Thursday, December 31, 2009

Winter Kids

As a Grandmother, I watch the kids of today as the entertain themselves. It's so much different from what we did as children, and even from what my own children did when they were young. However, there are some things that don't seem to change very much. It's winter-time fun.

When the snows come, most kids want to be outside to play in the fluffy, cold, wet stuff. They stand with heads back and eyes gazing upward, with their tongues out, attempting to catch the snowflakes on their tonge. They might try to catch a few snowflakes in their mitten-clad hands, in order to compare the shapes, becasue they've heard that no two snowflakes are the same. It's a futile chore, as snowflakes rarely can be compared by the naked eye, and most don't last long enough to compare at all.

There seems to be a universal trait among children in a freshly fallen snow. They love to mar as much of the virgin snow as possible by leaving footprints in it. They will walk miles in a yard, marching in circles or zig-zagging narrow paths around the trees and taller bushes. The shorter
plant life, which lies dormant beneath the snow, will likely be tromped upon, but will emerge in Spring as lively as it was before it began its long-winter nap. Kids don't map their route, they just make it with little thought.

Whenever there is a snowfall, kids build snowmen. It doesn't matter how little or how much accumulation there is, children will attempt to form one snowball after the other to be stacked into a snowperson. Of course, the more snow, the better. This will allow a vast array of architecture to be formed . Each child will have his or her own idea of a snow fort, igloo, or walled structure. It's fun to watch them create.

There is the fun, too, of lying on your back, and flapping your arms up and down to form snow angels. Collecting buckets of clean snow with which to make home made ice cream or just to eat with flavored syrup is a favorite activity too. Friendly snowball fights with neighbors and friends and the bringing in of a snowball to store in the deep freeze are things that kids have been known to do. But, their favorite snow activity would be sledding.

Bundled in so many thick layers of clothing that they can barely board their sleds, they waddle to the plastic saucer or their long toboggan, and climb aboard. Down the hill they race, with the cold wind biting their cheeks and bits of ice flying toward their faces. The have little control over their vehicles, but it usually doesn't matter. The ride the hill until the sled stops, or the toss themselves off when they are ready. Then comes the trudging to the summit. It's a bit harder than it was to descend. Often the snow is slippery, and it's a lot of work to climb back to the top.

Thinking back to my own kids, I remember dressing them to go outside to play in the snow. Snowsuits, warm socks, boots, hats, mittens and scarves. Just as the fifth one would get out the door, one of the others would need to come in to use the bathroom. Undress, do the deed, redress, repeat with child # 2, 3, 4 and then 5. By this time, someone was ready to come inside and warm up.

I miss the snow. Here in SC we might see one day of snow per winter, but not yet, this year. The children here get as excited to see the snowfall as we did as children. I watch the three girls across the street, former Floridians, who had never seen snow until the winter of 2006. They were out the door as soon as the ground had a covering of it, no more than a light frosting. They formed tiny snowballs and began to toss them at each other. The laughter was loud, the squealing delightful. I just smiled, knowing that kids haven't really changed much, generation after generation, at least not when it comes to snow.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Every now and again something will cross my mind and a memory will emerge from some hidden place in the heart. Most often, when that happens, it relates to someone or somewhere in my life, which is no longer in it. Whether these people were taken from me in death, or moved on to other places in life, or a thought of a place I've lived or visited, it brings about emotion. Sometimes I call the feeling 'homesickness.'

Christmas time comes and in that season, my husband has moments of melancholy. It isn't that he's sad about the time of year, in fact, it's his favorite season. But, from the depths of his memories, some ghosts of Christmas past rise up. He grows homesick for his native state across the continent, and he misses the family members he knew as a child. They have all passed away now, and he is the patriarch of his family. He knows he cannot bring his loved ones back to this world, and it isn't so much that he wants to. But, the memories are so engraved in him that they haunt him. Christmas traditions which they practiced are among those thoughts. I've offered to incorporate them into our holidays, but even if we recreate them, they will not be the same, for the people who are gone were a part of those traditions. They cannot be recreated.

When a fragrance wafts through the air, or the sky looks a particular way, or a specific song is heard, each one of us might find themselves thrust back in time to a person or a place which we find ourselves missing. I think that is ok, for each experience we've known should be a remembrance of a good time or a lesson learned. I don't think, however, that we should dwell in that memory too long. We can never go back, and we will never go forward or enjoy the present time if we look back for too long.

