Monday, December 16, 2013

Traditions Take Time

Traditions Take Time

Taking Time to Create
     Gingerbread-brown is her new name for it – the color of the pullover. Even after spraying it with water and laying it flat the cables are still springy. The Lady-of-House made the neck roomy.

     Little children have large heads and some don’t like to be stuck in the dark, inside a tight pullover, even for a moment. “Help,” she could hear her two-year-old grandson whimper while trying to dress himself. He can be screech-volume-loud when kicking a ball around, or when his brother accidentally knocks his blocks over, but in asking for help he manages to lower his voice to a piteous, impish plea. It works like a charm when there are females present. Is he conscious of the power of his cuteness?

sweater, n. :  garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.            Ambrose Bierce

knitted cable pullover

     Years back, at the culmination of a complicated Christmas, the Lady-of-the-House slouched on the sofa with a long sigh. Gifts were unwrapped that morning, stomachs were full with Christmas dinner, dishes were washed . . . and she was relaxing. It was a gray, foggy afternoon. Heavy raindrops had washed away all the pretty white snow. The woodstove heated the room to a drowsy-comfort.  “Now I can hook my sheep,” the Lady-of-the-House said. She opened the Harrisville kit, nestled the round-edged hook in the palm of her hand, and pulled her first piece of wool into a little loop. “I think I’m going to like this craft,” she prophesized.

rug hooked pillow

     It had been the busiest and most exuberant Christmas season ever. Children’s music rehearsals and recitals, church ministry, parties, shopping, caroling, cookie baking, hospitality, filled the schedule to the brim. Now a lull was welcome. She pulled loops all that week, adding extra yarn to the border of the design, hooking round and round as the canvas would allow.


     That tiny rug rested, here and there in closets - for an embarrassing amount of years. Only recently had it occurred to the Lady-of-the-House what to do with it. The notion entered her mind after inspecting her woven-in-American tablecloth which had covered many a holiday dinner table - and dinners in between. “This has seen better days. It’s in a permanent state of stains,” she pronounced. “I can’t give it away. But I can’t throw it away, either. Hmm, I’ll cut away its stain-free borders for fabric and make a pillow with my little sheep in the middle of it,” she recovered brightly. And so she did, this season.

tin chandelier

Taking Time to Wander
     This year Christmas is uncomplicated. The Lady-of-the-House chose to forego a tall tree. What a quiet joy to see so many of the family ornaments now decorating her married daughters’ homes. She also passed along a stack of Christmas books, saving a portion of for her own basket. She’s been told that similar reading-baskets bedeck the homes of other self-taught people. This tradition of enrichment places cheer, interest, and inspiration in easy reach.    

     “I remember this,” she exclaimed to her then already teenage children while sorting through dusty boxes in a ramshackle used-book-shop in Owl’s Head, Maine, some years back. Thus, Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry published in 1963, was purchased for old-times-sake. It is a 5-minute story with black and white pen-drawings shaded only in green. This cheery fairytale has a Goldilocks-and-the-Three-Bears-feel-to-it in its theme of size and reads in rhyme like the poem, The Night Before Christmas.  

     Mr. Willowby is well-to-do as evidenced by his house fronted with stately columns. His ceilings are lofty but not quite high enough to fit the over-sized Christmas tree. Baxter, the butler, climbs up a ladder and chops off the top. He presents the piece to the upstairs maid. She sets it on a table in her attic room but to make it fit she snips off the top and throws it out. The story reduces down in scale to the size and circumstances of each owner as families of people and woodland creatures find one piece of Mr. Willowby’s tree smaller than the next and make it part of their Christmas festivities. The last page is the cutest.  

     In the Maine-days, her sister mailed the Lady-of-the-House this stylized St. Nicholas, obviously sympathizing with life in the back woods. His cross-country ski poles are tipped with a touch of glitter. The basket on his back is filled with fruit and gift boxes. Where had the Lady-of-the-House seen a similar St. Nicholas? “Ah, that’s right,” she thought, “in Efner Tudor Home’s The Christmas Cat, illustrated by Tasha Tudor.” 

a backwoodsman Santa

     In the story a tall man with a brown beard, dressed like a lumberjack, is cruising through the snow into a clearing in the woods, balancing on a large bobsled that is pulled by two heavy draft horses. The man has an owl on his shoulder. He is a friend to the forest creatures and stops to feed those that have followed the sound of the horses’ bells. Among them is a gray cat shivering in the cold. On Christmas morning the cat appears in the house of two little boys where it curls up on a pillow by the fireside. But who is the generous man? Shh, don’t tell anyone, but he looks a little like another bearded fellow in the story.
     Tasha Tudor’s watercolor scenes inside and outside the house, transport the nostalgic-prone to simpler times.

Taking Time to Wonder
     With the woods bare and white, a few brave Pennsylvania birds can be spotted now and again by those who are accustomed to peering out of windows at different times of the day. The Man-of-the-House and his Lady abruptly stopped their lunch preparations. They were startled by a bird’s song. It sounded so loud and clear that they momentarily wondered if the bird were inside the house. His Lady traced the source to the fireplace. “It must be perched on the chimney,” she said. Two verses were shouted from the housetop. That was all. But they were beautiful, sweet verses.

bird watching from the parlor

Taking Time to Worship
     The chimney-top bird affirmed their efforts toward hospitality and “friendship evangelism” this season, bringing the chorus of a Christmas song to mind.

