Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Afternoon Tea - Some of My Favorite Christmas Books


I was asked to share some of my favorite Christmas books.  I have collected quite a few through the years, most of them at book sales and used book stores.  I've also been known to bring a Christmas book home from the library but mostly I like to own them.  Some of these favorites are out-of-print, thus the treasure hunting for used editions at affordable prices.

I never feel I have to read every book each year for that would be adding pressure to an already busy season.  Instead I choose those I want to read that year (another reason for owning my books) and then leave others for either the next Christmas season or, gasp... off season reading.

I included some favorite books here, all with a Christmas theme.  Some are actual Christmas books while others are novels taking place at least part of the time during Christmas season.  For instance, Little Women is not really considered a Christmas book but it has lovely Christmas scenes within so it can be part of your Holiday reading.


Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon - I've mentioned this before but I absolutely love this book and you need not have read the Mitford series to enjoy it. The scenes of Mitford during the Holidays as well as Father Tim and his wife working on their handmade Christmas gifts make for a delightful Season... even if your own may be less than wonderful this year.

Info... here.



Christmas at Fairacre by Miss Read contains three deliciously lovely Christmas stories; Village Christmas, The Christmas Mouse, and No Holly for Miss Quinn. I read it every year.

Info... here


I also have a vintage copy of No Holly for Miss Quinn that I keep just for the cover.  I can't be the only reader who does that.

Info... here.  (This book is also now available for the Kindle.)

These three stories take place in English villages that make one long for the quaint village life of that time period.  However, they are also not overly sweet or too nostalgic. I think many of us will be thankful to Jan Karon, who made the Miss Read books better known here in the U.S.


The Sister of the Angels by Elizabeth Goudge - This lovely Christmas story is the sequel to A City of Bells (one of my favorite Goudge books).  It is about Henrietta, her grandfather, her father, and the rest of the residents of "The City of Bells".

This long out-of-print book may be hard to find but if you love A City of Bells, it is well worth it.  This link takes you to an Amazon third party seller but you may find it cheaper elsewhere.  Info... here.


A Christmas Book by Elizabeth Goudge is an anthology of sections from various Goudge books where the story takes place at Christmas.  It is enjoyable to pick it up on a busy day and read one story or many at one time.

This book may also be hard to find but it is worth it for lovers of Goudge's stories. Amazon link to a third party seller... here.



Winter Solstice is a story by Rosamunde Pilcher, part of which takes place in Scotland at Christmas.  This was the second book I read by Pilcher, the first being her well known The Shell Seekers.

While I enjoyed the first book, I totally fell in love with the story in Winter Solstice and found myself wanting to live in a small Scottish town at Christmas.
Info... here.  (Kindle version available.)


Christmas With Rosamunde Pilcher takes you into the real world of Pilcher's family at Christmas with photos, and family stories.  It also contains a Christmas short story written for this book.  If you are a fan of Pilcher and Scotland, you will enjoy this book.  It is one to sit down with to enjoy with a cup of tea when you need to "get away from it all".

This book is out of print but there are very reasonable used copies available.  Link to a third party seller is... here.


The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a classic, of course, but have you read it outside of a classroom?  It is a classic for a reason.  Lovely writing and perfect for reading aloud to the children.

Link to this paperback edition is... here.


There are a lot of more recent and popular authors who write Christmas books and I'm sure I've read a few.  It's just none stuck to my memory since I often bring one of these home from the library.

However, last year I bought the book by Robin Jones Gunn that contained both Finding Father Christmas and Engaging Father Christmas in it.  I didn't get a chance to read it last year so it is rather high up on my reading list this year.  I think I can recommend them because people I trust recommended the stories to me.

Link to this book with two stories is... here.  (Kindle version available.) There is also a third story available which you can follow at the same link.  I have my copy out to read for the first time soon.

I also own some books which are more Advent oriented.  Even though I do not attend a liturgical church, I do like this kind of reading during the Holidays. The first book is by an Episcopalian whose writings I have longed appreciated.


What the Land Already Knows: Winter's Sacred Days is part of the "Stories from the Farm in Lucy" trilogy by Phyllis Tickle. I own all three of these books but this one was the first I read. Only Phyllis Tickle can write liturgical stories that include cows, barns, and raising children in rural Tennessee.

