After the turkey is soup.

As always, for me, Thanksgiving was too soon over, the excellent meal a memory, with leftovers the stuff of Friday’s dreams. I’m not one to rush to Christmas before the November holiday, nor even after the turkey is soup, but this year, the little tree beside the door of Leslie and Martin’s woodsy retreat changed my mind.

Trekking to the river was a bit of a last minute rush. We’d made plans that, in the end, we couldn’t work out and alternate plans changed almost hourly as November 24 approached. I was in a muddle, but not Leslie. The previous weekend she’d planned ahead and, just for fun, added a touch of Christmas beside the front door, in case we ended up there for Thanksgiving.

And, in the end, we did.

It was a lovely holiday, even though we missed family who’d been there the two previous Thanksgivings — Carolynn and Bill, Jayne and Marc.

Wednesday was cold. Would it snow? No-o! Thanksgiving day dawned cool, but bright, and heated up along with the oven. The chef, Leslie, can’t stand the heat but she didn’t have the luxury of getting out of the kitchen. Once again, she engineered a turkey feast masterpiece. For the second time this year I failed pie-making. The from-scratch pumpkin was very good, the mixture of three kinds of apples, yummy, but the crusts could have been Play-Doh and were just as inedible.

Friday was warmer still. Samantha and Martin dug up potential Christmas trees, one for Sam to take home, one for me, and another for Leslie. I didn’t fuss about Christmas-rushing as I usually do, because it just seemed right. Sam left early to visit a friend in town. She drove her dad’s convertible, top down, with the tree riding shotgun. Wish I’d thought to take a picture.



P-o-z-y-n-y-i spells Xmas.

As the years go by I get more and more Scrooged-up about the holidays. This season my mood has been especially glum. The weather is just too darned warm for December. If I wanted warm I’d head to Florida.

But I’m not a warm lover. I need snow and cold and fireplace aglow. If I were to light my fire now, I’d have to sit outside and enjoy it through the window.

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S-n-o-w spells happy on our tree, ’cause when mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.

Yesterday though, the tiniest scintilla of spirit crept in when I tackled the traditional Hungarian pastry I learned to make when I was pregnant with my youngest, Leslie. Fifty-two years — with three lapses — I’ve been doing this.

As I shoveled the four cups of flour onto my big board, I thought how much it looked like snow, softly drifting. And as I proofed the yeast that had passed its sell-by date seven years ago, I marveled at the miracle that it was still active. In fact, that dough didn’t double in size, it tripled.

The smell of the yeast, the whiff of vanilla, the mysterious face that loomed out of my yet-to-be-mixed raisin filling, evoked the scent of happy holidays remembered…happily.




Christmas comes once a year: October to December 25!

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I hate to admit that I’m just not into Christmas anymore. I took heart this year when a few major retailers decided against staying open on Thanksgiving. And, too, Black Friday was a bit of a flop.  That’s reason enough for Scrooges like me to celebrate. The last few years I’ve dragged my chains about decorating for Christmas. I’ve always […]

Please, ease into Christmas.

A week into November already — GAK! Don’t misunderstand, I love the gray lady month wrapped in fog and wind. Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is just around the corner. Brilliant orange bittersweet drapes branches and fenceposts. Pumpkins’ smiles have drooped a bit, but they still brighten rainy days.


Sweet, the bittersweet.

But, wait, where are all the golds, oranges, rusts, and browns of autumn in the stores? Chocolate kisses, snugged in red, green and silverScreen Shot 2015-11-09 at 9.32.13 AM foil fill, shelves where just last week, Halloween colors reigned. Sparkly Christmas garlands drape the aisles and already carols pierce the airwaves. Humbug.

Too soon, too soon.

Come September’s end, I sidle into fall. I get out my earth-toned napkins, find my fabric pumpkins, lay in a supply of Reese’s cups for Halloween, and collect pretty leaves to iron between wax paper. I display my special Halloween books too — A Small Book of Grave Humour, Fritz Spiegl, Haunted England, Terrence Whitaker, and Ghosts in Residence, H.A. von Behr.

Then, BOO, gone. September. October. POOF, as if a ghostly hand ripped November out of the year. Our unique American holiday becomes a footnote, passed over like cold mashed potatoes and congealed gravy. Retailers gear up for Christmas weeks before turkey and cranberries are on the shopping list.


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Centerpiece waits for Christmas.

Last year I prolonged my favorite holiday by updating my autumn centerpiece with little silver balls and fluttering icicles to meld November into December gently. I’ll do it again this year…after Thanksgiving.



©Ryan Owen’s Autumn & Hershey Kisses

Oh-h say can you see?


IMG_0551Thank goodness my morning walks often inspire ideas for my blog posts, and, thank goodness, this morning was no exception once I spotted fog blanketing the turf grass research fields.  The Fourths of July in my memory are steamy and blindingly sunny. Today, not so much.

