The ‘ghosts of Christmases Past’

DISCLAIMER: This is long. The memories came tumbling out. I apologize in advance.

When I saw this writing challenge on WordPress so many things went through my head. Some of my fondest memories and some of my very worst, all happened at Christmas. Are they “ghosts” or are they just moments in time that helped shape me into who I am today?

I can’t really call these memories ghosts. They don’t haunt me, but they do remain in the back crevices of my mind, returning every now and then to remind me that the holidays are about remembering the things that matter, putting aside the things that don’t and finding it within myself to not confuse the two. The latter is a constant battle with me.

I can take a look within myself and attribute so much about me to some of my “ghosts of Christmases past.”

1976: Growing up, we always had presents from Santa. Some years more than others. In fact, some years almost none.   I was a product of a single-parent family for most of my childhood. Money was often scarce, but my mom always made sure Santa made a stop at our house. My children, now almost 20 and almost 11 still get Santa gifts.

I do remember one Christmas in particular that my mother had a new job and apparently a larger paycheck. I’ve heard her talk about this too in her latter years. It was the first time she was really able to go overboard with the gifts under the tree. I remember it like it was yesterday. This year there were quite a few wrapped gifts under the tree in the days leading up to Christmas. In fact, I think this is the year she chose not to put name tags on the gifts to keep us guessing. She also kept herself guessing as on Christmas morning she couldn’t remember which gift belonged to which daughter. There were so many. Our tiny living room literally looked like Santa’s bag exploded under our tree. My sister and I were so excited.

I was just young enough to still want a baby doll, but old enough to know this was probably my last year to get one. I got a “Baby Come Back.” She was beautiful. She had a hard plastic body and crawled all on her own.  That was the year I also got a Jaws game and a blue typewriter. I loved that typewriter encased in blue plastic. I’m sure my “career” began on that manual beast. I wish I still had it.

1978: Christmases weren’t all about the gifts, but this was the year of my multi-colored RABBIT coat and my new “Grease” album! (Still one of my very favorite movies of all time!) That’s all I am going to say about that. I had arrived.

I don’t have the coat, but I do still have that album in a box somewhere. It was just a few years ago some girlfriends and I took our daughters to see a live community theatre version of “Grease.” We had so much fun singing (quite loudly and I’m sure out of tune) to every song in that production. My daughter didn’t quite appreciate it as much as I did. But, I am sure that will be a memory she will someday look back on as fondly as I do that rabbit coat and that old album. (My daughter once told us she knew what an album was – “a large, old timey CD.”)

1990: Jumping ahead … I got engaged on Christmas Eve to a very big, red-headed Teddy bear. He was well-liked and loved by everyone who knew him and he wanted me to be his wife.

1993: Jumping ahead even more … I sat on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Ewriting little notes in a journal and nervously playing with a tiny, plastic nativity set designed for a child. I was trying to pass the time as I waited on the arrival of a very overdue bundle of joy. I was pregnant. I was fat. I was tired.

Once that beautiful baby girl made her appearance in January 2004 I forgot all that. She forever changed me. At that very moment I knew my purpose in life was to watch over her, protect her and help her grow up to be a beautiful young woman.

On that Christmas Day before her birth, I couldn’t wait to see her and to hold her and to watch as she clutched that tiny, plastic Baby Jesus in her own hand. She played with that nativity for years. I still have it tucked away in a box waiting for my first grandchild some day in the far away future.

1996: More than any other Christmas Eve, I will never forget this one. It tested every ounce of strength I had to survive and forced me to hold on to the belief I had always been taught that God would not give you more than you can handle. He came close. I was working that day. I was news editor of a small-town newspaper so there was no Christmas Eve off. I was young then, but had already developed my panic-driven approach to Christmas. I was busy. I wanted to be off work so that I could get to a family gathering that evening. The result was stress over lack of time. To this day I regret that. The last time I saw my husband, he was sitting in his truck staring through the newspaper office door, probably upset over my stress level that morning and a disagreement we had just had.

Later, I heard the dispatcher over the police scanner calling for Life Flight to be sent to the scene of an accident. I sent a reporter out. Just a few moments later a DPS officer walked into my office holding my beautiful daughter. God spared her. She was not hurt. He kept her here for me. The rest doesn’t need to be said. To this day, that was my worst nightmare.

1998: I am remarried. To the opinion of many it was too soon. But for me, it was what I needed. I had met another man who stepped into my life, helped me pick up the pieces and took over caring for my young daughter. He has always treated her like his own. To her, he is dad. We started our own Christmas traditions that year including a new themed tree (which has morphed into several themed trees today). To this day, he makes sure we are all home together as soon as possible on Christmas Eve.

