Igrew up in Southern California and lived there until I was in my thirties. I loved my barefoot, bike riding, hopscotch-playing, lemonade-selling childhood -- all seasons were sunshine, and everything was easy. We did not own wool sweaters or heavy boots, or leather lambswool-lined slippers, or thick socks; no hats, no gloves, no down-filled jackets. Definitely no snowsuits. Not that my parents really planned it this way, but it was much cheaper to raise their eight children in California than in Iowa (where my mother grew up, for example, and supposedly had to "roll to school in a barrel because the snow was so deep" -- I think she made this up!) -- all we really needed were tee-shirts, jeans, shorts and bathing suits; a thin blanket; mere scraps of material!

Every once in a while, the whole family would pile in the station wagon and go up to Big Bear or Sequoia so we kids could play in the snow. Quite an event for us! We borrowed what we needed from the neighbors who were from Minnesota and could have opened their own winter rent-a-jacket/mitten business. There were no burning piles of fall leaves in our neighborhood; when we had a fire in the fireplace, which was rare, it was with all the windows open; there were orange trees, but no flaming maples and no daffodils; there was no "first breath of spring," because every breath was a breath of spring. We had no trouble getting to school, and no snow days (we made up for that by having heat days, school canceled due to high temperatures -- off to the beach!). We played hide-and-go-seek outside at night for half the year, swam in the pool on Christmas, were dressed and out of the house in a nano-second, skipped to school in all seasons. Once in a while it rained; on the way home from school, we took off our shoes and socks and waded across the flooded streets through the cool, not frozen, water. Ahhh, the good life. We never got our tongues stuck on a frozen flagpoles, or fell down in overstuffed snowsuits, unable to get back up.

I never really thought about what I might be missing until I grew up. I'm glad it happened this way, it's been the best of both worlds. I think I'm much more appreciative. Because I didn't have seasons when I was young, I never really expect it! I'm still surprised, even after all these years, when summer turns to fall, and then to winter. It took me a while to learn to believe, I still think, maybe this year, it won't happen. How can leaves BE so bright red? How can snow just fall out of the sky? Will spring ever come?

But it always does, the miracle always happens, and I'm starting to feel like I can depend on it!

My first year on the east coast was one surprise after another ... I was a little nervous about how I would handle the winter alone on this little island in the Atlantic Ocean. I was downtown about a week before Christmas, the leaves had put on a beautiful show, and had all blown away; the branches were bare; there was a lot more sky; we hadn't any snow yet, but the charming Main Street with the New England architecture was decorated with tiny white lights shining in the frosty cold; there were lots of fragrant pine boughs around all the windows; the

red Salvation Army bell was ringing in front of Mardell's Hallmark Store; there were wreaths on every door; people in knitted hats and long colorful scarves were doing their holiday shopping. Shop bells tinkled; a farm wagon filled with festive parents and their children in stripped knitted caps, pulled by a pair of draft horses, clip-clopped down the middle of the street. I came out of a store with my packages just as it started to snow. White flakes floated down so soft and light, landing on my shoulders, my hair, on my nose and swirled past my dazzled eyes. My heart did a little flip-flop, I remember how happy I felt. I wanted to turn to everyone in the street and holler, "Isn't this AMAZING?????!!!!"

and it is that moment, the feeling I had then, that I look for every year. That feeling of enchantment. Such a magical time of year, with the twinkling lights, the cooking smells, the music. And I remembered, it wasn't really the snow, although, to my eye, that's the perfect decorative touch, it was something else, something in the heart -- I had that same feeling when I was twelve years old, in the dark living room with just the tree lights, Dean Martin singing, and my dreams swirling around in my head. It's the small moments, that I sometimes have to carve out of the busiest season, to see and feel contentment and make it my own. To stop and look at the beauty and say, Wow. How lucky I am. That's what I want and am wishing for you. None of the rest of it matters much at all. As they say in The Bishop's Wife, "You give me a book, I give you a tie;" a glass of champagne or cider in front of the fire with a loved one, the little things.

That's exactly what I will be doing the evening of December twelfth, I'll be in front of the fire with Joe, being grateful, celebrating the beauty -- our house will be gorgeous by then! Has to be! Because, on the eleventh of December, Yankee Magazine is coming here to do a photo shoot for next year's Christmas issue! Nothing like company bearing cameras to get a person to clean things up. Yankee is one of the last family-owned magazines still in business in this country and has been going since 1935... I'm honored that they chose me and I want to make it nice! So this week all my magic moments will be wrapped up in decorating. As soon as I finish this Willard, I'm going to be a garland-making, cookie-baking, light-hanging fiend. Watch the blog if you want to see how it's going!

Of course, it wouldn't be December if we didn't send our traditional cookie jar, for all your cookie exchange parties! Just click on any cookie, and the recipe will come up. It's the time of year to throw a little flour around!

Florentine Cookies Profiteroles Lemon Squares Jelly Filled Cookies Rice Pudding Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons Christmas Nut Cookies Eggnog Cappuccino Chocolate Poached Pears Candied Orange Peel Almond Brittle Homemade Marshmallows Fudge Spiced Cider Annie Hall's Butter Cookies Snow Clouds Cookie Cutter Cookies Mary's Mother's Snowballs Croquembouche Bourbon Balls Christmas Wreaths Rum Truffles Creme Caramel Popcorn Balls Pots de Creme Sweet Potato Pie Hot Cocoa Snowflakes Roll Cookies Fairy Cones Grandma's Frosted Molasses Cookies Ginger Crisps

We still have lots of darling things in our webstore, good stocking stuffers, little things that make life sweet, maple sandwich cookies shaped
like leaves, red and white bakers twine, wonderful Emma Bridgewater cups, holiday recipe cards, apricot jam, Heart of the Home cookie cutters, baking and shipping labels,
family scrapbooks. And Girlfriends? Be sure Santa is leaving something under the tree that you want! I know for a fact that you've been good!

And here are a few little gifts from my house to yours: new Wallpaper for your computer, some darling Holiday Bookmarks for stocking stuffers, and our HAPPY NEW YEAR bookmark, updated with all the Full Moon dates for 2014!

Come over to the blog where we'll be doing even more holiday celebrating! I'm sure Jack (my kitty) will be helping me decorate; I will try to get him to hold still long enough to take some pictures of him! Take care Girlfriends, Happy Holidays to all of you!

PS My favorite Happy New Year Song . . . preciousness! You can send this link to your friends far away, and they will know they're loved. xoxo. See you next year!