Hello dears.  Come in and have some coffee.  I'm in the midst of stirring up Christmas cookies and wondering what on earth I did with that sugar cookie recipe I had in hand two weeks ago.  Isn't that always the way it is?  Have a seat and I'll have you a cup of coffee, or even cocoa if you'd like, in a moment.  It's awfully cold outdoors isn't it?

I really want to make a load of cookies but I will not.  For one thing butter is not as low in price as it might be for this baking season and for another there is the fact that I love cookies.  I'm making the 'We can't have Christmas without..." cookies.  In our house that is a jam thumbprint that is rolled in coconut before you put the jam in the thumbprint, and stove top cookies, Magic cookie bars and chocolate chips.  And then because I use the sugar cookie dough as base for the thumbprint cookies and Katie and Sam take those home, I'll have a few pretty sugar cookies that I'll roll in coarse sugar and press with a pretty pattern from the bottom of a drinking glass.  Those are my favorite ones.

Katie recently saw this idea on Pinterest and sent me a note.  "Why did we never do this?"  Well I did but I guess she wasn't paying attention.  It's just a little detail but it's a pretty one.  Here's an old photo of some cookies I did long ago:

I don't think that date stamp on that photo is correct but it might be, since it's from the old PennyAnnPoundwise days.

Christmas....sigh.  Each year I find Christmas comes to me at a different point than it has in years past.  This year it came early.  On Sunday of this week, to be exact, when we arrived at church and discovered that the sermon was actually a one man play called The Ebenezer Experience.  I love Dickens' A Christmas Carol  and John and I watch several different versions of it including Bill Murray's 'Scrooged' each year during the holiday month, so I wasn't in the least upset to see this play.  I must say that the actor portraying Scrooge was very good and  it was so believable that when he flinched so did I, because he'd made his fear appear so real to me that I couldn't help but react.    That was enough really, to set the mood hard on Christmas, but we went to Walmart after church.

Now if ever there were a mood killer it is any retail store on a Sunday, especially after church when they seem to fill up to triple capacity, and most assuredly in December. Yet I say sincerely that it wasn't a horrible thing to be in Walmart on a Sunday after church in December this time.  I saw a lot of people who were obviously Christmas shopping but it wasn't outrageous sorts of shopping, just fairly modest shopping.   There were plenty of registers open and they were moving fairly quickly, too.  In front of us at the register was a mom with a son and daughter.  In front of them was an older man with his old son.  The older man took an interest in the children and talked to them.  Well the little girl just chatted away.  I heard the older man say "I'm actually one of Santa's helpers..."

I had half a mind to get creeped out if you want to know the truth.  He looked nothing like an elf (who supposedly are tall and thin and not small and rotund like Keeblers'  nor the Santa's elves, at all).  He looked nothing like Santa, either.  But the little girl was obviously finding him a good conversationalist and he promised her before he left that he'd prove he was truly one of Santa's helpers as they continued to talk.  As the mom laid their things on the register, the man and his son walked away...and then he turned and a deep and wonderful "Ho Ho Ho!" resounded through the front of the store.  The little girl and all adult eyes turned to stare and the man took a semi-bow and walked away.  The little girl stood there transfixed.

But it was the adult response that surprised me.  I looked about and every adult was smiling happily.  I felt my own face smiling hard enough to ache. The clerks at the registers were all smiling...On a Sunday in a busy holiday season in Walmart mind you.   So maybe, just maybe, he was Santa's helper and maybe elves don't look a thing like I've been told they look at all.  Maybe they do just look like ordinary people... You know I've been smiling ever since then.  And feeling rather joyous and happy, too.

I can remember in other years past when that moment of Christmas spirit descended upon me: at Katie's third grade school play, at  Christmas Eve in a candlelit church service.  Another year as we rode home in the dark and looked at Christmas lights.  And at another Christmas Eve service when at the huge church we were attending to find softly falling snow in the lobby from hidden snow machines... Those are standout moments but the hardest Christmases were those when I couldn't find the joy in my heart and I wept bitterly when it was over because I'd missed it and knew I mightn't find it again.  But I did.  Thank God, I did!

