December 18, 2009

Advent calendar of Christmas memories

I stopped adding "memories" posts, because they all led to the same thing. It was a good idea, but I ran out of memories.

We did make a few memories of our own, though. For every Christmas since we moved to California in 1991, we've gone to a tree farm to cut our own tree. The freshness is incomparable to the sorry trees we used to get in Hawaii from the Pacific Northwest.

We used to go to Union Mine Pines in Amador County, where Roz and Bob Deutsch have a small tree farm. However, it is a long way to drive, and Highway 49 is hilly and twisty, and the tree tied to the roof of our small car never seemed quite secure. (That's a part of the tradition, too - checking the tree every few miles to be sure it's still tied down tight.)

Roz used to work for Sacramento Public Library, and she grew up in Hawaii, so we had some memories to share. She, too, was in Hawaii on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. They have a cute cabin on the farm, all decorated in red and green and with a nice wood stove in the living room. Bob collects antique farm equipment, and has lots of stories about them and how they were used. They have a Santa cut-out, and offer hot chocolate, candy canes, and Polaroid photos of the families with their freshly-cut trees. (I should find ours and scan them - good way to see the kids growing up each year!)

Lately, we've been getting our trees from Davis Ranch in Sacramento County. This year, as always, we got the perfect tree. The weather, however, was not perfect last Sunday. We managed to arrive at the ranch between showers, and tromped through the rows of mud to make our choice. Husband lay down on a tarp to saw it off, and then we netted it, loaded up the trunk, and brought it home. The kids are long past the days when they were eager to go find a tree, but Daughter did a beautiful job decorating our tree this year. Not sure what we'll do next year, because we may be empty-nesters by then!

December 09, 2009

December 7, 2009, 68th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Bombing

My cousin"Pickles" Picadura shared this story yesterday by e-mail in a comment on a snow video I had just uploaded to YouTube:

Just think U & Marty did dis on...Pearl Harbor Memorial Day.... I remember da day real well. My dad took 8 mm movies and da US Army came to our house & took da movie film from my dad, plus da telescope he used to film da event. We neva got back anything they took. It seems telescopes was contraband items during da Marshall Law days. At least we got to see da movie he took before da army came to get it. They found out we had it from da film company who developed it. I remember seeing da Japanese pilot when they flew over our house in Kaimuki, he was so low, that my dad thought he was going to crash into da house & told everyone to get out of da house & Rosemarie cried. He flew over many times in a circle like he was looking for something. Kaimuki in those days was only residences & only Kaimuki Town was 3 blocks long on Waialae Ave. Today Kaimuki Town runs from 5th Ave to 13th Ave. on Waialae & Harding Aves. A big change ... unbelieveable buildup from 1950 to present. Catch U later.

December 08, 2009

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

December 7 - Holiday Parties
Did your family throw a holiday party each year? Do you remember attending any holiday parties?

Our family believed that holidays were for family, and since we had a large family, it turned into a party. The only exception was Christmas eve, when we invited neighbors with children over after dinner to sing Christmas carols and have cookies and punch - a way to keep excited children busy and distract them from the pile of tantalizing gifts under the tree.

December 8 - Christmas Cookies
Did your family or ancestors make Christmas Cookies? How did you help? Did you have a favorite cookie?

Gramma Schulmeister baked sugar cookies every year, dozens and dozens. She would make and roll the dough and let us go to town with the cookie cutters and sugar sprinkles. We felt like we were doing our part to bring Christmas when we stacked cookies in waxed-paper-lined cookie tins to bring home with us. We didn't frost them, but colored them with red, green and yellow sugar sprinkles, and the multicolored little round ones, too. For many years, she bought silver balls and we'd add them to the Christmas trees, wreathes, and stars.

Over time, other cookies became favorites: date bars, macadamia snowballs, and peanut butter blossoms made with Hershey's Kisses. And ginger snaps, too, flattened with the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in sugar.

When I was in college, the Honolulu Advertiser published a recipe for an authentic German gingerbread house. I still have the original clipping and cardboard templates for cutting the pieces out of the baked cookies. Now my daughter has shown an interest, and she and her friend made one last Christmas from the same recipe!

December 06, 2009

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

December 5 - Outdoor Decorations
Did people in your neighborhood decorate with lights? Did some people really go “all out” when decorating? Any stories involving your ancestors and decorations?

No one in my family or my neighbohood ever did anything more than outline windows with colored lights. At my own house, the only lights were on the tree, except the 2 years we ran a long indoor/outdoor string of mini lights around the back garden fence.

December 6 - Santa Claus
Did you ever send a letter to Santa? Did you ever visit Santa and “make a list?” Do you still believe in Santa Claus?

Letters to Santa weren't a huge thing with us. I believe, when I was first learning to write - so, Grades K-3 - I did write to Santa and entrust the letters to my parents to mail. My own kids also wrote letters to Santa, but not every year, and for only a few years. In the early '80s, I discovered JRR Tolkien's "Father Christmas Letters", which I borrowed every year from the library and read to the kids if they would sit still for it. The (mis)adventures of the North Polar Bear and the Red Elves gav me giggles every year!

We had no fireplace, no chimney, so we left one window open for Santa to come in. I was 8 when I learned there was no Santa. I woke up during the night and, since I could see down the hall from my bed, I saw my parents carring boxes and presents from their bedroom to the living room. That was my lightbulb moment, but I didn't spoil it for my younger brothers until the next year.

My kids believed in Santa till they were about the same age, because of the ashy boot-prints on the hearth, and they left him cookies and milk faithfully. One year, Daughter's pre-school sent home Reindeer Food in a baggie (rolled oats mixed with glitter) with instructions to strew it on the lawn to attract Santa's reindeer. (It worked.)

December 04, 2009

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

December 4 - Christmas Cards
Did your family send cards? Did your family display the ones they received? Do you still send Christmas cards? Do you have any cards from your ancestors?

When I was a small girl, the only way mail came to Hawaii was by boat. We would receive letters weeks after being written and mailed, and we read each one eagerly, before composing a reply that would take equally long to get delivered. Christmas cards had to be sent about 4 to 6 weeks before the date you wanted them to arrive, especially those that were going to other countries, like Canada, Jamaica, and England.

Mother had a silver tray that she placed on the coffee table the day the first Christmas card arrived, and would read and re-read all the notes, letters (not at all like today's Christmas "newsletters", and photos that were included. She had a wide circle of friends and relatives who would share family news and personal greetings every year, and as I grew old enough to decipher the handwriting, I , too, got to know them all. Children grew up, married, and had their own kids; elders passed on; local news was shared about neighbors, neighborhoods, and institutions. We marveled at the beautiful, funny, glittery, gilt, and cut-out cards - every one different, just like snowflakes. Mother was a very good correspondent.

Daddy's father, though, was not. Postcards and letters from his sister and cousin in Austria always admonished him to write more often. They obviously had great affection for him, sending photos and postcards of the family in the Old Country with news of the war, of Papa's health, and the fate of the restaurant they owned. I transcribed one Christmas postcard during the first year of this blog, but I will repeat it here:

Attnang, 25. / IX - 915

Lieber Pepi!
Dir und Lucy und Euren Kindern fröhliche Weihnachten und ein frohes Neues-Jahr! Wir Alle sind gesund! Unser Hans steht in Serbien. Toni ist noch in Brooklyn gibt seine alte Addresse! Unser Bruder Karl steht in Russich-Polen in der Front. Mein Mann ist daheim, ist vom Militärdienst befreit, unsere Eltern sind wohlauf. Sorge Dich um uns nicht! Schreib doch ofters! Grüße und küße Dich, sowie Deine Lieben Alle, Deine Schwester

Attnang, 25 Nov. 1915
Dear Pepi,
To you and Lucy and your children, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! We are all in good health! Our Hans is posted in Serbia. Toni is still in Brooklyn, gives his old address! Our brother Karl is posted in Russian-Poland on the Front. My husband is at home, is released from military service. Our parents are doing well. Don’t worry about us! But write more often! Love and kisses to you, as well as to all your loved ones, your sister

We do not own a coffee table. So when the first Christmas card arrives - and it has - I hang a snowman card-holder on the wall in the dining room, and add the new cards as they come. More and more, my correspondents do not write news in the card itself, but include a word-processed newsletter recapping their year. Some even forego the card, and just send the newsletter. This year, I expect more of my friends and family will e-mail their news. That's OK, I guess, but unless we print and post them our kids might never have the pleasure of getting to know our extended family and friends, who span the globe from Singapore and Saipan, Hawaii, the United States, Canada, Jamaica, and United Kingdom and Ireland. Husband's friends range even farther afield, to Europe.

December 03, 2009

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

December 3 - Christmas Tree Ornaments
Did your family have heirloom or cherished ornaments? Did you ever string popcorn and cranberries? Did your family or ancestors make Christmas ornaments?
Popcorn and cranberries: never! Hawaii is a warm place, and also very humid. The combination of climate and food attracts bugs - huge inches-long roaches - that will come after dark to eat anything not properly stowed away. No, no food on the tree - not even candy canes in wrappers!

I already mentioned our origami ornaments in a previous post, so I'll write about a different way we've collected ornaments over the years. We have the requisite "First Christmas" lovebirds and "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments. We also have stuffed sheep, koalas, and needlepointed plastic canvas shapes. We have angels and Energizer Bunnies a-plenty. We buy balls every couple of years, or so, as they break or lose their glitter.

But we also have a collection of one-of-a kind hand-crafted ornaments representing gifts I've made for library staff over the past 15 years. I started this tradition when Daughter was an infant, by crocheting lacy bookmarks for select staff I worked closely with. The following year, I decided to include everyone on the Central Library staff, and the year after that, I included everyone who worked in the building - up to 150 people! I forget what the first ornament-gifts were, but they included, over the years, Crocheted wreathes, crocheted snowmen, little Christmas boxes with a Hershey's Kiss inside, felt mice with candy-cane tails, red and white woven heart baskets, woven 3-D ribbon stars, gathered lace snowflakes, braided raffia wreathes with tiny bows and bells, and stuffed felt Teddy bears with Santa caps. I saved one of each to hang on our own Christmas tree.

I made the Teddy bears as a special tribute to a regional library manager in Hawaii. Edna's daughter made the bear pins as a Girl Scout project, and Edna distributed them to her staff. I was impressed by the amount of time they gave in showing their appreciation for us, and it became the inspiration for my own gifting. My original Teddy, shown in the photo, is now about 25 years old, and I still wear it every year. However, he's showing signs of wear, and I wanted to create a successor. What better way than to pass along the goodwill that Edna spread so long ago?

I didn't make gifts the last two years, due to travel and lack of time off, but I hope to pick it up again this year. Maybe it's time to reprise the mice or something small and easy to crochet. Happy Christmas, everyone! I appreciate the work you do, and the many ways you make my work easier.

December 02, 2009

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories
December 2 - Holiday Foods
Did your family or ancestors serve traditional dishes for the holidays? Was there one dish that was unusual?
Fruitcake, light and dark. Sugar cookies in Christmas shapes with colored sprinkles. Date bars rolled in powdered sugar. Macadamia snowballs, ditto. Gingerbread House made from scratch and held together with toothpicks and royal icing. Bean soup on Christmas Eve.

Baking commenced weeks before Christmas, sometimes longer if the fruitcake was to be alcoholic. Mother made a traditional Jamaican fruitcake one year that involved soaking the fruits in alcohol for the month of October, then baking and wrapping the cake in cheesecloth early in November and dousing it a couple times with rum or whiskey, and letting it ripen until it was time for the marzipan coating. On Christmas Eve, when it was brought out with great ceremony, it was the richest, smoothest, yummiest fruitcake in the world!

Gramma made two kinds of fruitcake, dark and light. I preferred the light because it was so colorful: creamy white center, golden crust, and filled with red and green maraschino cherries and candied citron. Over time, though, I came to prefer the rich, dark fruitcake, and would eat it by the handful.

Gram was also the queen of sugar cookies, churning them out by the dozens, and willing to let us help her decorate them with colorful sugar sprinkles. Stars, trees, crescents, circles, santas, gingerbread boys, all filled with butter and eggs and vanilla and Christmas love.

Mom, who raised four kids and taught piano after school to supplement the budget, liked to make date bars and macadamia snowballs. Sometimes she branched out into shortbread or peanut butter "flowers" with Hershey's kisses pressed into their centers while still warm from the oven.

To keep her antsy children from driving her crazy, Mom started a tradition of inviting the neighbors and their children over on Christmas Eve after dinner to sing Christmas carols, and then to enjoy the fruitcake, cookies and eggnog, hot chocolate, or punch.

