Thursday 23 December 2021

December 23, 2021

 The night of the Winter Solstice our immediate family gathered together to do some serious cookie decorating. We've enjoyed doing this (not on this date necessarily) for a few years now and it seems we are achieving new heights in our skills. 

Some of them are sarcastic and naughty, others are seriously pretty. Still others are flawed due to a misjudgment of how much frosting was coming out. 

Husband was quite tickled with his accomplishments on Patrick Star (from Spongebob Squarepants).

Meanwhile, the decorations are done in the house, the gifts are wrapped (well, the ones I'm responsible for, anyway - can't speak for husband and son), and I've done what is, I hope, the last of the food and drink buying. Even though it's only a little gathering of us instead of the big one, I still want to make it special. 

When the kids were young, husband always read "The Night Before Christmas" to them on Christmas Eve. Now it is displayed behind a piece that depicts Santa taking it easy in the aftermath. My mother gave each one of us (myself and siblings) one of these Santa figures (all the same), so this has seen many Christmases. Poor old guy has his gramophone horn broken off, but he is much loved and makes me think of my father who almost always had a cat perched on him when he sat down. 

Here is our tree, picture taken this morning, so not quite in its glory at night with lights twinkling and such. 

Please note the present placement. Yes, there is a large gap below the tree. Why, may you ask?

That is why. When we first placed a few presents under the tree, he actually got in there, nosed and shoved around and made himself an empty spot where he could lie. Rather than fight it, we've just made sure he has a spot now. 

Here is the better behaved other cat.

Calm, cool, collected, comatose.

Meanwhile, I don't think there has been a single fire in the woodstove that hasn't been directly supervised. (These next pictures are taken on separate occasions, same shirt, ha ha).

Today I shall pre-make a couple of things: green bean casserole, baked sweet potatoes. I hope you are all content in your Christmas preparations, or lack thereof, however you choose to wrap up this year. We have snow on the ground, with more to come. 

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Days of Yore

 I was feeling rather sentimental about Christmas. As you can probably guess, my great big gathering of my siblings and their "children" (although none are children anymore) has been put off (for another year). Provincial limits on indoor gatherings, rising numbers, along with an immune compromised condition of one person, an upcoming surgery of another person, and other very valid reasons led to this decision. I am, of course, having our own gathering of our daughter, her boyfriend, our son, and my mother-in-law, and that will be lovely, just not as big. 

When I was little, we always celebrated Christmas at home, but sometimes we would also go to an aunt and uncle's house, who were the sister and brother-in-law of my father. I thought it was a  great long trip, but really, it was probably only an hour or less. I remember the awe of being driven around the park, at night, in that 'far away' town, seeing the display of coloured lights. It was a simpler time. The coloured lights seemed magical. I'd like to say I think the giant inflatable characters on people's lawns at this time of magical, but instead I think they are garish. I imagine children love them, though, and for that reason at Christmas, that's good.

At our own home, we always had a real tree. Often that tree was purchased at a gas station / store about halfway between our own home in the country and the closest town, called "Kitching's Marketeria". This was the place where gas was purchased, cold pop in bottles came out of a big red cooler, the floors were plywood and had a distinct aroma of  "old store with damp plywood floors", and the two huge black Newfoundland dogs were just maneuvered around as they lay sprawled in the parking area. Kitchings would get a big shipment of Christmas trees and I recall standing out in the cold while one of my parents would prop up a tree by the trunk, away from the others, while the other parents would voice why it wasn't a good enough tree. The trunk's not straight, it has a bald spot on one side, it's not tall enough... 

My father, who was compelled to re-engineer everything, would sometimes cut some of the lower boughs, drill holes in the main trunk, and with the help of some wood glue, insert the cut boughs into the holes to make for a fuller, more evenly dispersed tree. 

Our trees went through many phases of decoration. Of course, we had the old traditional glass balls which were so beautifully coloured and formed. When I was very little, we still had the string of lights with the thick, fabric-like cord, and big coloured bulbs. Those were the days of figuring out which bulb needed to be replaced so the whole string would light up. Those were also the days of long strands of icicle tinsel, which of course was removed at the end of the Christmas season and repackaged as best you could in the original box to be re-used the next year. People were frugal then. My parents had to be. 

source                     This is not a picture from my youth, obviously, but just some tinsel so you know what kind I am referring to. 

We later got strings of newer kinds of bulbs, sometimes using multi-coloured, sometimes just clear lights. My mother "let" me do much of the decorating. Looking back on it now, she was probably relieved to have someone else do most of the work. I was the youngest of four of us and the last one still living at home. She was game for a couple of years when I thought a blue and silver colour scheme would be nice. Mostly, the tree remained quite traditional. 