Out of print but a link to third party book sellers is... here.


Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, this book is edited by Nancy Guthrie and includes chapters written by many different authors including George Whitefield, John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Randy Alcorn, Francis Schaeffer, Joni Erickson Tada, and more.  I have used this book for years, reading one chapter off and on through Advent.

Info... here.

I'll share more as I think of them!

Disclaimer:  Most links to Amazon.com are Associate links.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Pantry stocking during the Holidays


I've been able to stock my Holiday pantry a little this past week, deciding what is the current priority and what can wait until later.  For instance, I had two more bags of cranberries in the grocery cart when I walked by the kiosk that held the cinnamon chips and realized there was only one box of them left.

So two bags of cinnamon chips were added to the cart and the cranberries returned (they were not on sale, anyway, and I have some in the freezer).  Since it doesn't look like the store will carry cinnamon chips throughout the year as they once did, they are a priority.  I now have six packages in the pantry for baking this next year. 

Speaking of which, I was asked what kind I found and they were Hershey's cinnamon chips, which are the only kind I've seen outside of specialty websites such as King Arthur.  In the comments from last week, Kim mentioned she couldn't locate any in Dallas and Kathy said she had found them in Houston at Randall's and HEB.

I have only seen them at Meijers (a Midwest chain) but one could check at other stores.  They are available on Amazon but like some specialty grocery items, they tend to cost more there than at the local stores.  I used to find them at Target.

I first saw cinnamon chips used in a scone recipe and while perusing Tea Time magazine at the grocery store last week, I saw where they had another scone recipe that had cinnamon chips in it. I've seen them used in muffins and bread at bakeries.

Turkey is very inexpensive this year so I purchased one just for the freezer at 49 cents a pound (Kroger and Meijers store brand sale price).  I may buy another small one while they are on sale. Come around February, I'm ready again for a good turkey dinner and without the expectations of Thanksgiving.  That is a lot of protein and possibilities for soup for less than the price of a large roasting chicken. ;)

I use Amazon credit once in awhile to try new food items and I thank everyone who enters their Amazon shopping through either a link or the widget on the side of the blog.  Bloggers receive a very small percentage but it all adds up and doesn't cost shoppers a thing.  :)

You may remember that one new spice I tried a few years ago was sumac, after having it sprinkled on my hummus and Jerusalem salad at a restaurant.  I have since become a sumac fan and I now keep it handy in a jar that allows me to shake some on various dishes. 

I even shake it on store bought hummus and the citrusy spice adds a delicious taste to it.  It is used a lot in Mediterranean cookbooks such as the beautiful award winning Jerusalem (I just borrowed it back from my son who borrowed it from me).

A decision this past year to do without any artificial sweeteners sent me researching what other people who have to limit sugar are using.  I tried but I don't like stevia.  However, one I kept hearing good things about was maple sugar, which is a product from boiling down sap beyond maple syrup until it dries.  I read that early New England pioneers most often made the maple sugar since it stored well and maple syrup can spoil.

It is, as one would expect, rather pricey but since I would mainly use it in my coffee or tea, I figured it isn't much more than the organic raw sugar I use at times.  I absolutely love this stuff and there are many ways to use it besides hot beverages, although given the price, I would not use it as a one-on-one sugar substitute in baking.

That is not recommended, anyway, as it is said it would be an overpowering maple flavor.  (Which it doesn't when a teaspoon is added to coffee.) Instead it is recommended as a replacement for a smaller amount of sugar should one want a mild maple flavor, such as in pancakes.  The comments on Amazon offered ways people used it, too.  For instance, one person used it in her plain yogurt.

I'm aware it has more carb factor than artificial sweeteners but I know pure maple syrup is suppose to spike your blood sugar less than man made syrup so I can see how this would be better than sugar.

Hmmm... was that a run on sentence?  Oh, well.  I think it is actually a run on blog post.  Happy Thanksgiving to fellow Americans!

Mentioned in this Blog Post:
Hershey's cinnamon chips... here.
Although you may want to do a search when you reach Amazon and see if there are any deals going on from other sellers.  This is over twice the cost of what they charge at the grocery store if you can locate cinnamon chips there.

