Two Short Stories: A Touch of Christmas Nostalgia & The Best Gift Ever Given

By: Marianna Boyce

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My childhood home was situated on a dead end street just outside the town of Lexington. Sixteen modest houses lined each side of the road. Ours was the eighth on the left, placing it directly in the middle of the neighborhood. My entire family is quite fond of this old home place—one that created  countless cherished memories.

I’m the baby of five children. Having two older brothers and two older sisters assured there was never a dull moment in the Caldwell household.

Tommy, Beverly, and Lewis are Baby Boomers, while Cindy and I are from Generation X. We didn’t allow a little generation gap divide our relationships with one another. We’ve always kept close family ties—even to this day. For that, I am truly thankful.

Financially speaking, we weren’t rich, but always had everything we needed. None of us received the constant stream of new toys throughout the year like many kids get nowadays. The only toys we possessed were from the previous Christmas, which is exactly what made each holiday so special.

Of course, we all grew up knowing the true meaning behind this sacred season, but mom and daddy also allowed our vivid imaginations run wild about Santa as well. It was those particular years I remember the most. For me, the early 1970s were simply magical.

At the beginning of each holiday season, mom would hang three silver bells directly in the center of our living room ceiling. These simple glittery ornaments brought me much joy and excitement. I knew once she hung those silver bells, Christmas was right around the corner.

After the ceiling centerpiece was in place, she’d also scatter glass Christmas balls around the bells using white thread and thumbtacks. These brightly-colored ornaments were beautiful, fragile, and quite unique. I wish we had possession of them today.

Mom would decorate the outside of the house with as much pride as the inside. I loved the velvety red striping wrapped around each of the four posts on the front porch. It made them look like peppermint candy sticks. She even made the ol’ mailbox look festive with red ribbon and artificial poinsettias.

She always saved the best ‘til last—her masterpiece—the Christmas tree.

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The old-fashioned multi-colored glass bulbs were particularly hot to touch. No one had miniature lights yet. I’m unsure if they’d even been introduced to the world yet. Mom and Beverly constantly warned us younger kids to handle the hot lights with care, but as we grew older, Lewis, Cindy, and I often had contests to determine who could hold one in our hand the longest. Lewis mostly won. This stands to reason since he was the most rambunctious, stubborn child.

No one’s tree was complete until silver tinsel covered it. Mom always had a keen eye for the perfect balance. The tinsel was strategically placed so it wouldn’t melt onto those hot bulbs. My siblings and I often nonchalantly tossed it on, but Beverly—the motherly sister, cleaned up our mess and helped mom finish decorating the perfect tree.

When the much anticipated Sears and Roebuck catalog was delivered to our house, excitement filled the air. We all laid in the living room floor flipping through the pages seeing what toys would be available from Santa’s workshop that year. It wasn’t uncommon for us to peruse through the thick catalog daily to add to our ever-growing list.

On nights Christmas specials aired on TV, mom encouraged us to bathe early. After the quickest baths known to mankind, we hurriedly put on our flannel pajamas. Since there were no presents under the tree yet, we laid underneath the Christmas tree mesmerized by the colorful array of lights.

Mom usually served popcorn and hot chocolate, both of which were prepared on the stove-top in covered pots. Daddy popped the corn, while mom tended to the chocolate beverage so it wouldn’t scorch. We didn’t have a microwave back then. No one did. They’d been introduced, but were too expensive for most anyone on our street to afford at that time.

Since there was no such thing as a television remote, Tommy and Lewis were typically in charge of changing the channel and adjusting the volume. There were only four stations to choose from. Who remembers having only channels 10 (NBC,) 19 (CBS,) 25 (ABC,) and 35. WACH-Fox Channel-57 didn’t come on the scene until the mid-1980s. Rich or poor, that’s all anyone had. We didn’t have hundreds of channels like we do now.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, were my favorite TV specials. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Frosty the Snowman, and A Charlie Brown Christmas, all tied for close seconds.

