Tea is great for any occasion, and Winter Solstice is no exception. You can gather your friends, steep up a pot of your favorite oolong, Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Breakfast Blend, etc., then lay out a tasty spread of delectable munchables and toast the day.
What is Winter Solstice? Usually, it’s the 21st or 22nd of December. It’s the day when the number of hours of daylight have reached their minimum and the hours of darkness have reached their maximum. Each successive day after that, the number of hours of daylight will start to get longer (sunset will occur later) and the number of hours of darkness will get shorter (sunrise will occur earlier) until the Summer Solstice. (Of course, I’m talking about the Northern Hemisphere. The reverse is true in the Southern Hemisphere, where this December date is Summer Solstice.)
Winter Solstice day used to be celebrated as a sign that the hours of life-giving sunlight will be getting longer (very important to people relying on an agrarian economy and not having our modern heating systems). In these modern times, we mark it as the first day of Winter. (Some people across the nation get an early start on the season with blizzardy blasts of cold, snow, and ice in November or early December.)
In either Hemisphere, the December Solstice, being a few days before Christmas, is just another part of the mad rush holiday season that really starts the day after Halloween. In fact, Winter Solstice is often overlooked or thought of as a leftover from the time when people attributed mystical qualities to the day. When you’re dependent on the Sun to keep you warm and grow crops for food, that’s totally understandable. Thanks to modern agricultural and food preservation methods, we have a much steadier food supply and are less dependent on this cycle of daylight vs. darkness hours. So, any such significance is no longer relevant.
That shouldn’t stop you from throwing a Winter Solstice Tea Party, though!
One approach would be to have a party theme that emphasizes light, with lots of candles and bright colors. The foods could be made from seasonal produce such as a spicy pumpkin soup, a hearty meat entrée like Beef Roulade or Smoked Ham, sunny-looking nibble foods like deviled eggs and celery sticks with cream cheese and cilantro, and fruit salads, lemon tarts (so sunny looking!), or fruity parfaits.
What would be better to wash it all down with than hot tea? Additional tea choices (to the ones above) might be rich-tasting Assam and Keemun. Blend in some spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cloves for a healthy and tasty chai. Or you can thrill your guests with the spectacle of a flowering tea blooming in a glass teapot. Green tea and oolong add an exotic Oriental touch.
Whatever foods you serve and whichever tea you serve with it, your tea time feast will surely portend the coming of a bountiful Spring and Summer, when the sun caresses the earth and pulls forth green shoots from the seeds that are planted and these shoots continue to grow and burgeon with their own seeds and fruits.
Hi, humans, this site is under my editorial excellence. I, your lovable and sassy Little Yellow Teapot, authors articles on tea, etc., and edit the occasional guest article. All in the interest of helping you humans have a better tea experience. TOOOT!
Chillier temps are on their way. Get your fireplace ready for those cozy Winter times ahead.
History of Fireplaces
In brief: Fire was discovered, followed quickly by inventing a way to keep it from burning everything down. And then recognizing that fire was good for cooking foods and keeping us warm when the weather was chilly or at night (it also scared away fierce beasts).
The fire pit (like you would set up for your camp fire) was one solution. But it had to be outdoors or the smoke and fumes from the burning wood could be rather toxic.
Some clever folks learned how to use stones, mortar, and bricks inside a structure to contain the fire and wick away unpleasant smoke and fumes. Soon, fireplaces were showing up all over.
In the 1700s, Abraham Darby discovered that iron smelted the right way could be used to make stoves and other devices for that fire to generate heat into a room. Benjamin Franklin, statesman, inventor, and almanac writer, created a freestanding cast iron stove that prevented heat loss through the wall behind the fireplace (the stove would also heat the room long after the fire in it had gone out).
A Colonial America style kitchen fireplace with a hook to swing a tea kettle over the flames for heating water for tea.
Victorian era fireplaces were a real room feature, not just a source of warmth.