Maple sugar... here.
This is what I purchased but there are other brands available.

Ground sumac... here.
I bought mine at a nearby Asian grocery store but I think this was the brand and no... this is not the sumac that is poison.  ;)  It taste a little like lemon and adds so much flavor to a dish. 

Jerusalem, the award winning cookbook... here.  This is such a beautiful cookbook, written by two chefs originally from Jerusalem.  One is Jewish, the other an Arab.

Image: Tea time many years ago.  I've since given my daughter-in-law part of this Royal Albert set and I'm storing the rest for her.  The original cinnamon chip scone recipe (which is very different than most scones)... is here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Strength You Need, a review


Robert Morgan writes like the pastor he is, taking us into the Word of God on the subject of strength.  This book,, subtitled The Twelve Great Strength Passages of the Bible, provides the reader with Biblical teaching and interesting stories in each chapter.

The Chapters are:
Strategy 1:  Connect to a High Voltage Line (Deuteronomy 33:25)
Strategy 2:  Turn Messes into Momentum (2 Chronicles 16:9)
Strategy 3:  Invest in a Power Company (Nehemiah 8:10)
Strategy 4:  Occupy a Fortress (Psalm 46:1)
Strategy 5:  Stand Sequoia Like Above the Noise (Isiah 30:15)
Strategy 6:  Catch Updrafts Like an Eagle ( Isiah 40:31)
Strategy 7:  Strengthen Someone Else (Isiah 58:11)
Strategy 8:  Process Your Problems and Arrive at Praise (Habakkuk 3:19)
Strategy 9:  A Missing Chord (Mark 12:30)
Strategy 10: Galvanize Yourself Against Discouragement (Romans 4:20)
Strategy 11: Live Like the Rich Person You Are (Ephesians 3:16)
Strategy 12: Learn to Rejoice Whatever, Whenever, Wherever (Philippians 4:13)
Conclusion:  Power Lines

This book would provide an excellent word study for anyone needing to increase their spiritual strength, taking one chapter each week and concentrating on its' content. 

Highly recommended with one exception, the paperback edition I was provided has extremely small font which made it hard to read.

The Strength You Need was provided by the publisher for the sake of review but the opinions are my own.

More information is available... here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to Amazon.com are Associate links.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Afternoon Tea - A Simple Season


This past week, we went to bed in the season of Autumn and woke up to... almost Winter.  While we didn't receive the snow those just north of us received, overnight most of the leaves on the trees in the forest decided to stop holding on and they floated to the ground.  It is hard to hold on to anything when the temperatures reach the teens and one does not have mittens.

I can see my neighbor's red barn from the front porch now, a sure sign of the changing season.  Nature is teasing us after temperatures had been far above normal... making a switch to far below normal within days. Which is why many of us are sporting some form of a cold.

However, I have my not-so-secret answer to Nature's cloying attempt to confuse humanity. While I write, the stock pot is simmering with chicken soup stock. I try to make some version of chicken soup each week and the aroma coming from the kitchen of chicken, onion, and celery all simmering together is the aroma of cold weather cooking in our home.

I also have the Guitar Winterlude CD playing next to the desk.  Soft instrumental winter/Christmas music that has been chosen on purpose to set the tone of the day.  Music and food can do that as nothing else, especially when that food is sending an aroma towards the Study.

I've been thinking about the Holiday Season for the past couple of weeks.  Partly to budget time, energy, and the finances the best way possible.  However, we are changing up some of the celebration places and times this year, which always gets one pondering.  Change can be good and it is necessary but it can need time for an adjustment.

Every Holiday season has been a little different and I never seem to know what to expect until around mid-November.  This year will be a very simple Christmas.  I've already decided not to get out all the decorations.  We will put up the tree and a few favorite decorations but not... everything.  So the overwhelming task of putting everything away again will not be hanging over our heads all season.

Last year, I got out every Christmas box and decorated the whole house.  This year I feel exactly the opposite.  It turned out to be good last year that I had decorated just days before Victoria suddenly died.  For I was in such a fog of grief that I hardly remember last Christmas but the decorations were like a hug.

