Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Almost Christmas

The clock is ticking away the minutes, and soon it will be Christmas Day.

It was a beautiful sunny Christmas Eve, blue skies without a hint of snow or rain. The trees sparkle like some magic fairy show, until you see the widespread damage done by two days of freezing rain. It looks inviting out, and then I open the door and feel the crisp, cold air of 17 below (Celsius) temperatures.

My son was by with two of his kids. The kids and I stayed snug and warm inside, watched the Disney movie "Tangled" while my son spent almost an hour outside chipping the ice off my car. Never again would I buy a van with criss crossing window wipers that drop down out of sight. Ice and snow get packed in there and make it impossible to clear.

They left to celebrate the holiday with his...grandmother-in-law. They were having their usual fondue dinner. It sounds different, but fun. Brought back memories of fondue dinners enjoyed decades ago with friends.

There are all sorts of different holiday traditions, and all sorts of families. Times change, new people come into your family circle, and sadly, others leave.

I managed to get a fairly decent picture of my family group yesterday, all wearing the hats I'd rushed to complete. I need to remember to turn the red eye feature back on after changing batteries, and shouldn't use a mirror as a background. Oh well, next time.

We had our get-together Monday, as the power was finally restored at my daughter's house. Kudos to her for the lovely meal, and my thanks for the leftovers I enjoyed tonight.

It was a bit surreal, driving through town, the yards of most homes covered in bits and pieces of tree branches. You could see the fresh scars on the trees where limbs had fallen under the weight of accumulated ice.

Half the town was still without electricity, the shopping plaza dark except for the grocery store running under generator power. That first view of the damage was in daylight, the trees and hydro lines hanging low, some on the ground, yet all sparkling in their coating of ice. The drive home in the dark even more unbelievable, neighbourhoods in total darkness, street lights out, traffic lights not working.

This will definitely be a Christmas to remember.

My sister called and we talked for hours, she nicely has an unlimited long distance plan. She was resting up for a busy day tomorrow with her daughter and grandchildren. It's hard for her to imagine what's going on up here, she lives in Florida. The effects of this ice and cold cannot be truly understood through pictures.

I see it's after midnight and I'm still writing. I meant to do this earlier but was exhausted. I laid down and tried to read, only to fall asleep. Now I'm wide awake, feeling a little melancholy, remembering Christmases past.

The year my husband and I married we agreed to buy only one gift for each other, as we were saving our money for our first house. I did abide by the agreement and had his one gift under the tree, though I did ignore the amount we agreed upon and went over the budget. He bought me the set of electric hair rollers I wanted, I knew as they made an unmistakable sound when shaken.

But Christmas morning he surprised me with numerous gifts he'd hidden throughout the apartment. The ones I remember most were the lovely black silken nightgown and the perfume. Enough of that year, what can I say, we were newlyweds.

I remember the first year my parents retired to spend the winter as snow birds. They gave plane tickets to my brother and I so our families could fly from Canada to be in Florida for the holiday. My grandparents and my sister lived there so it was the first holiday we'd had together in such a long time, four generations in the same place.

Who would have thought both my parents, grandparents, and my sister's husband, would all be gone in the next ten years. It makes that memory all the more precious.

My kids are doing their own thing this year for the holiday. They got together and decided to stay home for the 25th. Years of rushing the kids to open gifts, only to leave everything to take off for Christmas dinner somewhere else has made them say no, let's stop this insanity.

Celebrations are just as meaningful if held on the 23rd as ours was, or the 26th or even into January.
Just like the gifts given, and the gifts received, it's the thought that counts.

Christmas is a feeling that lasts the whole month of December, right into the New Year. It's the season that's important, not the day. I learned that early, as a nurse I was always working weekends and holidays.

So tomorrow I'm going to burrow in with my new book, and be glad to stay in where it's warm and not have to brave these freezing temperatures. I'll touch base with everyone and wish them well, but I'm just as happy to have a day of rest between social events.

The stress of the holiday, the issues of dealing with a chronic illness, and now this awful storm, and my reserves are depleted. There are more celebrations planned, and maybe next time Mother Nature will be kinder to everyone.

So to everyone, I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and as it's late, to all a good night.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Ice Storm

Watching the weather channel yesterday was an alarming experience. They were predicting freezing rain across the Great Lakes, on into Quebec and the eastern provinces.

I ran the last, okay not last but most important, of my errands on Thursday while the roads were still clear.

My son has been without power for almost 24 hours, but as he heats his house with a wood stove, he’s nice and warm. My daughter lost power during the night last night. If you triangulate our three homes we cover quite an area, between the two neighbouring towns and the rural.

