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Saturday 11 December 1999

A tradition continues

Steele Line Ladies celebrate friendship and the season with laughter, wine and holiday wreaths

Katharine Fletcher
The Ottawa Citizen

The best way I know to vanquish life's stresses and strains is to gather with friends for laughter, fellowship, a glue gun and boughs to make a Christmas wreath.

We six, the Steele Line Ladies, have been celebrating the holiday season for four years, exchanging stories, laughing and celebrating the season by making Christmas wreaths.

Last Sunday, we gathered at Amber Walpole's farm, north of Quyon on the Steele Line Road.

The day before we went out, some singly, some in pairs, on our farms to collect natural decorations -- fresh spruce and pine cones of all sizes.

But it's Sunday when the fun truly starts. A giggle of girls, great goodies and the creation of our Christmas decorations prove an unbeatable combination to beat away family stresses and too many deadlines.

It all started four years ago while I chatted with Amber, my next-door neighbour. Would she be interested in getting together to make a wreath? Did she think our friends along "the Line" would join in?

She was keen and so it happened that our Christmas craft tradition started.

That first year, neighbours Linda Hobbs and Kathy Armitage joined us to hike about my property, gathering pine, balsam, hemlock and spruce boughs, silvery-gray milkweed, scarlet sumac seed pods and a host of other "weeds." From Amber's property, we cut cedar, and lengths of supple Virginia Creeper vine to form our wreath bases.

Thus armed, and surrounded with gaily coloured ribbons, garden shears and floral wire, we sat on my kitchen floor, creating our wreaths.

This year, laughter tumbled out as Amber, Kathy, Linda and I recalled how very hard that kitchen floor was.

When the second year rolled around, Amber hit upon the grand notion of asking her husband, cabinetmaker Chuck Lalonde, to let us use his workshop. Please.

Heat, space, tables ... who could ask for anything more?

Chuck didn't stand a chance.

So, last Sunday seven women, ages 18 to 47, took over Chuck's shop for our Steele Line Ladies' Christmas craft get-together. As we worked intently on our wreaths, trees, centrepieces and woven Christmas balls, I reflected on how truly simple it still is to create the warm magic of Christmas.

Affectionately, I surveyed my friends intently working.

Next to me was Elaine Gaudet, encouraging her young son Alexi, (our token male), to add more decoration to his silver-sprayed wreath. On the far side of our shared table, beyond the piles of pine cones, dried red chili peppers, goldenrod and evening primrose, Amber tweaked a burgundy bow to its perfect resting spot on her wreath.

Across the workshop, Kathy's 18-year-old daughter, Jaymie created a scarlet bow from red craft paper.

Next to her, Linda concentrated on her Christmas tree of pine boughs wired to a cone-shaped base made from an upside-down tomato cage.

Once its shape satisfied her, she adorned her tree with ribbons and sparkling garlands. We all realized we were admiring a terrific new Christmas idea.

Kathy quietly delivered one of her deadpan classics: "Go figure: we women have to go cut down a tree to build a perfect one." Laughter erupts. Another load of stress slips away.

As we tidied up, Linda suddenly piped up, "So, we'll see you all next Monday night?"

There's a collective, mock groan from us all.

You see, this year it is Linda's turn to host the sequel: the Steele Line Ladies' 5th Annual Christmas Baking Exchange. Another friend, Valerie Bridgeman, has been doing this near Shawville for years, but her baking circle was too full to include newcomers. "Start your own," she encouraged. So I did.

Every year since, we Steele Line Ladies gather to make wreathes and to trade cookies. We've even gathered at Kathy's home last year, to make Ukrainian Easter eggs. Happily, I suspect we'll join together at other times of the year, too, to learn other crafts.

But this Monday, we'll gather at Linda's farm to exchange our 12 dozen homemade cookies or squares, swap more stories, drink some wine -- and exchange news.

It's a wonderful way to welcome the true spirit of Christmas and stock up on the best cookies in the Pontiac.

Final note: it's easy to start your own circle. Just seed the thought. I'm sure it will grow on fertile ground.

Katharine Fletcher is still stressed, but finds time to laugh, bake and write from her West Quebec home.