CATCHING UP . . . Christmas Joy

December 20th, How can that BE?  Time is rushing by . . . we need to catch up!

38° this morning Girlfriends, still dark around the edges out there! Listening to my favorite MUSICA, and thinking of you. 

It’s been relatively quiet at our house . . . especially after Yankee Magazine left!  The good kind of quiet.  I’ve been working hard on our book, painting new bits of art for the English Diary.  This Union Jack bunting was hanging all over England where we were there, crossing over the streets of every little town, celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.  I had to paint it into our book; it would not be complete without it!

In case you are new to my blog, I’ve been working on a diary of the trip Joe and I took through the English countryside last spring . . .

And you know what?  I have 130 pages done!  I think it’s going to be around 200 pages, so we are getting there!  It’s fat, heavy, exciting to flip through and see it coming true.  I love waking up in the morning and going into my studio to paint.  Here’s the page I’m doing now . . . not quite finished!  That’s Alice, my English girlfriend Rachel’s dog (below) . . . we  stayed with them while we were there.

Every day I get to wallow in the memories of this wonderful trip.  Did I tell you there will be an Index in the back of the book with links to everything?  Oh yes, to places we went, bookstores and pubs, places we stayed, tips for what to bring, how to drive, what to wear; all kinds of things.  So that’s how I spend these wintry days, wrapped in a shawl, hovering over an art table with my pen or my two-haired paint brush, thinking, what do they want to know next?   And in-between time… I’ve been taking pictures around the house!

When I make tea or lunch, I keep my eye on the windows over the kitchen sink, not to miss the daily Cardinal gathering on our driveway.  Look close, there are two males, and four female Cardinals there!  Notice that the boys are guarding the area while the girls eat?  Look how stand-up brave they are!

The girl’s feathers are so much more subtle than the boys; no wonder they fall in love with these handsome guys and mate for life.  Wouldn’t you? They are wonderful husbands.

Here’s our kitchen door; Joe has finished putting up all his lights, roping and wreaths.  We are decked!

And because of Yankee Magazine coming last week (to photograph the house for next November’s issue of the magazine), we are CLEAN and shiny.

Some of you have asked me to post photos of our pantry . . . I suppose this is about as good as it will ever look, just don’t look too close!  That is Jack’s regular bird-watching post.  My niece, Holly, painted the “Friends” sign for me when she was twelve.  It was supposed to hang on my garden fence, it did for one summer, but I was afraid the weather would wear it out too soon.  So in it came and there it will stay.  Holly is twenty-four now and just about to graduate from college. 

Everything is neatly folded, more or less — on the pantry shelves!  I had no idea what they might want to photograph so I needed to make everything at least passable!

Before they came, I washed all the “red” dish towels and hung them on the wooden drying rack in the pantry.

Jack likes the ironing board too, another good bird viewing position in the pantry.

This is sort of how our living room looks most of the time … empty, peaceful, clean.  All I would need to do to have a party is add food and flowers.  All I would have to do to redecorate completely is to remove the red, change the pillows and quilt for some other color (except I like the red too much!); that room is like a prop, really easy to change.  Those slip covers are all washable, so don’t worry, come on in and bring your cranberry juice!  The carpet has been there for almost twenty years!

And here it is, not quite as peaceful anymore, all the little bits and pieces that turn it into “Christmas” have been added, pillows, flowers, stockings, wreaths, roping, Christmas books, sugared fruit, a tree . . . . . .  And Joe, the honey on the floor.

There he is, a contented man, cozy in front of the fire. Lately he is asking why we need to have a coffee table.  Maybe you can explain it to him.  He isn’t listening to me.

And here’s the mantle at night, and the clock ticking.

Was just thinking, I’m not sure if I showed you this chain idea — if so, ignore me.  It’s so simple and easy … you pop a couple of thin nails into a hutch or bookcase, and then . . .

You hang a chain and fill the holes with greens and decorations. Jack, of course, helps.

Speaking of Jack, we brought our deer down from the attic, which was a bit of a surprise for Jack.  He was full of questions:   “What is this?  Is this an animal?  Have I seen this before?  Why is there an animal on the table?”

“Hmmm, it has a bow.  I like bows.  I like to eat the skinny ones.  But this one, maybe if I smell it, I will know what this thing is.”

“Or touch it.  Those,  the sticky-uppy things, what are they?  They aren’t ears.  Horns?  This thing has Horns?  Why?  I think I’ll bat it, see what happens.”

“I’m leaving, this feels a little bit embarrassing in fact.  To have a human who puts horned items on the table, why?  It’s stupid.  I need quiet time. “

“I need time to myself to ponder the reasons behind things.  Like, what is life?  Why can’t I go out there.”

and why is that thing behind me.

