Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Guido, Our Christmas Baker (Gingerbread Cookies)

December 18, 2013, delivering Gingerbread Men to
his friends at Snap Fitness, where he faithfully worked
out every single week day.
This is our first Christmas without our Dad.  While there have been many tears, there have also been many laughs as each of us has shared our memories of this man; this wonderful, funny, witty, intelligent man!

In honor of my dad, Roger Beidler, former mayor of Amherst, and the best dad and granddaddy we could have had, I am going to share his Christmas recipes with you today.  He started baking when I was a young adult, and my sister Natalie was just a little girl.  Our family will want to have these recipes, so I'm going to save them here to share with you all.

His specialities were Stöllen, a traditional German Christmas bread with fruit, and Gingerbread Men. My stepmom emailed me Dad's recipes on December 21, last week, making note of the original cookbooks. 

When I talked to Dad last Sunday, I asked him about his baking.  He makes no substitutions; he simply follows the recipe.  (So I obviously don't take after HIM in the baking department.)  

My favorite Christmas pictures of him are in his Santa hat.  He always wore his hat when he delivered his Christmas goodies to friends and neighbors.  He had a beautiful, fluffy red hat, and a nice Redskins' Santa hat.  Dad loved Christmas. We all do.  I am bound and determined to make this a sweet Christmas memory today, in his honor. There is mourning taking place, you can count on that, but he would hate to think of us, all mopey and weepy.  Join us on this Christmas, his favorite holiday, in remembering him with a smile, a laugh, and maybe a tear or two.

Gingerbread Men

Blend 3/4 cup butter, 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
Beat in 1 1/2 cups dark molasses
Sift in:  10 1/2 cups all purpose flour
resift with  3 tsp. soda, 3/4 tsp. cloves, 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 3 tsp. ginger, 1 1/2 tsp. salt
Add sifted ingredients to butter in about three parts, alternating with 3/4 cup water
Bake 8 minutes at 350.  
Makes approx. 100 small (2 1/2 inch) men - we use cutter that imprints facial features so they don't have to be iced.

My little sister Natalie, Dad's sous-chef
Natalie has many fond memories of Dad's Christmas baking.  I know it meant a lot of work for Jackie, as his "head bottle washer."  There were several Christmases we were the recipients of these yummy treats, and we appreciated the efforts of all three of them so much.  

One of my favorite Christmases was one of the simplest. We received a box of Gingerbread Men, and both of my older children received a letter from Granddaddy, describing Christmas when he was a little boy.  The kids have the letters in their scrapbooks. 

Natalie told us that their tradition included making one big Gingerbread Poo to leave on the floor, "so Mom would think the dog had been naughty."
Gingerbread Poo, a little known Beidler tradition

Natalie took over the torch from her big brothers and sister in keeping him well-
stocked on Old Spice.  That fragrance will always be one of our favorites.
I would like to thank my sister Natalie for all of these wonderful photos.

German Stöllen, Daddy's Christmas Bread

As a descendant of four German-American grandparents, I grew up expecting Stöllen for Christmas. My dad started baking his own several decades ago, and in honor of him today, our first Christmas without this giant of a man who loved Christmas, I will share his recipe here.

Stöllen is a heavier bread, full of raisins, candied fruit, and nuts.  Daddy always glazed his, which was always the best part!  


(makes 2 loaves)

Have all ingredients at about 75 degrees.
Sift before measuring - 6 cups all purpose flour.
Crumble  1 1/2 to 2 cakes compressed yeast in 1 1/2  cups 85 degree water or scalded, cooled milk for about 10 minutes, until dissolved.  Add 1 cup of the sifted flour.  Permit this sponge to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.  
Sprinkle a little of the sifted flour over  1/2 lb raisins, 1/2 lb. blanched chopped almonds, 1/2 cup chopped candied fruits.
Sift 3/4 cup sugar and beat until soft 1 1/2 cups butter.  Add sifted sugar gradually.  Blend until light and creamy.  Beat in, one at a time, 3 eggs.
Add 3/4 tsp. salt, 3/4 tsp. grated lemon rind, 2 tablespoons brandy or rum.
Add the sponge and the remaining flour and knead dough until smooth and elastic.  Permit it to rise until it almost doubles in bulk.  Toss it onto a floured board.  Add fruit and nuts, Divide into 2 loaves and place them in greased pans.  Brush tops with melted butter
Let the loaves rise, covered, until they again almost double in bulk.
Bake in 350 oven for about 45 minutes.  
When cool, brush them with milk or lemon glaze.
Daddy called himself Guido Panzini in the kitchen.  I just love his chef's hat and apron; he looks like a pro.  Stöllen takes a bit of time and effort, so not just ANYONE received a loaf of his Christmas bread. Rest assured, if you were blessed with any of his Christmas treats, you were loved.  His other recipes will be here, too.  The Gingerbread Men are included.

