Friday, December 22, 2006


Found: Spirit of Christmas

I guess we all know how things are this time of year. Anxiety over what to get one another, arranging our schedules to spend time with family and friends, tight deadlines at work, and for those of us who work directly with the public, demands that just cannot be met.

Here it is, December 22, and I have exactly 2/3 of my tree up. I spent the other night removing a string of lights from my pre-lit tree, and replacing all but about two of the bulbs in the string. Tonight I hope to be able to put those lights back on in an orderly fashion and get the tree decorated just in time to stuff presents under it and tear it all down again a couple of days later. I am becoming my father. He never liked to have the tree up any earlier than absolutely necessary. He doesn't have anything against Christmas, it's just that the tree always went up in its assigned location, requiring a number of pieces of furniture to be moved about the room, and this disrupted his daily routine. Now they have the sunroom where the tree is put up to enjoy for a couple of weeks before the big day. I said to The Squeeze, "Don't ever let me buy another pre-lit tree." "As I recall," he said, "you bought this tree without telling me about it." Touche.

We've been very busy with social functions, as is the norm this time of year. My business partner (BP) hosts an annual Christmas party at his home and asks people to bring an unwrapped toy for a local organization that is run by a lone man who has been playing Santa for decades. This is a voluntary gig that he spends pretty much every day of the year on, so donating to his cause is the least we can do to help bring some smiles to the faces of kids and seniors who have either nothing, very little, or nobody to share this season with. Every year, when the BP delivers the toys to Santa's headquarters, the volunteers working there are brought to tears. This year I wasn't able to stop myself. I had already bought a couple of remote control cars, and stopped into a store to buy a pile of batteries to go with them, and then I saw the toy section. A couple of collections of matchbox cars, a couple of Barbie dolls and a couple of giant stuffed dogs later I was on my way.

Last night we took the staff and friends out for our small Christmas work dinner at a local restaurant. The owner of the restaurant is a client of ours, and we go there quite often, so when we arrived, they had us set up in our own room, complete with Toblerone chocolate bars at each place setting.

As we sat and chatted, our friend "Xena" began telling us of a student in her class. He and his siblings have only been at her school for a couple of weeks, and have had a pretty rough life. They just moved out of a shelter after their mother got away from her abusive partner. The saddest part of this story is that the children are going hungry. Xena's school has what they call nutrition breaks, where the children are given the time to have nutritous snacks their parents send with them. The boy in her class would go outside and play by himself, and when Xena asked why he was outside, he would just tell her that he's happy out there. She asked him why he's not inside having his snack and he just shrugged his shoulders. She asked him if he had a snack, and he just shook his head. Either he didn't want the other kids to know he didn't have any food, or he just didn't want to be there watching them eat when he had nothing. Xena gave the boy one of those Lunchables snacks, and he lit up and asked her if it would be alright if he shared it with his sister. That broke our hearts. Xena has been taking it upon herself to make sure these children have snacks. She brings in bread and cheese or jam, bananas and apples, and the kids devour it. She wonders if they leave the house with breakfast in the morning. All of the kids have great attitudes. They say 'please' and 'thank-you', they are always clean and very polite. They range from 4 to 8 in age. When Xena met the mother one day after school, she went up to her and said, "You know, I just wanted to let you know that your kids are so well-behaved and polite." The mother just said "Thank you, I do the best I can with them."

Right when we heard this story we knew what had to be done. Here we were in a nice restaurant, about to have another filling meal, we all have refrigerators full of food, turkeys in the freezer, and tins of baked goods at home. There but for the grace of God go we. Within seconds, each of us had given our chocolates to Xena to pass along, and now we're in full action mode. Xena just called with the names and ages of the children, and tonight we shop. A nice little gift for mom, toys for the kids, gift cards to their local grocery store, maybe a ham, some potatoes and fresh vegetables to ensure they have a nice Christmas dinner, and a nice big fruit basket.

