Tuesday, December 29, 2009

sunrise at Anegada

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a Room with a View

Have I seen this movie? Or play? I think I have, but it will take Google to confirm this. And perhaps it is another phrase I know I've heard and can nearly place. This happens to me with books; I read a blurb, feel like I know the plot, and set it down again. I don't need to read fiction with characters I already dislike; there are examples aplenty in real life. But I don't enjoy sugar coating either.
No matter. I have a good book started, but have been distracted, not just by bowl games, but by anticipation. There is a trip in our future with a free night; a night that requires a view.
We used to be more ordinary in our needs and frequently clean, quiet, and Fox News took care of the highest priorities. But we also travel to places we may never return to, and in those cases, my heart desires a vista to draw upon for future reference.
This time our trip is to Seattle. Blake wants water in his background and I have spent several hours tripping across the 'net for a hotel, a B&B, with the right combination of distance, expense, availability and photo ops from the window. A place to walk would also be nice and coffee, of course, but we are talking Seattle here.
The fall before last, we hit the jackpot not once but twice with views. The first was pleasant and typical of the lakes region..we liked it well enough to add a night to our stay, grilling, dining and reading there until no daylight remained. The second place was way out of the way north, at the end of a gravel road that turned to tree roots. It was cold and dripping when Blake returned to the car with the key to our cabin. 'She's a good salesman,' he said. 'She convinced me this was the better view.' And it was breath taking. The cabin leaned over the lake. Seated at the table, I felt I could trail my fingers out the window into the water. The mist and rain shrouded the view to the small island nearby so I couldn't decide whether I was seeing the wreckage of someone's boat, or a shanty, or some natural occurrence of woods and rocks. The cabin was cold but we lit the stove that night until bedtime, then huddled under lots of down and listened to the rain on the lake.
On the Colorado River we stayed where the patio looked over the sites where Western movies were filmed. The layered cliffs loomed high and caught the western sun setting. You could stare at the river and rocks for hours, instead of your books.
I may get back there...it just takes a week and a car. But the sailboat sunrises in the BVI are not a sure thing and I remember each anchorage. The sunrises are quiet for the most part....folks are on vacation and there is no rush. But you can just stand on your bunk, point your camera out of the hatch and an artful shot just appears. With hues that you can't find in the great Midwest. When its snowy, like now, I just like to look at those blues and aquamarines, unaltered by any lenses or computer programs, and feel fortunate to have been there to take in the view.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Also a winter sport

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winter sports

It was a lazy Christmas afternoon, everyone on the couch or in front of the fire, or reclined in the easy chairs, exhibiting as much ambition as snow days typically evoke. We'd played 'Catch Phrase'; we'd played 'Scrabble' and now were flipping through the channels trying to avoid 'a Christmas Story'. And there it was, a blast from Christmases past in our household, 'Cutting Edge'.
To be fair, 'Cutting Edge' was the girls' film. Ann knew each line of dialogue by heart; I thought the tape was surely worn to breaking point. But somewhere the film lives on and some satellite channel was broadcasting it to our living room.
I understood the movie's appeal completely. The figure skating competitions were priority viewing in Westboro 15 and more years ago despite disparaging remarks from the male contingent. When I was growing up, a Saturday afternoon program of figure skating on Wide World of Sports was the best one could hope for, better than ski jumping, better than football, better than car racing. I grew up with Peggy Fleming and listened to Dick Button like the girls grew up with Katarina Witt and Kristy Yamaguchi.
Winter sports meant ice skating to me. We never had really good spots to sled in our neighborhood; it was just too flat. And skiing was not a sport of the middle class like it is now. There were a few hills somewhere in the Forest Preserve system surrounding Chicago; I know we used to drive by one good sized hill with a toboggan run but that looked like more adventure than I was game for. Just as well, because my folks never showed any interest either.
But we did go skating as a family. The same flat ground that discouraged sledding provided hundreds of sloughs and low spots for skating. Sloughs by definition are so shallow that our north Illinois winters froze them hard enough for skating early in December. McGinnis Slough was the one nearest our town, but we never skated there; perhaps it was just too full of cattails and muskrat lodges. We didn't drive far though before we'd pull up on the side of the road and stride through the woods a short way to the pond. Our skates were all used, given to us by folks whose kids had outgrown them already. My dad had my uncle's hockey skates, I think, and my mom had figure skates from high school or college as well. No problems if the skates were too big; much better to wear the multiple layers of socks it took to survive the temperatures. I was taught early to pull the laces as tight as I could to eliminate the saggy ankles we saw on other little kids, so I don't know if my feet got cold from the air or a lack of circulation. I learned to skate backwards and cross over on turns; to stop and twirl in what I thought was surely a most graceful way.
One of the girls in my class took skating lessons. During one winter break, we walked to a flooded farm field just across from our elementary school to go skating. She was there practicing in her short skirt and leotard. How envious I was of her ability to jump and spin!!! Just like the lovely girls on the television, she was part of that glamorous world. I assume she never made it very far though; I looked for her for quite awhile on the skating circuit and assorted competitions but her name never appeared.
Do girls play ice hockey now? I don't know, but they were never part of the games on the ice when I was growing up. It was always a turf battle between the boys' part of the pond and everyone else's. I assume peace was kept in many households during Christmas break by the proximity of the skating pond where the kids could burn excess energy and make all the noise they wanted to.
Missouri always seemed like a different country when we came to visit in the winter. Rarely were the farm ponds frozen enough to allow skating, though we nearly always brought our skates. However, Jeff City had a skating rink in the park and we went there several times. When we moved there during high school, we lived in an apartment complex close enough that we could cut through the brush behind our building and hike to the park. Paying to skate was never as much fun as finding a pond and having it to yourself.
I haven't skated in several years, just a couple of times at Tantara while the kids were growing up. But I still enjoy the figure skating on television when it appears in the winter or during the Olympics. I envy the athleticism, the grace and the artistry when the choreography meshes with the music.
No doubt, that was part of the appeal of 'the Cutting Edge'. But mostly I think we were relating to the old, inner desire to create beauty. Even the most plebian skater has, if not the ability, the imagination to glide, to spin, to soar.....

