Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Day

Christmas is strange without children.

We actually had our celebration and visit from Santa on December 11, since all of the kids (except Conor, of course, whose parents are sticking it out so far) all went to spend the holiday with their other parent. We've enjoyed pleasant, stress-free days the last week and a half, filled with music and baking and friends, while everyone else counted down the shopping days.

Christmas morning didn't really feel Christmas-y, without children clamoring outside the door for us to wake up and take them downstairs. I watched several Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas specials, which helped the mood, but it wasn't until later that day that things really got festive.

A family in our ward invited us to spend Christmas evening and dinner with them. We had such a fun time being with a family, helping in the kitchen, serving children's plates, cracking jokes, and eating some juicy turkey with all the trimmings. Then they had their family present opening, and lo, and behold, there were presents for US under the tree! Each of the grown children's families had brought us gifts! We were flabbergasted! We really felt like part of the group. And I was touched to look around the room and see the others included in the group: the husband and wife (who invited us originally), her five grown children and their families, her aging father, and even her ex-husband (who is father to several of the kids), and the girlfriends of the two unmarried children. And us. Definitely the Spirit of Christmas.

We missed our own little ones, for sure, but got to talk to everyone on the phone, along with siblings, parents, grandparents, and friends. Hope your holiday was warm and cozy too. I wish we could have ALL been together. All of us.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cookie Time!

(don't be fooled by his cute smile. Check for evidence. This is a baby on the run after snitching cookies! See the crumbs on his fingers and the remnants on his teeth! What a good boy!)

I love cookies. LOVE them. I have many cookbooks solely devoted to these scrumptious little morsels, and I wouldn't part with any of them. I got a fabulous new cookie bible from my mother this year to add to my collection. Cookie Monster sang, "C is for Cookie", and C is also for Christmas. I don't think for one second that that is an accident! Cookies and Christmas definitely go together.

Every family has their holiday favorites, and I don't think it matters much what they are, as long as your family has them too. Many of my favorites are favorites because they remind me of the way my mother created Christmas for us as children. These would include Candy Cane Cookies and Russian Teacakes. Others are favorites because my own children have come to expect them every year, like Peanut Blossoms and Gingerbread Men. Regardless, there must be cookies at Christmas, and lots of them! And they must be eaten and shared! Almost nothing is as much fun as putting on a Christmas CD or DVD and get ting to work in the kitchen with cookie dough and children. Make sure the tree lights are on!

Cookie Central started just after Thanksgiving, and the freezer quickly was filled to capacity with dozens and dozens of nine varieties, along with huge batches of peppermint divinity and peanut butter fudge. This week we assembled cookie tins and cookie plates, and are having quite the time blessing our neighbors and friends. Baking in the kitchen together is one of my favorite ways to spend time together, especially with my children. It's so easy to involve them! I believe that anything baked with love has that love infused within it and will nourish, no matter the fat or calories. Share what you have, no matter how simple or elegant. Cookies are gifts of the heart. And I mean that.

"C is for cookie. It's good enough for me!"

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Caroling We Will Go!

Boy, it really isn't Christmas until Dolly Parton has sung the Hallelujah Chorus now, is it? Wow.

I think there's hardly anything cozier than singing carols together in a group around a lit Christmas tree. And so, we do, to practice. And then we hit the streets.

I have taken my children caroling for many years, and it's a tradition we look forward to each December. Practices take place on Monday nights as part of family home evening, but at this point we don't really need the practice. We go out after dark and canvas the neighborhood singing our hearts out to unexpecting friends and strangers alike, and the experience is one that everyone should have.

When Adam and I first married, and I wanted to carry on the caroling tradition with our new, blended family, he balked a bit at the idea. Well, a lot. He was a downright Scrooge, and I worried that his blatant bad attitude would spoil the evening for the children. Fortunately, the Christmas Spirit intervened with the knock at our very first door. We knocked and began singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", and a white-haired old man opened the door. I could tell he wasn't expecting visitors, and he didn't want to be disturbed, but almost instantaneously upon hearing singing on his porch, and seeing a family (and not a salesman), his wrinkled face melted and the corners of his smile reached up to catch the tears that soon began winding their way down his aged face. He wanted more and more, and we gave it to him. He lamented that he wished he had known we were coming so he could have had hot chocolate ready for us, that we might come in and visit. He was lonely, and we had been Christmas angels. And his eyes weren't the only wet ones.

Dear Adam caught the spirit, and led the way from there. He had been changed, softened too. He's now a caroling convert.

We walk the neighborhoods for an hour or two each season now, and love the joy we see on the faces of the strangers who answer their doors to us. The children receive an instant gratification for their service. They know it makes a difference.

