Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Partridge in a Pear Tree... Tree

I had intended to show a little of my own tree trimming this evening, but I'm still unfinished. Instead, I stopped by the Duchess's house after school to do a little tablescaping. Tomorrow, I'll yak all about her Twelve Days of Christmas Table, but today, I'll show the inspiration for it.

It's her Twelve Days of Christmas tree.

OK, it's not technically a tree, but since it's in the shape of a tree, we count it among her 15 trees. It's one of her oldest projects, and since it's completely hand made, it's still one of my favorites.

About twenty years ago, when my dad was on an extended business stay in Germany, she needed something to fill her long evenings.  Crafting the Twelve Days of Christmas seemed like as good an idea as any.

The original idea was to make a wall hanging. By the time Dad got home, she had plans for him to build a tree out of dowels for her instead. 

On which to hang...

Twelve drummers drumming...
 Eleven pipers piping...
Ten lords a leaping...

Nine ladies dancing...
Eight maids a milking...

Seven swans a swimming...
Six geese a laying...

Five golden rings....
dum da dum dum dum dum
Four calling birds

Three French Hens...
Two Turtle Doves...

And an owl in a pear tree...

Admit it. It looks like an owl.
We've teased her for twenty years about that,
 but if the Duchess says it's a partridge,
then by golly,
a partridge it is! 
 Owl or not, I love her tree,
and I love the Christmas table that it inspired.

It was already set up by the time I took these shots so you can see a bit of it.

The rest will just have to wait until tomorrow.

Sharing this with Vanessa at her Inspiration Friday.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Flavored Cocoa

I’m easing back into Blog Land from a week of family fellowship with my two favorite college girls.

Thanksgiving is over, and it’s is now permissible in Debbie Land to begin the Christmas traditions. The Christmas season, you see, doesn’t begin here until the day after Thanksgiving. I’m a purist of the most oddball sort. Yes, I realize it’s not the most convenient way to fly, but it’s just the way I am. Not so much as a sprig of holly comes into the house  until the sun sets on our Thanksgiving.

But then, lookout.

Cocoa is the official drink of the Christmas season, and our first batches are always made the day after Thanksgiving. Never mind that it was over 80 degrees on the day after Thanksgiving, it's the number on the calendar and not the one on the thermometer which determines that it is, indeed, cocoa season.

I’ve used the same base recipe for years, but it was much easier before Nestle started playing mind games with its packaging.  My recipe called for a two pound box of Nestle Quik, but the incredible shrinking Quik box has gone from 2 pounds...
to 28 ounces…
to at least one other random size...
before settling (for now) at 21.8 ounces.

I think they add that extra .8 just to irk the right side of my brain. It worked. Anyway, here’s our current base recipe. We use 1/3 cup of it for each mug of cocoa:

Basic Hot Chocolate

1 21.8 oz. box Nestle Quik
3 c. nonfat dry milk
(Use a good brand. It matters.)
3 c. powdered creamer*
3 c. powdered sugar

Now, we also make a sugar free batch because neither The Practical Daughter nor I are supposed to have refined sugar. In my opinion, it tastes even better.  It’s not any healthier because it uses artificial sweeteners, but it is sugar free, which means I can have several mugs a day if I have a mind to.

I generally have a mind to.

Sugar Free Hot Chocolate Mix

1 1b. Box No Sugar Added Nestle Quik
10.3 ounce sugar free French vanilla creamer
2 cups nonfat dry milk
1 cup sifted Splenda sweetener

And there you have it.

*From these two basic recipes, you can get creative and make all sorts of flavored Cocoas  to drink or give as gifts. Just change the flavor of the nondairy creamer. I recommend French vanilla, Peppermint Mocha and Vanilla Caramel. 

Since I have yet to find sugar free peppermint, last year, I made some sugar free peppermint cocoa by replacing the splenda with 20 sugar free peppermints ground until fine.

Oh my...
It. Was. Delicious.

