#TheTwelveDaysOfChristmas: The Seventh Day

The Twelve Days of Christmas:

A Christmastide Tale in Twelve Instalments. With Elves.

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Seventh Day of Christmas

My work day had never seemed as long as it did on that New Year’s Eve. I snapped at old Ernie Smith when he took so long to decide which antacid he wanted, the 10 or the 20 mg, and had to apologize; and then had to apologize again when I sent a mom with two sneezing, snotty-nosed, whining kids down the wrong aisle in pursuit of cold medicine. Finally, when I realized I had counted out the one hundred tablets of Malvinia Shoemaker’s heart medication in the double-strength dose instead of the single-strength, I threw in the towel.

“Look, Gina,” I said to the pharmacist, “I think I need to call it a day. I can’t think straight; you’ll have to double-check everything I’ve done in the last hour or two. I’m really sorry. Do you mind if I knock off early? I don’t want to accidentally poison anyone.”

Gina looked over the top of her reading glasses down the empty aisles of the drug store. “Go ahead, I think I can hold down the fort. Are you all right?”

“Yeah, yeah, pretty much. Just—well, you know.”

She gave me a sympathetic look. “It’ll be fine,” she said soothingly. “He’ll turn up.”

“I hope so,” I said and rubbed my aching temple.

Gina raised an eyebrow. “You’re not coming down with something, are you?”

I gave a humourless laugh. “I’m not sure.” Was a case of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” a diagnosable condition?

“Well, better get some rest, then. Give the New Year’s Eve parties a miss.”

“Hadn’t planned on going to one, anyway, even if…” I’d wanted to just spend it with Tom, watch the TV broadcast, toast with a glass of champagne… “Thanks, Gina. I’ll see you Thursday.” I hung my white lab coat on the hook behind the door of the staff room and headed out to my car.

As I put the key in the lock, suddenly there was a hand on my arm. I turned my head and looked into Celia Whitewell’s wrinkle-framed brown eyes, her grey hair hanging wildly around her face.

“This is the year,” she said urgently. “Right around now, that’s when they took him. And every twelve years, the portal opens again; that’s when they come back through. I didn’t manage to get to him last time, or the time before, but now, but now… In the twelve days, every twelve years…”

And a hey nonny nonny, I’m sure. Poor woman.

I soothingly patted Celia’s hand, then gently removed her clutch from my sleeve. But she wasn’t even paying attention to me anymore.

“Every twelve years…” she muttered, and she shuffled away towards the big grey structure of the community hall which was even older than she was.

Where to now? I had called everyone I could think of to ask about Tom, but no luck. However, I still had not gone out to Carson’s Landing to track down that lady. Why had I been procrastinating on this so long? It was almost like I was scared to go out there. But the last person I knew had seen Tom before he disappeared was there. I had to do this.

Resolutely I turned the key in the ignition, shifted the car into gear and pulled out of the parking lot.

Ten minutes later, I turned down the side road off the highway that led to Carson’s Landing. Old Jimbo Carson had lived right at the very end of it, in a small house—more of a cottage, really—that his grandfather had built there in the days of the gold rush.

The building that stood on the site of Jimbo’s little house now was certainly no cottage—I hardly even wanted to call it a house. “Mansion” was more like it, if not “palace”—a very modern one, at least. Three stories tall, it had two floors of wrap-around decks with Plexiglas railings facing the lake, and the roof on the lake side came to a high peak in the centre, with glass, glass and more glass instead of walls.

I parked the car and turned off the ignition, sitting there and staring at the place. It didn’t look like anyone was home inside that glass castle—was there? They were probably out doing New Year’s Eve somewhere. Maybe I should just leave again.

But no! I’d never find Tom if I was chicken. Tom… I gave myself a mental kick in the pants and got out of the car. Suddenly lights flared up inside the building and over the front door, their brightness making me realize that dusk was not far away.

The door opened and a figure stood outlined against the inside lights.

“Hello! Can I help you with anything?” a beautiful baritone called out to me.

