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On Christmas, Gifts and Memories.

December 22, 2008

Part of my beliefs, and my way of life involves something I’ve inherited from my depression era Grandparents. Something for which I’ll always be thankful.

You see, my Grandmother didn’t cook things out of a box, not once in my entire memory of Summers, Holidays and afternoons spent at her house can I *once* remember her opening a Betty Crocker Box, or a Hamburger Helper box. Not once.  If she ‘couldn’t do it from scratch, well then it probably isn’t something we want to put in our bodies is it?’ She’d say.

We’d pull homemade spaghetti sauce out of the large stand up freezer she had in the garage. We’d cook massive quantities of meatloaf at a time, cool them, wrap them in freezer paper, tape them up, then wrap them again in aluminum foil (which she’d reuse when possible) and write on the freezer tap what kind of meatloaf it was and the date we made it. We’d make fruitcake that people actually LIKED.  (graham crackers and rum is the secret LOL) We’d make pies and pies and pies, while the bread rose for sandwiches later. Grandma instilled a love of cooking in me. Not just cooking though, of using fresh ingredients, being able to tell if something is done by how it smells, the secrets of butter and herbs.  The simple joy of cooking for people you love, and putting all of that love into your food. Prayers for their health, their happiness and a good meal all occur while you are cooking. It’s not something you STOP and do, it’s just something that happens.

The Christmas season for me, will always be intriscally tied up with memories of my Grandmother. As a child, we were often so poor that we would sneak around some wooded area we lived in to chop down a Charlie Brown type Christmas tree.  Often the only presents we had under the tree were from my mothers parents (if I’m talking about my Grandparents, it’s going to be them).

When I turned 13, we moved back to my Mother and Father’s hometown so my dad could be foreman of a cattle ranch there. I had spent lots of Summers with my Grandparents, but never a Christmas. Now, as a sullen teenager blessed with bipolar disorder (which I now know was symptoms of my Celiac Disease) my Grandmother did everything she could to live her life the way SHE believed. To live it as an example for me. I’m sure that she despaired a lot. I KNOW that she prayed for me multiple times a day (and still does LOL) But her honest and ferverent belief in living frugally, living as self sufficient as you can, as fostered on her during the depression.  Well, they stuck with me. It made sense!

Presents in my family have always been something meaningful. Something that was spotted and just screamed the persons name. If it was bought, it could be from anywhere, from the mall to Goodwill. If it was handmade, it was handmade with some serious love and forethought, and that carries forward with me to this day, and is carrying forward in my children.

As examples.

My ex-husband (yes we are on good terms LOL) the kids wanted to get him a present for Christmas. However, we are pretty poor. So we put our heads together and thought. What does Daddy like? What does Daddy buy for himself? Well, Daddy works out a lot, and Daddy showers a lot LOL, and Daddy is constantly scratching his back on trees and wall corners…. Hmmm, Daddy buys a lot of soap and SALT SCRUB! Hey, we can make salt scrub!

So Ian poured the sea salt, Owyn poured the homemade lavender shampoo made by my friend Holly, and Morgan stirred it up as I added a bit more water. We put it in a wide mouth canning jar, added some wrapping paper around the top and the kids wrote a not to their Daddy. When we handed it over to him, we all KNEW he’d love it, and sure enough, he grinned largely. We know he’ll use it, and the kids made it for him with love. To us, that’s a present.

So this year, I’m pretty poor. It seems around Christmas every year, there are unsuspected bills, sneaky car repairs, just the sort of things we should be prepared for, but often aren’t. What does a mother do when she’s got 6 children expecting presents? I don’t know what other mom’s do, but I made a lot of them.

#1. Pajama’s. This is a Christmas tradition. Children need pajama’s, it’s a fact of life, we’ve turned it into a goofy, wacky tradition. I either finds something so cool that I buy it (usually in the middle of the year, like Morgan’s Care Bear pjs’ and Ian, Owyn and Danyca’s striped pj’s from Children’s Place on sale) or I sew them some, pants with no pattern and tops from a kids scrub top pattern. One pair of pants, one of shorts and one top. Usually from the goofiest fabric we can find.