Even though posting new blogs is at the writer’s whim, I pile guilt upon myself when I don’t give equal time to both my sites. June was Alzheimer’s Awareness month and with Father’s Day thrown in, I concentrated on “Dementia isn’t funny.” The heap of guilt on my shoulders resembles the shoulder pads 1940’s movie stars sported.

But as I walked, I thought, ah, July 4 and it’s not blazingly, meltingly hot. An idea blossomed. I looked at my garden when I got home and realized how striking the colors are by dawn’s early light. While I took these photos, the sun was a flashlight — on, off, on, off — but it was the gentle mist that made the colors glow.


July Fourth brings memories of  homemade strawberry ice cream, parades, blueberry pie, my dad’s birthday, and always, the stars and stripes forever.


Plumbago’s brilliant blue, white daisies and a tiny flag brighten my desk.




Another memorable weekend.

Mountain Laurel was in full bloom — exquisite!

Decoration Day, as designated in 1868, was the original name of what we now call Memorial Day. The original date, unchanged for 103 years, was May 30. In 1971, the National Holiday Act moved the date to the last Monday in May to ensure a three-day Federal holiday. I’ve groused about it ever since.

I remember the days when I swooped high in my rope swing over the bed of purple “flags” — iris — mom grew at the bottom of our back yard. The days when the marching band pounded up Main Street, while bicycles fluttered by, cards attached to their spokes with clothespins. Days when dad fried “hamburgs,” as he called them, on the old river stone fireplace in the back yard, and when Great Aunt Daisy entertained us when she tried to eat corn-on-the-cob with her loose dentures.

This year’s Memorial Day was memorable, too.

I confess, I didn’t think of the significance of the actual date until we arrived home that evening. This year, the last Monday fell on May 25, precisely forty-one years after the Memorial Day of our very first date, Peter’s and mine.

We spent that day in the woods, too, at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley, hiking unaware towards a flock of wild turkeys who scared us into the next county. This year we were in the woods too, but on the southeast side of the Blue Ridge, at daughter Leslie and son-in-law Martin’s little cabin.


Lettuce awaits the salad bowl.

The weather was absolute perfection. Dense thickets of Mountain Laurel filled the woods, Fire Pink lurked amongst the ferns, while Spiderwort and Dames Rocket purpled the undergrowth. We helped weed the vegetable garden, ate the first of the lettuce and the last of the rhubarb. Even weeding is fun when soft warm breezes brush by.

We sat on the deck in the glow of a sunset, on the front porch to swing in the early mornings, and on the screened porch to eat our meals and listen to the river below.

The very best part of the weekend came when we arrived home. “Thank you,” Peter said.

I looked at him, surprised. “What for?” I asked.

“For driving me there — wish I could still drive. But it was a nice weekend. Couldn’t have asked for better weather,” he said.


Become! Believe!

This is a post from last year when I was laden with humbuggedness. Scrooge, actually moved over!
But then I discovered the movie “Becoming Santa” and my spirit was renewed.
Mother Nature isn’t promising snow for southwest Virginia again this holiday season, 
and the weather, to my mind, is frightful — rainy, gray, almost balmy.
So it’s time to watch my new favorite Christmas movie again…tonight!

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As I sat down to try to write a jolly Christmas post yesterday, there was a huge swath of snow and blustery weather swooping across the middle of the country and up into Canada. That stretch of North America has looked a lot like Christmas for several weeks already.

Here? Well, I had the windows open and my fa lala was more off key than ever.  But, within the hour daugher Carolynn and  husband Bill arrived from the little village in upstate New York where we’d lived for seventeen years, me ever glorying in the deep, cold, snowy white winters, husband Peter, not so much.

In the previous post, “Deck my halls, please,” I groaned and humbugged about my severely diminished, ghostly spirit this year.  But more than an hour past my bedtime on the shortest day of the year, if I could have gotten onto our rooftop I would have shouted, “I FOUND IT!  IT’S BA-A-ACK!”

We’d all just watched a wonderful Christmas movie.  Believe me when I say it’s better than any version of Dicken’s “Christmas carol,” “It’s a wonderful life,” “Love, actually,” “Christmas Story,” “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer” or any other holiday movie you can name.

“Becoming Santa” (2011), is destined to become a classic, mark my words.  I found it buried deep in the “Documentary” heading on Netflix, but a quick search on-line showed that it’s available on iTunes and Amazon as well.  Treat yourself, stop what you’re doing, watch it now!

Writer/actor/star, Jack Sanderson, is a young man — mid-forties is young to me — who lost his Christmas spirit after his mother died a few years ago.  She was an enthusiastic Christmas-lover, so her death, followed not long after by his father’s passing, threw Jack into a tailspin. Then, he was inspired by a photo he’d never seen of his father playing Santa for neighborhood children.

He decides to become a Santa too, to give back, in other words.  He has his hair and beard professionally bleached and styled, gets fitted for a suit and goes to Santa school,  a film crew in tow to record the experience.

