The Gift of a Blessing Bag

Young homeless man holding cardboard with painted house.

There’s a movement in the world toward helping the homeless in a very practical way. Many of us know the uncomfortable feeling of encountering a homeless person and wanting to help, but often, we aren’t sure how. Giving money is an option, although that’s discouraged by some mental health professionals and addiction counselors. Walking by and ignoring their plight doesn’t feel right.

 

Plastic transparent zipper bag isolated on white background

 

Someone along the way created a solution that I can embrace: the Blessing Bag. The idea is to take a extra large ziplock bag and fill it with essentials, then keep it in your car in the event that you encounter someone in need. It’s such a simple idea.

 

Toothbrushes in the drinking glass next to body lotion and neseser on the wet bench, outdoor shot, concept of travel

 

Items that you might put inside are basic tolietries: toothbrush, toothpaste, shavers and shaving cream, soap, shampoo, lotion, sunscreen, and deodorant.

 

Woolen clothes for woman on old rustic wooden background, womanly accessories, gloves cap shawl sweater, warm clothing for autumn or winter

 

Other welcome items are gloves, hats, scarves, and socks–maybe a few pair–always top of the list of requested clothing in charity drives! (Imagine having wet feet and not having warm, dry socks to change into.) You may also consider tampons and sanitary pads for women, diapers for babies, cleaning wipes, and even condoms.

 

Granola bar with dried fruit and nuts on white background

 

Adding small food items such as crackers, peanut butter, fruit, nuts and other non-perishables will be helpful. Some people add some cash for bus fares or to pay for necessities they haven’t covered.

 

New York, USA - May 16, 2013: homeless man sleeping with dog on sidewalk on 8th Ave and 42th Street, Manhattan, NY.

 

Since some street people have pets, a small bag of dog food or treats might be appreciated, too. You can donate to organizations that help, for example, the National Coalition for the Homeless. But this is one way to help the person in need before you, especially at Christmas.

 

Sleeping on the streets at Christmas time

 

“It is only with true love and compassion that we can begin to mend what is broken in this world.” –Steve Maraboli

A Decade of Christmas Trees

 

christmas-fourl

 

The Holiday 2016 issue of Review Nantucket includes a retrospective of a decade of Christmas decorations I’ve created for clients, showhouses, and the Nantucket Whaling Museum’s Festival of Trees. It was wonderful to look back on a body of work that was a joy to create, but truly ephemeral. I’m so glad to have captured the beauty of these holiday tableaus with photography. They inspire me again when I see them–I hope they bring you fresh inspiration, too!

 

review-christmas

 

There’s something so touching about Christmas trees. It’s not just the beauty of the lights and the ornaments. It’s the tradition of creating a magical display that stands for something bigger than ourselves: a renewal of light and love, and the memories of all the Christmases we’ve celebrated through the years.

 

christmas-music-room

 

For many years, my Senior Designer Price Connors and I have created a new theme for a Christmas tree at the Festival of Trees. Once we decide on an idea, we adorn a tree in a completely original style–we never repeat a design! One year, our inspiration was Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of Starry Night, so everything sparkled with stars.

 

christmas-starry-night

We recreated his night sky by draping a table in deep blue fabric, using wide gauzy star ribbon as table runners, with tiny silver stars sprinkled on the tabletop. We added glittering star boxes tied with bows, and even a dish filled with blue and silver star candies.

 

christmas-starry-night-two

 

I believe in expressing the spirit of Christmas differently each year. As important as tradition is, it’s also wonderful to let our celebrations evolve. It’s easy to fall back on decorating the same way every year, placing the same Santa’s on the mantel. But it’s also fun to create a fresh new look.

 

christmas-snow-maiden

 

One of my favorite tableaus for the Whaling Museum was the Legend of the Snow Maiden, a Russian fairy tale brought to life with the maiden silhouetted in a white cathedral between two glittering trees hung with icicles. That one was especially meaningful to me and to my father, because we are of Russian heritage.

 

christmas-russian-cathedral

 

Winter seems to awaken my imagination. As snow begins to fall, my thoughts to turn to twinkling lights, the sparkle of crystal in candlelight, roses and ribbons, and cherished china. One traditional decoration I love is the gingerbread house, which has appeared in my decorations as historic houses on Nantucket, and my own home. The most elaborate creation was made to my specifications by Colette’s Cakes in New York–a reproduction of the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow!

 

christmas-russian-tree

 

The tree that accompanied it was entitled A Russian Christmas Fantasy. The tree was a splendor in red and gold, with red glass balls, golden ribbons and over 50 handmade Russian ornaments. There were Russian Cossacks, snowflakes, Faberge eggs and matryoshka dolls (the traditional nesting dolls), all delicately hand painted in festive fashion.

 

christmas-cookie-stockings

 

The real blessings and bounty of the season, though, are found in family and friends. I love simple stockings hanging by the fireplace. For our family gatherings, we encourage each other to give generously to charities, saving the gaily wrapped packages for the children, Vidal and Baby Richard. I find Christmas everywhere I look in December, but mostly, I find it in our hearts.

