I've never been fond of New Year's, although in this picture at least I was wearing a party hat (and a really swell outfit, if I do say so myself.)
Susan and Joanna, New Year's Eve 1970
But usually I feel like somewhat of a loser with no big invitations and too many new pounds to fit in my little black dress if somebody should happen to call.
And in Minnesota, there's not a whole lot to look forward to between now and April. Let's be honest.
That could be why
many Minnesotans tend
to leave their Christmas lights
up until March.
Because it can be pretty hard to find
a day before Easter
when you want to go outside
and take them down.
But let's look on the bright side:
We get to make resolutions!
We get to think of all the things
we should do to improve ourselves!
We get to wonder why we didn't just follow through
when we resolved the same things last year!
We get to stop doing all the things
we've been enjoying over the past month,
including (but not limited to):
3) Going to movies on WEEKDAYS!
4) Generally putting things off until January.
In many ways, I'm quite pleased to say goodbye to 2009, the caboose of a decade that has definitely not been my favorite.
But as I was thinking about it this morning, I realized that several really great things have happened in the past decade:
1) I discovered sewing small wool pictures.
2) I discovered New Mexico.
That makes one wonder what kinds of
great discoveries might lie ahead. . .
So I'm challenging you, 2010, to keep surprising me.
Blow my mind.
Leave me breathless.
Poke, prod, and pull me in new directions.
I think I'm ready.
I was fully determined at the beginning of this week to plow a path to the desk in my studio --
and I do mean plow, as the floor had become completely impassable as a result of the December extravaganza that had taken place in there (starting about October 15).
But it is now Wednesday. And while I can at last take four steps into the room, after two exhausting days I'm a little tired of thinking about self improvement -- there's plenty of time for that in January, after all -- and I have decided to bake a pan of pecan pie bars in preparation for New Year's Eve instead.
And write a blog post, of course.
My mother has her Christmas tree down and put away by noon on Christmas day. Pure fact. While I have always envied her clean and organized environment and find it to be the most restful place in the world to visit, I seem to have inherited a latent Aunt Lillie gene that precludes me from such industry.
Aunt Lillie was forced to move from her bedroom to the one next door l-o-n-g before the end of her life because of the massive amounts of important stuff (like old magazines!) that had collected there.
I have a vague memory of sitting on her lumpy bed as a younger child, but by the time I was in about 6th grade she was a fixture in the bedroom I slept in on my visits, reading trashy love stories by the light of a pin-up lamp in the twin bed across the room.
I have not been forced to vacate my studio (yet), although I must admit that I stopped cleaning up quite so thoroughly shortly after I made the decision (last spring) that I would be moving to a new studio space.
Despite a delay in that move, the idea has been firmly planted in the back of my mind for MONTHS now . . . as in, "Why bother to find a place for that? I'm just going to have to move it later. I'll just put it here on the floor until then . . . "
And now it looks like the move
may actually materialize in February!
Which is only a month away, really. And I've cleared a path to the desk. The deskTOP is another story, but with the space I cleared on the floor, there should be room to pile some of the desktop detritus down there, right?
Oh -- and I guess I need to think about taking the tree down sometime this (or next) week.
But right now, my pecan pie bars are sufficiently cooled that they need to be sliced up and removed from the pan, or else they will stick.
There's a town down the road from us that has given their summer celebration the name "The Pan-o-Prog" (which we've thought was ridiculous from the first moment we heard it. Who wants to be "Miss Pan-o-Prog?")
It stands, of course, for the "Panorama of Progress", and the town fathers who came up with the brilliant idea were obviously big on the progress concept for some reason, including eradicating all corn fields. (I'm not sure whether or not strip malls were included in their progressive vision, but they've definitely succeeded on that front as well.)
I would admittedly not be asked to ride on the float in their parade if they were to see the studio progress I have (or have not) made so far this week.
But at least at the end of today I'm going to have something delicious to show for my efforts.
Got a big To-Do List?
(with some vanilla ice cream)
Susan's Specialty Pan-o-Procrastination
(aka Pecan Pie Bars)
3 cups flour
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
Heat oven to 350. Grease jelly roll pan (15.5 x 10.5) Beat flour, sugar, butter and salt on medium speed until crumbly (will be dry). Press firmly in pan. Bake until light golden brown, about 20 minutes. Prepare filling:
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups Karo
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups chopped pecans
Mix all ingredients until well blended, adding pecans last. Pour over baked crust while hot, spreading evenly. Return to oven until filling is set, about 25 minutes. Cut into squares when thoroughly cool (but don't leave in pan too long -- you'll never get them out.) Store in refrigerator.