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas prayers

Last load in the dishwasher; gee, its making a funny noise that I cannot identify. No good tidings for the loads to follow this peak season for dishwashers. A load waiting the washer; its leaking more but that's what drains are for. The dryer, however, sounds about normal. I had Holiday Pops on XM for Lizzie while she was napping, but I've changed over to plain Classics for nighttime listening...no sense tempting fate where my husband is concerned. If the travelers are late enough I might catch a little of Mark Steyn on the replay of Hannity here at eleven. They got in late, but are en route though worn out from a long day, long week, long two weeks. (thank you, God, for bringing our family travelers home; keep me mindful of all those without that comfort and joy this season of rejoicing. Help me remember those whose loved ones have left their family circle to join you.)
We had a lovely evening with the women of the extended family...not extended women tonight, but companionable and relaxed despite lots of claims on their time. Multi generational, joining in time honored tradition to cook and share the bounty we have. (thank you again, for all the generous spirits in our family; what wonderful examples for the children we are blessed to have under foot.)
I'm so sorry to miss the company of Aaron and Madison because they are under the weather! Hope they are fully recovered to enjoy the fun of the rest of the Christmas vacation with all of their loving families. ( and, Father and Healer of all, keep us mindful of all those who are not so easily healed, whose bodies fail them, whose families care and struggle. We can't be healers like your Son, but we can pray.)
Finally, Father, thank you for the gift of being a mom....you settled special burdens and pains on us after the Fall, but you temper these with special favor as well. For thirty years now, I have felt the bond over the years with Mary and treasure at each reading the verse for all moms "..And Mary pondered these things in her heart."

Thursday, December 17, 2009


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Gag Gifts

This is more in the nature of an aside rather than a post. My phone has a picture of the Snow village, featuring the luminescent pink bottle brush tree Aaron gave me. It was my birthday present and he was so excited about it, he was willing to break all the rules and let me open it several days before my birthday. I put it out immediately, though it went back into the cupboard during the house tour/Thanksgiving season. Now, though, it has the place of honor in the town square of Snow Village surrounded by ceramic Santa, the Mayor and several children. Aaron and I talk about it every time he visits. I know it will be one of the most memorable gifts I ever receive and I'll think about it every birthday and every Christmas. I am grateful his mommy did not scoff at his notion, but allowed him to pick the gift he had his heart set on....that moment anyway!
It very much reminded me of a similar present from another little boy not much older. Lee and Ann were old enough to drive when they took Ben Christmas shopping. Obviously a similar 'gotcha' moment occurred while they were in WalMart, I'd guess. At any rate, Ben came home pleased as punch with his gift for his mom and soon the wrapped package was under the tree. Shortly thereafter, Annie and I were having a late evening conversation when suddenly a voice from the living room called out "time to rise and shine, Doc!" The voice was unmistakable and the message repeated over and over, while we exchanged shocked and curious looks. All at once it occurred to Ann what was happening..."Its Ben's Christmas present!" 

