Tis the season…

Christmas is just around the corner and Mr. Smith and I are again on the road, off to visit family and friends, some family that are also friends and some friends that are family. The weather forecast predicts temps in the mid-40s with zero chance of a white Christmas.  And while I have vivid memories of the magic of snow falling on Christmas Eve when I was a child, as a traveling adult I am thrilled with the gift of dry, safe roads.

The planning, shopping, baking, wrapping, packing and mailing are all done and now it’s time to relax and celebrate the season.  This past week, I hosted some old friends for a holiday happy hour, appreciating the comfort of those who have known me for years and still love me!  On another occasion, I shared a dinner out with newer friends, getting to know them better over a glass of chardonnay and tasty crab cakes.  And now it’s on to the main event.

Mr. Smith and I were up early this morning to pack up the sleigh and hit the road.  The long hours on I-80 with our festive holiday beverages from Starbucks and holiday tunes on the stereo provide plenty of time to discuss the week ahead of us with eager anticipation.  We are particularly looking forward to a visit with our bubbly granddaughters.  It is enchanting to enter their mystical world of girliness and camaraderie.  It is my grandma hope that when they are in their sixties they will still get together at the holidays and share heartfelt memories of a Christmas visit from Slick Grandpa Nick and me as cherished as those I have of Christmas visits from my beloved Aunt Ruby.  

And before we hit Ohio, I-80 becomes Memory Lane and we ponder the decades of Christmases with our three sons. Like Emmet’s second Christmas.  During his afternoon nap, Mr. Smith and his brother Pete went out to get a tree. When Emmet woke up there was a tree in the living room complete with holiday lights.  He was overjoyed.  Or the year we were stunned to remember late on Christmas Eve after the boys were in bed that their gifts were still in the closet of Mr. Smith’s office out at the printing plant.  Luckily, he remembered how to turn off the alarm system.  Our precious memories are a treasure trove of cookie decorating, messy tree trimming, noisy holiday meals and fun Christmas movies.

When Mr. Smith and I take a break from our discourse, my stream-of-consciousness mind drifts back to my own childhood Christmases.  There were always colorful gifts under our simple tree and stockings stuffed with candy and an orange, but my most vivid memories are of the anticipation of family coming home and the meals shared.  One year in particular was when I was in high school and working at an Indiana toll road restaurant.  My usual shift was 6:00 am to 2:00 pm.  For Christmas day, the shifts had been split and I was only working 6:00 – 10:00.  My younger brother thought we should get up and open gifts before I went in at 6:00 am, but thankfully my parents put the kibosh on that.  When I got home from work shortly after 10:00, my wonderful Aunt Ruby and Uncle Ike were at our house, having driven up that morning from Illinois.  It was my sweetest Christmas surprise ever!

My mother always decorated for Christmas, made cutout cookies that we frosted, and baked date nut bread.  She baked it in Dad’s empty beer cans after he had carefully removed the tops. This created little round loaves.  It was moist and delicious and it is what we always left out for Santa on Christmas Eve, along with a can of beer (Dad’s idea).

ZELLA’S DATE NUT BREAD

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 T. soft butter
  • 3 eggs well beaten
  • 2 tsp. soda
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped nuts 
  • 2 cups chopped dates
  • 2-1/2 cups boiling water (pour over dates and walnuts and baking soda and let sit for 30 minutes)

Cream the butter and sugars and add the vanilla. Combine the flour and salt, then add the flour mixture and the date mixture a little at a time, alternating between the two. Fold in the eggs at the end.  Don’t overmix.

Grease cans (6-7) and fill ½ full.

Bake 55 minutes at 350 degrees or approximately 1 hour for loaf pans.

Of course, you don’t have to bake your date nut bread in beer cans, but I can attest that Santa never left any behind.

C’est la vie.

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks…

People who know me well would never describe me as a relaxed, go with the flow person.  I prefer a plan and a schedule.  This past Wednesday I had scheduled a much-anticipated Christmas trip into New York City.  I planned ahead and bought my ticket for the “Curb Side Express” back in November.  This route picks up passengers a short two blocks from our apartment.

Wednesday morning, I arose earlier than usual and was ready and waiting at the appropriate spot five minutes early.  It was a chilly morning, so I was delighted to see my motor coach approaching.  I wasn’t delighted when it drove right past me without stopping!  As a planner, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be at exactly the right time.  I watched to see if he might circle the block to pull up on the side street, but no, to my horror, he was gone!  Frustrated and confused, I called the bus company and kept getting transferred and cut off, so I stomped over to the bus station a few blocks away to tell them my tale of woe.  There I was informed that I was supposed to “wave the bus down”!!!  I tersely –  but politely –  explained that information was nowhere on their site and that I had been at the station previously to check precisely where I should wait for the bus and no one said a word about needing to flag down my ride.

