Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 24 - Christmas Eve

Is this really the last day? Tomorrow will be Christmas Day!

I will be spending Christmas Eve having a wonderful meal with my daughter's family.  I'm taking the salad and rolls.

Then we'll all be going to church.  I'll be singing in the choir as once again we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Christmas morning I'll be headed back to my daughter's for the Christmas stockings, late breakfast, package opening, an afternoon Christmas feast. We'll be calling our family members who live away.

Just as my decorations won't be put away for a few days  ...this website will still have its Christmas decorations up for awhile.  This is the final Advent post - both the Blog and my house will eventually be restored as they were!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 23 - Sweetheart Memories

I did get engaged on Christmas Eve.  I was 10 days shy of my 18th birthday and my parents were not overly pleased!  I married fourteen months later.  How young we were!  But so much in love.

And I stayed in love and married to that sweetheart for 45 years.  The engagement ring band grew very thin over the years.  One week to the day after my husband died, the ring broke.  Not where it was so thin, but at the base of the setting.  I had it repaired and placed into an Eternity pendant and that's how I wear it now.  A forever symbol of a forever love.

My husband was a darling little boy ....see:

[Don't forget to click on the images to enlarge them, if you like.]

And not too bad in his uniform - this picture made about six months after we were engaged.

He went to work for my dad in the propane business - was just supposed to be temporary while we both went to college.  It became his passion and he devoted the rest of his life to the industry.  I love to remember him this way - so young and eager.

But this is what he was proudest of ...his family.  There's the patriarch himself - standing in the back.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 22 - Christmas and Deceased Relatives

We are a weepy family and highly empathetic.  When one cries, all cry.  We always refer to those family who are no longer with us in our Christmas table grace, but other than that it's a subject best left to another occasion - today is that occasion. 

When I started this journey of Christmas memories, I did so in honor of my Mom who loved this season.  I was so fortunate to have her for very many years; she was almost 92 when she passed away of cancer.  I miss you, Mom.  Most of all at Christmas time.

Mom was born on the 21st of December 1916 - she was only a few months old in this picture.  She was a Christmas baby from the beginning.

Here she is as a graduate - first from the 8th grade and then from High School.

 This is how I remember her when I was just a little girl.  

And this one was made with her Mother's Day flowers in 2005.  She was living in an apartment complex designed for Seniors - still very independent.  And still very lovely.

Mom loved costume jewelry of all kinds.  My sisters and I sat on her bed after she died, spread out all the jewelry and tried to figure out how best to treasure all her pretty sparkly necklaces, earrings and pins.  A friend of mine makes these jeweled Christmas trees so now each of us has one of these memories of Mom. 
Mine is never put away - it is in my bedroom. I like to believe that my Mom's eyes are shining through and still watching over me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 21 - Christmas Music

Oh, we didn't just listen to Christmas music - we made Christmas music.  My grandmother's dad had been a fiddle player in his youth and he raised his children to love music.  My grandmother and her sisters sang in church choirs their entire lives.  One sister taught music for some years.  My grandmother used to take her babies into the choir with her in the days before church nurseries.  My mother and her four brothers had been raised to sing at any opportunity and my Mom and one of the brothers also played the piano.

Mom and I lived with her parents for several years and two of the brothers also lived with us at different times. Someone was always at the piano with others looking over the shoulder, singing. So of course, Christmas was just another excuse to sing around the piano.

When Mom had daughters - it was understood we would learn to play the piano.  I even had the same piano teacher Mom did!  We sang, too.  However, I was the only one who really loved the music.  I did learn to play the piano - passably - and I'm still singing - in the church choir and in a Sweet Adelines chorus. 

The following picture is a Christmas past.  One of my sisters is playing the piano and that's my Mom and my three children singing along.

When my children came along, I tried to keep the music going, but times have changed.  No one has much time for singing around the piano anymore and of course we don't all live near each other anymore.

Here's one more Christmas past with Mom at the keyboard.  Ah, if I could go back for just one day.... it would be a day just before Christmas and we'd all sing together again!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 20 - Religious Services

I have sung in church choirs since I was fourteen and my Mom was the choir director.  I love Christmas Eve Candlelight services most of all - , going out into the cold night air, listening to the Christmas story read from the Bible, singing the carols, eagerly anticipating the celebration of the most precious birth known to mankind.  To me no celebration of the birth of Jesus is quite complete without the reenactment of the nativity.

This nativity set that resides on my shelf at Christmas time is quite old.  It was already well-loved for a number of years before I was born.  It was my grandmother's and I'm sure it's age is reaching ninety years or more.  She kept each figure wrapped in soft cotton between Christmases. 

I remember watching her beautiful workworn hands as they gently unwrapped each individual and set it in place on her mantel.  They aren't porcelain or china - more of a chalky substance and they do chip and break easily and she didn't trust having them within constant reach of small hands.  They have taken on a darker hand-rubbed look with age which to me has only added to their loveliness.  She would let me hold each one for a bit before putting it in place.  Oh, how I loved holding that baby Jesus in my tiny hands!

