Friday, December 27, 2019

Christmas Sadness by Margaret Ullrich

I wish you all a very happy holiday season full of peace, health, joy and love.
And, of course, favourite foods.
Let's not forget television specials and Christmas music.

For those who don't know the story, the Christmas carol Silent Night was written in the nineteenth century because of a problem.      
In a small Austrian church the organ was broken and couldn't be repaired in time for the Christmas Eve Mass. So, in a couple of hours, Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber created a simple song that could be played on the guitar.
It was called the song from heaven.
On Christmas Eve in 1914, the German soldiers singing Silent Night brought a touch of humanity to World War l. The British soldiers responded with another carol, The First Noel. For a few hours, peace returned, thanks to music.

The first year I was on the CKUW radio show 2000 & Counting, Older and Wiser. 
I prerecorded our two holiday shows. That year the holidays occurred on Tuesday, the day we usually broadcasted, and we wanted to be home.
I taped each person telling a story and their favourite Christmas carol recording.
The segments filled the two hours easily. 

Normally we did our shows live and, as our listeners knew, we did make mistakes.  
With prerecording, we were able to edit them. We sounded pretty good.

Maybe that's the problem with modern life.
We hear recordings and see shows that have had dozens of retakes.
Sometimes they show the bloopers.
It's pretty funny to see that even big stars make mistakes.
But, most of the time, all we only see a smoothly running show where everyone always says the right thing, the dinner is cooked to perfection and all problems are resolved with everybody hugging each other within a half an hour.

It can leave one feeling like he's been cheated or that he should try harder.

The first Christmas was a stinker.  Being in a big city with no available rooms is not fun. Add to that Mary was about to have her first baby in a barn with just a carpenter there to help.
I don't think any Christmas has ever gone according to plan.
And maybe Christmas just isn't supposed to be perfect.

A first Christmas away from all that's familiar can be rough.
Our first married Christmas was a big change.
Paul and I are originally from New York City.  Tons of people.
I came from a huge family - a first generation immigrant family.
My parents and their siblings couldn't get enough of each other.     
But, there we were in 1972, all alone in Surrey, British Columbia.
The two of us in a basement apartment watching Perry Como's Christmas special.
It was something from home for us.
This was in the days before Skype. We hadn't seen our relatives for six months.    
When we watched Perry Como, it was good to know our folks were watching it, too. 
For an hour, we were all together.
Then we went to bed for a long winter's nap.
The next morning we awoke hearing our puppy happily yelping and splashing in water.
No, he wasn't in a basin or a tub.
Surrey in those days was very rural.  
There were open drainage ditches running along the lengths of the residential blocks. The ditch in front of our house had gotten plugged. The rain had soaked our lawn and was seeping through three walls of our apartment. We were rapidly being flooded. 

We piled things onto our bed.
The folks upstairs helped us carry everything else into their apartment.
Within a half hour water covered about two feet of our first Christmas tree.
We were safe and dry upstairs, sharing a cup of coffee.
Then we heard our phone ringing. 
My folks had said they would call on Christmas Day.
If we didn't answer they phone, they would worry.
This was in the days before cell phones.
Our only phone was on the table in our apartment.
Our flooded apartment.

We braved the icy water and the risk of electrocution to answer the phone.
We wished my folks a Merry Christmas.
Keeping our teeth from chattering, we made small talk.
No mention of of our apartment suddenly becoming a wading pool.
What would've been the point of worrying them?

Living in British Columbia is just a memory.   
Perry Como's Christmas specials are just a memory.
My parents, also, are just a memory.
But thanks to memories, we can enjoy a Christmas from the past.

During the holidays people often feel a bit down.
If this is your first Christmas after a major loss or change, be gentle with yourself.
Forget 'the rules'. Do what will make it easier for you.

It won't be perfect.
So what?
It will be real… another Christmas memory.

