My husband, Jay, will be the first one to tell you that I find it impossible to sit without having something for my hands to do. If my hands aren’t busy, I’m probably asleep.
My favorite types of in-front-of-the-TV-watching-a-movie projects are small, the kind that have a distinct beginning, middle and end.
Yarn projects are perfect for this type of endeavor. Like most yarn lovers, I have smaller amounts of lots of colors, and I developed a crocheted hat pattern that I dubbed “The Haven Hat” to use them up. I donate them to our local homeless shelter of the same name.
Here’s a link to that pattern: haven-hats-pattern-11-23-2016
When it’s cold outside, children are not allowed to play outdoors at recess if they do not have warm hats and mittens or gloves.
If you are a yarn person, please consider knitting or crocheting hats for children in homeless shelters or whose families use food pantries.
If you sew, please consider making fleece hats for the same purpose.
If you are not a crafter, how about purchasing warm hats and mittens to donate?
We can all help.
And I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Of all the symbols of the season at the cold end of the year, none is more revered than the tree. Touching both earth and the sky, trees are the channels of life in many spiritual traditions. I wrote this story two years ago to honor the trees in my life, and I’ve repeated it during the Solstice season ever since.
Wishing all of you the very best of this special time of year!
As the glower of November settles into the sustained chill of December, the good folks of Carding, Vermont begin to think seriously about the coming holidays. One of the first signs of Christmas-to-come is the appearance of a particularly thick and creamy brand of eggnog on the shelves of Cooper’s General Store. Andy Cooper, the seventh Cooper to own and run the rambling everything-you-need emporium, always gives Benson’s Special Nogg pride of place in the first cooler you see when you walk in the front door, just to the left of Carding’s Creamy Ale.
Word spreads through town when the Benson’s shows up so you’ve got to be quick to get your share of the seasonal treat.
One of the other signs of the approaching holidays are the trays of Carding Crunch Cookies that Diana Bennett makes over at the Crown Town Bakery. The pungent scents of ginger and cinnamon leak right out the bakery’s windows and doors, causing passersby to drop whatever they’re doing to buy a dozen while there are still some left.
But perhaps the most anticipated holiday signal in the whole town is the appearance of a smal sign at the end of the dirt road that goes up to the old Tennyson farm. The sign was once white with a green triangle in the center to represent a Christmas tree. But over the century since that sign was first painted, the white has faded to the gray of a winter sky, and all that’s left of the tree symbol is a faint shadow.
No matter. Generations of Carding-ites, who start watching for the sign on Thanksgiving, know exactly what it means—the Tennyson farm is open for the cutting of Yuletide trees.
Lee Tennyson, the seventh Tennyson to own the farm, will be the first to disclaim any credit for this special plantation of spruce and balsam firs. If asked, he’d be glad to tell you how they were planted by the first Tennysons to live on Belmont Hill. His name was Alfred and his enchanting wife’s name was Elayna.
As a general rule, people like to live our lives among people they know. So it’s no surprise that the folks in Carding were prepared to keep Elayna Tennyson at a distance for four or five years while they got to know her. But somehow—and no one was quite sure how—Elayna blossomed easily among them, just as if she’d always been there.
A number of Carding-ites accounted for this by remarking on the pleasant aroma that wafted through the air whenever Elayna was around. The scent was like fresh-baked cookies, one part ginger, two parts cinnamon with butter in the background. But when asked, no one could ever recall seeing her bake.
Another contingent, mostly children and those enjoying the peak of gray-haired longevity, treasured the way Elayna touched them. Some described her caress as soft as the brush of a snowflake on a cheek while others said it felt like the first warm sun on a cloudless March day. But when asked, they could not recall ever being embraced by Mrs. Tennyson.
Nowadays, it’s hard to believe that the green hills of Vermont were once treeless, stripped bare by decades of logging. But that’s the way they were when Fred asked Elayna to marry him. The brown hills made him feel sad, and he promised his wife-to-be that he would replant them with maples, oaks, beech, and “some spruce and pine so the little ones of Carding can have Christmas trees once again.”
The treeless plight of Vermont’s hills touched Elayna’s heart so she arranged for a special wedding gift for Fred—a dozen magnificent balsam firs from her faraway land.
It took the newlywed Tennysons a while to choose just the right spot for their Christmas tree farm. But they finally picked a southwest-facing slope that was protected from the worst of the winter winds yet was open to the light of the summer sun.
One of Elayna’s special balsams was much larger than the others, and it became the center of their tree farm. After they planted the first, Fred collected spruce seedlings from local hollows and copses to fill in the spaces among them, and the tree farm flourished.