Off to the classroom now.
Happy Christmas planning!

Sharing this with on Foodie Friday.
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Five Kernels of Corn

It's my favorite holiday of the year.
It celebrates my three favorite things:
Family...and Food.
Notice that I didn't add Football.
Football just isn't one of my favorite things.

We are doubly thankful to have our two favorite college girls home for the week. If you've read here long, you know that everything takes a back seat when my girls come home from college. 

I love being surrounded by family.

Those Pilgrims of 1621 would probably
have loved it too.

That First Thanksgiving, however,
was not much of a family celebration.

Never mind the ones left behind across the ocean....

Did you know...
Of all the families aboard the Mayflower that year,
only the family of Stephen Hopkins
survived as a unit on that day
we call The First Thanksgiving?

did you know...
Only four of the wives
survived the winter?

Did you know...
That that first winter which took
half of the population
was not the worst season for the Pilgrims?

The miserable winter of 1623
 was followed by
 a summer drought.
That year was ever after called
The Starving Year.

They  subsisted on whatever shellfish
 they could catch by hand
 and rations of corn,

kernel by kernel...

(And we think we're living in tough times?)

On Forefather’s Day, 22nd Dec. 1820,
they began the tradition of
rationing five kernels of corn
beside each plate
to remember
The Starving Year
and thank the God who carried them through it.

We heard the story and read the poem
 Five Kernels of Corn
when the girls were in elementary school.
Being one of *those* families,
we began adding five kernels of corn to
our Thanksgiving too.

This week,
instead of a tablescape for invisible people,
I'm sharing our actual
 Thanksgiving Eve dinner table
and the poem that inspired our Five Kernels of Corn.

( By the way....that  random fork in some pictures is the handiwork of a smart aleck husband protesting the absence of dessert. I was tempted to serve him five kernals of corn... )

Five Kernels of Corn

'Twas the year of the famine in Plymouth of old,
The ice and the snow from the thatched roofs had rolled;
Through the warm purple skies steered the geese o'er the seas,
And the woodpeckers tapped in the clocks of the trees;
And the boughs on the slopes to the south winds lay bare,
and dreaming of summer, the buds swelled in the air.
The pale Pilgrims welcomed each reddening morn;

There were left but for rations Five Kernels of Corn.
Five Kernels of Corn! Five Kernels of Corn!
But to Bradford a feast were Five Kernels of Corn!

"Five Kernels of Corn! Five Kernels of Corn!
Ye people, be glad for Five Kernels of Corn!"
So Bradford cried out on bleak Burial Hill,
And the thin women stood in their doors, white and still.
"Lo, the harbor of Plymouth rolls bright in the Spring,
The maples grow red, and the wood robins sing,
The west wind is blowing, and fading the snow,
And the pleasant pines sing, and arbutuses blow.

Five Kernels of Corn! Five Kernels of Corn!
To each one be given Five Kernels of Corn!"

O Bradford of Austerfield hast on thy way,
The west winds are blowing o'er Provincetown Bay,
The white avens bloom, but the pine domes are chill,
And new graves have furrowed Precisioners' Hill!
"Give thanks, all ye people, the warm skies have come,
The hilltops are sunny, and green grows the holm,
And the trumpets of winds, and the white March is gone,

Five Kernels of Corn! Five Kernels of Corn!
Ye have for Thanksgiving Five Kernels of Corn!

"The raven's gift eat and be humble and pray,
A new light is breaking and Truth leads your way;
One taper a thousand shall kindle; rejoice
That to you has been given the wilderness voice!"
O Bradford of Austerfi eld, daring the wave,
And safe through the sounding blasts leading the brave,
Of deeds such as thine was the free nation born,
And the festal world sings the "Five Kernels of Corn."

