Monches Artisans Holiday Open House

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The holiday season is upon us and it’s time to deal with the hassle of Christmas shopping. But finding the perfect gift shouldn’t be a hassle. The best way to  to check off the people on your Christmas list, while enjoying some holiday cheer, is to visit local shops, holiday fairs, and open houses.

 

Not only do you avoid the crowds and chaos of the large department stores, and malls, but you help to make the holidays a little brighter for local business owners and artisans.

 

And face it, isn’t a beautiful, hand crafted gift more special than a mass manufactured item?

 

Here’s a wonderful opportunity for you to do just that this weekend!

 

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31st Annual
Monches Artisans
Holiday Open House

December 5-7, 2014 (at most locations)
9:00-5:00

Join in and celebrate! With map in hand you’ll be guided on a driving tour through the historic Monches and Holy Hill area to visit artist studios, quaint shops, farms and inns.

 

Friday, December 5th through Sunday December 7th will mark the 31st year that artists in the tiny artist community of Monches, 30 miles northwest of Milwaukee, will open their doors and welcome visitors for a weekend of holiday cheer.

 

The 2014 tour will include a pottery studio, an art glass studio, an outdoor metal sculpture gallery and a rural inn and vineyard featuring seasonal wines. Monches Farm will be offering fresh handmade wreaths, holiday greens and a shop brimming with antiques, unique gifts and seasonal décor.  A local church will also be hosting a craft fair on Saturday.

 

The drive-it-yourself tour will take visitors along rustic roads through the scenic area surrounding the renowned Holy Hill Basilica. Refreshments, seasonal music and outdoor bonfires will welcome visitors at several of the stops along the way.  The tour runs from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Maps will be available at each of the tour stops and HERE.

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I will be at Paul Bobrowitz Spectacular Sculpture talking about Charles Dickens, his book “The Christmas Carol,” and his influence on the Christmas we celebrate today. Signed copies of my books, including “Christmas Carole,” will be available for purchase.

What better stocking stuffer, or teacher’s gift than a Christmas book signed by the author?

I will have several yummy treats that you may have found in Dickens time for you to taste, along with wassail to warm you up.

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Plus you will have the opportunity to purchase many beautiful items and gifts made by talented local artisans!

I truly hope you can make it to this wonderful holiday event!

 

 

Merry Christmas of Olde

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Happy Christmas,  Hanukkah,  Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Saturnaliatreecrop, or whatever it is you celebrate in your heart this holiday season!

At our house – well the one we’re living in – Christmas is a rather quiet affair. With moving boxes in every corner, it didn’t make much sense to pull out all the decorations. That didn’t mean we’re ignoring the holiday all together. We moved a little Arborvitae into our living room and put some lights and small ornaments on it. Add a star on the top, and we have a Christmas tree that can move to the mill house with us come spring.

We have finally closed on both the purchase of the  Monches Mill House, and the sale of our current home. We’re renting from our home’s new owner while working on renovations on the mill house.  That didn’t keep me from doing some decorating though! The day we closed, I ran over to the mill house to put up some outdoor decorations. I think I had a need to mark my territory. Mother nature added her own frosty decorations! Who needs fake icicle lights?  Even unoccupied, the house looks like a Christmas card!

 

Not only is the work on the mill house, and the packing up of our belongings keeping me occupied, but I also launched a Christmas program that I’m doing at bookstores and libraries. It’s a presentation on the history of Charles Dickens, his book “A Christmas Carol,” and how it affected the Christmas we celebrate today.

Along with my verbal presentation, I put up a display.

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I also served Wassail and a variety of Dickensian Christmas treats.  The candied orange peel was the favorite of kids and adults, alike.

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As were the Shrewsbury Cakes!

 

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Recipe:

 

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 1/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel

2 tsp. vanilla

2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

extra sugar

Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg, orange peel and vanilla.

Stir in flour and salt to make a stiff dough.

Wrap dough in wax paper. Chill for several hours or overnight.

Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls. Roll balls in sugar.

Arrange balls 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Flatten the balls gently with bottom of a small glass.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Our Christmas may be quiet this year – but it’s still filled with traditions of old.  Just wait until next year – I’ll be pulling out all the stops to celebrate our first real Christmas in the mill house!

I hope your holiday is a happy and healthy one, whether large or small, contemporary or traditional, and I hope your new year brings you all the best!

Living in a Fairy Tale

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Although this blog is intended to be related to my writing, in the end, everything that happens in my life is related to my writing.  That couldn’t be more true than this weekend. It was a fabulous weekend, almost like a fairy tale.

Summer is waning and there is the nip of autumn in the air. I love this time of year. Autumn is especially nice in the country. It draws up images of pumpkins and scare crows, hay bales and country barns framed in russet leaves.

I grew up in the city, and although my husband and I have spent all our child raising years in the suburbs, pretty far out in the suburbs, I wouldn’t say we lived in the country. This weekend, we got a real taste of country life.