Be homesick for a moment. Let the memory transport us to that old location or that beloved person. Then, put it back into the memory bank, lay it on its shelf and close the door on it. Live life as it is now, and enjoy making new memories. The ones worth remembering will not ever be forgotten.

Monday, December 21, 2009

There's a saying that goes, "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of things that take our breath away." So often we get too busy to notice those amazing things around us. How sad! Life is so full of breath-taking moments and how special it is when we are actually able to experience those.

Last winter while doing his walks around the yard, my husband discovered something he had never seen before. He ran in to get me, so that I, too, could see the wonder. When I walked outside with him, he showed me what looked like faceted 'sticks' of ice coming up from the ground. I thought at first it was grass that had a good layer of ice upon each blade, but it wasn't that. Each crystal was actually like a multi-sided, icicle which rose up from the clay soil. We are still baffled by the 'how' of it all, but it seems to happen when weather conditions are 'right' for it, as we've seen it a few times since that first day.

Daily we are aware of our sunsets, each one different from the last. The trees stand dark against the setting orb, back lit by the ever -changing color of the skies. It is something we watch for, and the reason we placed so many windows in our sunporch. Not only can we see the sky shows at dusk, we can watch the opening of day from there, as well. (Of course, being a morning dove married to a night owl, I am generally the only one who sees the sun rise. What a peaceful joy it is to sit in comfort in the porch, and watch as the dark sky brightens with gold and pink and blue!)

We enjoy the watching of the clouds, too. We're like kids, sometimes, seeing the shapes and naming the animals we see in them. The Spring weather changes in minutes around here, and it's interesting to watch the storm clouds roll in or the flashes of lightening to the tune of the rumbling thunder.

What a wonderous world we live in! There is such a variety of color, of shape, of plant life, of living things, of weather. No matter where we are, no matter what we do, there's something new to see all the time. There are wonders all around us, we need only to open our eyes and ears, and be aware. We might just find our breath being taken away.

Friday, December 18, 2009

New Traditions

There are traditions that die hard. Holiday meals are one of those, at least where my Mom is concerned. She's always cooked the same meal for Thanksgiving and Christmas. ...turkey and all the trimmings. When she was doing the meals, we had no complaint, but now that we are providing the feasts, we'd like to throw in some new ideas. We are generally met with a bit of resistance, although nothing is ever left uneaten, I've noticed!

On Christmas morning, we have the family around the tree. The littlest and the oldest of the grandkids are here with their parents, and my mother and brother show up shortly after rising from their own beds. Twelve of us open gifts together, and then move on to have some semblance of simple breakfast. Generally we've tried to pull together the full turkey dinner at Christmas. We barely get through the morning meal and clean up before we're we're sitting down to our one o'clock dinner table. It's not an easy task to do that and try to keep it all hot until everyone is seated and served.

This year we've decided to break tradition. We'll cook a turkey breast rather than the entire bird. We'll bake a big ham too. We'll prepare it all the day before Christmas when there are fewer people in the house. The table will be set on Christmas Eve as well. On the big day, we will devour our cold buffet of meats, salads, and finger foods. We'll have many choices, since we have a very fussy bunch of eaters. There should be something for everyone's palate, but fare that is easy to prepare, allowing us time to enjoy our day and our family.

Traditions are good, and they are to be cherished, but I think there is always room to add a new one or two. We'll see how all this works out. It may just become our new yearly Christmas dinner.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Past

So many Christmases past flutter through the corridors of memory. I remember only a few that were not 'holly jolly' ones. But those need not be mentioned today. In this entry, I'll focus on just a few of the many merry ones.

My earliest remembrance of Christmas is of one when I was about eight years old. We were living with my Grandmother at her house. Santa had come, bringing me a 'grown up' doll, the predecessor of Barbie dolls. She was about eighteen inches tall, and had blond hair. She came with a full wardrobe, which was made by my Mom, although I didn't know that at the time.

She was my favorite gift that year, and she got a good workout! I believe that it was also that year that Santa made a 'repeat' visit on New Year's Eve, bringing just one more gift for each of us. Mine was a cute little soft plastic, pastel colored tea set.

