Thursday, December 30, 2010

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy - Week 51: Goals for 2011

Happy New Year! In a few short hours most of us will gather with family and friends to ring out 2010 and welcome the new year. Thanks to the wonder of technology, we can literally celebrate the new year as it makes it way around the world. As I reflect back on the 2010, I find myself counting the many blessings that I have been given and thinking about the moments that were, well, feeling anything but a blessing. And yet, I realize that even these moments were in my life for a reason, a lesson that I have yet to realize.

As we make our way towards that new page in the calendar it is inevitable that we feel the need to make resolutions that will make our lives - and ourselves -  better: kicking the tobacco habit, losing weight, eating better, engaging in regular exercise. Amy Coffin encouraged family historians in The We Tree Genealogy blog to look beyond our immediate horizons and stretch our researching muscles with 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy all designed to help make us better family historians. In week 51 she challenges us to think about our goals for 2011 and to write them down.

2011 is designated as the year I stop collecting and begin organizing, writing and sharing.

While there are several members of my family tree who are on my Most Wanted list, my most pressing goal for 2011 is to organize, scan and share with my family the wealth of family photographs in my possession. Some of them need to be identified with family members, several of them will require some serious work in Photoshop but all of them have a story to be told and I look forward to sharing these stories.

There are many of my ancestors stories that I have discovered that need to be put down: Lizzie Goldrick's trip to England to make a withdrawal on a reported bushel of gold, my uncle Earle Bergeron's military service and time spent as a Flying Sergeant and there are several of Grandma Space's journals waiting to be transcribed.

To quote Edith Lovejoy Pierce: We will open the book.  Its pages are blank.  We are going to put words on them ourselves.  The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.

Copyright (c) Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2010 - Dec 16 School Pageants

What did you do to celebrate Christmas at school?
Were you ever in a Christmas Pageant?

I consider myself fortunate to have childhood memories that include Christmas celebrations as part of our education curriculum. Following the return to school from our four day Thanksgiving vacation, the classroom displays of black construction paper Pilgrim hats and paper plate turkeys were replaced with the start of the wondrous celebration of Christmas.

The only thing that could distract me from the waiting and counting down the days until Christmas morning was the joy of rehearsing for our Christmas pageant. Music was always a favorite class but especially true during Christmas.

Music teachers distributed mimeographed sheets with our Christmas songs that we would be presenting at our school pageant; looking at the new songs we would be singing for the next three weeks was almost as good as Christmas morning.

"Oh ho ho - who wouldn't know? Oh ho ho who wouldn't go? Up on the rooftop, click click click ..." I must have been in the third grade when we sang this song as I recall watching my sister Lisa in her kindergarten class singing Jingle Bells during the same program.

I vividly recall memorizing "A Visit From St. Nicholas" when I was in the fourth or fifth grade which our class was going to recite at that year's pageant. We were memorizing the lines where St. Nick is calling out the names of his reindeer: "Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On Comet! On Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!" I recall it was a very sunny day and the sunlight was hurting my eyes; I felt very cold and wanted nothing more than to put my head down on my desk and take a nap. When I didn't want to get up the next morning my mother discovered a few small red pimples - chicken pox. I missed the school pageant that year, much to my dismay. Mom brought home a copy of the poem (probably from the public library) and helped me memorize the rest of the poem.

When I was in the 7th grade I tried out for the school production of Amal and the Night Visitors. I was disappointed when I wasn't chosen as the young crippled boy but was named the understudy - it is a good thing "Amal" was able to perform as the understudy never did learn Amal's lines (all though she knew all the songs!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Dec. 15 Hoiday Happenings

Often times December to mid-January birthdays and anniversaries get over shadowed by the Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year holidays. So we're going to shine a spotlight on those family members and ancestors this time around. Select one or more December to mid-January birthdays and/or anniversaries on your family tree. Write a short tribute to or memory of those birthday guys and gals and write a toast to the anniversary couples.

Thanks to Randy Seaver for his Saturday Night Genealogy Fun posted on his blog Genea-Musings. Earlier this year he asked everyone to create a calendar then post the results. When I read the prompt for today's contribution, I had to think that Santa Randy was probably having the last laugh.

