Friday, December 23, 2011

2 days until Christmas - a new poem!

Well we have almost made it to Christmas.

Today is my last day at work until January 2, and I am very happy to be lucky enough to have saved enough vacation days so I could have a wee break over the holidays.

I don't have a lot planned.  I hope to relax, catch up on a lot of reading, perhaps write a bit on my mouse story, and generally be lazy.

I am house and cat sitting for our neighbours, so I will have to get out of my jammies every day - but I am not going near a store that is for certain.

I think the highlight of my week off will be having my friends over for dinner and the evening on the 27th.  There is nothing quite like spending time with friends you have known most of your life.  Its comfortable, it's fun, and its very very special. 

I won't be posting here until at least New Years Day - that's the other thing I plan to do - stay off the computer.  I will check my emails but that's about it - I don't want to spend my week attached to the computer.

So I will wish you all a Very Happy Christmas.  My wish is for all my readers to have a beautiful memorable Christmas with family and friends.  Celebrate life with life, but also keep memories from Christmas' past close in your heart...

Have a Blessed Christmas and a Healthy and Happy 2012!




THE CHRISTMAS TALE


Forgotten is the little babe,
Born so long ago;
And the story that surrounds his birth,
Is one some folks don’t know.

The story says some angels came,
To tell about the child;
I guess to our rich cyber world,
This tale appears quite wild.

Three wise men came, or were they kings?
And did they travel far?
How come they walked alone at night,
And followed some bright star?

About that star that shone so bright;
How did it know just where,
The tiny newborn kid would lay;
And who’d it think would care?

Upon a pile of hay it’s told,
The baby’s crib was made.
With animals there, enclosed within,
A barn is where they stayed.

A virgin Mom, a dirt-poor Dad,
And yet they had a King.
They say he came to earth for me;
Whoever heard of such a thing?

I wasn’t even here as yet,
Nor was my family tree.
How’d he know we’d come in time,
How’d he know about me?

They tell me that he loved me then,
And that he loves me still;
Baby Jesus came to fill my heart,
I pray he always will.

However you believe this story goes,
Its one tale always told;
By those with truth and faith and love,
In wondrous pageant bold.

Repeated new each year that comes,
Great story; same great end.
The greatest story ever told,
The greatest story penned.


Dale Graumann
2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

3 days until Christmas - a puzzle

Someone sent me a puzzle in an email months ago which led me to Jigidi.com.  I was hooked.  Every night I try and do one.  I usually choose the large size and my favorite are the mosaic and the seasonal categories.

Here is a very simple one to start with - if you want a better challenge to while away a few hours be sure to bookmark this site and... Enjoy!


http://www.jigidi.com/puzzle.php?id=ZLC3QY70

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

5 days till Christmas! Reaching out!

There are many many people who will be alone this Christmas season.  We all know someone like this, some of us know several.

It could be an elderly person who's family all live a fair distance away, or perhaps all their family have passed on.

Sometimes it is not an elderly, but someone single who has no family nearby.  This person might have friends, but maybe they won't mention the fact that they are going to be alone to their friends, because they don't want to intrude on some one else's family Christmas.

Maybe someone, does have family near by - but the family dynamics are such that even with family living close - that person will be alone.

I remember my nursing days when I worked the ER one Christmas.  The staff told me that Christmas and New Years were the busiest nights for attempted suicides - and indeed they were correct.  We had many that night - of all ages, and all walks of life.

Those of us who have family or friends close to share the season with, rarely give these people a thought.  We willingly drop some money in a Salvation Army kettle, or donate to a homeless shelter - we give to the obvious needy - but what about the ones not nearly so obvious?

It really doesn't take a whole lot of time or energy to make a lonely person feel loved.  A card or even better yet a 10 minute visit with a hug included.  Amazing what that will do for someone who really needs a human touch.

Or how about setting an extra spot at your table and include someone not usually included in your celebrations?   It might just make your Christmas the best ever!

