Tag Archives: Christmas

Ringing the Changes

Christmas last year:

Siesta Key, Florida

Siesta Key, white quartz sand, azure sky, aquamarine Gulf of Mexico, squinting in the sun, sleeveless!

Christmas this year:

Santa Run, Ipswich, Suffolk, England

Grey, cold, damp, five layers of clothes, tired. What’s not to love about England?

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and the very best for the New Year, wherever you are!

How Many Santas?

A staggering number of Santas turned up in Ipswich Town centre for a 3K ( 3 kilometres, about 1.8 miles) Santa Run (or in our case walk). The weather was kind. It rained before the fun run. It rained after the fun run. It was dry long enough for aging, out-of-shape Santas to walk (swiftly I have to say in my defense) around the town and not have our red Santa suits bleed all over our clothes.

We were running/walking in aid of EACH, East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices, a charity that supports families of and cares for children with life-threatening diseases – a worthy cause with a light-hearted fund-raising angle.

Of course Santa is cold. He needs a warm up:

We then made our way to the start, the elite runners with the latest running gear on under their Santa suits at the front and the cheaters who pretended to window shop (c’mon, who would believe that? We were in Santa suits) alongside them.

And they’re off! This photo of slightly drunken appearance was taken on the move as we set off at a cracking walking pace:

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Donner? Blitzen? Comet? Cupid? Well, it’s not Rudolph!

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The pack thinned as the culturally-minded amongst us slowed our pace to admire the architecture while Mrs. Claus on the right shouted at her little elves named “Stop-right-there!” and “Get-back-here!”:

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One little elf returned but remained anonymous:

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The finish line soon loomed ahead and it was difficult to rein ourselves in but but we maintained our composure only splitting the Santa trousers a little bit at the crotch in our haste.

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After receiving a well-deserved bottle of water and a medal which should have been inscribed “You finally got here!” I turned to look at the building opposite. I have walked down this street and all the streets of Ipswich hundreds of times, intent on my next errand, and never looked up. ***

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How many Santas? 260 of us!!! A wonderful sum of £7,000 was raised. If you would like to add to that total please press HERE to follow the link.

*** The lovely timbered-framed building above is quite modern by English standards and is of no historical value. However there are, I have discovered to my shame, buildings of great beauty and historical value mixed in with, under the facade of and often above the ugly modern shop fronts and office buildings.

The Great White Horse Hotel dates back to the 16th Century and King George II, King Louis XVIII of France and Lord Nelson have all stayed there. Dickens, after staying there, used the hotel as the setting for a scene in The Pickwick Papers. The timber-framed hotel is hidden under a bland Georgian facade and is now, sadly, a Starbucks.

The Cornhill, the square in front of the Corn Exchange, has been the town centre since Saxon times! Graves unearthed in the town recently date back to the 7th Century. The spot where we danced uninhibitedly in silly Santa suits has been the grim scene of stocks and pillories, people (including a witch) burnt at the stake as well as a priest hung drawn and quartered in the 17th Century.

Shopping will never be quite the same. I will constantly be looking over my shoulder for the Witchfinder General.

Is This Your Idea of Fun?

"Fun" in the snow - Christmas 2005. Enough already!
“Fun” in the snow – Christmas 2005. Enough already!

Carrying on with my rant in this post, daytime temperatures in our box are as difficult to control as nighttime temps. Heat explodes through four floor vents spaced within 12 feet. As the temperature rises we begin gasping for breath and grow pale and nauseous with heat exhaustion.

When the furnace finally cuts out, the atmospheric pressure in our ‘cabin’ drops, making my ears pop. The silence is welcome but sudden, like unplugging your teenager’s stereo. One of us will be caught in the middle of shouting a sentence as the roar abates and my tinnitus becomes apparent again in the quiet. The heat wave recedes and recedes and recedes and goose bumps make a reappearance. Then the fight ensues over the furnace remote.

