The Final Days

It is Christmas Day and I am finishing up Tourmaline’s Countdown to Christmas!

Day 23: Gathering
We have been warned by Dr. Fauci and the CEO’s of our senior community, to STAY HOME and not go to gatherings! But we are sort of obligated to go to a gathering of seven people on Christmas Day. Our daughter and son-in-law are cooking and our son-in-law’s brother and niece have come from Florida for the holidays. (Probably not a wise thing to do this year, but there was nothing we could do about it!) Also our son will be there; otherwise he’d be alone for Christmas which would worsen his depression. So we are going to sneak out and employ mitigation methods while there – masking wearing, social distancing, etc. We had a COVID test last week and it came out negative. I may go and have another one done after this Christmas Day gathering!

At The Family Reunion Who We Introducing Jokes - FamilyScopes

Day 24: Presents
Some people have the tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve. My family’s tradition was to open just one gift on Christmas Eve, so I tried to choose wisely. In my favorite Christmas movie, Love Actually, there is a scene in which a family is gathered around on Christmas Eve to select one gift to open. We see the mother (who has already accidentally seen her husband buy a gold necklace at a department store) reaching for a small square box under the tree that she believes to be the necklace. Although she had just recently had a conversation with her husband about how much she loved Joni Mitchell, she tries hard to hide her disappointment when the gift turns out to be a Joni Mitchell double CD. Her husband, unaware of her knowledge of the necklace he bought for his secretary, smiles and says, “for your emotional education.” Holding back tears, she excuses herself and goes upstairs to her bedroom to cry.

emma thompson love actually scene
Here the mother, played by Emma Thompson, is smiling as she looks at the rest of her family on Christmas Eve.

Emma Thompson reveals real heartbreak behind her iconic Love Actually scene
Here she is wiping her tears in her bedroom.

Day 25: CHRISTMAS DAY! Food
Traditional Christmas dinner food is a lot like Thanksgiving food. At this moment, I can hear Dale rattling around in the kitchen as he prepares his green bean casserole. We are sneaking out to go to our daughter’s house for Christmas dinner, because she and her husband are cooking and there will only be seven of us there. The main dishes they are serving are beef Wellington and ham. Meanwhile, my mouth waters just looking at the wonderful cookies my niece baked for us! This is her gift to us every year and I always look forward to it! There are standard holiday shaped sugar cookies, wreaths made with corn flakes and marshmallows (dyed green), and my favorite: chocolate brownies with peppermint frosting, which I have already talked about in a previous post for this challenge. Don’t they look scrumptious?!

31 best Christmas jokes for kids: the funniest festive children's one-liners

And now the Countdown to Christmas is done!
Thank you, Tourmaline, it was a lot of fun!
I’d like to end with some holiday cheer:

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

SYW: Holiday Cookies, Drinks, and Magic

SantaSYW

Melanie has a new set of holiday-related questions for her weekly Share Your World.

  • What is your favorite type of cookie (they’re called biscuits in Europe I believe)?
    If you mean Christmas cookies, it would be a tie between the sugar cookies in different shapes with frosting and a brownie with peppermint candy frosting (not technically a cookie, but my niece makes these every year as part of her gift of cookies).

