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Christmas is: Sharing

I have a few closely guarded secret recipes that are standards at our house. The, “It wouldn’t be Christmas without these mom”, kind-of-recipes.

Cookies are my thing, and I make a lot of them at Christmas time. I love the way that fancy sugar cookies look added to a tray of down-home-country-girl sweets. The little maraschino cherry balls that my granny used to make melt in our mouths, but by far our favourite cookie recipe is this;

WHIPPED SHORTBREAD WITH TOBLERONE

1 lb butter at room temperature

1 cup icing sugar

1/2 cup corn starch

3 cups flour

1 tsp vanilla

Large Toblerone bar.

Cream butter on high until light and fluffy. If using a stand mixer, use the whipping attachment for this. 

While butter is being whipped, divide Toblerone into triangles and then divide those triangles into thirds. 

Combine all other ingredients and slowly add to whipped butter, using regular attachment. Be patient when mixing as this dough gets quite crumbly before coming together into a smooth dough. 

Place 1″ spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Press a piece of divided Toblerone into each mound of cookie dough, and top with same amount of dough. Feel free to be generous with the chocolate…just sayin’

Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes. Do no overcook. Let cookies cool on tray before moving them to a cooling rack as they are very delicate and crumble before they cool. 

 

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Christmas is: Grinches Saving Christmas

theatre assSit down and shut up.

Yes. Please. And shove your phone somewhere I can’t see it.

During the holidays, a lot of people make a special effort to connect with loved ones…in public.  Holiday dinners, shows, concerts and events keep us all hopping, and happy. Trust me, you are not more important than anyone else in your row, room or venue.

Lately, I’ve met a lot of people who think that they are extraordinary, and they have no regard for anyone around them. Sit down and shut up.

Recently at a Christmas performance, the line-up to sit down after the lights went up was so long and so noisy, I really had to wonder about the entire process of going to the theatre at all. People do not know how to interact any more. Civilization is on the brink of disaster because everyone is the centre of their own universe.

The whole world has turned inward. No one has any idea of the shrapnel that their ill behaviour shoots into innocent bystanders. This is not what the season is about. The season is about connection and joy. There’s nothing that destroys a sense of connection and joy like someone oblivious to the fact that they share space with other people.

Look around you Ellen. We’re at the threshold of hell!

Christmas Vacation

I immediately fall in love with the first person to lose their mind. That is, if you lean in and ask the idiot to please be quiet, turn their phone off, or simply please sit on your ass instead of leaning over your friend to have a conversation, you are immediately my hero. We share a common good-manners-grinchness that makes me feel cozy and warm on the inside just like a warm cup of cocoa spiked with peppermint vodka.

Remember the good old days when people had enough self control that they didn’t have to slurp a beverage, or light up the room videotaping an entire performance so that every single person behind them suffered through their arrogance? I remember, and I miss it.

I understand why people snap. And I admire a thorough snapping. It makes my jingle-bits tingle.

Living in the GTA, the excuse is always; traffic was terrible! Or, my personal favourite – the subway was delayed. Traffic is always terrible, and there’s always a transit delay. Get over yourself and get there. And when you do, shut your phone off, and shut up.

And what happened then…?
Well… in the6ix they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day! 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Go out. Enjoy your friends. By all means, if you’re going out for coffee or dinner, or wandering one of our cute little Christmas markets have a visit, giggle, laugh, take selfies. If you’re at an event where you’ve paid for a seat, and they ask you to turn off your phone, please, sit down,shut up and for the love of all that sparkles this time of year, try to be in the moment.

Should that not be the case, my wish is for everyone to be a little Grinchy and take away the offender’s joy for the sake of the greater good. Ask loudly for silence ( ironic, I know), throw a phone through the end of the aisle curtain, ask an usher to remove someone. Public humiliation is a great deterrent.

Get Grinchy my friends, and take back the season.

 

 

 

 

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Christmas is: For Boundaries

stressfreechristmas

Last year,  a decree went out that there would be only one gathering around a traditional Christmas table.  She who does all the planning, shopping and personalizing,  shall be making one Christmas meal whenever the hell she liked, and you could show up (on time) or not at all.  And it brought her great relief and joy.  A very durable boundary wall went up to protect her, and the world was good.

