Last week I wrote a guest column for my old friend Susan Metcalf, long-time “Cooking in the West” columnist for the Western Ag Reporter (formerly known as Agri-News). Susan is always (half-jokingly) after me to send in a guest column before her weekly deadline, but as I like to put it, I don’t have time in my life for showering these days much less writing guest columns. Still, a couple weeks ago Susan was really on my mind and I resolved that in between washing enough spoons to feed my family cold cereal I surely could find the time to write a Christmas-y guest column for her — giving her, in essence, the gift of a week off. A story quickly formulated in my mind, I typed it up, and I was pretty self-satisfied when I emailed the finished column to Susan as a complete surprise to her. Little did I know she was in Vegas at the time for the NFR, with a deadline looming and apparently no plans for a column. When she messaged me back to say thanks she described my column as an “email from heaven.” Ha! God answers prayers in mysterious ways!
When I worked as the editor of Agri-News many years ago, the day that Susan’s weekly submission landed in my inbox was the best day of the week. As I edited it, I often read the column out loud to my fellow editor, and sitting there in my dim cinderblock office we always got good laughs out of Susan’s trademark humor. Man if those days don’t seem like another life to me, on another planet in another age.
Anyhow, without further ado, my recent guest column is below… with a few addendums in italics… because inevitably after I send a story off in its final draft I think of just a few more things I wanted to say!
It’s officially December, which means we are officially elbow-deep in Christmas preparations in our house filled with little kids: Asher (8), Emilyn (5), Marsielle (3), and Muggins (10 months).
We are halfway decorated for Christmas here and that’s good enough for me. As far as I can tell I finished putting away Christmas stuff from last year just a couple months ago. In their excitement this season the kids pulled several boxes of Christmas decorations out of the cellar in the days after Thanksgiving, and they took a few things out of each box, and then I put the boxes back in the cellar just as soon as the kids lost interest (they have short attention spans, thank goodness). I feel perfectly content, even safe, with more than half of the Christmas decorations squirreled away downstairs right now. Not that I’m a Scrooge or anything… it’s just that I feel like all my energy is currently divided up into piles, like a second-grade math division problem, and that means there’s none left over. It won’t always be this way, right? Never again will we have a 10-month-old wrecking ball named Muggins toddling around the house. Never again will I be homeschooling a kindergartner and a first-grader using an intense, new-to-us curriculum. Never again will my husband be starting his third year of this here’s-a-roll-of-duct-tape-and-thirty-seven-hundred-cows-don’t-call-if-something-comes-up job. In other words, my hope is that everyday life won’t always be this crazy… and I figure we will decorate the house to picture-perfect perfection THEN, like when my girls are opinionated teenagers (I will watch them work from my rocking chair with an afghan over my knees).
Beau and I really endeavor to set an example and make the Christmas season about loved ones and lovely experiences for our kids. But in the end, we are not completely immune to the commercialism of Christmas. Gifts will be received, gifts must be gotten… and I never knew in my pre-motherhood life that parenting is basically one ethical dilemma after another.
First, there is the money. Every year we say we are going to set aside a little money every month in an account to be spent at Christmastime… but every year we neglect to do so… and then Christmastime gets here and we panic: how are we going to pay for Christmas?!
There is the question of how many gifts we should buy for each of our four kids, and then the question of how much we should spend on each individual kid. We know that friends and family members will bestow gifts upon them, too, and I’m not exaggerating when I say we have seen our little ones become so overwhelmed by all the new stuff that they glaze over and burn out on opening presents before they’re all opened!
Beau and I are not big fans of TOYS for several reasons, the most obvious being that if ever my children have come into contact with a toy comprised of more than one piece — i.e. Legos, Lincoln Logs, Barbie dolls, and the list marches on — the pieces are soon scattered through every room of the house and I predict they will never all be in the same place ever again. We pretty much believe that toys are a waste of money. For Beau especially it is very important that we give our kids gifts they actually need… and (though in my opinion he’s a little overly optimistic about this) preferably will be able to use for many years to come.
Oh sure, we both love the idea of giving “experiences” for Christmas. Ideally, in our dreams, we are very intentional parents — maximizing every moment and creating spectacular memories as our gifts to them: swimming at the indoor pool the week of Christmas then going out for ice cream, maybe even taking a ski day, perhaps crafting that treehouse we speak often of (in the backyard from scratch). Unfortunately, in real life, our energy and time are entirely too finite… and by the time we perform the crowd-management it takes to raise four little kids, all we feel like experiencing is a nap! There’s always next year, right?