Go tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born

     Wishing you traditions of enrichment,
Karen Andreola


  1. Oh, thank you for mentioning Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree! I had forgotten about that charming little story, but it was a childhood favorite. I will have to see if I can get a copy for my family.

  2. Traditions do take time, and they also take tending. My daughter is on a campaign to open our gifts on Christmas Eve this year. She is using the incentive of sleeping in on Christmas Morning to entice the rest of the family. Her brother is having none of it. His first response was, "Can she NOT just leave ANYTHING alone?!" Since we must have 100% buy in to change such a long-standing tradition, it looks like we'll be opening our gifts on Christmas Morning.


  3. I love everything you post but this was particularly beautiful (and timely). :)

  4. My boys quote that definition of sweater to me when I tell them to grab a sweatshirt - "Mom, if you are cold, put on a heavier sweater. :) As always, a gentle, beautiful post. Thank you. Love your pillow solution, fun to see how things sit in storage, then all of a sudden the answer, what to do with it, is there.

  5. Thank you for yet another delightful post, Karen! I also thank you for the book recommendations. I darted off to a new "window" in the middle of reading, so that I could see if my local library had either of these books. I am happy to say that both are now on hold for me! At first, I though that both stories were new to me, but then I realized that I had read Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree many years ago. I don't think my youngest has ever read it though, so I look forward to sharing a little read aloud time with her.

    I love your sheep rug-turned-pillow! How clever of you to give both items new life!

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  6. P.S. I also love the sweater and think that "gingerbread" is the perfect name for the color. :)

  7. Gingerbread brown is perfect for the color of that sweater! It will look charming on him!

    I've not heard of either book, so I took am going to search for them! My kids and my granddaughter would love these stories.

    Merry Christmas Karen, to you and your lovely family.


  8. Oh, I also wanted to say that I love your hooked rug sheep made into a pillow! It's lovely!


  9. Another beautiful post Karen! I can't get over how you incorporate you thoughts, pictures, books and crafting ideas together. Wonderful!

  10. It's interesting to learn about different traditions - I didn't know any of those books. Thanks for introducing them!
    Do you know what we all would appreciate dearly? A christmas book by you! Really! I love your blogposts about christmas... The one about Dickens last year...(And I wanted to say all the time how beautiful your new header is, and what great testimonial of your lovely needlework!)

  11. A balm to my soul this quiet December morning.

    To many feelings and emotions to put into words for this post friend.

    Each new year that comes at Christmastime and as I draw closer to our family draws closer to Him, I find myself in this place of wanting to let go of the cares and traditions of this world and hold tight to the cares and new traditions about HIM!

    But, I tend to rush them. So, to have this gentle reminder that they do indeed take time, gives my soul peace that passes all earthly understanding.

    Love from the backwoods,


  12. Dear Karen,

    I love the "sheepish" rug cum pillow; what a clever lady you are! I haven't read "Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree," but now I'll have to add it to my ever-increasing pile of "to be read before Christmas" books.

    Aren't the birds in winter wonderful? They are the biggest thing that help me make it through the cold months without flowers and butterflies. The cardinals especially are like a living Christmas card, eating seeds off our deck railing.

    May your family have the most wonderful, peaceful Christmas so far, this year.



  13. I hope and pray you enjoy your uneventful Christmas!

    Tasha Tudor is a favorite of mine. The Mr. Willoughby book sounds delightful.

    Did you get the bird out?

    I think your pillow solution sounds like a wonderful (and frugal) idea.

  14. Beautiful pillow my friend,and what memories it holds. I always enjoy seeing little peeks into your beautiful home. A very merry and blessed Christmas to you and yours.

  15. Your visit is appreciated, Ladies. Yes, traditions do take tending - one year at a time.

    Starting a new book has been on my mind more than ever. Thank you for your vote of confidence. A chapter on Christmas may suit.

    I spied the Man-of-the-House leaning back on the sheep pillow - on the blue chair in the Keeping Room. I thought, "It's being put to good use." With the remaining unstained fabric I'd like to make covers for two kitchen appliances. It will probably take months before I get to it. That's okay. A craft idea is to be enjoyed not stressed over.

    During this uncomplicated Christmas I can linger over thoughts of God's many gifts. It is helping me shun the frightening and sad things that lurk in the shadows. I seek to make "casting all my cares upon Him" a tradition, too - one of trust.

    I'm preparing to share a special post with you come January. Karen A.

  16. A most merry Christmas to you and yours, dear Karen! So very happy to have made your acquaintance and to enjoy your posts here. Traditions do take time. I am thankful for the many my family has established and enjoys throughout the Advent season. God is so kind to give us tradition, is he not? I like the quote by Ambrose Bierce about sweaters. :)

    Blessings, ~Lisa

  17. Another wonderful chatty post. I have an old apron that I've worn for over nearly 14 years. It's torn in a couple of spots, and I need to retire it. But I just cannot seem to let go of the apron that I wore through most of my little ones' growing up years.