Category Archives: REFLECTIONS


“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—-Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” – Harper Lee quote from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

“Shoot all the blue jays if you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” – from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

In the Saturday, February 20, 2016 issue of the Los Angeles Times, they printed a lengthy obituary of a very well-known author, Harper Lee, who passed away at the age of 89. I was a huge fan of her 1960 novel “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD”

Until Charles Shields wrote “MOCKINGBIRD, A PORTRAIT OF HARPER LEE” published in 2006 by Henry Holt and Company, too not much was known about Harper Lee, who remained a very private person for most of her life.

Despite this, she endured “a punishing promotional tour” to promote the film “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD”, starring Gregory Peck in 1962.

One writer noted that “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD” published in 1960 at dawn of the civil-rights struggle has been called the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of its day.

Like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic, MOCKINGBIRD is built around the depredations visited on a black man in the South, Tom Robinson, who is defended against a trumped-up rape charge by a white lawyer named Atticus Finch.

The novel won the Pulitzer Prize and sold over 30 million copies in dozens of languages. In fact, it has not been out of print since it was first published and has been required reading in many high schools.

Shortly after TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was published, it was picked up by the Book-of-the-Month-Club and the Literary Club and a condensed version appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine.

“Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts” – from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

The following year, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD won the Pulitzer Prize as well as several other literary awards. Horton Foote wrote a screenplay based on the novel and used the same title for the 1962 film adaptation. Lee visited the set during filming and gave a lot of interviews to support the project.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD earned eight Academy Award nominations; the movie version won three awards, including best actor for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Finch. The character is said to have been based on Lee’s father.

In 2007, President George W. Bush presented Lee with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her “outstanding contribution to America’s literary tradition”, at a ceremony at the White House

(I am noting that she never refused attendance for events such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom; after reading articles on Google and the lengthy article that appeared in the L.A. Times on February 20, 2016, I don’t think Lee was against luncheons with her friends of family or friends—I concluded that she just got fed up with reporters and as a rule refused all requests for interviews).

In 2007, also, Lee suffered a stroke and struggled with various ongoing health problems including hearing loss and limited vision and problems with short-term memory.

After the stroke, Lee moved into an assisted living facility in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Using a magnifying device to read, necessary for her macular degeneration, Lee was able to keep up with reading. Her sister once said that “books are the things she cares about”.

In 2013 Lee filed a lawsuit in a federal court against literary agent Samuel Pinkus charging that in 2007 Pinkus engaged in a scheme to dupe her out of the coyright TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, later diverting royalties from the work.

In September 2013, a settlement was reached in the lawsuit.

In 2014, Lee allowed TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD to be released as an e-book; she signed a deal with HarperCollins to release TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as an e-book and digital audio editions. But, Lee explained (for which I wholeheartedly understand) that she was “Still old fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries…” She said she was amazed and humbled that MOCKINGBIRD has survived this long.

While TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was the first novel Lee had published, it wasn’t the first one she wrote. Her first novel, GO SET A WATCHMAN had been submitted to a publisher in 1957. When the novel wasn’t accepted, Lee’s editor asked her to revise the story and make her main character, Scout, a child. Lee worked on the story for two years and it eventually became TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD.

For decades, Lee shunned requests for interviews and claimed she was finished with writing—so that when HarperCollins announced in early 2015 that they planned to publish a new Harper Lee novel, they received a mixed bag of responses—from delight to dismay. The title of the “new” novel, GO SET A WATCHMAN was actually written years earlier and was discovered by Lee’s lawyer in Harper’s safe-deposit box.

With reports that 88-year old Lee suffered failing health, questions arose about the publication of the novel. Lee issued a statement that she was “alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to WATCHMAN”. Alabama officials investigated and found no evidence that she was a victim to coercion.

Controversy aside, WATCHMAN broke pre-sale records for publishing house HarperCollins and was on target to become one of the fastest selling literary works in history.

Harper Lee (whose first name was actually Nelle) passed away in her sleep on February 19, 2016, at the age of 89, in an assisted living facility in Monroeville, Alabama.

“People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for” – from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

And finally, she wrote, in MOCKINGBIRD, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what”.

I was going on twenty years old when TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD” was published. There was a reason why it resonated with me, personally, as a human being. I don’t think I ever suffered from any racial feelings or beliefs.

When I was about fifteen years old, I wrote a short fictional story called THE STORY OF GLENDA. Glenda was a young woman whose father was a black man and her mother was a white woman. I would type my stories one page at a time, single spaced—and then share them with childhood girlfriends and high school classmates who all waited with bated breath for the next installment.

About the time Lee was writing TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I was writing short stories trying to change the racial beliefs of people with whom I came in contact. I didn’t know or come in contact with any African Americans throughout my childhood or adolescence.

God is good; fourteen years ago, my biracial grandson was born. He is the light of our lives.

Harper Lee also wrote “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”.

–Sandra Lee Smith

Christmas MEMORIES 2015


We all have memories, good or bad, happy or sad, of the Christmas holidays throughout our lives.

My earliest memory took place when I was five years old. That year, all of my dolls disappeared mysteriously, only to reappear in new clothing on Christmas Eve. My family celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. When I was about ten years old, I began taking my two younger brothers downtown with me–Downtown Cincinnati where we did all of our Christmas shopping in the five and ten cent stores but we also visited the department stores to see the downtown Santas, who gave children a peppermint stick. We three have wonderful memories of those trips downtown – first in street cars, later on by bus when the city retired the street cars.

