My New Year's resolutions for 2010 are simple:
To write and research.
To enjoy the journey.
To enjoy all that I meet along the way, both alive and dead.
To heed this old Chinese proverb:
Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.
2010, bring it on! I am ready.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
My New Year's resolutions for 2010 are simple:
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Susan Jane Ward Keyes (50 years, 5 mos, 6 days) died on February 20, 1881. Her youngest son, Alexander Doran Keyes (26 years, 5 months, 13 days) died just 3 days later. Both are buried beneath this old oak tree, as were the Keyes before and after, in the Mt. Union Cemetery, near Philomath, Oregon.
Susan Ward Keyes was the wife of David Lowery Keyes and the mother of my great-grandfather James Edward Leonardis Keyes.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The heavily forested hillside of our Christmas-treeing expedition outside of the college town of Pullman, Washington, reverberated with calls of our friends.
“Char, where are you?”
“Evelyn, are you still behind me?”
Calls to Mary, Beth, and Carolyn, but never did I hear, “Joannie, where are you?”
After our group had the Christmas trees cut and strapped to our respective cars, we all had a last cup of hot chocolate before we headed home. On the drive home, I sat stiffly on the front seat along side Ric. He seemed perfectly happy. I was not. Finally, I petulantly asked, “Why don’t your ever check on me? All the other guys check on their wives or girlfriends?”
He looked across at me, shook his head and said, “I don’t have to call for you. I know which rocks are going to interest you, which plants you will stop to look at, how many sugar pine cones you are going to gather. There is not a time that I can’t walk right to where you are. I always know where you are. I always will.”
This story was first published as a Christmas present for my family in the 2007 book, Along the Way, Stories from Here and There.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Later when the grandchildren came along, and my daughter-in-law Jody became my cooking partner, cookie making became a holiday activity. Jody and I would make and roll out batch after batch of sugar cookie dough, The grandchildren loved the kitchen drawer full of cookie cutters -- big stars, little stars, angels, a variety of Santa's, reindeer and sleighs, bells of all sizes and shapes, and the children's favorite set of three gingerbread man cookie cutters. Tiny little hands would sometimes make very elongated Santa's, stars that looked like they had melted like wax, and other creations that had a vauge resemblance to the cookie cutter outline
Pan after pan of cookies would come out of the oven with many very unusual shapes. Not to worry, provide a child with enough tubes of colored frosting, sprinkles, tiny silver balls and other decorating medium, there will emerge platters of decorated Christmas cookies--of many unusal and unique shapes and coloration.
I never cared that much about making and decorating cookies, but I did love those winter afternoons when Jody, my grandchildren and I would make Christmas cookies.
Plucking Parties were the order of the day for many years! Now you ask what is a "plucking party?" Once long on an old ranch in Paisley, Oregon (reknowned for it's Mosquito Festival in mid summer), the grandmother of this longtime ranching family gave my mother the secret of her homemade dressing she used for the holiday stuffing of the turkey. The secret is in "finely plucking the bread!" No tearing in chunks and no cutting in squares. Use fresh bread (preferable homemade bread for that old grandmother) and pluck tiny pieces of bread into the bowl/pan/dishpan. The old grandmother cautioned, "The tiny pluckings of bread make a light and fluffy dressing."
For the next 60 years or so, our family had plucking parties on Christmas Eve. Loaves of bread were stacked around the largest container we had in the house. All children were introduced to how to "finely pluck" the bread. Then eggnog, Martinelli sparkling juice, and sometimes Tom & Jerry's for the adults, mixed with Christmas carols, and laughter were interspersed with tales of how this was the true secret to this turkey dressing recipe of the old grandmother from Paisley. We took our "secret" seriously. We had our self-styled Quality Control Inspectors. Sometimes, an errant child would leave a whole piece of bread in the big pan --- just to see if the Inspector would find it. Much hilarity, singing and laughter went into our plucking parties.
Children grew up, grandchildren grew up. Families changed, bringing in other traditions. The Christmas dinners tend now to be small individual family affairs. But, I do have those memories of wonderful "plucking parties."
Saturday, December 5, 2009
I have been a very good girl this year (perhaps, the old gentleman is a bit forgetful, and won't remember that it has been many decades since I wrote my last letter to him), I only have one wish. It is a very special wish. I really, really, really want a copy of old James Peter McPherson's diary. You know the one, that goes back to 1842; the one where he list how much the fare for "canue boats" on the Erie canal cost. O, please, you've got to remember the diary, its the one where James Peter was Justice of the Peace for Dane county and listed all the marriages he performed. I know that you might not think that I would be interested in how many hours Uncle worked, or Jim dragging the grain, or how many loads of sand and water went to building the school house, but I really am. O, please, that is all I really want for Christmas -- a copy of JP's diary. I will even be a very good girl next year, if I can just get a copy of that diary.