The camel 's hind leg is chipped just out of sight.  Joseph was broken when I was still a child - that's one of the shepherds kneeling beside Mary - he substitutes very well although if you look closely he's a bit old.  One of the wisemen had been broken before I was born, so I have only known two - I always pretended the third was just out of sight.  I was told that once there was an angel, too.

After I had my children and my grandmother no longer had the big Christmas celebrations in her home, she gave me the nativity.  I was her first grandchild and the only grandchild to ever live in her home - we shared the only January birthdays in the family.  She wanted me to be the one to continue to unwrap and hold each figure for just awhile and then place them lovingly on display.  As I do so, I have my own private Christmas service in my heart, just as I believe my Grandmother did.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 19 - Christmas Shopping

I don't like to shop.  I know, that's not normal for a female.  This will be the least interesting post of all!  And quite likely, the shortest.

Of course shopping is unavoidable, and doubly true at Christmas.  I would rather shop for others than for myself, so that helps.  I've tried every possible way - shopping early, shopping late, shopping online, shopping at the mall, shopping in the smaller stores.  It's still shopping...

The rest of the family?  Well, their shopping techniques are as varied as the individuals themselves.  We have the early get-it-done type and the wait-to-the-last-minute type and every conceivable variation in between.

I don't leave the shopping until Christmas Eve.  For one reason - much of my family lives away and packages must be shipped.  For another - I'm just not good with any last minute arrangements of any kind.

For many years my dear husband was a Christmas Eve shopper.  He was a procrastinator by personality, particularly involving anything he didn't really like to do or want to do.  His family struggled when he was growing up, and he also had great difficulty parting with money for any reason.  [He never minded if I spent his money, he just couldn't do it.  Yes, there was definitely also some Scot heritage going on with that.]  A further complication was his job - he and my Dad were in the propane gas business.  Late December in Northwest Arkansas is about when the first really bad winter cold spell descends and he was always working very long hours and exhausted prior to Christmas [...and on into Spring]. 

Just before closing time on Christmas Eve, Dear Sweet Husband would dash into the local jewelry store just down the street from his office and buy my gift.  That's really the only gift he had to worry about - I had already taken care of the rest of the family gifts.  I have always held the jeweler who was also a family friend responsible, but two years in a row I got the same lovely bracelet!  I never, ever told him. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 18 - Christmas Stockings

The very first christmas I remember does have a Stocking Story.  I believe I was just about to turn four.  I remember the house - we called it the "yellow brick house" and we only lived there about two years.  And, yes, I do have several memories involving living there even though I was so very young.

My Mom and I lived with her parents.  Her youngest brother had just finished high school and he left from that house to join the Air Force and go off to World War II.  My memory is of our return to the house after taking him to the bus station and Mom and Mammaw running off to their respective bedrooms, both sobbing.  I was too little to understand that they thought they might not ever see him again, but I was definitely upset by their sorrow.  He did return unscathed - in fact, all four of my mother's brothers served in that war and all four returned.  How very lucky our family was.

That's also the house where I slipped and sat on the floor furnace and burned my bottom in an interesting checker-board pattern.  I remember having to lay on my tummy for several days...  I was so glad floor furnaces were no longer used by the time I had my own children!

Now about that Christmas.  I hung my stocking on Christmas Eve - it was a red felt stocking I kept and used for many years until it just more or less fell apart.  On Christmas morning, my grandpa carried me into the living room.  I remember there was a small train making it's circle on the floor under the tree.  But the most fascinating thing was this yellowish pointy protrusion from my stocking.  It looked like a beak - a penquin beak!  Surely I had a penquin in my stocking!  Imagine!  A penquin!

I ignored the train.  I wanted that stocking.  At last I had the stocking was in my arms and I could examine its contents.   The yellowish pointy protrusion was ....a banana!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 17 - A Christmas Past

A very memorable Christmas was in 1970, at least for my almost ten-year-old son.  but first you need the background to the story.

I grew up in the shadow of the University of Arkansas, as had my Mom and her brothers.  My family members were born and bred Razorback Hogs, particularly the football team.  My parents funded a smallish scholarship, beginning about 1950 or so, which entitled them to 50-yard-line seats and one of my nephews is still using those tickets to every Razorback home football game.  Legacy! 

I was present for single every home game [and some of the away games] of the football Razorbacks from the year I turned twelve until I had my third child - she had the audacity to be born on a Wednesday and there was a game the following Saturday, that I was not quite up for.  My children could all "call the hogs" before they could say "Mama."  Even as infants, they had tiny red T-shirts, declaring their allegiance.  Of course none of them would attend the U of A! 

After we moved away from the Arkansas family nest, our interest in the Razorbacks lessened and my children did all attend different universities further dividing loyalties.  My sisters and their families, still living near the U of A, still live and breathe the Hogs.

