Nutcracker memories

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Little One’s fascinated by them too.

Since I was a child, I’ve always loved the classical music of The Nutcracker, written by Tchaikovsky. I mean who doesn’t love the idea of a sugar plum fairy dancing in your head while you listen to that beautiful music?

A long time ago, I started a small collection of different nutcrackers and they almost always adorn someplace in our home at Christmas time. I don’t really recall which one I acquired first, but over the years, I’ve added more. But before the collection became too large, I decided to stop and just keep it small.

Of course, The Nutcracker is a famous ballet, usually performed during the Christmas season and I do have a vague recall of having seen it televised when I was a child in the early 1960’s.

Later, as a married adult I attended a live performance of The Nutcracker danced by a ballet company in the city where we lived at the time.  And as our children came along, I decided that one day we would take them to see the ballet as a holiday treat.

We managed to accomplish that, although our son, who was pretty young at the time, fell asleep and missed more than half of the performance. Still it’s a lovely memory in my mind: the five of us all dressed up in Christmas finery traveling into the city to enjoy a live ballet with a Christmas story line.

Our oldest granddaughter seems to share my fascination with nutcrackers. We’ve read the story to her and she remembered that Nana has a set of nutcrackers that decorate the top of the piano at Christmas time.

While Papa and I were hauling out the holly to set our house ablaze with lights and decorations, Little One was here as it was a baby-sitting day.

“Nana, can I help you get the nutcrackers out?” she asked. Well, I’m a grandmother, a doting one, and even though I probably never allowed my own children at her age to help with the nutcrackers in fear that they would break one, of course, I said, “Sure!”

I found the plastic storage bin where the nutcrackers were located, opened it, and one by one, Little One helped me release them from their protective layers of tissue and bubble wrap. Something needed my attention in the kitchen, so I left our granddaughter in the dining room with the decorations.

Re-entering later, I found myself amused that she had lined them all up mostly by height and was enjoying them. So I left again to do something else.

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“Okay, all of you nutcrackers, line up!”

Soon, I heard a little bit of thumping. I called to her and asked if she was alright. She assured me she was. A few minutes afterward, she sought me and asked me to come into the living room. I was shocked at what I found.

My four-year-old grandchild has an eye for decorating! She had crawled up onto the piano bench and placed the nutcrackers, one by one, in a very nice fashion. She was so proud of her accomplishment that she dragged her mama, when she got back from working, in to see her display.

We all chuckled when she announced that she did it all by herself and “I didn’t even get distracted.”

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Little One’s display — just as good as Nana can do!

Those nutcrackers gave me yet another Christmas memory to cherish. And some day, when she’s just a tad older so she won’t fall asleep, this Nana and Papa will take our granddaughter, dressed in her Christmas finery, to see The Nutcracker ballet in person.

And that will be yet another Christmas memory for her and me, I hope.

“The nutcracker sits under the holiday tree, a guardian of childhood stories. Feed him walnuts and he will crack open a tale.” ~ Vera Nazarian

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Christmas tree tea

blogIMG_0128O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree, how lovely is your…hodgepodge.

Some folks have beautifully decorated themed Christmas trees. This tree is all decked in white and is covered in angels. Or that tree sports multi-colored lights with all Santa ornaments on it. Or whatever floats your boat – it could be even a nautical or beach themed tree.

But not here at Mama’s Empty Nest. Nope, our tree doesn’t have a theme unless you consider it an eclectic one, a mishmash that doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason. 

Our tree is adorned with ornaments from years ago, from places we’ve visited over our 40-some years of marriage, from gifts we’ve been given, to ornaments just because I liked the look of them.

It’s a miscellaneous assortment of this and that. But I like it because, for the most part, each ornament hanging on our evergreen holds a memory.

Preparing for our family Christmas this year when the nest will be full, I took a moment to stop my frantic pace of decorating and completing my mile-long list of things to do before Christmas to sit and admire our hodgepodge tree. While doing so, I caught a glimpse of an ornament that reminded me of one Christmas season many years ago.

Back in the day when this empty nest mama was a busy mama of school-aged children, I devoted a lot of time volunteering at their public schools. I was room mother (we planned the class parties) for all three of my kids.

