Christmas Parade Memories

“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!”

–Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

The Christmas’s I really remember are those from my childhood in South Bend, Indiana.  We moved there from Bryan, Texas when I was five. My father had left his teaching post at Texas A & M for a teaching position at Notre Dame. South Bend gave me my first experience of snow and all Christmas seasons ever after have needed snow. Even just the couple of inches we got last night transport me into the spirit of the season.

Young people today don’t realize that the Christmas season didn’t use to start until after Thanksgiving. And on Thanksgiving, in South Bend, it usually snowed. By the time we were finished with turkey and dressing, we were bundled up and took our sleds to the slopes of a nearby area the neighborhood kids called The Trails. It was where we played ball and hide and seek in the summer and built pirate forts year round. When it snowed, several small hills were perfect for our Radio Flyers. At least that’s the way I remember it. I can’t imagine it always snowed on Thanksgiving, but in my childhood recollections, it did. And that’s when the countdown to Christmas began.

It might not be correct that on Thanksgiving weekend there was a Christmas parade in downtown South Bend, but that’s the way I remember it.  Overnight Christmas displays appeared in store windows, and at our Swedish Lutheran church the children’s choir began practicing songs for the Christmas Eve service.  It was an eternal month of anticipation. Would Christmas never come?

Living in a small town brings back those memories. On Saturday we went to St. Michaels main street to watch the annual Christmas parade. Three small children next to us were bundled into blankets as they waited for the parade to begin. It was snowing and I remembered the wonder of being that age.

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What I don’t remember about past Christmas’s in the snow is my hands and feet turning to ice. On Saturday I was trying to take photos for my blog. My gloves got wet and by the time we left, my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel them.  I wasn’t feeling joyful, I was freezing.  That’s me with my own Santa.

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The parade had everything. Marching bands, dogs,  floats, fire trucks and llamas. And because we live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, there were quite a few boats.

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We waited for Tom Campi, St. Michaels perennial Santa Claus, who had a special bay built into his garage for his sleigh. Tom is the inspiration for the Christmas play Laura Ambler and I wrote. The year it premiered at the Avalon Theatre, Laura and I walked in the St. Michaels Christmas Parade with some of the cast. It wasn’t as cold given how people are dressed and it wasn’t snowing.

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Apparently Tom’s Santa Claus was the last float in Saturday’s parade but we were standing much further down the parade route and thought the parade had ended. Everyone left. Someone later told me there was a big gap in the parade before Santa’s float. I was worried that something had happened to Tom, but he was okay and spent the rest of the day with kids whispering Christmas wishes in his ear.

This is a photo from a previous year’s parade. This Santa is the real deal!

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After the parade, my husband and I went home to our own fire-side and thawed out.

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Shirley’s Magic Wreath Machine

As my blog readers know, I’ve been involved in planning meetings for the St. Michaels Woman’s Club garden group, Green Thumb. This year my task was to coordinate an annual wreath making event. Shirley Windsor of Seasonal Flowers comes to the St. Michaels Woman’s Club clubhouse with her magic wreath making machine and all participants go home with a beautiful wreath.

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Each year Laura Ambler, my writing partner,  allows me to cut greens from her property.  And each year she gets a wreath I make. I took this one to her office and she hung it on the front door. It would be way to big for my front door. Some years I make a big one and a smaller one for myself.

These wreaths take a lot of material and we all bring our own bags of greens. And we share. Each large wreath needs 18 bundles of greens (each with 10-12 stems). A small wreath takes 14. The ends of the bundles are wrapped with a rubber band. Each bundle is inserted between two prongs on the wreath frame and when Shirley presses on the foot lever, the two prongs are pushed flat over the end of the bundle. You can see the lever on the bottom of this photo. It’s really quite amazing. I found this company online with what looks like the guts of Shirley’s machine.

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The workshop is messy and we had put down tarps the day before. I had to be in Annapolis so my friend Carol and her husband Jim got all the tarps down and taped and the tables set up. I was so grateful for their help.

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Making bundles takes time, but everyone goes home with a wreath they can be proud of and every single one is different and beautiful.

