Archive for the ‘Traditions’ Category

Dear Readers,

A couple of years ago my husband and I were checking out some model homes in Rancho Mirage, CA.  It was a sunny, Sunday afternoon in early December and the piped-in vice of Frank Sinatra singing “Silent Night” filled the air.  Tears started welling up in my eyes and my husband wondered what was wrong.  I answered that the strains of the hymn carried me back to my childhood and Christmases past.  You see “Silent Night” was a major part of our family tree-decorating tradition.

As a child, I couldn’t wait until we decorated the Christmas tree.  Mom carried a big box of ornaments out of the attic, while Dad secured the tree to the stand.  The next step was positioning the multi-color lights on the tree, while everyone had an opinion about the placement of these lights.  Then my Dad would give us a look and we knew it was time to shut up.  My sisters and I loved selecting the ornaments and hanging them on the tree.

My older sister’s job was to decorate the creche.  Our nativity scene consisted of a stable constructed with cherry tree branches and designed to look like a log cabin.  It was hand-crafted by Dad’s deceased youngest brother.  Martha would carefully apply cotton batting to the roof to simulate snow.  Real straw from our neighbor’s stable of horses, rested on the floor and in the crib.  Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus were arranged along with the shepherd boy, the Three Wise Men, and various stable animals.  An angel with flowing robes and a banner that read “Peace on Earth” was anchored atop the stable door with a white tree light that shone down upon the scene.

Trimming the tree took a lot of time but when we were finished, we were so proud of our handiwork.  It was at this time that Mom turned off all the lights in the house and Dad turned on the lit tree.  Then we all held hands and Dad, with his strong tenor voice, led us in singing “Silent Night, Holy Night”.  This was the magical Christmas moment awaited by all of us.  Here I was standing in the soft glow of the tree with the people I loved most in the world, and all of us singing a song that truly represented the meaning of Christmas.  What a beautiful memory my Dad created with that tradition.  It will remain with me and my sisters always!

Keep smilin’!


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Dear Readers,

We lived in Pennsylvania for over 30 years and during that time we dealt with the same bank.  The ownership changed hands about four times; the last two owners were Provident National Bank and finally Wachovia Bank.  As the ownership changed, one thing remained constant and that was the three women tellers, who over the years became my friends.

You see there were no ATM’s in the early 70’s, so every bank transaction was made through a teller.  Weekly trips were made to the bank to deposit my husband’s paycheck and withdraw cash for the purchase of groceries and gasoline.

The ladies behind the counter were courteous and friendly.  There were photos of their children and grandchildren by their stations.  If the bank wasn’t crowded, we would chat about family, the weather and other pleasantries.  Each teller kept a container full of lollypops on the counter for children.  Even if I was alone, they encouraged me to take a lollypop home for my daughter and son.

One Christmas, I decided to do something for them in appreciation for their thoughtfulness.  A large plate full of Christmas cookies and thick slices of my “Apricot Brandy Nut Cake” would be their reward.  The nut cake was a type of fruitcake that did not contain the dreaded candied fruit!  Walnuts, maraschino cherries and raisins were the main ingredients.  But the best part was the apricot brandy; two tablespoons in the cake mixture and another 1/2 cup used to moisten the cheesecloth surrounding the cake.

The recipe read “Moisten several layers of cheesecloth with 1/4 cup of the brandy.  Wrap cake in cheesecloth, then in foil.  Store in refrigerator.  In 2 or 3 days, moisten cheesecloth again with remaining brandy.”  Needless  to say, Mimi moistened that cheesecloth several times.  That cake was so full of booze, if a match was struck near it, it would have exploded into flames!

Well, the bank tellers liked the cookies but loved the cake.  The “Apricot Brandy Nut Cake” became a Christmas tradition for quite a few years.  I grew tired of baking the cake but sure enough every November one of the tellers would ask if I was baking it again that year.  How could I let them down?

