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There we were, just this New Year’s Eve morning, sitting upon the couch watching “Razzle to Dazzle: Hair”, a fashion segment on the Today Show.  One of those trendy hairstyles, adorned by some starlet or other, to top off one’s New Year’s Eve “do”, was being fashioned. This was a braided assembly that looked rather like the one pictured here in Vilhelm Hammershoi’s painting; a braided crown all squished and tousled and Pippi Longstocking-ish – until the icing on the hairball, er hairdo, which was a spritz (or two or three) of spray glitter.

Actually, the glitter looked like a bit of fun, which I said aloud, and my dear husband countered, “Yeah, like Tan . . . “! and I took the rest of the words right out of his mouth.

Dear reader, by now you must know that there is always another story in my apron pocket. A story to amaze, astonish, astound. A Perils of Penelope sort of December tale.

So, it begins, as many fairy tales begin, with . . .

Once upon a time, a frazzled young mother of two was breathlessly primping. She had endured a full day of Saturday chores; Christmas preparations, ballet class for one,  a new pair of shoes for the other (or some such scenario), along with finding a present for a holiday Rotary gift exchange at the annual party that evening.

Those Rotary Christmas parties were fun, though we often huffed and puffed to get there. Tom’s Rotary Club was small, but, they did amazing things to provide scholarship and local community support, as well as contribute to the bigger Rotarian agenda across the globe. Their annual Christmas party was usually held at a member’s home and was filled with good cheer, good food, lively conversation, and fellowship.

After my hectic day, I took a shower and went through the rituals of getting all “dolled up” for the party. My holiday shoes, which are depicted here, were waiting for me to slip my tired toes into, as well as a glittery accoutrement of some sort to dazzle my ears or my neckline. Is this beginning to sound Cinderalla – ish?

All clean and scented, I dried and curled my hair in that ‘pouf of a do” that was popular in the Dallas decade of fashion. Our daughters, so young, marched in and out with questions and pleas and the sort of interruptions that youngsters are apt to bring when mothers are in their own frenzied moments. Finally, all gussied up, I sprayed my locks in place and went to our room to get dressed.

I did wonder an aside to myself about why the hair spray had a different fragrance – and why my hair was still a bit wet.

I wondered, but carried on, all dressed up with somewhere to go, when Tom came in, holding a spray can, wondering, innocently, aloud “Was someone using this?”.

He saw the look of panic on my face, the unnatural sheen on my crown of flagging curls, and smelled the encroaching scent of a stable.

With no time to lose, we needed to get out the door, for we were bringing appetizers. Near tears, I thought of employing the hair drier, but, really, would my hair dry or catch on fire? I determinedly combed down my mane, now sleek and shiny, and out the door we trotted.

My friends, I smelled like a manger. My hair shone like never before. I glowed.

While no one cared to sit next to me, they relished the tale as I told it. Tom kept his distance, knowing he would have to take his old mare home, hoping she wasn’t combustible. As we all ate and imbibed and participated in the gift grab bag game, a few women quietly queried where they could buy Tan Your Hide* – which was originally purchased to clean a leather purse, but, ended up not on some hide but in my hair. Really, friends, this is how fast celebrity status happens.

Antler Man and My Pretty Pony on a carpet of snow.

So, dear ones, as I turn my back on 2014, it is with the wishes of a happy and healthy New Year to you, and that may you always find a reason to laugh.

*(Tan Your Hide was an aerosol product used for cleaning leather products.)

Unknown

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shoppingMy earliest childhood memories are muted in black and white with my cousin Ted nearby. He was a constant playmate in the large brick two-flat in which our family lived. The house on Congress Street was filled with family; aunts and uncles and cousins, my parents and sister, and my Yia Yia.  The photos are many of Teddy and Penny with Christmas presents, sitting on Santa’s lap at Marshall Field’s, and some with a Christmas tree in the background.

