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Welcome to stories from the village of nothing, much like easy listening, but for fiction. I'm Catherine Nikolai. I write and read all the stories you'll hear on the village of nothing much, with audio engineering and sound design by Bob Wittersheim, I have more short.


Stories that celebrate the holidays for you.


These stories come from my bedtime story podcast. Nothing much happens, and just by the name, you can tell a bit about.


How these stories work.


I love the bits of books that are just walking you through somebody's day, just telling you what was for dinner.


Or what movie someone saw, or that.


Feature a list of things. Gosh, I love a list. I find that kind of slice of life writing really relaxing and enjoyable. But it isn't often allowed to exist on its own, right? There's a cliffhanger coming or a crisis about to befall the protagonist.


And sometimes.


As a reader or a listener, I want to just linger in the simple details. So I decided to write stories in.


Which, well, nothing much happens, where I.


Could elevate daily life, lean into things.


That feel good because it helps me feel good.


And about 120,000,000 downloads later, I can say I'm not the only one who.


Enjoys this, but my listeners often fell.


Asleep within just a few minutes of hearing my sleep inducing voice. So we created this show. It's great to listen to when you're working around the house, when you're on a road trip or walking the dog, when you want to be reminded that there are still plenty of good things.


Happening in the world.


So welcome to the village of nothing much.


We hope you enjoy your stay.


To start off, let's take a big breath in through the nose.


And sigh.


From the mouth again. Breathe in and let it go.




Our stories today honor some holiday traditions, new and old, starting with city sidewalks, where we'll meet up with friends for a merry evening downtown. Next, we'll travel out to the country and visit Weathervane farm and their barn full of rescued goats and donkeys. Finally, we'll settle in front of the Christmas tree early on Christmas Eve and think of those dear to us on their way near to us.


City sidewalks.


I'd seen it up on the theater marquee the week before. I'd been coming out of the candy shop across the street with a bag full of peppermint starlights, and as I stopped to wrap my scarf twice around my neck, I saw on the sidewalk opposite a bundled up person with a telescoping pole carefully placing letters up on the wraparound marquee. Letters that spelled out the name of an old favorite Christmas movie. It was in black and white with a cast of elegant Hollywood stars, and I remembered watching it as a child every year with my family, like clockwork. Back then we rarely had a cabinet full of movies to watch, and I would scour the paper to see when it would air and mark it down on the calendar pinned to the back of the basement door. Specials then were truly special, and now I could watch it up on the big screen. I stood smiling up at the letters as they were slid into place and took a peppermint from the bag and unwrapped it from the cellophane. I placed the red and white swirl of candy on my tongue and pulled my hat a little lower over my ears.


I loved the feel of the cold air around me, the clean smell of the snow piled around the tree trunks and letter boxes, and the sweet, minty taste of the treat. That day I made a plan to pull together a few friends and make a date for a night at the movies. Now tonight was that night we'd met up by the city tree in the park. It must have been 30ft tall and was strung with big old fashioned bulbs in red, green, blue and orange. We had an hour till the movie started and we decided to take a slow walk through the park and down the few streets of our little village. The trees around the pond were wrapped with white lights and the street lamps were tied with huge red bows. We saw a line of kids and parents, their mitten hands clasped and swinging between them, waiting to step into a tiny house on the edge of the park. It had a banner strung between the street lamps above it, declaring that Santa was in residence. This evening we stopped at a streetcart and bought cups of cocoa and coffee. The storefronts were lit up and decorated for the season, and we took our time going from one to the next to catch every detail.


At the bookshop they'd built a Christmas tree by stacking books flat on top of one another in a slow spiral. As they rose, their spines turned out to entice you with all the stories yet to be read and covered in white lights. They'd also cut out snowflakes from pages of old books, the paper and antique yellow covered with sentences disappearing into the symmetrical designs. The record shop window had a display of players, starting with an old gramophone with a beautiful brass horn that was so shiny it might have been brand new. Laid out beside it was a timeline of the evolution of this machine, from phonograph to record player to the most modern turntable, in fact. The newest ones seemed to tip their hats to the older ones with small details in their designs, and around all of them records were carefully scattered or strung from wire hanging from the ceiling, calling back to moments and memories. Along the way we spotted a record we'd all owned in high school, and I was sure one of the players, one that closed up and could be carried like a suitcase, was the same one that my mother had had when she was young.


