Video: The Christmas Story

This made me so very happy–seeing something so overwhelming to our adults minds through the eyes of children—such JOY

Keeping Company

How does the Christmas story play out in your life?

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We, at a Keeping Company would like to wish you all a happy, holy and safe Christmas. May the light of Christ, the light who is Christ, be in our hearts and on our lips and in our actions.

Thank you for your support.

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Keeping Christmas

“Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and lonliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thougts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!”
― Henry van Dyke

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It’s time to roll up our sleeves, knocking out some of that holiday cooking!! I always start with one of my husband’s favorite accompaniments to any holiday meal— featuring that most holiday festive little red orb, the cranberry. But to accompany those tart little beauties, a citrus is necessary. . .hence, our story of the lowly calamondin and it’s cousin the kumquat.

A couple of months ago you may remember the picture of my kumquat tree–it was heavy laden with nice bright green round orbs. I was in a bit of a panic as the green orbs needed to hurry up in order to turn a luscious orange before the first frost. Long story short, the tree is now living in the basement with green orbs which are finally deciding to turn orange, slowly but surely.

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The reason behind the need for a kumquat tree is actually for the provision of a key ingredient in a highly guarded important seasonal family recipe. My aunt, who lives in south Florida, yes the one now minus a kidney, who by the way is doing quite marvelously thank you very much, use to make a delightful holiday relish. It was called Martha’s cranberry calamondin relish. What’s a calamondin you ask? It’s a sour little orange looking type fruit and is a key ingredient in the cranberry calamondin relish–hence the name.

About a year or so ago I asked my aunt for the recipe, thinking I’d try my hand at this amazing little relish rather than wait for jars to arrive via a visit or UPS. My aunt was a little shady about the whole thing. What’s the deal I was wondering. Is she going to give it to me or not? Finally I wore her down. I wrote feverishly as she recalled the ingredients over the phone, and double checked the accompanying e-mail. The last sentence of her e-mail was chilling.
“Immediately delete this e-mail and don’t you tell anyone this recipe or I will have to kill you”

Hummmm. . .I think it’s written down in some sacred tome that it’s ok for relatives to say that sort of thing to one another as I think there is a fine line between love and hate in families—as no doubt many of you are currently discovering during your own balancing act during this lovely holiday season.

My aunt can be a scary person so I heeded her ominous words.

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The recipe is simply divine. My husband loves it. He eats it by the spoonfuls. It’s tart and sweet all rolled into one. A heady concoction that pairs so beautifully with holiday meals. It is somewhat reminiscent of a wild lingonberry sauce. I once had something similar served alongside a hearty plate of sauerbraten when traveling throughout Austria. Something about the sweet tart coupled with a gamey savory—a beautiful amalgamation of tastes converging in one’s mouth.

Yet the one huge glaring missing key to the success of the recipe, if I was going to try my hand at tastebud heaven, were the calamondins. Has anyone, who lives outside of some tropical region, ever heard of a calamondin? I for one had not.

Think, think, think. . .

What could I use as an alternative??? I know, what about those kumquat things they sell at the grocery store–the ones I only see during the holidays as if they are imported small treasures from some exotic land. . .aka Florida?!

Which brings us to the small purchase I made a couple of summers ago—a small burgeoning fruit ladened kumquat tree. Sadly, I realized much later, that my little tree would never produce the required amount of fruit for the recipe so I would still need to supplement from the grocery store’s seasonal stock pile.

And I suppose it is safe for me to tell you that I have tailored this recipe to me and my own culinary skills—adding a little bit of this and a little dash of that—yet it is the image, that is burned on the inside of my retinas, that simply forbids me from sharing verbatim the full recipe here with you today. I will, however, share the images of it all coming together- – –


Step 1, you will need a bunch of these:

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and a bunch of these succulent garnet beauties—

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Assemble all your ingredients—oops, I forgot to showcase a couple of key players. . .oh well, just use your imagination as to what they may be—

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Oh, and you’ll need one of these. . .

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WAIT!! Is that a Coke?! You didn’t say anything about a Coke!! Well, I saw a leftover can sitting on the counter. . .so just a splash, as I am a true southerner, Coke goes into everything we consume.

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Don’t forget to release the Kraken—

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Simmer away listening to the pop, pop, pop of those little scarlet gems

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Voila–Cookie’s new and improved cranberry kumquat relish—–

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And let’s not tell Martha we talked about any of this shall we. . .

And as I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

A star

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
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(clear, cold winter’s night with the lone shining star / Julie Cook / 2013)

Christmas Night
Arbeau’s Orchésographie of 1588 is a French
treatise on dancing containing a number of
attractive tunes, one of which (the Branle de
l’official) has become universally popular as
the carol Ding dong! merrily on high. The
melody of Christmas Night (the Branle de
Poitou in Arbeau’s treatise) has also been
used in Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite for
string orchestra. The words were
specially written for this melody.

