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.

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By the Numbers

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

 

12/13/14.  Have you noticed the date today?  My partner tells me this date won’t repeat this century.

Our world is structured by numbers in so many ways.  Even the ancients explored the mysteries of number, and expressed their understanding through architecture, music, sculpture, and engineering those monuments which have survived for centuries or more to intrigue us still today.

And this wonderful technology we use is all based on numbers.  Not that I understand binary code. 

 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

 

Frankly, it seems like modern day “magic” to type this on my computer and know that a friend in Belgium, Indonesia, or Australia can read it as quickly as my friends down the street.  And what pure pleasure to come to my computer at any hour of the day or night and enjoy photographs and ideas  just posted from people all over the planet!

 

December 3, 2014 CW wreathes 074

 

I began this morning by sharing photos of the dragonfly which visited LiJiun’s garden, with my partner.  It brought back such warm memories of the time I spent photographing dragonflies in our garden this summer.  (Dragonflies don’t startle easily, and don’t mind having their photos taken, I’ve found.)

Now in the WordPress Community, the link I just created for you to see LiJiun’s photos is called a “pingback.”  WordPress bloggers frequently create these to link the reader to another interesting blog we want to share with you for some reason.  And up until recently, they’ve always worked just fine. 

And part of the way they work includes sending a message back to the other blog’s author, so they are aware of the link you’ve created.

 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

 

I’ve asked fellow bloggers who want to participate in the Holiday Wreath Challenge to just create one of these “pingbacks” in their own post about wreathes, so I know they are participating.  Then I’ll include  links back to their blog  in a post early next week;  so we can all find and enjoy one another’s photos of the wreathes we’ve made this year.

 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

 

And then last night, my friend Barbara sent me a message in the comments  about her beautiful post.  And she had a link in her post back here to Forest Garden.  But no pingback ever turned up.

And that is when I realized that the pingbacks aren’t working properly on WordPress in general.

 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

 

Some of us have been aware that WordPress pingbacks haven’t worked properly for some of their own challenges in recent weeks.  But now I realize that pingbacks aren’t working at all…. and probably haven’t been for some time now.

 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

 

It’s all in the numbers….  My guess is that the volume of traffic has grown so much on WordPress in general, that the sheer number may have overwhelmed this part of the system.  But that is only my guess.

But it leads me to wonder whether I might have missed some of your posts about your wreath and holiday decorations…..

 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

 

If you have posted, and created the pingback I suggested to join in, just know that I didn’t get it.  Please follow up with an email or a link in the comments.  I’ve responded back to everyone whose posts I’ve found thus far.

I hope you are planning to share in this holiday wreath challenge. 

 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

 

What fun if we could travel all around the world sharing the beauty of the season with one another, through the magic of the internet and our vibrant blogging community.

 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

 

If you have already posted, please just send me your link (again) even though you created that “pingback.”    If you plan to post sometime this weekend, please just send me a comment or email with your link.

 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

 

If you don’t have your own blog, you can still join in.  Just attach your photos to an email.  Please tell me know whether it is OK to use your name and location in the photo credit.

The excitement builds little by little all through December.  Each day brings us closer to the beauty and fun of the Christmas season.

 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

 

Please watch for a compilation post of photos of all your beautiful creations, and links to your posts about them,  by next Wednesday, 12/17/14.  

Let us all share in the joy and beauty of the season.

 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Woodland Gnome 2014

woodlandgnome@zoho.com

 

 

 

WPC: Twinkle In Glass

December 12, 2014 ornaments 019

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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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December 12, 2014 ornaments 020

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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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December 12, 2014 ornaments 021

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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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December 12, 2014 ornaments 022

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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. 

 

Biscotti, Gone, But Fondly Remembered!

December 5, 2014 ornaments 010

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Our friend, who is an amazing cook, made these beautiful cranberry orange biscotti for our coffee group yesterday.

They are delicious.  But even better, they are absolutely gluten free and vegan.  There is no added fat in the recipe, beyond what occurs naturally in the nuts.

Even though I’m the sort of cook who keeps a bag of Vital Wheat Gluten in the fridge at all times, more and more of my friends and extended family maintain gluten-free diets.

It is always a challenge to stick to a restrictive diet, although recovering one’s health and well-being serves as a powerful motivator!

And it is especially challenging at the holidays.  So many of our warm memories and good times with loved ones involve our favorite seasonal foods.  It is hard to enjoy family gatherings when our favorite foods are on the table, and we can’t enjoy them.

It was tough for me when I shifted to a fully vegetarian diet in the 80’s.  I suddenly felt very out of place at social events from cook-outs to cocktail parties.  Hostesses were nervous in inviting me to dinner.  Some still are, although there are far more of us vegetarians and vegans these days.  There are many more options everywhere you go to eat well and avoid meat.

It is a much tougher thing for those who require a gluten-free diet.  Traditional family holiday meals are full of gluten, from appetizers to desserts.  Gluten is a protein found in all wheat products.  Anything which contains flour, or even comes into contact with wheat, becomes “contaminated” with gluten.  That covers an awful lot of the holiday table, doesn’t it?

That is why I was so excited to enjoy these wonderful biscotti yesterday.  They are everything I love in biscotti:  crunchy, delicious, and totally satisfying.  They hold up when dunked in a cup of coffee, and then melt in your mouth at the next bite.

And they are also very healthy to eat; as cookies go….