Wishing you peace, joy and everything good in 2020.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Wishing you all the blessings of the season...

Wishing you a Christmas filled 
with all you hold dear
and a New Year filled 
with all the best!

Thank you for visiting!!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Would Santa Ever Find Me? by Margaret Ullrich

In 2004 I wrote this story and read it on our CKUW radio show '2000 & Counting - Older & Wiser'.  
For a while it was our annual tradition.  

I got a few e mails asking if I could post the original story. 
Here it is… Merry Christmas!

Change follows us from the cradle to the grave. When I was five years old I was hit with a megadose of change - I moved to another town, got a baby sister, got to go to kindergarten and got Santa Claus. 
Five years earlier my parents and I had emigrated from Malta to New York and settled in Corona.  We didn't have much choice.  Five of Pop's brothers and sisters lived in Corona. So, we had to live in Corona, too.  
Corona was a little slice of Italy on Long Island.  The store clerks were bilingual: English and Italian.  The grocery stores in Corona were stocked with Italian necessities.  Almost everything in all the other stores had been imported from Italy.  
Corona was where we learned how to be Americans.  
Nonni's children, Betty and Angelo, had married two of Pop's siblings, Joe and Helen.  So, Nonni was a double Grandma in my family.  Since all my grandparents were in Malta, Nonni treated me as a grandchild, too.      
Every Christmas Eve we gathered at Uncle Joe and Aunt Betty's home.  A whole corner of their living room was filled with Nonni's manger scene.  It was not just a shed with Mary, Joseph, three kings and one shepherd standing around Baby Jesus.  Nonni had a complete village with houses, trees, hills, paths, ponds and animals.  There were people walking around just minding their own business.  Some of the figures were really old and we couldn't play with them.  But each year Nonni added something new: a woman carrying a basket of eggs, a farmer carrying a head of cabbage, a man carrying a bundle of wood.  Nonni’s manger scene was better than any store window on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. 
Dinner was a feast.  Fish was traditional - eel for the parents, bluefish for the children.  There was also soup, pasta and vegetables, followed by ricotta pie, anise biscotti, pizzelle and cuccidati cookies, strufoli, creamy roasted chestnuts and torrone candy.  My favourite was the huge golden mound of strufoli: tiny doughnut balls covered with honey and multi-coloured sprinkles.  After dinner we played games and our parents talked until it was time to walk to the Midnight Mass at St. Leo's.  After Mass we returned to Uncle Joe's for some panettone a holiday bread made with butter, raisins, almonds and citron. 

Then Nonni would tell us to look at the manger scene for the surprise.  The blessed Bambino, Baby Jesus, had suddenly appeared!
Christmas Eve was a wonderful night.  But the big day for us children was January sixth.  The night before we had hung our stockings and waited for La Befana to bring us toys.  

For those unfamiliar with the story, La Befana was a little old lady who had been sweeping her house when the Wise Men knocked on her door.  They were looking for Baby Jesus and asked La Befana for directions.  They then invited La Befana to join them.  The old woman refused, saying she had work to do. 
When it was dark, a great light and angels appeared in the sky.  La Befana realized that the Wise Men weren't kidding about somebody special being born that night.  Broom in hand, La Befana tried to catch up with the Wise Men.  She never found them or Baby Jesus.  Every year she searches for Baby Jesus and leaves presents for good little boys and girls.  

La Befana took care of me for four years.  Then we moved to College Point so we could live closer to Lily Tulip where Pop worked.  Then it was time for my sister to be born.  While Ma was in the hospital I stayed with Aunt Betty, Uncle Joe and their daughters, Mary Ann and Carol Lynn.  It was nice living in Corona again.  The next day, Nonni diNoto took me to the local 5 and 10 and gave me a quarter.  
"Buy for sister."   
I didn't have any idea what a baby sister would want.  I liked westerns, so I grabbed a toy gun.  
"No.  Buy a rattle."  
A rattle?  That sounded boring, but I bought a pink plastic rattle.  
In those days children were not allowed to visit anyone in the hospital.  When Aunt Betty visited Ma, she gave the rattle to my new sister.  I waited outside the hospital and waved to the window of Ma's room.  When Aunt Betty returned she had a gift from my new sister for me: three pieces of chocolate.  
Well, wasn't that nice of her.  Not as nice as a toy gun, but maybe that was all she could get from where she'd been.    

