A Minnesota Christmas- A Ghost from Christmas Past (growing up in the 70’s)

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A Christmas Essay by Kim VanderWerf for goodfoodgreatdesign ™ (previously posted on my blog Feast 12/12/15)

I grew up in the 1970’s in a little valley about thirteen miles from the nearest town and belonged to a family of five. There were my Dad and Mom, my younger sister and a little brother. We lived in a hundred-year-old farmhouse next to our grandparents’ on the family farm.  From our home, we could see our grandparents’ next door, our neighbors across the main gravel road in front of our house and distant neighbors by their barn light (known as a security light now) and the wisps of smoke from their wood stoves.  Occasionally we would hear the bark of that distant neighbor’s coon hounds if the wind blew just right. As the year wound down and the holidays grew near, a certain mood took over in our household.  Christmas time was a special time in our home; a time when it seemed my parents’ moods brightened and even they had a child-like state of mind. You know the one I’m talking about. The happy, peaceful and hopeful feelings that every child has at Christmas time. My siblings and I didn’t have to be reminded to behave, nor do I ever remember being threatened that Santa would not come. Though no doubt we were anxious, and probably at times slightly giddy, we knew that Christmas was about more than just presents.  You see our parents’ weren’t like some of the parents’ of the time, they did not compete at Christmas time with the Jones’.

First and foremost in our home at Christmas time it was all about Christ. Christ was brought into our lives by way of the church we belonged to and its annual Christmas program. It was there that we learned the story of the baby Jesus as each year one of us took a turn participating in the play. Though I loved going to church and enjoyed watching the Christmas play, I really looked forward to the box of candy we were given as we exited the nave.  The play was held at night time so all the way home all you would hear from Mom was “no candy before bed”. To which of course meant I had very little time to ever so quietly sneak out the biggest piece of peanut brittle I could find.

Christmas time meant a lot of time spent with the elder members of our family. I grew up with four great aunts all in their 70’s and one great uncle. There was also a reverend in our family along with a church choir director. So one could say I was brought up surrounded by Christian influence. Often my father would include bible verses in simple conversation, even though he himself was a lapsed Lutheran. Whether it was the ever-present Christian influence or the spirit of the season, Mom made sure that giving to others remained an important part of our Christmas festivities. She was ever busy trying to find just the right gift for the elders, wrapping them just right and making arrangements from one to the other on when we’d come over to visit. Even at their ages each great aunt had their home warmly decorated for Christmas and all had made the customary goodies from their native country of Norway. Once the meal was ready we would enjoy Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, carrots, corn, and gravy. Desserts were varied but usually were cranberry salads, glorified rice and of course- lefse, rosettes, and sandbakkels.

After the meal we three kids would sit quietly amongst the adults as they visited. Then eventually we’d be handed our gift. From the elders, our gifts were usually homemade. Over the years my sister and I received handmade knit Barbie clothes, stocking caps, mittens and homemade Christmas tree ornaments. Never did we look down upon these gifts even though we knew our friends were receiving the store bought kind from their aunts and uncles.

Because of the different groups my Mom belonged to there was always the Secret Santa gifts to look forward to buying and receiving. It was fun to watch her get someone’s name and then have to go out and try to find the gift requested. It was, even more, fun to see her expression when someone who wasn’t shopper savvy would draw her name and ultimately give her a gift she hadn’t requested. But of course Mom would make good use of it and the rest of us, well, we’d sure get a good laugh out of it.  My sister and I belonged to 4-H so we would also have a Christmas party and exchange gifts. I always asked for a Lifesaver’s Storybook for my gift and sometimes I would actually get one. For me, that was the ultimate gift and one I still asked for up to a few years ago. As a family, I think we enjoyed the giving of gifts way more than ever receiving them.

