Woman@Heart

Musings on Life, Love and Lefovers

Archive for the tag “christmas”

A Simpler, Kinder Christmas

No one confuses me with Martha Stewart. I wish someone would. But when any of my friends wants to create holiday centerpieces using bark, berries and spray-painted soda can holders, I’m not the first phone call they make. I know who they do call–women who turn a sprig of rosemary, three candles and a leftover Cool Whip bowl into a sight to behold. Through my green-tinged brown eyes, I admire those ladies. I barely grit my teeth when I receive their handmade holiday card and note how everyone in the family photo– even the dog–looks fabulous.

I don’t know where I was when elegance, artistry and style were being handed out. I must have been standing in the make-magic-out-of-mushroom-soup line. It’s not that I don’t admire creativity in others. Just the opposite. I’m the first one to offer a flattering comment. I’ll ask the neighborhood artisan what inspired her to place 50 floating candles in the backyard birdbath at the Fourth of July barbecue. I’m not the least bit jealous. I’m realistic. I know that if I re-created the same thing, I’d end up with 49 wet candles and a bird on fire. 

shutterstock_163338383

Still I try. I want my family to have cozy, pleasant memories of their childhood Christmases. When they were young, I envisioned my three sons, Shawn, Jake and Seth, contently huddled around our hearth, stringing popcorn and hanging ornaments. Our joyful voices would be singing all the verses to the 12 Days of Christmas or taking turns reading the Polar Express.

Of course, this  never happened. A more likely scenario: they boys were in the driveway, playing basketball and discussing the Chargers’ playoff possibilities and how their fantasy teams were doing  while I hung stockings over the fireplace.

Nevertheless,  as a mom, and now a grandmother, I’m always looking for crafty, memory-making activities that bring a loving family together. That’s why an ever-growing pile of easy-to-make holiday craft instructions inhabits a corner of my TV room. There are piles of pages I’ve collected from numerous issues of Family Circle, Better Homes & Gardens  and Good Housekeeping. The only thing larger than this stack is my intention to actually make one of these projects, one of these years with Windley, my granddaughter.

My talents don’t excel in the cooking and baking department, either. Whenever I got stuck roasting the big bird, my first step was callingl my sister, Sadye (the former Home Ec teacher), pleading for a quick lesson in stuffing preparation and a refresher on how to truss a turkey. Now that call goes to Sweet Sue, who has been instrumental in my recent mashed potato success. Windley will soon learn that her Sitie’s gingerbread houses, complete with gumdrops and licorice, come from a kit.

The fact that I’m artistically impaired hasn’t diminished my passion for the holidays. My well-worn DVDs of It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street were cued up and ready to go by December 1. I’ll watch Frosty the Snowman holding a fresh box of Kleenex, because I always cry when Frosty melts.

Luckily, Christmas is not a season reserved exclusively for the creative. It’s also for the spiritual, the trusting and the sensitive. It’s for the tranquil, the disorganized and the easy-going. So, I’ve made peace with the fact that my home –complete with the artificial scents of pine and peppermint wafting through my kitchen — will never be a model for a Norman Rockwell-esque illustration. My somewhat tilted tree, decorated mostly with kindergarten art projects and my mother’s ornaments, won’t be featured in the Christmas issue of House Beautiful. And it’s OK.

I’m committing myself to a simpler, kinder Christmas; changing my attitude to embrace a gentler spirit of the season. One that doesn’t have me tracking super sales that started before the sun came up. Yes,  my cranberries come from a can instead of from the farmers’ market and I haven’t mailed all my packages by December 17.  Christmas isn’t intended to be a test of stress, but instead an awareness of our blessings. That’s why  I smile as I search for a mall parking spot.  I overcome the urge to elbow the lady reaching over me for a free sample in Costco.

Christmas is about enjoying the moments, whether they come with linen napkins and fine China or paper towels and Styrofoam plates. The holidays are for being with family and friends. A time to honor your faith and reaffirm your beliefs. Thank goodness for this pause in the hustle and bustle of life, this gentle reminder to recall past Christmases, savor the present and ponder what the future might bring.

As mothers, we hope our children will reminisce about what Christmas was like at home when they were small. That their holiday memories are filled with a magic and delight that brought satisfied smiles to their faces. My three sons are grown now and have begun their own Christmas customs and I’m filled with a new joy watching as their traditions unfold.

