Just a Christmas Thought in Passing…..

English: A bauble on a Christmas tree.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tree is up. The wreath is on the front door. The Christmas ham is bought. Most of the Christmas shopping is done—so, let the festivities begin! Most of us still have some things to do for the big day—but I have started to think of Christmas as a season not culminating in just one day of festivities, but many.

The season begins for many of us in late November and goes at least until New Year’s Day. We have so many tasks to do, parties to go to, and special foods to fix—that sometimes in the whirlwind we get a little lost. I had to pause and reflect on what is really important at this time of year—and it is our memories and traditions that connect us to the past, nourish our present, and make us look forward to the future.

In these last few weeks before Christmas I wish you some time to pause and think about those things that are important to you, and maybe pass a little tradition onto your children or grandchildren, or the fellow coffee aficionado sitting beside you at Tim Horton’s.

Published in: on December 10, 2012 at 3:56 pm  Comments (60)  
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Always Christmas

christmas 2007

(Photo credit: paparutzi)

“…if you can keep it today, why not always?”  ~ Henry Van Dyke

Better than observing Christmas, is the “keeping of Christmas”. Or so says Henry van Dyke, American author, educator, and clergyman.

van Dyke was a bit of a religious guy, being a clergyman and all and he really had  a way with words. They are the words of a formally well educated man of his era (late 1800’s), but his message is clear. In his essay called “Keeping Christmas”  he gives us a recipe of sorts for not only keeping Christmas in our hearts but in being proactive about it.  He asks:

“Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people and to remember what other people have done for you;

to ignore what the world owes you and to think what you owe to the world;

to put your rights in the background and your duties in the middle distance and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;

to see that your fellow men (and women) are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;

to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life;

to close the book of complaints again the management of the universe and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness—are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.”

Henry van Dyke (1852-1933), a modernist who pu...

Henry van Dyke (1852-1933), a modernist who pushed for revisions to the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1900-1910. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And he adds:  “If you can keep Christmas for a day, then why not always?”

Do you try to keep Christmas “always”?

Christmas Cookies from Mom’s Recipe Box or It Must Be Saturday ‘Cause I Am Giving You Another Recipe

A cone and holly.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fifty-six years. That is how long it took me to bake my favourite Christmas cookies.  It is a simple recipe {with just a few more than my usual five ingredients}, or I would not have even attempted them. I am now wondering what took me so long. Was it my fear of flour, my impatience, or my lack of confidence in my baking skills? Most likely all three.

Actually making the cookies was quite a breakthrough for me. My fear of flour was conquered. Being able to follow a recipe to its fruition, then eating the fruits of my labour was truly satisfying.

Of course, this is no ordinary cookie—it is a recipe I remember my mom making Christmas after Christmas. She would sometimes make them during the year but never with the seedless raspberry jam dropped oh-so-elegantly into a little indentation in the middle of the cookie.  That was saved for the special occasion of Christmas alone.

During the year they were known as Ice Box Cookies and had chopped up walnuts in them, but at Christmas they became Thumbprint cookies with a bright dab of jam. I can, and do eat these by the handful with a glass of cold milk.

Cookies!

Christmas Cookies! (Photo credit: .imelda)

For years, my younger sister, who does not share my aversion to baking, brought me  big tins of these cookies at Christmas because she knew how much I love them. And while I would share some of them with my family, I always hid away a little cache of them {if you lived at my house you would understand: cookies get inhaled whole}.

One day, my youngest son asked me why we did not make them. I did not have a really good answer, other than the fact that I probably did not have the ingredients. Well, he wasn’t buying it. So, I found the recipe, which I had copied from my mom years ago and kept safely in a little recipe book that I rarely used.

It turned out that there were no strange or unknown ingredients in the cookies, and that in fact the only thing I really had to make a special trip to the store for was the seedless raspberry jam. These cookies did not even need baking powder, but are content to rise with baking soda, which I always have on hand.

Buoyed  by my son’s enthusiasm I bought the jam and set about to make the cookies. The recipe makes a large batch, which is great for a newly minted baker of cookies. I had to email my sister to ask a couple of pertinent questions, like temperature, length of time to bake the cookies, and should I put the jam in the thumbprints before or after baking. The answers came back: 350 degrees, 8-10 minutes, and put the jam in before baking.

The cookies came out just perfect! I prefer a soft cookie and they are wonderfully soft. And the raspberry jam adds just the right festive note. They also bring back all the lovely childhood memories I have of Christmas—munching on these wonderful cookies while reading a new book left by Santa.

So, if you are someone who is not fearless in the kitchen, or have a strange fear of flour as I did, this is the recipe for you:

Ice Box Cookies:  FROM THE RECIPE BOX OF LOUANN’S MOM

Bake in 350 degree oven for 8 – 10 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup butter

2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

3 ½ cups flour

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup chopped nuts

Seedless raspberry jam or jam of your choice.

Mix ingredients (except for jam) and roll into two rolls; wrap in wax paper. Chill, slice and bake.

OR

Roll into balls, make dent, and put in small amount of jam. I never use the walnuts–but you get to make that call.

Because this is a generous cookie recipe I have made all the cookies at once using the second method; but have also made just some of the cookies and rolled up one roll of cookies and put them away to make another day.

So, have you set your fears aside and made a special recipe for Christmas?

 

The Christmas Walnut

"Old Fashioned Christmas Tree"

“Old Fashioned Christmas Tree” (Photo credit: CARDS 4 NID Catherine.Clarke)

I remember it like it was yesterday. Every year at Christmas, from the time I was about nine years old, I dove into the depths of the carefully wrapped Christmas decorations to find the fragile walnut that said Christmas to me. Proudly, I would hang it on the tree near the top, front and centre.

Miniscule, the brass coloured shell holds great tradition. It was on every one of my childhood Christmas trees; it was on all the Christmas trees my mother put up when I left home; and today it is on my Christmas tree. It is the one thing I made sure I got from all of my parents’ Christmas treasures.

I was surprised and relieved when I found that none of my siblings had imbued this tiny prize that I so coveted with the same sentiments I had.

I wish that I could remember where the gilded walnut came from, but I like to think that before I made it on the scene, it was one of the first decorations my parents put on their first tree when they were married in 1944. Their first Christmas tree was cut down by my Grandpa Geauvreau specifically for my eighteen year old mom, who was pregnant with my oldest brother. My parents lived with my father’s parents when they were first married, and Grandpa made sure my mom had a Christmas tree.  Strangely it was not a tradition my grandparents followed—but grandpa knew it was important to his son’s barely out of childhood wife. My mother told the story fondly many, many times and it is a part of our family lore.

English: Walnuts

English: Walnuts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was crushed when a couple of years ago my beautiful but delicate walnut hit the floor. It broke, but luckily not into tiny pieces, and most of it is still intact. Now when I hang it front and centre near the top of the tree, I position it so the undamaged side faces out. The tradition has not been broken, just adjusted a little—something all traditions have to endure.

My Favourite Dickens’ Quote

christmas stars

Christmas stars (Photo credit: mararie)

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

For some reason, I love this quote. I owned a book store two decades ago called Dickens Booksellers and Gift Emporium, and had this quote posted on my front door. While the bookstore is a thing of the past, the message in the quote is eternal. Keeping Christmas all the year, and learning the lessons of the past, present, and future is timeless.

Space to Think

I have a very serious addiction. I love magazines–their stories, the hints they provide on making your life the “best ever” particularly at Christmas time, the fashions, and yes, even the ads–which if you pay attention are quite artistic.

A Christmas Snow

A Christmas Snow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I woke up very early this morning and did not want to crawl out from under my warm covers, so I picked up a copy of “Real Simple” from my bedside table, and found these words from photographer, Cig Harvey, in answer to the question: “What makes your life simple?”

He said: ” When I’m driving in the snow, I often think about the relief and joy that I’ll feel when I get home. I love the way the world falls quiet during a snowstorm and the house becomes almost a separate planet, with the space to think, create, organize and reflect.”

I love these sentiments. Although we have had no snow yet this season (a few flakes does not count) I await the first lovely snow with much anticipation. I still love the snow (though I wish it would avoid the roads) and the cozy feeling you get looking out your front window while holding a warm drink, with the space to think and reflect.

Published in: on December 6, 2012 at 11:25 am  Comments (63)  
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A Kernel of Magic

Father Christmas

Father Christmas (Photo credit: Scottwdw)

“No matter how tired and cranky, how jaded or cynical, how utterly tiresome Christmas becomes, there is always a kernel of magic at its core, isn’t there?” – Will Ferguson

The magic at the core of Christmas is what makes the season enchanting. Whether it is the wonder of the original Christmas story, our family traditions that lighten up the dark days, or even belief in that jolly old elf—the feeling that the season elicits is magical.

Canadian author, Will Ferguson, wrote a charming little memoir called “Coal Dust Kisses”, which harkens to his childhood days. He and the other children brought up around the Cape Breton coal mines had proof positive that Santa had visited their houses on Christmas Eve. The proof was not in the presents beneath the tree, but in a smudge of coal dust on their foreheads.

Coal mining

Coal mining (Photo credit: Toban Black)

Ferguson’s grandfather worked in the mines before he found a job at the Canadian National Railroad; but Ferguson himself  never saw the inside of a mine shaft, and in his words: “God willing, never would”. Born in Cape Breton, he became part of a tradition that comes from being in a coal mining area. It was Father Christmas that Ferguson’s father waited for on Christmas Eve; and on Christmas morning he had evidence that the gentleman “had tiptoed through houses, late at night, covered in soot…”  He “would stop to kiss children on the forehead when they lay sleeping…” When the children awoke in the morning, there on their foreheads were “coal dust kisses.”

The author waited for Santa Claus who replaced Father Christmas over the years, but the tradition of “coal dust kisses” carried on. He remembers the “stampede of feet towards the bathroom mirror”  on Christmas morning, when he and his siblings crowded into the bathroom and “stared in awe and wonderment” at the smudge on their foreheads—providing the elusive proof positive that Santa Claus had left his calling card. This, he said was “a moment of magic” captured in countless yuletide photographs.

He has continued the tradition with his own family, taking the “Scottish coal-mining tradition…from Cape Breton to the northwest woods, from Ecuador to southern Japan, and back again to Canada.” Tradition, handed down from generation to generation travels easily. The jolly old elf takes his magic with him wherever he goes, or wherever we go.

The magic of Christmas belies the sometimes gaudy pomp and circumstance of commercialism (which we have to admit has its place and puts food on the table for many). Believing in something for the sake of believing without question does not seem to be a simple thing. We need proof, whether it be in “coal dust kisses” or something else that we can see, touch or feel.  Sometimes though, we have to just believe in the magic of Christmas and not dissect it until we no longer recognize its wonder.

So what proof do you have of the magic of Christmas? What is your “kernel” of Christmas magic?

My Little Town – Paul Simon Revisited

MV Jiimaan leaves port at Kingsville for Pelee...

MV Jiimaan leaves port at Kingsville for Pelee Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was published in a newspaper called The Daytripper that is distributed in southwestern Ontario. Written in answer to the question: ‘What makes your town worth a daytrip”, it will give you a little glimpse into my hometown. When I was younger, I sang along with Paul Simon and agreed with his despair in living in a small town. I no longer have angst about small town living—having married a hometown boy and raised my sons here. I have lived in the town “proper” for the last 32 years. Without further ado:

~ An Appealing Town ~

“You may no longer hear the strains of “The Mettawas Waltz” from the former Mettawas Hotel that once made Kingsville famous, but the town is one of the most picturesque in the area.  Despite the fact that whiskey magnate and owner of the Mettawas, Hiram Walker, pulled up stakes from the town long ago, it has grown and flourished.  And it is no wonder:  located on the shores of Lake Erie, it is a quaint, yet modern mini metropolis that has not lost its small town feel.

Coat of arms of the town of Kingsville, Ontario.

Coat of arms  Town of Kingsville, Ontario. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A town is more than its location. While we vie for the title of southernmost town in Ontario with some of our neighbours, it is in our community spirit that we excel. I know this because I attend and cover the Town Council meetings for the local newspaper. The people of Kingsville love their town and want it to grow, while at the same time not risk losing its appealing charm. In fact, our logo a few years back dubbed us the Port of Appeal.

Council meetings in our happily amalgamated town can be quite lively, especially if it concerns something the residents are passionate about.  Preservation of our historic homes and buildings has taken a front seat since people started to become aware that some of our heritage buildings were being razed without proper notice. One very shining example of a community project is our Train Station, restored to its former glory, and currently open to the public in its reincarnation as a restaurant.  We have a state-of-the-art library in the town core (one of three within the municipal town limits), located in a refurbished building that was sitting empty. Its former home, a Carnegie building, is being considered for new life as a possible Arts and Visitors Centre, instead of being a target for the wrecking ball. (Since this was written, the Carnegie has been beautifully refurbished and is not only an Arts and Visitors Centre but also our Tourist Information Centre.)