This year we will have the tree and our most special Christmas items to enjoy but I want to concentrate on reading Christmas books, watching Christmas movies... both the Hallmark movies and old favorites... and listening to the music of the Season.

This year I plan to do a little more cooking and baking than I did last year.  Especially for the freezer to be prepared ahead of time when a plate of cookies are needed right away (and not for me at midnight!).

There are traditions that must be planned for, of course.  Traditions such as Cracker Barrel breakfasts, Candy Cane Lane tea, hot apple cider, a few visits to Starbucks or Panera, and especially morning quiet times with the tree lit in the corner and my first cup of coffee sitting beside me. 

I don't decorate until after Thanksgiving but I do dust off the movies, books, and music of the Season at the beginning of November so they can be enjoyed without cramming everything into one month that tends to be crowded with things to do, anyway.

Otherwise, Christmas is over and we are in the Bleak Midwinter of January and the moment has passed for another year.  I want to savor the Season for it is my favorite time of the year when the name of Jesus is proclaimed in the midst of sparkle and lights and music and the reminder of that Hope that is to come.

Mentioned in this Post
Guitar Winterlude CD... here.  (I bought my CD used years ago.)

Disclaimer:  Most links to Amazon.com are Associate links.

Image:  Time for Reading; Judy Gibson

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Cleaning a little at a time


I'm a little late writing today.  I have the sniffles.  And a cough.  Nothing serious but just enough that I'm going to grab my pillow and head for the sofa when I'm finished here.

I learned a lesson today on believing that God does answer our muttered prayers.  I've been looking at the deck and actually "praying under my breath" to God that I have to get outside and finish clearing the deck.  I must.  I need help.

So today when a group of volunteers from a Christian group at the University came to our house to rake the gazillion leaves and take them to the forest for us... they asked if there was anything else they could do. 

"Well, I have this deck and the stuff on it (except the tables) need to be taken out by the shed.  I usually set everything there so when my husband winterizes the mower, he can then decide where everything can go in the shed."

I had to leave for a quick trip to the grocery store right then and when I arrived home, the college students had finished.  Our yard looked amazing.  Then when I went to my Family Room and looked out the window, the deck was CLEAR.  I almost cried.  What a burden was lifted.

God indeed answers prayers, even those that are half thrown up and barely heard as the pray-er is only muttering.  I guess when one mutters with a kind of half faith, that is all He needs to answer.  :)

Otherwise, I have begun my "getting ready for the Holidays" cleaning.  Sometimes I clean just one room at a time but recently it was a combination of sweeping and dusting that was accomplished in a few rooms. 

I had already broken down some other tasks over the past few weeks, including... polishing the silver service and using lemon furniture oil on the antiques.  The kitchen windows have been washed and more windows will get a good washing when it warms up a bit.

Since having to deal with less energy, I've learned not to take even the smallest task for granted.  For any task done early (even weeks ahead of time) is far better than the burden of having to do something when I'm tired but I had put it off thinking it wouldn't take much time.  Sigh...

It reminds me that every Christmas, I think I should have started making Christmas cards in July.  Just saying.  ;)

I will see you tomorrow but right now I really need my pillow, a box of tissues, and a little pot of peppermint tea.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Never Look at the Empty Seats, a review


Charlie Daniels has a gift with words, not only in the writing of songs but now with this memoir.  This is a book that can only be written by one who has lived a long and interesting life.  It is a book of stories from his earliest days to the most recent of his 80-plus years.

I think the average person knows Charlie from his song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia.  However, as this memoir will tell you, he has been a performer for decades and has the behind the scenes stories that will keep you turning the pages.

Sometimes the stories are very funny, other times they are sad, they are always honest as he shares his mistakes, his failures, his successes, and his very non-politically correct opinions.  Many of those had me laughing out loud and shaking my head in agreement.

His friends have not all been from the music industry.  For instance, I was very fascinated with his friendship with Louis L'Amour.  What fun it would have been to sit at the table with two very gifted storytellers.  I enjoyed reading this book very much and highly recommend it. 

Never Look at the Empty Seats was provided by the publisher for the sake of review but the opinions are my own.

Further information can be found... here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to Amazon.com are Associate links.