Sarah awoke to hear voices in the hall. She was surprised to find herself cuddled up to Kevin in the living room.
"Oh! I fell asleep!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, you did," agreed Kevin.
"But I've things to do," she said.
"You must have needed the rest. You promised not to overdo," he reminded her.
"Of course," she said. "Sounds like everyone has arrived."
"Yep," said Kevin as he stood up and then offered Sarah a hand.
They went into the hall to find Amanda and Miles, back with the breads, as well as Hugh, Susannah, Margaret and Daniel.
"Did you all just arrive?" asked Sarah.
"Pretty much," said Amanda. "Do you want to show me where to put the bread and stuff?"
"Sure," said Sarah leading her through the kitchen to the dining room.
Amanda whispered to Sarah. "I talked with Miles and you were right. We don't plan to tell anyone else though just yet. I want to see the midwive first."
"Sounds like a good plan," said Sarah.
Kevin looked in from the hall door of the dining room and said, "We're all joining Geoff and his friends until lunch time."
"Alright," responded Sarah. Kevin left to join the others.
Soon the basket and platter that had been empty awaiting the return of Amanda and Miles from the bakery were filled.
"I just need to grab the punch ingredients from the fridge," said Sarah heading to the kitchen.
"Wouldn't it be easier to bring the punch bowl into the kitchen to fill?" asked Amanda following her.
"Yes but I can't carry it full so I do it this way," said Sarah smiling. "Where there's a will there's a way!"
Sarah had taken the ring mold of frozen juice and fruit from the freezer section of the fridge to the counter next to the sink. She ran the hot water till it got warm, stoppered the sink and allowed a few inches warm water accumulate. She placed the mold in the warm water.
"It usually needs a few minutes," she said and headed to the fridge for the juices and ginger ale.
Back in the dining room, she carefully poured the drinks into the punch bowl and gave them a stir with a wooden spoon. She returned to the kitchen with the empty containers which went in the recycle bin. Next she got out a cookie sheet that had no edge on three sides.
"This is trickier," she told Amanda. Sarah lifted the mold from the sink and ran a knife around the edges. It had softened. She then placed the cookie sheet upsidedown and inverted. A bit of juice ran out of the mold which she sopped up with a paper towel. She removed the mold and headed back to the dining room with ring on the cookie sheet and her wooden spoon.
"Cross your fingers for me," she told Amanda as she carefully started nudging the ring from the cookie sheet, now resting on the edge of the punch bowl, off the cookie sheet. It went fairly well but with one "plop" near the end that caused a bit of splashing. She moved a stack of plastic tumblers with a Christmas design on them over the tell-tale spot on the tablecloth causing Amanda to laugh.
"Very good Sarah," said Amanda.
Sarah grinned at her. "Let's get the plastic wrap off everything and then we can go get everyone for lunch."
"Okay," said Amanda.
Soon everyone was filling their salad bowls and sandwich plates in the dining room.
"Sarah," called Miles.
"Yes?" she asked.
"Where's the mustard?" he asked.
"And the ketchup," added Geoff.
"How could I forget those?" she said gently slapping herself on the forehead. "Amanda, I asked you if I was forgetting anything."
"Oops! Sorry!," said Amanda laughing.
"Well, Miles and Geoff, I'll tell you what I always have told you," started Sarah.
"I know," said Miles as Geoff was reciting "If you want it, you get it."
"That's right!" she said.
Miles headed for the kitchen asking, "I'll get them, Geoff. Anything else anyone wants?"
"Well," said Margaret, "not that I can think of right now. May I have a rain check?"
Miles groaned and everyone else laughed.
Soon everyone was in the living room to work on decorating the tree.
"Susannah, there's a cedar wreath and cedar roping on the back porch," started Miles. "Amanda said you wanted them."
"Thank you, Miles," said Susannah. "I've made some weatherproof bows for them. I want the wreath for the front door and the roping for the railing of the front porch."
