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.

 

 

 

Plein Air Jelly

When our lunch at Plein Air was over last Saturday, I brought home all the Sangria fruit plus the cut up fruit that had been served with the crackers and cheese ball. It was a lot of fruit. Cantaloupe and watermelon balls, blueberries, apples, plums, nectarines, pears, and some thinly sliced lemons. I forgot to take a picture of what I had. I just couldn’t stand for all that good fruit to go to waste. #wastenotwantnot

I cooked it up, put it through the food mill and then strained that juice which had a fair amount of pulp in it. I didn’t put it in a jelly bag, but strained it through a colander with fairly small mesh. Some fruit particles came through so the jelly isn’t as clear as It would be if I’d used a jelly bag. I wasn’t going for jelly to enter in the State Fair.

I needed 5 1/2 cups of juice according to the “plum” SureJell recipe. I used that one because it was closest to the amount of juice I had which came from mostly stone fruits. I was a little short so decided to add some Peach Schnapps I had in the cupboard.

I think this was leftover from the year Laura and I rode in the Christmas in St. Michaels parade. It was bitterly cold and we decided we needed a flask. I must have used this for something else since there was only about a quarter cup left. But this stuff never goes bad, right?

I got all my canning supplies ready and put pint jars through the dishwasher.

I followed the recipe exactly as I wanted the best chance to have the jelly jell.

Eight pints went into the canning kettle for a 10 minute boiling water bath.

Several of the ladies from the Plein Air lunch will get a jar. It’s a beautiful claret color and is fruity with a hint of lemon. And it jelled…unlike my strawberry jam in June. Yum!

 

Why House Tours are Good for My Mental Health

Last weekend I was a hostess at one of the houses on the Christmas in St. Michaels house tour – a lovely big house, on the Miles River, at the end of our street. Twelve years ago the owners demolished the small rancher (probably just like mine) on that lot and built a new house. It’s really nice. Of course all the houses on the tour are decorated – sometimes by the owners, often by professionals.

I had a two and a half hour hostess shift during which I stood near the top of the stairs on the second floor and told people about the three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and the adorable space created when the owner realized what had been in the plans as a storage room had fabulous views. An additional window was added and it was turned into a small fourth bedroom/sitting room. It really was a perfect place to curl up, watch the river or read a book.

When I came home I told my husband that these house tours were bad for my mental health. That’s because when I walk back into MY house with the clutter, the dishes in the sink, the manuscript living on the table where we eat, the bed still unmade and the headboard I’ve been thinking about recovering for three years shouting at me…for a very few minutes I believe I live in a hovel.

Those hovel thoughts doesn’t last long when I look at the overlapping photos of my grandchildren that cover my fridge.

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Or the artwork by my mother which adorns many of my walls.

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That’s when I’m reminded that I love my little one story house that doesn’t hurt my knees with second story steps. I see the only Christmas decorations I have in place. A boxwood topiary tree I made at a Green Thumb meeting and a ceramic Christmas tree that Laura gave me when my husband and I were helping her clean out her mother-in-law’s house. I am beyond grateful that she is in my life with her creative energy and friendship.

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Maybe house tours are to remind me that most of us live in palaces compared to so many people in the world. A reminder that gratitude should be the order of my days. My fridge is full of healthy food and when I run out, the grocery store is minutes away. I hear the furnace go on and am grateful that we had the money to replace it this fall.

During this holiday season, I’ll try to be more present with gratitude for what is already in my life – including my adorable cottage nestled among large old trees and the gardens I’ve created. In my mind it is house-tour worthy.

What are you most grateful for?

 

 

So Much to Do, So Little Time…

The annual Bay to Ocean Writers Conference is 20 years old in 2017. I attended my first conference the year after we moved to St. Michaels, MD – in 2007. The next year I was on the planning committee doing publicity and have been ever since in various roles. I’ve even been a co-chair with Laura Ambler and Diane Marquette a couple of years.

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Currently I (with a committee) find the thirty plus conference speakers we need, update the website, oversee production of the conference program, answer emails sent to the conference mailbox, update the evaluation form and pull together the information, and put down tape on the college floor the morning of the conference to make sure people know how to get to the cafeteria and the second building we use. It’s a  lot and as much as I love this event that brings an affordable writers conference to the Eastern Shore, this will be my last year doing all these tasks. I need to have time to write.

