Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Gifts - The Airplane

My first Christmas in Canada was a special one for sure but there's really only one thing that sticks in my mind from that day and it wasn't exactly the best memory.

I was 3 years old for our first Christmas in Canada and my parents got me a great gift... A battery powered airlplane. It didn't fly but it rolled along the ground and had flashing lights. All in all a pretty cool gift for a 3 year old. I didn't waste any time and started playing with it right away which thrilled my parents because I was staying out of trouble. So I "flew" my plane around the apartment and decided the hanger was the kitchen.

Now the next events weren't quite as clear, and that's the story I'm sticking to, but somehow the blender cord, from the blender that was also a Christmas present, ended up wrapped around the plane and I then proceded to turn the plane on. As my toy plane taxied down the kitchen floor runway it slowly pulled the blender cord taught and ever so slowly dragged the blender along the counter until it crashed to the floor. My parents weren't too thrilled

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Räuchermännchen or smoking men were the creation of miners in the Ore mountains of Germany.

The ore mountain mines have had their ups and downs ever since the 12th century when the first silver mines were opened. Over the centuries tin, cobalt, uranium and other ores were found within these mountains and with each new discovery more people would flow into the region. However, populations increased and decreased in the area based on factors ranging from political instabilites, trade policies, lapses in finding more deposits and wars.

It was during these decreases in production when money became tight that people in the area started
looking for other ways to generate income. The miners turned to the forests in the area and the excess
wood that they had at their disposal. From this resource they started making wooden goods and toys; a lot of which were Christmas themed.

Räuchermännchen were one of these products. First seen around 1830 they were usually human figures representing the miners themselves or other trades within the area. Hunters, fishers, bakers etc... The toy makers would also sneak in political statements into these figures from time to time if they were displeased with the way the buracracy was ruling.

They are made of 2 pieces and hollowed out. A cone of incense is placed on the bottom and then the
second part, usually the upper body of the figurine is placed on top. The incense is lit and a hole
representing the mouth allows the smoke to come out. They now have a greater variety of smokers from houses, cannons, animals and various character themes.

Growing up we had one that was a soldier or king, it was one of those simple things that didn't really stand out when I was younger. I think my parents had it since I was born or even before that and as the years went on it became a regular christmas decoration that was placed on the table with our advent wreath. It's like an old t-shirt, nothing special, but it's been there through the good times and bad and becomes such a part of your experiences that it's doesn't feel right when it's not there. Not something dramatic, just a subtle feeling that it is expected to be there. I've kept a quite a few things like this throughout my life that represent or have a very strong bond to a specific time or experience in my life. To compound this the incense adds another dimension to the memories and it provides another sweet aromatic link to the past.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Glühwein - or mulled wine dates back to ancient roman times but the tradition of drinking it around Christmas time dates back to the 14th century Germany and was drank primarily around the Winter Solstice and during the Advent Season. The more I research these great Christmas traditions the more I realize that this era was quite a renaissance time in Germany for Christmas traditions. 

It is a heated spiced wine, spiced with cinnamon sticks, star aniseed, cloves, sugar and citus which has become a staple in every Christmas market in and outside of Germany.

Germany alone consumed over 50 million litres of it last year with Nürnberger Glühwein being the most popular brand out there.

This drink was something I only discovered recently during one of my trips to a german deli about an hours' drive away. Not being a drinker or a fan of the taste of alcohol I was weary about trying it in the store. They were offering free samples and the aroma of the sweet wine permeated through my nasal passages. It's alchol free (or close to it - .05% or less) so I thought I'd give it a shot. Taking my first sip the fruity liquid warmed my throat all the way down to my stomach. I nursed the remainder enjoying every drop. It's somewhat sweet but not a hot chocolate sweet. More a tangy, fruity sweet.

Think of a warmed up sangria.

Needless to say I bought a few bottles and a couple of them became nice gifts to family and friends during the holiday season.

On a cold day this warm wine goes down really nice and is a wonderful comfort drink.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Markets - Part 2

One of my dreams is to get the chance to visit the Christmas markets in Germany. Until them I've got youtube and the internet to be able to bring them to me.

There's one that I've found that I thought was really well done:

I love the song, Christmas Time by Will Heikoop & Maya Filipič used in this video. A search for a downloadable version brought me to the badgerland site. It's a neat site that allows musicians to get their songs out there. Some are really neat and others aren't to my tastes but it's a fun to listen to all the original songs and the individual interpretations of some of the mainstream songs.

I got quite a kick out of this one: Kristi's Surf Christmas


The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree always had a special place in my heart. Each year my father pulled out the artificial tree and methodically strung the lights on the tree, carefully placed the ornaments on the tree and then with a keen eye hung the tinsel artistically on the tree.

It's a tradition that I've gladly taken over and I enjoy almost all parts of it. I've even made stringing the lights into a pleasant Christmas experience by putting in the Michael Buble Christmas CD and get the kids involved a bit. I don't know how long I'll have them excited about putting up lights, since they're quite young. I'm hoping to get one of those pre-lit trees by the time they lose their naivite and this will speed up the process so they can get to what they really want to do... Hang the decorations.

The lights went much better and faster on the tree than they did on the roof. Once that was done it was onto the ornaments. I passed this part over to the kids who where getting more and more antsy about helping out more. With the help of their mom they started placing the orbs and other ornaments on the tree.

We have ornaments that we've been gathering over the years during our travels around town, on our trips and that have special meaning for us. Some of the ornaments we have...the first ornament my wife and I bought together when we were dating... ornaments from our trips to costa rica, bahamas, quebec city... an ornament that I got in Newfoundland when I went to go spread my fathers ashes in the Atlantic... and "my first christmas" ornaments for both my daughters. There are many more and we're either going to have to get a bigger tree or start rotating the ornaments each year.