    Outside of holiday season, it’s homemade chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven!
    I don’t bake cookies in general, so we buy Tates – their chocolate chip cookie is thin and crispy.
We buy boxes of Tates like this at Costco. At other places, they come in smaller bags, but there are more varieties.
  • If you could choose one age and remain that forever, what would it be and why?
    65 – young enough to still have the energy and drive to travel and explore new things, and also be eligible for retirement and Medicare.
  • Do you have a traditional drink during the holiday season?
    Not this year, because we are not gathering as usual with our family, but normally it is Jolly Jolt. Jolly Jolt is basically warm apple cider with cinnamon cloves. My sister prepares it in a large coffee pot and everyone helps themselves! This year, I suspect it will be Cooper’s Hawk’s Winter Red wine, which we have a bottle of in our garage – also best heated.
    NV Cooper's Hawk Winter Red, USA, Illinois - CellarTracker
  • Are you able to still believe in holiday magic as you did when you were a child?
    No, not really. Warmth, maybe, magic, no. When I was a kid, holidays like Christmas were always extremely exciting. We kids got to do the fun stuff, like picking out and decorating the tree, helping put up the creche, and singing Christmas carols. As an adult, there’s the work side of it – things don’t magically happen! I do very little decorating, except to put up my collection of creches and hang a Santa Claus on the door. Usually I have a Christmas tree but haven’t had one for the last three years. I do more decorating if we’re having guests.

    The most magical and exciting moments during my childhood were early Christmas mornings. My dad put up a portable screen so we couldn’t see into the living room until my parents got up. So we kids would climb partway up the stairway to peek over the screen to find our stockings and all the presents my parents had added during the night. This is what I think about when I’m asked about holiday magic!

    Now I look forward to simple gatherings of families and friends, noshing, drinking Jolly Jolt and playing games. It gives me warm feeling, but not the magic of childhood.

Gratitude section: I’m grateful to be alive and reasonably healthy! And I’m grateful that 2020 is almost over!

Countdown to Christmas: Lights, Love, Colors, Candy, Candles, Creature, Desserts

Due to pressing tasks related to the holidays that have taken up much of my time, I really got behind in Tourmaline’s Countdown to Christmas!

Days 12 & 14: Lights and Colors
Holiday decorations in many colors

Our former house in Des Plaines is decked out for Christmas far better than we ever even attempted to do! I’m proud of our daughter & son-in-law (who live there now) for putting so much effort in it! Notice the moving colored lights projected onto the second floor dormer!
Christmas tree elegantly decorated in blue & gold, in the lobby of our senior community’s main building. I like the way the lights on the tree reflect onto the dark blue of the sky outside!
Close-up of one of those decorations

Day 13: Love
Who doesn’t love Christmas? Here’s a bouquet of mostly roses (symbol of love) in our house earlier this week.

Day 15: Candy
Today we walked the halls of the apartment building in our community, for several purposes: exercise (too cold to walk outside!), taking photos, and working on a scavenger hunt. Residents not only decorate their doors, but also the ledges outside their apartments. Sometimes there is candy set out for anyone to partake of!

FRANGO MINTS!! How could I resist this traditional Chicago treat?

Day 16: Candles
Candles make me think of Hanukkah, which we celebrate every year because my husband in Jewish. Since I have no photos of the menorah we use every year at Hanukkah (which ended last night), here is another of those ledge decorations outside someone’s apartment.

Day 17: Creature
Creature?? What does this have to do with Christmas? Oh yeah – elves!

Day 18: Dessert!
Dessert for me means some concoction involving ice cream. But right now, it’s Christmas cookies! Having a box of them in the house makes it hard to resist them! So each night, I have one or two cookies with a cup of tea and a piece of fruit. Christmas isn’t Christmas without cookies!

Back in the days when we could have parties and take cookies from a common plate, a friend of mine gave a holiday party in her apartment, including this delicious variety of cookies!

SYW: Winter & Holiday Traditions

Every week I look forward to Melanie’s Share Your World!

Yuletide SYW

QUESTIONS:

Do you enjoy skiing or ice skating or if it’s warm where you are, hiking or enjoying outdoor sports? I have never been good at sports of any kind, really. However, as a kid I did go with my siblings or friends to local skating ponds. We all had ice skates. I would get cold pretty quickly, sooner than the others. The best part was going home and warming up our frozen feet in front of the fireplace, while drinking homemade hot chocolate!