Merry Christmas, Dad!  I'm trying very hard to be brave and happy today because I think that's what you would want.  

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Wish

Saturday was always a good day to call my dad. He was usually in his big chair watching football, but he never seemed to mind that I interrupted his game. We would talk about his workouts at the gym, the recent happenings at his church, about his friends, and he always made me laugh. Dad would ask, "How are the children?" He loved every single one of those babies that my brothers and I gave him. Before we hung up, he would always say, "Tell the kiddies hello. Give them a big hug from me."  

Last Saturday, before goodbye, he said, "Well, I'll talk to you on Christmas."  That was something we could always count on, our Christmas Day chat.

Sleep has always eluded me, but the last couple of days it has been worse. I stare at the dark ceiling, and check the red light of the digital clock. It doesn't seem to change much. I wander into the living room, and set my computer on my lap. I try to read, or even write.

Ever since I was a little girl, I've been a light sleeper. During the middle of the night, I would awaken to the soft glow of light from the kitchen shining into the hallway, and the sound of the fridge opening and closing, and the rustling of a bag of cookies.  I would sit bolt upright in bed, and scramble out of the covers and off to the kitchen.  SNACK TIME WITH DADDY!

Daddy would get another cup from the cabinet and pour me a glass of milk. He would slide the cookie package between us so I could help myself to them. We had Chips Ahoy Chocolate Chip Cookies, or Oreos, or my favorite, Keebler Wedding Cookies, small round chocolate chip cookies covered in a thick coating of powdered sugar. I'm sure he would've preferred to have this quiet time to himself, but he always welcomed me to his midnight snack moment. My dad was so awesome. He worked hard, and was gone from home often, showing real estate or going to meetings for his town or business, so I cherished these special times that were just the two of us. When we were done, I would give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and scoot back to my bedroom. "Good night, Princess." I've always been his Princess. Princess Summerfall Winterspring.  

Last night's snack at two in the morning wasn't much fun. I drank my Kava tea, hoping it would settle my brain down long enough to sleep. I haven't had much of an appetite, but when I saw a box of See's chocolates opened on the counter, I popped one in my mouth on my way to bed. Everyone knows See's makes excellent chocolates, but even that piece of candy didn't taste good yesterday. I might as well have eaten sand lately for all of the good food has done me.

Now I realize that Daddy couldn't have known it might be harder to follow through on his comment, which I keep calling a promise, about talking to me on Christmas Day. It would just mean the world to me if he would find a way to do that. You see, my Dad had a heart attack Sunday afternoon, and for all of the help his sweet wife and friends tried to give him, it couldn't change the fact that he was gone.

I've tried to hear him, to practice for Christmas. I sit really still, and sometimes I think if he could talk to me, the words I would hear are, "Don't be sad, Princess." 

It's so hard, Dad. It's just so hard. We all thought you'd live forever, as foolish as that sounds to say. We always thought there'd be more time. More time for visits to Virginia, more time for long-distance phone calls, more time to tell you how awesome you funny you loved you are. And now our time is up. We had our chances, and we all hope you know just how grateful we are to have had you in our lives.

