Sunday, December 25, 2016

On the Twelfth Day of a Feminine Christmas

This young woman reminds me of a Grace Livingston Hill heroine.  Maybe it's because of the lovely church in the background.  Grace's protagonists were all believers.  If the old Victoria magazine had lasted long enough, I'm sure it would have found Livingston-Hill a worthy subject for its marvelously feminine periodical.  I can only imagine the clothes they would have put the models in:  fur-trimmed wool suits, floral dresses with rustling skirts...I could go on.

Every year I take a peek at Victoria's book, "A Woman's Christmas".  I've used it as a mini-journal, recording various details about my Christmas'.  Yesterday I found a sentimental entry I wrote a few years ago and I'm going to share it here.


"I get misty and giddy when I think of all the happy holidays I had at Nana's, the wonderful little things my mother did for us, the neighbors we always visited on Christmas Eve, the majesty of our Catholic church, the carols I sang my heart out with the Girl Scouts.  All these things were part of my childhood and they live on inside of me...

Then there were the years with HIM.  I decorated our houses with abandon and had the money to do it.  Those trees and homes live on inside too.  As well as the small teddy bear he gave me one Christmas morning with the pearl earrings I still wear today pierced into its furry little ears.  And the challenging but glorious years I was a young single mother of the most darling little girl.  She sang in the choir at church, made cookies with me in her bunny slippers and I especially cherish the Christmas morning she pulled her first real doll out of the box and exclaimed with awe, 'She looks just like me, Mommy!'  I hold dear the day I took my good friend Karen to Orchard House the week before Christmas and watched her face from the sidelines as she first laid eyes on Louisa May Alcott's wreathed front door.  All these Christmas memories may live on Yesterday's shelf but they are a part of me for always.

And my reminiscences of yore, in no way means that I am closed off to the bright new gifts of the future.  I have more Christmas' in store for me.  And as I await them, I know the real spirit dwells within...alongside the memories."  ~ December, 2010


Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

On the Eleventh Day of a Feminine Christmas

This illustration is feminine Christmas at its best.  Her chic red dress and winter-white coat make a beauty mark on the snowy landscape.  But it's her serene and peaceful face that brings the real grace to the image.

Yesterday I was feeling pretty full of myself - my packages are wrapped, my baking is all laid out, and I planned everything so I didn't have to leave the house today.  But on the way to dinner last night, the car slowed to a stop in front of a bus stop near the restaurant where I was to have supper.  Since I was a passenger in the car, my eyes scanned for a long while at the bleak grey shelter where riders sat to wait for buses.  Standing in the cold were a man and woman who were obviously together.  I wondered for a moment where they were going outside the city and surmised they had both left their jobs and were heading home.  They were nearly elderly and looked tired.  As we sat in traffic, I saw the woman take a single powdery donut from a paper bag and heartily bite into it with her back towards the street.  Then she turned and gave the rest to the man.  I was close enough to recognize the paper bag from a bakery about 3 blocks away - a long walk with dual crossing lanes in heavy traffic to the bus stop.

Now I know nothing about the couple at the bus stop and everything I have written is supposition.  Yet somehow, I felt a tenderness for the pair and wondered what their Christmas would be like.  All through dinner, I couldn't stop thinking about them sharing that donut in the dreary bus stop surrounded by trucks and car horns and exhaust fumes.  And it made me wonder if I had done enough this season for others.  I was involved in making baskets for an organization that helps families and I contributed to a Secret Santa drive at work but I could have done more.  And while I ate my meal, I thought about that too.

Last night I found a local church that is still accepting donations of canned goods.  Today I am doing a market run for them.  I've already talked to the woman who runs the program and since I've been to the church before I plan on finding out what kind of outreach they do the rest of the year too.  It's the least I can do and it's pitiful.

I have made some other suppositions regarding the picture I chose for this post.  I have concluded that the lovely lady's face in my Christmas image comes from knowing deep inside that she made a small difference this season.  As she runs off in the snow in her head band of holly and ivy to whatever festivities she has planned, she knows she did her best.  And that's why she's so beautiful.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

On the Tenth Day of a Feminine Christmas

This woman hasn't quite finished her shopping yet.  I felt like her yesterday as I finally crossed the last person off my list.  I'm curious, do you buy as much as you used to?  I don't.  I no longer believe in going overboard at Christmas but I do spend a lot of time thinking about the right gifts for those I love.

