Category Archives: REFLECTIONS

CHRISTMAS WON’T BE CHRISTMAS

Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was. – From Little Women.

It was the first book I ever owned, a copy of “Little Women” given to me by my mother when I was about ten or eleven. I read it over and over again, often enough to be able to recite entire paragraphs from memory. Owning a copy of “Little Women” caused something to explode within my heart. It was never enough, after that, just to read a book although I read library books voraciously. I wanted to OWN those favorite books as well. Perhaps a year or two later, my brother Jim gave me FIVE Nancy Drew books for Christmas. FIVE! What riches! What wealth!

Not surprisingly, you will have to agree, my house today is wall to wall bookcases filled with books throughout most of the house (ok, none in the kitchen or bathrooms) although you can often find a little stack of magazines or catalogues on the back of the toilet. And last year, Bob built a library that takes up half of the garage. I was unpacking books to go onto the shelves as fast as he finished a section. Finally, after two years, the rest of our books were unpacked and placed on shelves.(We moved into this house in November of 2008).  The garage library is primarily for fiction although I have a respectable collection of books – biographies and auto biographies about our first ladies and one entire section is devoted to American presidents. (I think I have more about John Fitzgerald and Jackie Kennedy than any other president. I think this is because he was the first American president – and she the first “First Lady” who really captured my attention. Next high on my list are books about President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.  We have made many trips to the Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley. But I also collect biographies and auto biographies about movie stars and this probably started when I began working at the SAG Health Plan in 1977.

I’ve also collected books – stories, biographies and—yes, even cookbooks—about African Americans (or Black Americans if you want to be more politically correct. I have found so many really wonderful stories written by African Americans. I believe this is an untapped resource of Americana fiction.

And yes, it started with an inexpensive copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. (I love Little Women so much that I have every film edition of this wonderful civil war era story. But, I have never figured out what pickled limes were; you may recall that Amy got in trouble at school for having a bag of pickled limes in her desk. The teacher confiscated the bag of pickled limes and threw them all out the school house window. I do a lot of canning  (and yes, I collect  cookbooks about canning, preserving, making jams, jellies and chutneys – but have never come across a recipe for making pickled limes!)

“Little Women” is one of those ageless stories that I enjoy watching during the holiday season – along with “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Elf”, “The Santa Clause” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

I have loved Christmas my entire life; when I was about ten years old I began taking my two younger brothers downtown – in Cincinnati – to do our Christmas shopping at the 5 & 10 cent stores. We did all our shopping in one day, along with visiting the department store Santas to get a peppermint stick – and then happily returned home on the trolley (or buses if they had replaced street cars by then) to surreptitiously slip upstairs to my bedroom and wrap our gifts – with wrapping paper my mother had saved from the year before. We ironed out gift wrap paper and ribbons to look “like new” again.  My two brothers and I have the most precious memories of those trips downtown. If we were able, we’d make another trip downtown to see the life-size nativity on display in Garfield Park.

And I think opening the presents, as wonderful as it was, might have been anti climatic to the trip downtown with my little brothers to buy Christmas presents for everyone in the family, with pennies and nickels we had saved or earned. We didn’t have an allowance and earning a bit of cash was always a challenge. My girlfriend Carol went downtown with us one year and in later years confessed that she was always jealous of us Schmidts, buying all our Christmas presents for about a dollar—total!  Well, there was also the five cent bus fare each way to take into consideration. And sometimes we even shared a grill cheese sandwich at the soda fountain counter in Woolworths.

How did we do it? I have no idea. Our little change purses were something like the loaves and fishes in the bible – there was always JUST enough to get something for everyone in the family – five of us children, our parents and our grandparents.

My love for Christmas rubbed off on Bob, my partner for the past 25 years. He became as enthusiastic as I, putting up trees (yes, plural – one year we had 8 trees up in the house in Arleta) and decorating everything in sight inside and outside of the house, while I baked cookies. One year we made a fantastic gingerbread house.  He was always as excited and pleased as I, when guests would arrive at our house and begin to ooh and ahh over the two trees standing on either side of our fireplace, the lighthouse tree in the dining room and the little kitchen-theme trees in the kitchen.   This will be my first Christmas without Bob to share it with.  Christmas won’t be Christmas without him.

I originally wrote this in November of 2011, two months after Bob passed away from cancer of the esophagus. This year will mark the third Christmas without him.