I volunteered in their classrooms every week helping students with reading or catching up on their work.  I slaved away at numerous school fundraisers. And I served a few years as PTA (Parent Teacher Association) President and Vice-President.

After my last stint as PTA President, I decided to take a break from all of that activity. Since we worked so closely together, the other PTA mom officers became some very good friends. They didn’t believe me when I said I was hanging up my PTA hat and asked me what I would do with my time instead. I promptly answered, “I’ll have tea parties!”

And so I did. That Christmas, I held a tea party for those same friends in my home. The menu included tiny quiches, petite tea sandwiches, an assortment of small cookies, and oranges cut in half, scooped out, and filled with a berry fruit salad.

I brewed holiday flavors of hot tea – candy cane lane and sugar plum spice – and served them in Christmas tea pots.

Prior to the party, I decorated our dining room table with a red tablecloth, a plaid red and green table runner down the center, and a beautiful live greenery centerpiece with candles. 

At each place setting, I used my Christmas china plates and tea cups along with red and green plaid cloth napkins, bedecked with lacy napkin rings I had fashioned with tiny pine cones and ribbon.

I bought tiny clay pots, spray painted the outside of them gold, tied plaid ribbons around them,  filled them with red and green M&M candies, and placed a chocolate molded candy Christmas tree on a lollipop stick in each of them so they looked like Victorian topiaries. Those were the favors and they added a nice touch to the décor.

I was pleased with the results of my plans and I wish I had thought to take a photo of my Christmas tea party, but alas, no such picture exists. And there was no such thing as Pinterest back then to give me ideas.

All of this came back to my mind from that memory bank in my brain when I noticed the adorable little ornament resembling a tea bag with two little mice enjoying a cup of tea. One of my friends, a guest at my Christmas tea party that day so long ago, gifted me that little treasure. 

When I gaze at it, I remember that lovely time with wonderful friends. It truly makes a delightful Christmas memory. Who would have thought my tree would remind me of a long ago tea party?

That’s why I like my hodgepodge Christmas tree.

“Recipe for a tea party: one cup of love, two pots of tea, and a handful of friends to make the moments sweet.” ~ unknown

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

 

Memory snow banks

blogIMG_0225(Note from Mama’s Empty Nest: During this busy Christmas season, I’m reposting blogs from several years ago. If you missed why, please click on this link for my reasons. The following post is from December 2013.) 

I’ve been under the weather in more ways than one.  Relegated to our family room’s comfy couch, I’ve been down with a nasty cold/flu bug for several days now. 

Just lying around and vegetating (usually with the cat sleeping on top of my stomach or curled at my side), my brain’s been saturated with fog preventing me from taking advantage of the down time to write some new blog posts.

Nope, no creative juices to be found.  All I could manage was listening to my Pandora Christmas music station or the one on cable TV,  watching a plethora of holiday movies, and thinking about all the things I should be trying to accomplish for Christmas like gift shopping, wrapping presents,  and making a grocery shopping list. 

As I muddled through the fog that enveloped my brain, I peered out the window to  watch snowflakes flutter and fly through the air. 

Snow moved into my neck of the woods and it set up housekeeping.  Often I left my perch, flung open the door, and just stood there wrapped up in my warm, tattered robe taking in the magnificent show nature performed for me.

Sometimes tiny specks of icy snow that are almost not perceivable dropped from the overcast sky.  Other times sizable cottony fluffs floated and danced through the air on their spiral downward. 

Sometimes snow fell in an almost lazy we’ve-got-all-the-time-in-the-world way.  Other times it sped up and descended so fast and furiously it produced a white-out effect.

Snow frosts our shrubs like icing drizzled over a cake.  It buries our driveway until the only way I can ascertain where it’s located is by the reflector poles hubby placed at one edge of the drive for that purpose.  At night, our outside Christmas lights reflect through their blanket of snow and it truly does look like a winter wonderland. 

Lots of folks here complain about the snow, they complain about the cold, they complain about the messy roads. I don’t. I like snow. I like the cold temperatures. And as far as the roads go, hey, it’s winter in western Pennsylvania, what do you expect?

