Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Last of the Christmas Blog Prompts

I did my best to keep up with all the blog prompts leading up to Christmas, but as I got closer to the big day things got hectic. Now I am sitting here eating the last of the Watergate Salad. Winston is happily munching on meatballs and asking Santa to extend the festival of food. So I thought I would catch up with the last few prompts.

Parties! I have to admit in my lifetime I have been to many Christmas parties - neighborhood, office, family, friends, clubs. Good ones, bad ones! But there is one party I have never attended. The Ugly Christmas Sweater Party! Yup, it's true. I have sold hundreds of Ugly Christmas Sweaters on eBay over the last 7 years. I have shipped them all over the world. I can tell you that pastel sweaters will go to France. Any plaid on the sweater and it is headed for Canada. I have sent sweaters to television stations, the set of Twilight, and Washington D.C. I can spot one at a garage sale from the street. I know what neighborhoods they live in. Many years ago, when I worked the holidays at the Lion Store, I even sold them when they were new. I wore them on Christmas Eve when they were in fashion. I gave them as Christmas presents. But, no, I have never been to one single Ugly Christmas Sweater Party.

Christmas Wishes! I had one wish come true this year. I successfully made the Frozen Lemon Dessert. Talk about labor intensive! Now I know why the aunts only made that once a year. My wish for a white Christmas didn't come true. Could be because we broke the snow machine last year. Any other wishes I might have would of course involve finding illusive ancestors.

Christmas Homecoming! Yes, we finally did. This was the third Christmas without Chuck. I have no idea why it took so long and I have no idea what the problem was. It just happened. We all got together for a noisy, fun filled Christmas Eve. Maybe it is what they call the "new normal." If any of you are in this transition period, trust that it will pass. Life goes on.

The Meaning of Christmas! It is different for everyone depending on your religion and age. Little kids -- Santa! Teenagers -- a seat at the adult table (and realizing that the kid's table was so much more fun). New parents -- the beginning of a whole new adventure. Grandparents -- a time to sit back and watch all the fun. Senior citizens -- life's lessons learned and miracles recognized.

And this Christmas Eve?  No one wore an Ugly Christmas Sweater although my daughter did give me an Ugly Christmas Sweater Card that plays music. We didn't care that we did not have snow. We remembered Christmas past but celebrated in the present. And, it meant something different to everyone of us, from 1 year old Willie to 70+ year old Grandma.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Looks Can Be Deceiving!!

My best Christmas gift was not one that I received, but one that I gave. It arrived early and came straight from the North Pole by special delivery. After Christmas it went back to the North Pole. The next year after Thanksgiving it appeared again and created an enormous amount of mischief until Christmas Eve when it headed back home with Santa.

Yup, you're right. She is Elf on the Shelf. She has been known to paint noses and consume cookies while all were nestled snug in their beds. She was the one who TP'ed the Christmas tree and made a bed out of marshmallows. She skied down the stairs, rode on the ceiling fan, wrote messages on everyone's forehead while they were sleeping and then poured salt all over everything so it looked like snow.

When I first saw her at Barnes & Noble I thought she was so cute and innocent. I could picture her sitting on a shelf during the holidays watching the kids so they would stay out of trouble and off of Santa's naughty list. Ho! Ho! Ho! That seemed to be in her job description. Was I wrong or what? 

I bought her, wrapped the box in white paper with bright red ribbon and added a card from Santa for the little kids. I put the box on the front porch. One of the older kids went outside and rang the doorbell. Another one looked out the window and claimed to see Rudolph flying away from the house. The youngest kids ran outside and found the box. And then the fun began It was a total success. Dani named the little eLf Blink. They played with her and went to bed. 

The next morning they woke up and found out that their toenails were painted, even the boys!! And that was just the beginning! Every year she creates more mischief and every year the family welcomes her back for the holidays with open arms and love.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Oh, the recipes we have been through over the years on Christmas Eve.