I love how several make mention of the birth of Jesus Christ. I know it’s only a quick “honorable mention,” but Linus went above and beyond at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas as he quoted scripture from the Bible.

When Christmas morning finally arrived, our living room floor was covered from wall to wall. Of course, my sisters and I received all the girlie toys we’d wished for. There were baby dolls, strollers, and Barbies galore. Lincoln Logs and TinkerToys were also favorites. I probably played with them as much as anything else. They may have been Tommy and Lewis’s toys.  Who knows? In my mind, they were mine for being extra good that year.

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Tommy and Lewis received the traditional boy toys—walkie talkies, trucks, wagons, and balls. When Lewis was old enough, he even got a BB gun. He didn’t shoot his eye out, but probably came close a time or two. My sisters and I wisely steered clear when he and Tommy were outside shooting aimlessly into the woods behind our house. Daddy probably took the gun away more than Lewis shot it, but that’s one of two things that happened when rules were broken…

I remember one Christmas, we all received new bicycles the same year. Tommy’s was red, Beverly’s was green, Lewis’s was gold, and Cindy’s was pink—I think, but I know mine was purple.

Later, we learned daddy stayed up all night assembling them before five wide-eyed kiddos climbed out of bed on Christmas morning. Nowadays, bicycles are purchased already assembled. (Daddy—I’m so sorry you didn’t get any sleep that night.)

We eventually grew out of the Santa Clause phase, but cherish the few tender years when this enchanting world existed. I’m thankful the older kids never ruined it for the younger ones.

It seems cliche to mention how fast time passes. Each year zips by more quickly than the last. Living in a day and age where children don’t know what the Great American Wish Book is, or the joy of sitting through an entire episode of a Christmas classic without looking at an electronic device, I’d say, they’re truly missing out.

What a difference a generation or two makes.

The magic of Christmas was always alive and well in our little house on that dead end street in Lexington, South Carolina. What I’d give to experience another Christmas from my past.

What are some of your favorite childhood Christmas memories? What was the best gift you ever received?


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Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

The Best Gift Ever Given

Luke 2:8-14 (KJV)

8)And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9)And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10)And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11)For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12)And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13)And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14)Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” (Linus Van Pelt – From A Charlie Brown Christmas – December 9, 1965)

May God bless you and your families this holiday season. Merry Christmas everyone.

Is Playing Christmas Music Early Good for Mental Health?

By Shannon Boatwright

Ok, let’s chat about this. The logical answer is that it depends on the individual!

For me, listening to Christmas music, whatever the season, is good for my mental health. However, according to a post on DoYouRemember.com, psychologists warn that “early” listening could be bad for your health because it can invoke anxiety and negative reminders of the stresses of the holidays.

I can certainly understand that for some people, hearing Christmas music can trigger bad memories and cause stress. I totally empathize and respect that. On the other hand, anytime I hear Christmas music, it instantly makes me happy. Seriously, it instantly adds a little joy to my heart regardless of what I’m doing, going through or stressed about. Hearing Christmas tunes always lifts my spirits.

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My family and I are definitely the types that listen to Christmas songs any time of the year. Not all the time, but occasionally, yes, even in the middle of the summer. My son will say, “Alexa, play Christmas music,” and we certainly don’t stop him. In fact, my husband and I will watch a holiday movie any time of the year. For us, the music and movies are just the same. They evoke happy memories, joy, and lift our spirits, oftentimes even giving us a sense of peace. We’ve already set out our favorite Christmas movies and made sure the Christmas music station is preset on the radio.

Now, we don’t go too crazy and start decorating our house before Halloween. Heck, we’re too busy to go all out before the real holiday season hits, but we do love Christmas!

To those that are stressed out by holiday music and all things Christmas this November, I’m terribly sorry! However, I have to say, I am thankful for Christmas anytime because it is certainly good for my spirits, and I am looking forward to the holiday season!

