Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas 2011 - Epilogue

I don't need to write down some very special things that happened during the Christmas season this year in order to remember them, but if I don't, then how can I share them with you?

My oldest daughter, Mary Jo, is a social worker in a poverty level school district. A few weeks before Christmas she identified several families, one of them traumatically numbed by recent personal tragedy, who would be unable to provide gifts for their children. Mary Jo coordinated a lovely "gift-giving party" with a friend to secure donations, and then gave up the first full day of her holiday break to "drive all over the place" collecting more toys to deliver to the families. I am so proud of her....mostly because the people I respect most in this world are those who see a need or an injustice and take immediate action to resolve it - instead of just gaping and whining that "somebody" should doooooo something about that. God Bless you, Mary Jo!

I am proud that I live only a mile away from the K-Mart where this year's national "Secret Lay-Away Santa" phenomenon began with the caring act of one generous lady. I only wish that kind lady had been me.

This year, as in every other for each of the past ten, my friend and neighbor, Lily, along with one or both of her twins, Nick and Rebecca, rang our doorbell in the afternoon on Christmas Eve day and presented us with a sparkling bag of homemade pretzel treats. Whether it was the traditional chocolate dipped sticks smothered in festive holiday sprinkles or this year's caramel topped squares, it has been so much fun adding these delightful treats to the snack table on Christmas Day! And opening the door to the happy faces of her beautiful children has always been like taking a step back into the past, where thoughtful neighbors never hesitated to personally bring unexpected joy right up to your front porch instead of simply and impersonally "forwarding" it by email! What a lovely family tradition of pretzel-making team work and neighborly Christmas spirit Lily has modeled. No wonder her kids are so terrific! And, once again, I wish I had thought of doing that!

Last Friday, I loved being part of a thirty minute Christmas eve wait in line at the express check out of our neighborhood grocery store! No, that was not a typo! I loved it! I loved the way the young man in front of me, the senior lady behind me and I bonded while sharing our stories of what we had to have so badly that we would endure that long wait in line! I loved how the young man gave "cuts" to a slightly confused elderly gentleman who clutched a one pound box of sugar - and how everyone else behind him smiled their approval - and especially how no one wanted to beat him up or pepper spray him! I love how I live in this community, the one where "the K-Mart lady," Mary Jo, Lily, Nick, Rebecca and that friendly young man also reside. Next year, I am going to do something nice and unexpected for someone else - the same way those people routinely seem to do, without even giving it a second thought! And my idea better be a pretty darn good one - I have a whole year ahead of me to plan it!

Finally, from the department of "The Truth Always Comes Out" is time to announce the name of the culprit who really ate the cookies Brielle made for daddy at Grandma's 2nd Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Party!...introducing...PUMBA!

Christmas cookies? Missing? Really?
You mean little frosted trees with silver sprinkles?
Santa boots with coconut cuffs?
Red and green stars?
Those kinds of cookies? They're missing?
                               Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holy Night

My sincere wishes to you, dear friends, for a Blessed Christmas!

I very often visit the beautiful Carmelite Monastery chapel near my home. At Christmas it is even more special when this tender nativity scene is on display. The cloistered sisters who reside there are living models of the "little way" of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who accepted that it was not her destiny to do great things for Our Lord, but instead, little things, all done with great love.

I love the simple, childlike way this creche is decorated to celebrate the birth of our King! I love the hand sewn clothing worn by the life size figures, the naivety of the painting of God the Father, and the paper cherubs who attend the Holy Family! I love the little gold box that lies at the foot of Jesus with an invitation to place petitions inside of it.

But mostly, I love the handprinted sign on the chapel door that greets me every time I stop by:

Our chapel is open to the public.
You are welcome to come inside and pray.
Our Lord wants to see you.
He is waiting for you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Home for Christmas

"Home for Christmas." What a beautiful, heartwarming thought - the very best of its kind! Last night my family all came home, once again, for Christmas. As always, it was magical, especially now that beloved grandchildren unwrap toys in the exact spot where my daughters once did. That poignant observation opened reflection in territory most frequently traveled by those of us who live in the great state of "grandmotherhood."

As the children played, surrounded by loving, attentive parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles, I experienced full realization of what people mean when they say, "Even though we have nothing, we have everything." Because even if we, personally, were not laden with gifts to give one another, we would still, truly, have "everything!"

I know too, that it is not just our present generations who possess the elusive "everything." At my side stands a Christmas tree decorated with many ornaments that delighted my mother when I was a child. I remember the way she would gently guide my hand to hang them. Alongside those are ones my grandmother bought and used for herself. I often wondered why she would buy clear glass balls with mint green and pink stripes. This year, for the first time, I realized that those stripes were originally "Christmas red" and "holly green," having faded right along with the now-orange yarn limbs of our family treasure, "Jimmy Christmas." The most startling of my realizations however, is that this wonderful woman, who was my maternal grandmother, has now become a great-great grandmother with the addition of Bree and the twins!

