Tag Archives: memories

Oh Tannenbaum 7: The Christmas Pickle

Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornamentsDo you know about the Christmas pickle? A German tradition, a pickle ornament is the last ornament hung on the tree, disguised among the green branches and hidden by the other colorful ornaments. On Christmas morning when children wake up, they search for the pickle. The keen-eyed child who finds the pickle gets an extra gift from St. Nicholas. Isn’t that a fun tradition.

Once I learned about the pickle, I was obsessed with finding one for my own tree. Back then, they were hard to find…now I see pickle ornaments everywhere. Somehow, the search for the pickle led us to an Ace Hardware store where they sold Inge-Glas ornaments*. I walked into the store and found huge glass jars filled to the brim with these delicate ornaments–handmade blown-glass ornaments, many embellished with a dusting of glitter, all topped with a signature star. They were all so beautiful and so different than any of the ornaments I had ever seen. They were also expensive…for a college student anyway… But I had to have the pickle. So I bought it and I’ve treasured it ever since. And every year after that, I visited Ace Hardware on Black Friday to add to my collection. My parents added to my collection, too. Soon after, though, the Ace stopped selling the ornaments, so I only ended up with seven ornaments. (But I’ve recently found them on Amazon and here, so look out bank account!)

Since we got Presley, I’ve kept the ornaments off of the tree. Instead, I chose to display them in my china cabinet. But they always got forgotten. This year, I couldn’t resist…I hung all of them, except the pickle, on my tree. I have a lot of ornaments, and all of them are well-loved, but the Inge-Glas ornaments really stand out. They belong on the boughs, glittering among the lights. This week, I’ll share a bit about the others, too.

To see the other ornament stories from previous years, go here.

*When I bought my ornaments, they were known as Old World Christmas Ornaments. But Old World ornaments are now made in China. They are sold at a much lower price point, but what I found so compelling about my ornaments is the fact that they were still handmade in Germany, some using original molds from years ago. Inge-Glas ornaments are the ones to look for now, along with the star on top. (This article explains more, if you’re interested.)

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Stuffing the Stockings

Our stockings, handmade felt, Mahar Dry GoodsWhen I was little, Santa put a clementine and a toothbrush in our stockings every Christmas. I know we got other things but the clementine and the toothbrush are the things I remember. Isn’t it weird that Santa probably stressed about getting me a few nice things for my stocking and all I remember now are the clementine and the toothbrush?

Now, Naoto and I fill each other’s stockings. As we shop, we just drop our items into the stockings with promises not to peek until Christmas morning. The stockings are the first things we open on Christmas, before unwrapping gifts.

I already have a few things in Naoto’s stocking (left side). He’s very hard to shop for since he never wants anything. (It’s a blessing and a curse!) I always try to think of a mix of fun and practical things, with a heavy emphasis on food.

For my stocking (right side), I usually ask for chapstick and other consumables. Some of my favorite stocking stuffers have included Luxardo cherries, rubber stamps and zines. This year I added a few new zines and a postcard set to my wish list.

As for Presley’s stocking (middle)…we usually get her a catnip toy. So far, she’s gotten two branches from Mew Cat Toys Etsy shop. And she has three Yeowww! catnip toys (the banana, the cigar and the dynamite) that we bought at a local shop, Scratch N Sniff. She really digs all of them. It’s hard to put her gift in early though, because she tends to help herself to it before Christmas.

What are your family’s stocking traditions? Any good ideas for Naoto’s stocking? I need all the help I can get!

P.S. Our stockings are from the now closed Mahar Drygoods. Presley’s is from a big box store.

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Grandpa Litton

grandpa, grandma, mom & connieOn Friday, my grandfather passed away. He was eighty-three. When we went to see him earlier this month, we knew the time was limited. The touristy excursions were a chance for my dad and I to give my mom some time alone with him. Since Hamilton is such a small town, it was easy to pop in and out throughout the day.

My mom’s parents were divorced when she was very young. Grandpa remarried and lived in Hamilton for his entire life after the divorce. He and Sharon were married for more than fifty years, so clearly he found the perfect fit on his second go ’round with marriage.

We only saw him once or twice a year when he would visit us and when we would make the annual summer trip to Hamilton. At the end of each visit, he would always tear up when we all said goodbye. He was quiet and kind-hearted and until the end, always seemed so strong and full of life.

grandpa & sharonGrandpa was in a lot of pain while we were there, so it is somewhat comforting to know his suffering is over. Sharon was by his side during the last hours. A peaceful ending to a long life.