For a long time the aunts always made a special frozen lemon desert for the holidays. It had a vanilla wafer crust. It was prepared and poured into a covered refrigerator pan and placed in the freezer. It was unbelievably good. For years I tried to make this desert and it just never turned out right. So I finally quit trying. Today I went to the store and got the ingredients. I have been studying the recipe and I think I know what I did wrong. Only time will tell.

Over the years, looking back on all the Christmas Eve family parties, there were always special recipes. The one that I think has lasted the longest and really needs to be retired is the Green Bean Casserole. I personally am getting tired of making it and I know a lot of people who really don't want to see it on the table any more.

Remember the Overnight 7 Layer Salad? That was the lettuce, peas, green pepper, onion, mayo, cheese and bacon combination that sat in the frig overnight and transformed into this wonderful salad that was big enough to feed an army. We all have one relative who was known for bringing this dish to the annual party. Eventually it faded away and made room for another popular salad -- Watergate Salad.

The Watergate Salad originated at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. It is a combination of pistachio pudding, pineapple, marshmallow and nuts. It is perfect for Christmas because it is green and is best served in a bright red bowl. Very festive and, also, still very popular. . . . although probably not at the Nixon family festivities.

And let's not forget all the dips we went through. Dill, dried beef, spinach, and curry. They were pretty good and I wouldn't be opposed to some of those coming back. For the last several years we have replaced them with meatballs in a chilli sauce and grape jelly mixture, cocktail sausages with BBQ sauce) and hot wings. Occasionally someone would bring a Layered Mexican Dip.

We have been through roast turkey, baked ham, sloppy joes, and meat trays for the main dish. In our 20's we did the turkey. Now in our 70's we do the meat tray or just snacks and Christmas cookies.

It seems the older we got, the less labor intensive Christmas became and over the years the older family members reluctantly turned the work over to the younger ones. It was always hard to make that transition. Grandma didn't want to give it up and the daughters weren't sure they could fill the shoes of the older generations. Each time we switched we got new dishes and lost old ones. Some of the recipes were saved, but for some reason they didn't taste right. Like something was missing. And, yes, we are very aware that the aunts were known for leaving out a key ingredient when they gave the secret recipe to a friend. But they wouldn't do that to us. Or would they?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What A Difference A Day Makes!

The only times when I have had to travel out of town for Christmas, it has been to go to Florida. One year when I was very young my parents thought it would be fun to go to Florida for the holidays. That turned out to be a huge mistake. Instead of spending Christmas Eve with my mom's crazy family we headed for Daytona Beach. The only thing I remember that year was sitting in a restaurant on Christmas Day with no snow and lots of tears. We packed up and headed home right after breakfast. 

Many, many years later my husband decided to get an early start on our annual trek to Fort Myers Beach, Florida, so we left on Christmas Day. That wasn't quite so bad. We had our Christmas Eve with the family. Then we finished packing the car and went to sleep early like we were little kids waiting for Santa. 

Traveling was great. We had I-75 all to ourselves. Of course we did, the sane people were home with their families celebrating Christmas. It was a lonely day with more than a few regrets. But the next afternoon we crossed the Florida/Georgia border and the next day we were on the beach with old friends at the condo. Life was good! Then in February we reversed that and went home to Christmas. To a fully decorated house and 4,000 tiny little outside lights. That was the last time we did that!

So what difference does a day make? A huge difference when it is Christmas and you aren't with friends and family?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas 11, 12 and 13!!

The next three prompts find me sitting here staring at my laptop. Obviously a Christmas writer's block. It's not that we didn't go to church on Christmas Eve or eat fruitcake or have programs at school. It's just that nothing stands out.

