Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Wishing one and all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Little Women

I have loved to read all my life and have several favorite books. Among those, Little Women, is perhaps my favorite. I read it for the first time when I was about 10 years old. I think it was a Christmas gift from my mother, who was also quite a reader whenever she had the time to devote to it. I loved all the characters in the book - prim Meg, rambunctious Jo, the baby Amy, but my favorite was the gentle, frail Beth. I cannot count the tears I shed when she quietly passed away and was so sorely missed by one and all. I have read it several times since then, the latest being this past weekend, and Beth remains my favorite.

About the same time I was given the book, my mother was expecting her third child. I wanted her to name a girl Beth in the worst way and we had many discussions about the name. She finally said she really didn't care for it. But when my sister was born, she was given the name Lorna Bethany. I was overjoyed.

My sister was a lot like Beth - quiet, gentle, and longing to please. As an adult she was quite devoted to her Lord, Jesus, and gave off a childlike radiance to all around her. She, too, was somewhat frail as she became a diabetic at the age of 25. For 30 years she tried to tame the disease with intermittent success, only to have several serious complications over the past few years. She, like Beth, seemed to become more transparent as the disease claimed more and more of her strength. She passed away this past July.

As I reread a library copy of Little Women, I couldn't help but feel that I was given my own Beth in my sister. My tears stained the pages when Beth died. And I realize too late that I did not appreciate the goodness and the gentleness that was my sister.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Christmas Tree Tale

In 1968 we were in Southern California for Christmas with Eric who was about 6 weeks old. Steve was still in the Navy attached to the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton. We had not been there long enough to make friends so Christmas was looking pretty lonely.

About a week before Christmas we received a large package. It was a tube about four feet long and about 8-12 inches around. It was from Carl, my father-in-law. Now Carl is quite a character and worked in the woods as a timber cruiser. He knew the whole Umpqua Forest like the back of his hand and could find his way out if he had been plunked down blindfolded anywhere in the thousands of square miles. Of course, he got lost in the city, but he knew the woods well. He had never been to Southern California but knew it was not the forest and that Christmas trees were trucked down from Washington and Oregon weeks before the big day. So, he SENT us a Christmas tree from the Umpqua National Forest in that large tube package. It smelled just like home. We put it up that night and decorated it with the few ornaments we had. I don't think I have ever appreciated a Christmas tree before or since as much as I did that little tree from home. Thank you, Carl

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Post Office Adventure

A couple days ago I received a notice that the usps had tried to deliver a package to me but no one was home, except Freckles who was unable to accept said package. The notice stated that I could pick up the package at the main post office on 12/16. A trip to the main downtown post office is never a treat and especially dicey at this time of year. There is parking only in front of the post office and it is angle in parking - it's a fairly busy street so backing out of a parking space, especially when at least half of the vehicles are full sized pick-ups, is an adventure. So I decided that since the package was from one of my Japanese friends, I would try it after work yesterday.

We finished up with the last patient about 4:00pm. As I was clocking out one of the receptionists asked me if I had heard about the bomb scare at the post office today. WHAT? A BOMB SCARE ON THE ONE DAY I WANTED TO GO TO THE POST OFFICE? Yep, she looked at the news on-line and said.....oh, it's over and the post office opened back up about an hour ago. So.....I headed out. As expected, it was busy and there was a line almost out the door. But, people were in a holiday mood and no one was griping and the lady in front of me jabbered on about how she shopped sales all year long to get gifts for her family who was scattered far and wide. Finally, it was my turn and I got my package, backed safely out of the parking place and got home.

The news paper reported that a suitcase was left in the lobby of the PO and since the bomb scare with the blow-up and death of two policemen in Woodburn had happened only a few days before, the police were taking no chances. It took 3 hours and the evacuation of the post office and an adjacent bank for them to discover that it was just a suitcase. They notified the owner who came and picked it up and rolled it away. How can someone forget a suitcase in the lobby of a post office?

I'm just glad it wasn't a bomb and that I got my package from Japan.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Dinner