Today, fireplaces are a choice, not a necessity. The development of central heating systems over the years have made them outmoded. But you may still want that ambiance and a bit of extra warmth. In fact, a fireplace in your home can not only enhance your time living there but can bring a higher price when you want to sell. So, on with the exploration…
Basic Fireplace Types
Throughout the centuries, fireplaces had a surround (mantle and sides, often made of wood) and a place where the fire is burned (called the “fire box”). That continues today, but the fire area now varies and could be an insert to accommodate a different type of fue.
Warmth is a prime consideration here. It will be a key factor when selecting which type of fireplace to choose or whether you want to change what you already have to something more efficient. Appearance is another consideration, and it seems that the sky is truly the limit. And then there is cost – both the up front cost of the materials, insert, and labor as well as the ongoing costs of using the fireplace.
Fireplace inserts are put in the fire box to switch it from wood-burning to gas or pellets. The insert will be connected to the chimney and flue leading outside.
Fire box made of heat- and flame-resistant materials, often bricks but may be stone or tile.
Burns hard woods (hickory, ash, oak and hard maple); avoid soft woods (pine, spruce, etc.) which don’t burn as well or provide as much heat.
Season (dry) wood 6 to 12 months. Test by knocking 2 logs together – sound should be hollow, not a dull thud.
Stack a few split logs on the grate or andirons, add kindling (smaller pieces of wood) around and below them, check that damper is open, light kindling with a scrap of newspaper (a small piece should be enough).
Never light with gasoline, lighter fluid or a butane torch.
If you get smoke entering the room, crack a window near the fireplace to let air in.
Leave a few inches of ash in the fire box to reflect heat and provide a bed for coals.
If your damper is adjustable, gradually close it as the fire dies down to maintain a draft and limit cold air from coming down. But don’t close it completely until the fire is out.
If your fireplace is equipped with glass or metal doors, close them before you go to bed.
The Cozy Side:
Cozy features, including a real fire aroma, sound of burning wood crackling, and lovely sight of flames dancing
Get warmed twice, first by chopping wood, stacking it, and hauling some in the house for that lovely fire; second by the fire itself as you burn that wood
Firewood is readily available in many areas and fairly affordable
Not dependent on the electric or gas power coming into your home; if the power goes out, you can still heat your house (or at least one room of it)
Great for roasting marshmallows, toasting crumpets or bread, or even heating a kettle of water for tea or coffee – all will greatly enhance the cozy factors here
The Not-So-Cozy Side:
A heat output that is not very uniformly distributed around the room
Can’t be turned off when you go to bed; you have to wait for the fire to die down sufficiently
Wood needs a storage space and could attract “critters” (especially black widow spiders, as we found out)
You have to empty and haul ashes which will either have to be bagged up for the trash collectors or piled in a spot in your yard
Has to be built into your home either at the time of construction or into an existing home by an expert
Must have a chimney/flue for ventilation so home placement limited to certain areas, and brick chimneys have to be checked by a mason every 5 years or so and cleaned by a chimney sweep
Andirons to hold logs in position.
Grate to raises logs and allow air to circulate under them for better burning. (Alternative to the andirons but considered less efficient by some.)
Broom and shovel to sweep up ashes. Poker to push and position logs. (Often sold as a set.)
Tongs: For lifting logs and coals.
Ash bucket: Holds ashes removed from grate area. (Some come with a matching shovel.)
Doors for safety when you are done enjoying the fire. Can be closed while fire is burning if sufficient air inflow.
Fender to prevent logs and coals from rolling onto hearth or even further onto your rugs/carpeting. Made of brass, cast iron, etc.
Fire screen to keeps sparks from flying into the room. Hundreds of styles to choose. Can be used instead of a fender.
Don’t forget that cozy rug to flop on in front of the fire on those Winter evenings when the wind is howling outside and snow is blanketing the land.
Gas flame insert
The Cozy Side:
Gas flames burn cleaner than wood but still give you some cozy ambiance with the sight of those flames dancing.
Start a cozy fire with flip of a switch; turn off when your cozy time is done
Can be installed just about anywhere in your home as long as you can vent it
Heat output is more uniform; flame height adjusts to suit your mood and/or warmth needs
Usually has a way to start the flame manually so you have heat even when the electricity is out
The Not-So-Cozy Side:
Not quite the cozy feel of a wood fireplace since there is no sound of wood crackling nor aroma of it burning, and the flame tends to be more uniform in height and shape
The gas supply can be interrupted along with electricity, depending on the cause, such as a big earthquake.
