No-cookies cookie swap! Plus, GRAND Social No. 284 link party for grandparents

No-cookies cookie swap! Plus, GRAND Social No. 284 link party for grandparents

No-cookies cookie swap!

The holidays were happening at my house yesterday as a chunk of extended family gathered for a no-cookies cookie swap.

No cookies in a cookie swap? Well, our annual family cookie swap — a family tradition with my mom and my siblings for nearly 30 years — has become quite large as more and more kids of the siblings became adults and joined the swapping. Which meant the number of cookies...


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Of Indian corn, cranberries, tradition

I'm a sucker for establishing and following family traditions. My family of origin didn't have many traditions, but the family Jim and I created has been steeped in them, especially during the holidays. All holidays, from New Years to St. Patrick's Day to Fourth of July and on into Thanksgiving and Christmas. For each, we have traditions unique to our clan, ones we've followed for years.

Well, at least used to.

The empty nest continually challenges my desire to do as we've done in years upon years past. I'm struggling with creating new traditions to replace the old ones, the ones that required participation of the whole family...or at least its majority. I'm not yet used to not having the majority around for the celebrations that mattered—and continue to matter—most. Yesterday's Thanksgiving celebration, although delightful and enjoyable, was the first time I celebrated a holiday with only one of my three daughters. One had to work, the other celebrated with in-laws. I understand and accept such things, such changes; I'm just not yet used to them.

The empty nest isn't the only thing challenging my commitment to traditions set into motion years ago. Basic changes in our society—specifically, the availability of certain goods and services—take a toll as well.

To wit: I once upon a time created a tradition of sprinkling on the Thanksgiving table the multi-colored kernels of Indian corn. Throughout the meal, family and other guests were invited to place kernels representing the blessings for which they were thankful into a ceramic "gratitude" dish placed on the table. I considered it a way to express our thanks without having to say such things aloud and draw uncomfortable attention to oneself or the things for which they're grateful.

It was a tradition we followed for years, but I'm now unable to find Indian corn anywhere. (I wrote here of one embarrassing Thanksgiving when I had saved the kernels from the previous year, upon realizing the corn was confoundedly difficult to find every year.) Last year we spent the holiday at Megan's house sans gratitude dish, but the year prior, I decided to use popcorn kernels in place of the nowhere-to-be-found Indian corn kernels. I quickly realized it just didn't have the same feel, the same "pop" (pardon the pun) as the Indian corn, that tried-and-true symbol of Thanksgiving. I considered the tradition over.

Until this past Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. I came up with a brilliant idea, a way to continue the tradition, with similarly symbolic tokens to represent our gratitude. Cranberries! Why I didn't think of it before, I don't know. But yesterday my Thanksgiving table was sprinkled with the festive red berries, most everyone a berry or two or ten symbolizing blessings in the dish, and in no time our gratitude cup indeed runneth over. Success!

Time and the toll it's taken on the commercial availability of Indian corn required me to alter one of the my family's most time-honored traditions. It felt a little funny at first, but it worked. Sure, the Indian corn was missed...and fondly recalled. But the cranberries worked just as well, even added a colorful turn the tradition lacked in its initial form. A new tradition was born.

As we head into the Christmas season—the holiday marked by the most treasured of family traditions—I resolve to hold close the lesson of our altered Thanksgiving tradition. It's proof that despite changes and alterations, new traditions can be just as meaningful, just as important as the old.

As Indian corn can be replaced by cranberries, new traditions celebrated by a family minority—possibly even just by Jim and myself—can be just as meaningful, just as important as those once celebrated by our entire family. I'll be mindful of that, keep reminding myself of that.

Out of habit, though, I'll likely keep an eye out for Indian corn in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving for a long time to come. Similarly, one part of my heart will always be focused on the traditions that once defined our family, as well. At least until I find something as festive and colorful as the cranberries to replace them.

Today's question:

Which of your family traditions have changed—or ceased—through the years?

Tradition, tradition!

In the box of papers, pictures, and greeting cards Granny saved that Jim and I took home after cleaning out the last of her possessions was a manilla envelope. Inside the envelope were original copies -- entire newspaper sections -- of the first articles I ever published. Nestled neatly among my first (Mosh-pit mom, Oct. 1994), second (Get this: Confessions of an online addict, Oct. 1995), and third (Stranger in our midst, 1997) published articles was a publication not bearing my words, but the published work of my then fifth-grade daughter, Megan.

The booklet treasured by Granny the past 16 years was a staple-bound school creation called Author Share: A journal for aspiring authors grades K-5 that Megan had sent her. In the "Traditions" chapter of this special "Holiday Issue 1994" was the following tidbit:

Traditions always have been, always will be an important part of our family.

An even more important part is Granny. Although no longer capable of rushing to the car to help with luggage, no longer able to participate in holiday celebrations at all, Granny continues to loom large in our hearts, ever so prominent in our Thanksgiving memories.