Last year, after seven, yes, count’em, seven rescheduling attempts at a  family get together, it finally happened, with the people whom I arranged a second dinner for, arriving over two hours late.

My jolly goodwill and ho-ho-home form the holidays ended. I leaned on my wee bottle of Jameson to get me through the evening, and then I did some reflecting.

I decided, after much hurt, anger and frustration, that the only thing to do was surrender. I surrendered to the values I hold dear.  This was met with love and support from people who love me.  Everyone else continues to have that glazed, “I don’t compute”, look on their face.

You can’t change people. Although it’s a saying we frequently use, really accepting that means you hold fast to your boundaries like a life raft, especially around toxic people.

I came from a kooky family but we did Christmas right. We put aside our differences, and showed up, on time, respecting the effort we had all made to have a special day together.   Homemade gifts showcased every person’s creativity, and the food, my goodness, the food!

Since those days when we gathered on Christmas Eve to see one another, make our way to church, and finish off our meal and gift giving in the wee hours of the morning, so much has changed. I’ve experienced great loss during the holidays more than once. I’ve struggled to put food on the table and gifts under the tree. I’ve had Christmases when the pain of loneliness was almost unbearable. In other words, I’ve worked damn hard for my happy, and I’m not letting anyone take it from me.

I want no part of disrespectful, entitled people under any circumstances, but especially during one of the most joyful, loving, happy times of the year.

I have stopped being the only one who engineers parties, family gatherings and sacred times to connect. Planning, shopping, cooking, and decorating take a lot of time. I love doing it when I know it means something to my family and friends, and I resent doing it when someone shits all over the plans. I stopped buying gifts I didn’t want to buy and came back to my homemade roots. I stopped hosting parties for people who may or may not show up. And you know what? The world didn’t come to an end. In fact, it feels damn good. Boozy-eggnog-in-my-cocoa-good.

My exhaustion levels have gone WAY down, and my Hallmark Christmas movie watching time has gone up. I have come back to the sweet meditation of making; sewing, baking, stitching. And the people I thought it was so important to connect with have faded into distant social media clicks. Live and learn.

Boundaries are the best gift you can give yourself for Christmas. They give you the time and space you need to heal, and root yourself in traditions, new and old, that bring you joy.

 

 

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Christmas is: Connection

Christmas VacationSugar Cookies, homemade quilts and everyone snuggled in by the fireplace, including a sleepy cat or two.

(skip to the bottom for recipe)

This is how Christmas should be. And it is. At my house.

My love of all things Christmas did not come from being raised with a sister who was five years older than me, and willing to carefully  unwrap every single gift under the tree. Before Christmas morning. While our parents were at those 1980’s parties that required big hair and a LOT of booze.  I had to fake surprise long before I should have had to. Gifts skirted the tree often in a wide, three or four foot swath of colourful wrapping paper, and my mother made sure that every gift purchased was “expensive-looking-enough’.  I learned early that gifts weren’t the reason for the season. Gifts caused a lot of grief.

What made me fall in love with Christmas was the food and the company. Oh. My. Goodness. The food. I grew up in a teeny-tiny village. We had a grocery store that stocked tangerines, nuts and pre-bagged bulk candy only during the Christmas season, and it was fucking magical.  The smell of a tangerine still makes me wax nostalgic. My aunts would bring platters of sweets and savouries that we ONLY got during the Christmas season. They also brought my cousins. Growing up in a village of 500, your cousins were your playmates and best friends. Food and cousins. Christmas rocked.

Today, my kiddo is grown, and I miss the Christmas wonderful-wonder that children radiate throughout the holidays. I find myself surrounded by adults who bitch about the burden of Christmas, primarily the financial burden. I get it. I feel the pressure too, or rather, I observe it.

I’ve never really been about the show. It doesn’t turn me on. I do love giving gifts that I know people will use and love, but the best gifts were alway the ones that were handmade. Or the visits with friends and family that alway seemed to get put off until the holidays. Christmas is about connection.