Sandra Lee Smith

September 7, 2014

 

 

 

MAKE SURE YOU READ THE FINE PRINT

Last week, possibly on Friday, I bought some groceries at the supermarket on 30th and Avenue L—a little out of my way, but the nearest Von’s and Albertson’s supermarkets while closer than the Stater Brothers store, were, I thought, a little more expensive—and the boxed wine that I buy—was always several dollars less than that of Von’s or Albertson’s. (I don’t even clip the supermarket weekly special coupons from Von’s anymore because THEIR fine print is also too fine for me).

As I was on my way home, I was baffled because the total was higher than I anticipated. (and the truth is, I rarely double-check cash register receipts, as long as the total is in the ballpark figure of what I think it ought to be). So, after returning home and putting groceries away, I began to check the cash register receipt—and was completely blown away to find that my $7.99 box of Blush wine—had cost me $11.99 – four dollars more! So today, I went back to Stater Brothers, re-checked the price of the blush boxed wine—then went to find the manager to question him about the total. I told him I go out of my way to go to this store because the prices were always better than its competitors—and I was always able to get a box of wine in the $7.99 – $8.99 price range. He returned to the wine racks with me – and then asked if I realized I had to buy FOUR boxes of the wine to get it at the $7.99 price.
“When did that go into effect?” I asked, to which he replied , “About two or three years ago”. And he pointed out the tiny fine print on the price racks.

“Well, I NEVER buy four boxes of wine at the same time,” I said “AND I couldn’t read the fine print even with my glasses on”.

Well to make a long story even longer, the store manager gave me a refund of the $3.99 that I felt I had been overpriced on. And I made up my mind to go the extra distance and go to the Food4less store down on Avenue J and 15th (Which is a branch of the Kroger chain back in Ohio) – but I will check the fine print on THAT store as well, before I buy any. It irks me that buying four of a product to get the lower price means buying a lot more groceries than I want or need. (and nothing like this “buy four to get a lower price” existed when I was raising four sons and trying to get by on as little as possible—we were as poor as church mice until I went back to work full time in 1977.

I KNEW about the requirement to buy four of a given product, such as cake mixes and cereal – but it never occurred to me that the store was requiring me to buy 4 boxes of wine (or any combination thereof) @ 5 liters per box–enough wine to last me the rest of 2014. And, I need to get a new (stronger) pair of glasses—or go supermarket shopping with a big magnifying glass.

As I reflect on this store requirement forcing me to buy four of an item to get the lowest price, and considering that I am retired and on a fixed income—and mind you, this “buy four to get a lower price” appears to be universal in the southern California supermarket regions—I’m at a loss. It wasn’t a major issue when my granddaughter was still going to high school and practically lived here—but now that I am truly living alone….it’s high time I read the fine print. I think I will shop for a strong magnifying glass this afternoon.

–Sandra Lee Smith

GOING OFF TO COLLEGE, JANUARY, 2014

When Savannah was born, on October 22, 1994, she was the first born of my grandchildren—and I was thrilled to finally have a little girl in my life.

From my journals, I wrote “October 22, 1994, Saturday – my first grandchild – a GIRL – was born at 11 am this morning. Her name is Savannah Marie…Kelly & Keara went to the hospital last night – but they had so many false alarms – I didn’t try to get to Palmdale til this morning. I got Jim to drive me and we arrive about 5 minutes before the baby was born. (at 11) and I wasn’t allowed in. Sara her sister and Kelly were with her. The baby has been in an incubator since she was born – at first they said she was breathing too fast and they were running tests & implied to Keara that maybe the baby had Down Syndrome or something. The kids have been frightened out of their wits. Linda brought me back to the house (I can’t think anymore). Kelly stayed at the hospital. We’ve gone back and forth so many times.

October 26 1994-Today is Bob’s birthday. Savannah is 4 days old and seems to be doing fine, according to the kids.
From a letter to Bev dated December, 1994 – “…what a year this has been. Most important to us was the recent birth of my first grandchild-a grand DAUGTHER who was born October 22nd. Her name is Savannah Marie Smith; her parents are Kelly & Keara…at one month of age she is up to a little over 8 lbs. We are all smitten, of course, and think she is the greatest thing to come along since sliced bread. Kelly has me amazed; he changes diapers, feeds the baby, does everything for the baby.