My father's family is English. His father came to this country from Liverpool as a young adult. His mother grew up in Wales in the home of her grandparents. She joined her mother in NYC when she was only 17 or 18. So, our Christmas menu was a typically English one prepared by my grandmother.
First, there was the most marvelous roast beef - that according to my father was purchased from the same butcher in New York and had hung until there was green mold on the outside. I think I'm really glad I didn't know this as a child or I might not have eaten it with such relish. With the roast there was always Yorkshire Pudding - a light egg batter that was baked at high heat in some of the fat from the roast. Mashed potatoes, gravy, a couple vegetables and crisp carrots and celery rounded out the main meal.
The crowning glory of the feast was dessert - a plum pudding, which is neither made from plums nor is a pudding in the truest sense. It was made in early November of suet, candied citron and other fruit, currants, white raisins and spices which were steamed for several hours and then saturated with brandy and wrapped in white linen. It was stored in a bowl in a cool place where it was regularly moistened with more brandy. On Christmas Day it was placed in a pot with water in the bottom on the stove to steam until heated through. When it was time to serve it, there was more brandy poured over it after it was placed on a heat resistant platter and brought to the table in flames. When the alcohol was burned out of the brandy the flames subsided and the pudding was served with hard sauce (which was not hard but was also flavored strongly with more brandy). The sauce was made of butter, confectioner's sugar and vanilla flavoring. As a child I really didn't like the plum pudding but would eat it because I LOVED the hard sauce. Later I developed a taste for it and really enjoyed it's fruity texture and flavor. I have never tried to make it so the tradition died when my mother was no longer able to make it using my grandmother's recipe and adding some touches of her own.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Best Christmas Present Ever

I must have been about 8 or 9 years old. The only gift I remember wanting that year was a Bride Doll. I don't have any idea how I even knew that such a doll existed. But I wanted one with a veil and a gorgeous full length gown. It would have beads and pearls on the front and down the full skirt. Her hair would be curled just so and she would be exquisitely beautiful. I just knew that Santa (or my grandmother) would provide me with my dearest wish.

Christmas morning came and my brother and I could hardly wait to look under the tree. But first we had to check to see if Santa found the milk and cookies we had left for him. And then we found our stockings that had to be dumped out and all the treasures gone through. At that point we were bursting with anticipation. That was always when my father decided he had to have a cup of coffee and we had to eat a piece of Christmas bread and have a glass of juice.

Finally, we were able to check out the presents under the tree. There was a box for me that was just about the right size, oh, the joy!!!! I tore into the paper and squealed with glee when I found the PERFECT bride doll inside. She was everything I wanted her to be and then some. She was given a place of honor in my room and no one was allowed to touch her without my permission.

I don't remember what happened to that precious doll. Perhaps she was passed on to my little sister years later. But I think I still had her when we moved to Montana and she was lost in the moving van fire. I don't recall receiving any other gift as a child that was as special.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Visit with Santa

Since my grandmother, Mimi, was employed at A & S department store in NYC, we visited with the santa at the store each December. The date on the back of this photo is 1950 which means that I am 8yrs. old and my brother is 6. My mother wrote on the back that this was our last visit to Santa. We must have decided that he was a nice fantasy by the next year.
It was really magical to visit the city at Christmas. The decorations in the big department stores were fabulous. Each window had animated displays and there were lights strung outside in swags, and trees and santas. And the Santa at A&S was the real deal - no fake beard for him. At least, that's the way I remember it.
We also went to the automat to eat - no it wasn't a place to wash clothes, but was a bit like a cafeteria. Each item of food was behind a little door and you put your change in and you could open the door and take out a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a salad, dessert......whatever was behind that particular door. It was so much fun.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Peeking at Christmas Gifts

No, not me, but my brother did. Well, maybe I did once.

My mother was a very uber organized woman. She would buy a Christmas gift, wrap it and then hide it in the basement on a card table covered with a cloth. Of course, this was never in the basement except in the weeks preceeding Christmas so it was hard to ignore. Not that I spent much time in the basement - it scared me and I was afraid of mice that would nibble at the wax on the jelly jars.

My brother was not afraid of mice and could NOT wait for Christmas morning to see what was in the wrapped gifts. He would go down there when our mother was busy teaching other kids to play the piano. He carefully took off the cloth and found gifts that had his name on them. He was extremely careful about lifting the tape and peering under the gift wrap to try to see what was under it. By Christmas he knew what every package held. One year he talked me into joining him in his clandestine activity. I was so disappointed to lose the surprise of opening gifts on Christmas morning. I never did that again. Plus, I was riddled with guilt for doing something that I knew was wrong. Not one of my finer moments.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tail of a Christmas Tree

No, I did not spell tail incorrectly. This is a story of two dogs and a Christmas tree. It's a rather short tale but one I want to remember and share.
The house we lived in when the children were growing up was a two story 'salt box' style with small boxy rooms. The kitchen was as big as the living room and the utility room as large as the room in the front that was supposed to be a bedroom. The bathroom was an afterthought and was only big enough for two people if one of them was in the tub. So....when we bought the house and before we moved in, Steve opened up part of the wall between the living room and the kitchen - made the cook feel less isolated and was the perfect spot to place a Christmas tree. Steve was rather anal about protecting the kids from harm and would use fishing line to attach the tree to the ceiling so it wouldn't fall. Good thing......
We moved into the house when Eric was five and promptly got him a black lab mix pup from the shelter so he could lose his fear of dogs and have a pal. It worked like a charm and Smokey was the perfect family pet (aside from a couple habits which should be the subject of another post). He would even lie on the floor in front of the wood stove and let Sara crawl on him when she was a baby - that's another story, too.
When Sara was about 4 or 5 , she decided that Smokey was too big for her to play with because he would whack her with his tail. So.....we got another shelter dog for her - a Cairn terrier, poodle, doxie mix. Muffin was the perfect pet for Sara and was a wonderful buddy for Smokey. They would race across the fields where we lived - the little white dog keeping up with the strides of the big black dog.