Now to the Christmas of 1970.  The Razorbacks had had three great seasons back to back and were riding high under Coach Frank Broyles.  My Dad had become friends with Coach Broyles and my much younger sister, then a teen, was giving some of Coach Broyles' children horseback riding lessons.  My oldest son, as I said, was almost ten.  He was the first-born grandchild and my Dad had no sons, so they had a very special relationship and spent a lot of one-on-one time together.

Dad gave Steve a football - autographed by all the members of the Razorback football squad!  Even little sister looks suitably awed!  [How do you like the clothes - the striped pants, the crocheted vest - so very early 70's!]

The football sat proudly on a bookshelf in his room until after he left for college.  One day when he was packing up some of his possessions, he brought the football to show me that the inked names had all almost completed faded away.  None of us had ever thought about the effects of light and time.

The Polaroid picture is also fading with time.  But the pure delight of opening that box has not faded.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 16 - Christmas at School

Back in the day ...when I was in school, we always had a class Christmas party, the last hour of the last day before Christmas vacation.  Remember homeroom mothers?  Those were the three or four ladies who had voluteered to host the classroom parties for the year - they furnished refreshments, games, prizes, etc.  At least that's the way it was done in my time and then the same routine was still in effect when my own children were in school.  My Mom worked and never could be at school during school hours, but I was one of the homeroom mothers at one time or another for all three of my children.  In one school my youngest attended, I was several times the homeroom mother for a class that had no mother-volunteers.  Of course, those were the children that needed a party most of all.  I always thought it great fun!

I know that the teachers were only too happy to turn the children over to us for that final hour of excitement.  They had overseen the production of home made ornaments and presents for Mom and Dad for many December days prior to the party day.  I'm quite sure they looked forward to the vacation as much as the children.

Pageants in school?  No, I don't remember any in my own experience.  The school pretty much left that sort of event up to the local churches.  We had school plays and programs, but not really any Christmas pageants. 

We did usually have school music programs at Christmas time, when the elementary classes performed for each other.  After we were in Junior High and High School, the band and chorus always had a Christmas concert - usually performed once for the student body and once at night or on Sunday afternoon for the public.  I did have my moments of fame  ...I sang one verse of What Child Is This as a solo my senior year in Glee Club.  Please don't tell, but I was also the horse whinney in Sleighride.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 15 - Holiday Happenings

I am one of those Holiday Happenings.  My birthday is January 4th ...exactly 10 days after Christmas.  Christmas and New Year celebrations have come and gone and everyone's ready to get back to routine.  The stores are gutted and so are the pocketbooks.  More often than not, my birthday is an afterthought - even for me!

My Mom was a bookkeeper and for part of the time when I was growing up, she was divorced and raising me by herself and then after she married again, she and my new Dad started their own business. There were some lean years.  Bookkeepers have a great deal of work at the end of the year and there was simply no way for her to take time off to prepare a birthday party for me.  In the 1940 and 50's birthdays weren't such a big deal for most people, anyway. One year she did try to arrange a party for me, but the party was snowed out.

When I was about 6th or 7th grade, I asked if I could just have a Halloween party instead - no presents, just a party.  So, I absolutely did have that party and it was a huge success. 

But probably my very best birthday party was in mid-life - about 20 years ago.  And it did happen on a Holiday.

My middle child sometimes has a problem with events that occur on the same day every year ...they sneak up on him.  He was out of college and working and one year he forgot my birthday, and then his Dad's, which followed in early February.  Now understand that wasn't a big deal since neither of us had grown up with big birthday bashes.  In fact, we thought it funny since our birthdays had always been in January and February, and would always be in January and February.

The following summer, we went to Texas to visit him and the visit coincided with the 4th of July.  Now the 4th of July is exactly six months after my birthday.  Well, he threw us a "Half-Year Birthday Party".  Presents and a picnic in the park, then tickets to the baseball game followed by magnificent fireworks.  Now that party was a BLAST!

Many times during the years, my parents and sisters gave me combination gifts for Christams that were for both occasions.  Saved time and wrapping.

These days my children are extremely careful to see that I get separate gifts for both Christmas and my much-too-soon-after birthday.  So very much appreciated!  Just the same, I've always envied those who have summer birthdays and get to space out their surprises!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 14 - Fruitcake

Doesn't everyone have a fruitcake story?  My Dad actually liked fruitcake, but Mom did not.  Somewhere she found a recipe for "White Fruit Cake" that had only the candied cherries and pineapple and pecans - none of the citron bits.   That cake was not half bad.  I have her recipe with the list of ingredients and the instructions to "mix as for regular cake" and bake at 250 degrees for three hours.  I've tried it and the cake still tastes quite good but it crumbles badly and can't be sliced.  So something is not quite right - one of the ingredients off a bit or not quite the same as it was fifty years ago.  Probably would be really good as crumbles with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

I did use to always make what I called fruit cake cookies - but the only fruit is candied cherries ...and dates.  (Are dates a fruit??? - I think so.)  This recipe makes a lot of cookies - they are very rich so they need to be small.  I think I used to end up with about eight dozen or so.  Great to share with neighbors.  It's also a cookie that ships well and keeps well.  They taste better as they age!  As the children grew up and departed, the recipe just made too many cookies.  If you need a big batch of cookies with a bit of holiday flare's the recipe.

