Archive for December, 2011

O, Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

As Christmas draws nears, I like to sit in the evening in the living room looking at my Christmas tree as I drink hot chocolate, nibble cookies, and listen to Christmas carols.  In my DVD player right now are Diana Krall, Andy Williams, Oscar Peterson, Bing Crosby, and a Phil Spector compilation with Darlene Love, the Ronettes, and Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans.  A wonderful mix of holiday sounds.

Oh, and the hot chocolate.  I keep a container of Alton Brown’s recipe:  It is really good.  I opt to eliminate the cayenne pepper.

I have a 4 foot Christmas tree that shares a table with the Snow Village commercial district or as my grandchildren call it “the mall.”  As you can see in this photo, my cat Olivia is sitting by the tree trying to decide which ornaments she will remove when no creatures are stirring – except Olivia.  Each morning I usually find two ornaments that she has decided would be fun to chase around the living room floor.  No harm, no foul.

The ornaments on my tree are all unbreakable.  They were made by me or my mother or the daddies.

The long necked creature at the left of the photo is “giraffe lady.”  It was made by my older son when he was just a lad.  The crocheted snow flakes were made by my mother about 40 years ago.  Each year I carefully pack them away between layers of cloth diapers (remember those?).  I have given each of my sons’ families some of the snowflakes to enjoy on their trees.  I made Donald Duck, the elephant, and Bert.  I did have Ernie and Oscar and Big Bird also.  But cats of the past managed to attack and conquer those creatures.  One morning I found a trail of yellow feathers and alas, big bird was no more.

Here are some of my Winnie the Pooh family.  Kanga and Roo are just out of view.  You can see a peek of the Raggedy Andy.   The majority of my ornaments were made about 38 years ago or so when the daddies were young.  The counted cross stitch ones were stitched by me about five years ago.

And the cookies I nibble.

Recently I found in a scrapbook a recipe written in a familiar hand.  It was one that my mother had written down years ago.  Now that’s a keepsake.  She made these cookies every year.

Almond Bark Cookies

Ingredients:  2 lbs. almond bark, 1 cup chunky peanut butter, 2 cups dry roasted peanuts, 3 cups Rice Krispies and an optional ingredient of 2 cups miniature marshmallows.

My mother said that she put the almond bark in her crock pot set on low.  When the bark melted, she turned off the crock pot and stirred in the remaining ingredients.

Then she dropped tablespoonfuls of the mix onto waxed paper.  Allow to thoroughly cool.  Cookies can be stored in an air tight container.  Yield about 24 cookies.

Here is a  recipe for vegan Thumbprint Cookies that I make and take to my grandchildren who live 3 hours away.

The ingredients are:  1 cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans, fruit preserves.  I used cherry – yum, good.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Cream together the vegan butter, sugar, and vanilla.  When well mixed, add the flour, little by little.  Mix well.

Place chopped pecans on a plate.  With a one inch cookie scoop, drop balls of dough onto the pecans.  Roll the balls in the pecans and place on parchment paper covered cookie sheets.  The cookies do not spread much, but leave an least an inch between cookies. Next using the end of a wooden spoon make an indentation in each ball.  Drop 1/4 teaspoon of preserves into each indentation (thumbprint).

Bake for 14-16 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are turning a light brown.  Remove the cookies and allow to cool on baking rack.  Store in an air tight container.  Yield about 20.

Chocolate Almond Cherry Crisps

I found this recipe in the December 2007 issue of Cooking Light.

Ingredients:  1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, 3/4 cup white chocolate chips, 1 and 1/2 cups Rice Krispies, 3/4 cup dried cherries, 1/3 cup slivered almonds, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

Cover a large baking sheet with waxed paper.  Melt the semisweet and white chocolate chips in a microwave or in a double boiler.  Stir until  smooth.  Add cereal and remaining ingredients; stir quickly to combine.  Drop mixture by tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet;  chill 1 hour until firm.  Yield:  36.  Store in a covered container in a cool place.

Hm, maybe I need a cookie break right now.

Thank you for visiting Grandma in the Mailbox.  I wish you and your family a Happy Holiday season.  I hope you enjoy your traditions and your family and friends.  You will be making memories to last for years.