My son, who doesn't do chocolate or sweets, developed a particular liking for the date bars, so I am careful to always make a big batch of them every year.

Here's Mom's recipe for Date & Nut Bars:
1/4 c. melted butter
1 c. sugar
3 eggs, well beaten
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
Few grains salt
1 c. dates, cut fine
1 c. nut meats, chopped

Mix ingredients in order given. Spread in pan 14 x 8 inches, lined with waxed paper. Bake 15 to 20 mins. in mod. oven (350). Cut in finger-shaped pieces and roll in powdered sugar while warm. Makes 40.

December 01, 2009

I was scanning through my feeds in Bloglines tonight, and came across this post. Since I am such an irregular writer, I thought this might be a good way to contribute more stories to my 'blog cabin'. So - Here begins my Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. (Click the link to see the entire list of prompts, if you'd like to start your own calendar of Christmas Memories.)

December 1 - The Christmas Tree
Did you have a real tree or was it artificial? How big was the tree? Who decorated the tree? What types of Christmas trees did your ancestors have?

We have always had a real tree. For a short time, we also had an artificial 18" tabletop tree, but it was considered decorative, and it never replaced the full-sized tree we always purchased, lit, decorated, and watered.

When I was an infant, the family solved the small-child/ornament-grab problem by standing the tree on a table inside the playpen, with the presents under the table and out of reach. I so loved waking up in the morning to the smell of Douglas Fir! Gives me goosebumps even today!

Because firs and pines are not Hawaii natives, trees were shipped in on a boat, and arrived brown and dried. Shopping for a tree was a calculated affair, because you didn't want to get one too early, nor did you want to wait until there were no trees left. Supermarket and box store parking lots were filled with all kinds and sizes of trees. Needles fell off liberally as we thumped prospects on the ground to determine freshness, and we could only keep them in the house for about a week before they became fire hazards. Christmas tree lights got hot enough to burn little fingers!

Once the tree came home, the entire family participated in tree decoration. Dad built a wooden platform out of 1x4s, to which was screwed the actual tree stand. Dad strung the lights, then we children and Mom hung all the ornaments, including the star at the top. We used foil "icicles" to make the tree all shiny, but, being short, balled them up and hurled them at the top branches. Mom always protested, and after we kids went to bed, she would painstakingly re-ice the tree, untangling the silvery strands and re-hanging them strategically so they would shimmer in the breeze that came through the open doors and windows. (It's warm in Hawaii in winter.) When the tree was done, we would gather round the piano and sing carols.

We used the same ornaments every single year, and they eventually grew quite shabby. One year, when I was about 13 or 14, Mom threw out every single one, because she was embarrassed by their condition. That was the year we made origami ornaments out of jewel-toned paper: cranes, frogs, balls, camels, and cut-out white snowflakes; and the tree actually looked quite festive! But origami doesn't last, so the next year, we bought new ornaments.

After I married, the tree we had for my son's first Christmas was a Norfolk Island Pine. These "pines" are native to islands, and last weeks indoors without shedding. As when I was small, we displayed the tree on a table-top to keep the decorations and lights away from tiny hands. Norfolk pines are difficult to light and decorate, so we tied ribbons to our Christmas cards and hung them from the branches - more in scale with the space between the branches.

Today, in California, we go en famille to a Christmas tree farm and cut a fresh 5' tree about two weeks before Christmas. We used to go to Union Mine Pines in Amador County, and the BIG issue, after cutting and netting the tree, was tying it onto the roof of our little sedan. Even with the purchase of the Ford Escort wagon with the roof rack, we always went through the ritual of the towels, duct tape, twine and tiedown bungees, crossing our fingers that we'd make the 40 miles home with the tree still attached. Depending on the selection, we might bring home a fir or a Scotch Pine. Now that my kids are grown and only one is still at home, decoration is less of a festive affair. We play Christmas music while Daughter and Dad string the mini-lights, reminisce over each unmatched ornament and how/from whom we acquired it, and place them on the branches. We do not hang foil icicles. We are again standing the tree on a table - albeit a low one - in order to be able to put gifts under it, out of the traffic pattern. Because the tree is fresh, we often need to top up the reservoir with about a quart of water every day for the first several days, and we can keep the tree indoors for several weeks. Every year, we seem to find the best-looking tree we've ever had!