 

 

Reminiscing and Ginger Bread Houses

By Rhonda Woods

Oh, Christmas, you are only a few days away.  The children are excited for Santa to come.  Parents and grandparents are trying to find all the items on their sweet little lists. Some people go all out with decorations, while some, like me, keep it simple (barely getting the tree up). Secret Santa, playing the White Elephant gift exchange game (not sure where that name came from) and holiday music on every station.  Calendars are filled with special events, cantatas, drive through light shows, and of course, food…lots of food.  Pace yourself and forgo the fancy fitted frocks.  Opt for “eating pants”, as we say, you know the ones that allow a little room in the waist for “I just want a little taste”…of everything!

Last Christmas was the beginning of what I think will be a tradition in my family.  With my sweet husband in the hospital, I had no time to shop or even think about gift giving.  Talking about it, we decided to give each of our children and their spouses a set amount of money to purchase a special gift for themselves, and their children.  The instructions that came with the money was specific.  They must wrap their own gifts and place them under our tree to be opened on Christmas day in front of us, thus surprising us with the gifts they chose.  Worked great, but I must admit, with all that was going on, it was a blur.  Shopping has never been a favorite for me.  Hard to believe, right?  Now, keep in mind, I’m no Scrooge or Grinch, I just can’t seem to get into the “Christmas Spirit”, especially this year.

My mama was reminiscing about the foods we enjoyed on Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house as we were making our newer version of fruitcake last Saturday.  Now, Fruit Cake was something my mama and her grandmother made every year…early, like right after Thanksgiving! They would wrap them in cloth, place them in tins, and occasionally brush with some blackberry wine to “keep them moist”!  My sweet husband would say, “That’ll go good with my coffee in the morning”.   She told us about how they would go downtown in Columbia to Silvers on Main Street to purchase the candied fruits, not in the containers like today, but weighed by the clerk at the counter from bins. Mama also reminded us about the deli meats, cheeses, mustard, Kosher pickles and breads that were purchased from Groucho’s Deli in Five Points and served at my grandmothers house.  The food list went on describing things like celery stuffed with a cheese spread, olives, nuts, and deviled eggs.  We will honor her requests for all of these and more at our family Christmas gathering this year.

So, as we race through the last few day of school before Winter Break, my students are making Gingerbread Houses.  It’s a process and a lesson in patience.   Each one rolls and cuts the house parts from the cookie dough.  I bake them, and then the patience part comes into play when they assemble them using royal icing.  Each students customizes their house with a variety of candies and other edible decorations. I’m looking forward to seeing their final projects.

With limited time to spare these busy days, I have included a few quick and easy sweet treats, dips and spreads for you to try.  Merry Christmas Ya’ll!

May God bless you and your family as He continues to bless ours,

Chef Woods

Appetizers and Dips

Zesty Crab Cakes

Squares

Spinach Dip

Roasted Red Pepper Remoulade Sauce

Quick Fudge with Nuts

Pimento Cheese

Double layer fudge

Hot Spinach & Artichoke Dip

Orange Glazed Pecans

A Celiac Friendly Christmas Craft

By Rachel Sircy

I think I mentioned last year that I make Christmas ornaments for our friends and family every year. I have wanted to make homemade clay ornaments for some time, but I haven’t done it because most homemade clay recipes use wheat flour as a base for the clay. I try to keep my home and especially my kitchen as free as possible from contaminants and so I don’t bring wheat flour into my house at all. Once, I had the idea that I could use gluten free all-purpose flour to do the same job, but let’s face it, at more than $4 a pound, it would be cheaper to go out and buy ornaments than to make them out of gluten free flour.

But, I’ve found more and more lately that Pinterest has the answers to most of life’s problems. It was there that I came across pictures of lovely white ornaments made from cornstarch clay. In cornstarch clay, cornstarch and baking soda take the place of flour as the base of the clay. So, I had the answer to my homemade clay problem. Here is the recipe that I followed from a blog called, Kleinworth & Co.:

1 Cup Cornstarch

2 Cups Baking Soda

1 ½ cups Water

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly. It takes a while, but the ingredients will eventually start to resemble mashed potatoes. Once you get to the mashed potato phase, scrape the mixture out into a glass bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel and leave to cool for 30 minutes.