On Christmas Day, I'm going to try to be as still and quiet as I can. I'll give you every opportunity to make good on your promise. Some things don't need to be spoken; I know that. In my heart, I know that you would tell us all, "Don't be sad.  Be happy.  It's Christmas. Love the kiddies for me. Give everyone a hug. Focus on the good times. We had a lot of those, didn't we? I love you." His words would be full of life and love. And maybe they will only come in the form of thoughts, but just in case, I'll be listening, Dad. I'm all ears. Hearing your voice one more time would be the most wonderful gift of all.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

*Calendar Schmalendar

Merry Christmas!  Yes, I know that today is December 21, the day of the winter solstice.  Yes, I know that Christmas is not until next Wednesday.  Well, CALENDAR SCHMALENDAR.  We're celebrating today, and I've been wide awake since 3:30.  I've always been a bit of an insomniac, but I'm even more of one on Christmas morning.  "The children are nestled all snug in their beds..."

I feel so, so happy knowing that my boys are asleep in my house.  My sweet daughter-in-law is here. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner last night with my mom and stepdad. It was a lovely evening, full of pleasant conversation, good-natured teasing, and warm feelings. I had been so worried, and it all went beautifully.

Ever since my daughter's ANNOUNCEMENT two Christmas Eves ago that she was moving away from Utah to Colorado, Christmas has been an emotional time for me.  Last year Sierra flew home to join us, and we celebrated our Christmas Adam with her.  (Christmas Adam (December 23) comes before Christmas Eve (December 24), in case you were wondering.) This is our first Christmas apart. Sierra is such a ray of sunshine, I just couldn't imagine a holiday without her.  She had asked Bridger to Skype with her during our family gathering.  I wasn't sure how that would go, but it gave me a glimmer of hope that it would feel like she were there, somehow.

During the most random moments during the last week, I have erupted into spontaneous tears. Over nothing.  One chilly afternoon, I finally mustered up enough enthusiasm to take Marley for a walk on the trail by the canal.  In an effort to warm up my hands, I shoved them into my ski parka, and discovered a Bob's Sweet Stripe Stick.  It was perfect, lint-free, and, I just have to say it, it was in "mint condition."  I have no idea how it came to be in my pocket; I was just glad it was there, my little Christmas miracle.  I think Bob's are the most perfect peppermint, firm enough to suck on, and soft enough to chew, being sweet with a hint of powerful freshness.  They always make me think of Christmas.  I broke the stick in two, and popped half of it in my mouth. good.  I took in a big breath, and enjoyed the cooling sensation as the peppermint mingled with the crisp December air. And I burst into tears.  

My mind flooded with our plans for Christmas Eve, which we would be celebrating on December 20. Dylan and Jamie were coming to join us. Bridger was heading our way after school. My mom was making rolls and mashed potatoes for our holiday dinner.  She was coming with her husband. And my sweet daughter and her boyfriend would be in Lakewood, Colorado.  I miss her so much I sometimes have to force myself not to think about her, unless I feel like crying, and then I just let the tears come.  

Now I realize that technically, Christmas is next week for many people in the world.  (Did you know it isn't until January 7 for the Orthodox Christians?  I learned that yesterday from one of my friends in Russia. I'm so glad I never had to wait THAT long for Santa to come!)  As a mom of independent children, I am learning that flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to holidays.  When your married kids have the weekend before Christmas off of work, and offer to travel to your home, whatever time you spend together becomes Christmas.  When another married child agrees to bring your precious grandsons to a Christmas morning breakfast, that morning becomes Christmas, and the calendar just happens to concur.  CALENDAR SCHMALENDAR. 

Friday morning I set two intentions for my day.  I wanted to be of service to others, and to experience joy.  Lately, I think I've had a serious mindset, and on this day of celebration for our family, I wanted to be light-hearted, and open to delight.  With those two lovely thoughts in my heart and head, I set out to have a very good day.

Bridger arrived before the big kids, and headed downstairs to wrap the last of his presents and play his guitar.  When Dylan and Jamie arrived, we all visited while I set about making the house smell like the holidays with the scent of sage, rosemary, and thyme.  Mom and Richard joined us, and after dinner, there was a football game silently playing on the TV and a Scrabble game going on at the bar. As I sat in my recliner, enjoying the camaraderie around me, I realized we needed our girl. "When are we Skyping Sierra?" I asked no one in particular, but hoping Bridger would get right on it.  

