by Micki Clark
You know, it’s funny. Christmas is one of those seasons that’s new every year–no matter how many traditions you carry over from previous years, there’s always something that’s new and precious.
There are so many things that I love about Christmas. I adore having time off work that I can spend in my kitchen, baking one delectable treat after another for my family to devour. We spend hours watching the old Christmas shows from the 60s. My personal favorite is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, but my children love “Frosty” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.
What I would have never imagined about Christmas is how much I would enjoy watching my children experience the holiday. I think this is our last “Santa” year. My youngest is in third grade, so it’s a matter of time before some well-intentioned classmate spills the beans. For now, though, we are having great fun with our own Twenty-Five Days of Christmas plans.
Like many other parents, we do the Elf on the Shelf, minus the messes. He’s pretty controversial, that Elf. Every November and December, I see my friends on Facebook lamenting their decision to ever bring the little creature into their home.
I get that. There are some nights that I sit straight up in bed in a panic around 11 or 12 o’clock remembering that I’ve forgotten to move Duke to some different perch in our living room or kitchen. It happens.
It’s not that different than when we’re grumbling in line at some store that we don’t know what to buy for Aunt Martha or Grandma Susie, and is it really necessary to get something for the office gift exchange, since we’re all just going to buy each other the same $10 Subway gift cards?
That might be my least favorite Christmas tradition–coming down with a case of the Grinches.
It’s up to us to make an effort every Christmas to look past the annoying things and find the light.
Sure, it’s a bit annoying to have to come up with 25 – 30 new elf situations every year on Christmas, but it is so worth it to hear the squeal of delight every morning when my daughter finds Duke and runs down the hall telling anyone who will listen (and a few people who won’t) exactly where she discovered him.
And yes, it’s a bit frustrating to have to rattle your brain to think of gift ideas sometimes. And it’s definitely a hassle to stand in those holiday checkout lines. But isn’t it worth it to put a smile on someone’s face and show someone else that you cared enough about them to do so?
I’m trying to make that my new personal Christmas tradition. This year in particular, I’ve made more of an effort to put up decorations, because my kids adore it. I’m mailing Christmas cards, because it tells other people they are on my mind. I’m baking Christmas candies that I no longer eat, just because passing out those treats means so much to someone else. It’s not been easy, but it’s already so worth it.
Micki Clark was born in Lexington, Kentucky. A graduate of the University of Kentucky, she has loved the written word since childhood (when she was often captured hiding in the closet reading instead of doing mundane things like cleaning her room). She now teaches high school English in Western Kentucky. Readers can follow Micki on her blog, http://www.micki-clark.com, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/authormickisclark), or Twitter (www.twitter.com/MickiSClark).
Don’t Ask Me to Leave by Micki Clark
Newlywed Rachel Miller has everything she could want from life—the perfect husband, her dream job, and a cute little house in the country—but the daydream is shattered when her husband is killed in a tragic accident. Her mother-in-law, Nadine, takes her in as she tries to pick up the pieces, and their handsome neighbor Beau is willing to help…if Rachel will let him. Does she dare open her heart for a second chance at love?
By Steve Connolly
The house at 106 Cadima Avenue in Coral Gables, my grandmother’s house, will be one of those addresses that stick in my memory banks forever. As a kid, I was fortunate to spend time with her during my summer vacations from school.
My grandmother was known as Nan Nan to her 33 grandchildren. She was fondly given this name by my oldest cousin, Cathy Tracy Dickinson. I am not sure where she came up with such a moniker, but it stuck over many years.
A visit to Nan Nan’s house broke up the endless summer days of playing army with my buddies, shooting basketballs, or fighting with my brothers. With Nan Nan you were guaranteed to have an adventure. When I was very young, I remember her walking me to the park to do arts & crafts. Later years we would walk several miles to downtown Coral Gables for a hot fudge sundae. For a real treat, we would hop a city bus to downtown Miami. We would explore parks, museums, libraries or go to a movie. Being the oldest of five (Peter waited until we moved to New Hampshire to be born) I enjoyed the personal time she spent with me.