Five Kernels of Corn! Five Kernels of Corn!
The nation gives thanks for Five Kernels of Corn!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sharing our Thanksgiving Eve table with  The Porch People for  Tablescape Thursday.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pilgrim Switchel

We first discovered Switchel when my daughter, Miss Whimsy, was in elementary school. I was her homeroom mother, as usual, and I was in charge of the Thanksgiving party for her class, as usual.

Have I mentioned that I love Thanksgiving?  And that it’s my favorite holiday of the year?   And that I have an unnatural Pilgrim obsession?

Yes, I think I have.

You can imagine how jazzed I was to discover that the husband and therefore daughters are direct descendants of Governor William Bradford. It’s true. In fact, into his line of the family was passed the Geneva Bible which Bradford carried across the ocean on the famed voyage. It was long ago donated to the museum at Plymouth.

That man of mine is the gift that keeps on giving...

One of our favorite family vacations included a trip to Plymouth (Plimoth) Plantation.

You see, we’re one of  *those* families whose idea of a vacation is to haul our kids to historical sites. You know the type.

We’ve thrown the tea
 into Boston Harbor
 and rabble roused
 with the Sons of Liberty.
We’ve given the “huzzah”
to Patrick Henry at Williamsburg
 and danced with Cherokees
in North Carolina.
 We bought poke bonnets
 at Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Home
 and coonskin caps
on a mountaintop in Tennessee.

According to my girls, we’ve visited every log cabin  east of the Mississippi. They inherited their Smarty Pants from that Bradford side of the family...

But of all places, my favorite was Plymouth Plantation. The characters at Plymouth have so studied their roles that they literally become the figures in question. That’s the reason we don’t have photos of the girls posing with them a la Disney World. They have no clue as to the purpose of a shiny red Kodak.

It was at Plymouth that I purchased that cookbook
 full of recipes and tidbits.

This introduction cracks me up.
Click to enlarge.

In it, I found the recipe for Switchel. It's a drink of ginger water which they believed to be safer to drink than plain water in the hot sun.  We first made it as part of that aforementioned party for little Pilgrims and Indians to sample and take home.

It’s a fun Thanksgiving activity and pretty tasty too.

But wait… there’s more.

Quite by accident, we discovered that year that Switchel is also a miraculous cure for a sore throat. I guess it’s the honey and vinegar in it, but it not only soothes the sore throat, it eliminates it completely, stopping any further advance of other cold symptoms in their tracks as well. Seriously. 

I made some this morning. You see, while his family passes down Bibles and Smarty Pants, mine just passes down colds.

So there ya go. How I managed to evolve from travel reporter to tidbit teller to snake oil salesman all in one post, I do not know. 

All I really wanted to do was share this recipe for
 Pilgrim Switchel
(I halved it.)

2 quarts water
1/2 cups molasses (We use honey)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 t. ginger

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Simply Teaching

I mentioned yesterday that I was back in the classroom. On Monday and Tuesday afternoons, I teach remedial reading to small groups of children in an unventilated bookroom at a nearby school.

I teach feral children.

OK, maybe they’re not technically feral. They haven’t been raised by wolves or anything. For the most part, though, the children who come to my little room at the end of the hall are raising themselves.  There’s absolutely nothing going on in their homes to engage them in the educational process.

No one ever reads to them
or asks about homework.
Conferences are a nuisance.
Discipline is a joke.

They aren’t houseless, but they are homeless in the truest sense of the word. They aren’t hungry,  but they are malnourished. They exist on fast food, junk food, fried food, and processed food. In case you didn’t know, sugar is the new basic food group.

They stay up as late as they want,
 staring at some tripped out electronic screen
 that steals their intellect and their innocence.

And nobody seems to care.

For the most part, that’s why they come to me.
My challenge is to reach into their heads
 and try to fix what ails them.

In fifty minutes a day…
Two days a week…
For eight weeks.

To be honest, I rarely feel as if I’m making a difference at all. 
Now, that might not bother every teacher.

