Month: December 2013

Visions of Sugarplums…

Christmas is right around the corner, so close I can almost taste it. It tastes of gingerbread, eggnog, Elf the movie, giving, spirit, and family. Holidays are such a great time to reflect and think upon things. Holidays are also a time for traditions (old ones and making new ones), sharing stories of past Christmas’ or stories from generations past, watching favorite Christmas movies, going to see The Nutcracker Ballet or better yet, The Rockettes, singing along to your favorite Christmas songs, and shopping for that perfect gift.

One thing I love about this time of the year are the traditions and stories. There are only certain things that my family eats or does at Christmas time. Each year I also hear new stories not just about past Christmas’, but stories of my grandparents growing up or my parents growing up. I get to know them better and it makes me appreciate my heritage and upbringing even more. That is what I want to share with you, my readers, my friends, passer byers….I want to share with some of my traditions, stories, and favorite Christmas things.

1) Mimi’s Gingerbread

This is what I look forward to each and every Christmas. While I could eat it all year long, I don’t. It wouldn’t feel right. I wouldn’t anticipate it and savor each piece of this glorious gingerbread.  My Mimi, or for those of you who aren’t Southern, great-grandmother, was a fantastic cook. She had her specialties: boiled custard, applesauce cake, tea cakes, and GINGERBREAD! This just isn’t any kind of gingerbread. Hers is the old fashioned kind. It is so temperamental and it only works for certain cooks (most of her recipes don’t taste the same unless she does it) but fortunately my mother has taught me well, and she was taught by Mimi and I was brought up in the kitchen with both of them as well. Mimi’s gingerbread is written on an old piece of yellow notebook paper. The paper is so old, it is falling apart. Her handwriting is hard to read, written in red ink pen. When my mother and I would make it, Mom called it out and read it as I prepared it. Each year we would make this for my Uncle Jim (Mimi’s son) and my Mom’s two brothers. We would carefully mix all the ingredients together and put it in the oven. This was the hardest part believe it or not. You have to watch this gingerbread like no one’s business. If you over cook it, it is dry and crumbly. It doesn’t always cook the hour it says. See what I mean by temperamental. If you get it correct though, it is worth it. The gingerbread has texture of a bread but eats like cake. We would always serve it with whip cream. Yum!

Two years ago I was diagnosed with gluten/oat/dairy/nut  food allergies around August/September. By the time December came around I still was new to this whole lifestyle change.  When gingerbread time came, I was sad. How was I to eat one of my favorite Christmas foods? Off to google I went. I came across this Gluten Free Old Fashioned Gingerbread recipe. I read the ingredient list. Everything was the same as Mimi’s. I read it and re-read it. Is was too good to be true. Could this be my Christmas gingerbread? I decided I wanted to make it for Christmas Eve dinner. I am always in charge of desserts for get together’s (I LOVE to bake cakes). My Mom and I had a back up in case this failed. I made and it my o my word! It tasted just like hers! My family and I couldn’t believe it! Now I can still enjoy this part of my Christmas festivities every year and keep a part of my Mimi with me.

2) Christmas Movies, and by that I mean the classics

Who doesn’t love Christmas movies? Especially the original claymation Rudolph. I adored that movie growing up and still do. Though I don’t get to watch it as much as I would like to, it still has a deep place rooted in me. I still sing a long to ALL of the songs. Just today I heard “We are Santa’s Elves” and couldn’t help but smile. Who remembers the original Frosty? O cartoons. Both of these movies I watched growing up on a VHS that had been copied from a TV. Yes that is right. A complete “pirate” thing there. My grandfather use to record my favorite movies and shows from the TV onto the VCR (but honestly who didn’t do that back in the day?). I had a VHS of just Christmas movies. Rudolph and Frosty were both on there. I wore that VHS out!

As I grew older, I became fond of other Christmas movies. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation anyone? Elf with Will Ferrell? Do I really need to say more? Who wouldn’t like reindeer eggnog cups or white loafers for Christmas? “I like to smile. Smiling is my favorite”. “Buddy the elf, what is your favorite color?”.  “Have you seen these toilets they’re ginormous!”.