This is what it looks like cooking:

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And this is what it looks like in its mashed potatoes phase:

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At this point, you can roll out the clay and cut out shapes with a cookie or biscuit cutter. I also used a clay stamp and a metal button, to stamp the image of a crown and the words “Peace” and “Joy” into each ornament. Now, the point where I differ with Kleinworth & Co. is after the ornaments are made. Their recipe calls for the ornaments to be baked at 175 degrees for 30 minutes and then air-dried for another 24 hours. I found that this baking process actually dried out my ornaments too quickly and they ended up cracking. So, I actually threw out the first batch of ornaments that I had made and made a second batch, which I allowed to air-dry overnight on the plastic table cloth where I’d rolled them out, After that, I transferred them to cookie cooling racks and allowed them to dry out for about a week. This seems like a long time, but it kept my ornaments from cracking. If you need them to dry out sooner, I might recommend drying them for a shorter time in the oven and then allowing them to air-dry overnight.

Here is the finished product:

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And my daughter even got in on the ornament making fun.

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If your children are celiac, this is the perfect clay to allow them to make hand prints. There’s no risk of contamination with this clay. Although, of course, I wouldn’t exactly recommend letting them eat any!

Have fun and have a Merry Gluten Free Christmas!

New kind of holidays

By Lisa Baker

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

My family did not do our usual Thanksgiving together.  My parents are both doing well and are still in two different facilities.  As a family we have had so much change for us this year.  I feel that we are all still trying to deal with our changes.  Each of us in our own way.  Maybe I should have pushed for us to be all together but I too feel so out of sorts when I think of celebrating the holidays.  I saw my Mom Wednesday after work.

Change is what our lives seem to be all about!

I got a phone call on Monday the week of Thanksgiving.  It was from my Mom’s facility from a gentleman in charge.  He called to tell me that Mom has been and still is doing very well.  So much so that she no longer qualifies for hospice care.  Yes, that is good news.

But that means we have to move her out by the end of the month – yes, the end of November.  So, we are back to square one trying to find a facility geared to her current needs.  That part is kind of bad news.

If you have ever had to go through this you will understand.  It’s not as simple as picking a place and just moving her in.  There is a process.  Paperwork to fill out.  The facility will want to send someone to evaluate her to see if she indeed will qualify for their facility.  Then more paperwork.  If she is approved, you then have to get her packed and arrange for the move.  Find out if the new facility requires anything that needs to be purchased for her.  Then getting her settled.  We are checking to see if it is possible for her to be moved in with our Dad at his facility.  Right now, it’s looking like that may work for us.  I’ve got several meetings to attend concerning this but we are hopeful that it will work out.

It would be so much easier getting to see them both if they are at the same facility and would help us to settle on how we want to celebrate the holidays.

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We did get Mom in with Dad!  She moved in last Thursday.  It was a tearful reunion.  A staff member at Dad’s facility got flowers for him to give Mom.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.  They both seem to be doing very well. Happy to be together again.

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Christmas is only a few weeks away.  So what kinds of gifts are we getting Mom and Dad?

Shower or body wash and shampoo are always great items to gift.  As well as socks. A clock that also shows the correct day of the week as well as the time makes a great gift too.  Clothes are always welcomed but you will need to remember to mark their name inside the clothing items.  Wordsearch books and coloring books are great gifts too.

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Their favorite snacks or candy and even fruit can make great gifts.

Hope everyone enjoys the Christmas season.  Make time to be with all of your loved ones.  Don’t forget the ones that are in memory care facilities and nursing homes as well as Hospice.  Make beautiful memories that you can treasure for a lifetime.

Merry Christmas!

My Not So Great Christmas…

By Marianna Boyce

This blog post was initially going to be about delightful Christmas memories.  When I walked up the sidewalk at Salon on Main for my hair appointment before Thanksgiving, I knew I had to change direction.  Maybe I’ll reminisce about my childhood another year.

