HELLO from Christmas Island!!! Look how HAPPY I am!!! That’s because (and not at all discounting my daily dose of delicious anti-anxiety medicine (Lexapro for inquiring minds)) I started after Covid and worry-about-the-world almost did me in 😃, but I digress) ~ I’m happy for many reasons as you will see below, but first, THIS: my girlfriend Martha’s brilliant husband WROTE a brand new CHRISTMAS SONG.💖 Who DOES that? He’s usually so normal! It’s a totally original song 🎹, and I do believe you are the first audience to hear it! In fact, this is the only place on earth where you can hear it! He let me because we are old friends who live across the street, and when he sang it for us, before he’d even had it professionally recorded, I immediately thought of you!💞 “They’ll love this” I said. He didn’t even try to resist my begging ~ and graciously said, “Of, course, I’ll send it to you! That’s why I wrote it!” 💖💖💖💖💖
Here we go, this is it . . . The Mistletoe Waltz!
Perfect for Jane Austen movies! Right? Can’t you see Mr. Darcy dancing with Elizabeth to this? Molly has a gorgeous voice! It could be in the next Love Actually! Or Mariah Carey could sing it! Kelly Clarkson! Or Taylor Swift, Times Magazine 2020 Person of the Year, who fills our world with happiness and light! This song is like that! Happiness and Light. Good job Ivan!👏
So here we go, from me to you. . . a Willard filled with happiness and light, giving love away, very like A Christmas Carol, doing season past AND season future! Freezing here this morning, had to warm my hands over the toaster! Which of course was a win-win! Toast and warm hands! MAS MUSICA . . .
Our fall here on the island was gorgeous . . . with flaming skies at sunset, church bells rang, wild geese flew over, the wind blew chimney smoke around, leaves curled and turned orange, garnet, and gold, mini murmurations of grackles flew in low black clouds over and around the trees, the Harvest moon shone down with golden light … the freshened Autumn air, as Gladys Taber wrote, was “cool as an old coin teaspoon” …and whipped the leaves up behind the tires of our car. Just as it has been since the beginning of time. Perfection.
I decorated inside to match the outside. . .
But Nature does it best, inside the house too: Sun and leaves made shadows on the walls that fell differently in the shortening days . . .
Church bells rang the hour across the street . . . Between that and the boat whistle and the early morning blast of lighthouse foghorns, I am reminded constantly of how lucky I am . . .
Joe brought in branches of bright leaves to hang over mirrors . . .
We hung our wreath of leaves on the front door and dried corn on the kitchen door . . .
It’s that time of year when it’s FUN to carry the basket of wet laundry across the crunchy leaves in the fresh air to hang things out to dry in the wind, where a slight fragrance of leaf mulch and woodsmoke spice the airy sea-smell of our sheets. Even a speck of time in nature is good for what ails you ~ it carries forever the hum of ommmmmm in it!🍁 I spent the end of October and the first of November nursing around the house, getting it ready for company. I washed and . . .
…hung things on the line while Jack watched and waited in the kitchen window . . .
He watched while I starched and ironed tablecloths . . .
. . . sprinkled dresser scarves and table runners, curtains and napkins. Sssssss, the smell of hot iron …👏
Joe polished my wand and all his little silver things for his bar.
Jack helped me fold the starry sheets in his own inimitable way of helping . . . that is, sitting on them, making them his own.
He watched me arrange flowers, make beds, and freshen and make the guest rooms cozy for my people . . .
I stopped off in our room, Jack’s favorite shooting grounds, to shoot rubber bands for him ~ I stand at the door, grab a handful of hairbands, aim, and shoot over the bed, he waits on the workout bench, HIS workout bench, not mine . . see that rubber band in the air over his head? I do this at least 3 times a day, which is how I know I will be going to heaven. God loves those who take care of his creations.
He also likes me to shoot down from the top of the stairs, in freezing bare feet, when I want to go to bed, while he runs up and down the bottom stairs catching them . . . he catches them, but doesn’t bring them back anymore. That’s my job. He has made that very clear . . .
As it was getting closer to Thanksgiving, and our guests were on their way, I set out bread on the ironing board in the pantry to dry for my grandma’s stuffing; Joe is there choosing bottles of wine… . . . we wanted to make it special . . .
