Category Archives: Christmas

FINDING 50: Like It’s 1999!

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Upstate New York  I  Tuesday, 7 October 2020

PRINCE: 1999 (official music video)

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post was originally published on 31 December 2016, New Year’s Eve. (Much Chinese food was also eaten that night.)
The dates have not been updated. Minor edits have been made.]

In April of this year, when Prince died, I played his music like crazy. His album, Purple Rain, was new when I was a senior in high school and it was pretty much the anthem of our Friday nights, cruising around the boat docks, trying to find people to hang out with. Guys from G-town, guys from C-town, we met them all to the strains of Purple Rain.

But in 1982, two years before Purple Rain, Prince came out with an album called 1999. It seemed so far away, the year 1999, we couldn’t even imagine it. Would robots be doing all our housework? Would humans be living on Mars? It would be the cusp of a new century!

I remember how we all fantasized about where we would be on New Year’s Eve 1999. We were SURE it would be someplace fabulous.

And then, I remember being on a plane once in the mid 90s, reading an article about it in the flight magazine, and wondering what I myself would be doing as we ushered in a new century.

Would I be hosting a fabulous dinner party at my sparkling center hall colonial, with my adoring husband and four perfect children?

Would I be living it up at some trendy restaurant or rocking concert in New York City?

Would I be someplace exotic with my husband, maybe an amazingly luxurious hotel in a gorgeous location, while our kids were being babysat at home by dutiful grandparents?

None of these things happened.

To tell the truth, I can’t even remember now what I was doing on New Year’s Eve of 1999. I’m sure it was much like all my other New Year’s Eves when I was married. I probably made some Chinese food for everyone to nibble on (egg rolls would have been a sure thing) and watched the ball drop in Times Square on TV, me on one end of the couch and my husband on the other end, struggling to stay awake, with Thing 1 already fast asleep. Not very exciting, huh?

I remember the Y2K scramble, when everyone was sure computers would crash, our water systems would become defunct, and it would be the end of the world.

We had a bunch of boxes of bottled Dasani water in our storage closet (my husband worked for their distributor, Coca-Cola, and we got a deal) in case all the doomsday predictions came true, but that was the extent of our preparations for disaster.

Everything worked out fine. Just fine. At least with Y2K, but not with my husband.

And now, 1999 was 17 years ago. 1999 is smack dab in the middle of it all, equidistant from 1982 and 2016:

1982+17=1999
1999+17=2016
See what I mean?

So, how was my holiday this year like my holiday of 1999?

I did not work retail this year, compliments of my generous patron saints. When, you ask, was the last time I had a Christmas season when I wasn’t working in a store through the holidays? 1999, in fact. I began working in a bookstore April of 2000.

So, what did I do with myself? All the things I love!

I took umpteen photos of trees. Trees with golden leaves, trees stark and bare. Trees dusted with snow. Trees draped with colored lights and sparkling, colored ornaments. Trees, trees, trees.

Grandma Sweetie, our ancient maple tree, covered in gold, then blanketed in white.
Same vantage point, different seasons.

Barren trees look so beautiful against a winter sky. The first photo is B’s Hill, above the pond I used to ice skate on with neighbor kids. The second photo is taken across the street from our Christmas tree farm.

These trees are on Main Street. The first photo is a daytime tree, decked out with colorful ornaments. The second photo is three of the five perfect pines next to the town’s memorial for veterans.

And finally, Grandpa Blackberry, our ancient oak tree, in the white of winter, then under an azure sky of summer.

I also took photos of houses, many of which you may have seen in prior blogs. My favorite ones on our road, my favorite ones in an architecturally picturesque town we pass through to go shopping. I drove by some houses so many times, trying to get perfect lighting for just the right shot, I’m sure my license plate has been duly recorded in case the furniture comes up missing.

I also made cookies and candies and cakes. I baked Buttermilk Chocolate Sheet Cake twice. I made Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies at least four times. I braved Jo McCall’s Toffee three times (it turned out great the second and third times) and white-chocolate pretzels twice. I made Celestial Chocolate Chippers many times.

And then, we made cookie plates and delivered them to neighbors.

Making Buttermilk Chocolate Sheet Cake. C’mon, you know you want to lick that bowl…
Also, please admire my Red Linen Formica counter, and yellow Pyrex mixer (404).
Thank you, I knew you’d like them.

My third batch of Jo McCall’s Toffee, which I made by myself, against my better judgment. It’s much easier when you have a helper to scrape the hot toffee from the pan.