I delight whenever I come across a list of Christmas gifts in a novel. Many diarists documented their presents too.  And generally, their accounts were of humble things such as a box of chocolates, a journal, hair combs, etc.  Their tallies remind me it's not the amount of money you spend or the size of the gift, but the care and consideration that went into its selection.  And not surprisingly, those are the kinds of things I want to find under my tree too.


So many of you have emailed me to ask for my grandmother's pudding recipe.  Consider it my Christmas gift to you.  And a big thank you for your lovely comments.  I always find the female perspective on Christmas to be a unifying thing.

Chocolate Bread Pudding with Hard Sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

4 oz baking chocolate - preferably semi-sweet
2-1/2 cups whole milk
2 eggs
3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1 loaf stale white bread, cubed

Butter well an over-proof casserole
Add bread cubes

Melt chocolate in milk
Add butter - stir and take off burner

Beat eggs until foamy
Add sugar
Add vanilla

Pour chocolate milk over bread cubes
Add sugar, egg mixture
Mix well

Place casserole in shallow pan of water
Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour

Hard Sauce

Mix 1 stick of softened butter with 1-1/2 cups confectionery sugar and a drop of vanilla
Sprinkle nutmeg on top
Refrigerate until hard

Serve pudding individually with dollops of hard sauce

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

On the Ninth Day of a Feminine Christmas

The cover of this Seventeen has effervescent colors and a darling imaginary tree.  It is dated 1956, a time when Christmas meant formals and ballgowns.  I especially like the soft cream colored one on the left with the pretty green bow.  The dress reminds me of Anne Shirley's Christmas dress with her beloved puffed sleeves - the one that Matthew gave her.  However, wearing shorter sleeves and sweetheart necklines were part of the charm of a formal dress in the 50's.

I attended a small party last Saturday night and typically, the attire was informal.  I noticed that the women did add a little panache to their leggings and tunics with fanciful shoes and sparkly necklaces. The clothing was merely a backdrop for ornamental accessories.  But I think some of the fun in going to a large dance or formal is the chance to fret over and then select the perfect dress to wear.  A high school boyfriend called the girls' formal dresses "whoopee dresses".  I never realized how important a dress was to a man's imagination until then.  Somehow, it makes me long for those fussy important dresses and the events to wear them to.

Recently I was flipping through dress images on Pinterest when a friend stopped me at a sapphire blue silk number.  "Stop..stop", he said.  "The blue one?", I asked.  "Yes", he replied, "My mother had a dress that color".  And then softly, "I never forgot that dress.  She wore it to a Christmas party".  I asked him how old he was at the time and he replied, "Maybe five".

Nearly sixty years later, he was still able to recall his mother in a sapphire blue Christmas dress...

On the Eighth Day of a Feminine Christmas

This image was once made into a darling Christmas card which my sat on my grandmother's mantel throughout the holidays.  Even as a child, I knew what was going on.

I believed in Santa Claus until about age eight when my older brother finally pulled the wool off my eyes.  But it was time.  I was beginning to suspect that it was my mother who was the real Santa at our house especially when I found her shopping list peaking out of her handbag one day.

My mother's Christmas lists were legendary...she made sure that we four received the same amount of presents so each item on the list had a number beside it.  And somehow she knew whose wrapped present was whose.  That was a secret I later learned about the lower right hand corner of each box was a letter that she assigned to each of us.  The code for the letters was on her funny shopping list.  Elaborate but it worked.

My mother still plays Santa at our Christmas but no longer uses her secret system - she uses gift tags.  But those are elaborate too and often have small glittered flowers and bows attached to them.  They're pretty enough to hang on the tree the following year if they don't get scooped up in the detritus left behind from all the unwrapping.  Her gifts are fewer in volume but they are endearing and very thoughtful.

When it's over, I see everyone kissing Santa Claus.

Some of my mother's wrapped gifts, circa 1964.

Monday, December 19, 2016

On the Seventh Day of a Feminine Christmas

It's hard to believe that at one time a bottle of Chanel #5 perfume could be purchased at the local drugstore for about $5.00.  Today I would love to at least see more of the romantic ads that accompanied those low prices.

In the 1950's, Chanel advertised its famous perfume with bewitching prints ads and simple prose to stir the heart of every Chanel-loving maven.  I am particularly drawn to the Christmas ones showing young couples such as the pair above.  She is clearly happy with the thoughtful gift of such an iconic scent.  "When he knows what you want without even hinting...When his gift shows he knows".  Apparently smart men bought Chanel #5.

