fate and circumstance, opportunity, and those choices we claim and those  we reject.

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Sometimes we can see paths which parallel our own, but can’t find the gate to access them.  Sometimes our paths wind in spirals or loops which feel closed off from further progress along the way.

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Other paths feel inevitable, wide, clear and straight.  We travel them with groups of loved ones and friends who share the same destination we hold before us.

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But always, at this time of year, we finally look ahead; considering where to journey next.  Whether to continue on our present path or to seek a new one.

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What goals do we hold out for ourselves in the months ahead?  What changes do we need to make?  What special wishes will we hold in our hearts at this magical time of Winter Solstice?

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Are we seeking fresh challenge or warmth and comfort?  Is there a cause calling to us, or is it time to enjoy a span of  peacefulness and rest?

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Is the way ahead clear, or are there obstructions we must  move before we continue on our way?

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In the quiet space we find in late December, we have an opportunity to ponder our life’s path.  Time away from work and the normal routine invites us to ponder where we have been and where we are going in our lives.

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We can enjoy the peace this season brings us to look both behind us and ahead of us.

And perhaps there is a bit of child-like wonder in our hearts, yet.

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As we articulate our wishes to the Universe, we can almost hear sleigh bells in the distance; and once again believe in the magic this season holds.

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All photos taken at Colonial Williamsburg, December 23, 2016.

All photos taken at Colonial Williamsburg, December 23, 2016.

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Path

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In loving memory of those we loved and lost in 2016. 

May they continue along their eternal pathways

in light and in peace.

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Apples, Pine Cones and Artichokes: Ornamenting the Wreath

December 13, 2015 CW 213

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What is beautiful?  What is not?

Our answer is often a Rorschach test of our own personality.

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December 13, 2015 CW 126

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Wreathes, a most ancient symbol of eternity and eternal life, come to us from deep antiquity.

We find traces of them in the earliest evidence of civilization we can find.  Whether made from precious metals and ornamented with gemstones, carved in stone, or woven from olive branches; wreathes remain symbols of celebration and commemoration.

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Wreathes woven from evergreen branches mark the winter solstice holidays.  They symbolically promise that despite the ever shortening days and cold weather, life goes on and the sun will soon return.  And we decorate these evergreen wreathes with the seeds of new life.

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Fruits, cones, berries, cotton puffs, nuts and seed pods, our favorite ornaments for our wreathes, all bear seeds inside them.  They contain the promise of next season’s fertility.

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The early Virginia colonists likely brought branches of evergreen trees into their homes to mark the  Christmas holiday.  But the certainly didn’t construct the beautiful fruit laden wreathes we admire around ‘Colonial Williamsburg’ today.

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To quote Theobald and Oliver, writing on the official Colonial Williamsburg website in an article called, ‘Deck the Doors,’  :

“Never mind that no one in the eighteenth century would have been caught dead with real fruit tacked to his front door.  Anyone hanging fresh fruit outdoors in the middle of winter to rot or be devoured by squirrels would have been thought, at best, highly eccentric by his neighbors. “

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The unique handmade wreathes, swags. sprays and baskets, constructed of only natural materials and lacking ribbons and bows, were first created in the late 1930’s; after the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation opened up for business and wanted to attract a crowd in all seasons.

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They were greatly admired and photographed.  Soon a contest for the most beautiful wreathes in this style evolved, and the ‘Della robbia’ or ‘fruit covered’ wreath style of Colonial Williamsburg was launched.

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In some ways it makes sense that these beautiful wreathes, constructed of ‘found’ materials, caught on at the end of the Great Depression years in America.  Wreathes in this style may be constructed very inexpensively with whatever may be at hand.

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They are also a reaction, at least in part, against the commercialization of Christmas.  They feed our romantic notion of what life could have been like ‘back in the day’ before silver tinsel trees and Christmas ornaments imported from Asian factories became the norm.

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But the truth is, even though wealthy residents of 18th century Williamsburg might have eaten pineapples and citrus fruits imported from the Caribbean colonies, they didn’t fashion outdoor decorations from them.

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And the Colonial Williamsburg wreathes today ask us to broaden our thinking about what is appropriate as a Christmas decoration.  Dried okra pods?  Skeins of yarn?  Artichokes?  Why not?

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Beauty often transcends the materials and shines through the design, the geometry, the harmony, and the  colors used.

The making of these wreathes is a 20th Century phenomenon; not an 18th Century fashion.  But they blend so beautifully into this reconstruction and reinterpretation of a Colonial Virginia town.

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If you find them beautiful, please try your hand at making a della Robbia wreath of your own.  Begin with a wire, straw or grapevine base.  Gather some evergreen branches or Magnolia leaves.  Bay leaves and citrus leaves work well, too, if you have them.

Then gather things you find beautiful and meaningful:  fruit, cones, shells, pods, dried flowers, vegetables, nuts and berries.  Use wire, hot glue and floral picks to build your design.

You might even make an ‘edible’ wreath of fruits to serve at a party.

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The trick is to express yourself and create a wreath which has meaning for you.  Create something beautiful to ornament your own home at the holidays.

The materials don’t matter, so long as they bring you joy.

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Can you see the face? All of the ornaments on this house follow a 'Star Wars' theme.....

Can you see the face? All of the ornaments on this house follow a ‘Star Wars’ theme…..

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All photos were taken in Colonial Williamsburg this December

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'Light Sabers...."

‘Light Sabers….”

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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December 13, 2015 CW 121

“A Forest Garden 2016” gardening calendar,  featuring some of our favorite photos from 2015, is  available now.  Write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com for details.

Sunday Dinner: Hope

December 13, 2015 CW 012

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“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.

That myth is more potent than history.

That dreams are more powerful than facts.

That hope always triumphs over experience.

That laughter is the only cure for grief.

And I believe that love is stronger than death.”

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Robert Fulghum

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“Listen to the mustn’ts, child.  Listen to the don’ts.

Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.

Listen to the never haves,

then listen close to me…   Anything can happen, child.

Anything can be.”

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Shel Silverstein

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“The world is indeed full of peril,

and in it there are many dark places;

but still there is much that is fair,

and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief,

it grows perhaps the greater.”

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J.R.R. Tolkien

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“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

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Alfred Lord Tennyson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

December scenes captured at Colonial Williamsburg

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“A Forest Garden 2016” gardening calendar is now available, featuring some of our favorite photos from 2015.  Write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com for details.

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December 13, 2015 CW 005

 

 

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