Looking at my December and January calendar created in Family Tree Maker I was surprised to see the number of my first and second cousins; once, twice and a couple three times removed who were celebrating birthdays and anniversaries during the holiday season. To those wonderful relatives, many of whom have sent their Christmas greetings, I wish you happy birthday or congratulations on achieving another anniversary milestone. No need to mention you by name but I hope you know I am thinking of you.

There are a couple of events I would like to pay special tribute to, listed here in chronological order:

Digital Image. Undated. Original photograph privately held
by Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. 2010

Happy Birthday Grandpa Charlie. Born December 2, 1887, in Ham Lake Township, Anoka Co., MN, my paternal grandfather would have celebrated his 123rd birthday earlier this month. The oldest son of Francis Xavier Bergeron (1863-1953) and Mary Elizabeth Reinwand (1865-1951) Charles Edward Bergeron is seen in the above photo with my grandmother Mildred Eileen Little and cousin Connie.

Digital Image. Dec. 8, 1951. Original photograph privately held
 by Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. 2010

Happy Anniversary to my parents who celebrated their 59th anniversary on December 8th. I love this photograph and can recall trying on my mother's wedding dress which was heavy white satin. My parents were married in a candlelight ceremony at the First Methodist Church in Antigo. They recall that it was a bitterly cold night with several feet of snow on the ground.

Having posted today's Wordless Wednesday as a birthday tribute to my sister Lori I won't embarrass her with any more cutsie photographs.

Digital Image. Undated. Original photograph privately held
by Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. 2010

Christmas Eve 1976 will always be remembered as the year we attended the funeral of  my 13-year old cousin Becky Lynn. Becky was killed on December 21, 1976, when she and several of her friends climbed over a chain link fence intent on crossing Interstate 694 in Minneapolis during rush hour traffic. I've often thought about the driver of the car who was drawn into the decision the three friends made that night. It wasn't just my family whose lives were forever changed. Becky Lynn would have been 47 years old.

Digital Image. Oct. 11, 2009.. Original photograph privately held
by Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. 2010

My youngest son celebrates his birthday in early January so it is a bit early to wish him Happy Birthday; he'll  just have to wait! To say that he is a joy is a serious understatement. Funny, smart, honest and giving almost to a fault, he makes me laugh and proud to be called Ben's Mom. My Dad has told me many times how proud his brother would have been to know that we gave Ben the middle name of Earle. I agree, I believe he is.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Birthday Lori

"Happy Birthday Lori." Digital Image. Dated Dec. 1965. Original photograph privately held
by Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. Copyright (c) Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2010 - Dec 14 Fruitcake

Did you like fruitcake? Did your family receive fruitcakes?
Have you ever re-gifted fruitcake?
Have you ever devised creative uses for fruitcake?

Fruitcake. Was your first reaction to shutter, swallow hard and think, "no way." I confess to being a johnny-come-lately fruitcake-er.

I recall my family receiving Fruitcake as a gift, probably around 1963. I don't know what happened to the alleged Fruitcake but a call to my mother might be in order!

As mentioned in the December 2nd Holiday Foods post, for a number of years I thought my mother's Fruit Bread, which was a holiday tradition, was Fruitcake.

December 2nd posting left me wondering about my Mom's Fruit Bread Christmas tradition and following some good old-fashioned detective work, I found the recipe. Maybe you'll join me in a new - or renewed - Christmas tradition.

Fruit Bread
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 beaten eggs
1 cup milk
3 Tbsp. salad oil

  *   *   *   *
1/4 cup diced candied citron
1/4 cup dried currants
2 Tbsp. finely diced candied cherries
2 Tbsp. diced candied lemon peel
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Combine eggs, milk and salad oil; add to flour mixture, beating well (about 1/2 minute). Stir in fruits and nuts.

