Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Calendar - Shopping with 5 Children

My Dad used to take all five of us children shopping for Christmas gifts for my Mother.  And, yes, he did it at the same time.  We each had $1 to spend.  Now, there is a 9 year age span, so we older children could help a little with the younger ones.  But we were all in the store together.  We went to J.C. Penney and Hinshaw’s in Arcadia, California.  Both of these stores were on Baldwin Avenue. 

Each of us children also bought gifts for each of our siblings.  That meant that Mother or Dad had to take us shopping so that we could each find four gifts.  Again, I believe we had a $1 limit for the gift.   Of course that meant that each of us children had 6 gifts to wrap:  one for each parent and one for each of our four siblings.  There were a lot of presents under the tree.  In many ways I think I was more excited about watching family members open the gifts that I bought than as in opening the gifts they bought me.  Christmas morning was exciting.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent Calendar - Stockings that Grow

Can you imagine stockings that grow, and Grow, and GROW?  My Grandmother knitted Christmas stockings for all of her grandchildren.  All 9 of them had Santa faces knitted into the front of the stocking and an ornament knitted into the back.  Just hanging, they are about 16 inches long and about 10 inches around.

However!!!! Think of how a knit sweater can stretch.  Now, put lots of things into a knit stocking:  apples, an orange, nuts in shells, and a few small wrapped gifts. 

After Santa arrived, the stockings were now about 30 inches long and about 18 inches around. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Advent Calendar - Other - Underwear?

Just a thought:  For some years my husband's work group collected toys and donated them to a school for homeless children.  Walt and I started buying packages of underwear.  What?  Yes, packages of 3 undershorts, or 3 t-shirts, or 3 pairs of panties.  We would buy them on sale at one of the major department stores;  and in various sizes.  We hesitated to do this the first year.  The feedback from the school staff was so positive that we did it for the next few years, until Walt was no longer a part of this work group.

So, if you want to donate to a homeless shelter, or a home for abused spouses, or some group like that, consider underwear.  It may not be as exciting as a toy, but it may last a lot longer.  Another option is coats, jackets, gloves or hats.  Just a thought. 

And thank you to all of you who think of others, both at this time of year as well as at other times. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thankful Thursday - Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

Dear Thomas and Bloggers,

Thank you for the memories.  A few times this month, I haven't felt the Christmas spirit.  To change that, all I needed to do was to read your blogs (or even those of the past few days since I missed some of the daily reading).  Thank you all.

Advent Calendar - White Christmas programs at school

Do you remember “White Christmas” Concerts?  I was in the orchestra during elementary school and we would play at different schools for their program.  The children would bring cans of food wrapped in white tissue paper and put them under the tree, at the front of the auditorium.  The school chorus would sing, some of the classes would have a short skit, and the orchestra would play as the children walked up. 

My high school performed Handel’s Messiah every year.  The solos, chorus and orchestra were all high school students.  I don’t know how good we were, but the memories are great.  I played cello and even now I “hear” the cello part when I hear the Messiah, whether on CD or in person. 

In the 1950s and 1960s we weren’t very aware of non-Christian beliefs, and the children who would have been uncomfortable with the religious activities at school. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent Calendar - Phoenix To Arcadia

For years we drove from Phoenix to the Los Angeles area for Christmas.  In the 1980s, with 2 children in the car, and Interstate 10 not completed, we drove through Wickenburg.  If you live, or have lived, in the Phoenix area, you’ll know what it’s like to travel rural desert roads.

Then, when the interstate was finally completed, EXCEPT for the interchange in Phoenix, we just drove I-10, day or night.   For a few years we would stopped at Griswold’s restaurant. It was always decorated so nicely for the holidays.  It was in Redlands on the south side of the interstate.  This smorgasbord restaurant had some great recipes and I still have two of their recipe books.  There was a gift shop also, and we really enjoyed walking through it.  Unfortunately, both the Redlands and the Claremont restaurants closed many years ago.

Sometimes we would stop in Blythe at the Courtesy Coffee Shop.  We haven’t been there for years, but it was something that our children expected, and it was about half way through the trip. 

So, for years we packed two children and gifts, and drove 7-9 hours to celebrate Christmas.  Because sometimes because Walt had to work the day we planned to travel, like Christmas Eve,  we’d arrive very late in Arcadia.  My parents were always up, even if they had napped before we arrived.  Then to get the four of us settled.  But this was the beginning of the family visit.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Calendar - Child-Friendly Dinners

My mother started two special dinner traditions.  The first one certainly made the holidays easier for us as parents.  Because young children often need naps, especially with the excitement of the holidays, Mother started having dinner begin at 4:30 or 5 instead of 2 to 3.  This began with my two children, the first two grandchildren.  Oh, did this help.  The children could have their naps and wake up when they were rested.  AND they had time to wake up before sitting down to dinner.  So no grouchy, tired children.  This is still the tradition, as some of my other siblings had young children and came for dinner. 