After Rose was born we didn't go to Corona as often.  It was easier to walk to the local church instead of driving to St. Leo's.  I missed seeing my family.  
That September I started kindergarten in St. Fidelis School.  Some of the good sisters had wanted to travel and meet exotic heathens in far away places.  Well, they almost got their wish.  I was the first Maltese child they'd ever seen.  College Point had been settled by Irish and German families.  It was time for me to learn about America through their eyes.  
As Christmas approached, the windows of the German bakeries were filled with the most beautiful cookies I'd ever seen.  They were in all kinds of shapes: stars, angels, animals and wreaths.  They were decorated with coconut, jam, icing and tiny silver balls.  Some of my classmates brought in samples of their mothers' baking.  I brought some biscotti.  My friends were polite and tasted the dry, double-baked bread.  Then we ate the lebkuchen, pfeffernuesse, zimtsterne, and jam filled spitzbuben.  The stollen reminded me of panettone.  
I thought a German Christmas was delicious.  I planned to eat German and Italian holiday food every Christmas for the rest of my life. 
We helped Sister decorate the Christmas tree with sugar cookies which had been twisted into figure eights.  Then Sister told us to gather around her.  She was going to read us a story.  Sister showed us the picture of Santa Claus and his eight reindeer.  My friends were delighted.  
I was confused.  
I had never heard any of this before.  Santa was supposed to slide down a chimney and land in a fireplace.  We didn't have a fireplace.  We had a huge, oil-burning furnace in the basement.  Ma hung our stockings, along with all the other wet laundry, on a clothesline near the furnace.  It made awful noises and had fire in it.  If Santa landed in it he'd fry like a strufoli.  That would end Christmas forever.  I didn't think Santa would take such a risk for a total stranger.  The lovely cookies felt like lead in my stomach.
Sister talked about Santa checking his list of good little girls and boys.  Santa had a list?  I knew we were on the Registered Aliens list.  Every January the TV reminded Ma to fill out green cards so we wouldn't go to jail or Malta.  How could I get on Santa's list?  Could Santa get my name from the Alien list?  Did I need to fill out another card?  
The afternoon went from bad to worse.  Sister told us we could put our letters to Santa in the special mailbox in the classroom.  A letter?  What language did Santa speak?  He'd never heard from me.  I wasn't on his list.  What could I say?  
"Hi, you don't know me, but I'd like some toys."  I'd never written a letter to La Befana.  She just gave me toys.  Would Santa shoot La Befana if she came to College Point?  Oh, boy… I was in big trouble.     
In kindergarten we learned about God the Father, about how we should pray to Him and tell Him what we needed.  I didn't need another Father.  I figured if my Pop was always busy working, this guy who took care of everything in the whole wide world would really never have time for me. 
I needed a Grandma.
The next time we went to Corona I told Nonni about Santa Claus and that he was in charge of Christmas in College Point.  Nonni listened patiently as I explained the rules.
She repeated the main points, "Santa Claus.  A letter." 
I nodded.
"I fix.  I write letter to Befana.  She give to Santa.  No hard feelings.  Christmas come." 
I had my doubts.  Nonni had never been to College Point.  Maybe nobody ever had to change from La Befana to Santa Claus.  Maybe Christmas was lost forever, like some of the packages we never got from Malta.
On Christmas Eve we all gathered at Uncle Joe and Aunt Betty's home in Corona.  We had the Christmas Eve dinner.  Then we went to St. Leo's for the Midnight Mass.  Everything was familiar.  Latin and Italian.  Why couldn't we have stayed there?  
When we were leaving the church I saw a pale cloud in the sky.  It looked long and thin, with a sort of lump on one end.  For a moment I thought it looked like Santa and his sleigh with eight tiny reindeer.  I kept looking at that cloud.  It followed us from the church to Uncle Joe's house, where we had panettone.  When we left, the cloud was still there.  I watched from the car.  The cloud followed us from Corona to College Point.  
I never noticed clouds before.  Did clouds always follow people from one town to another?  Was it really a cloud?  Sister had told us that Santa had millions of helpers, tiny people called elves.  Could it have been an elf picking up the letter from La Befana?
Christmas morning, Pop was eating breakfast while Ma was cleaning Rose.  Ma sent me to the basement to get some dry diapers that were hanging by the furnace.  Being a big sister wasn't much fun.  I pulled down two diapers.  Then I noticed some lumps by the furnace.  I thought some clothes had fallen off the line.  I walked toward the furnace.  
But the lumps weren't clothes.  
They were boxes.  
They were wrapped.  
They were presents!  
They were for me!!