Next week I am taking a break to spend time with my grandchildren.  I’ll be back in 2012 talking about – hm, well, we shall see.







Christmas Potpourri

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Today I am writing about holiday potpourri or ”this and that” – not about the dried fragrant plant materials placed in bowls to evoke memories of Christmas or summer time.

Gifts – Years ago when the daddies were little, we made gifts for them to give to their grandmother for Christmas.  One year I decided that pomander balls would be a fantastic idea.  I gathered  two large oranges, a jar of whole cloves, some net fabric, and a poultry skewer.  The idea was that the boys and I would sit around the dining room table listening to Christmas carols and work on Grandma’s gift.  I planned that we would poke holes in the oranges with the skewer and then insert the cloves into the orange, covering the orange with the cloves.  Had I ever done it before?  No.  Did I ever do it again?  NO

The problems that arose – the boys poked themselves from time to time with the skewer and  juice (luckily no blood) was running all over their hands and arms and shirts.  The cloves sometimes broke when they were inserting them.  And finally the surface of an orange will accommodate more cloves than two small boys have the interest or attention span to insert.

When I saw that we had reached the point of dimishing returns, I told them they could go play.  I finished the pomanders and wrapped them in net and put them to age in a box for a couple of weeks.  At Christmas with big smiles they happily presented to their grandma the pomander balls THEY had made for her.  She was delighted.  (We grandmothers are pushovers, of course.)

The next year I decided the gift for Grandma would be something that took less time so it truly could be done by the boys.  I bought some sheets of thin cork.  On one side of the cork we glued a square of green felt the same size as the cork square.  When that dried, around the edge of the cork square the boys glued unpopped pop corn kernels and split peas.  After they had finished and the glue was dry, I brushed a sealant over the corn and peas.  Voila.  Coasters for Grandma.  She loved them, and they were on the coffee table at her home for several years.

Last year I decided to help my grandchildren who live 3 hours away make some coasters.  Unfortunately I could not find sheets of thin cork.  I had to buy a roll of cork.  What a pain.  I cut the squares of cork before I went to visit.  Since they came from a roll, they curled up.  For a week I had them weighted down with the dictionary, the atlas, a copy of Plutarch’s Lives, and The Oxford Latin Dictionary – any heavy book I could find.  That flattened them out.  Lately now that I don’t need it I have again seen sheets of cork in craft stores.  My advice if you want to make these – use the sheets.

Happily now one can purchase sheets of felt with adhesive backing.  These were easily cut and attached to the cork by my grandchildren.  For decoration they used stick-on jewels around the edges.  They looked really nice and were received with smiles and hugs.

One other gift that my grandchildren and I put together were refrigerator magnets.  I bought a roll of  adhesive magnetic sheeting.  We cut out photos of the children that were taken during the year and put them on the adhesive.  Presto, personalized refrigerator magnets.

Planting paperwhites – For the past four years my grandchildren who live 20 minutes away and I have planted paperwhites – usually about the second week in December – in a holiday bowl.  Then we place the bowl in a light, bright plant stand and the children watch the sprouts emerge and grow and bloom.  Typically the flowers open early in January.  This is a happy surprise to look forward to after the Christmas tree and decorations have been taken down.

Christmas Music – My grandchildren have a holiday CD that they love – especially the boys.  It is Christmas Rocks by The Brian Setzer Orchestra.  When they visit my house, they want to have it on while they play; when we drive somewhere, they ask me to put it in the CD player in the car.  The boys always request track 17  – Santa Drives a Hot Rod. It is a lively and funny tune.  They also know that Grandma’s favorite track is 2 – Gettin’ In the Mood (for Christmas).  This is an upbeat version of the big band tune In the Mood.  When they play that track, I dance in the living room, and everyone laughs at the dancing Grandma.

