Once upon a time, in the town of Mount Christmas, a group of young students were running around the gym at their school. Since it was the last day of class before the holidays, Miss Sophie had organized an escape game to get the children moving.
Using exercise mats, the teacher had divided the gym into several sections, one for each team. The first group to find all five clues would be able to break free from the evil elves’ workshop and warn Santa about the rebel reindeers’ plan to ruin Christmas. Plus, they would win a special prize.
The students ran between stacked gift boxes, crawled under strands of fairy lights, and jumped through giant wreaths.
Emma and her teammates had already collected three clues: the first was “the reindeer rebels”; the second was “with pieces of coal”; and the third clue was “for good children.” The team only needed two more clues to complete the warning, escape the workshop, and win the game.
Emma and her group scanned the area. There were still three places they could look: the Christmas ornament that hung from the ceiling, the trunk of elf disguises, and Santa’s list of naughty and nice children.
To speed up their search, the team decided to split up. Emma and Camille would check the ornament, Liam and Zoey would scan the list, and Enzo and Hugo would search through the trunk.
Emma and Camille rushed over to the ladder that led to the hanging decoration.
“You climb the ladder and I’ll cheer you on,” Emma told her partner.
“I hurt my wrist doing karate,” Camille replied. “I’d rather you go.”
Emma didn’t want to admit she was afraid of heights — and she definitely didn’t want to lose — so she began to climb the ladder. However, before she could reach the top, Emma stopped. She was frozen with fear!
Just then, the magical cardinal named Octave, who liked to help the residents of Mount Christmas, landed on the rung above her.
“Don’t look down, Emma. Just stare at the Christmas ornament,” he advised. “Think about how you’re getting closer to the top rather than further from the ground.”
“Don’t look down,” she repeated to herself. Emma took a deep breath, looked straight at the ornament, and continued her climb as Octave and Camille encouraged her from below. Soon, she reached the top and spotted a piece of paper attached to the decoration. The clue read: “have replaced.”
Emma was so proud of herself. She carefully climbed down and rejoined Camille just as Enzo and Hugo ran over holding their own clue. It read: “the gifts.”
The teammates could barely contain their excitement as they placed the five clues in a line on the floor.
“The reindeer rebels with pieces of coal for good children have replaced their gifts,” Zoey read. “That doesn’t make any sense!”
“I think we have to put the clues in the right order,” Liam suggested.
After a moment of reflection, the kids rearranged the clues and called out to their teacher. Miss Sophie rushed over and together the six friends shouted:
“The reindeer rebels have replaced the gifts for good children with pieces of coal!”
“Congratulations,” Miss Sophie exclaimed. “You’re the first team to break free!”
Emma was overjoyed. Once all the teams finished the game, the winners received their prize. It was tickets to the annual Mount Christmas figure skating show and coupons for free hot chocolates with marshmallows!
Holding her prize close to her heart, Emma silently thanked Octave as he flew out of the gym, whistling merrily as he went.
By Sarah Beauregard and Johannie Dufour / Translated by Katya Teague
Great love letters endure
Love — mysterious, forbidden, secret, new love, and old — inspired some of the greatest letters ever written, notes so grand they are still treasured today.
Longest-lasting love letter – Arguably the greatest love letter has been read for literally thousands of years: The Song of Solomon, which appears in the Old Testament of the Bible. Written in 600 BC to one of his 700 wives, King Solomon writes: “…thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes … How much better is thy love than wine!”
Tormented love – A 17th-century Portuguese nun, Mariana of Alcoforado, wrote broken-hearted letters to her lover of two years: the scoundrel Noel Bouton, Marquis de Chamilly. Proving himself a cad, Bouton published the letters, thus creating a new word in French for love letter: Portugals. One of Mariana’s lamentations: “… all my pleasure is in repeating your name a thousand times a day. Some nuns, who know the deplorable state to which you have reduced me, speak to me of you. I leave this room you visited so often as little as I may, and spend all my time gazing on your portrait, which I love a thousand times more than my own life.”
Mystery love – Scholars still debate the identity of Ludwig van Beethoven’s lover who, in 1812, he famously calls his ‘immortal (or eternal) beloved.’ It was a love not to be: “Even in bed my ideas yearn towards you, my Immortal Beloved, here and there joyfully, then again sadly, awaiting from Fate, whether it will listen to us.”
Presidential love – President Richard Nixon’s love for his wife Pat was well known. In the early years of their relationship, he writes to Pat, referring to himself in the third person: “…when the wind blows and the rains fall and the sun shines through the clouds (as it is now) he still resolves … that nothing so fine ever happened to him or anyone else as falling in love with Thee — my dearest heart.”
Comedian love – From bad-boy comedian George Carlin to his wife Sally Wade:
“Sallyburger, If you took the number of sub-atomic particles in the universe and multiplied that number times itself that many times; and then added the total number of microseconds since the beginning of time, times itself; and then added 803 — you would still have only the tiniest fraction of a billion-billionth percent of the amount of love I have for you. Love, your candle partner, the romantic Mr. Carlin, your eternal flame.”
Valentine’s Day trivia quiz
Test your knowledge with this fun Valentine’s Day quiz.
1. What Italian city receives thousands of cards addressed to Juliet every Valentine’s Day?
2. In Canada, you can find Love (the village) in what province?
a. British Columbia
2. According to the Greeting Card Association, approximately how many cards are exchanged on Valentine’s Day worldwide?
a. 250 million
b. 500 million
c. 750 million
d. 1 billion
3. What ancient pagan festival was once celebrated in Rome on February 14?
4. According to historians, the first valentine love letter was written in 1415 by an imprisoned duke. What language was it written in?