With him, I had another child who made our family complete.  I had a wonderful boy and spent another Christmas waiting on him, as he was also born in January.

2013: I’ve skipped over many Christmas memories – lots of fun times, lots of baking, lots of gifting … but this is long enough. As I sit here finishing this, I am trying very hard to focus on what all this has taught me. My house isn’t clean. I didn’t decorate as much as I would like. There is baking yet to be done. I know I will never be Martha Stewart.

But I do promise this to myself: I will sit down tonight. I will forget about the dirt on my floors and the fourth tree that I never put up. I will just breathe and enjoy the smell of cupcakes coming from my oven and the happy chatter of my family as we watch a holiday movie.  It’s these times that are important, not the picture perfect holiday — wait I can’t say that.  This is perfect.

Merry Christmas.


A’Tempting’ Tuesday: Cornbread Dressing and Memories

Cornbread Dressing

I started my love of cooking at a very young age. I remember making my mom lunch during the summers when she came home from work, probably at about the age of 11.  Back then, I’m told it was a lot of gravy and garlic.  Fortunately, things have improved.

Many of my recipes and favorite dishes were handed down from my Mother and grandmothers, many I’ve made up.  Quite honestly, most are prepared from memory.  This can be good and bad.  It’s quite convenient because I don’t have to keep up with a recipe for a lot of the things I cook often.   However, when someone asks how I’ve prepared something,

“a little of this, and a dash of that until it looks goods” is not a very good answer.

This happened to me recently when my aunt called and wanted a recipe for my mom’s Cornbread Dressing.  I make it like my mom did.  She made it like her mom did.  Basically, we take the ingredients, stir them together and taste until it’s right.  We bake until it looks good.  Really, that’s it.

While the ingredients remain the same every time, I have no recipe or measurements for said ingredients, only the memories of learning to prepare it with my mother and grandmother.  Even today, when reliving those days of my childhood when we lived next door to my grandmother, I can almost smell that dressing baking in the oven and begging to be covered in gravy made from the turkey drippings.  My grandparents, my mom, my sister and I, as well as my aunt and uncle spent many a Thanksgiving in that tiny house on Hickory Street in Marshall, Texas.  It’s funny how my aunt asking me for a recipe can bring back so many memories.

In the absence now of my mom and grandmother, I guess I am now the holder of the recipe.  I don’ t know whether to feel flattered or just old!  When my aunt wanted my mom’s recipe  I panicked a little.  I really couldn’t tell her to make some cornbread and throw a handful of a bunch of “stuff” in it and bake at 350 for a “little while.”

So, I put on my queen of everything hat and this is the recipe I came up with.

Keep in mind,  this is one of those “to taste” kind of recipes.  Many of the measurements are approximate and up to the taste of the cook.

Gram Gram’s and Mom’s Old Fashioned Cornbread Dressing

  • Cornbread (I sometimes make it from scratch, other times I use whatever mix is on sale. A sweeter cornbread is really nice in this recipe.  Either way, I make two batches.)
  • 2-4 cups chicken or turkey broth (I make fresh broth by boiling a chicken, adding salt and pepper, chopped celery and onion — 3/4-1 cup each.  I debone the chicken and use that at another time). 
  • 4 tablespoons rubbed sage (or to taste.  I tend to go a little heavier on the sage)
  • 3 to 4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 2 or 3 pieces of dry toast made from your favorite bread, crumbled (I dry on low heat in the oven and prefer plain old white bread)
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I really like to use celery salt for added flavor instead of regular salt)
  •  2 Green onions, chopped (optional)

Prepare the broth.  I boil the chicken, adding chopped onion and celery as it cooks.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Better seasoned your broth, means less work on the finished product.  I often make the broth a night or two ahead of time, putting away the deboned chicken for another use.  If you are from the south and prefer giblet gravy with your dressing, the giblets can be boiled and chopped at this time.

Bake the cornbread, whether it be from a mix or from scratch.  I generally prepare two batches of cornbread using a large cast iron skillet.  I do this a day or two ahead if I can too.  When ready to prepare the dressing, finely crumble the cornbread into a large baking pan or 13X9 casserole dish. There is no need to butter or spray the pan.

Dry the toast  right on the rack in the oven.  Crumble and add to the crumbled cornbread.

