Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas and Deceased Relatives

I'm so thankful for the really long run we had without losing any of our close family. However, since 1994 our number has declined. First, it was my Dad, Earl Robert Stewart, who died in September of 1994. We only had a few months to adjust before our Christmas Eve party. Dad's job was always to read the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke while everyone sat quietly - a rather difficult task for the little ones who awaited their presents. Even though his job was taken over by my son-in-law, I still miss Dad's beautiful voice on that special evening. He is remembered on Christmas Eve with his famous baked beans.

Then, just before Christmas (Dec. 20) of 2001, we unexpectedly lost my brother-in-law, Warren Parrent. Warren was always so much fun, especially when our girls were small. Warren seemed to have as much fun playing with their new toys as the girls did. He would be on the floor investigating the workings and "helping" the girls figure everything out. He was a great guy and we miss him. He is remembered each Christmas Eve with a bowl full of cashews - one of his favorites.

In September 2002, my mother, Gladys Miller Stewart, died. She had literally "made" our Christmases for so many years, the thought of celebrating without her was devastating to me. I learned everything I know about hostessing a party from my mother. She had a wonderful way of making everyone feel warm and welcome. There really isn't any part of our party that doesn't remind me of her. Our special reminder of Mom, though, is fudge.

Finally, this will be our third Christmas without my mother-in-law, Alice Davey Higgins. Oh, how she loved it when the family got together. For several years before her death, she was unable to get out to our party; so we would bring an abbreviated party to her and my father-in-law. A couple of hours before the party at our house, everyone gathered at the retirement home for a pre-party - complete with food and gifts, song and jokes. Alice seemed to really appreciate the effort and we got to have double the fun! She didn't have a favorite party food, but we remember her just the same.

We miss them all but, as we celebrate, the memory of their lives are special gifts to us.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Music

I'm one of those people who love Christmas music and I always have. I can't wait until Thanksgiving when our local radio station 93.9 changes their venue to all Christmas music all the time!


When I was younger, I loved to sing it. I was in the choir at school and church and was a soloist. The church music was so majestic it would simply take my breath away. It was as wonderful to prepare for the the concerts as it was to perform them.


In later years, my personal music stayed mostly within the family. On Christmas Eve, it was my job to sing my very favorite Christmas song of all: Sweet Little Jesus Boy by Robert MacGimsey. I can't hear it even today without tearing up. Here's a picture of me on Christmas Eve 1983 (that was one of my thin years:) 






Several bouts of bronchitis have made me a listener, not a singer, but I continue to adore this season's music.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Shopping

I remember it as if it were yesterday! That was the year I did all the Christmas shopping in one day and the year I truly stumped my present peepers.

I was working at our local bank at the time and my boss and I decided to spend an evening at Woodfield Mall to try to make a dent in our shopping lists. I must have had a good idea as to what I wanted to buy because by the end of the evening I was loaded down with packages and my credit card was almost too hot to hold. In fact, it had been used so often that night that at one store they had the clerk hand me the phone to verify it was really me making all those purchases!

How on earth was I to go home with all those gifts and still keep them a surprise from my preteen daughters; especially Sam who made it an annual challenge to seek out the presents before Christmas? There was no way I could walk into the house with them and keeping them in the truck would only stall the issue. My boss came to the rescue, as she was often wont to do. She offered to keep all of it at her house as long as I needed. Hah! Sam couldn't find them there and she didn't.

The gifts remained out of the house until Christmas Eve and I was able to sneak them in without being seen. That was probably the only year the girls never had a clue what they were getting until Christmas Day. I really enjoyed that year, too.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Stockings

From the first year we held the Christmas Eve celebration at our house until the present, my husband and I filled stockings for each of our grandchildren. The stockings were hung along the staircase leading to our living room. The children's stockings hung along side mine and my husband's ("Mom" and "Dad") and, for the past two years, our dog, Bessie's.

As the children grew older, we began wrestling with the dilemma of when one stopped the tradition. We finally decided that when a grandchild reached - or would reach prior to the next Christmas - the age of 21, they would be deemed an adult and no longer receive a stocking. Last year, our oldest grandson, Stewart got his last filled stocking and was given the stocking that had been used since his infancy.

This year would be Derek's turn, except this year the party moves to another house. Oh my!! Now what to do. I guess all good things must eventually come to an end so this will be the last year for this. Santa will drop three stockings at our house which we will deliver to the new location. Derek, Kristin, and Randi will get to keep their stockings and Kristin and Randi will find a little something extra inside just to make up for the few years they'll be missing.

