Friday, December 24, 2010

New Year musings

Ding, Dong, Merrily on high,
Christmas bells are ringing.

And so we arrive at Christmas Eve Day.

Snow is ever so softly falling. It's bright and beautiful as we prepare to attend our afternoon worship service and then to our family Christmas Eve gathering. This year we have family from New York, Virginia, and Ohio with us. We are so blessed.

This will be my last post of the year.

Christmas Day finds us beginning our 1900-mile drive to Mesa, Arizona, where we will stay until mid-April. But, of course, there will be new posts and news when we arrive.

The year 2010 has been good to me, and I hope it closes on a satisfactory note for you. I have enjoyed my first year of retirement, have renewed some valuable friendships, and have had some new experiences. I joined a new church and made new friends.

Of course, I have a few New Year's resolutions. But why are they the same ones I made last year?

Don't we always have such hopes for a new, fresh year? I love its clean slate, its promise; the journey of it stretched before us, like an open road.

I wish you the best of health and happiness in 2011. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading my stories and being a part of my 2010, making it the blessing it has been.

And I pray that 2011 will give you good health, enough strength for the day, and a joyful spirit.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Every family has its holiday traditions. Ours is Rysgryngröt.

What's that, you say?

Rysgryngröt is a traditional rice pudding. It's made like porridge and served warm and creamy, with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled generously on top. good.

It is a Scandinavian custom to serve it before Christmas dinner, passed down from my grandmother Ragnhild. Grandma was a Swedish immigrant to America, and kept this tradition, as well as many others, alive in her home.

The reason for serving it first, before the Christmas feast, is that it meets two criteria for those with little food and meager funds, as in our forebearer's time: it's cheap, and it's filling. So eating it first fills the stomach and you need less meat and other Christmas fare.

My mother also kept the tradition alive for us, and we have since carried on for our families. Rysgryngröt has been served at every Christmas Eve celebration in my memory. It's the very first course, usually ready for guests upon arrival.

When my then-husband and I moved to Ohio where we lived for several years when our children were small, and we couldn't be present for the large family gathering, we felt closer with our servings of rysgryngröt on Christmas Eve.

What is most special, besides the fact that it's delicious to eat, is that the custom calls for the Christmas Elf to hide a nut, usually an almond, in the pudding. If the almond lands in your serving, you receive a special gift, maybe a decorated gingerbread cookie, or a candy bar. And with it comes good luck for the coming year!

When we were growing up, the nut truly was hidden, and there was only one recipient. My mother sticks to her story that she never "planted" it, but since I recall a different one of the six of us children getting the nut each year, I have my suspicions. What do you think?

Nowadays, there are numerous nuts and gifts from the Christmas Elf. As new members join the family, or boyfriends or girlfriends attend our celebration, the Elf sees to it that a nut is found in their serving.

The cooking process has changed and the tradition has been altered a bit since Grandma's time. We now make a double and a half batch for our Christmas gathering, cooked in a large crock pot.

Here is the original recipe, which you can alter by doubling or cooking in a crockpot, if you prefer:

Traditional Rice Pudding (Rysgryngröt)
Put into top of double boiler:
6 cups milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup raw rice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cover and cook over simmering water for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. The rice should be entirely soft and the mixture thick. (Remove the cover the last 10 minutes if not thick enough.)

Serve with cream (half-and-half) and a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.

My granddaughters say Rysgryngröt is their very favorite part of Christmas.

Whatever your holiday tradition, embrace and enjoy. Traditions are an honored part of our past and bind us together.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas tears

It is a joyous time of year. Decorations, sparkling lights, holiday music and concerts, gifts, and cookies.

But tears are shed at Christmastime, too.
We are not spared from them, even in this joyous season.

We lost our darling sister-in-law, Mavis,
very suddenly last week. Unplanned. Not our timing at all. And perhaps not hers.

There were things to do, and time was running out. Cards had been sent; we received ours a week ago. But Christmas gifts had not yet been given; some were still unwrapped, and dinner needed to be planned.

But in her typical style and in her mind, there was always plenty of time for enjoying, and not wasting, every moment of life.

Taking time out for a movie with a good friend, she laughed and enjoyed the evening with her usual flair. Her Christmas to-do list would wait.