Well, maybe the fruitcake thing! Just recently a local bakery posted on Facebook that they found the their old fruitcake recipe from back in the 1960's. My first thought was "better the recipe than the actual fruitcake!" Every Christmas my parents used to receive fruitcakes. They came in beautiful tins with bows and trimmings. And every year we put them out for the Christmas Eve party hoping that someone would eat them. When it got time to go home we would try to sneak out and leave them behind. Somehow they would be in the trunk when we got home. They last for a long time. Too long! I have heard that some people actually do eat them. Over time though they magically disappear - just in time for the new batch to arrive. I don't allow them in my house!

Back to church. I can remember my mom talking about going to the Lutheran Church on Broadway on Christmas Eve where the service was in German. I vaguely recall going to at least one of those services when I was just a tot. I didn't get it back then because I was too young to understand the value of knowing how your ancestors lived. Today I think it would a very special treat to be able to do that.

As for Christmas at school, the only thing I remember is making those paper chains for the tree. And then there were the snowflakes where you folded the paper and started cutting. Mine never came out right. I'd rather buy my ornaments, thank you very much. 

My kids and grandkids got to shop at school. I always thought that was such a great idea. The kids were always so proud of their purchases and couldn't wait for their parents and grandparents to open their presents.

Well, there you have it. Maybe I was wrong. I guess I didn't have as much of a block as I thought. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas Traditions

Well I guess that the Christmas Crafts post gave away the secret of our family's Christmas Traditions. That would be all those stockings hanging on the mantle. That is probably the biggest tradition.

And then there is the tradition that my oldest granddaughter and I started about 10 years ago. That is the hundreds of lights that cover my shrubs and pine trees out in the yard. *You will happy to know that someone must have found the bad bulb and replaced it. The road and the cul-de-sac are now shining brightly with thousands of Christmas lights.

And lets not forget Tom and Jerry, both the drink and the cousins.

Then there is the cookie recipe. It was my mom's and I don't know if it goes any further back. Every year my son, daughters, and I make those cookies. One year I even made a batch for a friend of mine who was going to a cookie exchange in Florida. I packed them in marshmallows, threw in a few packs of hot chocolate, and sent them on their merry way. I am sure as my grandchildren grow up and move away they will take the recipe with them and, with a dozen kids, that will really spread the recipe around.

Christmas Crafts

I have one Christmas craft. Christmas stockings.

Everyone in the family has a homemade stocking. If you are born into the family, you get your very own stocking once you turn one year old. If you marry into the family you get your stocking after the wedding. If you leave the family, we recycle your stocking after the divorce.

I created the very first stocking for my son from a pattern I found at a local fabric store. After my first daughter was born I decided to make her a stocking so I created the  pattern for that one and that started the tradition that has lasted for over 40 years.

When I remarried I made a stocking for myself and one for my husband. When our daughter was born I made one for her. For a long time we had only five stockings hanging from the mantle. That worked just fine.

Then the grandchildren arrived -- an even dozen and we started running out of room on the mantle.

We made room on the mantle by recycling a few stockings much to our regret. But that is life. Stockings come and stockings go.

This year I am making Willie's stocking. He is the youngest grandchild and I have to admit I am running out of ideas. I will let you know how that turns out.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Shopping in Toledo

Back in the 1940's before there were malls, we went to downtown Toledo, Ohio to do our Christmas shopping.

GADS! It was cold and windy. To this day I still remember the wind tunnel that you entered when you left Lamson's and headed for the Spitzer Arcade and LaSalles. There were people rushing here and there all over the streets of downtown Toledo. That was Christmas. And when I think about those days I can still feel that cold wind that blew down the street between Lamson's and LaSalles. You would walk out of Lamson's and the wind would just smack you in the face and whisk you down the street. And then one day the Mall was born. It would never be the same again.

Several malls were built in the area and the Lion Store became the big anchor store. We all shopped there and eventually we all worked there during the holidays. I am not sure how that started but I know it had something to do with a "discount." It was a great place to be at Christmastime. 

We shopped while we worked. We got the discount. If we were lucky and we had a wrapping station in the department, we could be all wrapped and tree-ready by the time we left work. It was a sisterhood. There was a dress code so eventually we all started to dress alike. Other stores in the mall recognized us and gave us another discount. It was fun. It was merry. We all loved going to work every day. And the store had on fantastic Christmas Party for all of the employees. Each year we got a new coffee cup. My collection sits in the kitchen cabinet. On Christmas Eve it ended and we went back to our normal lives.

Then one day the Lion Store closed. Another store took its place but no one went to work there during the holidays. It just wasn't the same. The Lion Store was locally owned; the new store was a national chain. 

I believe if the Lion Store were still alive today, we would all still be working there. Of course we would all be in our 70's and a little bit slower. And they would have to provide chairs for us to sit and rest a bit. We might get a little cranky with each other. But the wonderful spirit of that locally owned store would still be there. 

I think I can speak for everyone of us when I say "We miss you Lion Store."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas Movies

The next post is Christmas movies. All I can say is, I am addicted to sappy Christmas movies. I can't wait for them to begin in the fall and in January I hate to see them leave. I am talking about all the ones on tv. I love watching each and every one of them over and over and over.

Of course you all know by now that Charlie Brown's Christmas influenced my choice of Christmas trees.

But on Christmas Eve when the family arrives there are two movies that have become a tradition in my home. Christmas Vacation and Elf.

Cousin Eddie Sweater. Moose Eggnog cups. The Yuppie Neighbors.

Syrup on Spaghetti. The Best Cup of Coffee. "Call me an elf one more time."

But still there is one little movie from years ago when my kids were younger that I still love to watch. Benji's Very Own Christmas Story. It is sweet and it shows Santa as he is all over the world. You can find it on line and it doesn't cost much. I highly recommend that you spend the few dollars it costs to purchase the movie. 


It is Pronounced Santa Claus. Not Santy!!

By now you all know that I had two cousins. Brothers. Who were named after the Christmas drink Tom & Jerry. We were the three youngest in the family and actually they were my 2nd cousins. All the rest of our cousins were considerably older than us. My mom was the youngest of seven children which is the reason for the extreme age difference. 

Over the years Tom, Jerry and I became more like brothers and sister. We all went to high school together. We all hung out together outside of the family parties. And eventually my husband and Jerry became great friends. 

Despite the fact that we were cousins we were always called "aunt and uncles by our children. Over the years the original Rochte family split into new family groups as all families do. Like the branches of a family tree spread in different directions. But for some reason, Tom, Jerry, and I stayed together even though we descended from two different branches.

Now both Tom and Jerry have passed away and I miss them both very much.

However, I do remember one particular Christmas Eve party at my Aunt Maire's house when I wished both of them would have never been born!! And it involved Santa Claus!!

Tom and Jerry had been in trouble with the Aunts ever since they opened their presents. I, as usual, was the perfect little angel -- kissing up to the Aunts every chance I got. I knew how to play the game. 

In those days the Aunts had huge dining room tables. A Florida condo would fit in the space those tables took up. My aunts always had tablecloths on those tables. It was a great place to beat up a cousin without getting caught. 

Somehow on that Christmas Eve the Aunts figured out I was missing in action. And they rescued me. 

This is what happened: 
Tom and Jerry got in a lot of trouble with the Aunts.
The Aunts took their new Christmas toys away and hid them. 
When my cousins wanted to know what happened to their toys, the Aunts told them Santa Claus took them away. 

Unfortunately for me the Aunts didn't say Santa Claus. They said Santy. 
Santy  sounds like Sandy (my name) and that gave my cousins a really good excuse to beat the snot out of me underneath Aunt Maire's dining room table.

