Mad for Plaid

I have only a wee bit of Scottish blood, on my mother’s side, but I still find myself drawn to tartans, especially this time of year. 
tartanware1From time to time, I happen upon some fine examples of tartanware on ebay as well as in a nearby antiques shop.  These napkin rings would be just the thing to begin a serious collection of  Scottish tartanware.  Made in the town of Mauchline in southwest Scotland, tartanware is made from the wood of the plane tree, known as the Sycamore here in the United States.  Originally, the tartans were hand-painted on the wood, a time-consuming and expensive process.   Two brothers, William and Andrew Smith, are credited with inventing the machine that was able to reproduce and ink the country’s beloved tartans onto paper.  The paper was then carefully glued onto small wooden household objects, including napkin rings, sewing kits, letter openers and knife sheaths, as well as snuff and card boxes. 

The paper seams were disguised with black paint, and then the entire item was coated with multiple layers of hand-applied shellac, creating a rich patina.  Tartanware was produced in this fashion from the early 1840s until 1933, when the equipment, and subsequently the manufacturing business, was destroyed in a devastating fire.
Although, my fondness for plaid does seem to grow this time of year, as you can see from the photo below, I like tartan well enough year round to have a family room wing chair upholstered in a cheerful Ralph Lauren plaid.IMG_2675
Last year I looked and looked for some good-looking plaid wrapping paper, but to no avail.  All I could find seemed either to have a metallic edge or to be overly red and green, kind of like the paper was trying too hard.  (And, yes, as I write this, I realize how ridiculous it is that I could even bother about such details.)  Nevertheless, this year, as I was wending my way through Target, I came upon this red wrap, which has a lovely muted plaid.  The paper itself is thin, but the rolls are large as well as wide. IMG_2768In a moment of inspiration, I used the paper to cover my Christmas binder, the notebook in which I store decorating ideas, holiday recipes, and so forth.   Looking quite festive, I think! IMG_2773And, although I’ve had them for years, I’ll be sure to don my plaid cheaters for reading Christmas novels and holiday cards.IMG_2772My last dash of plaid this season are these well-loved dinner napkins.  I’m afraid they’re no longer up-to-snuff for company, but we use them for casual family and friends suppers all season long.  Despite their being a bit care-worn around the edges, these napkins are wonderfully soft, and they make an ordinary dinner seem somehow festive.  Surprisingly, they look great with my old Blue Willow English dishware!
If you are still yearning for tartan—or perhaps for the occasion to wear it (um, yes, I have these shoes, too)--then be sure to check out Tartans & Tidings at The Entertaining House

It looks like a terrific  holiday event for  those in the MidAtlantic as well as a great fund-raiser for disadvantaged children in Baltimore.
So, tell me, does the holiday season make you mad for plaid?

How Lovely Are Thy Branches!

When the Mister and I had been dating for a while and things seemed pretty serious, I decided to ask him gently about some of his former girlfriends.  I was particularly curious as to why he hadn’t continued seeing one young woman, who was quite beautiful.  His reply was  “Oh, I could never be serious about her.  She didn’t like Christmas!”  IMG_2763Years later, I wonder if any other man loves Christmas as much as my husband—his enthusiasm is just shy of that of Buddy the Elf’s.  In fact, it probably surpasses it when you take into account that Buddy’s zeal was focused on the North Pole and Santa while the Mister’s is centered on the birth of Christ and encompasses almost every detail of this season of celebration.   Even so, we’re kind of picky about our holiday traditions, being firm believers that Thanksgiving should get its due.  And we do our best to honor Advent and its deliberate and thoughtful traditions.  IMG_2726 In years past, we’ve set aside the first Saturday in December to get our Christmas tree.   We would bring it home, put it in a bucket of water, and usually have it in the house ready for decorating by the following Saturday.  But when a child goes to college, family traditions have to be adjusted, and so today we made the trip to Cedar Mountain, North Carolina, to cut a Frasier fir.  IMG_2722 - Copy Our favorite tree farm is a very small, family run operation.IMG_2723 - Copy    A yellow bow saw is provided.    IMG_2737As is a measuring stick, marked up to nine feet.IMG_2724 - CopyIt’s a pretty secluded place.IMG_2728 - CopyThere’s no piped-in Christmas music, and Santa Claus is nowhere to be seen, but Lovely and Little are still on their best behavior.  IMG_2743Trimmings are free for the taking, rather than bundled up and sold.   IMG_2751Once you have made your selection, just carry it to the cashier,  who is one of the owner’s granddaughters.   IMG_2754The owner’s son will measure it and then net it for you.  IMG_2753 At only $7 per foot, it’s easy to see why five trees seems reasonable to the buyer of these fragrant beauties!IMG_2758Big makes sure the tree is ready for the hour-long ride down the mountain.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
Thou bidst us true and faithful be,
And trust in God unchangingly.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!"