Savannah had a hard time getting here and when she was born, had the cord wrapped twice around her neck; they kept her in an incubator the first 24 hours and kept her in the hospital an extra day because she was having some respiratory problems. We all spent some anxious hours while they ran tests and checked her out. She was about 3 weeks early and Keara had a long and hard labor. No doubt she would have had to have a Caesarian if the baby had been full term. The hospital staff said she would have been more like 8½ – 9 lbs. I spent that weekend out at Kelly’s home in Lancaster then went back the following weekend and cooked a small turkey for the kids…”

From a letter to Bev, written in March, 1995, “I am beginning to think it would be more likely that I would move to Lancaster after I retire – to be near my granddaughter. …the baby is smiling and cooing… Keara swears she says “hi”. Well you know doting mothers. She does babble and has a cute smile. Her mother says she isn’t the princess of ALMOST everything, it’s just everything. She sure is going to be daddy’s girl though…Oh, I kept Savannah overnight for the first time a few weeks back. She took a bottle and went to sleep in my bed at 11 pm and slept til 7 am! At 9 am, up pulls Kelly’s truck and they both jump out and dash in. I shushed them at the door – the baby had just gone back to sleep. They were kind of put out, I think, that she slept all night. Said “oh, well, it must be because she was coming down with a cold”. (Don’t they have that backwards?) That baby knew she was in grammy’s bed!..”

So, that was the beginning of my role being Grammy. As time went by, however, I found it next to impossible to get Savannah to warm up to me. Her parents would say “oh, well, it’s because she’s so shy” – but she wasn’t shy with her Nana, Keara’s mother, or a lot of other people. She and I did make cookies together when she was two years old and we bonded best if no one else was around. Still, she remained aloof with me, despite my best efforts, –until her brother was born in 2002.

From my journal dated 2004, I wrote “Christmas Eve day, Kelly & Keara came down early so that they could go visit his dad – Ethan pitched a fit and didn’t want to go—the last time they were down here, Ethan didn’t want to leave and cried most of the way home. so I said …oh, leave him with me & they did. He is grammy’s boy! I think Savannah may be a little put out about it but Keara explained to her that she was always Nana’s girl (Keara’s mother) and didn’t grow close to me until a few years ago. It’s very meaningful to me that at last I have a grandchild who is “all mine”. They left and I put Teletubbies on for Ethan; he patted the couch next to him and said “Sit here with me, grammy” so I did & I burned some of the rice but what the heck.

Savannah was perplexed that Ethan wanted to stay with me instead of going to see his grandpa Jim. She asked her mother why Ethan wanted to stay with me. Keara said “Well, remember how you always wanted to stay with Nana? Now Ethan wants to stay with Grammy” – and quite possibly my granddaughter deduced that maybe she was missing out on something. 

That was really when Savannah began warming up to me and by this time there were several other grandchildren and we began doing a Christmas cookie & craft project (as well as Easter cookie craft, Valentine’s Day cookie & craft and Halloween cookie & craft). Even so, I don’t think Savannah and I grew really close until Bob and I moved to the Antelope Valley in 2008. I drove her and a couple girlfriends to and from school several days a week; we began baking cupcakes and cookies—and when she was eight I began teaching her how to play Scrabble. By the time she was 18, she could beat almost anyone at Scrabble – except, maybe, Uncle Steve. After Grandpa Bob passed away in 2011, Savannah spent more and more time at my house. We took our first vacation together in 2007, flying to South Dakota to see Uncle Steve & Aunt Lori; in 2012, we returned to Sioux Falls to spend another week with my son and daughter-in-law but also so Savannah could resume her friendship with a neighbor girl, Elizabeth, with whom Savannah became acquainted in 2007. (Before planning the 2012 vacation, I gave her an option—the trip was to be a graduation present – did she want to go to South Dakota—or would she rather go to Hawaii? She chose South Dakota.

By this time my granddaughter had grown into a beautiful young lady, smart and pretty, warm and friendly; she had a host of boy and girl friends throughout the 4 years of high school. Sometimes we went clothes shopping and sometimes we went to the Barnes & Noble bookstore. These past two years, she’s had her driver’s license so she began chauffeuring me to and from some of my doctor or other medical related appointments.

As I type these words, she is with her father and mother, brother, and Auntie Sara, who are accompanying her to Sacramento, where she has an apartment waiting along with a new roommate-they left here this morning, a caravan – Savannah and her mother in Savannah’s car, her father and brother in her father’s pickup truck (loaded with a washer and dryer for the two girls) and her aunt driving her SUV. I doubt that I will see her until April, on spring break.
She came by this morning to say goodbye and tell me she loved me. I waited until she left to shed the tears I have been holding back for the past few days. Three months seems so far away – just as the three months leading up to this very day seemed a long way off.