The picture at the top is from the 1950s: my grandpa after one of his baseball games holding my mom (left) and Aunt Connie (right) with my grandma in the background.

The second picture is my grandpa & Sharon, most likely from the 1960s.


Road Trip to Hamilton, MO

roadtrip to Hamilton, MOOver the weekend, I took a road trip with my parents. We drove to visit my grandfather in Hamilton, Missouri, a town of 1800 people about an hour away from Kansas City. In between visits to the nursing home, my dad and I adventured about the town, which has a surprising amount to do for its size. roadtrip to Hamilton, MOHamilton is the home of JC Penney, the man who founded the department store by the same name in 1902. There’s a quaint little museum devoted to JC Penney in the local library and Penney’s childhood home sits in the center of town. Until the 1980s, there was a Penney’s store in Hamilton. Quilting is a huge business here, too. The Missouri Star Quilt Company (seen in the top photo) opened in 2008 and now it is widely known around the country as a great place to go for fabric and quilting supplies. I first heard about Missouri Star in this NBC Nightly News broadcast, so I was interested to go and check it out. Hamilton is only a few blocks long and there are seven quilt shops in town. It’s pretty amazing. (I’ll talk about both the museum and the quilt shops this week!) roadtrip to Hamilton, MO roadtrip to Hamilton, MOOf course I made time for mail! I wrote out postcards at a little bakery (Poppy’s) and at the nursing home.roadtrip to Hamilton, MOThe trip was bittersweet but I’m glad we went. It was good to see my grandpa and to experience the town he’s lived in almost his whole life.

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Aunt Connie

Aunt Connie and Kaitlyn, 06.02.06When my phone rang a little after six on Thursday morning, I knew it was bad. When I saw my mom’s phone number on the screen, I silently prayed it was just a pocket dial or something. Crazy thinking because my mom still has a flip phone, and therefore never pocket dials anyone. But when your phone rings that early (or really late), you know it’s never good news.

She told me that my Aunt Connie–her little sister–had died in a motorcycle accident overnight. Over the weekend Naoto and I went down to Central Illinois for her memorial service. It was a heavy, heartbreaking weekend.

Maybe it was because she lived (what could be considered by most) a difficult life, but Aunt Connie squeezed every bit of love and enjoyment out of her sixty-one years. She was widowed very young–with a toddler daughter and a son on the way–when her husband was killed in a car accident. And ten years ago this month, her son passed away.

Somehow, she was strong, enthusiastic and had a wonderful sense of humor. She loved her daughter and grandchildren mightily, she loved her husband Stan fiercely and she took advantage of every opportunity to have an adventure, to make someone smile or just to enjoy being together. She always greeted us with a huge smile and a punch on the arm. (Sometimes she left a bruise…it was her enthusiasm-for-life mark.) She was loud and had the heartiest laugh. (I’m loud, too, so I totally appreciated this about her.) And she was that person at a family gathering that you wanted to be sitting next to because you were guaranteed a snarky comment and a good belly laugh.

Her spirit was truly one of the best parts of our family. I can only hope that we all can live life the way Aunt Connie did–fearlessly, joyfully and with a big punch on the arm.


The picture above is from my wedding, Aunt Connie dancing with my niece Kaitlyn. 



Postcards from Okaasan

postcards from okaasanMany years ago, Naoto’s mom sent us a couple of postcards. First the one on the left, and months later, the one on the right arrived. Naoto explained that doing colored pencil-by-number was a hobby of his mom’s. These are postcards that she had colored. I was so impressed. They were so good that they almost looked printed, especially the fruits on the right. I kept them in a little drawer and when we moved, I put them in frames and hung them in the kitchen. (You can see them hanging in this post about the kitchen.) When I met Okaasan back in 2010, I enjoyed listening to her talk about her colored pencils. At that time, she had won an award for her skills and she was really excited about her hobby.