Because we had family coming! And suddenly, hooray, they began to arrive ~ I found I just wanted to LOOK at them!👀 But I was trying very hard not to be scary Aunt Sue!😜 This happy guy is my nephew Matt Stewart . . . you might recognize him because…
. . . in the way-back machine, Matt flew over to join us on our trip to England and Paris with two of my other nieces Holly and Heidi the day after he graduated from high school in Durango, Colorado in 2001! We had these three for six weeks! Best trip ever!
The gang’s all here and out to dinner we went … that’s Becca on the left, Matt’s girlfriend who I had never met, then Joe, then my niece Jessica, my nephew Matt, Cory (Jessica’s husband), Maggie, and Eliza (Jessica and Cory’s daughters), and Eliza’s boyfriend Justin, who I hadn’t met either, but new people at the table are always fun! And I, as a strict Morning Scientist, like to study the younger generation to see what the future will be and talk about it with Joe later. (It’s okay, they never noticed.😁 They think they’re normal.)
We walked out to the water, through the woods, with the smell of decaying leaves … looking for shells and beach glass . . .
Then downtown to tiny La Choza on the corner of Main Street to get the fattest, yummiest, homemade (except in a restaurant), Burritos on earth!
Cory entertained us with hilarious pirate stories of his sailing days. I analyzed, of course, and found them very very good.😱😅😂🤣 Little bits of information, here and there, from every one of those kids make me know the future is in good hands. They are as passionate as we were, but much more motivated and powerful, and ready to take it on. And they have Taylor Swift on their side! (MAS MUSICA … my Grandma’s Favorite)
I’m STILL analyzing this move by the mother of children!😂 What EVER it means (it could be a kind of dancing), it IS cute! After all, MY mother said, “Boss!” when she liked something.🙄 Some of them stayed 4 days, some of them stayed 3 . . . and all of it was wonderful. Matt and Jessie, the children of two of my brothers, Chuck and Jim, both grew up in Durango, Colorado, but because they were five years apart in age, they had never really spent any time together before they all moved away, so this was extra special (for me) just for that reason. I like the cousins to know each other. 💖 And I like to know them! (Have you read the most wonderful “knowing people” book that’s just out, written by David Brooks and appropriately called “How to Know a Person?” SO GOOD, so smart! A great Christmas present! Order it HERE or HERE and make our small Independent Island bookstores crazy with happiness❤️). Oh the power!
Jack found a comfy perch where he could keep his eyes on everything!
Time to make the Stuffing! My grandma’s recipe and HER mom’s, which means that, for Eliza and Maggie, this stuffing I’ve been eating since I was little, came from their great-great-great-grandmother Sarah, born in 1870 in Adel, Iowa! I don’t know where she got the recipe! Probably HER mom!
The recipe is in my Autumn Book . . . we dipped the slices of bread we dried in the pantry in a sinkful of the hottest water we could stand, and squeezed the water out, as you can see above, so you have chunks of bread with finger marks in them.
You keep dipping, squeezing, and tearing into chunks, till you get a bowlful, then add chopped celery and onion that’s been sautéed and softened in lots of butter, salt and pepper, then a whole jar of sage. Mix it well with your ands and voila! That’s all I do to it, I love it simple, just the way my Grandma made it, smothered in turkey gravy ~ and from there I put it right into the turkey … but some people will make this basic recipe and add sausage or oysters, whatever means Thanksgiving to you is what you should do!
Matt knew how to make it and helped me! (BTW, see Matt’s long hair? Both he and Becca grow their hair and donate it to people stricken with cancer. If you have an abundance of hair, and need somewhere to put it . . . here’s how you do it!)
Matt and I have been good partners in the kitchen for a long time!
I made the cranberry sauce and popped it in the oven, and we are STILL eating Christmas Jam on the delicious scones Matt and Becca brought us from Shelley’s Tea Room in Plymouth, MA where they stopped on their way down to the island from Boston! Now I need to GO there! Jam’s so simple:
Maggie, who is 16, peeled the potatoes . . .
Maggie and Eliza have helped me in the kitchen before!💝
This was one of their creations! How did the world survive before cameras? This cookie is still fresh and beautiful! We always wish that time would stand still, and look at this blog full of standing-still moments that will never come again. Thank you camera inventor!
And suddenly it was TIME! Joe’s Beautiful Turkey 2023 was done!
