Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas 2014: Unwrapped

The Christmas season is like a beautifully wrapped gift. When presented, it delivers joyful anticipation. "For me? Oh my! Why thank you! Whatever could it be?"

And then the careful process of opening begins....

Formal evening dinner at grandma's welcomes every member of the family. We've grown, from just the five of us, to eight adults as sons-in-law joined us over the years. My favorite moments include the quiet time before arrival when candlelit places are set, crab bisque is ready to be ladled and hands will soon join in grateful prayer for the blessing of togetherness.

Grandchildren, six so far, occupy the nearby "kids' table." But that's not, by any means, the first "cousin event" of the season. That honor goes to "Christmas Movie Night" at Aunt Christy's. And while the feature title responds to currently popular demand, many things remain the same. Aunt Mary Jo's annual gift of matching jammies keep hot-chocolate-sipping and popcorn-munching kids comfy and cute. This year, Brielle's canopied bed was the site of tumbling chaos for parental paparazzi pictures!

I'm delighted that my daughter chose "Elf on the Shelf" pjs. We're all fans of that little tattle tale, and "elf haters" don't bother us one bit. Our kids excitedly exchange escapade details with cousins and classmates and follow every ritualistic rule. Family bonding, creative thinking, early morning anticipation - each one further enriches the best time of the year!

Christmas cookies - we bake 'em, we eat 'em! This is our fourth year of doing that together, and more pint size participants seem to pop up annually. This year there were seven present - the newest (he'll be born on December 26th!) tucked inside mommy's tummy, hiding behind one of three aprons I made for my daughters to wear each year from now on.

A half dozen hand print reindeer blaze across the bottom half. Wisely, I've left room for more! A wreath of buttoned up yo yos graces the bodice. Hand quilted snow swirls fill in the background and everything else is outlined in stitches.

Grandma's very first Christmas 2010 Cookie Baking Party hosted just the boys - age two at the time. This year, along with Brielle at four, the "big kids" are old pros at the sprinkle station and handle those icing bottles with confident ease.

Youngest of the baking bunch, Kaylee, a newbie at the decorating table, declares,
"I have an icing bottle and I know how to use it!"

And even though dainty little Angeline prefers to taste each morsel before proceeding, there are still plenty of intact and yummy cookies for each family to take home and enjoy!

Nick gets it. "We did that last year!" he shouts when dinner is dismissed and we gather for grandma's "enhanced" reading of "The Night Before Christmas." I'm a "tradition-maker" if there ever was one, and so indeed, my sweet little Nick, this is the second year grandchildren cluster at my feet with fuzzy pet finger puppet mice to raise up with shouts of glee whenever grandma randomly inserts the word "mouse" into the tale of that storied "little old driver" who will forever be "so lively and quick!"

I can't help but wonder how many years I might be indulged with willing participation in this ritual. And if some day, many years ahead, these children will rediscover a familiar furry face tucked away among ornaments of old. I hope they will smile warmly at the memory of Christmas eves clustered with cousins alongside the tree, listening for the magic word!

And then it happens.

Present time!

The speculation is nearly as much fun as the opening....

But not really!.......

Yes, over here grandchildren are indulged. But each of the older ones has been guided by parents wise and compassionate to give time, talent and treasure to those less fortunate. The boys are finally old enough to volunteer at the animal shelter, walking dogs and petting cats. Each child also purchased a toy from savings to donate to another, one whom they will never meet. For that reason, the pride I feel over their own generosity makes these moments so much more special. They've given us all so much. It's their turn to receive.

I'm given presents too. This despite my assertion that grandmothers don't really want "things" from their children, they just want to do things with them! But I get both. And I am very grateful. There's a lovely box of "made-by-mommy-and-me" fudge from Brielle. Wow. Squares and squares of different flavors and toppings - so good - too good, really! I'm glad grandpa has his own. Mine are just for me!

Wine, too! Bottles large and lovely. If you ever hear that this grandma "got run over by a reindeer," you'd be wise to suspect my now fully stocked wine rack as a contributing factor!

And then there's this zany and utterly charming critter! He's crafted of wild bird seed and comes with his own pet mouse and a wire rack for hanging outside. It will be tricky to set it where our well pampered squirrels can't make short order lunch of it, but this "crazy cat lady" is really delighted with her new and fanciful feline!

Speaking of new pets, this one appeared on Christmas morning, left by Santa at Brielle's house. She was quickly named "Elfie," allowing me to add a great-grand-pig to my collection of little ones to love!

"Squeak! I'm as cute as a button!"

Inside my gift of Christmas I found the joy of Jesus in family fun, friendly faces and festive food. I found a fortune in fabulous fudge! I found cousins and cookie crumbs and the blessing of beautiful daughters and handsome and loving sons. I found presents to open and many to give. I found meaningful memories, prayers and peace.......

and just one more thing too!
 - this cute little face,
frosted in green and sprinkled in blue!