What are your Christmas tree traditions?

Happy Thanksgiving

Our table is ready, and the feast is coming along rather well, too.
I decided to go with the more formal table because I want our children to remember a lovely table and to know that there is joy in showing hospitality to others.  The flowers are from Costco, rearranged by me. (I really  need to take a class in this.)
Other than turkey, the T&C house has three traditional dishes that must be served.  They are Cornbread Dressing with Sausage and Pecans; Sweet Potato SoufflĂ©; and Nannie’s Corn Pudding.  And although I love making cranberry sauce from real cranberries, the Mister and the boys insist on sauce from a can.  I used to make both, but, honestly, I have given up trying to convert them.  There are worse things than canned cranberry sauce.  I do, however, refuse to serve it as a cylinder to be sliced.  Nevertheless, my little darlings led by the Mister, usually buy their own can and open it on the sly, and then pass the offensive condiment in its wiggling, shimmering glory.   I like to try other vegetables and side dishes from time to time.  Everyone always likes macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes.  This year’s menu includes Sweet Vinegar Green Beans and Roasted Brussels Sprouts.  Yeast rolls complete the main course.  I have a wonderful, time-consuming recipe, so this year Sister Schubert has made our rolls.  What a doll.IMG_2719
Finally, for dessert we have two pies.  One is my all-time stand-by Chocolate Pecan Pie, which is lick-your-plate good.  (We don’t, of course, actually lick our plates.)  The other is Sweet Potato Buttermilk Pie, which is from the Lee Brothers’ cookbook.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends—and all your favorite dishes, too.  I am so grateful to you for reading and for commenting.  You inspire me everyday.
Happy Thanksgiving!

A Moment to Reflect

If each year is a rollercoaster with ear-popping climbs and careening twists and turns, then surely Thanksgiving Day is the peak, the crest before the final thrilling drop, the rush to the end of the year where as the cart lurches to a halt one must smooth her hair and gather her bag and depart with some sense of decorum.   And so.  As our cart teeters at the top, tipping slightly forward, into the holiday season, I for one, would like to breathe.  For at this moment, I don’t know if I will be clutching the safety bar, white-knuckled and holding on for dear life or if I will be holding my arms up and screaming with delight.  Of course, I’m hoping for the latter.
So to breathe.  To be grateful.  To count my blessings, which are, truthfully, too many to count.  And to remember.
It was faith, courage, and bravery that brought us to the first Thanksgiving.
IMG_2710The first Thanksgiving came after leaving home, after suffering, after sickness, after grief.
IMG_2712The celebration came after hard work, after toil, after struggle, after compromise.
IMG_2713 And still after such hardship and loss, people gave thanks and were grateful to God not so much because the worst was over, but because—in their faith, they knew the best was still to come.

The above images were taken from N. C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims.  Wyeth, father of Andrew Wyeth and grandfather of Jamie Wyeth, was renowned for his illustrations of such children’s classics as Treasure Island and The Last of the Mohicans.  These images were commissioned for a series of murals by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in 1940.
Another book that tells the story of the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving is Barbara Rainey’s A Thanksgiving to Remember.  This publication includes the story of the Pilgrims in a read-aloud version for younger children as well as a more detailed version for older children and adults.
IMG_2705 For a delightful Thanksgiving tale set in the 1820s, Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-fashioned Thanksgiving is a marvelous story that gives a glimpse into a loving New England family.IMG_2709
Lastly, for older children and adults, Truman Capote’s The Thanksgiving Visitor is a poignant story not to be missed.
                   The Thanksgiving Visitor

I hope you find a moment to breathe a prayer, to read and to ponder, to sit at the top of the roller coaster and appreciate the view.

Made for Walking

I’ve been thinking about buying some new boots this season.

