Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Twas the Day After Christmas

The day after Christmas is one of my least favorite days. There is so much rushing around to prepare for the holidays, that the day after feels so utterly quiet. I almost don't know what to do with myself. Plus, here in the Chicago burbs, it is cloudy without even one spot of sunshine.

It is too chilly and windy for a walk - and I'm still feeling bloated from too many butter-dipped Christmas crab legs. So, I've been cleaning. Taking empty boxes and bits of Christmas decor down to the basement. I reorganized my closet a bit to make room for new treasures.

Here are a few of my favorite vintage gifts from this Christmas...Thanks to my husband, daughter, mom, sister, and all of those who know my love for retro gems:

My mom-in-law Helen treated me to this 1950s satin cocktail dress that I had been watching on etsy
. Little gold oriental leaves and a very cool sash at the back.

Also on etsy, this 1940s kelly green suit jacket - I feel like I stepped right out of a Cary Grant movie in this one:

From my sister, a repro-bakelite Paris bracelet. Chunky and wonderful - from one of her favorite Chicago boutiques, Hazel. Click here to see Hazel's website.

My mom sent this necklace all the way from Florida - made with vintage baubles.

And my daughter, on a shopping trip to Target (Tar-shay) - spotted this sparrow sweater for me! I love it!

Those are just a few of my Christmas faves. Pictured below is a funky HUGE Santa head that Milt and I snagged at our local antique mall just before Christmas. We love him! Hope Santa treated you well!!! Enjoy these last days of 2012.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Brown Cookies for Christmas

My Grandma Storms passed down a Christmas recipe to me, creatively called "Brown Cookies."

While the name is as plain as can be, these rolled, cut-out, molasses cookies were a delicious and cherished part of our family Christmas. 

They were thin, crispy, and cut into hearts, circles and stars. She would store them in layers separated by wax paper in old metal tins. Their only adornment was one candy red hot in the center. They were brown...and delicious.

My Grandma was a stern, Christian, German woman. Elsie was a single one-room schoolhouse teacher for many years, until she met and married my grandpa, Phil, and had two sons: Neil (my dad) and Ken. They lived in a two-story house in Moline, Illinois, just on the edge of the Mississippi River. 

My grandpa died when I was fairly young, so most of my Christmas memories involve my grandma as a fiercely, independent widow. She orchestrated our pre-dinner rituals like she was teaching a class. Each of us was told to read a verse of Scripture, then my dad would play a carol on the upright piano, and we would sing. She would then serve her Christmas dinner buffet style - and usually (after a moment or two of pondering), Grandma would declare that "This year, the men should go first." 

My favorite part of our celebration came after our dinner of mandarin orange jello salad and baked corn casserole. The women would wash and dry her fiesta ware and clear the table. As coffee bubbled in the percolator, out came the antique looking bingo cards, and we would engage in a rowdy game of take-away bingo.

My grandma would wrap prizes in tin foil, and, somehow, my Uncle Ken always ended up with the onion. A few of us claimed the quarters, and maybe a pack of gum. My Grandma was a stickler for rules, and she would watch us like a hawk to prevent cheating. Then she would pour each grandchild some chocolate milk and mix it halfway with white milk (otherwise, she'd explain it is much too chocolatey).

That was when she'd break out her treasured Brown Cookies.

Grandma Storms' Brown Cookies

Cream: 1 cup sugar, 1 cup spry (margarine or Crisco). Add: 1 cup molasses, 2 tsp baking soda dissolved in 2 tbsp of warm water). 

Sift: 2 cups flour, 1tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp salt.

Add dry ingredients to the first mixture. Add enough additional flour (3-4 cups) to make a stiff dough.

Roll out very thin and cut in shapes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Death and Life and Christmas

The tragic and senseless killing in Connecticut has left the world stunned and devastated. How can things like this happen? How could anyone be so evil? Why can't we stop atrocities like this from happening?

And yet the clock keeps ticking and our advent calendar steadily approaches Christmas. I feel a bit schizophrenic with my mood alternating rapidly between happiness and horror. One moment I am catching a glimpse of holiday lights or humming a beloved Bing Crosby tune, and the next I am entranced by a reporter on Fox News giving details about the shooting victims. I am horrified, and yet I cannot stop watching...

How can happiness and horror coexist?

I keep thinking that things like this should not happen at Christmas.

But, why? They happen all the time. And Christmas does not promise insulation from the world. We have falsely believed that the days leading up to December 25th should be idyllic, a time of escape. It is our fantasy that life should be good and families get along and the perfect gift is waiting under the tree.

But these are man-made notions. The true Christmas story was actually a far cry from these modern ideals.

In Luke's gospel, evil and hope were colliding. Jesus was born in a time of political turmoil. While we traditionally focus on the peaceful and positive aspects of the story - like shepherds and angels - we must also consider the character of King Herod. This was a ruler who had no problem obliterating the lives of others for his own glorification and gain. Historic records tell us Herod was insanely jealous and brutal - even having his own sons killed to prevent any threat to his political reign.