As soon as I saw her making silly faces on the screen, I relaxed, and I laughed.  That's my girl for you.  She naturally puts everyone at ease with her random humor, and her easy way.  Dylan does not like communicating unless it's face-to-face or texting.  (He even deletes every voice mail message on his phone, in case it's bad news, and he avoids anything like Skype.)  Learning of his aversion just as Bridger was dialing Sierra, I was so pleased to see his joking with Jason and Sierra on the computer. That big brother's love for his sister is stronger than his distaste for techno-communication.  

We took a family photo, which is the poorest of quality, but it's my favorite photograph from the evening.  Surrounded by my Utah family, I held Sisi and Jason in my hands on my laptop, and we were all smiling at my mom as she took a photo during our Skype session. We WERE all there, in the same room, at the same time, laughing and talking, just like old times.  My heart was light and happy.  
I saw this poster on the internet from Cheryl Richardson.  It has been my guiding thought as I have planned for the holidays.  The date on the calendar doesn't matter.  Following traditions to the tee, doesn't matter.  Loved ones matter; that is all.  

Sierra and Jason will be joining us in January, possibly on Martin Luther King, Junior's holiday weekend.  And guess what?  My tree will probably still be up because any time my kids come for a visit is just like Christmas for me.  Calendar schmalendar, indeed!

Friday, December 20, 2013

*Homemade Holiday Stuffing...My Brother's (No Longer) Secret Recipe

Today the calendar may say December 19, but we are celebrating Christmas Eve with our boys and daughter-in-law, and my mom and stepdad.  We celebrate whenever we can gather family together, and this weekend we will commemorate Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.

I have simplified our menu so that I can enjoy the day a little more.  We're having rotisserie chicken, Mom's rolls and mashed potatoes, my homemade cranberry relish, and for the first time, my brother Eric's yummy Sausage Stuffing, my first ever attempt at making stuffing!

It all started a couple of decades ago when we celebrated our first Thanksmas together, which initiated the tradition of celebrating Christmas directly after our Thanksgiving dinner with any available family members in the western United States. (That sounds pretty comprehensive. Utah and Idaho are currently the only western states participating in this regional event.)  My brother Eric asked what he could bring that first Thanksmas all those years ago.  I requested stuffing.  He agreed to try. What a relief.  I had never made it; neither had he, but being the good sport that he is, he set about teaching himself to make stuffing. He didn't pass the buck to his wife; he did it himself.  

I love this about the men in my family.  My dad's gingerbread cookies and German Christmas bread (Stöllen) are famous.  My brother Danny (and Eric) can replicate mom's rolls beautifully, WITHOUT a KitchenAid mixer).  My sons are becoming grill masters, and have no problem finding their way around the kitchen.  There's something so appealing about a man who knows his way around a kitchen.

Over the years, Eric has perfected his recipe, and has even experimented with providing us with two different recipes, but the one we all love is his Sausage Stuffing.  In all fairness, the recipe he started with most recently was from, but there is just as much of his handwriting as there is of type on the page; I think we can safely call this HIS recipe.  This recipe makes enough for a heaping 9x13 pan.  And it is to die for.

Last week I had to drop off some things at my brother's house and while I was there, he gave me his recipe with all of his notes on it.  Honestly, I was grateful for his commentary because the recipe that was online left out a lot of details!  He has eliminated most of the butter, and bulked it up with yummy mushrooms. If you hate mushrooms, leave them out!  If you love butter, grease it up! The beauty of any recipe is its ability to be adapted to suit your tastes.

Eric's Sausage Bread Stuffing

16-20 cups of bread cubes (one and a half loaves)  (NOT Wonder bread, it gets too wet.  Eric uses generic white bread.  My preference would be for a whole grain, but during my first experience, I always use what the chef recommends! Fresh bread will yield a soft, moist dressing, and dried bread will produce a lighter dressing that is fluffier.)

1 lb. Jimmy Dean regular sausage
2 T. butter (original recipe called for a CUP!!! Not necessary.  Eric uses a bit; I used none.)
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped celery with leaves
1 package of mushrooms, sliced
1/2 t. black pepper
2 or more t. each of poultry seasoning AND sage (Eric says you have to smell it to see if it smells right. It should SMELL like yummy, yummy stuffing before you pop it in the oven.)
1/2 can or a cup of hot broth

Cube bread and place into a very large bowl while cooking sausage and veggies.  Add seasonings to bread crumbs and distribute the seasonings on the bread crumbs using hands or large spoon.

