Keeping the Holidays Peaceful

Norman  Rockwell Family Dinner

“Freedom from Want” – Norman Rockwell

When I think of Thanksgiving and Christmas, I envision something like the Norman Rockwell painting  “Freedom from Want” with three generations of family gathered around a big farm table passing the Turkey and mashed potatoes.  The meal begins with a prayer of thanks or the song “Bless be the Ties that Bind” and everyone is grateful to be together for a lovely feast.

We’ve had this kind of Thanksgiving and Christmas at the farm in days past and I treasure that memory forever. The family cooks, Grandma, Mom and Aunt Mary were flushed and slightly out of breath, but proud to serve up the feast to their treasured family. Their  table was laid with traditional holiday fare, repeated year after year.  In our case, dim sum from the German tradition with seven sweets and seven sour’s and ham and game along with turkey.  Family and food were the focus, and tired “little ones” the main distraction.

 Some things this year will be the same, and some things will be different–but the one thing we want to maintain is the joy of the season and a peaceful and pleasant time with family that nourishes relationships and builds memories that sustain us.  There will be many more distractions this year that we’ll have to workaround to make the season merry.  Here are a few tips on how we’ll keep the peace.

Uplifting Conversation
Plan ahead to increase the probabilities of relationship building  conversations and good digestion  by using place cards around the table, thoughtfully.  Position the good talkers next to the good listener’s and grandparents near distant grandchildren, and the hard of hearing near the kind hearted.  You know your peeps!

Maintain a lighthearted conversation at the table.  Ideally, we like one topic at a time with everyone offering an opinion or a story or a joke and a lot of laughter.  The host or hostess or good conversationalist can introduce the topic–avoiding topics that are known “hot buttons” for one or more family members.  Since our family loves to debate–this is not easy–and the best debaters can drown out our more thoughtful and soft spoken family members, so we will try to facilitate the family like a “focus group” with everyone getting a word in participation. When this breaks down with three or four conversations are happening at the same time, bring them all together with a provocative new question around a topic.

Avoid risky topics. I must confess to my own hot buttons in conversation like climate change, GMO’s impact on the food supply and terrorists, but I will keep these topics close to the vest as everyone knows where I stand on these issues and I don’t want to be on a soap box or start a debate.  I’ll speak of positive advances in alternative energy production, growth in organic food farming, and International efforts to secure world peace, instead.  If I hear a comment that is likely to set off a fire storm, I’ll reply with something like “how interesting” and change the topic.

Guests
We’re meeting niece Morgan’s significant other and potential new family member for the first time, so I want to learn more about him, without making him want to run from the table and our family!  Questions meant to grill or haze this newbee (like, when are you going to marry my niece?) are off-limits and will be more uplifting, such as “how does your family celebrate the holidays”?

Inviting a stranger to the group, like a visiting foreign student, is often a blessing in keeping conversation from becoming too personal and cooling contentious topics.  Introducing them to our traditions and learning about their traditions can involve everyone in delightful conversations.  Many foreign students have been invited to our table over the years as well as friends at loose ends for the holidays.  I’m sure they are unaware of the role they play in keeping everyone on their best behavior.

Cocoa, our mini-red poodle will not be invited to the table, as much as he would like to attend.  The little beggar who delights us privately might very well be a nuisance to others and will be brought to the party for a touch football game….later.

Minimizing Distractions
Cell Phones – Some ground rules need to be set in advance around cell phones, don’t you think?  We do have some family members who tune out the conversation and text away with phone discretely in their laps, insulting the people at the table, I believe.  Others have a way of proving you are wrong, with an “I’ll Google that” and tell you the facts.  So, we’ll gather cell phones in a basket before dinner with a promise to return them after the meal.  If someone must take a call, they can leave the table to do so.  Tough rules for tough distractions!

Football – The big screen will be in another room and the DVR will be activated if dinner runs into game time.  We will honor big game times and try to keep meal schedules on track to avoid anxiety on the part of true fans.

If we play touch football in the yard, we’ll let the little kids win, or at least not humiliate or wound them. We do have a die hard football fan in the family, a brother-in-law who can’t miss a moment of play, so he usually decides to stay home in his man cave and watch the entire game day with take-out chicken. This is OK with the rest of us. We can catch up with him later.

Toasts and Prayers
Keep them short and eloquent, toasting the hosts, the cooks and the people in the room (who are the right people) and the people far away who are missed.  Going around the table asking each person what they are grateful for can be uplifting, bonding and a great climate setter for the meal. If a prayer is de rigor in your family as it is in our’s, remember to keep it short and relevant to the day and don’t use a blessing for the meal as an opportunity to present a sermonette, as the gravy congeals.