The location of the thermostat remains a mystery to us so we don’t know if it is affected by the stove or where we sit pumping out bad vibes or our own hot air as we complain.

Depending on our latitude and altitude and simply the vagaries of the weather we can be alternating from day to day with heating and air conditioning and back to heating. The trailer acts like a greenhouse, warming quickly in the sun and cooling down just as quickly as a cloud comes over.

Curiously this cooling phenomenon doesn’t happen at sunset; the trailer holds an uncomfortable level of heat until 5 am when the temperature plummets and it is then impossible to get warm and get back to sleep. I’d get up and get on with the day but what can you do when your other half is snoozing happily in the same ‘room’?

The air conditioning vents are in the ceiling, less than a foot from my head sending arctic blasts down the back of my neck and ruffling my hair. Jimmy is okay. He tends to find something to do and sits in a pocket of still air between gale winds. I twist the vents away causing the flame to blow out on the stove, then twist the vents again away from the stove. As I move up and down our tiny kitchen area I get gusts from three different directions.

All I want is for the temperature to be just right and stay just right. Is that too much to ask?

I suppose the subjects of terrorism, government, airline policies and finances (mentioned here in case you are thinking, where did that come from?) can be lumped together for the purposes of this rant. Terrorist threats have prompted the government to put stricter security policies in place which will cost the airlines more to implement, justifying yet more fees on our already escalating airfares back to the UK.

We now pay to eat, to imbibe, to take a suitcase, to book a seat. Soon they will charge you to sneeze. Used to an endless supply of free wine, we tell ourselves that orange juice is so much healthier.

More importantly (than a glass of wine? Heck!) we are questioning whether we can afford to fly to the UK every spring and autumn, as we have been doing, to see our grown up children and little grandchildren. Airfares have gone up, health insurance premiums have gone up, the pound against the dollar is down, interest rates are down. I’m not sure we can live here at all if we can’t afford to see our family regularly.

Bonjour France?

Hola Espana?

Buongiorno Italy?

G’day Sydney? A third grandchild has been born in Australia.

Himself won’t live in England. Don’t get me started on that.

The view from our RV. It may look familiar to many of you!
The view from our RV Christmas ’05. It may have a familiar look to many of you!

‘Twas the Day Before Christmas . . .

Being so far from friends and family, I find it hard to get into the Christmas spirit.

Suddenly on the 24th of December, I was overwhelmed with the urge to decorate – less to do with sitting in a Wal-Mart parking lot, more to do with it being my last chance to buy pretty lights. Our campsite was miles from anywhere and a later change of heart on Christmas Eve would not be appreciated by himself.

Normally she who hesitates is lost but Jimmy sensed the battle raging in my tiny mind and nudged me into action. “Go on. See if they have any lights left.” It doesn’t take much to convince me to shop.

Wal-Mart had hundreds of strings of lights left. As I fretted about the oversupply of cheap merchandize, waste, want and greed, I reduced the U.S. problem of overstocking by picking up two strings of 100 lights each, a nasty, scrawny, fake wreath and a big red bow – total purchase – $8.00.

As we drove “home” to our ocean front campsite at Hunting Island, South Carolina,

A Christmas-y view
Our Christmas view

I strategized best use of my meager haul – two 23-foot strings of lights and a wreath best viewed from a distance. I would wrap the wreath with one string of lights disguising its hideousness, hang it centrally on the awning which was furled up against the trailer and drape the other lights across and down either side. It would look wonderful.

I manhandled a fistful of bulbs round and through the sad little wreath, mangled the red bow into place and attached a twist tie. With “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” rockin’ around in my skull as it had been ever since the morning when himself had put the CD on to cheer me up, I stepped outside to find that a) it had got dark, and b) the top of the awning was completely out of reach.

In times of crisis, when I am about to plummet into misery, Jimmy comes through and suggested he back the car up to the trailer so I could stand on the tailgate.