I have had power outages off and on since yesterday afternoon, but never out for more than an hour. The rain has been steady and the temperatures below freezing. The trees may look like a winter wonderland, but they are deadly.

I would have thought I was in a war zone last night for the crashing and banging going on outside. There is one very tall tree about 10 feet from the side of my place, and old tree, and it decided last night it was time to shed some excess.

The pounding on my roof was scary, I expected at any time for a limb to come crashing through the roof. I heard a report this morning of a friend who had a tree branch crash through her roof into her shower. Like I said…scary.

I look out at my neighbourhood, not brave enough to try walking on the icy path, and see trees down everywhere. There will be a major cleanup required, but so far everyone seems to be safe and sound.

This is just a small bit of weather misery, and as I sit here I can’t help but think it’s so minor, so nothing compared to what other people around the world have faced, and are facing today. The wreckage of downed trees is nothing compared to the wreckage of complete houses, entire neighbourhoods.

We watch the news, see the pictures, but they can never depict the true horror these people are suffering. My heart goes out to them.

If the power is still out tomorrow we’ll have to delay our Christmas dinner as planned. I’m the only one with power and my place is too small for the more than 10 of us. We can have our celebration another day if need be. The important thing is we’re all safe.

I’ve checked in with friends and family, hoping all have weathered yet another Canadian winter storm. It’s still raining and the trees are starting to lean with the weight of ice on their branches.

Hang in there, it’s not over yet.


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Some Drinks, part of Eat, Drink and be Merry

One of my favourite things to do over the holidays is make my own liqueurs to enjoy and to give away to friends.

A number of people have asked for my recipes so I thought I would share them with everyone. I don’t know where I got the recipes; it’s been a long time since I first used them, and so I can’t give credit.


1 quart water
2 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons instant coffee
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 ½ cups vodka

Bring water, sugar and coffee to a boil in a saucepan.
Simmer VERY slowly for 3 hours. Mixture will be very dark and syrupy.
Cool. Add vanilla and vodka.

Makes 7 cups.

Bailey’s Original Irish Cream

1 cup light cream
1 can (14oz) Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 2/3 cups Irish whiskey
1 teaspoon instant coffee
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend on high for about 20 seconds.
Transfer to a clean bottle with a tightly fitting cap.
Store, refrigerated, and shake well before using.

And here’s a special Christmas drink:

1 pint light rum
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1 pint strong cold coffee

Mix well in a blender, serve immediately.

Eat, drink and be Merry.




The Cat Socializer

My brother has signed on as a volunteer at the Humane Society as a Cat Socializer. He will visit with the cats on a regular basis, giving them human attention and if they don’t want to be ‘petted’, maybe just some supervised or assisted play time.

I love cats and think they are fascinating creatures.

The following is taken from an E-mail my brother sent me about his second day of orientation. Apparently there is a separate room where cats are taken one at a time for social time, and a record is kept so every cat has an opportunity to be given some love. And there’s a binder that tells the volunteer what each cat seems to like, or not like, and which ones are ‘difficult’ and need special handling.

Here’s what he had to say:

So, under the watchful eye of my guide I'm ready to pick a cat. I choose an all-white cat named "Jasmine." I check the binder and she's okay to be picked up. Before I go to get her I squirt some hand-sanitizer on my hands and give them a clean. I go to her cage and start talking to her. I don't think she saw my OMHS Volunteer badge because I think she was a bit surprised when I opened her cage. They're used to people coming in and out of that room, but they don't usually open the cage. But she came with me easily and we went to the other room.

Once in the room she went to the far side away from me while I set the 15-minute timer. I grabbed a pillow and sat on the floor. Little by little she got closer to me and did a few walk-bys as I rubbed my hand down her back. She had a lot of fun with a feather toy on the end a string I made dance around. So while she didn't let me touch her too much, she did interact and play. The buzzer went off and she was returned to her cage with a few scratches behind the ear before I closed the cage door.

Back to the room to pick my next cat. While I look at the list I sanitize my hands again. Next up is a black and white named "Vanna." She was easy to pick up and take to the room where she looked around at everything in the room, including me. My guide started the timer and said she'd leave me for a bit. "Vanna" was fun to play with, she'd stop playing sometimes and sit or lie next to me for a few scratches, then off again. When the buzzer went I returned her to her cage with no problem.