I hope we all are listening to what others are "not" saying.... It could make a secret wish come true, it could save a life!

Monday, December 19, 2011

6 days till Christmas - Blessings!

Why is it when you are waiting for something special, the days and hours leading up to that event are filled with excitement and  sometimes dread - but you can't wait for the moment to be there - and then poof - it's over, done... gone!

That is kind of how I felt about our Lesson and Carol service yesterday.  As an individual, it was an event I have attended many times in my past, and one that I have always longed to participate in.  As a choir member of our church, it was an event for which we practiced and worked very hard indeed.  Just moments before we were to go upstairs to start the service, there was an unaccustomed moment of nervousness within this group of singers, that seldom, if ever - is seen on any given Sunday.

And then it seemed - it was over....

Truth be known - as the newest member of the choir - I was most certainly the least prepared for this event, and yet it didn't feel that way when we were singing.  I felt part of a group of exceptional people lead by an exceptional leader and my knowledge or lack of knowledge seemed to fade behind the beautiful music we were blessed to be singing.

I struggled not with the music - but with emotions that were running wild.  I wanted to cry - from sheer joy  - and I did on the last verse of  O Come All Ye Faithful.  I was moved to tears to the point that singing was impossible.

Why?

Because so many people were present to hear us sing - among them my 23 yr old son who has been absent from the church for several years.  Also present was my beautiful girlfriend, some co-workers, and another friend who drove 4 hours on a snowy day to support me and our choir.  The knowledge of their love and support, the spirit of the season, and the organ at full sound - spilled me over the top.

What a wonderful feeling - what a wonderful evening.

I must say thanks to our Choirmaster and leader - Blair... thank you, Blair for allowing me to be part of this incredible choir.

Secondly thank you to the Choir members themselves.  Every one has been so helpful and accepting of the "newbie" in their midst.

And the biggest thank you goes to My Lord God, for without him in my heart - I would not be here this Christmas nor would I be writing this today, or singing his message in our beautiful church,  St. Luke's Anglican Church.

My title says Christmas is 6 days away - for me it's already here!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

7 days until Christmas - Singing!

La la la la......

Wish us all clear voices, good vision and like our choirmaster would say - make sure your dentures are tight in your mouth! 

Lessons and Carols, here we come!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

8 days until Christmas - Practicing!

Fa la la la la.......

Dale is busy at church practicing with the choir for our Nine Lessons and Carol Service tomorrow night.

If you have little children joining you this Christmas, here is a cute idea for a special cookie for the little ones...

http://www.meals.com/Recipes/Chocolate-Chip-Cookie-Sleds.aspx?recipeid=144680&ReferralSourceId=100e63be-5a02-4368-89e5-4ea271c6f5c9

Friday, December 16, 2011

9 days until Christmas - Really?

Seriously?  Only nine days left?

Guess I'm not feeling it because:

Other than weekly grocery shopping I have yet to spend any time in a store to shop for Christmas, (my Christmas shopping was all done in October when Gary and I went to the States for a few days).   Yes - that must be it.

Or maybe because the weather is so warm it doesn't feel like Christmas - yeah - that could be it too!

Or maybe because I don't have to do Christmas dinner this year - so I don't have to think about all the food preparation - yup - that might be it!

I know what it is - this year I did not make 1 single handmade Christmas gift - you heard it right - not one angel, bear or any other Christmas anything... okay - that's got to be it!

My focus this year definitely is not on the "commercial" aspect of Christmas - what a nice change it is!

While others around me are stressed to the max and loosing their minds on what to buy, what to make, what to cook, what to wear, I am relaxed, content and more than happy to leave it all to someone else.

What have I been doing?

Well I have watched quite a few Christmas specials :)

 - TLC has had some great Christmas decorating shows.

 - Michael Bubble' had a lovely Christmas special (it would have been perfect, without Bieber's appearance).  I wish someone would tell me what it is about that kid that is so wonderful - he can't even sing!
 
