Picture this. The ten o-clock Friday morning sun is streaming through my kitchen window. I’m drinking tea, listening to CBC radio, and sitting in my favourite antique press back rocking chair which Hubby bought for me one Christmas. I hunted for just the right antique rocking chair for ages. I’m nothing if not slow in choosing these kinds of things. Partly because once the choosing is done the hunting is over. And the hunting is so satisfying. Most weekends, my friend Mary and I made the rounds of our favourite antique stores, and markets, and in the summer, the country antique fairs. We’d forage for treasures, chat with the vendors, and with each other, and then we’d have tea somewhere. Sigh. Antique hunting followed by tea and scones… is there a better way to spend a Saturday?

Anyway, back to Friday morning. You might ask, why am I sitting sipping tea at ten o’clock on this beautiful day so close to Christmas? Is my tree up? Nope. House decorated? Nope. Baking all finished? Nope. Nada. Not done. And I’m not stressing about it. We’re not stressing about Christmas at all this year.

This year, Hubby and I are having a very, very low key holiday. For various reasons we won’t be hosting our usual Christmas Eve family dinner, and we’re not travelling to my sister’s for Christmas Day. And we jettisoned the frenzied gift buying for extended family a few years ago. And we haven’t made the eleven hour drive home to New Brunswick, with my little car packed to the roof with gifts and skis, worrying if we’ll encounter freezing rain along the St. Lawrence at Quebec City since 2012. And we won’t this year.

Of course, we’ll still have a tree. It’s out in the garden shed waiting for me; Hubby has already attached the tree-stand. I heard the chain-saw this morning, so I think there were some slight alterations needed to make it fit. We’ll still have a big turkey dinner on Christmas Day. And I’ll still make my usual Christmas Eve tourtière. But this year, I’ll be experimenting with different vegetable dishes, salads, and desserts that are more heart healthy. Since it’s just for Hubby and me, I’m excited to try new things instead of worrying that they’ll be an utter culinary failure.

We’re still doing the Christmas Party thing. Hubby and I have a couple to attend together. And I have one ladies-only party. Planned by two women from the school where I taught, who were fed up with the non-Christmas-party action at work, and with husbands who groaned that they didn’t want to get dressed up, it’s to be a dress-up cocktail and canapés affair. Ladies only. With a tongue-in-cheek dress code. All my old buddies from work will be there. I’m still planing my outfit. I may wear one of my vintage hats. I’m excited. So’s Hubby. He gets to stay home and watch the hockey game.

I really love Christmas, but it’s often so stressful, isn’t it? All that shopping, cooking, decorating, partying. And we always want everything to be perfect. But when I think about past Christmases, the non-perfect, near-disaster ones are the most memorable.

Like the time when I was a kid and our tree froze sitting out in the barn, and when my stepdad brought it into the house the ends of the branches had all curled up. Or the year we had a freezing rain storm late one Christmas Eve in the 80’s, and most of Ottawa lost power. Hubby’s mum, who was hosting, and his cousin and aunt, who had power, played pass the turkey on Christmas morning… one drove it to the other’s house, who cooked it, who brought it to the third house which ended up hosting.

Or the time in my early twenties when I shared an old house in Ottawa’s Glebe area with two friends. Neither my housemate, Elizabeth, nor I could afford to fly home for Christmas, and, both single, we decided to make our own old-fashioned Christmas. I remember we carried our Christmas tree home, for blocks and blocks down busy Bank Street, looking for all the world like we were taking it for a walk. And in our romantic Christmas idealism, we decided we would make all our own trimmings. That night we watched It’s a Wonderful Life on TV, while attempting to string popcorn for garlands. Who knew that would be such a colossal pain in the you know what! Half an hour later we added butter and salt to the bowl, snapped open a couple of beer and decided to buy our garland… we were missing too much of the movie.