And this was my Christmas.

Friday, December 26, 2014

12:26 on 12/26

Introducing my seventh grandchild, Austin Michael!
Born at 12:26 P.M. EST on 12/26/14 (really!)
8 lbs. 8 oz. and 21" long
Here he is, cradled by his proud big sister, Brielle.
Austin loves to sleep! So far, so good!
Grandma is totally in love!

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Kids' Table" Christmas Cottage

There are bits and pieces of Christmas coming together over here now, and I am pleased and excited. Our tree is up, wreaths are hung, and wrapping paper has been "borrowed." (How do you "borrow" a consumable like wrapping paper, you wonder? Well I dunno either. You might ask my daughters. They do very well in that category every year!)

I have several menus planned too. Not only for our family dinner, but for Grandma's Cookie Baking Party as well. And, there's another in the works - one that serves up the most fun for me and all six grandkids - the kids' table on Christmas Day!

It makes perfect sense to "cutesy up" the healthy food you feed your grandchildren. Candy and cookies go down the hatch without a pause. But veggies? Meat? Not so much! I anticipate that might change when the kids find little cottages built of deli bread and stuffed with warm turkey salad at their places on Christmas Day! Standing at sentry is a mini cheese ball snowman, just waiting to be poked with pretzel sticks and gobbled down as an appetizer. While the presentation looks appealing, I'm delighted to say there's not a single grain of sugar on this plate. Even the iced detail is tinted cream cheese, not frosting!

Here's how to make a deli bread Christmas cottage to delight the occupants of your own "kids' table!"

1. Cut patterns from paper: 2" square for sides, triangle with 2" base, and 2" x 3" rectangle for roof.
From deli rye bread with a firm texture, cut 4 sides, 2 triangles and 2 roof pieces.

2. Blend a few ounces of room temperature cream cheese with water until it is the consistency of Royal Icing. Spoon the cheese into a pastry bag with a small hole tip. Construct a 4 wall building base on a 7" salad plate by running lines of cream cheese along sides of each 2" square and fitting them together. Press to hold.

3. Run a line of cream cheese along the 2" base of each triangle and press them to front and back walls. (See photo) Decorate roof pieces as desired with piped cream cheese.

4. Fill house with turkey, chicken, egg, or seafood salad. Pipe cream cheese along top edges of triangles and carefully place roof pieces in position.

5. Use small pretzel sticks to outline house as shown in photo. Use cream cheese as "glue."

6. Tint small amounts of cream cheese green and red with gel food coloring. Pipe a wreath and bow to center front of house.

7. Make snowman by mixing remaining cream cheese (directly out of the package) with grated mozzarella cheese. Form 3 small balls and roll them in shredded cheese. Stack them in front of house. Use tiny snips of black olive for eyes and a tiny slice of carrot for nose. Pipe red cream cheese for scarf.

8. Complete the scene with blanched broccoli crowns for bushes, a stack of pretzel sticks for "firewood," small circles or squares cut from bread scraps for stepping stones and a final sprinkling of cheese "snow."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Satan's Little Helper - a "Tail" of Christmas Horror!

Alas! At my house tonight, all is NOT calm, all is NOT bright!

Once upon a time, a gentle, sweet dove - the universal harbinger of peace - nestled contentedly among other ornamentation within the verdant evergreen of my yuletide tree. Pure in whiteness and softly feathered, she appeared again and again, each year growing braver and braver, perching on branches that reached lower and lower and lower...........

And that night there were predators in the fields......

"Seriously? No sauce with this?"

Yet fear not! To those of us who believe, Christmas is a season of hope!

For it is written in the holy book that one day "the tiger shall lay down with the lamb."

(loosely translated from Isaiah 11:6)

Meow-y Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Little Star of Bethlehem

For now, my young grandchildren understand that the Little Star of Bethlehem loves, with passion, every single part of their being. They know that they were wonderfully made, knit together before they were born (Psalms 139: 13-14) by the same one who longs now to be sheltered in their hearts, gently guiding the thoughts of their minds and the work of their hands.

When they are a little older, they will appreciate that their creator invites them to reach out to him for help in everything they do.

"Stretch out your hand," Jesus commanded the supplicant. And the withered limb was immediately restored. (Matthew 12:13). "If only I can touch his cloak," a suffering woman thought, "I shall be healed." And Jesus acknowledged her faith and cured her. (Matthew 9:20-22).

The Christmas gifts for parents we created together will be a reminder to live with the Little Star of Bethlehem safely cradled in one's trusting palm so a reach toward him will never be too far away!

The infant Jesus is constructed from paper punched shapes. Cut a 1.5" head and 2" halo from circles. The body is a 2" oval. Accent the baby with a tiny red heart and place him in a cradle printed of your child's hand. Draw eyes, then sign and date with a fine point black marking pen.

Use scrapbook paper to cut a complimenting double mat. Place inside a standard size frame.