Mr. Jewellery Store Guy! Once again I got that strange fluttering in my stomach and a strong sense of vertigo.

“Umm, uh—” Get a grip, Mac! I gave myself a push away from the car and forced my wobbly knees to walk in the direction of the house. “I’m, uh, looking for someone. Uh, my, my…”

“Yes?” He flashed me that thousand-watt smile, and again it seemed to knock the stuffing out of me.

“It’s, uh, um… Actually, I’m looking for Tom,” I said. “My, uh—he’s a friend. And someone said that—” I was making no sense, and he was still beaming that smile at me. “N-never mind,” I stammered. I was obviously at the wrong place, wasn’t I? “I think I’ll just, uh, go.”

“Yes, maybe you should,” the man said, but the waves of charm that radiated off him made it seem as if he had just issued the most cordial invitation to come into the house.

“Y-yes,” I said, taking a step closer, “maybe…”

“Who is it, Galaeron?” a melodious woman’s voice came from inside the house. I had never heard such an attractive voice before—well, not before I had heard the man’s. This was a woman’s version of the same honeyed, dulcet tones that made me want to sink into whatever it was they were offering, made me want to stay and never leave… I took one more step towards the house.

A woman’s face appeared over the man’s shoulder. White-blonde hair flowed back in ripples from a smooth white forehead; silver-grey eyes that were set at a slant looked at me from under incongruously dark, perfectly straight eyebrows; and a tiny mouth with delicately rosy lips formed into a pout.

“Well?” she said, raising one of her perfect eyebrows.

In her own way, she was as stunning as the man, but I couldn’t stand her—which was what saved me. The antipathy I felt slapped my brain back to functionality.

“I’m looking for my b- my friend Tom,” I said. “About your height—” I gestured at the man, “dark hair, brown eyes. Someone said they saw you,” I looked at the woman, “talking to him on Christmas Eve, and nobody has seen him since.”

She gave an affected laugh, as silvery and metallic as her eyes. “Am I supposed to have done away with him? I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I don’t even remember talking to this—Tom.” She laid her left hand caressingly on the man’s shoulder, as if to say she had no need for the likes of Tom—and what I saw then snapped me out of the last of my daze. On her left ring finger sparkled the princess-cut diamond from Engelhard’s.

“All right,” I said, and I heard a slight hiss in my voice. “I just thought I’d ask. Goodbye.”

I turned to leave, and there on the lake shore beside the house I saw them: seven perfect white swans, swimming in one line along the encroaching ice of the shoreline. I pulled out my phone, shook it to open the camera, and clicked the shutter.

When I turned back to the house, the door was closed and the lights inside had gone dark.

To be continued…

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

#TheTwelveDaysOfChristmas: The Sixth Day

The Twelve Days of Christmas:

A Christmastide Tale in Twelve Instalments. With Elves.

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Sixth Day of Christmas 

I woke up the next morning with a start. What on earth had I been thinking? It was as if that gorgeous man in Engelhard’s had literally driven Tom from my mind! I snatched up my phone from my bedside table and tried to turn it on. All I got was a blank screen. With a groan I realized I’d forgotten to charge it.

A couple of hours later I was at Mary-Lou’s. “And even once it was charged there was nothing,” I said to her. “I’ve gone and filed that missing persons report with the police. They said they’d let me know right away if anything turns up.”

“Then that’s what they’ll do,” Mary-Lou said. “But I’m sure Tom is fine; he usually is.” She picked up a bucket of kitchen scraps by the back door. “Here, Mac, come out to the barn; there’s something you’ve got to see.” She led the way out into the yard and through a side door into her poultry barn. “It’s been a weird day, I can tell you that much! Careful, stay back a bit—they can be nasty.”


“My Chinese geese,” she replied, pointing at a flock of large white birds on the other side of the barn. “Would you believe it—all six of them were laying this morning! I’m not sure what’s gotten into them—usually they don’t lay at all this time of year, but today, the whole gaggle!”

