Stories we love and moments we remember

When I was making the Shelfari site, I asked our readers to share their favorites.  Denise Reynolds told me about 24 Days of Before Christmas by Madeline L’Engle.  She used to check this book out from the library each year and read it to her girls.  Later, she decided to purchase copies for them, but the new copies didn’t have the same special look and feel—they didn’t smell like the old library book, and the cover wasn’t the same.  The girls appreciated the thought but spotted the imposters right away.

I know the feeling.  My dad, when we were small children, would read The Night Before Christmas to us on Christmas Eve.  I have a vivid memory of him in an armchair with three of us (Susan was not yet born) sitting in his lap.  This is a real memory, or, perhaps,  the memory of a wish.  Did he only do this once, and I’ve romanticized it into a series of Hallmark greeting-card sentimental moments?  Maybe.  However it happened, I have the 1970’s version of the Big Golden Book still.  The insides are torn and fallen away from the cover.  Yet, in all of these years, I haven’t been able to bring myself to update or replace it.

Each holiday season, I look over newer versions of The Night Before Christmas.  It’s a classic poem, but any other illustrations (no matter how much more artistic) don’t satisfy.  They are either too “cute” or two serious or too something.

The newer books don’t smell like my book either.  An E-reader can’t take the place of that old, musty book smell.

Countdown Podcast #5- 335 Days to go!

Snow, Snow, Snow– Click to hear this week’s Podcast

This week we look a little more closely at snowmen and how they fit into keeping our holiday spirit alive.  Topics include white Christmas, high altitude, moose, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, and of course snowmen.  Natalie gives Jeremy a little quiz on the Classic 1969 television special Frosty the Snowman.  Is it a button or a carrot for that nose?  Coming soon… more discussion on the role of snowmen and the perfect way to build one, and how they show up in lots of strange places.

Krusteaz Sugar Cookies: A shortcut worth taking

When we were kids, baking and frosting my mom’s homemade sugar cookies was high on our list of anticipated Christmas activities.  I am still partial to the 8-piece red plastic set of cookie cutters that was my mom’s, and I just can’t settle in to using the newer metal ones.  It may sound odd now, but we sucked a hole into each raw cookie with a straw so that they could hang from the tree at Christmas. I had no qualms then about eating them off the tree.  Now, it would be a different story.

Rolled and cut sugar cookies, of all the Christmas treats are, in my humble opinion, the most labor intensive.  In the years when my Christmas spirit doesn’t develop, the sugar cookies are the first to be sacrificed.  The solution, I discovered this year, is to cheat.

At Thanksgiving, we were trolling the aisles at Costco, presumably buying “only what’s on the list,” but our cart was already full of extras, when we stumbled upon an enormous back of Krusteaz Sugar Cookie Mix.  In full impulse shopping mode, we bought a $17.00 bag that advertised it made 21 dozen cookies.

We made our first two batches in early December, dropping the dough on the pan.  They were thin, crisp, and amazingly sweet (even without sugar sprinkles).  We proceeded to make more batches through the holidays, using the alternate recipe on the bag for rolled and cut cookies.  Perfect every time (even I didn’t ruin them).  No frosting needed.

We calculated that we got our money’s worth:  total investment (with butter and eggs), $22.00.  That’s less than 10 cents a cookie.  Voracious cookie eaters, we couldn’t bake and eat enough to finish the bag until I baked them for a birthday party tonight, in late January.  I cut them into heart shapes and sprinkled them with red sugar.

I discovered this size bag is available November – December at Costco, but plenty of grocery stores nearby stock the regular single-batch,  3-dozen variety year-round.  Making a list of things to remember for next year?  (Who doesn’t ?)  Keep your eyes peeled in November for Krusteaz.

Capture Winter Now

Well the first snow of 2012 here in Frederick really didn’t amount to much.  Couple inches of slushy snow with some ice on top.  No winter wonderland.  No days of work.  No hunkering down and digging out.  Too bad.  I love snow.  I love winter.  I plan to retire to the north coast of Maine where I can stand on the shore and see the ocean spray freeze.  I know most don’t share this love of snow and winter but everyone loves a beautiful snow-covered Christmas scene.  As Natalie shared yesterday, the likelihood of a white Christmas is pretty slim around these parts.  We have to take advantage of the snow when it comes.  Here’s a holiday hint for the rest of winter.  Keep a camera handy!  When the snow does come for real this winter snap some pictures.  Get those shots of places and things looking all wintry white.  Use these pictures to create holiday gifts.  One idea- get the perfect photo of your childhood home in winter glory. Find a unique antique frame or other display for it.  Give it to your parents with a card or note recalling a fond memory from Christmases growing up.  Another idea- Get shots of the kids out sledding and playing in the snow- makings of a great shot for holiday cards over those posed sweater shots.  One last idea- take pictures of scenic wilderness or wildlife in the snow.  Use them to create a calendar of local scenes.  A great gift for family and friends who have moved away.  Get those cameras ready and think snow!!!

