Our Christmas wish for you

The house is decorated for Christmas. Red and white poinsettias brighten the corners of the rooms, and a forest of small trees has magically sprung up throughout the house, decorated in tiny ornaments of glass and wood and ceramic. The top of the Mission oak cabinet is a playground for antique toys and collectible teddy bears. The cats are mesmerized by twinkling lights and shiny glass ornaments. The wood box is full, and the cold weather means we can enjoy a fire every evening. The house is filled with the sights and smells of the holiday season.

The riot of fall color, one of the best I can remember, is now a river of leaves on the trails and in my pastures. The gardens are sleeping. The cats spend most of their time in front of the woodstove (and so do we). The short days give us more time to spend together at home, instead of always busy with outside projects & chores.

For me, Christmas is a time to reflect, to think, to dream. A time to give thanks for all that's good in life. To think of friends, past and present, who helped make us the people we are today. To embrace our family, and remember family who are no longer with us. To spend time with the people we love, because life's short and those moments are priceless.

Dave & I wish you the best that life has to offer. We hope that 2011 was a spectacular year for you, and that 2012 will be even better.


All you need is one...

We've been talking about having a Cab Franc tasting and Italian feast with our good friends, Jim & Julie. Since we're all off for an extended holiday over Christmas and New Year's, that seemed like the perfect time. But before we knew it, our schedules got booked up. Always happens! But we did manage to find two days in common, and before they vanished like the rest, we snapped up January 1st for a gathering at the farm. Julie apologized for the suddenly full schedule and lack of free days, but I told her "No worries… all we need is one."

It will be a seriously fun evening of good red wine, lasagne, and sourdough bread with 25-year-old Balsamic vinegar and Italian olive oil for dipping. And a chocolate something for dessert... chocolate is required with red wine.

Stay tuned for our tasting notes in the new year.


The best Christmas card… ever

Val’s latest watercolor is of the ice skating party Dave & I held at Pennylane Farm in February 1989. She and Tom used it for their Christmas cards this year, and when I opened it up and saw the figures skating on the pond, I almost burst into tears. Val took all the different photos from that day, and combined them into one painting. All the figures are so recognizable... Dave with Storm, and me in my dad's long green sweater and jeans, Val pulling Tiffany on a sled, and Sarah standing with Tom, who is wearing his favorite captain's hat. Grandma Ruth in her fur coat is sitting by the campfire, on the rustic bench that Dave built just that morning. It’s a wonderful painting, with unmistakable Valerie style. The card is proudly displayed in the house, and once the holidays are over, I'll cut a mat & frame it. We're looking forward to seeing the full-size painting.

This skating party was one of the best times we've ever had at the farm. And to give a bit of perspective (and history) behind the painting, here's what I wrote in my journal back in 1989:

February 2
Today the weather was so bad all the schools, including Green River, were closed. So I was at home. I kept looking out the windows, thinking how unbelievable the weather was. Windy, snowy, cold—the temperature, with wind chill factored in, went as low as -25°. I went out as little as I could get away with. I checked on the dog and horses every few hours, brought in firewood, and tried to keep the house warm. I had to chop a hole in the ice at the shallow end of the pond so the horses could get water. The ice where I chopped through was more than an inch thick; I wonder how the large pond is doing?

February 4
It was 4° when we got up. This is the coldest it's been seen since we moved home from the Tri-Cities in 1984. Green River is still closed, the third day in a row. Mid morning, Dave went down to check the pond to see if it’s thick enough to skate on. He took his skates with him, and a rope that he tied to the little tree on the shore, just in case. I took pictures from the house; it’s cold out there!

February 5
It stayed cold and clear overnight, and first thing this morning, Dave took Stormy and a broom down to the pond, swept off the ice, then played with the dog. Storm would have been a great sled dog; he had no trouble pulling Dave back and forth across the pond. I took my turn on skates, using the broom for balance until I got my skating legs back. Then I went to the house and called our families. Everyone is coming, except for Martin (other plans), and Laurie & Bob (they have 12 little boys coming to their house for a birthday party). Tom and Val and their girls came all the way from Whidbey Island. 

