What Comes in the Mail

Dear Liza,

Since our family and friends are spread up and down California and Oregon, and giving gifts in person is just not possible this year, we have started sending more gifts of food. Companies like Pittman and Davis, Hickory Farms, Harry and David, The Fruit Company, Temecula Olive Oil Company, Nut Cravings, and Barnett’s make and send pastries, nuts, and fruit that are not inexpensive, but always delicious. Food is the perfect gift to send to folks you love but don’t see very often. It doesn’t clutter up the house (at least not for long!), it is always the right size, and it makes for interesting snacking.

My nuts celebrating a package from Nut Cravings

This year, with so many wonderful treats coming to our front door, I have gotten good at making whole meals out of them! The Chipotle cheese from Auntie Bridgett’s brother became a spicy quesadilla, eaten alongside an orange from her Aunt Chris. Afternoon snacks of almonds and dried fruit from your own family make for healthy mid-afternoon eating, and the lemon olive oil from Julie will help turn some weary kale into a tasty salad.

Besides the professionally packaged gifts, we have gotten boxes full of wrapped presents. Auntie Christy and Cousin Kyle sent theirs padded with pages and pages of the Los Angeles Times newspaper! It was so much fun reading the articles. She even included the funny pages, and we saw that that clever woman does the LA Times crossword and Sudoku…in ink! Very impressive.

Clever Christy!

Of course, with three of us in the house, and all of us ordering some things that we couldn’t find in town, the new rule is, if it’s not addressed to you, don’t open it! We don’t want to spoil the surprise.

I hope you get lots of wonderful presents!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Donna’s Cookies

Dear Liza,

Auntie Bridgett’s momma Donna makes really good sugar cookies. I mean, REALLY good. And this year, with no travel, we had to make our own!

Sloppy, but accurate!

Fortunately, Donna gave us HER recipe, so we are just fine. We creamed the butter, eggs, and vanilla together, then sifted in the flour, baking powder and a dash of salt, mixed it up and put it in the fridge. While it chilled I hunted for cookies cutters. We don’t have many, since I passed most of them onto Auntie Katie long ago. But we had enough to make it work.

I made some to be left plain, because Grandpa Nelson prefers the cookies just by themselves, and some to make pretty to share with neighbors. I even changed from my usual buttercream and tried royal icing, a new (to me) type of cookie icing that dries smooth and shiny.

Work in progress

When the icing was fresh, it was very runny and hard to control, but after it sat in the fridge (in an airtight container) for a while, it worked much better.

I used the piping bag and Auntie Bridgett used her skill with a butter knife, and together we made some pretty cookies.

Now they just need to dry overnight (covered and protected from curious kittens!) and they will be ready to pass along. Baking is something I do to make me happy, and something I can share with others. It takes the love I have inside and allows me hand it out on little plates.

Merry Christmas!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Happy Hanukkah!

Dear Liza,

Our household celebrates both Christian and Jewish holidays, so this time of year is extra festive. We have our Christmas tree up and the menorah on the table. We have delivered small gifts across town to Auntie Katie and the cousins and wrapped presents for each other in red and green paper.

Our brass menorah, bought from the now-closed Do Re Me Music in Carmel about 38 years ago, was the first piece of Judaica we owned. We love it because it is an abstraction of the word “Hanukkah”, which means dedication, and is different from any menorah we have ever seen. We keep it on the piano all year ‘round, as a piece of art.

The only problem with it is that when the lower candles are all lit, the upper one tends to ….. well….. melt. A slight design flaw. But a small price to pay.

This year we are not making latkes. They are traditional and I love eating them, but for just Auntie Bridgett and me (Grandpa Nelson doesn’t like them) it is a lot of grating and frying mess. Also, we have an extremely nervous smoke detector. So we will pass for now and hope for better things next year.

Because it usually happens so close to Christmas, people sometimes try to make Hanukah an equivalent holiday, but it just isn’t. It is not nearly as important to Judaism as Passover, Rose Hosannah, or Yom Kippur.

But in the middle of a cold dark season, candles are always good.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Cats at Christmas

Dear Liza,

You know our cat, Mouse, is part of our family. She is 9 years old already, older than you! She enjoys many of the same things we do.
Snuggling….

This is my mommy….

Listening to stories….

This is my mommy, too…..

Decorating for Christmas,

My lights….

and getting to know the neighbors.

Interspecies detente

Sometimes she is even part of the decor.

You know whose Bear this is, right?

So of course she gets Christmas presents.

I have sewn cat toys for our Mouse and Auntie Katie’s cat, Pixel. Pixel is 15, and a real old lady cat, but she likes toys, too.

For Mouse

It doesn’t take much! Some felt leftover from other projects, part of an old shredded sheet for stuffing, and some cat nip from the grocery store. A little bit goes a long way! And since cats are not very critical, this is a low-stress art project.

