MANCHESTER >> "The ornaments are the first thing I would save in a fire." So begins local author Ellen Stimson's new book, "An Old Fashioned Christmas," just named one of the twenty best books of November by the American Booksellers Association.
The illustrated memoir features Stimson's trademark quirky humor amid beautiful color photography of her beloved Vermont. Natalie Stultz, award winning Burlington photographer, showcases the natural beauty of the area next to gorgeous food photography and pictures of those famed Stimson family ornaments.
There are many local attractions featured in a section aimed at folks who might want a Vermont Christmas of their very own. Stimson weaves stories of her family traditions along with nearly one hundred wintry recipes, some, like her husband's Slovak Grandmother's Famous Nutroll, handed down through five generations.
Each chapter is bound by pictures of the Christmas ornaments collected over twenty-eight years in a family tradition Stimson calls "Christmas Adventure". It's how the family kicks off the holiday, traveling somewhere the first weekend in December, when everyone gets one new ornament each. These ornaments tell the story of their family's lives. Stimson is a master at making her families' memories remind you of yours. But don't expect a sappy family Christmas story.
"Christmas is a time for magic and generosity and love and all that other good and worthwhile stuff, but let's face it, it can also be a time for getting really good and mad. Christmas is big and roomy. It can hold it all."
She then goes on to tell a funny story about a Christmas when her mother-in-law was visiting along with various exes and extended family and no one was behaving just perfectly. But then comes this bit about Christmas Eve:
"Christmas is more of a feeling than it is anything else. But it moves so fast. Some years it can feel like it is getting away from you. There is too much ...You can't get ahold of it. All you can do is feel as it blows over you. Time won't slow down. But I've learned to expect more out of life than just this jumbled rush of feeling at Christmas. So here's a secret. There is a moment — probably sometime around midnight on Christmas Eve — when time stops. The whole world takes a breath, just at that one moment, and everything feels divine."
Such juxtaposition has led the Boston Globe to note that Stimson "reads like Erma Bombeck meets E.B. White (with a dash of Elizabeth Gilbert thrown in). She's a natural storyteller and openhearted lover of her family, her animals, her big chaotic life."
Locals will get to hear Stimson regale them this week at the Northshire Bookstore on Saturday Nov. 21 at 5:30 p.m. There will be a Holiday cookie contest judged by Stimson as well as local Chef, Bonnie Bruce from Up For Breakfast, Abby Lecthaler proprietor of The Downtown Grocery in Ludlow, and Lindsay Martin of Small Batch Granola, all featured in the book. Prizes include bookstore and restaurant gift certificates. Bring a dozen of you favorite cookie, have a glass of champagne and swap a holiday story or two.