"Sounds lovely," said Sarah as she went over to one of the boxes of her Christmas things. "Here's an over-the-door hook for putting the wreath up."
"Thank you, Sarah," said Susannah. "I've brought a roll of twine to tie the cedar roping to the porch railing. I just need to get the bows I made from upstairs."
"I'll help you with that, Susannah," said Hugh, following behind her.
"Well, Miles," said Sarah, "we always start with you putting on the strings of lights."
"I'll help," offered Daniel. "It's been a long time since I've had a chance."
"Geoff, how about you and your friends help me to unpack the tree decorations," said Sarah. "Just lay them out carefully over the floor so we can see them easily to pick which ones we want to use."
"Mom, you still have the salt dough decorations I made in kindergarten!" exclaimed Geoff as he removed the tissue from a couple of cookie-cutter shaped decorations.
Margaret laughed. "Geoff, I brought some decorations I had carefully packed away amongst some things in the settlement. I didn't trust everything to Zelda, in case you were wondering. A friend stored some things for me."
"Who?" asked Miles and Sarah together.
"Hugh. He was always a good friend to me," answered their mother. "Geoff, would you unwrap these for me?"
"Sure, Grandmother," said Geoff as he took a small tissue wrapped bundle from her. "Salt dough decorations!"
He turned them over. "These 2 have 'Sarah' on them and these 2 have 'Miles'!"
"Which," said Miles, "shows either that they've not thought of anything new or they've become a tradition."
"Oh!" said Amanda as she took a couple similar ornaments from amongst her mother's tree decorations and held them up. Everyone laughed.
"I vote 'tradition'," said Margaret.
"How are the lights coming?" asked Sarah.
"Nearly done," replied Miles. "It's nice having help."
"Help?" said Kevin. "That sounds like you actually do something."
"I am," said Miles. "I'm directing."
"Uh huh," said Daniel. "The lights are all on. I'll plug them in to make sure they work."
"Shouldn't you have done that first?" asked Amanda.
"Well, perhaps," conceded Miles. He then whispered in Amanda's ear, "I didn't think of it."
"They all seem to be working fine," said Geoff. "Can we start putting the decorations on?"
"All right," said Sarah. "Remember to space them out well."
"Miles," said Sarah. "You won't have to do all the higher branches. We've more tall people this year!"
"Very true," said Miles.
They all worked together steadily while singing along to Sarah's CDs. Amanda was putting Susaanah's decorations on for her.They were nearly done when Hugh and Susannah reappeared.
"The greenery is all up, except for one thing, unless you forgot," Susannah said.
"Hmmm," said Miles as he pulled a package from behind the couch and opened it.
"You wouldn't mean this?" he said holding a sprig of mistletoe above his head.
"Yes!" said Susannah standing on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek.
Miles chuckled and gave her the mistletoe. After adding some red ribbon, Susannah asked, "Where should it go?"
Sarah thought a bit. "I think above the doorway to this room. Anybody else have a suggestion?"
"Sounds good to me," said Margaret.
"Me too," said Amanda.
"Alright then that's settled.
"Oh ithe tree's so beautiful!" exclaimed Belinda.
"It really is," said Sarah. "Just one more thing to add."
Sarah and Amanda had discussed the treetopper earlier. Sarah had used a star but was thrilled to forgoe it when she saw the beautiful crocheted angel Susannah had made years ago. Amanda took the box with the angel over to Susannah. She knew her mother had been hesitant in case Sarah had a favorite treetopper.
"Mama, Sarah and I talked," she said handing the box to Susannah.
"Yes, we did," said Sarah. "I would love to see that beautiful angel sitting atop the tree.
"You are sure?" Susannah asked looking at Sarah and, then, Margaret.
They both nodded.
"Hugh, would you place her on the top of the tree for me?" Susannah asked.
Hugh smiled at her, took the angel and placed her atop the tree spreading her skirt out over the highest branch tips.
"It's perfect!" said Sarah. The others all agreed.
