Tag Archives: memories

Celebrating Christmas, Celebrating Mom

8 Dec

“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”  ~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

To say my Mom loved Christmas and kept it well was an understatement.  She baked jillions of cookies, decorated multiple trees and hosted a holiday open house with tons of different appetizers, cookies, Scandinavian delicacies, and drinks.  She loved to share her decorated home and culinary skills, and particularly loved that people she invited brought others with them and that the parish priest would stay until the very end of the party and take home leftovers.  She was in the middle of planning her holiday party when her recurring cancer landed her in the hospital.  She died Christmas Eve.  I like to think she went to party with the angels for Christmas, and they took her at that moment to make Christmas extra special for her.

People ask if this sad moment has “ruined” Christmas for me.  Not at all.  I’m a bit melancholy, but mostly, I try to decorate, cook and entertain in the way Mom would have.  I celebrate Christmas and celebrate Mom.

Mom had a shed on her New Mexico property she called the Christmas Shed–packed to the rafters with all manner of Christmas decor.  I brought a few things home with me, a tub marked Norwegian Tree, and a few of her treasured trolls.  Mom’s mom was Norwegian, and Mom identified with all thing Norwegian.  The tub had ornaments, linens, and candlesticks painted as a Norwegian man and woman in their traditional finery.  Here’s my Norwegian tree, decorated with Mom’s ornaments and those she had given me over the years, and festooned with strings of Norwegian flags–just like she would do.

Norwegian tree

Mom had a huge collection of trolls.  Trolls are beloved by Scandinavian people and according to Mom, these must be complimented on their beauty and charm.  If you dare speak of them in terms of ugly, homely or scary, they will play pranks on you at night.  These are my three favorites:  The Fairy, The Angel, and The Mom.  Aren’t they beautiful?!


Here are the candlesticks, complete with the candle wreaths she bought for them.  The friend that made them for her tried to paint them to resemble Mom and Dad.

candle sticks

Mom liked to decorate trees in each room of her house, each tree with its own theme.  While I don’t have trees in every room, I do have themes:

A snowman tree,

snowman tree

A kitchen tree with tiny kitchen utensils and cookie cutters,

kitchen tree

A tinsel tree that reminds me of the big one my grandparents had that had a lighted wheel that cast the tree in different colors as the wheel rotated,

tinsel tree

A silver and gold tree with spun glass ornaments that belonged to my mother-in-law,

silver and gold tree

The big tree with ornaments from my childhood and those my family has collected over the years.  It’s traditional to use an ornament as a decoration on a wrapped gift.

big tree

Some of my favorite ornaments from my childhood are these:  my glass Santa, an elf who sits on a tiny pine cone cushion, and a birdcage whose “bird” spins from the heat rising off a Christmas light.


I also set out a couple other trees; a lighted ceramic tree that belonged to my mother-in-law, and a stuffed red tree Mom made for me.

ceramic tree

stuffed tree

My hutch gets decorated with a collection of red, green, and white, including three little choir boys Mom painted when she was a young woman.


I also set out a pair of Christmas plates, also painted by Mom.  The Santa one has Mom and Dad’s names as well as the names of their friends of the time, on Santa’s list.

Christmas plates

While planning for the holiday party that never happened, Mom called to discuss what sort of tasty bites to serve and asked if I could find Aquavit and bring it when we came for the party.  Aquavit is a traditional Scandinavian spirit, distilled from potatoes and spiced with caraway, dill, cardamom, and anise.  It pairs nicely with fish and is usually served in tiny glasses and meant to be sipped and savored.  This week I found a local liquor store that carries it!  We had friends over last night and toasted to Mom.  Skoal!


I miss being able to call Mom when I’ve made a delicious recipe, or to ask for advice, or to share a cup of coffee and just talk.  Going all out with Christmas keeps her memory vibrant and close to my heart.  I hope she enjoys my efforts.

Where I’m From

21 Jan

With the recent passing of my Mom, I’ve been immersing myself in memories, keeping her alive in my heart.  We didn’t always get along or agree on things, but Mom is the single biggest influence on who I am.  Some years ago, I assigned my students to write a poem with a particular structure–The “Where I’m From” poem.  Even though they have a set format, they are cathartic and beautiful.  I wrote one as an example, and came across it just this week.  Great memories of Mom here.

I am from clothes on the line and starched collars, from a 7-Up bottle with a sprinkling lid, wetting wrinkles out of my dad’s shirts and Mom’s capris.

I am from a banister, sliding down with my sister when my parents weren’t looking.

I’m from the smell of mock orange in the spring, its pretty white petals like snow when seen from the branches of the climbing tree.

I am from a gang of kids playing cowboys and indians through the alleys, splashing barefoot through puddles and feeding breadcrumbs to ducks at the park.

