Monday, December 24, 2012

The Gift

It’s time, she tells herself. Time to give this away to someone else.  Someone who needs to know the power of those six words as much as I did. Clutched tightly in her hand is a penny. Plain and ordinary.  Worn smooth, the date no longer discernable.  Certainly not very valuable.

But worth can be deceiving.


She was looking down, on that frosty night.   Focused on her coin purse, her fingers trying to find a quarter to put in the black kettle that stood next to one of the many street corner Santas populating the city in December. She was looking down, searching, when the mitten clad hand of a stranger entered her field of vision.  Palm open, and  filled with pennies-enough pennies to just about cover the price of a cup of coffee.  Judging from the ragged appearance of the mitten, and the threadbare hem of the coat sleeve above it, the wearer was down on his luck, and in view of such unfortunate circumstances, both his greeting, and his generosity surprised her.

Merry Christmas!  Here, take a penny!

She was feeling down that frosty night, as well.  Unloved, and unappreciated.  Certain that there was not another soul in heaven or on earth who gave her a second thought.  Friendless, and forlorn.  She had stopped to put a quarter in the black kettle because it was less awkward than simply walking past and giving nothing, and when she looked up at him-the expression on her face framed with questions-he whispered six words.

Give what you do not have.

Give what you do not have. Love-when you feel unloved.  Thanks-when no one seems to appreciate what you do.  Praise-when your own accomplishments go unnoticed.  Sympathy-when you are in need of comfort.  Take that which you long for in your own life, and make a gift of it to someone else.

His eyes were shining as he finished his message.  Shining more brightly than the fluorescent light illuminating the queue of poor waiting in line at the soup kitchen across the street.  The line he was about to join.

There are many good people out there-if only you will let them find you.


She is looking down, focused on her coin purse-her fingers searching for the familiar shape of pennies.  Enough pennies to just about pay for a cup of coffee.  It’s cold outside tonight, and she will need to wear her mittens.


Merry Christmas, dear readers!  May your holidays be blessed with much happiness, love and joy-and I will be back next week!

Valerie  xx

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Favorite Book

Front cover: Night Tree

Night Tree, by Eve Bunting, is one of my most favorite stories to read this time of year.  I first bought a copy when Amy was a baby, but I misplaced it a couple years ago.  This year, I bought a new copy, because I didn’t want to let another Christmas go by without reading it.  In a nutshell, it’s a wonderful story about a family’s yearly tradition of going into the woods to decorate their special tree with gifts of food for the animals. The book is short, but the text is beautifully written and the illustrations are magical.  I highly recommend it!

Do you have a favorite Christmas book?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I’m still grateful to those guys.  Even though I never got their names.  They came along at the right time-just when we needed them.

The previous summer, Stuart and I had moved to Western New York from the much milder town of Corvallis Oregon, and the harshness of our new surroundings in winter caught us off guard.  A snowy road-one late afternoon, a bully of another driver-right on our tail as we were returning home from a neighboring village, and lack of proper traction devices spelled disaster as we skidded off the road into a deep bank of snow.  (And to our shock and dismay, the bully driver kept right on going!)  I remember the panic I felt at the seemingly hopeless state of our situation.

And then they showed up.  Half a dozen of the toughest looking young men I’d ever seen, and my first reaction, I’m ashamed to admit, was that in addition to being stranded, we were now going to be robbed.  Oh was I ever wrong.  Scrambling out of a big old beat up truck, and armed with chains and able bodies, those dear boys proceeded to push and pull us out of the snow bank.  They made sure we were ok and fit to travel again, all the while shrugging off our profuse thanks, and then then they were gone. 

While the kindness of these fellows and what they did for us could be written off as simply the right and decent thing to do, given the gravity of our situation, still, it was a choice they made-to do good, instead of letting the opportunity go by. And it also reinforced my belief that when it comes right down to it, for the most part, we want to help one another-in fact, we can’t help ourselves.