We have had people open their doors to us, and then turn and call the rest of their families to come and listen. We've had whole groups gather out on the porch to get a view. We often receive gifts from those we sing to. People are so happy, and so touched, that they want to do something, and they disappear into their kitchens, returning with cookies, chocolates, gifts, even a few dollars. We always try to refuse, but then again, they received our gift with gratitude.

It always makes for a wonderful evening that the entire family anticipates. Maybe caroling is a forgotten activity. Maybe people have become too shut in, too closed up, too involved in their own little circle. Maybe people have become too scared of people they don't know, too affected by the news reports, and too nervous of knocking on a stranger's door, but every Christmas we hope to sing a carol or two and give our brothers and sisters a little cheer, and a little more belief in the basic goodness of people, especially at Christmas time. After all, a song is a powerful tool, and a universal language.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

We Interrupt this Holiday Season...for a Tag

Good thing I did some catching up on friends' blogs tonight. First, I read Josi's, and felt a little dissed that she didn't tag me, but then Annette came to the rescue. Thank you, Annette. Josi, you're on thin ice with me, girl, because of the Grocery Game, so watch your step. :)

So, this is hard, because my 100th post is fast approaching, when I'll have to do The List, but here's a sneak preview of the fun that is to come:

1. Once my husband bought me sex toys for Christmas, which wouldn't be so bad, except for the fact that we were living with his parents that year.

2. Ever since I was about 8 or so, I would sneak downstairs on Christmas night by myself and tenderly caress the ornaments on the tree and cry about how another year of my life and my siblings' lives was over, and how fast time seemed to fly. I would play out memories of the past year in my mind and weep, sentimentally. What a dork.

3. Shortly after my divorce, I changed my diet to consist primarily of Totino's cheese pizzas, puffy Cheetos, and Ben & Jerry's. Those were the things my body wanted, and they were GOOD.

4. Once, while babysitting, I was snooping around the master bedroom, and came across the cremated remains of their infant daughter. It was CREEPY, and not hidden all that well.

5. Another time while babysitting, I was snooping around in the bathroom, and I found a picture right in the bathroom closet next to the towels of the mother's dead mother lying in her casket at her funeral. Even CREEPIER, although if you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I like these kinds of creepy.

6. When I was in 2nd grade, I lived in a primarily African-American neighborhood, and I could double-dutch with the best of them. Little tiny white Jenna.

7. I have never been able to do a cartwheel. Darn it.

8. But I can almost do the splits, even when I'm 9 months pregnant, although my husband won't let me because it freaks him out.

9. Once I made a cake for a cub scout auction, and it sold for $85, because people know I make good cakes.

10. Today I rollerskated in the driveway with my son. I'm an 80's girl, and I still got it, baby.

Now, to tag:
Abby, because I wanna know more about my little sis.

Hannah, because I wanna know more about my other little sis.

Sarah, because she's part of the gang too, and she needs to give up the goods.

Mom, because I always tag Mom and she's so interesting.

Hilary, because I think it would be fun if she joined in the blogging funness of being tagged.

and, Piper...because I'm dying to know more.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Children Were Nestled

When asked what their favorite Christmas tradition is, my children will all tell you that they look most forward to the night they get to sleep under the Christmas tree. As a family, we decorate the tree, and then the children bring their pillows and blankets downstairs for a slumber party. We usually watch a Christmas movie first (this year it was the perennial favorite A Christmas Story), drink hot cocoa, and eat homemade gingerbread cookies. Sometimes I will sit and read Christmas stories to them. Finally, after several hours giggling and talking (and mom shushing), they fall asleep with the tree lights on all night. Every year, they just can't wait!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Home for the Holidays

Ever since I was a child, gingerbread houses have been part of Christmas. However, with so many children they were rarely ever constructed of real gingerbread, but graham crackers instead. Still fun, and not nearly so devastating in the event of breakage. I have carried this tradition on with my own family, and what a fun workshop day it is! I love how everyone's house reflects a piece of his/her individual personality.

Adam's house began with lofty intentions that he didn't even begin to think through. He's the artist in the family, a master of creativity, but not one of pragmatism or efficiency. So, he began sawing his graham crackers into individual boards and started laying floor beams, trusses, and "framing" his two-story house. That lasted almost two hours, and when he still didn't have a single wall up (and the kids were hogging all the graham crackers), he went for the more traditional slap it up method, common in suburban neighborhoods. But he was the only one with a porch.

My house, had to be beautiful, balanced aesthetically, landscaped, and had to have storage out back.

Lyndsay's house had to be accessorized, so she built an open loft, with graham cracker furniture, a snowman in the front yard, and a mailbox.

Dylan, went for clean lines and exactness, as he is ever-watchful of justice and fairness in life.

Caitlin went for free-thinking and fashionable, with an open door. She's always welcoming.

Sean is not exactly a detail-oriented or tidy builder, but he gets his house up faster than anyone else, which leaves lots of time for eating the candy strewn along the table.

