Blogmas day 13 – Old Christmas

Hello my little festive baubles

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Today I am going to chat about my favourite Christmas story.

While I love the traditional “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens; it is The one above that I return to every year. In fact these stories precede the Dickens tales by many years.

The original Sketch book was a collection of 34 essays published in the early 1800s and included five essays that revolve around Christmas. They are often published separately as Old Christmas.

The five describe a visit the narrator made to an old English estate. Bracebridge Hall is remote and to reach it the narrator must travel by Stage Coach where he is joined by some young members of the Bracebridge family whose joy and anticipation soon rubs off on the traveler. They describe to him the pleasure that await him and squeal with delight as the house appears on the horizon.

Upon arrival he is thrown into the family celebrations that revolve around games, and food, and drink. In the old tradition Bracebridge keeps Christmas as a time to include the people of the entire estate. The locals are not just his neighbours they are dependent upon The Hall to provide them with work, order, and leadership. But in turn, the estimable Bracebridge recognizes the importance of positive relations in an interdependent society and treats his tenants to a large, long and loud celebration.

Unlike the Dickens stories which always have a touch of evil to counter the syrup sweet sentiment these stories have no “bad guy” there is nothing to overcome, they only chronicle the festivities.

I think that is what drew me to the stories when I first found them in my 20s. They are an ode to the “old ways” – even to Irving many of the traditions he describes were outdated in his time. It shows to me that as humans we tend to look to the past with a fond eye and all believe the world was once a better place.

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The wasail bowl, the Yule Log,  the dance, the feast are all lovingly described and it is hard to not want to step back to that time. Tho the realist in me remembers there was limited indoor plumbing and no electricity.

But it is the joy he captures that draws me back to read these stories every year.  I have a lovely reproduction of the 1875 version that includes all of the illustrations by R. Caldecott which are themselves a joy to look at.

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Happily they are available in many forms as open publications so you can find them online for free. This year I have discovered they are also available at LibriVox read aloud. I plan to listen to the tales of Christmas Eve as I bake, and wrap and clean. For me it is pure Christmas spirit.

 

 

 

 

Blogmas day 12 – Birthday Brunch

Hello my little snowflakes

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Today Mr Murfin took me to a local Inn for the brunch extravaganza. The Benmiller Inn is only 5 minutes from Hedgehog Hill and is the sort of quaint cozy place you might expect to find in Stars Hollow.  The door above leads into a stone floored lobby and bar area. It is a bit dark so I didn’t take any pictures but imagine rustic charm and big beams.

The drive there was a bit snowy as we are on day 3 of snow. It is likely to continue over night into Monday (when you will be reading this) I don’t mind the snow as long as I am warm and cozy. We did drive our big old truck because it has 4 wheel drive and you know Canada….

img_2833It was the parking lot that was the most treacherous The inn is a converted woolen mill originally built about 1877. For generations it produced woolen “basket weave” blankets and was powered by the waters of Sharpe’s Creek.  It was purchased and renovated in the early 1970s into the Inn, spa and dining place it is now.

img_2834Although much changed from it’s hey-day the building in the centre of the picture was once the original mill. The structure to the left side was added for dining rooms. Other out buildings have been built over the years. The whole complex spreads over the tiny village of Benmiller and includes many other converted buildings and houses. It was once bustling village with much small independent industry but sadly like so many little towns not much of that remains. It is naturally beautiful nestled in between Sharpes Creek and the Maitland River. In 2011 a F3 tornado tore through this area and many of the old growth trees were leveled as if a giant hand had just pushed them over. Luckily the building did not recieve any major damage and the landscape is recovering.

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It looks beautiful in all seasons, but I love the snow. I did not take a lot of pictures inside.

img_2837we were shown to a lovely table right next to window directly over Sharpe’s Creek. The food is plentiful and it is impossible to leave without feeling like you may never eat again.

img_2839This is another dining room that was not being used today but I love the lights on the beams. Lovely in the summers as there are gardens out the windows.