This movie has everything — laughs, sweet tears, adorable children, inspiration, dedication, hope.  What “Becoming Santa” does not have is violence, mayhem, war or foul language,  I could’ve watched it right through again, it was that good.

Jack seems determined to become Santa, but occasionally he expresses doubts.  He goes to Santa school to learn the basics — always say “children” instead of “kids,” for instance, and always “Ho, ho, ho,” never just one “ho” nor more than three.

You wonder as he wanders, musing, reflecting. Will he last, or won’t he?

There’s a lot more to the film than Jack’s own quest — Santa experts, historians, professional Santas weigh in as well. Two common threads tie it into a beautiful package: a genuine love for children and an understanding of how important Santa is to them. The “sneak and peak” segment near the end is tear-inducing, but in a good way.

This morning I’m revitalized, imbued with spirit and holiday glee.  All I need now is seasonal — make that North Pole-like — weather.

Carolynn hadn’t packed a snowball in the large cooler Bill lugged inside yesterday, but it was filled with all-important special ham and Polish sausages.  She did bring a big carton containing dozens of special cookies, and the astounding surprise of homemade peppermint marshmallows her friend Robin sent along for us.

Believe, believe!


Over the river and through the woods.

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The kitchen window at the little house in the woods frames this scene.


Screen shot 2014-11-22 at 4.50.20 PMMy very favorite holiday is just five days away. This year Carolynn and Bill will be with us and we’re all going to celebrate in Leslie and Martin’s little house tucked in the woods above a burbling river and within sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


It’s mind-boggling to move a feast to a remote site where there’s no easy access to a grocery to get whatever has been left behind. That’s my excuse anyway, and my only duty is pumpkin pies. The brunt of the work has fallen on Leslie, and Carolynn is making the apple pies this year.

But I’ve run out of time, so instead of a new post, here’s a chapter from my second book, That’s all she wrote (2007). 

 ~ Thanksgiving’s just around the corner ~

The first of hundreds of Christmas catalogs begin to arrive just after July 4 and back-to-school displays appear in stores by mid-month. By the time the long Labor Day weekend approaches Halloween displays are in place. This past year, two days before New Year’s, I saw a suspect bright green display at the end of a store aisle and yes it was St. Patrick’s Day merchandise. I asked the clerk why so early and she said, “Oh, this is nothing. At the end of the next aisle we’re doing the Easter display … and Valentine’s have been in for a week!” She was as dismayed as I was.

What is with this season rushing? Why can’t we live in the moment, enjoy the now, take time to smell summer’s roses before we start worrying about mulching them for winter?

I hate to rush the season, any season, but I admit I’m always in a rush towards autumn, a rush to be rid of hot weather, summer and light-colored clothes. I like to be inside, snug and cozy, enjoying summer’s bounty, making pies, quick breads, pickles. I look forward to wearing rich autumn colors, wools, and tweeds. I can’t wait for the leaves to turn so I can emote over the brilliant colors. I’m always anxious for the leaves to start falling because second only to shoveling snow is my passion for raking leaves. I savor Thanksgiving’s approach. …

Thanksgiving … time for pumpkin and squash, gourds and bittersweet, bronze and yellow mums. I always eagerly awaited the first crisp day when Carolynn and I would trek to Hinman’s farm market for autumn’s bounty. But things change. Hinman’s is no longer there, nor are we for that matter. I used to have to skulk off to my secret spot in the park to get my autumnal cascade of bittersweet; now I’m spoiled for choice because bittersweet overruns the woods here.

I do have to admit that there were several years before we moved when Peter and I started thinking Christmas as early as August. That’s when a huge outdoor antique show and sale took place near us. It was a great source for presents, potential presents that is. I’ve always been the “idea” person, so I’d have to start early unearthing treasures for Peter to refurbish in time for Christmas giving. He made my ideas realities. Part of the fun was seeing an old, derelict something-or-other come to life under his skilled hands.

So, as much as I hate the rushing of the seasons, I’ve been guilty too.

One November I clipped one of Ralph Dunagin and Dana Summers’ “The Middletons” cartoons that said it all as far: The couple strolls past a department store decorated for Christmas. Christmas Sale! signs are plastered across the display windows and a Salvation Army Santa stands by the door ringing his bell. Mr. Middleton says to his wife, “Wow! Thanksgiving must be just around the corner.”

The … year … I clipped that cartoon — we were still living up north — it was … another two weeks to Thanksgiving and I was doing my weekly grocery shopping. “Frosty the Snowman” blared on the sound system, but the foot of new snow outside probably justified that. However, when a bona fide Christmas carol started to play I was suspicious.

Then I noticed the deli section was encased in a cardboard candy house igloo, the butchers were hanging fake garland, and Christmas hams were on sale in the big meat case down the center of the area. “Wait a minute,” I yelled. “What happened to Thanksgiving? Where’s the turkey?”

My “bah humbug” was loud and clear as I finished filling my cart and strode out of sight. I was already planning the letter I was going to write, a letter that would not be addressed to Santa Claus.

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