Today's question:

If you could magically have one special guest join your Thanksgiving festivities -- someone not already participating in this year's celebration -- whom would it be?

Weevils, the heads, and turkey days past

It's one week until Thanksgiving Day, and I can't wait.

This will be the first Thanksgiving that one of my daughters will host the affair. Jim, Brianna, Andrea and I are headed to Megan's for the big day, to include the community turkey trot (the girls are trotting; I'm watching), time with Bubby, and Thanksgiving dinner together as a family.

I'm excited to add this "first" to the collection of Thanksgiving memories that have been rumbling 'round my head and heart the last couple days. Things like ...

Thanksgivings early on as a family, when the girls and Jim and I had to eat two turkey dinners in the same day to accommodate holiday visits to both parents -- both my parents, not my in-laws.

Thanksgiving in South Dakota with the Indians. Real Indians from the reservation, who were friends of Jim's sister and brother-in-law, our hosts. The weekend included horseback rides for the girls, silly nephews pitching olives during the meal and the obligatory visit to "The Heads" (Mount Rushmore, for the uninitiated).

Another Thanksgiving in South Dakota, another visit to "The Heads." The time Granny reserved a room at her church to accommodate her many visiting relatives. Just before the meal, she realized she'd forgotten to make potatoes and cheerfully announced she could throw together instant potatoes she had at home. "My husband will NOT be eating instant mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving," snarled one of Jim's sisters. The sister who eventually left her husband -- for her daughter's ex-boyfriend. The husband who eventually died -- from complications of a broken heart.

Once again: Thanksgiving in South Dakota. The year Megan and Andie wrecked their car on the way home from college. So we drove two cars to South Dakota -- Brianna and my mom in one; Jim, Megan, Andie and I in the other -- so that after the festivities (and, of course, a visit to "The Heads") Jim and I could take the girls back to college. We drove from the Black Hills of South Dakota to the east side of Nebraska to drop off the girls, then home to Colorado ... driving straight through. It was our first introduction to Red Bull and Monster energy drinks -- and the last time we'll ever drive that many miles without sleep.

The long-standing tradition of spreading Indian-corn kernels on the Thanksgiving dinner table, with everyone invited to place kernels symbolizing their personal blessings in the special "gratitude" dish at any time during the meal. The tradition I can never explain to guests because I get all verklempt thinking of my many, many blessings. Thankfully one of the girls always steps in and explains it for me -- another blessing that increases my verklempt state. Every time.

The first Thanksgiving I hosted at my house for all the extended family, including my older sister and her husband, whom I wanted desperately to impress. Naturally it would be the year that when I pulled out my "gratitude" dish with Indian-corn kernels saved from the previous year and dumped the kernels onto the beautifully set Thanksgiving table, weevils -- who'd been happily noshing on the kernels all year -- scattered everywhere. Yes, I made an impression.

The first year Jim and I participated in any Black Friday madness. It was the year of the Furby fracas and each of the girls wanted a Furby. We woke up early, went to store after store in the dark -- and came away with three Furbys (Furbies?), one for each of the girls! Thanks in large part to my brother and his wife who were staying with us for the holiday. My brother who no longer speaks to me or Jim ... hasn't for years ... for reasons I don't understand.

The Thanksgiving Jim and I hosted the family mere days after moving into our current house. Boxes still awaited unpacking, furniture, rugs, curtains and more still needed to be purchased and placed. Yet Megan and Preston came -- it was the visit when they announced they were pregnant! -- Andrea invited a visitor from Brazil (I think it was Brazil), and many from my extended family attended. Truly one of my warmest Thanksgiving memories ever, despite the cantankerous and not-yet-working-correctly boiler system of our new place.

Thanksgiving activities with the family: crafting ornaments, doing puzzles, decorating gingerbread houses, painting canvases to adorn the walls of our new home. Megan's creation the year of the canvas? A depiction of how cold our seemingly cavernous house was thanks to that pesky boiler system, especially to one accustomed to desert temperatures.

The tradition of the girls, when they were too young to cook, contributing to the festivities by making dinner mints -- a cream-cheese and powdered sugar concoction flavored with peppermint, pressed into candy molds then popped out for sharing. A tradition that will be passed along to Bubby this year, so he too can contribute to the meal even though he's not yet able to cook.

It's one week until Bubby's little hands squish and squash like Play-doh the traditional dinner mints. Mints that will surely, in years to come, be remembered as the sweetest dinner mints ever.

And I can't wait!

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Today's question:

What are some memories from your Thanksgivings past?

Another one bites the dust

Coloring Easter eggs has always been a pretty big deal in our house. Each year after the Good Friday Tenebrae service at the Lutheran church we've attended for more than 20 years, we'd head home and color eggs as a family.

Like our Halloween pumpkin-carving rituals, the egg coloring involved everyone competing for the very best design. Also like our pumpkin-carving rituals, someone usually ended up in tears or -- during the teen years -- huffing off to their room for a host of hormonal reasons having nothing to do with the design competition.

