By Leigha Burnham, Managing Editor
I shared earlier this month one of my favorite things for Christmas, Hubbard's Mulled Cider. As the holiday draws closer (less than 10 days to go), things can get a little harried and hurried. You should certainly take a moment to yourself and enjoy the season....and there is no better way to slow down than to sip a cup of this delicious holiday drink!
I first had this cider at a faculty Christmas party and it was prepared by our agricultural science teacher, Melissa Hubbard of Gordon County, Georgia. She willingly gave me the recipe and shared how it had been passed down in her family for years. The fact that the recipe has a strong history makes it even better. So, here is the recipe and preparation techniques for the drink...and you could always add a splash of something to warm your insides even more, if desired.
Hubbard's Mulled Cider
2 gallon pot
1 small simmer pot
4 tea bags
4-5 cinnamon sticks (NOT powdered cinnamon)
1 container of pineapple juice, 2 quart
1 large frozen orange juice concentrate
1 regular frozen lemonade concentrate
Whole orange, to slice
Fill the small simmer pot with water and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature, add the cinnamon sticks and tea bags, and steep them until you have a nice tea brew. Set aside.
In the large pot, add pineapple juice, orange juice concentrate, and the lemon juice concentrate and dissolve the concentrates over a low-medium temperature, stirring consistently. Once concentrates are nicely dissolved, add the "cinnamon tea" that you steeped earlier. You can leave the sticks in the pot for a bit, but certainly you need to remove the tea bags at this point.
Add water until the pot is full and simmer about 30-45 minutes. I do suggest removing the cinnamon sticks...if you leave them in the mixture for too long, they will give off too much of a "wood" taste and this will ruin your cider. Add some sliced orange for garnish. Serve immediately. You can freeze any leftovers to thaw and warm for another chilly day!
One of my favorite ways to serve this cider is in my prettiest tea cups or Christmas china. Serving in a beautiful mug or cup will only add to the experience. Merry Christmas!
By Leigha Burnham, Managing Editor
Many of you may know that once upon a time, I had a little antique-booth business. I had to give it up for awhile due to being in graduate school, but I still love to think about decorating...especially at the holidays.
When our boys were little, I was always sure to have a tree in every room. Each tree was decked out in ornaments and ribbon and lights. There was always a display of our nutcracker collection, our stockings were hung, and nativities (yes, plural, I own about four sets) were all scattered throughout our house. I even had themes every year! I will never forget the work I did and the money I spent the year I decided to go with The Nutcracker theme...it was over-the-top! Now that our guys are teens and my time is consumed with my career and a full family calendar, I am finding that I like things a little simpler.
As I contemplated decorating our home this season, I wanted to keep things clean and natural. Simple and beautiful. I'm wondering if many of you are wishing to do the same? I do not proclaim to be a professional decorator. On the contrary, I tend to take shortcuts to speed things along. But this may be the very reason why I feel so compelled to share our holiday home with you this year. In the hustle and bustle, you may find that you do not have a lot of time, money, or creativity to get your home decorated the way you would like...and there sure is a lot of pressure out there (Pinterest, anyone?) to have your home looking like those in the magazines.
So...today I wanted to share three things that I do to make my home feel a little more "merry and bright" to start the season. If I didn't do a single other thing, these three things would make my Christmas home just right.
I always start with my mantle. We have a gas fireplace in our living room, my husband would certainly prefer it were a wood-burning one, and this fireplace is simple and rather small. I placed a tall mirror above it to reflect the light and to make the fireplace seem taller. I usually keep a simple wreath hanger and faux boxwood wreath hanging here throughout the year, but at Christmas I switch out the hanger for a more elaborate one. This hanger was purchased second-hand and then I painted it in Miss Mustard Seed's Milk Paint. It has been very durable. I change the boxwood wreath out for a grapevine wreath and then I just add a few picks of greenery. In keeping things extra simple this year, I chose to add only pine stems and pine cone picks. Then, I added one simple, fabric bow in a cream colored burlap. I love ribbon that has wire edges because you can shape the bow and it will stay exactly as you put it the entire season.
After adding the wreath above the fireplace, I like to add one or two strands of greenery across the mantle. I found this interesting garland in my Christmas stash and it was perfect! This garland is basically pine, pinecones, and then strings of a velvet-like fabric that gives it a wispy look. I just put it across the mantle and then threaded one strand of white lights through it. You might be tempted to purchase long-lasting LED lights, but I don't like the cold "blue" light of those, so I still use the inexpensive incandescent bulbs.