The statement on my salon’s marquee outside read, “Where God Guides He Provides.”  Of course, this sent my brain firing on all cylinders.  I could hardly wait to pen my thoughts onto paper.  Their messaging was great!  The memories it stirred?  Not so great!  Just stay with me a minute y’all.

My two adopted granddaughters, now ages 11 and 13 came to mind.  Their young lives have not always been merry and bright. Seven years ago, God saw fit to remove them from the hellish situation they were living.  Even though they now have all the love, care, and attention any child could ever hope for, they are both still haunted by their past.  Material gifts cannot give back the formative years that were lost at such tender ages.  My prayer is they both learn to depend on God in a mighty way and not allow their unfortunate past define who they become in the future.

My next thought reverted me to 2016…a year I will never forget!  This was the year I had a not so great Christmas!  Okay, it was really quite depressing, and to be totally honest, it was the most horrible holiday season I had ever experienced in my entire life!  All I remember was the excruciating joint pain riddled throughout my entire body.  All I could think of was myself!  (Selfish much)?  Indeed I was!  My exhausting experience was dreadful!  When heartache, pain, and sorrow come knocking at your door, nothing else really seems to matter.

During that time, not only did I begin shutting out family and friends, I also left out God.  Miraculously, God never left me!  It was just little ‘ole me…and a very big God.  He was still faithful to guide me through some of the darkest days of my life.  He strategically and sporadically placed those precious family members, friends, and even strangers in my life to push me over the numerous hurdles I so painfully endured.  Thankfully, I am much better now.

Maybe you haven’t yet crossed that threshold.  If not, just know that God cares for you too.  If you’re looking for Him, He’s not hard to find.  Just listen for that still, small voice.  He will never barge His way inside your heart and life.  He must be invited.  His timing is always perfect though.

quoteWhile many people are decking their halls, trimming their tree, gathering around a warm cozy fire, baking sweet treats, etc., there are also many that cannot merrily go about their business.  Maybe you are missing your military husband, wife, son or daughter halfway around the world.  Are you a single parent just trying to make ends meet?  Maybe you’re coping with the loss of a loved one or caring for elderly parents.  Does something just seem to be missing?  Do you just simply dread this time of year?  My prayer for you is to  find comfort, peace and joy this holiday season.

For those who can be someone’s Christmas cheer this year, you may very well be an answer to a simple prayer!  A smile and a kind word goes a long way!  If you can do more, feel free to do so!  Remembering the Reason for the Season and also, wherever God guides, He will indeed provide.

May God bless you and your family this holiday season!  Merry Christmas!

Countdown to Christmas (and Cookies!)

By Rhonda Woods

Hello Everyone!

The countdown to Christmas is officially on!  A lot to do, you know, like decorating my tree with new unbreakable ornaments, for the little ones.  Last year’s tree was thankfully assembled and decorated by my daughter-in-law and her mom.  I left the boxes in the middle of the den as my sweet husband’s health took that unforgettable turn.  He was admitted to the hospital the Monday after Thanksgiving.  Less than 3 weeks later, we would return home with the help of all our family, friends and hospice.  Countless prayers and tears.  Precious moments and memories were mixed with what none of us could be prepared for in the short time that followed.  So, with Christmas rapidly approaching, I need a giant umbrella for the imposing “rain”.

It was extremely important to me to have, what turned out to be, our last family photo with him.  I refused to take the tree down and was so sad to have missed the opportunity for the photo by Christmas Day.  As I was finishing preparing the traditional New Years Day lunch the phone rang.  It was my daughter saying she had arranged for a friend to come and take the photo I longed for.  The family arrived shortly afterwards, with the photographer friend in tow.  The boys helped my husband into a chair in front of the tree, and then the race was on to take the group picture and one with each family, as sitting up was becoming more difficult for him. Our last family photo is featured in this blog.  I know for some this would seem ridiculous and unnecessary, but not having that photo would have been a sad regret for all of us.