Electric heater insert
The Cozy Side:
No venting needed to outside
Ideal for apartments, condominiums, hotels, etc.
The Not-So-Cozy Side:
Low ambiance and aesthetics; not realistic looking
For heating a room, very poor choice since thermal output is low and cost to run is high
No heat if you have a power outage
Being Cozy at Your Fireplace
Which type of fireplace is coziest will depend on your personal taste, of course. If your home already has a fireplace in it, you can get busy right away “cozying it up,” as we say. And you will really need to do a lot of cozying in a newer home, such as one we owned a few years back.
Builders give you something that is usually pretty basic in appearance, such as these:
Both of these lacked any coziness. Just as yours probably does. Time to add some cozy elements!
Comfy seating and throws are a great place to start. Keep them near enough to the fireplace to get some of the warmth but not too close for anything to be scorched or to burst into flames. That would be very uncozy.
Enhance the warm glow of the fire’s flames with candles. Add in a pot of hot tea or cocoa or coffee, maybe even some hot spiced cider.
Some great cozy treats to enjoy before that fire:
Since fireplaces tend to be things that need venting to the outside and are therefore rather tricky to retrofit into an already built house, you might want to look at alternatives to achieve that warmth and ambience that won’t break the bank.
These are quite common. Some still need to be vented to the outside, depending on the fuel type. Many can be inserted into an existing fireplace. Or you can select a location in your home and vent up through the ceiling or out an exterior wall.
Corn or Pellet stoves
The Cozy Side:
Extended burn times
Easy to store the corn/pellets, which are readily available and fairly economical
The Not-So-Cozy Side:
The stove itself tends to be more expensive than wood stoves or fireplaces
Usually requires electricity to operate
Can require more service and maintenance than other fireplaces
An even more flexible alternative:
The Cozy Side:
The concentrated gel fuel forms a bright and realistic flame
Most are portable and can be moved from place to place without too much effort.
The Not-So-Cozy Side:
Needs to be re-energized with more gel fuel at consistent intervals
Tends to work with a particular brand of gel fuel, which can make it difficult to keep filled
Must be solidly constructed to stand up to being moved.
Need to clean the flame and fuel residue out regularly
Wood stoves and corn/pellet burning stoves are great alternatives to fireplaces. But there are other choices, too.
Of course, you can always watch a video of a fireplace crackling and burning. No heat, but you get that wonderful sight and sound. We tend to like this one:
For more, just go to Youtube and search for “fireplace burning” and pick one of the many that come up.
Throws are great for creating a feeling of comfort and coziness. And they are versatile enough for any decorating style or occasion. Price and materials range from economical to rather high-end, including real fur.
Basically, a throw is a medium sized-blanket typically about 3 by 5 feet (0.91 by 1.52 m). Some are bigger and some smaller, though. Some are also edged with fringe, but they don’t have to be. Colors and designs seem to have no limits except your imagination. Holiday designs are also fairly commonly available.
Throws vs. Other Coverings
Distinguishing a throw from a blanket, afghan, comforter, duvet, or quilt is essential here. So, we did a bit of research and came up with the following criteria for each:
Generally speaking, a blanket is a large piece of cloth with finished edges. It is most commonly used as a bed covering. It provides warmth during slumber as well as eye appeal. Types of blankets include duvets, comforters, and quilts, and classified by their thickness and fill.
Smaller than the standard blanket, but large enough to cover you as well as your snuggle buddy. Used in living rooms, family rooms, over armchairs, couches, and in cribs. Some have fringe, trendy color schemes, or complementary patterns. Easy to refold, clean, or carry from place to place.
A throw that is hand-stitched, crocheted, or knitted. Often in geometric designs with purposeful holes in the patterns. First made in Afghanistan, a region known for handcrafted, colorful textiles and carpets.
Composed of an outer layer and soft filling (down, polyester batting, wool) that is strategically stitched to ensure the filling stays evenly distributed.