The second tradition was that the youngest people were always served first and we went up in age.  This worked especially well when a parent, or parents, needed to fix plates for the young ones.  So, the children’s plates were fixed and the children sat down. They chose which table they wanted to sit at.  Then the adults served themselves and sat in empty seats.  This avoided a “children’s table” and an “adult table.”  And the adults who sat with the children enjoyed the time talking with nieces, nephews or younger cousins whom they hadn’t seen for a while.  The children learned to carry on conversations during dinner and had good examples as to table manners at a holiday dinner.  Also, there was an adult or two to help cut food, get seconds, etc.  And it was a lot of fun.  (I often chose the “children’s” table after my children were grown.)  After all, I could always talk with the adults, but to get a child to sit down and talk to me when there was lots to do and many things to play with was more difficult.

Even now, with all adults, the youngest at dinner serves himself first.   And now often the youngest adult is over 40.  We do this even when we visit and it’s not a holiday.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Calendar - Gifts Given & Received

My Dad used to take all five of us children shopping for Christmas gifts for my Mother.  And, yes, he did it at the same time.  We each had $1 to spend.  Now, there is a 9 year age span, so we older children could help a little with the younger ones.  But we were all in the store together.  We went to J.C. Penney and Hinshaw’s in Arcadia, California.  Both of these stores were on Baldwin Avenue. 

Each of us children also bought gifts for each of our siblings.  That meant that Mother or Dad had to take us shopping so that we could each find four gifts.  Again, I believe we had a $1 limit for the gift.   Of course that meant that each of us children had 6 gifts to wrap:  one for each parent and one for each of our four siblings.  There were a lot of presents under the tree.  In many ways I think I was more excited about watching family members open the gifts that I bought than as in opening the gifts they bought me.  Christmas morning was exciting.

Christmas gifts from my parents were always clothes, or something very practical.  The gift from Santa was usually a toy or doll or something not as practical.  As children we usually opened the Santa gift before breakfast but all of the other gifts were opened after breakfast.

Now, we get our grandchildren a practical gift (something they can really use)  and a fun gift.  As practical gifts, one year we bought them new mattresses.  another time we bought each of them a suitcase to make it easier to pack when coming to visit us or their other grandparents. Another year we bought them new flannel sheets and last year they each received soft new bath towels.  This year they are getting extra warm, extra soft warm blankets.  It's amazing how many of these gifts are still being used.  And the grandchildren still remember that Walt and I gave them these gifts and how few of the "fun" gifts or toys are still around.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent Calendar - Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays OR...?

I love the prompts that I have been using for these blogs.  I know this blog may be somewhat controversial.  I wrote it a couple of months ago, and it’s been sitting in my “draft” file since then.  Please understand that I am not trying to anger anyone but it’s a topic that I strongly feel needs to be considered.

Many people seem to be getting irritated every year when they are being told “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.  Why?  Are you one of those?  Have you considered some of the reasons behind the change? 

After all, the United States was not organized to be a Christian nation.  Studying our founding fathers, many of them were not traditional Christians, but Deists.  They knew about religious intolerance and they didn’t want the United States to be formed based on one religion.  So, people of all religious beliefs were supposed to be welcome and accepted here.  Are we doing that now? 

Please let me tell you a brief, personal story.  In 8th grade I became friends with Diane who was in orchestra class with me.  She was Jewish.  How did I know?  Because in the 1950s and 1960s all of the Jewish students missed a couple of days of class in September, right after school started.  Well, that year was the first year I sent out Christmas cards to my friends, probably only 5 or 6 that year.  But, I didn’t feel that I could send a card to Diane, because I knew that she wasn’t Christian.  My mother suggested sending Diane a Hanukah card.  I did.  Then, for the next 4 years, I sent a Hanukah card to Diane and she sent a Christmas card to me.  Even though we often rode together to orchestra practices because our parents took turns driving, we never spoke about it.  It just “wasn’t done.”

I realize that the majority of the U.S. population is Christian.  However, is that any reason for us to “push” our holidays onto everyone else?  How would we feel if we, individually, were no longer in the majority?  Permanently?  

