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Keep Christmas in heart all year-round
Merry Christmas — I hope that your holidays are filled with many smiles, hugs, family, good food and much love.
Today I would like to share with you memories of giving and receiving in memory of children who have gone to live with the angels.
My memory never remembers a Christmas that there were no presents under our tree. My mother tells me, though, of the Christmas of 1959. Dad had gotten a job as fair manager of the Calaveras Frog Jump. We moved to Angels Camp in April and there had been the expenses of the move, four children and a salary of $600 a month.
Mom recalls: “There was no money, and we did not know how we would be able to put presents under the tree, let alone buy a tree.” She says we went to midnight service at church, and Dad and Mom prayed the whole time that we were all young enough that Christmas morning could just be another morning.
When we arrived home, there was a fully decorated tree and presents under it for each of us. And each of our stockings was filled with fruit and candy. To this day Mom does not know who so generously gifted us that day. Not only were we gifted that Christmas, but my parents paid it forward and made it a Christmas habit to gift a family in need the same way each year.
I remember one Christmas when my children were all small — the youngest in preschool. A family we knew had fallen on hard times and Christmas was coming rapidly upon us. My son played with one of the boys and came home so concerned that no Christmas was happening at their house. I started talking with friends, and before I knew it, I had gifts for the family arriving at my house in abundance. From student councils to women's sorority, the gifts just kept coming. We had so much fun deciding who would get what gift and then wrapping them in beautiful paper.
I asked a young man to dress up as Santa and deliver the presents on Christmas Eve. Santa came to their home that night, and even though I did not see their faces, I know that those little boys were filled with joy and that Mom was forever grateful for the Christmas that almost didn't happen.
Last year I was told by a friend that it was going to be a Christmas tree or presents. Both could not be afforded. I arranged for a tree to be delivered and left in front of her house. You see, I do not want to be identified as the giver.
I also leave money at gas stations with attendants to use when someone arrives that has only a dollar for gas. Not only do I get rewards for giving, but now the gas attendant gets involved and gets to see the happiness comes from the person who is given that extra gas. And then I am gifted when I return to the station and that attendant tells me of who received the gas and their reaction.
And lastly I must tell of this one, because in this gifting we saw a person change before our eyes. I was at a restaurant with a group of women planning a community event. The waitress asked us if we knew any organization that might help her with a deposit, so that she could get into her own housing. She had been working for two years to get the money saved to live on her own, but had not anticipated the deposit. She had 72 hours to come up with the $150 or her name would be moved to the end of the list — and once again she would be waiting.
We gave her some ideas of where she might get assistance and then it just hit me. I grabbed my purse and pulled out some money. One of the ladies with me followed in act and our waitress was suddenly over halfway there. With tears of gratitude, she hugged and thanked us.
The next week we returned for more event planning and the waitress came to our table bursting with excitement. Not only was she able to get her whole deposit together, but she had found a second job and was enrolling in college. One good thing after another happened to her that week. See, our little gift that neither of us would even miss changed her life and opened her up for good.
Random acts of kindness are easy to do. They can be can be as simple as a compliment, a smile, showing interest in someone in the grocery line. Let that person with only two things in their basket go ahead of you. You can bake cookies and give to an elderly neighbor. Ask a teacher if you can come and read to her children or pay for the bulletin board decorations for a month. Pay for the car behind you when you go through the carwash.
A friend in Texas leaves money at the pharmacy to help parents pay for prescriptions for their sick children. My son, Brandon, told me that he bought a rawhide bone for a homeless man's dog the other day. Simple acts, no matter how small or how large, affect both you as the giver and who you gift to as the receiver.
There are families across the world who will be surrounded in sorrow and loss this holiday, but my heart is with those in Connecticut. Tragedy has struck their families. The world continues to pray and send support but speaking as a mother, I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and despair that they are enduring.
So my dear friends as you read this, I challenge you to honor those beautiful children and brave teachers and do an random act of kindness in their memory. I myself am caring their pictures and names with me. I will do an act of kindness in honor and memory of each one before the New Year begins.
Here are a few easy and tasty goodie recipes. Make a second batch and give to someone who does not cook or have family around this holiday. It can be the beginning of your random acts of kindness
Melt your favorite chocolate in a microwave-safe small bowl. I like to microwave for one minute, stir, let set for a minute then do another minute. Repeat till chocolate is melted and smooth. Be careful because chocolate burns easily and once burned, it is useless. White chocolate will burn much easier so be aware. Dip pretzel sticks in the chocolate and lay on wax paper to dry. You can sprinkle with colored sugar, coat with baby M&Ms. Let your imagination be your guide.
Lemon pepper cornmeal cookie
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 6 dozen cookies
The black pepper is not necessary, but it does add interest and a pleasant warmth in the mouth. I love these because you get sweet a fresh lemon taste then the heat and crunch of the pepper and cornmeal.
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon fresh, coarsely ground black pepper (optional)
Pinch of salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon of lemon extract or food grade lemon oil
2 large egg yolks
Whisk the flour, cornmeal, black pepper if using, and salt together in a medium bowl.
Beat the butter, sugar and zest in a medium bowl with an electric mixer, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat to combine well. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture, and beat on low speed just until blended; the dough will be crumbly.
Press the dough together with your hands and divide it in half. Place each half on a sheet of wax paper and form each piece into a 10-by-1-1/4-inch log. Smooth each log with dampened fingers. Chill the logs, wrapped in wax paper, for at least 3 hours, or until firm.
At least 25 minutes before baking, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter 2 large nonstick baking sheets.
Cut each log into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and arrange the rounds 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, for 10 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool.
Hershey Peanut Butter Blossoms
Adapted from Hershey's Chocolate Cookbook
About 4 dozen cookies
Peanut butter and chocolate were just made to be eaten together. Here is Hershey's recipe for their yummy cookies.
48 Hershey's Kisses milk chocolates
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk (I use buttermilk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Additional granulated sugar
Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.
Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.
Karla Billdt is owner of Karla's Kreations, A Personal Chef and Catering Service. Her web page is www.chefkarla.net and you can email her at email@example.com.