Visions of Sugar Iced Cookies Dancing in My Head

For the last ten years I have dreamt of making sugar cookies that are rolled out, cut into fun shapes, and decorated with royal icing. They always looked so beautiful to me. In my enthusiasm I have spent ten years collecting cookie cutters for different occasions like Christmas, Halloween, dinosaurs, spring, and many other assorted shapes and sizes. Sadly my cookie cutters have just collected dust all these years.

Working late at night icing snowflakes

Working late at night icing snowflakes

Don’t get me wrong; my children have not been deprived of cookies. I have made plenty of other cookies for them and of course purchased many Oreos and Chips Ahoy! along the way. I can remember the Wookiee Cookies from the Star Wars cookbook being a big hit! And we have certainly made plenty of chocolate chip cookies. At Christmas time we have a tradition of making cookies like Russian Tea Cakes that have ground walnuts and are covered in powdered sugar. We also make Chocolate Dips with a recipe that came from my mother-in-law making them extra special. Now we make batches of Chocolate Dips for major occasions of the year like Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.

My first batch of sugar iced  cookies

My first batch of sugar iced cookies

But somehow I always ran out of time to make the sugar iced cookies, that is, until this year. With a son who is now a junior in high school, and a daughter, a sophomore, it was imperative to start my new tradition before they leave the house to go to college. So I researched recipes and watched You-tube videos on decorating with royal icing and I am delighted to report that I made my first ever sugar iced cookies. First I baked them and let them cool overnight. Then the next day I finished icing the first collection of cookies of mostly snowflakes, stars, and bells. Two days later I decorated Christmas trees, Christmas ornaments, and mittens. I was so pleased and happy with myself for finally making my sugar iced cookies. Ten years in the making! And they were a huge hit. I received many accolades from the family and friends. A new tradition has begun. Although I have only made Christmas themed cookies so far, rest assured I plan to use my extensive cookie cutter collection this next year. My thinking is that a 17 and 15 year-old are never too old for sugar iced dinosaur cookies!

The mittens, Christmas trees, and Christmas ornaments.

The mittens, Christmas trees, and Christmas ornaments.

 

 

 

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A Winter Village

This year I got inspired to set up my holiday winter village in early November. This ritual begins the holiday season for me. As I write this, I’m looking at the snow coming down. Although we are only expecting two to four inches of snow, it is enough to turn the outside into a real winter village.Thanksgiving is “beginning to look a lot like Christmas”.

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My Winter Village 2014

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Snowing the day before Thanksgiving 2014 - A Real Winter Village

Snowing the day before Thanksgiving 2014
A Real Winter Village

Series on Multiculturalism, Cross-Cultural Relationships, and Diversity

Part I: My Passion for All Things International

This is the first of a series of three articles on the topic of multiculturalism, cross-cultural relationships, and diversity. In this first posting I share with my readers how and when my interest in this area developed, creating a backdrop for the second article. In the follow-up article I communicate why I feel it is so important and critical to be exposed to multiculturalism, cross-cultural relationships, and diversity. In my last and third article I discuss some of the challenges that we face in this arena, and offer recommendations of steps to take that could increase our exposure to diversity. Keeping in mind that when I refer to diversity in my articles, I am including individuals with all kinds of differences. 

A symbol of Colombian Culture, the open truck called "Chiva" or "Bus de Escalera" used as transportation in rural areas. The buses are beautifully hand painted with colorful images and accents.

1983 – A symbol of Colombian Culture, the open truck called “Chiva” (goat) or “Bus de Escalera” (ladder bus) used as transportation in rural areas. The buses are beautifully hand painted with colorful images and accents.

There are things in this world that inspire our passion and interest. For me, some of those things are multiculturalism, cross-cultural relationships, and diversity. There are various paths that have brought me here. I am a Colombian born immigrant to the United States. This allows me three distinct roles, that of being a Colombian citizen, a Colombian immigrant to the United States, and lastly an American citizen. By moving to the United States I entered into a multicultural environment, I lived in a Colombian home in an American culture. A defining moment in my life, when my interest for all things international was sparked, happened when I joined Mrs. Bouhafa’s 3rd grade class in 1969. I joined her class after the first month of the school year when the powers to be decided I belonged in her class.

Mrs. Bouhafa and her 3rd grade class of 1969-1970

Mrs. Bouhafa and her 3rd grade class of 1969-1970. That’s me, the Girl Scout Brownie on the left hand side.

Mrs. Bouhafa stood in the front of the classroom with me and introduced me to the rest of the class and said something about my Spanish-speaking ability. I had been fully bi-lingual since kindergarten. A boy in the class, Stephen (bottom row 1st boy on left), took me by the hand to the back of the room, to a globe of world, pointed to Spain, and asked me if I was from there. I said no, and rotated the globe back and proudly pointed to Colombia and said, “I am from here”. Stephen smiled. I feel good even today knowing that he and the other children learned about Colombia from me. It would be the beginning of my lifelong mission of trying to share a positive image of Colombia and of Latinos with Americans. Mrs. Bouhafa was a world traveler. She shared her passion for all things international with her students. Her room was filled with pictures of her in various parts of the world, but the picture I remember the most was of her on a camel with the Egyptian Pyramids in the background. Mrs. Bouhafa taught us about world cultures, worldwide geography, and to find beauty in all of it. Little did Mrs. Bouhafa know that she had planted a seed of wanderlust in me, and the desire to see the world.

That's me as a very proud Girl Scout Brownie 1969 waiting to discover the world.

1969 – That’s me as a very proud Girl Scout Brownie  waiting to discover the world.

At first I would not need to travel very far. I lived in New York City where all you had to do was step out of your front door and see people from around the world. When I rode the subway I loved observing the different outfits worn by people, the beautiful colors of the fabrics, the styles, and the hats. In one afternoon you could see Hasidic Jews dressed in black with their payot, Indian women in colorful saris, African women in their long dresses of African print, Cuban men in guayaberas, Muslim women wearing hijabs and abayas, and Sikh men wearing turbans. You could venture into Chinatown and feel you were half way around the world as you walked in wonderment looking at the food markets, smelling all the fish, and seeing all the Chinese character signs. It was also the sixties and there were many changes happening in our society. The Civil Rights and Feminist movements were in full swing. People were protesting the Vietnam War and the Flower Power generation was blooming creating a historical generation gap. My dad’s hobby was to make 8mm home movies and capture the essence of New Yorkers on his films.  On Sundays, our family would go to Greenwich Village in Manhattan to people watch. We have great footage of my mom and I dressed in our 1960’s Sunday church outfits hanging out with “Los hippies”, as my parents called them, while listening to guitar folk music and Hare Krishna chanting. There I stood at age 8, absorbing all of these experiences quietly in my head helping to shape my opinion of the world.

I attended Public School 151 in Woodside, Queens. Our 3rd grade class of 29 children was comprised of mainly white (European ancestry) children, 4 African-American boys and girls, 3 Asian boys, 1 girl from Aruba, and 1 Colombian girl (me). There was some religious diversity. In the month of December we learned Hanukkah songs together with Christmas songs. My first school trip to the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan was a true highlight. I was amazed with the concept of simultaneous language translation. The idea that someone could be speaking in their native tongue, and that dozens of translators would be translating in their private cubbies, speaking into microphones, which in turn were wired to members of the audience. That people could understand each other even though they spoke in different languages was mind-boggling.

In my other parallel childhood life, I would visit Colombia during the summers. I realize now how privileged I was to be able to have had those experiences. When I went to Colombia I would stay with family in my birth city of Medellin. Sometimes I flew with my parents, and other times they would send me by myself on the airplane. I would spend amazing summers discovering Medellin, its surrounding villages, and the countryside. But it was not all fun and play, my mother who gave me spanish lessons during the school year, would also request that I take spanish lessons during vacations.

The "gringita" niece learns about animals at the "finca"  (the ranch)

1971 – The “gringuita” niece learns about animals at the “finca” (the ranch)

As a young adult I would begin to travel the world. The first big trip that I planned and saved up for was during college. In 1983, I visited a total of 10 cities and villages in the Atlantic coastal, central Andes, and Amazon regions of Colombia.

1983 - On the first adventure that I plan and finance myself. Here I am by the edge of the Amazon river near Leticia, Colombia in the Amazon jungle area of the country.

1983 – Look Mrs. Bouhafa, here I am by the shores of the Amazon river near Leticia, Colombia in the Amazon jungle area of the country.

