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A wonderful weekend for Christmas shopping. December 1, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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If you live in, or within driving distance of, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood’s home area—basically Berks, Montgomery, and Lehigh Counties in Pennsylvania—our friend Ben would like to alert you to the fabulous and fun things going on in the area this weekend. Our friend Ben and Silence go to all these every year, so we can guarantee that they’re worth the trip. And fortunately, some of them continue throughout the month, so you can plan a future weekend or weeknight trip. Check it all out:

The Christmas Market. Presented by the Goschenhoppen Historians and located at Red Men’s Hall, Green Lane, PA, this amazing combination of folklife museum and Christmas sale is delightful. There’s a bake sale featuring Pennsylvania Dutch/Amish Christmas specialties, including the wonderful Amish lemon sponge pie (we’re not leaving without one), tons of homemade Christmas cookies, “home canned sweets and sours,” the famous molded Pennsylvania Dutch clear toy candies, which make beautiful Christmas ornaments, and even lunch and beverages. But Silence is jabbing our friend Ben in the ribs to get me to stop talking about food and get on to the actual exhibit, which has a wonderful display of themed Christmas trees and holiday arrangements, a sale of handcrafted Christmas gifts and ornaments, a sale of vintage Christmas ornaments, local books and Christmas cards, and “researched period Pennsylvania German Christmas customs and folk practices,” including the PA Dutch skinny, scary Santa, Der Belsnickel. December 3rd and 4th (Saturday and Sunday). Find out more at www.goschenhoppen.org.

Glick’s Greenhouse Poinsettia Show. This may not sound too exciting, but trust me, it is. In addition to a massive display of 10,000 poinsettias—including the latest varieties—Glick’s always has a themed show with judged entries from local goups and businesses. A couple of years ago, the theme was wreaths celebrating Route 66, including one memorable wreath made from old license plates. This year, the theme is A Cowboy Christmas: Christmas in the Wild, Wild West. Live music, free food (hot, fresh popcorn, PA Dutch hotdogs with all the trimmings, including sauerkraut and relish, cider, and beyond), and free admission make this event a must-see. Besides poinsettias, Glick’s has an extensive selection of perennials, houseplants, water-garden plants, and wreaths available for sale at great prices. Silence and I have bought our Christmas wreath at Glick’s for the past five years—the quality and price simply can’t be beat. We’re looking forward to getting this year’s wreath on Saturday. Glick’s is hosting its poinsettia show Friday 12/2 from 9-9, Saturday 12/3 from 9-5, and Monday 12/5 from 9-9. Check it out, and get hours, directions, and an entertainment schedule, at www.glicksgreenhouse.com.

Mennonite Heritage Center Pennsylvania German Folk Art Sale. Our next stop will definitely be the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, PA.  On Saturday the 3rd from 9:30 am to 4 pm and on Sunday the 4th from noon to 4 pm, there will be an open house featuring the finest Pennsylvania Dutch (aka German) handcrafted folk arts for sale, as well as craft demonstrations (woodcarving, tinsmithing, and elaborate papercutting, aka scherenschnitte). You can enjoy the museum’s folk art and lifestyle exhibits and browse their unequaled selection of PA Dutch folk art, including redware, quilts, scherenschnitte, fraktur, furniture, weavings, tinwork, toleware, carved birds and animals, and much more. Our friend Ben and Silence make sure we have our Christmas gift list drawn up before we head over here! There’s also an amazing selection of books pertaining to PA Dutch lifestyles and history, the history of the region, regional cookbooks [yes!!!—Silence], children’s books on Colonial lifestyles, and local music CDs. We recommend our favorite local group, DayBreak. We love all their CDs, but their Christmas CD is an outstanding introduction. Can’t make it this weekend? Lucky you, the sale continues through December 30th. Check it all out at www.mhep.org.  

Christkindlmarkt. We adore this gathering of artisans and traditional German and Austrian craftsmen held in Bethlehem, PA, every year.  We buy “smokers,” the wooden people and Christmas scenes with hidden cavities for incense, and frankincense to burn in them. We’ve bought glass Moravian stars, beeswax candles, handcrafted jewelry and leather goods, fantastic paintings and photographs, precious stones, and locally made salsa. We make a point of buying spiced hot almonds every year, admiring the ice sculptures, and checking out the cuckoo clocks. Each week brings a new assortment of craftspeople from all over the U.S., as well as the unchanging selection of German and Austrian craftspeople. This year, Christkindlmarkt has moved to the SteelStacks on Bethlehem’s South Side, an arts and community center in the former Bethlehem Steelworks. The astonishing light displays at night are not to be missed! Fortunately for us, Christkindlmarkt continues not just this weekend  but every Thursday through Sunday through December 20th. Did we mention that there’s tons of food and live music? Check it out at www.christmascity.org.