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This was Leslye’s first wreath. Spectacular!

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Jennifer’s first wreath. She told me she was going to highlight the magnolia leaves with some gold paint. She was one of the last ones to get her bundles put on a frame and the rest of us were sweeping up and removing tarps around her. The clubhouse had to be left spotless as a crew setting up for the Christmas in St. Michaels’ Gingerbread House Contest was coming in early the follwing day. The preview party was Saturday night. There is lots to do in St. Michaels this time of year.

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Christmas in St. Michaels is in its 36th year and raises money for charities in the Bay Hundred area. It’s a spectacular event and the result in a year-long planning effort. It starts next Saturday with the best small-town Christmas parade in America.

 

 

 

Mala’s Crack Pecans

These are supposed to be called Cinnamon Sugared Pecans, but they are totally addictive. I made a batch because I was supposed to take tossed salads to two events. I put the nuts I needed in two baggies, but there were delicious leftovers. I should have thrown them out or put them in the trunk of my car where they would be too much trouble to get to. There should be step meetings for these pecans.

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My husband got a few.

Then one of the dinner events was cancelled at the last minute. So that baggie came into play.  As I sat in my office I could hear them faintly calling my name. mala mala mala mala mala  You just have to answer after awhile.

The second dinner is tonight. I am exercising self-control. The pecans are safe for the moment. I have blueberries and sliced strawberries to go into this salad and a lovely, light lemon and honey dressing. It’s going to be delicious.

Here’s the recipe for Crack Pecans. These make lovely hostess gifts. Be advised that checking for crunch in the final stages is where the addiction begins. Consider yourself warned.

Mala’s Crack Pecans (from Cookingclassy.com website who stole it from allrecipes.com where I made tweaks)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pecan halves (4 cups)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ½ tsp vanilla (up to 1 tbsp)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (can be half white, half brown)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (can add ½ tsp allspice, 1/8 tsp cayenne for kick)
  • ½ tsp salt (can be up to 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, vigorously whisk egg white with water and vanilla until very frothy. In a separate small mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add pecans to egg white mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour half of the sugar mixture over pecans and toss several times, then add remaining sugar mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour coated pecans over a parchment paper lined backing sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container.

Notes

You can double this recipe you could keep the cinnamon sugar amounts the same. It’s plenty of sweet. If you do this, make it in two batches using two sheet pans. Four cups is just the right amount for one sheet pan.

I use sheet pans with a silpat liner.  You can also use parchment paper.The sheet pan has sides so the nuts don’t fall out.

The final 15 minutes in the oven is crucial to make them crunchy. I checked them after what I thought was the final time and they still weren’t dry in the middle, so I put them in for another 15 minutes. The first two times you stir them they will be sticky. They may need a little additional time in the oven. Just keep checking for crunch. I like adding that little bit of cayenne for a little heat. If you’re planning to use them as an appetizer with cheese and fruit, you could add more salt as well.

The Garden Gets Put to Bed

Almost all the leaves are off the trees. This year I’m having a guy come who has a big mulching mower and can dump the mulched leaves where I direct him. Not all goes in the wire corrals I created, but most of it does. His machine makes finer mulch than my little self-propelled mower with a bag. Chris has been here once and I’ll have him do another pass in a few days. Then I can put those mulched leaves on the flower beds and my four raised vegetable beds at home.

I currently have three beds at the St. Michaels Community Garden. One is a bed that nobody wants. It’s under a big maple tree and requires extra attention. It’s planted in garlic at the moment, although I am thinking about planting it with some hardy flowering shrubs next spring. Another bed is covered in heavy black plastic to keep the weeds down. I’ll uncover it in the spring, add some amendments and dig it before planting seeds. The third bed, where I had my tomatoes last summer, was planted at the end of August with fall crops: radishes, turnips, collards and two kinds of kale.

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Last week I put a floating row cover on it. I’m always surprised that most people at the community garden never think about fall crops. Our temps are moderate here on the Eastern Shore. We didn’t have a hard freeze until  two weeks ago. Friday was the first day I had to scrape frost off the car to go to my early morning yoga class. The row cover will allow me to harvest greens all winter long.