When the King learned of the birth of Jesus - and the divine promise related to this infant - he immediately ordered the slaughtering of the innocents to ensure that his own reign would go on. He was a desperate king and a horrible man, trying to cling to his earthly powers and showing no regard for the lives of others.

From my study of the gospels, I know that Jesus did not come into an idyllic world. He brought life and hope, yes, but he came into a world of loss, pain, suffering. He was rejected, scorned, attacked, and spat upon. The people who at first followed him, then nailed him to a cross, where he was crucified, in a slow and excruciating public death.

The gospel is a paradox. Jesus came to Earth to die. He died to bring hope and to demonstrate that God can and will conquer Evil.

I am sad today - and I will continue to be devastated every time I read or hear another report from Connecticut. And, I should be. The sorrow of our world must not escape us. It should press heavily upon our hearts. We need God today more than ever. Our world is not getting better. Humans need redemption. We need a Savior even more than new laws, safer schools, or better governmental leaders.

In the midst of this sadness, I can and will celebrate Christmas - not just as a day of false hope or denial - but as a reminder that truth and light and hope continue to shine even in the midst of terrible and unrelenting darkness.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thrift Store Find: Vintage Souvenir Glasses

True confessions: I'm a thrift store addict. I love when I stumble on vintage treasures at a great bargain. Last week, my husband and I spotted a collection of souvenir glasses. We took all 24 of them for about 20 cents a piece.

Each glass has a unique restaurant or location printed on it and many of these places no longer exist. A few have great stories.

The state collection glasses are ones that I have seen before - but many of the others are new to me! I loved the little Cypress Gardens shot glass with female water-skiers.

This is one of three Florida Beer glasses, La Tropical Ale, that are from a defunct brewery in Tampa that imported beer from Cuba.

Russell's Silver Bar and Restaurant in Chicago was a mafia hangout in the 1950's. Oh, the stories these glasses could probably tell!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hardrock, Coco, and Joe: A 1960's Christmas Treat

When I was a little girl, in the 1960s, television stations did local children's programming. The result was one-of-a-kind, low-budget creativity - with stop animation and live men taking on characters like Bozo the Clown, Ray Rayner, and Captain Kangaroo.

I always knew it was Christmas when WGN would air my favorite short "cartoons": Suzy Snowflake, Frosty the Snowman, and Hardrock, Coco, and Joe - formally titled The Three Little Dwarfs. I would sit in rapt attention in front of our black-and-white television set, bowl of Cocoa Wheats in hand, and enjoy these holiday classics.

My husband remembers it, too. And, we tried to share the video clipwith my daughter - who was five at the time. She declared it "scary". I guess it is, by today's standards, but the music is catchy - and there is a wry bit of humor that I still find entertaining.

I think I'll grab a bowl of Cocoa Wheats and revert to my childhood!

Here it is:
Hard Rock, Coco, and Joe video

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Finding The Perfect Christmas Tree

Every year, we have taken a short drive away from our suburban home to the family-owned Luer's Christmas Tree Farm in Schererville, Indiana. 

My husband grumbles a bit. Why don't we just buy a tree from the Walmart parking lot where they are so nicely displayed, wrapped, and offered at a reasonable price? It would probably be easier, true...

But, there is something magical about wandering through rows of firs, pines, and balsams.

It is peaceful here, and I breathe deeply - the scent of trees is almost heady in the Midwestern winter air. This feels like Christmas to me - no shoppers, no traffic, not even any LED lights. Just simple and pure and honest...just us.

I like how you can look over the horizon and see nothing but trees. If the weather is chilly, you can see puffs of your breath and your toes start to get numb, even with layers of socks and boots. 

My daughter and I wander from tree to tree. "This one is perfect," I'll announce. But, on closer inspection, we realize that it has a giant gaping hole on the back side. 

"No! Over here!" she'll call. And, we'll obediently trudge another 500 feet to gaze at her favorite type of tree. It looks completely like a fuzzy, prickly, ball - with absolutely no space for ornaments.

"We can't buy that type of tree," I argue. "How will we decorate it?"

My husband laughs, wielding his saw, "You, two, do the same thing every year." So we wander and argue - and keep finding just one more tree - a bit further away - until we are at the very outskirts of the tree farm and miles from our car.

We always stop off at the warming hut for a cup of cocoa - even if the temps are sunny and warm.

We see Santa wandering around the trees, looking slightly out of place a midst so much lumber.

We finally pick a tree, the perfect one, and Milt finally gets to do his husbandly job. He saws most of the tree and hands the blade to Sabrina who finishes the job. The tree falls with a satisfying thump.

Shaken and bundled, it is back home, to fight with the rickety stand and the lights and pray it doesn't topple over like it did one year.

Sure, I could buy a fake tree...but I'd miss all the fun!