I remember my grandmother as the school librarian at a small Christian School. I’m told Nan Nan started teaching there as the Home Economics instructor. Later at the age of sixty, she continued her education and became the school’s librarian. Being a Home Ec teacher I often wondered if this is why she was a fantastic cook. I have known only one other Home Ec teacher in my life, Mrs. Bernice Kyte, and she, too, was an excellent cook.
My Nan Nan was famous for her cookies. Visiting her house, the first thing we kids would do is check in the bottom cupboard to see if there were any cookies in her original Tupperware container. And you know, we were never disappointed. Nan Nan had several cookie recipes that we loved as kids. One was her Chocolate Chip cookies and another was her Easy Peasy Sugar Cookies. For years I have tried to duplicate her Chocolate Chip cookies without success. She must have kept something secret as I have her original recipe and have never successfully made them good as she did. One of her many cooking shortcuts must have been an unwritten instruction in her recipe. Someday I may resolve this mystery!
However, I have mastered her Easy Peasy Sugar Cookies recipe. I know they are good as my wife often forbids me to make them. She claims they are addictive. I must disagree with her as I can limit myself to ten or twelve of them a day! I hope you enjoy them. Make sure and pay attention to the little tricks Nan Nan taught me about making these cookies.
Easy Peasy Sugar Cookies (must be her original name)
- 1-1/2 Cups of Sugar
- 2-1/2 Cups of All Purpose Flour
- ½ teaspoon Baking Powder
- ½ teaspoon of Salt
- 14 Tablespoons of Unsalted Butter softened to room temperature (or squishy)
- 3 teaspoons of Vanilla
- 2 Large Eggs plus the Egg White of One Egg
- ¼ teaspoon of Nutmeg
It is best to start off by having all your ingredients measured out – this way you can double check and prevent missing something. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees after you evenly space the racks in the center of the oven.
- Next, sift into a separate bowl all the dry ingredients (except the nutmeg).
- With an electric mixer combine the butter and sugar and beat till light and fluffy
- Mix in the egg products one at a time beating until fully combined. Beat in the vanilla.
- Slowly mix in the flour to the egg/sugar mixture – about ½ cup at a time. Scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary (You may need to chill the dough depending on your eggs).
- Roll the dough into one-inch size balls. Then roll them in a mixture of sugar and nutmeg (I always measure by eye – personal taste can dictate this – for Christmas use colored sugar)
- Put onto cookie sheets – I find aluminum sheets work the best.
- Start one sheet on the lower oven rack and bake 5 minutes. After 5 minutes move it to the top rack. When the 5 minutes is up, check to make sure the cookies are slightly browned around the bottom edges. Time may have to be adjusted according to your oven.
- Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack – I start mine out flat then stack them after a few minutes to let them fully cool.
- Wash your sheets in cool water between batches – Careful not to burn yourself.
My grandmother lived just shy of her 101st birthday. She was an incredible person whom I think of most days. In my house of five boys and one girl, it was required that we all learned to cook. Thinking of the skills I have developed over the years I find the majority are from things my grandmother taught me. And by the way, my grandmother’s daughter, my Mom is a great cook too!
Mamaw’s chocolate pie. Rich, creamy filling in a flaky crust with no meringue or whipped topping. No, sir. Mamaw didn’t like meringue. My dad’s parents spent a lot of their life in Arizona before moving back to Alabama to retire. My brother, Jesse Lee Dison III, and I enjoyed visiting my dad’s parents during our teen-age years, a time to get out of the house.