Random acts of kindness. The big ones as well as the small ones.  Moments when the light of humanity shines the brightest.

It’s what the world needs more of, so desperately, right now.




Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sugar Cookies

Kitchen Grandmothers
1  1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened        
1 egg

In the first few hours of the day, her kitchen is cold, but in spite of this, she sets to work.  From her tin recipe box-decorated with colorful fruits and vines, she pulls out a dog eared card.  Christmas Sugar Cookies

1 teaspoon   vanilla      
2  1/2  cups flour

She brushes a stray piece of silvered hair from her eyes to better see this recipe that she is about to follow.  Over the years, she’s made these cookies dozens of times,  but she wants to make sure, once again, that they are perfect.

1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

As she measures, and pours, and stirs, her mind begins to wander, but the path it takes is familiar.  She is remembering  other years, and other baking days when this very same recipe was the one that lay on the counter in front of her.  A lot of water under the old bridge, she  thinks to herself.  94 years worth of water.

Cream together the  powdered sugar, butter, egg, vanilla, baking soda and cream of tartar.  Mix in flour.  Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.  Roll out small portions of dough 3/16”  thick on lightly floured surface. Cut into shapes.  Bake at 375 degrees for  7 to 8 minutes until golden brown.  Let cool, and frost, if desired.


In the way that 94 years can go by in the blink of an eye, this day has come to an end.  She pours herself  a glass of milk and drinks it, and then pours a second glass, and sets it on a painted wooden tray.   From her china cupboard-older than she is-she takes out a piece of her best Haviland china.  A salad plate.  On it, she carefully arranges three cookies, and puts the plate on the tray beside the milk.  Taking the tray to the living room, she places it on the coffee table next to her Christmas tree.

She tucks herself into bed, but she knows that it will be hard to sleep tonight.  She has nothing to fear though.  She has been a very good girl this year.


Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time. 

~Laura Ingalls Wilder


This post is dedicated to children everywhere, both big and small.  Blessings to you, dear readers.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Just Delia



Dear readers, this story is one of the very first pieces of fiction I ever tried my hand at writing, and I hope you enjoy it. At the moment, I  also have an awful cold and thought reposting something I’d previously written would be the easy way out today. I hope to be right as rain tomorrow, and I will be stopping by your blogs and reading and commenting. In the meantime-my thoughts are with each of you. Valerie xx


She wasn’t happy about it.  Not one little bit. She’d yelled at her coat, kicked one of her snow boots. Nevertheless, she’d been elected.  Everyone else claimed to have something more important to do.  And besides.  No one liked making time for Delia.  As Lucy drove the unfamiliar roads to her great aunt’s house, the flakes seemed to be getting bigger, and falling harder. Great.  Just great.  At this rate, I’ll end up getting snowed in at the old bat’s house.

Lucy was momentarily taken aback when Delia answered the door. Her great aunt looked ancient now, but then it had been years since Lucy last saw her.  Guilt stabbed her over this neglect, but the moral discomfort vanished when she remembered being here in her childhood.  Eat your peas Toots, and when you grow up you’ll have some dangerous curves on you!  Look at all those freckles!  You’ll have lots of boyfriends, mark my words!  Between the cheek pinching and the endless servings of vegetables, Lucy detested every visit. As she stepped into the warmth of her great aunt’s home, she became aware of Delia’s hands fumbling to help her out of her sugar dusted coat.  That’s better! I don’t want you to catch a chill!  My, but it’s really snowing out there, isn’t it?  Delia was shyly attempting small talk, though Lucy’s dry reply was in thought only.  Cold, uncaring thought.  Well, well, wellThe old bird is sharp today.  What a treat.   Half an hour, and I’m out of here.

My stars!  How could it have happened so long ago?  It seems like only yesterday!  I still clearly remember that blizzard-right before Christmas, back in 1946. Delia was reminiscing, staring out the picture window in her front room. The snow, falling like feathery goose down, seemed to have whited out the passage of time as well as the world outside.  She’d made steaming mugs of hot cocoa. Trying to be a good hostess as well as a doting great aunt.  Lucy held her cup with both hands, secretly trying to glance at her watch.  Stifling a yawn, she hoped Delia’s story wouldn't last too long.

