Sunday, December 30, 2012

Snow, 2013, and Winners

2013. Now that's a number that can make you sit up and take notice. I don't know why, but it just seems more in the future than 2012. Maybe that's because it is - in the future. The year to come. A year full of the unknown. Good unknowns. Perhaps not so good unknowns. Would you like to know what waits for you in the wings of 2013? Do you want to know the future? Or would you rather take each day as it comes? 

I think I'd rather take the days as they come. Of course, I do like looking ahead to see what the weather is going to do. Not that the weather people always get it right. Maybe that's part of the fun of watching the weather - to see if the forecasts happen. Sometimes they don't get it right any better than the wooly worms. I saw this little worm last fall and wasn't sure if it was forecasting a cold winter (all black) or a warm winter (all brown). 

The weather forecasters did get it right Friday. We had snow. Lovely snow. Great snowman making snow for the kids and the young at heart. I'll claim being young at heart for making a little snowman when I went out to clear off my front deck. Turned out to look more like a snow teddy bear, but still fun. I put a picture of it on my Facebook author page. I like a little snow each year. Fun for walking with the dogs, Oscar and Roxie who both like the snow. Fun for taking pictures like the one up top that surprised me with the sun glow.

So I'll just step forward into 2013 taking one day at a time. That's the way we're having to do it with Mom. We never know how she'll be each day. She hasn't felt well this week and it's bothering her sleep. Sometimes she's ready to get up at midnight. Needless to say, I'm not. So I guess we're taking it one night at a time too. Maybe even one hour at a time.

But a new year is a time of promise and hope no matter how you look to the future. And I promised to reveal the winners of my Christmas giveaway today. So drum roll please. I've already contacted them all and have heard back from all but the winner of the first prize. That's Nancy. I know she's in the south, but don't yet know which state or which book she's going to want as her prize. She will get the bookends and that book of her choice. Kristina of VA was the second prize winner. She picked my book, Angel Sister, and two other autographed books - Dark Pursuit by Brandilyn Collins and Troublesome Creek by Jan Watson. The winner of the "never won before" drawing is Dianne C. of Georgia. She gets the cute cat magnets (luckily she says she's a cat lover) and my book, Angel Sister. Then just because, I picked an extra winner, Peggy C. of Iowa. She wants Angel Sister too and I'm throwing in a surprise book for her too. Not sure which one yet, so we may both be surprised. Looks as if Angel Sister was the winner in this giveaway. :) Thanks to all of you who entered the Christmas giveaway contest and especially to those of you who shared your Christmas joys and memories with me. I loved reading about your Christmases. We'll do it again in 2013. I'll be celebrating the re-issue of Scent of Lilacs in March, so watch for a new contest then. If you're signed up for my newsletter, you'll hear about it first. If you're not signed up for the newsletter, you can get on the list by clicking on the newsletter link on my website.

Wishing you a very happy 2013 with a hopeful forecast of blessings each and every day. Thanks for reading!

"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day." ~ Edith Lovejoy Pierce.




Thursday, December 27, 2012

Savoring the Christmas Spirit

Figuring out the nesting Santa puzzle
Christmas Day is past. The kids came, shared lots of laughter, food and fun and then went home. My daughter and her husband and their two dogs just took off about an hour ago. The snow was only a dusting here so no problem for them to go south. 

 Lots of chores waiting for me. Got the dishwasher loaded and clothes in the washer. The floors will have to keep their paw printed pattern at least until tomorrow since I have to go to Mom's soon. The empty boxes are stacked in the corner awaiting a save or pitch decision. There are always chores. Always. But Christmas only comes once a year and I like to hang onto the Christmas spirit as long as possible. At least until the New Year's makes me start making resolutions about getting rid of extra pounds and exercising and sweeping away clutter. 

But for now I've been scrolling back through the special joys and memories so many of you shared with me for my Christmas giveaway. (If you haven't entered yet for the bookends, books and cat magnets, you still can. Send me a message from my website to enter or leave a comment here with a way to contact you. Drawing on Saturday.) 

