more thanksgiving prep: laying it all out

Thanksgiving in our house is going to be smaller and much simpler than years past. I didn’t get to all the little ceramic turkeys to put on the table this year so the table just has the simple candlesticks and some greens in a vase. I still think it’ll look pretty.

My order arrived today from Harman’s Cheese in New Hampshire. I love my imported cheese, but for Thanksgiving especially it’s American made cheeses. Tomorrow for nibbles before our little feast, I will put out Harman’s cheddar with crackers with a Balsamic Onion Jam. The rest of the cheese will take us through the holiday season and well into the winter.

The table is mostly vintage. Pewter napkin rings I got years ago. No one likes pewter much anymore so I literally picked these up super inexpensively.

The napkins came from The Smithfield Barn. They are of a newer vintage from Ralph Lauren.

The plates are Steubenville Adam Antique from the 1930s. I bought them for our first Thanksgiving in this house. They came from Frazer Antiques. I remember they were on sale. I have looked for years since at these plates here and there, and never been able to even come close to the deal I got that day.

The placemats are vintage Pimpernal. They belonged to one of my dearest friend’s mothers.

We are having a simple menu. Yams, green salad with a simple vinaigrette, stuffing done outside the bird, homemade cranberry sauce, and the turkey. The turkey is from Loag’s Corner Turkey Farm in Elverson and was delivered by Doorstep Dairy. Doorstep Dairy is our milk delivery service and more. We have been a customer for a few years. They are terrific!

If you are local, Loag’s turkeys can also be purchased through local butcher shops like Worrell’s Butcher Shop in Malvern Borough. We also are big fans of Worrell’s!

I didn’t mention dessert. That I am actually not baking. Someone gave us a cheesecake. Not our normal Thanksgiving dessert, but my husband loves cheesecake!

My last piece of the puzzle is a vintage turkey platter. Also from the Smithfield Barn a few years ago. American made, true vintage, and I love it.

Holidays are about traditions. Thanksgiving is about the classics: turkey, friends, family.

Here is a poem from Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

Thanksgiving

We walk on starry fields of white
   And do not see the daisies;
For blessings common in our sight
   We rarely offer praises.
We sigh for some supreme delight
   To crown our lives with splendor,
And quite ignore our daily store
   Of pleasures sweet and tender.

Our cares are bold and push their way
   Upon our thought and feeling.
They hand about us all the day,
   Our time from pleasure stealing.
So unobtrusive many a joy
   We pass by and forget it,
But worry strives to own our lives,
   And conquers if we let it.

There’s not a day in all the year
   But holds some hidden pleasure,
And looking back, joys oft appear
   To brim the past’s wide measure.
But blessings are like friends, I hold,
   Who love and labor near us.
We ought to raise our notes of praise
   While living hearts can hear us.

Full many a blessing wears the guise
   Of worry or of trouble;
Far-seeing is the soul, and wise,
   Who knows the mask is double.
But he who has the faith and strength
   To thank his God for sorrow
Has found a joy without alloy
   To gladden every morrow.

We ought to make the moments notes
   Of happy, glad Thanksgiving;
The hours and days a silent phrase
   Of music we are living.
And so the theme should swell and grow
   As weeks and months pass o’er us,
And rise sublime at this good time,
   A grand Thanksgiving chorus.

I don’t know if I will write again between now and Thursday, so Happy Thanksgiving!

do you believe in santa claus?

The photo above isn’t some random act of Google photo. It is my cousin Suzy visiting Santa Claus at Christmastime, in 1954. A full decade before I was born. A Philadelphia area department store Santa Claus. I am not sure which store.

I have many memories of going to see Santa and to pose for photos. Usually with my sister. I don’t remember us ever having individual Santa photos, we were a three years apart matched set with Santa.

Christmas was magical in Philadelphia when I was little. The Christmas Village at Lit Brothers, the Dickens Village I think at Strawbridge & Clothier, Christmas displays at Gimbels, the organ and Christmas everything at John Wanamakers.

We would go and visit things with my great aunts and then we would also have lunch in the Crystal Tea Room in John Wanamaker’s.

There was of course the year when I was really little and we used to have to do the Crystal Tea Room lunch also with my father’s sister and possibly her daughters as well. My aunts’ daughters were self-perceived Christmas perfect. Never a hair out of place. Also about as warm and fuzzy to me as an ice cube. I have forgotten a lot of our enforced togetherness. It was tough being a kid and knowing to your core they didn’t like you.

What I do remember was the year I accidentally dropped my chocolate milk in my Aunt Teresa’s lap. And she was wearing a white wool Christmas suit. OOPS!

When we went to the Crystal Tea Room I always had scrambled eggs and toast for lunch and chocolate milk. This one year I must’ve been playing too much with the chocolate milk and my mother told me to “drop it”. She probably wanted me to eat my lunch, but literal child that I was I dropped the milk all right… in my aunt’s lap!