Christmas Eve was always spent at our grandparents’ home watching Doug Henning, the magician, on t.v. while grandma prepared her Oyster Stew. Neither of my siblings nor I or Mom would eat the Oyster Stew so grandma would prepare a casserole for us to eat.Of course,  it goes without saying my eyes were constantly perusing the candy dishes because grandpa would usually have quite an assortment of hard candy at this time of the year.  After the evening meal, we would present grandpa and grandma with their gifts. Grandpa was easy to buy for like me he had a major sweet tooth. So he usually got a flannel shirt, some mixed nuts, and hard candy. Grandma liked the prettier things in life so her gifts were pretty knick-knacks, gloves or her favorite– a gift set of Chantilly dusting powder. Before the end of the night, grandma would open a box of chocolates and each of us would be able to pick one. I always wanted the vanilla cream one but usually ended up with a caramel nougat. Then back to our home we would go where we would shortly be sent up to bed. After a few reminders that “Santa won’t come if you’re still awake”, we would settle down and go off to sleep.

Come Christmas morning we would wait for two (sometimes more) hours for Dad to finish chores. Mom would be in the kitchen making a special breakfast which was usually sausages and eggs while each of us picked up our gifts trying to guess what was in each one.  Once Dad was in the house we could open our bigger present; as we each got one big present. I usually asked for LP records, while my sister asked for games or clothing.  Our little brother always wanted whatever new John Deere tractor or piece of machinery was popular that year from the local farm implement.  Smaller gifts were Christmas nighties or slippers, new denim jeans or socks. After our presents were opened it was Dad’s turn and I think all of us were most excited for his reaction. Each year he got the same things, yet, he was always thankful and happy to get new ones-socks, long underwear, and that ever-present winter staple in the Midwest, a flannel shirt.  And what about Mom you ask? Well, she purchased her own Christmas gifts because she was ever so particular as to what she would want. Usually, she wanted a flannel nightgown, soft socks or slippers and sometimes a soft sweater or housecoat. She bought the gifts I wrapped them and come Christmas morning they were a complete surprise to her.

Christmas decorations in our home were simple; our tree was always decorated with handmade ornaments. The traditions were abundant from the meal we ate on Christmas Eve with our grandparents’ to the oranges in our stockings Christmas morn. Christmas vacation was a time for sledding parties and ice-skating and one year even going for a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Mom would spend two weeks every year making her famous homemade fudge and special Christmas Sugar cookies. Which of course meant that between all the Christmas break activities I was forever sneaking into the pantry eating fudge and sugar cookies. Christmas dinner was usually Mom’s famous baked BBQ ribs but sometimes it was a ham with her delicious scalloped potatoes and creamed corn. I loved, loved, loved Christmas growing up. It set in stone how I’ve spent each Christmas since I’ve left home. Steeped in tradition with its common theme in giving, Christ is still the reason for the season in our home.

Each year at this time I look back, and the ghost of Christmas past is very present. It’s a great experience, I’m very thankful for the memories I have. As I grew into an adult I passed some of my family’s Christmas traditions onto others, and I am certain that if they’ve remembered the giving part rather than focusing on the receiving part their Christmases have always been memorable. When I first met my husband he was very stressed at Christmas time. His family celebrated, throughout his childhood in the states, Christmas on December 5th. That is the date that people from the Netherlands celebrate Sinterklaas Day. I’ve written about this day on my blog a few times. In short, it is a day dedicated to the children in the Netherlands where St. Nick arrives by boat and gives gifts and candies to all. As adults, my husband’s family drew names and then got together on December 5th to exchange the gifts.

When we got married I was expected to change my day of celebration to December 5th.  But I would not do that. Instead, I compromised and did both because there was no way I was going to give up the way I celebrated Christmas. Their celebration did not involve Sinterklaas arriving in their home giving gifts to kids but instead was each adult drawing names and then buying the gifts from that person’s list. Christmas dinner was the same meal served at family get-togethers throughout the year. And although we enjoyed getting together with family on Christmas day what inevitably happened between family members and gift giving made it a very stressful day for us. Let’s just suffice it to say what usually happened would definitely rival some of the Christmas movies made today where the entire family is having a meltdown.

