Family traditions at Christmas time were up front and center in my childhood. NO ONE was ever absent to the myriad sights and gatherings that became our family's traditions. Christmas was all about love, grandparents, cousins, and the many blessings of the day. What family traditions do you still hold dear?
For us, a drive to downtown Dallas after Thanksgiving was a must, for that was when department stores miraculously unveiled their huge windows, resplendent with exquisitely executed, dazzling scenes of The Nativity, winter wonderlands, and sugarplum fairies. From there we'd drive over to view three breathtakingly beautiful giant pecan trees which were (and still are!) lit in the simplest of fashions, my personal favorite of the season.
Times change, children scatter, and new traditions evolve. For one thing, these days, I am the grandmother! But children, cousins and the blessings of the day are still front and center. Now we all suit up for The EmilyAnn Trail of lights, lovingly designed and executed by individuals, families, churches and organizations in celebration of Faith, Joy and Fellowship. Thank heavens that founders Ann and Norm Rolling present "The Trail" for so many weeks (all the way til New Years) making it possible for blended families like mine to be on the grounds together throughout the season as kids and I travel in and out of the region.
And, of course, there is the food and drink! Roast beef, mashed potatoes, yeasty rolls and brussel sprouts with cranberries and caramelized onions sounds good to me. My personal favorite is thick, cinnamony, hot Mexican Chocolate, both as a food and a drink- bad, I know! What is yours? Hot chili, spice cake, baked ham? A favorite with my adult guests is my family's milk punch (but designated drivers are a must with this concoction). Served in a big bowl with ladle: One part rum, two parts bourbon, 4 parts milk, a big blob of vanilla bean ice cream topped with liberal sprinkles of nutmeg and cinnamon.
May the Joy of Christmas reign! Merry Christmas from River House
by Temple Wynne
I confess that I have always been smitten by a table set in great looking Mexican pottery. Mmm, the warm red clays and subtle glazes make fresh limes and richly spiced food ever so much more savory –and nothing looks richer on a Thanksgiving table! During my life-long love affair with Mexican ceramics, I have found sources for first class food safe pottery AND for great looking under-fired decorative ware – the trick is to know the difference!
Years ago, while traveling, I purchased a number of beautifully decorated Talavera-style serving pieces in a studio that I knew nothing about. When the shipment arrived home, the larger items were virtually crumbled, indicating weakness in the clay bodies. Disheartened, we tested some of the undamaged pieces in water (if you can hear or smell the clay taking on water, don’t eat on it). When wet, these pieces smelled like rich earth, and they crackled; our new treasures had not been ”vitrified” [fired hot enough (800-1000c) for the clay particles to turn to glass] and were not food safe. Resolved to love it anyway, we decorated the tops of our cabinets with the gorgeous new pieces, and determined to keep looking for top notch Mexican dinnerware.
And oh my, we’ve found it in spades! In Guanajuato, for example, master potter Gorky Gonzales produces classic high quality majolica dinnerware, and in Puebla, world -class Talavera has been produced for generations. When looking for food-safe dinnerware in Mexico, research the area that you will be visiting to find out who the premier potters are – you will very likely find a superior studio that you do not want to miss.
For decorative ceramics, all of Mexico is a playground! Driving through Dolores Hidalgo, or Urapan during the annual National Folk Art Festival, you will see the streets lined with great looking pots, jars and planters decorated with colorful designs. I love the pineapples and painted vases of the Michoacan and the folk art from anywhere. Every region of Mexico produces its unique style of ceramic. Ask questions everywhere, and have a buen vieja!
by Temple Wynne
A dilemma that many of us face is what to do with good, possibly valuable belongings when they no longer fit our life styles, or cease to please us aesthetically. I cannot count the number of people I know who have been stumped by this issue, Sometimes there is a full set of china stashed away, furniture in storage, silver in the attic, etc, etc. We struggle with this when grandparents and parents pass away, when we move, and when we decide that we no longer want to shuffle or store certain items. What to do?
I find that often the hardest thing for me to come to terms is my own sentimentality. I make associations made between inanimate objects and the people I love. However, sometimes thoughts about the origins or quality of the items can make me feel guilty when I store them indefinitely, or think about giving them away: "this box was my grandmother's (one of many)" or "I was with so-and-so when we bought this…". The idea that we are disrespectful if we do not keep all sentimental items can doom wonderful treasures to dark storage shelves or, worse yet, non-acclimatized storage units. Bring those things out into the light of day! Ask "DO I REALLY LOVE THIS?"