We have it all—small shops, restaurants galore, specialty stores, as well as big markets and large retailers. They all fit neatly into the puzzle that is our town.  While the town proper is a hub of activity, our municipality of Kingsville boasts fertile farmland, a fishing industry, and manufacturing. Amalgamation gave Kingsville a big bonus–the villages of Cottam and Ruthven, which each have their own unique attractions.

I have lived in this area all of my life, except for a sojourn in the big city of Windsor for post-secondary education (for seven short years). For the first twenty years of my life I was a “country girl” and grew up in a close knit community (with amalgamation, my old community is now part of the municipality of Kingsville) where school and church were the centres of social activities, and a trip to town was always something to look forward to. For the last —-ahem, number of years I have lived in an older area of the town proper. Having resided in both the rural and urban areas of Kingsville, I have come to the conclusion that it is the people of the municipality that makes this area special. I think it must be something in the water. And it is not just the fish.

Kingsville has beautiful Lakeside Park with rolling hills just right for winter tobogganing, stately trees to picnic under, and a Pavilion that hosts all kinds of activities year round. It is most notably home to the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary, and just a few minutes away are the historical John R. Park Homestead, and a gem that is truly a well-kept secret that must be revealed: the Canadian Transportation Museum and Village. With wineries galore, (at least 13 and growing within 20 miles) Kingsville is a destination truly worthy of any daytrip!”

So, if you are ever in my area, drop by my “little town”—it is only about 30 miles from the Windsor/Detroit border. We do not care what anyone else says—we are the southernmost point in Canada. As Christmas approaches, the town is lit up with snowflakes on our main streets, and we have the Fantasy of Lights in Lakeside Park.

Are you a big city dweller, small town girl or boy, or do you enjoy country life? What does your town do for Christmas?

 

~Christmas Coup~

CD cover

CD cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scrooge and the Grinch are mounting a coup to capture my Christmas spirit. I am about to set the tree up and decorate the house, but disturbingly I keep thinking: “What you get out you will have to put away.” Never before has this has been something I have considered prior to decorating every little nook and cranny in my house. Am I suddenly becoming an adherent of “less is more”?

I love the Christmas season and all that it entails. I love over-the-top decorations, the bright and sparkly, the excessively rich food, the holly jolly guy, and human size crèches. Greenery? I can’t get enough of it. Pine cones dipped in glue then sparkles? Bring them on. Piles of presents—I am not one to let commercialism get in the way of my consumerism. But, that little voice in the background is plaguing me as it whispers: “What you get out you will have to put away.”

Has anyone else had this thought? I have a lot of tiny decorations that just may stay packed this year. Their larger counterparts will be brought out instead, with a nod to the fact that they will be easier to dust. Am I getting lazier? I don’t think so—let’s call it wiser. They say that “hindsight is 20/20”—I am thinking that a little foresight might make hindsight a little easier to take.

For instance, the book, “Old Fashioned Christmas Favourites” written by my old friends Vickie and JoAnn, suggests that, “A Christmas tree without popcorn and cranberry strings just isn’t a Christmas tree.” Maybe—but then they go on to say that, “For a very special effect, throw popcorn on your Christmas tree. This gives the look of freshly fallen snow.” Really? Throw popcorn on my tree? I think not. I can just imagine having to clean it up every time Kitty Bob, our stupid lovely cat climbs up the inner branches of the tree. When he does that I am stressed out (to the max).  Adding insult to injury would be having to constantly pick up stray pieces of popcorn.

The companion question to the statement “What you get out you will have to put away” is “do I really want to do that?” The answers with regard to throwing popcorn on my tree are a resounding “no”, “not ever”, “what, are you crazy?” While the act of actually throwing popcorn onto my tree does appeal to me, I am using my newly found foresight to predict that it will just cause more work in the long run.

Here is a list of some other things I will not be doing this year:

1. Hot gluing gumdrops all over the surface of a wreath shaped Styrofoam form that I have wrapped in fabric—nope you will not find me doing this.