"It's getting a bit late," said Kevin. "We better be on our way."
"Shouldn't we tidy this up first?" asked Susannah.
"It's just tissue paper and boxes," said Margaret. "We can get it in the morning."
"Yes," said Sarah. "Tristan's and Belinda's parents will be watching for them so we better go."
Sunday they arrived back at the house at midmorning.
Miles took Geoff, Belinda and Tristan to a video store to rent some Christmas movies.
Susannah supervised Kevin, Hugh and Daniel in getting the living room straightened up.
Margaret, Amanda and Sarah went to the kitchen to make lunch and snacks. They made a large tray of sandwiches cut in neat triangles. There was a plate of deviled eggs. A divided tray was filled various cut up fresh vegetables with a bowl of french onion dip in the center. Sarah hollowed out a loaf of pumpernickel and cut the removed part into cubes. In the loaf she placed a bowl of spinach dip.Three bowls were filled with various flavours of potato chips. A tray of squares (nanaimo bars, date squares and brownies) had some shortbread and oatmeal raisin cookies added to it. There was a large bowl of fresh fruit as well.
"Sarah?" asked Amanda.
"Yes?" responded Sarah.
"Where are we going to put all of this? This is for the den, right?" asked Amanda.
Sarah laughed. "Good question. The sandwiches, vegetables, spinach dip and eggs will go on the coffee table along with paper plates and serviettes. The chip bowls will go on the end table by the recliner and the dessert tray and fruit on the table in the corner between the couch and settee. That's to start with at least. Things may get moved during the afternoon."
"Sounds great," said Amanda. "I confess that I'm a great fan of snacking and TV watching."
"I didn't know that," said Miles coming in the kitchen from the hallway.
"Oops!" said Amanda. "I didn't know you were there."
"We just returned," said Miles. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"We were just coming here to ask the same thing," said Margaret on behalf of herself, Hugh, Kevin and Daniel.
"The kids are going to sit on the floor. The couch can seat four, settee three, and the recliner and rocking chair one each so I think we've plenty of seating," said Sarah. "I guess we can start carrying over the food. Amanda you go with the first group and see if they put things in the right places. OK?"
"Um, Sarah, I've already forgot! Here's an idea. How about you go to the den, sit in the recliner and direct the placements?" suggested Amanda.
"I like that idea," said Kevin. "I'll just grab this tray of sandwiches and walk over with you to get started."
"Alright," said Sarah. "But don't think I don't recognize a conspiracy when I see one. I'll gladly go sit down but I prefer the settee."
"Fine; be contrary," teased Miles grabbing the paper plates and serviettes. "Let's go, Sis."
With so many helping hands, everything was quickly arranged in the den. Hugh, Susannah, Margaret and Daniel sat on the couch. Kevin joined Sarah on the settee. Amanda sat in the recliner and Miles joined the kids on the floor.
"What are we watching first?" asked Sarah.
"I was thinking we should start with A Christmas Story," said Miles getting the tape out of the case.
"Oh! I love that one," said Amanda. "It's so funny."
Miles smiled at her. "It's one of my favorites."
"And then?" asked Daniel. "Did you get my favorite?"
"Yes, Father, I did," said Miles. "The old original A Christmas Carol."
"That one is spooky," said Amanda.
"True but it's a classic," said Daniel.
"And speaking of classics, we'll end with Miracle on 34th Street," said Miles.
"My, that sounds like a long time to spend sitting," said Margaret.
"True," said Miles. "We should take a break between each to walk around and stretch a bit."
"Good idea," said Sarah. "Now get the movie ready and everyone get your plates filled!"
It was Christmas Eve. Geoff, Belinda and Tristan were at their lessons in the morning but had beem given permission to miss in the afternoon and the next day. The adults were all very busy with many different tasks. Sarah and Amanda went off to see the midwife. Miles and Kevin went into midtown to rent a full size van with enough seating for all of them as well as picking up some last minute items. There were visits to the Emporium in the settlement as well.
