Advent, My Way #16

IMG_4003Christmas candy.

Christmas and candy.

Candy and Christmas.

For good or ill, Christmas and candy will forever be associated in my mind.

When I was small, my grandmother made her homemade caramels only at Christmastime. We kids all loved those caramels and were more than happy to help with the chore of wrapping each one in a small square of waxed paper. We knew that sampling and tasting and snitching would be part of the game.

By the time I was in graduate school and then working my first job, I was making the Christmas caramels. I had my grandmother’s recipe and a lot of sentiment, and no candy-making experience.

Because the recipe said to add the butter “bit by bit” and the milk “drop by drop,” I did just that. Because I was afraid of burning the mix or letting it go too long and get too hard, I cooked the syrup VERY slowly and believed I had to stir constantly.

For three hours or more.

I would sit on a kitchen stool, next to the stove, and stir. I would try to avoid splatters of hot caramel falling on my skin—there’s no worse burn in the world! I would attempt to read while I stirred but was so tense about something going wrong that mostly I just obsessed.

Then, about 7 years ago, I decided I wanted to dip those caramels in chocolate—doesn’t that sound so good? I bought a book about candy making, found that tempering chocolate isn’t so hard and that dipping the caramels got easier with practice. And they were so good!

Well! Then I wanted to make all kinds of other candies and I started experimenting and having fun. When I retired, I decided that I needed to find an outlet for all the candy I was making—we couldn’t eat all of it, for heaven’s sake—so I began to sell candy on Etsy.

When I did that, Christmastime became, fully and intensely, candy season! I would sell odds and ends of candy from October through April but from mid-November until a week before Christmas, all I did was make candy.

I was buying a dozen huge 11-pounds bars of chocolate at a time. I had caramel making down to a near-science and had gotten a lot more sanguine about the process. I figured out I could double the batch and make about 400 caramels at a time, and it sure didn’t take three hours any more!

I made candy, I cut candy. I dipped candy pieces in chocolate. I chopped nuts and candy canes and dried fruits. I put all those little candies in little candy cups, put the candy cups in boxes, and put the boxes in bigger shipping boxes. I made address labels and return address labels and then begged my husband to drive to the post office.

So I could stay home and make more candy.

Sometimes, a good thing can go too far.

It was a lot of fun to make candy and I found it very gratifying that people loved it, this endeavor that all started with my grandmother’s caramels. Her caramels were my most popular items and I felt that validated her worth and honored her memory.

But for 5 years, Christmas was pretty much entirely about making candy.

We would fit in buying a wreath and getting those Santas out, to line up along the mantel, but I had no more time to think about our Christmas because I needed to make candy. Christmas was tense.

I’ve kept a journal for years and when I go back and read my entries from the last few Christmases, it’s apparent that mostly I just wanted the season to be over. Because I was tired and stressed and sick to death of chocolate, I wanted Christmas behind me.

Things are so different this year!

I made a decision that I was ready to limit the kinds of candy I make and stop doing holiday boutiques and stop promoting the Etsy shop. I have been offering candy on Etsy, in a minimal way, getting sales, but it’s all much mellower than it had been.

One of the things I no longer offer to customers, because of the time involved in making them, is my grandmother’s caramels. I haven’t made caramels this Christmas for the first time in probably 35 years.

That makes me a little sad but the year off will do me good. Already, I am enjoying this season more than I have in years because I have simply had the time to do things other than churn out more candy.

By next year, my intention is to be out of the candy-making business altogether. Then I will be able to make candy for fun again, to make the kinds that I like to make and that my family and friends like best.

Next year at Christmas, you will find me making caramels simply for the nostalgic pleasure of reliving happy moments from my childhood and honoring my grandmother’s memory.

And Christmas can be Christmas again.

44 thoughts on “Advent, My Way #16

  1. If something is no longer fun to do, and you don’t rely on the revenue to survive, then I say let it go. It sounds like the weaving works better with your life, as it’s spread more evenly over the year and you won’t get burned.

    • Well, and weaving is shiny and new and very much more intellectually engaging. Maybe in 5 more years, I’ll be on to something else . . . that sounds just like me. But I hope not.

  2. Ah, I’ve wondered about the candy this year, as you hadn’t mentioned it until now. When we find we’ve created obligations for ourselves that feel like *obligations* and not pleasures, it’s time to back away. Good choice, my dear. (And still I hope you’ll make one batch of caramels, just for you and loved ones.)

  3. I’m so glad you are having a stress free holiday! Your chocolate will be missed but we will survive.

    It’s 8 degrees here this morning with just a dusting of snow. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and feel like it too!

    • Oh, yes, you’ll survive the lack of spicy bark! It was minus 16 here when I got up yesterday, not counting wind chill! And tomorrow it’ll be in the mid-30s? So weird . . .

  4. Wise decision! and one that I similarly made regarding quilting. “Busy-ness”, even with enjoyable tasks, become overwhelming and usually end up stealing the very joy that brought us to them. Stepping back is definitely a good thing……….fits right in with the ‘trend’ of simplifying, destashing, “purging” all that stuff in the recesses of our abodes. It brings much satisfaction and peace to not only the one at the center but all those in our immediate world. I bid you “Peace”….with hugs…..

  5. I can relate! Everything has its season and its time…… and retirement is certainly not the time to stress over a season!! I have well meaning friends who encourage me to start marketing my art – I don’t want to become an entrepreneur, I just want to create stuff. Having to paint to order would take all the pleasure away. It seems you have re-found your balance – and the time to make us all happy with your ‘Advent , My Way’ posts. xoxo

    • I think there must be a happy medium between selling some of the things we are already wanting to make, in order to clear them out so we can make more, and getting caught up in making things to order, even if we don’t feel like it. The candy making swung one direction . . . But you’re right, I would never, ever have had the time to write all these blog posts in recent years!

  6. I had the same experience twice, with making my craft into a business: Waldorf dolls and knitting on commission…twice it killed the joy for me. You keep on making your nana’ caramels and sit it front of your fire with a box full and ‘mjumjumjum” with every mouth full . ( I don’t have a sweet tooth…so I do not mind anyways ;o)) xo Johanna

    • How did you know that I make the “mjumjumjum” noise when I eat??? I had to go look up Waldorf dolls–they are very cute! But we need to stick with joy and not let anything kill it for us!

    • My so-called “wonderful advent blog” has become its own kind of burden! But it has a set ending date and I only hope I can come up with the last few posts I need! Thanks for letting me know you like chewing on it!

  7. It’s good you know how to pull back. Sometimes something just takes over and you have to scale it or stop. I’ve often thought I’d like to have a little coffee shop and bake, but I know enough to realize that the baking would stop being a pleasure. So I bake for myself, family and friends. I will remember your toffee fondly!

  8. Good for you, Kerry. Knitting and spinning are my ‘off season’ craft, but also brings a bit of an income in during the winter. Still, my best days are when I’m knitting something for family or friends. This winter I am limited how many skeins I am spinning for sales. A whole lot less stress! Enjoy the holiday!!!

  9. You are so wise here. Several people have suggested I make the extra money I would like by sewing. Nope. I’m not that good and you are so right, it takes the joy out. You are one smart cookie. Love these posts. Now if I just had time to write one of my own. 😦

    • It *is* nice that I can walk away. If I really needed the money I would just have to slog along but that was never the reason I was doing it. Now I have more time to weave!

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