I know there are those who don't believe Santa Claus is something we should teach our children about.   I'm not one of those sorts.  I never struggled with believing in Santa.  I came to a point where others my age assured me that he wasn't real and I went to my daddy and asked him.  I'll never forget the reply he made.  "Of course, he's not really a person like you and me, Terri, but he's a spirit of giving joy to others.  And as long as we do our part, he'll always be alive."   Oddly enough, at 8, that quite satisfied me and I kept mum and didn't share my grown-up knowledge with my brothers.

A friend of mine said she wouldn't tell her children there was a Santa because when they discovered there wasn't they would have believed a lie...and she was sure they'd believe God wasn't real either.  I didn't have that trouble at all growing up and I reckon I've never quite understood her reasoning but that was her call to make for her family.  I never got God and Santa all tangled up in my brain.  God just WAS and Santa was for a time only and then I understood him, but God was still God.

I saw a plea from a mom earlier this week on facebook asking parents not to give their kids outlandish gifts from Santa but instead to keep those things modest, and if they wished to give larger things to wrap them and say "It's a gift from mom and dad."  Her reasoning was that children might get the idea that Santa was unfair.    Others I know believe in the old rules of something to eat, something to wear, something to read.

Our own approach in our home was modest.  The children generally got one Santa gift and one gift from mom and dad and a stocking that held things like silly string and a favorite candy and an orange and a giant peppermint stick and perhaps peppermint tea or cocoa or flavored coffee packets.  As I said last coffee chat, our biggest thing really was to let the kids have free range with food on that one day, which was a big thing in a household on an otherwise stringent food budget.

When Amie and Sam were small I'd fill stockings with bath beads and salts and bubble bath packets and fancy little shaped soaps and soap crayons and colored shaving creams.  All that winter we'd fill a tub with warm water and their choice of stuff and let them play in the tub until they were done on a Saturday afternoon.  The bath opened off the living room where I'd watch Natalie Dupree and Jacques Pepin for an hour  while keeping eye on them through the open door.  They painted the walls with the colored shaving soap.  They sprayed silly string on each other.  They made the soap bubbles billow to the top of the tub.  About the time the water had gotten chilly they were ready to come out and put on warm pajamas that had been sitting in front of the heater while they played.  It was a lovely tradition while those two were little enough to bath together and they enjoyed it.

It was never just Santa for me that made Christmas.  It was walking into Granny's home each year to find the three wise men on camels ranged across her mantle on the right.   Those three wise men were not pricey ceramic pieces but just cast plastic of the cheapest sort and painted gold and rich colors.  That they were on camel back told of their searching ...I've never seen wise men like them anywhere since.  The message is nowhere near as powerful to me in the nativities with the kneeling wise men, as those three on camelback searching for the King of Kings. They were always set up on one side of the mantel and on the other was a tiny crèche with the infant Jesus lying in the manger.  It was their obvious progress towards that Christ child that held me in awe and while I had no idea at the time how important that Christ would come to be to me as an adult, nor how I would spend  half a lifetime searching for Him, I had some sense of the awesomeness of what that story meant to mankind as a whole when it began with the seeking.

What happened to those wise men I cannot tell you.  Granny eventually stopped putting out her Christmas things as many do when they get older.  It hurt me to hear her say "Oh it's just another day..." about Christmas when it most obviously was not true. I understood the lack of desire to bother with a tree (always a real one for Granny) and other decorations but it just wasn't Christmas at all without those wise men.

I asked her once if I could have the wise men but she told me they were packed up in the back room and  I knew what that meant...The back room was a no man's land of neatly stacked boxes, tightly packed from floor to ceiling in the room and we were forbidden to so much as even open the door to peek inside.   Imagine my joy when this week I found the same set of wise men on eBay.  I put in a bid and won them.  They won't be Granny's but they are the same and I look forward to having that wonderful reminder of how faith grew in the child I was once upon a time.

