Thursday, December 26, 2013

December has marched along in its usual frenetic style with Christmas and holiday parties combined with shopping and working all dressed up in twinkling lights, sparkling ornaments, ribbons and bows and before we know it, Christmas, with a chaser of New Year's, is over and the dark days of winter settle in.  Well, not really-- not if you count the twelve days of Christmas meticulously itemized in the grand old Christmas Carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."   This lovely, old, and very recognizable song was first published in 1780 in England but is thought to be of French origin and sprang out of the Catholic tradition.

When I was little, and really until only a few years ago, I thought it was a charming old nursery rhyme that perhaps children of centuries ago used to sing and dream about at Christmas time.  After all, there was no Walmart or Target, but I have come to find out that all of the gifts that seem to get bigger and grander as the song progresses, is packed with hidden meanings that describe the bones of the Christian faith.

This year, just before Christmas, my sister Chris had me running all over Northern Virginia collecting and sending to her the "Twelve Days of Christmas" ornaments she had started buying when she was here visiting back in October, making my Christmas rush all the more rushed.   Of course, I, the more rational one of the two of us, bought a complete set for me, to begin with, in order to save myself from running around.

In the midst of all of this, my friend Judy sent through this reminder of what the Christmas season is really about through an email message that had been circulating.  It explains this lovely old French/English/Catholic based Christmas carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" which begins on Christmas Day--the first day of Christmas-and it goes like this...

1. The partridge in a pear tree represents the Baby Jesus.

2. Two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments.

Have you ever noticed that deer are NOT mentioned in this song?
3. Three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.

4. The four calling birds are the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

5. Five golden rings recall the Torah or law which are the first five books of the Old Testament.

6. Six geese a-laying stands for the six days it took God to create heaven and earth.

7. Seven swans a-swimming represent the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit; Prophesy, Serving,Teaching, Exhortation,Contribution, Leadership and Mercy.

8. The eight maids a a-milking are the eight Beatitudes.

9. Nine ladies dancing represents the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit; love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

10. Ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.

11. Eleven pipers stand for the eleven faithful disciples.

12. And finally--The twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of Christian belief in the apostles Creed.

And, of course, "my true love" is our Gracious and Loving God!

So, on this second day of Christmas, as we all rush back to the stores to return and exchange gifts (although I'm pretty sure two turtle doves will not be among those items) then come home to clean up from yesterdays festivities and resume our busy lives, perhaps we can appreciate some of these greatest of gifts that define the Christian faith!  Now, I have to go and find yet another "Twelve Days of Christmas" ornament that Chris did not get while she was here, sighhhhhh.  I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and maybe a couple of golden rings, too!

Monday, December 2, 2013

It's Christmas Tree Time

Welcome to the Blooming Hill Christmas Tree preview!

'Tis the season to decorate a tree with tinsel and garland and pretty glass balls that sparkle among flickering lights, reminding us of how beautiful, not bleak, this winter season is, in so many ways.

How he gets that ribbon to cascade and twirl at the same time is beyond me!
For me, one of the best things about decorating a Christmas tree, be it small and quaint or large and refined, is to not only watch, but also feel the magical transformation, of sorts, taking place in our seldom-used living room, from quiet and reserved to glowing brilliantly and beckoning me to spend time gazing at the different ornaments and trimmings that embellish, of all things, the artificial tree temporarily placed there.

This year, our main Christmas tree (I say MAIN because we put up six trees of different sizes throughout the house--Completely over the top, I know) had simply blown out the very last of its pre-strung lights and since we searched and searched for a replacement tree but could never find one that came close to our dear old tree, Peter decided he would take off all of its lights and start over again.

So about two weeks ago, off came over 1000 tiny useless lights, each one painstakingly clipped and fastened to the tree by the manufacturer and on went over 1000 brand new tiny LED lights, each one painstakingly wrapped tightly around each branch by Peter who wore heavy work gloves to save from cutting his fingers, as anyone who has strung lights on a Christmas tree, real or artificial, can tell you. In between, the tree was placed in the shower and given a proper spritzing off that gave it a shiny new appearance and "spruced" it up (pardon the pun) even more.