Because we love it when our little neighbor Iris comes to visit . . .

So all is settled down at Branch Hall.  And last, I thought you might like to see one of my favorite decorations . . . for every year . . . I may be a little bit jerky with the camera, but I love the bells, and everyone who comes in here says … Oh, I used to have those … so guess what?  Next year we will have them in our web store, just in case yours slipped away from you.

It’s a most wonderful time of year. 

I’m putting together a surprise Give-Away for next time Girlfriends, something very very homey . . . have a wonderful day! JOY to the WORLD!  xoxo

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758 Responses to CATCHING UP . . . Christmas Joy

  1. Terrie Buffington says:

    Merry Christmas from our house to yours!

  2. Victoria says:

    Merry Merry Christmas Susan! Nobody does it better!
    God Bless you and your family and our family of Girlfriends.

  3. Connie Haltermann says:

    I have all your cookbooks, but would love to have another copy as a gift for a new bride. (Before they were out of print, I gave sets of your cookbooks to new brides, and the new brides loved them!) I discovered you years ago through my sister-in-law, who had a dozen of your prints from Country Living Magazine framed on her dining room wall. I thought that was the neatest thing, and I fell in love with your art work. I’ve been a fan ever since. Love you!

  4. Auntie Mary says:

    Thank you, Susan, for taking the time to share your thoughts and your photos with us. Being a “house person” myself, this blog entry was a special treat for me. It’s nice to learn I’m not the only one around. I wish you and Joe and the kitties that happiest of holidays.

  5. Peggy Bucher says:

    It is December 26th. I live in an old farm house in North Western Illinois and my husband is making bean soup using the recipe in Heart Of The Home. 🙂 It just seems to go with your post.
    I love your blog. My husband and I are both retired teachers and grandparents. I so appreciated your post on December 16th. I too spent the weekend in tears remembering all of the first graders I have taught and loved. Thank you so much.

  6. Lynn Cooper says:

    I have been very busy this Christmas, cooking, baking, decorating, and putting red ribbons on the cat and dog. I was late in reading this blog, but it was lovely and it warmed my heart. I did notice that the big, yellow Colonial at the beginning of this blog was from Old Deerfield, always a gem of a place to simply walk up and down the street and look at the beautiful architecture. My oldest son and wife spent two nights here for Christmas with their kitten, Ted, and their little guy and my cat ran around the house like maniacs. I saw paw prints in the guest bath tub when I was in there this morning. They had a lot of spats but after two days were tolerant of one another and almost cordial. Enjoy the new year.

    • sbranch says:

      Pretty good Lynn — my two have been together now for a year and a half, and I can’t say they are much better than day one. Tolerant, I guess you could call it that as long as they are both alive and no one is bleeding!

  7. Nancy says:

    Merry Christmas Susan! I was putting the 2013 recycling stickers in your/mine 2013 calendar and I was wondering why 11.4.13 was blank? Does it have a special meaning? Thank you for responding and all the best to you and Joe in 2013 and beyond! Nancy

    • sbranch says:

      No, and this is the first I am seeing it! I’m sure the printer just somehow left it out. Having a bit of a laugh about it, although it’s not funny! Will let the publishers know! At least they left the square there!

  8. Diane Harris says:

    Hi Susan,

    I am a house lover as well, a favorite thing to do on vacations to new places is to visit a house museum! I’m as crazy as you and take photos of complete strangers’s homes. I hope that’s not an invasion of their privacy. I just love home architecture, inside and out!

    About Joe not wanting a coffee table . . . maybe he wants an ottoman = a place to put his feet up. It is so relaxing for me to let my legs rest at the end of the day and my doctor told me it’s helpful as the body has to work harder to circulate our blood if we sit with our feet down. He may feel it while you might not. Something to think about.

    • sbranch says:

      We do have one in the wood room, but his lower back sometimes gives him trouble, I think that’s more what it was about! Happy New Year Diane!

  9. Lori from Florida says:

    We hope you and Joe had a wonderful Christmas! Your home looks great!

  10. kathy holder says:

    hi susan, reading your blog always inspires me to be creative either by crafting, baking etc. i have all your books (except the girlfriends), but would love an autographed copy. i give your books as presents for all occasions. it’s always fun to hear someone tell me they tried a recipe from the book and how much they love it!! hope your christmas was merry and have a happy new year.