We somehow managed—on such limited funds—to buy a grilled cheese sandwich and a coke at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, which we three shared. With perhaps a couple of dollars in nickels, dimes and pennies, we bought gifts for both parents, each other and any living grandparents. Once back to our house on Sutter Street, we surreptitiously hurried upstairs, to my room, where we wrapped our presents—wrapped in pre-used gift wrap that I would iron to make it look like new again.

One year, my brother Biff gave Dad a little wax Santa boot that contained a couple of peppermints; everyone laughed when Dad opened his present from Biff. Biff ran upstairs, mortified that everyone laughed at his gift. Consequently, the entire family had to go upstairs to convince Biff that they weren’t laughing AT Biff’s gift but that they laughed that it was such a wonderful present.

Undoubtedly, none of the adults—my parents or grandmothers or any of our aunts and uncles—had any idea how little money we had managed to save to buy our presents. Neither of my parents had ever given any of us allowances. In my childhood memories of the years following World War II we struggled to come up with any money. I could sell greeting cards that my mother sold for Cardinal Craftsman, we cashed in pop bottles that I think, at the time, could be redeemed for one or two cents each.

When they grew a little older, my brothers could try to drum up some cash shoveling snow for our neighbors and when I was about twelve years old, I began babysitting for some of our neighbors. I babysat my brothers all of the time but that wasn’t something you got paid for.

I have no idea how my younger brothers came up with enough money to go Christmas shopping—but Bill always had the most change (usually in pennies) that he kept in a small change purse in a coat pocket–all of us were aware of the treachery of shoplifters. No shoplifters ever got any of OUR money.

I remember that we got sent to my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve day where we spent the afternoon, until my father came to pick us up in his car. Sometimes, my dad’s cousin, Barbara, who was my godmother, came along with him. I liked seeing Barbara because she always gave me a nice gift. My mother decorated our tree when we were all away from home on December 24. She waited until she could get a leftover tree for fifty cents from the tree lot on Beekman Street.

I’m not sure when our tradition of shopping “downtown” which to any native Cincinnatian always meant “Cincinnati” –happened to begin and then end; maybe it was when we moved to North College Hill and downtown was so far away, or it may have ended when “Downtown” suffered a slump with the advent of the malls out in the suburbs.

At any rate, we began going our separate ways—especially once I was going to high school. (My relationship with Downtown Cincinnati continued, however)—I began working at Western Southern Life Insurance—located downtown—after graduation. I would shop around the various streets ferreting out thrift shops and second hand stores.

In December of 1958, Jim & I got married and we had our first little Christmas at home. I would go to one of the five and ten cent stores to buy the pieces to a nativity, one at a time until I had a full set. I still have that nativity which my four sons grew up on. When the boys were little, they liked to play with the nativity. At one time, the Joseph of the nativity set had gone missing and we had one of the three kings to fill in for him until we either found the original Joseph or I bought another one.

I loved Christmas so much—over the years, our Christmases became more and more elaborate and I would go on baking binges with a girlfriend. We would make as many as thirty kinds of cookies and divide everything up when it got close enough to make up the batches of cookies in tins. (One year—in the 70s, I think—there was a sugar crisis in the USA and a five pound bag of sugar cost more than gas). I shopped and bought bags of sugar one at a time, hoarding it so we could still make cookies. The upside to the sugar crisis is that I learned how to make a lot of cookies using honey.

A divorce in 1986 didn’t stop me from decorating the trees (now more than one. At the height of our tree-decorating mania, we decorated eight trees around the house in Arleta.

Between 1989 and 2007, Bob and I decorated trees all over the house. I should add, we accepted any artificial tree friends or neighbors no longer wanted. We took all rejects. I think Bob found discarded artificial trees on our front lawn a few times.

As most of our friends and family members know, in 2008, Bob and I moved to the Antelope Valley, into a house much smaller than the 3,000 ft Arleta house to a 1500 ft house. And in 2011, my Christmas-mania cohort passed away, where I suspect he is advising Saint Peter how the entrance to the golden gate should be properly decorated for the holidays.

Since then, I have gradually been downsizing; I packed up all the angels I could find amongst our huge collection of ornaments and I sent them to a friend in Florida whose house burned down, taking with it her collection of angels–I sent three or four boxes of angel ornaments and decorations to her.

Maybe new traditions are in the wings, waiting to be resurrected; When Savannah was two years old, I began decorating Christmas cookies with her. For a long time we held cookie and craft parties, having the children decorate something like an ornament, and then decorate large cookies to take home.

I thought that tradition had been outgrown along with our children – but a few days ago, my niece Nikki brought over her 4 year old nephew and 2 year old niece; the children decorated turkey and pumpkin cookies. I just happened to have an assortment of different colored frostings for the children to use. (who SAYS a turkey can’t be painted pink or blue?) and I discovered that we now have a new set of little ones to decorate cookies.

Years ago, Nikki was one of the youngsters participating in the cookie-and-craft event at my house—now she was showing her brother’s children how it is done.

When I sat down to write a Christmas letter about my life in 2015, I had no idea what to write about, other than the trip to Seattle for my niece Leslie’s wedding last summer. The truth is, I am still lost without Bob being here to untangle strings of lights and dig through all the stuff in the garage to find whatever I think is missing.