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So lovely, and I had a wonderful time.

It is now 12 days until Christmas. I have so much to do and every year I start to panic about now. But it will all get done, I don’t expect perfection I take a deep breath and focus on enjoying the moments. Even the burnt cookie, closed roads, no power moments. Now that I have mentioned those things I hope they don’t actually happen.

Time to get wrapping presents.

 

Blogmas day 11 – Chillin’ with the Christmas movies

Hello my little popcorn elves.

The weather outside is frightful. But the fire is so delightful.

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I’ve got a basket of crochet and a cup of tea. Let’s put on a Christmas movie.

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This is a small selection of the many Christmas movies we have collected over the years. I think most families have favourites that become part of our Christmas rituals and memories.

I thought I would run down some of my top picks for Christmas and tell you what it is that I love about them.

The first one is likely on your  list too, but I am not going to pick a particular version. It really isn’t Christmas until you have watched some version of “A Christmas Carol”. Everyone has done this story from the old classic black and whites to the Muppets and I really don’t have a preference. In fact I will happily watch several versions. It is a story so recognized that it has become an icon of the season. I don’t actually own a copy of the Muppets one and I am thinking I need to get it.

My second choice is also a pair of movies. For me, at some point I have to curl up with –

“The Holiday” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGBl5FxOrUQ               and

“Love Actually” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eCb8w8SRAk

They may be two of the most romantic moves ever; the fact that they are both set at Christmas puts them both over the top for movie enjoyment. Full disclosure I have Love Actually on as I write this. I am glad that both of story lines in The Holiday turn out happy (sorry if that is a spoiler…but seriously why haven’t you watched that movie before?) but I still stop and feel a bit sad for Sarah from Love Actually and I hope she and Karl finally got together in the New Year.

Each of the stories holds a place in my heart. I love how they are intertwined. There are so many great actors in both of these movies. I think I enjoy them more every year. Bill Nighy I bloody love you.

As a side note – this year of all years I think Billy Bob Thornton as the American President is going to seem extra creepy.

The next choice is my favourite animated Christmas film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tk-WZSqIGQ

Arthur Christmas, You might notice a strong leaning towards British films and themes here. I am an unapologetic Anglophile. This is a lovely story about family and duty and tradition. Made by the Aardman Animations who also make the Wallace and Gromit movies (also my favourites) The Elf Bryony is one of the many high points of this story. The animation is beautiful, there is a scene with Toronto in it, and of course Bill Nighy is in it…and sings again.

Honourable mention to the short films by Raymond Briggs. We first fell in love with his stories in book form but the little moives bring them to life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhRc6JhpZhw

My final choice (though this is not a complete list) is our all time favourite Christmas movie – Bernard and the Genie.

Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. it was a British made for TV movie that came out in 1991 and we discovered it a few years later and taped it off TV. That was our only copy until Young Murfin found a VHS copy in a junk store. We have lived in fear of it breaking or wearing out until I finally ordered a DVD copy last year.

But I just found the whole thing on You tube! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8qwZcycfoI

Go watch it now!

This movie is a huge portion of our Christmas traditions. We all watch together a day or two  before Christmas and we say key lines out loud together. It is a quirky story of a guy (the wonderful – but very young Alan Cumming) who has a run of very bad luck but then discovers a lamp with a Genie (Lenny Henry) and their adventures together tun his life around. Great story, quirky characters and Rowan Atkinson is spectacular as the bad guy. I can’t tell you how much I love this movie.

Well I’m off to enjoy the rest of Love Actually don’t forget the popcorn!

 

 

Blogmas day 10 – Quick Washi tape crafts

imageHello my little Christmas Crafters.

I may have a tiny washi tape addiction. Like felt it is an easy product to work with, and can give you great results with a minimum or tools or artistic talent.  And if you shop around for sales, or use your coupons it is inexpensive too.