Turn into greased 9x50x-inch loaf pan. Bake in 350 degree oven about 50 minutes or till done. Remove from pan and cool on rack. Wrap and store overnight.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2010 - Dec. 11 Other Traditions

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there...
Clement C. Moore, A Visit From St. Nicholas

For as many Christmas's that I can remember, we celebrated St. Nicholas Day. It wasn't until I was in junior high school (now referred to as middle school) that we had a fireplace; until that time, our stockings, made by my mother, were hung wherever possible on December 5th in anticipation of the arrival of St. Nick.

According to Wikipedia the legend of St. Nicholas has its roots in Greece. Like most legends, the story behind the how and why St. Nicholas delivered gifts seems more suited to Criminal Minds than Disney. My family's observance of St. Nicholas Day have strong ties with the German traditions of celebrating Nikolaus leaving me to believe they are traditions from my maternal Germanic side of the family.

In Germany, children place a boot outside their front door on the night of Decemer 5th when St. Nikolaus arrives to fill them with small gifts and treats. It is also during this time when St. Nick checks to see if the children have been behaving. Sometimes a disguised St. Nick will visit the children at their home or school to get a report. If you did not receive a satisfactory passing grade, depending on where you lived dictated what St. Nick left as a warning. In many countries he left a switch or a stick and in others a lump of coal.

As stated in a prevous post the true identity of Santa Claus has a family connection and it makes perfect sense that this fact wasn't known to one and all. My grandfather did have a wonderful sense of humor.

When my youngest sister was probably three or four-years old, Grandma and Grandpa Space came to visit coincidentally as we were getting ready to celebrate St. Nick's Day. As this was the house with the fireplace, we were even more excited to have our stockings hung by the chimney with care. Grandpa began quizzing the youngest sister about St. Nick, what was all this about stockings and why would we be getting presents when it wasn't Christmas. As my sister's frustration grew, Grandpa did not let up on his questioning, "Who is St. Nick?" and was finally bested by my sister's answer, "He's Santa Claus's brother you dummy!"

It was a moment that my Grandfather remembered and laughed about for the rest of his life.

With the exception of "A Visit From St. Nicholas" all copy and photograph
Copyright (c) Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Dec. 10 Gifts

What were your favorite gifts, both to receive and to give?
Are there specific gift-giving traditions among your family or ancestors?

I firmly believe the topic of Christmas traditions is something soon-to-be newlyweds need to discuss before they say I do. Christmas traditions is something my husband and I failed to discuss until we had celebrated our second wedding anniversary. We would have discovered how different our Christmas traditions were much sooner had it not been for the fact Uncle Sam decided our first Christmas as husband and wife would be spent with Al in sunny South Vietnam.

Al's family opened their gifts on Christmas Eve, my family on Christmas morning. Al, the youngest of six children was a 'late in life' child with his siblings living away from home during his childhood. I am the oldest of four girls therefore had siblings to feed into the Christmas frenzy. There couldn't have been a more different Christmas gifting experience.

Al's family opened gifts after church on Christmas Eve leaving him to get up Christmas morning and enjoy his train set in peace. Meanwhile at my house, by the time Christmas morning arrived we were seriously sleep deprived . The first Christmas Al and I spent with my family he experienced severe sensory overload. Frank Sinatra on the stereo, coffee and egg nog with a plate of cookies and breads while the decibel levels gradually increased the closer we got to gift unwrapping. I vividly recall my youngest sister jumping up and down on the couch singing to Sinatra. Throughout the years, memories of Al helping my Dad assemble a doll crib (which included having to drill  new holes for the railings) and a refrigerator with 'ice cube' maker that had to be assembled in the middle of night have become the wonderful laugh till you cry stories we never get tired of telling.

Bride dolls, ice skates, guitars and record albums (Glen Campbell and Jimi Hendrix are the two that immediately come to mind) are a few of the gifts I recall receiving but the one gift that stands out in my memory is my first 'real' Mom gift.

Long before anyone considered the implications and effects Styrofoam meat  trays would have on our environment, the boys youth group at our church used them to make a Christmas tree for Mom. Somewhere along the way a few of the glass decorations were broken and the tree topper is missing but I can still recall the look on Chris's face when he presented me with his gift and recall it was wrapped in green tissue paper decorated with gold and red star stickers.