I leave you with this, written before Bob became ill:

T’was a week before Christmas
And all through the house,
Gift-wrap was littered, it
Even covered a spouse,
Who sat forlorn in his old easy chair,
Wondering if there was
An extra cookie to spare—
For cookies were baked
And filled every tin
But to eat even one
Would be considered a sin—
(Unless it was one that was broken or burned)
Decorations hung everywhere that you turned.
In the guest room, presents were piled everywhere,
And trees were put up, not a moment to spare—
Twinkling lights and ornaments too,
But it will look pretty festive when we’re all through—
I’ve scorched all my fingers giving candy a test
And thought it was time that I had a good rest;
When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I dashed to the door to see what was the matter;
Up on a ladder, Grandpa swayed to and fro—
Trying to decide where the fake reindeer should go—
I was sure he would fall and smash all the lights
I shouted come down and we’ll fix it all right! **
The dollhouse is back where it belongs
And hundreds of CDs play holiday songs,
Pork Loin’s in the freezer and wood on the fire,
Eggnog in the frig we hope will inspire
But if not there is brandy, bourbon and port
To serve every guest who is a good sport;
We’ll work at it all until we fall with a jerk
And let Santa get credit for all our hard work!

(You haven’t been forgotten Grandpa/Uncle Bob)

–Sandra Lee Smith


I know none of you have ever written and asked what my pet peeves were but I was making a double batch of crispy lemon cookies that are made with lemon cake mix—a couple cups of rice krispies which I happened to have on hand, and 2 sticks of butter or margarine, plus a couple eggs—well I dug through the pantry and found two boxes of the Betty Crocker “original” cake mix size that is something like 18 ounces. I made up the batch of cookies and the cookie dough was perfect. You roll the dough in balls and bake them in the oven—when the cookies had cooled, I also drizzled on lemon glaze because I had some of that on hand as well.

Now, if you do a lot of cookie baking (and I know I am not alone in this pastime) and have gotten used to making ever-so-easy batches of cookies made with cake mix—the dilemma now is—how can we continue to make the easy cake mix cookies?

It crossed my mind that this was a two-fold manufacturer’s ploy to sell more cake mix but reduce the size of the product. They change the size of the cake contents and not only save money—every cook in America has to figure out how to change the original recipe.

Another pet peeve – I was reminded of this at the supermarket today: to get the best price on a product – you have to buy 3 or 4 of that product. Well, it’s maddening. to get the best price on 2 liter ginger ale, I have to buy 4 of them. Well, I can tolerate this ploy with the ginger ale because I will use it – but to be REQUIRED to buy one of several dozen products to get the cheapest price? MADDENING. I have purchased far more 12-packs of soft drinks in order to buy two and get three free (no, I don’t do this anymore because the son who used to drink the most coca cola at my house no longer drinks it—so I no longer buy it).

For all the years I was raising four sons and buying a lot of groceries, it wouldn’t have be an issue to buy four boxes of mac and cheese – I knew it would get eaten. But NOW – I am a senior citizen on a fixed income—this is outrageously unfair. I think a 75 year old customer should be exempt from such requirements. Give senior customers an exemption card! The supermarkets I shop at should be used to seeing me by now – and they are liberal about sending me ads for their sales. Isn’t this biased towards seniors???

Another pet peeve? Not knowing the difference between your and you’re:

The easiest rule of thumb is that you’re is a contraction of you are; plain old your is simple – your book, your dog, your house. Whereas you’re going to the parade (you ARE going to the parade). I don’t think any kid going to Catholic school (in my case, St Leo’s) in the 1950s would ever get passed to the next grade if you didn’t know these simple rules.

To, too, and two (should be apparent but… maybe not) –We are going TO the park; I have TOO many cookies on my plate; I can only eat TWO of those cookies.

** my biggest pet peeve takes place on almost all of my favorite weekly television programs—invariably, they film at least one scene (or more) in the dark. NCIS does it. So does Criminal Minds. (I think the latest Criminal Minds started out with three scenes in the dark). And if I spend a week keeping scores, I bet I would find many more. Actually, when I think about it, they could be doing some of those scenes in a dark set and just read their dialogue. Maddening. I think I will start making a list of all the scenes done with a dark background.

Another big pet peeve? People talking on their cell phones while they are driving. This activity is now illegal in most states—if you absolutely MUST talk to someone, get yourself a hands free cell phone.

Isn’t it amazing how dependent we have become of cell phones? One day (prior to our being able to wait for friends and relatives at their gates) I was waiting for my brother Jim to dis-embark and began counting all the people who were ON THEIR CELLPHONES as they came off the airplane.

This begs the question, why didn’t all those masses of people go rushing for pay phones when they came off the airplanes? You almost never see anyone WAITING for a pay phone to be available.

So, our cellphones, i-phones, tablets, etc have become indispensable. I have finally joined the ranks—the kids got me an iphone for my birthday last year. Now, I have been a person NEVER TO GO BACK if we forgot something—even if I was only a block from home (I guess that was a pet peeve too)—and now with the i-phone? I turn around and go back home to get it. (it might be an important call. You never know). But cellphones and i-phones and tablets et al are still a pet peeve.

This morning I am reflecting on how much bowling is a pet peeve. I came across some entries to a journal written in 1986 and noted how frequently I made mention of my good games of bowling when I was bowling two or three nights a week. Now, going on thirty years later, I am doing well to break a hundred. Very frustrating. And this is the same ball I was doing well with in 2010 when my brother Jim bought it for me, brand new, at one of the USBC bowling tournaments that he was bowling in. I mention this because it has turned into a major peeve. i texted my brother Jim about this major pet peeve and he sent back a list of instructions to correct my problem. So I guess I will have to take my cell phone with me on Tuesday mornings and have my sister Susie read what Jim has to say when I am about to bowl.🙂

I find it annoying—perhaps a minor pet peeve—that some people talk over you, interrupting your sentence, wanting to be heard—without listening to what you have to say. I have even seen this happening on daytime TV shows where women talk about current issues—shows like The Talk is one example. It’s frustrating to be listening to what one person has to say—and doesn’t get to finish his or her sentences because someone talks OVER him or her—and sometimes you never find out what the first person was going to say. Now, no one can talk over me when I am writing a blog post—but you can certainly write TO me and tell me YOUR pet peeves!