Christmas in Philadelphia back then in part was so magical because of all the displays that were about the holidays and celebrating the holidays. They weren’t necessarily attached to specific items or displays of items to buy. It was just about the Christmas season. And you could call it Christmas without everyone freaking out.

Other memories I have include going down to South Philadelphia to my great aunts’ house on Ritner Street. And when I was really little they did the seven fishes. That was when my Uncle Pat or PJ as we called him was alive. He lived with his sisters, and none of them ever married although I remember PJ having girlfriends. PJ had a gruff and gravelly voice and when I was little I remember he used to tease me by asking me if he could have some of my Christmas presents, especially the dolls. My great aunts used to buy us these awesome dolls and I loved them as a little girl.

South Philadelphia was alive with Christmas lights and decorations. They would literally string the lights across the street. It was really pretty I don’t know if they still do that anymore but it was very magical as a kid. And they went all out on Christmas decorations. I found the photo above on Google and that’s what it was like. Streets strong with stars, candy canes, Santas.

My mother’s brother Jack and his family lived up in the Northeast. My Uncle Jackie also loved Christmas. I remember lots of lights and I swear I remember Christmas music being piped outside from the roof a la Clark Griswold and Christmas Vacation. I also remember one year my Aunt Connie taking ceramics classes and making everyone those vintage ceramic Christmas trees. I don’t know if anybody still has any of her trees but I remember they were pretty!

Now did you believe in Santa Claus? We did. It was a truly magical time when we were little and I loved it.

I’m sure my parents didn’t love having to wait until we were all asleep to load up everything under the tree but it was so awesome to come down on Christmas morning and see the presents under the tree and see the crumbs that Santa left behind from the cookies and milk we had put out for him. Of course there was that thing my father used to do – he used to use his non-normal writing hand and leave a note to us from Santa thanking us for the cookies.

In truth, I do remember some of the department store Santa Clauses being more scary than jolly. and while I believed in Santa Claus I never believed that those Santa Claus folks were real. But as a child I did like to play along when it wasn’t scary Santa sitting there waiting for us. Or the occasional boozy Santa who smelled like he had gotten into the Christmas cheer on his lunch break.

As an adult do I still believe in Santa Claus? No, but I believe in the beloved tradition of it all. I also believe how Santa Claus is part of a very magical season. A season of giving and miracles. I do believe in Christmas miracles.

Santa Claus is steeped in history. And thanks to the History Channel you can read all about it on their website.

Christmas is a really special time of year and even though it is highly commercialized I’m really glad that some of the traditions still endure. There is one Christmas memory that I wish I had actual photos for and I was really little. And it is the memory I am going to leave you with today.

When I was a really little girl, my parents had a red VW bug. That was the car they had so that was the car that used to get a Christmas tree strapped to the top of it. Our house in Philadelphia had really tall ceilings so it was easily a 10 or an 11 foot tree that would get strapped to the top of the Bug.

I remember one snowy Christmas as a little girl and I’m thinking it was the Christmas of 1969. They bundled me up and I went with my father to pick up the Christmas tree. I remember going through the snowy dark streets of Philadelphia down to a railyard. I’m guessing around South Philadelphia but I’m not really sure. I remember people buying trees as they were pulled off the freight cars. It was snowing too.

This will always be one of my favorite Christmas memories and I’ve never forgotten it. As a matter of fact that is part of the reason why I bought a couple of Christmas ornaments that were mercury glass a couple of years ago that were VW Bugs with little Christmas trees on top. I also bought them because my husband loves VW Bugs.

Every family has Christmas traditions and Christmas memories. And part of the magic of the season is trying to keep these traditions alive as we go forward throughout our lives. Yet we have to adapt them to our living circumstances today. I will note that I still to an extent put ornaments on the tree the way my father did. From size, to shape, to really special ornaments last.

Next week is Thanksgiving, and then after that we are full court press into the Christmas season. Don’t just make it a race to the finish line, actually take a minute and enjoy the magic. And go see Santa Claus.

Thanks for stopping by.

holiday rambling: harman’s cheese and country store in sugar hill, nh

Many, many, many, many years ago my family would go to Vermont some years for vacation. A friend of my late father’s had a house in Bondville, Vermont which was half-way up one of the access roads to Stratton Mountain.

We weren’t skiers, we would go in the “off-season” or summer. Bondville is a little spit of a town and the house was nestled in the middle of nowhere in the woods. You would see all sorts of nature go by, and not many people. It was a big ski house, so we would bring friends and my parents would bring friends.

One year, one of my then best friends came with us. It was long before anyone was married except for my sister, or had kids. My friend and I would wander and explore on our own. She had come with me also because there was a special side trip I agreed to take with her to New Hampshire. She wanted to pay her respects at the grave site of a friend of hers who had passed away. Her friend had died under sad circumstances and I am not sure why he was buried in Sugar Hill Cemetery (also known as Sunnyside Cemetery), but that’s where his family placed him.