So now, when we hear Happy Holidays, should we be insulted or should we consider that the speaker is trying to make sure not to “push” his religious belief on to us?  Since we all look similar, how are they supposed to know what our religious preferences are?  And should we be more considerate to those we meet and wish them a Happy Holiday, since we can’t be positive which holiday they may celebrate during the month of December?  So, please wish people a Happy Holiday or Merry Christmas, or some other special term, and let’s all have a great peaceful December.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent Calendar - Baking & Baking & Baking

Oh, do I love Christmas cookies.  Lots of them.  And all kinds.  I probably have more than 200 recipe cards with cookies.  And then I have cookie cookbooks.  I used to have even more, but I gave about half away. 

What’s really funny is that I love making the cookies, but I usually don’t eat many of them.  While Walt was working, his group would have holiday foods brought in for two weeks during December.  Because I loved to bake, I always made a variety of “goodies”.  Then by keeping just a few for us, the rest were enjoyed by the people Walt worked with. 

This may be a holdover from my childhood.  We made plates and plates of cookies to give to friends and neighbors (and anyone else who came by) during the holiday season.  Some years we probably had 25-30 plates of cookies and brown bread.  You can imagine how many cookies it took, since each plate probably had almost two dozen cookies on it, sometimes even more if the family had lots of children.  Of course, with five children in the family we ate a lot of them also.

Every year I baked Russian Tea Cakes, also called Mexican Wedding Cookies among other names.  Last year I helped my three youngest grandchildren bake them.  Sometimes I made peanut brittle.  I have a recipe for cream cheese lemon bars that were good.  The recipe for chocolate balls with cherries in the center is a messy recipe to make.  (Make sure the dough is COLD before making the balls;  there is lots of butter and warm hands make the dough very sticky.)

For a couple of years, when I was about 11 or 12, I made rolled cookies and cut them into circles.  My aunt had taken a cake decorating class and we then decorated each of these 3-4 inch round cookies with stockings, Santa faces, wreaths, trees, bells, and stars.  Aunt Jo taught me how to make a pastry tube out of parchment paper and one year she gave me my own set of decorating tips.  I still have those tips, even though I seldom use them.  (I’d rather store them that get rid of them.  And they don’t take much room.)  This is still a special memory.  Perhaps I can teach my grandchildren to decorate this year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent Calendar - 59 Cent Santas & More

I don’t remember ever sending a letter to Santa.  I do remember looking through the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs for toys.  But we really didn’t expect to get any of those things we found.  

Our children visited Santa a couple of times.  About the time they started not believing in Santa, we had them “play” Santa to my sister and her husband.  We bought small gifts, put them in a stocking, and on Christmas Eve, hung the stocking on the door of their apartment.  We explained that Santa Claus was the spirit of giving.  They loved this and still remember doing it. 

Our children still hang stockings.  Our married daughter and son-in-law have cross-stitched stockings that they fill for each other, in secret.

Our five grandchildren have handmade stitched stockings with appliqued snowmen.   Some of them are still young enough to believe totally.  Two of them are teenagers but they still want stocking stuff.  Of course, one of them didn't go to sleep last Christmas Eve and didn't get her stocking filled.   

I have a Santa Claus collection.  Some were purchased in a set by mail; some were purchased in a set at a department store (Dillards).  I have some little special ones that I was given.  I have some large hand-carved Santas made by friends.  (He carves them and she paints them.)  I also still have 6 “international” Santas that I bought at Pic ‘n’ Sav, one of the predecessors to Big Lots.  There is still the 59 cent price tag on them.  I finally sold or gave away about 300
Santas because I ran out of room to display them and I wasn’t as attached to them as I am to those I kept.   

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tuesday Travels - Christmas Markets

For me traditions are something to cherish.  No, you don't have to be "stuck" in the past, but you may want to try a new experience. 

German Christmas markets are so unlike our Black Friday or any of the other sale days after Thanksgiving.  The couple of times I've been fortunate enough to be in Germany during December, I visited markets in both small and large towns.  Some open on December 1; some are just for a weekend (in the small villages). 

They all have great atmosphere.  There are lots of handmade items.  I've bought wood carved ornaments, ornaments made from walnut shells, ornaments made from blown glass, ornaments made from lace, ornaments made from something like paper mache, and much more.  I've found hand knit scarves and sweaters.  Of course there is candy and roasted nuts.  And, there is food.  Oh, what food.  And, to drink there is gluhwein which is a mulled wine.  However, there is also kinder gluhwein which doesn't have wine, but is based on a juice.  The first time you purchase a cup in a market, you pay a deposit on the ceramic cup.  (The cup may have the year on it, but definitely has the town.)  For refills, you pay a smaller fee.  Then, at the end of the market, if you wish to return the cup, you get your "deposit" back, or you can keep the cup as a souvenir.  I have cups from 9 or 10 markets.  What fond memories I have when I drink coffee, tea or apple cider from them during December. 