So the kids eagerly decorate the tree but my little one hasn't quite gotten the idea of symmetry yet and before we knew it we had a ton of similar ornaments all gathered around the bottom of the tree. At least she had fun.

Finally, after all ornaments are placed and the fiberoptic angel is at the top of the tree on go the lights.

We sit back and enjoy the sparkle and wonderment in their eyes.

It's not a designer tree or one that has a specific theme but it is one that we love and has a lot of special meaning

Christmas Lights

This was the first year that I tried putting up Christmas lights on our house. To be fair, I did a half-hearted attempt to wrap some lights around the porch the last few years but this is the first time I actually bared the elements to put lights up along the eaves troughs.

To be honest my wife has been asking me to put lights up each year but I never felt up to the task. Probably had to do with the image of Clark Griswold climbing up on the roof, staple gun in hand wiring up thousands of lights. Then the lights not coming on and having to check each bulb to see which one wasn't working. My adventure wasn't quite as challenging but it did have it's hiccups.

Step 1: Getting all the lights... The thought of decking the halls has been on my mind since I was about 16 and I would drive by houses that could be seen from outerspace and my friends and I would be in awe and say... That's what I'm going to do when I have a house. In any case, the last few years I've been buying a few lights here and there after christmas when they're on sale. Mistake #1, which I'll explain later. Down to the basement I go to grab the supplies and outside I go,

Step 2: Prepping the lights... Taking the brand new lights out of the boxes I proceed to untangle them and get them ready to go up on the eaves. Not testing them out. Mistake #2 (but a minor one I have to admit) and determining which way to plug them in, Mistake #3.

Step 3: Stringing the lights... Up the 6 foot ladder (mistake #4) I go. My house is a newer one in a subdivision where the main floor ceilings are typically 9 feet or more. Luckily I'm somewhat tall and can reach the eaves of my house fairly easily. Just have to stretch a bit by the garage but, all the while, in my mind I'm wondering how and if I'll be able to reach the eaves where the roof peaks by the front door. I'm sure it will be fine :) .

Stringing on the lights along the garage has been very easy and quick but then I realize... I think I want to get rid of some of the slack within the lights so I thought... Eh... 10 more minutes of work, no problem. This way if I need extra length I don't have to do things again later. It's a bit of a challenge taking out the clips that attach the lights to the eaves but not too bad.

Onto the peak of the house by the entrance. Moving the ladder onto the porch I find out that I can reach the right and left sides of the peak but at the centre I fall a bit short. I have to get the ladder closer but unfortunately the 2 stairs to the porch are there. I have to find something to place the ladder on. Yes, I know what you're thinking, bad idea. down to the basement I go. I search around for anything that is big enough and stable enough... block of wood, nope, old toobox... Not wide enough... I end up picking up a box of big university text books. They seem stable enough let's put them to good use. Went outside and was able to put a bunch of them together to create a fairly stable base but my 6 year old daughter wasn't that convinced and told me to be careful.
Tested it out a bit, and carefully made my way to the top. Strung a nice set of stars along the peak eaves and not a wobble on the ladder. Off to the last string.

Step 4: kind of: Starting over
As I was about to hook in the last 10 feet of lights I just realized... the plugs need to be on the other side. I don't know if the clean air got to me, or what, but I actually did think about this before I started the process and my brain was completely reversed. So down come the lights. By this point my neighbour who had been out running errands stops by and sees me stretching on my short ladder and offers his 8 foot ladder. Bless him. This speads up the process dramatically and I manage to set up the stars in the middle a lot better and more efficiently. Thank goodness.

Step 5: lighting it.
After some death defying acrobatics and about an hour longer than it should have taken the lights have been strung and the moment of truth arrives. I go to plug in the lights and flip the switch in the house that turns on the lights... Nothing. I plug the cord into the second plug and once again flip the switch... Nothing... After switching back and forth a few times and getting the same results I step back. Then it hits me... There's a light socket on the ceiling of the porch. So running the lights back over to that socket, plug it in and voila. We have chrismas lights... Sort of.

Turns out the feature that is a bit of the highlight, the stars in the middle of the porch peak, half of them are not working. Luckily I still have the 8 foot ladder and take down the middle section. I take the lights inside because my hands getting a bit numb at this point and try and find the burnt bulb. I plug in the lights and guess what, they're all working now. I shake it around to see if I can make the lights go out again but they're staying on. Back outside I go. At this point I've gotten quite quick at hooking the lights in and it's now no problem stringing the centre lights up. I plug the stars in to make sure they are still working as I'm hanging them up. 10 minutes and they're up and working. A few hours later, it's dark and we decide to turn on the lights... Sure enough, the stars are out again. Rather than going through this again I decided to just go and buy something new the next day.

I ended up finding the exact same stars and headed back home. I tested them first and then up they went. Success!!!! Kind of

All the lights are now on but one or two of the strands bought at the end of the season at half price last year, surprisingly, don't have the same colour led lights. Some of the lights are an odd yellow colour and not like the white light of the others. It looks a bit off but I'm willing to live with it this year.

So what should have been about an easy one hour job turned into a multi day event. Although I now feel justified in having procrastinated putting up lights over the last few years I do like the satisfaction of having completed this and I did learn some key points in the set up process that I'll apply next year (assuming I want to). Namely... Buy a tall ladder, test the lights beforehand, think about where things get plugged in.

Next up... The Christmas Tree

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I'm Back...

It's been a busy 2 years since I last posted so I thought I'd start writing where I left off... With more Christmas traditions. Then, I hope to include some more stories about my dad and his adventures around the world after the Christmas season.