By our second year of marriage, I had taken my husband home so that he could see how my family celebrated this special time. I wanted him to experience how warm, and friendly and giving centered my family made the special day. After that experience, he was sold on celebrating Christmas the way my family enjoyed celebrating it. By the third year of our marriage, we were celebrating in our home with some of the traditions I had grown up with and some new ones of our own.  Now twenty-one Christmases later Christ and the gift of giving is still the main focus of our Christmas time.

As your family gets ready to enjoy whatever celebration you have in the month of December don’t let how others choose to celebrate the day affect how you enjoy yours. Comparison really is the thief of all joy. Enjoy your traditions and make new ones. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Good Cheer!

 

A Christmas Essay Disclaimer: As I grew up and moved away from home I became very aware of the fact that there are many other celebrations, throughout the month of December, by many non-Christian religions that are just as important as the one I celebrate with my family.  There are also many organizations in the world, non-Christian religion based, that are very giving.  I’m also keenly aware that the way I grew up in the 1970’s is not the way everyone did.

Here are a few more Christmas decor pictures. Notice half-way through our little ham needed to get in on the action. He kept posing in front of the camera each place I stopped to take a snap. Finally, once I got the hint, I took his picture.  Our Christmas tree is decorated in Blue, White, and Red as a remembrance of those who lost their lives and the families of those whose life was lost in Paris. You may also notice if you click on the photo that there are spaceships. Yes, spaceships. For nearly twenty-one years my husband has been collecting Star Trek ships (Hallmark Ornaments) and this year I promised him they could go on the tree. So they are there amongst the blue, white and red and if I may so I think they look just grand!

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Until next time always remember to eat good food!

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September and all its Splendor

It’s Apple Season–hello September!

Apple, cabbage and squash season around these parts. And lots and lots of Roma tomatoes. This next week’s prep list will include canning tomato sauce, freezing spaghetti sauce and at least a dozen frozen bags of homemade applesauce. I will definitely post pictures and share my recipes. Until then have a lovely Labor Day weekend.

Hello July!

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Typical summer meal–homegrown and/or local– total cost per meal- $1.22, two good-sized adult meals, or food for three! We eat three or four vegetables with every meal. This meal also included baked chicken and fish. I’ve started making homemade tartar sauce by cutting up a dill pickle in tiny pieces and adding it to our vegan mayo with a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar-Yum!

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Light

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My word for 2017 is light.

I’ve started this post ten different times and each time I reread it I erased it.  How does one write about lightness and goodness without it coming off like a sermon? It’s been hard these past few weeks and I feel like things will just get harder. For those who are new to my blog, I’m an activist. If that brings pictures to your head of me tying myself to a tree you’re close. Unfortunately, I lack the kind of courage that kind of action needs. Instead, I donate my time, and money and do everything short of tying myself to that tree to fight for the environment, to fight against climate change, to recycle and reuse, and be the best activist I can for those that don’t have a voice–the animals that walk our earth.  I’m a food activist hence this blog and the many years of research I’ve got under my belt about it. I also volunteer at a homeless shelter and provide money, time and resources to those less fortunate than I.

I can’t turn the news on right now because I can’t handle everything I see being done that goes against everything so many people tirelessly worked towards. All of the work, effort, research and time being deleted, darkened and destroyed. It’s heartbreaking and I’m not sure what if anything I can do about it? I can protest sure, and I can give money and give more of my time. But what changes when programs against the things I believe become the new norm? Another thing I can’t wrap my head around is why it is always the very vital things to all our livelihoods always under fire? It’s hard for me to be full of light and goodness when people so blatantly bash the very things that give them light, and air and peace and life. It’s hard for someone like me who has been a nature lover for over 45 years to reason out other people’s disbelief in proven facts. It’s hard for me to understand the never ending plight and disgrace of racism. So that is where I am at. I’m always telling my husband he can’t keep coming at something from a defensive point of view. But that’s where I feel I’m heading and what I really want is for everyone to just sit down together and maybe agree to disagree, but let’s not go back 100 years or more to censoring everything that goes against the government’s opinions.