But it was fun. Really. We have lots of happy pictures and warm fuzzies to prove it.

This year for the first time ever, we won't be coloring Easter eggs. All the girls live on their own and our only grandson lives too far away to come over for a dip in the dye with Grandma and Grandpa. And I really can't see egg coloring as a couple on the Good Friday agenda for me and Jim.

So we'll go eggless this year.

There's a domino effect to the decision to not color eggs. Having no colored eggs impacts our Easter morning breakfast, as we've always eaten our colored eggs on Easter morning, along with blueberry muffins and sausage links. It made for an easy holiday breakfast before the family dashed out the door for church service in our new Easter outfits.

Oh, that's another thing: We're not buying new Easter outfits this year. There's really no reason to as we have plenty of dressy duds and really shouldn't spend the money this year.

With the delivery of Easter Bunny baskets having ceased delivery last year (although the girls will always get SOMEthing from E.B. but don't tell them that), it seems the last vestiges of our old-time Easter celebrations have bit the dust. The children are grown; the traditions of childhood are no longer relevant.

I should be sad about the change, as I've always worked quite hard to create memorable holiday traditions for the girls. But that's the key and the reason I'm not too broken up about this Easter's empty nest: It's always been work ... a lot of work ... done mostly by Mom.

So  I'm kind of glad that this year I don't have to color eggs or go shopping for outfits (especially when the girls -- and I -- often preferred black to the pinks and yellows and greens typical of Easter finery) or stay up waiting for kids to fall asleep just so I can fill a few baskets or help three little girls crack and peel and wash their colored eggs for breakfast.

Nope, we're having an adult-only Easter celebration for the first time. First up: A breakfast menu of Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Lemon Curd and Fresh Raspberries. Then Easter service, with our oldest and youngest daughters joining us.

After that, it's anyone's guess. We're all grown-ups now and I no longer need to set the day's agenda in advance.

Except for one thing, that is: I need to ensure time for a Skyping session with Bubby. I want to see my handsome grandson dressed in his new Easter outfit as he tells Grandma all about his basket of goodies from the Easter Bunny and the colored eggs Mommy peeled for him for breakfast, all before he, Mommy and Daddy dashed out the door for Easter service.

Knowing the beloved family traditions that once defined Easter in our house are continuing with the next generation make it much easier for this generation to bid them farewell and move on.

Today's question:

What's your favorite Easter tradition?

My answer: Breakfast as a family. Family dinners have always been a given in our house, but family breakfasts happened rarely ... usually only on Christmas and Easter.

Past predictions

2009 - What a year!

When the girls were in high school, we started a new tradition: When we took down the Christmas tree, we all wrote predictions for the coming year. The plan was that each person would write their prediction for each family member and we'd seal the predictions -- without anyone reading anyone else's -- and open the envelope when it came time to put up the tree the following Christmas.

We did this for eight years, starting with 1999. Here are a few of my favorite predictions from the past:

Predictions for 1999:

"I predict that technology will be more advanced because everyone is scared that the world is going to end in 2000. I also predict that I will get in shape." ~ Megan (Okay, so it was the first year and my overachieving, overthinking middle daughter didn't really get the idea of the new tradition.)

For 2000:

I cannot find the envelope for this year. I've searched high and low and in all the "Year 2000" memorabilia we have saved and can't find it.

For 2001:

"Dad will own [his former employer] or at least be number two, unless someone kills him because he won't quit talking about the election!" ~ Brianna

For 2002:

"Megan will love Concordia [her college] and never want to come home. She will meet some of the greatest friends she ever had and possibly the love of her life." ~ Brianna (Megan DID meet the love of her life there!)

For 2003:

"Brianna will leave Eric's ass, finally recovering her brain." ~ Lisa (Thank God this prediction came true!)

For 2004:

"Jim will drive us all crazy with his political rants and raves!" ~ Lisa (Yep, this came true, too!)

For 2005:

"Megan: Preston will have proposed. She will be deciding where to live with the P-ster!" ~ Andrea (This one came true, too! Good call, Andie!)

For 2006 (the year Preston joined us in the tradition):

"Preston will be happily married to the most beautiful wife ever: Megan." ~ Preston

Then the tradition ended; the logistics of getting everyone's prediction in the same envelope and sealing it up to open together the next year no longer worked. It was fun while it lasted.

Now my prediction for 2010: It will be better than 2009! Can't go wrong there (I hope ... maybe I've just jinxed all of us!).

Today's question from "If ... (Questions for the Game of Life)":

If you could only keep one of your five senses, which would you save and why?

I'd keep my vision because I cannot imagine not seeing my beautiful children, grandchildren, husband ever again. And I can't imagine never reading again. I can do without loud, screeching noises (although missing out on music will be horribly difficult); I am okay with not tasting or smelling things; not being able to feel/touch stuff would be hard. But overall, I need to see, so that's what I choose.