-Turner Classic movies has had all the Christmas Classics movies like  - Christmas in Connecticut; Holiday Inn; It's a wonderful Life; Miracle on 34th street...   I have watched more Christmas shows this season than I have watched in the last 10 years collectively!

I look forward to watching A Christmas Story on Saturday night as I relax before our big singing Sunday!  That is one movie that I can so identify with.... it is exactly as memories of my own childhood are, except for the belching furnace and Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant - the story could have been about my family!

Any way I look at it, this Christmas is shaping up to be much different than any I have spent before, and I'm discovering it's not entirely a bad thing. 

This year is all about the "small" stuff for me.  The "small" stuff used to be the really big deal of Christmas... you know - spending time with those who mean the most to you, making time to be together, doing things together.

These days it seems the really big deal of Christmas has become how many hundreds of dollars we need to spend on each child; what designer toys and clothes we can find for the people on our lists.  It has become such a big deal because we buy all year round and Christmas isn't the one time for anything special any more.  We have gone way beyond outdoing the Jones... and the small stuff like spending an evening playing Monopoly ( the board game version) just don't seem to happen anymore.

I'm going to dig out that Monopoly game, and we are going to sit down as a family and play it one evening - without cell phones by our sides, without remote controls or game controllers in our hands, or without computer screens blaring in our faces. 

Well - maybe I am feeling it after all -  I am just feeling it a bit different this year, is all!

Not entirely a bad thing, I'm thinking!   

Thursday, December 15, 2011

10 days to Christmas - A sweet treat!

I usually do a lot of baking at Christmas time - you know, the usual shortbread, mince-meat tarts, fruit cake... all the good stuff that we tend to only eat at this time of the year.

This year I find I have very little desire to bake and with time running out for the time to actually accomplish this task, I think I have almost come to the decision that I will not do much baking this year.  We'll survive!  In fact I'm sure we will be all the healthier for it.

One of our favorite Christmas cookies is one I have been making for years and years.  It is a refrigerator sugar cookie recipe - that makes a wonderful light and airy cookie.  It's one that you use the flat side of a glass dipped in sugar to flatten before baking.  At this time of the year I always make sure the sugar is green or red, sometime both.

Give these a try - I guarantee you will love them, as will your families.


Refrigerator Sugar Cookies

1 cup sugar
1/2 margarine
1 c vegetable oil ( I use Canola)
1 egg
3 c flour
1/2 tsp. soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate over night.

Roll into balls, then roll balls in sugar.  Place on cookie sheet and flatten with a flat bottomed glass.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

11 days till Christmas - The "Gifts" of Christmas.

No - I'm not talking about Santa Claus and his bag of gifts for all the little children around the world...

My Dad and I have had a very difficult relationship for a very long time.  Difficult enough for me to say that although we have exchanged cards at Christmas, there has been no real effort on either of our parts to share much more of ourselves at Christmas, or any other day for that matter.

It hasn't always been this way between us - growing up and pretty much until Mom passed away, my father was one of the most important and loved adults in my life.

Time has not been kind to us, and we have not been kind to each other, and for both of us this has been very painful.

Dad turned 91 this past October, and just 2 weeks before his birthday, I turned 56.  He sent me a card for my birthday, which is something he has not done in years - and so I in turn sent him a card, and a long letter and a few pictures.

And then I received another card a month later, and last Friday the postman brought yet another surprise  from Dad.  A Christmas Card - and a gift.

The gift wasn't wrapped in any paper so we were able to see what it was right away.

It was a painting Dad had done from one of the pictures I had sent him, of our newest family member, Chip.

My father didn't start painting until he was in his 60's and then when Mom passed, he quit altogether.  It has just been in this past year that he as started again.  I don't recall him ever painting other than scenery before, so this image of Chip must have been quite the challenge for him.

Still - he met that challenge, for me... and that notion gives me hope that our relationship might be changing for the good.