So here I am about to solo for the first time. Back to the room I pick my next cat, "Nora." Sanitize again. Read the write-up. I opened her cage and went to pick her up. It was really funny as it felt like she had no bones, she didn't help at all. As soon as we were in the room she went under a storage cart and hid. I'm talking to her the whole time as I kneel down and look under the cart. I really don't want to reach in there. So I decided to appeal to her sense of cooperation, told her about my pal "Jumper." Nothing. I told her this wouldn't look good if my guide came back. Nothing. I tried the feather toy, dangling in front of the cart. Nothing.

I figured there one thing she couldn't fight against, and that was if I lifted the cart off the ground. So I did and she ran to the other side of the room. I put the cart back down and moved the pillow over to block entrance to going under the cart again and laid down. I "scratched" the pillow a few times and she eventually came over, cautiously. The guide came back and "Nora" and I were doing fine. When the buzzer went I picked up the cat and returned her to her cage like an old cat pro. "Nora" immediately lay down just like I had found her.

I’m jealous, I miss having a cat. The Humane Society is lucky to have him as a volunteer, and the cats even more so.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Peeved with Pinterest

I have numerous boards on Pinterest, almost all related to some creative endeavour. Projects I set aside, for some future time, for some ‘maybe one day’.

That’s where I found a number of the patterns I’ve used recently, the Christmas stockings I made for a friend of a friend, and the Minion hat I made for my brother for his birthday and so on.
My brother and my granddaughter in their matching Minion hats.

It’s my habit to make everyone in the family a new hat for the holidays. There’s a bunny hat for my youngest granddaughter, a Batman hat for her brother and a Spiderman one for her cousin.

Then I found a pattern for a Hello Kitty hat and made it for another granddaughter with a matching scarf. The older girls got hats and infinity scarves. My daughter got her requested three piece set, of hat, scarf and matching mittens.

My daughter-in-law has a hat so far, and that left my son. And this is where the peeved with Pinterest part comes in.

I found a hat, perfect for him, and in crochet, which is my preference. It had ear flaps that extended down and to the back to cover the neck. Ideal, I thought, for those days out shovelling snow, when he’d have to bend forward and thereby expose the back of his neck.

I had my wool; I just needed to get the pattern. So, I clicked on the Pinterest photo, which took me to a larger picture of the hat, and a link to the website where I should have been able to find the pattern.

The link took me to a blog, and another link, and there I found I could purchase the pattern for a cost of $6.00. Darn, maybe I can do it without a pattern.

I’m pretty good at crocheting, I was taught by the best.

When I was a new bride, and a fresh graduate of the nursing school, I took my first position as a Registered Nurse at the local hospital, in the town where we had settled after the wedding.

My schedule was two weeks of day shift, followed by two weeks of evening shift, and then two weeks of nights. We worked two out of three weekends. This was a horrible schedule, not one the nurses today would put up with, but what can I say, it was the old days, more than forty years ago.

On the night shift there were two older RPNs who worked permanent nights, Peggy and Laura. To fill time between rounds and tending to patients, they were sleeping after all, (they being the patients, of course), the ladies did needlework.

I was intrigued, and over the course of time they taught me this fine art. I made baby blankets, afghans, and sweaters, and more. This was the beginning of my giving of handmade gifts.

Over the years my grandchildren have received more hats and sweaters than they could possibly wear, but it keeps me out of trouble. I should do what a friend does; make hats and mitts for the Giving Tree, the items donated going to the less fortunate. She also makes Chemo hats and small hats for the preemie and newborn babies.

I could do that, but all the hats would have to be different, I would be too bored doing the same pattern over and over again.

I played last night, and since I can make a basic beanie style hat without a pattern, I played and added ear flaps that extended across the back. The positive thing in making this for an adult, I could try it on as I went along. It may look silly, but I bet it will keep him warm.

That pretty well does it for everyone. I had one other project that will have to wait until after the holidays. I like to knit, but it has to be simple and I need lots of time. I made a vest for my son, and had all the pieces made before the move in June. I figured once I got settled I could sew it together and have it done for Christmas.

That move in the spring wrecked havoc on my life, and has made me readjust to a reality that does not fit my creative ambitions. But that’s another story.

I pulled the vest out last week and…shit…there was no wool to finish the job. How could that be? I had the pieces, the pattern, all together in my very nice knitting bag, but no extra balls of wool to finish the edging. All my great accumulation of wool I’d put in a bin and sent out to be stored at my son’s before I moved. That had to be where the extra wool was.

I made an executive decision; I would finish the vest and give it to him after the holidays. I’ve learned I have to execute these decisions for my own well-being, to reduce the stress I can bring upon myself by trying to do too much.

I found a neat sweater pattern made in bright colours, perfect for using up all those scraps in the bin, my next winter project. As soon as I finish the vest I’ll get right on it.

