Saturday, December 06, 2014

Ornamental Memories

One year before the holidays, my mother made ornaments, lovely colorful felt ornaments.  I have none of them.  They were lost in a move so all I can do is remember them.  We don’t even have a photo of any of them although I think there are a few black and white pictures of trees but those pictures can’t do the ornaments justice nor can you discern them because they are so teeny tiny.

There were gingerbread men with white bric-a-brac around the edges like icing.  Owls in pink, orange, or green with a rainbow of scalloped feathers.  Little drums with still more bric-a-brac and gold braid.  Doves with more rainbow layers of scalloped feathers.  I don’t remember my mother making them but there were so many and it must have taken her hours, sewing and stuffing while I slept, gluing down the decorative elements.  There were nearly enough to fill the entire tree. 

In addition to these there were ornaments my mother and I made from papier-mâché Styrofoam balls.  I had painted some of them with blobs of color.  They were a mess.  There were a few my mother had painted and one in particular I adored.  It was a royal blue with two partridges on it, one on either side, like a king and queen.  My mother had painted these two elegant birds with delicate strokes and luscious colors. 

It breaks my heart that these ornaments are long lost, that we don’t even have photographic evidence of these brilliantly colored ornaments.  I wish we had the resources then that we have now with cellphones.  Taking pictures of these long-lost ornaments would have kept them in my mind more clearly. I might even be able to replicate them for myself.  But the truth is, I don’t remember them well enough to do it.  I’ve tried to sketch from memory.  It just isn’t happening. 

If there’s any lesson in this, take pictures of your favorite ornaments.  No.  That’s not right.  Take pictures of all your ornaments even the blobby paint ones.  You may find yourself remembering so much more than what the ornament looks like in a photo.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Momma and Madam Alexander

I have said that my mother spoiled me when I was little.  It’s easy to say but hard to explain what I mean by this.

Think about the time.  It was the early 60s and my mother was a single woman.  Nowadays, single motherhood has become so common that people don’t blink an eye when they ask me if my three children share the same baby-daddy.  Back in the 60s, being a single mother was still, if not quite scandalous, at least a bit tainted.  She lied about my father, saying he had died, because being a widow was more acceptable than the possibility that someone might think her a whore.

The first six years of my life, we lived on the lower Eastside in a cold water walk-up in a railway apartment.  She couldn’t afford a cradle and lay me in a drawer she had pulled from a dresser. We had few luxuries.  I grew up without a television and she went without dental care.  But I never remember being bored or believed I couldn’t have anything I wanted. 

I wish I had some photos of those early Christmas days, the tree surrounded with gifts.  The sheer volume of gifts is outrageous.  Only one child in the home and there would be twenty or more gifts, not to mentioned those overstuffed tights. 

One year she bought me a Madam Alexander doll.  Now, if you are unfamiliar with these dolls, they are not cheap.  Even the low end dolls, the ones not released in limited editions, they run about $200 for the larger sizes and my mother always bought me the larger ones.  I had an Alice in Wonderland doll.  A Degas doll.  A ballerina.  A bride.  A bridesmaid.  And last but not least a Scarlett O’Hara.  Year after year, she gave me a new Madam Alexander doll. 

It’s hard to even imagine the sacrifices my mother made to ensure I had these dolls for so many years.  And these not even equal to the sacrifices she made to her integrity, this woman who valued honesty above all over virtues, every time she spoke the lie that my father had died to shield me from a societal stigma I was too young to understand.  She never taught me about the miracle of the Virgin Birth and such but made my holidays miraculous nonetheless.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Stockings (or Tights) Hung (or Stuffed) With Care

One year for Christmas my mother took me to stay with my Aunt Cecelia and my seven cousins.  I don’t know why we weren’t spending Christmas together.  She was married to her first husband at the time so maybe he wanted to do something without a child along, some special trip or something.  Or perhaps she had to work.  As a nurse, she often had to work on holidays and, as a single mother, she especially needed the extra money.