 There was nothing to be done but to dig out the package, open it and attempt to silence the Bugs Bunny alarm from its appointed task. There he was, popping out of his rabbit hole in 3-d plastic splendor to get us up and moving. We punched the electronic buttons madly, hoping the young gift giver in the next room wouldn't awake to find us spoiling his surprise. He didn't that night....nor the next when we heard Bugs go off AGAIN around 11:30 p.m. Obviously, we weren't as smart as what we were working with. We finally stuck Bugs under Annie's bed until Christmas when he could be revealed in all his glory, to be ooohed and aaahed over as a magnificently original gift.
As a postscript to this tale, Bugs is still around. And the next generation of kids is just as fascinated by his antics, even though he no longer jumps up out of his rabbit hole. As a matter of fact, the children love him so much, their mother has removed his batteries.
And Aaron is continuing his gift giving genius for the Christmas season. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but just wait til his daddy sees what he's getting for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

some 2008 cookies..don't worry we'll make new ones!

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Time to be a Cookie Monster!

He's blue and furry with a vocabulary that doesn't include first person singular. He uses objects as subjects. He's single-minded and obsessed. Not too bright but still lovable. He's....of course, the Cookie Monster. And the week before Christmas is HIS week. The Hurst Ladies Christmas Cookie Party is coming up.
Well, that's not entirely accurate. The Cookie Monster seems to prefer chocolate chip cookies; at least the crumbs flying from his over-sized saucer of a mouth look like chocolate chip cookie crumbs. The Hurst Ladies Christmas Cookie Party may indeed sneak in a few chocolate chip cookies. But variety is the spice of life and cookies may appear on the gift plates that have never been made before (and perhaps won't be made again, depending on taste, appearance, and how they rank on the pain in the butt meter.)
Beginning in late October, or maybe early November, the cookie magazines appear at the checkout counter. We know what to look for and snatch them up with our gallons of milk and eggs. There's 'Better Homes and Gardens', 'Taste of Home', 'Martha' and finally, for sheer decadence 'Land 'o Lakes.' Each has its appeal. Probably 'Taste of Home' as the biggest variety and winds up with the most stained pages. There is always an inner debate with the 'Land o' Lakes' recipes....to butter or to stick with oleo. Martha's presentation and magazine paper are the most elegant, but several year's experience with attempting her desserts has engendered a certain skepticism and wariness about the likelihood that the dessert will 1) taste as good as it looks and 2) look as good as the photos. In other words, do not attempt unless you are a trained professional.
Process of elimination. First, nothing with pistachios. Or macadamia nuts. No elaborate cutouts; after all, we're talkin' dozens of cookies and about 8 square feet of counter space to roll out on. Drop cookies are good despite the longer cooking time. But they aren't sexy. Unless one takes advantage of good old American specialization. Chocolate chips are good? Then white chocolate is upscale; swirl chocolate chips are trendy; peanut butter and chocolate chips kill two birds with one stone; mini chocolate chips are cute; cinnamon or cherry chocolate chips must surely be the result of some focus group. The good folks at Hershey either came up with that idea or shamelessly copied it. Your average peanut butter blossom can be as multicultural as you can stand. Caramel swirl? Mint truffle? Stuffed with an almond? Looks like my cookie incarnation this year will be chocolate with chopped dried cherries and a "cordial cherry" Hershey embedded. I can't blame them; a peanut butter blossom is fool proof, instantly recognizable and will look as good after rearrangement on the plate as it does when cooled and hardened.
In past years, I've been sucker punched by the lovely layered cookies. No more. The three layers are pretty and the cookie really stands out on the plate. But one bite and you have to wonder why you spent all that time letting the dough chill, then fighting to roll the layers, then slicing....you catch my drift. Better some tasty crumbs than a high calorie artwork that tastes like nothing. My solution this year is the gingerbread sandwich cookie. Equally high labor, but when you bite into it, you have spice, chewiness, sweetness and piquancy in equal measure. Yum. And kids love sandwich cookies...two for one and you can disassemble them to boot.
Our bow to trendiness and beauty is the purchase of several jars of the fancy big granulated sugars. Just like a rime of frost. My cookie most likely to be ugly is the lemon cranberry pinwheel recipe I'm trying for the first time. And only because the cookie illustrated has those big crystals of granular sugar. It looks so pretty! My guess is that it will taste just fine, but unless my pinwheels turn out, I'll bet its not the first cookie off the plate. Ah well, its worth a try, but I won't make it the first recipe to stir up.
On the other hand, the bar cookie with the streusel topping will probably be yummy but fail the durability test. These cookies are getting ready to be jostled two or three times before reaching their recipients. I can just see all the streusel loose on the plate. Hmmmm....perhaps I should stick to the little poppyseed thumbprints with the raspberry jam. THEY look like they'd hold together and be recognizable.
The big cookie party gathers in current Hurst Ladies, past Hurst Ladies, and lots of women who are related to Hurst Ladies. There is chatter enough to inspire Meredith Wilson (pick a little, talk a little). The plates pile higher and higher, on the smaller front table as the tupperware, rubbermaid, cookie sheets, etc. empty on the big dining room table. Around and around we go, some picking cookies, some making labels, some bagging. Finally, we have used all the cookies and all the plates. We count plates; we snack on leftovers; we exchange recipes. Then big piles of cookie plates head off into the night to be distributed to friends, loved ones, coworkers, teachers, or maybe just folks who need a loving gesture and a treat during the holiday. Do you feel the need to bake, to warm the stove, flour the counter, spill sprinkles on the floor? O.D. on frosting? Then come on over and pretend to be a Hurst Lady. Barring that option, let us know and we'll be happy to share!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

