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Quiet Canadian Christmas

Posted by barb on Dec 25, 2008 in Pictures, Travels

Jo peeks in one of the bags under the tree

We’ve had a quiet Christmas. Yesterday it snowed again – third snow storm this week, I think. We’ve decided to just hunker down and enjoy being in the house. Not much to report from here – we opened presents last night, slept in this morning, and are just kicking around the house. We’ve watched the Christmas specials that I brought with me (White Christmas, A Christmas Carol (the Patrick Stewart/TNT version), and A Christmas Story). Andrew’s cousin came for a little while yesterday, and his Auntie and another cousin came for tea today. We may go into “the village” tomorrow to check out a new antique store.

We’ve been keeping an eye on the weather to see when I should drive home. It looks like I’m still okay to head home on Saturday — the forecast is for rain and 50 degrees for a high in upstate New York. Hopefully I’ll be home Saturday night.

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Merry Christmas Everyone!

Posted by barb on Dec 24, 2007 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

Andrew and I went out to the National Christmas tree in front of the White House yesterday with Stef and Doug. (After seeing the magnificently funny “One Man Star Wars Trilogy” at the Wooly Mammoth Theatre (minus Andrew for that – he would not have appreciated it at all).)

While at the Christmas tree, I caught this picture of the Moon and Mars near the tree:
The tree with the Moon and Mars

Hope everyone has a safe and fun holiday – and may Santa bring everything you’re wishing for.

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Holiday ornament swap

Posted by barb on Dec 22, 2007 in Crafty Me, Pictures

I decided to sign up for the Holiday Ornament Swap hosted by freshly blended and cake & pie this year. I clearly didn’t have the time to hand-make 8-10 ornaments this year, what with writing my PhD thesis, but that didn’t stop me. I started just before Thanksgiving and got them out in early December.

I’m so glad I signed up! Every couple of days I go out to my mailbox and find a package with another really cute, hand-crafted ornament from the women in my group. Here’s what I’ve received so far (I think I’m missing one):

Ornament from Katy:
Ornament from Katy on the tree

From Jen:
Ornament from Jen on the tree

More below the fold…

Read more…

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Christmas Past: Baking cookies

Posted by barb on Dec 19, 2006 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

Sugar Cookies

Part of my family’s holiday traditions growing up was a fair amount of Christmas baking. Mom would start baking sometime after Thanksgiving, and by the end, we’d have six or seven varieties of cookie. We had several standards – cherry bars (which, I believe, Dad made…or at least he took over them at some point before I was out of high school), Russian Teacakes, Spritz, English Toffee, Fudge, and Toffee Bars.

One year, my family traveled to Florida for Christmas – we often called it the Christmas that didn’t happen, because even though we had a great time on our trip, it just didn’t seem like Christmas. While we were there, we visited some people my parents knew, and they had a new Christmas treat for us – No-Name Bars. The bars were chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and peanut butter melted together, then salted peanuts and mini-marshmallows added. Yum! These were soon added to our own Christmas rotation. The bars were called “no name” bars because whoever these people had gotten the recipe from had not put a name on the recipe card. Eventually, we decided to rename them “Nut Goodie Bars”, though often we still refer to them as “No Name”.

Another year, we attended a family Christmas night at our church. They had lots of various “classes” and we could choose a couple of them. One of the classes we took was on how to make corn flake wreaths. These cookies are a lot like Rice Crispie bars, but with a bit of green food coloring and Corn Flakes instead of Rice Crispies. When the mixture is still warm, we shaped spoonfuls into wreath shapes. Finally, we topped them off with cinnamon candies to look like berries on the wreath. I loved making these, so they were also added to our Christmas cookie repertoire.

A year or two after my Mom returned to work (she was a stay-at-home Mom for many years, and then returned to school when I was in kindergarten, and to work when I was in 6th grade), she did not feel up to making all of those Christmas cookies every year. As luck would have it, I was old enough to bake, and in need of some extra cash for Christmas presents, so she and I struck up a deal. I can’t remember what she paid me for the cookies, but I felt flush when I went off to do my Christmas shopping. After a few years, I didn’t ask Mom to pay me for making the cookies. I just did it because I liked the tradition.