I was put on the next available bus into the city, but that robbed me of the time I would have been there by a few hours.  Needless to say, I had a prepared itinerary for my visit, so the first part of my trip was spent grumpily reviewing my list and deleting some things.  Yet as soon as the New York City skyline came into view, my grumpiness disappeared to be replaced with sweet anticipation of the day’s adventures ahead.

My first stop with the festive Winter Village at Bryant Park located behind the New York City Public Library.   This European inspired open-air market features over 175 vendors offering tasty treats and unique artisanal boutiques, as well as a skating rink that offers the only free skating in the city!  This market always sparks my Christmas spirit.  It seems to have that effect on others too as everyone seemed particularly jolly.  I was charmed by the negotiations between the hot chocolate vendor and the cheese stick folks, trading their wares with each other.  While I didn’t sample the hot chocolate, I can attest to the tastiness of the cheese sticks!

After some time perusing the village, I headed up busy, bustling Fifth Avenue towards Rockefeller Center.  My first glimpse of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree makes my heart happy each and every year.  It is always crowded, but even an introvert like me considers it an absolute must this time of year.  I love every sparkle on this 75-foot masterpiece.

And as always in the city, you never know who you are going to run into.  Although Mr. Smith says the fellow in the photo below is an imposter and insists that he is my personal ole St. Nick!

When I’m in the city for the entire day, I like to plan a break mid-afternoon to revive my energy and decide on how to spend my remaining time.  I received a gift card from my grandsons that has been calling my name, so I had scheduled a couple of spa treatments at The Red Door.  While they may have rebranded and changed their name, the pampering remains delightful and I emerged rejuvenated and eager to press ahead.

On to Bloomingdale’s!  I know that department store shopping is time-inefficient, but it still holds a huge appeal.  Attractive, well-dressed people want to spritz me with perfume, well-groomed folks want to give me a make-over, and one of Santa’s elves in the Christmas section wanted to know if I fancied a visit with Santa!  I am a kid in a candy shop with the vast selection of finery and frippery.  I made a couple of purchases, noted some things to think about, and soaked in the sparkly holiday décor.

It was now time to think about navigating my way back to arrive at the bus station in time to catch my ride back to Pennsylvania.  I walked down picturesque Lexington Avenue and cut up to Fifth Avenue, admiring the shop windows and all the holiday decorations.  This simple window stood out to me amongst all the opulent ones.

My bus connection home went smoothly, we made good time, and I was home sipping a cup of tea with Mr. Smith by 10:30.  Many friends are surprised that I am happy to spend the day on my own in the city.  Without a traveling companion, it is easy to settle into your routine and not venture out.  But a day in the City reminds me it’s a big world – I love hearing the different languages spoken and seeing fashionable New Yorkers.  I also like the sense of accomplishment I get by doing it on my own.  I still remember how I felt over a decade ago on my first solo trip into the City when I was able to easily locate the Sephora where I had an appointment. Over the years, I gotten to know myself better and acknowledge that life can be an adventure if you learn how to flag down the damn bus.

C’est la vie.

My old house.

I miss my house.  Most of the year I’m amenable with our downsizing lifestyle.  It’s a luxury to be able to close the door and take off without any thought of mowing the yard, shoveling snow, or electrical failure.  But when the holidays roll around, I miss my house and all that came with that rambling old homestead.  We spent over 20 busy years there, raising our three sons.  Mr. Smith sanded, stripped, painted, and wallpapered every square inch of the place, creating a lovely home from a diamond in the rough.

I reveled in decorating for the holidays.  Trees, garlands, Santas, angels.  I would spend a week transforming the place, devoting one night each to the dining room, living room, kitchen and TV room.  Mr. Smith would hang fragrant fresh garland and lights on the outside.  It was a wonderful Christmas house, lots of bedrooms and plenty of space for everyone.

I miss being the hostess queen.  I loved planning the meals, treats and activities, as well as dinner parties for family and friends using Christmas china and candles, and bottles of wine and great company.  One year for Christmas, my son Elliot gave me a dinner party journal in which I would record the menu, the wines, the company and seating charts.  I was able to document the table decorations and party favors.

Perhaps it’s because of all the changes this year that I find myself particularly melancholy. The loss of family members, moving and leaving a job have left me at loose ends. And it’s the end of the year and time to reflect on things you’ve done and things you’ve left undone.  Goals reached and projects left undone.  