Finally, the stockings. I have had these very heavy iron stocking hooks for several years and I just love them! I think I purchased them at a Hobby Lobby or maybe T.J. Maxx. I know that I didn't pay that much for them and the reason I love them so much is that the weight of them holds my garland on the mantle without any additional hooks, nails, or adhesive. Like I said, I love a good shortcut. The stockings I've used the last three years or so are very inexpensive burlap stockings I purchased at a local florist shop. I only hang three stockings, one for each of our boys. One thing I do to make the stockings look better, is that I stuff them with brown paper...which, of course, I forgot to do prior to taking these pictures. It will give the stockings a little more fullness and they should hang better.
I know that this sounds like the mantel took lots of planning and time, but actually, it took me longer to dig the items I used out of my storage bins than it did to put it up! I was able to pull this mantle together in about 30-40 minutes. You just can beat that! And the impact is huge. I got the simple, clean, and natural look I was going for...and the lights at night make our home feel so warm and cozy.
The mantel is the first thing I do to achieve our holiday home. The second is that I mix up a wonderful batch of Hubbard's Mulled Cider. I usually have this wonderful concotion simmering on the stove while decorating the mantel. The smells wafting through the house are to die for! And it doesn't take long for my spirits to lift and for my heart to swell with memories of Christmases past. Let us know if you'd like the recipe. This is the cup I enjoyed after decorating our mantle. What makes it a little more special is that I serve it in my Johnson Brothers Friendly Village Christmas china.
And last, but certainly not least, the third thing I do to create my holiday home is to put on some Christmas music! There is nothing quite like a soft carol playing while you decorate, or clean, or enjoy a cup of cider to get you into a cheery disposition. I have a lot of Christmas CDs from years gone by and even though there are countless playlists on my phone and available online, I still go back to the CDs every year.
My absolute favorite is a Currier & Ives Holiday Collection CD titled "Home for the Holidays" and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. With classics like "Here We Come A Wassailing" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem," you can't help but feel more like a Bob Cratchit than a Scrooge. I'm not sure that you can still order this same CD, but I found a few similar ones online (click HERE to see what I found).
I hope you are inspired to make the simple things shine in your home this holiday season. And in case you were wondering how much money I spent creating this look, it was almost none. I already owned most of what you see. I bought new cream-colored ribbon for $5.00 a roll at Michael's and I bought 10 new pine cone floral picks to add to the wreath (and some other areas in our home) that were $7.99 each with a 50% off coupon at a local floral/decor store. So, it was less than $50.00.
Happy Holidays! I look forward to sharing more of our holiday home and family traditions with you in the coming weeks.
By Sam Burnham
I tease my wife about Christmas. It's true. It's a habit that I developed before we were even married. She has a gift for decorating and her festive spirit has always been contagious. She's quick to trim the tree, usually having the lights blazing before Thanksgiving. This is a tendency I have usually frowned upon as the retailers push the Christmas shopping season ever towards July in an effort to separate us from our money. That particular piece of the free market system provokes my innards toward nausea and has destroyed any stray urge I might have had to visit a shopping mall.
But I must admit that in the last few years my teasing has become more of a hollow tradition. I do it because I've been at it for almost 20 years and it just wouldn't be Christmastime without it. My meaning of Christmas is growing, changing, maturing. And I'm learning to completely sever commercialism from the season.
I don't wish to reduce this article to a "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" bumper sticker as the experience I'm having is not cliche and the existence of such a product is a bit ironic in itself. It's also too easy to set up a creche in the corner of a room and use it to convince yourself that you're keeping the real reason for Christmas this year.
As a family, we have our creche and we are observing the a weekly Advent reading around our table each week. We have candles and scriptures and plenty of other reminders of the religious nature of this holiday season. But that still doesn't capture the entire experience that I'm having.
Our tree and the other lights around our home do make a stark contrast against the bleak appearance of a dreary overcast day. Our elves, now in a state of semi-retirement have made a much less intrusive appearance as I have seen them teach many lessons of fun, redemption, and beauty. I cannot imagine a Christmas without them and the memories of the way they amazed my sons.
Everywhere I look this year there are memories. The season begs me to look deeper into myself and expect to unearth an increasingly better person. It calls for me to chisel away at the fake facade of Christmas and uncover forgiveness, charity, grace, beauty, wonder, gratitude. Like the elves, this might require a little mischief and probably something often credited as magic but that believers know as faith.
When asked what I want for Christmas, I smile. You can't buy me anything in a store. I won't show ingratitude for a gift but for me, a physical possession just isn't that impressive this year.
Hearing my sons read to our family from the scriptures, having a meal together, these things are fleeting as time is passing and they will leave the nest to start their own lives. But what is going on is going to instill in them, and in myself, things of permanence - memory, tradition, faith. These are things that time cannot erode, cold cannot freeze, heat cannot melt and tyrants cannot banish. The symbols may be temporal but the realities are much more permanent. How could I ever unwrap a package and find anything remotely like that inside?
So those are a few of my thoughts. The season is young, so there are bound to be more. Dig deeper this year.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire