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Christmas Present – 2008 4 comments

November 28 – 30, 2008

There are a few threads of tradition starting to emerge around the Christmas season. The earliest is that my friend, Amy, comes to visit the last weekend in November. It feels like a transition time, from the regular day-to-day trials and tribulations to a more special time. We don’t get to see each other enough, Amy and I, so we have set aside this weekend for what we call “Cottaging in the City”. My place turns into a cottage, sort of, without the sun, the lake and the mosquitos. But it does have quiet time, the reading of books, possibly puzzles and lots of good food and wine. We schedule this to coincide with the Women’s Blues Revue. The concert in 2008 was, if possible, even better than the previous year. I can’t wait for next year’s show!

We shopped a bit so I could drum up a particularly yummy breakfast on Sunday. Mmmm…

Cottaging in the City Breakfast

Cottaging in the City Breakfast

Mmmmmm ...

Mmmmmm ...

Ring that Breakfast Bell!

Ring that Breakfast Bell!

Cottaging in the City involves very good food!

Cottaging in the City involves very good food!

Friday, December 12, 2008

There was a lot going on that week – exam week where I teach. This particular Friday, as I recall, looked something like this:

6:00 a.m. – Get out of bed NOW …

8:00 a.m. – .. because you have to help Patricia supervise an exam.

10:30 a.m. – Meeting with Dean

12:30 p.m. – Lunch, off campus, with colleagues

shopping and errands

6:00 p.m. – Squash (we played for an hour)

So, at this point, I was invited to a birthday party. However, I’d been upright for 13 hours and it had been an active busy day. And, I needed a shower. So I went home and cleaned up and pondered the wisdom of going out. Because, at age 45, the idea of going out at 9:00 or 9:30 p.m. doesn’t hold as much appeal as it once did.

Then, Cate showed up online. And we talked, as we do. And suddenly it was 10:00 p.m. Something about talking to Cate invigorated me, I guess, because I got my second (or was it third?) wind and headed out the door to Rochelle’s birthday party. I appeared just in time for cake! What wonderful luck! 🙂

Rochelle's Birthday :-)

Rochelle

Friday, December 19, 2008 – STORM DAY!

Grades had been submitted on the 17th, perfect timing for a snow day! In anticipation, I made sure I had all the right supplies on hand to bake up an equally wicked storm in the kitchen. The weather gods did not disappoint, with “snowmaggedon” arriving, on schedule, during the morning rush hour. I purposefully kept all media off – no radio, no tv. In fact, for the record, I believe this is the day I called to cancel my cable subscription. In any case, I started baking and I had a really good time, either chatting with friends on the phone while baking, or listening to Christmas music.

Mostly, I had a good time re-acquainting myself with my Mom’s recipes and her baking equipment. It is all essential. First, the recipes …

Mom's Recipes, in her hand-writing, safely stored away

Mom's Recipe Box

The box is chock full of them, including a recipe for “stain for kitchen cabinets”. I guess there is only ONE stain for all kitchen cabinets, at least in my Mom’s world. 🙂 Mom had a particular idiom for recording her recipes and thank goodness I baked alongside her for quite some time and learned the patois of her instructions. Measurements are missing and, often, she will put ” , as in, “refer to above” … but, there is no “above” to refer to.

There is one recipe that I come across everytime I go through this box. It always gives me pause and causes me to furrow my brow. Most of the recipes are written on 3 x 5 recipe cards but this one is on a slip of green paper. And, actually, this one looks like it is in my brother’s handwriting, not Mom’s. I must remember to ask him about it. Here is the recipe – it has no title that indicates what it might be, just ingredients and instructions:

4 cups tomato paste

4 cups sugar

Stir to keep sugar from burning. Boil for exactly 25 mins. Add 1 large pkg Jello. Raspberry or strawberry.

That’s it. What the hell …?

Anyway, on storm/baking day, I made short-bread, orange/date/coconut chews and protein powder peanut butter balls. Okay, admittedly, my Mom didn’t use protein powder in her recipes but she *did* make peanut butter balls. I have the proof as she has about three different recipes for them right here in this box. However, this recipe was passed on by the WWBA who seems to be in favour of me upping my protein intake. Something about muscle re-construction … but I digress … the orange/date/coconut chewie squares are such a total nostalgic blast for me. I made them using my Mom’s mixing bowl. I think this bowl was standard issue to housewives in the 1950’s. I’m kinda precious about this bowl. Believe me, it does not have “microwave safe, oven proof and dishwasher safe” stamped on the bottom.

Batter for Orange/Date/Coconut Chews

Batter for Orange/Date/Coconut Chews

Here is the bowl with aforementioned batter. My Mom was famous for her “squares” and I’m sure that at least half the recipes in this box are for “squares” of various descriptions. I told J that I was going to make Mom’s orange/date/coconut squares but all she heard was “Mom’s … date … squares” and got apoplectic with joy. Everyone loved Mom’s date squares but they weren’t my fav. It’s the orange/date/coconut chewie squares that totally have my heart.

Orange/Date/Coconut Chews Before Baking

Orange/Date/Coconut Chews Before Baking

Orange/Date/Coconut Chewies in the pan, all warm and yummy

Orange/Date/Coconut Chewies in the pan, all warm and yummy

So, the storm stormed away outside, and I did my thing in the kitchen, totally into the groove of Christmas, connecting with my Mom, and baking delicious treats. And, then it was time to go meet Cate for dinner. Having not listened to ANY media, and having only the view from my windows to go on, I pictured a city blanketed quietly in snow, shut down to all activity, peaceful. Feeling a somewhat nostalgic, romanticized mood, I thought that walking across the downtown core for dinner would be a swell idea, especially if I took my camera. A city peacefully asleep under snow, is what I pictured in my mind’s eye. I bundled up and jammed my camera in my pocket.

Like New York, this city does not sleep, especially on the Friday evening the week before Christmas, snow or no.

Street Corner in SnowStorm

Street Corner in Snow Storm

Snowdrifts in Park

Snowdrifts in Queen's Park

Snow ... yup ... December in Toronto ...

Snow ... yup ... December in Toronto ...

I think this video, with the University of Toronto bells in the background, has a certain Edwardian quality to it. (That was for wizzy, if she is still reading The Handbasket.)

Snow diamonds

Snow diamonds

Tree framed by headlights

Tree framed by headlights

I made it over to Harbord House in surprisingly good time and we had a cosy little dinner, Cate and I. She threw her wool on the floor a lot while knitting and I don’t think you are supposed to do that. Here, she displays her latest work in progress.

Cate poses over dessert with partially finished hat

Cate poses over dessert with partially finished hat

The temperature dropped about 10 degrees while we were eating, I think. It was much colder when we left the restaurant then when we arrived. I walked down to College with Cate and we passed many sweetly decorated houses on the side street. I particularly liked this tree and, although it is hard to photograph Christmas lights, I think you get the idea.

Decorated Tree on Side Street

Decorated Tree on Side Street

(Why are there so few green Christmas lights? Inquiring minds want to know … )

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The hockey game was good fun, with a hard-won 1-1 tie. A hard-headed win, as it were, as I managed to whack my helmeted head pretty hard against someone else’s helmeted head. I appear to have all my faculties still. Thankfully, it was an early game as I had to rush home, shower, and head to a party! 🙂 Rhonda and Mary-Ann were hosting a Christmas gathering and, sadly, it sounds like a bunch of people wimped out due to weather and various flu and cold bugs that seemed to be cutting people down prior to Christmas. However, those of us who braved the elements were treated to marvelous food and great company. We even persuaded Mary-Ann to play the piano while carols were sung.

We were very well-behaved.

We were very well-behaved.

This was, in fact, almost two parties. I’m not sure you can see Party #2 taking place in the background here. The beautifully rendered lines of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “The First Noel” were punctuated by delighted giggling and shouts from Party #2, consisting of Rhonda, Don and MA’s four charming off-spring. A good time was had by all. 🙂

Sunday, December 21, 2008

First, another birthday party – this time a brunch. I had to whip up another batch of shortbreads for this …

Shortbreads, O/D/C chewies, Protein Peanut Butter Balls (by me); Vegan Sesame Chewie Cookies by Karen C.