Family Photo

Cookies! Yep cookies!  My sweet husband loved all kinds of cookies.  He was the best taste tester of the tempting smells that wafted from my oven.  So, this is a great time to share some cookie recipes.  I believe baking can be therapeutic, and your house will smell wonderful without those cookie scented candles!  Bake and enjoy the smiles you will bring to people of all ages, especially during Christmas. Take time to make time for others.  You won’t regret it.

May God bless you and your family as He has continued to bless ours,

Chef Woods

Cookie Recipes

Blondies

Cheese Straws

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cinnamon Sugar Cookies-Std.

Cran-Cherry Cheese Bars

Lemon Bars

Magic Cookie Bars

Outrageous Brownies

Red Velvet Cheesecake Bites

Spiced Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies

Wedding Cookies

The Voice Behind our Christmas Commercial

So far, our 2018 Christmas commercial has received more than 44,000 views on social media. The spot features a beautiful voice singing a song called “You’ll See Christmas.” People keep asking us about the singer: Who is she?

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Courtesy: MandyHarvey.com

You may recognize her. Her name is Mandy Harvey. A Florida resident, the jazz and pop singer and songwriter took part in a season of the television show America’s Got Talent, finishing in 4th place.

Notably, Harvey is deaf. She gradually lost her hearing during childhood as a result of a connective tissue disorder, becoming completely deaf by age 18. Despite her disability, Harvey has performed regularly around the country, garnering accolades along the way. She uses “visual tuners” and muscle memory to help her find pitches.

Harvey caught the attention of Mark Shelley, vice president of Marketing and Communications at Lexington Medical Center, while competing on America’s Got Talent.

Shelley also learned Harvey had recorded several Christmas songs, including “You’ll See Christmas,” which has a message about the true meaning of the season.

“We all get caught up in what we think Christmas is about – gifts, presents and parties,” Shelley said. “But Christmas is really about love, kindness and bringing people together. The message of “You’ll See Christmas” fit perfectly with the story we wanted to tell in our commercial.”

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Mark Shelley (center) directing the Christmas commercial filming.

Shelley reached out to Harvey’s agent and arranged for her to sing a special arrangement of the song for the Lexington Medical Center Christmas commercial this year. We feel proud that she took part in this project with us.

Harvey embodies kindness in many ways. She’s an ambassador for an organization called “No Barriers” that helps people with disabilities overcome obstacles. She has also written a book called Sensing the Rhythm: Finding My Voice in a World Without Sound.

 

You can watch the 2018 Christmas commercial during your favorite holiday programming this season. Merry Christmas!

Experimenting with Tradition, Part 2

By Rachel Sircy

Last time I wrote about how my mother found a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend to make our beloved egg noodles for the traditional Midwestern chicken and noodles dish (creatively titled, eh?). Well, here is a picture of it cooking on the back burner:

Noodles cooking on the stove

Noodles cooking on the stove

 

It doesn’t exactly look tasty, but it worked for us. I was so worn out from cooking by the time we sat down to eat that I didn’t even bother taking a picture of the noodles on my plate. But the noodles were actually not half bad, they just weren’t that pretty while cooking. The pot below is the pot of regular chicken and noodles. It looks a bit more appetizing.

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Ready to eat!

It’s difficult to try to recreate certain ingrained traditions, but I think that Mom came pretty close to doing it this year. The noodles were of a pretty good consistency that first day, though gluten-free concoctions don’t keep well and by the next day, they had fairly well dissolved in the liquid. I didn’t take a picture of that either. I think you would all thank me for that.

