Saturday, December 10

Christmas Food Memories

Many of my Christmas memories revolve around food. When I was small, my bedroom was just off the kitchen, and my mother used to store the Christmas cookies she made under my bed, maybe because my room was so cold. She had several containers of different kinds of cookies, jam-jams, chocolate chip, ginger snaps, and I don’t know what else. (I may have pilfered a few cookies when Mom wasn’t looking.) There was also homemade fruitcake under my bed. She would carefully wrap the loaves in brown paper and tie them with string, letting the flavors blend for a few weeks. I know a lot of people hate fruitcake, but I love it to this day. Of course, not every fruitcake out there is as good as my mom’s. 
My grandmother made strudel for Christmas every year. Well, Granny along with her crack team of assistants. My mom and my aunts would assemble at her tiny house. First, they’d unfold her dining room table to its full length, adding all the leaves. Then Granny made a phyllo pastry – don’t ask me how because I don’t have a clue. Granny would carefully stretch and pull that pastry, working it with her hands until it was long enough to cover the whole table. Then the aunts would sprinkle the whole thing with apple slices, sugar, raisins, and dots of butter, and together they’d roll it up jellyroll style. Granny would cut it into pieces and distribute it among her helpers. The taste of Granny’s strudel is something I’ll never forget. It was unbelievably flaky and supernaturally delicious. I wish I’d gotten that recipe from her.

Picture by Laura17776
Fast forward many years. My mother-in-law was an excellent cook. Every Christmas when my kids were small, we’d pack up and make the drive to my in-laws' house. She would cook for days in preparation of our visit. Pies, cookies, turkey and all the trimmings. But the thing I looked forward to every year were the homemade perogies. Sautéed in butter and onions, these little dumplings filled with potatoes and cheese probably weren’t great for my waistline, but they were so tasty! Another favorite was her homemade dinner buns. Whenever she asked what she could bring when she visited, we’d always say “Bring the buns!”

Picture by Leah McGill
All these memories are making me hungry. Do you have a favorite Christmas food memory? How about your favorite Christmas food?

And in the spirit of Christmas giving, I'm giving away some ecopies of my contemporary romance RESCUE ME. Just comment for your chance to win!

Friday, December 9

Ornamental Memories

The Word Wranglers have been talking Christmas this week, and I’m happy to keep the festive discussion going… and even include my own little giveaway! After all, if this isn’t the season for giving, what is?

This week, my family has slowly decorated our Christmas Tree, the center of our holiday cheer. One small fact has hindered our progress: we have two cats. Last year, as wee kittens, Jake and Sugar claimed the under-tree area as their own for frolicking. And they nibbled at the wires on the lights. To deter any unwanted wire-chewing (and subsequent kitty-electrifying) this year, we ordered a bottle of apple bitter spray, which took its sweet time arriving. Meanwhile, the bare and lonely tree stood in a dark corner of our living room.

Once we were able to apply the apple bitter to the wire (our first-born child offered to taste-test the stuff. And yes, I got the hilarious results on video!), the lights were meticulously placed among the branches of our tree. The dark corner of the living room is dark no longer, and the cats have once again claimed the under-tree area as their own. I think they like the ambiance of the tiny colored lights, and I have to agree with them: a Christmas Tree is one of the most magical symbols of the season for me. Bright lights, memories old and new, and something different to catch your eye each time you look.

Jake, under the bare tree. "Mom, where
are the lights for me to chew on?"
Tonight, we’ll be able to hang the ornaments… well, the non-breakable ones at the very least! This is a family task which we all enjoy. We pull the ornaments out, ooh and ahhh over them, and talk about them… where they came from, who gave them to us, what event they represent, etc. Our Christmas tree quickly evolves into a thing of magical, twinkling beauty.

Because my family is just now getting around to hanging ornaments, I thought I’d talk about my favorite ornament and then ask all of you to share the details of your favorite ornament (for a chance at a prize. Hmmm, probably an ornament!). I still want to hear about your favorite ornament, and I’m still going to give a prize… but deciding which ornament is my personal favorite is much more challenging. After all, except for when I was a young adult with my first tree and nothing to put on it, I don’t buy ornaments just because they’re pretty. I buy ornaments – for my family and myself – for a reason, to symbolize a memory. For example, I buy the kiddos an ornament to represent something they did that year. Played basketball? Yep, got that ornament. Saw the NYC Rockets? Yep, got that one. Disney World? Yep, mouse-ear ornaments all-around. So, how can I weed through my memories and pick the most important/meaningful one?