Christmas DVD – A fantastic DVD came out this year – Merry Madagascar.  Remember those animals that left Central Park and ended up in Madagascar with no way to return to NYC?  Their story was in the movies Madagascar, Madagascar 2, and in the summer of 2012 Madagascar 3. In this Christmas DVD Santa Claus crashes in Madagascar and has amnesia.  The animals with a sleigh pulled by penguins deliver the toys for Santa while he is recovering.  As the video draws to an end, the sleigh only has enough fuel to (a) take toys to the last group of children or (b) take the animals back to Central Park in NYC.  Decisions, decisions.  Yes, they made the right one.

I watched this video 3 times last weekend with my grandchildren and if I hadn’t returned it to the library, I would probably watch it again at home.  It is really funny and really enjoyable.

Christmas Fun and Games Newsletter – Check out this website:

This newsletter offers games, board games, word puzzles, mazes, coloring sheets, and more to entertain children. There are free games plus on-line books you can purchase.  I often print out some of the games or mazes and stick them in my purse.  Then when I go to a restaurant with my grandchildren, I pull them out and we play with these until meals are served.

Next week I’ll show  you some ornaments on my Christmas tree and share with you some holiday recipes.

Thank you for spending a few minutes at Grandma in the Mailbox.  I hope that you stop by again.




The Runaway Christmas Tree

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

When I spend an evening with my grandchildren, we usually watch a DVD or TV show and then at bedtime I tell them a story. When the daddies were little, they had a book entitled The Runaway Pancake.  Since my grandchildren knew that story, long ago they decided that Grandma should tell other stories about a runaway _____.  I would let them fill in the blank and then I would make up a story.  We have had the Runaway Dog, the Runaway Doll, the Runaway Baseball, and even the Runaway Ice Cube.  I had to be creative in that telling so that the ice cube didn’t melt.  Didn’t want any sad faces at bed time.

Last weekend was my lucky weekend.  On Friday night I was with my grandchildren who live 20 minutes away, and on Saturday night I was with my grandchildren who live 3 hours away.  Since it is nearly Christmas, I decided the bedtime story would be “The Runaway Christmas Tree.”  My stories are extemporaneous, and when I begin, sometimes I really don’t know how it will end – until I get there.

In a condensed version, this is the story of The Runaway Christmas Tree.  There was a Christmas tree who lived in a house with Mike and Molly and their parents.  The tree was happy because she/he (we had a dispute about gender because the boys wanted a boy tree and the girls, a girl tree) had 6 presents around his/her trunk.

One Saturday morning the Christmas tree decided to slip out of the house to buy donuts for the family.  Daddy usually made pancakes on Saturday, but the tree wanted an extra special treat for the family today.

Of course, while the tree was gone, the children came downstairs and found the empty corner in the living room.  Mike thought maybe the Grinch had taken the tree up the chimney during the night, but Molly pointed out that the 6 presents were still there.  The Grinch would have taken the presents also.  The children ran upstairs to tell their parents about this mysterious event.

Meanwhile the Christmas tree was skipping down the street to the donut shop.  Cars stopped, and people stared.  When the tree arrived at the donut shop, he/she found the door was this big and he/she was t-h-a-t big so the tree couldn’t get in the door.  Mr. Portnoy (the name just came to me as I approached that point of the story) who owned the store opened the door and asked if he could help the tree.  The tree ordered a dozen donuts and asked for some with chocolate frosting and sprinkles, some with pink frosting and some with cream filling.  (Yes, I had included my grandchildren’s favorite donuts.)

With the box of donuts tucked in the branches, the Christmas tree skipped back to the house and peeked in the kitchen.  No one was there so it was safe to slip in and take the big platter off the top shelf and put the donuts on the platter for the family.

Then the tree peeked into the living room.  Coast was clear so it tip toed back into the corner and stood smiling and waiting for the family.

Mom and Dad and Mike and Molly were talking about the missing tree upstairs.  Dad said that they needed to go out to get another tree so he wouldn’t have time to make pancakes for breakfast.  They all came down stairs and what to their wondering eyes should appear but – their Christmas tree standing in the corner.  Everyone was amazed.  Everyone wondered how did the tree return. Everyone was so relieved and happy.  Mike and Molly wanted to hug the tree.