She left a half-cup of coffee on the table as she rushed out the door. And there by the table, and the half-cup of coffee, lay her devotional book, speaking to her of knowing peace in what lay ahead, of good things to come, all waiting for her.

Her to-do list won't be checked off because God had another plan for her. She not only left it behind, she considered it undeserving of any attention at all when God called.

It was the most wonderful Christmas gift she could receive, to be invited to join Him in Heaven on that night. She willingly took His hand. I am sure she lit up the sky, and I can clearly hear that special laugh as she takes in every moment of the joy that is hers now.

Though she didn't write this, and the author is unknown, she could have. It sounds just like her.
Tis Christmas in Heaven, what a beautiful sight.
It's my first one here; everything is all right.
I've met all our dear ones who preceded us here.
The reunion was lovely, an event full of cheer.

I think of you all that I left behind,
And pray that your Christmas is as blessed as mine.
Please don't shed tears for my soul is at rest.
Just love one another, live life to the best!

Yes, it's Christmas in Heaven, so I've heard them say.
Yet, Christmas in Heaven happens every day.
We said good-bye to Mavis today with a beautiful service, perfectly fitting for her in its style and elegance. We celebrated the life she lived, and the gifts she left us by simply being such a special part of our lives.

We shed tears, and it's okay. It is still a joyous season. The birth of the Christ Child, and our rebirth in Heaven, is great cause for celebration.

A joyous Christmas is wished for you!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sitting by the fire

I have always longed for a fireplace.

It was on our list of "must haves" for several houses we looked at over the years, and bought. I have still never had one.

So I settle for a DVD of a burning camp fire, complete with crackling and popping. It's actually pretty good.

We found it when we visited Minnesota's North Shore last summer. Some guy actually filmed a camp fire out in the woods and made a DVD. It was playing in a gift shop and, of course, having been inspired by being in the north woods, we had to buy it.

Since I am unlikely to ever have a real fireplace, it's the next best thing.

While sitting next to my "fireplace" (such as it is), I'm knitting ear warmers. Not wanting to start a large project before our journey to Arizona, they go quickly and will surely be appreciated by my little 3 and 4 year old granddaughters the rest of the cold Minnesota winter.

For the little ones, I cast on about 12 stitches, using a small, size 6 needle, and am using a double strand of yarn.

I knit this in a strip to about 14 to 16 inches, then bind off and stitch together end-to-end. You want it a bit snug for the head measurement. It can then be slipped on over the ears.

For adults, use a thicker yarn and a slightly larger needle, but make it nice and snug and tightly knit.

It is below zero in our neck of the woods, so we'll take anything we can get to keep warm. Ear warmers and DVD camp fires help.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside

It's 5 below zero today. The wind blew all night and the snow drifts once again cancel-
ed our family Christmas dinner and gift exchange gathering.

Many church programs and holiday concerts have been canceled as freeway ramps are slippery, and driveways and parking lots have not yet been plowed.

I (regrettably) checked the weather for today in Mesa, Arizona. We'll be there in two weeks. 75 degrees and sunny.

I had to know that, didn't I?

Well, in the meantime, here we are. Bundled up, heat on, we've been snuggled in for the day. The sun was shining all day, deceiving us all. But I focused on its rays rather than the outdoor thermometer.

Even Catrina knows it's cold out there.
She prefers being on the inside looking out at the shivering, but most grateful, squirrel, digging for the seed buried deep under-
neath the snow on the patio.

We found all kinds of things to do to keep us warm inside. Those sugar cookies finally were baked and decorated, and we have a wonderful porketta roast slowly cooking in the oven now that the cookies are done.

I made a double recipe of cranberry-strawberry salad for our since-canceled family gathering. Combined with butternut squash, this will make a hearty dinner this evening.

The cranberry-strawberry salad is a very old recipe, and standard fare for all of our family's occasions. It is also perhaps the simplest recipe you'll ever have, but can be served both casually and elegantly.

Heat a can of Ocean Spray whole berry cranberry sauce until hot. Slowly stir in a package of red (any flavor) Jell-O. Let cool just a bit and add a thawed package of frozen strawberries in syrup.

For an optional topping, stir fresh lime juice into a carton of sour cream and garnish with a slice of lime.

Whatever you did to stay warm and cozy today, I hope your day has been filled with the good things this holiday season, and winter, offers.