Santa had found me.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Muriel’s Family Christmas Dinner by Margaret Ullrich

This was a holiday piece I wrote a few years ago for the CKUW radio show ‘2000 & Counting’ when we decided to chat about family holiday dinners.  
Being politically correct - and politically sensitive - was just starting around the turn of the century.
It was and is still a part of menu planning.

The family that eats a holiday dinner together… can still be in for a whole lot of trouble.

My friend Muriel still hasn't recovered from last Christmas. 

The poor dear had tried to please everybody. Solomon couldn't have pulled that off. Muriel was willing to go with the flow, but she was caught in a tsunami. Her husband Tom is a simple man with simple tastes. He just wanted a roasted bird with stuffing and cranberry sauce. 

He should never have had children.

Their eldest daughter, Donna, keeps up with trends. Muriel had asked Donna to bring the appetizers. Muriel expected their traditional celery sticks with cream cheese, crackers and cheese cubes. Donna waltzed in with an oriental party pack and assorted seafood and chicken wing platters. Something for everyone. Uh, huh. 
Tom backed off when he saw the egg rolls. "I don't like Chinese."
Donna said, "I got you BBQ chicken wings."
Ignoring her, Tom said, "They don't serve bread." He went to the kitchen for bread.

Then Betty arrived. Betty lives in a commune and supports the rights of everything and everybody… except those of the hostess. Betty always carried tofu because she never ate dairy products or anything with eyes or eggs. Muriel had prepared a nice salad for Betty. Not good enough.
"Were the pickers paid a decent wage?"
"The lettuce had a union label."
"I only eat organically grown food. Did they use manure."
"We had to scrub the carrots with bleach to get the E coli off."
"Oh... okay."
Tom heard E coli and reached for another slice of bread.

Finally their son Bill arrived with his wife Carol and their children, Krystal and Jason. Bill and Carol had every allergy in the book. Bill also had high cholesterol and Carol had her waistline. They avoided the platters of appetizers and drank the water that they had brought. 

Krystal, a tender-hearted child, burst into tears when she saw the chicken wings.
"Oh, those poor birdies. Do you know how they treat chickens, Grandma?"

Muriel figured the birds were better off than she was. They never had to make a holiday dinner for the family. But this was her granddaughter.
"Krystal, dear, these birdies lived in a happy place where they laughed and played and sang songs for a long, long time. Then one day they just went to sleep and, just like butterflies, they turned into chicken wings."
"Oh... okay."
Who says the next generation knows it all? 
Tom heard Muriel's tale of the laughing, singing chickens, figured she'd finally lost it, and ate more bread.

Ignored by his elders, Jason gobbled a fistful of seafood appetizers and started wheezing. Muriel packed away the appetizers before her children could start a food fight and led them to the main event.