First as you begin to think about taking down your decorations, I hope you'll remember the joy of putting up your Christmas tree the way Donna H. of Arkansas does here. One of my favorite times during the holiday season is putting up the Christmas tree. Unwrapping each ornament that had so carefully been stored away for the previous 11 months. Childhood memories of making that yarn angel ornament in 5th daughter's laminated construction ornaments from elementary school...the blown glass hummingbirds of my mother's I inherited when she passed...the unique nativity ornaments given to me over the years...the ornaments that commemorate loved ones who are no longer with us...ornaments that remind me to pray for friends & family who are no longer in close contact with us. It is a time to reflect, pray & praise God for the true meaning of Christmas.

I loved this tradition Jolynn's family has. What a great way to remember Christmases past. Here's what she says. One of the favorite things I like about Christmas is writing letters to Santa. We wrote Santa letters while I was young, thanking him for the toys from last year, and asking for a gift that year. We even wrote letters to Santa just for fun, when we were teenagers too, to set an example for the younger siblings. Also because my Mom said if we stop believing, we stop getting gifts from Santa too. We've done the same thing with my 2 kids also. Except that, Santa wrote a letter to them on the back of the paper. My daughter is now 18, and will continue with this Christmas Eve tradition, when she puts the cookies out for Santa too. We've saved most of the letters, and we all like to read through them and laugh.

Michele of Maine shares about the Spirit of Giving, something we need to hang onto all year long. I think what I enjoy most about Christmas is the Spirit of Giving. For the most part it seems people try to be more courteous during the Holidays: they hold doors open or help people with packages, donate to charities, take time to talk to others in shopping lines, etc. It can certainly bring out the worst in some (I've worked in retail customer service for 20 years!) but when you see someone go out of their way to do something special for someone they don't know, it overshadows all the negative aspects.

Marjorie shares a childhood memory that shows how things have changed over the years. I thought that you might enjoy a story from my childhood.  I am 83.  Back then we only had Coke to drink at Christmas. We would receive a coupon  that would enable us to purchase a carton of six small bottle Cokes for $.15, yes, $.15. My Mother didn't like Coke, so I got one, my older brother got two, my Dad got two, and Santa Claus got one. When I realized who actually got that last Coke, I really gave my Dad a hard time, and I teased him about that for the rest of his life. Family and celebrating the reason for Christmas is what it represents to me.

Norma Jean remembers a very special gift and how it helped her give a very special gift the next Christmas. My favorite memory from Christmas is the year I turned 14. I still claimed to believe in Santa even though by then I knew the truth but I subscribed to the theory that Santa is the kindness that everyone does throughout the year. I came downstairs to find my very own sewing machine. Now for an only child with a widowed mom in the late 1960's that was quite a gift when the money was tight and mom was only working part time while I was in school. The next year for Christmas I made her new curtains with that machine and my mowing lawns money, and put them up before she came down Christmas morning. Norma Jean says she still using that sewing machine 53 years later.

And now for some very touching Christmas memories. Lisa S of Nebraska shared a beautiful memory. My best Christmas memory was when I was 5 and my brother 7. My brother and I were adopted and it was our first Christmas with our new family. We went from an orphanage to a huge farm house. Our new parents were so excited to have children at Christmas that they each shopped alone without the other one knowing. We couldn't believe how many presents were under the tree. It was also a surprise to our new parents as well. The previous Christmas we did not get any presents because someone had stolen the presents that were donated, so we weren't expecting much. I remember the smiles on their faces as we opened the presents. The house also had beautiful decorations and traditional Christmas cookies. Our father is now in his 90's and our mother is 7 years younger. I don't know how many more holidays we will have together, but every one has been wonderful because of their caring for someone else's children. Because of great memories, Christmas is my favorite holiday.

Peggy C. had a different experience than Lisa's, but shares how a simple act of giving can make a warm memory that lasts a lifetime. She shared this story with me last year, but that's the great thing about Christmas memories. We never get tired of hearing what makes Christmas special. Here's what Peggy says. I love Christmas as we buy a tree in the container and then plant it on our land where we just built a house in a rural area. Then what I cherish is a Christmas stocking with my name on it that I've had for 50 years. The stocking was given to me by my foster brother's social worker. She brought one for all 15 of us and I love mine. We all were eventually kicked out or sent our own ways as my 1st foster mom died and my foster dad married a woman who didn't want foster kids, only hers. So my grandma adopted me and my foster sister who was the same age as me. That stocking brings back such good memories and also bad, but I will never forget that social worker and that day when she gave me a most cherished item.  