Today I was involved in filming a short documentary about the conference. We talked about how the conference got started and how it has evolved as the publishing world changed dramatically. When the conference began none of us were concerned about marketing on social media and there was no on demand printing. Once the film is available I’ll put it on the website and you can take a look.

I am also going off the Eastern Shore Writers Association board in January. I have been acting as the membership chair but we are transitioning to Wild Apricot, a membership software that will do most of the tasks I was doing. More time freed up.

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This weekend is Christmas in St. Michaels – a 30 year old event that raises money for good causes in the Bay Hundred area.

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The Bay Hundred is the area from St. Michaels down to Tilghman Island that could muster one hundred militia men during the Revolutionary War.

This is a very giving community. People work year round to make this festive event happen. There are so many moving parts beginning with a big party on Friday night. I went with a couple of lady friends one year (there was no way I was going to convince my husband to put on a tux) but after that decided I could donate to the cause and not go to the party. And it wasn’t like I had a closet full of gala outfits. This year they are not calling the event a Gala, but it costs the same. Apparently lots of good food, open bar and music. It will be fun for those who attend and I will be home in my PJs in front of the fire we’re now having every night. It’s very cozy.

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I baked cookies to be sold at Santa’s Wonderland for Saturday and on Sunday I am a docent at one of the houses on the house tour. It’s down the street (on the water) from my house. My house has a water view if you stand at the end of the driveway and squint.

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I am hoping to get out to mulch/mow the leaves still on the yard, but winter temps have finally arrived so I may just move the mower from the garage to the shed and call it an end to fall. Then I can organize the garage and think about painting those elephant ear leaf castings I made in October.

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Our dining out group gathered at our house this week. We’d made a reservation (way in advance) for dinner at Scossa, but they called to say they had double booked the room we were supposed to be in. I knew that meant they had gotten a booking for a larger party than our group of ten. But it all worked out. Some of our group have had health problems this fall and weren’t sure if they’d be able to go to a restaurant. I said come to the Burt’s and if you can only stay twenty minutes it will be okay. If you need to come in your PJs that would be fine, too. Everyone showed up wearing clothes and everyone brought something so it was easy. I did a ham. Another wife made one of those decadent potato casseroles, another a fabulous spinach salad with cranberries and gorgonzola and another green beans with lemon butter. For dessert one couple brought a beautiful trifle that was amazing. It was so light we were all lulled into believing it had no calories.

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I’m looking out the window of my office at the leaves on the grass. I might just have to dress for Antarctica and start up the mulching mower.

YOYO Dinners

It’s been a couple of weeks of day and evening meetings. I’ve only been home for dinner once. It’s just that time of year. My husband has had way too many YOYO dinners (You’re On Your Own.) By last Friday I was ready to slouch on the couch in my yoga pants and have a glass of wine in front of the fire.

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These are the Christmas treats I made for Santa’s Wonderland at Christmas in St. Michaels next weekend. This is the first time I’ve volunteered to help with the kids. I know they will be adorable. Then I thought about those runny noses. I don’t have a lot of interaction with little children any more so we don’t get the twenty-four hour flu that used to rampage through our family or the upper respiratory viruses that turned us all into mouth breathers. Oh, well, too late now. I’d probably scare the little darlings if I wore a face mask.

These no-bake “cookies” were  easy. Put a pretzel round on a baking sheet. I used a sheet pan with sides because the rounds are slippery. I didn’t want the batch to end up on the floor. Put a Hershey’s kiss (unwrapped) on each pretzel and put in a 350 degree oven for 2 minutes. Take them out and push an m&m into each soft kiss.

There was no room in my fridge so I cooled mine in the garage and then bagged them in the cello bags and tied them up with red ribbons. Very festive. I might do a gluten free version of this with a gluten free pretzel although, truth be told, neither one of us needs the calories. Unwrapping the kisses and sorting out the red and green m&ms took the most time. This would be a fun project if you have young children or grandchildren.

One of the nights out was my Working Writers Forum. Another night out was an Eastern Shore Writers Association Board meeting. Tonight it’s a meeting of the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference group so another YOYO dinner for the husband. Thank goodness he doesn’t mind leftovers.

Last Thursday was our dining out group – five couples who dine together once a month.. We had dinner at Scossa in Easton. We love that restaurant. One of our group had brought flashing Rudolph noses for the guys and Santa ear headbands for the gals. I never want to grow up. Wednesday night we are having a gathering of writers at our house. I might just wear that flashing Rudolph nose.

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