They all met together at the midday meal and then headed into town again. Sarah and Margaret had some things to do in the kitchen in preparation for the big turkey dinner the next day with occasional help from others who dropped in. Mostly the afternoon was spent visiting. People drifted from sitting in the living room listening to Christmas music while relaxing in front of the fire or playing various games like checkers, chess and cribbage. The VCR in the den was getting another workout. And, of course, people were being caught under the mistletoe.
The evening meal was very informal with cheese omeletes a la Miles, salad and fresh baked rolls. Since Miles had cooked, Hugh, Daniel and Kevin offered to do the clean up after. They had it taken care of in very little time; in suspiciously little time, but no one seemed concerned that a bit of faery magic might have been employed.
They had evening plans. Miles had rented the van so that they could all go together to a park in Woodtown. There the members of a local church were performing a Christmas pageant with live animals. It was a long established tradition and familiar to Daniel and Margaret as well as Miles, Sarah and Geoff but a new experience for the others. As the watched they drank hot chocolate from a thermos that seemed bottomless. They all enjoyed the story of the first Christmas that was presented. When they were all back in the van, Miles took them on a short tour of Christmas lights. It was another of the traditions he and Sarah and Geoff had established. He knew some of the best homes in town to see.
When they returned to the house they assembled in the living room for a sharing of gifts.
Margaret presented Daniel with a wand saying, "As you know, it will take on your unique colors as you use it. We'll have to see where your talents lie."
"Oh," said Daniel, his voice cracking with emotion. "I guess I might have magic. I hadn't thought about it really. My own wand. I never would have expected to have one."
Sarah went to him and gave him a hug. "Father, I always thought you magical. Now we all know you are."
She then went to Kevin and whispered, "Now?"
Kevin turned her to face the room, standing in front of him and embraced her whispering in her ear, "Now."
"Well, I know before I said I hadn't asked the midwife if the baby was a boy or girl but I've been feeling very strongly that this is a girl so asked the midwife today and she confirmed it," Sarah told everyone.
"A girl?" said Geoff.
"Yes, a sister," Kevin told him.
"Oh a baby granddaughter!" exclaimed Margaret.
Miles went and put his arms around Amanda similar to the way Kevin held Sarah. "Mother, you can make that two granddaughters," he told her.
It took a moment for that to register and then Susannah nearly shouted, "I'm going to be a grandmother!"
And then it seemed like there was tears and hugs all around amongst the adults as the younger set sat back watching.
When everyone had settled, Daniel had a book he had brought with him and spoke, "As Miles and Sarah can tell you, Geoff, Belinda and Tristan, one of our family traditions on Christmas eve was for me to read from the Bible, Luke Chapter 2 Verses 1 through 14.
"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men".
After he had finished closing the Bible, Daniel said, "Then at this point Miles and Sarah would give their mother and I a good night kiss and go off to bed."
"So we'll now bundle up and head off back to the settlement instead after kissing you good night," said Miles.
With that everyone headed to the closet to get dressed to go outside. Daniel and Margaret were staying overnight at the house so that they could get the turkey in the oven early. The others were soon on their way with their flashlights and carol sheets to sing from as they made their way back to the settlement in the Whimsical Woods.
Christmas morning when Belinda, Tristan, Geoff, Sarah, Kevin, Amanda, Miles, Susannah and Hugh set off for the house in Woodtown, they found about four inches of snow once they left the moderating effect of the Whimsical Woods with light flurries still falling. Belinda and Tristan were delighted as they'd never actually seen snow before. Miles made a snowball and threw it at Kevin, for whom snow was new too. Sarah brushed the snow off of him, laughing.
"Hold off on the snowball fight till after the midday meal!" Sarah implored. "We need to go help Mother and Father get it all prepared."
Arriving at the house, they were assaulted by the delicious smell of the roasting turkey. Daniel and Margaret met them at the door.
