Secluded Habits ( not about monks)

While the title may sound like I’m about to write another history lesson, this time, perhaps, of robe-draped priests who are living in an unpopulated area, it is about nothing of the sort. Charles  Dickens will play a large part of this posting, and it is from that good sire that the title comes:      “We are men of secluded habits… whose enthusiasm, nevertheless, has not cooled with age, whose spirit of romance is not yet quenched… (We are) spirits of past times, creatures of imagination”… from Master Humphrey’s clock

(Incidentally, the term “boredom” has been attributed to Dickens in the past, but there is proof that it was used much earlier than when he coined it in his Bleak House.  Regardless, there is certainly no amount of BOREDOM here, with winter life on the farm – we are all finding many great things with which to occupy ourselves – and not all of them entail ‘work’ or ‘ keeping ourselves alive”. )

For, as the snow continues to fall around us, and the nights have grown much colder, we, though isolated, are no less busy.  Jack London, who will also be mentioned within this writing, has a wonderful quote :”The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall USE my time.”  Well, much like the Victorians and the pioneers before us, we are USING our time.  The following photos will explain how we are happily ensconced in our cozy farmhouse in the white wilderness of the Appalachians, preparing for an old-fashioned Christmas and for many months of possible seclusion.

While some may just sit in windows looking out in apathy and dreaming of spring,


and while others may find it difficult to stay warm inside unless the “snowy roof” is at least insulated,



keeping busy is what we are all about at present.  Yesterday, to prepare for the 6 members of Richard’s family who will be staying with us throughout the holidays, I baked gingerbread cookies of a variety  of shapes, and made divinity fudge (with our local honey instead of corn syrup) mint candies (with our own mint jelly) and some other sauces and bits and bobs. Today I made the usual bread, as well as cinnamon rolls and dog biscuits. Also chicken soup yesterday and beef stew today, both from scratch and still using some of our veg. from the garden, though we are already starting to run low on some of those!  So the kitchen work, as always, is keeping me

R O C K I N ‘….


Richard stays busy with cutting, stacking, splitting wood, as well as keeping the furnace burning, and occasionally too, our living room fireplace, which has a wonderful up-draft and thus keeps that room very tidily warm and pleasant.  And with the decorating started back there (though we have yet to go out and chop down a tree), it is the place where we love to cozy-up.  Smitty adores sitting by the hearth, especially if there is someone there to hug!


I generally decorate for either a Primitive Pioneer Christmas mantel, or a Victorian (or sometimes a combination of the two). This year the theme is based on this ‘old list’ –


A pair of children’s skis hang above the mantel shelf and all along the shelf are the above items, traditional toys on the wish list of the more well-to-do Victorian child.  Many of these are symbolic to the world at large, and personally sentimental to at least one of us.


As my good  earthenware pottery dishes (incidentally, they ARE based on Franciscan Monks!) are of an olive and frosty-mint green celtic-type pattern, I often try to incorporate those two greens into the regular Christmas green shades (above)



(Below)   With “Mommy, Mommy Horsie Cold!” being my first sentence and horses always being a huge part of my life, a collection of rocking, stick, hobby, wheeled and prancing horses come out of their boxes in December to gallop across the festive decor. A large Victorian rocking horse today costs several thousand dollars in an antique shop (if you can even find one), so my smaller sculpted-clay ones have to represent what those children might really have been hoping for. The antique Swiss Alpine Log Cabin which is a music box (another popular Victorian Christmas present to those of the mid-to-higher classes) was given to me when I was two or three by my grandmother’s Aunt Sada. Music boxes were originally snuff boxes (which my grandparents used to collect and display). The original snuff boxes were tiny containers which could fit into a gentleman’s waistcoat pocket. The music boxes grew from that to table-top size. They were usually powered by clockwork and originally produced by artisan  watchmakers. For most of the 19th century, the bulk of music box production was concentrated in Switzerland, building upon a strong watchmaking tradition, so it is fitting that mine was made there, I think!  The first music box factory was opened there in 1815. On one of the two tins is an icy scene depicting a teenager and a young man, which always reminds me of Richard’s father in Hamburg, Germany.  He has only recently revealed to us that one winter he, as an expert swimmer even at age 17, saved a young 14 year old girl from drowning in the river.  She had been walking out on the ice and had fallen through.  Hans was awarded a medal by the town mayor and then proceeded to keep this modestly quiet and a secret from his entire family for the next 60 years!   Behind these three items are the birch-like candles in their pottery candleholders which were chosen for me by Mom for one of last year’s Christmas gifts, so I’ve added birch logs to the entire display to accent with white.


Addition of Victorian tags from Mom/Joy – a perfect enhancing accessory:



Sock-stretchers are a fun way to suggest Christmas stockings of old. This one (below) hangs above a gorgeous ship’s captain’s wheel given to us when we moved here by Richard’s brother, Jean-Marc, who is an engineer for many of the ships in harbour in Saint John.