When I sit down at my sewing machine, or spend the day in the kitchen preparing for Christmas, I feel connected to the best parts of my family.

CherryGems-bake2Despite a very painful estranged relationship with my late mother, in the kitchen I remember the good parts. I make the same too-much-sage stuffing recipe with white bread, the same gravy, and tacky ambrosia salad. I try to make things that make my kiddo, and my sweety’s kiddo’s feel special.

I tend to bake the same old-fashioned squares that my Grandmother produced, and think of her when I pull out my sewing machine and blow the dust off that settled in from the Christmas before.

Christmas is all about connection for me. When I give a homemade piece of needlework, a quilt or homemade sweet treats, I’m not only giving you the gift, but I’m giving you my time. You were on my mind when I sewed, baked, iced, stitched or preserved it.

Every minute spent into the wee hours getting things ready for the people I admire and love is time spent in connection with my values. This is what Christmas is about. Connection.

If you are reading this and you are my friend, know that I only crave time with you. Latte at a crowded cafe? Yes please! Yoga pants and cheap plonk in your living room while the kids go wild? Yes please! Dual sewing machines going in my Christmas Craft space in the basement? Absolutely!

Connect. That’s what the season is about.

GREAT GRANNY’S CHRISTMAS COCONUT CHERRY BALLS

1/3 cup margarine

1 1/2  cups icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups coconut

1 tbsp milk

maraschino cherries

graham wafer crumbs

Mix margarine, icing sugar, vanilla coconut and milk together. Chill until mixture is firm enough to roll into 2″ balls. Roll balls in wager crumbs. Make an indent in each ball with your thumb, and top each ball with 1/2 cherry.   Seal in airtight container and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Keep Your Fa-La-La-La-La Opinion to Yourself

Last night, after a looooooong day at work (where, by the way, I have learned the very precious currency of living and loving every day), I had to run some errands. After snagging my kitties their favourite food and a few discounted Hallowe’en toys ( they don’t care if the feathers are purple and orange), I stepped out into the  crisp November air into some of the first here-to-stay snowflakes of the year.

It felt like Christmas.

It was a Wednesday evening, and the little strip mall was relatively quiet. There was a calm, cozy feel in the air, and I felt a simple joy. I was drawn into a shop to stroll through the aisles laden with Christmas items. I had a short conversation with another woman who was experiencing the same simple pleasure. There in the aisle, we talked about how she likes to come out early to pick up a few new items to add to her Christmas village for her autistic son to enjoy. She says he is mesmerized by the detail of the tiny village, and the lights.  We shared a small part of our selves as we shared our stories. We brought a little bit of humanity to one another’s life in this busy world.

It was just five minutes of connection. But for me, that’s what the season is about. Moments of connection; Slowing down to reconnect and appreciate the people in our lives who bring us light.

Sounds lovely and perfect right? Which leads me to wonder about the mental health of people who rage against how others experience joy.  Actually, I don’t wonder so much any more as I just wish they’d fuck off.

Yes, it’s harsh, but it’s true. Misery loves company, and joy just doesn’t really give a crap. Joy is too busy shining and casting out shadows.

I’m a Christmas person. I have always chosen joy.

I have already loaded the PVR with scheduled recordings of Hallmark Christmas movies. Although I’m way behind on my shopping, I’m over half way finished. Today I will set up the spare room to be our ‘wrapping room’ for the family so that everyone has access to all of the paper, bows, gift tags, tissue, boxes and thoughtful little gifts that make the season happy for so many of our friends.

I have a menu planned for our Christmas Cottage FamJam. The itinerary for our ultimate Chistmas-in-New-York weekend is set, including hard to get reservations and a reminder to book our appointment at Santaland. It has been plugged in so at midnight on the day that reservations open, I will be up, sipping cocoa spiked with peppermint-vodka and clicking us into the magic of every kid’s fantasy.

I spent days and weeks in the summer prepping homemade gifts to bundle up for my friends, who at this age and stage have every ‘thing’ that they need, but I don’t get to spend enough time with. Gifts are now tokens of friendship, and a lovely introduction into the hours spent during the Christmas season catching up and rekindling our connection.