The big white birds waddled towards us, the orange hump over top of their bills making them look just a bit menacing as they honked at us. I took a picture of them anyway.

“Oh shoo!” Mary-Lou said to the geese. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, you silly things.” She put the scraps into the feeding trough the birds all shared, and while they were busy rooting through their treats, she ran her hand under some straw in the corner of the room. “Gotcha!” She drew out a large egg, almost as big as her hand. “There, that was the last one; I think I’ve got them all now. I don’t want the ducks sitting on them yet; it’s far too cold for raising goslings this time of year.”

As we walked back to Mary-Lou’s house, I absentmindedly thumbed through the photos on my phone. The geese—all six of them. The five rings at Engelhard’s. Four birds at Lilian’s feeder, calling to each other. Mary-Lou’s three French hens. Lilian’s two mourning doves, which she called turtle doves. And there, in my parents’ backyard, the partridge in the pear tree.

“Mary-Lou…” I held out the phone to her.

“What?” She took the phone and looked at it. “You already showed me that; it’s the text from Tom that we can’t figure out.”

I snatched back the phone. “Wait—no, that’s not what I meant to show you, my finger must have slipped. But…” I stared down at the text. “Twelve Days of Christmas? The whole thing? Mary-Lou—he means the song. There’s something about that song. And I’ve seen it—every single day since Christmas Day. One item every day. So where is he? What the heck is going on?”

To be continued…

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

#TheTwelveDaysOfChristmas: The Fifth Day

The Twelve Days of Christmas:

A Christmastide Tale in Twelve Instalments. With Elves.

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Fifth Day of Christmas

I had to work again the next day. Usually I turn off my phone while I’m working; it’s not cool to have the phone ringing while you’re talking to a customer or, worse, while you’re measuring out pills for a prescription. Pharmacy techs can’t afford to get distracted. But that day, I kept the phone on.

Still no word from Tom.

To distract myself from my—well, I wouldn’t say worries, but let’s call them concerns, I stopped in at Engelhard’s on the way home from work. Engelhard’s is a clockmaker’s and jeweller’s. That’s right, even in a town so small that our shopping is restricted to a grocery store, a drug store and a second-hand book shop, we have our very own jeweller. Old Mr. Engelhard came over from “ze Old Vorld”, as he was fond of pointing out, where he properly learned his trade “back in ze olden days”. Now the shop is run by Young Mr. Engelhard, or, as everyone calls him, Joe, who is about sixty-five. But for all he keeps up his father’s old-world business practices, he added on the tech savvy of a much younger man. Among other things, he’s expanded the shop into an online mail-order business, and he is servicing people’s cuckoo clocks from as far away as Toronto. He loves his work so much, he’s even there on a Sunday—only open for six hours, though, which counts as downright slacking off for him.

What drew me to Engelhard’s was, I’m embarrassed to say, the rings. For a while now, I’d been eyeing up their selection of engagement rings. I’d never actually gone so far as to bring Tom into the store to show him—I’m not quite that un-subtle—but there’s no harm in dreaming, is there?

However, it had been a mistake to look at the rings that day. All it did was to keep Tom at the forefront of my mind, which was exactly the opposite of what I was trying to do.

I let me eye travel over the familiar contents of the glass case. But wait—not all of it was familiar! It seemed that over Christmas, Joe had brought in a couple of new rings. There they were, sparkling against the black velvet of the display: five classic gold rings, the diamonds glittering in their settings. I pulled out my phone. “Do you mind?” I asked Joe, gesturing with the phone.

“No, no, you go right ahead. Make sure you tag us on Facebook if you post the picture.”

I chuckled. “I’ll be sure to do that,” I said and snapped the photo. “You’ve sold the princess-cut, I see.”

“Yes, I did that. Just before Christmas, it was.”

“Who to, I wonder?”

Joe smiled. “Now that would be telling,” he said with a wink.

Oh. Did he mean…?

No. No, this wasn’t helping. I had to get my mind off Tom.