Kids set the table, Joe sliced the turkey, I heated the rolls so the tops were crisp and the insides were soft, and we all carried the food to the table . . . I did not forget the most delicious French salted butter for the rolls.
Have you tried this yet? OMG it is beyond delicious… everyone LOVES it . . .
And Voila! We did it! Together, we made it happen! My mom would be SOOOOOO happy to see this!!! 💞So fun, I got to be the Grandma and read the words to MY grandma’s favorite hymn of gratitude and celebration…
I wanted, with our togetherness, to honor these people, most of whom our kids have never met. (I’m the little face with the white barrette with Jessica’s dad on my right 😍, you can only see the very top of Matt’s Dad’s head, in his high chair toward the back.😂) That’s my Grandma on the left, and her dad (on her right), Merrill James Orr (he’s the fourth child of seven, father of ten, and my mom’s grandpa) ~ and he’s Maggie and Eliza’s great-great-great grandfather. He was born in 1871 in Stacyville, Iowa. This is the thing I love most about growing older, now I’m the connection between long long ago, and today, and even the future. Merrill’s g-g grandfather was born in 1745 in Plymouth MA, where Joe and I are going for a little Christmas get-away/shopping (and Shelley’s Tea Room) next week. I told the kids that our old house was built in 1849 and how I can hear echoes of stories of the families and their friends that lived here before us, their birthdays, the Christmas trees, tea parties, soups bubbling on the stove, their school days, changes of seasons, children, new babies, pets, and how this was our 34th Thanksgiving in the house, but it was the House’s 164th! The history! I thanked them for helping us add to the house DNA by being there for this one. Our house hugs back and I’m convinced this is the reason why. Doing our best to leave it ringing with memories, for the next people.
Of course, what do you do after Thanksgiving? You find out if you’re taller than your mother! I literally remember when I was finally taller than my mother, and I think it might even happened at Thanksgiving!😊💃🏼
Beautiful Girls ~ Jessica is the daughter of my brother Jim and his wife Kate; and her daughters, my great nieces Liza and Maggie.❤️
Jessica with her mom, Kate.💖Yes, this photo was at least partially staged, that’s why all the smiles . . . because we are a modern people! After dinner we all snuggled into the wood room to watch the wonderful NY stage play production of Hamilton on Disney+! They knew ALL the words, made me so happy, they sang all the way through it.🎵🎶🎵
All too soon we were at the boat waving goodbye to Jessica and Cory on the ferry, time for the kids to go back to school and for them to go back to work . . .👋💗💗💗
Then it was time for Matt and Becca to go . . .
Matt told me I would love Becca, and I definitely did! We’re going out to California in January and hope to see them there! 👏 And then, deep breath . . . tick-tock, dastardly clock never stops … it was back to normal . . .🧡
No one took a picture of my cute outfit, so I did. That flannel skirt turns 40 next year! Tip for the day: Always buy skirts with elastic waists.👏 I’ll let you know when I get myself into that buttoned skirt I wore on my first date with Joe! A whole OTHER story!😊
Cruel children left us with this … seriously dangerous . . . after one relatively short fork-frenzy, I cut the rest of the Pumpkin Cheesecake in half, took half up the street to Lowely’s, and the other half over to Martha’s! (Wish I had it this moment!)
Then back to THIS, trying to get Thanksgiving OFF me . . . doing my planks. Which I started a few months ago by doing one plank and holding it for 3 seconds.🤪 Now I have worked up to doing three, holding each for 50 seconds. You know what that means… if I can do it, you can.💝 All of Google agrees that if you can only do one exercise, this is the one! And one of the secrets to happiness… and maybe not planks, but there is always something we can do to keep those joy levels going strong. Life has been more than complicated these last years, turns out it’s up to us to MAKE it the way we want it. Turn on the music YOU like, make the cookies YOU adore, have the tea YOU love, if you want green hair, HAVE it … because if mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.🧑🎤 And you know, life is short.😘
With a little help from my friend. Then I turned the calendar to So first thing, because the holidays are upon us . . . I want to give you your Full Moons Bookmark for 2024 . . . so you can make your stocking stuffers! 💖 Just click, print it out, and then cut it out.