If the answer is "no, not really", then find someone who will! There are respectful methods for sending good items on their way. The easiest, and best, in many cases, is to gift the items to family and friends or to a worthy charity. Cool little thrift stores, like The Village Store here in Wimberley not only get the items into appreciative hands, but also benefit local non profits with the money it generates from the sales!! If the value of the item is monetary, place it in an auction house, on EBay or in a garage sale. Better yet, place it in a reputable consignment store like Treasures On Twelve (where the consignment fee benefits WAG, Wimberley's dog rescue non-profit), where you AND a charity benefit.
It is true that we may need to store a few things for the child who loves that particular piece, but letting the rest go, to be enjoyed by others feels pretty darn great!
By Temple Wynne
I have always loved Christmas - everything about it. I love the music and the lights. I love the thought that goes into making Christmas lists, and keeping family traditions alive. I love setting out marvelous nativity scenes that bring home the true meaning of Christmas. And, yes, the food - traditional delights!
This year, I got my first real infusion of Christmas spirit at the EmilyAnn Trail of Lights - more wonderful than ever. Thus inspired, I made a special trip to Dallas to join my cousins in a seven generation old tradition - the putting down of the Christmas spice rounds. Looking forward to this taste treat as I was growing up, I decided that this is a tradition worth kindling at my home here in Wimberley. All in all, we made rounds that went to homes in Dallas, Plano, Tulsa, Midland, Ft. Worth, Austin and Wimberley!
To make this magic, representatives from each branch of our large extended family gather in one kitchen. While our "spice girls" measure and stir delicious smelling spices into a special concoction on the stove, the rest of us work around a kitchen table preparing our respective rounds of beef. Not a job for the faint of heart, each round cut of beef (10'd x 6" h) has to be bound tightly with kitchen string, punctured through repeatedly with a sharpened dowel, and then each hole stuffed with the fragrant blend of spices. The round is then sewn snuggly into cheesecloth, and "put down" in a cold spot for two weeks to cure in the brine. And finally, while still in its cloth, it is boiled, refrigerated, and made ready to go! And go it does, to each of our houses and friends' houses, for every holiday party. Placed on a beautiful tray, surrounded with greenery and berries, the firm spice round is carved flat across the top in paper thin slices, and enjoyed on crackers or thin toasts- spicy and delicious- a real Christmas delight!
We at River House wish you and yours a loving, delightful Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
by Temple Wynne
The beautiful hills, streams and charming towns in which we live draw houseguests from far and wide. What a pleasure it is to share this glorious place with friends and family! For the host, however, there are a few obvious challenges to a steady stream of visitors, like stocking the guest bath, fridge and bar, cooking meals, cleaning house, and providing clean beds! I have found that some simple requests and procedures help me stay on an even keel, and my guests seem happy to help.
Keep things very simple, over all. Stock the guest bath with small guest soap so that when they look ratty, there are no qualms about tossing! Rinse soap and soap dishes. Check you paper goods. Keep Sam's-size shampoo, toothpaste, throw away razors, Q-tips and spray deodorant, (which rarely need replenishing) handy for the forgetful traveler. I also stock a high cabinet with calamine lotion, antiseptic cream, band-aids, Advil, antihistamine and Pepto-Bismol, just in case! For water, supply an individual thermal glass, distinctive top and straw to each guest. At my house, we have a huge water dispenser from which the glasses can be refilled by each guest as needed.
Many of us have busy schedules, even while friends and family are breezing through our homes on a regular basis. Be realistic- most guests are happy to help plan and execute the visit. Ask them bring breakfast for the days they will be here; they can fix it too! Also ask them to bring their favorite snack foods and to take them with them when they leave!! I usually provide a fridge full of fruit, veggies, cheeses, olives, and plan to cook at least one good dinner while they are here. Alcohol can get expensive, so if it is a group who likes to party, don't hesitate to ask them to contribute to the cooler and to keep it iced up. Last, but not least, at the end of the visit, ask them to leave sheets and towels in the laundry room. This needs to be a breeze for everyone!
It is time for summer fun, seeing new sights or revisiting familiar places. For some of us, a trip abroad might be in the offing too. So the question of the day is "Are you saddled up for summer?".