Luckily Mr. Smith and I have a bit of yin and yang in our relationship.  When I start to look at the past through rose-colored glasses (that old house had its issues), he’ll remind me how much our life has expanded by letting go of the past. It’s easy to think all would be perfect if we were back there, but it’s our todays that we should value and so I will.

C’est la vie.

It’s coming on Christmas…

When I was a child, my siblings and I looked forward to the arrival of the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog with great anticipation.  When it arrived, we would flop on the living room floor and page through that massive wonder until many pages were dog eared and some falling out.  I could spend hours looking through it to search for the items that could fulfill my Christmas dreams.  

Decades later our sons would spend hours leafing through catalogs and providing Mr. Smith and me with their Christmas lists. I wish I had saved them all, but I do have their lists from 2001.  As they grew older, they usually asked for music and clothes and these lists were no exception.  Except for Emmet.  His wishes were for a Ford Escape and a pony.  Sadly, for him, he received neither.

I’m not a part of the grandparent mindset that believes grandchildren are for spoiling.  A vast amount of love, yes, but vast amounts of gifts, no.  One gift I will always give without guilt is books, so I was pleased when Eleanor’s father forwarded me The 2019 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books article.  At age two, Eleanor hasn’t begun sending us Christmas wish lists, but I hope she’ll enjoy the books we chose from this list.

While the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog may be a thing of the past, there is no shortage of current Christmas catalogs.  During our recent visit with our grandchildren, history repeated itself with a new generation of munchkins flopped on the floor pouring over the colorful, enticing catalogs.

Having raised three sons and shopped for more Transformers, Ninja Turtles and He-Man figures than you can shake a stick at, I was thrilled to enter the glittery world of Christmas shopping for granddaughters.  They are a diverse and delightful crew with Christmas wishes running the gambit from Harry Potter, American Girl, Fancy Nancy, Legos, books, art supplies and more.  Our girls are as happy building a fort as they are having a tea party so it’s next to impossible to get them something they don’t like. I will be careful not to stereotype, case in point, our newest bundle of energy granddaughter has forgone the world of pink for Coco Chanel black.

I believe my grandsons have enough Legos to build me a grandma pod in their back yard should I ever need one, and I had promised myself Mr. Smith and I weren’t going to buy anymore Legos.  Yet every birthday and Christmas, the boys always ask for Lego sets.  While grappling with whether to stick to my guns or grant their Christmas wish, I remembered some words of wisdom I received years ago from an old friend in Kendallville.  Amy’s two daughters are the same ages as my two oldest sons and we shared many a parenting challenge through the years. When one of my sons wanted an expensive class ring, my first instinct was to say no.  I had a class ring back in 1972, gave it to some boyfriend and never saw it again.  I viewed buying a class ring as a waste of money, something they wouldn’t care about a few years down the road.  Amy told me “Just because it won’t be important later, doesn’t mean it’s not important now.”  Her words stuck with me, a little reminder to perhaps consider my son’s wishes more thoughtfully.  I’ve carried these words of wisdom with me through the years and they have reminded me to listen more carefully and to take my time responding.

When we asked our grandsons what they wanted for Christmas, we didn’t ask what they wanted that grandpa and grandma would find acceptable. We simply asked them what they wanted for Christmas. During the years our boys were growing up, I tried to impress upon them that when you are giving a gift, you should endeavor to give the recipient something they truly want, not something you want them to have.  How could I object to giving a gift that would provide a few hours of reading, following directions, and building something amazing? The grandsons are getting Legos for Christmas.                                                                                                                                                            

With Christmas just over five weeks away, my holiday shopping is in full swing.  I do much of it online, but still take pleasure in meandering the stores, checking out the seasonal decorations and taking advantage of being able to see items up close and personal.  I’m planning a day trip into New York City soon to peruse the holiday fairs, museum shops and the new Nordstrom.  This trip will be an opportunity to fill in any gaps on Mrs. Santa’s list, and hopefully find something for the fabulous Mr. Smith.  He hasn’t given me a wish list and I’ve yet to see him flopped on the living room floor paging through catalogs, but 42 years of familiarity should help me pick just the right thing.

C’est la vie.

Head out on the highway…

I will remember 2019 as the year of the road trip. I have logged many hours and miles across Pennsylvania and Ohio and down to Washington D.C. I spent time with my sister and my mother-in-law, I connected with an old friend, and spent an almost dangerous amount of time alone with my own thoughts as I drove along I-80. My favorite road trips are definitely ones that include time with my grandchildren and happily our most recent trip was all about the grandkids.