Perfume is a very personal choice and yet there is something charming about a man who seeks to buy his beloved her most favorite fragrance.  I know something about that because I once worked at a perfume counter during the holidays.  It was a little awkward when a man came shuffling in to ask for something he knew almost nothing about in a place he was so uncomfortable with.  But it was sweet too.  So we sales gals went out of our way to make our male buyers comfortable and to assure them that their gift would be just-right.  We wrapped the perfume in shiny gold paper and tied it with a red ribbon and bow too.  I loved watching them walk away with the small Christmasy package in their big hands.

The time of year when the world falls in love is the perfect time for the gift of a cherished perfume.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

On the Sixth Day of a Feminine Christmas

This little lady is selling ornaments.  I like to imagine she is at one of those marvelous outdoor European Christmas markets.  I don't believe there are many outdoor markets in my neck of the woods but I love when I can find a local Christmas fair in a school or church in my town.

My elementary school used to hold a Christmas bazaar in early December each year.  It was the best thing next to the holiday itself.  Always at night in the creaky old auditorium in the basement of our 1920's brick school, mothers would push tables end-to-end around the perimeter of the room.  Here they would hawk their wares, most of which was made by us in art classes.  There were colorful felt headbands, elaborate Styrofoam ornaments with pailettes attached by common pins and trimmed with velvet ribbons, and small Santa's made from empty aspirin bottles replete with cotton-ball beards.  There was also a candy table with bouquets of candy canes plunged into orange juice cans decorated with red and green rick-rack and crinkly cellophane-wrapped peanut brittle and fudge.  The bake sale table was overflowing with breads, cookies and cakes, all mother-baked.  I always enjoyed visiting the White Elephant table for its odd-duck but charming bric-a-brac  It was a bright and festive night.

When I was a girl, my maternal grandfather was the general manager of Filene's Basement -   THE Filene's Basement - the original in Boston.  This meant occasional boxes sent to our house filled with clothes. They were usually garments that were left-over after the automatic mark-downs had ended but it was still pretty nice stuff.  I can't say I was pleased with the black jodhpurs that came once but I loved the sheepskin coat and stir-up pants I found along with them.  For the most part, my grandfather was spot-on with what went into the boxes, especially the day my mother opened one with a beautiful grey, magenta, and mushroom tweed Chanel suit for her.  It even had the weighted chain sewn into the hem of the jacket although it was torn off on one side.  Along with the suit came fuchsia alligator pumps which were a perfect match.

In those days, even a simple school fair had mothers turning out in their finery and so the Christmas bazaar was the perfect occasion for my mother to debut her new suit and shoes.  I'll never forget how pretty she looked behind my class' craft table with her hair bobby-pinned up into a French twist.  She was trim and feminine with the jacket buttoned close and the shiny pumps in their unusual color, on her dainty feet.  As we merrily raced from table to table with fudge on our fingers, my mother - chic and composed - worked the Christmas bazaar for our school.  Even as a second-grader, I felt proud.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

On the Fifth Day of a Feminine Christmas

As a lullaby, I often sang "Away in a Manger" to my daughter and not just at Christmas.  It was the only song I could sing on key and the melody is slow enough that I could do it with nary a croak and even whisper it softly when necessary.   Of course, she has no memory of this but in the car last week, she turned the volume up during a beautiful Julie Andrews' rendition.  "I just love this carol", she said looking at the dark road ahead as she drove me home from our Christmas shopping trip.  I told her I used to sing the carol to her as a babe but said nothing more about it.  I have to temper my "Mom" memories because they can be so ridiculously sentimental and sappy and I don't want to overwhelm her - she's young and practical and cannot yet know the strong feelings a new mother has for her baby.  They'll be plenty of time for that when she has a child of her own.  I have no doubt...

My daughter was born three weeks early on a crystalline Epiphany.  Our holiday out-of-state company had stayed until that very eve and when they departed, I thought how nice it was that I still had three weeks to pack a bag for the hospital, launder the new baby clothes we received for Christmas, and cook and freeze some meals.  Best laid plans cannot trump a baby that wants to be born.

It was an icy and blustery ride to the hospital and every nurse that entered my room commented on the wintry weather outside the narrow slit of a window I had.  Of course, the weather was of little concern to me but a frosty January night still has the power to tickle an internal thrill from that wondrous Epiphany.