Shortbreads, O/D/C chewies, Protein Peanut Butter Balls (by me); Vegan Sesame Chewie Cookies by Karen C.

Christmas birthdays are hard. My Mom’s birthday was December 24 and I remember her day always getting swept under the carpet. I think Moms’ birthdays do, anyway, as they are usually the ones in charge of remembering everyone else’s birthday – who is in charge of remembering hers? Well, Bev was the birthday girl, and birthday mom, on December 21 and we celebrated!

Birthday Fest!

Birthday Fest!

Sometimes, cake must be subdued.

Sometimes, cake must be subdued.

Possibly the last healthy food I ate until New Year's!

Possibly the last healthy food I ate until New Year

Next, I had to re-stock some baking supplies. I’ve found a terrific small-chain bulk store for this at Pape/Danforth. It is a bit messy and disorganized, but the young people who work there (they all look about 12) seem to know their stuff. It is called Strictly Bulk, on Danforth, North Side, just West of Pape.

It seemed that my friend Nancy, a.k.a. Trix, was going to arrive from Ottawa by bus much later than originally anticipated. I had thought she might enjoy the Kensington Winter Solstice Festival of Lights, followed by Chinese food with friends. Alas, the bus strike in Ottawa, and adverse weather, all conspired to make her later than she anticipated. So, it was on to Kensington to meet-up with LA, friends and wee ones. The meeting-up happened but the solstice did not. Or rather, I’m sure that solstice occurred because, well, it just does. But the Kensington solstice event did not. Why it did not remains a mystery.

Chinese food DID happen, with much joy and rapture, as per usual.

Mmm ... Chinese Food! And reflective tape!

Mmm ... Chinese Food! And reflective tape!

Gin and solstice and chinese food ... a potent combo

Gin and solstice and chinese food ... a potent combo

Someone in the crowd at the solstice non-event slipped me a bottle with some gin and lemonade in it. It would have been rude to turn it down, of course. And, I’m Canadian and NEVER rude …

House of Gourmet

House of Gourmet

Mmmm ... House of Gourmet BBQ Pork

Mmmm ... House of Gourmet BBQ Pork

Mmmm ...

Mmmm ...

House of Gourmet

House of Gourmet

After dropping folks off at various spots in the core, I beatled back to the bus station to wait for Trix, thinking she’d be about another 45 minutes and that I could amuse myself for that time period.

It was cold and damp. It was an hour and a half before the bus pulled in. Felt like three hours, my legs all restless, alternatively twitchy and crampy. I’ve never been so glad to see a greyhound bus in my life.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Trix and I designated this as another baking day, along with some decorating. I needed some pastry for the future tortiere so we worked on that first.

Le Pastry Chef

La Pastry Chef

The smiling pastry chef

The smiling pastry chef

Then, I got to making some of Grandma’s Cookies, which is how my brothers and I refer to them. Grandma’s Cookies could also be called “kitchen sink cookies” because they have a bit of everything in them, from corn flakes to candied fruit to pecans to coconut. These are my brother David’s ulitmate cookie Nirvana and it was my plan to present him with some to take home on Christmas Day. It chokes me up a bit when I see my Mom’s recipe card for this which does not read Grandma’s Cookies. It reads “Mom’s Cookies”.

Takes much licking, keeps on ticking

Takes much licking, keeps on ticking

Behold, my Mom’s vintage 1950’s MixMaster. It still knows how to make cookies!!! It is impossible to estimate how many batches of cookies, cake batter, potatoes, and a myriad of other concoctions have been whipped together by this machine over about a 40 year period. Still works. When I was big enough, it was my job to set it up and use it. I still have a scar on my left index finger from the time that I plugged it in without checking to see that it was turned off and my hand got chomped in the beaters. Ow. I think I was about 10.

After baking, Trix and I sorted through decorations and tarted the place up a bit, including placing the cedar boughs over the door and on the “mantel” of the fireplace. Can a drywall box be called a “mantel”?

