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A Naden Band Christmas

Without wanting to sound like a Grinch, November is just too early for Christmas music for me.

I mean, COME ON. Two months of nothing but Christmas music?? It’s on the radio, in the stores, at the mall, on my husband’s car playlist. It’s omnipotent.

And it drives me nuts.

Not only that, but every artist and her uncle has to release their version of every single Christmas song ever penned.

Why? Because Yuletide music is a big money maker. Just like all of the Christmas merchandise showing up on Costco shelves in early October.

Okay, so I AM a bit grinchy.

But now that I’ve got that off my chest, there is one Christmas music tradition that never disappoints. And it’s usually in the appropriate month of December too.

It’s the annual Naden Band Christmas concert, which has been a tradition in Victoria for more than 40 years. Even when COVID was cramping our style, the Naden Band streamed their concert so we wouldn’t have to miss it.

We often think of the Naden Band as part of our local parades, but they have performed all over the world for many different events, along with their more traditional performances.

Only days before we attended this year’s concert, the Naden Band had been at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt to welcome back two navy ships, HMCS Vancouver and Winnipeg, as hundreds of sailors returned from months of deployment in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Naden Christmas concert was in conjunction with the Salvation Army’s holiday toy drive. The ticket price was very reasonable (are you paying attention Taylor Swift?), and each audience member was encouraged to bring one unwrapped toy.

The theme of this year’s concert intrigued me. It was “Hygge”.

Most of you have at least heard of hygge over the last few years, but for those of you who haven’t, let me exercise my Scandinavian heritage.

Hygge, which originated in Norway but was made popular in Denmark, is all about getting cozy and finding comfort. It might be found in a hot toddy by the fire, or curling up with a good book. It has a similar origin as the word “hug”. Whatever brings you contentment, that’s hygge.

Mostly, I was curious as to how the Naden concert people would pronounce it. Scandinavian languages have a sound all their own and the word hygge is no exception. Online you’ll see it described “hoo-ga”, but that’s not really it.

No, it’s more like a hacking sound from deep in the throat, followed by “gi” as in the word give. Okay, that doesn’t sound very cozy-like, does it?

So we’ll move on.

This year’s musical evening was fabulous, as usual. The Naden Band performed everything from traditional Christmas songs like I Saw Three Ships and Joy To The World, to less traditional ones like Fairytale of New York.

Among my favourites were songs from A Charlie Brown Christmas (Linus and Lucy gets me every time) and I’m Dreaming of Home, which featured the Pipes And Drums of the Canadian Scottish Regiment. There’s nothing quite like the sound of the pipes, is there?

The Royal Canadian Navy’s Naden Band, if you don’t already know, is a group of amazing, top notch musicians. Whenever a musical piece calls for a solo performance, you really get to hear how talented they are. And playing music is a full time position for 34 military musicians, so they practice A LOT.

Another highlight of the evening was when an audience member was chosen to conduct the band for the song Sleigh Ride. During the intermission, anyone who was interested could add their name to the draw.

A few minutes into the second half, a name was picked out of the box. It was a magical moment for all of us. The name drawn was one of the sailors who had returned from deployment only days before. It was something right out of a Hallmark movie script.

If you have never attended the Naden Band’s Christmas concert, I highly recommend it. There are usually several performance dates to choose from, including a matinee show.

And now I want you to mark this day and time on your calendars: December 26, 12:01am. That’s when the Christmas music ends, okay??

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A Cozy Heat Pumped Christmas

At this very moment, I am trapped in my living room. There are sheets of plastic covering door ways and on top of our furniture. Drills and saws are squealing everywhere, and muffled shouts are flying from one guy to another.

They are carpenters, electricians, installers, inspectors and duct cleaners. All in my house at varying times. All wearing masks, of course.

I can’t work in my basement studio or office because of the equipment, cables, tools, bits of garbage, and large sheets of metal strewn everywhere.

The dust is flying as carpenters drill and saw through the old lathe and plaster to install a new duct behind the walls.

And then there is the noise. I have to wear my noise cancelling headphones to muffle the sound of the old ducts being cleaned. Apparently they should have been cleaned more often. The occasional swearing I’ve heard from the guy cleaning them confirms that.

It’s an invasion in every sense, but it’s all for a good cause.

We are finally getting a heat pump installed.

Over the years, we’ve had all kinds of renovations, installations and repairs done on this old house. It was built in 1938, and didn’t even have insulation when we first moved in 32 years ago.

It had an oil furnace which is a lovely kind of heat, but over our first winter here we nearly froze to death. The heat just seeped out of the walls and windows and the cold blew back in. During one particularly cold stretch, I remember sitting on the floor of the living room in front of the lit fireplace, holding my infant daughter tightly because we were chilled to the bone.

Eventually we replaced the old cardboard that was tacked under the roof in the attic with real insulation, and had more insulation blown into the exterior walls. Later, we installed new double-paned windows.

It all made a big difference.

But last June when B.C. was overwhelmed with that blasted heat dome, we had to sleep in the basement of our house to stay cool enough. Our electric fans were useless, and air conditioning units were out of stock everywhere.

And that’s when we heard about this magical new thing called a heat pump.

Now don’t ask me to explain all of the technology behind it. But, essentially, it works as both a heater and an air cooler, depending on the time of year, with much more efficiency built in.

Wikipedia says: “A heat pump is a device used to warm the interior of a building or heat domestic hot water by transferring thermal energy from a cooler space to a warmer space using the refrigeration cycle, being the opposite direction in which heat transfer would take place without the application of external power.”

Did you get that?

All I care about is that it is more energy efficient, better for the environment, and over time, it will save us money.

The best news is that there are grants for heat pumps available from the federal and provincial governments, and you can even apply for them from some municipalities. It is quite the process to get these grants, including house inspections before and after the installation and all kinds of paperwork, but I don’t mind the effort to help mitigate the cost.

Ssshhh. It just got eerily quiet in the house. Have the workers gone for coffee? Lunch? I’m taking a chance and sneaking a peek down in the basement.

Oh dear. It’s a disaster area. I should have just stayed away.

There have been a number of interesting items found under shelves and inside the old ducts over the last couple of days. A golf ball, two dice, an old key, an eraser, some ancient door hooks, an ice cube tray, plus a lot of dirt and dust. And a partridge in a pear tree.

Wait. An ice cube tray?? Well, at least they didn’t find any dead mice.

The best Christmas present this year will be a cozy, heat-pumped house.

And they’re back. With the squeal of a drill and the pounding of a hammer, I can hear the workers have returned. There seems to be an argument erupting between two of the guys about something. Here comes the swearing.

Now where did I put those darned headphones?

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The Company Christmas Party

Remember company Christmas parties? Ah, yes. Good times, good times.

My first work Christmas party was when I was employed at the Vancouver Public Library many years ago. I was pretty excited about it until I realized that it was not really a party at all. It was a tea. Well, they had cookies.

But tea.

A couple of years later, I realized where the REAL party was at the library every year. It was in the bindery department. The bindery was where books were repaired, fumigated, prepped for life on a library shelf, or anything else that books might need. The bindery was not a public place, which made it the perfect spot for a staff Christmas party. This is where the laughter sprung and the liquor flowed. Sshhhhh!!!

If you were lucky and worked on what was always a half day shift on Christmas Eve, you would take your break and spend it in the bindery. Needless to say, we took a lot of breaks. Some of us were soused by noon.

For lots of people, staff or company Christmas parties are a highlight of the year. For others, well, maybe not so much. The first Christmas party I attended with my husband at his new job was nothing like the library.

Instead of tea, there was plenty of wine and beer and whatever you wanted to drink. Instead of cookies, it was a full buffet dinner complete with amazing desserts. And they had PRIZES! Not just company prizes, but union prizes and staff association prizes. You could win a TV. I was dumbstruck.

They also had speeches. Lots of speeches. Well, many of those I could have lived without.

At that first company Christmas party, I noticed that as soon as the dinner was over with and the first few beats of canned music began, the “old” people left. The rest of us took to the dance floor all the rest of the night.

Now, almost 40 years later, we’re the “old” people. I refuse to leave right after dinner, however. I’ll dance as late into the night as my hips will let me. Just as long as we don’t have to dance to the music those damn kids want to play…

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about the company Christmas party. Here are my observations:

OUTFITS: It’s okay to wear the same thing two years in a row. It really is, ladies. I fretted and fussed so many times over the years, worrying that somebody was going to recognize the same dress from the year before. Truth is, nobody cares. They’re far more worried about how THEY look. I’m not sure the males care at all. Lucky them.

THE BAR: Get to it early. Don’t say hello to anyone, get to the bar immediately upon arriving. Just in case they run out of booze. It could happen.