The following was written–and posted–in 2011; since then I have added more full size aprons to my collection and aprons are just as hot four years later as they were in 2011.

A few years ago, a girlfriend and I were in an antique store when I came across a “vintage” bib apron, perhaps 1940s, – and fell in love.
“Could you make something like this for me?” I asked my girlfriend, who sews (I don’t sew. I cook. We can’t all do everything!)

She said she could, and she did–and now I have three of these big aprons, with big roomy pockets and I am seldom without one.
I found myself re-discovering aprons and wondering why, when you watch the chefs on the Food Network – none of them ever wears an apron! (I have ruined many a blouse or dress from cooking sans an apron–but these days you’ll seldom find me without one).

The aprons of my childhood bring to mind the voluminous ones worn by my Grandma Schmidt, who was as round as she was tall. Her dresses reached her ankles and her aprons were equally long and wide with huge pockets. I discovered, a few years ago, how handy aprons with pockets are when you go out to check the tomatoes in the garden and find yourself with handfuls of ripe tomatoes and no basket to put them into. The apron pockets work well. I also fill the pockets with clothespins when I am hanging linens or sheets on the clothesline. (Yes, some of us do still hang things on the line-but that’s another story).

Years ago, people didn’t have wardrobes the size of ours, today–and aprons, which could be easily washed, protected good dresses which might not have all been washable (never mind that everything had to be ironed too–perma-press hadn’t been invented yet) . I think the only times I ever saw Grandma without an apron were when she was going downtown (plus hat, dressy shoes, her handbag, and stockings) or to church. My mother also wore aprons but most of the ones in which she was photographed, were the half-size aprons. I, myself, need a bib apron because the spills and splashes usually land somewhere on my chest.

Aprons have a respectably long history, too – the earliest mention of an apron is in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve discovered they were naked and fashioned aprons from fig leaves. In the middle ages aprons became especially well known, as European craftsmen wore aprons as part of their everyday garments–old paintings of blacksmiths invariably picture them wearing a big old leather apron of some kind. I remember, as a child, the big white (well, originally it was white) aprons worn by the butcher in the butcher shops where my grandma went to buy a chicken or a cut of beef. There are also aprons used by carpenters which have many pockets to hold necessary tools. (hmmm, I think I would like to have one like that).

The apron worn in the kitchen was a fixture for more than a century, until the late 1970s–when it seems to have disappeared from our culinary landscape. Perhaps it has something to do with the perfect housewife image portrayed by the fifties–you know, “Father knows Best” and mother is always pictured wearing an apron with a wooden spatula in one hand, standing over the stove (Shades of Ozzie and Harriet?) Then women became liberated and burned not only their bras but also their aprons.

I always had a few aprons but they had been relegated to a seldom used linen drawer. Now, I have aprons within easy reach on several hangers on doors in the kitchen and I am not in the least embarrassed to be seen wearing one. (Some of them are really quite stylish, I think – and I love the pockets. Along with clothespins and Kleenex, I am usually carrying around my cell phone and digital camera).

For Christmas, my penpal/friend/and computer guru, Wendy, sent me two wonderful very retro looking aprons. Then my penpal Bev brought me a neat apron that she bought on a recent trip to Alaska – it has chocolate moose all over the print – and the her daughter brought me a new very-valentine-ish apron when she visited. Four new aprons in one year…can life get any better than this?

And not long ago I discovered a really great website dedicated to aprons after it was written about in the Los Angeles Times. Everything old is new again! I love it.

I am still mystified, however – how do all those people on the Food Network manage to cook entire meals (without wearing an apron) and without getting any of it on themselves?

If you Google “aprons” you will find a whole lot more websites devoted to this topic!

Happy cooking!



I wrote the following several years ago and posted it on my blog around 2011 or 2012. Bear with me as I go back in time once again to reflect on my favorite hobby and pastime for all of my adult life: Christmas.

It’s July and I have begun thinking about Christmas. Well, to tell the truth, I really start thinking about Christmas in January. This goes back to the late 60s and early 70s when I was raising four little boys and would search for clearance sale items right AFTER Christmas.
There is so much to plan and do for the holidays, but mainly my thoughts center around Christmas presents which are now stored, such as they are, in a spare bedroom. Throughout all the years we lived in Arleta, Christmas presents were stored in a very large built-in hall cupboard that I called (obviously) “The Christmas cupboard”.

Back in the day, I would send a box of books to my pen-pal, Eileen, in Australia. You had to get your overseas packages to the post office by September, so they would reach their destination by December (this was for surface rates. Airmail will get there a lot faster but costs quite a bit more). I used to send at least one box of books to Eileen each year. We loved the same authors, Eileen and I.

But our lives have changed quite a lot; we are now retired as are most of my penpals For years I sent Christmas parcels to all of them, little things picked up here and there along the way—or books. Now, no one can afford to exchange gifts although I still do exchanges with several of my penpals. My penpal Bev and I stopped exchanging Christmas presents but still do gifts for our birthdays which are on the same day.

I save up recipe booklets and inserts from cooking magazines to send to penpal Eve, who also lives in Australia—but there’s no timeframe for that. I just seal the envelope when it’s full. Indeed, all of our lives have changed and hardly anyone can afford to send gifts—not just the gifts but the cost of postage. Isn’t that sad?

I like to send some magazines and maybe a couple of jars of jam to my brother Bill every so often, not necessarily for Christmas. Ditto my brother, Jim. My sister Becky and I exchanged boxes of things throughout the year—often books—not for any particular reason – just because.