"Anyone volunteering to peel potatoes?" asked Margaret. "Miles? You were always so good at it."
"Sure, Mother," answered Miles. "I'll peel potatoes."
"Susannah, the tablecloth and dishes are yours, so how about you set the table?" suggested Margaret.
"I'd be happy to," replied Margaret.
"I'll help Margaret," offered Hugh.
"I'll get you the table leaves and show you how they go in," said Sarah. "We can take chairs from the kitchen for the extra places."
Before long everyone was busy doing something and the morning flew by. They all sat around the beautiful and well-laden table for their Christmas dinner. Sarah had asked Daniel to sit at the head of the table.
"Let us all join hands," said Daniel. "As we are celebrating a Christian holiday, it seems fitting to follow the Christian practise of saying Grace. Please bow your heads. Lord, we thank you for the bounty upon our table and the family and friends surrounding it. Amen."
"Amen," answered Geoff, Sarah, Miles, Amanda, Susannah and Margaret.
"Alright, now," started Daniel, "Everyone look up. Find the food dish closest to you, take some for yourself as you like and then pass it to your right."
Everyone chattered away while filling their plates with turkey, stuffing, whipped potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, cooked carrots, kernel corn, broccoli and cauliflower with cheese sauce, coleslaw, and rolls. When they had finished, Sarah, Amanda, Susannah and Margaret cleared away the used dishes. Margaret brought in dessert.
"There are many traditional desserts for Christmas including pies and plum pudding. In our family we had a cake to remind us it was Baby Jesus Birthday. Jello Rainbow Cake was always a favorite for birthdays so I'd make one for Christmas," she said pointing at a cake covered in whipped topping sitting on the table.
She sliced the cake putting the slices on small plates and handing them to either side of her to be passed down the table. When the slice was lying on it's side on the plate, the streaking of the white cake with red for one layer and green for the other showed how it got it's name.
Susannah suggested that the younger couples and children go play in the snow, while she, Hugh, Margaret and Daniel did clean up. Everyone agreed to that arrangement.
Amanda and Sarah showed Tristan and Belinda how to make angels in the snow. Miles and Geoff started on a snowman. They procured an old hat, scarf, 2 large buttons, a carrot and some stones to finish off their snowman.
After a couple of hours they were happy to return to the warmth of the house and cups of hot chocolate with little marshmallows. Everyone was in the living room. Daniel had wondered over to the piano to the far side of the fireplace.
"Oh!" he exclaimed getting everyone's attention.
"What is it?" asked Miles.
"This is the piano I learnt to play on so long ago. Is it tuned?" he asked Sarah.
"I'm afraid not Father," answered Sarah. "It just sort of came with the house but none of us used it."
Daniel raised the cover from the keys and tried a couple of keys. "Definitely needs tuning."
"I've an idea," said Amanda.
"Yes?" asked Daniel.
"Like you I'm newly discovering my faeryfolke side. I've been told I need to give my wand a try to see just what magic I might have," said Amanda.
"What a great idea!" exclaimed Sarah. "Father, give it a try!"
Daniel extracted his wand. One end had started to turn a golden color with a fine pin stripe of forest green. He placed that end on the piano while holding the other end and concentrated on the piano keys and how they should sound.After a couple of minutes his wand's colors had completely filled in. He gingerly tried the keys and found they sounded just right.
"It worked!" he excitedly proclaimed with a large smile illuminating his face. Margaret gave him a big hug and kiss.
"Play for us. Please!" she pleaded.
"It has been so long but I think I might be able to play a few carols," Daniel said.
Daniel sat on the bench and everyone gathered round. He played carols as they sang and found he remembered more than he would have thought. The time flew by and before they knew it the time had come to leave and return to the settlement for the evening meal. Each carried with them special memories from their celebration of Christmas to treasure for the years to come.
