Close encounters of the Santa kind

by Beth Shepherd
( December 18th, 2014 )

This year, Little Bird made it known she really wanted to meet Santa Claus. Live and in person.

When I heard that Mr. Claus himself might make an appearance at her preschool excursion to see a children’s performance of the Nutcracker, I went along to help the two of them get acquainted. Plus, I really wanted to watch her greet Santa for the first time!

Overall this visit went much more smoothly than our visit with Santasquatch.  At first, Little Bird made several attempts—and retreats—before she landed in Santa’s lap.

Sitting in his lap was a BIG deal for a number of reasons, one of which is that Santa was the first exception we’ve made about hugging, kissing, or lap sitting with someone who is not family. In our household “Hugs are for family and high-fives are for friends.” She watched as most of her school friends went first. And then…

Touching Mr. Claus

 Check to see if he’s real. Yep.

Touching his left hand

Touch his left hand. So far, so good.

Touching his right hand

How about the right hand?

What is really behind all that white hair

Is he naughty or nice? Seems nice enough.

Is he naughty or nice


Merry Christmas to you Mr. Claus

So I have this question about the North Pole…


Take the road less traveled, Beth

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Celebrate Christmas and New Year the Armenian way

by Beth Shepherd
( December 16th, 2014 )

Armenian church and sky

Just about the time when most of us are taking down our Christmas trees and packing up our ornaments for next year, Armenia is ramping up for week of holiday festivities. In Armenia, Christmas falls on January 6th and Christmas Eve is celebrated the night before, January 5. This is because Armenians—for centuries—followed the Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.

Armenia was also first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion in AD 301, when they established the Armenian Apostolic Church. It wasn’t until 1582 when the Gregorian calendar was created. Most countries (including Armenia) now follow the Gregorian calendar, but a few Eastern Orthodox churches, like the Armenian church, still use the Julian calendar for calculating the dates of certain feasts. The Julian calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar and this is why Armenians observe Christmas on January 6.

And to make matters more confusing (but only for us westerners), Gaghant Baba (aka Santa Claus) comes to visit on December 31, bringing gifts to the children. Lighthearted celebrations, like those with Gaghant Baba, are kept separate from Christmas itself, which is revered as a solely religious holiday.

Armenian katchkar

Where the New Year is concerned, the 21st of March was the date Armenians were faithful to. For hundreds of years, this date marked New Year, the beginning of spring and the birthday of the mythical God Vahangn. It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that Armenia adopted January 1st as the official first day of the New Year.

For children, the New Year brings a lot of excitement. Many centuries ago, it was customary for children to gather together on New Year’s Eve and wander the streets of their village, singing songs to their neighbors, welcoming the New Year. In return, they received fruit as gifts.

Armenian church

These days Armenian families enjoy dried fruits, special pastries and cakes, some of which are only made at this time of year. Cakes might even have a coin hidden inside, bringing the finder good luck in the coming year. Dolma, grape leaves wrapped and stuffed with rice, are also part of the New Year’s feast.

Families in Armenia spend a fortune (I’ve read that the equivalent $700 US isn’t unusual) buying food to ensure there is always enough for anyone and everyone who might stop by. They readily open their homes and their hearts because—for Armenians—come on over to my house is what the season is really all about.

Armenian table with dolma


Take the road less traveled, Beth

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Rudolf’s relief workers: Sled dogs

by Beth Shepherd
( December 12th, 2014 )

Two weeks ago, when we visited Enchanted Winds Tree Farm, we got to meet two beautiful sled dogs, Maka and Cassie, who were visiting with their owners from Cle Elum, Washington. Sled dogs or sledge dogs are a distinct breed of dogs, known for their incredible running speed. These powerful dogs most likely evolved in Mongolia  30,000 years ago.When humans migrated to North America, almost 15,000 years ago, they brought their dogs with them. Dogs were an essential part of the Native American culture and were kept as pets, and used for help in traveling, protection, and hunting purposes.

In later years, when Europeans began to infringe on native territory, they also adopted the practice of using dogs. When the Gold Rush began in 1896, the number of miners hoping to find gold meant large numbers of travelers in highly inaccessible terrain during winter, when it was extremely difficult for humans to travel on foot. This is where sled dogs came to the rescue of travelers. Teams of dogs helped transport people, supplies, the injured and the ill, and even helped carry mail.

Archaeological evidence shows dog sledding in Canada, North America, and Siberia originated 4000 years ago. It is believed that dog sledding started in the arctic, because it is a region where no other form of transportation was possible. A team of six dogs could handle 500 to 700 pounds on one sled. Dog sledding history was made when in 1925 when Diphtheria broke out in the remote icebound village of Nome, Alaska. There was no road and aircraft could not land because of harsh winter climate. Sled dogs were used to retrieve serum from Nenana, and saved the small village of Nome from an incipient epidemic.

Sled dogs are amazing animals, renowned for their stamina, speed and ability to survive in the coldest and most inhospitable conditions. Which is why I sometimes wonder: Why doesn’t Santa use sled dogs instead of reindeer?

Sled dogs

Sled dog nose

Sled dog L'Chayim

Blue eyes pink nose

Old longings nomadic leap,
 Chafing at custom’s chain;
 Again from its brumal sleep
 Wakens the ferine  strain.

~Jack London, The Call of The Wild 

Take the road less traveled, Beth

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