And speaking of my brother, Jim, I will always remember that he gave me my first books – five Nancy Drew mysteries – when I was about ten or eleven years old. It was an unforgettable moment in my life. What I discovered, then, was that it was not enough just to read the books: I had to own them, too).

However, all of this being what it is, I still continue to make up batches of jellies and jams, pickles and relishes—and start around in May when fresh strawberries become available in our supermarkets. My friend Bev often brings me some pureed blackberries when she and her husband visit me before heading for Arizona in January, to meet up with other Oregonian snowbirds for the winter. Blackberry is my favorite; not a lot gets given away.
I will still make little loaves of banana bread (and save up ripe bananas, mashed and measured in one cup increments, in the freezer) and I love to make fruitcake—but who is there to give fruitcake to any longer?

I like to make cookies and candy in the fall, to give as Christmas gifts—and last year my grandson, Ethan, became my sous chef in the kitchen as we made some Christmas cookies. He wanted to give Buckeye Balls (a kind of peanut butter candy that is dipped in melted chocolate to look like a buckeye) – those are very popular and well known in Ohio, my hometown, but not so much here. We bought pretty little boxes with plastic openings on the lids, at Michael’s and while I directed in the kitchen, Ethan actually made the buckeye balls and packaged them to give to some of his favorite people. He and his sister, Savannah (who is now 17 and not as preoccupied with cookies anymore) have been making cookies with me since they were very young children, maybe starting out around the age of eight.

I send cookies and candy to the claims department at the office where I worked for 27 years, with the help of an employee who lives in the Antelope Valley and does a delivery for me ever since I moved up here. I also send a jar of jam to friends who are still working there.
A word about cookies – some, like lebkuchen and gingerbread cookies can be made well in advance and allowed to mellow in a tightly closed container. A lot of cookies can be wrapped tight and stored in the freezer until the holiday draws near. Some are too fragile (such as meringue cookies) and shouldn’t be made until right before Christmas.

And I can’t recommend making them at all if you live in a humid State such as Florida. (This is the voice of experience talking—I lived in Florida for 3 years). Meringue cookies do keep pretty well in a dry climate such as the high desert, where I now live. If I am going to glaze or frost cookies, I don’t do that until I take cutout cookies out of the freezer just before Christmas, and then add my finishing touches. Gifts of cookies can be given to the girls at my post office, to my mail carrier, to my mechanic, or other service people who are in my life. Who doesn’t enjoy a box of freshly baked cookies? Last year, Ethan helped me take two large trays of cookies to the nurses at the chemo center where Bob underwent treatment throughout the year.

I have written in the past about the Christmas cookbooks in my collection – but this year, I would like to tell you about just one Christmas cookbook although there are dozens in my cookbook collection. And, since I have also written in the past about my own childhood Christmas memories, I thought it would be nice to share those of other (somewhat more prominent) writers.

“CHRISTMAS MEMORIES WITH RECIPES” is a collection of Christmas memoirs and recipes offered by famous chefs and cookbook authors. It was published by Kitchen Arts & Letters/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988. It is available on both Amazon and Alibris, some copies for as little as 25 cents, others – such as Alibris – has copies for 99c. But a word of caution—I found copies of the same book with the author being listed as Evan Jones or Martha Stewart – they are just contributors to the book itself. I will attempt to include a photograph of the book I am referring to. does have some other cookbooks with the very same title but judging from the covers, they’re not the same book.

And goodness knows—there are hundreds of Christmas-themed cookbooks and memoirs as well as dozens, if not hundreds, of cookbooks about cookie making. Before we moved to the desert, a friend came and created a spreadsheet for me on my computer—I logged on all of the Christmas/cookie titles and found I now have over 500 (yikes!) – a far cry from the days when my sons were children and most of my cookie recipes came from Farm Journal cookbooks or recipes I found in December magazines and cut out to put into a 3-ring binder, or cookie recipes exchanged with penpals. When one binder of recipes became too full to hold another sheet of paper I started another cookie binder – and when that was full….well you get the picture. I now have 7 binders for cookies. The oldest one was started in 1958 when I got married.

Included in CHRISTMAS MEMORIES WITH RECIPES are contributions from Bert Greene, Marion Cunningham, Martha Stewart, Maida Heatter, Helen Witty, Irena Chalmers, Julee Rosso, Beatrice Ojakangas, Evan Jones, Edna Lewis, Craig Claiborne, Betty Fussell – and others! And, although there are recipes included with each memoir, the recipes are really secondary to the thoughts and recollections of the various writers.

‘IT’S a lot like getting married,” Irena Chalmers offers. “There has to be a beautiful solemn bride in a long white dress and everyone gasping a she comes down the aisle. And all of us, craning to catch a glimpse of her as thought we had never seen her before. And then a heart-stopping moment when for a terrible second we all fear that he really has forgotten the ring. And then, of course, the best man finds it in his other pocket and the tension makes the relief all the sweeter. And in moments they are safely across the high wire and the vows are all completed and the organ is crashing out the Wedding March and the couple is dancing down the aisle and all the guests break out from orderly rows to greet the bride and groom, and each other, and the party is ready to begin….It’s like that,” she notes, “with Christmas dinner. Once you’ve embarked on it you’ve got to go the whole way: do it up properly with the plumpest turkey that ever there was and the sage and onion dressing and the chipolata sausages and the lumpy mashed potatoes and the gravy and the Brussels sprouts and the gooseberry sauce. And then, when there is not an inch of room left, the lights are turned out and in comes Father carrying the plum pudding borne on the silver platter….”