Memories of those dear ladies who taught me, in fine example, how to have "everything" by loving and giving, return even more vividly with the privilege of handling fragile, cherished tokens of their lives - ones that they themselves touched and fondly smiled upon long ago when colors were bright and clear.

So, here I am today, right in the middle of five generations, each member known and profoundly loved by me as I welcome them all Home for Christmas!

Brielle takes a break from opening gifts.....but not from being adorable!

Yet, the "Home for Christmas" stories that most deeply touch my heart do not involve people! Those stories are reflected in the eyes of family pets - dogs and cats - who came into our lives broken, neglected, fearful, and desperately hungry - not only for food, but for the love of  kind people who would care enough to take them in, make them part of the family and present them with their first, very own, chubby Christmas stockings to paw open and enjoy.

This year it is Roxie, who for the first time in three years, nestles beneath a lighted tree and warms herself before a fireplace. Before we adopted her in August she was one of eighty five dogs taken by Animal Control from a woman who hoarded and neglected them. Roxie's sole source of shelter was the carcass of an old car, where she was found huddled in fear with eight new born puppies. Her ears will always bear scars from attacks by larger, more aggressive dogs, endured while protecting her litter and subsisting on whatever she found to eat in the weeds. But all of that is over now. She has come home at last. There will be no more babies to fight for and protect. Now she is our baby, and we are here to protect her!

Still, the easy part is to take in a sweet, appreciative dog like Roxie and feel the warm glow that comes from providing another first, happy Christmas. It is far more difficult to be a first respondent from the rescue organization that took all of the dogs into protective custody, attended to their medical and psychological needs and placed them in loving "forever" homes.

On behalf of Roxie and those immeasurably kind people, I ask you to consider worthy animal welfare groups as recipients of your seasonal charitable giving - and your prayers!

"Home for Christmas"....for every one of God's living creatures.....wouldn't that be wonderful?

This year, I'm exactly where I belong....HOME for Christmas!
(and no, I'm not budging!)
xxx Love, Roxie xxx

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Grandma's 2nd Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Party...Completed!

Long ago, I read an anonymous quote in an old cookbook: "It matters less what is on the table than what is on the seats!" I certainly do agree with that charming sentiment, but last night I think I managed to fill both the table and the seats with a wonderful bounty of heartwarming Christmas spirit!

My entire house lights up when all three grandchildren burst inside of it, full of laughter, excitement, and anticipation over what Grandma has in store for them this time! I hoped to set a stage of warmth, togetherness and joy for them, their moms, and Aunt Karen, too. Quite honestly, I think I succeeded very nicely at the task!

We began with drinks from the "Magic Snowman" decanter! The boys were amazed to see their clear cups of Sprite turn color - one to red and one to green - when the beverage interacted with a drop of food color hiding beneath an ice cube. It was actually pretty magical - even to me! Imagine how much fun this would be at a birthday party where each child came away with a different color in his cup!

I loved the way the Santa face mini pizzas turned out and so did the kids. I used an English muffin base, spread prepared pizza sauce over the top, placed small black olive slices for eyes, a tiny grape tomato for nose and a thin piece of red pepper for hat. Shredded mozzarella cheese covered the sauce. I baked them at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. As soon as they came out of the oven I "fluffed up" the beards with another sprinkling of cheese. Nothing got distorted during the baking process.

Santa face pizzas waiting to go into the oven.

Not everything was a success, though! I covered the top of my quiche with 2" cookie cutter Swiss cheese stars and it came out of the oven looking like it was coated with mold! The star studded leafy salad, however, looked terrific! Cheese stars mingled with star shaped oven baked croutons (cut from dense white bread, toss in melted butter, bake 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden) looked fabulous. Snowflakes would be pretty, too!

After we ate it was time to bake! Out came the rolling pins, sugar cookie dough (pre-made a few days previous) and loads and loads of sprinkles! The kids got right down to business - even Brielle, who is only fifteen months old!

One thing I will do differently next year is to have one sheet of cookies already baked so the kids can get right into frosting and decorating. They do like to roll and cut them out, but the ten minute baking time is a long interval for kids this age to endure. We did, however, fill that time slot nicely with "sprinkle-eating!"

This little girl doesn't take "no" for an answer!

"Decorate with one, eat two! Decorate with two, eat three!.....etc!"

"Less is More!".....ummm, REALLY? Well, not over here! Not at Grandma's Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Party, that's for sure! I bought a few sheets of those little icing eyes, thinking (naively!) that they would be a nice touch on the faces of snowman or reindeer cookies. The boys took up the challenge and teamed up to make a pair of what we could only describe as "Christmas Aliens!" Now this is creativity at its very, very best, don't you agree?

Who among us really knows for sure that Aliens don't believe in Santa, too?
For all we know, they hang little neon green glow-in-the-dark stockings by their own "chimneys with care!"

After the final batch of cookies was safely packed up to take home to daddy in pint size Chinese take-out boxes, we plopped on Santa hats and made ourselves fluffy white mini-marshmallow beards! Simply adhere the marshmallows with a nice slathering of gooey peanut butter on your cute little chinny-chin-chin! It helps to have a "busy body" little girl cousin take over and do the work for you!