Grandkid palooza started out with a visit with our youngest grandchild, Eleanor. One of the advantages of being the youngest grandchild is inheriting the toys your cousins have outgrown. She was more than happy to be the recipient of a plethora of duplos! Thanks guys.

The other big news in Eleanor’s life is there is now a piano in the home. Grandpa Bud’s piano has arrived at its new home where it will be well loved. I have a strong suspicion that Eleanor and her father will spend many happy hours here.

Then it was on to Maryland to visit our grandsons and celebrate their parents’ 14th wedding anniversary. Life has been beyond busy for all the adults involved so we decided to keep it simple and order pizza for dinner. I did want a way to involve my grandsons in the celebration of their parents anniversary so I decided to bake a cake and teach them how to make a heart shape out of a square and a circle. I arrived in Maryland with my cakes ready to roll. I asked the boys what the official symbol of love is and they replied it was a heart. Since I had baked a square and a circle ,I asked them how were we going to get a heart. They were all set to do some “cake carving” but as soon as I cut the circle in half they knew what to do to make the square into a heart. They then got busy making some banners and cards to decorate our masterpiece.

Sam in creative mode.

I was a little surprised when the nine-year old twins started talking to me about doing a crumb coat on the cake! Kids Baking Championship has given them the lingo but they may still need to fine tune their technique. Nonetheless, their parents were delighted with the heartfelt, finished project. And yes, I too believe their parents were meant for each other.

We ended the evening with a fire in the new fire pit. The night was clear and cool with the smell of wood smoke in the air. The perfect end to a fine day.

Before we knew it we were off to the land of girls. Elliot and Becky headed out for 24 hours of R&R and Mr. Smith and I settled in with Olivia, Emily and Elizabeth. First on the agenda was taking the girls to dance class. While we spent many years hauling boys to karate, taking girls to dance class is a new adventure for Mr. Smith and me. Elizabeth may not have all the moves down pat, but she’s full of enthusiasm and cute as a button.

After lunch at Pizza Hut, it was back home for an afternoon of crafting. We made cinnamon applesauce cut outs that are making the house smell cozy and festive.

Is it Emily or R2 D2???
Crafting is messy work!

While our cutouts were in the oven, the girls moved on the creating some adorable masterpieces from a Cheerful Chipmunks Kit. They’re pretty sure their parents will be impressed with their creativity.

Tomorrow Mr.Smith and I will head back to Pennsylvania and settle back into our daily routines, all the while cognizant that Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. Wilkes Barre has already started decorating for the holidays, taking advantage of a mild day last week to put up festive wreaths. Soon the tree in the town square will be up and the holiday fairs and celebrations will be in full swing. My goal is to embrace the season and savor the moments and not get caught up in my to-do list. I will play my favorite Christmas music while I wrap gifts and bake Christmas treats. I will light candles, add some Christmas greens and sip a glass of wine. I’m 64 years old and know that “perfection” is highly overrated. What’s not overrated is holiday fun with friends and family and I plan to have some fun.

C’est la vie.

Ready, set, Christmas…

With my sister visiting, we’ve been in a few stores this week and it’s obvious the holidays are coming.  While not yet in its usual overwhelming presence, evidence is popping up everywhere. Thanksgiving turkeys are sharing display space with elaborate Christmas ornaments, dishes and linens, holiday cards and wrappings, and my mailbox is overrun with holiday catalogs trying to entice me to choose their wares.

Thanksgiving is unusually late this year as the fourth Thursday falls on the 28th, making Christmas three and a half weeks later.  As someone who particularly likes the holiday of Thanksgiving, I don’t want it to get lost in the Christmas frenzy.  My plan to save Thanksgiving is to be organized with regard to Christmas. 

  1.  Before November 1, I will make a list of lucky people who are on my gift list, as well as ideas for presents.  I will not get caught up in the material trappings and will keep to my budget. I WILL WRAP EACH GIFT AS IT IS PURCHASED.
  2. I will purchase and address my holidays cards early.  Although it seems we receive less and less cards each year, I still love finding those greetings in my mailbox and will continue to send them as long as I can.
  3. In early November, I will pull out my Christmas trimmings and check for anything that needs attention. Even though I do less holiday decorating these days, I still enjoy creating a festive atmosphere. My turkeys will make an appearance in early November and the Santas will come out the day after Thanksgiving.
  4. The first week in November, I will start planning our holiday menus and organizing the recipes.  I will shop ahead for the staples, simplifying my time in the grocery starting Thanksgiving week through the New Year.
  5. I will put aside my obsessive nature, not worry about perfection and practice enjoying every fun, noisy, delicious and messy moment of time with friends and family.
And to all a good night…

C’est la vie.