The story Deborah D. of Pennsylvania shared with us reminds us that things can never be as important as our loved ones. My favorite Christmas was in 1982.  My sister at 3 1/2 years old was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor on Nov. 16, 1982.  On November 17, 1982 she underwent emergency surgery to remove the tumor that was the size of a large egg. At that time she was in the hospital for two months. Since Christmas was on a weekend that year the doctor gave her a pass to come home for the weekend but she had to be back in the hospital that Monday. My dad just got laid off from his job and we didn't have a lot of money for Christmas but the best Christmas present I received ever was when my dad pulled in the driveway with my mom & my sister. My sister ended up staying in the hospital for two months and had to get radiation but she came through that scare just fine. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2012. She has to go through Chemo & radiation for this but we are very hopeful that she will get better. (Prayers going up for your sister, Deborah.)

Nancy B. of NY shares some of the best ways to celebrate Christmas. What I like best about Christmas is the tang in the air, the smell of our Pine Trees..the joy I see on my pet’s faces when they get their goodies, and early morning Christmas Mass! My family is budget oriented so hence no big gifts. Happiness is in reading a good book, the family gathered around the table and the joy of being together. To celebrate the Season all it takes is love in your heart.

May the love in your heart let you savor the Christmas Spirit all year long. Did you enjoy reading about the Christmas joys as much as I did? I hope so, and it's not too late for you to share your Christmas joys with us here in your comments.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

One Story Never Gets Old

We had our Christmas program at our little church tonight. First we had a Candlelight service, one of my favorite services of the year, but I missed half the service because I couldn't leave Mom's until my sister came. But I did get to see the kids act out the first Christmas with a little help from some of the adults. I'm thinking our wise men probably hadn't acted out a part in the Christmas play for many, many years, but as our preacher said Sunday "Wise men still seek Him."
One thing about church Christmas pageants, you never know what might happen next. I took advantage of that when I wrote a scene about a church pageant in my Hollyhill book, Summer of Joy. In the story, twin boys are playing sheep. When their mother worries about the boys wandering off or crawling under the pews, Miss Sally, who is in charge of the play, says there are shepherds to keep the sheep in place.  That's where we pick up the action in my book Summer of Joy.
  Of course the little shepherds tripping on their bathrobes and stumbling over their wooden staffs toward the pretend campfire weren't much older than the little lambs. Two of the little shepherds made it to the fire and sat down without a glance at the sheep milling around behind them. The other little shepherd, Jeremy, shoved at the towel that had slipped down over his eyes and fell right over top of one of the twins who was doing some kind of spinning sheep moves in the middle of the aisle with a full chorus of baas. Jeremy fell into the campfire. He jumped back as though the construction paper flames were real, and the towel fell off his head. The other two shepherds tried to help him put it back on, because it was a well known fact that nobody could be a shepherd without a towel on his head.
   Meanwhile the sheep, seeing their chance, took off crawling up the center aisle. One of the little shepherds looked around at the escaping sheep, put his hands on his hips, and announced, "I told Miss Sally we should've had cows instead of sheep."  

Kids and Christmas pageants are always good for a few smiles. Tonight at Goshen was no different with our Mary getting a sudden case of stage fright and retreating to the back room where she stayed the rest of the pageant. So our final manger scene lacked an important person - the mother of Jesus. Then the angel had some problems with her wings and must have decided flying was overrated since she yanked them off and threw them in the manger on top of Baby Jesus. Luckily the little shepherd grabbed them off before any harm was done. A smile a minute.
Many of you who have entered my giveaway have talked about Christmas programs and especially the Christmas Eve candlelight services being one of your favorite ways to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Here are a few of your comments. 
Judy B says  - I love attending Christmas Eve Candlelight services. With the lights in the sanctuary turned off and candles glowing with lighted Christmas trees in the background, soft music the only sound being made. I feel the spirit of God all around. It is so peaceful and stress free. It is like God is reassuring me that everything will be o.k., if I only put my complete faith and trust in Him. The tears silently flow down my face and I am one with God.
Kelli Jo says - Besides giving, what I love about Christmas time is all the activities that take place at my Church – including Midnight Mass!
Lois says - My favorite  thing about Christmas is going to Church on Christmas Eve with my family and then spending time with family on Christmas Day and celebrating Jesus' Birthday.
 Sandra says - Memories are another favorite thing that Christmas brings!  My grandmother never actually gave us things for Christmas, but she would have all the family together and have a huge feast!  And she was a wonderful cook.  She would have us read the Christmas story in the Bible.  We would take turns with all the different verses. 