It is wedding season again, and the question, as always, is what to get for the couple in question- something for the table or a decorative item for the home? Many of us feel obligated to purchase a wedding gift from a registry, while others search for something unique to give. Both are much appreciated! All of these years later, I still remember who gave me what when I married. I still use my beautiful china and delight in the many unique items that I had not selected beforehand. Most importantly, the memories that these gifts invoke of the special people who gave them are worth their weight in gold!.
Today, couples of all ages are adding pizzazz to their tables with colorful serving pieces and multiple patterns - what fun! Everything no longer has to "match"! The beauty of fine traditional china can be complimented and softened with a richly glazed pottery accent. Hand thrown pottery is dressed up with sparkling glassware or formal crystal. A single unique platter or bowl can bring a splash of color, texture and individual style to a table or buffet. The addition of a textile from India or New England .distinctive spreaders, salad servers, ladel - oh, I could go on and on!
American households are no longer held hostage by the staid British mandates of the past; we are back to our adventurous roots! Accent pieces are the name of the game in home décor. And at least part of the credit for the change in attitude may come from the designers themselves. Fine lines like Juliska, Match and Jan Barboglio have been designing serveware and home accents which encourage the imagination and lend themselves to individualistic interpretation. International trade has made gorgeous Mexican, Italian, Indian and Asian lines accessible as well. When choosing a gift, remember that a colorful ceramic, beautiful box, or distinctive pewter or iron piece may be the perfect reflection of you for your loved ones. There are myriad exciting gifts out there from which to choose. What will you choose???!
by Temple Wynne 3/24/11
Over the last two decades, America has undoubtedly become a more casual place to live. For many people, this has seemed a blessing: casual Fridays (or everyday) at work; flip flops for all occasions; blue jeans everywhere. For others, this dressing down seems undignified and sloppy. Regardless of where we fall on the opinion poll, there are some fun options out there for us. What are your personal druthers?
Moving to the Texas Hill Country was definitely liberating for me personally. Downsizing to my new home, and adapting to a more casual life style meant that I could divest myself of clothing that now sat motionless in my closet. And while I sort of hated to part with "the good stuff", I felt very happy to share my professional garb, suits, hose and heels, with someone who needed them more than I (the Village Store in Wimberley is a wonderful option for our donations). Eventually, the more formal wear followed. There are occasions in our Valley to "put on the dog", however, so I tried not to shoot myself in the foot!
This is not to say that country life dictates the same message to all of its inhabitants. While I love the ease of donning a pair of jeans and a sweater, there are plenty of lovely ladies afloat in these here hills who look gorgeous in spring frocks and pretty footwear! What about you, what is your style?
Jewelry design has always been interesting to me, and yes, I love it. And just as I continue to regularly use my good china on my rustic table, I do regularly wear my good jewelry with my extremely casual dress. Mixing the things that please your own eye works. Swapping one jewelry "story" out for another is fun, simple and gratifying. Just as in home décor, changing one piece of jewelry, or adding a new one can lift spirits and excite your personal palette - Enjoy!
Spring offers folks in the Texas Hill Country some very special weeks mid March, as we ready ourselves for Easter. The wildflowers start opening up, our grasses spring to life, and the garden centers beckon. Baby animals begin to appear in the wooded areas, and in our own front yards. Most of us are eager to be enjoying the glorious weather with friends, so, let's get our spring chores out of the way with great dispatch!
Box up winter and pull out spring. Swap winter clothing out for warmer weather frocks (getting our "Switch Flops" for the season at River House!). Scoop out the fireplace and arrange some good-looking candles or big potted plants in the hearth (perhaps also call Chimney Sweeps in if you have been burning juniper logs). Store the winter comforter in favor of a lighter colored and lighter weight spread; maybe change out your shams to add something new to the room. Trim up the indoor plants and divine a fresh look for the dining table with your Easter plans in mind- maybe a bright runner or different centerpiece. Now out the door to prepare the porches. Sweep and wash them up and down, then pot some wonderful color.
One of my favorite spring pass times is planning what to plant each year. I like to go walk the EmilyAnn and Lady Bird Johnson gardens to see what looks good and hardy among their plantings, then study up a bit on the water needs of those I have seen. Being practical about what the deer will or will not devour is hard for me, as I am almost always tempted by sheer beauty when I get to the nurseries!
With these necessary measures out of the way, we are free to play! Treat yourself by having good friends over for a refreshing meal al fresca; what is more fun? Cocktails out on the lawn or field, and dinner on the porch? Why not do it up with linens and candelabras while we still have relatively early sunsets? Oh, yes, it is all about spring!