The final event of the evening was the awarding of "door prizes!" Each of the kiddies randomly chose a winner's name and handed out the prize. Mary Jo and Christy won the framed Christmas tree prints made from the little feet of their children. Karen won the framed print of the three little "snow-cousins."

The twins couldn't pronounce "Karen" when they started to talk, so they called her "DeeDee."
That name has stuck, and so here she is...forever, our beloved Aunt DeeDee!

Now, I am not saying that some cookies didn't go into the oven as thin as a sheet of paper while one right next to them might have been as thick and hefty as an industrial weight sledge hammer...or that the cats aren't walking around this morning with tails studded in festive sprinkles...or that multiple wads of dried cookie dough aren't populating beneath my kitchen table...or that every doorknob in the house isn't sticky with green or red icing...or that my "lost and found" box doesn't bulge with a little pink hair bow, a plastic booster seat and a GAP sweatshirt in a size that no one who lives here now has fit for over sixty years! No, I am not saying that!

What I am saying is that the twins each exclaimed,"I had FUN!" on the way home, and that the girls each called or emailed today to thank me again for the wonderful experience and to say how much the daddies loved the cookies! I am saying that when I sweep and scour this morning I have a smile on my face because the precious memories of last night remain vivid in mind and are the reason there will be a "Grandma's 3rd Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Party"...and a 4th....and a 5th...and a 6th...and on and on until this grandma becomes too "ditzy" to properly mix the green icing sported by the multiple-eyed "Christmas Aliens" who are born on my kitchen table every year at this time!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Cookie Bakers are Coming......SOON!!!!!!

VERY BUSY TODAY! The cookie bakers arrive Friday at 5 PM. Today is Wednesday. Tomorrow I babysit all day for Bree, so every minute counts!

I am very excited about Grandma's Second Annual Cookie Baking Party since this year the twins are three and Bree is one year old. That means we can add a few more fun things to the menu!

And, there will always have door prizes for the ladies! When I saw Christmas tree and snowman footprint pictures on Pinterest I knew right away I was going to make them! Not only are they a treasured keepsake for the parents of your grandchildren, they are also easy and inexpensive to make.

For one small child, an 8" x 10" frame with a black border from Michael's or Hobby Lobby will do.
Add a pre-cut mat in red. This one, with a lovely linen texture, was only three dollars before coupon discount. The only other things you'll need are red, green and gold paint, a fine point marker and a brush. Do your printing on a quality white paper, such as Canson, because this year's little feet won't be the same size ever again!

It really is best to have help while you paint the bottom of one foot - green with red toes. Press firmly on paper, at a slight angle. Repeat with other foot, slightly overlapping the heels, to complete the tree shape with an array of little red "presents" beneath it!

Keep in mind that your first attempt may not be perfect. It might smudge, or be too light. Prepare several sheets of paper before you print by tracing the inside of the mat so everything fits into the open area.

Once you have a satisfactory print, use the gold paint to make a tree-top star. (Glue on a paper star as an option.) Print the name of the child and the year at bottom with the marker.

Move up in size to an 11" x 14" frame and mat for an older child with bigger feet. Use this size, too, to make a family of "snow-cousins" like I did, for Aunt Karen to win!

This one's much easier! White paint for the entire foot on red paper -  fine line black marker for eye and mouth dots, arms and printed names -  tiny paintbrush to carefully add orange noses, pink cheeks and the year in white -  black paper hats rubber cemented to heads -  and a sprinkle of snowflakes stamped on (or child's fingertips dipped in paint)....that's it! Even with a double mat and a larger size, this one cost about ten dollars to make, and even if I do say so myself - it is priceless in cuteness!

Now, on to the table! The snowman drink dispenser will not only serve as our centerpiece, but I will introduce him as a "Magic Snowman!" The boys will get clear plastic cups with a drop of liquid food color hiding beneath a cube of ice. When they fill their cups with Sprite from the Magic Snowman, one of the drinks will turn red and the other green! I can't wait to see their surprised little faces when that happens!

It will be dark when the kids arrive, so a string of battery operated lights will encircle the Magic Snowman.

We will first sit down to a light dinner. For the ladies, I am making fish chowder, leafy salad, and mushroom quiche. Probably a few appetizers, too. White wine will accompany the food.

For the kiddies, I am hoping that an idea of mine is successful. I will try to make English Muffin pizzas look like Santa faces - olive slices for eyes, red pepper strips for a hat and white mozzarella cheese for a beard. His nose will be part of a tiny grape tomato that I plop on after he leaps out of the chimney - oops! I mean "the oven" -  with a bound! Ho ho ho! We'll see!

I am also going to serve the kids sliced veggies and a dip, as well as fruit cups topped with jello stars. Along with those cups I will provide the twins their first experience with canned whipped topping! If you know anything about three year old boys, you know this one is not for the fainthearted! Go grandma!

Okay, gotta get back to the kitchen! Full party report posted here on Friday! See you then!