What to drink and when?
It’s lovely to have complimentary wines served with the meal and cocktails before and cordials after, all within moderation and in due time.  It’s fun for the cook to sip a little and cook a little, but it can seriously slow down preparations–yes, this is learned from experience.  Mia Culpa.  Also, the host should make sure that there are plenty of interesting, non-alcoholic drinks available and monitor drinking so that the party is convivial, but doesn’t get out of hand or set up any driving risks.  The weather and roads during the holidays  are challenging and demand good driving skills so don’t let family members drive who have overdone it.  They can nap on the couch until ready for the road or handoff their keys for a ride home.

Lavender Ambiance
We have to bring lavender into our holiday equation, or it wouldn’t be a LavenderGreen Celebration.  We’ll have a menu with lavender in Herbs de Provence for the turkey.  You can find other lavender infused recipes on our Pinterest page, but use sparingly to introduce this new taste to family.  This year, we’re making Earl Gray Tea & Lavender Infused Chocolate Truffles, by popular demand. (Recipe and video)

Before the meal, we’ll diffuse “Celebrate” to set a cheerful mood and give a scent memory of Christmas past with this blend of lavender, frankincense, orange, cinnamon, rosewood, cistus and mandarin.  We’ll add a few drops to our diffuser in the foyer to great incoming guests.  We’ll turn it off when the fragrance of roasted turkey should prevail.  (order Celebrate here)

We’ll spritz the football game room with “road rage relief“, probably in mist form, when the going gets tough for losing team’s fan because it reduces anxiety and tempers.

Here’s hoping that this will be the best Holiday ever with good memories made and relationships strengthened!

To learn more about the miscellany of modern manners–for hosts and guests, see Ben Schott’s article entitled “Giving & Thanking” in the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit magazine.  This article triggered my own thoughts and experiences in hosting holiday dinners for family.  I’d love to hear from you about your family’s experience and your tips for keeping the peace at holiday time.

Happy Holidays Readers and many blessings in the year ahead,
Ginna

Building a Lavender Garden from “Scratch”  

Gros_Bleu-StemsAre you dreaming of a purple haze of lavender in your backyard and lavender’s refreshing scent wafting through an open window on a sunny afternoon?  Almost everyone can make a mini-garden of lavender that can fulfill this dream and provide enough dried stems for your home and buds for sachets or potpourri.  A mini-bed can be created along the side of a building, in a circle, a knot garden, or in a straight line bed along sidewalk or driveway.  The garden featured in this post contains just 18 plants of the Gros Blue variety which is a cultivar of Grosso, a Lavandin.  We love it for its color, fragrance and stem length.

There are just a few things to consider:

  1. Chose the right location, full sun with good drainage
  2. Prepare your soil; a sandy, loamy soil is ideal, but you can amend any soil to work
  3. Chose the right variety for your garden and buy enough plants to space them with room for air to circulate
  4. Plant, Water, mulch, snip, and prune

Choosing the Timing and the Right Location

 Chose a location that receives the most sunlight in your yard.  South facing is helpful and so is a wind-break or a building or a stone wall nearby.  We have open field gardens that do well with a fence as a near-by wind-break, critical in Zone 5.

Plot out your garden first and decide how many plants to buy.  We plant in early June, after the danger of frost has past, but before the heat requires too much watering.  Fall planting is fine in some warmer areas of the country.  Make certain that you have good drainage with a natural slope where water from a heavy deluge of rain can quickly run off the garden.  Lavender likes rain, but does not like to have its feet “wet”…so no standing water in the lavender garden, ever. (standing water leads to root rot–a very sad occurrence).

Soil Preparation

 Lavender loves a sandy, loamy soil just like the Mediterranean soil it came from originally.  Our soil has a lot of clay in it, so we dig a hole 18″ deep and fill it with potting soil, pearlized limestone, and pea gravel.  This soil mix should crumble in your fingers and is “friable” which helps promote healthy root growth.  You can also add play sand, but we reserve the play sand for mulch.  Use a mini-soil tester to make sure the soil mix has a PH of 7.  A PH of 6 or below is too acidic for healthy growth.  Lavender likes “cheap” soil, so there is rarely a need to add fertilizer.

 Sequim, Washington has a gritty soil and Delaware a sandy soil which are both naturally hospitable soils for lavender, but the rest of us need to compensate.

Close-up of Gros Bleu Lavender

Choosing the right lavender plants for your garden

 There are now about 200 varieties of lavender available in the market place.  We suggest that you buy from a local nursery to get the plants that will do well in your growing zone.  In our case, we plant very winter hardy lavender like to true Angustifolia Munstead and Hidcote which survive our quirky winters in growing zone 5.  If you like long stems, consider the new variety “Phenomenal” which can withstand cold, rain and draught.  This is a cultivar of Grosso, a very sturdy Lavandin with long stems.   If you’re going for a sea of lavender, buy all of the same variety for each garden.

 If your gardens are full, consider adding a lavender plant as a fragrant purple accent in a mixed perennial garden. It pairs well with roses and many other favorites.

Gros_Bleu-WeedingPlant, water, weed, snip and prune

 Measure your garden and read the spacing requirements on the tag of your plants.  Lavenders come in many sizes from compact, 12″ spreads to huge 36″ mounded spreads.  Make sure to allow enough space between the plants so the air can circulate around them and you can move around the plants to harvest the lavender flowers and weed.