But Mary treasured all [these words] and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

FM Tradional Blog Caroling: Sir Paul McCartney Having a Wonderful Christmas Time

For someone born and raised in Wisconsin, Christmas just wouldn't be the same without snow and a Christmas tree. A large part of my traditional Christmas celebrations is music:  nothing can keep the spirit of Christmas burning more than singing a Christmas carol. FootnoteMaven's annual Blog Caroling sing-a-long is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a holiday favorite or discover a new favorite such as The Huron Carol on Jenn's Roots and Stones blog.

There are so many wonderful Christmas songs that it is difficult to select just one to blog. Enya's beautiful Oíche Chiúin (Silent Night) is something I could listen to for hours on end. Christmas and winter music on my iPod ranges from Mannheim Steamroller, Josh Groban to Bing, Frank and Rosemary. So now what to choose ... a classic or somewhere in between?

For FootnoteMaven's hot toddy, jammie wearing, bring your fuzzy slippers sing-a-long I have chosen Sir Paul McCartney's Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time. I am reminded that when White Christmas debuted it was an instant hit but it took a number of years to become a classic. There are those Christmas carols that are meant to be sung at a midnight service on Christmas eve and those you sing on your way to the store. May you enjoy a toe-tapping, hum the tune until you get to the chorus to sing along new Christmas favorite:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Lucky Foresters Club Christmas 1984

"Lucky Foresters Club Christmas." Digital Image. Date 1984.
Original photograph privately held by (name withheld).

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2010 - Dec. 8 Cookies

Christmas cookies have been a large part of my childhood Christmas traditions, in fact, I included a few of my favorites in the December 2nd Advent Calendar under the Holiday Food category. Considered a major part of the Holiday Food Pyramid, it might be sacrilegious not to share a couple of our traditional Christmas cookies.

Sugar cookie cut-outs not withstanding, a staple in our family Christmas cookie jar were the cornflake cherry dot cookies. All the rage during the 1960s, I believe these were my sister Michelle's favorite:

2-1/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup margarine or butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup finely chopped, pitted dates
1/3 cup finely chopped maraschino cherries
2-2/3 cups crushed corn flakes cereal (crushed to make 1-1/3 cups)
15 maraschino cherries, cut into quarters

In mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In large electric mixing bowl, beat butter or margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs. Beat well. Stir in milk and vanilla. Add flour mixture, combining thoroughly. Stir in nuts, dates and the 1/3 cup finely chopped cherries.

Portion dough using a level tablespoon. Shape into balls. Roll in crushed corn flakes. Place on greased cookie sheet 2-inches apart. Top each cookie with a cherry quarter.

Bake at 350 degrees about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove immediately from baking sheets and cool on wire racks. Store in airtight container.

Pecan Sandies are another favorite that I looked forward to at Christmas time. I've tried substituting margarine for the butter resulting in a 'grade' of C-

1 cup butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. water
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans

Cream butter and sugar; add 2 tsp. water and vanilla; mix well. Blend in flour and nuts; chill 4 hours. Shape in balls or fingers. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 325 degrees about 20 minutes. Remove from pan; cool slightly; roll in confectioners' sugar.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2010 - Dec. 6 Santa Claus

Did you ever send a letter to Santa?
Did you ever visit Santa and “make a list?”
Do you still believe in Santa Claus?

I had an advantage when it came to making out my Christmas list: I knew Santa's true identity.

Everyone else thought Santa spent the 'off-season' lounging around the North Pole, or maybe taking a holiday to Maui (where else would the Big Man of Christmas go but the Big Island??) I knew what Santa really did in the off season: he was a dairy farmer in Langlade county, Wisconsin. The secret can now be revealed: my grandfather was Santa Claus.

I'm not sure how old I was when I realized the truth but there were a lot of clues. Tracks in the snow by the back door of the farm house that could only be made by a sleigh, hearing my grandfather getting up during the night, obviously to begin his trip around the world delivering packages, and not hearing him come back to bed. Who else could Santa possibly be but my grandfather who loved children and he knew so much about nature and could identify so many sounds at night.