Since I’ve left home, Mom has taken to buying cookies from bakeries or church cookie sales. While the cookies are good, it’s still not the same as having home-baked cookies. Also since I’ve left home, I’ve done some measure of baking myself. Once I moved into my own apartment, I started to develop my own repertoire of cookies. (Check out the tale of my first excursion into Christmas baking in my apartment here.)

Oh, and Dad does still make Cherry Bars every year – they’re his favorite.

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Christmas Past: Caroling

Posted by barb on Dec 17, 2006 in Random Thoughts

When I was a little girl, oh so many years ago, I was fascinated with the idea of caroling door-to-door. I’d seen carolers on TV, in old movies and in Christmastime advertisements, and it seemed romantic to 10-year-old me. Sadly, my efforts one year to get my family bundled up and caroling to the neighborhood failed miserably (is anyone out there surprised?)

My solution? A caroling party!

I invited a few of my friends over to my house for a caroling party. I’m not sure they knew exactly what I was talking about when I invited them, but they came anyway. I had typed up several song sheets, and my Mom copied them at work for me. I pulled words from my parents’ Mitch Miller Christmas Sing-along album, and tried to choose a variety of songs, from Silent Night to Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

When all of my friends arrived, we bundled up (remember, we’re talking about Minnesota in December) and headed off with our song sheets. We started off in one direction from my house. Before we arrived at each house, we would decide on a song and pick a starting note (this had to be tweaked as we went, as we found that some songs got too high or low if we picked a bad starting note). Then we’d ding the doorbell and wait. As soon as the door started to move, we’d start singing. After a few houses, we determined that one song wasn’t always enough, and that some of our caroling targets expected or wanted one more. (I can’t remember if it was just a feeling we had, or if some people acutally asked for a second song.) So, we started to choose two songs as we walked up to a new house, one would be in reserve as an “encore”.

A few people invited us in for cookies, but since we were 11- and 12-year-old girls, my Mom had instructed us to decline. (It turns out one of the houses that invited us in were friends with my parents, but they weren’t offended that we didn’t come in.) Instead, I had planned ahead, and asked my Mom to have cocoa and cookies ready for us at my house when we returned.

I was a happy girl by the end of the day. My friends seemed to have a good time. Best of all, I had gotten to go out caroling and spread Christmas cheer to at least 20 different households. I hosted a second caroling party the next year, but quit after that. Still, those two years of caroling with my friends have left me with memories almost as romantic as I once thought caroling was.

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Christmas baking

Posted by barb on Dec 16, 2006 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

Last weekend I did most of my Christmas baking (and some of you work friends have already sampled it). I made seven different kinds this year – more than what I was planning, but a couple of them were very easy.

Here they are:

Spritz Ginger Snaps
Spritz (gluten free) Ginger Snaps (gluten free)
Rice Crispie Snowment Sugar Cookies
Rice Crispie Snowmen Sugar Cookies
Russian Teacakes Choclate Marshmallow-Hazelnut bars
Russian Teacakes Hazelnut Marshmallow triangles
Ishler Tortchen (sp?)  
Ishler Tortchen (Tortlettes)  

Three of them are free of wheat gluten (turns out my mom is okay with corn gluten). The spritz and ginger snaps are completely gluten free, with the spritz recipe coming from here, and the ginger snaps were from a mix from the Gluten Free Pantry (found at Whole Foods – good cookies). The Ischler Tortchen are an Austrian recipe from Andrew’s mom, and for the first time making them, they turned out quite well (if I do say so myself).

Notes on the gluten-free spritz: I used white rice flouer instead of the brown rice flour that was called for. They taste quite good – slightly odd texture, but no odd after-taste. I colored a third of the dough red and a third green, and these colored bits went through the spritz machine a lot easier than the uncolored third. The uncolored bit fell apart more easily, and wouldn’t go through one of the holes of the disk. The Christmas tree mold seemed to work best, both for pressing the cookies and for getting them off the cookie sheet. Oh, yeah, there was a delicate balance between leaving the cookies on the cookie sheet too long and not long enough – in both cases the cookie fell apart. I resorted to using a knife to free the cookies from the pan, then a spatula to transfer them to the cooling rack. This was no guarantee that they’d stay together, but it tipped the odds in my favor. Even after they are off the pan, though, they are very delicate. I don’t know if these will make it to Minnesota in one piece, though I’m gonna give it a try.