One of my sisters and my brother used to downhill ski, and my sister got pretty good at it. I was always confined to the “bunny hill.” I wasn’t very good at stopping which of course was a problem since I sometimes stopped by running into someone or something! Good thing I wasn’t going very fast. However, every time I went, I did experience momentary exhilaration during my descent down the hill. More fun for me was sledding – that was a popular pastime among my friends in the neighborhood. Also making snowmen or snow forts. For a short time, I enjoyed cross country skiing, but I didn’t pursue it enough to get very good. But at least stopping was a lot easier! Again, I always looked forward to warming up back inside afterward with hot chocolate.

That said, I really have never been a fan of winter. I don’t tolerate the cold well. As an adult, it’s nothing but inconvenience and drudgery – cleaning off the car to go to work or before going home. And then shoveling. My husband would get on his snow blower, but my job was to clear the porches and steps. Sometimes we had to use the shovels to chop a layer of ice under the snow.

Admittedly, there are many opportunities for beautiful photography in winter. I have a great collection of photos of icicles and scenes of freshly fallen snow.

Do you give to charities or homeless that you might encounter, during this time of year, more than you do otherwise?
I get more solicitations at this time of year but I have to pick & choose. I have a few charities that I give to consistently. As for homeless people, I don’t usually give homeless people money on city streets, but here in the suburbs, there are certain intersections where individuals go between the cars waiting at a red light to try to get money from motorists. Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t. More recently, I did. How generous I am depends on how secure I feel in terms of money. Right now I have some to spare.

In normal times, I get volunteers from my church to either provide food or work at a homeless shelter site. Different churches take turns every week manning these sites and serving food that is donated. But of course, right now these shelters are closed, so I feel sorry for those people who depended on them.

What is the most enjoyable activity you engage in during December?  Is it a tradition for you and your family?
I used to love decorating the Christmas tree. I have a lot of ornaments that I have acquired over the years, souvenirs of different places and different times. After I persuade Dale to put on the lights, I play Christmas music while decorating the tree.

We haven’t had a tree the last couple of years – last year we had just moved and we needed a smaller tree which we didn’t get; and the year before that we were overseas at Christmas. So this year I really want to find a tree – real or fake – that’s about 4-5 ft. tall for a good price so I can enjoy those ornaments again.

Our Christmas tree in years past

I also love getting together with family for dinner, gift exchanges, Christmas cookies, and carol singing! Here’s a collage from Christmas 2016:

What changes will C-19 bring to your festive celebrations this year?  
Thanksgiving was a preview of holidays to come – the two of us sat at our little table alone and ate the Thanksgiving dinner we ordered for dinner here at our senior community. Afterward, we connected with several family households on Zoom, to chat and play games. I think Hanukkah and Christmas will be the same. The weird thing is that this year I’ve bought more “real” gifts than I have in the past – usually I give gift cards because I have no imagination, lol! So now I have to mail those gifts to people I would normally see. For our kids, we will probably go to their houses and leave gifts on their porches, and they will most likely exchange gifts with us then. (Besides, we usually give them cash.) But we probably will get together with my sister and brother-in-law, who live in this community too, at least on New Year’s Eve, which is our traditional wine and game night. We usually play Scrabble. If we do Zoom, we’ll have to do a game like Categories that doesn’t require any shared equipment.

GRATITUDE SECTION (Optional of course):

Please share a good will wish for the world!

There is good news on the horizon: vaccines for Covid-19, and for Americans, a new administration with actual leadership will be taking office in January. In light of that, my message is:

There is light at the end of the tunnel.
May it arrive in 2021!
Until then, stay safe, stay healthy, listen to scientists, and count your blessings during these dark times.

CFFC: Yummy!!!

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge continues exploring the senses; this week it is tasting.

We have 5 basic type of tastes registered by our taste buds: bitter, salty, sour, sweet and savory. Sometimes fat is considered a 6th taste.