You’re doing the best you can,
 they say.
 Don’t be so hard on yourself.
You’re fighting against society,
 and their families,
and the whole nature of the beast…

But, It bothers me. My top reasons for being a teacher never did include June, July, and August. I became a teacher because I really and truly love to teach.  And teaching demands by definition that somebody in the room is learning, doesn’t it?

Most days, I pack up my frustrations in my trusty old teacher bag and head home discouraged, wondering if any of my efforts have made so much as a dent.

But some days…some days,
 I get the flicker.

Tuesday was such a day.  We had been working for two days on a reading skill, the topic of which is unimportant to this post, and folks, they just weren’t getting it. I had tried three different methods of creative teachery to get that light to switch on,  but there just didn’t seem to be any juice.  

And then, crouching down beside one little boy, I said something. I can’t even remember exactly what it was that I said, but he turned and looked at me with with the big “Ohhh!”

And he said, “I get it!”
And he repeated back to me exactly what I had wanted him to “get”.

And then…

Almost as if in slow motion, I saw the lights go on in the other little attics around the table. They “got it” too, and they all whipped out their erasers and made royal messes out of their papers to prove to me that they did.  We shared high fives all the way around that table, and I'm not positive, but I think I might have done a victory dance.  

Of course,  I'm not foolish enough to assume that the skill will survive the Thanksgiving break.  It's quite possible that I'll have to flip that switch all over again when we return, but a teacher can hope...

Regardless, I had a small victory.  

And that, my friends, is this week's simple pleasure.

Sharing with Dayle at
Please visit to see more simple pleasures.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Thanksgiving Table

Have I mentioned that I’m back in the classroom two days a week? Well, I am. By the time I could get together with my tablescaping pals yesterday, it was nearly dark. I’m sure glad we weren’t planning to head to a cotton field.

This week’s table is safely indoors.
It's a Thanksgiving table

The place setting is the one The Sister sets on her dining room table during the Thanksgiving season.

We pulled it all off of her table and brought it to the Duchess’s kitchen for this tablescape. It probably would have been easier to lug the centerpiece to the Sister's house. In fact, I suggested that.

Nobody ever listens to the kid sister...

Her place settings start with brown chargers and beige plates which she actually found at Good Will.  I love the edges on them.  

Then she added  Thanksgiving
dessert plates and bowls 

These are Johnson Bros.
 Autumn Monarch

The larger amber Cambria goblets belong to this sister as well.  The smaller ones belong to the Duchess.  Both were picked up at local department stores this year.

Ivory and green napkins in 
pewter turkey rings.

We scooched up this brown silk runner
that the Newlywed Niece got for a shower present. 
 We had her permission to snatch it
 off her table at the Love Shack.

While we were there,
 we pilfered Tom Turkey for good measure. 
 It was a shower gift as well.
 Don’t you love the cool stuff these modern brides get?

We just got toasters...

 Tom Turkey
sits back to back
with a horn of plenty.

The fruit in this cornucopia
is my sole contribution to this table.  

Turkeys on one side...

Pilgrims on the other.
Pilgrims are my favorite part of Thanksgiving.
 I might just yak about
 my  unnatural
Pilgrim obsession at another time.

The whole thing is filled in with
pyracantha berries.
(I have a mild obsession with them, too.)

Hope you enjoy our
Thanksgiving Tablescape.

We thought we would go ahead
and share it this week.

Next Thursday,
we'll be busy about tables of a different sort.
And for that, I'm truly THANKFUL.

Sharing this with the Porch People

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Favorites: The Duchess and the Quaker Oats Man

The question that I get asked more than any other is this one:
Exactly who is the Duchess?

To answer, I decided to join Chari at her wonderful blog Happy to Design for her Sunday Favorites party, a place where bloggers post old posts for new friends. This old post was blogged back in the echo chamber on February 5, 2010. It introduced The Duchess.

The Duchess and the Quaker Oats Man

If my life were a novel, my mother would be one of its most colorful characters.

