Tag Archives: Holidays

The Tale of the Coveted Cookies

No, this is not the beginning of a fairy tale. It really happened years ago when I was a teenager, and I thought it would be an amusing story to share with you as the holiday season ramps up.

My mom comes from a fairly large extended family. Both of her parents had many siblings, so both sides of her family tree used to have large potluck dinners every December to give everyone a chance to spend time together over the holidays.

 My maternal grandmother’s side of the family included a White Elephant gift exchange in their gigantic Christmas get-together. Every family unit – which was roughly defined as a couple (or single person) and any children under the age of 20 they may have – was asked to bring one wrapped gift that would appeal to an adult of any age.

One year, mom had no idea what to bring for the gift exchange. What she did have was a little extra time on her hands and an empty decorated tin from a previous Christmas. She whipped up a quick batch of chocolate chip cookies and put as many of them as would fit into the tin. It was such a pretty box that she didn’t bother wrapping it in festive paper.

In a white elephant gift exchange, a member from each family is allowed to choose one wrapped present. Everyone then sat in a semicircle of chairs. One by one, they opened their gift and then decided whether they wanted to keep it or trade it for one of the other opened presents.

This was a decision that could be made only once. After your turn ended, you’d either hold onto your gift for good or have it “stolen” by someone further down the line who preferred it to whatever it was they had unwrapped.

When mom’s gift was opened by a cousin, he grinned. The next person to open their gift quickly “stole” the cookies from the first person.

This happened a few different times throughout the course of the game. I don’t remember who finally ended up with them, but it was funny to see adults become so playfully competitive over a tin of cookies. (Granted, they were delicious cookies!)

While I haven’t participated in a gift exchange in many years, I think of this story every December.

Sometimes the best gifts really are the simplest ones.

If you’d like to make these cookies for yourself, here is the recipe. It’s every bit as delicious as it sounds, and the cookies are quite easy to make as well.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/3 cups Crisco (or margarine)
2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons vanilla
4 1/2 cups flour
1 package chocolate chips (about 340 grams or 12 ounces)

Directions

Mix the Crisco, sugar, brown sugar, and eggs  together until fluffy.
Add the baking soda, salt, and vanilla. Mix well.
Add the flour in one cup at a time. Mix well.
Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spoon the dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets.

Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 6-7 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

How to Stay Relaxed in Crowded Places

Today’s topic comes from a search engine query that a new reader did recently that lead them to this site.

With the holidays rapidly approaching, I thought this would be a good thing to discuss as there will be plenty of crowded parties, shops, malls, group dinners, and other places and events in many of my readers’ not-too-distant future.

(Please don’t ask me to explain what’s going on in the photo on the right. I honestly don’t know. It fit the theme of this post nicely, though).

Like many folks, I’m not a huge fan of very crowded places. Large groups of people tend to be boisterous, and it bothers me to be surrounded by so much noise without being able to figure out what any of it is supposed to mean. Loud music is one thing, but hundreds of conversations all blurred together will never be something I enjoy.

I also find it draining to constantly need to weave my way through a crowd. Anatomically modern humans have done a lot of amazing things over the last 40,000 years, but figuring out how to efficiently herd thousands of people who are slowly meandering through the mall on a lazy Sunday afternoon is not one of them. Ha!

With that being said, there are occasions when you need to pick something up at the store during a peak shopping time or attend a holiday party. I have a few tricks for doing what I need to do on these days without spending an inordinate amount of time in a situation that I find unpleasant.

Arrive Before (or After) the Busiest Time

You might be surprised how quiet stores in Toronto can be even right before Christmas if you show up to them first thing and finish your shopping quickly. Many Torontonians don’t seem to begin running their errands until later in the day even when they only have a handful of shopping days left before a big holiday, so getting a head start on them is a great way to avoid the crowds.

This effect is only stronger in smaller communities. I spent a big chunk of my childhood living near or in a town of about 16,000 people, and the stores there barely had any customers in them at all for the first few hours after they opened up most mornings. It was the perfect time to browse peacefully or get help from the store employees.

I’ve also had similar luck when it comes to timing my arrival at parties. It’s simpler for me to get into the festive spirit of a party if I plan it so I arrive a little earlier or later than most of the other attendees. I like warming up to big groups gradually, and it’s easier to do that if I don’t spend the whole time surrounded by a huge crowd.

Have a Plan

One of the many lessons my mom taught me when I was growing up is that shopping requires a plan. Neither one of us are people who ever shop as a hobby or a way to kill time. If she needs to buy something, she adds it to a shopping list and tries to acquire it as efficiently and frugally as possible.