All this is necessary background for the tail of the Christmas tree. One year the tree was put up, secured with the fishing line, decorated and enjoyed by all. The dogs were not happy that their raceway for playing chase was partially obscured by the Christmas tree. day they got playing - egged on no doubt, by wired children - and started racing around the house. Muffin safely scooted under the tree from living room to kitchen to doorway into the hallway back into the living room and around again. When Smokey tried to chase her under the tree, he got too close to the tree, flew under a branch and set the tree to spinning and tilting badly. Held up by the fishing line, the tree never fell and only a couple ornaments bit the dust. I have to admit with chagrin that I never questioned Steve about the necessity of the fishing line again. And enticing the dogs into racing around the house was forbidden during the Christmas season.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Caroling, part 2

When I was probably middle school age, I was very involved in the musical offerings at my church. We had a fabulous minister of music who formed choirs of all ages and forms. I was in the youth choir and the handbell choir. We practiced regularly and sang compositions of some difficulty. One Christmas we were part of a gathering of youth choirs from all over the area to present a choir program at The Brick Presbyterian Church in NYC on Park Avenue. I remember that there were TV cameras set up outside to record portions of the program. My choir was assigned a spot on the balcony overlooking the congregation seating. It gives me goosebumps even now to remember the grand sound of hundreds of young voices singing some of the ancient chants and carols. Brick Church is also well-known for it's organs, and there is no more stupendous sound than a grand organ playing in a great church with excellent acoustics. What a wonderful background for all the voices that were raised in unison and counterpoint that evening so long ago.
We traveled on a bus from my home in NJ to the city. And I'm quite certain that we sang '100 bottles of beer on the wall' on the way home until most of us were sound asleep.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Lights

This memory is one I owe to Becky and her lovely photos of some Christmas lights in her hometown. And the photo is one I got off the internet. Now that I have done the credits, let's move on to the story.

When I was quite young - probably elementary school age - I remember a yearly trip to Glen Rock, the town next to mine, to see Christmas lights. Obviously it was long before all the premade decorations that are now available to decorate yards of every size and shape. I remember the house as being something of a fairyland castle style, made almost entirely of rocks - not bricks but rocks, with a turret of sorts. The yard was large with lots of walkways throughout. And the lights.......there was Santa and his sleigh with the reindeer, there was a fairytale princess and elves, there were candycanes and trees. Each year the owners added something new. People would drive from all around, park their cars and walk in front of the house, oohing and ahhing. My whole family would make quite an outing of it - even my mother would go with us, which was unusual as she was often too busy to leave home at that time of year. There was certainly something magical in the viewing.

Thank you, Becky, for jarring this long forgotten memory to the surface for me.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Caroling, part 1

My father had a beautiful tenor voice and he loved to sing. As a child he was a choirboy in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC. Later he sang in various groups - he met my mother through one of those. I remember him singing with the Men's Downtown Gleeclub in Brooklyn one year when they gave a concert in Carnegie Hall and I was old enough to attend. And he loved to go caroling about the neighborhood when I was growing up. My brother and I caroled with him. We must have been quite a sight all bundled up against the cold - two children and a man in an overcoat, scarf and hat. Some of the neighbors invited us in for something hot to drink and some Christmas cookies. My favorite carol as a child and for many years after was O Little Town of Bethlehem. And I loved to sing the high part when we did The First Noel. I never had the beautiful voice that my father had, but I loved to sing - and still do in church. I think my early love of singing began caroling with my father.

