Friday, December 26, 2014

Visions of Sugarplums

danced in their heads.

But someone had to make them first.
They're candy, you know.  Those Sugarplums.

My Gram didn't make Sugarplums, but she made a delightful assortment of other candy, including divinity, peanut brittle and fudge.  I remember making all of it with her in her kitchen when I was young.  It meant Christmas was coming and that was a thrill.


My husband's grandmother baked walnut rolls, which are a Polish tradition.  I learned the recipe years ago and have made it an integral part of our Christmas.

My mom bakes sugar cookies and various quick breads, but if I had to guess, I would think that the Christmas confection that Mason will always remember his grandmother making will be the chocolate dipped pretzel sticks.

And so it goes.  Candy, cookies, breads.  Various goodies and delights.  Often made from recipes handed down from one generation to the next.

In the past few weeks, I've had friends who have experienced terrible personal loss, which can be so much more poignant during the holidays.

The one common thread that I have noticed, though, is the continuation of these family traditions of baking and cooking.  All the while remembering the sweetness of learning the recipes as a child and now passing them on to our own, often as hand written treasures.

Somehow that little treat coming out of the oven or off the stovetop becomes a way to connect today with yesterday and it makes Christmas time truly magical.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

It was a very good year

1914

So many things happened in 1914.

Many were not good.  This was, after all, the year that marked the start of the first World War.

Others were markedly better.  The Panama Canal opened in August and President Wilson signed the proclamation making Mother's Day a national holiday.

For me, the most important date in 1914 was December 11.
On that day, a girl named Mary Ann was born to Paul and Martha Mason in Baxter Springs, Kansas.

Years later, she would be my Gram.

A century has passed since that day.

No matter what else happened in 1914, I believe it was a very good year.

Mary Ann (far left), two schoolmates & her sister Opal


Mary Ann (3rd from rt) with sister,
cousins & grandfather


Opal & Mary Ann Mason









Saturday, December 6, 2014

Chop, chop...

Growing up, I spent more days (and nights) than I can count at my Gram and Granddad's house.  When I was very young, my great grandparents lived there too.  And in their kitchen, I remember watching my great grandmother make homemade chicken and noodles.  I would sit on the counter while my Gram would make me a chocolate milkshake in her blender.  Years later, my son would do the same.

This is the kitchen where I learned to make fudge and divinity and peanut brittle.  Its where Mason learned how to make my Gram's cream cheese dip better than anyone else.  

There was nothing especially fancy about this mid-century, mid-America kitchen.  It had the original cabinets that were built with the house in the 50's.  There was a vinyl floor.  There was no dishwasher.  The countertops were just regular laminate - except for the 24 inches just to the right of the stove, where my granddad had replaced it with butcher block that he made himself.

The house where I spent so much of my first 35 years is gone now.  The city took it down in the name of "progress".  

But before they did, I took that butcher block out and now it's been beautifully transformed thanks to my talented husband.  It's no longer just a section of countertop.  It's a gorgeous "new" carving board that still has all of the knife marks in it from the years of use and memories that were made in that kitchen. 

It was used again this year to carve our Thanksgiving turkey.  
It will be used for the Christmas prime rib.  
And it will always be used to bring back memories of the good times spent in my grandparents' kitchen.



Saturday, May 3, 2014

Saturday Evening Post Time

There have been a variety of athletes in my family. My husband and son are both basketball players.  My daughter-in-law - volleyball.  My dad was a track man in college. In high school he played basketball and football.  My granddad played ice hockey.

But over 100 years ago, my great great grandmother's brother, Nathan Hill, was a professional jockey.  (That's him on the far right, with my great, great grandmother and their other brothers.)

And today I get to attend the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby.  The Run for the Roses. 

I stop and wonder how much the sport has changed since my Uncle Nate raced these beautiful animals.  

I know that the training for both the horse and the jockey is more advanced.  Certainly the money involved is more substantial.  

But I saw a documentary on a jockey school not long ago and learned that for most of the men and women who ride and care for these horses it's really not about the money.  The majority of the jockeys will never become wealthy doing this.  For most of them it's about the love of the horses that they ride and care for. 

So today I'll don a fancy new hat and place my first ever bet on a horse race.  I'll drink a mint julep in memory of an uncle I never met and be amazed as some of the bravest athletes in the world race 1 1/4 miles in the  "Greatest Two Minutes in Sports" on the backs of some of the most beautiful four legged athletes I'll ever see.  



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

One is Silver and the other Gold

It seems oddly appropriate that today would be the day that the Girl Scouts celebrate their 102nd birthday.  Some of my best memories were made in that organization.  With these girls.

We are no longer the bright eyed Brownies in that photo.  We're in our forties now.
Two of us still live in Wichita.  One is in Arizona. And one is now in Heaven.  Today also marks the anniversary of that day.

We had so many good times, the four of us.  Movies, sleep-overs, camping, years and years of school together.

We didn't get to celebrate enough as adults because we weren't always in the same city, or even in the same state.  It as supposed to be a wedding that was going to bring us together again, but that didn't quite happen.

Memories, though will live forever.  I've learned that friendships can be fragile and precious.  We should handle them with care.

So today, we raise a toast to JillyBean.  Love you forever.  We may make new friends, but we will always keep the old.  You, darling, were golden.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Rolling toward Christmas

What are your holiday traditions?

As a child, it was Midnight Mass, all of my grandparents and great-grandparents at our house, getting to open "just one" present on Christmas Eve, and the home made candy.  Especially my Gram's peanut brittle and divinty and fudge.  Those are the things that you get once a year and they bring back special memories.

As an adult, I bake every year.  Occasionally, I make some of my Gram's candies.  This year the divinity and fudge are done.  Every year, though, I make a recipe that was handed down to me from my mother-in law.  It's a Polish walnut roll that John's Nana used to make.












I never met the woman whose recipe I make every December.  She passed away when John was in high school.  I've heard wonderful stories about her, though.

I was lucky enough to know John's grandfather.  Everybody called him Saik, short for Saikowski, which was his last name.  He was a giant of a man.  Big in stature with a huge heart.  He taste tested my first few attempts at the nut rolls, and since they seemed to pass, I kept at it.

So, here I am, lot of years and hundreds of nut rolls later. I didn't grow up with them, or the family that introduced them to me, but I can't imagine what my life, or my Christmases, would be like without either of them.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

My grandmother's baby brother

is my great Uncle Lawrence.  And today he turns 92.











Most people would wonder about the things that he's seen in those 92 years.
I often wonder about the things he hasn't seen through most of them.

His sight was slowly taken from him before I was born because of a condition called Retinitis pigmentosa.

And although his eyesight has been mostly gone since he was in his 30's, I can't say that I've ever heard him complain.  In fact, he's probably one of the most inspirational people I know.

In spite of the challenges that came with his lack of vision, through the years he still ran his own business, mastered many home improvement skills, learned to dance and lived independently until the age of 91.

In 1940 he was a handsome 19-year-old.











And this was his birthday in 1942.




















I will take him home made carrot cake for his birthday today.
I have no idea if my baking skills are as good as my grandmother's.
I do know that I have been blessed to be her brother's niece.