And so did the Tennyson family. Elayna gave birth to a girl named Arabella just before they celebrated their second Christmas as man and wife. Little Arabella soon had three brothers—Alfred junior, Cedric, and Wesley—and then she had a little sister named Rose.
The Tennyson children shared their mother’s luminous qualities, and that’s probably why people believed they were conceived in the moonlight under that great balsam fir. Of course, no one but Fred and Elayna could have testified to the truth about that story. But generations of Carding women who were wooed by Tennyson men told stories about walking in the woods with them at night.
The family began selling Christmas trees the year Arabella turned twelve. Fred made the white sign with the green triangle that year, and nailed it to a post stuck in the ground where the cart track up to the farm met Belmont Hill Road.
Only a handful of families made the trek that year but the welcome they received was memorable. The Tennyson children guided everyone right up to the back door of the farmhouse where they were met by Fred and Elayna. Fred was dressed in a dark green jacket while Elayna wore a patchwork apron with deep blue pockets on its front. Fred carried an axe to do any cutting while Elayna directed the selection of “the right tree for the right family.”
She was quite particular about this, asking the Carding families about their lives, their dreams, their hopes and travails before picking out a tree. Some folks may have thought all that chat was unnecessary but the people who walked in the woods with Elayna didn’t seem to mind at all.
As they walked with her, Elayna told tales about the trees. It seemed she knew the life story of each spruce and fir intimately.
“Look at those three here,” she’d say when the walkers reached the top of the hill. “They were planted on the same day but look how the one in the middle is smaller than the others. That’s because its top broke off in an ice storm. But see how the one on the left and the one on the right have moved together to protect it? That’s how life should be, don’t you think, us protecting one another from storms.”
Then later on, when the walkers reached a clearing near the big balsam fir, Elayna would execute a little dance step in her heavy winter boots, and laugh in her soft, sparkly way. “Happy Christmas,” she’d say. “Happy Christmas to all.”
And everyone who heard her could smell the tang of spruce and hear the whisper of the balsam firs. Then suddenly, they’d be right back in the barnyard where Fred would help them load their special trees into their wagons, Elayna would give them tin cups full of hot cider, and the Tennyson children passed out the first Carding Crunch Cookies.
“Just bring back the trees when Christmas is over,” Fred said as they drove away. “You can leave them right at the end of the drive. I pile them up for windbreaks around Elayna’s flower gardens.”
And that’s how the Carding Christmas ritual began. Year after year, families in the village waited for the Tennyson Tree Farm sign to appear, and then they’d trek up Belmont Hill, turn right on the old cart road, and then follow Fred with his axe and Elayna with her stories until they found the perfect tree.
Remarkably, everyone’s selected evergreen always fit perfectly in the spot chosen for it.
Remarkably, every Tennyson tree filled its home with the tang of spruce and the whisper of balsam fir, especially on Christmas morning.
And remarkably, on the day after Christmas, all the trees were left in a pile at the end of the cart track that led up to the Tennyson farm.
What stayed behind in the homes and mills and farms of Carding were the stories that Elayna always told about the evergreens. All Carding’s children learned the tale about their family’s particular tree like the one about the spruce with bent branches and a strong heart or about the wispy fir that held a family’s-worth of ornaments with magnificent pride or the pine that whispered words of comfort to people facing grief.
The people of Carding grew so accustomed to visiting the Tennyson tree farm every year with Fred in his green jacket and Elayna in her patchwork apron that it came as a great shock when they learned that she had died.
“She just hung that apron of hers, the one with the blue pockets, on its peg in the kitchen,” Fred said, “and took to her bed. She was gone by morning. She just said it was time.”
The Tennysons chose to bury Elayna in a special place just down slope from the spot where people left their trees after Christmas. You could see all of the Corvus Valley from there—the glittering ribbon of river, the shimmer of Half Moon Lake, smoke rising from Carding’s chimneys in winter, and the sparkle of snow-covered Mount Merino in the far distance.
It was a simple ceremony. The whole town was there. At the end, Arabella and her brother Cedric planted a balsam fir to watch over their mother.
As people turned to go, they told one another that Christmas would never be the same because the Tennysons wouldn’t sell trees now that Elayna was gone.
But they were wrong. On the morning of the winter solstice, Cedric hung out the white sign with the green triangle. The news spread through the village faster than a roll of thunder, and soon a line of cars were turning right up the snowy track to the farm.
Arabella and her sister Rose greeted everyone wearing patchwork aprons of their own making with two bright yellow pockets on the front because that was their favorite color. Father Fred waved from his kitchen window where he was keeping warm by the wood stove while his three sons Al, Cedric and Wesley stood at the ready to help folks cut and load their chosen Yuletide evergreens.