Happy Holidays!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Oh, it doesn't show signs of stoppin'
But we've got some corn for poppin'

It started at midnight last night. White, fluffy flakes swirling around, and now blowing in the wind. You can hear it howling away outside.

It is so very beautiful. A winter wonderland in Minnesnowta.

It is also canceling travel plans all over the state. Warnings have been issued to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary. Our own family plans were postponed until tomorrow as my children and grandchildren planned their annual gift opening celebration today.

But everything will keep and we'll be together then, presumably all safe and sound. And we will celebrate in our usual festive style.

So today is wide open.

Hmmmmm, what shall I do with myself? The options are many.

Bake cookies?
Read my new book? "Fall of Giants" ... a mere 985 pages.

Snow days can be so deliciously lazy. Permission to do anything not associated with real work. I love these snowy days, just as I love a good thunderstorm in summer. It's all about permission to lay low without feeling guilty.

I think I'll bake some sugar cookies, pop some Kettle Corn, and read the afternoon away.

In that order.

Without feeling a tinge of guilt.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cranberry tea

Now that you've made your cranberry tree, it's time to relax with a piping hot cup of cranberry tea.

One of my favorite holiday recipes was given
to me by a friend, and former librarian of our local library. What's so interesting about this cranberry tea recipe is that it actually contains no tea.

Maybe it should be called Christmas Tea. Even if it has no tea...

So, although it's anybody's guess how it got its name, cranberry tea is so delicious and soothing.

Here's how to make it:

In a large pan, boil together for five minutes over medium heat: 1 to 1-1/4 cups sugar, 2 cups water and a 6-inch cinnamon stick.

Add a gallon of cranberry juice cocktail, a 16-ounce can of orange juice concentrate, and a scant 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.

Simmer and enjoy the aroma of the wonderful blend of spices.
After a busy day, when you're feeling overwhelmed and don't know how you will possibly get everything done, and life is just plain hectic, and you're almost wishing the holidays were over, kick off your shoes, heat up a cup of this holiday drink till it's very hot, sit back, slowly sip, and relax.

Ahhhhh.....that's better.

For entertaining, it's very pretty served in a clear glass cup. I have used it for serving with lingonberry cake or nut breads.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Making a cranberry tree

Many years ago, my mother and I enjoyed
a holiday tour of the Alexander Ramsey House in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Alexander Ramsey was Minnesota's first governor, originally governing the territory, and then the state of Minnesota when it joined the Union.

One of the nation's best preserved Victorian-era homes, the Ramsey House offers a glimpse into life in the 1870s. Anna Ramsey, wife of the governor, greets you in costume, as do the guides dressed as her servants.

As you pass through the home's kitchen, the smells of cinnamon and clove fill the air as fresh cookies, made from recipes of the 1800s, are offered.

But what caught our eye was the cran-
berry tree decoration on the dining room table.

Typical of the holiday decorations of the day, it was elegant in its simplicity.

Mom and I studied it carefully and then went home to make one!

Here's how:

You'll need about 2 pounds of fresh or thawed cranberries, whole cloves, round (not flat) toothpicks broken in half, and a green Styrofoam cone.

Beginning at the bottom of the cone, push the sharp end of the toothpick about half-way through the stem end of the cranberry. Then remove the toothpick and put the thicker end
of the toothpick into the hole you just made. Then push it into the Styrofoam cone.

Do this around the whole base; then continue to do the same on the next row up and so on until you reach the top. Use the larger cranberries for the bottom of the cone and smaller ones as you work your way up. Place a large cranberry at the top of the cone.

In between rows, where you see any blank spots, put the stem end of a whole clove into the cone. You get the added advantage of a most wonderful smell.

I found that when finished, the cranberry tree needs to be kept in a cool place. I put mine on our enclosed front porch until ready to use, then brought it out to decorate the table when entertaining. I displayed it on a clear, glass plate with small boughs of fresh greens around it.

Although I didn't try this, you can put a bit of egg wash (egg white beaten until frothy), using a pastry brush, over the tips of the cranberries, and sprinkle sugar on it while the egg wash is still wet.