Batter for Celestial Chocolate Chippers, my boys’ all-time favorite cookies. This recipe card is the second draft of my quest for chocolate chip cookie perfection. The oven mitt was purchased at Sur la Table, to look period-appropriate in my red vintage kitchen.

A cookie plate, all ready to go to a family we love from church.

I helped host Thanksgiving dinner at my new place.
I attended a Winter Walk and my paper-cutting artist friend Pamela’s open house.
I went to the church Christmas party.
I attended Christmas concerts at Thing 2’s school and at my church.
I went to a volleyball game one of my young friends was playing in, and attended a basketball game at Thing 2’s school.
I went to dinner the day after Christmas at my friends’ house.

I was relaxed and happy.

And I’ll tell you what I didn’t do.

I did not get sick. I remember Christmas 2011, when I collapsed in an exhausted heap downstairs at my parents’ house, and slept for three hours, sick with a sore throat from contact with so many customers and their dirty money, sick from the stress of driving through a dark, slippery canyon on Christmas Eve, fighting with my husband the entire way.

The Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait sent me off to slumberland, and I woke up feeling so much better. Was it the rest or the music? You decide for yourself. I know my answer, and it was both.

I did not work at unreasonable hours while everyone else was out shopping or home relaxing with their families. On Black Friday, I shopped at one place, and one place only, the Christmas tree farm. I did not go to Wal-Mart (or any other store) in search of a really great deal. I did not have to be to work at 6 am the day after Christmas, to set up holiday clearance and make the rest of the store look like Christmas never happened.

I did not sit there in a fog on Christmas Eve and wonder what happened to all those days between Halloween and Christmas. I enjoyed those days and spent time with my own family. This year I did not help everyone in tarnation find just the right book/Lego set/stuffed animal for the people on their list. They were on their own.

I was in the dollar store a few days before Christmas, where one of the sales ladies was consolidating all the holiday items and lamenting to me, “My boss wants me to have all this stuff gone the day after Christmas.”

And I understood. Because I had lived her pain for 16 years.

So, what will I be doing New Year’s Eve this year, 17 years after 1999? That’s easy. I will be celebrating with my family, at home here in upstate New York, while nibbling on homemade Chinese food.

I’ll probably be falling asleep early on the couch, too, with a satisfied smile on my face, knowing this year I enjoyed the holiday season even more than in 1999.

PRINCE: Baby I’m a Star (official video)

Spiral Santa and Snowman!

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York I Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Before December slips away, let me show you the Christmas ornaments I got my boys this year!

I didn’t even try to look for them in the stores this year, I went straight to eBay. I searched and searched from the comfort of my own couch until I saw the perfect set.

I found them, a Santa with a spiral hat, and a snowman with a spiral body! I wan’t sure what material they were made out of, but I suspected metal, because I didn’t think those spirals could be made out of any other material. Plus, the scarf on the snowman reminded me of the scarf on Thing 1’s very first ornament, Tin Snowman.

They ornaments were delayed in shipping, but they finally arrived on December 23. (They accidentally got sent to the wrong address, and had to be forwarded.) Once they were on the tree, I felt very peaceful and happy. All’s well that ends well!

Thing 2 thinks his Santa has a wicked hat. Haha!

[OTHER POSTS ABOUT THE BOYS’ ORNAMENTS]
https://wp.me/p8pd67-rd

https://wp.me/p8pd67-Nu

https://wp.me/p8pd67-19i

 

 

 

Our Christmas Dinner

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York I Friday, 27 December 2019

This year, I decided to make a nice Christmas dinner, just for Thing 2 and me.

Last month, for Thanksgiving, we were invited to my friend Patti’s house. I thought about taking my delicious Cranberry-Orange Relish, but when I discovered at least four of her family members have nut allergies, I decided against it. I brought a Swedish Apple Pie, instead.

We had a wonderful time. There were a ton of people there, because Patti has a lot of kids, and all three of her siblings and their families were there. The turkey was moist and the mashed potatoes were garlicky. One of her daughters is an excellent gravy maker and also made a delicious sweet potato puree. Another daughter made a cauliflower casserole I really enjoyed.

Thing 2 is friends with yet a different one of her daughters, so he had kids to hang out with. Everything was so comfortable and we enjoyed being there.