“Maybe the way to say it,” suggests Evan Jones, “is that Christmases make a mosaic of nostalgia. My memories begin with the year the first ice skates were the parental gifts for my siblings and me, and there is an odd bit of sentiment for the friend whose handmade cradle, much later, was his celebration of my own first child’s inaugural Christmas….”

Edna Lewis recalls Christmas in Freetown, writing, “When I was a girl growing up in a small farming community of Freetown, Virginia, preparations for Christmas started in early September, when we children went out to gather black walnuts, hickory nuts, and hazelnuts….Whenever she saw a break of a day or two from the September harvest, Mother would set about making the fruitcake. It was a family affair that my older sister and I cheerfully participated in….”

Craig Claiborne, writing of distant Christmases, states, “The Christmases that pass most often through my mind are from my early childhood, the most dramatic being when I was about four years old, and in a moment of innocence, set my family’s home ablaze…”

Betty Fussell recalls in brilliant clarity, a Depression Christmas on her grandparents’ farm in Riverside, California, while Jane Grigson writes that one of her earliest memories is of her father singing at Christmas. She says he had a “lovely tenor voice, clear, unaffected, warm, and joyful”. *(Grigson’s memory of her father singing made me think of my mother playing “Silver Bells” on our upright piano—she couldn’t read music and played entirely by ear).

Bert Greene remembers that while he is a Christmas lover, his mother was not. “Her yuletide animus,” writes Greene, “was undoubtedly affected by a traumatic childhood experience. She had been chosen to play Scrooge in a school production of Dickens’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL when she was about ten or twelve, and spent the better part of her lifetime, and my own, sneering, ‘Bah! Humbug!’ whenever the first snows fell. She was also a woman who, for one thing, hated shopping and, for another, hated cooking…”. Bert goes on to explain how the Christmases of his childhood were celebrated – during the Depression, when his family lost their house, silver serving dishes and wedding crystal—and the story he tells is heart-warming. When Bert’s mother complained that she didn’t have the Christmas spirit and “it will cost a fortune”, Bert took over. He volunteered to do all of the work and shopping—but he ran out of money and had to ask his mother for more.

His mother said “Just how much do you think it will cost to finance this damn foolishness?”

Bert recalls, “I dreaded to tell her. Ten Dollars”.

“Even as I write this,” says Bert, “almost fifty years later, it is hard to believe how much that amount of money actually represented. My mother and I stared at each other a long while, weighing the momentous sum before she carefully unbuttoned her coat. There, on the street, without glancing up or down, she quickly remove a bill from her boodle, a small bag that she always wore tucked into the top of her brassier.

‘Make it last,” she said wryly. “Try not to come home too late. And for God’s sake, don’t tell your father!”

“The party was a great success” remembers Bert. “All of the relatives ate well, demolished the desserts, and played games, and those who drank sang dirty songs afterward. All the cookies we made were carried off like Tiffany bibelots….” ***

(Bert’s story reminds me of the annual trips I made downtown (Cincinnati) when I was a child along with two younger brothers, sometime in December for a number of years. We might have no more than two dollars to buy presents for our parents, grandparents and siblings. My brother Bill’s money was mostly pennies, in a little change purse, that he held tightly in his fist to present any pickpockets from taking his money. It begs the question—how DID we manage bus fare, gifts for so many people—and sharing a grilled cheese sandwich at the Woolworth lunch counter? I can only compare it with the loaves and fishes in the bible story.) And we wrapped all of our presents with old gift wrap paper that was ironed to get the wrinkles out.

Maida Heatter, whose dessert cookbooks are familiar to all of us (including her “Maida Heater’s Book of Great Cookies”), tells the story of World War II, when she was a young mother with a one-year-old daughter. Her husband was in the army and her brother in the navy. Maida was living at home with her parents. Professionally, she says, she was a fashion illustrator—but her hobby was cooking. She tells the story of baking and mailing cookies to everyone she knew in the service. When the New York City USO wanted cookies for a big Christmas party, Maida began baking. “I baked those cookies,” she recalls, “from early until late every day for weeks. My only problem was getting enough boxes to pack them in. Food shortages and rationing (butter and sugar were strictly rationed) didn’t bother me, as there were always friends and neighbors who wanted to help. They gave me their ration coupons, they shopped for me and they helped pack the cookies. The filled boxes lined the entrance hall and the dining room flowed over into the living room. The day before Christmas a neighbor piled the boxes into his truck and my mother and I went along to deliver the cookies to the USO at Times Square. Gasoline was rationed but this was a priority delivery….”

“If I counted the cookies,” she writes, “or the number of recipes, that special Christmas, I don’t remember it now. One thing I do remember is that none of those cookies was dainty. They were all he-man cookies. The ones that had raisins or nuts had lots of them. The chocolate cookies were very chocolate. The spice cookies were very spicy. In a way, that one baking experience influenced everything I have baked since….”

(Maida provides the recipe for her mother’s gingersnaps, which I think I will have to try when I start baking Christmas cookies this year. Another cookie that has entered our lives—I was making batch after batch for a few months this year—is a molasses cookie that I found in the L.A. Times SOS column. My youngest son says they are like “a crack cookie” – you can’t stop eating them).