For those of you who follow musicals and Bing Crosby, two words: White Christmas. Don’t the best things happen when you are dancing? Without a doubt, some of the best choreography EVER made for movies. Check out these two clips (and if you are a Martha Graham fan, Youtube the “Choreography” number):

The Best Things HappenWhen You’re Dancing:

Mandy:

3) Candlelight Services

For those who are not familiar with this, a candlelight service is where a church holds a special service with no lights. The sanctuary is lit up with candles. Sometimes even the Church body will hold their own individual candle as well. This is a truly a magical service. It is without a doubt one of the most peaceful and moving experiences. You are so focused on the message, the words the Lord is pouring out because it is dark. It is hard to get distracted. Most of the time in these services the focus is on the God presenting the greatest gift to Earth, His son Jesus and the gift Jesus gives to us. Eternal life. In addition to those gifts, we are to give the world the gift of light, love, and truth. It is a time to refocus and reflect on the greatest gift. I was bummed this year that the church I go to had a candlelight service on Christmas Eve and I couldn’t go because I would be back home with my family. But then I found out I am going to Midnight Mass with my mother-in-law and hubby. A tradition of theirs. I couldn’t be more excited!

4) Angel Trees

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t do an angel tree or some form of buying toys/books/clothes for some organization that gives it to kids in need. Growing up I loved to go to the Salvation Army Angel tree and pick out someone my age and shop for them. It was my chance to give gifts I would be getting or possibly get and share it with someone. I get a Barbie, they get a Barbie! Make up and fun lotions. Lip smackers in all flavors. There were times I participated in Operation Christmas Child. You were given a shoe box and you pile it up with all you can that will fit in a shoe box. That shoe box is then shipped throughout America or overseas. What is great about this tradition, is that it is something my husband and I have continued to do. Ever since we started dating we have done some sort of give back. We reason it this way: we aren’t going to have kids so why not do a few angels. Give kids a Christmas. We are blessed with resources and let’s pour it out on others. This year we didn’t have time to adopt an angel so every chance we got to donate something at a register we did.  For example, some little one at the Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City is getting a copy of Amelia Bedelia (the first book I ever read). I hope they love her antics as much as I did when I was little kid.

5) Nutcrackers

How can I not post about The Nutcracker and my obsession with nutcrackers! I adore Nutcrackers. I have ornaments, and non ornament Nutcrackers. One of my former bosses gave me a Nutcracker that is a baker for Christmas/Graduation one year. If I could, I would decorate everything with them. Also, as a dancer I have an interesting relationship with The Nutcracker. I love it. I hate it. This year I am performing in my first Nutcracker since I was 16. I am blessed with the opportunity to choreograph/direct/and perform one of my dream roles: Spanish/Chocolate.  One day I hope to take my better half to New York at Christmas time and see The New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker and The Rockettes.

6) Christmas Trees

Fat trees are my favorite.  Short fat ones with multi-colored lights. I look forward to decorating a tree each and every year. Christmas trees fill your home with a lovely scent and just get you in the Christmas spirit. Digging through ornament boxes opens up your soul to memories and fun times in your life.  Homemade ornaments pull at your heartstrings and make you smile.  One thing, they have to be real. A Christmas tree isn’t the same if it is fake. Sad for my sister though, little miss is allergic to them.

9) It is the Hughes Family Christmas!

Growing up my family would record on one of those dinosaur camcorders, our Christmas eve celebrations. We would open our gifts on Christmas Eve and Mom would record it. Then Dad would record it when Mom opened her gifts. I was always responsible for the introduction on the video (must be pne of the reasons why I am so comfortable in front of camera).It would go something like this: “It is Christmas Eve *insert year* and *then I would say something cutesy, twirl around, or do whatever I felt like*”. As we opened each gift Mom would do a close up of us opening it, say who it was from, and then capture our reactions.  It was great to look back on those old videos. Us wearing tacky Christmas sweaters, Dad wearing the same flannel shirt every year (until about 10 years ago, he wore the same flannel shirt every Christmas! Even before my sister and I was born), and our cats rolling around in gift wrap.

In addition to opening our gifts on Christmas Eve, we would have a big family dinner. It wasn’t your typical holiday fare. My mom and I would think of fun stuff to eat. We have done lasagna, chili, duck, we are doing BBQ ribs this year. On Christmas Day we would get “Santa” presents and stockings filled with candy (like those ever yummy Krsip Kringles). We would always get dad cherry cordials or creme drops. Even when we realized Santa isn’t real, we continued it till about I was 14. It turned into our most expensive gifts and stockings. Christmas Day is the quiet day for our family. We don’t really do much. Just relax and go over to my Mom’s side of the family to visit with them. Maybe watch Elf or White Christmas.