I have the same policy. There’s nothing wrong with replacing something when it wears out or buying something I expect to use regularly, but I do not dawdle during the process. If I can’t find what I need, I stop shopping and go do something fun. There will always be another day to try again.

Mom reads this blog, so she might be smiling by now at how much she affected me in this part of life. Her efficiency really rubbed off on me, though!

Stick to the Perimeter

I don’t know about you, but I prefer being on the edge of a crowd instead of in the centre of it. There’s something comforting to me about knowing that I could quietly slip out a side door if I needed a few minutes of peace and quiet before wandering back into the event or building. In fact, simply having this available to me as an option makes it unnecessary for me to take a breather from the crowd in many cases.

It’s also nice to see who you meet on the perimeter of a party. While I don’t have any scientific data to back this up, it’s been my experience that you’ll meet a lot of likeminded people on the edges. Folks who love the energy of a crowd and want to be the centre of attention tend to wiggle into the centre of the room and more-or-less stay there.

People who aren’t so enamoured with that experience tend to congregate on the perimeter. They’re exactly who I want to start a conversation with once I’ve figured out who they are. As much as I love watching the life of the party do his or her thing, it’s nice to find kindred spirits when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed or want to find my footing in a conversation.

Find a Distraction

This is where I’m going to appear to contradict myself. One of the best things about people who thrive in big crowds is that they can be incredibly entertaining if you’re looking for a distraction.

While I wouldn’t necessarily want to follow them around all day every day, I really appreciate it when they spontaneously start organizing a few rounds of karaoke at a party or amusing bored children with a game or story while sitting in a food court.

They have such a wildly different approach to large crowds that I can’t help but to be fascinated by how their minds work. Would they feel as out of place in a quiet room as I do in a loud one? I’d bet they just might!

If there aren’t any interesting people to observe, I’ve also distracted myself by spotting animals* or by counting the number of people who are wearing an article of clothing that’s a specific colour. There is always something to occupy your mind if you pay attention to everyone around you.

*This is Toronto, after all. Dogs are welcomed nearly everywhere. Sometimes you’ll see a cat, snake, rabbit, or parrot being carried around as well, and this doesn’t even begin to count all of the wild birds in this city who have been known to wander around on the subway, at the library, or in other indoor places.

Be Patient

Anything from walking to the other side of the room to getting a specific goal accomplished will almost certainly take longer than they would if you were in a less busy place.

Breathe. Remain mindful.

Don’t try to tamp down your thoughts. Lots of other people there probably feel a little irritated or overwhelmed as well. Even if you’re literally the only person in the room who feels this way, it is still much better to acknowledge those emotions than to hide them.

Be patient.

It will be okay.

Dual Citizens Get Two Thanksgivings

Seven years ago, I became a Canadian citizen. There are many things I love about being a citizen of both Canada and the United States. Having the excuse to celebrate Thanksgiving twice every year is definitely part of that list.

Yes, this is blog post about food.

No, this isn’t about turkey. Don’t tell the rest of the omnivores out there, but I’m actually not a big fan of turkey. It isn’t something my spouse and I eat on Thanksgiving the vast majority of the time. If it disappeared from the traditional menu altogether, I honestly wouldn’t miss it.

While there are many other foods I’d happily eat during this holiday, my ideal Thanksgiving dinner could easily be comprised of nothing but the three dishes below. I am only particular about how one of them is made for reasons that I’ll explain later on this post.

The first mandatory dish for Lydia’s ideal Thanksgiving is mashed potatoes with gravy.

Yes, I will love them if they came from dehydrated potato flakes and powdered gravy.

Yes, I will love them if they came from a frozen bag of mashed potatoes (so long as there aren’t any milk products in them) and if the gravy was an everyday ground beef gravy.

Yes,I will love them if they came from real potatoes that were peeled, boiled, and mashed to perfection and if the gravy was a fancy one made from drippings, broth, spices, and flour moments before it was brought to the table.

In short, there is no wrong way to make mashed potatoes and gravy. As long as eating it won’t make me physically ill, I will enjoy them however they are prepared. Mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food.

The second mandatory dish for Lydia’s ideal Thanksgiving is pie.

We’ve had store-bought blueberry, apple, or lemon meringue pie for the last few Thanksgivings at my house, but any kind of pie will do.

Yes, I will love them if they’re homemade from the finest organic ingredients by someone who thought about nothing but happy thoughts while rolling out the dough.

Yes, I will love them if they’re store-bought, generic, and a little squished from being carried home with lots of other groceries.

Yes, I will love them if they have lemon meringue, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, peaches, pumpkins, squash, or just about any other kind of pie-friendly filling in them.

If you provide some non-dairy ice cream to go along with the pie, I’ll be absolutely thrilled. This is not a requirement, though, and I actually didn’t bother to eat ice cream with the apple pie my spouse and I enjoyed this Thanksgiving.

I am not particular about this dessert. The fact that it exists at all will almost certainly make me perfectly happy. All pie is delicious pie.

The final mandatory dish for Lydia’s ideal Thanksgiving is angel eggs.

You probably know them as devilled eggs instead. When I was a child, my parents renamed a few foods that had the word “devil” in them like devilled eggs (we called them angel eggs) or devil’s food cake (we called it chocolate cake). Why they did that is a long, complicated story, but when I grew up I never made the switch from referring to them as angel eggs to devilled eggs like the rest of the world does.

They were known as angel eggs when I was three, and I will still call them that when I’m a hundred and three. This is where I suddenly become stubborn and picky about my food.

No, I will not call them devilled eggs. You can call them whatever you wish, but my mind was made up on this topic very early in life.

No, I do not want store-bought angel eggs. I’d honestly rather pretend like such a thing was never invented at all.

No, I do not want anyone who doesn’t know our family recipe to attempt to make them no matter how delicious they think their version of it may be. My mother’s angel eggs are the best ones in the world. Not only are they the perfect blend of ingredients, they remind me of some very happy childhood memories.

Happy Thanksgiving

Now that you know exactly where my loyalties lie, Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian readers. I hope this post made you smile.

If you live somewhere else in the world, this Canadian officially gives you permission to borrow our holiday if you’re in the mood for a festive meal today. Feel free to include your favourite foods in them, too, and to ignore the ones you may not like no matter how traditional they may be.

3 Reasons Why You Should Celebrate the Autumn Equinox

If I have any readers in the southern hemisphere, feel free to switch the word “autumn” for “spring” in today’s post. A lot of what I’m about to say can apply to the shift between other seasons as well with a little tweaking.

In fact, maybe I’ll revisit this topic from that angle in six months once Canada shifts to spring weather? I won’t make any promises, but I will keep this idea in mind for the future.

In the meantime, this is why I think everyone should be taking note of the autumn equinox tomorrow.

It Will Help You Live in the Moment

Over the last few years I’ve begun to pay more attention to the two solstices and two equinoxes we have each year in an attempt to remain mindful no matter what season Ontario is currently experiencing.

There are parts of this time of the year that I deeply enjoy and other parts that I’m not such a big fan of, just like there are things I like and dislike about winter, spring, and summer.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about practicing mindfulness has been how its adjusted the way I see the world at the end of a season when I’ve grown tired of the snow, rain, or heat.

This, too, will pass if given enough time.

Nothing lasts forever, so it’s a good idea to settle into it while it is here and find the good in whatever it is that’s happening right now.

 

There Is Always Something New to Discover

When I was a teenager, I noticed that my grandfather read a lot of books about World War II. While he wasn’t old enough to serve in that war, he was definitely old enough to remember it when it happened. Instead of asking him why he read about a period of history he’d personally experienced, I decided to quietly pay attention to what he kept on the stand by his favourite chair to see if I could figure out the answer myself.

Most of the books he read were about history in general. Many of them were about things that happened decades or centuries before he was born. I think I also remember seeing books related to farming, fixing machines, and other practical topics that applied to his lifelong work.

What I learned from this experiment is that there’s always something new to discover no matter who you are or how much you already know about a topic.

So far the autumns of the 2010s have been warmer than most of the ones I remember from my childhood thanks to climate change. While some of this may be part of the natural process every mind goes through when it decides which memories to keep and which ones to toss away that may have distorted my memory of what September should be like, I also think there is something to be said for paying attention to how weather patterns have shifted over time.

Someday someone might want to hear our stories about what it was like to watch the world grow warmer than its ever been before. We’re living through a part of history that is going to be discussed for many generations to come.

Autumn Is the Beginning of the Holiday Season

I’m not a huge fan of celebrating most of the big holidays hat happen between now and January, but I sure do love seeing all of the pretty decorations for them.

Hallowenn, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Eid, harvest festivals, and many other holidays bring out the creative side of people. The nice thing about living in Toronto is that we get to see decorations for just about every holiday known to humankind during this time of the year. If any group of people celebrate it, a few of them are almost certain to live here.

I am often amazed by just how much thought people put into the decorations they choose for the holidays their families celebrate. For example, look at the gigantic scarecrow above this paragraph. I’ve never looked at a bale of hay and imagined it could be repurposed as a friendly face, but that concept works beautifully here.

The outfit this scarecrow is wearing looks like something that could be hemmed together fairly easily and inexpensively, but the joy he or she brings is immeasurable. If this is something you find pleasure in as well, now is the perfect time of the year to begin looking around and seeing what kinds of wonderful decorations will begin to pop up in your area.

How you celebrate the autumn equinox is up to you, but I hope you’ll consider acknowledging it as the seasons change.

Now Is the Perfect Time to Start Practicing Mindfulness

The autumn and winter holiday season is right around the corner.

In the past, I’ve felt kind of like discombobulated like the glass of water in the picture on the left for several different reasons: I’ve felt pressured to participate in religious rituals I disagreed with; I do not enjoy the wasteful, commercialistic side of the holiday season; I miss the sun when sunset begins to happen before 5 pm in November and December.

Whether you love the extra hours of darkness and the festivities of this portion of the year or, like me, are not a big fan of them, they’ll be here before we know it.

This will the first holiday season I will have ever been through as someone who meditates and practices mindfulness regularly. I have already seen positive changes in my life as a result of these new habits. It’s going to be fascinating to see if they make the end of the year more enjoyable for me. My best guess is that they will be!

If you haven’t started practicing mindfulness yet, now is the perfect time to begin. Let’s talk about why this is so and what to expect if you decide to add this habit to your daily routine.

Mindfulness Isn’t a Quick Fix

No, this isn’t going to be one of those blog posts that promises to improve every part of your life in five easy steps. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of that writing style or of the idea that reading a single article is all someone needs to make big changes in their life. Few people are that simple or that easily swayed.

There is also the fact that learning how to stop and focus on the present moment takes time. While I am gradually getting better at brushing away unhelpful thoughts and keeping my mind focused on what is currently going on, I still have a long way to go.

This is by far the biggest reason why I strongly recommend getting started with this habit as soon as possible if it’s something you’re hoping to get benefits from over the next few months.

If you want to be able to live in the moment at the end of the year when you’re at an event that you find stressful or over-stimulating, practicing now will make that day easier than it might have otherwise been because you will have already gotten into the habit of quietly focusing on the moment instead of thinking about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future.

Mindfulness Is a Lifestyle Change

Think about practicing mindfulness the same way you would if you wanted to learn a new language, strengthen your muscles, or play a new instrument.

All of these skills take time and effort to master. I’ve never heard of anyone becoming fluent in a new language in a day or a week. The same can be said for learning to play the piano or swing a kettlebell.

While the basics can be figured out fairly quickly if you’re motivated, it will take sustained effort over much longer periods of time to really reap the rewards of your hard work.

Mindfulness requires that same attention to detail. When I first began meditating and doing my best to remain in the present moment when I wasn’t meditating, I didn’t notice any major changes in how I thought or felt.

It took a while for me to fall into the habit of doing it regularly, and even longer for me to learn how to use it to relax consistently.

Mindfulness Is Worth It

I wish I’d started practicing mindfulness regularly many years ago. There were several false starts over the years as I slowly figured out what did and didn’t work for me.

While I understand why it took me a while to where I am today, I sure wish I could have had a cheat sheet to both warn me about the techniques my brain would not find helpful well as to tantalize me with all of the positive effects of mindfulness if I kept plugging away at it.

If there were a way for me to give you a tour of my mind and show you all of the small but still wonderful improvements I’ve made as a result of this habit, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Since that isn’t currently possible, I’ll tell you that my mind wanders a little less now than it used to. It’s easier to return to the present moment when it does go scampering off into the furthest recesses of my brain.

I’ve also come to love my daily meditation sessions and mindful moments. They are such a nice way to pause and immerse myself in the moment before moving on with my regular routines. It’s going to be interesting to see what other benefits I discover over the next few months as I become even better at the skills i’m currently practicing.

In short, mindfulness is worth every ounce of effort you put into it.

How to Meditate in a Noisy, Crowded Place

Over the last few weeks I’ve been practicing something that doesn’t come easily to me at all. My spouse enjoys the energy of the crowds at the mall. He likes wandering around during the busier parts of the day and year. Here in Toronto we often have special giveaways, promotional booths, or other events put on by various… Read More

7 New Rules for Labour Day

Traditionally, people weren’t supposed to wear white after Labour Day if they wanted to be seen as fashionable. Almost no one follows this rule anymore, so I thought I’d nominate some guidelines for this time of year. Let me know which one you want to vote for as the official replacement in the comments below. No guilt-trips… Read More

A Short List of Acceptable Christmas Songs

Every year stores seem to start playing Christmas music earlier than they did the year before. My patience for these tunes is all but entirely worn out this season, and we’re still a little over two weeks away from Christmas. Nearly every rule has at least one exception, though, so today I’ll be sharing the short list of… Read More