I dropped Trix back off at the bus station in the late afternoon – a short but sweet visit. It was then time for a pre-emptive visit to the gym.

I tried to take photos of the fireplace but, again, it is hard to capture the glow of the lights and the fire with no tripod and a rather limited piece of equipment.

No flash, no ambient light

No flash, no ambient light

Flash

Flash

Ambient light, no flash

Ambient light, no flash

Flash, ambient light

Flash, ambient light

Monday night was “tortiere filling prep” night and it was a divine way to spend my time, the smell of all those spices filling my place and, I’m told, the hallway outside my door and my neighbour’s place as well.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I FINALLY made it to Tuesday morning shinny and it was a blast. I had every intention of attending the Christmas shinny brunch that followed but, alas, my penchant for panicking over simple household matters chose that moment to rear its head. Long story. I didn’t make it to brunch.

I did, however, manage to pick up most, but not all, that I needed for the rest of this food-crazed holiday, including a 19 lb free range, organic, non-medicated, non-hormoned, non-GMO, etc. etc. turkey. I think this creature attended Montesori and spoke seven languages before they snuffed it.

More baking and cooking followed, along with several re-arrangements of the fridge to fit everything in.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

This was my primary “veggie prep day” yet, I needed guitar strings and cheesecloth. When a girl needs guitar strings and cheesecloth, stormy icyness and snow squalls cannot stop her. Veggies can wait.

This was the morning that the City of Toronto called to confirm, absolutely, that they owed me a refund on my taxes. Not only that, they didn’t really require the paperwork they asked for before. Merry Christmas, me! Furthermore, the store where I bought my last telephone headset honoured their warranty to replace the headset regardless of what happens to it. Even though I’d tossed the headset three weeks ago and was supposed to bring it in. Hey – Santa brought me a new headset for Christmas! 🙂

This was such a fun morning of errands. Feeling rather jaunty after my phone call with the City, I headed out with my Santa hat on. This made everyone smile. I had a huge list of errands – drop off cookies to my weight loss team (some kinda irony there …), LCBO, dollar store, electronics store, guitar string store, grocery store … and it all went smoothly and with a lot of that Christmas-y smiling at/with strangers kind of interaction. I’m glad I left a few things to the last moment. Found parking everywhere, paid for none of it, found Every Single Thing I needed in the dollar store, and chatted with at least half a dozen strangers in the grocery store.

Then, in the afternoon, it was serious veggie prep time. Chop cauliflower. Trim broccoli. Peel/boil potatos. Peel/boil turnip. Roast garlic. Mash turnip/potatos/garlic yogurt together. Press into baking dish and seal with cling wrap. I opted to take a short-cut with the carrots and just make due with baby carrots.

I left the tortiere assembly to the end. This was a mistake because it was now, oh, 4:30 or 5 and I was due at Gail and Sonja’s at 6:30 for Christmas Eve dinner.  I had taken the pastry out of the fridge, the pastry Trix had so lovingly prepared a few days earlier. The stuff looked and felt perfect – for all the world, perfect pastry. Trix has made pastry for me before so she knows what she is doing. Either I left it in the fridge too long, or I simply lack my Mom’s pastry “chi”, but I could not get that stuff to roll out. No way, no how. I did manage to get a layer of pastry in the bottom of each pie plate but they each looked like they’d been through a war. In trying to get it right, I added water drops, creating an instant glutenous mass. I then tried to balance with flour which, in my frustration, I spilled all over the counter and floor. I tried not to look at the clock.

Giving up at about 5:30 and now dangerously close to running late, I dashed upstairs to shower off the flour in my hair, after checking with Rabba’s to see if they carried frozen pie crust. The man with the undefinable accent wasn’t sure what I meant by pie crust exactly, but was 100% certain that he carried it. Right.

Off to Gail and Sonja’s for a gorgeous evening that included prime rib, asparagus, and squash.

Mmmmm ... balsamic glaze ... mmmm

Mmmmm ... balsamic glaze ... mmmm

The hostess with the mostest!