In our family, Christmas meant visiting. We saw a lot of my maternal aunts and cousins throughout the year, but my seeing father's side of the family (except my Grandparents) was less frequent, for whatever reason. When Christmas came , however, we'd get together with Dad's sister and some of my cousins. Usually, after the gifts were unwrapped and breakfast was eaten, we'd load into the car, and begin the hopping from house to house in East Hampton, collecting gifts from each of my aunts. The visits weren't lengthy, but each family member of the family was graced with our family's arrival on the door step.

After we'd seen the maternal side, we'd go home for dinner, and afterward, all the aunts and cousins would pop in to see what we got for Christmas, and to receive their gifts from us. After the last of the bunch had left, we'd get in the car again, and go to Amagansett to my father's sister's house. There was no gift exchange there, but there was a visit. Often we'd go next door, too, to visit a cousin who was married with a young family.

Looking back on it, I don't remember any complaints. I would think my brothers and I would rather have stayed home with our presents than to travel hither and yon to visit with relatives.
Yet, when I married and we had children of our own, we did precisely the same thing! We dragged our kids from place to place all day long, with time enough for dinner at one set of parents or the other.

Christmas is a time to reconnect with all that is truly important... spiritual things, relationships and remembrances.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Different Kind of Hostess

There are those among us who decorate their homes with style and entertain with aplomb. There are others who, try as they will, never seem to be quite satisfied. I fall into the latter bunch.

One of my friends recently stated that she loves to entertain, and fantasizes that she was meant to be the First Lady of the country. She probably could pull it off as well as any of the President's wives have. As for me, I'd be like the proverbial wart on a frog's back if I even thought of attempting such elegance.

Picture this scene. The limos pull up to the front entrance of the White House, and one by one the couples file in, dressed to the nines in their glamorous gowns, diamonds and tuxes. At the entrance to the dining hall, the guests (each with invitations in hand!) are met by the I'm dressed in a comfortable pair of slacks, probably jeans, and a sweater. My sterling silver hoop earrings gleam against the turtleneck, and the burnished silver framed oval of onyx lays upon my chest. My hands, rough from gardening, with fingernails of uneven lengths, reach out to greet these dignitaries. I attempt to make small talk with them, but we have so little in common that there are long pauses as we greet each other. These are not people I know. They are above me in elegance, in attitude and in social standing. The china gleams in the candlelight which bounces off the crystal. The huge dining room is picture perfect, except for one thing... me.

Now, flash this one through your mind. It's a simple setting with a warm fire glowing, dim lighting, a Christmas tree clad handmade ornaments from family members. There is little glitter, but for the lights woven into the branches of the evergreens. Soft instrumental music of harps, dulcimers, cellos, violins, guitars plays across the air, as I greet those at my door, and invite them in. We chat about jobs, and grandchildren, neighborhood news and local events. We eat at a large, square table laid out with a red plaid tablecloth and white ironstone dishware. A few snowflake candles floating in a cut glass bowl offer the lighting at the table. It is a buffet meal set out on the kitchen island with seating for each guest at the dining table. After dinner, we turn the music off, and all of us gather in the living room, some on the floor, some on the furniture, and someone plays his guitar, while we all join in singing Christmas carols.

It is a Currier and Ives scene, simple, warm and real, and somehow, I fit into this picture just fine.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Homemade Christmas

Many times in my life I've made the statement that I might have been born in the wrong century. That thought ran through my head again this morning as I looked over our Christmas decorations for the tree. As I touched each one, I felt blessed to see the creativity that our family has in their fingers.

Every year for many years my mother has gifted me with a few tatted ornaments that she's made. Each Christmas when I hang them on our tree, I think of the work that went into them and the time Mom took to give me this gift of herself. Each year the snowflakes and bells and angels and medallions are more precious to me. I recognize that using her creativity is more difficult for Mom as Macular Degeneration has stolen the majority of her eye sight. How she could do that tiny work with the string and shuttle, tatting the knots into beautiful lacey shapes is beyond my comprehension, even when her sight was good, and is even more amazing to me now!

