The Ghosts of Christmas Past

One good thing about a snow day in early December: being housebound, I got some serious indoor Christmas decorating done. That is, when I wasn’t looking out the window at the exquisite snow globe my backyard had become.snowy backyard

This year, I’m continuing the tradition of putting up two Christmas trees. One features a hodge-podge of ornaments: for example, crafts my young daughters made in kindergarten, Sunday School, Girl Scouts, wherever. The seven-year-old who cross-stitched this Santa stocking in 1985 is now forty years old. I wouldn’t trade these irregular stitches for the finest ornament sold.

crossstitch

I call this hodge-podge tree my memory tree. My Grandma Hinton, who’s been gone for more than thirty years now, made these little felt gingerbread men for one of my first Christmas trees when I was married. Each year I think of her as I hang them together on the memory tree.

gingerbread men

One year, my sister undertook what I consider the labor-intensive task of making dough ornaments. (Anything you have to roll out, cut out, bake, and paint sounds labor-intensive to me.) She gave me a wreath, a reindeer, and this Santa. He’s held up well over quite a few Christmases, considering he spends the off-season sweltering in the attic. That’s a little ceramic Santa in the corner of the picture. I have no idea where he came from.

santa bread dough

Over the years, my mother-in-law has given me lots of Christmas decorations. I became the recipient of her old manger scene when she decided to buy a new one. This is one hand-me-down I’ve loved. The nativity set was sold by Sears, made in Italy, and was marked down to $19.00. I’m getting all this information from the box. I have no idea what year my mother-in-law bought the manger scene or how long she used it, but I’ve had it at least twenty? thirty? years now. I added the colored lights and the angel on top.

manger

Remember the Department 56 villages? For several years, my mother-in-law would give me pieces of the New England Village for my December birthday and/or Christmas. I wound up with quite a collection, so much that I now set it up in two locations. I joke that the village has a suburb. Here’s what I consider the main village (since it has the sign; look closely).

villageI try not to get too nostalgic as I decorate for Christmas each year. But taking these ornaments and accessories out of their boxes and putting them up is definitely a trip down memory lane.

 

 

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A Touch of Red

I’m old enough for Medicare, but I’ve caved in to peer pressure. Even though it’s not yet December 1, I’ve hung my Christmas wreath on the front door. With all the Yuletide decorations going up in my neighborhood, I was a little ashamed of my fall wreath, even though it’s still November, people.

best wreath pic

No doubt about it, folks decorate for Christmas a lot earlier than they used to. Add to that the fact that Thanksgiving was in the third week of November this year. Soon after the turkey was served (for the first time), people started putting up the Christmas stuff.

Me, I don’t even want to think about Christmas until all the leftover Thanksgiving stuffing, cranberry salad, and collards are gone—at least a week later.

best nandina picStill, I can’t deny Thanksgiving /fall is shifting into Christmas/winter outdoors. Today, it’s cold and there are touches of red in my yard. In a couple of weeks, I’ll bring in some of these Nandina berries for a Christmas arrangement.

 

The two holly trees on the side of my house always have beautiful red berries around Christmas. The two holly trees flanking my front door haven’t had any berries in a good ten years. I don’t understand the difference. If the birds are eating them, wouldn’t the berries be gone on all the trees? Why do holly trees that once had berries no longer produce them? Does it have something to do with some kind of missing pollination? Nature can be complex.

holly berries

Inside the house, my Christmas cactus is beginning to flower. Come on, come on, I tell it, you can do it. Burst into bloom for the season, the way you’re supposed to. The way you were blooming the year my husband bought you at my request, instead of yet another poinsettia.

best christmas cactus

Red is the commercial color of Christmas. I’m already seeing lots of it and will see even more as I wade deeper into the holiday season. But the biggest splash of red that’s caught my attention thus far had nothing to do with Christmas.

Back in early November, I was in a Charlotte Chick-fil-A when I saw a lovely young lady in red. “Do you mind if I take a picture of your dress?” I asked. She fluffed her skirt and looked my way.

lady in red

The occasion? I wasn’t sure and hated to further interrupt her lunch by asking. My guess is she was celebrating her quinceañera. In many Hispanic cultures, a girl’s 15th birthday is a big deal. It’s a coming of age thing, sorta like a cross between a debutante event and a sweet sixteen party.

My first vision of red–before the early Christmas decorations or Mother Nature.

 

 

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We Gather Together

It’s almost Thanksgiving and in honor of the holiday, I’ve created two fall floral arrangements. Not one, mind you, but two.

This summer, I had a bumper crop of okra. When I boasted about this on Facebook, a friend informed me that if I got tired of eating the stuff, I could dry some pods for decorating. Hmm, I thought at the time and then forgot about doing so. However, I also forgot to pick the last of the crop, and Mother Nature did most of the drying.

Here’s what I salvaged from my garden. I like what I’ve done with these few stalks of dried okra, even though my husband’s comment was a lukewarm, “Well, that’s different.”