The bell over the door of the shop tinkled, and Joe and I both turned to see who had come in. My jaw dropped. The guy who walked into the store was the most handsome man I had ever seen. Dark hair like Tom’s crisply curling back from his broad forehead; silver-grey eyes with laugh lines at the corners (except that he seemed too young to have lines in his face); high cheekbones and a jaw so chiselled it was downright stereotypical. He dusted fresh snow off his broad shoulders—was it snowing again?—then turned a blindingly white smile on me that made me go weak at the knees.

“Hi!” he said in a sonorous baritone, “I hear this is the place to get rings?”

“I, um, uh,” I stuttered, my mouth dry. Then I pulled myself together and pointed at Joe. “Mr. Engelhard is the one to ask. I don’t, uh, belong here.”

“Ah. That, I find hard to believe. This is a place for beauty.” The man gave me another dazzling smile.

“What can I do for you?” Joe put in.

I beat a retreat. What had come over me, going weak at the knees like that, staring at this guy? I’d seen handsome men before… But there was something about this one, something that drew me… Who was this man?

To be continued…

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

#TheTwelveDaysOfChristmas: The Fourth Day

The Twelve Days of Christmas:

A Christmastide Tale in Twelve Instalments. With Elves.

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Fourth Day of Christmas

 I couldn’t get through to Tom. None of my texts got a response. I had to go back to work on the 28th, so I didn’t have time to go running around looking for him. I’d stopped in at the police station on the way home from Mary-Lou’s to at least ask what it takes to file a missing persons report, but they’d already shut up shop for the weekend.

And besides, Tom was supposed to be at work in the mine, right? I tried to call Herb, the foreman, but couldn’t get a hold of him. I told myself that the fact that he hadn’t called back about Tom not showing up was a good sign. But just on the off-chance that Lilian had heard something, I dropped by her place in the afternoon when I got off work.

“Bohemian waxwings!” she greeted me by the door. “Just imagine!”

I was a little taken aback. Bohemian what?

“At my feeder!” Lilian gushed. “This morning!”

Oh. More birds.

“That’s nice,” I said. “Have you heard from Tom?”

“No, why?” She didn’t even pause for me to answer. “If I don’t get Birder of the Month for this… They were sitting there, one on either side of the feeder, calling to each other! That’s what tipped me off; they sound really different from, say, the Cedar waxwings! Here, look—” She picked up her little point-and-shoot digital camera. “I took a video!”

She brought up her picture gallery and booted up the video. It showed a couple of sleek, taupe-coloured birds with blush-red faces, bars of black streaking back from the beaks over their eyes to the funny little crests on the tops of their heads. They flapped their black-and-yellow-tipped wings at each other and chirped, hopping back and forth.

“They were right here!” Lilian said, pulling me by the sleeve over to the patio door. “See, there—” She gave a little scream. “They’re here again! Look, just look! There’s four now! I’ve never, never…” She was practically hyperventilating.

It was pretty cool, I had to admit. The birds were even more beautiful in real life than on her little video, and she was right, they sat there calling out to each other, almost like they were having a conversation. I took a quick picture on my phone, and caught them just as they took flight. Yes, I’d got them all in the frame.

But there had been something… “Could I see your video again for a minute?”

“Sure. Aren’t they gorgeous?” Lilian handed me her camera.

There! That’s what it was—there was a person in the background of her little movie! Kind of blurry and small, just visible through the slats of her patio railing—it looked like a woman with long blonde hair. I didn’t recognize her, but she was staring at the house with a strange expression on her face. Greedy.

“Who’s this?” I rewound the video clip a bit and set it playing again. “There, that person in the background?”

Lilian took the camera out of my hand and peered at the screen at arm’s length. “Can’t say I… Wait a moment!” She picked up her reading glasses, which hung on a chain around her neck, and perched them on her nose. “Ah! Kind of hard to see, but that’s that lady Tom was talking to a couple of days ago. You know, the one from out at—”

“—at Carson’s Landing, yes, I remember.” Maybe it was time to contact this woman, after all.  She was the last person I knew for a fact had talked to Tom. And that look on her face, in spite of the blurriness of the image, sent a shiver down my spine.