And just as my daughter called recently for my grandmother's chocolate bread pudding recipe that I make every Christmas Eve, I know one day she will want to know the name of the lullaby I sang to her.  And it will be an epiphany that nudges her - a sudden pleasant insight into something long past.  I have no doubt...

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

On the Fourth Day of a Feminine Christmas

This young wife is buying the traditional male gift of a handsome tie.  There is just something about a man in a suit and tie especially if he knows how to stand and comport himself.  But it's becoming a rare thing to see a man dressed up these days and so a beautiful silk tie is not the easy choice for Christmas that it used to be.

I once read some interesting advice about buying for the men in one's life - go simple but go volume.  In other words, if you buy socks, buy lots of them.  Ditto beef jerky.

It was easy to buy for my brother until recently.  As a mail carrier he was always in need of high-tech neck warmers, ear muffs, and band-aids for his work-worn fingers.  Lots and lots of band-aids.  Now he has been promoted to a desk job but alas, ties are still not part of his wardrobe.  My brother-in-law (the beef jerky connoisseur) is eating healthy these days and is loving tea.  That's a gift I know something about.

As women we might ask the age-old question in reverse, "What do men really want?"  I'm pretty sure they want the same thing we do:  small thoughtful gifts that show we care.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

On the Third Day of a Feminine Christmas

The fur on my hooded jacket softly tickled my neck on a long and dark drive home from work last week.  I found it oddly comforting as I hadn't worn a hat that day and the temperatures had dropped to bone-chilling levels while I toiled all day at my computer.  I thought of Dr. Zhivago's wife Tonya in her white hooded fur coat as she rode with her beloved Yuri to their ice house in the Russian forest.

Last year I bought myself a simple wool jacket in a deep plum hue.  But it's the tone-on-tone fur trim I love so much.  It makes me feel both glamorous and romantic.  It's a little bit of chic after work or after a long session of shopping and wearing the hood as I dash into a store, makes me regret not having a hat a lot less.

Fur-trimmed coats are such dreamily quixotic garments - they evoke the allure and grandeur of Gilded Age ladies as they stepped from carriages onto glacial city streets and Victorian ladies who rode in horse-drawn sleighs and traversed over the river and through the woods to visit neighbors and friends on Christmas Day.

So many of today's down coats now feature fur-trim not only because it's chic but it also gives extra protection from wind and cold.  It's especially festive to wear fur-embellished coats, jackets, and capes during the holiday season.  Is there a more perfect time of year for a bit of romance and fantasy?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

On the Second Day of a Feminine Christmas

Every Christmas morning after the mad unwrapping was over, my mother presented my grandmother with her annual Christmas corsage.  It always came in a snow-white florist box with a clear plastic cover.  We were lucky in that we had a flower shop right on the street where we lived.  I don't remember running that errand for my mother but I do know my grandmother's corsage, a gift from her only child, was sacrosanct.  

The image of this young miss melted my heart.  Her age, her purity and the simple pleasure of selecting the most perfect corsage to pin on her wool coat no doubt had her imagining the young lady who would soon be looking back at her from the glass.  It also reminded me of the corsages we made in school as well as the brightly crafted dime-store variety that could be bought all over town.  They never rivaled the beauty my grandmother pinned on each Christmas morning but they were every bit as expressive in their intent.

Christmas and flowers just seem to go together - the poinsettia, the rose and the astonishing Star of Bethlehem - all connote the deeper significance of the nativity.  I say we bring the Christmas corsage back...for all the right reasons.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

On the First Day of a Feminine Christmas

No matter how far away you roam...there's no place like home for the holidays ~ Perry Como


I love the moody darkness of this illustration.  And this was me tonight as I tried to find a spot to anchor my wreath in the cold dusky twilight.  I debated whether or not to put a small nail hole in my new front door.  I waited a long time for this door and painstakingly chose its color - Velvet Rope - a deep Delphinium-blue that even the painters got excited about.  In the end, I nailed it under the lantern and left the door pristine and perfect.

There really is no place like home for the holidays and more and more I am reading about "hygge", the Danish phrase that represents the notion of living with profound contentment.  Many of the concepts of hygge are things I am already quite familiar with and have written about on this blog.  

But I will take it a step further and say that being at home for Christmas is particularly rewarding and full of hygge opportunities for women.  As we set the Christmas stage for loved ones, it's important to remember the Dane's approach to wellness and deep comfort.  I am certain the lady of the house in our illustration has a warm bath, cozy slippers and an absorbing book waiting for her - just as soon as the last pretty ornament is hung on her tree.