When someone acts or reacts from a  defensive point of view they aren’t listening to you. First and foremost to them is defending their opinion or points and really bashing you for having one opposite of theirs. More times than not this kind of conversation ends in threats from one or both sides.

Listening is an art. Communication involves both talking and listening. In a country that considers itself democratic all opinions should be on the table, but they are not. The opinions of one side are starting to be deleted, darkened and oppressed. Keywords to note- delete, darkness and oppressed.

Though I make a point of not talking about politics or religion on my blog, or in my real life, even amongst friends and co-workers.  I’m human. I’m trying as hard as I can to walk in the light, do the right thing and keep moving forward. The here and now is important but what I do, what we all do to ensure there is a future is equally if not more important. Many cannot see tomorrow or refuse to safeguard tomorrow over today. Even though tomorrow isn’t promised and never comes for some of us, it still comes. And I’ll be right here God willing to protect it because no matter how dark things get, there will be light.

What’s your word for 2017?

True North

Ask Wikipedia about true north and you’ll find–true north is different from magnetic north. True north lies a long the earth’s surface  towards the geographic north poles.  It’s quite a complex direction that is found by carefully  adjusting magnetic forces from the compass to remove compass deviations.

Metaphorically speaking someone’s true north could be made up of many things-lines they don’t cross, when they feel they are at their best, when they feel right with the world and so many more possibilities. For me it is the best version of myself; when I feel I am representing the truest version of myself. My true north was discovered several years back during a self-imposed sabbatical. That it exists for me and I can feel it’s presence is what makes it such a beautiful and necessary thing for me.  My true north can and does get weighed down by certain “magnetic forces” around me. For example negative people, hurtful people, unjust circumstances or outcomes and of course things I see happening in the world via the news, newspapers, news sources and the many documentaries I watch a year.

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During times like these the first thing I do is pray.  I pray for strength and I pray for forgiveness and I pray for more patience and tolerance. Prayer reminds me to stay focused and on course. Nothing can be gained by acting out or going against one’s own moral code. I don’t let anyone push me off center to the point I would cross a line that I’ve self imposed or act out of character altogether.

Sometimes things happen in my life that kind of shake me off my course. During times like these the first thing I do is gather my thoughts and decide if there is anything that can be done to change things. Part of what stresses people out during uneasy or challenging times is their inability to realize that they can change their reaction to them;they change how they deal with something challenging. Their go to may be worry, and worry until the challenge is over.  Instead I try to think of a better way, or a less stressed way I can react to these kind of times. Distraction also helps, as long as you don’t escape too long.

My true north is my center. I am grounded when I am centered.  When I am centered I am productive and I’m also the best version of myself.   Staying grounded for me means staying open, not closed. Open to talking, open to listening, open to understanding and open to dealing with fear, and uncertainly which are usually two things humans are challenged by the most. Uncertainty is hard for me–it seems like most uncertain things are dealt with by the passing of time. Thus why I pray for patience (ahem). Fear, well fear is a part of everyone’s life. Fear is often the unknown. Fear is sometimes the well known and your still not being able to deal with something.  I take what I am afraid of and said it out loud at the time I feel fear the most. I recognize what it is and then it becomes so much easier to deal with.

Soon my posts will be less philosophical and more about food again (promise). My seed catalogs just came in and I can’t wait to order seeds and start my seedlings. Until next time–be well!