The American diet contains a lot of processed foods, which add salt to them – salt is a preservative. So we eat too much salt, as well as fat and sweets. High-salt diets can cause fluid to build up in your body, especially if you have a heart condition like I do. A tell-tale sign is swollen ankles but also lots of coughing, the result of fluid build-up in the lungs. That is why I try to maintain a low-salt diet.

If we would stick to “real” food, that is, food provided to us by nature, we would be a lot healthier.

Garden tomatoes: Fresh tomatoes always taste the best! (citrusy: sour, also savory)20190817_193324
Baclava – Vienna’s Naschmarkt  (sweet – taste of honey)
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Vegetables and fruit for sale at Vienna’s Naschmarkt (mostly savory, some bitter)
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sweet & savory fruits!
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Breads in Israel – most breads are put in the salty category, but some, like pita bread, are classified as savory
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In Egypt, I fell in love with Middle Eastern food!!

We had a home-hosted dinner at the home of an Egyptian family in Luxor.

We also had a five-day cruise on the Nile on our own private boat with excellent chefs! Rice and peppers – definitely savory!
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A whole fish! – Nile perch (savory,  salty also)
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A New Year’s cake (oh so sweet!)
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Spices for sale at an Egyptian market – spices add flavor or heat to a dish, and some can be bitter.
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I don’t normally take pictures of food (except when traveling), but sometimes I can’t resist, like this savory shrimp appetizer at a restaurant!
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Holiday cookies from my church’s annual “cookie walk!” (Totally bad-for-you sweet, but the holidays are a time for celebrating!! Eat these in moderation!)
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I will end where I started – with fresh grown vegetables, from a local farmers’ market.

 

 

Cee’s SYW: On Classes, Cooking, Phobias (etc.)

Cee’s challenges are back! Here are my answers for this week’s questions in Share Your World:

A class you wish you would have taken?
There are actually several! I wish I had transferred to a university where I could major in anthropology, which was my first academic love.

I always wanted to take art classes, but they were always full, since art majors had priority. I enjoy art and did take a drawing class at a community college, where I learned techniques that allowed me to produce some fairly good drawings of my classmates, good enough that I still have them! Recently, I went to a wine and painting event, and everyone liked my painting of a cat, so now I’m working on another painting.

Since I included the cat painting in a post the other day (RDP#72 – Cat), I’m posting one of the drawings I did of a classmate many, many, many years ago, and a more recent doodle of myself in a hat when I had longer hair.
classmate (charcoal pencil)  Doodle-woman in hat

I also wish I’d taken photography classes. Everything I know I learned from a photographer boyfriend I had in high school, and of course, from experience. My husband is an amateur photographer too and I admire some of his great photos. He has good powers of observation and knows where to stand to capture his subject at the best advantage. I would like a class just in learning how to use all the features of my camera.

Here’s a photo of a shooting star flower that I took in May with my Sony Alpha 380, working on sharp close ups with blurred background.SONY DSC

The great thing about this is, now that I’m retired, I can easily take classes in art and photography, which are available to seniors at a discounted rate! I’m trying to find a photography class that my husband and I can attend together.

Are you scared of heights?
Not really, unless I think about it. Although going up some of those mountain roads in Colorado this spring was pretty harrowing!

My husband, though, is very scared of heights. He doesn’t even like to drive over high bridges! The first time we went to Rio de Janeiro, he would not go all the way up to Sugar Loaf with our son and I. He stayed on the lower level and contented himself with taking photos from that vantage point. However, we went back to Rio in 2016, and this time he went all the way up to the top! He stood in the middle of the cable car, surrounded by people, so he couldn’t see out. Once he was up there, he was OK and loved watching and photographing the setting sun.

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One of Dale’s photos of the sun setting over Rio de Janeiro from Sugarloaf

Are you a good cook? If so, do you consider yourself a chef?
Occasionally I will whip something up that’s different from normal, with more color and flavor than usual. Or I’ll make Christmas cookies when I’m in the mood. My husband does most of the cooking, and his meals are very simple. I like to rib him about the lack of color on our plates when we have chicken or fish with corn! Both of us are sort of lazy at this point about cooking, so we often eat out. Now we’re thinking of moving to a retirement community in a couple of years, where we can eat in a community dining room!

