Happy Everything! It's that time of year where it all happens so fast that we can barely keep up with it. But I have good news, I'm hereby going to lighten your holiday load by not sending out anymore Willards until the New Year! Do I hear crowd whistles and applause? Except for the Cookie Jar of course. We wouldn't think of letting the season go by without sending you our Cookie Jar full of recipes...which will go out in time for all your cookie exchange parties, around December 3. But as for the long meandering letter, no more of those, until the New Year; you can plan your time accordingly. If you know any cookie monster types who need the Cookie Jar sent to their email address, SIGN THEM UP NOW, or forever hold your peace.

And of course I have a suggestion for how you can spend all this new-found free time. It's a little early for this idea, but this is my last chance to try and run your life in 2010. Come with me as we turn back the hands of time: Like sand through an hour glass, so goes the days of our lives....

It's really about you. But first, let's talk about me. A short story: During the Christmas season, when I was growing up, after all my younger brothers and sisters were tucked into bed, I would be up reading my book; my mom would be ironing in the family room, my dad would be on the floor in front of the TV watching Wagon Train with Nipper, our dog, cuddled next to him. I would go into the living room by myself, turn off all the lights except the Christmas tree, and turn on Dean Martin music. I'd get on the sofa, cozy under one of the blankets my grandma knit, just me, and the music, and the colored lights, and float above everything, the colors blurry in dreamy, twelve-year-old Christmas heaven.

So now, as a grown up, that's still my favorite thing to do at Christmas: Light the fire, turn off the lamps, sit in the dark with Christmas tree lights and the smell of pine, and listen to Dean sing "It's a marshmallow world in the winter..." If SNOW is falling outside the tall windows at the end of the room, so much the better. That's what Christmas is for me. I just love it.

So, what is this time of year for you? Or what would it be if you could have it any way you want? Plan for that this year...use the free time I'm saving you (with the unselfish removal of Willard from your dance card...OK, yes, it gives us some extra time too!) for some pure peace and quiet. Do what you might do for a child you adore, for instance, the one that lives inside you. Give her a bubble bath, put her in clean flannel jammies still warm from the dryer, give her a wonderful book to read. Let her help you make CINNAMON ICE CREAM for Thanksgiving. Or, even though she's only a child, just for this one time, because it's special, make her a CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL in a beautiful glass and let her drink it with someone she loves; which actually could be YOU. Maybe your little girl didn't get a warm memory of the holidays growing up, which is all the more reason to give it to her now. The way she always dreamed it would be. Make sure there's something under the tree that makes her happy. Dress her warmly, tie a scarf around her neck, put a cute hat on her, take her to midnight services. It's the little things in life that mean the most.

Instead of working harder in the studio these next few weeks, we took a vote and we decided we want to have fun this holiday season! We want time -- for things like walking in the woods, decorating the house, having tea while knitting, reading something wonderful (for me, it's No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym and my British Country Living Magazine!); planning the Thanksgiving menu, sewing up a bit of this and that to stuff into stockings. So, no more WILLARDS, but that doesn't mean we'll forget you. Right now, we're having a great drawing on FACEBOOK. Everyone is sending us postcards via snail mail. We were going to close entry to the contest on Halloween, but we forgot, not everyone is on Facebook! So we've extended it to include you Willard Girls -- we'll use your postcards for several drawings, gifty give-aways, "from us to you with love"...spreading holiday cheer. To enter, just send us any kind of postcard with your name, address, phone, and email (print like you're 8; terrible not to be able to read winner's card!) to Susan Branch, 524 E. Branch St., Arroyo Grande, CA 93420. Cards must be received by November 15th, and have no fear, we would never use your postcards for anything else! No lists or anything like that! Like I said, there will be more than one chance to win --I mean if we get a million postcards, we're going to have to do a lot of drawings! (***Hey, if we get a million postcards we're going to jump for joy and then keel over from shock.***) Winners will be announced on FACEBOOK, but also on our WEB SITE -- but even if you don't have time to check back often, trust that if you win, we'll find you! We're not closing the studio, we'll still be here, filling your orders, collecting your postcards, planning new things for 2011. There are some good surprises simmering away on the back burner; lots to look forward to in January!

OK, what else? HOT CHOCOLATE! And HOMEMADE MARSHMALLOWS! A must have, don't you think? There are two kinds of hot chocolate in this world, one that tastes best with whipped cream, and one that is best with melty marshmallows floating on top...well, here are both of those recipes, plus the recipe for the homemade marshmallows -- which, btw, is a truly thrilling gift to receive, feeding the child in someone else, so keep that in mind when you're making them -- even two in a baggie tied with a ribbon with a couple of Tbsp. of Cocoa Mix will make someone fall in love with you for life. That, and a thermos-full of hot milk, take it to a meeting, your book club, to work. 'Tis the season to be jolly.

Speaking of elves, I'm a person who could make Christmas all about the stocking and forget about the rest of it. I love collecting little gifts and wrapping them and watching my people pull out each thing, one at a time. And I like my stocking stuffers to be useful. I made a list of useful ideas for STOCKING STUFFERS and here it is for you...plus more IDEAS here on our web site...shopping for these little things should be fun and easy.

Remember, everything in this Willard that's in colored capitol letters, is a link...to recipes and songs and all the good stuff. If you missed it, scroll back up, click on the colors, and voila!

Don't forget to check out our web site; we have a new HOME PAGE where I'll post holiday photos as we go through the season. And we put up lots of new and delicious-for-the-holidays HOMEMADE RECIPES. For you, from us, with love.

So, my darling people, in the spirit of more free time, I will stop talking now and bid you adieu. We're hunkering down for the winter, the wood pile is full, the furnace is humming away this early morning in my studio, all is well in the land of oz...and make believe, and imagination. Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season. When we meet again, we'll have stories to tell!

xoxo See you next year!