  11. Ann Solomon says:

    I’ve come to see that there are home lovers and house occupiers. Some people, though their homes may be quite nicely “done up”, rarely enjoy being in them. Those people use any excuse to be out of their house. The things in their home don’t lure them. But then, there are those who feel that their home has its arms around them. The love is mutual. The things of their house speak to them. “Come play with me. Use me.”, they say. “Make cookies or hot soup, cross-stitch a tea towel, curl up with a book from your shelves, admire the treasures you’ve collected along your way, play with your dog, or sit by the fire and dream”. My home is my refuge and my place to find me.

  12. kedra sugg says:

    That book may be the only one I don’t own! When the seasons change I change out your book on my cookbook holder. It’s kind of a rite of passage-ha. Isn’t it grand to know – in these hard times – that there are those-like ourselves who love HOME?

  13. patty says:

    Wishing a wonderful NEW YEAR from sunny Fla

  14. Ann Elick says:

    Loved your tour de homes. Thank you. My last house was 125 years old and looked just like your current home. Loved it. But the hubs wanted a new house so we built one. The kids grew up there and miss it as much as I do. Do not have your first book, but so have many subsequent ones. Would love to add it to my collection. Happy New Year Susan and Joe.

  15. Diane Cassano says:

    I am a thrift store junkie and one of the things I always make a point to scour are the book shelves in high hopes that I ll find one of your books waiting just for me to take home and sit down and read over a cupa tae (cup of tea – for non-irish folks). You’re my fav – true story !

  16. DebbieS says:

    Thank you for the beautiful tour of your home, Susan. So lovely for Christmas. I am one of those silly girls who asked for a tour of your pantry – thank you! It is as scrumptious as I thought it would be. Wishing you, and all of us, a very Happy New Year! With love.

  17. Laura says:

    Hi Susan,
    Merry Christmas & Happiest New Year to you, Joe & Kitties.
    Thank you for sharing the warm & cozy pictures of your Christmas with us. I too have always had an affection for houses. Big houses, little houses; it doesn’t matter. I use to draw houses constantly as a child. I even did floor plans. I thought nothing could be more exciting than designing your own home for all those future memories. As it turned out, all I really wanted was a little yellow house with lace curtains in the window and I got it.
    I have one of your pictures of a little cottage (done in reds) in my curio cabinet. It is titled “Contentment” and has a warm & cozy message on it.

    Thanks for all the memories including the little angel chimes. My mother always had ours out at Christmas. I haven’t thought of them in years! Thank You!!!

  18. Betty from Virginia says:

    Happy New Year Girlfriend!!! I’m going to en*JOY* a quiet New Year’s Eve with my dear Hubby.. watching old movies and munching on cookies!! : )

  19. Janie Osborne near Cumberland Gap, Tennessee says:

    Happy New Year Sweet Susan! Thank you for all the Joy and Happiness you shared with us in 2012! Looking forward to more of your Spirit of Sharing and Inspiration in 2013! Lots of Love to you and your Darling Joe and the Wonder Kitties >””<

  20. gail says:

    Merry Xmas and happy New Year, Susan. Your home looks comfy and festive–just the type of place that would make a person feel welcome. I’m so glad you are going to carry the angel bells next year. I have a little candle turbine that twirls tiny brass bird cages and love it.

    Gail 🙂

  21. I’m glad that Jack just looked at the deer and gently touched it. It is so gorgeous! I love the chain idea and if you showed it before I honestly don’t remember. Do you have copies of the book created right away in case of something? I can’t even imagine doing a book with each page so beautiful. It really is a work of art.

    Your pictures have reminded me to take pictures of my home during the holidays. We have our decorations up till the 6th cause it’s a Swedish tradition to keep it up till the then. My mom would get us to dance the tree outside every year. The last few years she has used a fake tree and shares it with her Swedish Lodge at Christmas time (the paid for part of the tree too). She is 82 and is so amazing! I wrote a blog post about her for Mother’s Day last year and shared it with her. She was touched!

  22. oh! Merry Christmas, Dear Susan! I love ALL the pictures and your decorating so much 🙂 and Love that Joe will wear those delicious red socks 🙂

    we used to have that 4 candle chime thing too!! I loved just sitting and watching it, but it’s long gone. I miss it, but it’s in my memory… aren’t memories the best thing <3

    Ok, popping out now. I've had a nice visit with you. My query awaits 🙂

  23. Hi Susan:
    I have been a fan for many years and still have some of your recipe pages from
    Country Living magazine. I have many of your cookbooks and recently purchased “A Fine Romance”. I am also a great Beatrix Potter fan which brings a question regarding the picture of your window sill at the beginning of this blog. There is a bunny on a rocking horse. Who is the maker? Keep up the good work and looking forward to your next book after you travel to Scotland.


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