And then, I mentioned that Joe and I are taking the train to California in January? So excited!! 🚂 We’ll get there around January 15th and stay probably a month (or for as long as it takes), because we’re MOVING our California Studio a LOT closer to where Kellee lives ~ and we’ll be selling the house we’ve owned for 22 years, in Arroyo Grande, just below San Luis Obispo, on the Central Coast.💖 We actually spent most of our time there for the first 10 years of the 2000s … I loved it, despite the double-wide aspect of the house. I didn’t care, while I was there, it was the House of Creativity! It’s where I saw my first bluebird. One year we brought in a bunch of sand and made a beach next to the creek! We made a firepit down there, put a long table under the trees and had Thanksgiving dinner outdoors. My brother played the guitar and we all sang.🍁🍁🍁
THEREFORE… because we think about lightening our moving vans, we’re having a MOVING SALE …. starting now, all December long, until midnight December 31 ~ All my books, the calendars, recipe cards, post cards, art prints, and giclees, are all ON SALE for 20% off! We’ve never done this before, but I promised Kellee we’d make it as easy as possible! We might add more, so check back . . . she’s still figuring out what we have enough of! So we have a lot to do when we get out there!
Sale includes Christmas Memories, Gratitude, Enchanted, Grandma’s Story, ALL my books!
YUP, Home for Christmas too! AND if any of YOU need to make your own little farm in the country on the Central Coast of California on 8 flat acres, completely fitted with an overhead irrigation system that comes from a year-round creek running through the property that comes from Lopez Lake and passes through to the sea, let me know. Everything grows there because it is an ancient river bed. Arroyo Grande means Big Ditch, but now it’s a beautiful wine, artichoke, and avocado producing area in its own micro climate . . . where good weather is even better there. There’s a back road through the wine country to SLO, so I never had to get on the freeway to go there; and the house is about 3 miles from Pismo Beach. Trader Joe’s is about a 6 minute car ride away!
OUR CALIFORNIA PARADISE IS ACTUALLY FOR SALE! 😲 TELL EVERYONE! Because I’d like to sell it to someone who will love it as much as I did.💝
This is how the picket fence garden looked when I lived there all the time! It’s still pretty, but not as flowery without me around. I will love seeing it cared for again!
This is the house from the road . . . The house itself isn’t great . . . it’s usable, two or three bedrooms, depends on how you look at it, and 2 bathrooms, with its own well. But you’d really want to build a house out back where you could hear the creek running at night ~ that’s what we would have done if I hadn’t gotten so homesick for New England. Very difficult to be in two places at once.
At the end of this hedge that we planted, turn left and you’re at the creek, it winds along that row of trees back there . . . and the property continues a bit on the other side of the creek.
This is the property from the back; the creek is about this same distance behind me . . . A tractor comes with the property!
When we came home from our first garden tour of England we went fairly crazy planning the garden. . .building hedges, a long walk, and garden rooms around the house . . .
I laid it out on paper, and it’s all there along with several out buildings.
Artichokes grow so well there, the best I ever tasted! We grew them behind the garage next to the back wall of it. It was toasty warm and they were ecstatic and prolific as you can see! There are citrus trees, avocado trees, a walnut tree, a plum, fig, apple, and I can’t remember what else.
We planted lots of roses . . . they love this little valley.
Oh yes, we planted tiny Christmas Apple (or Lady apple) trees there too. Because unlike Martha’s Vineyard, things bloom and grow in California year-round. And those that don’t grow well on our Island, like Sweet Peas? One year I had them blooming in California from March to August!!! Oh yeah.🥰
Joe planted corn and all sorts of veggies . . .
The plum tree in springtime ~ it’s a property with SO MUCH potential, everything between farm, winery, estate, wedding venue or garden nursery . . . Although zoning, I have no idea . . .there was a nursery on that road about ½ mile up from us . . . it’s gone now, but there are still wineries and a farmstand. I’m going to love being there for January! I like to walk, 9 times around the property equals 3 miles. It’s not on the market yet … I don’t even know what things are selling for out there, but if you have interest, email Kellee@susanbranch.com and we’ll pass your note to our realtor, which we don’t have yet!😜
I received a sample of our new cup for approval! It looks beautiful! I’m so excited to send it to my people. They should be arriving to the new Studio toward the end of January . . . I love it, I know you will too. I drink my Fine Romance private blend Tea (Earl Grey with lavender), with honey and cream, out of it everyday and looking at this new cup, I celebrate how our country got started. And for a moment in the quiet morning, I treasure the peace we have always felt in this country and promise to do everything I can to make more of it.💖Yes it is! So don’t forget to enjoy the deliciousness of this Holiday Egg Nog. I changed it a bit this year. Love milk so much, I reversed the measurements, and made a much lighter version, now it’s ⅔ c. milk over crushed ice, splash of eggnog (too taste), splash of bourbon, shake of nutmeg. I think it’s better! Just plain YUMMY, and easy! And there’s calcium in it! Now light the fire or the candles, make a toast to peace on earth, and let the daydreaming begin.