There was never a doubt that my annual letter to Santa would get delivered; my mom and grandmother exchanged letters on a regular basis so I knew my Mom had the secret address so my letter didn't have to go to the North Pole before being forwarded to RRI Deerbrook, WI. The letters of the Bergeron girls went directly to Santa.

I have never lost my faith and while there were a few years when I thought I might have been mistaken in my belief, I have since realized how true it is to follow your heart.

While assisting my good friend Joyce compile the history of Vilas Township a few years ago, one of the life-long residents wrote a piece recalling her memories of growing up in the township which included her fond memory of Harley Space passing out gifts at the township Christmas pageant "dressed up as Santa Claus."

Do I need to say anything more?

Copyright (c) Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Dec. 5 Outdoor Decorations

Did people in your neighborhood decorate with lights?
Did some people really go “all out” when decorating?
Any stories involving your ancestors and decorations?

Outdoor decorations were few and far between when I was growing up, at least what I can recall. It seems to  me that most "outdoor decorations" were Christmas trees set up in front of the living room window, facing the street, with the drapes open.

My paternal grandparents had electric set of three candles that were set in one the dining room windows that faced the alley. Do you remember alleys from your childhood? Gram's faced the Olson's; my sister Lisa took her first road test down this same alley when she was quite young but that story is for another post.

When we lived in Green Bay during the early to mid 1960s, outdoor decorations became more prevalent. I can recall my parents taking my sisters and I out for nighttime drives to "look at the lights." Today, our local newspapers print a list of outdoor holiday decorations complete with addresses for those who still enjoy this Christmas tradition.

"Remember when the Hanson's Christmas lights kept us up at night?" One of the Bergeron family stories involves a family in our Green Bay neighborhood who kept their Christmas lights up all year long. That in itself wasn't so bad but even I could not find that warm fuzzy Christmas spirit when the lights were on when the heat and humidity of July made it impossible to sleep at night. It was necessary to keep our bedroom windows open for the chance of a breeze (slim to none) but the full glory of the Hanson Christmas in July celebration, complete with the family singing carols, loudly, filled our room.

As much as I love tiny lights on a Christmas tree, I become nostalgic at the sight of "old fashioned" red, green, blue and yellow lights strung on an evergreen on display. Our first home had two yew trees on both side of our front porch, the perfect size for a string of outdoor lights. For this Wisconsin native, born and raised in the upper Midwest, the sight of  the lights glowing in the dark with a covering of snow in the month of December touches my heart at Christmas.

We have always hung a wreath on the front of our house. When the weather has cooperated and Al has had the time, we have had outdoor light displays: one year we had blue lights along the roof line prompting our neighbor to call and tell us how much he enjoyed the view out his front window. "Peaceful" was the word he used.

One of my favorite outdoor decorations is the year Jeff and Al strung my favorite outside lights at the cabin. It isn't something that we do every year so this scene, like my childhood memories, is one I carry with me. Thanks to Nikon, I'm able to enjoy the memory whenever the spirit moves me.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2010 - Dec. 4 Christmas Cards

Did your family send cards?
Did your family display the ones they received?
Do you still send Christmas cards?
Do you have any cards from your ancestors?
 I have enjoyed reading the posts of my Geneablogger friends who are taking part in this years Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. The consensus is, like egg nog and mince pie, unless you grew up with a family that embraced the Christmas card custom, the tradition of sending Christmas cards is more of a chore than a joy.
While my grandparents and great-grandparents (especially my maternal side of the family) were fond of collecting post cards from their travels, they saved birthday and anniversary greetings but I do not have any Christmas cards.

Count me among those who sent cards and eagerly anticipated receiving cards. If we didn't receive a card from one of 'our regulars,' several phone calls were usually made to inquire as to the health of that person. Growing up our cards were kept in a sleigh made of wicker. Try as I might, I could never find a sleigh to hold the Scherwinski family cards; I don't know when I found this Christmas cottage basket but it has become our family's traditional card holder.