By the way, milk and cookies will be laid out for you -- just like decades ago -- and I am a much better cook nowadays.
As a child we didn't have any outdoor decorations in the farm and ranch country of southern Oregon's Klamath Basin. With or without outdoor lights, my dad loved Christmas. He was as excited as any of us kids to go cut down the Christmas tree. He was fanatical about decorating the tree, fromstringing the the old style light (the kind that when one went out, everything went out), to carefully finding the right place for each ornaments on the tree and then affixing the metallic tinsel, strand by strand. But he really would have like my outdoor Christmas lights.
I start putting the lights up around the first of November; my husband isn't too happy with decorating before Thanksgiving, but he is a good sport about my obsession with lights. It takes us about a week to ten days, if the weather is good to get all of the lights up and connected with a scadoodle of heavy weight extension cords and timers. My dad would have loved that part of it -- he liked to build things, and he would have been more inventive than me. Below are a couple of pictures of how light display looks from as we come down the driveway (the house is at the bottom of the hill (about 1/10 mile).
About a decade or so ago, my sister started making these big lighted balls that we put in the trees. (See below) Each ball has 2 strings of 50 little Christmas lights. Sometimes we make solid colored lighted balls, but mostly we like to mix the colors, such as blue & green, blue & red, and sometimes a multicolored strand mixed with a solid color. At my house I have about 30 of these lighted balls hung in the trees. My sister used to decorate our mother's home and she used about the same amount of these lighted balls. Our dad would have loved these lights.
Now my husband's favorite is his Santa and reindeer, shown below. I must say this has also been the favorite of the grandchildren, as well. He used to string it across our driveway, which the grandchildren really loved. However, the driveway gets the north-south wind in our mountains and many the time Santa and reindeer were hanging on for dear/deer life. Now they are in the trees on the bank above our house. A bit safer for all concerned.
One last thing about my Christmas lights. We live up in the mountains. The road into our house is not for the faint-hearted: brave souls and four-wheel drive rigs do just fine. So we really do not have people drive by to view our lights --- though the neighbors on down the road seem to enjoy them. The lights are for me and my family --- and my dad really would have liked this light display.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I love getting Christmas cards.
I read all of those long newsy letters.
Christmas cards that I receive are prominently displayed through the holidays.
I keep all of my Christmas cards, I dinna know why. Might need to know who sent me a card in 1983, or 1976, or whatever year, if I can find the right box.
But, --- I haven't sent out Christmas cards ---- goodness sakes, I don't remember when. I haven't even thought about it until now. Will I change my slackard ways? Maybe,-- perhaps,-- I think so. I may never send out the quantity of cards that I did in the early days of my married life, but there are people that I want to keep in my life.
During this last year, I have been reaching out to my McPherson family and have found cousins of some degree or other in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Arizona, and even one in my home state of Oregon. I dinna want to lose those connections.
So, I now have layed out a stack of Christmas cards, a stack of a picture( taken of my family at our 50th wedding anniversary bash), a couple of folders of stamps. I have the perfect pen for writing cuz I dinna create a Christmas letter on the computer --- I am a bit old fashioned about my Christmas cards.
I can do it! What a wonderful thing --- this Advent Calendar of Memories. I remembered why sending Christmas cards are important.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Just a little cardboard church on a string, that's all it is. Is that really all it is? No, it is the oldest ornament on our tree. The wee church came to us on a package on our first Christmas as newlyweds, back in the olden days of 1953. We dinna have much money back then and our first tree was sparsely decorated, but the little church on a string took its place conspicuously on our first tree.
As the years passed and ornaments were fair game for cats, dogs and children, the little church on a string maintained it's place on our tree. It had no cracks, hadn't shattered, hadn't disintegrated, and every year it took its place front and center.
The children and grandchildren rarely paid attention when I would lovingly bring out the little church on a string. They weren't particularly interested when I would try to tell them the story of how the wee church came to us and why I treasure it so. If they said anything, it was something like, “That old thing is looks pretty worn out.”
“Well,” I would say to myself, “you'd be a little crumpled around the steeple too, if you had been used for umpteen Barbie weddings, as a prop for GI Joe war games, batted by kitten paws, and snatched by a dog's drooly mouth.”
This year, as for the last 55 years, I will unwrap the little church on a string, straightened the roof line, and carefully place the little church on the tree, front and center.
Making fudge was also high on our candy making list. We were a tad obsessive about making the perfect plate of fudge. It had to be smooth and creamy, not grainy and definitely not spoon fudge. I don't know how my younger brothers took up the fudge making mantle, but they did.