This gift has come from the heart.  It was created with thought and talent and me in mind.  It is not perfect - but the meaning behind it is perfect.... It is the perfect "Gift" of Christmas...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12 days until Christmas - The music of Christmas!

Ah - the music...  the wonderful, wonderful music of Christmas.

Which kind is your favorite? 

I start listening to Christmas music in October, and I start singing it shortly after that.  I load and reload my ipod several times over the three months until Christmas, and still I don't run out of Christmas music to listen to. 

I love the modern stuff - the pop Christmas songs, but I have to admit, my passion really is for the classics done by the best orchestra's in the world, and of course the choral pieces done by the best choirs in the world.   Any way you look it,  the music of Christmas is the best.

This year I joined our church choir.  It is a traditional Anglican choir much like the cathedral choirs in Europe.  Much of our material is traditional Royal College Music, it is very challenging, but done right - very beautiful.  Our special night to shine, is in the special Christmas service of Nine Lessons and Carols, and this service will take place this Sunday Dec 18th.

Several years ago I took my oldest brother and his wife to this service.  He is a non church goer, and he was moved to tears many times during the service.  His comment was " I have never heard anything so beautiful - I thought I could hear the angels sing!"

Our service is being recorded this year, and I hope to find a way to put a track or two here for my readers to listen to.  I'm not sure how I'll do that, but I'll try.

In the meantime, Gary and I have been practicing at home - he on the organ, and I on the keyboard.  This tune is one of my favorite Christmas Carols... See Amid The Winter Snow.

I dedicate this to Stewart Thompson, who was my son's Choirmaster for many years with the St. George's Men and Boys Choir here in Winnipeg.  This was Stewart's favorite hymn as well, and when his choir sang this - one truly thought the angels were singing.

Stewart is no longer with us, he passed away a few years ago, but I have every confidence that he is indeed directing the angels in a wonderful rendition of this very carol.

This is for you, Stewart....
http://youtu.be/294MKkQvc4k

Monday, December 12, 2011

13 Days till Christmas - Trimming the Tree

I really did try to write a post for the 14th day till Christmas post, yesterday - but I found myself completely out of time to gather my thoughts let alone put any thought to word, yesterday.

Yesterday was the 3rd Sunday in Advent, and the word of the day was Joy.  It was a joyful day for me.  We (the choir)sang the Magnificat - quite magnificently, I might add....

Then it was home to decorate the tree in the afternoon.  It turned out beautifully as well.  I am so glad that I decided to use our traditional hand-made ornaments instead of buying new ones, like I had threatened a few weeks ago.

I spent a wonderful day with my husband, son, and my two special pets... Molly got a major brush out, and Chip watched you-tube videos with me for about an hour.

I even worked a bit on the last Special Olympic scarf I am doing.  These should all be done by this weekend - I hope!

I did not do any baking as I had planned, but that can be done next week, once our big Lesson and Carol service is over on Sunday.

Here is the end result of our hunt for the perfect tree...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

15 days until Christmas - The perfect Tree!

I usually don't post on the weekend, but since I am counting down to Christmas I really can't skip a couple of days - so today's post is all about trees.

Speaking of traditions - the Christmas Tree is one tradition that still remains popular after many centuries.  According to Wikipedia the earliest accounts of decorating a tree at Christmas was recorded in Germany in the 16th century.

The early "Christmas" trees were set up in public places such as churches and decorated with apples, nuts and dates for the children to collect on Christmas Day.  Later they started to appear in homes of upper-class families, where they were often adorned with candles.  The evergreen has always been the favoured tree, and it is this variety that our modern artificial trees have replaced.

When I was a child we used to hop in the car and travel an hour or so to a forest area where families could cut their own trees.  We made a day of it, and I remember it as being a fun time for our parents and of course for us children.

My husband and I have had a few real trees over the years, but mostly we have put up an artificial tree.  We decided this year to splurge a bit and get a real tree for a change; so on Wednesday evening Gary, Jon and I piled into the van, and went on the hunt for the perfect tree.