The classic LLBean duck boot comes to mind first.  Oh, I know it’s not fashion forward, and I have no plans to go duck hunting.  It’s just that I owned a pair for forever—all through college and young adult life, and then when I moved to Florida I got rid of them.  Mistake.  I would seriously only need footwear like this half a dozen times a year, so I guess it’s nostalgia that makes me crave a pair.  I tell myself that I would wear them to walk the dog through the woods.  And to pick out the Christmas tree.  After all, I have the khakis, the ragg socks, the Norweigan sweater, the plaid Pendleton scarf, and the field coat, for heaven’s sake!

I also already have a pair of riding boots, but they’re a bit low on the calf, and they are starting to bag around my ankles.  These beauts are from Ralph Lauren, and I think they’re awfully handsome.  Of course, they’re available in black, too, which makes for a difficult choice. 

ralph lauren riding boot

What about over-the-knee boots and booties? Um, no, that’s not really my style, but these Tony Lama boots for gals?   Well, Howdy Pard’ner.   

Aw, shucks.  Y’all know I’m not springing for these, but a gal can dream. 

I suppose I’m dealing with a midlife boot crisis.

As it turns out, however, I do get to buy some new boots.  Rather, a new boot, as in one, single boot.  Total up the dreamy pairs above, but write the check for one of these state-of-the-art pneumatic walking boots, and a complimentary fitting, of course.


Yes, Middle broke his foot, practicing lacrosse.  Not to worry, though, because as the Doc said, “He’s going to heal just fine.  His growth plates haven’t even begun to close.” Pause.

Doc:  “What size shoe do you wear, young man?”

Middle: “Um, fourteen.”

Doc: “And, you’re 15?”

Middle: “Yessir.”

Doc (to me): “Wow.  Gonna need a lot of groceries, Mom.”

Me: “Right. Thanks.”

So.  Maybe I will buy some new boots

—you know, just for kicks.

Gladsome Tidings

My perfect Thanksgiving night looks something like this:  We are all full of home-cooked goodness, and the kitchen is sparkling once again.  We’ve entertained some guests, but now as the purple  darkness fills our windows, it is just us.  The fire is humming, and the Mister pops in the dvd of Miracle on 34th Street—the original with Edmund Gwenn and Maureen O’Hara.  Big, Middle, and Little are all lounging about in front of the fireplace while the Mister and I curl up on the sofa.  At my feet sits a basket of Christmas cards to address as I watch this holiday classic.  Oh yes, it’s tempting to nod off—especially after all that soporific turkey and dressing, but it’s so much more rewarding to finish this gentle task and look forward to a mailbox full of Christmas cards in the coming weeks.

We so enjoy receiving cards each year.  I know it's an expensive endeavor--postage alone is costly.  But still, even in the world of social networking and emails, I think it's a tradition worth keeping.  For the past two years I’ve ordered our Christmas cards online from Shutterfly, and I’ve been extremely pleased with both the quality and the service.  And after looking around at a few other online sites, I have to say that I think the prices on the stationery are extremely reasonable. 
A good friend took the photo we're using this year, and the Mister and I had a lot of fun selecting our card.  Shutterfly offers a lot of choices, but, happily, you can narrow them by color, by designer, by number of photos you’d like to use, and so on.  We first considered this one, called Holly Peppermint. It’s traditional but graphic and fun, I thought.
Also in the running was this tartan card.  Of course, I love tartan (more about that later!), and I thought this one, named Vintage Plaid,  looked great with a casual black and white photo.

The Mister suggested that we choose a card in which our photo bled off the page.  How daring!  (Well, for me, at least—I do tend toward the traditional.)  We were pretty taken with this one, called simply Merry Xmas 2010.

And then we both saw this lovely number, called Bright Merry Cheer.  We imported our picture, and a couple of clicks later, we had found our holiday photo card for 2010!  One of my favorite features of Shutterfly is that you can completely compose your own message for the inside of the card.  Many designs even allow you to include additional photos, something we’re considering for the top half of our card.  Our message reads:
May your days be merry and bright
with the Light of the love of the Savior!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
image I’m so excited to have our cards ready to go, and if all goes according to plan, I’ll be nestled in with pen and stamps on Thanksgiving night.
If you send holiday cards, be sure to address a few to:
Holiday Mail for Heroes
PO Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD
Pitney-Bowes and the American Red Cross have once again combined efforts to send holiday cards to American service men and women and their families as well as to veterans all over the world.   Cards must be postmarked no later than December 10th, to ensure timely delivery.
Holiday Mail for Heroes
Finally, I am thrilled to tell you that Shutterfly is providing me with a coupon code for 50 free holiday cards this year!  If you are a blogger and are interested in receiving free cards from Shutterfly, click here.
And I hope your mailbox is chock full of gladsome tidings this season!