I am from cornflakes with banana slices in Grandma’s kitchen, the fins of Grandpa’s tan Chevy, and their fancy aluminum Christmas tree.

I am from wait til your father gets home, from I’m your mother, that’s why.

I’m from fudge cooled in the snow, entire pans of Rice Crispy Treats eaten in front of The Partridge Family and sauerbraten with gingersnap gravy.

I am from First Communion, Confirmation and Christmas Midnight Mass; a veil over my blond braids every Sunday.

In a brown leather album, my mom kept for me, I am the baby who grew into a girl who vacationed, had birthdays in the park and sat with my cousins on a couch.

Here’s the very first picture in that brown leather album.  Mom and me, 1959.

Before she died, Mom and I called each other every week to have a cup of coffee together across the miles between our houses.  Have a cup of coffee with your mom this week, if you can.

Breakfast with Grandma

3 Jun

Yesterday, I made the first batch of granola for the summer.  I absolutely love a bowl of cold cereal on warm summer mornings.  No fuss, easy to fix, completely portable for dining al fresco. 

It’s funny how simple things like a bowl of cereal can bring up old memories, huh?  When I was a little girl, I lived on Dawson Street in a town in Iowa, and my grandparents lived right across the street.  In the summers, I’d walk across the street to have breakfast with Grandma in the breakfast nook of her kitchen.  It was always a bowl of Corn Flakes with milk, and sometimes sliced bananas.  I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember her smile and flowered aprons trimmed in rick-rack. 

The granola recipe was a gift from an MGMS parent a few years ago, I’ve been making it ever since.  I shop a natural foods store for the ingredients:

3 1/2 cups rolled oats (NOT quick-cook)

1/2 cup raw, shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1/4 cup each: flax seeds and sesame seeds

1 cup walnuts

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup shelled, roasted and salted sunflower seeds

1 cup large-flake coconut

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 cup brown sugar

Mix that all together; then in a small pan, bring 1 cup honey and 4 tablespoons coconut oil to a boil.  (Once it starts boiling, it can boil over very quickly–beware!)  Remove from heat and add 1/4 teaspoons each: vanilla, orange extract, almond extract.  Pour over the oats and nuts mixture  and stir to coat.  Spread in a roasting pan and bake in a 300 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, stiring every 10 minutes.  Remove from oven to cool.  Continue to stir every so often as it cools to prevent sticking.  Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

I’ve altered the spices–adding ginger and nutmeg.  You can add a cup of dried fruit.  You can leave out nuts you don’t like or add something you’d prefer.  It’s so good, Mr. 15 prefers it over store-bought cereal!  It’s great with milk, it’s fabulous with almond milk.  (My new favorite substitute for milk in cereal or coffee–nom!)  It’s also quite lovely with yogurt and fresh fruit: parfait-style.

I enjoyed my bowl with almond milk on my front porch today, and thought about Grandma.

How do you pack memories?

14 May

I’m a cluttery person.  I like to have whatever I’m working within reach.  Right now, that’s book fair financials and a ship-back bill of lading, it’s the password to a science teacher’s ning, the latest School Library Journal, the last two years’ “State of the Library” reports and the missing books and fines list. 

Surrounding my cluttery desk, I keep memento clutter from 26 years in education:  a silly postcard from “The Phantom”–a teacher from the first building I taught in, who made it their mission to leave day-brighteners in mailboxes.  A whale that hung over a group to identify them for an interdisciplinary unit.  A name badge from a conference, decorated with “badge-bling.”  Journals I kept and wrote in during free-write time with my literacy students.  Magic wands that used to cast good spelling spells and a bee puppet–the “spelling bee.”  Pictures of team 7-1, known as 7-wonderful.  Posters made by former students.  Pictures of me and the literacy team from RMS and Will Hobbs from nearly 20 years ago, along with a picture of Will from his visit to MGMS this year.  Writing books, Science books, Librarian books, novels, picture books and some from my bachelor’s degree a million years ago.  Stuffed gators (this school’s mascot), a plush Babymouse, a plush Skippyjon Jones, and a vampire bear used to promote “books with bite” last year.  A signed Nancy Pearl action figure (with magic shushing action) and her library.  Really, more stuff than should fit into my tiny office.

The memories attached to these things are making it hard to pack them up.  I just can’t bear the thought of putting my memories in a box that will likely end up in storage.  It just seems so final.  I’ve given away a few things to good homes, comforted knowing they’ll go on amusing those I’ve gifted them to.  I know the giant stuffed snake will be happy with the boy who admired it these last three years. 

I’m not making much progress cleaning out my office.  I have great intentions, but fewer days all the time to pack.  Logical me thinks it would be a great idea to bring a box home each night.  Boxes brought home so far?  None.  It’s gotta happen, though.  Soon.  26 years of stuff to pack, along with the people, the places, the events, the laughs and the tears.