Every child deserves to have a Christmas. Toys, clothing, food. These are the years they will remember and carry with them. To think that there is a family in this situation in our own community just breaks my heart. I know there are dozens, hundreds, thousands all around living like this, but we have to help the ones in front of us.

May you all continue to have the blessings you are given, and to help those who are not as fortunate.

And that is the true meaning of Christmas.

Friday, December 15, 2006


It's Beginning To Taste A Lot Like Christmas

This has been one strange December. It hasn't seemed like Christmas is coming at all, due in large part to the fact that there isn't a flake of snow to be seen (not that I'm complaining!). It seems so un-Christmasy that I haven't even had the urge to put up our tree yet, and it's ten days away.

One thing that always signals that Christmas is on its way is that I get my annual baking jones. I thought that baking a few fattening treats might just get me in the mood. I spent my day off whipping up butter tarts, empire biscuits (or belgian cookies if you prefer), peanut butter balls, toffee cookies and key lime squares.

While I attempted to make the dough for the empire biscuits, the ancient electric mixer which once belonged to The Squeeze's mother groaned in agony. All I was mixing was room temperature butter and sugar. What I smelled, however, was burning wires. It had a variety of speed settings. High speed had become what low speed once was, and all speeds below high have given the off position some good company. We have had this mixer for eleven years, and The Squeeze's mother probably had it for at least that long before she passed away. So I'm guessing this mixer has a good 25+ years on it. Doesn't owe anyone a thing.

While reading a Martha Steward rag on homemade Christmas gifts, I discovered a recipe for meringue cookies. My mother makes them from time to time, and I was amazed at the lack of ingredients. 3 egg whites, two teaspoons of sugar and a couple of drops of food colour. I knew that I needed to get myself a new mixer before attempting this, so after a good amount of on-line searching and a number of phone calls to local merchants, I finally found a store with a Kitchen Aid stand mixer on sale for $229. That's a savings of $70. Not too shabby.

I brought my new purchase home and unpacked it, eager to try that magical wire wisk. According to the recipe, it would require the egg whites and sugar to be beaten in a stand mixer for about 15 minutes. The Kitchen Aid, however, stated that due to it's power and speed, less time was required to mix most items. About three minutes into the mixing, it appeared the egg whites were already quite stiff. I knocked the fluffy mixture from the wisk, scraped the bowl and added a drop or two of red food colour and began to blend it in. The mixture took on a different appearance. It seemed to have fallen for a moment, but soon began to firm up again. I scooped up some of the mixture and put it in my piping bag and noticed that it seemed rather dry and foam-like. I squeezed out small mounds of meringue onto my parchment lined cookie sheets, but they certainly looked nothing like my mother's or Martha's.

I baked them in the 175 degree oven for the required hour and forty minutes and removed them when the timer went off. This was certainly not my greatest kitchen effort. They looked less like the puffy pink peaks that they should have, and more like one might expect to be shat from Paris Hilton's beloved chihuahua Tinkerbell. Yes, I made several dozen little coils of pink dog turds.

For the past couple of days they have sat dismissed and untouched on the top of my fridge, not in an airtight container as I would have done with their better-looking cousins if all had worked out.

After the madness of the next couple of days of Christmas parties, I'm going to give it another try. I refuse to be beaten, especially by egg whites!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


All I Want For Christmas Is...A Facelift?

I was working in the back of the shop and heard the front door open. I walked out to greet a man who looked at me with some confusion.
"Can I help you?" I asked.
"Umm...where is the younger guy who's normally here?"
"Do you mean The Business Partner?"
"Well, he's not in today, and actually, he's older than me."
"Oh Jesus", he said as he winced uncomfortably.

I'm not quite sure what to make of it all. The Business Partner is about a year and a half older than me, but just how old do I look to this guy? I wonder if this means I'll have to stop referring to myself as a "youth".

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