Two weeks ago, Naoto’s mom passed away. It was very sudden and it took us by surprise. Naoto was back in Japan all last week to handle the arrangements and attend the funeral services. (I stayed behind. It just made sense logistically and financially for him to go alone.) He got back on Monday and we are slowly getting back into our routine here at home and at work. We are beyond grateful that he got to spend so much time with her when we visited in March. But obviously it is a very sad time. postcards from okaasanWhen they were cleaning out her apartment, Naoto and his sisters found this postcard book of cats that his mom had colored. They decided I should have it, which was really touching. The original postcard is on the left (or top in some cases) and the postcard Naoto’s mom colored is on the right (or bottom). Both postcards are perforated so you can tear them out and mail them. Here are a few of the pages. postcards from okaasan postcards from okaasan postcards from okaasan postcards from okaasan postcards from okaasanAren’t they beautiful? We haven’t decided yet if we are going to keep the entire collection in tact or if we are going to choose a few to frame. Either way, it’s just nice to have a little piece of her here at home.

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Homemaker’s Challenge #3: Avanti’s Bread

Avanti's GondolaI grew up in a tiny town in central Illinois. Peoria was the closest city with things to do (like shopping, buying groceries, eating at chain restaurants, meeting boys other than the fifteen I had known since kindergarten…) and quite often we would eat at Avanti’s. Avanti’s is an inexpensive Italian restaurant with several locations in Peoria, East Peoria, Pekin and Normal (near ISU). We ate there as a family growing up and my friend Leah and I would go there almost every weekend throughout high school and college (when we were home for the summers).

Avanti’s bread is sort of famous in the area. It is a sweet Italian bread that is something dreams are made of. It makes a perfect treat to sop up Avanti’s red sauce, it makes a tasty garlic bread and it’s probably most famously used to make a gondola: a sub with mayo, lettuce, ham, salami and American cheese. It’s a taste memory so clear that I could still taste a gondola, even though I hadn’t eaten one in years. Last week, I set out to create the gondola on my own, which meant, baking some Avanti’s bread.

My dad has a sweet bread recipe that he makes all the time that is kind of like Avanti’s bread, but sweeter. He mailed me the recipe almost two years ago and because it looked complicated, I’ve been putting off making it. I have never baked bread before. In 2011, I was on a bagel-making kick all winter and then got kind of burnt out on the bread-making…which is why I added “make bread” to my 2014 goal list…it was time to try some more breads. Dad’s recipe still felt complicated (it involves scalding milk) so I googled “Avanti’s bread” to see if I could find another recipe. I found this one…it was the winner. messy kitchenEverything on Thursday afternoon pointed to me not baking bread. I couldn’t find the yeast (I know we had some leftover from “bagel days”…it was probably expired.). I got home from buying yeast and realized Naoto had used up all of our oil for Christmas tonkatsu. Our neighbors had oil but it was too old to use. Then my Kitchen Aid mixer died. Twice. During the kneading process. I had to use my hands while the motor cooled off. The dough didn’t feel right so I added a couple of tablespoons of water and it felt better…but I really had to idea through the whole process if anything was going to taste good.

Did the yeast activate properly?

Did I put in nine cups of flour or ten?

Was overworking the dough going to make my bread tough and chewy?

Was starting and stopping the kneading so many times going to mess up the yeast?

Was all that flour that flew out of the mixer important?

Was using butter in place of oil going to ruin everything?

It turns out…bread baking is less about an exact recipe and more of a feeling…this dough is supposed to be a little bit sticky and very elastic. This dough doubles in size when it rises. This bread is done when it sounds hollow. These tips in the recipe made me feel better about my steps along the way. And, encouragement from experienced bread bakers on Twitter and on the phone (I called my dad three times) helped me feel like I was on the right track as I went through the process. I have to say, after all that worrying and hand-wringing…my bread turned out perfectly…I was jumping up and down in the kitchen. Beginner’s luck.avanti's bread ingredients

Avanti’s Bread

2 packets of dry active yeast

3 cups of water + some for yeast activation as indicated on packet

3 tablespoons softened butter or vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cup sugar + some for yeast activation as indicated on packet

10-11 cups flour activated yeastActivate the yeast according to the package.

Once activated, add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer. Once you get to the flour, slow down and count out cups carefully. After two cups, start mixer and slowly add the rest of the flour. Stop at the tenth cup and determine if you need the eleventh. (I only needed ten in my dry winter apartment.) Once the dough is smooth and elastic, it’s done. (Confession: my dough was a tiny bit lumpy but very elastic…)Avanti's bread doughPlace the big ball of dough in a greased bowl, flip it over in the bowl and cover with a tea towel. Place the bowl of dough in a warm spot in your kitchen. (I feel like my kitchen is chilly, so I turned my oven on low and set the bowl on the stove top. The dough rose like a champ!) After 1 1/2-2 hours, it should double in size.