 Dig holes 12-18″ deep and 12″ wide and refill your hole with the amended soil.  Lavender roots extend 18″ deep, but a 1 year old plant has about 3″ of roots, so you need to mound up a little Pyramid inside your hole and gently spread the baby’s roots over the pyramid, so that the crown of the plant is even with the garden.  Water the plants when you have patted them down into the soil.

Pea_Gravel_ newspaper_mulch We add a top cover of pea gravel to our entire garden after planting for two reasons.  First, it’s light color reflects sunlight back into the plant and prevents fungus and second because it works its way into the soil and breaks down the clay, allowing the roots to “breathe”.

Garden side by side year one and two Don’t expect many stems in your first summer, but year two will yield more and year three should be spectacular.  It’s important to cut off spent stems, to encourage more growth.  English lavenders will give you a second cutting in September if you cut the stems in July.  If you experience a rainy summer with lots of cloud cover, consider adding a 1-2″ play sand mulch on top of the gravel all around the plant to bounce light back into the plant.  This little tip can spare you from root rot and promote healthy growth by tricking the plant into thinking it’s really back home in the Mediterranean.

Gros Blue garden in the fallWeeding is important because weeds can “choke” a young lavener plant and be the cause of an early demise.  We weed by hand because we are keeping our gardens organic and herbicide free. Prune in the fall after the plant has gone to sleep.  Lavandins can be pruned and shaped into a neat mound and the Angustifolia’s can at least be made neater, although they grow asymmetrically and always look a little “oppitity”.

 Your garden should give you color, fragrance  and pleasure from mid-June until mid- July plus or minus two weeks.  It may rest in August and flower again in September providing you with lavender enough for your home and gift-giving.

Enjoy!

Ginna Gemmell

Three Simple Steps to Get Rid of Moths

Crocus at Lavender Green FarmChanging seasons signal the time to protect your wardrobe from the dreaded Moth whose damage to a favorite garment is disheartening and expensive. Moths will attack any natural or synthetic and natural blended fabrics, so nearly everything in your closet is a target. They will even go after leather! While sometimes the telltale holes can be rewoven, most moth damaged clothing ends up a total loss.

Lavender can protect your valuable wardrobe from moths with a fragrance that will soothe your soul. Unlike mothballs which smell toxic and cedar which can stain clothing, lavender can be used to prevent, clean and store your clothing as a triple threat to a Moth invasion without any negative side effects.

Tineola bisselliella 1

Step 1: Environmental Scan

Begin by taking everything out of your closet. Vacuum the floor and “swiffer” the walls–you may want go a step further by washing floor and wall surfaces with lavender floor soap to clean and freshen. This is a “moth prevention” tactic and will greatly reduce the probability that these destructive pests will find a home in your closet. If you do discover any moths (dead or alive) call a professional pest management company and start the scan on each closet in your home before they arrive. As you put each outfit back, inspect clothing for soil and stains and sort into two groups for washing or dry-cleaning. Make another pile for clean, out of season clothing to go directly to storage.

Step 2: Clean and Protect

Moths will be attracted to any biodegradable soil in clothing, but dry-cleaning or washing will eliminate the attraction. Wash rather than dry clean as much as possible following the care instructions and add lavender laundry conditioner to final wash rinse for an “all over” lavender scent and layer of protection. Tossing lavender dryer sachets into the dry cycle will provide lighter scent and can also be used as refresher for clean woolen sweaters and blankets on the “dryer press” cycle.

Add freshness and moth protection to your closets with our Lavender Closet Set.

Add freshness and moth protection to your closets with our Lavender Closet Set.

Step 3: Store

Store your clean, out of season clothes in a cloth garment bag and hang a lavender sachet on the inside over one of the hangers. For long-lasting lavender protection, spray the cloth garment bag with lavender sheet spray. Remember to use a wooden, plastic or padded hanger of the right size and button the garment, so that the shoulders and lapels are not distorted next season. Store the garment bags in a clean, cool and dry area and label the contents so you can find an outfit in a hurry. For foldable items, tightly sealed plastic storage containers work well and can often slide under your bed for easy access. Before snapping them shut, add a lavender dryer sachet. For open shelf or basket storage, you can place each item in a heavy duty plastic storage bag and chill it for an hour in the freezer before storing. This extra step will kill any moth larvae that you may have missed.

Lavender Shoe Stuffers

Don’t forget that your shoes are also a target for moths. Fill them with our Lavender Shoe Stuffers for freshness every day.

Remember that your shoes can also be a target. First clean then store out of season shoes in a shoe bag or caddy and use a lavender filled shoe stuffer to keep them dry, fresh and protected.

How often should this be done? Twice a year the experts advise.

To learn more about lavender closet tips and purchase items mentioned in this article please check out our Closet Freshener Line