Still trying to get that topper just right.
A lot of work, I know, but it is a tree that we have come to love, lightly flocked giving the appearance of a dusting of snow that settled on it while still growing in the assembly line meadow, all those years ago, and the tips of the branches appear to have tiny crystal water droplets that add to its shimmering effect. When Kevin was seven years old, we decided to try a real tree for Christmas and told him we would all go out and cut one down at a Christmas tree farm.  Thinking he would be excited to do this, his only reply back was, "But our Christmas tree is up in the attic."  While it took a a bit of coaxing, he finally relented and we found a fresh tree that year, only to return to "our Christmas tree up in the attic" the following year, along with adding a few more artificial trees to the mix, as the years went by.
Finished tree, glowing peacefully, in the Family room decorated with birds.

A work in progress with natural feather trimmings and the  infamous Auburn-Alabama game trundling on in the background.  For once, it was not the Big 10 channel...Go figure!
A corner in the kitchen getting its fair share of attention from the tree master.
The dining room feather tree receiving its last minute touch-up.
So, each year,  Peter, or P. Lorenz as we like to refer to him when he gets in his artsy decorating mode, gets to work creating visual masterpieces with hand-blown glass globes and figurines dipped in the colors of a rainbow and creamy, satin ribbons twirling over the tree branches that are draped in silver and white strings of pearls.  Yes, I do help but P. Lorenz becomes a Christmas tree decorating machine on a mission and its often best to just get out of the way and enjoy the whole process as it unfolds.

Suddenly, the whole house is brimming with holiday joy as the auras of each tree spill out into the night through the windows lighting up welcoming doorways and pathways. We move from move from room to room.  First, the living room, then onto the foyer, dining room, kitchen and family room taking in and experiencing the serendipity of each tree and its unique and burgeoning personality using ornaments we have collected together, through the years.

Tabletop tree in the foyer festooned in red poinsettias, shining hearts and teardrop ornaments.
Just so you know, I decorated one of the trees myself!
Apparently, this is the Tucker's favorite tree.
I never get tired of seeing these trees come to life each and every year.  They look different yet the same, which is comforting to me, as we usher in this joyous season, full of hopes, dreams and promises.  I wish you a holiday season filled with celebration and love and, if you think of it, send me a picture of your Christmas tree.  I'd love to share in your delight as well. (bloominghillva@gmail.com or post it here in the comments section or on my Facebook page.)


Monday, November 18, 2013

Kitchen Casualties

Some of the Saturday night kitchen casualties here at Blooming Hill.
Lavender tea cakes--the real culprits behind the Saturday night kitchen crash because it could not have been my fault!
I know I talk about blue and white china all to often. Heaven knows I certainly have enough of it around the place.   However, this past Saturday night, in my haste to tidy up the kitchen after making lavender tea cakes (mmmmm, delicious!), I opened the cabinet where I keep the china and five teacups came tumbling out from the highest shelf, hitting dinner plates and cereal bowls caught in the path of their free fall.  It only took a few seconds for china cups to topple over dishes, crash onto the granite counter top and shatter on the floor. Shards and flecks of blue and white 'Blue Danube' china scattered everywhere, in just the blink of an eye.

The unassuming kitchen cabinet--looks innocent enough.
I stood there staring in disbelief.  All I did was open the cabinet door and teacups came charging out like the monkeys in the Wizard of Oz  as the bad witch cried "Fly! Fly!"   After all, I am very careful with these dishes since they are the only set I have ever had in my almost 34 years of marriage, not wanting or needing another set or china pattern because, in my opinion, these have always been the prettiest of dishes.