Our friend Ben is sure there’s a lot more going on in the Berks-Montgomery-Lehigh area this weekend. These are just the ones we can personally vouch for. So if you’re in the area, check them out. You may be able to do all your Christmas shopping, and get your family and friends unique, handcrafted, authentic regional crafts, as we try to do each year. And if you see a tall, blond, worried-looking man trying to restrain a short, dark-haired, supremely enthusiastic woman from buying everything in sight, come on over and introduce yourselves. Our friend Ben and Silence would be delighted to meet you!


Curbing Christmas consumption. December 1, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Buying gifts for other people is one thing. But the aspect of Christmas I most dread is the huge temptation to buy things for myself.

Here’s how it always goes: Let’s say that, like me, you love Christmas ornaments. Now, you already have more lovingly chosen ornaments, family heirlooms, and etc. than you can ever display. You tell yourself, come on, it’s Christmas, so you can buy yourself one new ornament. Then you go shopping. It seems like everywhere you go, at least 50 ornaments are screaming “Buy me! Buy me!” Handmade ornaments. Vintage ornaments. Temptation is everywhere.

Okay, you think, I’ll avoid temptation by limiting my outings as much as possible. But then the Christmas catalogues come piling in the door. Not only are they full of wonderful ornaments, but they virtually explode with gorgeous trees, wreaths, and—my other unfortunate weakness—really stunning Christmas cards.

The two worst offenders in this category are the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chicago Art Institute catalogues. From cards with exquisite Fra Angelico and Giotto angels to breathtaking photographs to delightful cutouts and whimsical creations, these catalogues offer up the creme de la creme of cards, and I always want at least 20 different boxes from each catalogue. And did I mention catalogues with real glass snow globes, old-time toys, colorful Christmas stockings, and delicious Christmas confections?

Fortunately, I’ve discovered a way to make this particular temptation work for me. I understand that it’s looking at these wonderfully creative expressions of Christmas that cheers me up and puts me in the holiday spirit, not necessarily owning them. So I have a folder labeled “Christmas Ideas.” Every time I see a page in a Christmas catalogue or magazine with something I love on it, I tear it out and put it in the folder. Each season, it’s enormous fun to open the folder and revisit the wonderful delights inside, while, of course, adding new ones.

Why “Christmas Ideas,” you ask? Well, who’s to say that one year I won’t unearth my box of tiny white starfish and sand dollars and make my own “White Christmas” wreath with them, rather than ordering one from a catalogue? And sometimes, you can get a great idea from a catalogue and adapt it to your own decor.

This year, I saw that L.L. Bean was offering a live “tabletop tree” with the ornaments attached to ribbons hanging from a bow at the top of the tree. Since hanging ornaments directly on a small live tree like a Norfolk Island pine or, mercy on us, one of those rosemary topiaries that always seem to be everywhere at Christmas, can potentially damage the plant, this struck me as a brilliant solution. And why not extend it to attaching ornaments to ribbons and stringing them on the mantel, on a chandelier, around a door, or on a banister? It seems like a great way to get to display more of your small ornaments while minimizing the risk of breakage from, say, a cat swiping one off its hook.

My “Christmas Ideas” folder has brought me great enjoyment and really helped curb that “I love this and have to buy it or I won’t remember it” impulse. And guess what? I have a second folder labeled “Christmas Gifts.”

The “Christmas Gifts” folder is designed to foil that other dreaded syndrome, the “one for you and two for me” gift-buying orgy. When I see something in one of those catalogues or magazines I’d just love to have, again, I tear it out and put it in the folder. If I see that I’ve put the same item in the folder for the past several years, I’m likely to give that page to our friend Ben (assuming the item is reasonable) as a subtle hint. Otherwise, I just enjoy my virtual Christmas shopping spree!

I can see expanding the idea so that each family member has his or her own “Christmas Gifts” folder. (As long as they clearly understand that this is a playlist, not a shopping list for you or Santa!) Each season, you could all look through everyone’s folders and get ideas for gifts you know would be appreciated.

These tactics are especially helpful in houses like ours where money is tight and space is limited. Just yesterday, I saw a bumper sticker that said “Question Consumption.” What a good idea! A few simple Christmas folders is a great way to start.

            ‘Til next time,