Category Archives: Customs

Easter Bunny Does it Again

I have always wondered why rabbits deliver Easter eggs. Let me backtrack on that – why rabbits paint Easter eggs. Of course they’ll deliver them once they’ve gone to all the trouble of painting them.  As a child I wondered more about that than I did about what Santa has to do with Christmas, but I learned to accept that the goodies each provided were worth putting up with the stories adults make up.

So each year I haul out the Easter eggs and wonder who painted them and how …and whether that rabbit would be any good in the pot, after eating all the vegetables out of my garden.

When I encountered this rabbit in my backyard, I asked him how he paints the eggs. Did he use a brush like I’ve seen in some of the children’s colouring books, or did he use a rag, or did he dip them?

He said:

“Oh … it’s simple. I dip my paw in the paint pot. Then I take an egg and I just rabbit on.

Happy Easter!”



Beware of Hot Chestnuts


In the autumn, trees provide us with all sorts of fruit and nuts. Just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the edible chestnuts are ripe. In some countries people are lucky enough to be able to go picking chestnuts for their own consumption; the rest of us have to buy them in our grocery stores. Chestnuts are a savoury addition to the turkey stuffing, but I find them even more appealing when they’ve been roasted in an open fire, just as the song suggests.

In my twenties, and newly wed, I was visiting at the home of my in-laws. We sat on the carpet by the fireplace watching as a batch of chestnuts, enclosed in a wrapper of tinfoil, roasted in the fire.

“I’ve never tasted chestnuts before,” I said. “This will be a first for me.”

“You’re in for a treat,” everyone agreed. The room was cozy with the warm glow of the fire, lights turned low, soft music, and loving people—a perfect evening.

My father-in-law fished the hot tinfoil packet out of the embers. “I think they’re done.”

I watched to see how the chestnuts were eaten. The tough pellicle had to be taken off first, and I learned that teeth worked just fine for opening an edge of the chestnut skin. Inside was the rich meat of the chestnut, hot and fluffy like a baked potato, so delicious with its mild nutty flavour.

“These are so good,” I said, reaching for another one. More confident now, I bit into the skin of the next one. A loud pop inside my head sounded like a gun had gone off, and the steaming hot chestnut meat shot towards the back of my throat and filled my mouth.

I wanted to spit out the starchy mass that was burning my cheeks, tongue and gums, but I was a guest—a shy one—in this lovely home. I couldn’t just spit out the exploded chestnut onto the wool carpet. I leapt up, ran to the bathroom, and spat into the sink.

The family came running and hovered around me. “Are you okay? Let’s see.”

“Oh my! Quick! Have a glass of cold water.”

My husband rubbed my shoulder. “Does it hurt?”

“You should have spat it out on the floor right away.”

That night my throat swelled up so much I could hardly breathe. I thought a small child would never survive this without medical intervention.

At the clinic the next day I got some gel to take the pain away. I worried at first that I might lose teeth if my gums were too badly burned. When my cheeks healed I could feel ropy ridges of scar tissue, but at least I had my teeth.

Since then I have learned that the skin of the chestnuts should be cut before roasting to allow the steam to escape.


I still love chestnuts, but I’m very careful when I eat them now. I’m guessing my thoughts are different from those of most people when I hear the song, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”


Edible Chestnuts

About 36 years ago, on a snowy winter evening in the city of Courtenay, BC, the Captain and I walked through the downtown area. It must have been a Friday night because the stores were open late. Nearly Christmas, they had Christmas carols pouring out of the speakers on some of the street corners. It was all very festive and the best part was that someone had a 45-gallon drum set up with a charcoal barbecue, roasting chestnuts. He had a bit of an accent that lent some old-time culture to the scene.

“Get your hot a-rrroasted a-chestnuts. Hot a-rrroasted a-chestnuts,” he called.

I was so cold, and when the Captain presented me with a newspaper cone of these hot a-rrroasted a-chestnuts, they warmed me right from my stomach to my heart. They were the best chestnuts I’d ever eaten.

I decided to plant two Italian chestnut trees – the edible kind. They had little chestnuts – too tiny to eat that first year – and each year they got bigger. But the trees have wide-spreading branches, and between the windstorms and the heavy snowfalls we had once or twice, the branches broke and the trees were beyond saving.

I love this photo I took in the early days. It reminds me of those few chestnuts those trees provided in the fall, and of that fine winter day with the hot a-rrroasted a-chestnuts.


Who Needs Halloween Horror?

Just home from a 26-day trip, I had laundry to do. Too much to hang on the drying rack in front of the fire, and the outside clothesline was not an option in the rain. I would use the dryer.  I opened the dryer door and out fell my Halloween spook, a giant house spider, very much alive and probably a bit surprised to have been discovered. I presume that he crawled up the hose from the outside of the house and thought, “Aha! No one is home, so this is a perfect hangout for me.”


These spiders look almost identical to the hobo spider which can do some damage if they bite you, but apparently the common giant house spider is harmless and will even kill the hobo spiders.