The previous day, Jimmy had zigzagged the trailer back between awkwardly positioned pine trees and abandoned it in the woods. Now he had to back the car in the dark through the same trees, picnic tables and numerous pieces of lawn furniture, bringing the car at a 45° angle to the center of the awning so I could step on to the rear quarter bumper. The bumper needed to be within six inches of the trailer.

I needed to be behind the car to guide Jimmy in – either between the car and the trailer for precision signaling, or standing off to the side for safety. The former seemed the better option for marital harmony as the accelerator on the automatic gearbox has a kind of all or nothing touch and visions of, not sugar plums, but a bashed in trailer danced in my head.

With minimal screaming, the car was maneuvered into place and Jimmy heaved me up onto the bumper with my hands full of wreath and lights. Arms stretched up to fullest extent and holding the wreath in place, I attempted to attach the wreath to a canvas strap on the awning, using one hand for the twist tie. Put a plastic bag on a table and try to twist tie it closed with one hand and you will grasp (or not) my predicament.

Much grunting and sighing on my part and stoicism on Jimmy’s part got the fortunately lightweight wreath tied to the awning. It only remained to drape the attached lights over the awning. Jimmy offered to back the car twice more to each end of the awning but my nerves were shot from the first backing episode and my holiday spirit was waning. I wasn’t willing to risk damage to the bodywork of the trailer for the thrill of some cheap twinkle lights. His caramel chocolate bar Christmas Eve present wouldn’t make up for a big dent.

We improvised by using the awning hook to try to thrust the lights into place, but try as we might the lights just wouldn’t stay up. Neither of us could reach to tie the lights up. I couldn’t see what I was doing anyway and it was getting late.

The lights hung dejectedly from the dumb wreath in a stupid twinkling puddle on the ground.

I took it all down, the scraggy wreath was stripped of its lights and hung back up while the car was still acting as a step stool.

My stunning display
My stunning display

As I wound the lights up, I cautioned Jimmy, “Be careful of that fire ring” – a three foot across, eight inch high steel ring and barbeque grill.

“What fire ring?”

Well wouldn’t that have just made it a Merry Christmas if he had run over it and burst a tire?

It was right in front of the car and I don’t know how he backed the car into position without seeing it in the first place.


Christmas Eve is Sold Out?

We queued outside the church as though we were waiting to see the latest Harry Potter premier. Eventually allowed in we had feared the Sold Out sign would be put up just as we got to the doorway.

The church was packed with just two seats left in the very last row but we risked walking through a capacity crowd to find my brother’s family. By the time we joined him and his wife the short pew was nearly full. “I’m saving this for the rest of them,” he said, indicating a space.

“The rest of them?”

Five more people in eighteen inches of pew. It was show time and people were still pouring in. “I can’t keep this seat any longer,” he said suffering under the glares of standing parishioners and about to give up precious space to strangers as his daughter and family appeared. Somehow nine of us wedged into a space, shoulders overlapping, which would comfortably seat four and a half.

Folding chairs then appeared and all available gaps of floor space were filled with seating, probably not in accordance with fire regulations, but the Reverend looked exceedingly pleased with his full house as he picked his way up the aisle around chairs, loiterers, baby buggies, already restless tots and wheelchairs.

Timorous teenaged soloists entertained us with carols as the church continued to fill to the brim and I prayed for each one of the budding musicians to get to the end of their piece. The trumpeter was so nervous he couldn’t seem to get enough spit going to get a note out of his horn. When he did it erupted with a deafening blast. He managed to put a few notes of Oh Come All Ye Faithful in the right order and then made a hasty blushing retreat. A chubby cellist stubbornly held on to several flat notes of Silent Night, oblivious as he slowly drew his bow across the protesting strings. Even the talented pianist who was trying to accompany him couldn’t cover the wailing. The clarinettist’s few minor mistakes in Away in a Manger then paled into insignificance.

A family of five were shoe-horned into temporary seating in front of us and whenever father stood up for the frequent readings and hymns, the lights appeared to go out in our row as he towered directly over us at 6’8”.