First things first,
Am I right?
What is bought
is cheaper than a gift.
If you were hanging around Small Works last year at this time, you may remember that in Hinckleyville there's a tradition started several years ago that requires us to make gifts for each member of the family.
This continues to be one of our favorite things about Christmas. Both the making and the giving have added so much to our holiday celebration, it's hard to imagine just going out and buying gifts (although Lindsay admitted she was daydreaming about how nice and EASY that would be the other day . . . but as always, she came through with the handmade goods.)
In the interest of complete honesty, I must add some fine print at this juncture to assure you, Dear Readers, that our handmade gifts deliver their festive fun AFTER Santa has already delivered his bounty -- we have yet to attempt a Christmas in which the handmade gifts are the ONLY gifts given, and I confess that some family members (myself included) would probably feel less giddy about the tradition if that were to be the case. Like I said, just a little Christmas Complete Disclosure.
Lindsay made a gift for all to share, and if her parents weren't so OLD and OUT OF TOUCH (my indictment, not hers) we would not have had to ask what a "SIM Hinckley House" might be.
Chelsea and Hannah were on board immediately, of course, but even without fully understanding its context, I found it to be absolutely delightful.
Each member of the family unwrapped a portion of the house along with his or her playing piece -- then we worked together to assemble all the pieces.
Hannah standing upstairs in her bathroom.
The detailed drawings of our home's interior are amazing, right down to the paper towel holder on the kitchen counter (and the pile of towels/clothes on Hannah's bathroom floor!)
Lindsay and I in the kitchen.
I am already looking forward to playing with the model Hinckleys when the real ones are far, far away and Cooper and I are rattling around this big house together.
Jake and Chelsea hanging in the basement, while Russ takes the recycling to the garage.
Hannah outdid herself this year, providing hand-knit cowls to chase out the chill for each member of the family (sorry no pic!) and something special to warm Russ' head as well, when he's out on one of his daily adventures with Cooper:
From Hannah's Vintage Screwball
(one of my favorite design labels)
I received a pair of earrings I've already worn three times. I love them because they are lightweight for my aging ears, yet big enough to be really fun.
And finally, she concocted a trio of "Panic Attack Dogs," complete with plump red panic buttons, for Lindsay and Chelsea and me. The backs are a "panic of patchwork", as Hannah describes them (in vintage fabrics!) and since we are often prone to hysterics around here, they should come in quite handy.
Chelsea muted some of her lovely Vermont nature photos, printed them on watercolor paper and embellished them with colored pencil. There were autumn leaves for Hannah and a fuschia for Lindsay, and I received this one, beautifully matted and ready for my studio:
For Russ, she decided to add to her skill set by purchasing a woodburner -- and with a little practice, a rugged wood slab, and only a few minor owies, she was able to produce a wonderful western decoration destined to win a spot of honor in his den.
It will look just splendid with his grandfather's saddle. And I'm glad to know we've now got an experienced wood burner on staff, in case a future wood burning emergency should arise.
I gave the girls each one of my new collages, and was delighted to be able to do so! I also made them each a stitched and beaded pickle ornament, which ended up looking quite silly:
I've been looking for a pickle for them for years, since the hidden pickle ornament tradition has been a long standing one at our house, but I've never been able to find a tiny one like the one we have. So I traced it (in an attempt to get it just right) and made them myself. A little goofy, but they will do the job. And the girls were excited to be equipped to take the tradition to the next generation.
For Russ I made an apron to wear during his celebrated crock-pot adventures:
When he opened it, he had no idea I made it, and wondered how I found one that suited him so cleverly. But he set it aside quickly and went on to the next gift.
Eventually I figured out that he thought I bought it and I was a little hurt (I had thought I was being very clever, as well!) but when he complained that my things never looked "homemade," I filled him in on the wonders of iron-on letters from Michaels. Very little magic involved in this year's gift, unfortunately, due to a very busy month.
Russ got even sillier this year (which was difficult after last year) and made some embellished toilet bowl brushes, which he gave the girls with the declaration that he is finished cleaning their bathrooms (yes, my husband does bathrooms. And that's not his only selling point!) I couldn't get a good picture, but each had a stuffed dog on the handle (Lindsay's was a beagle, of course) with a bow around its neck.
To me he presented a lovely framed map to my favorite destination:
A funny little gift but it brought a tiny tear to my eye.