This went on year after year with Carding family elders passing on their Christmas tree stories to their family youngsters. But somehow, in all that time, no one’s noticed that they always find their special tree in the same place they did the year before. And somehow, they never notice that the one they pick has the same broken branches or misshapen trunk as the year before.
What they do remember are the stories they heard as children, and walking up the hill among the trees in the dark. And then, after they gather their special yuletide greenery, they wander to the center of the wood to stand by the great balsam fir that Elayna Tennyson brought to Carding so long ago. Then a little breeze comes up then. Snowflakes drift past their cheeks, and they hear a soft, sparkly voice whisper: “Happy Christmas. Happy Christmas to all.”
© 2014 by Sonja Hakala, all rights reserved
The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one can find on a map. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story will be delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you’re enjoying the Carding Chronicles, please share them with your friends!
Previously on the Carding Chronicles: Town librarian, Jane Twitchell, has discovered a trove of stories hidden in books scattered throughout the library. They were written and gathered and researched by Hanson Willis, a noted 19th-century author, but only privately published during his lifetime because of their potentially scandalous nature. Unsure what to do with them, Jane seeks advice from the wisest woman in Carding, Edie Wolfe.
When you’re considered the wisest person in town, you come to accept it as normal that people seek you out for advice. Such was the case with Edie Wolfe.
At the time of this story, she was the latest in a long line of woman named Wolfe, all of whom were considered exceptionally wise, and all of whom were held in the highest regard, even by people who didn’t like them.
The original Wolfes (should we write that as Wolves?) arrived in Carding on the crest of the Civil War. At the time, the Wolfe family consisted of a widowed mother (the first Edith Wolfe), and her three sons, Rupert, William, and David. When they arrived, Rupert was an all-arms-and-legs fifteen year-old, William had just turned ten, and David had barely made it out of his toddling pants.
Edith, the mother, chose Carding deliberately, expecting to find help raising her brood from the faithful who populated the area at the base of the Crow’s Head Falls known as the “Campgrounds.” After all, her late husband had once been the keeper of that observant flock, and had taught them to be kind.
For their part, the congregants expected to—planned to—help the widow and her children, and if soothing words and warm wishes had been enough, everyone would have been satisfied with the arrangement.
However, as Edith once noted, “Good intentions make thin stew.”
Fortunately for Edith Wolfe, war started and drained the town of able-bodied men. That left plenty of room for the woman to grow unhindered in both skills and experience. Mrs. Wolfe was not one to sit and bemoan her fate so it didn’t take long before she ran the best boarding house in the county, situated right next to the Burlington & Northern railroad tracks.
In exchange for clean sheets and well-baked bread, her boarders—long-timers and transients alike—brought her gossip, news and stories from afar. And so Edith the Elder learned a lot about humanity without the bother of stirring from her seat at the head of her table.
You can learn a lot and get taken for wise if you’re willing to listen. Edith was an excellent listener, and before you knew it, folks in town were seeking out her advice.
Sometimes, they even took it.
This tradition of wise women stuck with the Wolfe family from that first Edith to the namesake that we now find sitting in the kitchen of her family home on Carding Green, watching the town librarian, Jane Twitchell, pace the sidewalk in front of her house.
It was obvious to Edie that Jane would eventually knock on her front door. But until that moment, she tried to imagine what in the world had rattled the poor woman.
Edie held the librarian in particularly high esteem. Jane was an energetic fundraiser. She was adept at treading the fine line between buying books of high quality to add to the collection while sprinkling in just enough lesser works to satisfy the town’s taste for trashy romances, scandalous mysteries, and rather shabby (though popular) fantasy novels.
And best of all, to Edie’s way of thinking, Jane had developed a way of suppressing the censorious tendencies of the town’s self-appointed moral watchdogs with nothing more than grim looks and steadfast stares. It was a talent that came in handy on many occasions.
But the Jane Twitchell she watched pacing the sidewalk was anything but steadfast. The librarian clutched and re-clutched a hefty cloth bag to her chest, now turning to walk back to the library then turning toward Edie’s house. Jane looked wretched, as if her mind wanted to come to two different decisions at the same time.
She needs cake, Edie thought, lemon pound cake and good, strong tea. If that doesn’t do the trick, nothing will. So she quickly filled the kettle, set it on her stove’s back burner, and hurried to open the door.
“Jane,” she called, “I’m about to have my second cup of tea. Care to join me?”
The librarian jumped when she heard her name, hesitated for a moment but then stepped down the walk, feeling relieved. In a few moments, her burden would be placed in someone else’s hands.
The next installment of the Carding Chronicles will be published on December 4. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.