Helen Witty, whose “Fancy Pantry” cookbook is a favorite of mine, starts her memoir off with “Ways of keeping Christmas seem to drift down through the generations of a family, so it’s likely that the holiday customs I grew up with had been established on one coast or the other long before my mother, from the East, and my father, from the West, met in the Pugent Sound country, married, moved to Southern California, and began to bring up their own family. There, where snow and sleds and genuine holly were only a rumor, one family custom that came from somewhere was firmly maintained: the celebrations of Christmas Day began after breakfast, not before…” Helen goes on to relate her family Christmases, and sums up, “As in my childhood home, Christmas morning at our house still starts with a not-for-everyday breakfast…”

Her Christmas breakfasts reminded me of the many special Christmas breakfasts I prepared when my four sons were children, I’d bake a variety of sweet breads and stollen, but the piece de resistance in our household was always pork chops and gravy, a big pan of homemade biscuits, home fries and eggs, or occasionally, what I called a Mexican breakfast casserole. My husband’s mother was from Bluefield, West Virginia, and I learned the art of making what we called “white gravy” from her. If not pork chops, I’d fry cube steaks and then put them back into the white gravy after it was made.

There are heartwarming stories from twenty-five chefs and cookbook authors in “CHRISTMAS MEMORIES WITH RECIPES”. I’ve just given you a sampling—a small taste.

As the holidays draw near, we become busier and busier with shopping and addressing Christmas cards. During the years that Bob and I went to Pismo Beach for Thanksgiving weekend, I would take my cards and address book with me to start working on my cards and letters.

Last year (2011) was the most difficult Christmas. It was the first without Bob, who had shared my life for 26 years. I would have liked to go off and ignore the holiday, but was coaxed into putting up one of my trees—and my grandson, Ethan, was determined to put up the Snow Village, because it was one of those things his grandpa put up every year. I realized that so much of what we did—all the decorating inside and out—was accomplished only because Bob was such a willing spirit. He loved doing it. He loved the compliments.

Then a few angels made their way to the fireplace mantel and I found myself baking cookies and showing my grandson how to do some things. He and his sister also made gingerbread houses, from a kit we bought at Michael’s. After Christmas, I thought it was a good time to go through all of the ornaments and tree decorations; most had been packed in boxes and stored in a shed. I had some water damage to some of the boxes. Kelly took me to Walmart where I bought 20 large red and green plastic containers, and methodically went through all of the boxes, repacking everything in plastic containers that are now stored in Grandpa’s workshop. As I worked, I set aside all bear decorations/tree ornaments to send to my penpal, Betsy, who collects bears—with a suggestion that she put up a small bear tree. She liked the idea. I know I have to downsize but it’s a mammoth project that will take a lot of time to accomplish.
I hope we all will take a little time to reflect on Christmas, and what it means to each of us. These twenty five food writers have done just that. They have reflected on the Christmases of their pasts and have shared those memories with us. And much of what they have written reminds me so much of my own Christmas memories.

Author Julie Rosso sums up Christmas memories with words that all of us might appreciate: “Those years are long gone,” she writes, “and since that time there have been many Christmases in faraway places—some just like those of having as a child. We’ve found ourselves in Paris, New York, Vienna, Rome, Monte Carlo, and the Caribbean at Christmas time, and while it is ever so nice to visit other countries at Christmas, I’d give almost anything for one of those Christmases in Michigan, just once more”.
I haven’t spent any Christmases in other countries – but I would like to spend one, just once more – in Ohio, where it always seemed to start snowing on Christmas eve before we went to midnight mass.

“CHRISTMAS MEMORIES WITH RECIPES” was published by Kitchen Arts & Letter/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 1988. It is available on both and; prices start as low as 4 cents on Amazon. Alibris has copies for 99c.

FANCY PANTRY BY HELEN WITTY is available on starting at $2.40 for a soft cover copy. It also has some ridiculous prices, such as $129.99 for a hardbound copy. Alibris also has the book for $2.40 – and copies priced at $251.99 and $241.74. I can’t imagine anyone actually paying that much for a cookbook you can get for far less.

Maida Heater’s Book of Great Cookies is available on for 99c. I couldn’t find the EXACT same title on so am not listing it. She does have a number of cookie cookbooks listed.

Well, I have rambled on long enough with you. Cookie recipes are available on my blog along with some photographs of previous cookie baking marathons. I woke up one morning recently and realized that Christmas will never again be as sumptuous as it was for Bob and myself, for several decades, especially in Arleta where we put up 8 Christmas trees. That idea of spending Christmas in Ohio is becoming more appealing. I hope your holidays are cheery and bright.



Previously posted in 2013, yesterday was the 4th of July, Independence Day, in the USA. I thought it would be a good time to re-post the following:

First, let us start with the history of Memorial Day:
Per Wikipedia: Memorial Day is a United States Federal holiday which occurs every year on the final Monday of May. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day (and often called this when I was a child), it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate both the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.

By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries. One year, when Bob and I were in Santa Barbara on Memorial Day, we saw thousands of little flags planted on the beach.

Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, living or dead. The practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is an ancient custom. Soldiers’ graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the American Civil War. A claim was made in 1906 that the first Civil War soldier’s grave ever decorated was in Warrenton, Virginia on June 3, 1861, implying the first Memorial Day occurred there. There is authentic documentation that women in Savannah, Georgia decorated soldiers’ graves in 1862. In 1863, the cemetery dedication at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Local historians in Boalsburg, PA, claim that ladies there decorated soldiers’ graves on July 4, 1864. As a result, Boalsburg promotes itself as the birthplace of Memorial Day.

Following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, there were a variety of events of commemoration. The first well-known observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865.

The sheer number of soldiers of both sides who died in the Civil War, more than 600,000, meant that burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance. Under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had taken shape. In 1865, the federal government began creating national military cemeteries for the Union war dead.

Memorial events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868, and 336 in 1869. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday. Michigan made “Decoration Day” an official state holiday in 1871 and by 1890, every northern state had followed suit. The ceremonies were sponsored by the Women’s Relief Corps, the women’s auxiliary of the GAR, which had 100,000 members. By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Union dead had been reinterred in 73 national cemeteries, located near major battlefields and thus mainly in the South. The most famous are Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania and Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington.