The war was finally over and Jack was home.  I’d been writing  to him for 3 years.  I still have his letters.  Anyway, he asked me to go for a walk in the snow.  We didn't count on being caught in the middle of a major storm.  We took refuge in someone’s barn and ended up being stuck in there for hours.  There wasn’t much to do but talk and… 

Delia blushed, yet there was a sauciness in her eyes.

I let him kiss me.  He asked me to marry him.  He said we were going to be together for always.

Lucy snapped out of her indifference.  Her great aunt was not making any sense.  Um,  Aunt Delia… I thought Jack never, you know. Don’ t you remember? Jack didn’t come home.  She was proud of herself for knowing at least some of the family history, but it also made her wonder whether or not her aunt was playing with a full deck.

Delia stared out the window again, but instead of the soft white clumps of snow, she saw parachutes.  White silken clumps.  She thought about Jack and how he must have felt high in the sky where it was peaceful, far above the chaos on the ground.  She often wondered what had gone through his mind as he landed, his parachute covering him like a blanket of snow-and then a shroud.  All in the split second it took fate to play it’s hand.  She hoped he’d felt no pain. 

Her sigh was barely audible.

I know, Lucy dear, I know.  But  I don’t like to think about what really happened, so I’ve made up my own memories. And besides,  what else have I had all these years  but  memories.  I'm old, and probably not very interesting to any of you.   I realize none of you like to visit me, and I’m sorry about that.  How did you get stuck with me this time?   Are you being punished?  Did you lose the coin toss?   Delia seemed to wilt.

Lucy was stunned.  She hadn’t anticipated this-suddenly finding her heart aching for the old woman-and she wished a silent, desperate wish.  Please, please, please, let it keep snowing!  She knew, in that instant, that she wanted more time with this aunt she’d been aware of her whole life, but didn’t really know. 

Dear precious Delia.

Tell me more about Jack, Auntie. We’ve got all night.  I think I’d better stay over.  It looks like the storm is getting worse. Where do you keep your candles?  Do you have an extra toothbrush?  How did you meet Jack, anyway?

A grateful Oh Lucy, and tears.  An entire lifetime’s worth of tears, saved for this hoped for moment.  Spilling down Delia’s cheeks, as she prepared to answer.

Monday, December 10, 2012

How to Make a Pupcicle


Take one dog, already very sweet.



Add snow.






until evenly coated.



Photograph finished product.



Enjoy immediately, and then take home to thaw out.


Happy Monday, dear readers!  Hope you have a great week!

Friday, December 7, 2012


Seven years ago, my family and I took our first trip to Hawaii.  It had been my desire, since learning more about my uncle, to visit his grave in the Punchbowl Cemetery on the island of Oahu.

As we walked along row after row of graves, searching for the one belonging to Pete, we passed many, many markers like this one.

Some of these markers even rested on ground that held the remains of several “unknowns,” buried together.

Later on during our stay in Honolulu-as we were visiting  the USS Arizona Memorial, and saw the columns of names of the men lost that day-I couldn't help thinking that some of those names matched some of those “unknowns” we ‘d seen at Punchbowl.

For their sake, and the sake of their loved ones who never had an actual place to say their goodbyes, I’ll remember Pearl Harbor.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Amy’s Cake: A Success Story

I really didn’t intend to post another recipe quite so soon, but after my roaring success with Amy’s birthday cake yesterday, I just had to share this one.

It wasn’t that long ago that cake was synonymous with cake mix in my kitchen.  I saw cake mixes as my ticket to an easy and fast dessert, while at the same time avoiding the dry and heavy as a load of bricks concoction that a scratch cake could be. What frustrated me though, about a cake made from a cake mix, was trying to frost the thing.  One year, Amy’s overly light and moist birthday cake completely ripped apart, and I don’t know how many tubs of frosting I went through trying to “glue” the pieces together.  In the end, it looked like I’d baked the cake alongside a stick of dynamite.