Pour about 2 cups broth into the cornbread/toast mixture and stir.  Add more as needed.  You don’t want it watery, but you don’t want it dry either.  In the end, you want a firm, wet mixture.  You shouldn’t be able to pour off any liquid.  Add the rubbed sage, pepper and salt or celery salt to taste at this point.   Like I said, I stir and taste until I think it tastes good.  Any leftover broth can be put aside to use when making your gravy.

Stir in the chopped boiled eggs and green onions, if you want them.  Some people add the egg raw (especially those who make a more traditional stuffing), but I really like them boiled.  The green onion is not necessary, but I think it adds a little more freshness and color to the dish.

Bake in a 350 degree oven until it starts to dry and brown on top.  It should be a little moist, but not wet.  I start checking it at about 45 minutes, but it almost always winds up cooking for about 1.25 to 1.5 hours.  You can serve straight from the baking pan, with your choice of gravy available for topping.  (Gravy is a must!)

Cook’s Notes and Tool Talk:

  • As I said, you can bake the cornbread from scratch or use a mix. It really depends on your preference, your time and what you have on hand. We really prefer a sweeter cornbread for dressing. Jiffy in a box is an excellent choice. However, my hubby is now diabetic so I’ve had to adjust what I use. I just add a couple tablespoons of Splenda to my cornbread batter (scratch or mix). I think baking the cornbread in a cast-iron skillet is a must. The brown, crunchy texture the cast iron gives to the cornbread is perfect in the dressing.  My favorite skillet is one from one of my grandmothers.  I don’t even know how old it is.
  •  I generally keep a can of chicken broth on hand in case I run out of my freshly prepared broth.  Any leftover broth I use to make the gravy.  As we generally fry our turkey, I usually need extra when it comes time for gravy as there is no turkey drippings when frying.  To make the gravy, brown 2 tablespoons of flour in 2 tablespoons butter (not margarine) over medium heat until a light brown. It’s a good idea to stir constantly.  Add broth, about a cup at a time, stirring over medium heat until you reached your desired consistency.  If gravy is too thick, add more liquid.  If it’s too thin, you can thicken with a tiny bit of cornstarch dissolved in cold water and stirred into the gravy. Add salt and pepper if needed.
  • If you roasted your bird, you can thicken your drippings right in the roasting pan using the water/corn flour mixture.  Flour dissolved in cold water will also work.  Just make sure you dissolve the flour in the water before adding it to you hot drippings so you don’t have lumps.

I hope you enjoy.  I know this recipe is still a little vague.  However, short of burning it, you really can’t mess this up.  Writing this recipe down has actually started me on yet another Cooking, Crafting and Chaos journey.  My daughter may some day want some of these recipes.  My niece has asked me for a few.  So, I’m making a conscious effort to record how I prepare many of my older recipes.  Next, I think I need to record Banana Pudding, one of my daughter’s (and best friend’s) favs!  But first ….

NEXT TIME:  Crock Pot Candy

Not much crafting going on … but a lot of making memories

Christmas with Taylor

It’s finally Friday, y’all!  I missed last Friday, but for good reason.

We had such a wonderful time over the Thanksgiving holiday visiting my husband’s family.  They just happen to live in the same city my daughter goes to college in, making it that much more enjoyable.

This is the first time we’ve gone away from home for Thanksgiving in several years,  so I didn’t plan well.  I came home already behind on holiday decorating, which I normally do the weekend after Thanksgiving.  One of the items on my Cooking, Crafting and Chaos “bucket list” is to have a holiday planner or binder for next year.  I’ve already made note to include checklist items such as preparing ahead of time for Christmas decorating should we travel for Thanksgiving again.    We also came home to an empty kitchen, so I think I should plan ahead for some meals on our  return as well.

It’s all good though, because it was well worth it.   I don’t have much in the way of new craft projects to share here, but  I was able to help my daughter decorate her first apartment for Christmas and do a little “crafting” for her bedroom.  She and I had so much fun with my mother-in-law working on these projects.  Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?  Crafting memories?

All is not lost!  I actually have a small craft to share with you after all.  I just got word from my daughter (after she reminded me she will be 20 in exactly one month!  Ugh!!  Where has the time gone?) that she received her finals week goody box, so I can share a card I included.  I thought it turned out pretty cute if I do say so myself, and was a fun way to tell her to just “hang in there.”

photo (6)b

You’ll probably see me share a lot of handmade cards. I love sending cards and I love making them.  I can usually make them from my stash of paper scraps, and they give immediate gratification when I need to get in a little quick crafting.