We dubbed my mother The Duchess  years ago. Technically, her heraldry name is The Duchess of Do More because Mom is a whirling dervish of activity. She does everything at Duchess Speed and had mastered the art of the multi-task long before the baby boomers thought that they had invented it. That’s why she was recently named volunteer of the year for our state.

Mom got the nickname The Duchess when her only grandson was a baby. Frustrated by the fact that he had identified his “Pa” by name and had yet to syllabicate anything that sounded remotely close to “Grandma”, she began listening intently to his baby babble in an effort to prove that he did, indeed, have a special name for her. One day, he pointed his chubby little finger in her direction and babbled something that sounded like “dtsstssss…”

She pounced on the moment
and proclaimed that he was calling her
We laughed, and the name stuck.

My nephew never actually called her Duchess by the way. He eventually called her Grama just like all the other grandkids. The possible exception would be my older daughter, whose personal pet name for Mom, particularly in her Polish moments, is Grammooski. To the rest of us, Mom is very affectionately called either The Old Woman or The Duchess.

Some Random Duchess Facts:

1. It is impossible for The Duchess to sit on the passenger side of a car without sizzling. If you have a mother like The Duchess, you know without explanation that I am referring to the s-s-s-s-s-s-s sound made by sucking air over the teeth. The car sizzle is generally accompanied by the doorknob clutch, the foot thrust, and a two syllable scolding.  Deb-rah!....

2. If you tether her hands, you tie her tongue.

3. The Duchess is loud and expressive. She has always been loud and expressive, but she is doubly so now that she has lost a good part of her hearing. Once, one of the girls’ favorite teachers mentioned that he knew how The Duchess felt about a particular hot button topic. When asked how he knew, he replied with a laugh,
“Her windows were open.”

4. And regarding that hearing loss? Everyone mumbles around The Duchess. She doesn’t know why people can’t speak up anymore. And that fancy sound system at the church  is absolutely worthless and a waste of good money…

5. Don’t ask The Duchess for her opinion if what you really want is affirmation. After all, she was planning to give that opinion whether or not you asked…. And then you asked.

6. If there is one thing that The Duchess saves as much as The Polish Tupperware, it’s the empty coffee can.

At any given time, she will have dozens of them stashed in her utility shed. The coffee cans are multi purpose do-mores, but her favorite reincarnation is as whimsical centerpieces. She offered the use of her coffee cans as we were planning my niece’s recent wedding. She was kidding. We think.

7. The Duchess loves holidays, especially Christmas. Her 15 Christmas trees will have to be fodder for a post all their own…

And finally…

8. When The Duchess started to gray, we observed that she bore a striking resemblance to this guy:

We told her so and have teased her unmercifully ever since. She always laughs.

By the way, that part's not nearly as funny to me as it used to be, if you know what I mean...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Simply Sisters

This week’s simple pleasure arrived all the way from Colorado…

You see, I have not one but two sisters.

I have The Sister, old denim n’ pearls herself. She lives on a nearby farm and tablescapes with me.

And then I have The Big Sister. She lives in Colorado with her husband and son. On Monday, she flew to Georgia by herself for a few days of girl time.

Her arrival tipped the balance of power in the family even more decidedly in favor of the Estrogen party. The Testosterones thought it wise to skedaddle to their various corners.

The husband headed out on the road…
The farmer headed out to his cotton field…
The newlywed nephew just retreated to his man cave at the Love Shack.

This left us abundant time to enjoy the things that mothers and daughters and sisters do best. We did a little coffee drinking and pie eating and a lot of yakking. I even spent last night at the Duchess’s house for a good old fashioned slumber party and yakked till the wee hours.

(Hmm,I might have found a perk to that empty nest.)

We meandered from topic to topic the way that sisters like to do. We talked about decorating and baking and Christmas shopping. We pulled old family giggles out of the memory trunk to laugh about them all over again. Since I’m the baby the family and undisputed Oddball Queen, I’m generally the object of the laughter and the butt of the joke.