Regardless of the reason, it was the first year I actually had a real Christmas stocking, one of those classic red ones with the big white cuff, with my name on it.  And because my aunt had a classic Colonial style home, there was a fireplace in the living room. 

It was not, however, the first stocking.  Although my mother had never gotten me a typical stocking, she used her own creativity to provide and, as a result, the stocking my aunt had made for me was not nearly as abundant as what my mother used.  You see, she would take a pair of my tights, probably the older ones that were about to be thrown away and could no longer be worn and she would stuff both legs with things.  Coloring books, Pick-Up Sticks, Jacks, an orange, plastic jewelry, a small stuffed animal, dolls, crayons, markers, colored pencils, a roll of paper, small notebooks, hair things, a pair of mittens, a headband, nail polish, "perfume," and whatever else she could fit insight my tights.  Think about how much can be shoved into even a child’s pair of tights. 

A lot more than fits into the usual stockings, that’s for sure.  As I said, I was spoiled by my working single mother. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

No Santa? No Problem!

Every year my mother and I would leave cookies out for Santa Claus.  But that wasn’t enough for me because I, having grown up with Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, wanted to leave food out for the reindeer.  So my mother, ever accommodating, let me put out carrots which she assured me reindeer love.

This is the sort of thing my mother did.  She spoiled me and surprised me constantly.  One year, she sprinkled glitter on the floor to show where Santa had been.  She learned the hard way that cleaning up glitter is easier said than done.  No doubt, the people who moved into the tiny apartment after us wondered where the heck all the damned glitter was coming from

When my children were little, we couldn’t afford for all three of them to believe in Santa.  We chose not to teach the children about Santa, but we enjoyed all of the holiday specials.  Of course, we watched Rudolph each and every year.  

But I think Christmas was still magical for my children.  Christmas Eve, we would have eggnog Cream of Wheat for breakfast.  Then we would watch whatever wonderful holiday movies we could find on television or listening to Christmas Carols. We would then go to a movie. We enjoyed everything from Toy Story to Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings.  After the movie matinée, we would get pizza for dinner.  When the sun set, we would get into the car and drive around, looking for the pretty lights in the neighborhood.  At every intersection, we would stop and choose which direction to go, looking first left then right to see if another direction showed signs of more promising displays than merely going forward. 

When we were done exploring, we would come home, have a cup of hot chocolate, and then they would go to bed.  Once they were asleep, I would begin wrapping.  This would easily keep me up until midnight.  Most years, I was up well past midnight.  Nonetheless, I would be lying in bed, half awake, waiting for the children to get out of bed.  They were under strict orders not to go into the living room where the tree, surrounded with gifts, would be lit and awaiting.  They had to come and wake us first.

So they still had that magical moment of waking up and finding all of these things waiting for them under the tree.  Maybe there wasn’t a Santa invading our home to dump things under our tree but I did my best to make everything under the tree look like as much like love as I could make it.  

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

'Tis the Season for Eggnog

I love egg nog.

This is an understatement above and beyond all imagining. I love egg nog in my coffee. Long before Starbucks and others introduced egg nog lattes.  I’m surprised it took everyone else so long to catch up.  And thus far, I haven’t found anything egg nog inspired I don’t love.  Well . . . I didn’t especially adore IHOP’segg nog pancakes, preferring their pumpkin pancakes.  But, hey!  I gave them a try!

But seriously yummy yum yum.  Part of our holiday tradition includes making Cream of Wheat using eggnog.  Actually, I use half eggnog and half milk, otherwise it’s too rich even for me.  Don’t tell my children, though.  They think I make it with only eggnog and they LOVE it. 

This year I made eggnog martinis for myself and my daughter.  I found the recipe here and, when my daughter saw it, she said “YES!”  I made a glass for my daughter-in-law who also liked it.  Definitely a winner. But, yet again, I’m reminded of something I’ve been doing for ages.  Traditionally, eggnog is spiked with rum or bourbon but I’ve always enjoyed spiking mine with Amaretto.  If you like Amaretto and haven’t tried this yourself, I highly recommend it.  If you make the eggnog martini, which also has vanilla vodka, tell me what you think.   