Salad Days

The chilly days of autumn are the perfect time to enjoy delicious soups and stews and chowders, but a warm salad can also be a tasty lunch or dinner.
It seems that once the weather turns, I am perpetually cold unless I’m standing in front of a crackling fire or warm oven, so the idea of a crisp, chilled salad leaves me, well, cold.  Hence, the Town and Country Mom Warm Vegetable Salad.
Pour approximately two tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet, and add chopped garlic, if desired.  Next, add your favorite red, yellow, and green vegetables, and saute until slightly carmelized.  I like to use red and yellow pepper strips, chopped red onion, and tiny baby carrots and broccoli florets.  Halved grape tomatoes would be great in this, as well.IMG_2670 While the vegetables are cooking, wash and dry your favorite mixed greens.  Place the desired amount of greens on a dinner or salad plate and sprinkle with a few crumbles of feta cheese.  Drizzle lightly with a vinegar-based dressing and top with the warm vegetables. IMG_2671 This makes a wonderful, healthful, and filling meal— that, I hope, will help offset the rich foods and treats that are just around the calendar corner!

Talking Turkey about the Table

The most the Mister and I have ever hosted for Thanksgiving is 23; this year looks to be between eight and 12, which still makes for a full table.  I’m fine tuning the menu, and I’m also considering the table.  The other night I decided to pull some things out and take some pictures, with the hope that you, dear readers, will offer your suggestions.

Usually, for Thanksgiving, I tend toward formal—the old Haviland china, the Hepplewhite sterling with a coin silver spoon for coffee, a white damask napkin in a sterling napkin ring, and—my favorite touch—a sterling nut dish with some sort of treat.  I’m not sure I’ll use M&Ms, it’s just what I had on hand for the photo.  Most likely I would set the table on a white damask cloth, and use the crystal, of course.  For flowers, I’m imagining silver cups with rust-colored chrysanthemums and a sprig of ivy, pine, or fern.  Ivory tapers would complete the table.
A casual place setting has its appeal, too, though.  I’d still use the sterling, but I could switch to a large and heavy pinecone plate (from Target) and a paisley print placemat.  The monogrammed linen napkins are always fun to use, too.  If I decide to set a casual table, I have a small collection of wooden candlesticks that I would use around an arrangement of mixed autumn flowers in a low wooden bowl.
One benefit of the casual arrangement is that we could use our Pilgrim salt and pepper shakers.  I bought these at Publix at least 10 years ago, shortly after the company introduced its adorable Thanksgiving commercial.  We love using them in the days leading up to Thanksgiving every year.
IMG_2665If you don’t have Publix grocery stores in your neck of the woods, or if you don’t remember this darling spot, by all means, click and watch.  I am sure it will make you smile.  It’s also a great way to teach your children to always pass the salt and pepper together—never separately!
So, what do you think, formal or casual?

The Reading Corner

I’m not quite sure when I fell in love with books.  Honestly, I can’t remember not loving them.  One of the first stories I recall poring over was P. D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother?  I loved having that book read to me, and quickly memorized it so that I could “read” it to myself.  Another favorite was A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Who could resist "I have a little shadow, who goes in and out with me”?