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The garden across the alley from this bed is the Wilson Reading Garden at Carpenter Alley which I helped create and maintain. A vacant lot when we started, it’s outside the St. Michaels branch of the Talbot Country Free Library. A winding oyster shell path and benches offer an inviting place to sit and unwind.

The land the Community Garden is on is owned by the town. The town council just approved our second five-year lease. Another friend and I have, for the last four years, been primarily responsible for keeping the Community Garden going. Recently we sent out an email that others needed to step up as we would be stepping away from our leadership roles next year. We got two “thank-you for all you do” emails in response, but no volunteers for the behind the scenes work that keeps the garden going. I’m not sure what will happen.

One of the original goals of the community garden was to create more opportunities for the small black community which borders one side of the garden to interact with the rest of the community (or the other way around). We were more successful with that in the beginning because the pastor of Union United Methodist church was very involved in the garden. A couple of years ago he moved to another church and the new pastor isn’t interested in the community garden project. That is not a criticism. Not everyone is a gardener.

Non-profits ebb and flow. Change happens and sometimes things get better. Sometimes they don’t. We’ll see how interested the community is in continuing to have a Community Garden. In the meantime, I’m off to the garden to harvest red turnips for a dinner party tonight.

 

 

The Week of 600 Bulbs

St. Michaels, the small-town on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay where I live, has decided to become an “In Bloom” town. Apparently there are lots of other towns across the country that are part of this movement which started in Europe. When I was asked to be involved, I sat on my hands. I have enough volunteer activities on my plate.

One of those volunteer activities is to co-chair the Grounds Committee at the St. Michaels Woman’s Club. We are a committee of two and my co, Joanne, and I do most of the work to keep the grounds looking good. Several times a year we ask for volunteers to help with clean-up, and sometimes we hire some help. The town mows the grass.

Joanne went to a St. Michaels in Bloom meeting and forgot to sit on her hands. The result was 500 daffodil bulbs that needed to be planted this week. That’s a lot of bulbs! I didn’t get a photo of the four large bags we got, but here are some of what we put in the ground. Multiply that by twenty.

Joanne and another club member planted about 100 on Friday. She asked me to come and I told her it was the only day that week that I didn’t have some volunteer activity and I wanted some time for myself. She was understanding. I planted 50 tulip bulbs at home that day and then went to the clubhouse and planted 50 more in the back. The weather was decent and Friday night it was going to turn cold so I wanted to get it done. Those tulips were my idea so I felt responsible for getting them in the ground.

Yesterday we planted the rest of the daffodil bulbs. They are being planted all around St. Michaels. 10,000 bulbs, so I’m really glad I didn’t go to that meeting. Five hundred was more than enough for me, but the Woman’s Club, and the town, will be glorious next spring. A Daffodil Festival is planned. I am super glueing my hands to my thighs after my wrists get back to normal from using the bulb planter.

From the Garden

Over the weekend I cooked my purple sweet potatoes. They were not a gardening success. I think the 6 plants cost $15. These are a Japanese variety that is supposed to full of good stuff that will make you life forever. I got a pitiful yield. Cut, they went into one pot. We’ll be eating them for awhile as it’s just the two of us.

The are a beautiful color, but I should have worn gloves when I peeled and cut them up. (The red stains were gone by the next day.) These sweet potatoes were tasty, but very starchy. I had to put them in my stand mixer to mash them.

We’ve had several nights of hard freezes. Tomorrow I’ll check out my radishes and turnips. I’m expecting the turnips will be okay, but the radishes may be mush. Baby bok choy looks fine as do the kale and collards.

On Stage…

My theater ladies and I saw Shakespeare in Love on Sunday afternoon at Baltimore Center Stage. It was a wonderful, funny romp.