Back in those days many people referred to Santa Claus as Santy. A lot of time it sounded like Sanny without the T. I can remember hearing "Sanny Claus. To this day I don't know why. I haven't heard the term in years. I might not even be aware of the pronunciation if it were not for the life-threatening situation that I was in at the time.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Our Special Family Christmas Drink Recipe

The 5th prompt on the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories is about Christmas recipes. It is my favorite so far because it allows me to tell one of my favorite stories about my mom's crazy family. It is bittersweet however, because there are only two of us left now who remember this wonderful group of people-- me and one of my older cousins. 
                                      *  *  *  *  *  *        
My family always made a special drink for Christmas Eve back in the days when the whole family still got together. It was called a Tom and Jerry. It is a combination of raw eggs, sugar, butter, cloves, and nutmeg plus rum, brandy, or whiskey. It is sort of like hot chocolate for adults without the chocolate! It is not Eggnog. Never was; never will be. It is served hot! It is smoother and you can drink a lot more of it and my family did. 

The Tom and Jerry originated in the mid 1850's and was not named after the cartoon cat and mouse. It was a very popular drink well into the 1950's. I think it must have been replaced by Eggnog for some reason. Possibly it was too labor intensive and it does contain raw eggs. I still have a few of my mom's set of Tom & Jerry cups. Yes, you drank it from special cups with the name "Tom & Jerry" in gold on the front. 

My mom and her sisters always took turns having Christmas Eve. I was just a little girl with two cousins who were close to my age. The family was made up of my parents, three sets of aunts and uncles. four sets of married cousins, plus us three little kids. We had a ball. It was always a lot of fun -- probably due to the Tom & Jerry's. 

I was the oldest of the young cousins and for a few years it was just me and one other cousin who was four months younger than me. Then one Christmas Eve a miracle happened. My cousin's mom went into labor. Of course, all the adults had been drinking Tom & Jerry's so they had to go through the whole group until they found someone who was sober enough to drive the expectant couple to the hospital. They picked my uncle who was a policeman!

As the three of them were leaving for the hospital someone yelled, "Hey, if it's a boy name him Jerry." That made perfect sense. You see my other cousin's name was Tom and it had suddenly dawned on my family that if they named his new brother Jerry we would always have Tom & Jerry's for Christmas.

It was a boy, born on Christmas Eve and they did name him Jerry!! 

Even after we no longer made the drink for Christmas Eve and the special cups were packed away in the attic, we could still celebrate with Tom and Jerry  every Christmas.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Christmas Lights - When One Goes Out, They All Go Out!

Nothing says Christmas like a bunch of tiny bright lights. But when one goes out they all go out and that seems to be what has happened in my "neck of the woods" this year. Last year the majority of the houses on the cul-de-sac next to my house were beautifully decorated. And a good of portion of the houses on the country road where I live sparkled with decorations of all sorts and kinds. This year all is dark except for my house where everything that doesn't move gets lit up! 

Every year for the ten years I have lived here my granddaughter has helped me put up the Christmas lights. It has achieved official tradition status over the years. I have six huge Christmas trees that my husband put along the driveway when we moved here. They were intended for privacy but look great with lights of red, green, blue, multicolor and clear. Every year they get taller and we add more lights. 

But the rest of the street and the road are dark. I can't figure out what went wrong. We have a great electric company and the rates are very low so it can't be that. Gas prices are way down so it doesn't cost that much to fill up the car. Kroger is almost out of lights on its shelves so they must have gone somewhere. Not here though. If you go across the line into the county next door almost every house is decorated. But as soon as you cross the county line back to where I live, the lights go out. 

Food prices here have skyrocketed and Kroger dropped its double coupon policy. That could be it. Maybe it is a choice between the Christmas feast or Christmas lights. How sad. Let's hope it's not due to a lack of Christmas Spirit too. 

Or possibly somewhere a couple miles down the road, one light went out and they all went out. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Grandma and the Reindeer

My mother hated the song "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer". She actually called a radio station and ripped them to pieces for playing the song.It was the most embarrassing moment for me and my family -- EVER!

It was like. "Mom it is a joke." 

"It's a  song."

"Don't take it personally."


Guess who takes it personally now!

First of all, I don't have blue hair. Actually it is a rather beautiful shade of grey. 

