Category Archives: Holidays

The annual letter: A cherished family tradition

Twenty-four years ago I decided to enclose a one-page personal letter with each one of our Christmas cards.

My goal: to share with our family and friends the highlights of the year’s activities.  Fifty or so people have received our letters and the response from them was positive. We, in turn, received many interesting and creative Christmas letters.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to keep a copy of each year’s Christmas letter.  Every year I place the newest letter in a Christmas green binder for safekeeping. This year as I read those letters once again I realized that the letters give a pretty good history of the highlights of our family’s activities over the last twenty-four years. Little did I know just how precious these letters would become as the years have passed by.

In 1988, the letters recall our being stationed in Nicosia, Cyprus and living a cautious and careful life of an American Embassy family. On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 departing Heathrow Airport was bombed while flying over Lockerbie, Scotland.  One of our own security officers was on board the flight.  Several days later, my husband and I attended the memorial service to honor this young man at the US Embassy in Nicosia.  After this tragic event our ambassador ordered that Americans should not meet in large groups for fear of additional attacks.  As a result my two daughters’ school Christmas parties were canceled and Americans did not gather that year for their traditional Christmas party at the Marine House.

In 1990, we were living outside of London and my young daughters attended a British school for two years. Before leaving England, my friends gave a party in my honor.  The party took the form of British High Tea – a dressy afternoon event where fancy finger foods and punch were served.  Within a week’s time, we were back in Virginia and attending the Prince William County Fair.  By the end of that day we had seen pigs, sheep and cows and even watched a truck pull.  I thought to myself, what a change of lifestyle! In the next years our two daughters grew from being little girls with pronounced British accents to young and independent American women. From learning to ride their bicycles, to working on Algebra and French homework, to taking drivers ed and scaring the daylights out of their parents, and then going off to college— it is all there on the pages of our family’s Christmas letters.

Thirty-eight years ago, it was just my husband and me. Today, our family has grown to eight people.  The lives of all eight of us are recounted on the pages of those Christmas letters.

As I read these letters I realized how many things had slipped from my memory. And what a shame it would have been if those family memories had been lost forever.

And that reminds me…I’d better get writing this year’s letter.  Our friends and family are waiting and my Christmas green binder has an empty page protector marked “2012”.

How about you?  Do you write a yearly letter? How do you record the history of your family?  If you don’t, perhaps 2012 is the time to start. Enjoy! 

Making Memories, One Christmas Cookie at a Time

As a personal historian, I strongly believe in preserving memories from the past, one story at a time. But I also believe in the value of deliberately creating new family memories.

I have a little five-year-old granddaughter named Emily. Yesterday afternoon we made and decorated Christmas cookies together – just the two of us.   Christmas music played softly in the background and the kitchen smelled wonderful with the aroma of sugar cookies baking in the oven.  You should have seen us.  There was flour, cookie sprinkles and bits of cookie dough everywhere.  Emily was covered in ingredients—it was a miracle that any of it made it to the oven.  We laughed, giggled, oohed and ahhed over our creative efforts.

By the end of our time together we had decorated thirty cookies. Some looked better than others. But all were beautiful examples of the fruits of our labor, two sets of hands working lovingly together. Undoubtedly, this sweet memory will not be forgotten anytime soon!

In case you’d like to do some Christmas baking with your children or grandchildren, the following is a delicious sugar cookie recipe that I have used for years:


2¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup white granulated sugar

¾ cup unsalted butter

1 large egg

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Soften butter.  In a mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter until fluffy.  Add egg, lemon zest and vanilla extract and beat until blended.  In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients.  On low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar mixture and mix together. If mixture seems dry, add a little water, a few drops at a time, only until the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl.

With a spatula scrape the dough out of the bowl and on to a piece of plastic wrap.  Using the plastic wrap press the dough into a thick flat disc.  Refrigerate for at least two hours.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out cookie dough to a 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut shapes with cookie cutters.  Use a metal spatula to transfer cookies on to a cookie tray. Be sure not to crowd cookies on tray.

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes or until the cookies begin to brown around the edges.

Cool cookies on wire racks before decorating.  Hint: visit your local grocery store’s baking aisle for colored icings, sprinkles and edible glitter.

What memories will you create with your family this holiday season?


December 7, 1941 – A Day Never to Be Forgotten

Today is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

Seventy one years ago 2,400 Americans were killed and many injured when Japanese fighter pilots bombed the American naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii. A day after the assault, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan, bringing America into WWII.

Remember to fly your flag at half staff until sunset today in honor of those who fought and those who died at Pearl Harbor.

Celebrate National Day of Listening – Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Day is now a sweet memory of that glorious meal shared with family and friends, perhaps followed by playing pick up football, winning a heated game of Monopoly, or savoring that last piece of home made pumpkin pie.

But guess what, there are still memories to be made!

This year marks the fifth anniversary of Story Corps National Day of Listening. This is a special day set aside to sit down with loved ones, turn on a recording device, and reminisce together. Share stories and memories of the past and even hopes for the future. Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?  Click here for more information about Story Corps.

This year Story Corps is focusing on those who have served in the US armed forces.  On November 23, honor a veteran by asking more about their military service and experiences.   To make this even easier, Story Corps has provided some great questions to ask. Check out:

In this fast paced life that many of us live, this holiday weekend provides a nice excuse for a break. Give some thought to preserving your family’s stories and legacy.  In the years to come you will be so glad you chose to take the time to honor and remember those who have given so much to you.

Wishing You a Sweet Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day festivities are wrapped up in the memories of times spent with family and friends, and the foods that we have shared together.

We at Reel Tributes wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving Day. As you savor the aromas and flavors of your Thanksgiving meal, remember to savor and delight in those with whom you are spending this wonderful holiday.

With that thought in mind, I’m passing on to you one of my family’s culinary favorites: Southern Pecan Pie.  This is an old and special recipe that my favorite Aunt Lou has made for many years.  I hope you like it.

Aunt Lou’s Special Southern Pecan Pie

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Prepare pastry for one nine-inch crust pie.

3 eggs

2/3 cup of sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup melted butter

1 cup dark or light corn syrup

1 cup pecan halves or broken pecan pieces

Prepare pastry. Beat eggs, sugar, salt, butter and syrup with rotary beater.  Stir in nuts.  Pour into pastry-lined pie pan.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until filling is set. HINT: When testing to see if filling is set, use a knife.  If the knife comes out clean, the pie is done.

If you make a pecan pie for your Thanksgiving meal, write and let us know how you liked it!