I eagerly anticipate the day when Shawn tells his now his ten-month-old daughter what Christmas morning was like when he was little. I hope that conversation includes a glimmer in his eye as he recalls leaving carrots for Santa’s reindeer or the excitement of choosing one gift to open on Christmas Eve. 

All of these small details make up the wonder and peace of Christmas. My mother’s laugh and the blending aromas of sugar cookies, pine needles and baked ham, that’s where Christmas lives in my memory. It’s a sure bet Shawn and my beautiful daughter-in-law, Lisa, won’t be recapping for Windley the first time they tasted my candied yams . It is possible, though, that I’ll get a shout out for my Chex Mix.

 

 

Advertisements

From the Kitchen of…

It’s not fancy. It uses five ingredients, and you won’t find it in the Joy of Cooking. Still, “Aunt Sadye’s Mac & Cheese” is the #1 most requested meal in my home. I’ve served it over and over since my sister, Sadye, first shared it with me years ago. It had been her son, Thomas’s favorite dinner. I know the recipe by heart, yet I pull out the card — tattered and oil-stained — and read the directions written in her hand.

maccheeseEager to help a young bride on the road to becoming a good cook, my sis had tucked a blank recipe card inside each invitation to my bridal shower. Along with dishtowels, waffle irons and food processors, guests supplied me with their family’s treasured recipes. I keep this personalized cookbook-in-a-can on a shelf near my stove in the Favorite Recipe file Sadye also supplied. Some recipes I’ve mastered: Chocolate Refrigerator Cake (Sara), Meat Loaf (Carole), Hummus (Mom), Stew (Melissa), Refried Beans (Cara), Chinese Chicken Salad (Sue). Some I haven’t: Cioppino (Mary), Chicken Kiev (Laura).

During the hustle and bustle of a normal week — when the goal is nutritious, plentiful and fast — I turn to online recipe sites to expand my menu options. Quick dinners like spaghetti chicken, sloppy joes and taquito casserole satisfy the hunger pangs of my husband Nick, and any of my kids who may be loitering around the house at dinnertime. Over the years, a few of those meals-in-minutes made it into our family’s food hall-of-fame recipe file.

sadyecookingAt the start of the holiday season, I comb through my handpicked collection searching for Christmas cookie ideas. Maybe this year I’ll try Jane’s Chewy Rolo Cookie Bars or Elena’s Snickerdoodles. I reacquaint myself with the secret ingredients in Sweet Sue Potatoes. Since my Mom always added an extra clove or two (or three) to her hummus recipe, I make sure I have extra cloves in my refrigerator.

I pull out the Chex Party Mix recipe, knowing that disappointed faces would multiply if bowls of the crunchy stuff didn’t dot the end tables and countertops of my home in the days leading up to Christmas. The recipe, hastily cut from a cereal box, now boasts scribbled additions, critiques and requests (flaming hot Cheetos for Seth, Bugles for Lisa and less wheat Chex for Rachel). This year, my great-niece and able assistant, Britton, wants to add M&Ms to the concoction. 

Right after Thanksgiving, my shopping list fills with items purchased only once a year (garlic bagel chips, pistachio pudding, red food dye, sugar cookie dough) to prepare the dishes my family eagerly anticipates and expects as part of the Christmas season’s menu. It’s not that my family is overly attached to macaroni noodles and cheddar cheese or green beans and crunchy onions. It’s the aromas, the textures and the flavors of the holidays they anticipate and savor–the ones that don’t feel or mean the same in March or September. Whether we’re curled up on the couch watching “Miracle on 34th Street” or gathered around the dinning room table giving thanks, our taste buds savor the cuisine, but our hearts crave the memories.

These are the moments when cooks are preparing more than sustenance. Eating is more than nourishment. Secrets are handed down mother to daughter, sister to sister, friend to friend. Complicated meals that we don’t find time to prepare on a lazy summer day, are the focus of December afternoons. Families gather to assemble tamales using Grandma’s traditional recipe. Batches of breakfast strata are whipped up effortlessly.

For many holiday seasons, the womenfolk in my family scheduled an annual baklawa-making event at my niece Denise’s home. (The Greeks call this decadent dessert baklava.) We would spend hours chopping pistachios, tediously hand-brushing paper-thin phyllo dough and gingerly layering the nut, sugar and cinnamon mixture in between the flaky folds. By the time honey is poured over the diamond-shaped slices and trays of the rich pastry are popped into the oven, generous helpings of laughter, wisdom and love have been exchanged.