And, our church used to have a live nativity.  When we were old enough, we would brave the cold and stand as still as possible on the church lawn dressed as shepherds, kings or whatever part we got that year.  I remember one year when we had a live goat, sheep and donkey.  The manger got a little noisy that year!

And, I remember one year I sang a solo of "O, Come All Ye Faithful" in the church choir.  My grandmother's friends told my mom that I was an angel.  She didn't exactly agree. 

I LOVE Christmas, and it's fun to think about Christmas past! 
My name is Annette and what I like best about Christmas is all the joy and the feeling that everyone knows everyone else, even if you don't and it is only for a short time. It shows that no matter what our differences are, we are still able to get along and be that one big universal  family and make sure that all of us have that hope, joy, love and that we have some peace versus none.
Thanks for stopping by during this busy time of the year. Hope you are enjoying the shared stories and feeling that hope and peace Annette talked about. If you haven't already entered my Christmas giveaway, you still can by leaving a comment here or sending me an e-mail from my website. What memories of joy do you have from Christmases past?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Jesus in the Center

I like Nativity Sets. I have three. One in minature, one that my daughter gave me several years ago that is fragile, and one that's made of wood so the grandkids can arrange the figures to their hearts' content. One of my granddaughters set up the one in the picture. She has all the people, and the animals too, pushing in close to better see the Baby Jesus. That was what the writer of the devotional on the back of our bulletin said we needed to remember - to keep Christ in the center and our eyes on Him. 

It's been a weekend of tears. There are no words to ease the despair most of us have been feeling since the terrible school shooting as we thought of those children so senselessly murdered and the teachers and workers giving their lives to try to stop the horror. Our hearts ache not only for the mothers and fathers, but for the sisters and brothers, for the grandparents and aunts and uncles - the families who loved them. Who had Christmas gifts bought and ready for them. Who had their worlds shattered in a burst of evil. But perhaps even more we grieve for the lost promise of those young lives. We want to spin the world backwards and somehow change what happened, but we can't. We can only pray God's comfort down on those grieving families. 

Families - that's what matters as we join our prayers and consider the important things in life. As most of you know, I'm having a Christmas giveaway on my website right now. And I asked people who entered to tell me what brought them joy at Christmas. The vast majority of responses spoke of family being what mattered most in having a blessed and happy holiday. Here are a few samples:

What I like best about Christmas is spending time with my family. Especially the grandchildren and seeing the love, joy and sparkle in their eyes. ~Connie
I like the joy of the grandchildren as they open their presents. ~Theresa
What I like most about Christmas is getting together with my family with the ultimate goal of having a day filled with love and fun. ~Janet 
What I like best about Christmas... It has to be the time I get to spend with my family and friends. ~Dianna
My favorite part of Christmas is actually the Christmas Eve service that we attend as a family every year. ~Allison

The thing I like best about Christmas is getting to be with family. A little corny, I know, but that's what it's all about. ~Vickie
Not a bit corny, Vickie. Only right. These are just a few of the many who mentioned the joy of family at Christmas time. And so we are doubly sad since we know how we love our families and can so easily imagine the sorrow of the families whose children went to school but will never come home again. So we keep our eyes centered on the Lord and we pray and we hug our kids a little tighter this Christmas holiday.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12-12-12 - A Great Day for a Dozen Fruitcakes

The 12th day of the 12th month of the 12th year - a once in a century day, but then aren't all days a once in a lifetime and then gone days? Still, it was neat seeing all the 12-12-12s. One couple got married at 12 noon. Another baby was born a few minutes after 12 noon. Both made the local news. The kids at school had fun with a bell that rings every day at 12:12 p.m. So at 12:12 p.m. on 12/12/12, a bunch of them made wishes. Why not? Some of them might have even been 12 years old. And making wishes is fun. Sometimes you can turn those wishes into goals.

What's all this have to do with fruitcakes? Absolutely nothing. I wanted to try to make my family recipe handed down from my grandmother and probably her mother before her have 12 cups of ingredients, but it actually has a dozen plus two. Even so, I'm sharing fruitcake recipes tonight as promised on my Facebook page. But first here's some fruitcake history borrowed from What's Cooking in America.