A few weeks ago we were sitting in a meeting and the speaker asked us to close our eyes and imagine that we were in our "happiest place," peaceful and relaxed and surrounded by the people we love.
After a moment Russ leaned over and whispered, "Where were you?" and I answered, "At Gabriel's." "So was I!" he said, and we giggled. After another minute he asked, "Where were you sitting?" "On the patio," I replied. and of course he said, "Me too!"
So it was a doubly sweet gift and one that I will treasure -- a map to my happiest place. Although I must admit that we weren't alone at the table; in my imagination all my favorite Hinckley girls were there, sharing an enormous bowl of guacamole.
And if I'd been given more time to think about it, we'd probably have been opening handmade Christmas gifts in between bites, as well. Because that would truly be a perfect day in a perfect, perfect world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said,
"The only gift is a portion
Thanks, dear family,
for another year of wonderful "portions."
I had several other December-themed posts planned this month, but that's one of the wonderful things about this Most Wonderful Time of the Year -- Christmas comes whether you get everything done or not.
It whisks past and before you know it, you're wondering what all the fuss was about. Because it's most wonderful just to be together with the people you love doing the things you love. The rest doesn't really matter at all.
Somehow or other,
it came just the same . . .
So I wish you all a wonderful weekend spent in company with someone who makes it feel like Christmas for you, and a bite of something sweet to make you smile and perhaps spark a memory
Christmas day is in our grasp,
So long as we have hands to clasp!
I shall return after the big brouhaha with the
Small Works Handmade
in which we will celebrate the silliness that showed up under the Hinckley tree this year.
(And I, for one, can't wait to see what's there!)
Last night was my favorite
night of the year.
The two nights before Christmas Eve, we have a tradition here in Hinckleyville that involves both singing and food -- two of my favorite activities!
First, we pile a lot of little treat bags stuffed with our favorite baked goods into a special basket with ribbons and jingle bells on it. Then we all pile in the car and go caroling at friends' houses. We started that tradition when Lindsay was four -- we'd plant her out in front with the basket and Russ and I would sing. She was so darn cute in her snowsuit, it didn't matter what we sounded like!
As the years progressed, our sound changed. There were plenty of years that were heavy on kids' enthusiastic voices but light on sophisticated arrangements.
(Those were perhaps my favorite.)
As we were charting our route and preparing the basket last night, the girls were musing about how magical our caroling outings seemed when they were children. They never knew where the van was going -- we just stopped places and they'd tumble out and sing, and then the magic journey would continue to our next destination.
Now we're able to offer a pretty decent four part harmony, with Hannah and her beautiful voice in the starring role.
And now I truly treasure the time spent together, because I'm coming to realize how fleeting and precious it is. That my adult children are here to sing along makes it seem magical to me.
After our caroling party, it is appetizers at one favorite restaurant or another, where we eat ourselves silly before devouring whatever was left in the basket on our way home.
Mmmmm. . .
(I hope you're enjoying some, too!)
"Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose . . ." Kevin Arnold
Growing up my family did Christmas in quite a big way, mainly I suppose because we lived in such a big house.
There was the year of 7 Christmas trees, for instance -- 6 smaller ones parading down the long dark hall, each dressed in its own color, with the big tree in the receiving area. My mother preferred flocked trees, which were usually delivered due to their enormous size. But on at least one occasion, we loaded the tree into the convertible and drove home in our parkas.
She had no qualms about experimenting with interesting color. I can recall salmon flocking and maroon flocking, to name a few. And the ornaments also varied from year to year depending on her whim. For the Bicentennial in 1976, I remember a white tree with red lights and blue ornaments, puncutated with large flag-striped bows. Every package in the sea of gifts was wrapped in white paper and tied with the same red, white and blue striped ribbon.
One year we participated in a charity "Christmas Home Tour" and an army of decorators took over the various rooms on the main floor. In the living room, I remember a full-size antique sleigh and a tree tied with bunches of heather and decorated with, among other things, a cello. It was a huge fresh tree, and smelled just like you'd imagine a tree decorated with heather and a cello would smell. Heaven.
There was singing around the grand piano, or an evening medley of carols wafting up the long hall from the full-size organ. Some years there was a caroling party, which due to several professionals in the family was impressive and a true pleasure. We invited other musical families as well and strolled through our lovely old neighborhood, spilling perfect four-part harmony across snowy lawns. Laughing and unruly, we were always somehow immediately under the direction of my mother's expertise once the doorbell was rung.