But since I hadn’t cooked for Thanksgiving, I wanted to make an extra nice meal for Christmas Day. I decided to roast a whole chicken. A turkey is just too big for the two of us, and a turkey breast is missing the drumsticks, which are Thing 2’s favorite. So a five-pound chicken was perfect, seasoned with lemon pepper, paprika, and Real Salt. (Santa brought some spices in my Christmas stocking!)

I decided to make all the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes, too. I didn’t feel quite up to making mashed potatoes from scratch, so I used Idahoan instant potatoes, which I like quite well. And I’ve never been one to make stuffing from scratch, so I used Bell’s stuffing mix.

Instead of sweet potatoes, I decided to bake a butternut squash. It’s the same color and general idea as a sweet potato, and tastes delicious slathered with butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. And of course, I made the Cranberry-Orange Relish! Both of these side dishes brighten up the plate so much.

I set the table carefully with my Homer Laughlin Eggshell Georgian Cashmere plates which I’d purchased from Goodwill in 2018 with some gift money.

And then came the best part of all. I now have a complete set of Oneida Evening Star silver plate, so I was able to set the table with it for the very first time!

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy eating with good silverware. My Evening Star is perfectly weighted, glows softly under candlelight, and feels as smooth as silk. Truly a delight to eat with!

I poured some Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider and Thing 2 and I toasted to family and good food. I was so thankful to be sitting across a lovely table from my gorgeous child, eating delicious food, using sparkling silverware and softly gleaming china.

It was the perfect end to our Christmas Day…

 

The Kids’ Christmas Ornaments 2018

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York I Monday, 31 December 2018

Here it is, end of December, and I haven’t shown you the ornaments I got for Thing 1 and Thing 2!

I looked online quite a bit this year, and found some I liked a lot on Etsy, but somehow I didn’t spring for them, and kept looking in stores.

There was this one day, I looked in a million stores, to the point of exhaustion. I went to Hallmark, Peebles, Jo-Ann, CVS, Walgreen, Rite Aid, Five Below, TJ Maxx, and Dollar Tree.

When I finally rolled into that one store, the one which starts with W, I wanted to jump on a sharp stick, I was so tired and cranky.

And there they were. I was headed, once again, to the Christmas decoration section, when I screeched to a halt in front of an endcap of Hallmark greeting cards. There was one with three finger puppets on it: a reindeer, Santa, and snowman, and they were all really cute.

I debated the finger puppet aspect of it all. Would I have to wrap one of those silver wire ornament hangers around each hat to get them to hang on the tree?

After I took the card out of its protective clear envelope and examined the puppets, I determined if I carefully opened up each puppet, there would be room to place the tip of the tree limb inside, so the puppet could stand straight up. Yay!

Once I saw the ornaments on the tree, a few days later, all the frustration and exhaustion of looking for them melted away into happiness.

Aren’t they adorable? Yes, I think they really are…

 

Thank God for Dirty Dishes

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Columbia County, NY  I
Tuesday, 14 November 2017


What a mess! But I think it actually looks kind of cool with the partial color filter on Black Beauty, my camera.

 

Yesterday I was faced with a mountain of dishes. I’ve never had so many dirty dishes piled up at Valoftten, my little upstairs place with the red kitchen and the views out to all four directions.

Why, you ask? Well, pretty sure it has something to do with the fact my church bag weighs 17 pounds: manuals, notebooks, scriptures, Chromebook, it all adds up!

Last Saturday, at my place, I had a leaf-raking work party for the church group and then a Christmas craft activity. In the afternoon, there was more sitting by the campfire, cider and donuts, and then leaf blowing and weed whacking.

A really nice lady named Diana offered to help with the dishes, but I said no thanks, because I wanted to get some more yard work done before it got dark. That day was bitterly cold, too. Our fingers were numb, even in gloves.

But first, after the other ladies left, Diana and I went to the little local ACE Hardware store I love in Chatham, where they have a resident cat, three dogs, and four turtles. We bought mix and gasoline for her equipment, and then that dear soul, a part-time landscaper, she went to town with her heavy equipment. Shades of Rosie the Riveter!

Later on, after she went home and it was just Thing 2 and me, I was worn out after playing hostess all day, so the dishes, although rinsed and stacked, they sat. And sat.

The next day, Sunday, was chock full of church stuff: three hours of services, I taught the lesson in the ladies’ meeting, then visited the nearby rest home to see two church members.

Later that afternoon, I had a choice. Nap or dishes?