To be continued…

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

#TheTwelveDaysOfChristmas: The Third Day

The Twelve Days of Christmas:

A Christmastide Tale in Twelve Instalments. With Elves.

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Third Day of Christmas

Mary-Lou didn’t think so either when I talked to her. We have an affinity—we bonded over both of us being named Mary-Something. My full name is Mary-Claire, which I think makes me sound like either a Southern belle or a Catholic nun. Fortunately nobody but my grandmother has ever called me anything but the short version.

“No, Mac,” said Mary-Lou, who had known Tom all his life. “He’s not a cheat. He won’t pull an Eldon; the only vanishing tricks he does are slight-of-hand in his magic shows.”

“Pulling an Eldon”—now there’s a local phrase for you. Until Mary-Lou said it, I hadn’t even realized that that’s what I was worried about. It referred to Eldon “Elvis” Lynn, who disappeared in 1971, which his old girlfriend Celia Whitewell would tell anyone who was willing to listen and a few other people besides. The town thought that most likely he’d just run off with another woman; there were rumours of a pretty blonde he’d been seen with just before he vanished. And as he’d been an Elvis impersonator—his party piece that year being Elvis’ new release “I’ll Be Home on Christmas Day”—he’d had his fair share of groupies. But Celia wasn’t having any of it. It was kind of sad: nearly fifty years later she was still waiting for Eldon to come back, kept doing her now-grey hair in a Priscilla Presley style because she thought he would like it, and wouldn’t hear a word against him. He was kidnapped, she insisted. By what—aliens? This time of year she always got worse than usual because it was around Christmas that he’d vanished. She should really just accept that Eldon had left her and skipped town.

But then… For the first time I got an inkling of where she was coming from. I still hadn’t heard from Tom, and it was now going on three days.

“Are you sure Tom hasn’t just gone AWOL or something?” I said.

“Sure I’m sure,” Mary-Lou said comfortably. “I’ve known the guy since Kindergarten, remember.”

We were out in her barn, where she was feeding her chickens. Mary-Lou collects fancy breeds of farmyard fowl.

“Why do you think he hasn’t texted?” I said, absentmindedly staring at a fat white chicken. It had a brown back that had the most comical ruff of feathers around its neck, like people in seventeenth-century paintings, and even funnier “socks” on its feet, as if it was wearing pants with long lace cuffs peeping out of the leg bottoms.

“Oh, you know him. Communication isn’t his strong suit.” Mary-Lou scattered another handful of chicken feed, and two more of those funny-looking chickens with the neck ruffs came running up, clucking madly. Mary-Lou chuckled at the sight of them. “Those are my newest girls,” she said proudly. “I got them for Christmas. They’re Faverelles; it’s a French breed—supposed to be good layers.” She checked the level of water in the watering dish. “Didn’t you say Tom did send you a text?”

“Just the once, on Christmas Eve, but I can’t make heads or tails of it.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket, thumbed open the message, and held it out to her.

She took a look and shook her head. “No, makes no sense to me either,” she said. “Maybe he meant that he’s going to be gone for twelve days this time?”

“Maybe.” I pulled my shoe out of the way of the pecking beak of one of Mary-Lou’s fancy new beruffled chickens. “I just wish he’d have said so.” Now all three of the French hens were clustered around my feet. I turned on the phone camera and snapped a photo; they were such funny-looking things.

Suddenly my phone buzzed in my hand. Tom!

pls keep tryi

I lv u

What on earth was going on?

To be continued…

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

#TheTwelveDaysOfChristmas: The Second Day

The Twelve Days of Christmas:

A Christmastide Tale in Twelve Instalments. With Elves.