An old 'Blue Onion' Meissen platter that was once my mother's.
It's not that I've never broken a dish before. It's just that this particular pattern, a version of Meissen 'Blue Onion' called 'Blue Danube' is no longer available in the housewares department at your average department store.  In fact, I can only seem to find my china pattern in antique shops and secondhand stores and sometimes in catalogs that offer discontinued patterns.  So, as the years goes by, a chipped cup here and a cracked cereal bowl there can add up and when you lose six pieces of china all at once, you not only realize that replacing them may not be all that easy to do but also that you've been married a long time and, I shall say it again, "Replacing them may not be that easy!"  Through all of the comings and goings, the good times and the bad, the births and the deaths and the growing up and moving on, something as simple as dinnerware has not only been there for my family and me, my 'Blue Danube' dishes, through it all, have also become members of the family, therefore making this set of china even more precious.

A couple of examples of the many stamps on the back of an old piece of 'Blue Onion' Meissen ware, depending on when and where they were manufactured.
I first realized I loved Blue Onion china, a pattern that has probably been copied more than any other china pattern, in its almost 300 years of existence, when I was a little girl and saw it displayed all over my Aunt Jeanne's house.  She had the real thing and when I say the real thing, I mean beautiful and truly old Meissen china pieces made originally in China (the country), then in Germany and England.  My 'Blue Danube' as pretty as I think it is, is merely a replica from the mid 20th Century and manufactured in Japan, so I suppose it at least qualifies, in this day and age, as "vintage."  I am, however, lucky enough to own a few pieces of Meissen 'Blue Onion' which some people will tell you that the onion is really a pomegranate that, in this case, looks like an onion--thus the name 'Blue Onion.'

A matchbook from our wedding reception.  Well used but it still has a few matches left in it! And, guess where I found it?  In a 'Blue Danube' serving dish stashed away in another cabinet.
I was never a big one to fantasize about my wedding day when I was a little girl however, I was always sure of one thing and that one thing was my china pattern would be 'Blue Danube' from Marshall Fields & Company.  Fortunately, that was exactly what I (at this point I should probably say WE meaning Peter and I) received from many generous and loving family and friends as wedding gifts.  Of course, when you ask for just about only that as a bride to be, that is what you get!

One of the several variations of the manufacturer's stamp on the back of a 'Blue Danube' dinner plate. Kind've pretty isn't it? 
So, there I stood, this past Saturday night, with 'Blue Danube' china pieces strewn about my feet and a bit of my life flashing before my eyes.  The only thing that saved me from crying was that I knew I still had a good supply of tea cups left in my cupbard for all of the days ahead of my family and me and, in spite of an unexpected mishap which inevitably happens in life from time to time no matter how well prepared you think you are, my 'Blue Danube' will remain, steadfastly, a member of the Rinek household, although I will be making a point of visiting a few area antique shops--all in the name of keeping the family together, of course!  


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

'In' The Wings of Angels

You know the iconic line by Zuzu in the movie,  "It's A Wonderful Life" when she says to her father, played by Jimmy Stewart, "Look daddy, teacher says every time a bell rings, an Angel gets her wings!" Who doesn't know that line and who doesn't, deep down in their own heart, want to believe it!?  I believe it's a nod toward the optimism that hope, faith and love bring to everyone, Christian or not, throughout the year, day in and day out.

Angels in the form of friends, relatives and strangers touch us, guide us and hang in there with us every day.  With this in mind, I am inspired to make Angel wings filled with lavender potpourri to remind me of all of the special connections I have to Angels; those that have, however briefly, come in and out of my life and those who hang in there with me.  After all, 'tis the season to pay homage to Angels "echoing their joyous strains."  So, if a ringing bell signifies an angel getting her wings, just imagine having those wings filled with lavender--that sweet-smelling Angel probably slides right into one heavenly management position!


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

For the Love of Blue and White

Blue and white china plate border fringed with cheery yellow marigolds.


Lettuces being reigned in by china plates in late spring.