I think of the other handmade things that we place on our tree each year. There are counted cross-stitch Hummel figures and paper quilled items that Kerry has done. There are flat wooden toy soldiers and mittens and reindeer and sleighs that Erinne has painted, and a number of real egg shells that she blew the contents from, cleaned and then painted in a Ukranian style. There are unbreakable patchwork balls of styrofoam covered with fabric that have been hung since the days when Megan was an infant. Many have been made since the day a friend showed me the simple technique of pressing the fabric edges into the crisp ball. Megan, herself, has some that I made for her with velvet remnants. I've crafted a variety of decorations over the years, mostly 'unbreakables' so that the children can touch them. There are small wood birdhouses with snowy scenes, tiny broomstick horses, little lollipops, glass balls which I painted with designs of the season. There are clear beaded icicles which drip off the ends of the tree branches and various felt mittens adorned with felt 'sticker' snowflakes or stripes.

This morning as I surveyed our collection, I thought of other "homemade Christmases." Uppermost in my mind are our childhood gifts. One year Daddy built stilts for us. What a time we had trying to learn to walk on them! Another year he built a go-cart for my brothers, with a pair of real bucket seats for the driver and passenger, a genuine car steering wheel and a lawn mower engine to make it run. When I say he 'built it' I mean just that. He used a metal bed frame, cutting and welding it to form the chassis. I remember my first effort at driving that vehicle! I drove it just fine until I got to the end of the cul de sac and turned the wheel to make the corner. At the age of eleven or twelve, and inexperienced as I was behind the wheel, I had some trouble with the coordination of gas and brake pedals. I took the turn too fast. I ended up in the twisted vines and underbrush of the lot at the end of the street, laughing my fool head off!

An earlier time, Santa brought a doll cradle made by my Dad. A pink doll chest and closet were a gift from my grandfather, who built them for me. I still have those three wooden pieces, and will, until I've left this earth. They are precious to me, and probably stand out in my thoughts because the men were less likely to craft a gift than the women in the family were. My Grandmother, Mom and her sisters were always doing hand work, and I was the recipient of much of it. There's a photo around here somewhere which shows my brothers and I in matching cowboy shirts that Mom sewed for us back in the 1950's. Embroidered pillow cases, lacey doilies or lace-edged tablecloths and towels, knitted sweaters, dresses, patchwork pillows and placemats. The family was a talented and loving bunch!

We've tried to keep some of that 'handmade' spirit alive through the years since the children and grandchildren were born. There have been doll quilts and clothes, even handmade baby dolls, and three large plywood doll houses furnished and fit for any Barbie family. Whatever I could do, I did, as my parents and grandparents did, with love and a hope that it would please the recipient.

As I reflect upon all those past homemade Christmases and the wonderful gifts that came my way, I am warmed by the love behind each one, and I wonder if the givers knew when they crafted them, how much more they left me with than a material gift. They gave of themselves and their time, they gave joy in their sharing, and they left me with a lifetime of memories to treasure. I pray that I might do the same for those I love.

Friday, December 11, 2009

'Tis the Season...

Ok, it's here....the season to be jolly. Party time has arrived, and the celebrations abound, with the goodies piled high and calling loudly to come and taste. For one like me, with a severe weakness for dark chocolate and anything else that looks good, it's a sure cause for a few extra pounds.

It's baking time too. I love to make Christmas cookies. Cut out angels and Santas and reindeer and stars are decorated with frosting and colored sugar and edible glitter. Of course each must be taste-tested before they can be placed out for the public. Candy, also, which I make only once a year, will be made. I use Mom's old recipe for semi-sweet chocolate fudge, sometimes adding peanut butter or coconut to the basic, delicious mixture. Then, there are the orange peel candies, a delectible mixture which I could never turn down. The family's traditional nut bread is yet another 'must have.'

There are some temptations tat pass me which I can resist, but I'm afraid that sweets are not one of them. And, please...don't pass the salty snacks either. Although we use a potassium-based salt substitute in our home and though we choose 'low sodium' products, we still get a good dose of salt in everything we eat. Why does everything on the store shelves need to have so much salt added?

I think I should walk every day through the year, just to prepare for the extra calories consumed at Christmas-time. But, alas, I don't follow that thought. Instead, I add the goodies to the 'saddlebags', and have to deal with it however I can, after the fact.