The Second Day of Christmas

I went over to Tom’s house first thing in the morning on Boxing Day, before it was even light—not that that means much this time of year; sunrise doesn’t come until almost nine o’clock. His truck wasn’t parked at the curb where he usually leaves it. I used the key he’d hidden on top of the lintel—he figured that was safer than under the door mat—and let myself into his basement suite.

There was no sign of Tom. The bed looked slept in, but that didn’t mean anything—he never made it, so it always looked slept in. The real clue was the coffee maker. The dregs in the bottom were stone-cold, so he definitely had not been home that morning; he would never leave the house without at least one cup of fresh-brewed coffee.

A while ago, he had been making some vague noises about going ice fishing on Boxing Day with a buddy—I couldn’t remember who—but surely he would at least have let me know?

I checked the time on my phone. Seven thirty—I could probably get away with going upstairs to talk to his landlady.

“No, haven’t seen Tom,” Lilian, who was still in her housecoat, said cheerfully. “Not since Christmas Eve morning. But guess what I did see?” Suddenly she gasped. “There! There they are again!” She rushed towards her patio door, then stopped a few feet short of it and crept slowly closer, waving at me to follow.

“Look!” she whispered, pointing out the door. “A pair of turtle doves!”

Through the door I could hear the distinctive hooting call of the grey-brown birds that were perched on the edge of Lilian’s bird feeder. I knew that hoot well, as Tom liked to copy it—he could make all sorts of noises by blowing into his cupped hands. He tried to teach me, but I could never pull it off. I have to stick with beatboxing, which I’m not too bad at, even if I do say it myself.

“I saw them yesterday, during the Christmas bird count!” Lilian said, enraptured. “They don’t usually stay around for the winter, but this year they did! They’re so beautiful! I had to list them as mourning doves, of course; that’s what they insist on calling them in the records—but my family’s always called them turtle doves. Two turtle doves—that’s really unusual this time of year. Maybe I’ll win birder of the month with that!”

“Nice,” I said, pulled out my phone and shook it to open the camera. Even in the low early morning light the birds came out clearly in the photo; that could be nice on Instagram. “So, look,” I said, “could you do me a favour and let me know if you hear from Tom?”

“Oh, sure.” She nodded, her dyed red curls bobbing. “Maybe that lady out at Carson’s Landing knows something; I think that’s who he was talking to Tuesday morning.”

“What lady?”

Her eyes were back on the birds out on the patio, and she answered absentmindedly.

“Oh, you know, that sexy one in the fancy new house they built at Jimbo Carson’s old place. Her and Tom were standing out by the street, and Tom looked real smitten with her. Oops—I didn’t mean…” She looked around at me and giggled sheepishly. “I’m sure he isn’t—didn’t—”

No, probably not. Tom wouldn’t cheat on me—would he?

To be continued…

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

#TheTwelveDaysOfChristmas: The First Day

The Twelve Days of Christmas:

A Christmastide Tale in Twelve Instalments. With Elves.

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The First Day of Christmas 

If you think that elves are small, cute, cheerful creatures with pointy ears, green hats, and jingle bells on the hems of their shirts, do yourself a favour: think again. Mind you, I can understand how you would come to such a conclusion, especially at this time of year—even our small town has a Santa in front of the grocery store with those little green guys flocking around him, luring small children to sit on his knee. Luring them—that’s about the only way in which the cheesy Christmas elves resemble the real thing.

I don’t know if it would have helped Tom any if he had known what elves are really like, that Christmas Eve he disappeared.

Tom Rimer is—well, was—my boyfriend. We had made tentative plans for him to pick me up from my place so we could go up the valley to spend Christmas Eve with my family; on Christmas Day he was on the early shift in Lord’s Mine.

He didn’t show up. I wasn’t too surprised—Tom’s a good guy, but not the most punctual; he tends to lose track of time.

However, when half an hour after he was supposed to have been there he was still a no-show with no communication on whether he was coming or not, I was getting a little miffed. After an hour, I was fuming. I’d tried calling him about three times, but the cell reception isn’t the best around here, so I didn’t get through.