She'd passed it to me, and from time to time I opened it up and played the 45s tucked into the case's pocket. She'd written her initials on the labels as a young person to keep her siblings from swiping her favorites, and the pencil marks were still there. We sipped our drinks and walked on. The cafe on the corner was doing steady business, the booths all full as people raised glasses to toast and pointed out favorites on the menu. I watched a group at a table as a cake covered in lit candles was set in front of a blushing but smiling teenager. Their windows were ringed in twinkle lights, and each held a shining menorah with five candles burning. The toy shop had gone all out building a display with a fireplace set in a fictional living room. There were a dozen little ones crowded around it to look in at its tall Christmas tree with piles of wrapped presents all around. There was even a plate of cookie crumbs and a glass of mostly drunk milk and the heel of a shiny boot just visible inside the fireplace as St. Nick slipped up the chimney.


As we stood behind them, I found myself looking not at the display but at their faces reflected in the shop windows. Some were pointing, pressing fingers to the glass to call out some hoped for item, and some were silent, their eyes wide and moving slowly over the scene. I remembered a moment like this from my own childhood. It hadn't been the idea of so many gifts that had left me in awe. It had been seeing a world built into a window, a daydream made real that had made me stop in my snow boots and stare. If we can make dreams real, why don't we? Why save it for a window or a week? I must have gotten lost in my memories there for a while and found an arm threading itself through my elbow and a friend pulling me down the street at the bakery. The front window was filled with gingerbread houses, and as I looked at them I realized they were in fact a replica of the street we were standing on. There was the bookshop with its tree made of tiny biscuit books and there was the window of the record shop and an intricately iced row of minuscule record players.


The cafe held tables full of gingerbread customers and a matching menorah carefully showing five candles. The toy shop replica must have taken ages and a team of people to pull off with so many details to pipe into place. Snowy white royal icing pooled on the gingerbread sidewalk, and my eyes followed it down to the last stop in the sweet row of confections, the movie theater. We all spotted it at the same time, and I looked at my watch to see. We just had a few minutes till the movie started. Run, run, Rudolph. I called out to my friends as we linked arms and hurried down to the theater. Minutes later, we were settling into our seats, sharing popcorn and peppermints and waiting for the lights to go down. In the crowd around us, I spotted a few people with Santa hats and had a feeling most of us could recite this movie line by line. As we watched, our faces shining just like those of the kids looking into the toy shop window, I realized I was in that moment doing something I truly loved. And I'd built a habit over the years that when I caught myself in an instance of pure happiness, I'd take a slow, deliberate breath and be sure to be in my body, feeling the tingle of my own merriment to plug into my senses and soak up every drop of the experience.


When good things happen, it's important, even in small, simple ways, to notice them with our whole hearts. As the theater lights dimmed, my friend leaned across me, stealing a piece of popcorn and whispering in my ear, is this the one where Cary grant ice skates or the one with Zuzu's petals? Zuzu's petals, I whispered back, and we smiled up at the screen.


Holiday at Weathervane Farm.


Just hanging the lights would take a day, but I didn't mind at all. It was a special time of year, one that I looked forward to through the rainy days of spring, the summer heat, and especially as the leaves dried and fell on the drive up the road at night, when the farm came into sight and you saw the trees wrapped in white lights, their branches suddenly picked out against the dark sky, the roof line of the house and barn, and even the weather vein all glowing. Well, it made a day of work well worth it. And besides the beauty, it was a way to guide visitors. Our farm relied on the community to help us keep our rescued pigs and goats and donkeys in hay and feed for the winter. So a few years ago, we hatched an idea to bring them all together. It involved lots of twinkle lights, hot cocoa insider, and Santa hats with holes cut out for the long, floppy ears. After all, who wouldn't want to drive out to the country on a snowy December evening and be wished seasons bleedings by all the goats? A volunteer knitted giant Christmas sweaters for the donkeys.