Fruitcakes have been around since Roman times. (No, not the same one!) In the 1400s, the British fell in love with fruitcakes when dried fruits from the Mediterranean became available. In the early 18th century, fruitcakes (called plum cakes) were outlawed in continental Europe as "sinfully rich." They survived that banishment to make a rebound to become very popular between 1837 and 1901. No proper Victorian tea of that era would have been complete without a fruitcake. Fruitcakes also were part of  wedding feasts and unmarried guests put a slice of the cake, traditionally dark fruitcake, under their pillows with the belief they would dream about the person they would marry. 

I don't know the history of my family's fruitcake recipe, but I do know that making a fruitcake was an expected part of the Christmas preparations. I tried to carry on the tradition a few years, but my family wasn't that fond of the cake and I could get my fruitcake fill at my mother's house. But here's the recipe as given to my mother. It's nothing like the fruitcakes most people imagine. It's a very heavy and moist cake with no sign of candied fruit.

Ann's Family Fruitcake
3 eggs     1 cup butter    2 cups sugar    4 cups flour
2 cups raisin  2 cups chopped figs 1 cup jam (probably blackberry)  1 cup nuts  1 cup buttermilk  1 spoon soda   
1 tablespoon spice

(I have no idea what size spoon of soda or what kind of spices. I'm guessing the spices might be allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, but you're on your own with that spoon of soda. LOL) 

Spoon (I suggest using a big spoon this time) the batter into an angel food cake pan. Steam for 3 hours. Then bake @ 250 to 300 degrees for 1/2 hour. (I remember steaming the cake I made in a five gallon lard can. I propped the cake pan up above the water but I don't remember how. Gosh, that was a long time ago. Maybe I used metal cans.) After it came out of the oven and cooled, then I put apple slices on top to keep it moist and stored it in an airtight container. Some people soaked it with a little bourbon, but I stuck with the apples.

Okay, that was my cake. Way too much trouble for me to make these days. I'll stick to the hummingbird cake my family is so fond of instead. 

Now here's Pat's Grandma Lydia's cake recipe she is so graciously sharing with us. The recipe has been in her family for over 70 years and she says it's the most unusual and delicious fruitcake ever. It does sound delicious. Almost has me ready to go to baking. Almost.

Step 1:   2 cups Maraschino Cherries & the juice in the jars
              1  pound raisins         1 cup sugar  
              1 small can crushed pineapple (about 1 cup)
              1 cup prunes, diced (don’t omit. Gives the cake its great taste and you won’t taste prunes).
In a large saucepan, cook the above ingredients together until there is not a lot of juice left.  LET COOL.
This can be done a day or two before making the cake.  Just cover and refrigerate the fruit.

Step 2:   In a large bowl, cream together the following ingredients:
               1 cup white sugar        1 cup brown sugar
               ½ tsp nutmeg     1 cup Crisco (use this brand if possible)
       2 tablespoons vanilla   ¼ teaspoon each of ground cloves,
       ½ teaspoon salt            ground allspice and ground ginger
       3 ½ tsps baking powder         3 eggs

In a very large mixing bowl, mix together 
all the ingredients above until light and fluffy.

 Add: 3 ½ cups flour and mix well again. 
 Add: 1 cup applesauce and mix again.
 Add: the fruits from Step 1 and mix very well.
         Add: 2/3 pound pecans (optional, but great with pecans).

         Put the batter into 6 to 9 mini-loaf aluminum pans that have been sprayed with Pam. Fill pans about 2/3 full. Set pans on a baking sheet to hold them. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 60 minutes. Check with toothpick and bake until no cake sticks to the toothpick and the cakes are a medium brown color. Let them sit for about 5 minutes before removing them from the pans.

Thanks, Pat, for sharing your recipe. And all you cooks out there, let me know how it tastes if you give Grandma Lydia's cake a try.  I'll share some more Christmas stories on Sunday. Thanks to all of you who let me know what brings you joy during the Christmas season. I loved reading your responses and it kick-started my Christmas spirit. It's not too late to enter my Chrismas giveaway. I need to keep the Christmas spirit going to get all my presents wrapped and ready. So if you haven't entered yet, just send me an e-mail or leave a comment here with a way to contact you if you're the lucky winner of the books and prizes. You can check out the details at my website.