Brown the sausage in a large fry pan.  Add chopped celery & onions to cooking sausage.  Then add in mushrooms.

Add sausage mixture to bread cubes.  For a moist stuffing, pour 1/2 can or about a cup of hot broth over stuffing mixture.  Stir to moisten stuffing.  

Bake in a foil-covered 9 x 13 pan for 35 minutes in a 325 degree oven.

Remove from oven, add more broth (I would add any desired butter, melted, to the hot broth), uncover, and bake 10-15 minutes.

Prepare yourself to be wowed.  It's easy; it's pretty quick, and it is oh, so yummy!

Just before it goes into the oven.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

They Paid Me; Does that Make Me a Professional?

It was December 2013. Back before I had my Big Dog Lens (70-200 mm). Back before I met Chuck. Back before I had much experience with a camera. 

I had big first ever family photo shoot for a dear friend. First EVER.

A photo shoot? You're thinking, "But Denise, you're not a professional photographer." Well, I know, but whenever anyone asked me what I would be if I weren't a teacher, I always knew the answer. A professional photographer. 

Friday afternoon, I went to visit with a couple of friends who are middle school teachers during their lunch break. Both were busily attaching pompoms they had made to black hats.

"What in the world?" I asked.  They were making the hats "cuter" for the sixth grade to wear during the middle school's annual Christmas program. They couldn't have the kids wear just any old boring hat, so they were laboriously making them FESTIVE. I like festive, too; I'm just too lazy to sew 135 pompoms on knit hats. 

During our conversation, Sisi mentioned the only gift her mother wanted was a family portrait from her. Kimberly suggested I take their pictures, if I weren't busy the next day. 

"I wouldn't mind doing it...but what if they're crappy?"  We all laughed, and then Sisi convinced me to give it a try. The pictures would be better than nothing, and really, it's all her mother wanted.  
"I'll even pay you," she said, and after a moment, she added, "But not if they're crappy!"

"I'm sure I can get you at least ONE good picture for your mom," I said as I left. I was pretty sure. 

We had so much fun. I was a little worried. Their sweet baby is little, and the weather was cold. We tromped through the snow to a shed. We tromped through the snow to some snow-covered pines. The big kids were good sports, and the baby even laughed. Poor husband was missing a big college football game, but even he managed to smile a little. We knew it was time to go when the little one's nose was as red as a cherry.

We spent a little over an hour in the late afternoon sun, and we managed to get a couple of decent shots.

I learned some important things in my cramming before the session, and during the shoot, and after we were done while I was editing. A friend shared that an ISO of 200 would give me good saturation of color; it was perfect! Another photographer friend suggested shooting in the shade. Letting the baby play with something, say, her daddy's toothbrush, kept her happy. Prying it from her fingers turned out to not be a good idea, so we let her keep it. You can hardly see it in most of the shots! After it was all said and done, and we were reviewing the pictures, I realized I have much to learn about taking a group's pictures. Posing groups is a challenge.

When we piled back into the car, I looked over at Mr. Dad, and said, "See?  That wasn't so bad."

He started the Suburban, looked at me with a deadpan expression, and said, "Well, it wasn't horrible." I'll take it!

All's well that ends well.  The family has a picture for Grandma Mary Dell, her only request for Christmas.  I can now say I am a professional photographer. Well, at least I was one, for a day, and that made me very happy.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

*Surviving the Week Before Christmas at School

The week before Christmas vacation gets a little crazy in an elementary school.  Every teacher secretly dreads battling the energy force that permeates the halls and classrooms, and every parent is all too glad to send the children off to that big brick building to keep their kids busy as the countdown to the 25th drags on, second by eternal second.

Recently, I posted the eCard above on Facebook for my friends who teach fifth grade this year.  We were talking about the craziness that is the week of this major holiday.  One of my friends asked if I had any advice. I thought about it for awhile, and this is what I told her.

"I just tried to ride the wave, and went with the flow. We talked about service we could do for people at home and school. We wrote opinion pieces on Shaking, Poking, & Peeking (is it better to wait or is it more fun to find out what you're getting early...FUN discussion w/ friendly conflict right there!). Free times were good for arts & crafts that could double as gifts. The kids are just so excited about everything, and I would just rather use that to my advantage than fight it. Have fun next week. I know it's like trying to hold a lid on a boiling pot!"