On the subject of spending, we wonder how many friends we should let our older kids buy for at Christmastime. Last year we let our oldest go wild at the dollar store, buying Christmas gifts for practically every friend he’s ever made (I mean, we were just delighted that he was taking such joy from giving!)… and then the season got away from us and we never wrapped nor delivered most of those gifts. As usual, my ambitions overran my reality. (Don’t tell my son, because he seems to have forgotten about them, but most of those presents he bought are stored in our cellar right now.)
As far as wrapping presents goes this is the year I’m officially throwing in the towel. The other day I was reading a Berenstain Bears book about Christmas to the kids, and in the illustration of Christmas morning Brother and Sister Bear each found their own pile of (unwrapped) loot under the tree. “Look at this!” I exclaimed to Beau. “Mama Bear didn’t wrap the presents!” Beau looked and shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah,” he said, “that’s the way it was at my house growing up.” For me, coming from a wrapping family, NOT wrapping is a totally epiphany… and, I hope, a huge savings on time I don’t have to spare… so I’m totally going for it! To heck with wrapped presents under the tree in the days before Christmas! (Not that we could put presents under our tree, which is standing on a trunk three feet off the ground, anyway… the baby has a penchant for destruction of anything within reach, not to mention an appetite for paper.) So I’m gonna go ahead and check that all off my list. What a relief.
I always wonder, too, how much to involve Santa in our Christmas. Beau and I really endeavor to teach our kids that Christmas is actually a celebration of Jesus’ birth, that the wisemen brought gifts to Baby Jesus and that Jesus himself was a gift from God, that the gift-giving folks partake in these days is a tradition and a response of thankfulness. Still, like it or not, Santa is hard to avoid this time of year… and our 5-year-old daughter is totally captivated. What kind of mama could make Santa out to be a bad guy in front of a blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl who is determined to believe?
Speaking of the 5-year-old, she’s at a fun age to buy for. She likes and asks for simple, pretty, relatively inexpensive gifts: a book. A jewelry box. Pink long johns. These things we can do.
Her 8-year-old brother? His tastes are maturing way too fast for me; he’s asking exclusively for big-ticket items this year. When I interviewed the kids concerning their wishes, he asked for a brand. A scabbard. A pistol. A dog sled and huskies. Coyote traps. And four sheep, which he is interested in purely for their start-up-business potential.
The sweet little 3-year-old? She wants (and I quote) “a talking horse.” Hmmm. Play-dough it is, then. She’s still (hopefully) at that blessed stage where she’s just as happy to play in the box as she is to discover what’s inside.
And the baby, thank goodness, he’s a freebie. This will be his first Christmas and, at 10 months old, he’ll never miss those gifts he’s not going to get from Mom, Dad, and Santa this year. If we had Yuletide money we needed to get rid of, we might do the responsible thing and open a savings account for him — you know, the gift that keeps on giving. But we don’t… so we won’t. Looks like diapers and wipes for the little guy this Christmas!
Susan, I hope you and all the WAR readers have a wonderful season. My Christmas gift to you? Recipes, of course — for some of our favorite holiday dishes. Merry Christmas, lady!
(For Beau, no holiday is worth celebrating if there isn’t ham involved. And where he comes from, in the Deep South, no ham is complete without pineapple casserole. No matter where you’re from, this stuff is divine!)
2 lg. cans pineapple tidbits
5 T. flour
3/4 c. sugar
1 sleeve of Ritz crumbs
1-1/2 c. shredded cheese
1/2 c. margarine or butter, melted
Pour pineapple with juice into greased casserole dish. Combine flour and sugar; sprinkle over pineapple. Cover with cheese, then crumbs, then butter. Bake at 350 uncovered for 45 minutes.
Sour Cream Raisin Pie
(My 13-year-old niece Taylor has perfected the art of preparing this old family recipe. The holidays aren’t complete without it!)
2 c. raisins
2 c. water
1 c. brown sugar
2 T. flour (heaping)
1 c. sour cream
1/4 t. cinnamon
4 egg yolks
1/4 c. butter
Boil raisins in water; set aside until cool, then mix remaining ingredients in and cook until thick over medium heat. Pour into a pre-baked pie shell. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, use egg whites to make meringue, adding 5 T. sugar. Put on pie. Return to oven until peaks are brown.
(Every Christmas Eve I take this yummy starter to the all-cousins bash at my 92-year-old Grandma Peg Kuntz’s house.)
1 lb. mild bulk sausage
1 can Rotel
1 block cream cheese, softened
Brown and drain the sausage. Return to the skillet and add the cream cheese over low heat. Mix in the Rotel and warm through. Serve with chips.
© Tami Blake