Our family didn't have a lot of traditions, aside from a grand Christmas eve dinner and Christmas morning breakfast in the dining room. The dining room was simply splendid -- an old oil-painted mural encircled the room in a depiction of "The Search for the Holy Grail", painted by an itinerant artist when the home was built in 1929. I believe it was probably that oil paint which gave the room its unique smell.
The ceiling was gridded with heavy wood beams, the walls dressed halfway in dark, richly carved wainscoting. There was a large marble fireplace of a faint mustard color, with a mantle that stretched to the ceiling. Sam, our suit of armor, presided from the corner. And the dining room set was a massive old beauty with tapestry upholstery -- a very similar style to the one at Hearst's Castle, in fact.
But we children had a few odd traditions of our own. The first was a Christmas Eve bed party, always held on my older sister's bed, which consisted of a pillow fight, "rocket rides" from her couch to the bed, and finally a "King of Bunker Hill" grudge match in which we all started on the bed and kicked at each other until we flew off one-by-one onto the floor, with only the "King" remaining (I was always kicked off immediately, by the way, puny and timid as I was.) We each had our own "theme noise" as we plowed into each other, a strange amalgam of grunts and music. Once my sister got married, her husband was reluctant to let her participate and our bed parties slowly died out.
In the pre-remodeling basement was an enormous room with a concrete floor, on which we staged our own "Christmas Eve on Ice" type spectacular. This consisted of a variety of feats performed on roller skates and with hoola hoops. We were dressed up in ready-made costumes, due to my mother conveniently providing us with matching Christmas Eve attire.
Christmas Eve, 1972
My older sister, who could skate backwards, of course garnered the most applause from the assembled grandparents. I marveled at her skill.
On Christmas morning an enormous fire roared behind the heavy-screened gates of the soaring living room fireplace, devouring mountains of wrapping paper. As we assembled our gifts into individual "displays," Grandma Myrl assembled her cinnamon rolls on a platter in the dining room.
That house was at its best
Perhaps because Christmas loomed so large in my childhood memory, I tried hard as a mother to recapture some of the magic and majesty of those celebrations. Though we moved a lot, we carried a houseful of traditions with us.
We always had a splendid tree which required several days to decorate. Once a visitor to our home asked if we really decorated that tree every year, suggesting that we might be wiser to wrap it in cellophane and store it somewhere. We also had a more diminutive tree, which I dressed only in my collection of antique ornaments and oddities.
Then there was the nativity display -- well over fifty creches from around the world, set up in a towering lighted panorama in the living room, for which we held an open house every year so people could enjoy celebrating Christ's birth as it has been depicted around the globe.
As my children have become adults, I've gotten busier with my career and it has now been several years since we celebrated what Hannah would call "a real Christmas, with EVERYTHING!"
I felt bad about that for the first few years, but I'm slowly adjusting to just one tree, a sprinkling of nativities, and most importantly, time spent with my favorite people in the world.
That's the real gift, after all, and I've already supplied them with the kinds of memories that have been my own life-long Christmas companion, and for which I am truly indebted to the adults in my childhood world.
They gave me a gift that has only improved over time, and one which I continue to cherish as the Decembers of my life spin past with hectic and ever-increasing speed.
Psssst . . . . Hey you!
Yes, you, three-year-old Lindsay.
You sure look cute on your birthday!
Would you mind doing a little favor for Mommy?
Mommy needs to hold
a drawing for the
Small Works Holiday
And since it's your birthday today,
I thought you might like to help.
Help you, Mommy?
Can I bring my Santa Bear?
Now I just need to put
all 21 names in this . . .
Festive Bowl of Holiday Fun!
Okay, Mom -- I'll make you proud.
Hi, Blog Friends! Welcome to the
Small Works Holiday
I'm your host,
Even though the internet hasn't been invented yet,
I'll be pleased to draw the name
of the lucky winner.
Here goes . . .
(Wow, three-year-old Lindsay . . . what big hands you have!)
And the winner is . . .
Will you read it, Mom?
I'm only three.
Sure, Honey -- I'd be happy to.
And the winner is:
Jill at Whimsey Creations!
Send me your contact info, Jill, and I'll speed
an ornament to your tree lickety-split!
Oh, gee whiz --
since it's Christmas,
why not pick two winners?
And it's Mandi,
way out in beautiful California!
Santa's on his way to your house, too!
Oh, and BTW --
Happy 27th Birthday,
(you have made me proud.)