With a little effort, homespun recipes transform into a gourmet diary, a family food history. All the shopping, the measuring, the secret ingredients are recorded on 3×5 index cards, that begin From the Kitchen of… and end with …serves 4-6. They’re handwritten by sitie, a special aunt, a niece, a brother, a godmother, a long-time friend. This tried-and true formula ultimately combines to satisfy hearts as well as tummies.

Maybe I’ll make a memory tonight, starting with Mom’s hummus. Hope I have enough garlic.

 

 

 

Piecing Things Together

Forrest Gump compared life to a box of chocolates. I’m a chocolate lover (especially when it’s covering nougat), but I disagree. I think life is more like a box of jigsaw puzzle pieces—1,000 lopsided segments, odd-shaped bits and unfamiliar parts. Some pieces are smooth and easy to recognize; others are downright jagged and unwieldy. You know it’s going to take awhile to figure out which side is up. Like many moments in life, puzzles start out a jumbled mess, but with consistent effort, piece-by-piece, it all comes together. Fun, frustration and unexpected surprises intertwine as the fuzzy picture comes into focus.

I’ve been a jigsaw puzzle aficionado since I was a teen. You’ll find one–in various stages of completion–atop my dining room table. I keep it corralled on a sheet of foam core board for easy relocation to a coffee table when it’s time to eat. Visitors–family and friends—are familiar with my loosely enforced 10-piece minimum. Before kicking up their feet, getting a snack out of the fridge or changing the TV channel, they’re invited to make a puzzle contribution. After all, we’re in this together.

My three sons grew up with jigsaw puzzles in their midst, but only two share my puzzle passion. The oldest, Shawn, displays remarkable patience as he methodically matches pieces to the correct opening. He likes to work in quadrants. Youngest brother Seth declares his preference to work in silence, not appreciative of the ongoing banter between Shawn and me during the puzzle-resolving process. Middle son, Jake, doesn’t work at all. He’s a puzzle-giver, opting to gift them rather than complete them. Thanks to Jake, hours have been spent reconstructing movie posters, scenes from TV sitcoms, carousel horses and, my favorite, the impossible sea of dice. All were challenging, but not as dangerous as the puzzle my friend, Robin loaned me—a plate of Oreos. Ten days, three empty cookie bags and two pound later, it was complete. When I returned it, traces of black cookie crumbs that had fallen from the corners of my mouth were mixed in with the pieces.

puzzle stretch 4Our family comes from a strong line of mystery solvers and puzzle-doers. When my sons were little, their grandfather, Tom helped them complete their 100-piece pre-school puzzles, insisting they put the frame together first. An engineer by trade, Pop never consulted a dictionary as he solved newspaper crosswords in ink–a feat I’ve never attempted. We still follow Pop’s frame-first jigsaw puzzle tradition. I think he’d forgive us the occasional slip when eager hands finish a section before all the edge pieces have been ferreted out.

Not only are jigsaw puzzles a spontaneous, ongoing way to spend snippets of quality time together, they can aid in untangling some of life’s quandaries: Why does the Internet disconnect when the house phone rings? How can I camouflage the leftover meatloaf? What’s that weird hissing sound in my bathroom? Often, answers don’t come easily. Instead of racking my brain, I work puzzles. In the quiet early morning, under the bright illumination from my skylight, my brain clears while I make sense out of a jumble of pieces. Previously unrelated colors and shapes slowly form a cohesive picture. Remarkably, other life concerns find their solutions as I search for edge pieces or one that resembles a shamrock.

Sprinkled among this season’s holiday cookie baking, present wrapping and tree trimmings, will be Christmas-themed jigsaw puzzle-solving. I can’t wait to open the classics we work each year like the Norman Rockwell holiday montage or Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. With holiday busyness surrounding me, puzzles are a delightful break from the frenzied action. They’re my pause in the midst of competing deadlines.

I’ve learned my lesson, though. This December, when I’m shopping for a new puzzle to add to the collection, I’ll bypass the lids picturing gingerbread men, candy canes and chocolates. I’m sticking with peaceful, joyous, festive images–snowmen, carolers and angels–whose charms won’t compromise my waistline.

 

 

 

A New Wrinkle

Life isn’t fair.