#2 Ornaments. When I was 19 and having my first Christmas on my own. Christmas that year was a sad affair. I could barely afford to get a tree, and I had not one ornament. I had to buy what I could from the Dollar Store, and let me tell you, they were sad and sorry looking. At that moment, I got the idea that my children were NEVER going to experience a first Christmas like this. Morgan was 1.5 that year, and I bought her her 2nd ornament. An Angel (because she was my angel-baby) Every year since then, she’s gotten an Angel or a Fairy and now we add turtles to the mix. Each one has the year written on it somewhere, and each additional child has gotten an ornament as well. With Ian it’s Nutcrackers or Bears. Owyn it’s Snowmen or Panda’s. Danyca is just plain pretty stuff, and Ingrid its Ballerina’s or Dancers (or pigs now that she’s obsessed with them) Kaia of course has her baby’s first ornament, and now that we call her Princess Bandit, her 2nd ornament is going to be a raccoon. So as each child moves out, they will take their ornaments with them when they are ready to do their first Christmas. Each child will have at least 18 ornaments.  This year, and other years, I’ve sewn them an ornament out of felt and embroidered it then covered it with sequins or glitter where appropriate. This year I’m adding sculpey clay to the mix for a couple of the ornaments.

#3 Books – We are a serious book reading family.

#4 Legos – We are a serious Lego collecting family.

#5 We have requests for clothes from the girls

#6 Art supplies for the oldest.

Those last three are not things I’m able to make.  For the Art Supplies and Legos, I turned to my mother and Sister. Both of them have come through LOL. However, for everything else. I’ve made it OR…. Well let me tell you about my Friday.

My honey stayed home with the 2 homeschooled boys and the baby. FREE! I get to go shopping all by myself????!!!! Ok, no, can’t do that, so I stopped at the house where my 14 was spending the night and waved a couple of words in front of here when she made ‘five more minutes mom’ noises at me LOL. Those words? Goodwill and Walden Books

She was promptly out of bed.

At Goodwill, ours in Valdosta is HUGE, we spent about 3 hours. We found plenty of really nice, new looking clothes for the girls who’d asked for clothes, we found a couple of ornaments (a glass turtle!)  and that day just happened to be 50% off paperbacks day! And boy did we spend some time looking at books. I ended up walking out of there with over 3 presents each for everyone but ME for 59 dollars. Nice stuff too.

Next, Walden Books, having their huge sale, PLUS 10% off everything in the store. Calvin and Hobbes is my 9 yo’s obsession. Seriously, he’s got a stuffed Tiger names Hobbes that goes everywhere with him, and my ex wanted to name him Calvin (now I’m thinking that maybe he was right) Ian is a LOT like Calvin, to smart for his own good sometimes.  Anyways, 2 C and H books for 5.99 each. Regular price 10.99. A book on space where each picture is a puzzle, 5.99 each, regularly 17.99. A book on pirates secret writing, with a code cracker, and lots of paper 2.99 and a Pirates of the Caribean book (pop up with figures to go in the pop up ship – awesome) 3.99.

I headed home with Morgan, the two of us feeling so darn proud. We’d bought presents for EVERYONE (but me) including one of Morgan’s friends and a birthday boy we were going to see that evening for under 100 dollars.

Masses of presents! And every single one yelled it’s recipients name! PLUS all the stuff that I’ve made. My kids are going to have a huge present filled Christmas (with no tree however, thanks to the 17 month old LOL) made and found with love.

True to my Grandmothers beliefs.

I miss family a lot this time of year. I miss the snow, and the mountains and trees. Sometimes my memories of those times are almost overwhelming and I’m filled with sadness to be so far from my family. But then I look at the family, both blood and chosen that I’ve surrounded myself with here in GA and I’m very thankful for what I’ve been given.

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