For those of you who have the opinion that people who use Christmas as a time to reconnect are hypocrites, you are most welcome to your opinion. And those of us who use the season as an excuse to spend time with loved ones, and celebrate the beauty of life, are entitled to our joy.  In the parlance of our times; haters gonna hate.

eggnogJoyful people do not need miserly permission to be joyful, so hold your smug bullshit. Better yet, strap on a nightcap, grab yourself some spiked eggnog, (I recommend Old Tom’s), and chill the hell out. Smug is the opposite of sexy, get over it already.

Those folks who meme the hell out of celebrating Christmas too early (before; Remembrance day, American Thanksgiving, or some other arbitrary chosen date) make me wonder if they need to up their dose. God forbid anyone be joyful and not offended by something. If marking another day is more important for you, gobble ’til you wobble, make your front porch a giant poppy-laden memorial, but for the love of God, get off your lazy meme-clicking ass and do something about it. Celebrate, decorate, bake…live out your preachy preference, and be happy. Happy oozes sexy. Happy can fix all that’s wrong in our little worlds.

Drink the spiked egg-nog, watch the Hallmark movie.

 

 

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Christmas Survival Guide for the Lost Woman: Delegate

opinions

My friends have let me down. I’ve let them down too.

At some point women give up their own selves for the selfless, and mostly unrecognized emotional work of maintaining a home (creating the atmosphere, remembering birthdays, preparing for holidays, and bearing the greater responsibility of relationship nurturing).

Don’t be her. Don’t be the woman we all become at one point or another; a frumpy feeling, sad, uninspired woman who feels like the dishrag that society treats her like.

This Christmas I’m challenging you to connect with your pals, and I’m also challenging myself. In order to make more time for me, and to enjoy the preparations for the holidays, I’ve come up with a few strategies.

 

  1. The word of the year this Christmas is; Delegate.

Make lists….and then give them away. I mean, you single-handedly make the magic happen, at least save some time not shopping and not running errands.

shopping list

 

2) Clear out the clutter.

No, not stuff, people. If you need the whole house so you can spread out the holiday decor,  but your lovey insists on being sprawled on the couch watching the boob tube and basically being useless, ask them to leave. Unless they’re helping, they’re hindering. Vamoos!

joy

 

3) Bake ahead, and if you don’t like baking, don’t.

This year I’m googling ‘christmas cookies that freeze well’, and I’m going to use it. I’m also stocking the freezer with some frozen cheater meals so that I can enjoy my time off throughout the holidays, without cringing when I’m asked, “Have you thought about dinner”. Also, it’s so I don’t tell them that prison dinner might be worth it since I wouldn’t have to cook or do the damn dishes. My eggnot loaf is currently cooling on the counter so it can be frozen.

eggnog loaf

 

4) Be the one who puts a stop to gift exchanges. Other than a few things under the tree on Christmas morning that my loved ones need, will have sentimental value, or are a true ‘Santa’ surprise gift, gift giving falls a long-distance second to just spending time together.

get together

 

5) Make some gal-destinations a priority. Whether it’s a spa date for candy-cane mani’s, or a local church craft sale…make an excuse to get out, wander through all of the delights of the season, and make it a date with someone you’ve been meaning to get together with but haven’t.

one of a kind

 

 

Whatever you do this Christmas season,  make sure you make time to slow down and take in some of what brings you joy.

 

 

 

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T’was A Day for Decorating & Digestive Discontent

giant red ballsI never get to sleep in. Anymore.

No, I do not have an infant at home. No, I do not work three jobs. I have however, committed myself to a…morning person.

A morning person who just so happens to be away  golfing in the sunny south during my traditional Christmas-kick-off weekend.

At first you’d think I’d be jealous, what with being left all alone for our first real snow fall.  Alas, that is NOT the case.  After having spent the past three months adjusting to  mid-life empty nesting and newly cohibitating bliss, I am gloriously, and might I say well-restedly (let’s just pretend that’s a word shall we – don’t kill my vibe) alone. Ahhh…..