And how could I resist when the inspirational Jessica at  The Entertaining House tagged me to name 15 of my most influential authors!?  Of course, I couldn’t resist, and so began thinking of who I would name as not merely favorites but as influential.  I also began thinking of how blessed I am to have a husband and children who love to read as much as I do.  And thinking of that inspired me to retrieve some of my favorite pictures from last fall’s trip to New York, where one of our favorite adventures was finding some literary landmarks.IMG_0225
Madison Avenue at 93rd Street is the home of the Corner Bookstore, one of the shops that inspired the Shop Around the Corner in one of my favorite chick flicks You’ve Got Mail.  After lunch on Sunday, Big, Middle, and Little were eager to find something to read on the plane home.
Little is not a bit intimidated by the Mad Hatter of Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.IMG_0102 Meanwhile Middle and I cozy up to the White Rabbit.IMG_0103 Here, Middle pretends to shed a tear as Hans Christian Andersen reads The Ugly Duckling.  Middle first heard this story at nursery school, and he was absolutely traumatized by it.  Many nights, both at bedtime and in the middle of the night, the Mister and I had to comfort Middle and assure him that the Ugly Duckling did make new friends and that the ducks that were mean to him felt very, very sorry for leaving him behind.   IMG_0106  Little strikes a pose in front of the New York Public Library entrance on 36th Street.IMG_0122And, unbelievably but truly, an unposed moment in the Corner Bookstore, where everyone found something to read on the plane home.IMG_0224  And so, here’s my list of my fifteen most influential authors, some from childhood and some from later.  This list, by no means, represents the most intellectual books nor the most entertaining books I’ve ever read, but, rather the writers that have somehow inspired me or changed my thinking, beginning with childhood.
Robert McCloskeyMake Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine, Blueberries for Sal, Homer Price.  As a child, I loved his simple stories and his detailed illustrations.  Reading his books made me want to write as well as to draw.
Beverly Cleary.   Ramona the Pest, Henry Huggins, and all the rest.  Beverly Cleary showed me contemporary characters with familiar neighborhood and schoolhouse struggles.  Reading Mrs. Cleary’s books made me feel normal.
Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Little House books.  Lovely stories taught me to appreciate both the sacrifices that it took to settle our country as well as the simple pleasures of fiddle music in the firelight.
Louise Fitzhugh.   Harriet the Spy.  I must’ve read this book half a dozen times.  Fitzhugh’s writing made me want to keep a journal, be a spy, live in Manhattan, and eat tomato sandwiches. 
E. L. Konigsburg.   From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  Manhattan, again.  Art, again. And, how intoxicating to consider self-reliance as a child.
Catherine MarshallChristy.  My grandmother pretty much insisted I read this.  Marshall’s book opened my eyes to the opportunity of relying on one’s faith to give back to those in need.  For the first time, I saw teaching as a noble profession and not merely “a job  that mothers could have.”  I think I read this when I was 12 or so.
Margaret MitchellGone with the Wind.  Mitchell’s incredibly descriptive prose influenced me as much as her thoughtfully created characters.  I read this when I was 13 and first encountering “the Scarletts” in my own little junior high world.
Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird.  Harper Lee’s book taught me about honor.
Eudora WeltyDelta Wedding and others.  I spent a semester in college studying Welty, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and Katherine Anne Porter, but it was Welty’s unashamed pride of place and innate sense of waiting for the right word that, I hope, continue to influence me.
Mark Twain.  Huckleberry Finn.  I think I read this in seventh or eighth grade, and I know the lessons we were supposed to learn were about racism and class conflict, but what I most remember is how blessed I was to have caring parents.
William Strunk & E. B. WhiteElements of Style.  Occasionally criticized for rather inconsistent grammar advice, Strunk and White’s little manual of style continues to influence my thinking, and, I hope, my writing.                                          
Corrie Ten Boom. The Hiding Place.  When a young woman writes that she thanked God for the lice because it kept the officers out of the barracks in her German prison camp, well, let’s just say Corrie Ten Boom’s writing continues to influence me to keep things in perspective.
Alexandra Stoddard. Creating a Beautiful Home and others.  Minimally illustrated, Ms. Stoddard’s books have encouraged me to further develop both my love and discipline for decorating and design.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet her twice, and she is just as gracious and inspiring in person.
C. S. Lewis. A Grief Observed.  I read this book in the aftermath of a grave personal tragedy.  Lewis provided the words that enabled me to talk about my loss and begin the healing process.
Dr. Luke. The Gospel of Luke. The Acts of the Apostles.  The Bible, as you may know, includes many books—some of poetry, some of history, some of prophecy, but Luke, a man believed to have been a physician, wrote of Christ’s life and teaching in great detail.  He followed his Gospel with Acts, which chronicles the missionary Paul’s adventures and the growth of the early church.  It’s fascinating, life-changing, challenging reading. 
So, there you have it—15 authors who have influenced my life.  I would love to hear who yours are, so consider yourself tagged!
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