Sunday, December 21, 2014

Oh Christmas Tree

I'm joining in again today with Sian's Christmas club, where we share the story of Christmas.

I often chuckle to myself when I think of the tradition of putting up a Christmas tree each year.  Think about it.  We move furniture around to accommodate placing a tree in our most used room of the house, the living room.  Then we spend hours unpacking little decorations that we store lovingly all year long.  Then we spend even more time putting all of these delicate little beauties onto each branch.  In a few weeks time we dismantle all of this, only to do it all again next year.  It really is bizarre but I wouldn't have it any other way.

When I was growing up, we always had a real Christmas tree.  I think that the majority of people did in those days of the late 60's and early 70's.  We would put the tree up around the 20th of December. We lived in an apartment, which was very dry.  My mother always said that the tree dried out fast and so it was better to wait until close to Christmas to put it up so that we could keep it up through the holidays until January 2nd.  As you can imagine, the tree selection was getting pretty slim this close to Christmas day and so we were known to usually have a typical Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  Each year we would laugh at how close we had actually come to Charlie's tree.

Susan with her dollhouse. 1964

Then there was the Christmas light issue.  My mother was a safety bug.  Yes, she was the mom who wouldn't put the lid of a can into the garbage without making a loud family announcement.  "I've just put a can lid in the garbage can.  Don't put your hand in there or you'll slice your hand off".  It was a pretty dramatic statement when in reality it may have resulted in a little cut on the finger. I guess that you have already figured out that there were to be no Christmas lights on our dried out Christmas tree.  The fire risks were too high in my mother's mind.  Not only were we risking our lives but the lives of all of the other tenants in our building!  In my mother's defence, the big lights did get hot in those days, although I'm sure if we just had them on while we were in the room, we all would have avoided the fiery death that my mother feared.  All our neighbours in the building had lights. ( I have noticed in close inspection of these two early photos that there are lights on these trees!  What changed? Was this earlier apartment less dry?)

Susan and Me on my first Christmas. 1964

What our tree lacked in actual beauty, it more than made up for in charm.  We had a mix of beautiful glass ornaments along with some handmade school ornaments.  There were a few new ornament purchases through the years but all in all, our tree pretty much looked the same from year to year.  The decorating always began with the signature silver garland of this era and ended with silver tinsel on the branches.  I was the kid that threw handfuls of tinsel on the branches.  There was none of this placing one small strand on each branch.  My mother was fine with this.  Our family tree was to be as her children wanted it to look.  Looking back my favourite memory of our tree was it's smell.  Oh the smell of a real Christmas tree!  For me, that is the smell of Christmas.

Andrew's "cheetah" under the tree.  1974

Flash forward to my grown-up years.  In my early years with Rob we had a real tree.  I insisted on it because for me, that was what Christmas was all about.  Each year Rob would try to convince me that we should buy an artificial tree.  He grew up with an artificial tree and said that they were very convenient and easy.  About three years in I finally caved.  Maybe it was the year we had Diane.  I would have been a young, tired mother of a two month old baby.  My resistance must have been down. And so we went along year to year with our five foot perfectly shaped fake tree.  Most years I would at some point through the holidays reminisce about the joys of a real tree and the smell of Christmas that we were missing out on.

One year early into our new millennium, I whined particularly loud and long for a real tree.  I was relentless, if not even a bit childish.  ;) I even mentioned it to some of Rob's co-workers who then guilted him about being such a scrooge.  They told him that he needed to get his wife a real Christmas tree.  Hey, peer pressure worked and off we went with a grumbling Rob to get our real tree.  I was beyond excited and even the girls, who were in junior high at this point,  seemed interested about this new tree experience.

Our tree came home around the middle of December and sat in the backyard until the 20th of the month, when we were ready to decorate it...  not too early, so we could enjoy it through the whole holiday season.  Oh it was beautiful!  It had such a wonderful shape.  Almost perfect but just imperfect enough to be real nature.  I lovingly decorated it.  That was the year that I decided on a red and gold theme, other than the special ornaments that held meaning.  After the decorating was done I sat back and looked at my amazing tree with it's twinkling white lights.  But yes, the best part was the beautiful smell of Christmas that filled the room.