MC’s: I know, I know. You’re trying to be funny, witty, amazing. And many times you are. But when you see the first head nodding off to sleep, it’s over. Get to the food part.

THE FOOD PART: At my husband’s company party, it’s usually the luck of the draw which table gets to the buffet first. But one year, the MC’s placed questions on pieces of paper on each table, and the first table to answer correctly got to go up. Okay, so that’s fine, but don’t leave the questions to those young whippersnappers. I don’t know what “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation” is. Do you? Just ask me the capital of Denmark!

THE SPEECHES PART: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

THE MUSIC PART: Over the years we had both live bands and canned music. There are great things about each of them, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing like a live band. I’m a musician, so of course I’ll say that. At any rate, there’s an energy and an aliveness that you just can’t get from canned music, although we’ve had some pretty good DJ’s over the years too.

There’s one year I remember well when it came to the music. Because of certain circumstances, we had neither a band or a DJ. One of the employees took her iPod and downloaded all of our requests, pairing the iPod up to the speaker system that was already in place. That was one of the best years we had because it was so spontaneous, and just about everyone got a song they wanted!

I’ve been to Christmas parties at hotels like the Empress and the Laurel Point, parties at restaurants, clubs, and at golf courses. Every one of them was so much fun. Sigh. But I’m thinking that the company Christmas party of 2021 is going to surpass them all, because we’ll appreciate being able to be together so much more. Let’s hope we’re able to.

Oh, by the way, an “element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation”, is a “meme”. I’m old…how was I supposed to know that word?

And Copenhagen. The capital of Denmark is Copenhagen.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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“Dinner’s Going To Be Late!” And Other Turkey Tales

The first time that I was invited for Christmas dinner at my boyfriend’s parent’s house many years ago, they had just bought this new fangled thing called a microwave oven. They were very excited about it. A microwave was supposed to cook things a lot faster than a conventional oven, so they figured why not cook the turkey in it? Brilliant!

Well, to begin with, the turkey was far too big to fit in the microwave. They ended up having to chop it up and cook it in pieces, one or two at a time. And oddly enough, the turkey didn’t turn brown as it cooked, but instead came out a hot, sickly white colour. In the end they had to stick all the parts in the oven to brown them anyway. Needless to say, as the evening progressed, the voices drifting from the kitchen rose in pitch as the discussion became more heated.

The rest of us just sat in the living room and kept our mouths shut. We knew better than to say anything, even though a giggle would occasionally escape our lips.

We didn’t eat until 9 or 10pm and, from what I remember, the table conversation was rather subdued. I don’t think anybody was even hungry by then, but we obediently ate what we could.

I was so very proud of the first turkey I baked just a few years later. It was a dark, dark brown, just like all the pictures. But when I stuck the knife into it, it more or less exploded like the Griswold turkey in the movie “Christmas Vacation”. My Dad was too polite to say anything, but nearly choked to death on his first bite. In my defense, the cookbook I was using never mentioned that you should cover the turkey for most of its cooking time. The bird was dry as a bone.

A few years back, I was just putting our Thanksgiving meal on the table when the lights went out. A power outage. We pulled out a few extra candles, lit them, and enjoyed a cozy turkey dinner by candlelight. It was actually quite wonderful. By the time we were ready to do the dishes, the lights came back on again. Great timing.

We were the lucky ones, however. We found out later that a lot of people hadn’t finished cooking their turkey meal by the time the power went out, which threw their dinner into chaos. Half cooked turkeys, raw vegetables, cold pies. And no gravy, I’ll bet.

Maybe a few of them found creative ways to use their barbeques and fire pits to finish cooking their meals. “Dinner’s going to be late everyone!”

A couple of years back we bought a used mini freezer and a mini fridge to have just in case we needed back ups for our regular fridge. We kept the two units in the basement, unplugged most of the time to save power.

When it came around to Thanksgiving last year, I bought the usual turkey and trimmings for our dinner. Our regular fridge was pretty full, so I thought I’d be really clever and I threw the turkey, which was frozen, the vegetables, dinner rolls and everything into the mini fridge.

Except there was one small problem. You’re thinking that I forgot to plug it in, aren’t you? Nope, I plugged it in alright.

No, the problem was that I had actually put the all of the food in the mini freezer, not the fridge. By the time I pulled everything out, the vegetables, potatoes, everything except the turkey was ruined. Rock solid frozen. And we were having guests too.

I panicked at first, but in the end, I went out and bought all new groceries again. The dinner went without a hitch. Phew.