Fruit Cake Cookies

Mix thoroughly:
1 cup soft shortening  [I always used half butter, half Crisco]
2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 eggs

Stir in 1/2 cup sour milk or buttermilk or water  [I used buttermilk because I made a coffee cake at Christmas time that also needed the buttermilk.]

Sift together [I never sifted ...just stirred in the dry ingredients, works fine]
3 1/2 cups flour  [you might want to reserve about 1/2 of the cup of flour ...see note below]
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt

Then add
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
2 cups candied cherries, cut in half - can use half red, half green for more color
2 cups cut up dates

It's helpful to reserve some of the flour to toss the cherries and dates so they aren't quite so sticky and mix in easier.

Chill dough for at least 1 hour.  Drop by teaspoonsfuls about 2" apart on lightly greased baking sheet.  You can place a pecan half on top of each cooky if you like. 

Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 400 degress.  They should just be set - when touched lightly with a finger, almost no imprint remains.

And here's a disclaimer.  My kids all thought the food kind of dates were icky, so I never told them what was in these cookies.  They never noticed!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 13 - Holiday Travel

When I was growing up and when my children were very young, most of the family was in fairly close proximity and we gathered at my grandmother's, and then my in-laws for Christmas Day.   By the time my children were all in elementary school we had moved away from the family nest.  For a number of years we made the long trek back to spend Christmas with the grandparents and siblings.  That involved taking all the presents [including certain hidden Santa gifts] as well as clothes for five people and leaving room for us all to actually sit in the car.

One Christmas particularly stands out in memory.  My husband's older brother wanted to send a dishwasher to his parents.  He lived about half-way between our house and the Christmas destination and we did have a Suburban.  This was not even a new dishwasher - but was one he no longer wanted.  One of those early ones - freestanding in the middle of the kitchen.  You hooked it up to the kitchen sink to run it; it didn't actually install within the cabinets.  But how do you fit a dishwasher in with five people - two of them adults, and the children no longer small, all their luggage for a week's visit, the gifts we were transporting for each other and all the relatives, the snacks and games to keep mayhem at a minimum while driving long hours, etc....  Even after all these years, it seems that we spent hours in the driveway packing and repacking, knowing we still had many miles to go before we slept.  I recall that the younger set was not bearing the delay gladly, either. What I cannot remember, if I ever knew, is why that dishwasher had to go with us, and why my darling husband agreed to the plan!  In some weird way, I always related that particular Christmas trip to Chevy Chase's movie Christmas Vacation.  Oh, you should know - my in-laws never did figure out how to use that dishwasher!  There wasn't much more room in their kitchen for it than in the Suburban!

Now I often travel for the holidays - it's so much easier for one person to pack up and go than for a family.  My offspring and all of their offspring gathered at my eldest son's condo in Colorado last year - so all of us traveled, some of us great distances.  The condo is a vacation home - no one lives there year round.  A beautiful white Christmas for those of us that are southerners, skiing for most [except for me - I prefer sitting in front of the fire], a night time sleigh ride.  One of the best Christmases of all!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 12 - Charitable/Volunteer Work

I will have to say that I'm one of those legions of anonymous Christmas gift givers.  Most churches and many other organizations now have an "angel tree" where you select a name and purchase a gift for that particular person in need.  I always participate, but of course that means you never actually give the gift to the person.  I also make other cash donations - the Salvation Army kettle, etc.  And give canned and boxed food items to various appeals to fill Christmas food baskets.

My local DAR chapter buys gifts for eight girls in one of the cottages of a DAR supported school.  They send us names, ages, sizes, wishes ...and we fulfill.  Since I have granddaughters about the same age, it's really fun to shop for these young ladies.

One of my sons coaches youth teams - baseball and football.  As he has become acquainted with the boys and their families, he has often discovered needs that slip through the cracks of local charities.  I know that last Christmas his family provided Christmas - from the dinner to the gifts - for a newly-abandoned wife who couldn't find a job and her young children.

As a child, I remember that the local fire station collected toys - both new and used but in good condition - and distributed them on Christmas.  Early in December, my grandmother or my mother would help me go through everything in my room, and select those toys or games I really wasn't interested in to give away.  I wasn't much of a girly-girl so there were always dolls and such that had scarcely been touched by me.  Later I did the same with my children and we even added new toys to the donation - it was still the local firemen that collected toys.  I wonder if the firemen in small towns still do this?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 11 - Other Traditions

My family has no recent immigrants or ethnic traditions.  We do have the tradition I'll call the "overstuffed stocking".  I'm not sure how it began, but Christmas stockings in my family are stuffed way over the top in many ways.