I think there was a moment when Scrooge was afraid he had missed Christmas. But luckily he woke up just in time. . .
Whew! Finally finished that project and happily handed it off to FedEx this morning. Now if I can just find my decorations in all this MESS . . . .
Hopefully everyone's been too busy to read blogs since I've been too busy to write them. If you haven't given up on our friendship, I appreciate your patience and loyalty and will be happy to reward you with an entry in
The Small Works Holiday
If you haven't emailed, commented (previous post) or otherwise made yourself known, you still have two days to enter.
And if you want to enter again and can think of a clever holiday-themed alias, go ahead and give that a shot as well.
The more the merrier . . .
that's my official company policy!
One of the fun things I was doing over the weekend was trying to pose for the photo that was required in the package I sent off. Hannah was more than happy to slather me with make-up and man the camera.
I wish, however, that she had told me she was putting the special
**add 25 years**
lens on the camera. Seriously!
I looked just like my mother looks, RIGHT NOW.
And she looks great, but just 25 years older than I am. It was a grueling process just getting a picture I could live with. We actually had to destroy them all (except this one) and try round two this morning, which went a little better.
(We switched cameras.
Might have been even more effective to switch subjects.)
We got a little goofy after awhile, as you can see.
Wouldn't it be nice if you could just use cute kid pictures for the rest of your life?
I mean the pictures before you entered the awkward gnarly-teeth years (let alone the WHEN DID I GET SO OLD??? years) when almost every single kid in the world is cute?
Lindsay and I were looking through some Christmas photos the other day and I came across
which was actually a few minutes past those really cute years (unfortunately) but which took me *sighing* down memory lane nonetheless.
Best. Christmas present. Ever.
I've talked here a time or two before about how much I always wanted to be a dancer, and this gift seemed at the time as if it would virtually guarantee my success, and in such a glamorous way!
And it matched those red Keds perfectly.
And note my natural sense of style, posing in front of the mirror in such a dramatic and artsy manner. I wonder if Aunt Lillie came up with that idea (her handwriting) or if I did? I'm going to take credit.
What else can I say?
But now I'd like to hear about your best Christmas presents ever. Surely there's at least one that sticks out in your memory, burnished to an even deeper perfection with the passing of time.
(Even though there was absolutely no way
to remember that red tutu
better than it absolutely was.
Just look at it . . . )
Blizzard warning in Minnesota today,
which makes it a good day to snuggle up with a needle or a book.
One of my favorite books with a needlework theme
contains a passage that says something like this:
"If a woman were to see all the dishes
she would do in her life in a big pile all together,
she'd lie down and die right then and there."
That's a little like how I feel about Christmas ornaments. Not that I don't enjoy making them more than I enjoy doing dishes . . . I've just made A LOT of Christmas ornaments in my time.
I repeat: A LOT.
I guess that's because making Christmas ornaments is one of my all-time favorite things to do, and has been since I was a child.
That's why I've often made an ornament to thank people who purchased large pieces from me during the year, and also why we've started an ornament exchange between myself and my girls and my sister and her daughters. Each of us makes 9 ornaments -- we're only in our second year, but last year was just delightful.
This year will be delightful too,
if I ever get around to starting them . . .
I'm working on a big project this week, but I'm going to tackle the ornaments first thing next week, which is perfectly fine since I've no tree to hang them on yet.
My parents sent a large Christmas box yesterday, and when I emailed my thanks I asked if they would please follow up with a tree and some decorations. We're woefully behind here in Hinckleyville this year. In fact, when I went to purchase some white mini lights yesterday, our local Target was out, out, out!
We may in fact be the
last people in America
without a Christmas tree.
But our lack of decorations definitely belies our enthusiasm for the holiday! And as a manifestation of that enthusiasm, let me be the first to announce:
The Small Works Holiday
And I'm going to be giving away something that should in no way surprise, but should nevertheless entice you:
A Susan M. Hinckley
(suitable for decking your own halls, or
sharing with a friend who appreciates good cheer
and quality hand-craftsmanship . . .)
All you have to do is leave me a comment,
(or send an email)
and just as soon as Santa drops
his sackful of ornaments down the chimney,
I'll begin the handouts!
I'm going to leave the comments open until one week from today (December 16), and I promise that I've had so much practice making ornaments over the years (practically a professional!) that you shouldn't be disappointed, even though I'm currently unable to post a picture of the prize.
So tell your friends they'd better all be good . . .
and post an entry!
And now, back to the workshop.