The play was adapted from the movie and it was fascinating to see the creative staging. One of my favorite parts was a boatman rowing Violet and Will down the Thames. The stage has a small portion that can be opened to an understage area. Oarlocks had been installed on the underside of the trap doors and oars inserted. The boatman sat on the edge of the opening and rowed in slow motion. The audience imagined the water. It was such a clever bit of stage business.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a performance of The Boatwright, written and performed by Patrick Tovattin one of the boat sheds at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

Three actors sat on stools and read the play. A narrator sat on the side and gave occasional information about the setting which the audience could then envision. That worked better than I would have imagined. There really was no need for a set. The play was brought to St. Michaels by our friend, Mary Kay Powell, a former Hollywood mover and shaker who retired to our little town. Laura missed this one night performance, a fund-raiser for Talbot Mentors. I was sorry she didn’t get to see it. We get a lot of ideas from the theater performances we attend.

Writing

We are in the beginning stages of our second Santa Diaries play – same characters five years later. We have the arc mapped out and now need to write the scenes. The process is always an evolution, so just because we think we know what is going to happen, doesn’t mean the characters may not throw some curve balls at us.

That’s life in St. Michaels, one of the prettiest small-towns in America. It’s where write, garden, cook and, some weeks, plant 600 bulbs.

 

 

 

 

 

Software for a Writer + Garden Update

I follow the BookBaby blog and recently one of the posts was about editing software.I didn’t know such software existed. The post evaluated nine different editing software programs. These products will never replace my human editor, but I purchased one of the ones recommended and was thrilled with what it did for me. 

The post came at a propitious time. I had been tweaking the manuscript of my second novel (which I will be republishing under my name rather than the pen name I used twelve years ago). It seemed to me that I was using certain phrases too many times. What about my use of adverbs? Just how many times did I start sentences the same way?

SmartEdit is the product I purchased. It cost $77 for Word. I had a little difficulty downloading it – or rather it downloaded and I had trouble finding where it had gone. But once that issue was resolved, the program now appears on the icon ribbon at the top of my word documents. It looks at eleven different editing issues: adverb usage, repeated phrases, repeated words, misused words, cliches, redundancies, monitored words, proper nouns, acronyms, foreign words, and profanities. It also checks for a variety of punctuation issues. I was less concerned about punctuation since my books are proofed before being published.

For each category you can see each use and where it is in your manuscript. the screen shows the list below and the manuscript area above. You can change it right then and there. I could also pull up my thesaurus at the same time so if I used a word too often, I could see what other words were available. The adverb checker was extremely helpful.

I would have liked to be able to copy the lists of proper names and print them out, but I was informed by the Irish creators of the program that that “functionality is not available.” I would have liked to be able to copy most of the lists as reference documents. Maybe that can be included in a future version. 

This is the link to the blog. SmartEdit or one of the other options may be just what you need.

 

Heavy rain Tuesday night made driving to my Working Writers Forum in Easton a nightmare. But, even after eleven years, I learn something every time, so was glad I went. The next morning lots of leaves were on the driveway and lawn.

This year I’m going to get help mulching the leaves. It takes alot of time to bag the mulched leaves with our small mower and I really want to be writing. So a guy with a big machine and big collection bag is getting my business. He’ll have to come several times as the maples aren’t yet denuded. I put the mulched leaves on the garden beds and some in wire pens I made. They decompose over the winter and some are used in the compost bins.

We are supposed to get our first hard freeze Friday night. I need to get the drip irrigation system winterized and a couple of other garden chores done. Those can be accomplished when I get up from my desk after sitting too long. By the end of Thursday, the “must do” chores will be completed, but there will still be some garden clean-up. Elephant ear tubers are dug after the first frost. I need to have elephant ears if I’m going to make more cement leaf castings next summer.

 

My fall vegetable bed at the Community garden needs to be covered with a floating row cover. I’ve been harvesting red skinned turnips and gorgeous radishes.

Tonight I’m going to saute them both (sliced) in butter and add some honey at the end. Yum! It’s the end of crab season and I’ve made crabcakes using a recipe from Mary Gray. I bake mine. A few will go in the freezer for a winter treat.

I am looking forward to dinner.

 

 

 

Maytag’s Run-around about My New Defective Refrigerator

Maytag knows they have a defective product and sell it anyway. Apparently there is a widespread problem with the foam insulation that oozes under the gaskests resulting in the doors not closing properly. Result in the freezer is snow all over everything and water on the floor.