On Friday, we went to an estate sale at a 171 year old house, which is unquestionably out in the country.  Where as I’ve had a variety of stores within a short distance of anywhere I’ve lived, this township has no store. The nearest one is in a neighboring town almost ten miles away along a winding country road.

Despite the previous chilly night, the sun came out and the day was warm. The estate sale was incredible. There were tents covering tables of smaller items, and a barn full of furniture. There were people everywhere. It almost seemed like a competition, people racing to tag something before anyone else did. The items for sale were of high quality, and priced to sell. We had to take two trips to bring home all our purchases, even though we drive an SUV.

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Among our treasures is an 1800’s Chippendale highboy dresser, a wicker chair, a fireplace screen, an antique folk art table, a huge oriental rug, an antique handwoven wool rug and a 3 quart Le Crueset Gratin that was priced at only $5.00.  For those who don’t cook, or don’t know Le Crueset – trust me, that was the deal of a lifetime. For those of you who do understand –  take some slow, deep breaths –  and please don’t hate me.

Saturday morning, the sun returned, chasing away the morning chill. I started my day by hitting the local farmer’s market. There was everything from brightly colored vegetables, to fresh baked bread, to golden honey from local bees, and buckets overflowing with sunflowers. From there I went to a house just out of town from where I live. The woman who lives there raises chickens, and I was hoping for some fresh eggs for breakfast. Luckily she had just collected a dozen. You can’t get any fresher than that.

My husband and I were going to be having dinner at another couple’s home that night, and I still needed to make a dessert.  My “egg” lady also happens to have several apple trees. I asked her if she ever sells her apples. She said she just didn’t have the time to bag them and sell them. Then she said, if I  wanted some, I could pick as many as I’d like, no charge. She also pointed out which tree had the best apples and assured me that she didn’t use any pesticides, but I wouldn’t find any worms in her apples – she  sprays them with mineral oil. She also said that the apple tree I was picking from was called a Wolf River apple, and that the semi-dwarf variety isn’t available anymore, so if I wanted to, I could save some seeds and plant trees of my own. I took a grocery bag, and picked enough apples to fill it.

I made it home just as my family was waking up. I whipped together a breakfast of fluffy ham and cheese omelettes, bacon, toast with jam, coffee and orange juice. Then I went to work on my dessert. My egg (and now apple) lady was right, the apples were huge –  almost a pound each, and not a bug or worm in sight.

 

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I threw together an apple crisp – nothing is easier than apple crisp. I didn’t even follow a recipe, but I can share my non-recipe with you.

 

Apple Crisp

4-5 lbs. of apples,peeled, cored, and  cut into chunks (this is a guess, I just filed the pan – the $5.00 Le Crueset one.)

juice of half a lemon

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

Toss together and place in ungreased 9 x 13 pan or 3 quart casserole .

In another bowl mix together:

2 cups old fashioned oats

1 1/2  cup flour

1 1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

2 sticks butter, melted

Spread over the top of the apples.

Bake at 400 degrees (Fahrenheit) for one hour.

Serve warm with ice cream.

 

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While my crisp was baking, my husband and I went back to the estate sale, this time joined by our best friends. By this time the family running the sale knew us. They shared the stories behind each item we picked out. They told us how the antique chamber pot I purchased was used by their grandmother, when she was a little girl, and how their mother hand painted the folk design in  a wooden bowl that will be displayed with honor in my home. To those items we added an antique candle stand, a lamp, two ladder back chairs, a federal style mirror, a Victorian boot jack, and a shabby chic metal menu board.

Before we left, our attention was drawn to the water’s edge where a man in a pumpkin boat was making his way down the river. I don’t mean a boat that looked like a pumpkin. He was sitting in a ginormous carved out pumpkin, with a trolling motor mounted on the back. He was also paddling. I can’t imagine a pumpkin is very easy to steer.  The bridge over the river was crowded with people, cheering the pumpkin captain along. Then, like something out of a movie,we heard the clip clop of horses hooves. Along came a carriage full of people, lead by two beautiful black horses.

 

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It seemed like the tiny township was putting on a show, just for us.

We finally said goodbye to our friends, both old and new, and tore ourselves away. We had to get ready to go to dinner with our other friends.

 

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Drinks on the patio, a delicious dinner of prime rib, and relaxed conversation made for a very enjoyable evening and a great end to the day. The dessert was a hit, and the crisp looked so pretty in my $5.00 Le Crueset pan. Yes, I’m gloating!

 

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Sunday morning  was cold and rainy, but we didn’t let that dampen our weekend. I made a large batch of Tex Mex chili topped with sour cream, cheddar cheese, and onions. We drank apple cider, and made a second batch of that yummy apple crisp – and yes, I did save the seeds. I just might plant myself an apple tree or two. Maybe this “country” weekend is the start of something. I kind of like this country girl thing. I do believe that this fairy tale  isn’t over yet. It’s very much a case of –

to be continued…