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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‘Tis the Season

I grew up with a Norwegian mother (second generation in the US) and a German father (the Schippers had been here longer). Because immigrants back then were intent on assimilating, neither my mother nor my father grew up speaking Norwegian or German. A lost opportunity. I don’t recall any specific ethnic traditions in our household. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t create my own.

One Christmas season my brother, Ross, made a kransekake – a Norwegian wreath cake which consists of eighteen sequentially smaller rings stacked one upon the other. I was impressed so I got the recipe and tried it. Trying to figure out the sizes of those rings was interesting and I don’t have a photo of that first attempt. It was a very wonky tower, but the rings were quite tasty.

A few Christmases later my brother and his wife, Linda, gave me a set of kransekake pans. Now the rings would be exactly the right size. However the ground almond, confectioners sugar and egg white mixture that is the recipe needed tweaking. I was grinding my almonds in my food processor and the dough puffed up too much. However, by that time I had involved my Montana granddaughters in baking a kransekake when we did a Montana Christmas. Those girls are all grown up now, but have requested baking a kransekake when we visit at Christmas this year. It’s become a tradition.

Ross told me he ground his blanched almonds in a coffee grinder. I went on line to YouTube for more instructions, then ordered a coffee grinder on Amazon. I had it (free shipping) in two days. I love Amazon Prime.

Yesterday I was ready. One of my yogi friends, Diane French, came to help. We discovered we needed to start the grinding process in the food processor to make the almonds into smaller pieces. Almonds are bigger than coffee beans! Duh. Then we decided to put the ground almonds through a sieve to make sure all the leftover almond bits were taken out and put through the grinder again. We made the dough and let it rest according to the recipe.

We rolled the dough into ropes the size of a pinkie finger and began filling the rings in the pans.

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The rings are baked at 396 degrees for 12 minutes. We learned that they needed to be cooled completely before we took them out of the non-stick pans.

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Next came the job of stacking the rings. They are quite close in size so there is probably a method, but we eyeballed it. White frosting is put on each ring and the next smaller size is laid on top. The frosting acts as a glue.

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We used white frosting in one of those spray cans. Here is the completed cake. It is a little wonky from one angle, but this is it’s best side. A turntable would have helped. I’ll get cans of red and  green frosting and decorate the cake with holly. It will be even more festive when that is done. Traditionally it might have had Norwegian flags on it or Christmas crackers. This cake is also served at Norwegian weddings.

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I have to say that grinding the almonds in the coffee grinder made a difference. This is the best and prettiest kranskake I’ve made. However, those first couple done with the grand-girls are the ones I’ll really remember and the fact that there is now a Norwegian tradition in our family. For those who are wondering, the kake is served from the bottom ring up. Several bottom rings are removed and each ring is cut into pieces. In this way, the rest of the kake remains in the shape of a Christmas tree.

This holiday treat is going to the Woman’s Club on St. Michaels on Wednesday. Laura Ambler and I are the program for the December meeting. We’ll be talking about how we turned our Christmas memory book, The Santa Diaries, into a produced Christmas play of the same name. ‘Tis the season of memories and making traditions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Christmas We Believe

I have a Santa decoration that lives in my kitchen year round.

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The wine cork ornament was a gift from the mother of the little boy who played Timmy in The Santa Diaries premier in Easton, Maryland in 2012. For Christmas last year Laura gave me the Believe ornament which I immediately hung on Santa’s hand. We believed that our movie script would get bought in 2014. Didn’t happen, but we continue to believe that it will happen at some point. Einstein told us time is fluid… in Hollywood.

When we went to Faribault, MN to see the third production of The Santa Diaries I came home with several additions to hang on my Santa.

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The red ball was a handmade ornament by Stephanie Weiss who played Martha in the Merlin Players production. The Santa riding a reindeer hanging below the red ball was a gift from the local thrift shop. Laura and I were perusing their wares and the gal at the counter was so thrilled to meet us she asked us each to choose an ornament to take home as a remembrance. The big Santa hanging on the right was in the large basket of Minnesota goodies that the Merlin Players Board of Directors had put in our room at The Loft.

The only problem now is that it is getting difficult to open the cupboard to the right of the Santa. It’s where the plates and bowls are stored so I am in it several times a day.

Any inconvenience is worth it, however, as I see these reminders every day and remember the joy of each production of our play. It’s a way of celebrating every day of the year.