Then came the apples. I have no idea where the small red apple ornaments came from. Likely a local department store. But once my mother discovered them, there was no turning back. She loved those shiny red apples on, I want to say, gold strings, if memory holds correct. They weren't glass ornaments. I'm not even sure what they were, some kind of covered plastic perhaps. I hated those apples. How do red apples even equate with Christmas? It's a coniferous tree - not even an apple tree. But she had tons of them. 

I don't have much recollection of Christmases when I was very young, but as I grew up a little, Christmas was exciting because my brothers would come home, and then my sister. We are all spread out in age, so my oldest brother would have moved out of the house by the time I was about five or six years old. My next oldest brother would have been gone when I was about nine. Of course, Christmas can be a time of angst and strife in families and my own had its share of these times as well. I recall my mother's anxiety and resentment about feeling constrained when spending money to buy gifts. Later, when I was probably around twelve years old and wanting to pick out my own gifts while shopping with my mother, it became routine for me to do the gift wrapping, including wrapping my own presents. I thought it was fun and offered to do it, but again, I imagine it was a relief that my mother didn't have to do it herself. My mother at this stage would have been in her early fifties and she wasn't one of those vibrant, active individuals at that age. She already seemed too tired, too old, and hosting a variety of ailments and issues to gleefully engage in such things.

Down the road and around the corner from our house, possibly all of two minutes driving time away, was the farm where my mother was raised. Still living at the farm was her own mother (her father having died some time before that), and her bachelor brother. There was also a "hired man" who worked on the farm. Every year, we would gather up presents and get into cars and drive over to the farm to get together in the evening, after chores were done, with my grandmother and my uncle, and the hired man if he wasn't at his own family gathering. There would be candies and other treats, but a tree was no longer bothered with. We all sat together in the big living room and watched them open their presents from us. We would also open our presents from my grandmother and uncle, which of course my mother would have gone out and selected for them. My grandmother no longer left her home to go anywhere and she never learned to drive. She had her own issues as well. 

For whatever reason, my grandmother would ask someone (almost always me) to open her presents for her. I have no clue why she wouldn't open them herself, but that's just how it went. Within seconds of revealing the contents (usually footwear or maybe a cardigan) my mother would announce that if she didn't like it, or it didn't fit, she did have the receipt and could return or exchange it. This happened every single year. 

Later when I became a snarky, opinionated teenager, I resented that we all had to haul over to the farm. Why couldn't the two people who lived there come over to our house, two minutes away, instead of all of us having to go over there? I resented having to open my grandmother's  presents for her  (which I probably wrapped as well), and it bothered me that they didn't have a tree. When I went away to university, I actually bought a pattern for a stuffed Christmas tree and I bought the festive fabric and sewed on the trim and created the tree for them, so they'd have something to put in the living room. The one decoration they did have, which I used to put up for them, was an old cardboard nativity scene. 

source             This is not the actual one from my grandmother's home, but similar. It was getting a bit raggedy by the time I was removing it from it's storage box and assembling it on top of the big old tv console. 

In retrospect, I realize there were traditions, and issues, and things people just did because it was easier to just do it. Family dynamics. 

I looked through some old photos that I've inherited and found a couple that were taken when my brothers were young. I was not born yet, nor even my sister, likely. These were taken "over at the farm", sometimes referred to as "over home" because it was my mother's childhood home. 

In this photo are my mother and father, and my two brothers. It is odd to see my mother with long hair, worn down. They are sitting in the living room of the farm and obviously at that time, my grandmother did still have a Christmas tree. My grandfather would still have been alive then, too. I'm guessing that tree was cut on the property. It is also only now, looking at this photo in detail, that I notice the striped jacket my father is wearing. This picture would have been taken in my 1958 or 1959 (?)

In this photo, my brothers are a little older in their matching striped shirts, and thrilled with their big bubblegum filled candy canes. Santa is my father. I wonder if they ever questioned the validity of that Santa. This is also at the farm. I'll bet some of you had similar couches when you were young, either burgundy or green with the carved wooden feet and arm details. I have memories of tracing over those carved details with my finger while sitting on the floor. 

After I became old enough to not believe in Santa Claus, my family started to adopt the tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve night. It was actually quite lovely because the lights of the Christmas tree were so pretty in the evening, and it just felt cozy. Stockings were never part of our tradition, but were very much a part of my husband's childhood, so we have always had Christmas stockings with our own children and it continues now, even when they are in their early twenties.

So there are some of my Christmas childhood memories. I hope we have created warm memories for our own children and perhaps they will continue some of our traditions with their own families some day. 