I love writing. From the tactual feel of a good pen and the flow of ink on paper to the forming of the idea to set down on paper. I was never a fan of the typewriter as the stopping to correct my errors, which usually occur because my fingers can't keep up with my thoughts, was too inhibiting. But oh how I love computers.

I have always looked forward to sitting down with boxes of cards and my address book. The cards would end up in two piles: one where a handwritten wish for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year would suffice and those who would find a note written on their card. Yes, I also have resorted to the dreaded Christmas letter. It is a challenge to share the accomplishments of our children without sounding as if we are bragging but I rationalize this with the thought that family & friends realize I am addicted to family history - therefore the Scherwinski family Christmas letter is nothing more than family history.

With a shared passion for photography our Christmas cards now feature original photography. From my vast collection of poems and prayers there is always one that is 'perfect' to accompany the photo.

I'm pleased to share a few of my favorite photos that have graced our Christmas cards over the past few years. I'll spare you the Christmas letter but wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best in the coming New Year.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Dec. 3 Tree Ornaments

Did your family have heirloom or cherished ornaments?
Did you ever string popcorn and cranberries?
Did your family or ancestors make Christmas ornaments?

Having reminisced about the Christmas tree and the memorable holiday delicacies, I'm glad we are getting around to putting some bling on our Christmas tree.

 I love unwrapping the ornaments and seeing them again after spending almost a year safely tucked away out of sight but still have the ability to bring a smile to my face when I welcome them to this years Christmas celebration.

I can recall only one time when my family attempted to engage in recreating a Little House on the Prairie Christmas and stringing popcorn and cranberries. It isn't as easy as you think. The popcorn has to have aged - making it undesirable for eating but perfect for stringing. As long as you have the correct gauge needle and you place the needle just so ... probably one of the reasons why we only did it once and as I recall, the (very short) string of popcorn and cranberries adorned the outside shrubs with the rationalization that the birds would enjoy having a Christmas treat.

When Al and I celebrated our first Christmas together I recall being more than a little disappointed at the lack of Christmas decorations for our tree. Like so many young married couples we didn't have the funds for a tree let alone ornaments but somehow we managed to afford a couple packages of gold garland and a few boxes of ornaments. As I recall, my parents gave us a couple strings of lights.

It was during this first Christmas that my mother gave us our first heirloom tree ornaments: two glass ornaments given to her by Mr. and Mrs. Olson, neighbors of my paternal grandparents. The Olson's, immigrants from Sweden by way of Chicago, were an elderly couple whose house my sister Lisa and I loved to visit whenever we could. Mr. Olson smoked a pipe and the smell permeated the entire house and it seemed as if they always had a litter of kittens, which was always a delight to two little girls.

I'm not sure how my mother ended up with some of the Olson's Christmas ornaments but they are my most treasured holiday decorations. They are placed high enough on the tree to be well out of the reach of those cocker tails which are in perpetual motion. You may have noticed on the ACCM December 2nd post, the ornaments on the Christmas tree with the adorable English cockers sitting underneath, are placed well above cocker head-level and for good reason.

Here is a Christmas ornament I made at sometime during my elementary school career; a toilet paper roll covered with heavy foil paper and my initials written on with gobs of Elmer's glue and sprinkled with glitter. I know I am going to sound like an old lady ... but they don't make glitter like that anymore.

This Santa ornament is as old as my wedding dress. Two weeks after our wedding in September 1971, Al was shipped overseas for a tour of duty in Vietnam. My mother purchased a small artificial tree, made a number of felt ornaments to withstand the time in transit and sent it on its merry way. It meant so much to him but unfortunately the Army would not allow Al to bring the tree and ornaments home. He gave the tree and the ornaments to one of the Vietnamese women on base, except for one and smuggled this Santa home.

I love the myriad of Christmas decorations and ornaments that my mother has painted and presented to us over the years. She is a gifted artist and I look forward to sharing my mother's talents during other ACCM posts.