Well, you can guess which won out. THE NAP, of course. (I made the right choice.) But by then it was dark, and my kitchen has less than stellar lighting. It has a main overhead light, but no task lights over the sink and stove. I’ve purchased some little red goose neck lamps to use for task lighting. (Hey, they were red metal and only $6 and match my kitchen, so for now I make do.)

Have I mentioned the kitchen at Valoftten, true to the 50s, has no dishwasher? And that’s okay with me, I actually prefer to wash dishes by hand, since I think they get cleaner that way.

Plus, I’d rather have the extra cupboard space than a dishwasher.

In Salt Lake City, my two-butt kitchen, the original home of My Copper Kitchen, it did have a dishwasher. But I didn’t use it. I stored my big collection of pots and pans in there!

As I started in on attacking the mess on Monday morning, I did so cheerfully, remembering a poem I read as a very young teenager, curled up in the recliner in front of the unicorn wood stove.

It goes like this:

Thank God for dirty dishes,
they have a tale to tell,
while other folks go hungry, we’re eating very well.
With home and health and happiness
we shouldn’t want to fuss
For by this stack of evidence, God’s very good to us.
-Dear Abby column

 


We’ve reached critical mass on the dirty dishes here!

 

We’ve managed to scorch three pans in the process of cooking…

Continue reading

FINDING 50: Like It’s 1999!

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Ghent, NY  I  Saturday, 31 December 2016

In April of this year, when Prince died, I played his music like crazy. His album, Purple Rain, was new when I was a senior in high school and it was pretty much the anthem of our Friday nights, cruising around the Hudson boat docks, trying to find people to hang out with. Guys from Germantown, guys from Chatham, we met them all to the strains of Purple Rain.

But in 1982, two years before Purple Rain, Prince came out with an album called 1999. It seemed so far away, the year 1999, we couldn’t even imagine it. Would robots be doing all our housework? Would humans be living on Mars? It would be the cusp of a new century!

I remember how we all fantasized about where we would be on New Year’s Eve 1999. We were sure it would be someplace fabulous. And then, I remember being on a plane once in the mid 90s and reading an article about it in the flight magazine, and wondering what I myself would be doing as we ushered in a new century.

Would I be hosting a fabulous dinner party at my sparkling center hall colonial, with my adoring husband and perfect children? Would I be living it up at some trendy restaurant or rocking concert in New York City? Would I be someplace exotic with my husband, maybe an amazingly luxurious hotel in a gorgeous location, while our kids were being babysat at home by dutiful grandparents?

To tell the truth, I can’t even remember now what I was doing on New Year’s Eve of 1999. I’m sure it was much like all my other New Year’s Eves when I was married. I probably made some Chinese food for everyone to nibble on and watched the ball drop in Times Square on TV, me on one end of the couch and my husband on the other end, struggling to stay awake, with Thing 1 already fast asleep. Not very exciting, huh?

I remember the Y2K scramble, when everyone was sure computers would crash, our water systems would become defunct, and it would be the end of the world. We had a bunch of boxes of bottled Dasani water in our storage closet, in case all the doomsday predictions came true, but that was the extent of our preparations for disaster.

And now, 1999 was 17 years ago. 1999 is smack dab in the middle of it all, equidistant from 1982 and 2016. 1982/1999/2016. See what I mean?

So, how was my holiday this year like my holiday of 1999?

I did not work retail this year, compliments of my generous patron saints. When, you ask, was the last time I had a Christmas season when I wasn’t working in a store through the holidays? 1999, in fact. I began working in a bookstore April of 2000.

So, what did I do with myself? All the things I love!

I took umpteen photos of trees. Trees with golden leaves, trees stark and bare. Trees dusted with snow. Trees draped with colored lights and sparkling, colored ornaments. Trees, trees, trees.

Grandma Sweetie, our ancient maple tree, covered in gold, then blanketed in white.

 

Barren trees look so beautiful against a winter sky. The first photo is Burfeind’s hill in Ghent, above the pond I used to ice skate on with neighbor kids. The second photo is taken across the street from Collier’s Cold Spring Tree Farm, on the outskirts of Hudson.

 

These trees are on Main Street in Philmont. The first photo is of a daytime tree, decked out with colorful ornaments. The second photo is three of the five perfect pines next to the town’s memorial for veterans.

 

And finally, Grandpa Blackberry, our ancient oak tree, in the snow and under an azure sky.