In the meantime, I'm going to try to find a gingerbread eggnog recipe because Hood used to offer a delicious one but the supermarket hasn't had it for a couple of years.  Also, if you like or even love eggnog,visit my Pinterest board where I've started saving all the yummy eggnog things I find online. When I try a recipe, I update the pin with whether we liked it or not and why.  It's okay. I'm willing to be an eggnog guinea pig so you won't have to try some yucky recipe for yourself.  :)

Advent Calendar Kits

I wanted to share some of the advent calendar resources I found online. None of these require sewing because I don't have a sewing machine. If you sew and would like me to share links to some kits, leave a comment and I'll go look for some more. In the meantime, I hope you find what I'm sharing inspiring

 The drawers have the "thumb hole" on both ends so you could easily make two calendars by simply using different designs on the opposite side.  One person used the drawers to make a sort of visual puzzle, not unlike the advent calendar my son brought home from work.  But most people don't go quite that far as you can see here, and here, and here.  I also found some that were Halloween and Valentine's Day themed.  (That's why I thought they could be designed for more than one holiday.)

I like this one as well.  Similar concept with the drawers but that center space allows for some more creativity. This can be a family portrait or a mini tableau or even used for jewelry storage. Because of the design, it could be hung up on a wall or stood upright on a flat surface.

This one is made of wood which may last longer and can be as minimalist or as fancy as you like, obviously. 

This sort of has the best of the two above with a shadowbox space.  I can easily see this one made into a Nativity Scene with moments leading up to the birth of Christ printed on scrolls tucked into each drawer.  

No doubt, there are many others out there that I didn't find or that didn't immediately excite me.  But this is a start and I'll keep looking, I'm sure.  I like what I've found so far.  I'm even close to falling love.  Now to convince Rob this is a brilliant idea. LOL!  If you find a kit you like, leave a comment and I'll add it to this post for my readers.

Monday, December 01, 2014

New Month, New Blog Post: Advent Calendars

Today I opened started my Advent Calendar and I realized a few things.

For instance, I grew up without an advent calendar.  Don’t get me wrong.  Christmas was a Big Deal in our home.  But for some reason, in the midst of all the decorating and generosity, my mother never gave me an advent calendar.  Perhaps the only ones they had back then were overly religious and she, trying to raise me to come to my own understanding of the metaphysical, avoided such things.  I don’t know.  But I always wanted to have a permanent advent calendar for our home.  I even came up with a list of possible projects for creating all sorts of advent calendars using felt or matchboxes. 

This is probably why I became so excited when Marc came home with an advent card from his job at Starbucks.  I have filled it up with my holiday jewelry.  Mostly earrings but I have a few jingly bracelets and such hidden in the little drawers.  Not surprisingly, when I saw the advent calendar they have this year, I fell in love.  Each tin contains a little something and can easily be refilled year after year with different things—treats or favorite quotes or just all sorts of random goodness.

I suppose if I were a more generous person, I would send Marc home with this advent calendar but I’m not all that generous after all.

This year, Rob surprised me with an advent calendar all my own. I’ve never had one of these chocolate a day calendars.  This morning I had my first piece and was surprised.  There’s a picture of a candle beneath the chocolate which, itself, has a calendar design on it.  Is this what other children grew up with?  Bibi has the same calendar so, although she doesn’t know it, we’re sharing the experience together. 

Wearing my first piece of holiday jewelry after eating a piece of chocolate.  That’s how I started my day today.  And now Bibi won’t have to wait until her own child brings home an advent calendar from work.  Okay. Maybe I’m not generous enough to give away the other advent calendar but, thanks to Rob, I am sharing the advent experience with our granddaughter.

Here are links to some of the types of projects I used to find so inspiring.

I'm going to go ahead and create a Pinterest board of advent calendars.   I'm sure that there are many more uses for something like this--like counting down to a birthday or other holiday or special event.