There are stories, too, of Christmases past, especially the one where my dad conjured up Santa Clause talking to Teddy and me through the heating ducts.  “Penny. Teddy.” the voice boomed.  “Have you been good?“, our toddler heads pumping yes up and down like bobble headed dolls. The masterful storytellers that wove the stories year after year are now long gone, but the tales, they linger on.

That magical junction where Christmas memories become my own merge in our small house on Harrison Street in Maywood. The lively cast of characters still played their roles, but, in separate houses next to each other, with my Yia Yia living in our house.

The magic of Christmas began in the early morning under the same Congress Street Christmas tree, which followed us to the suburbs. The tree has a story of her own that I will tell one day.

On Christmas morn, at the foot of tree, were two felt stockings, their toes rounded and plump with an orange in each toe; one stocking for my sister and one for me. Inside the stockings were trinkets befitting young girls of the 1950’s; a necklace or bracelet, a candy cane, a toy. My stocking was decorated in pink with a ballerina appliqué on it; proof that Santa has a sense of humor.

It did not really matter to me what my stocking held. What mattered was that the stocking appeared each year – and that it was filled to bulging with a fragrant orange.  We had those stockings every Christmas Day in the morning throughout my childhood. As we grew older, the stockings were filled with other small treasures, evolving as we did, until they held such things as lip gloss and oval, plastic eggs holding Legg’s pantyhose.

What I remember the most, however, are the oranges and it is oranges (or tangerines or Clementines these days that evoke Christmas memories in me.

Ma gave each of us our Christmas stockings to keep when we were on our own. When Tom and I married, I bought us new, matching stockings that we would fill for each other. How fun it would be to come home from work or awake in the morning to find our stockings a little fuller as the days until Christmas neared. What could that little wrapped box mean? or that odd shaped tissue paper lump?

When our children came along, they each had a stocking of their own, which, each in their turn was filled as well. When they became engaged, a Christmas stocking appeared for each of our then future sons-in-law, and those stockings followed each couple into their own marriages.

The constant in my Christmas stocking(s) has always been an orange; with its taste and scent and nostalgia. Besides, how else does that toe in the stocking become full?

Addition to post:  Teddy and Penny on Santa’s lap in Marshall Fields. dscn6409

There is a heartwarming and sensitive movie; which is sometimes sad and harsh,  but always hopeful, called Christmas Oranges.  Have you seen it?

 

 

 

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Say, di ‘ja ever come down an old stair well

‘n shiver from your head to your toes
While your Pop shook up the fire
‘n your Mom warmed up your clothes?

Then have your eyes jump with surprise
As you looked beneath the tree
‘n everyone shoutin’ and hollerin’ around
‘n the whole house filled with glee?

Did ‘ja ever know how good an orange tastes,
when you ain’t had on fer a year;
Then find one in your stockin’, with a note,
“For Sonny dear?”

. . . from the poem, Country Christmas, by Cody Paige, which can be found in its entirety here.

Do you come from a tradition of Christmas stockings? Did your stocking, or your children’s, have an orange in it, or, nuts in their shells? Do you put out oranges, or any fruit, as part of your seasonal celebrations?

 

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Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!

Ah, but I did catch him. I spied him hiding in between vintage china and gently used baubles on a table in one of the booths of the La Grange Antique Mall, looking DSCN6955 - Version 2rather handsome with a plaid ascot around his chubby brown neck. Right then and there, before he could run away, I snatched him up, thinking he might feel right at home on a plaid tablecloth tucked in away in drawer.

As I roamed about the mall, I eyed a small plastic bag filled with tiny boxes wrapped in plaid paper and gold ribbon and an idea for a holiday tablescape was born.Santa holding gingerbread

Over the next few weeks, as I wrapped presents, baked goodies, adorned the trees and tabletops, little bits of plaid pleasure emerged, including a box that Dottie and Rick gave us last Christmas, with a Santa glittered and garbed in PLAID! It wasn’t until I placed the jolly old elf on the table that I realized he was carrying two gingerbread men.