I just hope they double-checked their figures when counting money, after having a piece of this cake!  Look for the recipe in my next blog.  Until then,

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

On October 27, I wrote about my family’s experience of gathering and using black walnuts from Cousin Urban Heck’s backyard tree, and how they were an essential ingredient in “Sausage Cookies”.

These cookies were a traditional holiday favorite and we enjoyed eating them for many Christmases.  After Mom died, we tried to find the recipe among her cookbooks but were unsuccessful.  My sisters and I knew that two of my aunts made the same cookies, so we asked our cousins if anyone had the recipe.  Sure enough, our cousin, Joanne, had a copy and mailed it to us.  Here’s the recipe and I hope you enjoy them as much as my family did.

Sausage Cookies

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup butter

2 – 6 oz. pkgs. black walnuts

3 or 4 cups flour

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the eggs and vanilla.  Combine flour, baking soda and cream of tartar and add to the mixture.  Fold in black walnuts.  Shape cooky dough into logs about 6 ” long.  They will resemble sausages.  Wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper.  Refrigerate overnight.  Slice cookie dough in 1/4 ” slices and place on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

Note:  The “3 or 4 cups of flour” means you start out with 3 cups and if you need more to make the dough stiff enough to shape into “sausages”, just add more.  This recipe can be halved as the full recipe makes about 144 cookies.   I told you my family loved those cookies!

Keep smilin!

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Dear Readers,

On my walks through downtown Raleigh, I’ve noticed some black walnut trees growing on state office grounds near the corner of Dawson and Jones Streets.  What alerted me to the trees, were the fallen green balls about the size of a hockey puck, littering the ground and sidewalk.  There were also a few cracked and half-eaten nuts; no doubt the leftovers from a hungry squirrel’s lunch.

Seeing those nuts immediately transported me back to Louisville in the 1950’s and specifically to my second cousin, Urban Heck’s backyard on Vine Street.  My Mom’s bachelor cousin lived just around the corner from us and had a huge black walnut tree.

Every fall my Dad would go to Urban’s yard to gather the walnuts.  Then he hulled and cracked them open using a hammer.  Inside was a hard brown nut about the size of a ping pong ball.  The hammer also cracked this part of the walnut.  Dad was careful to wear gloves to keep his hands from being stained brown.

My Mom, my sisters and I then picked the nut meats from these broken shells, using metal nut pickers that reminded me of small knitting needles.  It was quite a labor-intensive job but we enjoyed sitting around the kitchen table on Sunday afternooons picking the walnuts.  Some times there was more talking and laughing than there was picking!  But we always managed to extract enough nuts in time for Mom’s Christmas baking.

She made “sausage cookies” that contained black walnuts.  They received this name because of the process of shaping the dough like sausages, which were refrigerated for a length of time and finally sliced and baked on a cookie sheet.  Mom baked dozens of these cookies and so did many of my aunts.  I think it was an old German family recipe.

For quite a few years the harvesting and picking of black walnuts was a big part of our preparation for Christmas.  Funny, how the sight of one walnut tree can reawaken such pleasant memories!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

My granddaughter is enrolled in a music appreciation class for toddlers.  I had the privilege of accompanying her to this class.  About 10 toddlers marched and danced to songs like “Old King Cole”, “This Little Light of Mine”, and “Mississippi Cats”.  Their teacher played the folk song “Shenandoah” on the piano as the little ones rested in their mothers’ laps.

This class reminded me what a big part music plays in our lives.  There are lullabies, school songs, wedding music and yes, even funeral music.  These toddlers are just beginning their journey of making musical memories.

Let me tell you of a few musical memories in my life.  I remember being rocked by my Mom as she sang “I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles”, a line from Al Jolson’s song “Mammy” written in the 1920’s.  My Dad had a great tenor voice and he and I sang “Sentimental Journey” and “Buttons and Bows” for family and friends.