shepherds watch their flocks by night

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Prepare ye the Way

The giant stage production at the mega church sold out this year....yep, really. A sold out Christmas program. Granted, its not just any program; there are three stages, a lovely Bethlehem, a full orchestra, flying angels and large live animals. Its more over the top than most television specials, but better as far as kids are concerned. The "special effects", from the dry ice to the "snow" to the camels, are right up there close enough to touch. Do the kids get the story? I don't know, but they are enthralled, they are in church, and they are with family. And I'm sure the performers are better for their ministry and sacrifice in time and effort.
On the other hand, as Randy Travis might say, was our kid's program at church Sunday. We were still debating the scenery as we headed to practice on Saturday. So far, we had a brown leaf tarp in a package. That was the stable. Before long, the manger came out of the nursery, as did baby Jesus, (a baby doll the same vintage as one of the young mommys leading the group), a poster star, cow and two sheep joined the vignette under the tarp covered wedding candelabra.
The kids were pretty excited; they were in Grandma Millie's costumes for practice and took quite seriously the proper accessorizing of their outfits. The kings had jeweled crowns; the angels wings and headbands for haloes. But what shoes for kings? Angels? Shepherds? That Saturday everyone wore snow boots in honor of the ten inches of snow in the churchyard. The shepherds needed crooks! Sheep! Fortunately there were only two shepherds and responsible ones at that, so there were no dueling crooks. We dug in the closet for the kings' gifts, remembering at the last minute that one glass jar had succumbed to the Live Nativity last year. A candlestick was pressed into service.
As you may have surmised, this was a very traditional Christmas program. The narration was simple and kid level but read very nicely by two of the older girls. Mary and Joseph did not want to read a line, but acted out their journey and weariness before Mary cuddled her baby. Nearly all the other kids were dutiful in their memorization and spoke their parts with clarity and volume. Any parent or grandparent who didn't hear their kid's part could only chalk that up to the crowd, not shyness on the part of the performer.
The kids didn't know every verse to every song, so we encouraged the congregation to help on 'We Three Kings' and 'Angels We Have Heard'. On the refrain they pitched in with a hearty Ohhhhh-oh! and swayed along with 'star of wonder'. And they compensated for any shortcomings with glorious volume and enthusiasm on 'Go Tell It'. So much enthusiasm that a cappella was called for.
We'd debated the inclusion of 'Angels we have Heard on High', wondering if all that Latin would become gobblety-gook in the mouths of elementary kids. Instead, the Glorias were as clear as any bell choir, and never flagged in energy, racing along ahead of the cd.
I know we are all fallen and I've spent time with all these little people when angelic was off the radar. But watching their seriousness and effort touched me. I loved the way Herod conveyed insincerity; the bare feet of the angels; the teamwork of the shepherds; the way the older kids helped the younger ones with lines and places and props.
I loved the little King who stood during practice, tears coursing down his face. Was he nervous? I asked one of the other helpers. No, he was sad because he didn't know the words of the songs.