Our oldest and sweetest dog, a slow moving pug who couldn't see too well, played Santa paws laying on the cushioned seat of a small sled in the barn where people could tell him what they wanted for Christmas and get their picture taken, he often snoozed through the whole thing. We strung mistletoe all around the pig's enclosure, and while no one had actually gone in for a kiss, those pigs did get quite a lot of belly rubs and treats. We found big yoga balls painted like Christmas ornaments, and the goats chased and tried to jump on them. Mostly, it was an excuse to bring people close to our animals and let them be reminded of how beautiful they were, how much they enjoyed their lives here, where they would never be in danger, where they would only know love, and that being part of giving that safety and love, well, that's an excellent way to celebrate this season. Over the years, we'd found a few ways to make the trip out to the country even more worthwhile. A Christmas tree farm down the road began donating wreaths and garlands, and now it was a regular part of the tradition for lots of people to get their front door wreath from Weathervane Farm.


We also had urns of hot cocoa and trays of donuts and Christmas cookies set around heaters on the front porch of the farmhouse and the tractor hitched to a wagon lined with hay bales to take folks out for rides through the snowy fields. So today, as I took boxes of lights and decorations out to the yard, I was already full of holiday spirit. I watched the ducks waddling off to the pond, which hadn't frozen over yet, to spend the day sunbathing on the bank. They called to each other as they went, and I sang out, honk the Herald angel, sing. It cracked me up. I looked down at the lights in my hands. I knew there was a system for this, where to start and a best way to proceed without getting the cords all tangled up, but I never remembered it. It was always a process of trial and error. So I just picked an outlet, plugged in a set of lights, and started to string them up. As I made my way around the backside of the barn, I looked out at the back pasture we'd had a new addition to weathervane a while back.


Well, two additions, actually. Our first cow, she'd come at the end of the summer in need of some medical care and skittish at first. We'd soon learned she was pregnant, and one early morning a few weeks passed, we'd found her with a beautiful, light brown, fuzzy calf laying in the straw. The vet had pronounced them both in good health and him in need of a name. I couldn't help myself. With his tan blonde fur and round belly, he was immediately dubbed Winnie the moo. Winnie and his mom were chewing in the pasture, and I stepped 1ft up onto the fence rail and leaned in to coo at them. Mom lifted her head to look at me, still unsure about all of us. It would take a while for her to trust, and that was fine. Winnie, never having known anything but safety, came right up to the fence, mom hurrying behind him to keep watch, and she let me reach out and give him a scratch along his neck. On the nights we had visitors, we'd take them to the smaller barn out back where they could bed down in the straw and have a bit of privacy.


Maybe some christmas they would want to don their reindeer antlers and join in the fun. But not this year. I went back to my work, adding more lights and big candy canes the size of Shepherd's hooks that stuck into the ground. We'd had a bit of snow the week before, but it had melted away within a day or two, and I was hoping for more before the festivities began. It certainly was getting colder. I was keeping warm with my work, but I noticed the ducks coming back early from their excursion to Nestle in at the barn. I heard a horn blowing down the long driveway and checked that all the gates were closed and walked down the drive to wave at a big truck. I recognized the wreaths were here, the yards and yards of garland made from easter white pine with its long, soft needles, and I noticed among all the greenery a tree bundled in twine stuck in with the rest. I could hear one of our donkeys braying in the yard, excited by a visitor, and I called out as they climbed from the truck, mule tide greetings. I got one of them to chuckle.


The other just shook his head and said, that's it. I'm taking your present back. What present? What did you bring me? And they hauled the huge Christmas tree out of the open bed and stood it up. It must have been 20ft tall. I grinned at them and they grinned back. Where should we put it? I laughed. Somewhere the goats won't knock it over, he said with a sigh.


Christmas Eve.


I'd woken up with that feeling of vague specialness. Something was happening. There was something to feel excited about. I lay still for a few moments, and then I smiled into my pillow. It was Christmas Eve, a day, a time I loved and waited all year for. I sat up slowly in the darkness. I could hear the soft, slow breaths of my sweetheart sleeping and not wanting to interrupt the slumber, I slipped out of bed. My dog was lying across the foot of the bed, and she opened one brown eye to look at me. I squatted down beside her and whispered in her ear, it's Christmas Eve. She listened and I scratched her neck and leaned in to kiss the broad, flat space between her eyebrows. As I moved to the door, she jumped down and followed me out. We closed the bedroom behind us and tiptoed toward our morning routine. As the kettle boiled. I watched her through the kitchen window, inspecting the backyard and weaving through the trees strung with lights, a few birds waking and hopping through the branches above her. I opened my front door just to look up and down the street and see the houses lit up from the night before.


Strings of lights outlined the peaks of roofs, wove around the windows, and circled tree trunks and branches. I heard the whistling ketle and went back in to fill my cup and found my dog waiting at the back door. Next we went to turn on the Christmas tree and set ourselves up on the couch. I spread a blanket over us as she sidled up next to me and laid with her head in my lap. The house was so quiet and so dark, but for the glow of the tree. I laid my hand into the thick fur of her back as we sat and I sipped for my cup. I had a dog years ago who didn't have much use for snuggling and affection. She was happy to lay in her own bed and just be in the room with you, but once a day or so she would amble up to me and press her warm forehead against my thigh. I'd rub the back of her neck and after a moment she'd walk away and get back to whatever dog business occupied her time. Now, on the sofa with this little girl, I sat and said a silent thank you to every dog everywhere for their friendship.


I had a sneaking suspicion that grew stronger as I grew older, that the point of everything is just to make friends, just to share moments, to be there with whoever was there and to pay attention to all of it. That's what I intended to make today about. We were having a little party, some food, a fire in the fireplace, and some music. I dusted off the piano and hoped someone would play a few songs. I felt a warmth spreading in my chest, thinking that faithful friends who were dear to us would gather near to us once more. I'd spent the day before happily in the kitchen, my apron dusty with flour and powdered sugar and the counters filled with baked treats, glossy golden braided breads, star shaped cookies spread with frosting and dotted with tiny silver balls, and pastry cookies rolled with walnuts and cinnamon and glazed with apricot jam. I'd even baked a few homemade dog biscuits for Santa paws to deliver to our little pooch. I'd also made trays of finger foods, little tempting tarts filled with sun dried tomatoes and pine nuts and caramelized onions. I'd serve bowls of roasted brussels sprouts with their outer leaves dark brown, crisp and salty, and cold plates of dips and seasoned rice rolled into grape leaves.


Some people dread being in the kitchen all day, but for me, especially at this time of year, it was merry work. I turned on an old Christmas movie, black and white, one I'd seen a hundred times, and let it play while I worked my way through the dishes. When everything was done and the kitchen was set back to rights, I'd stepped back and sighed with satisfaction. My friends and family would be well fed. My home would be a haven for the people I loved. They would feel safe and relaxed and cared for. And that was just about my favorite thing. Back on the couch, my dog softly snoring beside me, I thought through the rest of the day. There was time for a walk outside together, time for me to hole up somewhere and wrap a few gifts. We could sample all the treats I'd made, catch each other under the mistletoe, and as evening darkness came on, we would don our gay apparel, light the fire and the candles, lay out the trays of food, open the bottles of wine, and wait for our friends to come trekking up the driveway. As a little girl, watching all those old Christmas movies from the couch, I'd expected my grownup holidays to be full of train trips through snowy countrysides, nights out in swanky cocktail clubs.


I thought people might suddenly break out into tap dances in ski chalets, or at least that there would be, I guess, muppets. As an actual adult, my holidays were infinitely simpler. Just time to do some favorite things, to be closer to the people I called family, to wonder at the beauty of fresh snow or a lighted Christmas tree through a stranger's window and to sit with a hot cup of something lovely on the couch with my dog and be grateful for another year together. We hope you've enjoyed spending a little time with us in the village of nothing much. We wish you happy holidays. We'll be back next week with more easy listening stories. Here's to gentleness. Here's to ordinary magic. Here's to peace on earth.