The table looked like a sailboat regatta that had been designed by Martha Stewart. Every dish had a tiny flag listing all of the ingredients. Muriel did not want to have to call the paramedics again. Krystal cried when she saw the turkey. 

When Betty reached for the potatoes, Bill said, "But they have eyes". Betty meant to kick her brother, but got her sister-in-law, Carol, who screamed and kicked back. Muriel yelled at her kids. The holiday dinner was just like always. Damn.

After everyone had eaten what they could, Muriel brought out a carafe of hot cranberry apple cider. This was her gift to herself. Seeing all the different coffees at the supermarket had made her go all whoozie. Whatever happened to plain old coffee, black or with cream? Muriel’s children didn't say a word while visions of cappuccinos, espressos and lattes danced in their heads.

Betty was in charge of the dessert. She had created something that was just what the doctor ordered. No eggs, no cream, no butter, and no taste. 
Tom just saw a pumpkin pie and it looked fine. He helped himself to a slice, smiled and thought that Betty was returning to the food of her mother. 

But, something tasted... off. Maybe a new spice?
"Betty, what's in this pie," he asked.
"Geez." Tom reached for the bread. 

Jason had wheezed throughout the whole meal. 
All in all, it had been just another family holiday get together. 

God help Muriel. The holidays are back.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Hunting the Winnipeg Christmas Tree by Margaret Ullrich / Seasonal Drink Recipes

For another broadcast of our CKUW radio program ‘2000 & Counting’ we planned to reminisce about when we had gone out into the woods to chop down a Christmas tree.

Yes, this was, and is, a popular Winnipeg Christmas tradition.

And, yes, in Manitoba it can get cold enough to make trees brittle!

God, it was cold.

I didn't know it could get that cold.
I didn't know I'd ever be stupid enough to be outdoors in that kind of cold.
I didn't know I'd been stupid enough to marry someone stupid enough to work with people stupid enough to be out in that kind of cold.

It was December in Winnipeg.

Paul and I had grown up in New York City. There people went to an empty parking lot where the trees had magically appeared, like the pre-wrapped ground beef at the local supermarket. No questions asked. No one wanted to get too personal with an ornament that would be out with the trash in a matter of weeks.

At the New York parking lot we'd browse, find a tree we liked and switch the price tag with the cheaper tree which no one liked. Then we'd carry the tree to the clerk, who gave us the fish eye as he noticed the fullness of such a "good find", sighed and took our money. The whole deal was done in ten minutes. Another Christmas had begun.

Apparently, that isn't good enough for Winnipeggers. 
Oh, no, they have to get down and dirty with their holiday bushes.

I'll never forget how happy Paul was when he came home and told me we'd been invited to join his co-workers, a group of Winnipeggers, for a real, old-fashioned Christmas experience. If I'd had a clue I'd have realized that giving birth in a barn, unaided, would've been an easier old-fashioned Christmas experience. 
We were going to chop down a real Christmas tree, just like our ancestors.

Well, my parents are from Malta, a sunny Mediterranean island. It just wasn't in my genes to know how to dress for a freezing, miserable, forced march through a blizzard-hit forest. The windchill - which I still didn't understand - was in the "exposed skin can freeze in 2 minutes" range.

That didn't sound good, so I said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Somehow Paul convinced me that his entire future career prospects, our unborn children's college fund, our grandchildren's lives and our golden years' security and comfort would all go up in smoke if I didn't join in the mighty tree hunt.

His Jewish co-workers were going. Everybody, even that ditzy receptionist who always dressed like a showgirl wannabe with skirts up to there, was going.

So, we were going.

God, it was cold.

I thought I had dressed warmly.
That fink, the ditzy receptionist, showed up looking like the Michelin Man. She was ready to march to the North Pole for the perfect tree, if necessary. So were the three other women co-workers. The other wives - who all knew better - had begged off. One was even pregnant. Or so she said.