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December 5, 2014 ornaments 010

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When I asked for the recipe,  my friend sent a link to the recipe on the “elana’s pantry” food blogPlease follow the link to the recipe if you are interested.

These wonderful biscotti are gone now, but certainly not forgotten.  I plan to make a batch for Christmas, as a gift to those in my own family who eat a gluten free diet.

Whether you follow a restrictive diet or not, this recipe is well worth the effort to try it.  It is actually an easier preparation than traditional biscotti, with fewer ingredients.

I would make only one change to this delicious recipe…. and it involves drizzling melted dark chocolate over the finished biscotti as they cool….

 

Woodland Gnome 2014

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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December 1, 2014 christmas 004

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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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December 1, 2014 christmas 021

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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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December 1, 2014 christmas 003

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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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December 1, 2014 christmas 035

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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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December 1, 2014 christmas 024

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2013

Colonial Williamsburg, 2013

Holiday Wreath Challenge

Christmas Marathon, and Tuesday Snapshots

Canadian Geese on the James River yesterday afternoon.

Canadian Geese on the James River yesterday afternoon.

Christmas in the United States has become a weeks long affair which feels more like a marathon, to many of us, than a celebration.

Neighbors decorating our coummunity Christmas tree.

Neighbors decorating our community Christmas tree.

Many of us “ladies of a certain age” gathered this morning for a neighborhood group meeting and participated in a “re-gifted gift exchange” where we each brought a gift previously given to us which we hadn’t wanted and couldn’t use.  We wrapped these in previously used paper and gift bags, and piled them under our community Christmas tree. November 29 Thanksgiving 010

We had great fun visiting as we each chose and opened a package.  Some of us opened something we liked, and kept it. Everyone had the option to trade for something already opened if they didn’t want the item they had chosen from under the tree.

I, for one, felt much happier and lighter after relieving myself of the burden of a gift given last Christmas by someone I love, which I could not/would not ever use.  The friend who opened it was perfectly delighted to receive it, and chatted happily about how much she would enjoy it.  Thus goes Christmas 2013, and it’s only December 3.

Everyone I chatted with this morning was talking about their holiday plans and the preparations for them.  Many of my friends are deeply involved in preparing for the Holiday Homes Tour this coming weekend.  Others are in preparation for the Colonial Williamsburg festivities which bring in visitors from all over.  Most were talking about the trees which must be decorated at home, wreathes hung, lights put up, Christmas villages assembled, arrangements made, and the house guests on the way.

Sunset fills the sky a little earlier each day.

Sunset fills the sky a little earlier each day.

And most of my friends already look and sound tired.  Did I mention it’s only December 3? 

One community organization had a Christmas tree lighting last night to illuminate an outdoor tree on the main street into our neighborhood.  Some friends and I are preparing for a Christmas cookie exchange next Sunday, where the children will decorate gingerbread houses to take home.  We’ve been working on this event since late summer.  We’ll gather on Friday to construct 20 or so houses for the children and grandchildren of friends who will attend the party.

My first tree this year, decorated before the end of November.  We'll decorate at least one more tree later in the month.

Our first tree this year, decorated before the end of November.  This Norfolk Island Pine lived out on the patio all summer.  We’ll decorate at least one more tree later in the month.  We avoid artificial Christmas trees and so wait until late in the month to decorate our living room tree.

Add in the gift shopping, card writing, package wrapping, parcel posting, special cooking, greens hanging, and tour taking we plan to accomplish in December.  And then there are the concerts, parties, productions, and special church services.  Holidays here are very complex affairs which require precision planning and complex budgeting to accomplish.

And it hasn’t always been this way.  In fact, Christmas has been Christmas as we know it for only a few decades.

Colonial Williamsburg decorations from 2009

Colonial Williamsburg decorations from 2009

One reason our Christmas celebrations are so complex, and so conflicted, is the amalgamation of customs which have all converged on the weeks from late November through early January.  It is a very tangled web of tradition, custom, invention, religion, and merchandising genius.

For instance, did you know that Christmas was once outlawed in England and in certain colonies in America? 

Did you know that at one time only servants and children received gifts? 

Did you know that copious consumption of alcohol has been central to December celebrations for millennia?

November 28 2013 014

I collected interesting branches and stored them in the basement until time to put out the birds.

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of our favorite American holiday traditions; how they originated, and how they have changed over the years.  As much as I cringe when I see the Christmas decorations show up in the shops in late October, I do still love the Christmas season.

As the days grow colder and shorter, I take comfort in the lights, the music, the special times with friends, and the little remembrances which pass between friends and loved ones during these impossibly hectic weeks of December.

And so I’ll share a little of the history with you over the next few weeks; some photos taken around Williamsburg; and perhaps a recipe or two.  Wreathes and roping are going up all over Duke of Gloucester Street and Colonial Williamsburg.  Tomorrow I’ll share a little bit about Christmas celebrations here in Jamestown and in Williamsburg during the colonial era.November 27 2013 mantle 006

Most of the action is over for a while out in the garden, and I can watch the squirrels’ acrobatics from the window where I work.  They are gorging on berries from the holly trees in the side yard.

So here are a few Tuesday Snapshots from the first week of December.  These are all photos taken this week which I haven’t used in other posts, and I hope you enjoy them.

 

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

How did it get so late so soon?
Its night before its afternoon.
December is here before its June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?
Dr. Seuss

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