Should we open up her gifts or send them back? That is very offensive. At the time I thought it was funny. Not so much any more. I get what upset my mom. I have to admit that now I change the station when I hear this song. But, also, I rarely hear it any more. Thank goodness. Perhaps too many grandmothers complained!

So here is my list of my favorite Christmas songs.

#1. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, Gayle Peevey
#2. Wonderful Christmastime, Paul McCartney
#3. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Barenaked Ladies
#4. White Christmas, The Drifters
#5. My Grown Up Christmas List, Kelly Clarkson 

And anything Peter Paul and Mary!

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Christmas Card Wreath

If the ghost of Christmas Past were to visit me in the middle of the night, she would take me back to the days of the Christmas card. And yes, it would be a she because it has always been the wife's job to send out the annual Christmas card. Or worse, the dreaded Christmas letter. 

I no longer send out cards because I finally realized the only reason people were sending me cards was because I had sent them a card, and they were only returning the favor. So it didn't really mean anything.

But I have a metal wreath frame that holds cards and eventually turns into a huge Christmas wreath. I have a dresser drawer filled with old  cards from Christmas Past and I use those old Christmas cards to create a wreath of memories from days gone by. The best part is getting the cards out and reading the names of friends and family who are no longer with us. And yes, I do include those crazy Christmas letters.

To be honest with you, I miss making out that Christmas card list. Updating all the addresses. Spending hours sitting at the dining room table addressing envelopes. Sealing envelopes. Applying stamps. Going to the post office.

I would love to do it all again but it has lost its meaning. I would love to send a Christmas  card to someone but I don't want them to feel obligated to return the favor.

The Perfect Christmas Tree!

Long before the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree was introduced to the world of television in 1965, my uncles had the yearly task of creating the perfect Christmas tree. I don't know for sure, but I think they were in direct competition with each other. It was a long drawn-out procedure that involved saws, drills and extra tree limbs. 

If you are picturing a bunch of grown men drilling holes in the trunk of an evergreen tree, you're headed in the right direction. They filled in the "holes" in the tree by inserting additional tree limbs in the holes in the trunk. The result was a beautiful, full, live --  but somewhat "artificial" Christmas tree. The ornaments didn't "hang" on the tree. Instead, they sort of laid on the tree.

The whole process took a couple of nights to complete. It was slow, tedious, and especially annoying for me and my cousins who were waiting to decorate the trees. And, I might add -- not patiently. 

This contest ended with the advent of the aluminum artificial tree. My aunts had a lot to do with that. They weren't too thrilled with the annual tree contest either. Now the tree was stored in a box in the attic. It was silver and came with a light wheel that made the tree change colors throughout the evening. It didn't really look like a Christmas tree but it could be up and running within an hour. By this time the uncles were enjoying television and they were more than willing to put an end to the contest. 

Years later,  when my kids were little, I decided to go in the opposite direction and we went to the tree lot to look for a tall, skinny, ugly Christmas tree. Like a Charlie Brown Tree. The owner of the lot was really glad to see me and he disappeared to the back of the lot and returned with my "perfect" tree. Everyone thought I was nuts until the tree was decorated. It turned out to be beautiful. The ornaments "hung" on the tree for once and you could see the beauty of each and every one. 

After my late husband and I were married, I dragged him to the tree lot and embarrassed him by requesting my tall, skinny, ugly tree. He had a fit, to put it mildly, and my kids thought it was funny. Of course, he changed his mind after the tree was decorated and he became a fan too. 

Now I still have the same kind of tree 40 years later, only it is my grandkids who think grandma's off her rocker. Of course the tree is artificial now and lives in the spare bedroom from February to November. 

Christmas trees have come a long way since the 1940's. We still have the real ones but I don't know anyone who "creates" the perfect tree with a drill and spare branches any more. Most people my age have artificial trees and they stand in a basement, garage, or spare room when not decorated. We leave the real tree hassle to the younger generation and we reminisce about the "old days".