How fortunate it was to then remember a simple candle idea I had actually bookmarked. I mentioned it to my Antler Man whose mind was in sync with mine. Lickety split, up he came from the root cellar, carrying a box of small canning jars.

Penelope's ProgressOn and on it went; Penelope’s progress in pursuit of plaid. The cloth was laid and a cookie tin appeared. Cranberries rolled out of the refrigerator. The little plaid napkins I purchased at T.J. Maxx for half off of half off of the price some long ago Christmas past found their way to the table as well.

The pièce de résistance was to be had among my collection of Penny Books. Rather vain, I know, but, really, with a name like Penelope, books with my name in the title are few and far between. There, sitting atop my dresser, was none other that “Penelope’s Progress” clothed in a tartan wrap. A bit of irony is that I discovered it many moons ago in very same antique mall where I captured the gingerbread man.

It is nice, is it not, when a little light shines into our lives, gifting us in the simple pleasures among the rescued treasures along this road we call life?

 I hope you all had a merry little Christmas and for those of you celebrating Boxing Day today, enjoyment. Wherever your heart and spirit is, I hope a little light shines – and you catch your own gingerbread man.

Candle Jar

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The first Noel

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the angels did say
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay . . .

We are settling in for a long winter’s nap here on the Cutoff.

It’s been a long day filled with errands laden with Christmas gifts, a stop at the grocers for flowers to freshen an arrangement and fresh vegetables for dinner, setting one table for Christmas Eve dinner and setting another for Christmas day’s.  A delectable supper was had with Jennifer and Jason amid the glow of candlelight. Blessings were given, gifts were exchanged, and the long glow of hope filled the air as Christmas Eve turns into Christmas Day.

To all you who have stopped for a bit, thank you for taking the time to come by.

“God Bless us every one”.    Tiny Tim, “A Christmas Carol”, by Charles Dickens

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DSCN6911Pinching and rolling, as the sweet aroma emanated from the oven, I thought of my childhood, my Yia Yia, and the trail of powdered sugar that has followed me all of my days – and well into Monday night as I baked kourambethes.

Kourambethes are the delectable Greek powdered sugar butter cookies.

As I formed the dough, trying to keep the balls uniform in size, my earliest memories drifted in like the sweet powdered sugar of my childhood home. Many-a-morning,  I would slowly awaken to the distant whir of a motor. Opening my eyes, I would find our bedroom door closed and I would know by the sound that the “mixmaster” was spinning and kourambedes would soon be baked.

My grandmother, Yia Yia,  insisted that the “sweet butter” and confectioner’s sugar be beaten for an hour. I’m sure it heralds back to the time before electric mixers were common appliances and the women took turns hand turning the dough. I know it isn’t really necessary these days, with the power of a KithenAid, but, I beat the butter for an hour just the same.

Yia Yia once sent me to the neighborhood corner store, Fred and Ed’s, for sweet butter, which I could not find.  Returning,  empty-handed, she sent DSCN6902me back. I returned, near tears, Fred telling me he had no such butter. Aunt Christina saw me from her kitchen window; going to the store,  leaving the store, crossing the street, and taking the sidewalk that connected our two houses to our back doors. Back and forth she watched me obediently pass. Her house was the corner house with a clear view to Fred and Ed’s opposite her house.  She finally stopped me and asked what I was doing. “Yia Yia wants sweet butter, they don’t have any, but, she keeps sending me back”. My aunt explained that sweet butter was DSCN6903another name for unsalted butter. She  told me the color of the box I needed to find, then waited for me to once again enter the corner store – and finally finding the sweet butter!

So  . . . back to my baking, pinching and rolling my memories. My handed down recipe for kourambethes calls for a saucer of powdered sugar and 5 or 6 cups of “Swandsdown” cake flour, sifted three times. The only way I can tell if the mixture is ready to bake is to taste a pinched piece. Yia Yia always pinched off a small bit of dough for us to taste as children, and that is my true measure, to this day. Once the dough past the taste-test, the baking began. The scents and flavors of my life wafted from my childhood to that of my daughters, one of whom asked me if I would make kourambethes again. . .