In 1984 I began working as an engineer in upstate New York. That alone was a cultural change for me, Schenectady was very different to New York City. I continued to travel with work to other states allowing me the opportunity to see the vastness of this nation and the huge regional differences. In 1986, I took my first European trip to the Alps in Switzerland to ski. With each trip I knew I wanted to see and learn even more of the world and its cultures. There was no turning back. I started figuring out ways of traveling, not just for pleasure but also for work.

Look Mrs. Bouhafa, that's me on a train in the Alps!

1986 – Look Mrs. Bouhafa, that’s me on a train in the Alps!

My career in engineering evolved and in time I got an MBA. Business school was transformative for me not just in academic ways but also in my view of the world. Prior to business school I used to think that the United States was the be-all and end-all. Sure, I had a multicultural back ground, but I was close minded in thinking that there was nothing better than the United States. I judged everything through the biased American view. Business school exposed me to international students and business, and broader thinking.

One of my dear friends from business school. We sat next to each other for our 1st year. Since English was his second language I helped him with clarifications during class. This is after business school when I visited him in Tokyo, Japan

1994- One of my dear friends from business school. We sat next to each other for our 1st year. Since English was his second language I helped him with clarifications during class. This is after business school when I visited him and his family in Tokyo, Japan.

I learned about countries not just from a cultural perspective but also from a socioeconomic and geopolitical view. I started understanding the role that the United States played in world politics and in the global economy. I knew then that I wanted to work in international business. In time, I achieved my goal and ended up doing international business and product development that involved traveling around the world, working with cross-functional, and cross-cultural work teams. I was in my element.

I sponsored a meeting for our Middle Eastern organization in Marrakech, Morocco. This was the last evening dinner with our Moroccan entertainers. Circa 1996

1996 – I sponsored a meeting for our Middle Eastern organization in Marrakech, Morocco. This was the last evening dinner with our Moroccan entertainers. 

Although, my own multicultural background and training has given me a heightened sensitivity to appreciating other people’s cultures, it has been with each subsequent trip and cross-cultural encounter that I have gleaned the cultural nuances, learned how to behave abroad, and learned to become a more open-minded person. This exposure to multiculturalism has also developed my sensitivity to understanding people’s differences no matter what kind. I thrive in environments that have diversity and I relish the opportunity of being inclusive and of being included.

Visiting another friend from business school in Tokyo. His wife dressed me in a traditional kimono for dinner.

1994 – Visiting another friend from business school in Tokyo. His wife dressed me in a traditional kimono for dinner.

My business and leisure travel has taken me all over the world. I have been to 5 out of 7 continents, and to 33 countries. I have been to 32 states of the United States. If only I could sit with Mrs. Bouhafa to compare pictures and experiences, and to thank her for sharing her love for all things international with me.

Look Mrs. Bouhafa, one hand camel riding in Dubai. 2001

2001 – Look Mrs. Bouhafa, one hand camel riding in Dubai.

Everyday I continue to learn more and more about diversity and human nature. Although, I count the days until I can get on another airplane to visit some exotic part of the world, I know that I have hundreds of resources and experiences to be discovered right here in my own neighborhood.

Family Trip to Vietnam. Our tour guide teaches us about the food at a market in Hoi An. 2013

2013 – Family Trip to Vietnam. Our tour guide teaches us about the food at a market in Hoi An.

With every connection I make to someone or someplace around the world or even right here in my own backyard, I discover we have more things in common with each other than I realized. When I focus on the similarities it seems to lessen the differences.

In my next posting I share why I feel it is so important to expose ourselves and our children to other cultures. I also make the connection to the importance of exposure to all that is different, be they people of different race, religion, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, mental health, socioeconomic, genetic attributes, etc.

 

Relishing the trip in the Mekong Delta, outside of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

2013 – Trip to Vietnam. Navigating the Mekong Delta, outside of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I love this picture my daughter took because if you look at my sunglasses you can see my daughter taking the photo and son and husband further back, all three the apples of my eye!

 

 

Definitions from various sources:

Multiculturalism:

  1. of, relating to, reflecting, or adapted to diverse cultures
  2. relating to communities containing multiple cultures
  3. the preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society, as a state of nation

Cross-Cultural:

  1. comparing or dealing with two or more different cultures
  2. pertaining to or contrasting two or more cultures or cultural groups.
  3. in sociology, involving or bridging the differences between cultures

Diversity:

  1. the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.
  2. the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures in a group or organization.
  3. the term can describe differences in racial or ethnic classifications, age, gender, religion, philosophy, physical abilities, socioeconomic, sexual orientation, gender identity, intelligence, mental health, physical health, genetic attributes, behavior, attractiveness, or other identifying features.
  4. In sociology, the term can be used to describe groups of people whose members have identifiable differences in cultural backgrounds or lifestyles.

The Magical International Christmas Tree

The International Magic Tree

The International Magic Tree

Today I share with you a short story that I wrote 10 years ago. Although it is a magical fantasy Christmas story, the overall theme speaks of two things important to me: my love for all things international and the need to keep your inner child alive. I am passionate about all things international because I feel that if we take the time to learn about each other’s cultures, traditions, and beliefs, our understanding and compassion increase while our fears and uncertainties dissipate. It is important to keep you inner child alive because a child’s traits can be so renewing. A child’s innocence and open heart is more accepting of others. A child is more open to newness and adventure. A child has dreams and believes in the possibilities. A child believes in the magic.

The Magical International Christmas Tree

(By Ariadne Petrucelli 2003)

Have you ever wondered what happens after you turn off your Christmas tree lights and go to bed at night? Well, this is the story of what happened to me after I turned off the Christmas tree lights on my tree and went to bed one Christmas Eve.

I was almost asleep when I suddenly heard a noise. I wondered what it was. Maybe my dogs had gone downstairs but when I turned to look to their beds they were sound asleep. Maybe it was just part of my dream. But then I heard the noise again. I quietly went downstairs to check to see what could be making this noise. I peeked around the corner of the family room and to my great surprise my Christmas tree lights were back on. Surely, I had turned them off before going to bed. As I rubbed my sleepy eyes I looked with amazement at what was happening with my tree. There before me, I could see my ornaments moving all around the tree. Once again, I could hear the familiar noise that had awoken me. By now, I could distinguish many sounds. I could hear voices in different languages, some deep and some high. I could hear music of all kinds and many bells jingling. I could even smell food and candy. It was one big party happening in my tree. And as much as I wanted to join this party I kept quiet for I did not want to startle anything or anyone. I found a comfortable spot and covered myself in my thick burgundy fleece blanket that I had worn downstairs. And from this spot I spent hours watching my Christmas tree from afar. On this night, I experienced a magic that I had never seen or heard before. My tree ornaments had come to life. My tree ornament collection was made up of things that I had either bought as souvenirs or that I had received as gifts. Every ornament had a special meaning. It either represented a special occasion, a special place, or a special person.

I could now hear the song “It’s Beginning to look a lot like Christmas”, playing in the background. Mr. and Mrs. Gnome had come all the way from Stockholm, Sweden.  Their names were Peter and Annika Gnome. They were dressed in similar grey knit outfits with red and burgundy accents and wore pointy red hats. Tonight they danced to Jingle Bells in Swedish. But my attention turned to Annika who was calling to Peter saying it was time to ride the horses. That’s right, I remembered I had bought two hand carved and painted horses in Sweden too. To my amazement, the horses were standing by Mr. and Mrs. Gnome, looking as regal as a pair of stallions with their beautiful colorful bodies. One was red and the other blue. There was a smell of farm hay in the air. Joining the group of Swedes was my Danish Viking ornament. I had named him Olaf. He was made of wood with plastic horns in his hat, and rabbit fur hair that covered all of his face. He had no visible eyes. Olaf was looking for his Viking ship hoping to get to Copenhagen, Denmark in time for Christmas. Then I heard the sounds of a boat horn. It turned it out to be a wooden boat I had brought from Florence, Italy. The captain on the boat signaled Olaf the Viking to come on board. The boat captain started serenading everyone in Italian.

Suddenly, an explosion of white powder distracted me. After the powder settled I realized it was flour. The Italian cooking utensils were busy making dough. The miniature cooking utensils had come from Italy as well. But wait, at first I thought the utensils were moving by themselves, but I soon discovered the three Hungarian chefs were working the kitchen tools. Were they making Italian pizza or Hungarian goulash? I could smell meat browning. It was being browned in my miniature silver pan. It was part of a set I had bought many years ago in a cooking store. So maybe it was Hungarian goulash after all. The chefs were sprinkling paprika everywhere. It fell off the tree like red shiny sprinkles. I could barely keep up with the flurry of culinary activity. By now, one of the Hungarian chefs was forming Russian tea biscuits and the other chef was making biscotti. Then I heard the sound of a tea kettle whistling. The miniature tea kettle was also part of my silver miniature pan set. The chef called to the regal guard and said, “Her majesty’s tea is ready”. The guard, tall and handsome, showed up at once. His uniform was made of red and black felt with gold buttons. He whisked the tea-tray straight away. Where did he go? I had trouble seeing from so far away. Was there a Queen? Of course, I remembered I had gotten her at Windsor Castle, in England. She was so elegant in her gold dress with her shiny red shawl. She seemed delighted to see the tea and the delicious biscuits. A Beefeater then joined the Queen for tea.

The cowbell from Switzerland began ringing. It joined the many other bells on the tree that were making the most beautiful music. There were the English and Spanish porcelain bells and American crystal bells. There were even jingle bells. And there in a bright spotlight was the Hungarian dancing girl. She had a porcelain hand-painted face and hands. Her dress was colorful and embroidered in traditional Hungarian style. She danced gracefully to the sounds of the bells. Humming to the music was the wooden Santa egg from Hungary. All of sudden I looked to the top part of the tree. Lilly, the ornament doll was moving from her top spot on the tree over to see Luz the other doll.  Lilly was the doll my aunt Lilly from Colombia gave me with a box of chocolates when I was eight. My other aunt, Luz, had given me a doll too, which I had named Luz. Whenever I have received something special from someone I turn it into an ornament. I noticed that Lilly must have picked up the porcelain coffee ornament pot on her way to see Luz. Was Lilly pouring Luz a cup of coffee? No it was not coffee, the smell was of hot chocolate or in Spanish, chocolate caliente. A smell from my childhood filled the air. I could smell buñuelos, deep-fried cheese dough balls. Yummy. My stomach grumbled as I continued to enjoy the smells. Within seconds the Colombian bus screeched its brakes right in front of Lilly and Luz. The bus ornament was a replica of what old buses in the countryside used to look like. They were colorful and had windows without glass. I heard the driver call out,“ Rio Negro next”. Rio Negro was a town near my birth city of Medellin, Colombia. I could hear the engine running and smell the fumes of gasoline. The radio on the bus was blaring out Colombian Christmas music. I wanted to stand up and dance. It all seemed so real.

I heard the sound of a train moving and blowing its whistle. I knew it was not my own train set since it was set up with my winter village in another room. But then I remembered the ornament I bought in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. I had taken my two children and parents on an old locomotive train ride. The flat red ornament shaped like an engine was now a beautiful 3-dimensional bright red locomotive machine spewing steam from its engine and chugging away. I could hear the conductor yelling, “All aboard, next stop, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico”. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico by train? Well, why not I thought. Then I heard Mariachi music playing, guitars and horns, and strong loud voices belting away ranchera songs. Oh how I loved Mexican music. The wooden violin ornament I purchased in Salzburg, Austria was accompanying the sounds of the Mexican mariachi band.  It was all so festive. The Mexican dolls danced zapateo, the traditional folkloric dance. The girls swung their skirts from side to side as they tapped their shoes. The music was rhythmic and joyous. Even the small Mexican sombrero made of red velvet and gold ribbon was swaying in the air to the music.

The music was so engaging that even Japanese lady could not resist the music and got up from her yoga position.  I had bought Japanese lady in Tokyo, Japan on my first business trip there. She was a cute and chubby, made of porcelain, and sat on a shiny red silk cushion. But she was no longer sitting; she was dancing away on her little feet, little feet that I had never seen. The samurai on the paper kite was also swaying to the song. The tiny little Japanese wooden dolls with small bells jingled to the tune.

The music seemed to change gradually to Arabic music. The colorful Moroccan red silk slippers floated in the air and tapped to the rhythm of the music. They sparkled with the lights of the tree. These had been my souvenir from a trip to Morocco years earlier. They were shiny red children’s slippers with pointed tips curved upward. The miniature silver tea set from Dubai was brewing with an exotic tea blend. The smells of frankincense and myrrh filled the air. Accompanying the Arabic music was another familiar sound, the sound of Spanish castanets. I got these authentic hand-painted castanets on one of my trips to Spain. The music transitioned from Arabic to Spanish flamenco. Then I heard a choir of angels singing “Feliz Navidad”. It was my porcelain ornament of angels in the shape of a bell. Even the Amish baby dolls from Lancaster, Pennsylvania joined in the song.

An amazing smell of chocolate filled the air. Three little elves were making chocolate truffles. The set of three elves had been a gift from a friend. The little elves had gotten the chocolate from Brussels, Belgium. The golden ornament of the Brussels Grand Place, (main square), was brightly lit and busy with people eating in its out-door cafes. I could make out the Dame Blanches, hot fudge sundaes, they were having. I had lived in Brussels for many years and felt it was another home away from home. Next to the Brussels miniature ornament was the miniature Eiffel Tower ornament. The music I heard was distinctly French accordion music. People walked below the little Eiffel Tower with their French black berets and striped shirts. The smell of crepes filled the air, crepes dusted with white powdered sugar and others drizzled with chocolate. There was the smell of fresh baguettes too. 

Again, the music changed. This time I could hear John Denver. John Denver had been a favorite singer of mine growing up. Last year I had found the cutest ornament with John Denver playing Annie’s Song. What a find! This music transported me to the United States. I then heard a San Francisco trolley honking as it made its way up the tree. This ornament had been a gift from my mother-in-law. The conductor blared out “Next stop, New York City”. New York City? What happened to San Francisco? Then again, everything and anything seemed possible on this magical night. I had an ornament with the Radio City Music Hall Rockets sitting on top of a ball and another ornament with the Rockets dressed as toy soldiers. Well, they all popped off of their ornaments and started doing their famous dance, with the straight rhythmic kicks in the air. Their dancing was synchronized to “Jingle Bell Rock”. And who was that joining them? Wait, she was green, she was holding a torch, and she was none other than Lady Liberty. But what was that other green gummy thing? It was not quite human, oh, it was my miniature Gumby. Gumby had been a cartoon character from my childhood. The party just kept going. The Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream truck arrived from Vermont. This was my souvenir from the famous ice cream maker. The truck driver gave out ice cream to everyone. The skiers arrived in their chair lifts and started skiing down the tree. The little soda pop boy started giving out drinks to everyone. The polar bears and the penguins drank some too. The snowman ornaments added to the wintry scene. The Frosty ornament stood by the mailbox waiting for Christmas cards. His snowman cousins, Greta and Hans were visiting from Cologne, Germany. My husband had bought me the cutest little Christmas pig one time. He joined in the festivities too.

And what were all the Santa Ornaments doing? Well, one Mr. Santa was sitting by the light of the moon checking his list. The other Santa was wishing everyone Merry Christmas in Greek. He had come all the way from Athens, Greece. There was another ornament of a little boy mailing his letter to Santa and another of the Little Drummer boy playing his drum. Both of these ornaments had been gifts from my parents. Then I heard ships and boats in the background. They were leaving the ports of Mystic, Connecticut and Annapolis, Maryland on their way to Florida. The smell of sea salt was in the air. The shell ornament from Florida shimmered in the light. The pretty pastel-colored houses of Bermuda opened their doors to visitors. The palm trees swayed to Bing Crosby’s Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian for Merry Christmas). I could hear the sound of ocean waves crashing and sea gulls singing their song.

I lost track of time. I was very tired but I could not stop gazing at this magic happening in my tree. Then the clock struck midnight. The golden Angel on top of the tree glowed even brighter. All of the ornaments became very quiet. My ornament of the world globe started rotating and from it I could hear voices in many different languages saying:

…Merry Christmas

Bon Natale

Joyeux Noel

Frohe Weihnachten

Merii Kurisumasu

Shèngdàn jié kuàilè

Merii Kurisumasu

Feliz Navidad…

It was a reminder to me of what this special occasion was about.

“ Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men”

At this point, the party got wild again, and I could hear some Colombian Christmas music, “Voy Camino a Belen”, I’m on my way to Bethlehem. The disco lights started flashing and the disco ball turning. The music then sounded like European Techno Christmas music. Was there such a thing I wondered? The dancing started and this time it was all of the ornaments dancing with each other. Mr. Swedish gnome with Japanese lady, Lady Liberty with Hungarian chef, German snowman with Mexican lady, Lilly from Colombia with the Pennsylvania train engineer, and Olaf the Viking with Luz, the Colombian doll. The Hungarian dancing girl borrowed the red Moroccan slippers. The Queen from England tried out the Spanish Castanets while her royal guard stomped to the beat. The animals danced too. The bears with the penguins, the sea gulls with the dogs, and the starfish with the pigs. The food table looked delicious. All of the ornaments had brought their special goodies: chocolate from Belgium, crepes from France, goulash from Hungary, pasta from Italy, sausage from Germany, hummus from Morocco, sushi from Japan, and BBQ from the United States. My international collection of Christmas ornaments was a tiny example of the world getting along. They had shared the joy of celebrating Christmas together. My ornaments had shared and enjoyed each other’s customs and traditions.

By now my sleepy eyes could not stay open much longer. The rest of my memories are vague. I awoke in my own bed the next morning. I don’t remember how I got there. I started to think that the night before had been all a dream. It was now Christmas morning, and I could hear my children coming into our room to wake us up. We all hurried downstairs to see what Santa and Niño Jesus (Baby Jesus) had brought. We all sat by the International Christmas Tree and turned on the tree lights. And then I noticed something strange. I quickly looked to my husband and children to see if they had also noticed. But they were too excited with the gifts under the tree. The ornaments were sitting quietly on the tree as always but none of the ornaments were in their original spot. As a matter of fact, the tree looked quite messy and disorganized. I seemed to be the only one to notice this. By now my husband was playing Christmas music and making coffee. I could hear “Silent Night” playing in the background. What had really happened last night, I wondered. My night had been anything but silent. I turned to look at my tree and its beautiful ornaments. I squinted my eyes to see the lights twinkle even more. The song “White Christmas” started playing and I listened to the lyrics, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”. It reminded me of my dream of the night before. And then for a split second, I saw, Lilly the doll, wink at me. I smiled a great big smile and my heart felt warm and cozy. I don’t think it had been a dream at all.

Lilly the Colombian doll ornament

Lilly the Colombian doll ornament

May you never forget the magic of Christmas.

Merry Christmas

The End

Enjoying the Christmas Holiday Preparations

My Winter Wonderland Village

My Winter Wonderland Village

The most exciting part of the Christmas holiday for me is the preparation leading up to it. So I really try to enjoy and make the most of all the aspects of the preparation: decorating, sending out cards, the gift shopping and wrapping, making Christmas cookies, the food shopping and cooking, watching Christmas movies, sharing time with friends and family, and my absolute favorite, listening to Christmas music 24/7 beginning the day after Thanksgiving. However, the preparations actually begin somewhere around the middle of November when I set up two catering tables and the groundwork for my Winter Wonderland Village. This officially begins my Christmas Holiday preparations. I always feel like I’m so on top of things when I start the process. However, here we are with 4 days before Christmas Eve and I’m still running around busily finishing up items on my to-do list.

Setting up my winter village

Setting up my winter village

I will admit there are moments in the overall process in which I may become a little overwhelmed. But I remind myself of my mantra, “It will all get done”. And when people ask me how far along I am in my preparations, I always respond with an upbeat comment like “I’m almost there!” This response seems to surprise the person and then they enthusiastically offer a positive and congratulatory comment, which in turn inspires me to continue on.

Finishing Touches

Finishing Touches

I started collecting these Department 56 houses in the early 90’s. One Christmas, my husband gave me the train set as a gift. The backdrop is an oil painting that my father commissioned from a Colombian artist named Deisy Varela. She used a photo I had taken in the Rocky Mountains of Crested Butte, Colorado.

A View From the East

A View From the East

I love to turn off the room lights, turn on the village lights, and sit near the village. I can feel the magic of the season as I transport myself to my miniature winter wonderland. I can almost feel the winter chill in the air and the shimmering snowflakes falling. I can sense the tranquility of the snow-covered mountains with deer and moose roaming. I envision the people in the village’s main square caroling and shopping. The skaters and skiers provide entertainment. The train makes its rounds sounding its bell and whistle. The lights on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree twinkle. Then I look to the warm hue of the lit houses. I can almost hear the crackling fires roaring in the stone fireplaces and feel the coziness of a home in the winter. Oh, and if you look real closely you’ll see Santa making toys in his North Pole workshop.

A View from the West

A View from the West

So happy holiday preparations to all! Take time to enjoy the season. Take a break, eat a Christmas cookie, do an act of kindness, sit in front of your Christmas tree or village (I recommend squinting your eyes – it makes the lights shimmer), and turn up the volume of the holiday music! And remember if you are feeling a little overwhelmed repeat “It will all get done.” Besides you still have 4 more days to enjoy. Remember, this is the fun part!