The people who visit us here at Blooming Hill are always pleasantly surprised by the blue and white china plate border we have in our English Knot Garden.  After 15 years of putting the border out in early spring and pulling it all back in late in the fall, our plates are now expanding to other beds and borders throughout the property lending a colorful twist to the flowers and plants, three seasons of the year.  The blue and white border is garden "artwork" in progress as it's design, although stays roughly the same, seems to change from year to year.  When I first started out, I had nothing but my mother's blue Miessen and old flow-blue china out there, much to everyone's shock.  Through the years friends and visitors have given me plates to replace those and now the original Meissen and old flow-blue are back gracing my dining room cabinets and walls.  

The blue and white china border in early spring last year, framing the knot garden before it starts to bloom.
Mid-summer in the knot garden finds blue and white china plates and lavender compliment each other nicely. 
Creating borders with blue and white china plates has become somewhat of a ritual for us, as the gardens would not have the same personality without them.  Somewhere around April 1, no joke, we gather up our collection of old and new plates placed carefully in the attic for safekeeping and reintroduce them to the elements of nature.  In the spring, the china plates bring color and shine to the brown earth with small plants just beginning to burst forth.  During the summer, they add a touch of sophistication to the lettuces and tomatoes and a complimentary dash of whimsy to the stately lavender woven together with boxwood.

Plates gathered and stacked at the end of the season, waiting to be washed.

First rinse in the big farm sink before loading into the dishwasher.

All nice and clean after a hot shower in the dishwasher.
Then comes the bitter-sweetness of fall when the blue and white plates strain to peak out from under almost elephant ear-sized rhubarb leaves and a thickening carpet of fallen pine needles and fading petals.

The colors of fall out in the lavender field with a strange metal bird structure, soon to be painted blue and white, like the china border.
So, as it goes year after year, while the end of October is a quiet pause between bright summer and somber winter, it is as well for my blue and white plate border.  By November 1, the blue and white china plates have been gathered, washed and put away for a well deserved rest in order to reappear the following spring, brightening the gardens once again.  Our garden plate collection has even expanded to bunny rabbits, kitty cats and, of course, chickens!

It's a tradition that we have grown to love, in spite of the work involved, and it's oh so worth the rewards of quiet beauty and stately grace the blue and white china border gives back to the gardens every year.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Where The Sun Always Shines!


Six days of rain (and counting) and over six inches of it sitting in my gardens here at Blooming Hill have done nothing to dampen my spirits when it comes to fall.  Quite the opposite really, since August and September were both pretty stingy when it came to dolling out moisture for the gardens.  In any case, I spent much of last week either down in my workroom filling velvet pumpkins with lavender potpourri or at the Virginia State Arboretum dodging raindrops and greeting die hard gardeners as they shopped for plants and decor, at Blandy's Arborfest, to fill their autumn gardens in anticipation for next year's spring.


Truly, you gotta love a gardener--always optimistic when it comes to planting plants and embellishing their landscapes. American movie actress and icon, Audrey Hepburn, once said,
"To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow." In somewhat the same vain of hope and faithfulness, one customer informed me, as one of the more virulent bands of rain was unleashing its fury over us, that "a fifty percent chance of rain also means fifty percent chance of sun, too!". Okay--whatever.  He was, at least, a happy camper.  And, by the way, if it is raining on you, that means  a 100% chance of rain, but I don't think that guy was in the mood to hear that.

So, here I am, this Columbus Day Weekend, still sticking to my story of a glorious fall filled with pumpkin totems, scarlet colored leaves, strange looking scarecrows and sunny golden days.  And, as my Swedish grandmother, Helga, used to say about her beloved 'lil stuga' (translation: cottage often located near a body of water--yep! Close enough!) in Wisconsin, "The sun always shines there."  So, as it goes, it also shines at Blooming Hill, (under my travelling tent or on my property) no matter the weather.

Stop by and see us October 19 and 20 during Loudoun County's Annual Fall Farm Tour and enjoy a lavender-infused tea brought to you by Loudoun Valley Herbs and featuring our signature lavender ice cream.  I have it on good authority that the sun will be shining.