But my favourite near-disaster Christmas story is the time, when I was about fourteen, that my sisters’ boyfriends came visiting together late on a very snowy Christmas Eve. When they tried to drive home their car ended up in the ditch and they had to walk the four or five miles back to our house at two in the morning, wet and cold. When Mum arose early to tend to the turkey, my stepfather murmured sleepily, “Don’t trip over the two boys under the tree.” We had a houseful of people, the living room sofa for one and the floor for the other were the only free spots. I think my stepdad took the tractor to pull their car out of the ditch after breakfast.

But, back to Friday morning.

So… I’m sitting in my rocking chair, sipping my second cup of tea and listening to a really smart and engaging writer talking about her latest book on CBC radio. Then the interview ends and Joni Mitchell’s song “The River” comes on. And I sit, rocking in the sunlight, listening. Through my window, I can see our own river sliding by and hear the geese that are landing in front of our house. It’s been so warm, with no hope of snow, or of the river freezing, for a while yet.

I smile. And sip my tea. Hubby’s at physio this morning; he’s making really good progress with his shoulder rehab. I found a couple of interesting recipes yesterday for Christmas desserts that I’ll try out later today, and a new hummus recipe that I’ll make to take to our potluck dinner party on Sunday. Hubby and I went Christmas shopping earlier this week. We made a list of things we wanted for the house, and then bought them together. From us to us. My mum’s gift has been wrapped, boxed and mailed. I’ll get to the tree and the house decorating next week. I look at the two books that I’ve just picked up at the library, Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, and Anne de Courcy’s biography of Diana Mitford. Joni Mitchell finishes her song, I pour myself another cup of tea, and take my cup and Kate Atkinson’s book into the sun room.

And I think… in this moment… life is pretty darned good.

Now if only it would get cold. And snow. And maybe we could skate on the river come Christmas morning.

Are you stressing about the upcoming holidays? Any disastrously memorable holidays in your past? Do tell.


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37 thoughts on “I Wish I Had A River to Skate On…”

  1. We have all the cold and snow you could want! It finally moved me to finish up decorating the house. I love your story about the boys under the tree! I have nothing to match that, except for a memorable Christmas blizzard in 1982 when our dinner guests had to spend the night, but not under the tree! Great post!

    1. Thanks. Please send us some of your cold and snow. We're going for our walk today… skis still packed away in the basement. It will be +8 Celsius today!

  2. Lovely post. You do have a way of spinning a yarn – although I know it's all true. I remember tourtière pie vividly from my years living in Ottawa and working at the NAC – the only Englishwoman there. I hoped one day we might get the tourtière here in the UK but no luck. Do you have a recipe link you could point me to? I have tried in the past but nothing tastes quite right.

    1. Thanks, Jenny. Yes it's all true. Too many family members read my blog for me to fudge it:) My tourtiere recipe comes from a friend. I'll have a look on-line to see if I can find one similar.

    2. Hi Jenny, Hope you get this in time! I have pasted the link to the on-line recipe that is close to the tourtiere recipe I use. I have taken things from this one to alter my own, like using beef stock, and the spices. I use about 2 lb. of meat (beef and pork) but add more potatoes (2 cups) and mine makes enough filling for two quite large pies. I never ever use purchased pie crust. Always make my own… the crust is so important to me. So here's the link. Let me know how you get on. Sue


  3. That's one of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs; thanks for the musical interlude! Over the years we've gradually let go of holiday fuss. First thing to go was extended family gift-giving. Now we just make charitable donations in everybody's name which seems to suit everyone just fine. I'll probably host a New Year's Eve open house again (great excuse to make Raclette!) but that's it this year. And a quiet, scaled-back season is just fine with me.

    1. I love most of Joni Mitchell's songs but this one is my favourite as well. I always love that scene in the movie Love Actually where Emma Thompson says to her husband that "Joni Mitchell taught your cold English wife to love" … or something to that effect.

  4. I love reading your articles – you always make me chuckle over something.
    We too have downsized Christmas over the last few years as a lot of my family no longer lives close by.
    We did have an incident with our dog (a great dane) and a turkey one year. The dog decided the turkey was his dinner instead of ours, and we ended up having to make do with vegetables and appetizers.
    We joked about it for years, but kept the dog away from the kitchen every Christmas after.

  5. We have some of your missing snow falling here on the West Coast. You're very welcome to take it back…. Although it's so very wet that you won't recognize it! Charming oat, thank you!

    1. Thanks Frances. Loved your tree trimming post. Especially the part about your granddaughter, and her tree expectations. Hope you have a restful holiday, with just enough excitement. Also hope that this is not the last one in your island idyll.

  6. This Jon Mitchell song is one of my favourites. .interestingly prior to today I've not associated it with Christmas. ..how did I miss that …its so obvious now. Coincidently
    I woke early this morning and sat in a rocking chair overlooking the garden reading your post Sue …wishing I had your view over the river! I m soooo envious! In a good way though! I also remember carrying a Christmas Tree back to our first home as it was perfect and I didn't want anyone else to buy it. I had to constantly keep stopping and try to ignore the pain in my neck!! Not one of my better ideas but it was worth it!
    I'm so glad your hubby's rehab is going well. It must be such a relief.
    Things here are still a bit hectic mainly because I've decided to relax and "enjoy the moment" something I rarely do prior to Christmas! 🙂 Consequently my little Christmas tree in my kitchen area is surrounded by bags of presents and wrapping paper! Still come Christmas Eve all WILL be calm!

    1. Thanks Rosie. So I'm not the only one who tried to get a Christmas tree home without a car… that's comforting. You're right…come Christmas Eve all will be calm… and all bright? haha. Have a good holiday, Rosie.

  7. Sounds like a lovely way to spend christmas and the lead up to it. Enjoyed your tales of Christmases past. Glad hubby's recovery is going well. Will be interested to hear what you think of A God in Ruins. Enjoy. Iris

  8. Love Kate Atkinson but haven't got to that one yet – that view of yours would distract me from any book though . I don't seem to have a quirky Xmas story of my own so I shall borrow one . A friend of mine who had two children of 5 & 6 , spent the usual amount of time choosing & buying their presents which were left under the tree on Xmas eve . On Xmas morning the two girls got up very early & opened them all , everyone's present from everyone . By the time my friend & hubby woke up it was all over with just the mess to clear up . She was so upset . I'm glad the physio is working . I think hubby's improvement will be your best gift this year ?
    Wendy in York

    1. Oh my… that is a tale of woe. We'd never have dared do that as kids. Mum was a disciplinarian… even on Christmas. You're right about my best gift. Hubby's mood is so much improved…right along with his shoulder:) Hope you and yours have a good holiday, Wendy.

  9. Sue, You combine funny and poignant so deftly! A Canadian Christmas without snow is heresy. Christmas south of the 49th always makes me homesick. The most vivid memory I have is of a boisterous Christmas gathering with my mother's large family in our overheated suburban bungalow. It ended with all the kids and our youthful aunts and uncles running around the block at 10 pm in our party clothes and shoes without coats or boots to cool off. It was Winnipeg and probably about -30. Merry Christmas!

  10. Love your posting… a quiet Christmas sounds nice..but with 2 little grandkids I dare not yet..all too soon they won't want to hang out I would imagine..so I will enjoy their excitement and cheery red cheeks:)
    My favorite memory is of cold snowy nights in Illinois where we could always count on snow..I remember one Christmas Eve walking home after a program and looking up at the sky..the twinkling stars looked like Christmas lights..there were no cares and so much excitement in our large noisy fun family:)

  11. I'm just getting into the spirit now. Keep telling myself, it's a privilege, not an obligation, and trying to find myself funny with all my lists of what to do:). Thank you for reminding me of that song.

    1. My spirit starts tomorrow. That's when we'll put the tree up and decorate etc. I spent so many years waiting for school to end for the holidays before I did anything. Then my exams would all be marked (at least in the early years when we had Chtistmas exams), and I would be free for two weeks… which always helped the Christmas spirit! I still follow that timeline…come Dec 20th I'm ready to be "spirited."

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