Our real Christmas tree documented in the scrapbook.  2001

Flash forward to the next day.  Suddenly there was the small sound of sneezing.  Just a "kerchew" here and a "kerchew" there.  These sounds were not only coming from Rob, but Lisa too.  Then there was the sudden blowing of noses and that red glazed look of their eyes.  Hmm  Maybe that was why Rob was grumbling so much about getting the real tree.  Oh yeah, there was that one allergy test five years previous that did say something about a reaction to Spruce, Fir and Evergreen... you know those Christmas tree trees.   Then I remembered that one year that I bought a "spruce" candle to burn through the season and had to throw it out because Lisa (my seasonal allergy girl) was reacting.  What kind of mother was I?  It is one thing to make my husband deal with allergies but not my little Lisa!  I was a monster!  ;)  Rob and Lisa struggled through Christmas with lots of kleenex and come first thing in the morning of December 26th, I undecorated the tree and Rob dragged it to the curb.  But for those few short days I spent lots of time secretly admiring my tree and smelling that amazing aroma.... until the two sickies would catch me and scowl at me and my tree.  ;)

And so the story goes that we went back to our artificial plastic tree.  But, I stopped whining about it. I still get my "Christmas smell" fix.  Each year I go to the greenhouse and spend some time in the "fresh evergreen" cooler section.  Rob stays outside and waits for me.  Also, our grocery store sells Christmas trees and has them all standing outside at the door.  I never pass by without taking the time to stop and smell a tree.  I always tell Rob that it is a good thing that I love him.  If not for him,  not only would I have a real tree each year but there would be about four cats batting at the branches and at least one would be trying to climb to the top.

Lisa and Diane in front of our fake tree. 1996

Thank you Sian for hosting the Christmas Club.  It was so much fun.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Baking

So does it count as "baking" if the only oven used in making two different recipes was the warming of a crust in one recipe?  There was a day when I loved to spend an afternoon in the kitchen baking up a storm.  Now, not so much.  But, every Christmas I pretend to be that domesticated good mom and make the girls each their favourite Christmas treat from when they were little.  They can enjoy a bite at dinner and then bring the leftovers home to their own places.

Lisa's favourite is Millionaire Squares.  They get their name from the richness of the square.  They have a crust made from crushed oatmeal cookies.  The middle is a chocolatey fudge mixture.  Then you sprinkle some reserved crumbs from the bottom mixture on top.

Diane's favourite is Cherry Balls.  These babies don't involve any baking at all.

Here's the recipe if you are looking for a quick and festive holiday treat.

Cherry Balls

Mix up:

3 cups of icing sugar
1/2 cup butter
3 tsp. milk
1 tsp. almond flavouring
2 cups coconut

Drain a jar of maraschino cherries.  Next wrap the mixture from above around each cherry.  Next roll each ball in graham wafer cracker crumbs.

These freeze really well.


I'll leave you with a photo of little Thomas looking pretty excited that Santa will soon be here.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Camera Man

Rob's been taking photography classes.  His current course is called "Portrait Lighting".  As the name suggests, it's all about taking portraits and the effects of lighting.  I'm super excited that one day when we have beautiful grandchildren, Rob can get some quality photos of them.  But for now, he is stuck with me as his model.

Each Tuesday, Rob comes home with homework assignments that are due by email on Monday.  We usually wait until Sunday afternoon.  Then Rob sets up a studio.  Sometimes it's in the kitchen, sometimes it's in the living room and last time it was in the basement.  We have to improvise with supplies and so shades are taken off of lamps, boxes are used to raise the lighting, the bedspread was even pulled off the bed and draped over the television when we needed a white backdrop.  A wardrobe change of a white blouse to a black shirt may be needed and I was once asked if I could look normal in a photo and hold a lamp at the right height, at the same time.  Apparently I can't.  Last week's homework meant a trip to the fabric store to buy a big piece of black fabric needed for a backdrop.  It is always an adventure and I enjoy every minute of it.

It is a given that at some point during the shoot I will say to Rob, "Camera man, my filter please."  It actually sounds like, "Camewa man, my fiwter pwease." It's an old SNL joke about Barbara Walters wanting that misty effect for her close ups to make herself look younger.  Well, I never got a filter but there were lots of other lighting effects.