Ornaments in the cherished category, without a doubt, are the ones made by my children during their childhood; made of felt and Popsicle sticks, gold and silver sprayed macaroni in various shapes and sizes, they are all treasures. Certainly many of these fall into the category of ones that "only a mother could love."

I think about another ornament I made as a child - two sections of an egg carton glued together and decorated with glass balls and, once again, my name written in Elmer's glue and red glitter. It has been many, many years since anyone has thought of me as a child but when my parents are trimming their Christmas tree, when that ornament is unpacked and placed on a branch,I know they are transported back to a time when their oldest daughter was a skinny little girl who could barely contain her excitement waiting for Christmas.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2010 - Dec. 2 Holiday Foods

 Did your family serve traditional dishes for the holidays?
Was there one dish that was unusual?

I believe it speaks volumes that the Christmas food traditions I recall have nothing to do with the main course of a holiday meal. It was never a hard and fast tradition that we had 'thee' Christmas ham or turkey; I recall one Christmas enjoying a Crown Roast of Pork.

But Christmas would not have been the same without the many delectable baked goods my mother made. I think about the pounds of powdered sugar and gallons of food coloring we must have gone through over the years making the icing for sugar cut-out cookies. Coated in colored frosting they were covered with decorative colored sugar, heart shaped cinnamon, sprinkles and, my personal favorite, the silver balls.

Two of my favorite cookies were Spritz cookies and a date-filled cookie that I've never been able to duplicate.

During Christmas, my mother baked small loaves of date bread  made with nuts and candied fruit. For years I thought that this was the traditional fruit cake and could  not understand why everyone thought it was a joke to receive a fruit cake ... I loved my Mom's and why wouldn't everyone else want to receive such a tasty treat? Like the discovery that my grandpa Harley wasn't Santa Claus, it was disappointing when I received my first fruit cake.

Two holiday tradition my family carries on today:  Buche de Noel and egg nog.

My nieces and nephews who have spent many of their Christmas's at their Gram and Grandpa Bergeron's couldn't imagine Christmas without Buche de Noel.

I've come to discover that egg nog, like religon and politics, is most definitely a personal choice. Some recipes call for raw eggs (ewwww), the mere thought of consuming raw eggs triggers my gag reflex.  For years my mother made her special egg nog from a recipe that called for cooking the egg mixture, folding whipped egg whites into the cooled mixture. This holiday treat was served only on Christmas Eve and it wasn't until I was married and received the recipe that I discovered why: "... cook over low heat, stirring continuously until mixture coats a metal spoon (about 45 minutes.)"  45 minutes? Are you kidding  me?? No wonder we only had it once during the holiday season.

 Digital Image. Copyright (c) Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. 2010

It wasn't until the cost of microwaves became something the common masses could afford that I began experimenting with Mom's egg nog recipe and came up with the perfect upgrade. When our son's lived at home, it was tradition to have egg nog on the day we trimmed the tree and again on Christmas Eve. The tradition wasn't complete until the nog was served in special Santa mugs.

Digital Image. Copyright (c) Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. 2010

During one of the Christmas's before I was the Big Sister, my Mom had found matching Santa mugs, a large size mug she personalized with my Dad's name and a smaller version with Cindy added in gold lettering. The first Christmas Al and I spent in our new home, a box arrived from my Mom with my Santa mug filled with holiday greenery. Fast forward a few more years and her grandson's all have their own Santa mug with their name in gold on the handle.

Before you pass on the nog ... consider making a half recipe. You might be surprised.

1 quart milk (I prefer 2%)
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 egg whites
3 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped (optional)

In microwave, heat milk on medium high for 10 minutes; stirring after 5 minutes.
Separate eggs; set aside 2 whites.
Beat 1/3 cup sugar into egg yolks. Add 1 cup of hot milk into egg yolk mixture.
Whisk egg yolk and milk mixture into remaining milk.
Simmer 5 minutes. Stir. Simmer additional 5 minutes.
Cool to room temperature and refrigerate until cold.
Beat 2 egg whites and vanilla until foamy. Gradually add the 3 Tbsp sugar until soft peaks form.
Fold into custard mixture and mix thoroughly.
Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream if desired.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Deer Camp 2010