That led to a whimsical sort of search on eBay for other things from my childhood.  On the same day I sought wise men I happened to have been digging in the file cabinet and came across a tin plate from a child hood play tea set.  It was a Snow White set and I was very fond of it as I grew up.  I looked up on eBay and found the single plates alone were going for $6 but a complete set of cups, saucers and tray was $100!  I told John I was amused that anything from my childhood had gained that value already!  I'm happy to add here that the wise men were quite reasonable and nothing near as costly as that child hood toy.

It never ceases to astonish me these days when strolling through the antiques mall and thrift stores to discover the things I grew up with are now 'vintage' and 'antique' and I'm not that old!   I assure you what we had when I was growing was most thoroughly modern because Mama didn't much care for too many old things reminiscent of what she'd grown up with.  Nevertheless I cannot deny that I don't much fall for the nostalgia of what I grew up seeing in my childhood home.  Unfortunately, I came up in the Harvest Gold, Avocado Green and Brown era of the '70s.  I think it's why I'm really not fond of Corelle Ware, though I do happen to own two sets at the moment.  It is a purchase I loathed making but did at John's insistence.  And I'd replace it in half a second if two things happened simultaneously:  I found a set of dishes I loved while I had money in pocket!  The two never seem to happen at the same time.

Other things I've seen from my growing up years are the platform shoes.  You know we all clopped about like a bunch of horses in those days and I know we must have because that's the way the girls walk now.  I recall a pair of blue suede oxfords with a heel that Granny laughed and laughed over because they were exactly like a pair she had in her young married days.  I laughed just as hard when Katie showed me a picture of the same pair of shoes a year or so ago...Recycled fashion!

I planted pansies on Monday though it was cold and cloudy and drear.  The flowers weren't, thank goodness.  They shone with bright color and happiness.  I do believe pansies are the happiest flowers of all, especially those with the little faces in them which are my favorites but I can't bear to not have a variety of colors so I don't just buy those old fashioned looking ones.  And the aroma!  It reminds me of violets.  I sniffed appreciatively as I planted them.  I'd only bought $5 worth the other day but I I bought another $7 worth yesterday.  I should have enough to fill another few pots.  I'm not saying I'm done buying but it's enough if I find I can't get more.

Talking about the smell of the pansies just now reminds me that last week when I was in Publix, I picked up a $4 bunch of red carnations that were tiny buds yet they had an aroma that was ten times their size.  The bag boy at the counter obviously thought so, too.  He picked them up, buried his nose in them and sniffed deeply.  "I'm in heaven for the rest of the day, now..." he sighed.   It made me smile.

John worked yesterday and I had a fairly big day myself.  I did housework right away after her left, after I worked on my Swagbucks goal.  A little later in the morning I went to Target and visited the women's section once again.  I shared back in September how very disgusted I was with that area of the store where things were stored awaiting being put back on shelves, and clearance items were liberally mixed in with the women's things and it was all just a horrid area and made me feel most unwelcome.

Well I got put on a mailing list at some point and have been receiving glossy flyers for sales and I noted the last one had several plus sized models showing off clothes.   That was impressive.  I realized I'd never done a follow-up with the store.  In fact, last trip to the store I didn't even go back to that area at all.  So I decided I needed to make it a priority to go over there and see the section as the manager had requested.

I was still a little confused by the signage.  I mean if you look at it, it appears there are exactly two racks of women clothes and 8 or so of maternity.  As it happens that isn't the case at all, it's about evenly divided between them.  There were four empty buggies in the main aisle but no clutter, no returns, no mess.  Even the clearance racks in that section had been neatened and actually had marked down plus sized clothing included on them.  I was impressed as could be with the changed atmosphere and found several items I liked very readily.

I wrote the store manager this evening and commended her for a job well done.  What's more there was a girl in that section who was working diligently at emptying the sole buggy of returns in that space and it was parked right at the dressing room counter not in the women's section.  I was blown away and said so in my letter.

So let me encourage you all once more to visit your stores and if it's a problem, make a formal complaint about it.  I hope you'll find the managers of those stores work just as diligently to right the situation.

Oh my!  Amie is on the phone.  She is fresh back from her first trip to New York City and wants to tell all...and I want to hear it!  So I guess I better see you out and let her have at it.  Talk to you later!

(C) Terri Cheney

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