A filled, soft flat bag (sometimes called a feather bed) protected with a removable cover. Unlike a comforter that is placed over sheets and other blankets, duvets are used alone. Filling is usually down, feathers, wool or a synthetic alternative. To clean, remove the cover and launder according to the material (usually cotton or polyester).
Padding enclosed between layers of fabric. Lines of stitching, generally in a decorative design, secure the layers of a quilt. Most likely to be handmade.
Basic Materials & Methods for Throws
Throws are available in a wide variety of fabrics. Picking the best material depends on why you want the throw. From using it as a blanket in the crib for your newborn to keeping out the chill on that camping trip, the material will make a difference.
Some materials used:
Soft and hypoallergenic, perfect for allergy sufferers, babies, or people with sensitive skin. Great for Summer because of its breathability, helps regulate your temperature and keep you cool on a hot night. Observe washing instructions carefully to avoid shrinkage (unless they are pre-shrunk) and colors fading.
Provides plenty of warmth but will also adapt as the temperature changes. The breathability and moisture-wicking properties draw perspiration away and promote a comfortable, dry temperature. Naturally fire resistant and safer to use around heat sources than some synthetic fibers that can melt. Have to be dry cleaned.
Silky soft cashmere goat fur woven into lovely fabric. Warm and very, very cozy!
Comparable softness and warmth to wool but made from synthetic materials. Wicks moisture away from your body, provides warmth on a cold night, more lightweight than wool. Can be washed and dried at home for convenient cleaning.
Popular, not quite as durable as a cotton throw through numerous washings, attractive and tends to be less expensive than 100% cotton throws.
Often an alternative to wool or cashmere. Warm, lightweight, and hypoallergenic, can imitate the feeling of natural fibers but much easier to care for. Machine washable, and colors won’t fade after consistent washing. Resistant to moths after being in storage.
Affordable, made from long-lasting material. Stands up to washing and drying for years without losing its color or shape. Generally costs less than natural fabrics.
Also a great example of using a throw to dress up a very simple bedspread.
Throws as Décor
Yes, they add warmth to your toes as you sit all snuggled reading that thrilling novel. But throws spend a lot of time just lying around. And sometimes they just want to be part of the scene. Often, they can do double duty: décor as well as comfort.
Some ways to use a throw for your décor:
Fold lengthwise into thirds. Hang over a back corner on a sofa, a chair or the arm of seating furniture. Adjust as needed.
Fold throw in half lengthwise twice. Fold again horizontally, adjusting the front to hang 12-to-14 inches longer than the back. Place the throw on the back of a chair, allowing 5 or 6 inches of the folded top half to hang over the back while the longer, thinner bottom conforms to the crease of the chair seat.
For chaise lounges, try folding your throw lengthwise, then in half, and angle it on the corner of the edge of your seat cushion. Thin blankets work better for this.
Over the back of a chair – leave about 12 to 15 inches over the chair back and let the rest cascade over the front.
As a permanent chair cover – Use a thin throw, fold lengthwise, drape over chair back and down front of chair, tuck in at back of seat cushion to help it stay in place.
As a casual chair cover – Pick up a square throw by a corner and hold up so it falls naturally, drape about 15 to 20 inches over the chair back, leaving a fair amount in front to hang over the front of the chair.
Floating drape on sofa – Fold throw lengthwise, drape it to the right side, the left side, or down the middle. Place a throw pillow in front of it to hide the crease.
Luxurious look – A lush (faux) fur throw looks better draped. Most are too thick to fold. Drape it over the corner of your sofa, and tuck in a bit here and there.
For throws with stunning patterns or impressive embroidery, mount them on the wall like wall tapestries. Make a simple sleeve on the backside of the throw by sewing a thin strip of fabric near the top. Slip a rod or wooden dowel through the sleeve to hang the throw like a tapestry.
Use large, colorful or patterned throws as furniture covers to sofas, love seats, or chairs to hide stains, tears, or other imperfections.
Roll three or four solid-colored throws and stack them in a basket near a sofa or love seat. They will add that desired touch of color as well as being handy when you need a touch of extra comfort.
Center a throw over a headboard for a new look. If the headboard is upholstered, keep the throw in place using Velcro. Add a scarf draped down the middle of the throw for a layered look.