Photo by Sammy Bowles (grandson)

Arrangement number two was started at a meeting of the Rocky Mount Garden Club. One of our members, Kathy Hutcheson, demonstrated how to arrange fall flowers and foliage, using a carved-out pumpkin as a base. (She had a vase inside the pumpkin filled with water-soaked florist sponge.) The rest of us tried to copy what she was doing.

I began with a big sprig of nandina out of my yard combined with $8.00 worth of Harris Teeter fall flowers. Later at home I added the pumpkin base, nandina berries, and snips of cypress. I’m really quite proud of how it turned out, although it’s SO BIG I won’t be able to use it as a centerpiece when we eat. No one could see over it to talk to anyone on the other side of the table.

pumpkin arrangement

I haven’t just been flower arranging to get ready for Thanksgiving. I’ve already made two big grocery runs. My frozen 17-pound turkey has been thawing in the refrigerator now for three days and has a couple more to go. I’ve learned from past experience it’s smart to give a big turkey plenty of time to thaw before game time. One year, I was running cold water over a still frozen bird on Thanksgiving morning.

turkey

My mother was an excellent cook. In addition to her biscuits and chicken pastry, I’ve never been able to duplicate her oyster dressing. In fact, I’ve given up, and just stir in a can of oysters in my finished Stove Top dressing.

stovetop with oysters

Photo by Sammy Bowles

But I’ve got Mama beat in one area: cranberry. Mama’s idea of cranberry at Thanksgiving was to open a can of the jellied kind (no whole berries), slice it along the lines left by the can, and serve it on a cut-glass plate.

I like to bite into the occasional whole cranberry, so over the years I’ve played with recipes using whole canned cranberries. Here’s one I’ve tweaked:

Cranberry Gelatin Salad (Yield: 8 servings)

  • 1 6-oz. package of cherry gelatin
  • 1 20-oz. can of crushed pineapple (undrained)
  • 2 cans (14 oz.) of whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 1½ cups of seedless grapes, sliced
  • ¼ cup of chopped pecans

Dissolve the gelatin in 1½ cups of boiling water. Stir in pineapple and cranberry sauce. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Stir in grapes and pecans. Pour into 2-quart serving bowl. Refrigerate until firm.

cranberry salad

To read what I’m thankful for this year (last Sunday’s Telegram column), click here: http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/Patsy-Pridgen/2018/11/18/Thanksgiving-Calls-for-Counting-Blessings.html

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

 

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A Tale of a New Old House

My daughter was so excited about her new old house in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte. I put “old” in that description because the house was built in the 1920s. Renovating these historic bungalows in the heart of Charlotte is all the rage with young folks who work Uptown and don’t want the traffic-clogged commute from the burbs.

She and her husband had put their current home on the market, confident it would sell quickly in Charlotte’s hot real estate market (I know, so unlike here in Rocky Mount). They’d moved essential furniture to the new old house and spent their first night there.

And then Hurricane Michael swept through Charlotte. A huge tree fell smack dab on the front of the new old house. Fortunately, no one was home at the time. As you can see, the house took quite a hit.

 

destroyed house 2

 

Here’s the tree (what’s left of it) that did the major damage.

destroyed house

In case there was any doubt about it, authorities posted this sign in a window.

unsafe sign

But there’s a silver lining to this cloud. My daughter and her husband had planned major renovations anyway. They need a couple more bedrooms and at least another bathroom in this two-bedroom, one-bath house. The idea is to build a second story with these features for their two boys.

The original plan was to live in the house a couple of years, slowly deciding exactly how to go about renovating. That plan has been accelerated. They’ve already met with their architect and builder. The architect gave them a sign to post to let the neighbors know they’re working on their eyesore.

new sign

In a couple of weeks, they’ll move to a rental home—oh yeah, their old house sold in less than a month. I’m hoping they’ll be in the new old house in a year, but it could be longer. Renovating in the historic district takes time. Projects have to be approved. And with the housing boom in Charlotte, they don’t have the full attention of their builder.

It will all come together—someday. I had just one visit with my grandsons in their new old house before the hurricane eviction.

the boys and me

But I will find these two little cuties wherever they’re living.

For more details, click on the Telegram column http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/Patsy-Pridgen/2018/10/28/A-hurricane-hits-home.html

 

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Easy Halloween Decorating

Remember when all we used to do to decorate for Halloween was carve a pumpkin the day of, stick it on the porch, and then wait for the trick or treaters? That’s considered pretty lame in today’s contest to have the most elaborate, spookiest decorations in the neighborhood.

People go all out now. Huge inflatable witches, ghosts, and goblins bounce around on the lawn. Ghouls hang from trees. Fake cemeteries spring up in yards. Stuff that no doubt requires money and time to assemble.

My witch’s hat is off to these folks. Go for it. I love to see people have fun with Halloween. But I’ve never been one to go overboard for the holiday. (I save my mania for Christmas.)

I keep Halloween simple and cheap. Here’s how.

