When Elsie heard the car pull up in the driveway, her eyes widened in guilty surprise. Quickly, she stowed what she had been working on under the farthest corner of her loom.
And not a moment too soon. The front door of the cottage sprang open, letting in Thea, a Colorado blue spruce, and a few snowflakes. The taller woman briskly shut the door behind her and began to remove her hat.
"What a lovely tree," Elsie said.
Thea paused in the act of unbuttoning her coat. "I thought you were going to get the decorations out of the closet."
"I was, dear," Elsie said, turning pink. "I was. But I got sidetracked."
"Well," Thea said, softening, "we need the stand, at least."
"Yes, of course!" The plump woman shot of her seat at the loom and bustled through the hallway door. In a moment, Thea could hear her banging around in the closet. She smiled fondly as Elsie returned, triumphant, brandishing the tree stand. "Here it is!"
"Right in front of the window, I think," Thea said. "Don't you, dear?"
"I do." And the two ladies set about wrestling the tree into the stand.
"Oh, it's perfect," Thea said, clapping her gloved hands together, as she stepped back. "Come and see, Else."
"I would if I could get up," said Elsie from the floor. Both ladies chuckled as Thea gave Elsie a hand. "I might be getting too old for this," Elsie said in chagrin as she regained her feet.
"Nonsense," said Thea, and hugged her.
"It is a lovely tree," Elsie said again, leaning her head on Thea's shoulder.
Thea laughed softly. "It would be even lovelier with the lights and decorations, don't you think, dear?"
It was Elsie's turn to laugh. "Be right back," she said, and went to fetch them from the closet.
While she was gone, Thea deftly extricated a tiny box from the inside pocket of her coat and slid it behind a chair. "What got you so distracted, anyway?" she called to Elsie.
"Now, Thea," chided Elsie as she returned with a stack of boxes. "You know better than to ask such questions this close to Yule." She dropped the boxes on the footstool and began opening them: old-fashioned glass balls, hand-crocheted snowflakes, and the lights. Thea took one end of the strand of lights, and together they began to decorate the tree.
At last, it was done. Thea plugged in the lights and stepped back. The ladies leaned against each other, admiring their handiwork. "Happy Yule, Elsie," said Thea.
"Happy Yule, dear," Elsie said, and kissed her.
Baking is another of the ladies' holiday traditions, and kolaches (in Czech, kolačky) are Elsie's specialty. My own mother used to make them with a yeast dough. But Elsie uses a cream cheese dough -- and as it happens, her recipe is the same one I cut out of the Chicago Tribune many years ago.
3 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup flour
1/16 teaspoon nutmeg
Fillings of your choice (see below)
Cream together the cream cheese and butter; work in the flour and nutmeg. Shape the dough into a roll about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for several hours.
When ready to bake the cookies, slice the dough into rounds about 1/4-inch thick and place on a cookie sheet. Spoon a small amount of filling in the center of each slice. You can either fold two opposite edges of each slice together in the center, or leave as is. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. When slightly cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes about three dozen cookies.
For the filling: You may be able to find Solo brand canned filling in the baking aisle of your supermarket. The poppyseed and apricot are my personal favorites. If you can't find them, you could make one or more of these fillings (the cheese filling is excellent), or just use fruit preserves.
Two quick notes: The Pipe Woman Chronicles was featured today at Kindle Books & Tips -- it's just 99 cents at Amazon through Saturday. And from Friday the 26th through Tuesday the 30th, Seasons of the Fool will be free at Amazon. Happy holidays, everyone.
These moments of Yuletide blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.