I have been able to sleep in, deck the halls for the holidays, and even took my time shopping yesterday without a grown man whining that he had to get home to watch football.

I had one of those focussed days yesterday. After checking the Michael’s coupons for the day, I thought I’d start early and do my shopping before I came home to tights, a Christmas sweatshirt, my snoozies skinnies and my hair pulled back like a ninja fighter.

I made breakfast, had a coffee and hit the road. I planned a route to a lesser populated area to the north, and listened to a head banging, Chris Botti Christmas jam.

I shopped until I reminded myself of my own mother. Wandering around the same aisles, examining every garland and piece of kitsch until I’m sure one of the salespeople thought that I was out on some kind of psychiatric day pass.

My cart was loaded with 6 strings of bushy evergreen garland, a giant “Meet Me Under The Mistletoe” pillow and various other bits and bobs that I had just the right place for. Oh yah, and my Michael’s 60% off coupon was ready on my app.

At that point, I realized that I was starving. But even more than that, I was in need of giant red balls….for the tree.

Just one more stop and I’d be on my way home. By this time I was really hungry.

Just a quick run in, I decided, and I would treat myself to my favourite fast-food no-no. My quick trip turned into another hour of picking through stocking stuffers, Christmas scented soaps, and big balls…

By the time I paid, I was s-t-a-r-v-i-n-g and thirsty! You know the shopping-mall thirst I’m talking about don’t you ladies? That parched-I’ve-been-hijacked-in-the-retail-dessert-for-way-too-long-I-gotta-have-some-water-or-I’ll-disintegrate-kind-of-thirst.

Hitting a blood-sugar low I muscled my way to my car, guzzled a half liter of water, and got to my fast-food-sin-spot asap. I ate in the car like a ravenous Christmas elf, and polished it all off with a vanilla milkshake.

Now here’s something you don’t know about me…fake ice cream makes my digestive system revolt. In a BIG way, and fast. It was only a fifteen minute drive home, so I wasn’t panicked. What I was, for about a whole five minutes, was sated, and giddy about going home to prepare for the holidays.

And then it happened. My forty-something-year-old-digestive-system said, “Hold up girl! This is not right.”

The half liter of water met the fake-dairy-milkshake at the threshold of my pyloric valve and all hell broke loose.

Two-wheeling it around corners in my 40km neighbourhood, I raced to the garage, only to remember that I’d left the automatic opener on the kitchen table. I jumped out and frantically keyed in the magic code, while skipping around pinching my butt cheeks together.  I backed the care in so fast that I almost backed right through the rear wall. Juggling bags with garland poking out everywhere, and a large sack of kitty litter, I fumbled for my keys.

My neighbour appeared on queue as all neighbours do – at the worst time ever –  on his back deck waving and wanting to chat. All I could do is grimace, try to raise a hand weighted down with in a semi-civilized wave, and slam the door behind me.

No more vanilla quasi-dairy-milk shakes for this woman.

It took me until the Women’s Network Christmas flick came on at 9pm to finish up. I strung lights on the garland for the staircase, the front porch, and decorated the tree. I unpacked the boxes of miscellaneous decorations that grace smaller spaces, and put up the vintage Christmas village. I washed couch cushions and nested like I haven’t nested in a long time.

motherfucker

Don’t get me wrong. at about 5 p.m. I was ready shove the picky, twisty, clingy garland up someone’s ass, not to mention the tangle of 400 lights I was dealing with. There’s a reason people leave me alone to decorate. It’s a marathon of patience, but it’s totally worth it.

Home is a sacred, special place for me. It represents safety and security for myself and my child (ok, so he’s a man-child now, but all mothers know your children are always your babies). Anyone who messes with the safety and sanctity of my home should prepare to deal with the wrath of a woman like me.

Our home is now ready to welcome you for the holidays. I know, I know, it’s not about the decorations or the gifts, but I do love decking our halls to create that feeling of sacred welcome that is too often missing in our busy lives.

I’m already excited to know that my kiddo is almost ready to come home for his Christmas break. I’m eager to cozy up by the tree with friends and family for some precious down-time.  That’s what Christmas is all about. Failte.