Digital Image. Copyright (c) Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2010 - Dec. 1 The Christmas Tree

Christmas. The mere mention of the word brings to mind a flood of emotions and memories all of which are tied to the sights, smells and traditions unique to each of us and shared with family. Central to our Christmas decoration is the tree and for that, we owe a debt of gratitude to Prince Albert for popularizing Christmas tree decorations. In 1841, following the German custom of his homeland, Prince Albert set up a tree at Windsor Castle. The London News published a now-famous illustration of the Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle which set the standard for how a tree might be expected to look. It wasn't long before the standard of the Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle replaced the custom of the Kissing Bough: a mixed piece of greenery which included mistletoe, evergreens, candles, apples and cinnamon sticks.

In 1854 a huge Christmas tree was placed at the site of the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, a personal triumph for Prince Albert, which help increase the demand for Christmas trees. But the association of the fir tree with Christianity began long before Prince Albert. Tradition says St. Boniface, who converted the German people to Christianity almost 1,000 years ago, came across a group of pagans worshiping the oak tree and in anger cut down the tree. In its place a fir tree is said to have sprung up from the roots of the oak which St. Boniface took as a sign of the Christian faith.

From Illustrated London Times, 1848

There is a long line of cultures what have treasured the evergreen and have included them in their celebrations. On the arrival of the winter solstice, ancient Egyptians brought green date palms into their homes; the Romans celebrated Saturnus, the god of agriculture, by decorating their homes with greens and lights; the Druids of Great Britain used evergreens during their winter solstice rituals and used holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life and placed evergreen boughs over their doors to keep away evil spirits.

During the American Revolutionary War, Hessian troops introduced the custom to the fledgling American population along with German immigrants in Pennsylvania and Ohio but the custom was slow to spread. Puritans banned Christmas in New England; schools in Boston stayed open on Christmas Day until 1871, students who stayed home were sometimes expelled.

So with a tip of the crown to Prince Albert, here are a few of my favorite Christmas tree photos and memories.

One of my earliest memories of Christmas, celebrated at 'the farm' in 1958 with my maternal grandparents, Harley and Alma Polar Space. I am in the middle clutching my bride doll, my sister Lisa on the right, age 10-months, and second cousin, Patty, on the left. I vividly recall not being able to get to sleep on Christmas Eve and my father bringing me downstairs with the hope I would go to sleep in my grandmother's room. Fat chance of that happening after I caught a glimpse of my doll, in all her wedding glory, front and center under the tree.

Christmas 1966 in Madison, WI. This began the Bergeron family tradition of having two trees: one in the living room and the other in the family room. This was the upstairs living room tree. That is me, sporting the Twiggy hair style showing off my guitar to my youngest sister Lori while adorable pixie bob Michelle looks on.

Christmas 1970 in Madison, the downstairs tree.

Christmas in Eau Claire at my parents house, circa 1990, the upstairs tree overlooking the wonderful mayhem of Christmas morning.

The one and only Christmas we spent 'up north' at our cabin, about 1991. Al, Chris and Jeff headed off with the four-wheelers to cut down the tree with Christmas snow falling. No lights or ornaments, I had brought up every one's stockings and garland but it is one of my fondest Christmas memories.

 Our millennium Christmas taken in our family room in Plover. All I've ever wanted for Christmas: cockers under the tree.

My fondest childhood Christmas memories are wrapped up with my paternal grandparents, Charles and Mildred Little Bergeron. Bubble lights in the front window and the Christmas tree in the corner. My grandmother had a set of village pieces that she set up on the buffet in the dining room. A precursor to Dept 56 pieces and one of traditions I continue with my own collection of Dickens Village pieces. But that is for another post.

"Every day, during the week the tree stood there, Francie put on her sweater and stocking cap and went in and sat under the tree. She sat there and enjoyed the smell of the dark greenness of it. Oh, the mystery of a great tree, a prisoner in a tin bucket in a tenement front room!"  Excerpt from "The Christmas Tree in Brooklyn. Betty Smith. 1943 


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