And, Aiden, having spent most of his life in Arizona, went with an adobe style house, neatly paved and cheerful.

In the end, I have a feeling the boys didn't care as much how their houses looked, as long as they held as much candy as the laws of graham cracker and royal icing physics allow. And their mom. ("Put half of that back, my friend.")

Monday, December 3, 2007

Baby's First Christmas

It's one of the milestones of life, and the holiday new parents look most forward to after the birth of their baby. And even though babies don't care one whit about gifts or trees or the holiday rush, I'll admit that I have played the game too, and to think back warms my heart.

Lyndsay was 5 months old, and we spent her first Christmas in New Jersey on a surprise (to my siblings) visit to show her off to family for the first time. I remember my dad holding her for the first time, his first grandbaby, and weeping. All of my eight siblings adored her, and somehow, though she barely touched the floor during those few weeks, she learned to sit up while we were there. Notice her doll with brown hair and eyes like she had, and her matching nightgown that my mom made for her, but wait, it gets better:

I had a matching nightgown too! My mom made us matching Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgowns for Christmas morning. I am a little shocked by how young I look. I really was an adult. I had even been married for more than 3 years!

Dylan was born January 6th, so he got to celebrate his first birthday right after Christmas, lucky duck! He got a Little Tikes basketball set that year, I remember, and he knew instantly what to do with it.
Here's baby Aiden, born the day after Thanksgiving that year, and in...the duck sweater Nana knitted for him. He didn't much care for Christmas, and preferred nursing to opening presents.

Here are the three of them that year:

Last year was baby Conor's first Christmas. He wasn't all that thrilled with the Jolly Old Elf, and he didn't get any presents that year because of his poor attitude. I mean, we were just poor, and figured we'd better spend our money on the five kids who would notice.

But doesn't he look cute in that hat he borrowed from cousin Calix? I love babies in hats!

So here it is Christmas time, and looking back on my sweet babies, it almost makes me want another one! But Santa definitely isn't bringing that this year!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Through the Eyes of a Child

I love my ornament collection. It is so dear to my heart. I'll be sharing some favorites this month, but by far my sweetest ornament is also my oldest. I made it when I was 4 years old, in Sunbeams class. It's a salt dough baby Jesus in his manger, and as a child, I remember licking it each Christmas to taste the salt. Weird and random, I know, but a Christmas memory nonetheless. I've grown out of that tradition (at least as far as I'm admitting), but every year it warms my heart to carefully place it on my tree. It makes me feel like a child again.

Here are two of my journal entries from that year: (I drew and dictated, mom was the scribe. Obviously (not) I was blessed with her extraordinary artistic talent.)

This one, dated 24 Dec. 1977 says, "We had a special Christmas show. I liked it. I played Mary. I rode my donkey. Joseph was surprised when I had my new baby." (they always are, right?)

And then this one, from Christmas Day, 1977:

"We're having a happy time together. We don't want a sad family in our happy Christmas. Josiah got an Inch-Worm and I got My Friend Mandy." (how I loved that doll! Many years later I got the newer version of My Friend Jenny, and my sister Amanda got My Friend Mandy. It fit better that way.)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Christmas Genesis

In the beginning, there was me. (I've often joked that the word should be spelled "Jenna-Sis", since I was the first, and I am definitely a sister, but I digress.) It didn't stay that way for long, as each of my eight siblings was born one after the other almost like clockwork, but here I am on my very first Christmas. These are the only two pictures I have of that day. For the only time in my life, all the focus was on me, as I don't think my mom knew she was even pregnant with Ethan yet. Well, maybe she did, but just barely. He was born in September the next year.

It's such an odd thing to look at baby pictures of myself. I don't think I was an especially beautiful baby, but I'm sure my parents disagreed. I was hopelessly bald for several years, for one thing. But I do see traces of my own babies in my little face and it makes me feel more connected to my children.

I smiled when I saw this stocking that my mom knitted for me. She knitted one for each of us, and all eleven of them hung from our mantle every Christmas. The color combinations got way better as we moved into the 80's, but there I am with pink and green, and it brings back such a flood of memories. I'm sure my mom still has it, though it's probably disintegrating by now, as yarn quality was the other thing to improve over the years. She let us take our ornament collections with us when we moved out, but she held on to the stockings, and I don't blame her. She has since knitted a whole new collection for my family and several other siblings'.

I wanted to reminisce this December, and share memories from Christmases past. My mom made Christmas my very favorite holiday of the year, and my sisters share the obsession. My mom is all things quaint, cozy, and traditional when it comes to Christmas, from the stories she told, to the treats she baked, to the carols she played and we sang. I have tried to pass those things on, and more, to my own children, so this month you get a glimpse! I hope it warms your heart and fills you with Christmas joy!