The hostess with the mostest!

There was a lovely cranberry fruit pudding/cakey delight for dessert, with a caramel sauce. I took great pleasure in demonstrating that it is possible to set your dessert on fire with either Canadian Club or Jamaican Rum. Sadly, there is no photographic evidence of this demonstration, but there were witnesses.

And, there was still the matter of the tortiere pie crust to resolve. The gang at dinner were all going to the MCCT service and I was more than happy to offer them a lift to Roy Thompson Hall. They assured me, before we left the neighbourhood, that the tiny-looking Mom/Pop store at the corner would have frozen pie crust. I admit, I was skeptical as I picked my way carefully through the icily treacherous sidewalk path to Stephen’s Convenience. Not only did Stephen’s have pie crust in the quantity that I required, they had – as a back-up – pie crust mix in a box! I bought it all, no longer leaving anything to chance. I was clearly so relieved the lovely woman gave me a small poinsetta plant as a Christmas Eve gift.

What a lovely day that was!

Thursday, December 25, 2008 – Christmas Day!

I was up and on my feet by about 8:30, with a long list of things to do. Tortiere to assemble. Stuffing to make. Turkey to “dress” (what a funny term) and get in the oven. Chairs to fetch from the amenity room with my illegal key. 🙂 Last minute decorating and cleaning up. Boxes to shove into closets to make room for the family to descend. I decided that I was going to eat enough that day, and nibble enough throughout the food prep, that I wouldn’t eat a proper meal until Christmas dinner. This was probably a mistake as when Ben arrived around 2:00 p.m., I was starving. He brought a bag of kettle corn (sweet and salty popcorn) and I put out some of the appetizer cheeses, olives and dips and we fell into it all.

I’m not sure how to summarize this day other than to say that the stuff that I expected to go “wrong” didn’t (family stuff) and the stuff that I have much confidence in and had prepared for did not go off as I’d wish. The oven didn’t heat up as much as I would have wished and the turkey took too long. The veggies couldn’t go into the oven until the turkey was out … the whole meal took longer and, in spite of my best efforts, didn’t get coordinated to be all ready at the same time.

Other than the bulk of the family being late and arriving in many more vehicles than I could have anticipated, it was so nice to see them. Seriously. Nieces and nephews have grown into interesting, three dimensional people. Nephew’s dog is a cutie. Both brothers’ were helpful and respectful. Sis-in-law, as always, a delight. Lots of chatter and such a high degree of comfort. Wow – very nice indeed. No one will remember the turkey issues.

After all that work, the tortiere was a hit. (phew) Both brothers, sis-in-law and a niece interested in the recipe.

The traditional (I’m serious) family poker game broke out after dinner, over mincemeat pie and apple pie. There was no clear winner, we each seem to hold our own, but my nephew Wes seem to rake in quite a haul in the last hand.

I hope my brother David sends me some of the photos from the dinner as I had my hands a bit too full to manage snapping shots. Given the look on his face when I handed him his box of Grandma’s cookies, I think he might make the effort.

Seems to me I managed to finish cleaning up all but the roasting pan by about 1:00 a.m.

Friday, December 26, 2008 – Boxing Day!

In the UK, the serious celebration and socializing day is Boxing Day. Everyone goes out, not necessarily shopping, just out visiting and, in our case when I visited the cousins, strolling the pier and the boardwalk along the shore. I seem to have captured a bit of this because I tend to want to have people over on Boxing Day as well. This year, I invited people for a Boxing Day leftover open house/drop-in featuring “no forced conversation”! As many as 25 – 30 people indicated an interest in coming by with their leftovers (yikes) meaning I had to do some serious re-arranging of furniture. However, a few seemed to get way-laid and, in fact, it was more like me and 15 people in total and that was perfect. What a nice evening! Except for the part where I did try to burn the place down a few times with candles. Oops. No permanent damage done, although one wall may need a wee bit of re-painting after I remove the wax. ’til then, nice evidence of a swell party, si?

So many tarts, so little time ...

So many tarts, so little time ...