Answer: I can’t. And I won’t. I’m the one writing the blog, so I get to talk about a few of my favs. Maybe that’s cheating, but I call it creative license. Here are my favorite ornaments:

The annual kid-pics. Okay, that’s way more than one ornament, but it’s just one theme. Each year, I put a picture of each of the kiddos in an ornament frame (thank you, Michael’s, for always having a wide selection). As we pull the ornaments from their boxes and hang them on the tree, I get to walk down memory lane and watch them grow all over again. And it’s especially fun when I don’t pull the ornaments out in chronological order!

The Depression Bell. I have one fragile glass ornament left-over from a distant family member who lived through the Depression era. Knowing I’m an absolute clutz, I am terrified every time I hold it, afraid it will shatter and the remnant of a bygone time will itself be bygone. However, each year the little pink -and clear-glass bell-shaped ornament proves to me that you can be beautiful and delicate, and still be a survivor.

The black bear. It’s one I gave my hubby several years ago. The short story is: I once saw a large critter climbing our front yard tree and yelled to him that we had a baby black bear in our tree and the mom was going to be really mad! He scoffed, which wasn't a very nice thing to do, but it turned out the critter was just a furry barn cat from next door. Silly me. But now, each year when I find the perfect spot for the ornament, I turn to my hubby and declare with joy “Oh, no, there’s a baby black bear in our tree!”

I could go on and on, as each ornament is its own mini-time capsule. But for now, I’m going to hand the theme over to you (and I’ll announce the winner next week). What’s your favorite ornament?

Thursday, December 8

And The Stockings Were Hung

 by Margie Senechal

This week the Wranglers have been waxing holiday. We've covered songs, movies, presents...

I'm going with stockings because they're my favorite part of Christmas.

I come from a family that doesn't have a lot of generational traditions. The first nine years of my life were spent in four different states, and one foreign country, and never had a Christmas with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. 

Christmas stockings became our tradition. They were always full of special surprises--canes filled with flavoring lip balms, Sweet Honesty, Juicy Fruit gum, and always a tangerine in the toe. 

When we girls got into our twenties and I had my daughters, my mom decided she didn't need to do our stockings anymore. The horror! What was Christmas without stockings? Sure, Mike and I did stockings, but--sorry, honey--in those early years, he was no mom when it came to the stocking stuffing. And my unmarried sisters didn't have anyone to stuff a stocking for them.

So sister Deb suggested that we draw names and exchange stockings. And our tradition was born. We made a $50 minimum so nobody felt cheated if their stocking was lacking.

We draw names in the spring or early summer, so we can gather presents through the year. As my daughters got older they graduated to the stocking exchange as well. We open the stockings before gifts, one person at a time. And we try not to get the same person each year and if you draw your child or husband, you draw again because you shouldn't have to do them twice.

My nephews are getting to the age where soon they'll get to decide when and if they want to jump into the stocking insanity. Their father opted out, never quite understanding our obsession. But, for us, it's tradition.

What's your favorite tradition? Like everyone else, I have a gift--possibly Snoopy related or stocking or--to send to a lucky commenter--I'll draw from the names on the blog and on FB as some friends only comment there.

Wednesday, December 7

Favorite Holiday Flicks

We're doing some different kinds of posts to ring in the holiday season - some favorite things, sharing memories...and, of course, giving a few prezzies away! Today, I'm talking about my favorite holiday movies - and yes, there is a giveaway attached. Keep reading and don't forget to comment for your chance to win - I'll be drawing a name at the end of the week.

1. Rudolph. Also, Santa Clause is Coming to Town.

When I was little my mom would make hot cocoa and we would all sit down in the living room at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night and magic would happen. Rudolph and Hermie or the Klaus family would bring their stop-motion amazingness to life. We watched it every year until my brother and I were too cool. And then my younger siblings got to the right age and we started watching again because…it’s magic. Watching those same movies now with my daughter is like having a glimpse into the past and future at the very same time because I can see myself in her and I can see her future children…and all of us are caught up in the magic.