People of all religious beliefs joined together, and the point was often made that the German and Irish soldiers had become true Americans in the “baptism of blood” on the battlefield. By the end of the 1870s, much of the war time rancor was gone, and the speeches usually praised the brave soldiers both the Blue and Gray.

By the 1950s, the theme was American exceptionalism and duty to uphold freedom in the world. Ironton, Ohio, lays claim to the nation’s oldest continuously running Memorial Day parade. Its first parade was held May 5, 1868, and the town has held it every year since. However, the Memorial Day parade in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, predates Ironton’s by one year. **

The ceremonies and Memorial Day address at Gettysburg National Park became nationally well known, starting in 1868. In July 1913, veterans of the United States and Confederate armies gathered in Gettysburg to commemorate the fifty-year anniversary of the Civil War’s bloodiest and most famous battle.

Speaking of parades, when I was a little girl, we walked to St Bonaventure Church in South Fairmount, wearing white clothes and carrying little flags and it was there that the Memorial Day Parade began. Students of St. Leo’s who played musical instruments lined up to march in the parade. When the parade began, we walked from St Bonnie’s – down Queen City Avenue until it ended at Beekman Street – over Beekman until we came to Baltimore Street, and then up Baltimore until we passed St Leo’s and came to the Baltimore Pike Cemetery, which happened to be next door to my grandmother’s house. At the end of the parade, children were given a popsicle and dignitaries of Cincinnati made speeches.

For weeks prior to Memorial Day, my mother and aunts made artificial flowers out of tissue paper and crepe paper. The dining room table would be covered with artificial flowers for weeks. They made bouquets of the artificial flowers to sell along with live flowers from my grandmother’s garden. We children stood on the corner at the entrance to the cemetery, crying out “Flowers for Sale!! Fifty Cents! (or maybe twenty five cents by the end of the day). A lot of flowers were sold this way and Grandma would give each child a quarter for our participation in this family fundraiser.

I can’t even imagine, today, how long of a walk that was for young children. I think it had to be about five miles long. I remember how my legs ached at the end of the day. I don’t think any of us, at such a young age, understood the significance of the parade or our marching. But we’d do almost anything for a free popsicle. 

Occasionally, my cousin, Johnny, or my brothers Biff and Bill, and I would go up to the cemetery next door to my grandmother’s. The lower part of the cemetery was all grassy grounds—the graves were far above at the top of the cemetery. I would search for my playmate’s grave—Lonna May Wright was a playmate in kindergarten and first grade—who was killed by a truck while she was roller skating in the street.

Her grave had an angel headstone which made it easier to find. I don’t remember who told me that Lonna May had been killed—I think it might have been my aunt Dolly. Family members surely knew that she was my playmate. Someone probably pointed out the dangers of skating in the street – no one would have overlooked the opportunity to implant a life lesson. I searched until I found Lonna May in my first communion group photograph. When I think of memorial day, I am irrevocably reminded of Lonna May. It might not have been the intention of the founders of Memorial Day – but I think it became a reminder to all of us, everywhere, of those we have lost in life. And so, this year, even though I am far from the cemetery on Baltimore Street, I will be thinking of Lonna May, a cute little girl who died far too young.

If I were in town and visited old St Joseph cemetery – I could take flowers to the graves of family members and uncles who served in world war II.

Memories are made of this. We remember for many different reasons.

–Sandra Lee Smith



In Memory of Evelyn Neumeister Schmidt—My Aunt Dolly

She was a Renaissance Woman
If ever there was one;
Beautiful, blonde hair and blue eyes,
She could have been royalty;
She carried herself with regal ease.
Her father was enchanted with her tiny features
And winsome ways;
“She’s just like a little doll!” he said;
“We can call her Dolly” and so they did.
She took classes once her children were grown;
Her specialty was art—oils, charcoal—she could
Draw or paint—whatever captured her attention.
I hardly knew her when I was growing up and
Moved to California when I was twenty-one,
But came to appreciate her wit, talent, creativity
And vitality and her wonderful, gentle laughter
When I became an adult and my children were grown.
I was able to visit her home on North Bend Road
Many times, often with my sister, Becky, sometimes
With my brother Bill—a few times on my own;
She was the kind of aunt you wanted to have
All to yourself.

When she was recuperating from spinal surgery
In 2005, I was able to go “take care” of
Her for a couple weeks—and some years
Later, in 2012, I was able to go again to her
Home in Port Orange, where she had
Relocated, and I was able to cook and bake
For her.

My visit to Florida in 2012 would be the last
Time I had the opportunity to spend time
With this one-of-a-kind-aunt—who learned to
Bake at the elbow of my grandmother when
Aunt Dolly was only a teenager. She became
Our link between a grandmother who had
Passed away in 1959 but left a legacy of recipes.

Throughout my house there are some of my
Aunt’s paintings—but the one treasure most is a
Painting of my paternal grandmother, Susanna
Gengler Schmidt, that Aunt Doll6y copied from an
Old photograph of my grandmother as a young

As I was preparing to return to California in
2005, my aunt asked me if I liked that painting.
“Of course!” I repli4ed, “It’s one of your best
She asked if I would like to have it.

Like my aunt, the painting of Grandma Schmidt
Is one of a kind. It hangs over my fireplace
In Quartz Hill, California.

Aunt Dolly’s professional name was
Evelyn Neumeister Schmidt—but to all her
Adoring nieces and nephews—she was always
“Aunt Dolly”.

Today, May 10, 2015, would have been
Aunt Dolly’s birthday.

–Sandra Lee Smith