We like to make emptying the stockings an adventure for all.  One requirement is something round for the toe - an apple, an orange, even a ball.  Candy is a must ..but it should be a favorite candy of the stocking owner.  Another piece of fruit or two.  Maybe gum, mints, or even a small can of cashews.  Then the stuff - anything from a pair of sox [yes - sox in the sock] to gloves, small tools, kitchen utensils, makeup, funny bandaids, toothpaste, a small game or puzzle, jewelry or a nice tie, depending on the recipient.  Sometimes a very special gift, if small enough, is in the stocking.  Whatever and wherever imagination leads you.  Also the stocking must be very full, preferably with items peaking out, or even balanced on top.

Now over a period of several years, my Mom made quite large stockings from quilt fabric for each member of her family - as a new baby came along, a Christmas stocking soon followed.  They had our names on them and were all the same size, somewhat limiting the contents.

When enough of us were together during the years our children were young adults and there were no very small people around, we made a Christmas Eve foray to the nearest Wal-Mart. We drew names to fill the stockings, and then dodged each other from aisle to aisle while we gathered the various goodies.  Then just before the adult bedtime, the stockings mysteriously disappeared and reappeared filled with Santa goodies - of course it was still supposed to be a secret about who filled whose stocking, so there was lot of sneaking around behind closed doors and dashing through hallways.  I remember some squealing and giggling, too.

Sometimes one of the stocking-fillers would go overboard and buy way more than the stocking would hold, so sometimes ribbons were tied to gifts on the floor, or the stocking had to be placed on the floor with its spillover.  Here's a picture of one of the more interesting ways one family member coped - apparently someone needed a new laundry basket and it wouldn't fit...   The stockings are hanging from the metal firescreen - they were too heavy for the mantel!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 10 - Christmas Gifts

I must admit that I struggle some with gift giving - I want the gift to be so perfect and I tend to be rather indecisive at best.  That said, I would much rather give than be the recipient of a gift.  I have passed the accumulation stage of life and much prefer gifts that are consummable, or even better, a gift of time spent with the giver.  Perhaps the nicest gift is simply watching everyone else open their packages!

The best gift I ever received was a little red wagon  ..and I was very middle-aged when it appeared beneath the Christmas tree.  Here's the story.

We had built a home in the woods and hills of Alabama.  It was the only home we ever had that was truly ours from the ground up - all other homes had been pre-owned.  We left the space around the house, I hesitate to call it a yard, as natural as we possibly could, leaving trees and some of the undergrowth.  I wanted to landscape around this plan, using as many native plants as I could, and even took a continuing education course so I would make as few mistakes as possible. 

Eventually much of my dream landscape was accomplished - what wasn't eaten by the deer.  However, I had a maintenance problem.  We had a wonderful large garden cart left over from other houses and other mostly treeless lawns - the difficulty was that this cart would not pass through some of the narrow places between the trees and it could get really heavy going uphill.  I told my husband I needed a little red wagon to haul stuff around.  The size to carry a bag of fertilizer, some garden tools, a few plants - whatever I needed to tow to save a few steps - but not a very large wagon.  Understand that I was taking care of a couple of acres...  I mentioned the wagon several times - could have gone and bought one myself, but just never did.

When Christmas morning came ...there was the red wagon under my tree!  And it was a Flexible Flyer!  And red - my favorite color!  The perfect size!  To appreciate my excitement, you should understand that I never had a wagon as a child, although I often envied those my friends had.  My husband favored much more expensive gifts as a rule and he wasn't always the best listener when I gave out gentle hints.  Not only did I have my much coveted wagon, but I had also been heard!  Joy! Joy! Joy!

As the months passed and I hauled every imaginable item in that wagon, my husband would just shake his head.  Turns out that he bought the wagon mostly as a joke, never dreaming that I would actually use it.  I smiled to myself everytime I took it out of the shed loaded with my supplies. 

When the grandchildren visited, the wagon took on another life.  The streets near our house were quite steep.  The wagon was excellent for hauling small children up.  The older children discovered the wild and scary ride down for themselves.  There was a skinned knee or two, but no broken limbs.

The wagon has had another transformation now that I've had a couple of back surgeries and pay others to keep up my present tiny yard.  It holds my recycling tub and takes it from garage to the street every Friday - a tub too heavy for me to carry when it's full.  I still smile to myself every time I grab the handle and start off!

The wagon has aged better than I have!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 9 - Ashes and Switches

Today is a "Grab Bag" of topics.  In my husband's family, an alternative to receiving lumps of coal for being naughty, was instead ....ashes and switches.  The following story is one from my dark side and it should never have happened.  But it did and became part of our family legend - one of those stories that's been retold for fifty years.  As in, "Remember the Christmas...."