They all went into the kitchen to make pancakses because after all it was Saturday.  Lo and behold there was a platter of their favorite donuts.  Where did they come from?  So strange, but looking so tasty.  They each took their favorite donut and went into the living room to eat their donuts and look at their beautiful tree.

So that was the story that came to life last Friday night and revisited on Saturday when I told it in more detail to my grandchildren.  It was so wonderful to watch the little faces as they listened totally engrossed in the story and with eyes growing wider when the Christmas tree tip toes back into the house with the surprise.

I spent the night with my grandchildren who live 3 hours away.  On Sunday morning I asked what they wanted for breakfast, and, of course, you know the answer – donuts.  My 9 year old granddaughter said that she could tell me how to get to a really yummy donut shop.  Luckily we were small enough to fit through the door so we could pick out our favorites – chocolate with sprinkles and creamed filled plus some plainer varieties for the “big” people.

Last week I said I would tell you about gifts I have helped my grandchildren make for their parents.  Well, The Runaway Christmas Tree came to life and took over the space instead.

I’ll have another post later this week.  It will be a potpourri of making gifts and other holiday ideas.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  I hope that you visit again later in the week.




Making a List and Checking It Twice

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Making a list and checking it twice.   In “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” we hear that this is what Santa is doing.  Well, we know that grandparents are doing it also.  What do I still need to buy?  Do I have three presents for each child?  It is so much fun getting ready for Christmas and anticipating the smiles and excitement on the faces of your grandchildren when they open their gifts.

Last year I first started seeing spyware and Spy Gear in the toy catalogs.  Looked like fun to me, but would my son want me to turn his daughter into a spy?  Hm, maybe not, BUT she could be a detective.

A detective needs business cards.

The detective agency was called The Detectives. The motto was Look at clues; find the answers.  My granddaughter was Chief Investigator,  and her brother was Assistant Investigator.  I printed the cards on Avery Business Card card stock.  I happened to have two business card cases from my working days so I filled these with cards for the detectives.

Detectives must take notes on the evidence they find and on their interviews.  I bought two reporter’s notebooks at Staples.  On one cover of the notebaook I pasted a portion of the map of their city.  On the other cover I glued one of their business cards.

And now for the spy gear – I mean detective gear.  I bought Rear View Sunglasses.  I couldn’t wait to try them myself.  A mirror on each side allows you to see what’s going on behind you.  I bought pens that write with invisible ink and the Ultimate Spy Watch.  You can hide messages in the spy watch and check the time for any city in the world.  I’m sure there were other functions that I didn’t explore.  And finally I bought Night Goggles.

Here is my granddaughter with her notebook in hand and wearing her Night Goggles as tracks some villain.

Finally I bought a scrapbooking  case so that all of the equipment could be stowed away in one place at the end of play time.

Each time I visit the grandchildren who live 3 hours away, I am told that The Detectives believe I have stolen something.  I must sit down at the dining room table and endure intensive interrogation.  So much fun.

Last year my grandson told me that he wanted a doctor’s kit for Christmas.  I went through catalog after catalog looking for the perfect doctor’s kit.  I found just what I wanted at Learning Resources.  ( This kit has 19 pieces – everything a doctor needs for a thorough check-up.  PLUS it all comes in a plastic suitcase – good for storage after office hours.

I wanted something to add to the kit.  A doctor needs a lab coat, right?  Oh, one with his name on it would be so-oo cool.  Off I went to Google.

I found a great place to shop for  a lab coat – I ordered one complete with my grandson’s name embroidered on the left pocket.

I was on a roll – what about a stethoscope that really works?  Found one at When it arrived, I immediately tried it on myself and on the cat (the real one).

Putting that all together made a really neat gift for my grandson.

By the way is a great website.  This website has toys and books and learning games and is a partner with Montessori Services.  The items are well made and reasonably priced.  After discovering the site last Christmas, I have used it several times for gifts for my grandchildren.

What am I working on for this year?  Can’t tell.  My 9 year old granddaughter is a fan of the blog and reads it whenever she can.

Thank you for stopping by Grandma in the Mailbox.  Next week I’ll tell you about some presents that I have helped my grandchildren make for their parents.  I hope you stop back again.