But during the service, during the chorus, I watched him sing "glo-o-o-o-ria" with everyone else and I almost cried.
God with us.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Malling

Tomorrow's the day. Tomorrow we'll throw some ratchet straps in the pickup, gather up our loaves of apple bread and make the pilgrimage west to Lincoln. Its the day we visit two of our best customers, express our appreciation, exchange Christmas wishes and maybe some shop talk. Pick up our Christmas tree. Eat a bite of lunch.
And then....then we go Christmas shopping. Correction. I hope to finish up my shopping for this year after taxing the likes of FedEx and UPS for many of the gifts for our extensive family and frequenting Target, Penney, and the bookstore for others. But tomorrow is the day Blake does his Christmas shopping.
This has been standard operating procedure for more than a few years. We used to shop after poinsettia deliveries. More than once we did our shopping on the 22nd or the 23rd, Blake waiting with a book and a coffee while I shuttled shopping bags back and forth like a squirrel piling his hoard. One night we delivered plants to Beatrice, then drove north to Lincoln to catch the stores that closed late. The radio was playing a cowboy poet/singer and the night was as calm and bright as the Christmas carol.
When the OakView Mall in Omaha first opened, we'd top off our shopping with a trip to the book store and a toasty warm mocha for the ride home. We STILL top off shopping with the mocha and a sigh.
I am sorry my loving husband finds me so difficult to shop for. I know he agonizes over this, but through the years, he has done quite well in the gifting category. Some have been necessary, like the washing machine that hid under the straw in the shed for a month. Some have made life and work more pleasant, like the xm radio that migrates from town to greenhouse and back each year during planting season. Some luxurious like the black leather coat from last year. Some have been lovingly personal, like the 1860s map of Nebraska territory I enjoy every day.
But I know every one has been like pulling teeth.
So, tomorrow there will be a guy in a chore coat at the South Pointe Mall in Lincoln. Maybe he'll call in his daughter for reinforcements; maybe he'll go it alone. He's a brave lonely guy and I can see him in my mind's eye tromping through the doors of places like Bath and Body Works and Pier 1, companies he might buy stock in, but not products of. In return, I'll drive home so he can read and recover.
And shopping will be over for another year. Once again, my husband will have given me a gift that makes me smile; the fact he was willing to take a "malling" for me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Lake winter 2008

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Seasonal feelings

Being cold.......
Memorable cold feelings over the years: Ice skating one wintry evening visiting my folks' friends in northern Illinois. As usual, the "pond" is just a flat lot flooded a few inches deep to accommodate kids playing hockey. We've brought our skates and would rather skate than play games indoors. The temperature....10 below zero, but our folks figure we'll come in when we get cold. And we do.
"The Big Snow" in Chicago: I was in third grade when we had that two to three feet of snow in the Chicago area. We were out of school for a week and reduced to eating reconstituted dried milk on our cereal in the morning. As Lucy would say: "BLECHHH!" When we finally returned to school, a friend and I got completely engrossed in building tunnels through the prairie drifts during recess. Eventually we noticed that we were the only kids outside. I don't know how long they would have left us out before someone came to look. I do know everyone stared when we blundered back into our classroom, chilled, wet, and embarrassed.
Building bays one through four of the big greenhouse. Blake and I put those up by ourselves one fall, which drifted into wintertime before the structures were ready to cover. We were desperate to have something plastic ready by Christmastime when our "help" would be home on vacation. We put up polygal on days hovering near zero, fumbling for the drill, dropping self tapping screws, warming ourselves for ten minutes at a time in the pickup. Finger aching, protesting, screaming, extremities. Beyond numb.
The winter Lee was born. We lived in the little house with no furnace. We froze the pipes to the washer; we hung blankets on the doorways. We sat in the kitchen when we were awake and slept under the electric blanket. The snow that winter was the deepest I've seen in Atchison county since I've lived there. It didn't melt until February 28th, the day after Lee was born.
In the cold farm house department, the New Year's night we spent in the rock farmhouse in Callaway county. No heat up there either. My sister had the electric blanket and I had lots of conventional blankets. That night I learned that one could have blankets enough to physically smother, yet not keep out the cold. An educational and frigid experience.
Funny how its much easier to remember being cold than being warm. Memorable warmth would be Christmas Eves in Grandma Nelson's front room; lots of people and a red hot oven. The roaring fires in Millie and Charlie's old house. The kitchen at Spruce after baking coffeecakes, or apple breads, or even just running the dishwasher. Getting off the airplane in Hawaii! One of the most appealing visual manifestations of warmth happened the summer we traveled to Ireland. That day we'd visited the grand park dedicated to the horse; it had poured all afternoon, completely overwhelming all attempts to deflect the water with umbrellas or coats. But that evening, we stopped by an elegant, low slung hotel. It reeked of class with beds of red tuberous begonias, framed horse prints, quiet carpets. The bar area was more akin to a drawing room, with fine legged divans and chairs in civilized groupings. But there was a cheery fire banishing the memory of the rainy afternoon, and mugs of the best Irish coffee I've ever tasted. I felt transported to another ecosystem, shedding my corn fed Midwest skin, donning, at least in my imagination, a cape, black riding boots, and leather gloves. It is still a magnificently evocative memory of the kind of warmth that has little to do with absolute temperatures themselves.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