. . . and so, I did. With sweet butter.

Were you ever sent on an errand for an illusive ingredient?

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In the end, it was my fault; totally, completely, undoubtedly my fault.

In the beginning, we were hoping that our Up North family would be able to make the long trek down to the Cutoff for Christmas. On Monday we learned it was not to be with a decision pending on whether or not to hold their Christmas presents until Tom and I could travel to Minnesota or to mail them in time for the little ones to open on Christmas Day.

Like the “Little Engine that Could”, I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could – and I did. On Wednesday, I huffed and puffed, in between making caramels with Jennifer, as I hurriedly wrapped  presents while my Antler Man found a very big box to mail them in. We wiggled (but did not giggle) the gaily wrapped gifts until they fit like a glove into the box and I hastened to the La Grange Post Office, for the second time in as many days.

On Monday, I sent up a box of this and that; shortbread, story books, holiday stickers. The type of package grannies mail for little tykes. While the postal worker weighed the box, I wrote the mailing address from a torn slip of paper onto a shipping label. Signed and sealed, all that was left was for the package to begin its journey and be delivered.

On Wednesday, the postal worker remembered me as I waddled in with a box five times the size of Monday’s. It was one of those rare experiences at Christmastide where there was no line in the post office. Hark and joy and merry, thought I, as Mr. Postman weighed the very big box and I labeled the address from the same slip of paper I previously used, insured the box of gifts, and I headed home with assurances that Katy and Crew would have a box of Christmas by Saturday.

Stay with me, now, for here is where my fable, er foible takes a turn.

On Thursday night, using a tracking number, I checked to verify that package number one had been delivered, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a note in a line atop the package’s course stating it was being returned as there was no such house number.

What?

Now, a package of shortbread and stickers wasn’t all that important when the mother lode of gifts was but two days behind on the holiday trail. Still, I had hoped to send some pre-Christmas cheer to fill the long hours that little ones (and big ones) endure the week before Christmas. It looked like my efforts were foiled. My dear husband and I checked the zip code, the address on the slip of paper that made not one, but two trips to the post office, etc. Why was the box undeliverable?

Perplexed, my sleep was broken on Thursday night for, you see, I had hustled and bustled to get the big box out the door. Would it also be returned, likely on Christmas Eve? Was it now an Elvis song? Return to sender, address unknown, no such number, no such zone?

In the light of day, I put the slip of paper with the address next to our phone directory – and I immediately saw what I hadn’t seen before, proof that I really did have a big birthday undermining my ability to print!  I had transcribed the first two numbers of the address on the slip of paper, which I wrote on not just one, but two packages!

Are you still with me?

Good, because this leads to the angelic part.

I knew that package two was still in transit, thanks to tracking numbers. I called my post office and explained my dilemma. Mr. Postman was kind and said such errors often happened, especially at Christmas time, but, that he could do nothing. He suggested I call the receiving post office in Minnesota – and he gave me the phone number.

Hope.

On the Friday before Christmas, mid-morning, my phone call to Minnesota was answered – on the second ring. Ms. Postwoman listened, patiently, as I described my conundrum. She checked the tracking number, the real address and the transcribed one.  “Ma’am, there is not much we can do, but, I will let the person routing that package  know to see if we can catch it before it goes out on delivery. I can’t promise you, but, we will try.

Our postal service is often maligned, dear ones, but let it be said that come rain or snow or sleet or hail – or a befuddled grandmother – the mail does get through. On Saturday, way Up North, a well-stuffed Christmas box found the right house thanks to some very fine US Postal workers. In the busiest of weeks in the busiest of months, a few kind souls gave me hope on the road called life, and I am very grateful.

The End

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