And not a chocolate cake in sight!

And not a chocolate cake in sight!

Getting suited up for the evening

Getting suited up for the evening

... with some helpers ...

... with some helpers ...

Almost done!

Almost done!

I’m hard-pressed to explain why a coconut bra carries the spirit of Christmas, but you’ll have to trust me that it does.

I lost my picture taking momentum right about here and failed to snap shots of Jan, Ruth, Rhonda, Mary-Ann, Kristin, Catherine, Brandon, Cory and Danielle and Andrew. Nor did I capture the candle holder going up in flames, or the chorus of mmmm everytime someone tried tortiere for the first time, or sampled one of Kristin’s brownies. I note that god’s refrigerator still contains rather a lot of mix.

Boxing Day wound up the “official” Christmas stuff that I’d planned for and, not surprisingly, at the end of the evening, I found myself back in the kitchen again. Apparently, I am somewhat rooted there.

Which, it seems, is an ok place for me to be. :-)

Which, it seems, is an ok place for me to be. 🙂

I hope everyone’s Christmas has turned out as delighfully as mine. I thought I’d feel out of sorts without a big trip or a really “big” event planned but, to the contrary, I’m totally “at one” with this holiday season. Brilliant. Now – what am I going to do with all this food and mix?!?

Christmases Past 2 comments

Raise your hand if Christmas, as an event or even a concept, brings up “mixed” feelings for you?

Yeah, I thought so. Me too.

Growing up as the youngest in a farm family, out in rural S/W Ontario, Christmas was a magical time. The promise of a Big Exciting Day, with “new” stuff (rather than hand-me-downs), lights, decorations, wonderful food smells wafting from the kitchen. I was indulged in as much music as my largely non-musical family could tolerate. Aunts, uncles and cousins arriving with more presents. Special TV shows that we would plan to watch. School Christmas concerts. So much activity.

My uncles, male cousins and brothers were always keen on anything that had a small combustion engine on it, so snowmobiles were certainly popular out our way. I remember one year my Uncle Jack got the bright idea of attaching a wooden toboggan to the back of a snowmobile, bundling me up and putting me on the toboggan, and heading out over freshly fallen snow on, as it turned out, freshly plowed fields. At night, under a full moon. This had the expected result of bouncing me off the toboggan repeatedly. I think I was maybe six years old, all bundled up in a snowsuit so I was physically fine but suffered from that terrifying sense of child-like abandonment each time he carried on without noticing that I’d been left behind. Of course, he always circled back, and I always climbed back on for another go. The terror of being left behind subsided and I have a clear memory of being plopped off the toboggan again and sitting upright in the snow, waiting for Uncle Jack to notice I was no longer cargo. He got quite far away, it seemed, and I remember the full moon hanging in the sky, obliterating stars around it, and making the undisturbed fresh snow glisten like diamonds. Even now, a whiff of two-stroke snowmobile exhaust can send me right back to that moment, with snow balling up on my woolly mittens, my wrists getting raw from the wet chaffing of the snowsuit elastic, that rising twinge of panic that I won’t be seen in time, and the beautiful moon hanging over my head.

My Mom seemed to love Christmas – she had all her people around her and could feed and enjoy them. My father, on the other hand, called Christmas ever so much “tomfoolery” and he (barely) put up with everyone taking a day away from their responsibilities. He would put on what was clearly, even to me as a child, an “act” of receiving his gifts with WAY too much overt enthusiasm. When not receiving presents, he would retreat back into sullen silence, sipping his port and reading the newspaper. Usually he was well-absorbed by the horse racing schedules and results. Given that our house was heated by a coal furnace, it would have been easy enough to just give him a lump of coal and be done with it.

Dad’s favourite part of Christmas, the only time he seemed to rouse genuine pleasure, was when he got to set his dessert on fire. Mom made Christmas pudding with hard sauce each year, and Dad made a big show of dousing his serving in Canadian Club and setting it ablaze.