caramel frosting for Blake

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Domestic goddesses

My Grandma Froerer was a tiny little lady as was, for that matter my Granny Renken. At least that's how I remember it; I think I passed both ladies in height when I was about ten. But whenever I make frosting, I think of her with admiration. In deference to her memory, and because it tastes really good, I make a mean caramel frosting, using brown sugar and oleo, cooking and boiling by the clock, then beating in the powdered sugar. Its really a wonderful thing over applesauce cake, or oatmeal cake, or spice cake.
 My grandma frosted yellow cakes and oatmeal cookies. And, she made that caramel frosting by hand with no aid or abetting by mechanical means. Grandma cooked her frosting in a quart or a half or two quart pan, then wrapped a dish towel around the pan and beat and counted and beat and counted til the frosting was golden and smooth. I can only swear that we were duly appreciative...we would carefully peel the frosting layer off our cake and lay it on the side of our plate, eat our cake, then eke out the luscious treat in little tiny forkfuls as slowly as we could. We never left our cake unattended, knowing that one slip would mean someone else at the table scraping our frosting onto their plate.
Grandma was a domestic goddess in other respects. Each year she sewed us flannel nighties for Christmas with ruffles, buttons, and little bows. Each year we looked forward to our new Easter dresses, made for little girls who lived 400 miles away. For the school year, there were jumpers, for play, corduroy pants and cotton shorts, all sent in boxes wrapped in brown paper.

My mother also sewed for her daughters; after Grandma's eyes and hands failed her, my mother carried on, sewing my prom dresses and finally, as her mother had done for her, a wedding dress. The ritual of going to a fabric store and fingering the cotton blends and florals, rifling through the pattern files, or pawing through the remnant counter still feels like home.

 I don't sew, I'm afraid, but my daughter does, so I occasionally come along to ooh and aah over the potentially lovely outfits and fabrics. My sole efforts with needles are pedestrian attempts at mending. While pregnant with Lee, I did embroider a number of felt Christmas ornaments and even made Lee's first Christmas stocking. That was later recycled into Ben's stocking; two years ago, Lee, Ann, and I went into embroidery warp speed and made stockings for Gabe, Abbie, Lizzie, and Kenzie at my house, and then Kenzie and Ben again as wedding gifts. I understood the camaraderie of sewing that our ancestors enjoyed at quilting bees as we shared progress and strove toward our deadline. How pleasant it is to pull the socks from the cedar chest and know they are home grown.

 I look forward to seeing Lizzie and Abbie is some of the pretty Easter dresses their mamas wore and their great grandma sewed for them. Each spring we'd take a picture of the new dresses and send down record of her handiwork. This Christmas, Lizzie and Abbie will be resplendent in dresses and pinafores made by their great Grandma Millie for two other little girls, their cousins Alissa and Bella. Lizzie and Abbie were so excited, preening and posing when presented with their new dresses.