I’m sure many of us have turkey tales, whether from Thanksgiving or Christmas. Maybe something went horribly wrong, or amazingly well. A surprise guest might have shown up, or a new family member joined you for the first time. Trying something new turned out to be a huge hit. Or a catastrophic failure.

Thanksgiving 2020 will force many of us to find new ways to be together while trying to stay far enough apart. There will be very different Turkey Tales this year.

In my little family, we have a Thanksgiving ritual. Before we eat our meal, we go around the table and take turns telling each other what we’re thankful for. This year, I think we will be most thankful just to be able to be together.

I Love A Parade!

It’s been a few years since I was in a parade for one reason or another, but last night I volunteered to give out candy canes along side the CHEK Television float and car in the Santa’s Light Parade in downtown Victoria with my good friend Elaine.

I borrowed my daughter’s big coat and dressed myself as warmly as possible.  The forecast called for a 60% chance of rain and it was going to be about 3 degrees, so I wanted to be good and ready.  Elaine picked me up in her car and we headed downtown, only to get caught up in a bottleneck of other cars about halfway there.  Of course, EVERYONE ELSE was also headed downtown.  Why hadn’t we thought of that??  We finally found a way out and took a different route downtown, skirting past most of the traffic.

Then it was out of the car and a speedy walk past the huge crowds that were already gathered, down to the BC Museum where the parade began.  I was already in a sweat!  We wondered if we were going to make it on time, and just as we ran up to the float, which was basically a huge inflated camera perched on a semi truck, it began to roll.  We grabbed bags of candy, and started running again, stopping every now and then to hand out candy to the eager hands that were stretched out towards us. 

I’d look up and the truck was already half way down the block, so I’d run to catch up…then I’d throw my hand in the bag and grab a  handful of candy and stop to hand it out to more hands.  “Thank you!” I’d hear.  “Merry Christmas!”  A lot of the parents were telling their kids “Are you remembering to say thank you?”  Some kids were clever and held out their hats, where I could see that they’d already gotten a good supply of candy from the floats that were ahead of us.  “I got a blue one this time!”  I heard somebody excitedly say. 

Sometimes the candy would fall out of my hands into the street and kids would scramble to grab it.  One young guy said as I handed him a candy cane “Could I have one for my brother?”  I looked at him and realized he was just scamming me, but I started to hand him another one, and then a third one fell on the street.  He scrambled to grab it too.  “Is that for your other brother?”  I smiled at him.  He knew that I knew there were no brothers.

I would look for the kids that were shy and sitting back, and make sure to give them something.  Several times I ran into families where a parent would say “No candy, thank you.”  One mother actually took the candy out of the kids’ hand just after I put it there.  She handed it back to me.  I wondered about that.  Is a candy cane such a terrible thing?  How did that child feel about every other child around them getting candy and then being told to give it back?  It was an odd experience in what was otherwise a lot of fun.  I didn’t have much time to ponder it, because the truck was far ahead again!

Big “kids” held out their hands too and I didn’t refuse them either.  There were a couple of groups of Japanese students who didn’t speak English but knew how to hold out their mittened hands, and I filled them up and ran on.  Sometimes the kids were 4 or 5 rows deep, so I took a handful of candy and yelled “Here it comes!”, throwing it into the crowd.  Then I was off running again, throwing more candy, and more.  Every now and then I’d see Elaine, running behind me or ahead of me.  Once I yelled to her “Are we there yet?” and we laughed.  But not for long.

There were hundreds of more kids to toss candy to.  We darted and stopped and darted again as we continued to try and keep up with the CHEK float.  I had to grab another bag out of the back of the CHEK car when I ran out, and then I was back into the crowds again.  Candy canes, outstretched hands, “Thank you!”, and off running again.

And then, suddenly and as quickly as it started, we were at the end of the parade route.  The line of crowds ended and I saw regular traffic at the intersection ahead.  The truck took off into the night and I turned to find Elaine.  We put the bags back in the car and said goodbye to everyone else who was handing out candy, and it was over.  I realized that I was soaking with sweat, my legs were like rubber from all of the running, and I was huffing and puffing and laughing all at once.  We began the walk back, in behind the crowds this time, and were able to just barely see some of the other floats in the part of the parade that was behind us.  At last there was a huge float with Santa on board, signaling the end of the parade and the beginning of the Christmas season, and the huge crowds began to disperse.

What a wild ride!  I love a parade :-).

IJ

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