2. The Holiday.

This is a newer-ish holiday movie and the holiday parts are
really lightly covered. There is not big present-opening scene, but there is a hilarious Hannukah dinner with some old Hollywood dudes, and there is not decorating of the tree, but there is a really great blanket-fort-tent, and an awesome group dance at the end. The gist is that Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and Iris (Kate Winslett) switch houses because each of them wants to have a holiday that isn’t smothered in angst…really, neither wants to have a holiday at all, they just want to get away. And then, romance takes over. Iris is swept up in reviving a much older man—in a friendly sort of way—and falling for the co-worker of Amanda's ex, while Amanda is just too much for a widower-and Iris's brother-to leave alone at Christmas. I just love it!

3. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

I love that Chevy Chase can’t get his lights to work and I love that family you love-but-don’t-love comes to visit and I really, really, really love it when they’re trying to catch the squirrel that’s terrorizing the tree. And I've got a clip for you right here:

It’s just a fun glimpse at some of the absurdities of the season…all wrapped up in a sweet family story!

Okay, I shared mine, join the fun! What movies are must-watchers during the holiday season? Leave a comment below because, like the other Wranglers, I'll be doing some small giveaways leading up to Christmas, too, and you have to comment to win - so get commenting!

Tuesday, December 6

Christmas Toy Memories

Husband and I went Christmas shopping yesterday, something we haven’t done together in a long time. Usually, I’m the Christmas shopper, which is kinda ironic because I hate shopping. I’m terrible at it, especially during the holidays. I get overwhelmed by crowded stores and too many choices. However, yesterday was all about Grandboy and man, did we have fun. Bear in mind that for several reasons, not the least of which is an order from his parents, we couldn’t go crazy and buy him a bunch of toys even though there are an amazing number of fascinating toys out there for four-year-old little boys. Son and DIL are trying very hard to raise a kid who is sensible and understands the value of money and most importantly, the meaning of Christmas—all tough things to teach in a world where most kids are overindulged to the max.

Grandboy was allowed to ask Santa Claus for one gift because, as we all know, the man in red brings gifts to all the little children in the world. How would he ever manage if all kids wanted a bunch of stuff each year? I imagine Santa will bring him the one thing he asked for when he went to visit the jolly old elf last week. But he’ll also get gifts within reason from his mom and dad, his grandparents, and other family members and friends, so he’ll have plenty to open on Christmas morning, which brings me back to our shopping trip yesterday...standing among all the bright shiny toys in the department store made me think about my childhood and Christmas and toys...

We didn’t have much money when I was a kid—actually, we had no money when I was six years old. My father had abandoned us, Mom was working full time as a grocery store checkout clerk and going to nursing school full time. I’ve talked a lot about her here because she is a particular hero of mine—how she survived those dark days after Dad left is still a mystery to me. I don’t know that I could ever have managed with four kids under the age of thirteen, a mortgage, groceries, bills...and yet she did it and she even did it at Christmastime. I know she must have been exhausted all the time and sick with worry over how she was going to feed all of us, let alone provide a merry Christmas. 

I remember that first Christmas after my father left with more clarity that any holiday that we ever had with him present. I’d asked Santa for several things, but the most important was a baby doll—not a little plastic one, but the life-sized one that had a soft body—one you could cuddle and dress up and hold like a real baby. At the time, I had no idea how hard it would be for her to fulfill the Christmas wishes of four children—I thought Santa took care of all that in his workshop in the North Pole. But that baby doll was under the tree that Christmas morning, complete with bottle, a flannel blanket to wrap her in, and a small wardrobe of clothes. I was overjoyed! I confess I don’t know what happened to baby Sandra—I named her after the prettiest actress I knew of at the time—Sandra Dee. I think little Sandra may have gone to the Goodwill when Mother moved to California, but it doesn’t matter . . . she is my best Christmas toy memory, made all the sweeter for the adult knowledge of how Mother must have sacrificed to make a little girl’s dream come true. 

So, now it's your turn! Tell me about your favorite Christmas toy—one lucky U.S. commenter might just win a small Christmas prize—not sure what yet. Maybe an ornament or a tasty Christmas treat or possibly even an e-trip to Willow Bay!