This was the time of only old school maps and asking for directions. There was no Google maps or Waze. We got lost several times en route to the cemetery. This was the trip when I also went barn picking for the first time.

After we visited the cemetery and my friend left her letter for her departed friend, we went exploring.

One of the first things we discovered down a windy country road in New Hampshire was an old farmer with a couple of barns. One of these barns (and it was huge, one of the biggest barns I have ever been in) was chock full of antiques and collectibles. It was a dirty and dusty old barn and was like an episode of American Pickers, before there ever was American Pickers. I dickered with the owner for some pink porcelain tea cups for my friend.

We discovered many other places that day including a wonderfully beautiful old small hotel with a lovely golf course called Sunset Hill House. Not too far from Sunset Hill House we discovered Harman’s Cheese and Country Store for the first time.

I still remember the visit like it was yesterday. A real old school country general store. Wood floors that creaked underfoot and all. The people running the store couldn’t have been nicer. We bought amazing white cheddar cheese, maple sugar candy, and maple syrup. And I signed up for a mailing list I have now kept my name on for decades.

Harman’s still sells the best cheddar cheese ever. Their cheese is my absolute favorite and they also sell my second runner up favorite, Grafton Village a Cheese from Grafton, Vermont. Grafton’s cheese store at that time was accessed via a dirt country road. Grafton’s cheddar is my mother’s favorite, but I still like Harman’s best. And still today, Harman’s cheese can only be ordered from them versus Grafton’s cheese which shows up at specialty cheese sections even around here.

But one of the things that keeps me ordering from Harman’s is their old school tiny paper catalog that gets mailed in a little envelope with an annual letter from the owner. It’s a throwback to the letters most people used to send with Christmas cards. I love that!

Some day I hope to get back to visit Harman’s in person. They are part of my annual holiday traditions. You can find them in person in Sugar Hill, NH, on their website, and on Facebook.

I know we have many fine cheese makers here in Chester County, but Harman’s Cheese and Country Store is a delightful small business with wonderful products. We don’t have many of these businesses left, no matter where the location.

Thanks for stopping by.

remembering with love

Today is an anniversary of sorts in our family.

14 years to the day when we lost my father to cancer.

13 years to the day when we lost my cousin Suzy to cancer.

Both people who played a big part in my life.

But it’s a day to remember them with smiles and happy tears. I don’t think we should bury them in memories of sadness.

I have never actually really written about this before. And today it just seemed like time.

My late father was at times a complicated man, but well-loved by us all. He was often described as a Renaissance man by his friends, and there are a lot of things that I get in part from him. He taught me how to garden. He gave me my Christmas disease. He taught me how to go to antique shows to educate my eye and when I was very little he put me on top of his shoulders so I could see all of the Van Gogh paintings on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. as an adult I would do things like go to estate sales with him.

I have lots of memories of my father like little Kodachrome snap shots in my head. The same with my cousin Suzy.

Suzy was my mother’s niece, goddaughter, and my first cousin. To me for most of my life she was also like the big sister I didn’t have because technically in my immediate family I was the big sister. As a little girl, I remember her sleeping over and spending the night on the sofa when we didn’t have a guest room – my parents were restoring an old house in Society Hill and for my younger childhood years a lot of the time it was like living in a construction site.

Suzy got married young, and my parents hosted her wedding. She got married out of our parish church – Old Saint Joseph’s on Willing’s Alley. The reception was at my parents’ house in Society Hill, by that time was put enough together at least on two floors that we were able to have the wedding.

Jimmy Duffy and Sons did the catering. They would in later years, cater my sister’s wedding, and mine as well. From my cousin Suzy’s wedding, I have a few distinct memories, including sitting with my cousin Carol on the steps to the back staircase off the breakfast room eating hors d’oeuvres. I remember we were specifically eating water chestnuts wrapped in bacon, which is why when I got married, they were added to the list of hors d’oeuvres we served.

From Suzy I got my love of junking and flea markets. She also was a Christmas fanatic (she would organize caroling parties every a Christmas season) and liked to go in and out of antique stores.

Suzy and her first husband raised their daughters in Newtown, Bucks County. She lived for her girls. I would spend a lot of weekends with them during those years and we would do things like get up at the crack of dawn and go to Rice’s Market in New Hope when it was really cool. We would spend days exploring small towns like New Hope and Lambertville and Pennington and other places along the river on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania side. I treasure those times and it was so much fun! I remember going into a store with her once on the New Jersey side that was all Russian nesting dolls and Fiestaware.

So much time has passed since they both left us and so much in all of our lives has happened. That’s the thing of life isn’t it? It goes on. And I think while we have to mourn the loss of loved ones, I also think we should celebrate them by trying to live our best lives.

Life is for the living and we shouldn’t squander it.

Anyway, that’s it from me this morning. Remembering with love, my father Peter and cousin Suzy.

Thanks for stopping by.