I reached for my phone one more time and was just starting to type out yet another irate message, when my phone pinged and a text from Tom popped up on my screen.

12 days xmas” it said, “has 2B the whole thi


else I’m stuck here

pls try!!!

Say what? Tom is prone to being cryptic with his texting, but this was a bit much.

???” I texted back, then, “Where r u?

But there was no response—it was almost like I could hear the texts falling into the silence of an empty room. I gave up.

Leaving without you,” I texted, “c u Saturday

The next afternoon—Christmas Day—was when it started up.

“Look at this, Mac,” my mom called out, “come over here!”

I stepped over next to her by the living room window and looked out into the snow-covered yard. The Bosc pear tree still had a few forlorn brown fruits dangling from its highest branches where Dad hadn’t been able to reach them—plus, he always said, leave some for the critters, they need to live too.

In this case it looked like the critter in question was a small, round bird, perched on the spreading lower branches of the tree.

“That’s a big quail,” I said. “I didn’t know they like sitting in trees. And where’s the rest of the flock?”

“It’s not a quail,” Mom said, “it’s a partridge. Get it?”

Oh, cute. A partridge in a pear tree.

I reached for my cell, shook it to open the camera—it’s one of the features I like about that phone—snapped a picture, and texted it to Tom along with a pointed “See what you’re missing?

I never got a response, but as I figured he was at work I wasn’t too worried. Unfortunately.

When I got home late that night, I found a message on the answering machine of my landline.

“Hey, this is Herb. Trying to get a hold of Tom; he didn’t show up for work today. Tell him to get in touch, would you?”

To be continued…

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
this and that

The Twelve Days of Christmas…

…start tomorrow, Christmas Day. Twelfth Night, which is one of my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays (especially the 1996 film version with Imogen Stubbs, Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley), was written for a Twelfth Night party, the celebration to mark the end of the twelve days of jollification that in Ye Olde England(e) was the true period of Christmas.

Incidentally, I was just listening to Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and he mentions the Twelfth Night party, too, when the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge around to see people celebrating:

…the Christmas Holidays appeared to be condensed into the space of time they passed together. It was strange, too, that while Scrooge remained unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly older. Scrooge had observed this change, but never spoke of it, until they left a children’s Twelfth Night party, when, looking at the Spirit as they stood together in an open place, he noticed that its hair was grey.

(from The Christmas Carol on Project Gutenberg)

Unlike in most film adaptations of the story, the Ghost of Christmas Present doesn’t just give Scrooge a single day’s worth of celebration, but good ol’ Ebenezer gets a condensed version of a span of almost two weeks. If that hadn’t cured him of his bah-humbuggery, there really wouldn’t have been any hope for him.

So, remember I said there’d be a surprise coming your way? It’s a twelve day long surprise! And it starts tomorrow…

Life, the Universe, and a Christmas Surprise! Just one more sleep…

amovitam_Christmas Ornament



Two More Days!

Two more days to the Christmas Surprise! On Christmas Day, there’ll be something coming your way… [humming a well-known song]

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of this year’s Christmas bush (note the treetop star in the middle, cause that’s where the top of the trunk is). Move over, Charlie Brown, you had nothing on us.

Two more sleeps!



#SweetSaturday: Springerle


We finally got around to baking this year’s Springerle (Shpring-er-la) – “Little Jumpers”. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

They’re a cookie that’s unique to Swabia, the South-Western region of Germany around Stuttgart. The dough consists of eggs, flour, icing sugar and just a pinch of hartshorn salt (ammonium carbonate)*, and the cookies are made by pressing the dough into carved wooden molds, letting them dry overnight, then in the morning brushing the bottoms with water and baking them at a fairly low heat. The dried-out surfaces are firm and hold the image, while the bottom expands straight up – they “jump up” to twice their height, hence the name.





