As we approach the July 4th holiday I can’t help but think of Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” from his collection of poems Leaves of Grass. The first line is particularly poignant for me – “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear.” I love the idea that each of us has our own melody, don’t you? Our diversity is our strength and our song; from old and young alike; from this land that sustains us, a place of hope and bounty, a land that we love.
What would the words be to your personal anthem? Definitely something to ponder as we celebrate our country’s 239th birthday.
I Hear America Singing
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning,
or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
– Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass
It’s party time! We’re smack dab in the middle of the holiday season and the parties are in full swing. During a bout of mild weather I hosted an impromptu gathering by the outdoor fireplace. The fire kept us warm and everyone agreed that it was nice to get some fresh air. There was hot chocolate, finger foods and s’mores – you can’t have a party around a fire without s’mores!
Set up was simple with Christmas lights to set the mood and a fire to serve as the focal point. For the buffet I dressed up a teak table with a red table cover from Tablevogue and a centerpiece made with a few logs from the firewood pile, Mason jars, holly leaves and votive candles. Here is how I put it together.
3 firewood logs
6 Mason jars in different sizes
Holly branches with berries
6 votive candles
Cut the logs into pedestals of various heights.
Place the holly leaves and berries in the jars. Fill with water and drop in a votive candle.
Arrange the log pedestals and Mason jars on a table. Add a few evergreen boughs as a finishing touch. Voila! Christmas!
Outdoor Winter Entertaining Tips
- No fireplace? A fire pit or chiminea will work just as well.
- Have a few blankets on hand to keep folks extra warm.
- Tablevogue table covers are handy for gatherings because they are easy to use, fit well and the pleats make these table covers look sophisticated. They are also machine washable, which is a bonus when food and drinks are involved.
- Serve foods such as fondue or slidders that are easy to handle with cold fingers or gloves on.
So when the temperatures drop, never fear. There are lots of ideas you can use to enjoy some of that colder weather and create a memorable time with your friends.
During the holidays, I always look forward to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a Smith Family Christmas. The holiday traditions of my family have been carried throughout the years, and I love passing our family stories and recipes on to my nieces and nephews. This year, though, I’m hoping to create a new tradition around the dinner table with an alternative to our typical recipes- this year, I’m making Pekin Duck.
Pekin Duck is one of my favorite “sounds fancy, cooks easy” main dishes, and when paired with a citrus glaze it is a beautiful and delicious meal with a holiday twist. Long Island Ducks are what we know as “Pekin.” They were bred in China and in 1873, exported to Long Island. It’s the most common duck meat consumed in the U.S. and in my opinion, the tastiest. We tend to rely on the holiday meal staples, but I think trying out a different bird this year will be a hit and hopefully start a tradition of trying new recipes each holiday.
Pekin Duck with Mandarin Sauce
Thanksgiving is the big holiday for my family- no matter where we host it, we’re all in a frenzy of activity. The kids are playing in the yard, uncles and aunts are enjoying the fire, and my cousins, siblings and I are busy catching up while also putting the finishing touches on lunch. When we finally sit down at the table, though, it’s hard to talk to everyone during lunch because everyone in my family loves to eat.
I find that it just takes one recipe to bridge the gap between the adult and kid’s table, though. Desserts are always a good go-to, but last year I tried fresh Brussels sprouts. I know what you’re thinking- “my kids would never eat Brussels sprouts!” But try this recipe and I bet you’ll be surprised just how many members of your family ask for seconds.
Tarragon Pimiento Brussels Sprouts
Did you receive roses for Valentine’s Day? Lucky you! Prolong the love with these three ideas.
When Your Roses Arrive
If your roses came prearranged, simply place the vase in a spot out of direct sun and away from heat sources.
For unarranged roses fill a vase with lukewarm water and add a floral preservative along with one teaspoon of bleach to keep the water clean. Remove any leaves from the stems below water line. Under running water, re-cut the ends of the stems at a slight angle. Place the flowers immediately into the vase.
Every few days replace with water and recut the ends of the stems.
Giving Your Roses a Second Life
Pull the freshest flowers from the bouquet and reuse them in a new arrangement. Buy flowers from a local florist or market to complement the colors of your roses. For red roses try purple, orange, and golden yellow flowers. If you receive salmon roses, add chartreuse, blue, and cream. Pink roses look great with burgundy, lavender, and cream blooms.
Cut the rose and flower stems to about 8 inches long. Grab the entire bouquet as close to the base of the blooms as possible. Wrap a rubber band around the stems to hold the arrangement together tightly. Place the bouquet in a low vase filled with fresh water, floral preservative and a few drops of bleach.
Preserve your Memory
As your roses fade, remove the petals and place them in an open weave basket to dry. Purchase other ingredients from hobby or craft stores to create your own personalized potpourri. I start with a base of pre-packaged dried flowers or potpourri to create a colorful mixture. With an eyedropper add some rose oil to the potpourri and toss gently to refresh the fragrance of the flowers. Place the mixture a bowl or basket where the aroma can be enjoyed.
Every year I pick a Christmas decorating theme drawing inspiration from everyday items or materials from the garden. For instance, in 2010 I went all orange and chartreuse using tons of clementines and this year old fashioned tin ornaments will be my guide. One of my favorite muses was a magnolia leaf. The glossy green top and velvety brown underside sparked the idea to decorate in chocolate browns, white and silver.
How do you decorate for the holidays? Do you stick with a time honored theme or do you change it up every year?
These suspended Jack-o-lanterns are a whimsical spin on an old Halloween favorite. I’m making them again this year for the annual Halloween fete at the Garden Home Retreat. I like to hang them from the arbors attached to the art studio and summer kitchen. Glowing in the darkness they appear to be hovering above the guests.
Making a floating Jack-o-lantern is easy. Here is a photo journal of the steps. Click here for complete instructions.