As Josh Shankman says in our play, “Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwanza or whatever politically correct holiday you people celebrate. It’s all good!”

Laura and I send our wishes for joy, peace and love in this very special season of the year. Re: selling a movie script…there’s always next year. At Christmas we believe.

I Have a Santa Diaries Dream

In the dream I was in Minnesota for the Merlin Players production of The Santa Diaries. But something was very odd. The play was being held outside and it wasn’t cold. December in Minnesota and the grass was emerald green, as if brand new turf had just been rolled out.

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Chairs were set up on the grass facing a huge stage with multiple elaborate sets. I overheard actors complaining about how they had to run to get between the living room, and the bedroom sets, and I remember being confused because the Christmas weather seemed to be missing.

Apparently I was there for a rehearsal and the actors were amazingly good. And with those sets I knew this was going to be an outstanding production. I guess Laura was going to miss it, because she wasn’t in this dream.

But then, I needed to find something. Don’t you just hate it, in dreams, when you can’t find something it’s really important to find? I don’t remember now what it was, but I do remember running around trying to find it.

Finally it was opening night. As is true for all my dreams, it’s really all about me. There I was, ripping through my suitcase, throwing things on the bed. OMG. No clean underwear! That part of the dream was flat out disappointing. Couldn’t my writer’s unconscious have come up with something more original than no clean underwear?

In my dream or in my waking life, I’ve never worried how the Merlin Players would treat our play. And in the scheme of my writing life, not having clean underwear is no biggie.

The dream may have been anxiety about Minnesota weather, so when we go to see the play in a couple of weeks, I’ll make sure to pack winter clothes–and plenty of clean underwear.

Rehearsals Begin in Minnesota

Rehearsals for The Santa Diaries have begun in Faribault, Minnesota. Laura and I will be going to see several of the shows.I hope the photo below is not what we will have in store for us as we will have to drive from Minneapolis to Faribault. When we go someplace Laura is kind enough to let me drive. I’m one of those people who likes to be in control. This works out well because when we go to Baltimore for theater Laura doesn’t like to drive over the Bay Bridge. I don’t have a bridge issue.

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One of the cast members, Michael Lambert who is cast as Will Hawes in the play, sent us a newsy email which I posted on The Santa Diaries Project blog. Take a look.

If we were closer we’d attend some rehearsals, but now we have to decide if the opening weekend or the closing weekend would be the best time to see some of the performances. We’re waiting to hear from the play’s director to help us make a decision.

We Talk to a Brown Bag

Last week Laura and I gave a talk at a brown bag lunch at the St. Michaels, Maryland library, a branch of the Talbot County library. We had been asked several months before to speak about how our book, The Santa Diaries: Memories of a Small-town Christmas, had been turned into a play and then a screenplay. Usually these talks seem like a good idea at the time we’re asked, but the week before we always wonder if we were nuts to agree. This talk, however, was different.

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Preparing our notes helped us remember the writing path we’ve been on for the last couple of years. All things Christmas. And we loved sharing the story of this writing journey which has been full of creativity, occasional angst, and a lot of joy.

We put together photos and slides of the journey and Shauna Beulah, the librarian, managed the computer for us, making sure the right ones got on the screen at the right time. We even were able to play The Santa Diaries trailer that Laura made on Animoto. It always makes me tear up.

The brown bags are held once a month and usually feature a local topic. It might be local history, an environmental issue, blue crab recipes, and the occasional author. This is Laura, me, and Shauna.

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The library takes good care of the people who show up. I didn’t see anybody with a brown bag lunch, but there was coffee, tea and somebody had baked goodies. The St. Michaels branch of the Talbot County Library system is my local library. They take good care of us.

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There were thirty copies left of The Santa Diaries book that we did for Christmas in St. Michaels. Once they are gone, there will be no more. I sold 13 of those 30 copies at this talk. All the monies go to the charities supported by Christmas in St. Michaels. Now I am shamelessly carrying the last few with me everywhere I go.

We had a great time remembering the writing work we’ve done the last few years and sharing the journey. No angst. Just joy!

 

 

 

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I am totally impressed. My name and Laura’s are next to Nora and Delia Ephron’s on The Merlin Players website.
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We can’t wait to see how The Merlin Players  interpret our baby in December.  Will a  Minnesota trip be in my Christmas stocking?