My half-sister Carolynne and her husband Keith would visit at some point each Christmas season, trundling along from the Big City in their little white VW Bug. I loved it when she would come to visit, and so did everyone else. My Mom adored Carolynne, but wasn’t so thrilled about her cat, Franz, who would make it his business to explore the kitchen cupboards. I think there *may* have been mice in there and Franz was pretty keen on rooting them out of our farmhouse cupboards. I don’t think he had much chance to be Franz the Hunter in the Big City. Nonetheless, as a child, I was totally convinced that Carolynne was coming to visit ME. It only dawned on me much later, as an adult, that she was probably coming out to visit her Dad who, truth be told, was not much of a “sit and visit” kinda guy.  As I recall, he barely took time away from barn chores to give the visitors the time of day. But my memory could be faulty there.

Very mixed feelings about Christmas indeed.

I remember much fuss being made about Christmas, lots of bustling around. I remember being the centre of much fuss, being the youngest and all. Of course, I liked that. As I grew older, I remember starting to be very particular about solidifying certain elements. Specific decorations needing to be up in specific places. Being the one to put the antique glass bird in its special spot on the tree. Pulling the string on the musical bell to make it play “Jingle Bells” (over and over). Decorating the windows with fake snow stencils and paint. Baking cookies. These things HAD to happen, or it just wasn’t Christmas.

Later on, caroling with friends was added into the mix. This got easier when we moved into town the year I turned 18. Going out with a group of about 15 moderately skilled singers, traipsing through neighbourhoods in our small town, trying to harmonize, rather than vocally collide, with all the old standards. It is possible that someone had a flask of something to keep us warm and our spirits up. We seemed to always wind up at sweetly crazy Mr. Gibson’s house, an English teacher in the high school, who would be ready with mulled apple cider, hot chocolate and homemade goodies.

Since leaving home for university in 1982, each Christmas has felt fragmented to me. It is as though there are elements of magic, and often quite sweet magical times, but the cohesive sense of personal and family tradition, family connection and just “belonging” has been missing for me, all this time.  It seems, at Christmas more than most times, being happily coupled is especially sweet, and being single, or unhappily coupled, is often heart-wrenching. How does one create a sense of “belonging”, of “tradition”, as an unpartnered person? Each year, I try to ratchet down my expectations and “needs”. Each year, I am bowled over by the beauty of the season, the music, the generosity and warmth of the people around me, and yet still yearn for some lost element that seems out of my grasp.

I’ve been honoured to spend Christmas in some unlikely places and engaged in some unlikely activities. In 2000, my partner and I spent Christmas in Bradenton, FL with our friends who ran a horse farm there. I spent Christmas morning cleaning water troughs, mucking out stalls and patting beautiful creatures. One of my favourite Christmas memories ever. :)  A few years later, 2002 I think, I was thrilled to spend Christmas in the UK with my newly discovered British cousins and that was such a treat. Spending time with them on any occasion is a treat, in fact, but learning the British way of celebrating this holiday was wonderful. Talk about tradition, and the way things Must Be Done. I’ve spent Christmas with extended chosen family in Ottawa, and with Carolynne and her boisterous, growing blended family in Calgary. Of late, I’ve had the pleasure of spending Christmas with close friends here in Toronto and with those same friends, last year, in Mexico. Great memories, especially the tequila carol singing with total strangers in the back of a jeep hurtling down the highway …

As Christmas 2008 approached, I waited for the familiar mixed sense of anticipation, joy and dread. The anticipation and joy appeared. The dread, possibly for the first time ever, has not arrived. I can’t quite pinpoint why as this Christmas, more than perhaps any other, has the outward appearance of being fragmented. Yet it has felt quietly calm, very happy, active and oddly settled. I’ll leave the specifics for my next post.  There are cedar boughs over my door and on my fireplace. The antique glass bird, the same one from my childhood, has survived and has a new spot on one of the boughs over the fireplace. The Christmas bell, the one that hangs in a doorway and plays Jingle Bells … sadly, there is no spot for it here so it rests quietly in a box, waiting for a year that it can return to annoy us all again. Cookies were baked. Family was greeted. Friends gathered. Merry was made. Songs were sung. It felt very good indeed.

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