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So I had a bunch of ideas about how I could turn some bits and bobs into useful Christmas goodies. Lots of stores like Sephora, or Bath and Body Works, give you nice paper bags with your purchases. I hate to throw them out and I had saved up quite a few. I also had a old Altoids tin, a package on nice little black note books, and a couple of pencils.

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I was really pleased with how the Sephora bag turned out. I had some Christmas washi that has a black background so I iused it to blend in on with the stripes. The picture may not show it clearly, but the centre stripe has little deer heads and holly leaves which (was just wide enough to cover the Sephora logo) and there is a thin black washi that says Merry Christmas  or Happy Holidays on the stripes above and below. It looks really classy. Remember to check both sides of the bag for additional logos.

img_1809I have quite a few of these Bath & Body Works Bags and I found some Christmas cards that matched well.

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I cut the picture from the card and I used a red and white polka dot for the frame on this one. The washi is strong enough to hold the card, but as you are figuring out your placement you can re position it without ripping the paper underneath. Once I am happy with the position I run my finger back and forth pressing it down firmly.

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This black bag had a scuff on one side and I was able to cover it with a few strips of coordinating tape. I layered some of the narrow tapes over the over others and added a couple of printed phrases. The red foil makes a great frame.

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Boy do I love this stuff!

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As soon as I saw the package of these little notebooks I knew I could embellish them.  The one on the left I was attempting a tree shape…It may have worked better if I had a bunch of green tapes.  I love the thin foil tapes they are great for edges and borders. These little note books are great for creative people as the pages are in graph paper and they are small enough to keep in a pocket or purse.

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And how about some pencils to match? Again the thin tapes worked great here. One stripe down each side. This would be great as a kids craft or for in treat bags at a birthday party.

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The little tin could store a few Christmas candies or maybe for a gift card?

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I even transformed one of my hair clips for the season. The great thing about this is I can just peel it off after the season is done.img_1818

All of this only took an hour or so to make, I can’t wait to do more washi crafts. I have even asked Santa for a washi tape storage system…..

Blogmas Day 9 – Not the Great British Baking Show

Hello my little Sugar Cookies

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So tonight I decided to pull out the box of cookie cutters and add the new “ugly sweater” one I bought this year.

It has been a few years since I made rolled out cookies, and now I remember why…

The recipe is pretty basic – Cream together 2/3 cup of white sugar and a cup of butter, then beat in an egg. Mix in 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 2 1/4 cups of flour. Once combined roll into 2 discs and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least a couple of hours. When you are ready to make them you will need to warm the dough up a bit by kneading it in your warm hands before you start to roll on a floured surface. Cut out your desired shapes and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 8 – 10 minutes, but keep an eye on them and remove before they start to brown.

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Let them cool before you start to ice them. I just made a basic butter cream icing. But then I remembered that I didn’t have much food colouring. In fact I only had red and green. Hmmm

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As I mentioned yesterday we are under a snow squall watch so a trip into town was not an option. But never mind we will improvise. Chocolate hedgehog any one?

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A little dip in melted chocolate and he is beautiful and delicious.

Then we had a whole lot of fun.

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I don’t think I’ll be winning the Bake Off any time soon. But the best part of a cookie is in the eating and I’m happy to report they are delicious. I also remember why I usually make drop cookies. A great way to spend a wintery night and perfect with a mug of hot chocolate.

 

Blogmas day 8 waiting….

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Hello my little snowflakes!

Well the day job has been keeping me too busy to do any Christmas projects for a day or two. so I was scrolling through my pictures to find something to chat about.

As I was out and about today the number one topic was the weather. Today’s weather was fine, cold but mostly clear. It’s the weather for the next few days that is on everyone’s minds. We are under a snow squall watch. Even now the wind is starting to pick up. The temperature is still above freezing but everyone is aware. And secretly hoping for a snow day.