My two younger brothers were just little guys when our dad was killed. They didn't have a lot of the candy making memories of those days, but they learned to make very good fudge – and at an early age. A while back, I looked at an old 8 mm movie clip of them making fudge. I could not believe how really young they were – 5 and 3 years old. They each have carried on the candy making tradition in their own families.
In the early 1950s my Aunt Gail brought home one of the “bootlegged” Christmas Fudge recipes that was supposed to have been from a major candy company. I don't know if that was true or not, but I do know that yummy fudge became a family holiday tradition. Come December, my sister and I would stock up on milk chocolate bars,chocolate chips, marshmallow topping,walnuts, canned milk --- and butter was always on hand. The recipe made about 5 pounds of sinfully good fudge. We made this Christmas fudge to have for the holidays, we gave it as gifts, and took it to parties and family gatherings. T'was a bit like a giant candy exchange, as everyone else in the family was doing the same thing.
The older of my two brothers always makes fudge at Christmas. His kids, and now grandkids, gather round to “help” – well now they are old enough to really help. He also makes a white chocolate version of this recipe, which is very well received in this candy loving family. One of the biggest platters of fudge that I ever saw, was at a Christmas eve party at his home. The stack of fudge measured about 2' in diameter and was stacked about 18” tall. Very impressive to any fudge connoisseur.
The middle one of my three brothers has become the family caramel maker --- his caramels to die for. He patiently stirs his concoction of sugar and extra heavy cream at a fairly low heat (we say low, because our family cooks mostly on High – who needs those little knobs with the little marks). He doles his caramels out throughout the holiday season --- and if he gets low, he makes another batch. We wait – not so patiently.
My youngest brother also carries on the tradition with his family, which includes three lovely girls. A few years ago at a tree decorating party, my two youngest brothers were in mother's kitchen whipping up fudge. I walked in and thought I was in a fudge cook-off. They take their fudge making seriously.
In Eugene, my sister and a friend of hers would make up platters of almond roca so we had a change of pace. My sister also makes a mean batch of fudge --- but not so much anymore, now that the nieces and nephews have grown up. My daughter-in-law and I used to go into high candy making mode during the holidays. I would do fudge and divinity. She liked to make mint patties, a rolled nougat ball, candied nuts, and a toffee bark.
I don't make candy so much anymore. Children and grandchildren are in different states, and family traditions change. Platters of candy have been replaced by platters of veggies and fruits --- but when the snow flies, and the wind blows cold, I dream of divine divinity, creamy fudge and memories of those candy making times.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Christmas treeing was always an adventure when I was growing up. My dad loved Christmas and was as excited as any kid when it came to getting the Christmas tree. We lived on a large farm in the Klamath Basin of southern Oregon, which is surrounded by mountains, so cutting down live trees was the norm for that area. Daddy liked to have the tree up early, so some time after Thanksgiving he would gather up ax and saw, bundle us kids and mom into the car, and we would head to the mountains.
My favorite memories were of tramping through the snow while we looked at ever so many trees. Before we could really decided if it was the right tree, Daddy would shake the snow from each tree he was considering. We kids liked to get as close to the tree as possible so the snow would tumble down and around us. We had snow in our hair, down the back of our necks, and snow glistening from our eyelashes. We would drop, laughingly, to the snow and make snow angeles. My younger sister Sue and I would usually pull the sled with our two younger brothers. If the snow was too deep, or too soft, the boys would have to stay near the car with mother, while Sue and I trudged through the snow in Daddy's footprints.
Daddy, my sister and I favored very large trees. Mother, ever the practical one, wanted one that we could get into the house without chopping the tree down by several feet. “O, Harold, we can't even get that tree in the house,” my mother would say as Daddy was getting ready chop down a really good looking tree.
So then the hunt would go on. Trees would be viewed from all angles and rejected; the top was lopsided or sparse; had bad side; too small; too sprangly, or just didn't look right. Quite often Daddy went back and cut down that first tree he had picked out --- the one that was too big. Once the tree was cut, we dragged it back to the car. We never cut a tree that was of a size that my father could just carry over his shoulder. As he tied the tree to the top of the car, mother would be dispensing hot chocolate from a thermos, and sometimes cookies or sandwiches. We peeled off the wet hats, mittens, coats and scarves. Then into the warm car, with more hot chocolate and snacks.
On the way home, there would be much laughter as oncoming cars would point at our tree covered car. Tramping through the snow, a BIG TREE, hot chocolate, and laughter were the hallmarks of a successful Christmas treeing adventure of my childhood.