Even as they got older, the grandkids still seemed to enjoy looking for the treasures in those stockings.

Randi, Kristin, Kim (Derek's girlfried; he had to work), and Stewart Dec 2009 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent Calendar - Day 16

I know today is suppose to be about what went on at school during the Christmas season but I don't have many school memories. Oh, there was the annual choir concert in which I participated but other than that - nothing.

However, my life (as a child and teenager) centered around our church and my friends there. Our BYF (Baptist Youth Fellowship) always worked very hard on presenting the best Christmas pageant we possibly could. For a few years our group was very sparse on female members so I usually got the part of Mary. One particular year when I was about twelve, I recall, I was Mary and my future husband, about 14, was Joseph. At the time, I really didn't want much to do with him but now it is a sweet recollection.

Somewhere, in my mother's papers there is a picture of that pageant, but right now I don't have time to go digging:(

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent Calendar - Other Traditions

The more I think about it the more I realize that our family's concentration during the holidays has been Christmas Eve. Even my memories of Indiana center on the party at Grandma's house; I barely recall Christmas Day at all.

One of the traditions my Grandma started was giving out chocolate-covered cherries. She gave the candy to all the men only. Over the years that really began to aggravate my mother. Once we moved to Chicago and Mom made her own party -  which in later years included our spouses, my husband's parents, and his sister and husband -  the candy was giving to all the adults, male or female! Later, it was my turn to hold the gathering and I kept the tradition going.

The tradition I started - though it lasted only a few years - was for Christmas Day. The girls and I were usually on our own that day because my husband had to work. (He always made sure he had Christmas Eve off.) So we girls often went to my mother's house to hang out and eat leftovers. I started bringing a birthday cake and we would sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. It was a fun way to remember the reason we had the holiday.

Then, we would get bored and either went bowling or to a movie.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Advent Calendar Day 9 - Santa Revisited

I know we already had the Santa prompt this year but I simply must post this wonderful picture. To me it looks like it comes right out of It's A Wonderful Life. This is of my husband and his sister sitting with Santa. It was taken in about 1947. Sorry I haven't cleaned it up at all so it still has the crease marks from being folded and Santa has a smudge on his nose.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Cookies

I love cookies no matter what time of year but there is something special about homemade cookies at Christmas time. What could be better than that warmth and aroma wafting from the oven while my two wonderful daughters and I decorated sugar cookies. I think it was Dad who liked eating those the most, while we girls could barely wait for the chocolate chips cookies to cool!

That was years ago, but usually about this time, my husband says, "Are you going to make cookies this year?" I'm thinking I may go the store bought route. Maybe if I sneak them in the house and light a vanilla candle he won't know the difference:)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent Calendar - Santa Claus

‘Twas the night before Christmas 1999
And this may not rhyme
But the family was gathered
For a jolly good time.
  
They had food to eat, carols to sing
And exchanging of presents
Before the children rushed home
To await Santa’s entrance.
Kristin, Stewart, Derek
Randi

Now, Stewart, age ten
And Derek, age nine
Shared knowing looks
with each other this time.

They thought them too old
For belief in sweet Santa
But they kept quiet that night
Because they’d been told.

You see, Kristin, age 8
Clung to the thought
That Santa rode in his sleigh
Each December 24th.

And Randi, age 6
Simply knew in her heart
That Santa would come
With toys to impart.








So Grandpa took charge
As a stand-in for Claus
On his knees with the children
He checked on the gifts, large & small.








But, wait, there’s a sound at the door.
Who could it be? The family’s all here!
Everyone’s gaze went to the stairs
Everyone’s jaw fell straight to the floor.






It was Santa in person, the real one for sure!
He paused for a moment to see who was there
He talked to each child while checking his list
He knew they were there; they were secure.



He stayed but a moment; No time for long banter
He must begin his long flight around the world
But for that one evening and those few hours
Each family member believed in dear Santa.


(Just a warning note to little ones all:
If you stop believing; Santa stops coming.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Calendar - Outdoor Lights

I was just about to skip posting for this prompt - just because I couldn't think of any outstanding outdoor light story. However, I do have an anecdote to share.

About sixteen years ago, the company I worked for was moving its accounting/marketing departments from Schaumburg, Illinois to its headquarters in Los Angeles, California. At the time I was the supervisor of one of the Units being moved. Most of my Unit, including me, opted to remain in Illinois; however, we still had the obligation to train those who would be taking our places.