I was alone with four career women who were full of the 1970s "I am woman, hear me roar" career fever. While they talked shop I felt as welcome as a lump of coal in a kid’s Christmas stocking.

The Jewish co-workers - who I had hoped would keep the tree hunt frenzy within limits - had turned into lumberjacks. They were also ready to march to the North Pole for the perfect tree, if necessary.

After walking five minutes I couldn't feel my toes. We hadn't even gotten out of the parking lot. I was doomed.

I didn't know it could get that cold.
We marched. Finally, someone approved of a tree. The men chopped. The tree crashed. The branches that hit the ground broke off the tree.

I said, "The bare side could be placed against a wall."

The heat from their glares should have restored my circulation. It didn't. We marched. Someone approved of another tree. The men chopped. The tree crashed. It broke.

God, it was cold.

We were doomed to spend all day wandering like Flying Dutchmen on a quest to find the perfect unbreakable tree. The lot was littered with other broken felled trees. Some trees had landed across their comrades in a criss-cross pattern that looked like a cradle. 
A cradle, something soft, something to receive and hold...

Hold it… something to catch a damn tree!

Dripping snot and tears had frozen my mouth shut. If I'd had the equipment I would've written my idea in the snow. I slapped my face trying to restore circulation to my lower jaw. Finally my lips parted. I clutched Paul's arm.

"Cradle... tree... cradle," I mumbled and criss-crossed my arms.

The women thought I was pregnant and wanted a homemade cradle. Thank God, months of marriage, misery and love had united Paul's mind to mine. Months of marriage had also taught us that Paul was no carpenter. He knew the homemade cradle idea was bunk. Paul caught on to my pantomime and told the others of my plan.

Someone approved of another tree. It could land on four broken trees. The men chopped. The tree landed on its fallen comrades. It survived. 
We marched. Someone approved of another tree. It, too, survived.

Christmas was saved.

God, it was cold.

I didn't know it could get that cold. 
I couldn't believe it. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

Tossing Christmas Cookies by Margaret Ullrich / Cookie Recipes

I also wrote the following essay about Christmas traditions for our CKUW radio show ‘2000 & Counting’.
Over the years our listeners asked for some seasonal stories to be repeated.
They seemed to like being reminded that we were all in the same holiday boat, a communal ship which made us feel like we were all sinking fast.

Ah… Christmas shopping, holiday baking and holiday customs… 
Why do we do it?

I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, there are two questions no one should ever ask a woman. 

The first is "How old are you?"
The second is "Have you done your holiday baking yet?”

Why is it that, when the thermometer falls, we're supposed to bake?  
Does the Queen whip up a fruitcake before writing her speech?
I don't think so.  

Holiday baking has been with us an awfully long time. 
Did you know that ginger was popular in Greece over 5,000 years ago? The Egyptians were eating gingerbread when the great pyramid of Cheops was just a brick and a prayer. I wonder what their gingerbread men looked like.

A few years after Egypt's building boom, an English King and his hunting party got lost in a blizzard on Christmas Eve.  Well, they were clever lads full of English pluck, so they threw everything they had - meat, flour, sugar, apples, ale and brandy - into a bag and cooked it. Wallah!!  Plum pudding. The Iron Chef would've been proud.  

On Christmas Day in 1666, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that he had risen earlier than his wife Who was desirous to sleep having sat up till four this morning seeing her maids make mince pies.  
I really admire Mrs. P.  She just sat and watched her maids do the work, yet her husband felt guilty about her workload. How did she get him to suffer like that?   

Some Christmas carols seem a little too focused on food.  For example:
     Now bring us some figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer!
     We won't go until we get some, so bring it out here.
Those were somebody's friends?  Somebody should've called the cops.

Holiday baking has followed us into modern times. The 1970s was the decade of old time family television shows like The Waltons and memoir books. 
Have you ever browsed through a memoir book? It could make you weep. 
They reminded us of times like this...