Sometimes I have to move my head.

Sometimes half of my face is in shadow.

Sometimes half of my face disappears.

Sometimes I have a shadow under my nose.  I think this is called the "butterfly" effect.

Sometimes I look bored. Oh, there's the bedspread.

And sometimes I look really,  really bored.  ;)

I look like I'm outside but I'm really in my basement with a garage flood light behind me.  It's magic! 

The dogs are usually milling around me during these shoots so at the end I scoop them up to get a photo of me with my fur babies.

(I over edited these two.  Sorry Rob but this is how I'll want these for later scrapping.)

And one last one with me and Lady only having half a face.  This could almost make it on Awkward Family Photos.  It is a bit dramatic for a woman with her little dog.  ;)

It's been a lot of fun and I will be sad when this class is over.  Next up for Rob might be "Macro Photography" which is actually taking photos of little things. Shouldn't it be called "Micro Photography"?  I don't think it will be half as much fun for me.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Looking Festive

We are well on our way to being prepared for the holiday season.  We have our Winter Solstice celebration this weekend so there is lots to get done this week.  I like a week in the calendar that has things to get done on every single day.  It always feels good to feel productive.

This past weekend was a productive one indeed.  After some grumbling from both Rob and myself, we finally got the tree up.  We have squished it to fit into the living room this year.  This meant dragging everything up from the basement as well as a big mess of glitter after the decorating was done.  But in the end it is all worth it, when you dim the lights and enjoy the glow of the tree... so worth it.

I only have a few new additions in the ornament department this year.  This tree is pretty full.  However,  I couldn't resist this little deer when I spied it in the Banff Christmas Store last month.

The bird tree has been up for about a week already and it seems that quite a number of new birds have made their way to these branches.  I finally have the full look that I was going for.  And I really do think that there is room for a few more, even if Rob doesn't agree.  ;)

It wouldn't be Christmas without a red poinsettia and the burning of a cinnamon candle.

I've been snacking on these little wonders.  I call them, "a taste of Christmas".  They're from Hickory Farms and they sell out quickly so we always make sure we pick up our share as soon as the kiosk opens.

I have been doing some wrapping but still have more to do.  I always think that I like this task until I actually sit down to do it.  Then the boredom sets in.

And in between the hustle and bustle of the season, I am knitting like a mad woman.  I am knitting cowls and matching mittens for two of Diane's friends.

Hoping you are feeling festive and enjoying all of the small traditions that this festive season has to offer.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Christmas Village

I'm joining in today with Sian's Christmas Club.  The Christmas club is sharing Christmas stories each Sunday in December.  I'm not sure that I have stories to share each Sunday, but when I think of my childhood Christmas memories, one story comes to mind.

One December when I was about 8 or 9 years old, my father took us to Simpsons Department Store in downtown Montreal and bought Susan and I a Christmas village.  It was a series of tiny houses.  I remember that they had white glitter on the roofs which made them look like they were blanketed with snow.  The best thing about them was that there was a little light bulb inside of each house, so a soft glow of light would shine out of each window.   We set the village up in our bedroom on top of our dresser.  We loved to turn the light off in the room and enjoy the glow of our little village.  It was truly magical.

After Christmas, we packed up our village to store it away for the next year.  We lived in an apartment and so storage space was scarce.  We did have a wooden locker in the basement of our building.  This is where we stored our Christmas decor.  The locker was secured with a pad lock, however they were very easy to break into.  I'm not sure when it was that we discovered that our village had been stolen out of our locker.  I seem to think that there were many lockers that were broken into at the same time.  None of our other decorations were gone, but I guess our amazing village was just too tempting to pass up.

Fast forward to the next Christmas.  I remember that there was talk of how great our village had been and how we were sad that it was gone.  Soon after,  my father comes home from work one night with a stack of construction paper and some tape.  If the truth be known, they were report covers taken from the supply room at his office.  LOL  Dad gave us our "hot" supplies and told us that we should make our own village.

