World traveler and professional chef, Shannon Smith, owner of Beads and Basil.
My mother was the queen of Christmas. For most of my life, Mom had nine Christmas trees in our house. Nearly every room had a tree, and each tree had its own theme. The tree in my room was pink and covered with little doll ornaments. The kitchen tree had bright red balls and miniature cooking tools. The day after Thanksgiving, Dad would go up in the attic to start the removal of dozens of huge boxes filled with treasures my mom had collected through the years. Every decoration went up somewhere in our house, whether it was the construction paper reindeer my sisters and I made in pre-school or the porcelain angel she bought the year before at the “after Christmas sale.”
Early each December, my sisters and I would help Mom make cookies and other sweets to take to the widows from our church. We spent an entire day driving to each lady’s house with our plates of homemade treats, and sit in the living room of each home listening to Mom chat away about what each of us girls were doing in school, and how cold it was outside. She would look at us with disappointment because we weren’t contributing to the conversation, but how could we when she was doing all the talking? I remember every one of those ladies we used to visit, and it makes me so proud of my mother for teaching us this act of kindness.
Mom threw a Christmas party every year for all the women at church. We would have as many as 75 people in our house, each bringing a different dish of food and a small gift to exchange. They played the “Dirty Santa Game” where gifts were unwrapped one by one, and could be taken away, even by the best of friends. Those parties lasted for hours, and many of those women said it was their favorite day of the year.
On Christmas morning, Mom made the grandkids instant oatmeal with extra cinnamon, and they thought it was the best breakfast in the world. If they were lucky, she would pop frozen waffles in the toaster and slather them with margarine and syrup.
My mom passed away five years ago after battling cancer. The first Christmas after her death, Dad brought down the Christmas boxes and trees from the attic for the last time. My sisters and I sorted through it all. We kept some, but packed most of it back into boxes that I took to Tulsa in a U-Haul trailer. Dad said he didn’t want any of it because it was just too painful to look at. I drove to five different nursing homes and asked if they wanted Mom’s Christmas decorations, and they all were thrilled to get them. I even got a thank you note from one telling me how much they enjoyed their new Christmas tree.
I love Christmas, but nowhere close to how much my mother loved it. Her legacy still lives on in the lives of many people, including the women at her church. They still have their annual party in the home of my mother’s best friend. I moan at the thought of putting up Christmas decorations, but my children insist I make our house look as festive as I can because that’s what Grandma would have done. For years, I served my kids “Grandma’s oatmeal,” but I prefer to make mine the night before Christmas in the form of muesli. I think my mom would approve. I wish everyone a very merry Christmas filled with pleasant memories and new traditions. Try my muesli recipe on Christmas morning and add a little extra cinnamon for my mom.
- 2 cups oats
- 1/3 cup wheat germ
- 1/3 cup ground flaxseed
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 cups low-fat milk
- 3 tbsp. sliced almonds, toasted
- 3 tbsp. chopped pecans, toasted
Combine oats, wheat germ, flaxseed, maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla, and milk in a large bowl, stirring to combine. Cover and chill 3 hours or overnight. Spoon mixture into 6 bowls and top with nuts. Drizzle with maple syrup, if desired.
Note: I like to add fruit, such as bananas, strawberries or blueberries.
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