A few years ago, I found a small tree limb in the yard, brought it in the house, and added one strand of tiny orange lights from Lowe’s, creating a Halloween tree. The next year, I added some orange spider webby stuff. This year, I’ve also hung some white plastic skeletons and a couple of art projects the grandsons made one afternoon (the mummy and the pumpkin).

Halloween tree

When Halloween is over, I simply carry the entire tree in its trashcan stand back to the attic, leaving the lights and the webby stuff on it.

My mantle is part fall, part Halloween. The black cat and the black mesh will come down November 1, and I’ll add more silk fall leaves and maybe some real gourds that will stay through Thanksgiving.

 

halloween mantle

I have a spider theme going on in the foyer. A drape with a trail of spiders filing down the handrail, and spider eyeballs hanging from the door jam. Easy peasy to assemble from year to year. Oh, and notice how I’m getting some use out of a spider Beanie Baby left over from the 90’s collector crazestaircase.                 spiders A couple of years ago, I bought a large skeleton when it was super marked down after Halloween. All year, he hangs out in the back of a downstairs closet until All Hallows’ Eve when his hanging out is transferred to my front door.

 

mummyThere you have it. Simple, cheap, and spooky (maybe).

 

 

 

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Shopping, Food, and Thomas Wolfe

Because my husband has an annual fall conference in Asheville, my guaranteed October trip to the North Carolina mountains is this lovely destination. Asheville is a lively blend of old mountain culture—think apple butter and rustic crafts—and a hip, new-age vibe.

Some years we’ve stayed at the Grove Park Inn, known for its fancy spa, ginormous lobby with two huge walk-in fireplaces, and panoramic views.

shopping

This year we were at the Renaissance Hotel, not quite as luxurious but with a great downtown location. I was within walking distance of restaurants and all those cute little knick-knack stores that Asheville is full of. In fact, I bought a couple of wind chimes at a place called LOFT (Lost Objects Found Treasures).

 

Even better, the hotel was right across the street from the Thomas Wolfe house. Hog’s heaven for a former English teacher. Tuesday morning while the husband was in meetings, I had my own personal tour—just me and the docent—for only five dollars.

wolfe house

In case you’re wondering, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial is where this famous author grew up, alongside all the boarders that his thrifty, businesswoman mother could cram in her boarding house. In his novel Look Homeward, Angel, Wolfe wrote none too fondly of his life there, dissing Asheville as well, which caused him to be something of an outcast for quite a few years after the book was published. It’s telling that his last novel is titled You Can’t Go Home Again.

summer flowers

My trip was timed a little early for the brilliant fall foliage. I saw more summer flowers still in bloom than the vibrant reds, oranges, and golds of fall. Evidently summer held on a little longer in the mountains this year as it did at home.

The last day of this fall conference, my husband and I always visit the Western North Carolina (WNC) Farmer’s Market on the outskirts of Asheville to pick up an assortment of apples. We fill a cardboard box with Golden Delicious, Fuji, Gala, Red Delicious—anything marked sweet. No tart Granny Smiths for me.

The best thing about visiting the WNC Farmer’s Market, though, is the Moose Café. Country cooking at its finest—and huge portions. You know you’re in a place that takes eating seriously when the waitress brings a big fluffy biscuit with apple butter for your appetizer, and chicken pastry is listed as a side dish. Just look at these plates.

paula's mealmy meal

We all got a to-go box and had our leftovers for supper.

 

 

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Summer Has Refused to Give Up

What a long, strange summer it’s been. The calendar says it’s October 10, but temperatures are still in the upper 80s here in eastern North Carolina. So I’m still in shorts and flip flops. As of today, we’ve had only a handful of mornings with just the slightest touch of chilly fall air.

That’s the long part of this summer. The strange part? Despite the summer-like temps, my maple tree is already shedding leaves. Leaves that haven’t really changed color other than to turn a little brown or slightly yellow. No brilliant reds or oranges this year. Does a really wet summer mean poor fall foliage? Is Hurricane Florence responsible?

flip flops

It’s officially been fall since September 22 (First Day of Autumn), so I’ve bought a few mums to make my outside décor more seasonally appropriate. I should put my begonias in the mulch pile, but they’re still blooming and it’s hard for me to pitch a pretty plant. For now, fall and summer are co-existing around my house.

mums

Same story with my hardy ferns. They might look a little strange next to my fall door wreath and the pots of orange mums I’ve arranged on the steps, but I’m not going to put them in the garage for their winter hibernation until the first frost. Whenever that will be. November? December?

front door

As I write, Hurricane Michael has hit Florida. The forecast here is for lots of rain tomorrow and Friday. We don’t need more heavy rain, but the good news is that we’re promised lower temperatures once this weather system passes. Day temps in the low 70s. Night temps dropping down to the upper 40s.

Can I believe this forecast? Could fall weather finally be arriving?

Even though it’s felt like summer for all of September and almost half of October, fall activities have begun. To read about my autumn schedule, click on this link to last Sunday’s column in the Rocky Mount Telegram: http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/Patsy-Pridgen/2018/10/07/Summer-lingered-but-fall-activities-arrived.html

 

 

 

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