Below, a favourite paper streamer of mine that I’ve had since my late teens.  It depicts the Christmas tradition, especially in Victorian times of the Boxing Day Hunt, either for fox or stag.  Traditional hunting as organised sport is a seasonal activity which takes place in the coldest months of the year.  This is because scents evaporate faster in hot weather than in cold weather.  In the UK  the most traditional day for hunting is Boxing Day, so called because the higher classes would pass a box around to collect monies or foodstuffs for the poor, or their own servants.  Servants were usually given Boxing Day off, as they would have had to wait on their masters’ families throughout Christmas Day.  The only waitstaff who had to work Boxing Day were the unlucky servants of the host of that year’s hunt, as the mounted riders would be served sherry and baked treats before and after their day in the field. Although I was never lucky enough to ‘ride to hounds’ in a fox or ‘drag’ hunt (the scent is just dragged by a human, no animal is killed) when I lived in England, I DID get to participate in a snowy hunt one February in 1984 in Michigan. (And of course, in England there would rarely have been as much snow falling as temperatures are much more mild!)

Also, above, the Victorian practice of decorating trees and real pine or burlap garlands with cinnamon sticks, cranberries, and/or popcorn was a natural and fun way for all members of the household to take part in joining in the festivities.  And I only illuminate with primitive amber or just slightly-more modern white fairy lights to best replicate the Victorian tradition of lighting evergreen boughs with tiny candles.

Below, many Victorian authors who were already popular at the time, wrote serials in many periodicals (magazines or newsprint journals) for Christmas readers, and these would later be made into anthologies, like Dickens’ two on our mantel :  ” Christmas Stories”, and “Christmas Books”(A Christmas Carol is of course included in the latter.   These are his others:

  • 17 December 1843: A Christmas Carol
  • 16 December 1844: The Chimes 
  • 20 December 1845: The Cricket on the Hearth
  • 19 December 1846: The Battle of Life
  •  19 December 1848: The Haunted Man 
  • 1852-66, Christmas Stories, which incl:  A Christmas Tree, What Christmas is as we Grow Older,The Poor Relation’s Story,The Child’s Story,The Schoolboy’s Story, Nobody’s Story  )                                                                                                                               Jack London’s Christmas stories, while I don’t own any of them, are represented on our mantel by Call of the Wild and White Fang. Richard loves these adventure novels, and I often feel especially connected to these too, as I spent one December living and working – on Klondike Gold Rush claims for the museum-  in Dawson City, Yukon, and one of London’s more popular stories is entitled “A Klondike Christmas” (1898).


Also, in above – while Punch and Judy, the famous puppet show, was a Victorian phenomenon and at its height of popularity then, it actually has its origins with Italy’s comedia dell arte (the character being Pulcinella then) in the 16th century, and the English version was being interpreted not long after. In fact,  famous diarist Samuel Pepys noted that he enjoyed the Punch Play  in Covent Garden in 1662! It is also still seen in England today, with Punch being much less verbally and physically abusive to his wife Judy (orig. named Joan), and much more politically correct in front of his very young audiences at the seashore!   My Punch is a heavy cast-iron bank, meant to replicate a Victorian toy on wheels and with a pull-chain, to advertise cigars.  I always put him next to the novel “Punch” written by a very Victorian author, known only as “Miss E.C.Phillips”.  What I love about this book is that, as in the nameplate on the inside cover, it was awarded to my great uncle Sydney Johnson (for whom my own late father was named) by my great-great grandfather J. Johnson, for perfect Sunday school attendance for the entire year of 1884!

Click on the above two and below 8 to enlarge and read the captions for explanations. The Victorian Centrepiece (series starting below)  for our long table will be my favourite ever, I believe.  One trick I can offer – if you just can’t find the right colour candle in a taper, buy it in a votive or glass-molded, then purchase white candles and pour the melted wax from the desired colour over the top of the white ones- a lovely old effect!


The above is the centrepiece that began from my grandmother’s Noel set of angels that she had either on the table or the sideboard every Christmas.  Of course the colours are chosen to go with those Franciscan earthenware dishes of mine again… that lovely frosty mint-green. And the mirror on which everything sits is an old salvage-piece metal one with touches of the olive and frosty green as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                             Click on any of the below to enlarge and read captions :


To read more about what we’ve been up to lately, especially Joy/Mom, click on each of the photos below and read the captions. ” Joy at Christmas”

For those who may not have seen Mom/Joy at her loom, or spinning wheels, or seen some of her amazing creations in the past, click on the photos below:


Now, with all of these inside pursuits, or “secluded habits”, I wouldn’t want any of you to think we DON’T enjoy the beautiful winter outdoors as well. Just because we know how to keep busy enjoying our “Living Life More Simply” , “Back-to-Basics” lifestyle, it doesn’t mean we aren’t happy to start exploring the snowy mountains as well.  I’ve tried skiing a few times, although the snow is deep and very wet, and this afternoon Richard’s young pal and our neighbour, Zeb, came out and did some snow-boarding down the hill in front of our house and down to the neighbour’s potato barn (in Christmassy green)!  Richard of course thinks he must try this next time!


But for now, Richard is happy doing what we ALL probably love best, and certainly don’t have time for during the busy spring, summer and autumn months on a farm that is aiming for self-sufficiently – and that’s READING!



And even Simba the cat can be cajoled away from his secluded habit of staring out the window all day, to join us by the fireside once in a while for a cuddle!



3 thoughts on “Secluded Habits ( not about monks)

  1. Well done, Julie! I enjoyed the historical bits – some of it was new information for me. Thanks for all the memories of past Christmases and other events and especially of our family members.

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