Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Time for a Weird Christmas Story

As some of you may know, I have started writing.  Actually, that's not quite accurate.  I have always been a writer - a lot of my writing was technical or corporate and, of course, there's this blog.  I have written a lot of travel journals, a bit of poetry, and a variety of other projects.  But in the last couple of months I have started submitting some of my writing to various publications and entering a few contests.  Well, yesterday I received an Honorable Mention for a flash fiction story I wrote for the Weird Christmas Annual Flash Fiction contest.  My story was one of 12 selected from about 200 entries. You are welcome to click on the link at https://weirdchristmas.com to read or hear my story.  Weird Christmas read out the winning stories on their WC#14 podcast.  I was invited to record my story which they included in the podcast at about 04:20 minutes in.  Here's my story for your reading enjoyment:

Christmas Wishes

by Angelle McDougall

For the last three years Mike and Cindy have received a special gift from a mysterious source.  The first year it happened they had decorated their tree just like always.  Upon closing the box of ornaments, they noticed a small item inside.

“It’s just like the watering can we have outside.” Cindy showed it to Mike.

They were delighted with how sweet it looked dangling from the tree.  In the Spring they realized the real watering can was missing, but figured it was somewhere in the barn.   

The following Christmas, the box held an exact miniature of the scarecrow in their corn field.

“Look, his tie is exactly like Mr. Bojangles’s,” said Mike.  “I wonder who’s leaving these for us?”

Cindy shrugged. “I dunno, maybe your brother?  It sounds like something he’d do.”  Mike agreed, and they spent the rest of the evening on the sofa snuggling and dreaming about Christmas.  When the scarecrow couldn’t be found the following summer, they assumed the wind took it. 

Last year, they could hardly wait to see what their secret Santa had left them. 

“Omigosh, it’s the outhouse,” Cindy squealed.  Laughing, Mike took the ornament and put it on the tree with the other two.   It took two days for them to realize the real outhouse was no longer standing.  They couldn’t explain where it went, but it was old and rickety and needed to be taken down anyway. 

This year Mike and Cindy could barely contain their excitement.  Standing next to the bare tree, their eyes sparkling and with huge grins, they opened the box of ornaments.

“I can’t wait to see what we got this year,” said Cindy as they dug through the decorations.

“I’ve got it.” Mike held the item up to show Cindy.  As their eyes focussed on the ornament, their smiles faded.  Cindy’s mouth fell open.  Just then little Emma’s voice came over the baby monitor.  Mike dropped the replica and rushed up the stairs to the baby’s room.  Cindy picked up the perfectly crafted tiny wooden crib and clutched it to her breast.

Thanks to Craig Kringle at Weird Christmas for holding the contest.  It was great fun participating.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Pop Go the Memories

Memories are funny things.  Sometimes we have them handy and they come easily to us.  And sometimes they store themselves away on some distant shelf way in the back of our minds only to be found when triggered by a completely random and unexpected source.  It could be the smell of the top of an infant’s head.  Or the taste of a special cookie made by a favourite Aunt.  It could be a colour or the way something looks when the light hits it just right.  It can even be the way something feels – the softness of a blanket or the stickiness of dandelion stems (remember trying to get that off your hands!?).  Well the other day I had the pleasure of having a very old memory brought to my attention quite unexpectedly.  I was making French toast for our breakfast and decided to make some Sucre a Crème to pour over it (see recipe below).  Once it was cooked, I poured the boiling hot syrup into a mason jar and covered it with a proper canning lid.  A short time later I heard a slight “pop” sound come from one of the jars and instantly I was reminded of the canning my Mom and I did when I was a youngster living at home.  That popping sound meant that the hot syrup helped to seal the jar – and now it could be stored safely in the root cellar or cold room for a good long time. 

How many jars of peaches, tomatoes, pickles, jackfish, peas, carrots, potatoes, chickens, crab apples, pears, green beans, sauerkraut, eggs, strawberries, blueberries, Saskatoonberries, and jam did we can over the years??  Each year Mom and Dad would put in a “little” garden next to our house in town.  The “big” garden was out at our Uncle’s farm.  That’s where we grew a couple rows of potatoes (my guess is the rows were a half mile long each, but I might be mis-remembering that), as well as more peas, carrots, and other vegetables.  Whatever we didn’t grow on our own – mostly fruit – we bought by the case in the fall when the trucks from BC would come to town.  Mom and I would start each canning day the same way.  We would prepare whatever food was going to be canned.  That meant, shelling peas, shucking corn, snipping beans, mixing up brines for pickles or fish, peeling, pitting, slicing, cutting – all the things that made each thing even more delicious.  Next would be sterilizing all the jars and lids.  Sink after sink filled with glass jars and new lids with seals.  Once the jars were ready we would fill each up with whatever was on the menu for the day.  Green beans placed lengthwise into the jars all standing uniformly waiting their mission.  We’d top up the jar with brine or water and a bit of salt of sugar, add the seal and lid on and place them in the canner and pressure cooker.  The canner was easier to use, but the pressure cooker got the job done in half the time.  I was always afraid of the pressure cooker, but Mom knew what she was doing, and I don’t recall ever having anything serious happen.  Once the jars had cooked long enough on the stove, we took them out using a special wooden and wire grabber to pull them out of the pot and place the jars on the countertop.  As the full jars sat on the counter cooling off, they would give a little popping sound letting us know that they had sealed properly.

At the end of the canning season we always took a moment to go down into the root cellar (which was located under the stairway leading to the basement), to see the fruits (and vegetables) of our labours.  It was truly satisfying to see the row upon row of jars filled with brightly coloured fruits, vegetables, and other delicious foods. 

I hadn’t thought about any of that for years, and all those memories – the smell of the vinegar for the brine, the taste of canned crab apples, the sound of the steam releasing from the pressure cooker, the feel of the hot soapy water when washing the jars, and the look of all those lovely jars of food on the shelves – all of that brought back to me by the simple pop of a seal on a jar of syrup.  My but memories are wonderous things. 

Sucre a Crème

1 cup Heavy Cream
2 cups Golden or Brown Sugar
2 Tbsps Butter

Mix together in a saucepan and bring to a boil for 2 to 3 minutes.  Serve warm as a wonderful syrup for pancakes or French toast. Use cold as a spread on toast or drizzled over ice cream (or just eat it straight from the jar – I won’t tell if you don’t!).  This will keep nicely in the fridge for ages and can be microwaved over and over.  I store mine in a mason jar with a lid – that way I can just pop the jar (without the lid) into the microwave to heat it up.