2. Fashioning paper serving cones to serve sweet and salty nuts, which I have just finished making in my kitchen.

3. Making felt stemware coasters for my wine glasses to protect my table. That is what the tablecloth is for.

4. Shredding carrots and putting them on my front lawn for Rudolph and his reindeer friends. (I cannot say for certain though that I would not have done this fifteen years ago when the boys were little—but at 21 and 26 I doubt they will be thrilled by this little activity.)

5. Tie a Christmas bandana around my stupid wonderful cat’s neck. Somebody bought the cat a sweater one year and he looked askance at us when we tried to put it on him, as if to say “Can’t you see I have a fur coat?” (Okay, I read that one somewhere, but I thought it was funny). I will, however, endeavour to get a festive red collar with a bell, so I can hear him when he climbs the Christmas tree.

Oh, well, the heck with foresight. I will probably decorate the house to the nines and worry about taking all the stuff down in mid-January. That is six weeks away—who plans that far ahead? Just for the record, I always plan to take the decorations down the day after New Year’s, but it always stretches out to mid-January. Then when I finally have my stuff put away, I look with a critical eye at all those who have not taken theirs down yet. Hypocritical? Yes. But satisfying.

So, will you practice foresight or hindsight this Christmas?

Christmas Wreath

My Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown (Photo credit: Elizabeth/Table4Five)

Last year I was about to buy a new Christmas tree when I had a conversation with my son who is away at college. That conversation resulted in this offering (slightly edited for you) which I wrote for my weekly newspaper column.  As I get ready to put up the tree this year, I am not even thinking about getting a new tree–the die is cast–and until it falls apart, it will be part and parcel of our Christmas traditions.

The decision has been made. No new Christmas tree this year. I bandied the idea about and even went so far as to look at some of those fancy pre-lit trees. But I talked to my youngest son, Tyler, who is coming home in a couple of weeks from college, and he said no to a new tree. He wanted our traditional, though far past its prime, spindly Christmas tree. I call it our Charlie Brown Christmas tree, as I have to finagle with the branches to get them not to droop, and wedge it back into a corner, forcing all of its branches forward, thus producing a thicker, more (seemingly) luxurious tree.

Now you may be thinking to yourself that if I want a new tree, I should get a new tree, and not necessarily listen to the nostalgic whims of my son. But, I too, had doubts about getting a new tree. And some of the new ones I looked at were really no better than the one I have, once I put my magic spell on it.

I decorate our Christmas tree as if there is no tomorrow. The branches are layered with ornaments we have received over the years. Homemade and store-bought share space on a tree that groans under their weight.  But the stars of the show are all the decorations that both my sons have made over the years, carefully wrapped in tissue until they are brought out  to be placed lovingly on the tree.

Macaroni sprayed gold and arranged in wreath shapes, reindeer made from those old large Christmas light bulbs with antlers shaped out of chenille pipe cleaners, sleighs cleverly fashioned from popsicle sticks, tissue paper stained glass bells and stars, and pinecones with glitter galore will adorn our tree again this year. Of course we have a million other ornaments, each imbued with memories, or just purchased because we liked them. But really, our tree, like yours, is just an excuse to walk down memory lane for a few weeks in the dark bleak midwinter.

In honour of our cat, we don’t put tinsel on our tree, as a choking cat is not a festive thing to see—and as the rest of the members of my family are quite taken with Kitty Bob, I make this exception without much regret. But if that cat does to the tree what he did to the tree last year, one of his lives is going to be threatened. Thankfully a teddy bear took the brunt of his indiscretion and could be thrown in the washing machine, but I was none too happy.

On a more festive note, once I wrestle the lights onto my “old” un-pre-lit tree, the rest is gravy.  At one time I made my husband do this job, as I found it frustrating. Now I just wind the lights around the tree in a “come what may” fashion, and they actually look better than if I do it carefully. I have learned over the years that by dressing the tree with about a thousand ornaments, those obnoxious wires will effectively be hidden from sight.

A Christmas tree, no matter how battered, is the repository of memories past, present, and future. Maybe next year I will get a fancy dancey pre-lit tree that has all its branches, but this year I will be happy with what I have.

(Note: 1. This is next year, and I will not be getting a fancy dancey pre-lit tree. 2. The cat did not do the unspeakable to the tree last year.)

What traditions do you have that cannot be broken?

English: Closeup of a string of decorative Chr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)