Our first stop was at the Boy Scouts tree lot.  It was a huge lot with quite a few trees but much to Gary and Jon's dismay, all the trees were bundled in net, making it difficult to see the complete tree.

I was adamant that the tree not be too fat.  We are short on space in our home, and the spot I have decided to put the tree is in an area where we have to constantly be walking through.  So tall and skinny was my request.  This lot couldn't satisfy that request, so back in the car we went, and on the the next tree lot.

The second lot is where we have always purchased our real trees.... and... all the trees were sitting upright in snowbanks... just what the tree shoppers hoped for!

Up and down the isles we walked.  I forgot to mention that the temperatures that evening were somewhere in the -25 range with the windchill.  I was getting cold and impatient to be home with a hot cup of tea in my hand, and my two fellows were perusing the 12 ft trees in the back row!

Where would they be without me?...... Back to the front row with a few stomps of Mom's heavy boots, and within minutes we found our perfect tree.

Good thing too, because my hands were numb and my pocketbook was about to be emptied.

We paid the fellow, loaded our tree and set off for home well pleased with our choice.

And we took some pictures - imagine that!
A lovely choice, indeed!

A frozen me, waiting to load the tree into the van.

We are setting the tree up today and decorating it tomorrow - I promise to take a picture of the finished product for Mondays' post.

Friday, December 9, 2011

16 Days Until Christmas - TRADITIONS

When my son was very small, we were at a catalogue order place and he spotted a Santa Nutcracker.  We didn't have a lot of money, and he never asked for things when we went shopping in stores, so I was quite surprised when he kept referring back to the Santa as we moved through the warehouse.

It was kind of cute, for a nutcracker - it was also pretty expensive - but still he couldn't seem to get it out his head, so I went back alone the next day, and picked it up to give to him as one of his Christmas gifts that year.

I'll never forget how happy he was that Christmas morning to open the parcel and find the Santa Nutcracker.  He carried it around that whole Christmas season - and a new Christmas tradition was born.

From that year on, Santa brought a new Nutcracker every year for Jonathan.  Every year he labeled the new addition with the date and who had given it to him, until a couple of years ago when he decided that perhaps Santa didn't have to bring him any more - he had plenty!

It became customary to see Jon's Nutcracker collection sitting on the mantle every Christmas over the years - until this year.

This year I was watching a Christmas decorating program on TLC or one of the other networks and they were showing the most beautiful mantle decorations.  I decided right then and there that this year my mantle would look different than it had for many years.

When it came time to start decorating our home, I only took out the three tallest Nutcrackers, and left the others packed away in their huge tote.  Jon hadn't really shown any interest in my Christmas decorating for a couple of years, so I did not think my scheme through any further.

Jon was out the evening I decorated, so it wasn't until the next morning that he realized that only 3 of his Nutcrackers were out.  I was the most surprised Mom to find that he was really upset by my decision not to display the entire collection.  He made a big noise about "Tradition" and how much he looked forward to seeing the collection every year.

I was shocked, and embarrassed that I had not realized how much my son had cherished this one little tradition.  I guess we assume that when our children are grown adults, things like Nutcrackers no longer matter all that much.  WRONG!

Traditions do matter - Jon reminded me of that this year.  Why I needed to be reminded of that, I have no idea.  After all I still want to put the same old angel on our tree every year, for just this reason.  There are more beautiful angels and stars I could purchase for our tree, but I stubbornly hold tight to my old one because - She is Tradition!  She was on our tree when I was a child, so she goes on my tree as an adult.

The happy ending to this tale is - Mom did finally  "Get" it - and Jon dug out the tote and once again decorated the top of our mantle with his Nutcracker collection.

And somehow - it feels so right!


Thursday, December 8, 2011

17 Days until Christmas - A Poem!

The countdown continues - 17 days until Christmas.  Today I am sharing a poem I wrote a few years back. 