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Tract number 3, taken from Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity, is a beautifully sweet choral “hymn” —sung by what sounds to be a heavenly choir of the cherubim and seraphim which met the shepherds in the field on that single most significant night so very long ago. I often hit repeat in my car as I listen to this most delightful CD. The music is, to me, hauntingly sweet and somewhat other worldly, despite being sung by earthly bound voices with lyrics conceived in these more modern times.
I’ve already posted the lyrics to another tract, but it has been this 3rd “song” that first stirred something deep inside of me, many years ago, when I fist came upon this lovely little CD.
My Christmas gift to you, if I could sing, would be this choral reminder of the significance of why we celebrate this season as we do. . . Merry Christmas


Softly through the winter’s darkness
shines a light,
Clear and still in Bethlehem on Christmas Night
Round the stable where a virgin mother
mild
Watches over Jesus Christ the holy child.

Shepherds kneel in adoration by his bed,
Seraphim in glory hover round his head.
Wise men, guided by the leading of a star,
Bring him gifts of precious treasure from
afar.

Choirs of angels sing to greet his wondrous
birth:
Christ our Lord in human form comes down
to earth.
“Glory to God in highest heav’n” their joyful
strain,
“Peace on earth, goodwill to men” the glad
refrain.

Lullaby! the child lies sleeping: sing lullaby!
Safe in Mary’s tender keeping: sing lullaby!
Guardian angels keep their watch till break
of day:

Lullaby! sweet Jesus sleeps among the hay.
Alleluia! let the earth rejoice today!
Christ is born to take our sins and guilt
away.

Praise the Lord who sent him down from
heav’n above.
Holy infant, born of God the Father’s love.

Words: John Rutter
Melody from Arbeau’s ‘Orchésographie’ (1588)

The beauty is in the details

“Everything made by human hands looks terrible under magnification–crude, rough, and asymmetrical. But in nature every bit of life is lovely. And the more magnification we use, the more details are brought out, perfectly formed, like endless sets of boxes within boxes.”
― Roman Vishniac

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photo taken this week early one morning / Julie Cook / 2013

Red Sky at morning, Sailors take warning. . .

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DAWN! thou hast every possibility of life! What canst thou not reveal to man in thy flaming sky? Enough thou sayest, to recreate a world of men. Blind are we. How many of us read thy words aright? We pass them by, cold letters, divining not the fire of eternal life behind them burning. Dawn, thy opportunity is full! We, alas, know not the meaning of thy gorgeous page. Dazed we watch thy letters pale; cold embers, left upon the sky; Life’s opportunity flickering into naught.
ELISE PUMPELLY CABOT, “Arizona”

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(both images taken from the back deck / Julie Cook / 2013)

A beautiful early morning opportunity is given for the observation of a brilliant sunrise.
Life is busy.
Busier than I prefer. . .
Alas–it is merely the fate of this holiday season.
Time will simply not permit the leisure of reflection nor the joy of the recording of such.
Yet in the advent of time, the gift of a glorious morning sky, full of the expectation and anticipation of the birth of a new day, simply may not overlooked nor ignored.
This is my small gift to you.

The deep moral of winter

The simplicity of winter has a deep moral. The return of Nature, after such a career of splendor and prodigality, to habits so simple and austere, is not lost either upon the head or the heart. It is the philosopher coming back from the banquet and the wine to a cup of water and a crust of bread.
John Burroughs, “The Snow-Walkers,” 1866

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(frost covered marjoram / Julie Cook / 2013)

Perspective

It all depends on how we look at things, and not on how things are in themselves. The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.
Carl Jung

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(aerial view of a traditional German wooden pyramid / Julie Cook / 2012)

Half empty, half full. . .it’s all in how we look at things.

During my interactions with folks within this past week, this last full week prior to Christians marking the birth of Christ or what most retailers mark as the final push toward Christmas with its ostentatious ceremonial gift giving and the annual madness known as Christmas shopping, I have denoted one single underlying theme—a burgeoning wearisome and tiredness–a general lamentation of–“I can’t wait for it all to be over” –always countered with a “I hate to say that” or “I hate to feel that way”. . .

The secular components interlaced and woven throughout the spiritual are sending so many, young and old, into a type of sensory overload. With the news media constantly reporting on retail sales, as if that is the blood pressure reading of an often ailing up and down economy, while also reporting on the traffic nightmares in and around a particular city’s retail giants known simply as “the Mall”. Our calendars are booked and marked with festivities such as the last day of school, which once upon a time was simply known as the Christmas Holiday, is now politically corrected to the Winter break—

There are the Christmas pageants, the Choral performances, the office parties, the neighborhood parties, the gatherings with friends and families, the deadlines, the holiday ski trips, the trips to not only grandmother’s but for some, exotic foreign lands with the “holiday” as an excuse to set sail on Adventure.

Life will come to a slow stop on the 25th as the stores and malls all close for a single day as families and friends gather for the solemn marking of the calendar, as others anticipate and prepare for the following day’s ensuring onslaught known as the “After Christmas” sales and the annual pilgrimage of gift returns and exchanges, marking round two of economic madness.

Amazing how a once young pregnant jewish girl and her young husband, who found themselves in the middle of delivering their first child, in a remote small village in the middle of nowhere Judea, under the light of an astrological phenomenon, sent out the shock waves of a dramatic occurrence which continues the life altering reverberations today.

But the key to the relationship we have with that single event and of how and what we do today in order to mark that single event of so very long ago depends greatly on our perspective. Is it “c”hristmas, with the madness and over the top spending with all of the doings and goings accented by the politically correctness of our overshadowing secularism or is it “C”hristmas which marks the birth of the bridged gap between a consuming Creator and his fallen creation?

It’s all a matter of perspective.