I hope you are enjoying the holiday season and will enjoy a bit of Christmas-past with this simple, homemade decoration.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 5, 2010


We welcomed the holiday season last night
by attending a musical, Hallelujah! at North Heights Lutheran Church in Arden Hills,
a 45-minute drive from our house.

We went with three other couples who are
long-time good friends. We celebrate the season each year by attending a special holiday production. This is the one we selected for this year's tradition, and we were glad we did.

This is no ordinary musical. But then, it is no ordinary church.

I'm sure it is the largest church I have ever seen. Although it is really a huge auditorium,
it is warm and inviting all the same. It has wonderfully cozy seats with ample space between rows for walking through, and acoustics that are second to none. The sound was amazing.

There is no "stage." The production, with a cast of hundreds, including children, takes place all over: on balconies, in the aisles, on a real skating rink, even from the ceiling.

Hallelujah! features stunning holiday music
by very talented musicians, including an orchestra, several choirs and singers, creative dancing, graceful ice skating, and flying angels in flowing white to announce the birth of Jesus. The lighting and visual effects were spectacular.

It was fast-paced, joyful, uplifting and a simply delightful way to usher in the holidays with good friends.

Hallelujah! was not only inspiring, it really captured the true beauty of the season: the newborn Babe of Bethlehem.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas cards

I just put the last stamp on the last card for this holiday season, sending my friends and family a festive Christmas greeting.

Each year, I review my practice of sending Christmas cards. I hear more and more people have given up on this long-standing tradition. The day will surely come when it is another thing of the past.

It doesn't take me long to realize I am not yet ready to abandon this tradition. Something would be missing from Christmas without it.

To not connect with people who are important in my life, even if it means connecting in a tangible way only once a year, would be a significant loss to me.

And as I address each envelope and sign the card, I think fondly of the recipient and how thankful I am for the richness each has added to my life. Each in a unique way.

I wondered where the tradition of sending Christmas cards ever started. So I Googled.

I learned that Christmas cards began when school children in England drew Christmas greetings for their parents. And in 1843, the first director of London's Victoria and Albert Museum commissioned an artist to create the first professional Christmas card so that he could send greetings to his friends.

Christmas cards can serve as bridges to keep friendships alive. I think it is fitting at Christmas time, when we celebrate the joyous birth of the Christ child, to let loved ones know they are valued by us, as we are valued by the Baby Jesus.

I also love to receive Christmas cards. I go to my mailbox in anticipation, wondering who I will hear from today. Maybe you?

Not everyone has e-mail. Or is on Facebook. Those are perhaps efficient vehicles for communicating, but they don't express the same, gracious messages as a lovely card. Pen and ink have been forgotten in this era of keystrokes and send buttons.

So I'll continue this Christmas card tradition, hopefully for many years to come.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

'Tis December

So now that it's December,
I can talk about Christmas openly. And decorate my front door.

And turn up the volume on my Christmas CDs. And bake Christmas cookies.

Doing so in November brings odd, disapproving looks from people who think October is Halloween, November is Thanksgiving, and December is Christmas.

I got out my holiday recipes to see what I was in the mood to make today and decided on "Peanut Blossoms." They're the peanut butter cookies with the chocolate kiss (or star) on top. I have made them every year for many years.

Except now I cheat.

I use a package of Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix. It comes in a pouch. So easy that I'll never make them from "scratch" again. I might try the same for sugar cookies.

Then I'll make turtle candy. And cheat again. Here's an easy way:

You'll need a bag of miniature pretzels. During the holidays, you can often find them in star and tree shapes, as well as the traditional knot shape. You'll also need a package of Rolo candies, and pecan halves.

Place the pretzels on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Unwrap the Rolos and put one on top of each pretzel. Place in an oven pre-heated to 250 degrees for four minutes.

Remove from the oven and press a pecan half on top of the chocolate which will squish it down and cover the pretzel holes. Then put the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for a short time. Waa-lah! Turtles!

Here is a tip that isn't really cheating. It's just getting the most for your effort. I make miniature cut-out gingerbread men with a small gingerbread man cookie cutter. Making them "bite-size" makes so many more out of a batch of gingerbread dough. I use those silver ball decorations for the eyes and add a couple for buttons.

So now that my oven is preheated, I'm ready to get started. And if anyone comes to the door, it's okay that I'm baking Christmas cookies.

After all, it is December.