Tuesday 14 December 2021

Mmm almond extract

 I tried a new cookie this year. They are called Italian Christmas cookies. I found the recipe on Pinterest but won’t bother including because I actually haven’t tried one yet (how’s THAT for self-control!) so I don’t know if I should recommend them yet.

This recipe calls for almond extract in the dough and almond extract in the glaze. I absolutely love the scent of almond extract. I’m pretty sure there was almond extract in a cookie from my youth, so nostalgia enters into this. My mother used to make little cookies that were a plain cookie dough wrapped around a maraschino cherry. They were rolled in granular sugar. I can still conjure up the smell of those cookies. Does anybody else remember those cookies?

The ones I made today are double glazed, meaning I dipped them in the glaze while they were still warm and then let them sit for a while on a cooling rack. Then I re-dipped them in glaze and put little decorations on them while the frosting was still wet. I thought the blue colours suited them well. 

I read that you should let the cookies sit for at least three hours for the glaze to harden. They’re still not completely hard yet, so I’ll leave them a while longer before I store them away. Fridge? Freezer? Just in an air tight container? Don’t know what would be best until Christmas. 

Do you make anything like this? Jeanie, I think you do.

Sunday 12 December 2021

A Woodland Theme and Big Winds

Yesterday was very, very busy. I am hosting Christmas for my side of the family this year. There are nieces and a nephew, all of whom are grown and living in various places, working various jobs. Since it has been a long time since we have all been together, I was really trying to make it work with as many people as possible. There was much back and forth with emails and texts and finally we finalized a date which works for 90% . 

I am now inspired to make sure my home looks nice and "Christmasy". Husband helped to haul out boxes and get me a chair so I didn't have to bend over too much (yes, I'm still dealing with this back, but I feel progress is being made, I am hopeful, although it is slow progress). I wanted to do the actual picking and choosing and decorating myself, so it's not that he didn't help, but you know how it is... you want it done the way you want it.

Something new I did this year was to create a display on a two-tiered metal, I don't know what to call it, display rack?? Husband bought it for me for the kitchen for fruit a few years ago, but it was too tall and the fruit always bruised too easily in it. I had an autumn display in it earlier this year and I envisioned a "woodland" theme for Christmas. Odd as it may sound, I wanted it on the bathroom counter, because that way pretty much everyone would see it and our bathroom is bead board and wood floor and wood cabinetry so it would work well. 

I've always loved these kinds of things - nature, little forest animals, natural texture (yes, I know the boughs are fake), anthropomorphism with hat-wearing birds. I've already professed my love for Jan Brett whose books feature so much glorious texture in her illustrations.

Oh how I adore this snowman. He is emerging from a wooden stump, but it is hard to see in this picture. 

I love how this little bird looks like it is carved from wood (I don't think it is). Unfortunately, I cut the head off the traditional woodland Santa in the background.

This bird has just a slight dusting of glitter on it. The Christmas ball ornaments I included have rabbits and lovely snowy outdoor scenes on them. If I had a Christmas rabbit  or squirrel I'd have included it in this display as well. For what it's worth, this year's theme in the stores seems to be gnomes. There are gnomes in every store - fabric, resin, big, little... So, good for gnome collectors. (Debra, she who seeks, are you on this?)

If you are an Ontario blogger friend, then you will know that we had some pretty awesome winds yesterday. It wasn't until I came downstairs this morning and puttered around that I looked out one particular window and my mind went, "wait, that doesn't look right." 

Indeed, we did not escape unscathed. In keeping with a woodland theme, here is what happened in our backyard. 

This great big Manitoba maple (actually box elder, but we've always called them Manitoba maples, don't know why) came down with the winds. It just popped out of the ground, rather than breaking off at the trunk. We were very very lucky because it did not damage the pool fence. If it had, what a nightmare that would have been. I don't even know if we could find the same type of fencing to fix it. The tree damaged some of the chicken run, but they don't go out much at this time of year now anyway. We also were lucky in that none of the similar trees fell on the chicken coop itself, or on our shed (which is more the size of a garage). Manitoba maples grow all along the west side of our property. We didn't plant them and they grow like weeds. If you cut them down, they sprout even more vigorously from their stumps. They don't have a lot of redeeming qualities as far as trees go.

Oh well, we have more firewood now. Husband has a chainsaw, but not big enough for this job, so he may have to rent or borrow. 

Moving on to more Christmas topics, I also began my baking yesterday. I always make this particular kind of cookie. I'm sure I've written about it before, but I'll throw in the recipe just in case you're interested. I don't refrigerate the dough by the way, just dive right in and bake them as soon as I've mixed the ingredients up. You can tell how much I've made these by the state of the little recipe "card".

I love how they "crinkle" on the top. They smell incredible, too.