After that experience, I decided to start baking all of my cakes from scratch.  I think I’ve practiced enough now to get consistently good results, and having an exceptional recipe helps too.  Here, dear readers, is the “secret formula” for the perfect chocolate cake.


Cocoa Fudge Cake   (From my 1981 Betty Crocker cookbook.)

1 2/3 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

2/3 cups cocoa

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup shortening

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and grease pan(s).  When I make a layer cake, I line the bottoms of the pans with waxed paper first and the cake never sticks.  Beat all ingredients on low speed for 30 seconds, and then beat on high speed for 3 minutes.  This makes enough batter to fill a 13x9x2 oblong pan, or two 8” or 9” round pans, or a 12 cup bundt cake pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean:  oblong, 35-40 minutes, round layers 30-35 minutes, bundt cake 40 to 45 minutes.  Cool, and frost.

I also make my frosting from scratch too, but I don’t use a recipe.  I simply mix butter, powdered sugar, a little bit of milk and a teaspoon of vanilla until it tastes good, and I still think premade frosting in a tub is very good too.

And lastly, I found this picture on the internet, and I think it’s a festive idea for a Christmas cake!


Now put the explosives away, and start baking!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Celebration


Tell me who you love, and I will tell you who you are.                                              

-Arsène Houssaye


It’s one of my favorite parts of the day. Dinner is finished and the dishes are done. We’ve donned our winter coats and gloves and are heading out on our nightly walk. In a matter of a few steps, we are several yards away from the bright glow of the porch light, and darkness closes in.  Still, I can see her hand reach towards me and I feel her arm encircle mine.


Three ordinary letters.

Three ordinary letters that spell my life. Strung together, they define sweetness and kindness and beauty.  Fairness and loyalty.  Quiet strength and simple wants-and a fun sense of humor too.  An inspiration for the kind of person I’d like to be.

My daughter.

17 years ago today I was forever blessed.

Chocolate cake and chocolate frosting.  How is it possible that I will need to put on that many candles?

Happy birthday, my beloved girl!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An Excellent Banana Bread


Every year, with the arrival of the Christmas season, I like to go through my recipe box and make plans for my holiday baking.  Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of my favorite recipes, starting today with this one.

This recipe was given to me by my dear friend Pam, a long time ago.  I was a single girl when I met her, while she was about to be married and begin her life as an Air Force wife.  We worked together at a small day care center, and favorite recipes were always a hot topic, not only for Pam and me, but among all of the women who worked there. Pam shared this recipe for banana bread, and I remember it being a big hit with all of us because it was fast, and easy and really, really good.

Originally I only used this recipe when I had some bananas I wanted to use up, but I’ve since done some experimenting and found that the cup of banana can be substituted with an equal measure of some other similar ingredient.  When  I made this bread yesterday, I doubled the recipe and used one cup of cooked pumpkin and one cup of cranberry sauce.  A delicious combination!  I could easily have added chopped walnuts too, if I’d had some. 

My friend Pam eventually had to move, to an Air Force base far away. I remember we cried and cried when we said goodbye.  And then a few years later, she was my matron of honor when I got married.  We still keep in touch, on Facebook now.  And as much as I love the internet and all of the recipes you can find there, I still cherish my memories of times spent sharing recipes with that group of dear women.

Banana Bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and stir the following ingredients together:

1/4 cup cooking oil

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 cups baking mix, such as Bisquick

1 cup mashed banana or similar ingredient


Put batter in a greased 9x5 loaf pan and bake 55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Tip:  Line the bottom of the loaf pan with waxed paper and the bread will come out easily when done!

I hope you will love this bread as much as I do, and if you do end up trying this recipe please let me know what you think.  I will also be visiting all of your blogs soon.  I’m looking forward to getting caught up after my brief blogging hiatus!