Moving forward dragging feet

I’ve been stuck in kind of a mental limbo since this past fall.  I think the biggest reason why is because I watched too much news.  I watch, or did watch too much. I haven’t had the news on now for nearly two months. I also haven’t been reading the front page of my newspaper for quite some time.  Something shifted for me a  few months back that I have not been able to forget. It’s left me pondering the intent of humans, and trying to rationalize or understand bad behavior, or find some kind of explanation for the way things are around me and in the world. It’s not been often that I have to think about some of the kind of things I’ve thought about over the past two months. To the point, as my title states, moving forward dragging feet.

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The last couple of weekends my husband and I have been taking it easy. We manage to pluck  off an ornament or two and then quit. Not at all anxious to let go of the feelings we feel at Christmas time- hope, peace and faith.  This past summer and fall we spent a lot of time in nature, often driving for almost an hour to walk peacefully in one of our favorite places in Wisconsin, a wildlife refuge.  Each day now as I take my morning walk I hear a group, it would seem the same group, of Canadian geese fly over my head towards the state park we live by. Then by nightfall they fly back over our home toward the wildlife refuge to sleep. Each time I hear, then see them, they bring a sense of peace to my heart.

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This past years election news and the candidates coverage really caused me to fall into a pit of lost hope. Lost hope in people, in the process of election, and my faith in human kind. As a lifelong advocate for human rights, and a caretaker for over twenty years for people with disabilities, watching someone in the position of power (who I shall not name here) make fun of someone with a disability really broke me.  I kept thinking that this cannot be happening, I cannot be the only person who sees this as  the lowest, cruelest thing a person could do to another. Though I knew deep down inside I was not, I truly felt like this person was rewarded time and time again for his cruelness, negativity, deceitful behaviors and general overall feelings and actions toward those in society who may not be in the position to defend themselves against someone like him. I kept looking for good news and the bad just kept coming and coming.  Darkness fell and though we had a wonderful Christmas, I just kept feeling more and more uneasy about starting the New Year. But it came and we made it through and both feel a renewed sense of faith. I’ve read so many blog posts lately of people just like me who feel like I do and in their posts I have found the light that I so need.  I am moving forward now only slightly dragging my feet. It’s a new year and I must move forward and be a part of it. I hope there is a lot more happiness and light in 2017 than there was in 2016. In the words of Maria Shriver– ” I hope we can all stand up and say this is what I’m FOR rather than this is what I’m AGAINST” in the coming new year. ”

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

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Happy Sinterklaas Day!!

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My Sinterklaas gift! – Beekman 1802 Snow Globe String Lights (sold out in stores)

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Welcome December and busy schedule. Time is moving quickly as it usually does this time of year. Between trying to catch holiday lights and holiday movies, and Hallmark’s Christmas shows there is work, baking, entertaining and of course our volunteer schedule to keep up on. I’ve baked peanut butter cookies with chocolate stars, lefse, sugar cookies and rosettes thus far. More to come before Christmas I am sure. Here in Wisconsin the snow has finally arrived a long with the bitterly cold temperatures of this time of year. I hope this December day finds you happy, healthy, and full of the spirit of Christmas!

Cranberry Sauce

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The recipe I use is — Cranberry Sauce

It’s almost that time again for some to fix the turkey, prepare the stuffing and serve the cranberry sauce or mold to friends, family or in my case- both plus I will also serve dinner at one of the shelters I volunteer at.  I didn’t always like the tartness of cranberry sauce, but over the years it has grown on me. Now, it seems my turkey would be naked without a spoonful or two by its side.

This coming weekend we are running to Hobby Lobby and Target to look at all their Christmas decorations. We were at both places two weeks ago when they were just starting to put stuff out. Usually we don’t buy things at the beginning of the season. For years we really haven’t bought much new because we have totes and totes and more totes filled with Christmas. This year, though, we just couldn’t resist and we were able to get some things I really wanted before they were all sold out.  So far how we are decorating for the holidays seems to be what is trending right now. Woodland creatures are everywhere, but I still believe glitter and fur will be the trendiest.

Until next time–stay safe and enjoy the nice weather outdoors!