16 December 2009

Christmas Memories

Christmas is such a magical time, and I love to take a few moments every year to recall Christmases past. There is no one specific moment that makes me think of that Christmas magic. Rather it is a collection of small moments that we enjoyed as a family.

As a child the excitement of Christmas is of course palpable, and it would build throughout the month of December. Every year we would weave some cedar boughs together to form an advent wreath. The first Sunday that a candle was lit would mark an escalation in excitement.

The following month would be a frenzy of activity as we would "help" Mom in the kitchen as all the holiday treats would be baked: fruit cake, mincemeat tarts, gingerbread, shortbread, sugar cookies, and the top-secret "nana-cookies". Oh, how hard it was to know that all these treats were hidden away in cupboards not to be eaten until the big day.

On one appointed night, each of us would take a turn hiding away with Mom to help her wrap gifts. It gave such a feeling of importance as we were called one by one into our parents' bedroom to help with this very important task. Adding the pointy edged bow was a hallowed task. After the tree was carefully chosen, set up, decorated these packages would be carefully stacked and then countlessly re-arranged under the tree. A little shake and shimmy to try to guess the contents, and scanning for a loose seam in the paper.

By the time that Christmas Eve rolled around their would be a fever pitch of giddiness. As we packed back into the car following Christmas Eve mass, we would be thankful that the torment was near its end. We knew that there would be only a few more hours of patient waiting. To
assure us that Santa was on his way, the car radio would be tuned to CFRB radio, where regular NORAD updates would help us track Santa's progress as he neared our home.

As my uncle would have arrived earlier that day to spend the holidays with us, my sister would have to share my room. We would cuddle together in my bed and laugh and whisper into the night, until the stern "If you don't go to sleep, Santa won't come" threat echoed up the stairs.

As the dawn broke we would wake, slowly realising that the big day was finally upon us. We would leap from bed and race around the house to be sure that everyone was awake. We would all meet in the living room where around the tree presents had magically appeared; stockings brimming with nuts and fruit and tiny gifts. We opened these first, and then after a hearty breakfast, we would open out gifts to squeals and shouts of joy.

I would have to say that of course the "Look like you love it" award has to go to Mom. Bless my father, I am not sure that he really understood how to help us choose gifts for my Mom. The frozen meat saw that he helped me choose for her one year, never made it out of the box it was packed in. But, of course, I got the biggest hug, kiss and thanks for that gift.

The day would be sent playing with our new toys, trying on Christmas sweaters and snacking on the cookies and treats that finally graced the table. It would end with a giant turkey feast and a feeling of complete satiation and weary joy.

As adults my family has tried to recreate as many of these moments as possible, and it is even more joyous as spouses, nieces and nephews are brought into the fold.

Please feel free to share your Christmas memories here, too.

13 December 2009

Cookie Time

Yesterday, I realised with a shock that this is my last free weekend before Christmas. On Tuesday my sister will be arriving in Charlottetown via Toronto. So, my husband and I will be heading to the Island next weekend for the first of our family dinners. The following weekend, Christmas weekend, we head off to Cape Breton to my in-laws. That meant that anything that required intense labour needed to be done immediately. And naturally that meant cookies!!

I have been appointed the chief gingerbread baker for both families. I don't want to brag, but I may have developed a bit of a knack for it over the years. I use a Martha Stewart recipe that was in her annual Holiday cookie magazine about 5 years ago. The first time I made them, I realised too late that I did not have the called for amount of cinnamon so I had to improvise. The result was amazing, good and spicy the way I like it. Sadly, I didn't write down the changes that I made. This year, I nailed it again, and have pencilled the substitutions onto the page for future use.

After all the gingerbread dough was rolled, cut and baked, I ended up with an army of 77 gingerbread men of varying sizes. A veritable army... we will be invading a small sugar cookie country at dawn! I have yet to decorate the troops though, that will wait until tomorrow.

I also tried a new recipe this year, one that conveniently arrived in my email inbox. It is for perfect little candy cane meringues. (click for the recipe!) I made them smaller than the recipe suggests and ended up with approximately 60 mini meringues - a superb pop-in-your-mouth size. I added a drop of peppermint extract to the recipe too, and the result is a pleasing minty tingle on the tongue.

Tomorrow is sugar cookie day. The dough is made and chilling in the fridge. I must resist nibbling away at it!

I'll share all the final results later in the week.

12 December 2009

Spice Market - Earrings - Redux

A huge shout of THANKS to one of my favorite etsy sellers, fiveforty. Five used her fabulous treasury curation talents and once again one of her collections made it to the etsy front page. This time, I was fortunate enough to be included in her collection with these Spice Market earrings.

If you wish to see the other items in the treasury, look at the right hand bar of my blog for a slideshow of all the items.

Secondly, a giant SHOUT of thanks for those who voted for these same earrings in the TransCanada Etsy Team's November Challenge. Thanks to you my earrings were the winner of this challenge.

Its been an exciting couple of weeks for those earrings. Yesterday, they sold and today they jet off as a surprise gift for some lucky recipient.

If you are interested in a similar pair of earrings, please feel free to contact me via my etsy shop, stringmealong.

11 December 2009

Happy Hanukkah

Chanukah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. This year, that day is December 12th.

Hanukkah marks the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus II and commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil". According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire , there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.