Chicago has a great Christmas market.  Phoenix has a one day market that was in Mesa for the first 3 years and has now moved to downtown Phoenix.  I'm certain other U.S. towns have the markets also.  If you can find one near, check it out.  You really get an idea of what shopping was like for our ancestors in the "old" country.  AND, for many of our "cousins" even now.

Advent Calendar - Lichtbogen, Peppermint Sticks & Decorations in March

Some years we decorate and some years we don’t.  Often, especially while the children were young, we would put lights on the house.  These were those BIG lights on strings, so that if one went out they all went out.  I know that Walt was happy when we finally bought some where the string stayed lit even though one light was out.

For a 3 or 4 years we made decorations that looked like peppermint sticks.  We scrounged the back of carpet stores for carpet tubes.  I wrapped the tubes with heavy duty aluminum foil and then put red outdoor ribbon in spirals around each tube.  They were placed along the driveway and the walk to the house by sticking a 16 inch piece of wood in the ground and placing the tube on top of it.  Then I strung gold garland between the “sticks”.  Those were fun and affordable.

Now, even when we don’t put up house lights, I put a German candle holder in the window.  It’s called a “Lichtbogen” or loosely translated “light arch”.  It’s really not an arch, but a triangular shape.  Since it is electric, I put it on a timer,  and it stays lit all night long.  Walt and I saw these in many German windows the couple of years we visited during December.  So now we have a two of them and we put them in our windows in Phoenix.

In Phoenix, and in Southern California, outside decorations always were removed around New Year’s Day.  It was quite a surprise when Walt and I moved to Montreal, to find Christmas decorations still up the middle of March.  Then, after living there for a couple of years we could understand the difficulty of removing some of these decorations when you have 4-6 feet of snow on the ground.  After all, how do you place a ladder securely to remove the lights; many on the second floor eaves?  How do you traipse through all of the snow to remove the snowmen and other figures that are in your yard?  (And they may be half covered with snow also.)  So that was a new event for us.   

When I was a child, and then when our children were young, we would walk around the neighborhood, or drive further distances, to see the lights.  There were some houses that had huge amounts of lights, but we didn’t really care.  We just enjoyed all of them.  And the oohs and aahs of children and adults is still a pleasant sound.  We don’t do it as much, but I still enjoy strolling the neighborhood the middle of December.  Of course, in Phoenix, it’s something you CAN do without being totally bundled up.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent Calendar - A Subtle Message of Peace with Cards

Trying to think of a subject for this post was a little difficult.  As you’ll read later, almost all of the cards I send now have some message of “peace” or international harmony, or some message similar to these. 

Now I purchase cards, and we send out about 80 or so.  I look for cards that say “Peace”, or have a holiday message in various languages, or that show international flags, country costumes, or other international symbols.  I still write notes in most of the cards.  This is the time I write notes to many friends that we don’t see regularly but like to know how they are doing.

We have sent cards every year since 1964.  In the 1970s I made cards by hand painting on felt.  Later Walt and I silk screened the cards, on paper, with a different design each year.  I learned how to actually make the screen.   The cards were laid out on the kitchen floor to dry, since we usually made about 150.  Even then on each card I would write a personal note, except for the cards sent to work associates that we saw regularly. 

Oh, yes.  We always have, and we still do, display all of the cards we receive.  We don’t just pile them in a basket.  They are taped to some cabinet doors in a hall so that we can see all of the fronts.  Since this hall connects the living room and kitchen to the bedrooms, we pass the display many times each day.  I just love the variety, color, and thought of each card.  What a wonderful way to easily think of others during this busy month!!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent Calendar - Ornaments Are Memories

Oh have we had a variety of Christmas ornaments.  We have some that the children made in preschool or elementary school.  These included yard dipped in white glue, curled on waxed paper and dried; some with a small photograph; bell cut from construction paper and colored. 

When I was young, Mother made some ornaments out of a flour, salt and water dough.  When my children were young, we also made some.  The dough was colored and then the ornaments were decorated with glitter or thin tinsel.  We still have some of these and they were made about 1983 or 1984.  Many of them broke and were thrown out, but I still have a few of these fragile ornaments.