Of course, like the old song says, I’ve got no place to go so why not let it snow. And it does. It snows and it snows and it snows and I wonder will it last until Christmas? And as it does so often, my mind reverts back to the past just as quickly as if the Ghost of Christmas Past was whisking me there. 

After all, with my achy body and profound lack of energy induced by illness, I have time on my hands to take a few mental excursions since those are the only trips I can muster. 

I remember so many of those magical white Christmases of yore. But I also remember those out of the norm times when temperatures were spring-like and December 25 proved to be a green holiday. But mostly, I remember snow decorating the landscape at Christmas time.

Back when our three were little tykes, I vividly remember one Christmas when we lived in the Midwest. That year, we were not able to travel back to our home state to visit our families for the holidays. 

Instead, we would celebrate our Savior’s birth alone with just our family of five. On Christmas Eve, the kids were so wound up with excitement they could hardly contain themselves. And that excitement turned into sheer joy when we looked outside and noticed it was snowing!

We woke up Christmas morning to a world filled with white – just like a snow globe. Since we had no extended family coming nor were we going anywhere, we spent a leisurely, relaxing Christmas Day in our pajamas opening gifts, exclaiming over the joy of both giving and receiving special things, and playing with our children and their new toys. 

Then we all bundled up in our winter wear, piling on hats and scarves and mittens and boots and all five of us ventured outside into our winter playground to frolic in the snow. It proved to be a special Christmas that will always remain etched in my snowy memory bank.

Snow and Christmas. Christmas and snow. They seem to go hand in hand in my mind.  Maybe that’s why I love snow so much. It always reminds me of Christmas – a season of love and joy and giving…and light.

The Light of the world given to us on that special night. What reflects light better than a covering of snow? Last night when sleep eluded me, I noticed how bright it looked outside with the moon reflecting off the glistening snow.

And this all comes to my mind as I wander into the living room, sit quietly in the chair by the window, watching the snow swirl and twirl.  Glancing at our glittering Christmas tree,  I catch sight of an old treasured ornament hanging there.  

A smiling snow man face with a black top hat that adorned my parents’ Christmas tree when I was a kid grins at me. Dating back to the late 50’s or early 60’s, somehow it managed to survive all of these years unbroken even though it’s made many moves from house to house, state to state, since I acquired it.

Mr. Snow Man looks a little worn from his many years but from his spot on our tree, he faces the window where he can see the wintry landscape outside and he smiles. It’s as if he says, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”

And with that, let the heart-warming memories of happy Christmas times descend right along with the snow.  Let it snow memory after memory.  Suddenly, I don’t feel so under the weather after all.

“Oh the weather outside is frightful but the fire is so delightful and since we’ve no place to go…let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” ~ Sammy Cahn

©2013 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

Craft yourself a Merry Christmas

blogIMG_4543(Note from Mama’s Empty Nest: During this busy Christmas season, I’m reposting blogs from several years ago. If you missed why, please click on this link for my reasons. The following post is from December 2010.) 

It’s hard not to be crafty at Christmas. 

Oh, I don’t mean being crafty in the sense of the definition of the word: sly, shrewd, cunning or deceptive, although I suppose you could call many people crafty at Christmas time.

There’s the shrewd way some people act at the mall when they slide into a parking spot first while you were patiently waiting for the previous car to vacate the space. 

Some people are downright cunning as they push and shove their way through crowds to get the very last [insert newest, hottest selling toy here]. 

And often times, we are very deceptive as we hide the Christmas presents or even the Christmas cookies so they won’t all be eaten before Christmas arrives!

No, I don’t mean that kind of crafty.  I’m thinking more about those who are like Martha Stewart. Wait a minute, she did go to jail once….perhaps she was cunning or deceptive, huh? 

Well, let’s concentrate on her ability to take an ordinary branch off her juniper tree and turn it into the most amazing shimmery addition to a boring centerpiece that you ever have seen. That’s what I mean by crafty.

Some people can just take scraps of this, leftovers of that, add some ribbon and glitzy stuff and voila! A lovely Christmas ornament for your pine tree.

Or there are those people who actually make Christmas gifts for family and friends. I admire their creativity and tenacity!

And then there are the items that were lovingly handmade at school or in Sunday School class by your children when they were little. Crafts and Christmas just seem to go together.