So, just before Christmas, five of us traveled to LA. We had a significant drive from our hotel to the headquarters. One afternoon, on the way back to the hotel, we were admiring some of the outdoor decorations when Renee popped out with, "Why do they have all these decorations?" After which we had to explain that even though it is always warm in LA, Christmas still comes there and people celebrate just like we did. I really think she was truly shocked!!

But, in her defense, the whole thing felt a bit surreal to me too.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Cards

I really don't remember my mother sending out lots of Christmas cards. I'm sure she sent to the relatives back home in Indiana once we moved to Chicago but I don't think she sent to friends far and wide. However, my husband's mother had a huge Christmas card list and faithfully sent to, I'm thinking, almost everyone she knew. Preparing the cards and getting them in the mail was an annual process that took many hours to complete. For her it was a labor of love and a way to stay in touch.

Looking back, I guess I fall somewhere between my Mom and his Mom. I had a fairly large list of friends and family who heard from us each year through the Christmas mail. However, unlike my mother-in-law, I wasn't sending to old friends from grammar school or even high school. Perhaps I should have; at least, I might know where they are today if I had.

Now, I lean on email, Twitter, and Facebook to send most of my holiday greetings. My physical card list has dwindled to a very manageable number which is both efficient and economical.

I must admit, though, I do love receiving the greetings I find in my mailbox - both online and off.;)

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Tree Ornaments

Our tree holds many special ornaments for me. They're not expensive like hand-blown glass but were created by or for our two girls. One year when they were small we sat in our kitchen and made ornaments using clothes pins. The girls made a great little fireman for their volunteer fireman Dad; that one is highly treasured.

There are the little felt candy cane with the name "Samantha" barely fitting which Sam brought home from Sunday School and Tammy's owl (she loved owls) that has perched on our Christmas tree each year.

I think my favorite ornament memory, though, is a tradition my husband started after the birth of our first grandchild. Each year he buys (a labor of love done with no little agony) each child an ornament just from him. He isn't a man who displays affection easily or casually but this annual gesture is one way he shows how very much he loves his grandchildren. The ornaments, but not the love, stop at age 21 - one down and three to go.:)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Food

Ah, the taste and aroma of Christmas treats in the making!!

Our Christmas holiday foods haven’t been the huge feasts of ham, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and such for a long time. Those foods have been reserved for Thanksgiving. No, we revel in the appetizer and dessert categories.

When I was a small child in Indiana, we had lots of relatives in the area and Christmas Eve was spent at Grandma’s house with the Uncles, Aunts, and cousins. My two brothers and I were piled in the car with our parents and whatever Mom was bringing, probably pie or cake. I don’t really remember what ended up on Grandma’s table; I guess I was too busy playing with my cousins.

However, when I was 10, we moved to Chicago and our family became very small - just the five of us. Rather than a big meal, Mom treated us to hamburgers and banana splits. That’s how the appetizers and desserts tradition began.

There must be some sort of sandwich, though, because the one item truly required is Dad’s baked beans. Well, really they are Dad’s Mom’s baked beans but she passed them down to him, who passed them on to Mom, who passed them on to my sister and me, who passed them on to my daughters. There is no true recipe, just a list of ingredients and instructions on how to tell the proportions are correct. Those instructions must be given in-person a number of times because it takes the eyes, nose, and taste to get it right!

Another must is Hersey’s fudge. The directions are on the cocoa can and it’s easy to make except often it takes several tries to get the perfect batch – not that the imperfect batches go to waste.

Those are the musts; the rest is up to each cook. Our table is always filled to the brim with tasty treats and munchies!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Calendar - The Christmas Tree

I've seen many versions of the Christmas tree during my lifetime. Although the ones in my house have remained very traditional, there were a few years during the '70s when my mother followed the fads of the flocked and/or silver metal trees. Happily, she quickly returned to the beautifully decorated green tree I remembered from my childhood.

Speaking of childhood, it's my grandchildren who have made my best memories of our Christmas trees. When they were young they would come - all four - to help decorate our tree and spend the night. The tree got decorated, some cookies were baked, and in the morning we went out for pancakes and eggs. I watched them grow up in front of our tree.

This is what our tree looked like for many years with the help of our grandchildren.


Here the children are sitting in front of the tree before the presents have been distributed in 1994.

Left to right: Randi, Kristin, Stewart, Derek

Here they are just seven years later in 2001. They are singing a carol because they always had to "perform" before they gifts were opened. They grow up too fast!

Left to Right: Derek, Stewart, Kristin
Front: Randi

We're looking forward to a new tradition starting this year. Our Christmas Eve gathering will move to one of our daughter's home. New tree, new memories!