Keep dreaming: Chances slim for White Christmas 2012

Roger and I are  headed to the grocery store because there’s a “chance” that it may snow/sleet this evening, and like most Marylanders, we become a little crazy if the white stuff is in the forecast.

I remember when I was a teen, hearing about a local car dealership that promised to give away a car if it snowed on Christmas day.  These deals still exist, but the odds are probably greater that you will be struck by lightening than win a car.  (Actually, I have no idea about how many people are test driving cars, but the National Weather Service sets the likelihood of being struck by lightening at 1/1,000,000).  This year, Pohanka Hyundai in Fredericksburg, VA offered one lucky winner a car or $15,000 if it snowed on Christmas.

The fine print for the dealership’s ad read “a minimum of 5” of snow must be measured at the Ronald Reagan International Airport between 12 am and 11:59 pm Christmas Day.”  Only two years in Maryland recorded weather history (122 years) has there been snow over five inches, and I’m guessing it’s even more unlikely for Fredericksburg to the south of us.

So if we all dream of White Christmases, how likely is it that we will get one?

The National Climatic Data Center has a nifty map of the entire U.S.  Maryland sits at 11 – 25% for snow on Christmas (even less on the Eastern Shore).  Based on my experience (and my lifetime in Maryland gives me plenty), even 10% is a high number.

A 2005 article in the Baltimore Sun confirms this exactly.  If we count every Christmas since the beginning of Baltimore snowfall record-keeping (1893), we’ve had snow fall on Christmas Day 12 times.  That’s 10 percent.  If we count the Christmases when snow fell or was on the ground, it comes to 29 times, or closer to 25%.

So, the bottom line is that IF it snows (or sleets or whatever) tonight, I’m going to appreciate it instead of curse it.  And I’ve learned that if I want a White Christmas guaranteed, the best move I can make is to rural Michigan, Minnesota or Washington State.

Cruise in to Christmas 2012

Heard any news this week about the cruise industry?  HA!  Since every media outlet has had some type of cruise story to share, I thought the Yule Log should follow the trends.  I also received an email telling me to “Not miss out- Book today!” for my 2012 Caribbean Christmas cruise.  Really??  Well, I suppose if you plan to set sail in December, January is the time to book it.  I would imagine if you have plans to go to any resort/vacation destination for Christmas you would need to book it early to get the best spot/room/place.

Taking a big trip or traveling to a tropical locale just has never seemed like a “normal” thing to do for the holidays to me.  I’m more of the traditional type.  Christmas is spent at home, in your pajamas, in front of the fireplace, with the cold wind (and hopefully snow) blowing outside.  I think everyone should have a Christmas like in the carols and songs.  Those who know me will nor be surprised to read this.  I like my rituals and tradition.  Christmas Eve dinner?  Midnight Mass?  Yes, please!  Big bulb Christmas lights?  Peppermint flavored candy canes? Sign me up!  Boarding a plane to Mexico, a cruise ship to the Caymans, a train to Miami?  Hmm, not for me.  But it must be the thing for lots of people.  Disney and other resorts have no problem attracting huge crowds.  Some of my friends swear by Christmas with Mickey and don’t even bother with the tree and all since they won’t be home on Christmas.  Maybe travel could work.  I’m thinking a family trip AFTER Christmas would be the most change I could handle to start.  Am I missing something about the allure of holiday travel?  Please sell me on this if I’m missing out! Maybe there is a good deal to be found for a cruise.

Recommend “spirited” books for our Shelfari site

Last week, Jeremy suggested a Christmas-themed book he had read, The Christmas Jar.  This got me thinking about all of the Christmas books we love, especially children’s stories.  For several years, I have kept a Shelfari site to log my reading:  books I’ve read, with my personal reviews; books I am reading now; and books I want to read.  The last category is the most important because I can’t remember the all-important title when I’m in the bookstore.  Shelfari has room for me to rate my favorites, write reviews, and track my reading.

On Shelfari, a social networking site for book lovers, I can keep all of my books on a virtual shelf for reference and for sharing with others.  In this spirit, The Yule Log has now created a Shelfari for favorite Christmas books, and we’re looking to you to help us to fill the shelves.

I am going to start with Jeremy’s book (because he is lending it to me), followed by A Redbird Christmas, by Fannie Flagg.   I found a good resource listing every Christmas book ever written (exaggeration, but it looks like that) at’s Holiday Home Page, including a whole category of Christmas mysteries; however, I’d rather have your tried and tested recommendation.

Visit our Shelfari site (see link on the sidebar) where we’ll read and post reviews of books, fiction and non-fiction, for children and adults, to keep the spirit throughout the year.  What Christmas-themed book have you read by the fire in winter or on the beach in July?