SAVANNAH IS HER NAME

Isn’t it amazing how fast by the years have flown,
From infancy to woman, just look how much you’ve grown;
From a little girl in pigtails who was learning how to read,
From toddler to teenager, we’ve watched you take the lead.
You were always Grandpa’s favorite, and he called you “Littlebit”
Because he knew you’d be outstanding in whatever life that fit –
I know he’d be proud of you, in whatever curves life throws you,
And would say it’s been a pleasure just for him to know and love you;
And I feel the very same way, as we watched your life unfold—
If you’d been a gymnast, you would always take the gold,
But where ever life may lead you, whether here or far away,
Remember that I love you, far more than I can ever say.
My girl is going to college—life won’t ever be the same–
Watch out world, she’s coming and Savannah is her name.

–Sandra Lee Smith (AKA GRAMMY), January 3, 2014

DOWNSIZING YOUR LIFE, 101

Five years ago, Bob and I went from roughly 3000 square feet of living space, most taken up with bookcases filled with books—part of this from a guest house Bob had converted into a library/office. Before we moved to the Antelope Valley, I gave away hundreds of books to the Burbank main branch library, filling my daughter in law’s SUV with boxes of books—not once but twice—and another time filling my sister’s SUV to overflowing. I gave away more than I can even remember—enough to donate a lot to my nephew’s Boy Scout rummage sale. We had acquired a lot in 19 years of living in the Arleta house.

After we moved and I began unpacking books, I donated another dozen boxes full to the Lancaster library for their biannual sales. I also gave bowls, dishes, cutlery and a collection of extra pots and pans to nieces and nephews as they branched out on their own with their first apartments.

I am telling this to you because I find myself again needing to downsize. When we moved five years ago, I made no attempt to give away or donate any of our Christmas trees, ornaments or other holiday decorations. In Arleta, we had Christmas trees up in every room of the house (except maybe the bathrooms) – we had two big trees on either side of the fireplace in the living room, a big tree on the front porch; smaller trees with a kitchen-y theme in the kitchen. It took about 3 weeks to get it all up and about a week to take it all down. And that was when Bob was alive and I had someone to put up and take down the trees and lights.

The first Christmas without him was 2011 and I really didn’t feel like doing any decorating. Did I make cookies? I don’t remember. But Kelly persisted and put one of the trees up in the living room, near the front door, and Ethan, on his own decided to get the Snow Village up and running in his grandpa’s memory. I think I was inspired enough to put up the small lighthouse tree that gets decorated with all lighthouse ornaments.

This year I began to feel the need to cut corners, do more downsizing. Now, I can’t imagine just throwing out or giving away many of the Christmas ornaments and decorations that fill – I kid you not – 24 large plastic bins from Walmart. But last year, after a penpal in Florida lost her home to a fire that took everything she owned including a collection of angels – I began searching through the ornaments and decorations for angels to send to her. I filled 3 boxes with angels and mailed them to my friend, who was thrilled to have new angels to replace what she lost. And then I began searching for bear ornaments to give to my penpal in Michigan – and sent a box or two of bears to her. It really hasn’t made much of a dent in the entire collection.

We put up just a 3 foot tree this year; Kelly strung some lights on it. Ethan put up the snow village. I brought in one of the plastic bins from Walmart and from it selected a couple dozen ornaments to go on that tree. I will be able to take down everything in less than an hour. It used to take us days. The downsizing is making me sad, in another way, opening the boxes and finding the ornaments that I have collected for fifty years. It was often like a treasure hunt, finding old but treasured ornaments that bring back memories….ornaments Becky and I found at a Christmas store in Carmel, California, for instance. I was paying for a felt boy kangaroo at that shop when the owner said “Oh, this one is nice but the girl kangaroo is much cuter—but it’s sold out”. I asked if she was getting more in and she said yes. I said can I order one in advance? Oh yes she said, and took my address. No, I didn’t need to pay for it until I got it. Sometime later, the girl kangaroo arrived in the mail with a note that I owed her $9.00.

Once when I asked a Christmas-themed store owner (possibly the one in San Francisco) if they accepted checks, she said “oh,sure”. I said some places won’t, when it’s out of town or out of state. She replied (and this has always stayed with me) “Not a problem. Christmas people don’t cheat.”

I have an ornament from Hawaii, a little glass ornament with water and sand from Hawaii inside. It reminds me of Faye, Bob and I going to Hawaii together and the fun we had. I have some ornaments from the Atlanta Georgia underground where there are shops – including a Christmas one – as well as ornaments from downtown Cincinnati which had a Christmas store at one time. I don’t know if its still there or not. Here’s the problem – who else on earth would evoke the same memories I have of when and where and how these small objects came into my possession?

Downsizing can be difficult. I have been trying to restore Bob’s secret garden which is filled with leaves and had to be propped up with two by fours by Kelly, to keep it from listing too much to one side. I finally put all the garden statuary of Bob’s into boxes until I can get the secret garden back in shape. And the more I think about it, much of the Christmas collection was more Bob’s doing than mine. He accepted whatever I loved and cared about and ran with it. (my ex never did). So, I find myself missing Bob more as I attempt to downsize.

Every so often I look through all the pots and pans and bowls and dishes and potato mashers and spatulas, wooden spoons and turkey basters, and ask myself How on earth did I ever end up with so much stuff?—and then the answer comes to me – when my girlfriend Mandy’s father passed away, no one wanted his “stuff” – I took as much as I could handle, loathe to let those things end up in a thrift shop. Then when Mandy died – it was the same thing—I took back all the cookbooks we bought together so that now I have two of a bunch of books—as well as some other things she treasured but her brother didn’t want. So, whenever I pick up a kitchen utensil that came from a friend’s kitchen, some trace of memory accompanies the object. They are not gone, not forgotten. Recently, I was able to buy Chef Szathmary’s two quart mixing bowl. I have to think about the Chef and his long illustrious career, any time I handle something that was his.

In October of 2000, my sister Barbara, four years older than I, was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2002, she began sending some of her collections of milk glass, blue and red glass and other things to various friends and family; I think she wanted to make sure that the things she treasured would be given good care in the hands of sons, grandchildren, sisters and friends.

No one said it would be easy, this business of downsizing. Some of my friends who are close in age to me are experiencing many of the same things; some have had serious health issues to contend with. (me, too, but I don’t want to think about that now) – in a poignant letter my Canadian penpal, Doreen, sent to me, she wrote in part, “I think the real issue about growing older is wanting to turn back the clock to when things ran smoother. No health issues and no family issues. Well, that is not likely, is it!”

She continues, “Living is all about moving forward, not putting moments of happiness under glass. I read the other day that life demands nothing from us except we give up everything we have ever loved. I think of my two beloved houses, my young children (who grew up) and the wonderful jobs I worked and the people I knew. Moving into a condo downsized 2/3 of my possessions; some more loved than others, and forced our lifestyle into a new way of living. Not a bad way. Just not what we once loved, a yard and flower garden and a tree house in the backyard for the grandchildren…”

She also wrote “All my entire world is changing and I am changing to live in the new world. I wish I could say the changes are for the better but I am not certain that they are…”

And I have to agree; I wish I could believe that the changes are for the better but I have a jaundiced opinion of the changes being forced upon me, upon all of us…so what does that have to do with downsizing? Is less better?

And even though I have wonderful memories of my four sons when they were little boys, I also know I am remembering those times through rose colored glasses—we often had little or no money and I had adopted the Mormon creed of keeping a year’s supply of food staples and bottled water on hand. My youngest son says now that the reason he hates spaghetti now is because we had it so often when he was a child. It was not until I returned to work full time in 1977 that we could afford better meals and the ability to do more as a family.

In about a week my oldest grandchild will be going off to college in Sacramento. She has been such an intricate part of my life ever since I moved to the Antelope Valley.

I am going to try to adopt Doreen’s last sentence in her letter, “Let’s stay strong and positive for whatever we meet day by day in 2014 and if we can’t adjust the situation we can always change our attitudes…” Less can be better. I’m working on it.

–Sandra Lee Smith, December 26, 2013

OLD FRIENDS AND OLD BOOKS

Let me share with you a few thoughts on old friends and old books.

Years ago—when I was young and cute and the mother of only two little boys instead of four (1965, actually), I was working at Weber Aircraft when I found myself in need of a new babysitter. A friend suggested her neighbor, a woman named Connie, who herself was the mother of three young children, the youngest a boy the same age as my son, Michael.

Those two five year olds could get into more mischief than half a dozen other children their age. Once I came home to find Connie attempting to put together half a dozen bicycles and tricycles. Michael and his buddy Sean had taken apart all the bikes and trikes—to see how they worked, I think—but they were careful to keep all the parts in one pile. What one five year old didn’t think of doing, the other one came up with. Another time I came home to hear they had painted circles on the fences and whatever else they came in contact with.