As a first grader, I sang “The teensy weensy spider climbed up the water spout . . .” and learned the accompanying hand gestures showing a spider climbing up.  In the fifth grade, Mrs. Webber, our choir director, taught us traditional Christmas carols to sing for our debut at the  5 A.M. Christmas mass.  As part of our family tradition, Dad led us in singing “Silent Night” at the completion of decorating the Christmas tree.

All the angst and joy of my teen years are relived every time I hear the songs of Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and Little Richard.  I was 18 years old driving my car on a Sunday afternoon in January the first time I heard the Beatles sing “I Want To Hold Your Hand”!  Selected the theme from Romeo and Juliet to be played right before my wedding march down the aisle.

“Amazing Grace” was sung at Mom’s funeral and I’m reminded of her whenever it is played.  Tears still well up in my eyes, when I sing “On Eagles’ Wings” at mass.  My Dad loved that song and sang it with gusto.  For that reason, it was featured at his funeral mass.

My son loved being sung to sleep every night as a toddler.  His songs of choice were 2 lullabies:  “TooRaLooRaLooRal” (an Irish lullaby) and Brahms’ lullaby sung in German.  Found myself singing these same two tunes to his daughter the other night.

I’m glad Emily is learning to enjoy music.  It’s such a big part of our lives.  In happy times, momentous times and sad times, music is a way to give meaning to our feelings.  Emily, you are just beginning your life’s journey and I’m glad you’ll soon learn music can be your faithful companion along the way.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Tomorrow is my birthday and it’s always a special day.  But there are some birthdays that are more special than others and memories of my 9th birthday are vividly etched on my brain.

I was a fourth-grader in Sister M. Teresita’s class at St. Therese Grade School and the anticipation of my birthday dinner celebration was uppermost in my thoughts that entire day.  School dismissal was at 2:30 P.M. but because I helped the teacher after class every afternoon, my walk home began at 3:30 P.M.

It was a beautiful early autumn afternoon with clear blue sky and just a hint of fall’s coolness in the air.  It  was just about perfect!  Thoughts of my birthday dinner and presents propelled me home swiftly.  That year I had requested a birthstone ring of sapphire.  At nine years old, surely I was old enough for an adult piece of  jewelry.

Mom had prepared a delicious feast.  As a birthday treat, we were allowed to pick the menu and I had chosen fried pork chops, baked macaroni and cheese, green beans and waldorf salad with oodles of red grapes and apples.  Dessert was a homemade, white, two layer cake decorated with white icing and adorned with deep pink roses.  Mom piped “Happy Birthday, Mary” on top.

I could smell dinner cooking as soon as I walked through the door.  My Great Aunt Alma was an invited guest.  We enjoyed the festive meal in our small kitchen and then Dad turned off the light as Mom lit the nine candles.  Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” and I happily blew out the candles.  After eating cake, it was time to open the presents.  My great aunt gave me a card with two dollars tucked inside.  Then my parents brought out the small ring box.  I carefully unwrapped it and inside was the most beautiful sapphire ring in the world!  The stone was a square cut and it was a little loose on my finger.  Mom carefully attached a roll of adhesive tape to the back of the ring to make it fit snugly.

I wore that ring everyday for many years; in fact, I still have it.  It’s a great reminder of a very memorable birthday.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Mimi wants to squeeze in one more recipe before Christmas.  Found this recipe as a child on a leaflet at the corner neighborhood grocery store.  The Diamond Walnut Co. printed it and I talked my Mom into trying it.  She loved the cookies and continued baking them for many Christmases.

It’s so easy and you don’t even need a mixer!

Walnut Surprise Cookies

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup English walnuts, chopped

Stir together sugar, egg, vanilla.  Add flour, salt, soda and walnuts.  Spread batter in a greased 9 inch square pan.  Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  Leave in pan, cut into squares while warm.  Then cool and break the bars apart.

These cookies also freeze very well.  Take care not to overbake or they will become dry.


Keep smilin’!


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