A note on the Rice Crispie Snowmen: commercial brands of Rice Crispies have flour in them – you really need to buy the gluten-free ones to ensure a gluten-free treat. The marshmallows contain modified cornstarch, but according to several gluten-free informational websites, in the US modified cornstarch is gluten-free. In other countries, this may not be the case. In any event, the M&Ms and frosting on my snowmen has cornstarch (not modified), so has some corn gluten.

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Christmas is coming!

Posted by barb on Dec 5, 2006 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

Christmas Tree_1.jpg

We got our tree last weekend, and I decorated it on Sunday. So it’s starting to feel like Christmas…despite the 70-degree weather last week and no snow. Not that I’m complaining – I don’t exactly like snow.

I’m working on the Christmas cards, and I’m thinking about which cookies to make this year. I have a special challenge, because I’ll be bringing cookies home with us to my parents’ house, and my mom is allergic to gluten. So, I’m trying to find recipies that will work gluten-free…it’s not easy. I’ll let you know what I come up with. If there are any suggestions out there, I’d love to hear them.


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Christmas Day!

Posted by barb on Dec 25, 2005 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

We spent another quiet day in Hemmingford today. After sleeping in late, Andrew and I walked around his parents’ yard. They live on an old horse farm and have about 5 acres, so we walked around and played with taking pictures of the snowy landscape. Then I made Andrew help me with a snowman:

Andrew struggling with the snowman

Happy snowman

After kicking around the house for a while, we popped over to Auntie’s house to visit with her, Uncle, Maggie, and Bob. Auntie gave Andrew and I a tour around her place, pointing out some of her favorite odds ‘n’ ends. She has a vast collection of dresses, along with treasures from every corner of the world. It’s a lot of fun to tour her place.

Odds 'n' ends at Auntie's Odds 'n' ends at Auntie's - statue Odds 'n' ends at Auntie's

I also heard from Dad today. They sent him home from the hospital this morning, and he was able to make it to Christmas-morning church service. The doctor had told him that it was okay, and that he liked to get patients back to their normal schedule as soon as possible. He needs to watch his activity, but should be taking 10-15 minute walks every day. It was good to hear from him.

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Holiday Drama

Posted by barb on Dec 24, 2005 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

Andrew and I arrived in Montreal yesterday without any incident – all of our luggage even arrived (which, if you know me, is a bit of a triumph). Despite Andrew’s mom’s worries, I was able to drive to Hemmingford with no trouble, though the directions we got from Yahoo were a bit odd (Andrew didn’t recognize bits of the ride, which we later discovered was because we took a totally different way from his parents). We spent a quiet evening with his parents.

Dolphin Slipper

After sleeping in this morning, we headed off to a mall on the South Shore, where Andrew bought me another Christmas present – dolphin slippers. The main point of our trip was to get Andrew a new pair of boots, and we were successful on that point. The mall was busy, but we were able to navigate it without too much trouble.

When we returned to his parent’s house, I had expected a message from my parents – they were going to call sometime Christmas Eve. But there was no message. Andrew and his mom got busy making Christmas Eve dinner, and I settled in the living room to work on Sudoku.

Finally, after dinner, a call came from my mom. Dad was in the hospital. He’d had a heart attack yesterday. He’s doing fine now – they put in two more stents and he needs to stay home from work for a week or two. But, they’re probably going to send him home tomorow morning. The whole family – my brothers and their families, mom, and grandma – all went to the hospital this morning with all of the Christmas gifts and celebrated in Dad’s hospital room. Then they all had dinner in the hospital cafeteria (except Dad, who had his Christmas Eve dinner in his room alone).

As if that wasn’t enough, Mom passed the phone on to my brother, Kevin. He was staying at my parents’ house for a little while because he found out yesterday that his live-in girlfriend had been cheating on him. She had profiles up on Match.com and SingleMoms.com. Yup. She and her two kids had been living at Kevin’s house for about a year (I can’t remember exactly how long), and she had singles profiles up. Lovely. So, Kevin left the house, and told her to move out.

After talking with everyone else at Mom’s house, I spent a quiet evening with Andrew’s parents tonight. I’ve been fighting back tears – there’s nothing like a family emergency to remind us how fragile life can be. I have a feeling I’ll have a good cry in bed tonight. I wish I were home to be with the family.

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Merry Christmas Everyone!

Posted by barb on Dec 22, 2005 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

Felicia and Patrick Decked for Christmas

Things are going to be quiet around here for a week – hope everyone has a wonderful and safe holiday!

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