9) Peppermint Ice Cream

My second favorite ice cream flavor(first being chocolate chip cookie dough). I would look forward to this every Winter because it was only in stores November-January. What also made this ice cream special was that it wasn’t everywhere. I could only get it when I would spend time at my Memaw and Papaw’s. Papaw would always make sure I had some when I came over to spend the night with them on the weekends. My Papaw or myself would make a big bowl of soft, creamy, brightly colored red, peppermint ice cream in a bowl and then I would sit down and watch My Fair Lady or some other musical. Now that I am dairy free, I miss this. I long for the day to have peppermint ice cream back in my life. I guess this calls for homemade coconut ice cream with crushed peppermints….

10) Christmas in Dixie

Nothing like it. Come one down to Dixie, especially the foothills of the Smokies and Appalachia and see what I mean…

Merry Christmas!

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Endless Sea

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I went on my first cruise with my husband, sister, and brother in law. It was a fun trip. A lot of new firsts for me. A part of recovery I am trying to do as much as possible is “live new experiences”. This cruise in itself is a new experience, drinking new drinks (most made custom for me by a mixologist), seeing new places, trying new foods (like duck), and taking a napkin folding class (o yes, channeling my inner Martha Stewart), even gambling in a casino (didn’t trip my trigger, I am WAY to competitive for those slot machines). While all of that was fun and neat, one of the best parts was being on the deck of the ship and looking at the ocean.

I maybe a Pisces but, I am not a big fan of water. I don’t like beaches too much (I won’t get up past my ankle), I am scared of drowning, and I can barely swim. I do however, enjoy the sounds of waves crashing, the smell of fresh creek water, how water trickles down a river or creek filled with rocks and leaves, the pure beauty of water and the science that makes up fresh and saltwater. My husband on the other hand, loves the water. He even misses being on a boat. He was in the Navy for six years so you can see why he has a thing for the ocean. Throughout our years together he has told me all sorts of stories. I love his stories of how he use to be on the ship and just look out at the sea and think. Just be. Or late at night in the middle of the ocean with all the lights off, look up at the sky and see countless stars. It all sounded so majestic and tranquil. I couldn’t wait to get my chance to look out at the sea.

Looking out off the deck and into the wild blue yonder of the ocean I was so at peace. Just in awe of this part of God’s creation that I don’t get to experience. I live in the mountains so I am more familiar with creeks (or criks as they say in Appalachia) and rivers. All of a sudden all of my love’s words on how the ocean made him feel I understood. It is easy to just be present. Be in the moment where it is nothing but you and the ocean. After some time all the thoughts that run endlessly across your mind are still. Nothing is going on. Just you listening to the sound of the fantail on the water making waves. Those thoughts seem to ebb and flow, and crash along the boat. No longer existing. It is quiet. My mind is very seldom quiet (something I am trying to work on. O that anxiety !) even in yoga I am now just getting to a very quiet and meditative Savasana (corpse pose).

I enjoyed those quiet times. My Melvin and anxiety thoughts ceased. I could just be with God and nature. Reconnect with my earth and Creator. As I am looking over the white railing feeling the sea spray upon my freshly washed face, I started to compare my thoughts with the waves. And then I thought of the verse about our sins and the ocean. “He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities (sins). You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” Micah 7:19. Here I am on the picture representation of this verse. Needless to say I was blown away. I could only see 11 miles out/around (it is 11 miles from flat land to the horizon) and I couldn’t see down into the ocean. Just those 11 miles were so expansive! The ocean is truly big enough, giant enough, to house all our faults. Sometimes you need a picture or a real life model to fully gasp something.

How clearly you can think when anxious thoughts, food obsessed thoughts, exercise obsessed thoughts are no longer. In addition to my faults being on the bottom of the ocean floor, for that moment, I felt as if my Melvin induced thoughts were on the bottom of the ocean floor. I felt so light. So happy.

I won’t lie, I did pick them back up or I should say fished them back up, once I walked off the deck back into the boat. Even though I had fished them, I tried to live those new experiences that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. It wasn’t easy but there were moments of hope and fun.

Going on this trip really made me want to go on a yoga retreat that I have always wanted to do more than ever. My yoga instructor facilitates this retreat where you swim with dolphins, create art, and practice yoga on a boat and a beach. You live on this boat for a month and do nothing but self heal. One day I will go on this trip. Especially now since I know how the ocean can remove the dirt from you.

View from the fantail

View from the fantail

Morning view from the deck

Morning view from the deck

Another ship crossing into the sunrise

Another ship crossing into the sunrise