And maybe I’ll use up the rest of that wool to make a bunch of minion or other character hats for the Giving Tree next year. Sounds like a plan.

Now, since the needlework is finished, maybe I’ll get some of my usual holiday baking done. I found this great recipe…on Pinterest.



Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Christmas Traditions

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…..

Actually, it’s been looking like Christmas since Hallowe’en. I think it’s a time and efficiency thing the stores do. They have a space allocated to seasonal items, and rather than fill that space with other retail goods they’ll have to move later, they just move directly from one holiday to the next.

Summer items give way to fall and Thanksgiving, then to Hallowe’en, and on to Christmas. I’m sure once this holiday is over it will be Valentine’s Day and Easter not long after. It’s a cycle that continually repeats itself.

I love Christmas, but please, it doesn’t need to start until December.

A Susan Branch Christmas Tree
Like decorating the tree. I know people who do it in November, anxious for the holiday season to begin. I always liked to make it a celebration, the trimming of the tree. It was one of the traditions I made with my kids. We’d have some snacks; drinks served in fancy glasses and decorate the tree together.

I find it sad, decorating the tree by myself, which is probably why I haven’t had a tree in years. But I do miss the ambiance of sitting in my favourite chair, with a glass of wine, reading or watching movies by the glow of a twinkling Christmas tree.
Speaking of Christmas movies, my father and I had a tradition of watching Going My Way every year. It’s an old black and white movie from the forties, starring Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley, the same character he played in The Bells of St, Mary’s.

We also used to watch Holiday Inn but you don’t see it offered on television anymore. It’s old; it’s in black and white, and is politically incorrect.

I used to force the kids to watch White Christmas with me every year, another of our traditional holiday celebrations. At least it’s been retouched and in colour, the concept of watching black and white so unappealing to the kids.

Another excuse for a party was gift wrapping. We would gather all the paper, tape and tags, all the gifts we’d purchased and sit at the table, with the ever present snacks, to wrap our gifts.

I was big on all these month long traditions because, after their father and I divorced, I never saw my kids on Christmas Day. In the beginning, it was because I had to work, but that was really just an excuse so the kids didn’t feel bad for going to their Dad’s, and his family’s place for the holiday.

I couldn’t blame them; for it was what we had always done before. The food was great, there were aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents…family, and that’s what the holiday was all about. The kids still talk about playing bingo after dinner, and the silly little prizes their grandmother put together for any winners.

With the kids gone for the actual day, we made it a point to celebrate New Year’s, and made going out for Chinese food our tradition. The first time, we went to a nice restaurant, a big step up from any fast food or family style place we’d ever been to before.

I warned the kids that once we ordered we’d have to wait, so they needed to be patient. Our order was in and we were just sitting there when my son got up from the table, came over to me and placed his hand on my shoulder, looking me square in the eye.

“So, Mom, what would you like to talk about?” What a kid.

I’m feeling nostalgic, thinking of all these old traditions, and miss that feeling of anticipation and togetherness, making the everyday into a special occasion.

The kids are grown, with families of their own, with their own traditions. And that is as it should be.

I’ve made myself a new Christmas tradition. I buy myself a new book by one of my favourite authors, and save it until Christmas night. Then I put on some music, pour myself a glass of wine, and snuggle in with my velour blanket, all warm and cozy. I turn to page one, and read to my heart’s content.

It works for me.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Christmas Magic

Our family Christmas this year is being held at my daughter’s house. After my marathon of gift wrapping, she picked up all the presents and took them home to store under her Christmas tree. Needless to say she had lots of help unloading the boxes, the kids eager to see if their names were on any of the brightly coloured packages.

There are just some gifts, no matter what you wrap them in, the contents are easily guessed. Bottles of wine, for an example.
As she put a gift under the tree, one with her name, my daughter guessed it was a tool box. Last summer she had expressed a wish for her own tools, and I remembered her comment.

Home Hardware carries a set of pink coloured tools, with some percentage of sales going to Breast Cancer Research. When I went to purchase the tools I knew I had missed the deadline for the sale, but the people at Home Hardware gave me the tools at the sale price anyway. The woman even told me that the tool box, which I had not intended to buy, would be on sale the next week, and she’d give me that at the sale price too. Needless to say, I bought the set, a birthday present and another Christmas gift, showing that good public relations is beneficial for sales.

My five year old grandson was surprised his mother would be receiving a tool box, his thinking a bit sexist already I’m afraid to say, like women wouldn’t need or want tools.

It must have intrigued him though, for he went back to the present, and whether he ripped a bit of the paper, or it tore taking it out of the box, he peeked.