It snowed on our walk yesterday, blasted us actually . . . it didn’t stay on the ground, but it was the first one, and it came down pretty hard for a while, coming straight at us and sticking to our eyelashes. Of course we loved it. We were listening to Dickens Pickwick Papers . . . We decided December goes perfectly with Dickens. It’s a really funny book, written more like short stories (it was originally a magazine serial), but in some places it’s VERY hard to understand. The reader is excellent at accents and voices, but some of ye olde 19th century English accents might as well be Hungarian. We need subtitles which Audible does not provide. Because that would be “a book.” Still it’s fun to be in the wind, in 1829 England, and ALSO, at the same time, in the first snow of the season in 2023. When we get home from Plymouth we’re going to listen to A Christmas Carol.
I’m decorating again!
Decorating with all the little things that have become our traditions . . . old books, old music, old friends . . . and with all our years together, you know some of them as well as I do!
Using all the things we have in common, like sparkly things . . .
. . . candles, bunting, and angel chimes . . . things found, and things made . . .
Homemade things and memories 💞
And this . . . 💖💖💖 Big Magic!
Yes, I’m getting ready for Christmas and my Girlfriends Gift Exchange. Probably one of my smallest parties, because as we get older, we have SO MANY beloveds, it would take something miraculous to do it with everyone! And my beloveds includes you! My first gift to you all, wasn’t even mine, it was Ivan’s new song! Want to hear it again?
I’ve also planned very tiny gift exchange with just one of you. Problem is, I don’t know WHICH one yet❓❓❓So far, it’s a mystery! Your part is to leave a comment, from which we’ll draw names and whichever name I get, I have a present for. Would you like to know what it is? Okay … It’s not this:
But you know how I always love to decorate with quilts? They are so festive and charming and add a bit of coziness, wherever they are,
with their old-fashioned, handmade, historical nature, . . . I put them in the kitchen (no matter that it doesn’t make sense, they make it cozy and I love the color!), hang them over the backs of chairs . . on quilt racks in the bedrooms, I stack them on the top of the hutch in the living room . . . drape them over sofas . . . . everywhere I can think of . . . because they’re so pretty!
And I’ve painted them into my books …
Since the very beginning . . .
Sharing this thing I love has been easy. I’ve collected vintage quilts pretty much all my life, since my Grandma gave me one my great-Grandma Sarah made and opened my eyes to this gorgeous homemade art of our foremothers, who by the way, could do ANYTHING and wasted nothing . . . and that is why . . .
Jack and I thought it would be nice to give away one of my beauties to a good home.💝
YOURS! This beautiful quilt is my secret Santa gift to a very special universal YOU 💞 . . . Just leave a comment (at very bottom of this post there are a bunch of tiny words… at the end you’ll see “comments” ~ click there) to be entered in our drawing, and soon this 64″ x 77″ handmade quilt (there is nothing standard about the sizes of old quilts!) will be winging its way to the lucky winner. Always remember you have a LOT better chance of your name being drawn here than you do with the Lottery and, creme de la creme, we don’t charge for tickets.💞 Another win-win!😃 I’m sorry, but I already know I won’t be able to answer all your comments this time, as you can guess, but believe me, I will read them and make sure they all get entered.💝 Are you signed up to get my Willard Newsletters mailed to your box? This would be a very good time to make sure. Sign-up is at the top left of this page. I’ll announce the winner in the next Willard!
And so Tra La, another Willard, AND another year under our belts my dears . . Wishing you all, from my heart, the very Merriest of Christmases, Happy Hanukkah, Joyful Kwanzaa, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Mele Kalikimaka🌴, Seasons Greetings, and any other thing I might have forgotten,😃 and God Bless us every one.💞
With love from me and Joe! Hoping you