Now my husband had a much younger baby brother - when said brother was about 10-14 years old, he was insufferable.  First of all, he was a "late" child, being the last born; he was spoiled, whiny, clingy, and demanding.  Yes, it's all true.  He was a royal pest.  There were three brothers in my husband's family, no sisters - the baby as described, my husband, then the oldest who had married a lady my age about six months after my husband and I had married.

I'm not absolutely positive, but this was an early Christmas in my married life and I believe my sister-in-law and I had not yet had children of our own.  We had both married at age nineteen, so we were not much passed childhood ourselves.  We decided to play a Christmas trick on Little Brother.  I suppose we wanted to teach him some sort of lesson.  We really didn't intend any harm, just a sort of retaliation.  In retrospect, and after raising sons, I'm sure he just drove us nuts because he really loved having these new females in the family and craved our attention.

We filled a very large box with switches and coffee cans of ashes, wrapped it, and placed it under the tree with a gift tag to Little Brother, from the two of us.  Turned out to be the biggest present of the year.  Little Brother was so very excited about the huge gift, and I think the two sisters-in-law knew we might have stepped over the boundary line.  Of course when he opened the present wasn't so funny to him ...and there were crocodile tears.  Also a considerable amount of anger towards his very mean big "sisters".   We did try to apologize which likely meant little at the time.  Of course, we did have other gifts for him - they were just smaller.

The second chapter of the story is that the next Christmas, the same box, newly wrapped, appeared under the Christmas tree.  From Little Brother to his two sisters-in-law.  It was stuffed full of yards of toilet paper....   So Little Brother had the last word ...and redemption.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 8 - Christmas Cookies

Ah yes, the Christmas cookies.  During World War II, my mother and I lived in an upstairs apartment at my grandparents' house.  Mother had four brothers serving in the War, three of them in Europe, and although I was a pre-schooler, I well remember the impact on our household.  My grandmother started baking early - to fill boxes of breads and cookies to send to her boys and their buddies.

For the rest of her life, my Mammaw baked and sent boxes to her sons and their families as part of their Christmas celebration.  We always lived either in the same town, or no more than two hours from my grandparents, so we got our share of the bounty directly. 

Mammaw died in 1973 when she was 86; my mother promptly took up the cross and made sure her brothers always got a box of goodies from "home".  Mom lived to be almost 92, and her cooking skills decreased.  Her brothers asked me if I could suggest she cease the baking - the cookies weren't very good anymore and all but one of the brothers was by now diabetic.  I just told them they could feed the cookies to the birds or the garbage disposal, but this was an act my mother very much needed to perform.  Time took care of the problem, as Mom moved to an apartment with only a microwave.

Several years after I married, we moved away from the "nest" so sometimes I got the Christmas boxes of goodies.  However, I think both my Mom and my grandmother knew I probably had some genetic predisposition to do my own baking for Christmas.  They were correct.  Several of the cookie recipes I had inherited from them, as well as others from my old Betty Crocker recipe book, became the traditions for my own children.  I did often participate in cookie exchanges among friends, take plates of assorted cookies to neighbors, but I never felt the need to box them up and mail them anywhere.

Years have passed and now that I am a single traveler in this world, there is no need for a lot of baked goodies sitting around the house.   But I live only a couple of miles from my daughter and her three teen-aged children.  She has a wonderful kitchen with double ovens and a large granite-topped island.  Now we set aside a day before Christmas and all gather to bake multiple batches of cookies.  A great time is had by all.  They share  the results with me and their neighbors.  And, yes, we are still baking some of the same kinds of cookies...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 7 - Holiday Parties

The absolute best Christmas Party I ever attended was in Aberdeen, Scotland.  Our eldest son was living and working there and we had gone over to spend the holidays with his family.  A fellow co-worker of his was from Canada, but his heritage was Polish.  On Christmas Eve this man always had a party and cooked traditional Polish dishes for family and friends ...and any extended family and friends who might be visiting.

To make the occasion especially festive, it had snowed.  Now you must realize that I am a true GRITS [girl raised in the South - and never left] and have had very few white Christmases, and those were all when I was away from home.   I have also gone to very few Christmas Eve parties - that night is traditionally reserved for the family and church services.

Others had, of course, contributed food dishes and adult beverages of all sorts to the Party.  As I recall there was food on almost every available flat surface.  But the Polish fare - the borscht, the entrees and the desserts with unpronouncable names - was absolutely superb.

Time has blurred the number of people in attendance, but I would think somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty. We were all over the house. Every age was represented from very young babes to grandparents. We had native Scots, English, Americans, Canadians, French ...I'm not sure what else.  Most of those present, did live in Scotland at the time, many as expatriots, but there was a goodly share of family visiting from points outside Great Britain.

The children played and ate and played.  The adults talked and ate and talked.  No one was a stranger at that party although most of us had never met and will not meet again. 

On that night we were all family, many of us far, far from home.  It was a wonderful, festive night of "Peace on earth, good will to men!"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 6 - Santa Claus

Do I believe in Santa Claus?