I was thinking about that the other day when I finally finished decorating our Christmas tree. (Yep, I succumbed.  I just couldn’t leave a bare-naked tree in my living room!) There are a lot of crafty ornaments residing in my Christmas décor boxes. 

Here’s the round painted one oldest daughter made in second grade, if I remember correctly. It hung on the mayor’s Christmas tree at City Hall in the town we lived in then. 

Middle daughter made candy canes out of red and white pony beads and pipe cleaners one year with her fellow Girl Scouts. Son constructed a baby Jesus in half a walnut shell in Sunday School way back when.

Several handmade ornaments that I purchased at craft shows or holiday bazaars also congregate in my boxes, some of those I even managed to make myself. 

Others were gifts bestowed upon me like the clear glass ball with a sketch of Jesus inside from a friend or the half egg shell with a Christmas scene displayed inside of it, a gift from my mother many years ago.

Over the years, I’ve tried my hand at crafting other decorations as well, including a nutcracker wreath, a garland of felt stars with homemade buttons fashioned out of clay and baked in the oven, and who knows what else lurking in those boxes. 

When I unpack these items, it brings back a lot of delightful memories – some of my mother, some of my children as they were growing up, and some of friends, now far away.

When I was a little girl, my mother belonged to a “Home Extension Group,”  ladies who met monthly at each other’s homes for a demonstration of home arts and a lovely lunch. 

Most of these women were my mom’s age or older and I vividly remember being the only youngster at those meetings until I got older and trotted off to school. Even then, I would be excited to jump off the school bus and enter my home to see the ladies from home extension there and taste the yummy leftover dessert.

These women gathered to craft or learn something new in the fine art of homemaking.  Sometimes a representative from the state home extension office would visit and give a demonstration, perhaps on home canning or sewing.

I still remember the year they made large white candles shaped like snowballs for Christmas. Whatever they were making or eating, this group of friends always seemed to enjoy their time together.

Several years ago when my family lived in the Pacific Northwest, I told this story of Mom’s home extension group to some of my friends and we decided to resurrect the concept. A few weeks before Christmas, we met at a friend’s home, spent the morning crafting together and sipping hot coffee or tea, then shared a tasty and delicious lunch.

Once we designed nutcracker wreaths. We all convened at the craft store to choose scads of items to hot glue onto our wreaths of artificial greenery. Festive ribbons, little nutcrackers, Christmas birds, glittering balls, shiny strings of beads, twigs of fake holly…it looked like the Ghost of Christmas Present had thrown up all over the table!

But oh, the fun we had! We chatted and laughed as we crafted, enjoying each other’s company so much, giving advice about the placement of tinsel tidbits, which was beneficial because the more savvy decorators among us could give direction to those of us who were craft-deficient.  

Having relished our day together, we decided to continue the idea each week as we launched another Christmas craft. For the first time, I truly understood why my mother belonged to her “home extension group” for all those many years.

It wasn’t about the finished product, although that was nice. The real joy came from time well-spent with dear friends, savoring one another’s company with laughter and merriment yet sharing burdens and sorrows as well. It was about gathering for a lovingly home-cooked lunch together as neighbors who had more in common than just the neighborhood where they lived.

Yes, it was a simpler time when my mother and those sweet ladies, whose faces I can still recall even though every one of them has left this world, convened every month for camaraderie and cake. 

But those simple times can be recaptured – my friends and I did it that one special time at Christmas. We just have to want to live a simpler life, to take time to visit those we treasure, and make memorable moments happen.

It’s Christmas. It’s time to slow down. Spend time with your closest friends and family.

And while you’re at it, though you may not be “crafty,” make something special together – even if it’s just lovely memories.

©2010 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Still longing

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With my new dolly in 1957

(A note from Mama:  I’m reblogging this post I wrote in December 2013, so for my long-time readers, if it sounds familiar, it is.   I find that I’m still longing for that old fashioned Christmas.  Maybe you are too.)

Maybe it’s just my middle age.  Maybe it’s the empty nest thing.  Or maybe it’s just that I have more time on my hands to spend reflecting on the past.  Whatever it is, I find myself singing the words to an old Frank Sinatra Christmas song.