When Mamaw passed in 2010, my brother, living in Alaska, could not make the trip. But he had a way to honor our grandmother. He wrote a tribute which he had me place in a stand-up photo frame and asked my mom to bake a chocolate pie. We set them in the funeral parlor, a fitting acknowledgement of her love and cooking skills…
Here’s what Jesse wrote:
Since I could not attend I wanted to have something there that meant a lot to me when I think of Mamaw. Now chocolate pie may seem like an odd thing, but every time we would get together that was one thing that I knew she would have and what I looked forward to. Without the whipped cream! Whenever I see a chocolate pie, it reminds me of her and I know that they won’t be as good as hers. Just a very special memory to me.
Most of my memories of her would range from her being mean, not letting me answer the phone when my girlfriend was calling (had to climb through a window to grab the phone), to her relationship with Papaw. I truly believe that strong family trees start at the roots and you learn from what you watch while growing up. Mamaw and Papaw had that relationship where you know they loved each other and it was passed on although not out loud, but through watching and being around them.
Being in Alaska has been hard since it is so far away. Holidays are hard because I miss being there with all the family. When Mamaw would yell “Jesse” and Papaw, my dad and I would holler “yes” at the same time. She would get so mad. I know when I would call to talk to her and hear everyone in the background it would bring back good memories. To know that all her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren have and are raising close strong families in today’s society is a testament to how great Mamaw and Papaw were.
I am saddened by Mamaw’s passing but I know she is where she wants to be now, with my dad and Papaw. And someday we will all be together.
And I know we will. Here’s her pie recipe. You can always add meringue or whipped topping, of course. 🙂
Mamaw’s Chocolate Pie
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
Blend together sugar, flour, cocoa, and salt in a boiler. Add milk. Cook over low heat. Stir constantly util the mixture has thickened. Add a small amount of hot mixture to beaten egg yolks, stirring well. Add to mixture. Cook until it is a thick consistency. Add vanilla and butter or margarine. Pour into baked pie shell. Let cool…
by Betty Thomason Owens
As a child, I loved Christmas. Even though we were a low-income family, I looked forward to it every year. The idea of a jolly, old elf was truly appealing and oh, so intriguing! Then my older brother spoiled all the fun by revealing the true “Santas”– Mom and Dad. That explained a lot, like why I didn’t get the Chatty Cathy doll I’d ordered.
As an adolescent, I became aware that the holiday put pressure on my parents to provide gifts for their growing children. Children who needed clothes and food and medical care. Most of the gifts we received were necessary items. I was thankful for them–but honestly–it wasn’t much fun.
So when it was my turn, and I was the one making Christmas special for my children, I set out to make it fun. Yes, there were socks and underwear included among the gifts, but there were also toys–as many as we could afford. I baked cookies and made treats. From Christmas Eve through Christmas Day, it was all about the children and all about fun. We even had a special brunch on Christmas morning, which they appreciated more as they grew older.
Does it seem odd to you that a child growing up in a low income situation would feel guilty receiving gifts? I must confess, sometimes I still do. Especially when I know the expenditure required sacrifice on the part of the giver.
One year, those guilt feelings caused a problem in my marriage. My husband bought me an expensive watch for Christmas. When I opened the box, I felt guilty. The first words out of my mouth were, “We can’t afford this.” He got angry, and looking back, I don’t blame him. After we recovered from the hurt feelings, he told me he’d saved money for several months to make the purchase. I had no real reason for the guilt. I wore that watch proudly for many years, but he never forgot that first reaction.
Those years are far behind me now. During the holidays, the house fills up with sons, their wives, and the grandchildren. There’s lots of laughter and much ripping of holiday paper. Many, many Christmas cookies and lots of thankful prayers for the gifts of life and love.
I can so relate to the famous short story written by O. Henry, “The Gift of the Magi.” I think many of us aspire to be that selfless, but fear it, at the same time.
What if I make this sacrifice, and I get nothing in return? Well…even if you get nothing in the material sense, you get the smile, and hopefully, the love of the receiver. You get the satisfaction of knowing your sacrifice is appreciated.
The young couple in the story shared a moment of love and warmth (and humor, thanks to O. Henry’s expertise)–priceless!
“Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house…”