After the first rise, punch down the dough in the bowl, flip it over again and re-cover. Put it back in the warm part of the kitchen. After another 30-45 minutes, it should double in size again. avanti's bread doughTake the dough out of the bowl and divide it into six equal portions. They should each be the size of a grapefruit. (Mine were not perfectly equal, as you can see.) Cover these and let them rise for 10 minutes.

avanti's bread loafAfter 10 minutes, flatten each ball of dough, pressing out the air. You will hear some air escaping…it’s a good sign. Then form the loaves. avanti's bread doughPlace the loaves on a prepared baking sheet (I used parchment paper, but a greased & floured baking sheet works, too.) Cover loaves and let them rise for another hour. Use this time to pre-heat the oven to 350°F.

Finally, it’s time to bake!

Bake for 20-25 minutes.Avanti's bread loavesI baked mine three loaves at a time and 23 minutes was the magic number. The first batch seemed ready (it was a nice shade of brown and sounded pretty hollow) after 18 minutes, but when we cut into the “test loaf” you could tell it was still a little gooey/sticky/undone inside. After five more minutes (at the 23 minute mark), everything was perfect–the tops were golden and they really sounded hollow! The biggest thing I would change is to make the loaves a little skinnier and longer next time…they were kind of short and plump, but made excellent sandwiches anyway.

We sampled the bread during Hasegawa Happy Hour. It got our friend Karen’s approval for authentic Avanti’s taste. (She went to ISU and loves Avanti’s too.) For dinner, we made gondolas and walked down memory lane…Avanti’s bread with ham, salami, American cheese, lettuce and mayo…the best taste memory ever.

***This post is part of a series of Homemaker’s Challenges: activities that get me (and hopefully you, too!) out of the everyday routine of cooking, cleaning and laundry and into a routine of trying something new and experimental. I’d love it if you’d play along!

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Whimsical Christmas Pins

vintage christmas pinsI have a significant collection of vintage brooches. Most of them could be categorized as “granny chic”. (You might remember when Mary added to my collection when she sent some fabulous selections from her grandmother.) But when it comes to the holidays, I like to wear whimsical kid pins from my own childhood (and thrifted gifts from my mom!)

The snowflake on the left is vintage Avon from my childhood. (You can see a better picture here.) I actually have two of them because I misplaced mine and randomly came across one in a box of junk at a flea market. I was over the moon to find a replacement for fifty cents! Of course, a week or two later, I found mine. (Doesn’t it always work out that way?) I love the sparkle from the Aurora Borealis stones.

The other snowflake is an antique store find. (It’s unmarked, and I couldn’t find one online.)

The bear in the box is from my childhood. I kind of remember it being a gift…but memories are fuzzy from way back then. He can be found here.

My mom bought me the owl at a flea market last year. It was perfect timing, since owls felt very trendy last year. (I’m still wearing him this year.) He’s vintage Hallmark and can be found here.

I’ve had the snowman pin since first grade. In grade school we drew names and did a little gift exchange every Christmas. Kyle S had my name and gave me a tiny box. This pin was inside. I remember feeling very special and grown up because I got jewelry from a boy for Christmas. My family still teases me about my attachment to this pin. I didn’t wear it for years because the pin part broke off of it, but my handy-dad fixed it for me last year and it’s in the holiday pin rotation again. He can be found here.

The Santa is from my childhood, I think. He’s vintage Hallmark (from 1981, according to his back) and can be found here.

The fawn is another flea market find from my mom. I love this one because of the green pipe cleaner wreath around its neck. He’s vintage Hallmark and can be found here.

Sigh…vintage Hallmark and vintage Avon…two of my favorite things.

Would it be weird if I wore all of my Christmas pins once on Christmas Eve? I kind of want to do it…like my own version of the ugly Christmas sweater.


P.S. Another sentimental childhood Christmas pin can be found here.

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12/12…12 Years Ago

Naoto Kimberly 2002Twelve years ago today, I met Naoto for the first time.

In true Sophia Petrillo fashion…Picture it:

It was a Wednesday night. I got home from work, changed into my old college overalls and a Bears cap (clearly dating was not on my mind), grabbed a magazine and walked to the Daily Grind, a now-defunct coffee shop in downtown Oak Park. I spent quite a bit of time there on the weekends and some evenings, reading and drinking coffee, just to get out of my (sometimes lonely) apartment.