 

gg-tuffy-ellie-christmas-bed

G. G., Tuffy, and Ellie snuggle near the fire

 

 

My Christmas at Caprilands

caprilands-institute

Photo courtesy of Caprilands Institute

Once upon a time, in the little town of Coventry, Connecticut, Christmas had a fairy godmother. Her name was Adelma Grenier Simmons. She’s gone now, but there were years when one of my most eagerly anticipated days during Advent was taking a drive with my dear friend Catherine Reischer to Adelma’s eighteenth century farmhouse, surrounded by fifty acres of fields and woods.

 

Herd of Sheeps and Goats on a mountain Road at Sunset

 

Adelma was the owner of the herb farm she named for the purebred milk goats once raised there–capra is Latin for goat. As time went by, she converted the rocky land to an herb farm, and her home became a cafe and visitor’s center. She was a bit of a character, almost like a diminutive white witch, a little rotund while standing only five feet tall, and always wearing a cap and a cape. Today, the farm she loved is in the process of being converted to a non-profit organization called Caprilands Institute, and is only open by appointment.

 

A Christmas Wreath on an old Farm Wagon

 

But years ago, December was the month to go visit if you loved Christmas. Adelma celebrated every part of what she called “the glorious Christmas season,” and studied to increase her knowledge of the legends, rituals, and plant lore that informed her elaborate decorations. She loved ceremony, and made a ritual out of “touching a flame to kindling and candles, and by fire and candlelight enjoying the pungent fragrance of fresh evergreens and rosemary.” She knew the stories behind the traditions she loved. She shared many of them in the dozens of books she wrote.

 

Dirt road and trees covered with snow after winter storm

 

Catherine and I made the long drive to Coventry into a celebration of our own. We sang Christmas carols as we drove through the countryside, sometimes even in snowstorms! Caprilands was a magical place to us. It was where I I learned to cook with herbs, inspired by Adelma’s delicious recipes served at the farmhouse luncheons and lectures. In December, I learned from Adelma that having a home beautifully decorated is a way of living life to the fullest. Like Adelma, I love to pull out all the stops, whether celebrating Christmas, Hannukah, New Year’s, or the Winter Solstice.

 

christmas-greenery

 

There’s so much to do to prepare for our largest festival of the year, but I achieve my dreams by not trying to get it all done in one day. I plan for weeks in advance, and then do a little at a time to pull together the theme I’ve decided on. I know that elegance is in the details, and there was no detail too small to be overlooked at Caprilands.

 

different kinds of spices and dried oranges with christmas tree

 

One of my favorite things about the farmhouse was seeing each of the trees that Adelma decorated. Although the decorations varied from year to year, there were always six fragrant cedars, each trimmed differently for her celebration that lasted from Thanksgiving to the end of January. Her Harvest Tree was trimmed with fruit and included straw figures and a Swedish straw star to emphasize the harvest theme.

 

 

Zweige vom weihnachtsbaum geschmückt mit Christbaumkugeln, goldenen Schleifen und Lichterkette

Her Spice Tree was trimmed with pomanders and tiny bells.

 

Golden bell on the tree

She believed that evil spirits were frightened away by the sound of bells ringing, so bells were tied to the ends of the branches to disperse the evil spirits and invite the angels in.

 

Festive Christmas close up of tree decorated with gold glitter robin, tinsel and holly berries. Bokeh copy space.

 

A Bird Tree was decorated with dried sea-lavender and little birds. She thought of the Bird Tree as her “Peace” tree, so the decorations were more minimal. It was topped with a green and silver sequin star. Her Jesse Tree was decorated with cards and quotations that foretold the coming of the Christ child. along with red and gold paper roses, little harps and crowns, and a lamb and a dove.

 

Christmas decoration background with felt ornaments

 

Her Gilded Birch tree was for children, and was covered with felt and wood snowmen, doves, hearts and horses. She hung spice cookies and handmade candies for the children to take from the branches. And last, she created an Artemisia Tree, made by wrapping a wire frame with the stalks of Artemisia albula, requiring the sacrifice of at least twelve established plants.

 

Gypsophila (Baby's-breath flowers), light, airy masses of small white flowers. Shallow focus.

 

I was always inspired by Adelma’s dedication to creating magic for everyone who visited. One of my own favorite decorating ideas I borrowed from her is tucking small bouquets of fresh baby’s breath into the Christmas tree branches and along the mantel, to simulate a fresh snowfall. It’s the tiniest touches that bring this beautiful time of year to life, and I never overlook a single one.

 

corn soup with sliced bread on wooden board

 

Another takeaway from my time at Caprilands is the delicious Curried Corn Soup she served at her luncheons. It’s not for the diet-conscious, but it’s perfect for indulging yourself on a wintry December afternoon!

 

Curried Corn Soup

1 /4 lb. butter

1 tbsp curry powder

1 tsp powdered freeze-dried shallots

2 1-lb cans cream-style corn

1 1-lb can whole corn

2 cups cream, warmed

1/8 tsp ground rosemary

2 tbsp chopped chives

Melt butter in pan, add curry, stir until smooth. Add shallots, then corn, stirring slowly; then cream and rosemary. Garnish with chilves. (Evaporated milk or half and half may be substituted for cream). Serves 8

I hope I’ve inspired you with some of what’s inspired me. However you celebrate, Frank and I, along with G.G., Tuffy and Ellie, wish you a very Happy Holiday Season!

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