Well, it is what it is. The fact is that I have very little self-discipline regarding my diet, so let the party begin!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

So...this is Christmas. I heard the bells the other day in front of the Walmart...silver bells rung by the tired, cold and wet Salvation Army member who hoped for a few donations in his bucket. Jingle, jingle, jingle went the handful of coins the child before me dropped through the slot in the red pail.

There's a star in the East, shining brightly on these cold winter nights. It reminds us of the First Noel, when Mary's boy child, Jesus Christ, was found by Three Kings, away in a manger in a little village of Bethlehem. On a very Silent Night, the shepherds watched their flocks, and one might have said, 'hark, the herald angels sing Glory to the new-born king!' In the deep mid-winter, long, long ago, that Christmas time was very different from the way we celebrate today. People saw a child who'd been born in a manger, and they asked, 'what child is this?' Today, most of us know in our hearts that it was the birthday of a King, and yet, we continue to deck the halls with bows of holly and have ourselves a merry little Christmas, with too little thought of the real significance of Christ's birth.

I wonder, as I wander, how we've gotten so far from the true meaning of Christmas. How did Jolly Old Saint Nicholas become a star of wonder? Are the wrapped presents he brings more precious than the son of God, wrapped in swaddling clothes? Is the mystery of such a special child being born to become the Savior of all mankind so much less important than the mystery of a fat, bearded man who has reindeer who fly him through a dark night?

As we watch the faces of our tiny tots, with their eyes all aglow with the reflection of Christmas lights on the tree, let us teach them to bow and offer thanks to God for the blessings He gave us when He sent us the gift of His only Son. When we walk through the winter wonderland, surrounded by the holly and the ivy, let us focus on the rugged stall in Bethlehem and what happened there. While we are filling the stockings before the fireplace, let the bright flame of Jesus abide in our hearts and let Him fill us with the love He'd have us to give to others.

However you choose to celebrate this season, we wish you a merry Christmas, Joy to the world...and may God rest ye, merry gentlemen!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Log Cabin Life

Sometimes, throughout my life, I've wondered if I was born in the wrong century. I've always loved old things and am interested in the ways things were done before machines did the work for us. For most of my life, I've dreamed of living in a log cabin. There's is a certain charm to them, a warmth and coziness that doesn't exist in many stick built places with stark sheet rocked walls and wall to wall carpeting. The charm must be the wood.

In the 1980's we had an opportunity to purchase or rent a newly built, 3 bedroom cabin in the woods in the Springs. We had hoped to buy the place, with a 'rent to own' sort of deal, and the owner was in agreement with that sort of arrangement.

We moved into the place, putting all of our antique stuff and faux antique furnishings into the cabin. They fit better there than they have in any other environment we've ever tried to use them. Our old bed frames and quilts looked as if they belonged there. The long harvest table, surrounded by bow back chairs gave us plenty of room to feed our own mob, as well as the guests who made their way to the dinner table.

There was a wood burning stove in the large, front to back, room which housed our living room and our dining room. It was a good-sized stove, and when loaded, the fire would last all night, keeping us toasty and warm. We rarely had to use the hot water heat. A few times we cooked meals on the wood stove, due to an electrical outage. It did the job quite nicely!

The wide board pine floors and the flat log interior walls made the house feel so homey. We placed rag area rugs in the rooms, but not room-sized ones. We liked the noisey wood floors, and they are so much easier to keep clean than carpets or large rugs are.

The front porch was wonderful too! We could sit outside, day or night, rain or shine, and listen to the birds, feel the breeze, watch the squirrels and marvel at the ever-changing world around us. All in all, it just felt like 'home'.

Unfortunately, circumstances did not allow the purchase of what we called "the Log Nest", but I've never been sorry for the time we lived there. Since moving out, I've kept the dream in my heart that we'd one day own one. We did have the chance to buy property from my brother and thought hard about the idea of building a log home there. But, for many reasons, we chose a move-in ready, newly-constructed tract home. It turned out, in the long run, to be the best choice for the time being, but there still lives the memory of 'the Log Nest' . The hope remains that one day we will have the chance again to build and live in a fairly roomy log cabin, warmed by a wood stove, walled inside with wood, and entered by way of a front porch. It so appeals to the 'old soul' within me.