Connie became my babysitter and more importantly, a close friend. She was godmother to my youngest son, Kelly, when he was born. Connie and I shared so many interests that it’s impossible to say which one was the most important—and we shared a love of books. One of our interests focused on the White House and anything Presidential; one time we bought a “lot” of used White House/Presidential books, sight unseen, from a woman somewhere in the Midwest. I think the books cost us about $50.00 each and when they arrived, we sat on the floor divvying them up.

We shared a love of cookbooks and began collecting them at the same time, in 1965, although Connie was a vegetarian and leaned more towards cookbooks of that genre. She was also “Southern” and shared with me a love of “anything” Southern. We shared a love of diary/journal type books and books about the Mormons, books about the White House, Southern cookbooks and religious groups that formed in the United States in the 1800s. These were just a few of our mutual interests.

It was because of Connie that I started working for the Health Plan where I was employed for 27 years, until I retired in December of 2002.—I only went to work “part time for six weeks IN 1977 to help out”, and there I was all those years later, casting an eye towards retirement and pleased that I had a pension. My job literally saved my sanity when I went through a divorce in 1985.

Our sons started kindergarten together, and Connie’s oldest daughter lived with me for about six months, as a mother’s helper, when she was in high school.

More than a decade ago, on June 29, 1998, Connie died of lung cancer. It seemed incongruous that someone so devoted to eating healthy should die of such a terrible disease. In 1971, Connie and I quit smoking together, at the same time. I never went back to smoking but a year later, Connie began smoking again. It was hard to understand—why would you take up something again that had been so hard to give up in the first place? (I don’t have the answer to this).

One night, Connie’s oldest daughter brought three boxes of books to the house, explaining that it has taken a long time to go through her mother’s collections—many of her books were divided up amongst her children and other friends, but there were some that Dawn thought I would especially like.

After she left, I opened the boxes and began laying books all over the coffee table and chairs. Books about the White House – some I had never heard of before! I wish I could have had them when I was writing “WHAT’S COOKING IN THE WHITE HOUSE KITCHEN”. Intriguing titles such as “DINNER AT THE WHITE HOUSE” by Louis Adamic, memoirs of the Roosevelt years, published in 1946, and “DEAR MR. PRESIDENT; THE STORY OF FIFTY YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE MAIL ROOM” by Ira Smith with Joe Alex Morris, published in 1949.

There was a Congressional Cook Book – #2 – and a very nice copy of “MANY HAPPY RETURNS or How to Cook a G.O.P. Goose”, the Democrats’ Cook Book. There were several books about soups that I had never seen before another subject I have written about previously, first for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, and again on my blog. One was “THE New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook”, another “The ALL NATURAL SOUP COOKBOOK”.

More books about Southern cooking – a few duplicates but others I was unfamiliar with, “RECIPES FROM THE OLD SOUTH” by Martha Meade, a copy of the “GONE WITH THE WIND COOKBOOK” – actually, a booklet – which was given away free with the purchase of Pebeco Toothpaste which is long gone from the drug store scene while “Gone with the Wind” is as famous as ever. (The first time I saw “Gone with the Wind” was with Connie.

My best friend and I drifted apart some years ago, after a difference of opinion –we remained friends but were not as inseparable as we once had been. She made new friends and so did I. But it was she who urged me to return to work in 1977, for which I remain forever grateful.

But I am deeply touched that some of her treasured books have come into my possession. Running my hands across the covers, I imagine that Connie had done the same thing, many times, dusting them, touching them. For in one aspect, if no other, we were kindred souls. We loved books. I still do.

Old books and old friends have a lot in common. As I have grown older, some of my dearest friends have passed away—but their books, now mine, remain treasures in my collection of books.

–Sandra Lee Smith

THE GREAT AMERICAN CHRISTMAS COOKIE SWAP

As closely as I can remember, the December issue of Redbook magazine once featured a cookie exchange, festive with photographs and—if I am not mistaken—this particular cookie exchange took place in Ohio in the 1970s. I have collected the December issues of many women’s magazines for about fifty years and most are packed in boxes in the garage—I hate to part with any of them.

What I do remember best is that a group of us—coworkers in the office where I worked—held a few cookie exchanges. I hosted one in my home. A friend named Lyn also hosted one. Another year we had the cookie exchange at work . The first cookie exchange was really a flop. We spread the cookies out on platters and let everyone just help themselves to whatever they wanted. As hostess I ended up with all the burnt, crumbling cookies no one else wanted. First lesson learned: Everybody brings 5 or 6 dozen of ONE cookie. It must be a Christmas cookie and it can’t be store bought. Yes, people brought store bought cookies and made no attempt to conceal it. Then each guest receives two or three of each cookie, depending on how many people are there.