Thanks for reading and I'll be getting my cookie making hat on next week and start hunting those elusive hummingbirds for that hummingbird cake. LOL. I have no idea why they would have named that cake hummingbird cake, do you? 


Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Joy of Christmas Trees - New and Old

"The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other." ~Burton Hill
Finally with a little help from my youngest grandkids, I got my tree decorated. Isn't that the way of it? The ones old enough to be real help stop wanting to help with things like this while the little ones who need a bit of extra supervision in their attempts to make the tree beautiful, love helping. Oh well, one broken ornament is a small price to pay for such willing helping hands. I do have to admit that some of the ornaments are bunched together on the lower limbs, but that's okay too. I've never been one to worry about having a perfect tree. 

When I was a kid, we went out and got a cedar tree out in the field. We continued that tradition for a long time after I married. Sometimes the kids and I would go tree hunting. More often, Darrell brought one in that he spotted in the fields. Those cedars smelled great, but dried out so fast and were very scratchy to decorate and even worse to undecorate. So a few years back, I got uptown and bought an artificial tree. Then I bought one of those lighted trees. It was really neat until all the lights started going out. Now it is loaded down with lights, some attached to the branches that won't work and others strung on over top them. It doesn't look too bad - from across the room. In the dark. If you're three. Could be time to go tree shopping again, huh?

Some of the stories readers have sent in when they were entering my Christmas giveaway have talked about the fun of decorating. Here is a story from Sharon about her Christmas that talks about going out to get that live tree.

I grew up in central Pennsylvania to a single mother ...  What I remember about the Christmas season was the fury of activity with mom buying gifts and hiding them, Grandma baking and preparing all she could beforehand and Pappy getting ready to chop down the tree and bring it home. I only went out with him a few times, because sometimes he went pretty far into the woods behind our house to find to right one. I think now that he may have already known where the next year's tree was but being a child I just thought he went out and chopped down the first tree he saw. After all this time had passed, it was Christmas Eve, our big celebration. That is when our tree was put up and decorated. Everyone came Christmas Eve, every year.  ... So Christmas Eve became much fun and visiting from cousins you didn't get to see very often. I guess I was about ten when I realized Christmas was even more special at our house than most, or so I thought. It was also my grandparents' anniversary. The day they wed and started keeping house to begin their family. 

My Grandma made her dress, crocheted a pale green dress that had a dark green velvet ribbon at the waist and tied at the back with long ties down the back.  She still had the dress, even though she had not worn it for so very long. I used to beg her to let me look at it! Then as years went by, I got to try it on. ... I would look in what mirrors we had there and just stare into it, thinking what they may have looked like that day.  ... After they married, which I think was the Justice of the Peace, they went to the movies, which was a big thing to do then. That would have been about 1927. 

 ... As I grew up to a teenager then into a young adult, their 50th Anniversary was coming around. My one uncle was still single at the time. He bought all kinds of seafood for the Christmas Eve that year. Grandma always made clam chowder, homemade cookies, sponge cake and homemade breads. I loved her white clam chowder and so did everyone else. But that year my uncle bought shrimp, oysters, crab meat.  Everyone from the neighborhood was invited. ... What a wonderful time everyone had, neighbors dropping by for a few hours, Aunts and Uncles and cousins stopping in, all staying long and into the night. That year the tree was decorated by not just family but by neighbors too. My mom was always in charge of the decorating of the tree and all the kids were her helpers. Of course the last thing to go on the tree was the star at the top.  

Christmas was always a big to do at our house. It has never stopped being that big celebration for me. As my children and grandchildren have grown and enlisted into the the military and moved to other parts of the country, I still keep Christmas special in my heart and wish my family love, hope, happiness and tell them what family means to me.

As I sit here and recall those times I cry a little. Remembering the little girl who would sneak peeks at her gifts when no one was around, the one who watched and helped Grandma make her famous bread and sponge cake and cookies. Sneaking a taste here and there, with Grandma smiling as I did it and scolding me at the same time.......the fun of having all sixteen cousins running around for one night. 

Hope you enjoyed Sharon's Christmas story. And isn't that one of the nicest things about Christmas? That most of us have some good memories to share. Thanks for reading. And thanks for sharing your memories or what you like about Christmas with me.  