My “girl cave” is currently full of projects I’m working on.  I hope to finish them all soon and have photos to share.   My projects include a mini-album of our Thanksgiving weekend, a new holiday banner for our mantle and a “December Daily” album that contains a scrapbook page for every day in December.  You are my witnesses.  It’s written here, so I am committed!!

Projects are moving along slower than I’d like, but I am doing them.

Until next time…

Tool Talk:   I stayed true to my promise to myself on all the items I made to include in my daughter’s box of goodies.  I bought no new supplies.  I made the card using my Silhouette Cameo and a cut file purchased for a previous project.  I just used a basic kraft card base and envelope I already had in my stash, and paper from an older stack by K&Company.  The smaller accents were made from scraps.

Crafting Memories ….


Hi y’all. It’s finally Friday!

I don’t have a new “crafty” something I’d like to share this week. I have been very busy getting ready for a get together at my house. But, I do have a “craft memory” to share. I guess for me, crafting is quite often about creating memories through various projects and scrapbooking.

But, I have been organizing myself and getting ready for the transition between Fall decorations and Christmas decor. I remembered a project from last year that I absolutely love and plan to expand on this year. Well, I guess this project started about 14 years ago. Now, you say, “she is the queen of unfinished craft projects.” Not quite, but close.

When my daughter was about 5, I decided we needed a Western themed Christmas tree. (I have several themed trees now). Western-themed Christmas stuff, at least in Texas can be expensive! It’s not too bad when you are only adding a piece or two, but we were starting from scratch. So, it was DIY for us. We started by recreating some rope garland I had seen in a department store. I don’t remember the exact cost, but it was something like $40 for a 6- or 8-foot piece. Pfftttt! We made it with an old red bandana and $5 worth of rope from the hardware store. It turned out quite nicely, if I do say so myself. We are still using that “garland” today.

However, you can’t fill an entire Christmas tree with rope, so we also made ornaments out of dough. Using cookie cutters, we made boots, stars and Texas shapes. My daughter helped me make them. Those are some of my most favorite ornaments I have ever had because of the memories we made. Unfortunately, over the years, the dough ornaments have fallen apart. I think I only have one or two of those left. I have been able to amass quite a collection of holiday stars, cowboy Santa’s and more since then. Even though that tree is full to the brim now, I still enjoy shopping the after Christmas sales every now and then for new finds or picking up new items while on adventures with my family.

Whew! That was a lot of jabber to get to the point of this. Sorry. Last year, I wanted to add something larger to the tree, and do it within a budget. I’ve already talked about my Silhouette Cameo and this is just another example of a project I was able to do.


I made these stars from red, green and Kraft scrapbooking cardstock. I made them in several sizes, using one 99-cent cut file purchased from the online Silhouette store. I don’t remember quite how many I made, but there are quite a few. In all, I spent less than $10 including paper I’m sure I bought on sale. Cutting them out was a cinch, however gluing all the green and red insets onto the star was a little time consuming. Some of them I ran through the sticker machine and sped the process up a little. You could also totally do them without the insets and the project would take literally minutes.

This year, I am making a few smaller stars to add to the garland on my mantle. It should cost me nothing, as I already have the cut file and some of the paper left from last year. Yay for no-cost projects that make a big impact!!

TOOLBOX TALK: I’ve talked more than once about my Silhouette Cameo and how much I love it. This is not a new machine, but it is a good one. The biggest plus, you don’t have the added cost of buying cartridges of files to cut.

There are so many files out there you can cut and you can pick just what you need, rather than buying a whole collection only to use one or two items from it. There are a multitude of websites that offer low-cost and even free files. I get most of mine from the Silhouette subscription program. Subscriptions start at $9.95 a month, but for that $9.95, you get $25 worth of files. Most files are 99 cents. They also offer a clearance section each week with files for 50 cents, and every Tuesday they offer one FREE file. LOVE it! I’m addicted. I’m amazed at all the scrapbook embellishments I’ve used and crafts I’ve done using their files. I just use the search function to find something specific to match what I’m working on. There are thousands of files and fonts you can choose from. Check it out if you have a chance:

Silhouette Online Store

Keep in mind, you can also cut the fonts you already have on your computer and convert any clip art or shape you have to an SVG (cut) file. I use an online converter, but if you are computer savvy there are other ways to do it as well, I just like the ease of the online converter I found.

With Silhouette software, you are also able to create your own art, alter or resize files you already own. It is so easy.

The only drawback I see (and it is small) to this electronic cutter is that is not super portable. You do have to hook it to a computer with the Silhouette Software on it. This computer “houses” all your cut files.

Until next time ….