Of course I still believe in Santa!  I had been admiring a toy carpet sweeper in the Montgomery Ward window for some weeks.  One evening my mother returned from work and headed straight up the stairs with a peculiar package - the bottom wrapped but shaped much like that toy carpet sweeper and a long wooden handle sticking out.  Rather incrimating.  Next time we went downtown, the carpet sweeper was gone from the window.  On Christmas morning, an identical carpet sweeper was under my Christmas tree.  I was just a week away from my 4th birthday, but I knew my Mom had bought that toy at "Monkey Ward" and tried to spirit it up the stairs. 

So I knew the score.  But it didn't matter then - I had that much desired toy - and it doesn't matter now.  I still believe in the magic.  Santa Claus lived in my mother's heart that Christmas and he still dwells in mine.

When my own daughter was just about the same age, she experienced a very special bit of Santa magic.  She was sick that year and couldn't go to the church party to visit Santa, but he appeared at our front door.  [After the party at church and per special instructions from someone who knew him quite well.] 

We took pictures with the Polaroid we had at the time.  It's really hard to get a double exposure with a Polaroid but somehow I managed.  When my little daughter saw the picture, she said "Look, it's the sugar plums!" know, those sugar plums that "danced in their heads".

See for yourself!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 5 - Outdoor Decorations

We never did much in the way of outdoor decorations.  For one thing my husband was in the propane business and winter was his busy season.  Sometimes too busy, because one year WE ran out of propane while I was cooking Christmas dinner - seems he had forgotten we were also a customer!

We did put up swags and tiny white lights on the porch rails the fifteen years we lived in this house in Wetumpka, Alabama. Now the house set way back from the road with woods in between so it didn't show much from the road, but it was a great place to decorate both inside and out. The advantage was that I could put up the swags and lights without a ladder or male assistance.  I also put electric "candles" in the upstairs windows.  I never made a picture - was difficult to get directly in front of the house.  Maybe I thought I'd live there forever!  Here is how it looked without lights - just use your imagination and put evergreen swags with sparkly white lights on all the rails with big red bows on each column!

I did get pictures of the inside!

I always decorated my front door.

Here's a picture of the front door at the Wetumpka house.  No, the deer isn't real - but we did have a lot of those around the house.  They ate my azaleas, my day lillies, even climbed on this porch and ate pansys in pots. 


And here's my front door ...right now. Come on by and I'll fix us a cup of tea! Hope you're getting your shopping done. If so, I need some help in that area!

I live in a neighborhood with several Navy families. I'd just like to say a heartfelt thank-you to all those who serve in our Armed Forces with a very special appreciation to their families.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 4 - Christmas Cards

I have Christmas cards that can be dated 1932, 1933, and1934 either because of the postmarks or the TB stamps on some of them. They belonged to my in-laws, William Charles and Lois (Pippin) Haden who had married in November of 1932.  They lived in Ladonia, Fannin County, Texas.  The cards are not particular colorful, but varied greatly.  Some were embossed with gold.  If you click on the pictures, they should enlarge for you.

The following card had the interesting curved front that opened, as well as the curved closure on the envelope - one of the fancier cards.  The envelope was sealed with a 1934 TB stamp - I can remember my grandmother sealing her Christmas cards with TB stamps some 15 years later and they always had the year printed on them, and the red cross.  This particular card is signed Uncle Joe, Aunt Clara, Joe and Clara Adelia.  Uncle Joe was Joseph Benjamin Haden II, uncle of my father-in-law.  Of course, the others were Uncle Joe's wife, son and daughter.  Clara Adelia, now called simply Claire, is still living.

The next group of cards is just an assortment with horses and sleighs predominating.  I particularly like the card with embossed gold trees and its matching envelope.  

These following cards were all more like postcards - they were just lightwieght card stock that did not fold.  Of the cards that still had envelopes, these required only
1 1/2 postage while the regular Christmas cards had 3 stamps.  Notice one was a complimentary card from the local drug store - businesses obviously sent cards then, too.

The last card - the one signed Jessie Stevens is especially poignant.  My husband was born in a room in her house in February of 1939; a room rented by my in-laws while they were in Ladonia for the winter.  Miss Jessie never married, but she helped deliver that baby boy.  My father-in-law's younger brother had borrowed his car for a date and brought it back with the gas tank empty; my father-in-law had to hoof it to fetch the doctor.  Now the doctor, Dr. Sam Fry, was my mother-in-law's uncle and he was 73 years old - I suspect he didn't walk really fast.  They arrived back at Miss Jessie's after the baby's arrival.  Years later when my husband changed jobs, we had to write for his birth certificate [requirements were different back then - he had even joined the Army without having to produce a birth document] - the name on it was "Baby Boy Haden" - information supplied by Dr. Sam Fry.  Of course I had to get him a T-shirt with his new name on it!  Both his parents were still living and signed affidavits, so now there is an amended birth certificate that gives the baby's name properly as Robert Donald Haden - he passed away in 2004.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 3 - Christmas Tree Ornaments

Christmas 1959.  The first Christmas after I married.  We were both college students, living in old Army barracks convereted to married student housing.  No money.  We waited until the last minute to buy a tree from an almost empty lot - the smallest tree left.  We bought two boxes with a dozen tiny colored glass balls - I'm sure at the time they were less than $1 a box.  And we splurged on one box of lovely and fragile glass ornaments - I believe there were originally eight in the box.  We didn't even have lights on that tree.