Ten years ago, when we moved to St. Michaels, we bought all new appliances from Higgins and Spencer in St. Michaels. Competitive prices and other people told me they offered the best service.

Ten years later (almost to the day), our Maytag French door refrigerator died. We called Higgins and Spencer on a Saturday afternoon and within two hours had a loaner fridge/freezer so we didn’t lose our food. Talk about fantastic service.

We ordered a new Maytag French Door refrigerator and it took weeks to get it. Apparently it had to be special ordered because I wanted white and didn’t want ice and water in the door.

The fridge finally came and was installed. We were told to expect a life of 8-10 years on this expensive appliance. Planned obsolescence the service guy said. After all, those guys buy appliances, too, so they know. The refrigerator wasn’t as nice as the previous one. Cheap handles. Wire baskets in the freezer instead of the heavy plastic bins in the old fridge. It’s just kinda cheesy all around. That’s what you get for $1400.

Within a few days I noticed some water at base of the fridge. Higgins and Spencer came right away. The insulation in the bottom freezer door had oozed out of the gasket which now didn’t close properly and warm air was getting into the freezer. That had happened at the factory. They would have to order a replacement freezer door.

It’s now been almost six weeks that we’ve been waiting for the replacement door. I called Higgins and Spencer this morning. The replacement door has been ordered and it MAY be here in a couple of weeks. My guy at Higgins and Spencer was clearly frustrated. He told me he’d told Maytag that he would just get me a new fridge, but was told it would take longer to get a replacement fridge than waiting for the replacement door. He also told me that apparently this is a widespread problem and Maytag knows about it. Wouldn’t you think they would do a quality check on these freezer doors before installing them?

So I called the Maytag Customer Service line. Here’s what I learned.

  1. The registration for the appliance that I had done on line doesn’t show up on Maytag Customer Service records. That only happens if you call them on the phone.
  2. Maytag  Customer Service told me the appliances they had a record of me purchasing. They track customers by their phone numbers. Must have been the person who had our phone number before because the appliances they said we had didn’t correspond to what we bought 10 years ago. That was when I found out the warranty I’d filled out on line wasn’t in their system.
  3. When you buy a Maytag appliance from a retailer (is there any other way to buy one?) Maytag says the retailer is responsible for any problems.
  4. Maytag offered to send out a repair person to analyze the problem. A week from now. Good thing I didn’t have a dead fridge full of perishable food. I said we already knew what the problem was and a new door had been ordered. I was told I should have called Maytag and now that I had called someone else, they couldn’t do anything. Oh, didn’t they just tell me the retailer was responsible.
  5. I wanted to know why getting the new freezer door was taking so long. The answer was that the doors are custom made. Really! These refrigerators come off an assembly line. They have to have a supply of doors. Of course, if this is a widespread problem I wonder if a replacement door will be better than the original. I may just have to live with snow on my frozen food and a towel under the freezer door.
  6. Finally I was offered a two year free warranty. Good only if I used a person the Maytag Customer Service people sent. I couldn’t use my Higgins and Spencer guys. When I asked where this repair person would come from, they had no answer except to say they had people all over the United States. We live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Nobody from Salisbury or Annapolis is going to bring me a loaner fridge on a Saturday or Sunday. For that matter, Sears or Lowes in Easton isn’t going to either. And if my fridge or freezer quits I can’t wait a week or more for somebody to come and analyze the problem.

My Higgins and Spencer guy gives out his cellphone number to customers so if you have a fridge or freezer emergency you can call him. Anytime!

I told them the free warranty didn’t do me any good. Give me some money back. Okay, that was a long shot, but worth a try. They didn’t bite. Maytag doesn’t care. I bought my fridge from a retailer. They are no longer responsible for any problems.

A frustrating hour of my life. But I’ll FB, Twitter and blog about Maytag. They know they have a defective product and sell it anyway. #defectivemaytag

Now I’ll go sit on my meditation cushion, take calming breaths and try to get my blood pressure back to normal. I’m reminding myself I have electricity unlike so many American citizens in Puerto Rico a month after the hurricane hit.