I also took photos of houses, many of which you may have seen in prior blogs. My favorite ones on our road, my favorite ones in Claverack, an architecturally picturesque town we pass through to go shopping in Greenport. I drove by some houses so many times, trying to get perfect lighting for just the right shot, I’m sure my license plate has been duly recorded in case the furniture comes up missing.

I also made cookies and candies and cakes. I baked Buttermilk Chocolate Sheet Cake twice. I made Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies at least four times. I braved Jo McCall’s Toffee three times (it turned out great the second and third times) and white-chocolate pretzels twice. I made Celestial Chocolate Chippers many times.

And then, we made cookie plates and delivered them to neighbors.

Making Buttermilk Chocolate Sheet Cake. C’mon, you know you want to lick that bowl…

 

My third batch of Jo McCall’s Toffee, which I made by myself, against my better judgment. It’s much easier when you have a helper to scrape the hot toffee from the pan.

 

Batter for Celestial Chocolate Chippers, my boys’ all-time favorite cookies.

 

A cookie plate, all ready to go to a family we love from church.

I helped host Thanksgiving dinner at my new place. I attended the Hudson Winter Walk and my artist friend Pamela’s open house. I went to the church Christmas party. I attended Christmas concerts at Thing 2’s school and at my church. I went to a volleyball game one of my young friends was playing in, and attended a basketball game at Thing 2’s school. I went to dinner the day after Christmas at my friends’ house. I was relaxed and happy.

And I’ll tell you what I didn’t do.

I did not get sick. I remember Christmas 2011, when I collapsed in an exhausted heap downstairs at my parents’ house, and slept for three hours, sick with a sore throat from contact with so many customers and their dirty money, sick from the stress of driving through a dark, slippery canyon on Christmas Eve, fighting with my husband the entire way.

I did not work at unreasonable hours while everyone else was out shopping or home relaxing with their families. On Black Friday, I shopped at one place, and one place only, Collier’s Cold Spring Tree Farm. I did not go to Wal-Mart or any other store in search of a really great deal. I did not have to be to work at 6 am the day after Christmas, to set up holiday clearance and make the rest of the store look like Christmas never happened.

I did not sit there in a fog on Christmas Eve and wonder what happened to all those days between Halloween and Christmas. I enjoyed those days and spent time with my own family. This year I did not help everyone in tarnation find just the right book/Lego set/stuffed animal for the people on their list. They were on their own.

I was in the dollar store a few days before Christmas, where one of the sales ladies was consolidating all the holiday items and lamenting to me, “My boss wants me to have all this stuff gone the day after Christmas.” And I understood.

So, what will I be doing New Year’s Eve this year, 17 years after 1999? That’s easy. I will be celebrating with my family at home here in upstate New York, while nibbling on homemade Chinese food. I’ll probably be falling asleep early on the couch, too, with a satisfied smile on my face, knowing this year I enjoyed the holiday season even more than in 1999.

 

Tin Snowman Update

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Philmont, NY  I  Thursday, 22 December 2016

Here are the Christmas ornaments I got this year for my boys, and for the first time ever, I bought them online. Even though I have more time on my hands this year than I have for a very long time, there is an alarming dearth of stores nearby, without a Smith’s Marketplace in sight. (Smith’s had become my go-to destination for the ornaments, as they had many matching Santas and snowmen to choose from.)

The clincher to this particular set of ornaments, when I saw them online, was two things: they looked 50s retro, like my new place, and the set included a tree farm ornament. Seeing as how this was the first year I’ve ever gone to a Christmas tree farm, they seemed perfectly perfect. So I ordered them and then held my breath. It was a leap of faith for me to not see them in person this time. And when they arrived, I loved them!

For awhile now, I’ve been wondering what I’ll do about this tradition when the kids get older and are on their own. It’s something I’m not really fond of thinking about, since I’d like to keep my babies little forever. But since this is an impossible dream, I’ve been asking myself some tough questions. Will I keep buying them matching ornaments every year, even after they’re adults? When they have their own families, will I keep their childhood ornaments with me at my house, or will I split them up and give Thing 1 his snowmen and Thing 2 his Santas?

And this year, I had a decision to make. Thing 1 doesn’t live with us anymore, so I wasn’t quite sure how to handle the ornament situation. Fortuitously, the ornaments I chose are flat and made of metal, so I came up with a very intelligent scheme. I took them down to Staples and made a color photocopy of each one, sure the copyright police would nab me. Then I cut them out, punched holes, and hung them on string.

When I sent out Thing 1’s goodie package earlier this week, I included the copies. I’m pretty sure he and his roommate don’t have a tree, but perhaps they can hang them somewhere else. Can you tell which ones are the originals and which ones are the copies?

Oh, and the original Tin Snowman? This year, when we decorated the tree, I had Tin Snowman stashed in my pocket so no one else would put him on the tree. After all the other Santas and snowmen were hung, I set up a Facebook video chat with Thing 1. I showed him our tree and asked where he wanted the Tin Snowman to be. His answer? “Up high.”

P.S. Thing 1 received the paper ornaments and hung them off a Royal Pine Little Trees air freshener. Haha!

[MORE INFORMATION]
“A very intelligent scheme” is a phrase I lifted from Martin Short’s hilarious character, Ed Grimley, as seen on Saturday Night Live. If you’re not familiar with him, YouTube it and have a good laugh! The humor of SNL has really helped to pull me through lately…

 

Aunt Jan’s Peanut Cookies

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Philmont, NY  I  Wednesday, 21 December 2016

When I was growing up, my sisters and I waited with bated breath every December for the arrival of Aunt Jan’s Christmas cookies.

Sometimes, my childish heart would despair, thinking this might be the year she would forget us, five little girls growing up in New York, far away from our grandmother and all our aunts and uncles and cousins who lived in Utah and Idaho.

But she never did. Every year we would come home from school one day in December and there it would be on the kitchen table, The Package. The cookies were always securely packed in big coffee cans, with Aunt Jan’s careful touch. She made the same things, year after year: snow white divinity, milk chocolaty fudge, crunchy peanut brittle, and my two favorites: pretty date pinwheels and cakelike peanut cookies.

My dad, Jan’s brother, would squirrel the package away so we wouldn’t devour it all in one day. Every once in awhile he would bring it out and let us have a treat or two, and this ensured there were still some left to enjoy on Christmas Eve.

That night, we always had a program which included saying prayers, singing Christmas carols, and reading the Christmas story from the Bible (Luke 2) which seemed to take forever. (I was surprised, as an adult, when I started this tradition with my own boys, to see how short it actually is!) Then, we were each allowed to open one present and have some treats.

Heaven, when I could get one of the coveted peanut cookies.

I have many other memories of Aunt Jan and Uncle Ed, too.

Sometimes, in the summer, we would drive cross country from New York to Utah, in a crowded Pontiac station wagon with no air conditioning. How we ever made it, I’ll never know.

I have vague and fuzzy memories of eating sandwiches at rest stops, the bread drying quickly in the warm wind, buying little wooden animals or polished rocks at souvenir shops, and lounging on a mattress in back of the car. All there was to do was sleep or read or stare out the window at cornfield after cornfield after cornfield.

After these hot and tiring journeys, we would arrive at Jan and Ed’s house, luxurious, in the foothills of Bountiful, a suburb of Salt Lake. We kids all thought they were rich, and maybe they were.

Their house was very different than ours. It was a ranch constructed of sloppy mortar brick, with white carpet in the living room, delicately painted china and figurines on display, and floor-to-ceiling curtains in the bedrooms. They had a shady back patio bordered by a short brick wall with rosebushes, and a small and tidy back yard.

Their basement, where we usually stayed, was cool and dark, mysterious and comfortable. Uncle Ed had a built-in bar, which fascinated us, with rows of liquor bottles and sparkling glasses hanging up high, and there was always a bowl of nuts with a nutcracker on the coffee table.

In the morning, Aunt Jan liked to sleep in, because she stayed up late to see Uncle Ed when he came home from work. But before she went to bed, she would put out everything for us to have a good breakfast. They had a tiny TV in the kitchen and an ironing board which folded down from a wall cabinet, and I thought this was amazing.

I remember writing in my little journal about their luxury car, with its vinyl top and tiny windows on the sides, in the back. It was very different from our station wagon and somehow felt like riding in a fairy coach, whisking us around in enviable style.

Aunt Jan and Uncle Ed had no children together, so they would spoil us. Aunt Jan would always take us to Lagoon, an amusement park, and let us ride all day. Then, and THEN, she would take us to the mall for new clothes, a completely new outfit of shirt and stylish jeans. Oh, happiness!

Eventually, in 1992, after I was graduated from college, Aunt Jan died, losing her long battle with cancer. I always remembered her peanut cookies fondly, but figured the recipe died with her. So you can imagine how excited I was to be rifling through my mother’s recipe box a few years ago and find that Aunt Bonnie, Jan’s sister, had written it down and given it to my mom!

I made the cookies for the first time a few weeks ago, and they tasted just like I remembered from years ago! The recipe is very inexact, though, so I’m still working on it and can’t share it with you yet. (It calls for butter the size of an egg, says the eggs should be cooked in a double-boiler mixture, and doesn’t even tell how many minutes to bake it!)

The cookies are difficult to frost and to get the peanuts to stick. My sister and I’ve been researching other recipes for cookies with the same name, but they’re very different from Jan’s recipe. This one will be in progress for awhile, I suppose…

But the important thing is this: Aunt Jan cared enough to always remember us. God bless her for making our childhood Christmases a little brighter. I can’t imagine how far in advance she must have had to start to get all the cookies baked and mailed in time. And she worked full-time, too.

Just yesterday, I sent a goodie package to Thing 1, containing three things: Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies, Celestial Chocolate Chippers, and Jo McCall’s Toffee. Somehow, though, I also longed to send him Peanut Cookies…

 

[AUTHOR’S NOTE]
Aunt Jan was also a talented seamstress. When I was digging around in the barn apartment (same episode where I found the fabulous orange and yellow curtains!) I found this suit, miraculously unscathed by little critters. When I asked my mom about it, she told me Aunt Jan made it for her.

I thought, “Oh, that can’t be true. There’s a tag in the skirt.” But upon closer inspection, I found the tag simply said “front”.

Isn’t it pretty?

FINDING 50: Tin Snowman’s Twentieth Christmas!

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Philmont, NY  I  Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Thing 1’s first five snowman ornaments, with the Tin Snowman in the middle. The top two are from Hallmark, the bottom two are his second and third ornaments. Unfortunately, I didn’t label either one, so I’m not sure which was second and which was third.

I still remember when I bought him, fall of 1997.

I was standing in front of a display of Christmas ornaments at Pier 1 in Murray, Utah, with its shiny red floor and dazzling display of pillows, glasses, and dinnerware. I was pregnant with Thing 1, and scared but happy, when I saw him. The Tin Snowman. With his happy, jaunty stance, I fell in love. And I thought what a nice idea it would be to buy a Christmas ornament for my baby each year.

So every year I did, I searched out and bought a cute snowman ornament, labelled it on the back with fine-point Sharpie: Thing 1’s name, the year, and usually a heart and “Mom”. It was pretty easy to find a snowman I liked every year.

But then. Five years later, Thing 2 was born, and I decided he should have a Santa ornament each year. And not only that (you know me by now, detail-oriented!) the snowman and Santa needed to match each other, so you could look at them and tell they were purchased together, same year.

This is when it all started to get tricky. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t have more than two kids, huh? Although, one year I did buy a little angel ornament at Hallmark, because it was right after Christmas and she was half-price and she had dark hair and green eyes, like me. This was the year I lost a baby. I didn’t have the heart to hang the angel ornament on the tree the next year, but I finally do now, I put her out and sometimes think about my angel baby.

Anyways, every year, without fail, I’ve managed to find the ornaments. Some years it’s been easier than others. One year I was driving back to Salt Lake from spending Thanksgiving up at my parents’ house in northern Utah and stopped for the usual bathroom and beef jerky break at the Flying J in Brigham City, and there they were, plain as day, the Santa and snowman ornaments with the springy-looking legs. That was absolutely the best, having purchased the ornaments so early, not having to worry about it as Christmas approached.

The Flying J springy-leg ornaments are on the left.

Other years it’s been much, much harder. There was a year where I bought craft kits which turned out to be pretty difficult, trying to hold together jingle bells and all those little pieces of felt, while wielding a glue gun of death. (I gave up on that one and the kits are stashed somewhere in the back of my dresser drawer, where the sun doesn’t shine. Maybe I’ll dig ’em out again someday.)

We have this one ornament, Snow Cozy, which gives me yearly heart attacks. He’s sooo tiny, this little snowman, about the size of my thumbnail, and I’m always misplacing him in the jumble of ornaments and freaking out that he’s gone forever. We used to have an artificial tree when I was with my husband, but now we have a real one, and I’m always panicked and sure I’m gonna throw out Snow Cozy with the tree. But I never do.

There was one year when Thing 1 announced, “I hate the baby! And I want to have Santas from now on and not snowmen!” Needless to say, that didn’t happen. And thankfully, he grew to love his brother.

There have been years where I’ve searched and searched and been in desperation I wouldn’t find the ornaments in time. There have been years where the tree has been up and decorated for weeks before I find the year’s ornaments. There have been times where it felt like an absolute chore and not a blessing, this tradition of mine.

But always, always, after I find the season’s ornaments, I feel so content about this tradition I started so many years ago. And always, always, the first ornament on the tree is the Tin Snowman. When I look over each set, each Santa and matching snowman, I remember where I was and what I had to go through to get them.

If you have kids or grandchildren, or even if you’re on your own, maybe you’d like to try out this tradition? Make sure you have a fine-point Sharpie to write the child’s name, your name, and the year on each ornament.

And I highly suggest you buy ornaments made of sturdy material which will withstand the years. You’ll be pretty sad if one of them gets broken, so try to stick to metal or wood, and not glass. One year I purchased blown-glass ornaments and they’re languishing in a storage box with tops broken off…

I love this tradition. It’s my favorite. More favorite, even, than choosing the boys’ yearly Christmas pajamas or baking Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies…

The mitten ornaments on the left are from 2003, Thing 2’s first Christmas, and they came from ShopKo. The ornaments on the right are bells.

 

I think both these sets came from ShopKo. The flat ones are wine bottle charms. 

 

Snow Cozy is on the top. He and the kind-of-matching Santa came from Hallmark. I can’t remember where the beaded-leg ones were purchased.

 

The picture-frame ornaments came from Hallmark, when Thing 2 was in kindergarten and Thing 1 was in fifth grade. The jingle bell ornaments with the spring hats, OMH. I might tell you what I had to go through to get them. Then again, I might not.

 

These are our ornaments from 2014 and 2015, purchased at Smith’s, and Smith’s Marketplace. The pine cone snowman had his legs on backwards and I didn’t realize it until I got him home. I had to operate on him with tweezers to get him fixed…

Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Philmont, NY  I  Wednesday, 14 December 2016

My first Christmas as a mother, December 1997, was the year I discovered Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies, where else but in the current issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine?! My mother was staying with me during maternity leave after I gave birth to Thing 1, my little five-pound bag of sugar (he weighed a mere four pounds, 15 ounces) and she made these cookies more times than I could count.

I remember sitting in a rocking chair while my new baby slept, with my feet up, trying to get the swelling to go down, and poring endlessly over the magazine with penguin cookies with exquisite royal icing on the cover.

And I was thinking happily, it all starts now. It’s not just me at Christmas any more, I have a little one now.

I didn’t make the cookies myself until many years later, when I decided to make the recipe simpler by substituting a bag of dark chocolate chips. Now, it’s an annual tradition and it just wouldn’t seem like Christmas without them.

Oh sure, I could make them at another time of year, but they wouldn’t taste as good. They taste best while sitting near the Christmas tree, sipping eggnog and listening to The Carpenters. And while remembering Christmases past, enjoying Christmas present, and dreaming of Christmases future…

CHEWY CHOCOLATE-GINGERBREAD COOKIES
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon freshly grated or finely diced ginger root
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 bag dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup white sugar (separate use)

Mix together the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa powder.

In another bowl, stir together softened butter and grated ginger root. Add brown sugar and stir until combined, then mix in molasses.

In a very small bowl, dissolve the baking soda in 1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water.

Beat half the flour mixture into the butter mixture, then stir in the baking soda mixture. Next, stir in the rest of the flour mixture.

Mix in chocolate chips and turn dough out onto two large pieces of waxed paper. (If you’ve had a hard time incorporating all the chocolate chips into the batter with your mixing spoon, like I usually do, you can press them in with the waxed paper now.)

Flatten dough and fold the edges of the wax paper over it. Refrigerate dough for two hours. (If you’re going to refrigerate it for longer than two hours, or if you plan to freeze it for later, put the waxed-paper packages into a large plastic freezer bag.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll walnut-sized balls in granulated sugar and place on baking sheet. Bake until surfaces crack slightly, about 10-12 minutes.

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas…

 

Dough balls rolled in white sugar. They look so pretty and sparkly!

 

Yep, that pine needle is on the plate for extra flavoring. Ooops!

[ORIGINAL RECIPE]
http://www.marthastewart.com/339353/chewy-chocolate-gingerbread-cookies

[RECOMMENDED LISTENING]
Christmas Portrait, The Carpenters, 1978, A&M Records.

[RECOMMENDED READING]
Skipping Christmas, John Grisham, Doubleday, 2001.