6. In the Middle Ages, what organ was associated with love?
a. The heart
b. The stomach
c. The liver
d. The kidneys
Answers: 1b, 2c, 3d, 4a, 5b, 6c
On the 12th day of Christmas: Much less fun.
One of the most fun stories of the Christmas season is that of the Three Kings visiting the baby Jesus, bringing him gifts.
That gift-giving day is on the calendar as the 12th day after Christmas, Jan. 6, just about the time when most of us are packing away the gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the year.
Some people undecorate on January 1. If decorations have been up since before Thanksgiving, removing them right after New Year’s Day is recommended. The neighbors are probably tired of your lighted Santa, reindeer, and trees. The real Christmas tree and wreaths are getting pretty dry by that time.
Still, many people are sad to see their outdoor and indoor decorations go and wait until the unofficial undecorating day of January 6.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that undecorating day is prime time for falls. The CDC urges using steady step stools and ladders when taking down outdoor and indoor decorations. Take your time. Use the same amount of care as when putting them up.
Here are a few tips from professional decorators:
* Take photos of inside decorations and groupings you especially like so you will have a guide for next year. Box the groupings together.
* Discard broken pieces and donate redundant pieces to a charity. If you have ample storage space, save the giveaways until next October before donating.
* Clean decorations before storing them. Dust shiny tree ornaments. Clean white cotton objects, like white lambs, with a toothbrush and then coat with cornstarch. Toss artificial poinsettias in a bag with a half cup of salt to move the dust.
* Store decorations thematically or in their original boxes. For tree ornaments, it can be convenient to store according to color. Next year it will be easier to choose colors for the tree.
* Put artificial trees in their original boxes to protect them for future use and for convenient storage.
* Store outdoor decorations together in the garage, basement, or attic.
6 clever tips for storing Christmas decorations
Are you tired of untangling Christmas lights and trying to salvage squashed ornaments when you decorate for the holidays? Here are six storage tips that can make things easier.
1. Insert strands of Christmas tree beads into separate plastic bottles
2. Wrap string lights around pieces of cardboard or empty wrapping paper rolls
3. Thread rolls of ribbon onto a paper towel holder
4. Place small Christmas tree ornaments in egg cartons
5. Bundle wrapping paper rolls in a garment bag
6. Hang wreaths on hangers in a closet
Once your decorations are organized, stow them in clear plastic bins so you can easily see what’s inside. Also, remember to label each container.
Red velvet bites
This bite-sized version of red velvet cake will allow your guests to sample all the desserts at your next holiday spread. You can count on these to be a crowd-pleaser.
Start to finish: 3 hours (1 hour active)
Servings: 40 bites
• 3 cups flour
• 1/2 cup cornstarch
• 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
• 4 large eggs
• 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
• 1-1/4 cups warm water
• 1/2 cup vegetable oil
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon white vinegar
• 2 tablespoons red food dye
• 4.5 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
• 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
• 2 cups icing sugar
• 28 ounces white chocolate
• 1/4 cup red decorative sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 7 by 11-inch baking dish. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, use a whisk or hand beater to mix the sugar, flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Add the eggs, buttermilk, warm water, vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, vinegar, and food dye. Blend until the mixture is uniform.
3. Pour the mixture into the baking dish, and bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool.
4. In a large bowl, blend the cream cheese, butter, and the rest of the vanilla. Slowly incorporate the icing sugar by blending at low speed until the mixture has a smooth, even texture. Set aside.
5. Once the cake has completely cooled, place it in a large bowl and use your hands to crumble it until it has the consistency of wet sand. Add about a 1/2 cup of the cream cheese icing to the cake at a time and mix well. The final texture should allow you to form balls that keep their shape.
6. With your hands, form 40 cake balls and squish them slightly to create a disc shape. Place the balls on a baking sheet, and put them in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
7. In the meantime, melt the white chocolate using a double boiler or water bath. Let the chocolate cool slightly while ensuring it remains a liquid. Using a fork, dip each cake ball into the chocolate, so they’re completely coated. Place the balls on a baking sheet and immediately sprinkle the decorative sugar. Put the balls in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the chocolate to harden.
Does a high-spirited holiday season leave you feeling exhausted? This vibrant and refreshing drink is packed with vitamins that will give you the energy boost you need to continue celebrating.
Start to finish: 1 hour 30 minutes
(30 minutes active)
Servings: 8 small portions
For the gazpacho
• 1 cup croutons
• 2 large ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded and cubed
• 1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
• 1 red pepper, seeded
• 1/2 red onion, cubed
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
• 2 cups tomato juice
• 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon sugar
• Salt and pepper, to taste
For the garnish
• 1 small tomato, seeded and cubed
• 1 Lebanese cucumber, seeded and cubed
• 1/2 red pepper, seeded and cubed
• Sea salt, to taste
• 16 fresh basil leaves
1. In a small bowl, place the croutons and add 1/2 cup of room temperature water. Set aside.
2. In a blender, purée the tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, onion, and garlic. Drain the croutons and add them along with the tomato juice, vinegar, oil, and spices. Continue to blend until the mixture has a smooth, uniform texture. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
3. To serve, pour the gazpacho into shooters or small verrine-style glasses. In a small bowl, mix the chopped tomato, cucumber, and pepper. Top each glass with about 1 tablespoon of the vegetable mixture. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over each and garnish with 2 basil leaves.