The Christmas Hibiscus

It’s beginning to look a little like Christmas at our house.

The operative word there is “little” —as in very few decorations have found their way out of the storage area and are scattered around the abode.

Hubby Bryan and I recently spent a week in Florida, visiting my sister Margaret and her husband, Don, who is currently serving as interim pastor at a Lutheran church in Gainesville, Fla. By pleasant happenstance, their daughter, Alexis, also currently resides in Gainesville while completing graduate studies at the University of Florida (Go Gators!), so we also got the chance to catch up with her.

Another pleasant happenstance for us was that our trip timing couldn’t have been better, at least weather-wise: While you folks were suffering several days of sub-zero readings, we had to deal with 70- and 80-degree weather. We felt really bad about it (add in the sarcastic tone).

Before we boarded the plane and headed south, I was too busy with pre-trip preparations to set up the Christmas tree. And after unpacking and returning to the reality of cold and snow, I just couldn’t justify going to all the work of decorating the tree for just a couple weeks of enjoyment. Bryan certainly wasn’t going to argue with my logic, as the tree impedes his view out the front window. He’s not much of a decorator, either.

But it didn’t seem right to go completely without a tree this year, so I came up with an alternative plan.

We’re calling it the Christmas hibiscus.

I have a potted hibiscus plant that spends summers on our deck and winters in the living room. After I bring it inside, it generally goes through a molting period where it isn’t very attractive, dropping dead leaves all over the carpet. It seems to have passed that point, with some new growth sprouting at the end of the branches.

So I strung some white lights through its branches, added a string of silver icicles, dug out some select ornaments and moved the plant to the spot in the front window where the tree usually resides.

Ta-da! I give you the Christmas hibiscus.

It certainly isn’t as glorious as the Christmas tree (I go for the more-is-more look when it comes to decking the branches), but it glitters and glows when the lights are turned off in the living room, and there is room beneath the plant stand for any packages that might make an appearance before Dec. 25.

I do have to give credit for the Christmas hibiscus inspiration to sister Margaret. In their temporary Florida living quarters, she and Don have to improvise on some of the amenities of home, including a Christmas tree. Margaret strung lights and big glass balls on the tropical plant that was part of the rental furnishings. It’s a bit bigger than my hibiscus —nearly scraping the ceiling —but is undoubtedly where I go the idea.

The only problem with decorating a hibiscus instead of a tree comes when I break into song: “O Christmas Hibiscus?” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Hibiscus?” They just don’t work.

Here’s one more cookie recipe from the November holiday baking extravaganza with my high school friends. Shannon Honerman Hafner made enough of these so we each went home with a couple dozen. They were yummy, the red color is appropriately festive, and the recipe is simple enough to still whip up a batch before the Christmas rush sets in.

Red Velvet Gooey Butter Cookies

1 package red velvet cake mix

 8 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup butter, softened

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup white chocolate chips

½ cup powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, combine butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; mix until completely incorporated, then add cake mix and continue mixing until a thick dough forms. Fold in white chips.

Place powdered sugar in a small bowl.

Using a cookie scoop or hands, form 1-inch dough balls and roll in powdered sugar to coat.

Place cookies 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes, until centers are set.

Cool on wire rack. When completely cooled, dust with additional powdered sugar.

The Christmas Hibiscus