I’m sorry I killed it, but it’s a reflex when I see a spider.

I just can’t take the time to catch them in a jar and turn them over to inspect their undersides with a magnifying glass (more trauma, up close) to see if it has a tiny circle of dots on the abdomen that would identify them as only a giant house spider, not a hobo spider. To me they are both terrifying to look at; and it’s even more terrifying to imagine them in my laundry.


I felt guilty killing it. My mother always said not to kill spiders. She would sweep them into a dustpan with a tissue or just her hand (shudderzzzzz!!!!) and put them outside … so they could go and scare someone else  do some good.

I don’t need to go out on Halloween to get my scare. I can just stay home and do laundry.

Fasching – the Carnival Season

When I was five and my brother was three, we lived in Germany. In the spring, they have their Carnival time in connection with Lent (which, I think is during the 40 days before Easter). We wanted to take part in the fun of the local customs.  When we heard there was to be a dress-up parade, my brother and I wanted to be in it.

My mother was concerned that we were too young, but she said if my older cousin, Brigitte, would look after us and we promised to stay by her side, then we could be in the parade. I don’t remember what my brother was supposed to be – maybe  a messenger, as he had something in his hand, but I was going to be a Dutch Boy (incidentally, now a famous pickled herring brand). I put on blue pants and I had a blue hat. My mother added her trademark makeup to our faces. Every “dress-up” occasion called for red lipstick hearts being drawn onto our cheeks. I think she was the original face painter.



We held hands to look after each other. I took Brigitte’s hand and, as always, I took my brother’s hand. We felt very important as we walked through the streets of town along with the rest of the citizens who were also dressed up. Brigitte’s outfit needs some explaining because of the black and white photo. Her dress and cape were bright red with big white polka dots on them. She was dressed up as a fly agaric (amanita) mushroom.


It looks like my mom reclaimed my brother after a while. He was only three and probably got tired, but I was quite happy to continue, with Brigitte lending me courage.

Fasching - Brigitte und Anneli

Happy Thanksgiving!

This photo was taken in a big hurry to capture the birds before they disappeared into the grassy banks of the Missouri River. No time to zoom in. No time to think. No time to do anything but snap a quick photo with a point-and-shoot camera. But I wanted to make sure everyone got a turkey for Thanksgiving, so here they are.

Turkeys on the Missouri[1]

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

St. Malo

One of the prettiest town we visited was St. Malo. We might have missed it if we hadn’t needed to go there to catch the ferry to the UK. We left our friends in Fougères and waited for the bus to take us to St. Malo. We had a good set of luggage with us, but the more we had to travel without our van, the more we cursed the luggage.

img092aThe first thing we did in St. Malo was find a hotel. The Hotel Marguerite suited us just fine with it’s lacy curtains and bidet in the bathroom. The stairs to the upper floors were so narrow that anyone needing to move furniture in or out of these buildings had to do it through the windows with a set of ropes and pulleys.

img031This walled town by the seaside took quite a shelling from enemy ships during the war, we were told, and the evidence was still to be found in the walls on the seaward side. Again, I’ve painted out some of the people in the photos.

img039a img037It was a beautiful, warm, autumn day and we had a leisurely lunch on the water’s edge.

Someone offered to take our picture and it wasn’t until later that we realized that the person could easily have run away with our camera. But we were trusting souls.

img095aA little sightseeing around town:

A restaurant where I wanted to have breakfast was closed until much later in the day.

img098a img096aA man who looked like he had only one leg was actually getting ready to kick a rubber ball for his very fast border collie to retrieve. The dog often caught the  ball on the first bounce as it came off the wall. Then he went to a higher part of the ground and dropped the ball, giving it a nudge to roll it back to his master. Fascinating to watch!

img097Another man told stories and entertained a crowd of young teenagers.

img118We were surprised to find a statue of Jacques Cartier in the place from which he is supposed to have sailed to Canada. On the Canadian side, in Gaspé, there is a monument dedicated to the same brave man, celebrating his arrival.

img094aAt last we had to take a taxi to the ferry terminal for our trip across the channel.


First we had to clear Customs. Those heavy suitcases were a nuisance as we stood in line with our passports ready, so we set them on the floor in front of us and nudged them along with our feet whenever the line crawled ahead. Behind us, an impatient man was practically breathing down my neck. He tried to go around me but I stayed close to the person in front of me to keep my place in line. He was fidgety and agitated, shuffling from one foot to the other, stretching his neck to see around me to find a way to jump the queue. We were almost at the checkpoint where we would show the Customs agent our passports when the man stepped right over my suitcase and pushed into line in front of me. I thought, if he needs to be up there so badly, let him go ahead. We’re all getting on the same ferry. The Customs agent took his passport, and then motioned for him to step aside to an area behind their counter. They searched his pockets and patted him down. Another agent stamped our passports and waved us through to board the ferry to Portsmouth. As I looked back, the agents were still going through the agitated man’s carry-on bag with a fine-toothed comb.

We said goodbye to France and looked forward to a short visit to Portsmouth and London. See you there next time.