Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Yonder Peasant, Who Is He.....

“The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s day was caught in the furze.
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
Give us a penny to bury the wren!”

I listened and listened, when I woke up this morning, but couldn’t hear the raucous cries and tin-can clatter of the Wren Boys.

“That’s because, Dorothy,” a little voice in my head reasoned, “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Boxing Day, the English called it. We thought that sounded awfully posh. To us it was simply St. Stephen’s day, of Good King Wencslas fame, and, more locally, the day the Wren Boys, bright and early, came prancing and rattling around our houses, begging for pennies to bury the wren. There was nothing posh about them. They came in loose, raggle-taggle, straggling bands, faces blackened, dressed in rags, making an awful din with tin cans and makeshift instruments, chanting their rhyme at the top of their lungs. All the children rushed out to see them. We didn’t know who they were or where they came from, or where they went when they got too hoarse to sing anymore. They were simply carrying on a centuries-old tradition, whose origins had been long ago forgotten. If you didn’t have keen ears you might miss them altogether. They never lingered for long. They were on a mission to raise enough pennies to give the wren a decent burial. Wink,wink.

Soon it was quiet again and we all wandered off. St. Stephen’s day was still part of the Christmas holiday. Everyone sighed contentedly. If I got a new book for Christmas you’d find me blissfully buried in it, curled up by the fire. Sometimes, joy of joys, a fire would be lit in the front sitting room, where there were comfy couches and you could pretend to be a grand lady. Usually the front room was off limits to hooligans like us, and warmed up and used only on state occasions, a few days around Christmas included. Sometimes you’d wonder if those raucous, wretched Wren boys had such a comfy place to go at the end of their adventures, and vaguely wonder why some people did and some people didn’t…..and feel a little guilty for being, undeservedly, among the lucky ones.

Ghosts of Christmases Past

How strange to sleep ‘til nine o’clock on Christmas morning. Time was when you couldn’t nap past sunrise at our house on Dec.25th. Shiny eyed, excited munchkins would insinuate themselves into the bed with us and whisper that, even though it was still dark, it must be time to get up since Santa’d been, as evidenced by the empty glass and the plate of nothing-but-crumbs. And most of all by the intriguing packages he’d left under the tree. They’d already investigated the contents of their stockings and could hardly wait for the big stuff. But they knew the rules. Those pesky rules. So everyone could share in the fun, you weren’t allowed to open your presents until all were awake, and at least semi-coherent. Their father said it would strengthen their character.

When said father had been provided with a cup of strong tea or coffee, and was ready to preside, the ritual began. They vied with one another to be the one to pass out the presents.Each one had a turn. We all waited while each present was opened and oohed over. Or surreptiouslyly booed. Clothing items were low on the popularity list, no matter how painstakingly selected by their grandmother. The Bean, being the youngest, despaired of ever getting “his turn to pass out!”

And now the morning is slipping away and he is still passed out. Not excited to get up and find that, contrary to his explicit wish, Santa did not gather his siblings from the four corners and assemble them under the tree, all tied up prettily with ribbons and bows.

Christmas is not so much about presents as about presence. The presence of people you love. Christmas makes me long to be around the people who know me best and love me still…………Just for Christmas, I want them all here, for my sake as much as for their “little” brother’s. I want the chatter, the arguing, the clash of opposing opinions, the hum in the air, the energy. I want to have to put the extensions on the dining room table. I want to have to round up extra chairs. I can handle the chaos in the kitchen, the mess of dishes. No problem.

But “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Not to mention thousands of miles. I guess my season for munchkins at daybreak is over. I put my time in, and in my saner moments I know I wouldn’t want to go back. Not unless I went, armed once again, with youth and energy and lots and lots of stamina!

We had a very pleasant day. The OC is home. He even devised a surprise for the Bean that kept him happily busy for most of the afternoon. Under the heading of “some assembly required!” We are grateful to Mr. Alexander Graham Bell on whose ingenious invention we spent a good portion of the day, yakking ---to Columbus, California and Ireland. We didn’t have to shovel any snow. The sky was blue, the air balmy.

All is calm, all is bright.

Round yon virgin mother and child,
Holy Infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Slee-eep in hea-ven-ly peace.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Christmas Meander Through My [Alleged] Mind

Where've I been, you ask? Well, that depends....I've been out in the field, so to speak. The Siberian tundra, to be exact. In search of reindeer droppings, for annual packages to, among others, California Girl. Who has had a discouraging year, where not much has gone right. The least I can do is to ensure the reindeer droppings are of premium quality and arrive on time. Great care goes into the selection of our reindeer droppings. Size is a consideration, as is shape and texture. But our most stringent standards concern taste. We collect only from the finest grain- and peanut butter-fed animals. We do not aim to disappoint.