Evenings when a cold blustery wind howled outside were perfect for sorting through recipes. They were cozy times. The children were sitting at the oak table helping Mama chop fruit and raisins. Papa was cracking and shelling nuts and crushing fresh spices in the grinder.

Isn't that sweet? Sentences like that convinced me that if we did things just like people did before television was invented, the world would be a kinder, gentler place.

We'll never know. Paul told me, in no uncertain terms, that he was too busy to grind nuts for a cake he didn't even want. 
Alright. Scratch Paul grinding his nuts. I bought ground nuts.

Step two... the batter had to be mixed. Back to that memoir...
When all the fruits were in, Grandmother called, 'Come, stir the batter!' 
We all took turns giving it a stir - clockwise for good luck - and made a wish."

I made a batter, there in the fruits and called out, "Come, stir the batter!"

Carl pointed to the electric mixer sitting on the counter and said that he was staying on the eighth level of his computer game, The Temple of Ra. He also told me, in no uncertain terms, that he was too busy to stir batter for a cake he didn't even want.

I stirred the batter, clockwise.
Don't ask what I wished.

It's been downhill ever since. Do you know about the charming Swedish custom of hiding a whole almond in a serving bowl of rice pudding? The lucky person who finds the almond has to get married or do the dishes. Either my husband or my son - the fink never confessed - managed to swallow the almond every time.

I tried the German version - whoever finds the almond receives a marzipan pig. By then Paul and Carl had their own tradition: swallowing the almond. I felt so guilty looking at that poor rejected pig. 
I started my own tradition and ate him... along with the cake.

There's a Christmas carol that goes: Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat...

Saturday, December 14, 2019

A Christmas Bargain by Margaret Ullrich / Cheap Dinner Recipes

Back in 2002 I wrote an essay for the CKUW radio show ‘2000 & Counting' about getting Christmas gifts.  
Goodness, that was seventeen years ago, and a month before Christmas.
It was a meant as a light piece, filled with hints.
Many of our listeners were seniors or college students, folks known for having to stretch their dollars.
Christmas shopping hasn’t changed all that much.  Darn!!

There’s less than ten days left until Christmas 2019.
If you’re not finished with your shopping this is definitely crunch time!

Okay… listen up!  There are four weeks left until Christmas.  That means gifts.  I know, I know, it's more blessed to give than to receive.  But, unless you have ways of shopping that you'd like to keep secret, giving gifts means money.  

It's a little late to start a Christmas gift account at your bank and the utility companies really lose that Ho Ho Ho spirit if you try to skip paying their bills.  
If the charge cards are already maxed out - or you just want to keep your nearest and dearest on a cash and carry basis - gift getting is going to take a little effort.  

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  As we're all stuck with holidays - oh, lucky us - I'll tell you some of my desperate measures.

Live off your hump.  You know what I mean.  Things like the 18 cans of tuna you have left from the time you bought 20 cans so you could get 50 bonus airmiles.  Now's the time to crack those babies open.  I know the family hates tuna.  That's why there are 18 little cans of fishies swimming around your pantry.  Well, the family would hate a Giftless Christmas even more.  Think about it.  Lousy dinners happen to everybody.  But the family Grinch who comes up giftless at Christmas gets blabbed about throughout the neighbourhood and the generations.  You don't want to be remembered by your great great grandchildren as Granny Grinchie.

Try creative cooking.  Pretend you're on the TV show Iron Chef.  You've just been given a tube of ground beef, a bag of marshmallows, a jar of salsa, a bottle of raspberry vinegar, a carton of frozen spinach, a jar of maraschino cherries and a box of rice-a-roni.  Think only a nut throws odd things together?  How do you think raspberry vinegar was invented?  If the family gets snarky, tell them you found the recipe in a magazine - Drop names.  Martha is always good - and if they can't appreciate all the effort you put into making dinner interesting… Well!  You know the speech.  Remember, guilt, when the other person has it, is a good thing.