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Two Houses, Two Stories

"A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body." ~Benjamin Franklin

This house contains nothing but memories and echoes of what once was. It's a house in my town that has always been a source of wondering for me. So when the current owners agreed to put the house in the women's club Christmas tour even though it's empty and doesn't have the first Christmas decoration, I, along with dozens of others, rushed to walk through its front doors and get a look inside. Ever since I was a kid, I had looked at that tower and thought what a wonderful place it would be to scribble my stories. I even used it in A Kindred Spirit, one of my books for young adults and had my heroine have an artist studio in a similar place or at least what I imagined the place would be like.

I could have gone up in it Sunday, but the steps were narrow and I'm no longer the young kid who dreamed of being on top of that world. The house looked to be structurally good, but in need of major renovating as the former owners had let things slide until some rooms were near disasters. But even so, you had the feeling this old house could re-capture its glory if only...

A couple of rivers run through my Kentucky county and several creeks and springs that made this area attractive for distilling spirits. T.B. Ripy was one of the men who made his fortune producing whiskey here. In the 1890s, Ripy was the largest independent sour mash distiller in the world. He began the construction of the three and a half story Queen Anne brick home with a tower and a widow's watch in 1887. A year later, it was completed at the cost of around $85,000. That was a pile of money in 1888. Mr. Ripy spared no expense in making the house a showcase with over 30 rooms and some of those rooms decked out with elaborate ceiling moldings and mahogany, walnut, or cherry wainscoting. Stained glass over the doors had a planet motif.   

Walking through the house even with no heat, no lights, no furniture, thick dust everywhere and an occasional hole in the floor or ceiling, you still couldn't help but be impressed by the house's grandeur. You could imagine the Ripy daughters and friends descending the beautiful stairway in their colorful ball dresses. You could hear strains of the hired musicians coming from the double parlors and almost see the couples dancing.

That was the way the richer folk lived. My family on my father's side dabbled in distilling, but gave it up. By the time I came along, they were all farming folk, happy to have their drafty farm houses.  At least those houses were cool in the summer time. 

Since we're talking houses, I've got a 1963 Christmas story to share about a family and a house in Maine. December 23 was Jackalyn's father's birthday. The family was planning a surprise birthday party for him. A first since he'd never had a party. Jackalyn can tell you the rest of the story. 

"We lived in the house owned by my Grandparents and the house my father was born in. My Grandparents had just done some wiring in the house so my 2 older brothers could have the upstairs (the Attic for their bedroom) as they were now teenagers and wanted their own space. As we were getting ready for my dad to come home, we could smell a funny odor coming from the attic. Mom checked it out and our whole upstairs was engulfed in flames. My mother got us all out of the house safely and was able to ring in the fire on the box on the corner. Now my Dad's workplace was within eye shot of our house. He heard the sirens and got out in the road to direct traffic for the firetrucks to get through. When someone told him it was his house, he ran to the house, but by this time an uncle had come and got us kids in his car and took us to my mother's mom. Dad didn't see us kids and tried to enter the house to get us out. Then he saw my mother and found out we were safe. That night friends and family showed up for the party, not knowing about the fire. They all chipped in and helped in every way they could. My dad said he didn't care about his birthday. All he wanted was for us to be a family together in that house on Christmas Day after the fire caused by defective wiring. 

Christmas morning 1963 we were all in the house having Christmas as a family. We couldn't live in the house and there was no electricity but my dad kept his promise. It was a Christmas we all are so thankful for and one that made us realize that all that matters was that we were together as a family. We did finally get the house fixed so we were able to move back. The house is still standing and I believe it is now one of the oldest houses in the city."

I can see why that would make a memorable Christmas, Jackalyn. Glad the house survived, but Jackalyn tells me in a follow-up message that her father never liked celebrating his birthday after that. He might have gotten too many jokes about his birthday candles setting the place on fire. 
So lovely houses can make our Christmases even better. 

If you haven't entered my contest, you still can. You can get more details on my website events page. These cat magnets are a prize along with a book for the winner of the drawing for those who say they've never won before. (The magnets are really silver. Don't know why they look gold here.) So send me an e-mail (you can contact me from my website) or leave a comment here and join in the fun if you haven't already. 

As always, thanks for reading. I'll share more stories about your Christmases between now and Christmas day.