In the days since Christmas the adults had gone back to Woodtown to pack away the Christmas things. The new year was quickly approaching. The faeryfolke had adopted the Outer World's calendar long, long ago and celebrated the beginning of a new year. Although some individuals celebrated the year's arrival at midnight with a few close friends in their homes, the main festivities took place in the afternoon on New Year's Day in the Great Hall after the midday meal. There would be dancing and refreshments and games for all ages. Sarah, Kevin and Geoff arrived quite soon after the noon meal. Kevin had gotten a note from his uncle, Hugh, saying he needed to speak with him and would meet him at the Great Hall. They met Hugh soon after arriving and Kevin went with him to talk in private. Soon after Miles, Amanda and Maragret arrived. Sarah had just told them about Hugh asking to speak to Kevin when Daniel and Margaret arrived. Soon the Hall was filled with the faeryfolke of the settlement.
Traditionally, the Elder of the Learned Members of the Council would address all the members of the settlement. Over the last few years, Hugh had presented the address on Alden's behalf. It would soon be time to give the address. Hugh told Kevin that it would be different this year and he'd had instructions to have Kevin with him on the podium. Hugh went to the lectern and placed an envelope on it on it. Just seeing him getting ready to address them, the faeryfolke quieted and faced him.
"My fellow citizens of the Faeryfolke Settlement in the Whimsical Woods," started Hugh. "I must start today with a rather sad announcement. Our beloved Alden slipped into his eternal sleep during the night. Although not unexpected, it is still difficult to lose such a wise and respected Elder. Unknown to me, Alden had left a message with the Council Secretary a few years ago to be read at a gathering following his death. I've been told that he added to it recently. He entrusted it's keeping to Chance, our Council Secretary who handed it to me this morning. I was given two instructions. One was to not read it in advance and the other was to have Kevin here with me. So my friends, I learn of it's contents along with you."
Hugh opened the envelope he had placed earlier on the lectern and removed the contents. He unfolded the letter and started, "I will now read Alden's letter to us.
'My fellow faeryfolke, if this is being read to you, it is because I have passed from this life to the next. Please do not be sad for me. This is the proper way of things. Celebrate my life; not because it was a long one but because it was a wonderful one. The good times outweighed the bad. I found that the vast majority of people, both faeryfolke and other, are good at heart. The older I got, the more I learnt to enjoy all the little things in day to day life. Added together those small joys far surpass the total that came from more monumentous events. In our busy lives it is easy to miss the natural beauty of a rose in bloom; the innocent charm of a baby's smile; the delightful satisfaction in a young child's face as they master a new skill. We forget that the warmth of the sun is a kiss from nature and the gentle breeze a caress. Life is good and when bad times come you must search out those small joys to provide balance in your life. I leave you with that challenge - to search out the good; the beautiful; the small joys. They are always there. They may be hard to find at dark times but they are worth the search.' That ends the first part."
Hugh continued reading, "The next part is dated three days ago.
'I know the end draws close now. I do not fear it. I have one last act to perform as Elder. I pass the reigns on to Hugh who I have great confidence in. He has been performing most of my duties for several years now. My choice to fill the open spot on the Council is Hugh's nephew, Kevin, who has assisted his uncle very capably on many occassions.' That is the end of Alden's letter.
"I did not know about it. I'm honoured that he would suggest me for Elder and also have confidence in Kevin as a new member of the Council. I will do my best."
Kevin, who had moved to stand beside Hugh, now embraced him briefly.
Chance had quietly moved up to the lectern and spoke," I, too have confidence in Hugh. I know he will handle the running of the settlement well." He then turned and embraced Hugh.
"Thank you," said Hugh. "I will need the assistance of you and all the Council."
Sarah stood and applauded and was soon joined by Miles, Margaret, Amanda, Daniel and Susannah. The Council members had also started to rise and they joined in. Soon everyone in the Great Hall had risen.
Hugh raised his hands for quiet. With damp eyes and a shakey voice, he said, "Thank you so much my friends."
And so starts a new year and a new era in the faeryfolke settlement in the Whimsical Woods.
[Whimsical Woods Index]