Go ethnic.  Granny's recipes don't have to be saved for Folklorama.  God bless ancestors.  Go to an ethnic restaurant and get a load of the prices they charge for a plate of pasta fagioli (that's noodles and beans).  Grandma would die laughing if she saw those prices.  Starch and beans got millions of people through tough times.  Go thou and eat likewise.
Beans aren't good enough?  Go past the recognizable cuts and shop the mystery meats.  Put enough spices on them and the family won't know what hit them.  I once made spaghetti and meatballs using animal organs only a mother could love.  Guess what?  Hubby had invited a friend.  Well, the buddy was getting a free meal, so I followed the Cook’s Golden Rule: Don't apologize and don't explain.  The buddy said it was delicious, like the meatballs they serve at the Bay.  Hmmm…  I notice the Bay is still in business.  There's more than one way to skin a cat.   
Shop your house.  No kidding.  Grab a bag and stroll through your house.  Look for things somebody foisted… uh… gave to you.  Well, why should you be stuck with it until you're six feet under?  Unless it was made by your preschooler - don't even think it, they DO remember - you're free to pass it on to someone else.  Just don't give it to the person who gave it to you. 
Pack your own.  Ever notice the little overpriced goodies the stores stuff into baskets and bowls?  One current gift item is a box of pasta, a tin of sauce, some cheese and some wooden spoons nestled within a large bowl.  Are you too stupid to do the same thing?  I didn’t think so.  It's one way to get rid of some of those extra airmiles purchases.  Let somebody else eat the tuna.  

Still thinking about the folks in the flyers looking wildly happy over a toaster?  
Toss the flyers.  Those models were paid big bucks.  Stores want you to buy.  A stress free family holiday is not their goal.  If they had their way you'd replace everything and pay 50% interest. 
Remember how the best presents were things that showed that someone cared?  Maybe somebody hunted down an out-of-print book by your favorite author.  
The gadgets that looked amazing seem strange on December 26.  

While you're shopping, get yourself some treats.  
I have a friend who picks up a bag of pfeffernusse cookies every year.  When she feels like all she's doing is giving, giving, giving, she pops a pfeffernusse and gives herself an old time Christmas.  It doesn't take much.     

God bless us, everyone. 

About those ethnic - and cheap recipes - here are a few more:

Anna Sultana's Ross il-Forn - Baked Rice, Maltese Style

Anna Sultana's Imqarrun il-forn - Baked Macaroni, Maltese Style

Anna Sultana's Ricotta Stuffed Shells, Maltese Style

Anna Sultana's Spaghetti Pie and Pasta with Butter and Ricotta, Maltese Style

Anna Sultana’s Fettuccine Alfredo

Anna Sultana’s Farfalle Salad

Anna Sultana’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Anna Sultana’s Spaghetti with Garlic, Olive Oil and Chili Pepper

Anna Sultana’s Meatless Penne alla Vodka / Penne in Cream Sauce

Anna Sultana’s Manicotti with Cheese Filling, Maltese Style

Anna Sultana’s Manicotti with Vegetable Cheese Filling

Anna Sultana’s Farfalle with Tomatoes and Basil

Anna Sultana’s Creamy Baked Ziti

Carmela Soprano's Gnocchi

Carmela Soprano's Pasta Piselli (Pasta with Peas and Eggs)

Carmela Soprano's Pastina with Ricotta

Carmela Soprano's Pasta e Patate - Pasta and Potatoes

Carmela Soprano's Spaghetti Pie

Carmela Soprano's Pasta E Ceci (Pasta and Chickpeas) l Preparing Dried Beans

Potato Kugel, Barley Kugel, Rice Kugel and Noodle Kugel

Spaetzel, Knaidlach & Knepp (Homemade Noodles)