Fold a throw lengthwise and drape across the end of the bed.
If you have a large throw, pull it three quarters up the bed to add warmth as well as visual appeal.
Drape a big fur throw over your bed for a bit of glamour. Add silky sheets, and feel totally divine as you slumber. Use a throw that is wider than your bed so it will drape over the sides or a smaller fur throw at the foot of the bed.
If you have an upholstered chair in your bedroom, dress it up with a soft throw draped over it. Then, take time to have a good sit-down in it as a break in your day, pulling that throw around you.
Use a throw as a protective barrier on cushions. If you have pets who like to sit on your furniture, this is a great way to keep the pet hair off the seats. Some enterprising companies even make special throws just for this purpose.
Open a thin throw and drape it across the back of a tight-back sofa. This type of sofa does not have separate back pillows to sink into, so the throw will hold its form better.
Drape a big fun throw lengthwise or widthwise (play with it and see which way fits better) over your sofa, tuck it into the sofa crease so it stays in place, then add pillows to cover the crease.
Cotton throws usually are the perfect size for cribs. And cotton tends to be non-allergic.
Drape faux fur throws over the patio/deck furniture for a cozy feeling, and light up the candles. Helps extend the time you can spend out there before the chill in your bones sends you back inside.
A thick cotton throw is easily portable, provides warmth for night sporting events, and makes an excellent spread for picnics in damp grasses. You can use a thinner cotton throw on top of a waterproof sheet.
Swap out the everyday throws you’re using for ones with holiday designs. You’ll feel even cozier!
[Note: most of the photos here are from other sources and are for illustrative purposes only.]
As Autumn ends and Winter sets in, we find ourselves craving the warmth of a hot cup of tea and comfort food. Whether you have a leisurely Sunday planned or a busy day at work, this slow-cooked pu-erh pot roast is perfect. In only 15 minutes you can prep and set your dinner plans; then just let it slowly cook as you go about your day. Continue reading Recipe for Pu-erh Pot Roast→
Yard work doesn’t end when Winter comes. It just gets a bit easier, mainly because there are fewer bugs on the hunt for fresh feeding grounds (like my arms and legs). You do have to bundle up a little more, though, since the weather is usually a bit nippy then. A hot thermos of tea is also good to have on hand, too, to fend off the chill.
So, what kind of things need tending in the yard during Winter? That depends on what growing region you live in. Some things are basic to every region, though, and can be grouped into three basic categories: cleanup, planting, protection. Continue reading Winter Yard Work and a Cup of Tea→
Winter tea parties are the best. While we often think of tea in the garden in Spring and Summer, and while Autumn is also a great time for tea, many see Winter as that time to fill up a mug with that hot, tasty tea, snuggle under a warm blanket, and enjoy both tea and a good book, movie, or craft project such as knitting, crocheting, or even quilting. But a tea party with friends in these chilly months not only lifts the spirits but affords you other pleasures! Continue reading 5 Ways Winter Tea Parties Are the Best!→
Dear readers: This new format let’s us open up discussion topics to just about anything of interest to tea lovers (which can range from those folks who like their daily cuppa to those who live a full “tea life” where tea is in their thoughts and deeds every moment of the day). So, let’s dive into some lesser known holidays/events to toast with your teacup (no matter what style it is or what tea is in it)!
True tea lovers certainly need no reason to break out the accoutrements and prepare some of that wondrous liquid. However, once prepared, tea makes a most excellent beverage with which to toast occasions both special and trivial. To start off the new year, you had your celebration at the stroke of midnight and most likely spent the first day of the year getting “back to normal” (if there is such a thing). Here are an additional 10 super and possibly lesser known things to toast in January: Continue reading 10 Super Things to Toast with Tea in January→
Oh the indignities of Winter! Whether you’re a kitty suddenly finding yourself wearing a “chapeaux de snow” or you’re a human trying to put on those tire chains with the sudden onset of a blizzard, challenges abound. Make it through this first month of the New Year with hot tea. Very fitting, since this is officially “Hot Tea Month”! Continue reading 5 January Teas to Melt the Chill of Winter→