This it the poem that was published is the Country Women's 2011 Christmas Book this year. 


CHRISTMAS 1955


CHRISTMAS IS


A frosty night, a home so warm, with loved ones gathered near;
Christmas everywhere we look; will Santa soon be here?
Mom is baking one last time; the tree is trimmed so bright;
Daddy tells us all the tale, of Jesus born this night.


Children rush with cheeks so red, and eyes lit from within;
They wait expectant for the gifts, that only come “from him”.
Grandma smiles -  remembering, another year long past;
Her little ones, her special ones; how could they grow so fast?



The meal is done, the kitchen’s clean, we gather round the tree;
Amid the laughter, smiles and tears; our hearts now full of glee.
One by one we share our gifts, no soul is left behind;
Excitement spills around the room, in wondering what we’ll find.


It’s love that makes us gather here; not food, nor gifts, nor wine;
Young and old, wise and not; together for a time.
Love for one and all we meet, will make this Christmas right;
Just like that one, so long ago; on yet, another night.


Dale Graumann
2005





Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Special Cookie - 18 Days till Christmas!

I hope to be able to share something Christmas with you every day until Christmas Day, in my Countdown to Christmas.

Today I thought I would share a special holiday recipie with you.  These cookies are a recipie from my neice Cindy's kitchen... they are awesome, awesome cookies.

Bake a few extra's to give as gifts to those homes you visit this season...


ENJOY!




EGGNOG COOKIES


Cookies:

1 1/3 cups butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup eggnog
2 teaspoons dark rum
4 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt


Frosting:

4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon rum
4-6 drops yellow food coloring (optional)
3-4 tablespoons nutmeg flavored eggnog


Combine all ingredients for cookies in the order listed. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
Drop by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for about 12 minutes. When cookies are done, pressing on the centers lightly should leave no impression. Be careful not to over bake.

To frost, combine ingredients for frosting. Frost, then sprinkle VERY lightly with nutmeg before frosting sets. Remember that nutmeg has a slight bitterness to it that children and others who are unfamiliar with it may not like. Do be careful to add only the tiniest pinch to each cookie; you may also leave a few plain ones if children are in your audience.


A note regarding the frosting in this recipe: If nutmeg flavored eggnog is unavailable, add 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to plain eggnog or heavy cream.

Christmas Countdown has begun... 19 days till Christmas!

Once again I have been neglectful in my writing here.  I do have some fabulous excuses, however... if anyone is interested!

Seriously - are we all spinning our wheels and getting nowhere?  I was doing just fine in November (or so I thought) but December is another matter entirely.  I have Special Olympic Scarves that I must get done before Christmas, so they can get to where they are going (to Alberta) in time for the Olympics.  I have three done, and really hope to do 2 more.  I had originally thought I could do 10 - but I have since chopped that estimation in half.

The baby blanket has sat idle in the basket for over 2 weeks.  Last night I picked it up and made 2 more squares.  I need 42, and I have done 22, so half again... seems to be a pattern of sorts.

I have decorated my house inside and out, but now need to buy a  tree to put up sometime soon.  We have decided to get a real tree this year, and I am excited at the prospect of having the smell of pine in my home all Christmas long.  It's been a few years since we've had a real tree in our home so this will be a special treat for us all.

I sing in a traditional Cathedral-style church choir, and we are busy practicing for several special Christmas services.  We did the Advent Lessons and Carols last week, and it was beautiful.  The next big service will be the Christmas Nine Lessons and Carol service on December 18.  The music for this one is so beautiful, I can hardly wait to sing it.  We will also sing a special late-night Christmas Eve service, so by the time Christmas Day arrives I should be good and tired, if not completly hoarse!

Then there is Christmas baking to be done, cards and letters to write and send and shopping to complete.  So much to do, so little time.  Still - I have no doubt it will all get done, and in good time.  It always does, it always will - because that is the way of Christmas.

I'll be better about posting here... I hope!