His beliefs were confirmed. He went back to his mother, told her confidently it was not a tool box. “How do you know?” she asked.

“The paper ripped and I could see what’s inside. It can’t be a tool box. It’s pink.”

Don’t you just love the logic of children?

I remember another story of a child’s reasoning. My kids were about seven and eight when they came running in the door in a state of anxiety. “Trevor says there is no Tooth Fairy, no Easter Bunny, and no Santa Claus. Trevor says the parents do it all.”

Damn you Trevor, I thought. Why is it when one child’s beliefs are blown, they feel the need to let their friends in on their disenchantment.

I managed to calm my children, the tooth fairy just wanted to celebrate when a child lost their baby teeth, and okay, they accepted that. So, on to Easter. I explained that the Easter Bunny was a way for them to celebrate Easter, because they were too young to understand the religious aspects of the holiday.

I was trying to figure out how I could explain Christmas; the religious holiday bit would not satisfy a second time.

Before I could answer my son piped up. “I knew it wasn’t you,” he said. “Santa gave us our wands, and you couldn’t have done that.”

I agreed and we never talked about the existence of Santa ever again.

Funny thing, the wands he spoke of I found in a tiny little store, underground at a subway stop, and bought them immediately. I was heading home after a doctor’s appointment downtown, had taken the subway rather than drive and fight the city traffic. I couldn’t resist, because I’d never seen anything like them.

Every year at Christmas I would add something unusual to the kids’ Santa stocking, something they had never seen before. That year it was the wands. About twelve inches long, the plastic tubes looked like a magician’s wand, but these were filled with coloured liquid, stars, glitter and shiny sequins. As you tipped them side to side, the contents inside floated…like magic.

Santa was like the Great and Powerful Oz, in their eyes, he could do anything. And me, I was just a mother; they didn’t see my magic, and their belief in the wonder and joy of the holiday remained intact, at least for a little while longer.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Wednesday? Already?

Alright, I can explain, I was totally confused and forgot it was Wednesday. I know, I know, it always follows Tuesday, has all my life, but I forgot.

I’m one of those people who begin shopping for the next Christmas, within months of the previous holiday. Over the years I’ve learned that when I see a gift that I think is perfect for someone on my list, I need to buy it on the spot.

When I was getting ready to move last May I had a large box and a plastic bin full of Christmas gifts which I sent to my son’s for temporary storage. Before I could continue my Christmas shopping I had to see what I had already purchased.

So Monday I went out and loaded up on wrapping paper, boxes, scotch tape and self stick labels, ready for a marathon session of gift wrapping. That night my son dropped off all my gifts and Christmas decorations.

So, on Tuesday, yes, the day before Wednesday, I got up, made a pot of coffee and sat down to wrap some presents.

I began the day sorting, making piles for each family member. That didn’t work; there were just too many people, so too many piles and not enough space on the sofa. So I just started to wrap, and loaded the newly wrapped gifts into the boxes I had just emptied.

Meanwhile, since the move, I’ve continued to shop. I pulled stuff out of the closet and the bin hidden under the table, and wrapped those gifts as well.

I take my role as a grandmother very seriously, and try to live up to the grandmother’s unwritten code of gift giving, whereby the kids get socks and underwear for Christmas. I let their parents buy their underwear but it’s a given there will be socks from me under the tree every year. This made me laugh as I pulled out bunches of socks in various sizes and colours.

I also buy the grandkids books, to read and to write in. A storybook plus notebooks, fancy pens or pencils and activity books. There’s nothing I like better than a pretty new journal or notebook, just think of the possibilities, and hey, if it encourages the kids to draw, write, doodle…all the better.

I feel very Mrs. Claus, with my list of names. I look it over, check it twice. They’ll all get a gift whether naughty or nice. Sorry, best I can do at the moment.

It was a good day, until the end. I tried to stand and the spasm in my back almost had me on my knees. Oops, too long a time spent leaning over the table, and I was done.

So, pain is the reason I forgot about Wednesday. I usually write and schedule my posts the day before but last night it went out of my head completely.

I left everything as it was, took a couple of Advil and went to bed, to rest on my heating pad and used a novel to get my mind off the pain.

Today, I’m not faring much better. It’s punishment for stubbornly persisting when I knew the first twinges of pain were telling me enough was enough. But, I’m an old dog, and I know they say you can teach an old dog new tricks but….

I’m my own worst enemy, and I always pay the price. So today will be a day of resting, reading, maybe some crocheting.

Tomorrow is another day, tomorrow I’ll shop.