I chose a simple menu for dinner: homemade soup (my favorite beef barley vegetable, and clam chowder), plenty of sourdough bread, green salad, and lots of Cabernet Sauvignon. While I got the soup started, Dave fired up the tractor and loaded the bucket with firewood, boards for a bench, and lawn chairs. He started a campfire down by the pond, built a long bench, and set up chairs. While he did that, I picked up Dave's grandmother and mother, and brought them back to the farm. Everyone else arrived not long after.

Sometime the spur of the moment gatherings are the most fun! It was cold, but the sun was out and we skated all afternoon. We don’t have enough skates for everyone, so we took turns. In the afternoon I skated in a turtleneck and sweater, but as soon as it got dark I needed my down coat, down mittens, and a wool hat. After dinner we skated by firelight and a couple of strategically placed Coleman lanterns, and watched the stars.


Christmas memories... wrapping presents

My dad was a master of secrecy where gifts were concerned. We were always told which closets were off limits for the duration—between purchase and wrapping, which could be the entire month!
Dad loved to wrap gifts, and he was a perfectionist. Raw edges were folded before taped, corners were square, every crease was pressed down to lay flat (I learned this from him, something my husband complains about to this day. He overtightens every single screw and bolt he handles, and I over-crease paper. Both faults to forgive, but that's another blog).

Best of all, though, were the bows. His were made by hand, none of those stick-on bows for this man. He bought cloth ribbon especially made for gift wrapping, gathered wraps of ribbon in his hand, snipped the centers, tied them with narrow ribbon, then pulled the loops out, one at a time, toward the middle, with a twist to keep them in place. He taught me this skill, too… came in handy for all those Girl Scout holiday fundraisers.

My dad was a bit of a tease, too. Every day after school, we'd run home and check under the tree. Sometimes there was a package from an aunt or uncle, and we'd get to open the box together and lay out the brightly wrapped packages under the tree. Sometimes there were new packages from Mom & Dad. But often (way too often for us), the packages would be completely anonymous.

One memorable year, every single present under the tree was without a tag. Mom and Dad must have gotten a good laugh out of the sight of their three girls, lying down under the tree, inspecting the packages and trying to figure out who they were intended for. I remember that we tried all sorts of schemes to try and figure it out. Finally we sorted things into piles by package size, and if there were three, we were pretty sure one was for each of us.

Sorting presents was another favorite pastime for us. The packages were as carefully arranged under the tree, as the ornaments were arranged from the branches. We'd sort them by color.. red and green and white and silver, each in their own carefully arranged pile. We sort them by the name on the tag… one pile of presents for Kathie, one for Laurie, one for me. Then we'd mix them all up and start over.

One year, a few days before Christmas, I snuck out to the living room in the dead of night and opened up every single one of my presents. I did, I really did. I was consumed with the need to know, but to this day I wish I hadn't done it, because it spoiled the magic of opening gifts on Christmas morning.


Arctic cold

At noon, I walked 1.4 miles in the brr-r-r cold.  They weren’t kidding when they said that we’d get a return of the arctic air this week: another 26° morning. I checked weather.com; it’s supposed to stay cold and sunny the rest of the week, not reaching much more than 41° during the day. Sunday will start an even colder trend, with chance of snow showers on Sunday, and 5-8° temp spread between day & night temps. As long as it stays sunny, that’s fine with me. I can still walk during the day, and keep wearing my favorite sweaters!


Memories of Christmas trees

One of my strongest childhood memories about the Christmas season is picking out the perfect tree. I know that everyone does this. You visit several lots, hold up and inspect a multitude of trees, inspecting it from all sides to make sure it's "the one." But finding the perfect tree was a really big deal in our house. It had to be an Alpine or Noble fir. Their narrow build was perfect for the space in our living room, in front of the wall of windows that soared from floor to the highest beam. And it could be as tall as it wanted: our vaulted ceilings would take a 20 foot tree (but we never found one that tall).