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A snow day is a day to wear your PJs – all day. It is a day to watch movies while snuggled under blankets and stick a pot of soup on the stove. As long as you do not have to brave the storm to drive to work, or better yet if all the roads are closed, (Yes, sometime they do close ALL the roads) it is the best day of the year.

Puzzles and games come out, The fire is roaring, the hot chocolate is full of marshmallows and the topic is how little you can see out the windows.

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Everyone in Canada has an epic snow day story and as you nip into town to grab some extra supplies it is perfectly natural to great your neighbours, also at the store grabbing a bag of milk, extra bread, and maybe candles, by grinning and saying “Stocking up – hoping for a snow day!”

img_1585You bring in extra wood, check the flashlights or make sure the generator has fuel. Call your friends to make sure everyone has a plan for getting where they need to go. Check on Grandma and make sure she is ready. (but let’s face it she has seen more snow storms that you have)

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Put the new Christmas flannel sheets on the bed.

and then, we wait.

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Blogmas day 7 – Hygge Hy-what?

img_1709As this blog goes live we are just two weeks away from the shortest day of the year. As I drove home this evening at 6:30 PM it was raining, just on the edge of snow. The road was wet and black and hard to see, the headlights of the other cars were blinding me and I longed to be home in my PJ’s and curled up under a blanket eating a grilled cheese and sipping a cup of tea. And all of that is hygge.

It is a Danish word and concept that became a bit of a buzz word over the last few years. I am not sure who started to export it from Denmark but from everything I have read the Danes are rather amused by outsiders trying to grasp something that they take for granted. In one article I read it compared it as – hygge is to Denmark what chic is to France. So much a part of their culture that there is no single definition.

The closest and most commonly used definition is a sense of cozy-nes. But equally it is an appreciation of the simple things, like PJ’s, grilled cheese and a cup of tea.

teacup 1  It’s no wonder it has caught on. And as like most trends in the fast paced world it spread like fire. Alex Beauchamp of the website http://www.hyggehouse.com recently tweeted “I get about 5 media requests a day for hygge & have had about 15 book offers in the past 6 months. A craze!”

But lets face it the world can be a bit scary these days. Is it any wonder that people want to retreat to safe, more comforting ground? While undoubtedly there are many advantages to the world that includes the internet, fast food, and instant 24 hour news, the downside is that many of us feel like our heads may explode at any moment. I would never want to give up my smart phone. Living in Canada, just lee of Lake Huron, winter travel without my own weather radar in my purse seems unthinkable now. But all this connectivity is still very new, and we all need to learn our own boundaries and levels of restraint.

knitting1Hygge is not the only craze that has seen an increase over the last few years. People are turning, or returning to things like journaling, knitting or yoga to help them find balance in their daily lives.

But back to Christmas.

As I mention at the start, this is the darkest time of the year. Most cultures have some sort of celebration in late December to help pass those long dreary nights. They almost always include, family and friends, warm and hearty food, and lights and candles. Often they are about reflection of the year past, thankfulness for the growing season recently completed, and showing gratitude to friends and family with the exchange of gifts and the sharing of food. There is much talk of Peace on Earth and Good Will Among Men. Resolutions are made, and promises to keep in touch, or we should do this more often. 

IMG_2397All of this is hygge too. And part of why I love this time of year. For me the week between Christmas and New Years is the one week a year that I really let out a sigh and completely relax. Usually I will have several new books to peruse, or new gadgets to play with. There is not much left to do for the old year, and plenty of time to figure out the new one. I light a fire, bake some bread, and only venture out to do the fun stuff.

snowshoesBut for everything good, there is also the bad. We should never forget that the whole reason for down time is the recharge for the up time. Sooner or later you have to go back to work, or school, fight the traffic or sit through a ridiculous meeting. It would be so easy to let ourselves forget the problems that exist in this world, to let it all slide over us as we snuggle under the eiderdown. So let us use this hygge time help us be ready for the world of 2017. Because man, it is going to be a doozy.