Another food tradition that I especially wanted to recreate today were the frosted Christmas cookies that were always on my grandmother’s table this time of year. I wanted to have them while we put up our Christmas tree, which is always something of a special family party at our house. We turn on the Peanuts Christmas soundtrack and Bing Crosby and take it easy. Our Christmas tree is pretty plain as far as Christmas trees go. My husband and I are extremely sentimental and so we don’t have that sort of catalog-ready tree with all the matching ornaments and gorgeous bows. We don’t even put garland around our tree. Honestly, we wouldn’t have room for garland. We have the multi-colored lights that we loved when we were kids and at least one ornament to commemorate every year that we’ve been together. Many of the ornaments on our tree were handmade by my husband’s late grandmother – like this one below:

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Since Grandma Sircy has passed away, I have started trying to carry on the tradition of making a holiday ornament for everyone in the family. Here is a shoebox full of my efforts for this year:

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Knitting some memories

Really, I had no idea how seriously people can take the whole decorating thing – I mean, changing out themes and color schemes every year. During the holidays, my husband and I like to be kids again. We surround ourselves with things that we enjoy and things that we remember. Picture 5So, we have Grandma Sircy’s lovely handmade ornaments, we have ornaments from my husband’s alma mater, Centre College, we have an ornament for every Christmas we’ve ever spent together and a whole lot of Spiderman ornaments for some reason (though my husband made the sacrifice to leave them off the tree this year to make way for a growing number of princess-themed ornaments). Now that we have an almost-three-year-old girl – whose birthday happens to be just three days before Christmas – we have a lot more pink on our tree. And, plain as it is, I think our tree is a pretty wonderful sight.

 

Anyway, all this is to say, that around our house, tradition is pretty important and this includes food as well as decorations. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has made shortbread cookies from scratch for just about every holiday on the yearly American calendar. These cookies are the best I have ever tasted. Seriously, I know that there are a lot of people that would say that their grandma cooks best, well, I have to say that I’m pretty sure that I can provide quantifiable evidence that my grandma can bake better than yours. Taste one of her frosted shortbread cookies and see if I’m kidding. Or her homemade butterscotch pie – a recipe that originally came from a cookbook printed in 1959, the days when nobody felt guilty about eating butter, and that she improved upon. That pie is so good it’ll make you want to slap anybody’s momma – it doesn’t even have to be your own. Well, I was homesick for some of those cookies. Unfortunately, I am no baking prodigy. My shortbread (even before I started baking gluten free) was always either greasy or dry to the point of tasting like vanilla ashes. And so, I have found that sometimes we must sort of set aside tradition and do what we can do.

That is where this wonderful book comes in:

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I know that a whole lot of people are familiar with the Cake Mix Doctor, Anne Byrn, but for all you gluten-free people out there in Columbia tonight, she has a gluten-free book. Actually, I think she has a few gluten-free books out now. I have the first one that she came out with and I have to say that almost every cake that I’ve made out of this book has been awesome. I say almost because I wasn’t crazy about the coconut pound cake or the sweet potato pound cake, but other than that, this book is the bomb. I think the deal is that I really just don’t like pound cake. Anyway, she had a recipe for slice and bake sugar cookies that you can make from a yellow cake mix and *Hallelujah* here they are:

They are really, really good. Of course, they’re not Grandma’s shortbread cookies, but they’re what I could do. My mom worked on Thanksgiving to pull together egg noodles to bring back a dish that we thought we’d lost. They weren’t like the noodles that I remember her making when I was younger, but they were a pretty good substitute. And that’s what I have done here. I’ve made a pretty good substitute, not quite the real thing, but then I could never make my grandma’s cookies anyway – only she can do that. My friend’s daughter used to tell us, whenever she’d helped make something we were eating – “you know, I put a lot of love in that.” Really, that’s what makes my grandmother’s cookies and Grandma Sircy’s ornaments so amazing. You can’t duplicate a grandmother’s love, and so you can’t duplicate anything that she does for you. And, I’d like to think that since I made these cookies for my husband and my daughter, that even though they came from a box (and the frosting came from a can) that there’s a lot of love in them too and that that love overrides the fact that I kind of cheated making them. Maybe I’m kidding myself about that last part, but maybe not. Don’t tell me if I am kidding myself. I like the illusion.

Suggested Christmastime Reading: Isaiah 9:6 and A Christmas Carol