As important as the Christmas tree was, it seemed hard to get out there and find the tree early in December. Every year there was some reason or another to wait until the last minute (or maybe we were just a family of procrastinators). I remember one memorable year when I was in high school, when my dad & I went out on Christmas Eve to pick out a tree. There weren't many to choose from, but we finally found a Noble that fit the bill… and we liked it in spite of the crooked trunk. Not just a bend or a wow. The entire trunk had so many angles, it was as if the tree couldn't decide which way was up, and kept changing directions as it grew. But the tree stood straight and proud in the stand, and for years my Mom remembered that tree as one of her favorites.

Decorating the tree was an all-day task. While the tree soaked in a bucket of water, Dad would get out the boxes of ornaments and strands of lights from the storeroom off the living room. While we kids untangled the box of wire ornament hangers, Dad would untangle the strands of lights and test them to make sure all the bulbs worked. He never put them away with a burned-out bulb, and always grumbled when he found dead bulbs the next year. It was one of life's mysteries that we never figured out. So he'd send us off to search for the box of spare bulbs, and eventually find it buried in a box of ornaments.

Once the lights were untangled and connected together, he'd start to string them, starting at the top of the tree and working his way to the end. He had his own particular style: lots of lights, so every branch would twinkle, and never ever drape the wires where you could see them. So it took a couple of hours to light up the tree. While he strung lights, Mom would keep us busy decorating sugar cookies at the dining room table, a plan designed to keep three little girls out from under my dad's feet.

Then finally, it was our turn. We got out all the boxes of ornaments, spread them out on the floor, and unwrapped the special ornaments from cocoons of tissue paper or kleenex. These were set carefully out of harm's way, and each was ooohed and aaahed over as they were unwrapped. The striped bells. The fuzzy Santa Clauses with bendable legs that wrapped around a branch. The small painted china bells. The spun glass angel and St. Nick, that went at the top of the tree. The burgundy and silver mushrooms. The clear snowflakes, decorated with bits of gold glitter placed by tiny hands. And all the ornaments that my dad made: balls covered with spun threads, decorated with ribbon and lace and sequins, each one different.

We hung all the favorites first. Everything that was special for some reason went on the tree first, and was carefully placed, scrutinized, and adjusted until it was perfect. Then we filled in with colored glass balls, so the tree sparkled and glowed with rich colors.

Each year my sisters & I claimed one branch as our own, and got to decorate the whole branch. There were always minor squabbles over who got to have what special ornaments for "their branch." My theme was different each year. One year I brought out my tiny horse collection, and turned the branch into Santa's stable.

I can still remember lying on my back next to my sisters, and looking up through the branches at the ornaments that turned a tree into a beautiful expression of one family's love of Christmas. The memories of decorating those long-ago trees with my sisters, my mom and dad, are ones I will always cherish.


Hoar frost

Dave was up by 6:30; I fell back asleep and didn’t get up until nearly 8:00. I drifted in and out, heard the sound of the door on the woodstove as he loaded the firebox with wood. And later, the smell of fresh brewed coffee when it drifted down the hall from the kitchen. That’s when I stretched one last time, and rolled out of bed. I shrugged into sweats and a t-shirt, padded out to the kitchen for a mug, then settled down in my chair by the fire.

Dave asked what my plans were for the day; I didn’t really have anything (except for a walk on the trail, if it ever warms up). When I asked him, he said, “Let’s do something fun!” But we ended up not leaving the house all day. It’s cold again, with hard frost making the pastures and trees white. Beautiful. I was curious about the root for this word, so looked it up.

Hoar frost refers to the white ice crystals, loosely deposited on the ground or exposed objects, that form on cold clear nights when heat losses into the open skies cause objects to become colder than the surrounding air. The name “hoar” comes from the Old English, and means a sign of old age: the frost makes trees and bushes look like elderly white hair.


First of December

And here we are… the first day of the last month of the eleventh year of this century. It’s Greg’s birthday. The first significant drop in gas prices this year: 10¢ overnight. The first visible signs of frost on the roads. The second coldest day @ 29°. And only 12 more work days this year.