You can tell I was going through a calorie counting phase at one point when I figured out how many calories were in each cookie. No, that's not 103 calories if you eat 33 cookies (I wish!!), but if the recipe makes 33 cookies, that's how many calories per cookie. But who cares. Just eat the cookie. 

I realized I am out of ground cloves and you just can't do gingerbread cookies without ground cloves, so I'll have to brave the crazy stores out there. Have you started your baking? Do you even bother? Have you made cookies similar to these? Do you also write on your recipe cards or in your recipe books? Do you still have recipe cards or are you all computerized, embracing the modern world? Do you also love little woodland animals wearing clothes?

Sunday 5 December 2021

Unexpected Visitor

 Sunday here. We were planning on putting up our outdoor lights. We string them along the rail fence that goes along the front of our property. It's cold, but at that time it wasn't snowing. We got the box of lights out of the "Rubbermaid Room" and the box of wires that we use to secure the lights to the rails. We discovered that last year's clear white lights only partially lit up, so we went back to the multi-coloured lights from previous years. Husband and I bundled up and began the task. When we were pretty much done, he had gone inside for something and I was at the door facing out to the porch. I saw a big raccoon coming from across the road onto our neighbours property. Hmmm. You don't usually see raccoons in the early afternoon. 

I watched and it went behind the neighbours and came out at the neighbours beside that and stood for a while by their detached garage. I told husband about it and he saw it, too. We continued with putting up the garland around the door and were pretty much done. A short while later I looked out and saw our new neighbour standing at the end of our driveway using his phone to take a picture. I came out to him(it was our first meeting by the way, I introduced myself) and he was taking a picture of the big raccoon which was now in our carport. Husband went out and scared it away from our closed garbage can. Neighbour and husband couldn't see where it had gone.

Husband discovered a little while after that, that it hadn't gone far and was holed up under the car cover which protects his little car that doesn't get driven in the winter. Not good. So, he went to find our live trap in the shed in the backyard. Meanwhile, we checked and found that both of our cats were sleeping peacefully inside, so we closed up the cat door. That's the last thing you want coming in your cat door - a great big raccoon!

We baited the trap with salmon. We had an old peanut container wired to the back of the cage (so the animal has to come right inside and work at getting the bait). Husband set out the trap and weighted it down with a cement block.

I took this picture from the door that looks out toward the car port. You can see the raccoon at the side of the trap trying to reach in to get the salmon. 
And that it did! With its amazing little nimble "fingers" it managed to pull the container toward itself. This was not a metal container, but if you are familiar with peanut containers, they are a very thick cardboard type of material with a metal rim. I think I had used that in the past because I could poke holes through it to be able to wire it to the back of the cage. Well, the raccoon just took its time and bit by bit ripped through the container from outside the cage and had a lovely snack.

After husband "scared" it away so he could retrieve the live trap and try again, the raccoon came back quite quickly and had another mosey around the car port. You can see husband in the reflection of the glass and the beasty out by our blue boxes (recycling).

He had a poke around the recycling box. Look at those paws. Made for disassembly and nuisance. Husband created the Raccoon Trap 2.0 by using a tall yogurt container with holes poked through and a good sturdy wire. This way the raccoon would not be able to reach down far enough to get the salmon from being outside the trap. He also used more cement blocks to prevent the raccoon from reaching in from all sides or the back. As well, a tasty trail of salmon led in from the door hatch. 

The raccoon came back almost immediately and stayed outside the trap, trying its best to get at that salmon. He (She?) would walk around to all sides, but wouldn't go close to the door way of the trap. However, the lure of stinky salmon prevailed and in it went. These are pictures taken through a window, so not the best. It couldn't have cared less that we were watching through the window.

Success! Got the critter! It didn't seem very bothered at that point, just enjoying the salmon.

Then husband thought he would ask neighbour guy if he wanted to go on a road trip to release the raccoon far, far away. He put trap in the back of his truck and drove across the road to neighbour's house. (They haven't quite completely moved in, biding time between here - relatively middle of nowhere- and the big city). When he knocked on the door, he discovered the whole family wanted to see the raccoon, so neighbour wife and three neighbour children all came out to have a peek. Husband and neighbour guy drove quite a ways away to an area where the raccoon could live a happy life without crawling up into someone's attic and creating absolute havoc. He (She?) was released and they came home. 

This wasn't really how we anticipated the day going, but a neat way to get to know the new neighbours. I wonder if they are regretting moving to our tiny dot on the map with the giant mound of turkey manure in the field and ravaging wildlife? Not to say that raccoons aren't a problem in the city, either. 

I do hope Rocky Raccoon doesn't return (they are known to come back from great distances). So, how was your Sunday?