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December - 2009



Dear Tea Friends,

It’s four o’clock in the afternoon. The setting sun gilds the tree tops on the mountain hugging the iron-grey Delaware River. The only spot of color in this snowy forest is the tiny yellow-bellied sapsucker furiously flaking wood chips off the dead tree outside my office window. His bright red cap makes him looks like a winged woodland elf. The blue jays are squabbling with the chickadees, juncos and finches at the feeder on the deck. Earlier, I saw a hawk wheeling high above the juniper trees when I went out to gather greens for decorations.

The birds reminded me of one of my favorite holiday books, "A Wreath of Christmas Legends" by Phyllis McGinley. There’s a story about why the owl wakes at night. Do you know it? It seems that once upon a morning, Wise Men ridding through a wood summoned all the birds to follow them to Bethlehem, "From sleep, like arrows, All arose – Doves, linnets, sparrows, Cackling crow…flew forsaking rest… Only the owl on his warm nest, Grudging to see Finch pass, and swallow, Croaked, 'Who is He That bids me follow?' This bird didn’t leave his bough nor saw the glory, and penitent now, runs the story, nightly mourns "Who, Who will guide me to The small Newborn?”


There’s another, happier tale, The Canticle of the Bees, that I like to recall when I look out the kitchen window to see our bee hive bundled for winter in its blue Styrofoam jacket: "Bees in winter Weather keep, Rapt, a garden-haunted Sleep, Dream of summer, still as stone, save on Christmas Eve when they wake and sing With one accord Alleluia Lord of all Things that flutter, Fly or crawl…" Legend holds that if you visit bees at midnight, and cup your ear against the hive, you might hear them singing thus, but only if you are pure of heart.

A year ago I never dreamed that I would be living full-time in the country, on a dirt road, three miles from a small village, but when my husband, along with 75% of his office mates, discovered that their jobs had been sent off shore, we no longer had the luxury of living in the city and weekending in the country. Our apartment was the more marketable of our two homes, so we renovated, packed up, and moved out. Leaving a city we loved for over twenty years wasn’t fun, or easy, but luckily, we were able to rent the apartment out, and more luckily, we had someplace to go.

The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, And Christmas comes once more.

It’s been six months, and I still haven’t found several “essential” boxes, and I wasn’t born to commune with chipmunks, but I’m adjusting. I know how to keep the furnace stoked (it’s going down to eleven degrees tonight). I know, after the basement flooded twice, why it’s important to have gutters, and I’ve learned how to drive a car all over again with deer, possum, skunks, raccoons, cows, horses, and even a bobcat on the road. I know something about gardening - I’m not a natural - and isn’t it grand that deer don’t like arugula. The beasts ate everything else we planted, that didn’t rot, in the wettest summer on record.

I’m lucky, too to have found consulting work for a children’s book publisher in a nearby town with a great library and lots of vintage shops. It’s fun to figure how to promote everything from wordless picture books to edgy young adult novels to specialty and non-traditional markets. Working for myself all these years on a shoe-string promotion budget prepared me well. Plus, I always have something to read and someone to talk to about it. It is especially gratifying to work with the authors to help them promote their books.

Speaking of authors, this author is grateful for all your support . The first edition of "," has sold out! And the reprint will be in stock again by February, just in time for your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Speaking of Celtic celebrations, my husband and I recently attended , at Symphony Space in NYC. If you’re not familiar with this multi-cultural, multi-city organization you’re in for a treat: " was founded in 1971 by musician, educator and author John Langstaff to celebrate the seasons in performance through the power of traditional song, dance, storytelling and ritual from cultures around the world."

The Toy's Tea Party.

Over the years, we’ve sang and danced our way through Scandinavian, Russian, Dutch, and Mediaeval English traditions, among many others. This year’s story was set aboard a ship of Irish immigrants en route to America in 1905. The brave souls, like 50,000 other Irish, left “a land that had been visited by darkness many times over thousands of years,” for a New World. And on the darkest night of the year, they drove the dark away with song and dance. Did you know that the night before travelers sailed, Irish family and friends often held an “American wake” because they knew they’d never see their loved ones again?

These are dark times, literally and figuratively, and the only way I know how to get through them is to find something, anything, to appreciate and celebrate. I had to learn the hard way that the more I count my blessings, the more I’ve got. I’m grateful for honey for my tea. I’m grateful for Café Chocolate-Cherry Bites to nibble with my tea. Check out "The Pastry Queen" cookbook by Rebecca Rather; no connection, I just like and use it. I’m grateful for my kind husband who remembers to take the meat loaf out of the oven when I’m writing. Roger says that my next book should be called, "Cooking From The Other Room." What do you think I should write about next?

I’m grateful for Netflicks and the library (We live so far off that grid that Verizon offered to connect us up for only $7,586.00.) I’m grateful that I got to see my North Carolina, tea-friend, Cathy Smallwood, and her family, for a New York minute and a quick cuppa after the Revels program. I’m grateful for the fantastic holiday windows at Bergdorf Goodman – A compendium of curiosities. Even the white mice had playing cards and a teeny gold teapot at this red and black tea party. .

I’m grateful that my friend, Roberto, took us to see , at the American Museum of Natural History. En route to Baghdad via Xi’an, Turfan, and Samarkand, I learned that silk-making was discovered when a Chinese princess fished a silk worm cocoon out of her teacup. The liquid’s heat made the cocoon unravel and an industry was born.

I’m grateful that my husband and I celebrated the first night of Hanukkah with our friends Janet, Rich, and their 10-year-old son, Elias and Blueberry, the dog. I’m grateful that our friends Regina, Bob, and Beau-bear the dog, took us in when we arrived at midnight and made breakfast in the morning. H & H sesame bagels really are the best! No connection; just love/miss ‘em. I’m grateful to have old and new friends with whom to cook Christmas dinner. I don’t know what’s going to happen next year, but I am determined to travel hopefully even if I’ll never see my old life again. Did I mention that my nearest neighbor, the one with three cats, an Irish setter, seven horses, and a barn, is going to help me to raise chickens?! I’m going to name one “Polka dot” after a Tolstoy character who kept a chick with that name.

Winston (he looks like Winston Churchill from the back) the frog is ready to party.

The Christmas Revels program notes: There is an Irish saying: “We never died a winter yet.” We need to call up that basic faith in survival, with its promise that cold and dark will pass, and hope will shine through again.

Merry, Merry Christmas to you and yours,


PS, I’m only two hours from New York and still leading, to my favorite city’s hot sipping spots. Most tours are for groups of six-eight, but the mini-tours for two or more, have been popular this fall. to book your celebration.



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