My grandmother always made them and sent us some, and when she passed away more than twenty years ago, I asked for her molds. I already had some molds I got from my mother, who wasn’t using them; one of them, a double mold with a squirrel and a strawberry, had come from a great-great-aunt, and it has her name and “1909” written on the back. My grandmother’s also have her last name pencilled on the back.

The reason for labelling them is the (now mostly lost) custom of Springerle-baking evenings: a little bit like quilting bees, where all the women in a village would get together to bake Springerle, sharing the molds, so that everyone could get a good variety of images. The men, in the meantime, would sit around carving new molds out of hardwood.



As I said, some of my molds are 110 years old; others are much newer, labelled with my name and the name of my daughter and the date just a few years ago, acquired on one of our trips. My favourites are the Father Christmas and the goose girl, which are among the antique ones – no date on them, but they might be the same vintage as the squirrel/strawberry. When the goose girl turns out well, you can see the tiny imprints of the grain kernels she’s scattering for the goose at her feet! (Hmm, actually, now that I look closely – that’s not a goose, it’s a chicken. And here I’ve been calling that mold “the goose girl” all these years, after my best-disliked fairy tale.)



Springerle are actually not the tastiest of cookies – they’re kind of bland and mostly sugary. Also, you’re supposed to bake them much earlier in the season (I’m about four weeks behind this year), and they go rock-hard in storage and are best eaten as “dunkers”, rather like biscotti. But because of that, they don’t need to be kept in airtight containers; in fact, if you want, you can poke holes into them before baking, and then put a ribbon through them and hang them on the Christmas tree. After Christmas you get to “plunder the tree” and eat all the edibles that have been hanging on it.

Another one of my favourite molds is the grape. The reason I love that one is because it was the one that Oma liked best, and it has her name on the back. The bag of cookies she’d send us always had one or two of those in it.

Christmas traditions tie me to my past, to my history. And now that I’ve been baking Springerle for several decades myself, they have become part of my family’s tradition, too. The word “tradition” comes from Latin “tradere”, “to hand on”. My molds were handed on to me by forebears, and my daughter already has dibs on inheriting them when I go.

Now that is sweet.


For those who’re wondering, here’s the actual recipe. You probably don’t have any antique wooden molds to make them with, but maybe you can find something else to imprint the tops with?


4 lg. Eggs

500g Powdered (Icing) Sugar

500g White Flour

1 knife-tip (=1/8 tsp) Hartshorn Salt* (aka ammonium bicarbonate, smelling salts, etc.)

Beat the eggs and icing sugar until very fluffy; stir the hartshorn salt into the sifted flour and mix into the egg & sugar, knead into a smooth dough. Form into a ball and let rest for 1 hr.

Roll out ca. 1cm thick, cut into little squares. Dust the molds with flour, press dough into it, trim the edges. Poke in holes with a toothpick for hanging up, if you want.**

Lay onto a cookie sheet overnight to let the tops dry and the designs “set”. In the morning, brush bottoms with water, put on a greased cookie sheet (the recipe calls for sprinkling it with ground anise, but I don’t, because I don’t care for the flavour). Bake in preheated 150-160°C (200-210°F) oven for 18-22 minutes. They’re supposed to “spring up” and have “feet”, but stay nice & pale.

Store in cookie tins or hang on the Christmas tree.

Beware of the first bite once they’ve sat for a while; you might chip a tooth. The best tooth to attack it with is your eyetooth, the sharper the better. Or else, dunk them into your afternoon coffee or Christmas Eve mulled wine.

Frohe Weihnachten!

*Hartshorn salt: I get it in a German deli; I’m not sure what you could substitute it with if you don’t have access to one of those. It’s extremely volatile stuff – it comes in little pouches, and once or twice when the pouch wasn’t properly closed after using the tiny pinch required for the recipe, I’ve had the remainder evaporate on me between one year and the next.

**When you’re cleaning up, do not get the molds wet, or they’ll crack. Brush out any stuck-on dough with a stiff dry brush (I use a toothbrush that’s reserved for this purpose) and maybe scrape out the design with a knife tip or a toothpick.