“Give me an old fashioned Christmas, an old fashioned Christmas,

 Family faces, wide open spaces, covered with snow.”

This Christmas here at Mama’s Empty Nest there will be family faces.  And wide open spaces at our country home for certain.  Right now those spaces are covered with snow and hopefully we won’t just be dreaming of a white Christmas.

In my heart,  I’m longing for an old fashioned Christmas – one with less hurry and scurry.  One with deeper meaning.  One with a simpler celebration.  And I’m determined to accomplish it.  Oh, my Christmas to-do list bounces around my brain but I’m simplifying it.  I’m not scouring Pinterest for decorating ideas or cookie recipes or fancy Christmas dinner menus.

I’m sticking to the basics but even abbreviating those.  Christmas cards are signed, sealed, and delivered but this year I opted for fewer cards and a shorter Christmas note.  Decorating our home is completed but not all of the décor, just some favorites, made it out of the storage boxes.  The oven will fire up for some cookie baking but not the usual marathon, just two or three kinds instead of a huge assortment.  Simple meal preparation will follow suit.

Downsizing for a simple Christmas almost doesn’t make sense though.  This year is different than Christmases past when I squeezed in all of the preparations and scarcely had enough time to do it all.  I have more free time on my hands than usual and you would think that would entice me to really do Christmas up big.  Fancy.  Over the top.  One to remember.

But then I recall Christmas as a child.   Do I remember anything fancy?    Do exquisitely wrapped packages with expensive gifts inside come to my mind?  Fine cuisine?  A beautiful and elaborately decorated home?  Do I recollect an over the top celebration?

What I remember from childhood Christmases are simple aspects.  My father would usually bring the Christmas tree home with him one day after work.  Sometimes that wouldn’t be until shortly before Christmas and one year I remember actually decorating the tree on Christmas Eve.

After my older sisters married, they spent Christmas Eve with their in-law families so that meant my parents and I usually attended candle-light service at church to welcome the Christ child.  Before the service, my father would drive us around our area to see neighbors’ homes Christmas light displays and we would ooh and aah over those that glowed the brightest.

No fireplace existed at my childhood home, but I still hung up my stocking over the knob of the front door.  I would be so excited for Christmas morning that I could barely sleep.  When Christmas Day arrived, my stocking bulged full of goodies although not with toys, gadgets, and gizmos.  

Dumping it out, I would discover a huge juicy orange, a shiny red apple, mixed nuts in their shells, candy canes, and other Christmas candy.  And I would be delighted with the yummy treats even though they were practically the same every year.  Nestled beneath the Christmas tree, I’d find one or two specially requested simple toys – a doll, a game, or one exciting year, a beautiful blue bicycle –  just for me. 

That afternoon brought our entire family gathered together and crowded into the living room around a simple Scotch pine real tree covered in old-fashioned strings of lights with colored bulbs, metallic icicles, and the same ornaments year after year.  It wasn’t a fancy themed tree; instead a hodge-podge collection adorned that prickly-needled fir which filled the air with the pungent scent of pine.

We exchanged gifts – real honest to goodness gifts that were purchased with thoughtfulness and consideration instead of gift cards or envelopes of money.  And we laughed, and we exclaimed over our wonderful presents, and we thanked one another with smiles and hearty hugs.

My mother prepared a simple but abundant and appetizing meal displayed on the dining room table – no fancy recipes, no exquisite table centerpieces/decorations to make it look like a photo spread from a magazine.  And we bowed our heads thanking God for the most precious gift of all – His Son Jesus Christ – and for our provision of food and family.

After dinner, one of us occupied the bench at our upright piano to plunk out Christmas carols while the rest of us sang the well-known tunes over and over again.  We’d eat dessert and commence a few rousing rounds of cards or games or sometimes just putting a new jigsaw puzzle together.

A simple Christmas.  Not photo worthy because of the food, the glitz, the gifts, or the amount of money spent.   A Christmas worth remembering because of love, gratitude, and joy felt and appreciated when a family assembles to celebrate.

That’s my idea of an old-fashioned Christmas and that’s what I’m hoping for this Christmas.

“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.”  ~ Bob Hope

©2013 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com