Last year I bought a Good Housekeeping cookbook titled THE GREAT CHRISTMAS COOKIE SWAP COOKBOOK.  Theoretically, cookie exchanges should work out to everybody’s satisfaction.  The problem is getting six or more women to put some real effort into making six dozen of one Christmas cookie and putting some thought and consideration into the project.  At one of the cookie exchanges my younger sister hosted, she compiled all the recipes into booklets for each of the guests. And no matter how much the hostess emphasizes that the cookies shouldn’t be ordinary run-of-the-mill cookies—they should be Christmas cookies.  Despite our emphasis on this rule, several people will still bring an ordinary chocolate chip or oatmeal cookie.  Inevitably, they will say they really don’t know how to bake Christmas cookies or they didn’t have time. there are more excuses than there are cookies.

One Christmas, my granddaughter and I made large Christmas tree cookies, frosted and decorated to look like a Christmas tree.  I baked; she decorated.  It baffles me that, years later – so many people don’t understand the concept of a cookie exchange.

I read on Google that cookie exchanges go back seventy years or more. I never heard of them at all until people I worked with started talking about cookie exchanges.

So, what to do if you are invited to attend a cookie exchange?  Put some thought into one cookie that would look festive and yummy. It doesn’t need to be very elaborate or expensive. If your resources are limited, buy a couple bags of a cookie mix; beg or borrow a few Christmas cookie cutters from a friend or neighbor. You will need two nice cookie sheets; if you line them with parchment paper, you can reuse the paper many times. If you make little star cookies, a small star will yield a lot of cookies.  You can make dozens of little stars in a very short time. Cool them on a rack and when the stars are cool, glaze them with a thin white frosting, If you have a young helper in the kitchen let your sous chef helper drizzle some colored sprinkles on the glaze before it has time to set.    Before you can sing all the verses to Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, your cookies will be baked, decorated, and ready to pack in little plastic baggies. And stores like Michaels and JoAnn’s have loads of different kinds of bags in which to pack your cookies. Or spread them out on a large Christmassy platter.

Take a copy of your recipe along to give to the hostess or if you are ambitious enough. make enough copies so that each guest (and the hostess) receives a copy.

Guests are sometimes asked to bring a few extra cookies for sampling; the hostess may offer coffee or tea to go with the cookie tasting.

It isn’t rocket science, girlfriends – a cookie exchange is easy.

–Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

 

“The Rules of the Cookie Exchange”
by Robin Olson ©1997

  1. All cookies should be homemade, baked and main ingredient must be flour.
  2. No plain chocolate chip cookies, cookie mixes, no-bakes, meringues or bars.
  3. Please bring 6 dozen total cookies.
  4. The theme is “Christmas Cookies” (You can make any theme you like.)
  5. Arrange cookies in a basket or platter and be creative! Bring a large container to carry away your cookie, (or the hostess can provide a take away container.)
  6. Email a copy of your recipe before the party (or bring recipe to the party)
  7. Christmas (or party theme) attire is encouraged!
  8. RSVP as soon as you can and let me know what type of cookies you are planning on baking – no duplicate recipes are allowed.
  9. There’s a prize for the best Christmas outfit. (Give prizes!)
  10. If you don’t have time to bake, or have burnt your cookies, but still want to attend, you must go to a real bakery and buy 6 dozen yummy cookies.

Go here for a simple text version of the rules to copy and paste. Modify to suit your needs and include on a separate sheet, with your invitation.

THE RULES OF THE COOKIE EXCHANGE
(aka Cookie Exchange Rules, Cookie Swap Rules)

Robin L. Olson, Copyright 1997

Copyrights notice: “The “Rules of the Cookie Exchange” are for your personal *offline* use, feel free to change items to suit your needs and no acknowledgments are needed.

If you’re a writer, journalist, blogger or posting to message boards (ie; anything online or in print publication) using the CE rules, (in part or whole) please give credit where credit is due, and create an active link on the bottom of the same page that says:
“Some content courtesy of Robin Olson, Cookie-Exchange.com.”

 

MY CHILDHOOD CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

Christmas was the most magical holiday of my childhood; in retrospect many years later, I realize that my mother went to great lengths to make Christmas special, even though there was very little money.

I remember my dolls disappearing around in November and would reappear on Christmas Eve with new dresses that my mother made for them.

We celebrated the Feast of St Nicholas on December 6th, hanging my father’s long white socks (because they were the longest) on nails on the pantry cupboard door.  It was the only time I remember having a tangerine, and there would be hard candies in your stocking too. The Feast of St Nicholas meant that Christmas would soon be here.