One of the main rituals of Hanukkah is the lighting of the Menorah. The menorah is a candlabra that holds eight candles. One candle is lit each night, and some light also those lit the previous night. One additional candle sits distinctly in the centre. This candle is called a samash, or guard. Often it is lit first, and then used to light the other candles. The candles will burn after dark, and should burn for at least one hour. At the time of candle-lighting blessings are recited.

Other traditions for this festival period including the cooking and consupmtion of fried foods. This is again related to the miracle of the oil. Most common are potato latkes, otherwise known as potato pancakes. These may be followed up with jam-filled doughnuts.

The dreidl is a fun Hanukkah past-time. It is a gambling game, where every player starts with a certain number of coins or markers. Players throw one into the pot, and the dreidl is then spun by the first player. Depending on the symbol which shows on the driedl once it has come to a rest, the player will win the whole pot, half the pot, none of the pot, or contributes another marker to the pot. The game continues until one player as all the markers.

Beautiful examples of dreidles can be found on etsy in the shop of LevSneiderman.

The giving of gelt is intended to make the holiday more enjoyable for children. The children are given coins by their relatives. In modern times, gelt have become available in a chocolate varient.

The giving of Hanukkah gifts is not traditional, but has become more commonplace. Gifts are typically small, although some families will give one large gift on the first or second night of Hanukkah, with smaller gifts for the remaining days.

Happy Holidays.

10 December 2009

A Shop You Need to Know....

I have a fetish for journals. I have a ridiculously large, and expanding collection, of them. I take immense joy in handling a new journal, lingering over the texture of the cover, its heft, the thickness of the paper, the pleasant crisp snap of the first page as it is turned. I marvel over the promise that each fresh journal brings... the pages blank and clean and waiting to willingly accept my words or doodles. Nothing is more gratifying than that first whoosh of ink on that blank slate.

No journals though have brought me more joy than those made by etsy seller myhandboundbooks. I eagerly await their arrival in my mailbox. I take care though to slowly open the box , pulling the flaps gently so that the pleasing waft of leather scent slowly drifts upward, tickling my olfactory senses. A few moments spent deeply inhaling, are then followed by the gentle removal of the journal from the box. Clean hands only! No smudges, or fingerprints must be left on so soft and tactile a leather as these. Once in my clean hands, I run one finger gently over the cover, then tease the thin leather strap that holds it closed. Finally, a full open handed caress across the front cover and then turning it, repeating the gesture on the reverse. Once the initial fondling is complete, it is time to slowly, temptingly unwind the strap and carefully peel back the front cover. There it is ... the promise. Those crisp sheets herald the need to once again inhale the scent of the leather and paper.

My senses aroused, I need to set the book aside, but often catch myself stealing caresses, and sniffing gently along its spine. I require a few days before I can bring myself to marr those tempting pages with ink. I want to be sure that the first dab of ink results in something in profound.

The bookbinder behind my fetish is Rhonda. She has spent several years learning her craft, and creates beautiful journals and books structured mainly in the Medieval and Renaissance style. Clearly my favorites are her leather journals, but she also uses repurposed papers/cardboard, fabrics and most recently wood. She has also expanded her talents to include hand-dyed marbled papers, some of which are used in her journals.

If you wish to see an example of books that Rhonda created using repurposed cereal boxes, check out the book Re-Bound. She also contributed some information on instructional components to EcoBooks.

Rhonda's shop on Etsy is MyHandboundBooks. The shop where she sells her papers is, mymarbledpapers.

Learn more about Rhonda and myhandboundbooks on her blog.

6 December 2009

First Snow of the Year

It arrived stealthily in the night. It came disguised as cold rain, gradually changing to "thick" rain, and when I woke this morning there was a thick and fluffy cushion of white. The skies continue to shed, and I am sitting curled up on my couch watching the soft tumble of flakes.

Days like this are perfect. I have no need to be anywhere. I have plenty of non-pressing matters to attend to, such as a stack of books that wish to be read; some cooking magazines that need to be drooled over; a pot of chicken soup that is waiting to relieve any chill that caresses me, and; lurking somewhere in the cupboard a can of cocoa waiting to be frothed together with milk for a perfect December afternoon treat.

These, my friends, are the days. A snowy December Sunday when one can allow themselves the luxury of kicking back, stretching out and putting everything off until tomorrow. Days like these are few. Enjoy it, knowing that all the planning and hard work that you have put in for the other 345 days of the year are paying off here, on this day.

You can see that someone on my street wasted no time taking advantage of the fresh snowfall.

2 December 2009

Long, Cold Nights

It is December. The nights have grown exceedingly long, and the frosty chill in the air makes any outdoor exploit necessarily brief. With hours of darkness to pass, we need to look at interesting ways to fill them. Naturally, snuggling seems like the most fun way to pass the time, but sometimes you need alternate plans.

There are plenty of ways to fill all those hours though, and one of the most fun options is to have a family or friends game night. Dust off all those exciting old board games and indulge in a little friendly competition.

Everyone is familiar with the old classics like Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble and my personal favorite, Boggle.
There are so many more games available these days, though. Maybe try this fun decision making game, "Would You Rather...?". Discuss and debate a series of interesting dilemmas and predicaments.
Trivial Pursuit made trivia games popular over 25 years ago, and it has some great new company on the trivia scene. A more high-tech version can be found with the DVD-based games by Scene-It.

Now, toss some cushions on the floor. Make some snacks, pour some drinks and have fun!