For Pixel

I like being able to celebrate Christmas with all my loved ones, even the furry ones!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Christmas Day in Retrospect

Dear Liza,

Starting the day with cinnamon rolls….

It is now the day after Christmas and I am still full to the brim from the feasting and family. Our Christmas celebration started around 10 in the morning when the rest of the family woke up (Auntie Bridgett and I are early risers), and went until after 9 that night when tired Grandkids headed home.

Christy gets a Nicole Curcio bowl…

First there were cinnamon rolls and coffee, and presents for and from Auntie Christy and Cousin Kyle. We were all pleased with the Hogwarts’ goodies, so perfect for us and our chilly winters here in Portland.

Grandpa in his new Slytherin scarf.

Auntie Katie and the Cousins came later, bringing more gifts and a delicious ad- libbed cream pie.

Music, as always.

Kyle, being the Dungeon Master of the day, had prepared a Dungeons and Dragons adventure for Jasper and Kestrel, and the three of them developed characters and played while the older folks chatted, ate and drank, and played music.

Jasper, Kes and Kyle working in character development

Katie and I were the only ones who wanted a walk, so we headed off to Laurelhurst. I wore my new Hogwarts scarf, and met a fellow Hufflepuff! Her name is May. She is a delight and I hope we see each other again. We also did some serious bird-watching, Katie sharing her Great Grandma Billie’s love of feathered friends.

Watching the Bullock’s Orioles in the park

Katie is always good company. She and I talked about my story and she gave me some good advice on how to make it better as I go forward.

I met May, a local Hufflepuff!

We got home and had dinner, which was, as always, a team effort and delicious.

Then came more presents! Harry Potter and Wonder Woman and weird little Hands for Handy Hand to hang out with. What a day!

Teeny tiny hands!
Cool swag from Cousin Kyle

Then there was more music, with harmonies and extra verses. As everyone’s energy level started to sag, no one wanted the day to end!

More harmony and strumming…

Kyle and Jasper played a video game on the sofa while the rest of us watched The Grinch (the original, with Boris Karloff’s voice) and the White Christmas, with which we sang along.

Thank goodness for HIGH ceilings!!

Finally, we had a game of Kozo, then Dreidle, and then we had to just own up that it was time to go to bed.

Winding down….

I am so blessed to have this life full of loving people, safety and abundance, ideas, music and surprise.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Canasta!

Dear Liza,

This Christmas, while Auntie Christy and Cousin Kyle were visiting, we got to revive a holiday tradition from my family. We played Canasta!

Canasta is a card game that was very big at my parents’ house. I learned it as part of being the family, and any people serious about marrying into the family had to learn to play, as well. Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Christy got really good!

Canasta is played with two decks of cards and has lots of rules. Red threes are worth 100 points, black threes are good for freezing the pile. You need 50 points to meld, until you have 1200 points, when you need 90. Learning this game as a child taught me to think ahead, pay attention to details, and count like crazy.

And last night we got to do it again. We played On Great Grandma Billie’s table with her double deck and reviewed the rules as we went along. We were surprised to find out how much we remembered… even down to my Mom’s expression, “Let’s go out now and catch ‘em with their pants down!”

Grandpa Nelson and Kyle whupped us the first game, but Auntie Christy and I came back and passed them to win the set. It was nice to win, but even more fun to be playing a game that was so much a part of every gathering in my family.

It is like making the family whole again, after losing Great Grandpa Lowell, Great Grandma Billie, and Uncle Jim. Like the characters in my story, we are learning that with the love and history we share, we are enough of a family to go forward.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Old Friends

Dear Liza,

Our Christmas tree is a look back at our lives. When your Daddy David was little, Grandpa Nelson and I attended synagogue and celebrated Hanukah. There weren’t any Christmas ornaments in the house!

But we had both been raised with Christmas, and Great Grandma Billie had lots of ornaments. When Auntie Bridgett came to live with us, she brought lots of them… breakables and stuffies, religious and silly, you name it.

Kitty’s duckies

She loves Christmas so much that we started celebrating it again! And I am glad we did. Some ornaments remind us of dear friends who aren’t nearby. Kitty Petruccelli ‘visits’ us every year with her silly rubber duckies.

When Great Grandma Billie got older and came to be closer to us in Salinas, she got to see our tree with some of her ornaments and Bridgett’s, as well. It helped her feel at home.

Momma’s pine cone

When she passed away, her decorations let me celebrate a little of her joy and history.

Ornaments let me celebrate other people, as well. A former student, known as Ex, made this for me about 20 years ago. He was a sweet soul with a hard life. I have no way of knowing where he is now, but I wish his happy heart well.

Ex Wells’ sweet face

When we travel, Auntie Bridgett makes sure we get a souvenir that we can see every year. Here is a tiny gnome form Strausburg, France.

From France…

This delicate wooden scene came from the Christmas market in Cologne, Germany.

…and Germany

Every year we pick up a few ones, so we keep making new memories.

Love,

Grandma Judy