Well, Susan and I got busy cutting and sticking and constructing our new village.  We got a can of fake snow to replace the white glittery roof tops of our first village.  Since our houses had no light inside of them we got an old string of Christmas lights and strung them around our dresser and dresser mirror.  When we were finished I remember feeling so happy with what we had accomplished.  I knew that it wasn't as pretty as the store bought village and yet to me it was even more beautiful because we had made it ourselves.  I also remember that the Christmas lights were brighter and gave our bedroom an even better Christmas atmosphere than the tiny lights in the first village.

During the Christmas season throughout the years, I would often remember our little handmade village and recall it's charm and beauty.  Fast forward to last summer.  With the passing of both of my parents, my brother Andrew took the family archives of negatives home with him to Montreal.  Andrew spent hours and hours scanning each and every negative and slide and set up a Flickr account so that we could all enjoy the White Family Archives.  I was beyond pleased when a photo of our handmade Christmas village appeared .  I never remember there being a hard copy of this image.  Maybe there never was.  Close inspection of our work took me back.  It wasn't at all as beautiful as I had recalled from my child's eye.  I think as the years passed I placed the pedestal that held our village higher and higher.  ha ha  But isn't that the great thing about being a child, especially at Christmas time,  everything is just so magical.

Behold the village.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Tea Time

Susan and I got together today for our crafty day.  It was a knitting day with a lunch date with Rob and a bit of thrifting for The White Sisters.

Tea time had a bit of a holiday flare.  We had Susan's homemade peanut butter cookies which were delicious as well as some Christmas cookies.  Yes, these were the cookies that were supposed to be put away in the freezer to enjoy on Winter Solstice celebration.  Well one sample lead to another and you know how it goes.  They were really tasty.

We enjoyed some David's Tea.  I had "Pumpkin Patch" while Susan enjoyed "Orange Blossom".

I served on my Corelle "Crazy Daisy".  The green seemed somehow fitting for the holiday.

And at the end of the knitting day, here's what was accomplished.  I started a cowl with size 15 needles while Susan started a sock with size 1 needles.  We laughed when we looked at the difference.  Yes, chunky knitting knits up fast!

I'll leave you with a photo of my little Lady...  part poodle and part bulldog.  ;)


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Outside Holiday Decor

One of my favourite things about December is decorating for the holiday season both inside and out.  When the girls were little we did the Christmas light thing.  Rob would venture up onto the roof and try to string those suckers as straight as he could.  Now we take the lazy way out and we like it that way.  No lights for us. LOL  But, we do put out a few things.

As I like my decorations to reflect our love of nature and celebration of Winter Solstice, we keep things looking more natural and wintery.  This arrangement of outdoor greens went up in mid November and will stay up until around March.  It was made at our greenhouse.  We buy a spray there that helps to preserve it for many months.  A good spray and then a full watering that will freeze and you are good until spring time.  Although, we are expecting a week of above freezing temperatures this week, which may not be good for this.  We may have to water it some more through this week.

I found these stars made out of twigs at my local grocery store.  I love the natural vibe they give off.  Two hang on the front door...

and one hangs in our tree.

This little cutie was found at the Butterdome Craft sale in Edmonton.  Not only pretty to look at but a treat for our feathered friends on a cold winter's day.  It is our solstice tradition to always have some food out for the birds over the winter months.

My wreath hangs on our side garage door.  I've had this for many years, long before I celebrated Winter Solstice.  But, it lends itself well to Winter Solstice.  The wreath was a part of Winter Solstice tradition long before it was a symbol of Christmas.  The circular shape represents the continuation of the seasons.  The gold on mine represents the sun.  During early Winter Solstice times, people often put fruit and flowers on their trees to symbolize being thankful for a bountiful harvest and nature.  The fruit and flowers on my wreath represent this tradition.  It was pure luck that this wreath is so Winter Solstice-y.  I couldn't have hoped for a better one!

Lastly, my Martha Stewart cling on snowflakes go on my front door window.  The snowflake has to be the ultimate symbol of winter.  These too will stay up until March.  They help to remind me to embrace winter.  It's an ongoing effort on my part to not grumble.

Pups are curiously watching what I am doing out there.

Then Maggie lets me know that she is not happy that she was not invited to this photo shoot by stretching up and furiously scratching on the window.  Weird dog.  ;)

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