My mother waited until Christmas Eve day to buy a tree, because by then whatever was left on the lot was marked down to something like fifty cents. The Christmas trees I remember were beautiful but as I look at an old photograph taken one Christmas when I was about five years old, I see that our Christmas  trees were really spindly and sparse. Bare spaces were filled in with a lot of tinsel.

We didn’t have great expectations, in the 40s and 50s—intuitively knowing that anything expensive would be out of the question.  We would go through the Sears catalog oohing and ahhing over all of the toys—for me it was all the baby dolls. Many of our gifts would be underwear and socks, articles of clothing always needed. I remember one year receiving Days of the Week panties in different colors.

We celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve and my mother managed to get all of us out of the house for the day.  Some of those Christmas Eves, I took my younger brothers downtown to do our own Christmas shopping. We probably never had more than a dollar each saved up but somehow we managed to find presents for our parents, grandparents and siblings, at the 5 & 10 cent stores. My brothers and I loved going downtown in Cincinnati, especially during the holidays. We visited all of the major department stores (Shillitoes, Pogues, Mabley & Carew) so we could go see all of the Santa Clauses and get a free peppermint stick. (We knew they weren’t the real Santa Claus – these were just helpers – but my brothers climbed on each  Santa’s knee and told him what they wanted (a Gene Autry cap gun and holster and a authentic cowboy hat for Bill—but I can’t remember what Biff asked for).

How we ever managed to buy gifts for everyone in the family with our meager savings is a mystery. My girlfriend Carol Sue sometimes accompanied us downtown and years later confessed to being jealous of us. Jealous? I was incredulous – how could anyone be jealous of children who might have only a dollar to spend on all of their family members, never mind needing a nickel for the streetcar ride to and from downtown?  Carol said it baffled her that we managed to find gifts for everyone. AND if we had enough money left over, we shared a grilled cheese sandwich from the luncheon counter at Woolworths. I can only liken it to Jesus and the loaves and fishes. Somehow there was always enough. We would tote our treasures home and then wrap them in old gift wrap that we ironed to make it as good as new.

Christmas Eve generally found us children at my grandmother’s waiting for a telephone call. Then my father came to pick us all up in the family car. When the Chevie pulled up in front of our house on Sutter Street, we could see the decorated tree glowing from a living room window. My mother met us at the porch, exclaiming “You just missed him! He just left!” and we’d dash through the house hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus—not worrying too much about missing him when the living room was filled with PRESENTS.

I especially remember the year when the first thing I spotted in the living room was a desk. I had SO wanted a desk of my own. “My desk! My desk!” I cried.

“How do you know it’s for you?” my mother asked.

“Oh, I know!” I exclaimed, running my hands across the top of the desk.  I was about ten at the time and already had my career as a writer planned.

I may have been about the same age when my mother gave me a copy of Little Women for Christmas. It was the very first book of my own (not counting books I had found in my mother’s bookcase and commandeered them for my own). Another Christmas, a  few years later, my brother, Jim, gave me five brand new Nancy Drew mysteries – by then I was off and running. It wasn’t  enough to read the books; I wanted to own them too.

I don’t remember my mother ever doing a lot of holiday baking; my grandmother did, however. What I remember most vividly were butter cut out cookies all cut into diamond shapes; she would dip each cookie into egg white and then into a mixture of granulated sugar and chopped walnuts, before baking them. My sister, however, remembered Grandma making many different  Christmas cookies which were packed into a dress box. I have a lot of cookie cutters today, perhaps three hundred of them – but you know what I treasure the most? Yes, of course – grandma’s diamond shaped cookie cutter and another that is heart shaped.

I became a Christmas maniac  once I got married and began having children of my own—I would shop for bargains throughout the year and hide them in a closet so that my sons would have a lot of great presents to unwrap on Christmas morning. I began collecting Christmas ornaments and started baking cookies and freezing them in September.  I began collecting recipes for fruitcake and trying many different recipes.  You can’t have too many ornaments or too many Christmas cookie cutters; you can’t have too many angels –or, in our case, you can’t have too many trees. Before we moved into a much smaller house in the high desert, we were putting up eight Christmas trees!

This is what I remember about Christmas – not the presents so much as the unity between my younger brothers and myself, those trips downtown, our surreptitious trips upstairs to my bedroom where we wrapped everything, while my mother’s small Crosley radio (on top of the frig) played Christmas music .

If you ask my brothers, I think they will tell you the same thing.

Remembered by Sandra Lee Smith