Grandma Millie carries on the home made tradition in her kitchen too. Her mother's angel food cake recipe, complete with notations, is hand written in her copy of the of the "old" St. John's cookbook. With Grandma gone, Millie now bakes angel food cakes from scratch for everyone's birthday. Whatever time of year, no matter how busy she is, a lovely glazed tender angel food cake will appear in the birthday person's home, presented on the pink flowered cake plate. Almost compensates for having a birthday.

Grandma crocheted afghans; I loved the progression of the rainbow colored yarn. She tried to teach me, but I proved proficient at nothing more than making long chains. Granny crocheted rag rugs which captivated me. I collected lots of rags and even completed a rug. But it was as wavy as the Pacific ocean and would have tripped all comers if I had put it on the floor. When I was in college, Granny took my sad project and unraveled it, recrocheting it for me, adding the stitches in their proper places so it laid flat.

We modern ladies have no problem keeping busy; we have lots of calls on our time, both in and out of the home. My children would have suffered if I'd been in charge of all their apparel. Home cooking was sometimes sporadic. But I am happy to have tangible evidence of the talents and skills of the ladies who preceded me as wives and moms. Whenever I stir up a cream cheese coffeecake, or a Mrs. Peter's coffeecake, or work up some gooey rolls by hand, I pay homage to that tradition.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The stockings were hung on the chimney

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In Hopes that Saint Nicholas

Because the gas log is often blazing this time of year, the stockings are not hung by the chimney, but rather on the piano. They barely fit; Blake's spartan red stocking of fake fur, sparse in decoration but deep and wide in volume, hangs around the corner on one end. Lizzie's stocking, a snowman waving from his mitten, anchors the other end. In between there is a rainbow of felt, sequins and applique', evidence of a large and blessed attendance in the front room on Christmas morn.
My old stocking was handmade by a friend of my grandmother's. The felt and sequins are not so bountiful or bright as the newer stockings of the kids'. But my favorite part are the little bells, three of them, that tinkle sweetly from its sole. Our stockings hung from two knobs on a little clock shelf above the rocking loveseat. Standing on it was verboten, but the rules were relaxed during the holiday season; or maybe no one noticed the times I stood up on the couch and felt the toe of my stocking or even took it down to see if Santa had left a downpayment on Christmas. He never did, but the sock was always full of delightful tidbits on Christmas morning. Maybe there were matchbox cars, or handblown glass animals, or little carved animals, or a teaset inside a wooden apple. I don't know where "Santa" found the fascinating trinkets, but they were always creative and some of my favorite gifts. Later, when we girls were in high school and college, we could always count on Santa for pretty earrings and new undies;for propriety's sake, I can only assume that Mrs. Santa took care of those purchases.
Its fun to be Santa. The items in the stockings may be necessary to happiness, but they shouldn't be necessary to survival. The small pleasures abound; new socks, lotions from Bath and Body Works, new favorite pens, esoteric kitchen tools, paperback books, music in all its evolving forms. Rolls of film have mutated into memory cards. For years, Santa has brought my husband replacements for whatever pliers and wrenches he sacrificed to the corn field and combine gods. New gloves have been de rigeur.
And now Santa has a whole new crop of little people to bring presents for. Little folks to help pick out the iced cookies to leave on the plate. An audience to gasp and point when Santa comes by on Christmas Eve and tromps across the icy yard and down the icy street. New listeners to the beloved phrases of the poem, 'twas the night before Christmas'. New imaginations to ponder how Santa gets in the house (no mystery here; he comes in the front door!)
For many years, we spent our Christmas eves the same way. First, a soup supper at Millie's to celebrate Grandpa Hurst's Christmas Eve birthday. Then, family Communion at church. Then the family would fragment to different destinations, finally reconvening at Grandma Nelson's house after the St. John's Sunday school program. Late in the evening, we'd stop by and pin our wishes on the Yule log at Janice and Bruce's. Finally, in the quiet and chill of night, we'd come home and get ready to head for bed. Maybe I'd still have a coffeecake to cook; maybe I'd still have one to frost. But even if I didn't, I'd linger in the kitchen until all the bedroom lights went out and the house was quiet.
Then, Santa would head down to the basement and bring up the bags of toys. The socks, toys, books, and little gewgaws would be arranged with all the love and care a mom/wife could muster and with the smiling knowledge of the pleasure the pj-ed recipients would get from them in the morning, whether the sun was up or not. Santa would get her cup of coffee and her camera and begin her very Merry Christmas to all....