After 51 years, the tiny glass balls that have survived decorate a tiny artificial tree to brighten a small corner. 

I don't put the fragile ornaments on the tree anymore- I lay them out in a shallow bowl.  In my heart they represent the new beginnings and boundless hopes of those tender years. There are five left including the tree top ornament and my personal favorite - the teapot - although I also like the horn ....and the bell....

I must admit, I almost always shed a few tears when I unpack these precious memories!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 2 - Holiday Foods

One of my family's favorite holiday desserts is Jeff Davis Pie.  We grew up with it and assumed everyone else did, too, only to discover most people had never heard of a Jeff Davis Pie, much less tasted one.  Now thanks to the Internet, recipes can be found readily - even for Jeff Davis Pie.  Five generations of my kin have feasted on this pie.

Here's the story.  As a youngster about 6 or 7, I used to visit a distant cousin - she was asthmatic and this was in the late 1940's when there were few treatments.  She could not actively play so I went over to play card games and board games.  Her Mom was a great cook and one time she served Jeff Davis Pie for dessert.  At that time my parents and I were living in an upstairs apartment at my grandmother's and when I went home to tell my Mammaw about this wonderful pie, she said she thought she'd heard of it but never had a recipe.  So she promptly telephoned and wrote it down.  Forever after it became our Thanksgiving or Christmas [or both!] holiday dessert.  My mother as the only daughter continued to bake the pie; from there it passed down to my two sisters and to me. 

When I married at age 19, I typed up many of the recipes from my Mom's recipe box, many of which had come straight out of my Mammaw's recipe box.  That was over 50 years ago. My grandmother's recipes were often somewhat vague.
Here's that recipe. [Should you want to try it, be sure and read the suggestions underneath before you begin...]

As you might have detected, there are some essential steps and instructions omitted from the recipe.   Here are some extra details you might need to know.   Use an UNbaked pie shell - the word "crust" being somewhat misleading.  Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Mix all the dry ingredients together first; then add the beaten eggs, then the milk and melted butter.  The mixture doesn't blend particularly well and actually looks a bit awful - don't worry, that's the secret to a good pie.   The filling makes quite a large pie - use at least a 9" deep-dish pie - a 10" dish is better.  "Sweet milk" is just milk - as opposed to buttermilk....  Bake the pie about 45-50 minutes - it's basically a custard pie with spices and should be "set" when you shake it slightly to see if it's done.  The filling separates while baking - the top will brown nicely leaving the custard underneath.  The next time you may want to double the recipe and bake two!

Note:  added later.... 1 teaspoon of "spice" is allspice!  And those are ground cloves and cinnamon.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Day 1 - The Christmas Tree

Christmas was my mother's favorite Holiday.  Although I wasn't always with her for the holidays, I was privileged to be with her on her last Christmas  In her memory I'll participate in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar.  I can't promise that I'll post every day nor that I'll put up my Christmas decorations on the Blog, but, hey Mom, I'll try!

My family's most unusual Christmas tree was in Wetumpka, Alabama, when my children were almost grown.  Our tradition had been to always journey back to Arkansas to spend Christmas with the grandparents, but this particular year, that just wasn't going to happen.  I recall that Christmas was in the middle of the week.  Our eldest was in college, and just getting him home to us was a complication.  We just decided we'd spend Christmas in our own house and with our own private celebration.  The grandparents were disappointed but understood.

We needed a tree.  For several years, because of allergies, we'd used an artificial tree - due to attic heat in Alabama, age and rust, the tree had gone the same way as the Christmas trip to Arkansas - not happening.  So my second son and I decided we'd cut our own tree.  The only red cedars in the woods surrounding our home were shaded by the much larger hardwoods and were spindly if not diseased.  Native pines were in abundance but again, because of the shade, were mostly stalks with bushy tops - not Christmas tree-shaped at all. 

So we crossed the road to a more open field where several young Southern pines were growing and had branches more or less from the ground up.  If you know pine trees, you know this is not a tree you'd ever find on a tree lot for sale.  The field was soon to be cleared for a house site so even though we were probably trespassing, we knew all the trees were doomed. We cut three pines from 4-6 feet tall - none quite right - but by wiring them together, we came up with a respectable Christmas tree of approximate shape and with lots of branches for ornaments.

Although a bit distinctive and different - we all agreed it was one of our best trees ever.  The perfect complement to one of the best and most relaxed Christmas Days.  Unfortunately, we were so relaxed, we never took any pictures!