Subsequent to my field work in the frozen tundra, I've spent considerable time tangled in packaging tape, after which I stood in interminable lines at the post office. But that's OK. Everyone was in friendly, chatty mood, so it didn't seem so long. I got the low- down on one of my fellow line stander's teenage boys, and all their doings, and an in-depth report on the woes of the local real estate market from another line stander, who regaled me with details of how many foreclosures he's been handling per week. Sad for those being foreclosed on......especially at this time of year.

Trips to the airport have been made to pluck the OC, and his sister, from the friendly skies......

Little grandsons came for a day, from their beach sojourn, and lent a hand in decorating the tree. We went to the beach to see them another day, wrapped against the wind and the chill in sweaters and long sleeves, while lunatic tourists disported themselves in bikinis and such....crazy northerners---don't they know they could catch their deaths?

After thirty years of unsuccessful sugar cookie attempts, I finally, this year, found the perfect recipe. Do I get points for perseverance? These are cookies to die for. Except that they're a pain to make----but------oh,yum!

And just to make things super-interesting, the Bean wrecked his car. Fortunately, he is unharmed. But we are now engaged in the subterfuge and skullduggery required to keep such information from the ears of the Ancient Ones.......oy, oy, oy.

Apologies for the dearth of.....anything.....on here for so long. A New Year is coming and that always fills me with the determination to mend my evil ways.....I wish you all peace, above all, in your families and in the world. For me, I don't need perfume. I don't need socks. I don't need gadgets. I don't even NEED chocolate [want is another story.] What I need is harmony. Kind thoughts. Gentle words. And Peace on Earth. Is that too much to ask?

Merry Christmas friends!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Christmas Kitchen, Part One

Last night a writers' group I recently joined had its Christmas meeting. The venue was the home of one of the long standing members. What to bring? I wracked what is left [after the assaults of this past year] of my brain. It seemed like the perfect incentive to kick-start some holiday baking, so I decided on some cranberry orange nut bread that has gone over well in previous years. No problem. I’d knock out a loaf in no time flat. Until I started to think….

“If I’m going to have all the ingredients out all over the counter, I might as well make it REALLY worth while!”

So out came my three largest bowls and the assembly line began.

First -----2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking soda………..measured into each bowl.

Into each bowl of dry ingredients I cut 1/3 cup of butter.

In each of three smaller bowls I beat
1 egg, with
2/3 cup of orange juice and
1 tsp finely grated orange peel.

Three more bowls each held
1 ½ cups of halved cranberries and
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts [I used walnuts.]

All that remained was to add the juice mixtures to the dry, then stir in the cranberries and nuts, gently, and only just ‘til moistened.

Three lightly greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pans stood waiting in the wings. The oven was already at 350 degrees. In they went for 65 minutes. If I didn’t have to clean up after myself I’d cook or bake all day! What I need is my own cooking show on TV. Then I could play all day and let the help handle the aftermath! If wishes were horses……how does it go?......fools would ride?

One loaf was wrapped prettily and duly delivered to the host last evening, one was stashed in the freezer for when Liz and company drop in next week, and I’m heading to the kitchen now to have a slice of the third with a cup of tea. Wish you could join me…..I might manage some Christmas spirit here after all!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Deck The Halls

*The computer is being uncooperative. It wouldn't let me upload a picture. Probably thinks I should get Tony's permission! Let your imagination go wild---it won't be an exaggeration.

When I saw my neighbour, Tony, squatting on his roof with a faraway look in his eyes a few days after Thanksgiving, I knew what was about to happen.

Tony is the salt of the earth, a great neighbour. But he is Italian, with an Italian addiction to decorating, both his person and his living space. And while I would probably go into cardiac arrest if I ever saw the OC bedecking himself with jewels as Tony does, I do believe that the Tonys of the world add a little colour. You could say that he is in touch with his feminine side. If we're a couple of crows, Tony's a fine feathered macaw.

He decorates for every season. Bunnies at Easter. Leprecauns on St. Patrick’s Day. Red, White and Blue on the Fourth. At Halloween it’s witches and scarecrows. For Thanksgiving it’s turkeys. But at Christmas he pulls out all the stops. So when I saw him perched dreamily up there, I knew what was coming.

He toiled all day. By nightfall the results were dazzling.

His house glowed like an ad for the electric company. The eaves were trimmed with white icicle lights. Little red lights twinkled from the shrubbery. The posts by his door were wound around with giant ribbon. On each window hung a wreath of greenery, set off with a big red bow.

Quite a display you’re thinking? But wait. There’s more! On either side of his driveway stand Hans und Franz, two giant,inflatable nutcrackers. By the front door stands an ever-smiling,inflatable snowman, and from the other corner waves a gigantic, inflatable Santa. On the lawn inflatable blocks spell out “Merry Christmas.”

I sigh and shake my head.
It’s too early, I think.
It’s too much, I think.
I’m a grinch, I think.
Tony's inner child, is alive and well, I think,
While mine needs to be reinflated.
If I were five, I think, I’d be enchanted.

For the rest of the month, I think, I’ll pretend I’m five.