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I made these Christmas cookies in 2014, the last time I made homemade cookies!

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week? Feel free to use a quote, a photo, a story, or even a combination.
I had to buy some birthday cards, because several family members had birthdays and we were celebrating them all together. I usually have some funny cards on hand for these occasions, but I was out. So I stood in the birthday card section at the supermarket and read all the humorous cards. Several of them made me laugh out loud! Fortunately, there were few people at the store at that time so I was free to appreciate the silliness without anyone staring at me!

funny birthday cards
This photo was downloaded from Google Images.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change – baking cookies

It is extremely rare for me to bake cookies! However, I wanted to give gifts last Christmas and had little money to spend, and since I hadn’t made cookies of any kind for a long time, I decided to make a project out of it! I downloaded recipes from Weight Watchers to find delicious cookies that wouldn’t be too fattening.  One of the most fun was making gingerbread cookies…

Ingredients

  • 3 cup(s) Gold Medal® Flour All-Purpose Flour   
  • 1 1/2 tsp Calumet Baking powder   
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda   
  • 1/4 tsp table salt   
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger   
  • 1 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon   
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves   
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened   
  • 3/4 cup(s) dark brown sugar, packed   
  •   1 large egg(s)   
  • 1/2 cup(s) Grandma’s Original molasses   
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract   
  • 1 tsp lemon zest, finely grated

First, I prepared the dough: Whisk Together: Flour, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Salt, Ginger, Cinnamon, Cloves. In a separate bowl combine and beat on medium speed until well blended: Butter, Dark brown Sugar, Egg. Add and beat until well combined: Molasses, Vanilla Extract, Lemon Zest . Gradually stir in the dry ingredients until well blended and smooth.
IMAG2892Next, I divided the dough in half and wrapped each half in plastic. Then I left them at room temperature while I worked on other cookies: Divide the dough in half. Wrap in plastic and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours. (The dough can also be stored for up to 4 days, but in that case it must be refrigerated. Return to room temperature before using.) 

IMAG2893After a few hours, I rolled out the dough and used my Christmas cookie cutters to make different shapes. Meanwhile I preheated the oven.  To bake, position a rack in the upper 3rd of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets. Place 1 portion of the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Very lightly sprinkle flour over the surface of the dough and dust the rolling pin. Roll to a scant 1/2″ thick. Lift the dough frequently and add a bit more flour to to work surface and rolling pin as necessary to prevent sticking. Cut out the cookies using a 4 or 5″ gingerbread boy or girl cutter. With a spatula, transfer them to the cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 1/2″ apart. Roll the dough scraps and continue cutting out cookies until all the dough is used.

IMAG2907Then they went into the oven and baked.  Here, my husband is taking them off the cookie sheet with a spatula.  If desired, garnish with raisins or red hots for eyes and buttons. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until the edges of the cookies are just barely dark, 7 to 10 minutes; rotate the sheet halfway through baking for even browning. Remove from the sheet to a rack and let stand until the cookies firm slightly. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

IMAG2909Now the creative part…decorating them! Decorate with royal or cookie icing as desired. I made standard frosting, using powdered sugar, milk and food coloring.  Here I’m using toothpicks to apply details with the icing on the gingerbread boys. My husband wanted to get into the act too!

Applying icing to gingerbread boys.Voila! They’re finished and they look festive! I then divided them into separate gift packages for different people, along with other cookies I’d made.

IMAG2914Making five different cookie recipes was tiring and time-consuming, but rewarding in the end, when I saw (and tasted!) the final results and put them into gift boxes. The best part, though, was the joy these gifts gave to other people. I think I’m going to try some different recipes and make more this year!