Friday, December 5, 2008

O Christmas Tree

And why, you wonder, would I post this unretouched photo of my naked little artificial tree? Well, because this is as far as I have gotten with the decorations and I want to write about
Christmas trees.
My childhood memory of our trees is mainly one of putting tons and tons of tinsel on, one strand at a time. It was magical when finished but tedious, I'm sure, in the application. When I was old enough to practice this task, I think I was assigned the tinsel because I could put it on for hours while I listened to Christmas music, especially that played on the piano by my mother. I also remember heirloom ornaments from Europe that were the mercury variety. They were all lost when we moved to Montana and our moving van burned. Sad that all the photos were lost as well, so there is no way to see them now, except in my mind's eye.
When my children were growing up, we started a tradition the first Christmas after Eric was born of adding one ornament to our collection each year. Over the years friends added to the collection as well; and we started giving an ornament to each child every year - a collection that they were able to take with them when they started their own Christmas traditions. Our tree was never a special theme or color over the years, but was very eclectic and homespun. In fact, I regularly sought out handcrafted ornaments at the local Christmas fairs.
Recently, I have started purchasing star, snowflake and angel ornaments from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's yearly collectors' offerings. Eric receives the star one, Sara has the snowflake and I save the angel ones for my tree. They are beautifully crafted from actual art that the Met has in its collections. The angels come from a nativity set the Met puts up in its lobby every year.
I will try to post the completed tree at some point before Christmas.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Sorry there will be no photo today as this is about cookies my mother used to make each holiday season. She made them before Thanksgiving and set them aside to 'age' - in a metal cookie tin with a slice of apple that she changed every couple days. I don't have her recipe - I think Sara has it in the cookbook that belonged to my mother. Her lebkuchen were bar cookies....mine were rolled ones, so that's the recipe that follows. It's from a Betty Crocker's New Picture Cookbook with a copyright date of 1961.

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup molasses
3/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon rind
2-3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup cut-up citron
1/3 cup chopped nuts.
Mix honey and molasses; bring to a boil. Sir in sugar, egg, lemon juice and rind. Blend dry ingredients. Mix in citron and nuts. Chill overnight.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Roll small amount at a time, keeping rest chilled. Roll 1/4" thick; cut into oblongs, 2-1/2X1-1/2". Place 1" apart on greased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 min., or until no imprint remains when touched lightly. While cookies bake, make Glazing Icing (below). Brush it over the cookies the minute they are out of the oven. Quickly remove from baking sheet. Cool; store to mellow. Makes 6 doz cookies.
Glazing Icing
Boil together 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water until first indication of a thread appears (230 degrees). Remove from heat. Stir in 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar and brush hot icing lightly over cookies.
These cookies smell heavenly and strongly of the spices they contain when they are baking - much better than a scented candle from Pier 1.
Baking cookies was a happy memory of Christmas's past. My mother was a superb cookie baker and made the best cut-out cookies ever, called sandtarts. They were buttery, very thin and crisp shapes that we decorated with frosting, and candies. When my children were small, I baked several different kinds of cookies every year and was part of a cookie exchange group for several years. I'll have to post a couple other recipes in the time before Christmas.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mimi and Uncle Cortland

Mimi and Uncle Cortland came as a pair. They lived together all her life and he was rather lost after her death at 95 years old. I never really knew what had happened to him to cause him to be somewhat disabled, but remember hearing something about a fever soon after his birth.

This photo was taken in 1966 when they had moved to Roseburg, OR to be close to my parents and they look alot the same as I remember them during my childhood.

One Christmas is very clear in my memory of when they were at our house. Really they weren't part of the memory, but because of their visit my brother Kent and I were sleeping together in my room. Kent must have been about four or five and I was a couple years older. He still firmly believed in Santa and we were watching out my bedroom window at the sky in the hopes of seeing Santa and the sleigh. Suddenly, Kent whispered loudly, "there he is!!!" and became very excited. I wasn't able to see what he thought he saw, but quickly told him we needed to duck into our beds so Santa didn't see us and fly over our house instead of stopping. Santa must have stopped that night because the cookies and milk were gone in the morning and there were LOTS of presents under the tree for each of us.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


This is my paternal grandmother. She is very much a part of all my childhood memories of Christmas as she always came to our house. We were her only family because my father was an only child. She was a wonderful cook and was the preparer of both the Thanksgiving and the Christmas Feasts. Her plum pudding was legendary and her recipe was scribbled on a scratch piece of paper that my mother tried to duplicate for years before she got it right. I can still see her in my mind's eye as she walked down our street from the train station with her suitcase in her hand and her hat with the veil on her head. It wasn't a long walk from the station and my mother didn't drive until many years later. Grammy always had little treats for us in her suitcase so we loved to help her unpack. She had lots of time to play and read with us. And her hugs were warm and enveloping. I hope I can be the kind of grandmother to my grandchildren as she was to us.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Angel Ornament

Every year I treat myself to the angel ornament of the year from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Each year the design of the ornament is based on one of the angels in the Museum's collection of Neapolitan creche figures. This angel is from a design by Giuseppe Gori (ca 1770-1810). I love hanging the angels on my small artificial tree and noticing the details that set each one apart.

My tree will probably not go up until the weekend so I will not have long this year to enjoy my angels.