We have some ornaments from other countries.  Some of them my mother gave us from her travels.  Some Walt and I bought on our travels.  We even have some leprechauns that were meant to be key chain holders.  (I just removed the chain part and key loop and attached an ornament hanger.) 

We also have some bubble lights.  I found some in a catalog a few years ago.  What great memories.  They are not the large ones of my childhood, but they still bubble and keep me entertained.  I still need to make sure that they stand up straight on the tree; otherwise they really don’t bubble well.

I made some tatted snowflakes that also hang on the tree.  My sister made some crocheted ones for me.  So, our tree has many memories of family and travels. 

Do any of you remember the metal key that used to be on the top of cans like coffee and shortening?  And you ended up with a strip of twisted metal?  My grandmother used some of these twists on her tree.  Some years later, in an antique store I actually found a small package of 10 of these, commercially made.  The original price says 10¢.  So they weren’t that expensive, but Grandmother still made her own. 

Because we have an artificial tree, I no longer use icicles made of light-weight foil.  Instead, I have some hand-blown ones that have colored liquid in them.  I also have some that are just decorative hand-blown ones that really look like the icicles hanging from the eaves.  And, because it is artificial, we can put it up early and keep it up until after New Year’s.  And NO dried tree needles stuck in the carpet months later.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent Calendar - Oh! The Breakfast (and More)

Christmas morning breakfast was special.  For as long as I can remember we had Merk’s Coffee Cake, a recipe Mother found in one of the Los Angeles newspapers.  It was made in an angel food cake pan;  then later in a Bundt pan.   Dad cooked the bacon and scrambled eggs. 

My grandparents would come for breakfast.  We children (all 5 of us) would open our stockings before breakfast and our one gift from Santa.  The rest of the gifts were opened after breakfast, after everyone went to the bathroom and after the adults had a fresh cup of coffee. 

Dinner was sometimes turkey and sometimes a roast.  We would also have dressing, potatoes gravy (my Grandmother always made the gravy), a vegetable, a green salad, and dinner rolls.  (Do you remember those soft, white ones you got from the store? And then browned in the oven?  Well, those.)

Pies would be served later.  Usually they were homemade, but later Mother would buy they frozen and then bake them. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent Calendar - Fresh & Artificial Trees

When I was a child, we had a real tree and we always bought it from the tree lot run by the city fire department.  Since my dad worked for the water department, we knew many of the firemen.  This was part of our holiday traditions.  As you can imagine, with 5 children running in different directions looking for the “best” tree, getting a decision was a major project.

Once the tree was home Dad would put on the lights.  Struggling with the lights was more like it.  These were BIG lights, and we had aluminum reflectors to go behind them.  And, if one light went out or was bad, then the entire string of lights was off.  During the entire season we had to go back and switch bulbs to see which one(s) were not working this time. 

The 5 children in the family took turns putting on the ornaments.  The special ornaments were attached by my mother and, for years, they were always put up high.  Some of them were her grandmother’s small ornaments, and a few she acquired in other places. 

We also had bubble lights on the tree.  I loved watching them bubble.  Trying to get them to stay up straight, so that the bubbles would rise, was something else we worked on during the entire holiday season.  Again, think of 5 children, and a dog, walking past the tree many times each day. 

Usually my mother and I put on the tinsel: those thin strips of light-weight foil.  Of course, with a dog, some of them always were all over the house.

For some reason I don’t remember taking down the tree and packing up all of the ornaments.   

As an adult, when our children were small, my husband and I would apply for a tree-cutting permit.  Then we would drive (2-4 hours) to the designated national forest.  With 2 children bundled for cold and snow (we lived in Phoenix), we found a tree and cut it.  Most of the time we found out that the SMALL tree that we found in the forest needed at least 10 inches cut off of the bottom once we got the tree home.

Walt, my husband, put on the lights.  Then we all put on ornaments.  Many of them were made while the children were in preschool or they had other special memories.  Every year, I bought or made each child a special ornament. Those ornaments were given to them when they moved out so that they would have special ornaments for their first tree.

We began decorating the tree in the afternoon.  Since we never knew how long it would take, we usually had homemade New England style clam chowder and popcorn for dinner.  Sometimes we finished decorating after dinner.  Of course we listened to Christmas music while decorating the tree. 

Some years later, we bought an artificial tree because we were usually gone for a week.  With the “live” tree, we would return to dead needles that were difficult to clean up. An artificial tree made sense.  And now we can have the tree up for a couple of weeks before traveling, and it isn’t dead when we return.