A booming amateur opera singer standing behind us took each of the hymns and carols into a lyrical baritone harmony dislodging my tenuous hold on the melody line.

The children’s choir dressed in robes of midnight blue solemnly arranged themselves on the steps of the chancel. They sang Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella in harmonious French, finished in unison as the choir leader pinched her fingers together and turned as one when she swivelled her hands to march back to the choir stalls. As the last few choristers strode in step to their seats, they kicked up the backs of their flowing robes to reveal . . . white trainers . . . . so incongruous, yet somehow fitting, a teenaged wardrobe touch.

There were 275 people in the tiny church, 100 of them children ranging in age from one month to late teens. Communion had still to be served and as the first hour ticked past, the volume and level of activity from the congregation raised. Children became fractious. Parents looked strained. Jimmy and I remained tranquil as they were other people’s children.

The two smallest members of our extended family unit had had enough of sitting still. The baby squirmed on the floor then danced on her father’s lap. She threw herself about with such vigour that concussion on the pew was narrowly avoided. Her big brother took the opportunity whenever we stood, which we were forced to do in unison as all our hips were wedged together, to shed some energy by swimming up and down the slippery pew, well polished as it was by many bottoms over the years. It was quite difficult to concentrate on the readings when his head would suddenly appear between sets of legs.

Thankfully after communion and the blessing of the little darlings, their parents escaped with them to the nursery in the church hall.
Afterwards we sat back down with relief and a bit more space and meditated as the parishioners came and went, came and went, to take communion and return to their pews. The vicar and his mates must have been aware of the state of unrest as they fairly hurtled through the Eucharist but the devout continued to stream up to the altar and race away. I had knelt at the altar for a moment too long and was asked to leave as though in a busy restaurant. Do this in remembrance of me but be quick about it.

Twenty minutes of bread and wine had already been dished out and still the procession continued. Perhaps the next door church had run out of wine and had sent their sinners to us.

“They must be bussing them in from out of state. I’m sure there weren’t that many people here,” my brother whispered. A goodly turnout had been anticipated as six hymns were lined up on the programme to pass the time, but the organist still had to give several encores to cover the sound of pounding feet. Row upon row stood and jogged to the altar to try to keep up with the cracking pace set by the vicar. The taking of bread and wine took half an hour with an average serving time worthy of the Communion Olympics. As far as we could see no one was turned away, the doors remained open and every sinner in the metropolitan area of Tacoma received communion.

We truly felt the spirit of Christmas and as a bonus the ticket price was nil for a wonderful evening’s entertainment.

Who Loves Trader Joe’s?


Sign at our favourite organic, slightly wacky grocery store, Trader Joe’s:

“High quality products,

Ridiculously low prices,

But talk is cheap,

Shop and compare.”

Message on their environmentally friendly brown paper bags:

“Join the shopping adventure and save with abandon!”

Each week TJ’s promote a different coffee and food product by giving out free samples. Always in the same corner of the store, it is of course my first stop before I shop.  This week it was delicious German spice cookies, pfeffernusse, little mountains of delight – soft spiced cake on the inside, crisp on the outside and slathered with icing sugar – stocked only at Christmastime.  Each bite into the cookie resulted in an eruption of sugar all over my face so that by the time I got to the till, Jimmy was giving me one of his looks.  “You’re like a little kid,” he said shaking his head like a long-suffering parent and tapping his mouth where I needed to wipe.  Moving to the till to pay and anxious to free up one hand of cookie or coffee, I stuffed the last of the cookie in and the checkout girl looked at me and tapped her chin, so I quickly wiped that.

‘Did I get it all?’ I asked her, and she shook her head no.  Looking down I had an avalanche of icing sugar all down the front of my black coat.

“I can’t take you anywhere,” himself hissed. Exasperation oozed from him. In all my years I’ve never caused such despair.

Still, he loves Trader Joe’s too so we will go back. Separate carts next time? Or would different days be better?