It’s taken me awhile to accept this reality. I’ve always had my suspicions though, starting when I was 6 and my brand new Slinky got a kink in it. But now I have verifiable proof. This morning as I washed my face with anti-aging cleanser, I discovered fresh wrinkles framing the sides of my smile like brackets. A New Wrinkle. Nov. 5. 2015 00No surprises there. What I find really unjust is that right below these newborn laugh lines, nature gifted me with a zit. Guess the joke’s on me since I mistakenly believe that once you become old enough to earn wrinkles, your face should be a pimple-free zone. One or the other, I say, but not both. Acne and crow’s feet shouldn’t live in perfect harmony.

Clothing designers are messing with me too. Earlier this month I scoured the stores looking for a bargain party dress. The clearance racks are full of 4s and 6s and 8s. Where are the 10s, the 12s, the 14s? Haven’t the garment manufacturers figured out there are more of us wearing double digits than gals who can enumerate their clothing size barely using the fingers of both hands.

Calories don’t play fair either. Even when I try to eat healthier, I don’t. In my ongoing quest to get skinny, I grabbed a bag of trail mix instead of nibbling on some sugar cookies. The next day I bragged about my improved eating choice to my perfectly fit friend Joni. She laughed. “You’d be better off just eating a handful of M&Ms.” I didn’t want to believe her, but when I got home I checked the nutrition facts on the trail mix bag. Joni was right. Excuse me if I sound like a sorehead, but who wants to live in a world where a cup of raisins has seven times as many calories as a bunch of grapes? Who decided that 4 ounces of tofu is only 88 calories while a 2-ounce Snickers bar weighs in at 271?

And one more gripe: Why do things break in bunches? In the past 10 days, my computer monitor died, the coffee pot gave up the ghost, my car battery decided it didn’t need to perform any longer and the icemaker in our barely two-year-old refrigerator developed a constant drip. The topper was two days ago when my husband, Nick, walked into the kitchen and — with his teeth chattering — asked who turned off the hot water.  Alas, our 10-year-old water heater with a nine-year warranty had delivered its last gallon of hot water the night before.

Normally, I’m a glass-is-half-full-kind-of-girl. I grew up hearing my Mom sing along as Bing Crosby belted out “Blue Skies.” When my toast lands butter-side down, I brush it off, grateful to have something to eat. Recently though, I find myself tallying up life’s many inconveniences instead reveling in its abundant Godsends.

It’s a good thing that Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, because tucked in alongside the hectic hustle and bustle of the season is an annual reminder to pay attention to life’s important moments. The holidays gently inspire me to stop being the gal standing in line at the complaint department and spend my time breathing in the sweet, refreshing air of gratitude.

I can quickly list my grumbles in a less-than-800-word essay. Thankfully, recounting my life’s blessings would take pages and pages of effort. Where do I start? A wonderful childhood. My loving husband. Our healthy, happy sons and daughters. The anticipation of welcoming a grandchild in the new year. My sisters and brothers who love me in spite of my quirky habits. Long-time friends who — under no genetic obligation – continue to make time for me.

There are many simple yet sustaining delights — cozy fires, a warm cup of tea, coconut cake, the memory of my mom’s voice. My vow is to keep the holiday spirit alive in the coming months and pay better attention to the ever-expanding list of these priceless treasures. No doubt I’ll backslide a time or two — especially around April or July — when the washing machine develops a grinding noise, my Camry gets a flat and a newly sprouted blemish finds companionship near a brand new laugh line.

Post Navigation

The Coffeeholic Bookworm

reading books, sipping coffee, sharing thoughts

reecaspieces

Sharing little pieces of me with you.

Chick Lit Goddess

...because every author wants to feel like a goddess!

Celticlady's Book Reviews

Book Reviews, Book Spotlights and Giveaways

The Paranormal Housewife

Your All American Housewife With A Spooky Twist

beingmommie.com

Sharing my learnings of being a mother

Woman@Heart

Musings on Life, Love and Lefovers

Writer Unboxed

about the craft and business of fiction

Sharon C. Cooper

Just thinking...

San Diego Society of Professional Journalists

Supporting journalists across the San Diego region.

Writers In The Storm

A Blog On Writing

ClaireFlaire

Enjoy the Journey

The Better Man Project ™

a journey into the depths

Eye-Dancers

A site devoted to the Young Adult sci-fi/fantasy novel The Eye-Dancers

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

San Diego Professional Writer's Group

A San Diego based critique group for professional and aspiring writers

%d bloggers like this: