Category Archives: Children

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

 

 

 

Mrs. S.’s Halloween Treat Bags

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York I Wednesday, 30 October 2019

I don’t remember a whole lot about Halloween when I was young. I never had a fancy, store-bought costume, and besides, it would’ve been a waste if I did, probably. It seems it was always too cold to go trick or treating without a coat, so a costume would have been lost underneath a layer. Anyways, I’m sure I had no knowledge of the fact you could buy Halloween costumes brand new.

When I dig way back into my misty-edged memories, it seems I was always a gypsy. I would throw on some wildly mismatched outfit, a plaid poncho, and gobs of my mother’s jewelry. I might have even worn some blush to rosy up my cheeks.

I never had a special trick-or-treat bag or one of those cute plastic pumpkin pails, I always carried my loot in a pillow case. There weren’t very many places to go trick or treating, since we lived in the country, and it was too far to walk between houses, so we had to be driven around. I don’t even know where we went. Like I said, I really don’t remember much.

But one thing I DO remember is going to Mrs. S.’s house. I thought her house was amazing! Most of the houses on our street were older colonials or farm houses, but hers seemed brand new.

Mrs. S.’s house was a modern ranch house. It was made of red brick, and the front door had diamond-paned glass. I don’t think anyone ever used that pretty front door, though, because there wasn’t even a path leading up to it. I think everyone would have used the kitchen door, which was closest to the driveway.

Her house had a two-car detached garage. It also had a carport which was right next to the kitchen door, on the side of the house. As an adult, I admire the genius of this, think how easy it would be to carry in groceries!

Her front lawn was a gentle slope, always neatly mowed. To the left of the driveway, behind some trees, but quite close to the road, was a pond with a little changing house. Later on, a small barn was built on the other side of the house, because her daughter got a horse.

Enough about her house, though. Let’s get back to Halloween! This little gypsy girl would march right up to Mrs. S.’s kitchen door in excited anticipation, because she always handed out those little paper treat bags full of candy. When you went to Mrs. S.’s house, you didn’t get just one little miniature candy bar or, even worse, a dreaded apple.

Mrs. S. was dark-haired and petite, and she would come to the door with a bowlful of those neat little bags with cute Halloween patterns, full of a bunch of treats. I don’t even know what kind of candy she put in them, but I remember absolutely loving those bags. It seemed wonderful, how she took a little extra care, stuffing them. She seemed so generous!

Anyways, Mrs. S. is long gone now. She died many years ago, a tragic death. Her husband still lives in the same house, though, and their children have long since moved away. But when I drive by her house, which I do very often, I always smile inside, and remember how happy she made a little gypsy girl on Halloween.

 

A Mother’s Prayer

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York I Monday, 30 September 2019

For the past few years, the school bus has picked Thing 2 up at the end of our driveway, and I can see him, as he waits, from the window in the front bedroom, upstairs.

How I love to watch him waiting for the bus. Standing there, at the end of the driveway, tall and thin, wearing his skinny black jeans. He will usually turn around and wave to me. Sometimes he’ll do a little dance, listening to music through his headphones, from his tablet, and this brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart.

I always hope it isn’t raining or snowing, too cold or too dark, out there at the bus stop. The child will not wear his winter jacket, even in the depths of December, opting for his fleece-lined sweatshirt, instead. I’m so relieved when November rolls around, and we set our clocks back an hour, so he’s not standing out there in the dark.

I always wait and watch until I see him get on the bus. I can hear the bus coming a few seconds before I see it. It pulls up, and the tall thin doors swing open. He jauntily hops up the steep stairs and heads towards the back of the bus. After all, he’s a big kid now. Sometimes, I can even see him sit down, always on the side closest to the house. Sometimes I can see his hand at his window, waving to me.

Then, I watch as his golden chariot rolls out of sight, past the pine trees and down our old country road. And every morning, as the bus slides away, I say a mother’s prayer.

“I love you, sweet child. Return to me safely.”

If the weather is snowy or rainy or foggy, I also say an extra little prayer for the bus driver, too, to drive in safety. The roads around here are twisting and turning, and deer are everywhere…

What an honor and a privilege it is to be Thing 2’s mother. And how happy I feel, with such a simple thing, being able to watch my child get on the school bus each and every morning.

 

REPOST: Frost’s Oatmeal Muffins

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Columbia County, NY  I
Monday, 4 December 2017

(Author’s note: this was originally published on 31 May 2015, when I was still living in West Valley City, Utah. Enjoy!)

DSCF8549BEAT THE BELL/8549

 

I am going to blubber at the end of this week, blubber like a baby. Because, you see, everything is about to change. My kids’ last day of school is Friday, and after then, I will no longer have a child attending elementary school, as I have for the past thirteen years. My older son is set to become a senior in high school, and my younger son is heading off to junior high.

I will miss heading down that walking path with my sixth grader, holding his hand. He still lets me! I will miss the way the sky looks so gorgeous in the morning, with the sun breaking though its curtain of clouds, over the misty mountains to the east. And, oh, how I will miss that one tree. You know the one, at the end of the walking path, it’s always so shadowy and mysterious and beautifully silhouetted against the mountains and the sky…

I will also miss Carla, the cheerful crossing guard, an older lady with a fluff of short white hair. You know, she’s married to the crossing guard at the other school crosswalk we used before we moved. He’s short and cheerful, too.

One day I lingered at the school, and as I walked back and approached the crosswalk, I saw him picking her up in their little black truck. And I exclaimed, “Oh, you’re married to her?” And he said, “For about 53 years now!” How wonderful, the cheerful crossing guards who’ve helped my kids get across the street safely for years now, the crossing guards are married to each other!

I like to chit chat with her a bit, and last Thanksgiving she told me about the steamed carrot pudding she makes every year, the one passed down from her grandmother and mother. I haven’t tested it yet, but I will, and when I do I’ll share it.

Anyways, I’ll miss her and her husband.

DSCF7701CHEERFUL CARLA /7701

So, for now, how about I share my recipe for Frost’s Oatmeal Muffins? My kids love these and will gobble up a whole batch in minutes. I think it’s so nice for them to wake up to the smell of baking muffins in the morning before school!

DSCF7783THEY TURN OUT PERFECTLY/7783

There’s just something special about a home where you can smell bread baking, something so wonderful and inviting and cheerful and cozy and hopeful. And, conversely, something so very bleak and disappointing about a home where you can’t ever smell any food cooking or baking. (Remind me sometime to tell you about the friend my older son used to hang out with all the time. The one who’s mom didn’t ever cook…)

DSCF7791 BREAKFAST WITH BEST FRIENDS/7786

These are super easy and delicious. And you can’t even tell there’s oatmeal in them, so the kids don’t squawk too much. Because there’s nothing I hate worse than kids squawking about “weird” ingredients in food! You’ll eat it and you’ll like it, dang it!

FROST’S OATMEAL MUFFINS
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pour buttermilk over oatmeal in a medium bowl and let stand a few minutes. (I never have buttermilk, so I just put a blurp of vinegar in the milk to sour it.) Add the egg and brown sugar and mix well together. Mix the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a larger bowl. Then add the buttermilk mixture, and lastly, the melted butter. Pour into greased muffin pans (I prefer silicone pans because the muffins pop right out without getting stuck) and bake 18 minutes. Serve with butter and jelly or jam.

I hope you enjoy these muffins. They’re inexpensive and easy to make! On the inside, they’re really light and airy, and on the outside, they have a nice crunch if you get them slightly golden brown. You’ll feel great about feeding these to your kids before school, or eating a couple of them yourself before work. They taste great with a dab of butter and a small spoonful of jam on top, too…

[RECIPE SOURCE]
Recipe adapted from Early American Recipes: Traditional Recipes from New England Kitchens,
by Heloise Frost. Illustrated by Barbara Corrigan. (copyright 1953, Jack Frost Studios, Phillips Publishers, Inc.)

 

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

The Welcomed Guest

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Ghent, NY  I  Friday, 6 October 2017

Recently, my father, Thing 2, and I spent the night at my friend Tina’s house so we could be closer to the airport for an early-morning flight back to New York from Salt Lake City.

(You may remember Tina as my friend who always had me over on Sunday nights for her famous Summer Spaghetti. Our kids were sooo excited to get to play together again! They terrorized the basement with Nerf guns, Legos, and then sat down to computer games.)

Anyways, Tina graciously said she had plenty of room and all three of us could spend the night at her house! I was very relieved, since this meant we could avoid taking an early-morning (4 am, nooo thank you!) shuttle to Salt Lake International Airport from my parents’ house in northern Utah.

I stayed downstairs, in Tina’s lovely French flair guest bedroom. On the wall was a huge poster of Audrey Hepburn in a straw hat with two wide pink silk bows.

Below the poster was a white desk, with drawer handles made out of silky floral ribbons, an idea I’ve never seen before, and am going to swipe, for sure. Tina said she bought the desk secondhand and it was missing its hardware, but replacements were $10 apiece, and the desk has eight drawers. (You do the math. Again, no thank you.)

On the desk was a super cool Eiffel Tower lamp. I’m imagining a soft pink bulb in it…

There was also a bookcase, conveniently left empty for her guest’s belongings, except for an extra blanket, a plush purple Vellux one. (I love Vellux. It’s soft, never pills, and dries quickly. I used to have a blue Vellux blanket, until Thing 1 took to it with a red Sharpie.) And above said bookcase, on the wall, were two Paris fashion prints.

I adored the guest bed ensemble, all pink and purple and red watercolor flowers, with a striped dust ruffle, and nice, crisp white sheets with a high thread count. Next to the bed was a nightstand with a lamp and an alarm clock, and plenty of room for little things like my earrings and bracelets I took off just before bed.

After the stress of some unexpected travelling this past week, Tina’s guest bedroom was a delightful, peaceful haven, like spending a night at a bed and breakfast. Clean, uncluttered, and oh-so-pretty. Thank you, Tina.

I remember, many years ago, my friend and fellow Rocket Julie told me she would know she’d “arrived” when she got a home with a guest bedroom. Eventually she did get her wish, and dressed the guest bed with a Martha Stewart blue-and-yellow wedding ring quilt, which she purchased at KMart, after admiring mine on a visit to Salt Lake.

(Hers is probably still intact. Mine, not so much, after my rambunctious Thing 1 destroyed it.)

So now, now, I guess I’ve arrived, too, because for the first time in my life, my place has a guest bedroom! I wonder, what items should I put in there? What should I do to make my guests feel welcome, like they’re not imposing, and relaxed and comfortable, not having to ask me for every little thing? “By any chance do you have (fill in the blank)?”

Let’s check out some fun links to learn more! Scroll past the bed below.

[RECOMMENDED LINKS]
http://www.stonegableblog.com/10-essentials-of-cozy-guest-room/

https://styleblueprint.com/everyday/10-essential-guest-room-items/

https://www.allthingsthrifty.com/2014/10/guest-room-essentials.html

[MORE INFORMATION]
https://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/store/product/vellux-original-blanket/316789

[RELATED MCK POSTS]
http://mycopperkitchen.com/tinas-summer-spaghetti-sauce/

http://mycopperkitchen.com/anatevka-girl-on-architecture-and-design-my-secret-water-garden-bedroom-redo/

 

Two In a Row, Lots of Snow!

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Ghent, NY  I  Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Yesterday ushered in the first day of spring, yet here I sit, looking out the kitchen window over snowy fields, instead of beds of tulips and daffodils, like I might be if I was still in Salt Lake.

But it’s okay, because this winter, Thing 2 got to experience the joy of snow days, when school is cancelled because of the weather! This never happens in Salt Lake. But here, in upstate New York, some of the roads are just too treacherous for a school bus when there’s lots of snow.

I remember, when I was a kid, huddling over the radio, hoping for a snow day, feeling elated when there was one, but doubly dejected whenever a nearby school closed and ours was still open.

Thing 2’s first snow day was on December 12th. When we heard the announcement, we danced around together in circles in the kitchen, chanting, “Snow day! Snow day!” with childlike delight.

Last week, we got a March snowstorm, which dumped 19″ on us. And guess what? We had not one, but TWO snow days in a row!

FINDING 50: The Things I Carried

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Claverack, NY  I  Tuesday, 17 January 2017

This tote contains my journals from age eight through my early marriage. The little red notebook was my first diary, and the navy blue corrugated notebook (placed spine down on the left) was my journal until 2002.

When you’re moving cross country by airplane, like I did last October, you have to decide what’s really important to take with you. For me, it was a pretty simple decision, because it had already been made years ago.

What do I mean? Well, I’m sure you’ve stopped and thought about what you would grab first if the house was on fire or if you were suddenly forced to evacuate, right? (This is, of course, after the people and pets were safe!)

What things would be irreplaceable? What things would you sorely miss?

I’ve thought about it a lot over the years, and the things I would be devastated to lose have been packed away into totes for quite some time.

Years ago, I discovered Sterilite totes, and I love them. The lids come off easily if I want to view the stuff inside, and then they snap back on again, securely, if I want to carry the totes. If my place was to flood, my valuables in the totes would be somewhat more protected than if they were in cardboard boxes. And, bonus! The totes line up neatly and stack nicely, as well.

Anyways, there were three of us flying last October, moving Thing 2 and me from Utah to New York. I knew, according to Southwest Airlines’ rules, we could travel with a total of nine pieces of luggage for free: two checked pieces and one carry-on each. In a notebook I mapped it out, what to put in each of the small, medium and large suitcases.

I decided we would carry on the three plastic totes containing my most valuable things, packed in the small, carry-on suitcases. These are the things I would be heartbroken to lose, the things I couldn’t leave behind in a storage unit, the things I couldn’t even trust to pack into my checked bags.

Because, as we all know, sometimes the airlines lose your checked luggage. Sometimes it turns up hours or days later. But sometimes, it’s never found again. In December of 1995, my garment bag, containing all of my favorite dresses, it disappeared into thin air and was never seen again. Thank goodness I learned this lesson early in life, and only with clothes!

Along the same vein, once I had a backpack stolen while riding a bus, and it contained two of my journals. They contained four years worth of writing and I’m still upset about it. I was going through a really rough patch at the end of my marriage, and I agonized about it on paper, but I also wrote about my kids and other details of my life, too…

I’ve tried to console myself, thinking maybe the journals were meant to get lost. Maybe my posterity wasn’t meant to read these details of my life? Maybe they’re in the hands of someone who was meant to read them? Maybe they could help someone? But most likely they ended up in a trash can, and my loss still stings.

So, after all this, I decided there are certain things I will never trust to storage units or moving men or airline baggage handlers. I will carry certain things myself and not let them out of my sight.

So, I packed my clothes and beauty products and a few of my indispensable kitchen implements in the medium and large suitcases we would check, and my most treasured and important things, the ones from the plastic totes, they went into the three small suitcases we would carry on.

I also carried the boys’ yearly Christmas ornaments on the plane with me, in a tote bag at my feet. I’d been saving little bubble wrap pouches from work as I unboxed gift items for display, and they work great. I like them a lot because I can see through them to tell which ornament is inside. They work much better than the previous ornament-wrapped-in-a-paper-napkin-in-a-fold-over Baggie method. Ha!

It was a struggle to lug all this stuff onto the plane, since each suitcase contained a heavy tote and was difficult to hoist into an overhead bin. We left a wake of glaring passengers and disgruntled flight attendants, to be sure. But I didn’t care.

These are the things I carried.

This tote neatly stores all the boys’ formal photos: their first baby pictures from the hospital, photos from Kiddie Kandids, and all their school pictures. It also contains our birth certificates, immunization cards, and Social Security cards.

 

This tote contains journals from later in my marriage, the medium-sized ones lined up on the left. Also, the green notebook is from sixth grade, the red journal from ninth grade, and the navy blue binder took me from college through the mid-90s. Also, I started journals for both of my boys at the time I found out I was pregnant, and they’re the three thin ones near the navy binder. The canvas pouch contains various candid photos.

 

I probably need a fourth tote for the boys’ Christmas ornaments. As I unboxed gift items at my work, I saved small bubble wrap packages and used them to package each of the boys’ Christmas Santas and snowmen.

 

Wow, this was quite a move. Thank goodness for luggage carts!

 

[MORE INFORMATION]
http://www.sterilite.com/SelectProduct.html?id=645&ProductCategory=0&section=0

[AUTHOR’S NOTE]
The title of this blog is a derivation of the book title, a modern-day classic, The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien.
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/things-they-carried-tim-obrien/1100228685?ean=9780618706419

 

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?