In fifth grade, it was a tradition to have the children wear Santa hats for the Christmas sing-along the day before Christmas vacation.  Last year, my last year of teaching, I decided to give my kids their hats on that last Monday.  I knew the rest of my team might not share my enthusiasm for the holidays, so I just told the kids to wear them whenever they were with me. 

Did I just tell you I invited the craziness into my classroom four days earlier than I had to?  Yep, I did.  I passed out the Santa hats, and watched the magic happen.  And we had the most delightful week ever.  I suggested that each day when we put on our Santa hats, we remember to be Santa's helpers by doing good things for our friends.  They each drew a name, selecting someone as a special friend for the week.  Three of our students needed assistance with some tasks.  I saw these children as angels among us. The three boys inspired us all to be better people, to be kinder, and more compassionate. The kids stepped up and volunteered to help the boys with their Secret Santa jobs. We just did simple things, writing notes for each other, bringing in a treat or a piece of gum for a friend.  The camaraderie in our room continued to grow even more. 
Our class angels, Seth, Adam, and Calvin.
My class was extra-large last year; I had 35 kids by the end of April.  Buying nice, fluffy Santa hats was out of the question, so it was really no surprise to me that the pompoms started dropping off the tops, and the seams started pulling loose. No problem. The kids assured me they could sew them back together, so I sent out an email request, and received needles and threads from the parents the next morning. During indoor recesses and lunch breaks, my little helpers were busy helping each other keep their cheap little hats together.  
Nash, I'd recognize those helpful hands anywhere!

Do you know what happens when it snows?  The first child to notice it feels compelled to make a spontaneous weather announcement to the group, and everyone strains to see out of the small window of the classroom door. I just went with it.

"Grab your coats," I announced.  "We're taking a picture!"  All of them ran to the tree on the playground. We took a moment to commemorate the snow, trying to catch a flake on our tongues. What did it hurt?  Nothing.  The fresh air did them good, and taking a sec to acknowledge the snow allowed them to focus on schoolwork once we returned to our classroom. 

When one of their favorite substitute teachers popped in my room to deliver a gift, she was rushed by the group with hugs and Christmas wishes. I took a picture. I didn't want to forget any of this...the love they have for Mrs. Issa, for each other, and for me made me so happy.

When I look at the pictures from last year, I remember the week of Christmas as special, not wild. As a teacher, I was finally learning that when I remember I'm teaching CHILDREN first, the curriculum falls into place.  I took each moment as it came, working hard to be present, fully aware of the students, and how special they each were.  I went with the flow, and I rode the wave. I don't regret a minute of it.  

Bo and Nash, so studious.

I have such good memories of this week.

Ethan and Jen, hard at work.

We often played Christmas carols while doing our work.  It kept a calm atmosphere in the room, believe it or not.

Good friends, Jett and Jaden always worked well together.

Talmage was always so willing to help others.

My girlies.

The friendships formed this year will last a lifetime.

They were such good workers, and not just the week before Christmas!

Catching snowflakes on their tongues...

Miss Lilly


Best buds and cousins!


These guys were so fun!

My Michayla.

My team teased me that I looked like a Russian babushka.  Kenz, I would do winter recesses with you again; it was fun.

Mrs. Gleave didn't mind our wearing our hats to the media center. Love our librarian!

Loving that heater...Mr. Bo.

Some of the best teachers, and friends, at Monroe!

Jenessa, what a sweetie.

Love these faces.

My favorite pic of Mr. Sethers.

See? Adia's even raising her hand.  They never forgot their manners, even while nearly everyone was wearing Santa hats. 

Gathering by the heater was a fun tradition during the chilly winter mornings.

Some of my favorite memories took place at the couch, our place for class meetings.

Can you just feel the love?  I love you, Seth and Calvin!

Our favorite sub, my dear friend Sharmel, achieved Rock Star Status with these kids. 

Best team ever!  Miss these good people.

The Christmas Sing-Along at the elementary school.

For me, the holidays don't have to be a problem.  A full moon however...yeah, good luck with that!