That’s fine by me.
They’re just paying me back
 for embarrassing them through puberty.
Plus, I get to remind them
 that they are both over 50…
and I’m not.

Today, we’ll yak our way to Macon, Georgia to visit our three favorite coeds at Mercer University, my two daughters and my niece. Since it’s a bank holiday, the Newlywed Niece gets to come too, giving everyone at least one sister to share on our Sister Day.

Well, everyone except the Duchess. Her sisters died long ago. I think about that often when I’m enjoying the camaraderie that only a sister can provide. I think of how she must miss them, and I wonder if she’s still tempted to pick up the phone like I do when an old memory meanders to the surface and a sister is needed to fill in the sketchy details.

I think what my life will be like
if I’m the sister left standing at the end of the road.

So I purpose in my heart never to take a sister’s presence on this earth for granted. I enjoy every moment that God allows for that thing called sisterhood, and I teach my own daughters to do the same.

For there is no friend like a sister
 in calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
 to fetch one if one goes astray,
 to lift one if one totters down,
 to strengthen whilst one stands.
 (Christina Rosetti)

This week's simple pleasure was (and is)
 spending time with both of mine.
Sharing this with Dayle at

Comments are off for this post
since I'll be out of town.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dining in the High Cotton

This post begs the question: What kind of freak do you have to be to load up your crystal and sterling and china and head out to the middle of a cotton field?

Meet the freak family.

The Great Cotton Field Adventure took place after Sunday dinner. Once dessert was served, The Duchess, The Sister, and I loaded our goods into a pick up, and off we went.  We made the Newlywed Niece drive  so we could clutch our centerpiece and crystal as we bumped along the ruts.

The Sister rode in the back.

There she is...
in her pearls, no less.
I'm pictured in this post too.
I'm the one popping up like Where's Waldo in all the silver.

Our tablescape theme this week is
 Dining in the High Cotton.

High Cotton is an expression which basically means the lap of luxury and prosperity.

That explains 
 the china and crystal and sterling.
 Had we chosen to do a Cotton Pickin’ Table,
it would look different.

Inspired by the cotton blossoms, we chose a pink and white color scheme.

We used matching silver platters as chargers
and added china belonging to the Newlywed Niece.
The pattern is Pearl Platinum
 by Lenox. 
We're pretending those little dots along the rim
are cotton balls

The pink and green dessert plates belonged to my great-great grandmother. We've used them before.

We topped each plate with a tussy mussy
 using rose buds, cotton, and tea olive.

Pink cotton napkins are layered under white linen ones.  

Doesn't that design kind of look like a boll of cotton?
Yeah. We thought so too...

The  crystal is mine from
The Great Wedding Adventure of '84. 
 It's Moonspun by Lenox.

But the cup & saucer is from
 Duchess's wedding china.
 It's Alpine by Syracuse.
We're calling that little pink flower a cotton blossom.

High Cotton requires sterling. This simple pattern is mine as well. It's Old English Tipt by Gorham. It's the same pattern my mother-in-law chose for her Great Wedding Adventure.

Speaking of my mother-in-law
this  antique tea set belongs to her as well.
She sent it my way several years ago to use
and  save  for her oldest granddaughter.

Where's Waldo?

Neither one of them figured that it would end up
in the middle of a field stuffed with cotton balls.

Gone With the Wind belongs to that daughter as well.  The knockout roses are one of the few things blooming here in Georgia. Cotton, confederate jasmine,  magnolia leaves, 
and a southern belle, and it's officially a southern table.

No, we didn't light those candles.
We're in the middle of a cotton field...
Follow along,  folks...

This week's table was a full family venture.


Aside from my own stuff, we had contributions from
The Duchess,
 The Newlywed Niece,
The Mother-in-Law,
 and even My Daughter.

  Of course, The Sister contributed the most important thing.
It's her cotton.

I'll be posting this for the Porch People.


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