I got my coffee and grabbed a table by the front window. I was in the middle of reading my Sports Illustrated article when this guy walked in and began carrying on about some fire at the Old Navy. He was carrying a disposable camera (insert racial stereotype here) and he was talking (really loudly) to his group of friends. I kept getting distracted and looking over. Pretty soon, he came over and sat at my table and struck up a conversation.

We talked about our jobs, running and coffee, we exchanged business cards and had a lot of laughs. He called me ‘Kimber” from the start. If it had been any other person, I would have thought that was weird and unacceptable, but for some reason, with Naoto it was okay…

If I remember correctly, Naoto’s friends gave up on him coming back to their table and we shut the place down. Since it was late, Naoto offered to walk me home. He seemed harmless enough, so I let him. (P.S. I would never do this today.)

I should add that Naoto was wearing a vintage Puma sweatshirt, high-water corduroys and sneakers…we made quite the pair.

I should also mention that there were several points in the beginning of our conversation that I looked down at my magazine and tried to give Naoto a subtle hint that I was reading. (If these were available back then, I might have used one…just to be funny.) But he didn’t take the hint and kept on talking. He was charming and interesting and funny so I gave up and finally put my magazine down.

Shortly after we met, Naoto left for Japan to visit his family. We emailed each other the obligatory “Happy Holidays” messages and kept lightly in touch until later that winter when I invited him to a party. I was hosting a “Table Warming Party” to celebrate the fact that my apartment’s dining room was no longer empty–I had bought a new table and chairs. My college friends were there, along with people from work and Naoto brought a couple of friends, too. It was one of the best parties I’ve ever hosted. It was a perfect mix of wonderful people, great conversation and fabulous (simple) food…and gosh, that was a great apartment.

The best part of the party–and the moment Naoto completely stole my heart–was at the end when he said, “Okay everyone, let’s help Kimber clean up!” Naoto led the charge of washing dishes and cleaning up the dining room and kitchen. It was of course wonderful to have help cleaning up, but I especially loved the fact that the whole thing extended the party just a little bit longer. I hate when parties end.

It wasn’t until a few months later that we actually started dating, but I think everyone who was at that party that night knew…even if I didn’t.

The picture above is the first picture of Naoto and I together, from the party that night.

Happy 12/12, Naoto. Putting my magazine down for you was the best decision I’ve ever made. 


Oh Presley…

Presley and meLast year, I celebrated Labor Day by mentioning Naoto’s hardworking spirit. While that is important, Labor Day has another special meaning around here. It is the day we got Presley.

Seven years ago today, our friend Bonnie gave us a tiny, scared, stray kitten that had been born in her barn. Bonnie didn’t ask us if we wanted a cat…she knew we needed a cat. young PresleyThe first few weeks were rough. Presley was (is) quite a handful. She didn’t want to cuddle. She hid out most of the time. She didn’t really like us. She only sat on my lap when I went to the bathroom. (Weird!) For those first few weeks, Naoto and I considered giving her back. We didn’t feel like she was happy, and we weren’t sure if we were truly cat people. (I had cats growing up, but Naoto never really had pets.) We didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings (especially Presley’s), so we mustered through. And gradually, we all got used to each other. Presley started coming around more, cuddling more, playing more. Naoto and I accepted our roles in care taking. (I told Naoto that ANY woman should not scoop the litter box, not just pregnant women. By the time he learned the truth, he was so used to scooping the box, he’d accepted it as his job for life.) We started accepting the fact that cat hair is forever.Naoto and PresleyNow we cannot imagine our lives without this little beast. Presley is still a little wild and she’s terrible with guests (oh, if only they would just leave her alone!) But with us, she’s sweet and charming and only misbehaves if she feels she’s lacking attention and play time. Since I’m home more, Presley has become “my” cat, often favoring me over Naoto. (It’s okay, because most people favor him over me.) She spends time at my feet or napping nearby on her scratching box. We play mid-day fetch and chase each other around the apartment. We open the mail together in the condo hallway. She comes to bed with me and sleeps at my feet at night and wakes me up with creepy stares in the morning. (Sometimes I do wonder if she’s planning to kill me.)

I feel so lucky that Bonnie brought Presley into our lives. presleyPresley and NaotoAnd, even though you might consider them “frenemies”, I know Naoto is thankful for Presley, too.

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