The White House – History of Christmas

Photo courtesy of The White House Historical Association

I listened to a charming podcast recently – The Millennial Homemakers where they interviewed Linda Dutile, a volunteer who helped decorate The White House this year. Linda answered all their questions about the application and selection process, what a typical day of decorating the nation’s home was like and other fun details.  Wouldn’t that be the best job ever!  I think I may try to apply!

It got me to thinking about the traditions in year’s past, so I did some research on The White House Historical Association website to share fun facts and photos.

First, the adorable photo above is of First Lady Betty Ford and her daughter, Susan, decorating holiday cookies in the White House solarium in December 1975.  My childhood memories are permanently planted in the 60s and 70s when Christmas, for me, was magical and kitchy.

President Coolidge turning on the switch for the “National Tree Lighting” in President’s Park. December 24, 1923.

The White House observance of Christmas before the twentieth century was not an official event. First families decorated the house modestly with greens and privately celebrated the Yuletide with family and friends. President Calvin Coolidge was the first chief executive to preside over a public celebration during the holidays with the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in 1923. Since then, the White House has expanded its celebrations of the holidays and sharing the joy of the season with Americans through themed holiday decorations, traditions, and public events.

President Grover Cleveland’s Christmas tree

The first White House Christmas tree, decorated with candles and toys, was placed in the second-floor oval room, then used as a library and family parlor, in 1889 for President Benjamin Harrison and his family. In 1894, three years after electricity was introduced in the White House, the first electric lights on a family tree delighted the young daughters of President Grover Cleveland. In 1909, President William H. Taft’s children helped decorate the first tree on the state floor in the Blue Room.

The White House at Christmas traditionally has been a magical place for children. From the earliest times memorable parties have been held for the president’s children or grandchildren. One of the most elaborate was President Andrew Jackson’s “frolic” for the children of his household in 1834. This party included games, dancing, a grand dinner, and ended with an indoor “snowball fight” with specially made cotton balls.

President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt hosted a “carnival” during the 1903 Christmas season for 500 children including dinner, dancing, musical entertainment, souvenirs, and a special treat of ice cream formed in the shape of Santa and other Christmas novelties. President Roosevelt, an avowed conservationist, did not approve of cutting trees for Christmas decorations. However, his son Archie defied the ban and smuggled in a small tree that was decorated and hidden in a closet in the upstairs sewing room.

In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. She decorated a tree placed in the oval Blue Room with ornamental toys, birds, and angels modeled after Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet.

Here’s a fun fact sheet of Christmas traditions at The White House.  Just a few highlights…

The first White House Christmas party was held in December 1800. President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams gave it for their four-year-old granddaughter Susanna Boylston Adams, who was living with them. They invited government officials and their children to the party.

Maitre d’ and butler Alonzo Fields recalled President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cherished Christmas family tradition in his memoir, My 21 Years in the White House (1960): “They always braved the hazards of fire by having a Christmas tree lighted with candles in the East Hall. The family tradition included a reading of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol by the President. The gathering of the family with the President and Mrs. Roosevelt, the President’s mother, the children, and grandchildren made a comely family group of four generations.”

The holiday season at the White House is celebrated with an abundance of glittering décor, decadent desserts, and fresh pine. One of the sweetest traditions at the Executive Mansion is the unveiling of the official holiday gingerbread house. Since the early 1970s, pastry chefs have created this intricately detailed, candy-adorned house for the enjoyment of the First Family and White House visitors alike. The tradition of displaying a gingerbread house in the White House at Christmas began with First Lady Patricia Nixon in 1972. Displayed in the State Dining Room, this delightful treat has a rich history that embodies the holiday spirit.  First Lady Patricia Nixon and daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower examine the intricate candy decorations. P.S. Julie, I’d love to have your dress…

The Eisenhower family steps from the North Entrance of the White House bearing holiday gifts. December 1957.

The record for the number of trees in the White House was held for many years by the Eisenhower administration when 26 trees filled every floor of the house. That mark has been eclipsed on several occasions, including the Clinton administration’s 36 trees in the 1997 theme of “Santa’s Workshop,” and the 2008 White House Christmas decorations of the Bush administration that included 27 trees as part of a theme of “A Red, White and Blue Christmas.” Most recently in 2018, the Trump administration had 41 Christmas trees and more than 40 topiary trees in the East Colonnade.

The National Christmas Tree Association has held a national competition since 1966 for the official White House Blue Room tree. To qualify, growers must first win their state or regional competitions. Being named National Grand Champion is a major achievement.  Here are helpful tips on how to care for your farm-grown Christmas tree.

Be sure to visit the White House Historical Association for even more content. I hope you enjoyed this fun history lesson. It makes me want to decorate more trees!

Note: All the content in this post is directly from the White House Historical Association and not my own.

What Would Holley Wear: “Tweeds” the Night Before Christmas

Full disclosure:  This is a risqué version of a classic Christmas story.  So you may want to help yourself to a little eggnog before you continue reading!

“Tweeds” the night before Christmas when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse….except for mama in her kerchief and stylish tweed shoes.  Oh my goodness…what in the world was mama up to? It seemed she had carefully hung her stockings to arouse St. Nick’s attention….tip-toeing downstairs in a pair of sexy tweed kittens! 

 Such a handsome fellow, so lively and quick, she knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.  And then in a twinkling, I heard upstairs…prancing and joyous hoots! Oh, my…it was mama trying on a new tweed suit.  Nicholas suggested a few ideas from Pinterest…Chanel, Chic Wish, and the list continues. The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow, gave the luster to all the tweed objects to behold.

Stanley Eisenman Shoes

His eyes how they twinkled…his dimples how merry!  He even brought mama a tweed clutch and poured her some sherry!  A wink of his eye and a twist of his head, I started wondering….is ole’ Nick trying to get into mama’s bed?  Lord have mercy, how could this be….who knew there was a salacious side to tweed?  

Up to mama’s bedroom the courses they flew, with a bag full of tweed blazers…all brand new!  The perfect look for an elegant Christmas party….or an evening at home sipping a hot toddy. Not into vaping, he smoked a pipe, and I started wondering…will he be here all night?  

Though his posse was waiting….he had other houses to visit.  And let me just say this, when he left…mama was glistening! In her stylish tweed blazer, she looked so put together, and good ole’ St. Nick suggested she wear it with leather!

He sprang to his Mercedes, to mama gave a whistle, and away he flew like the down of a thistle.  But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, “Good God almighty…what a glorious night!”

Holley Williams is a personal stylist specializing in closet inventory, seasonal shopping, and wardrobe consultation.  Be sure to check her Holley Williams Style on Pinterest.  Contact Holley at [email protected]

Make Your House Smell Like Christmas with this Homemade Stovetop Potpourri

Here is a last minute gift idea I made for friends that would be a perfect way to engage your children and teens when they are home for Christmas — homemade stovetop potpourri!

When I was little, Sister and I would make crafts together as my gift to family members.  One year we made spice ropes, another year we filled hairspray caps with plaster and stuck a fork inside to make a recipe holder.  Our creative skills were on fire!  I have fun memories working with her on these crafts instilling in me the spirit of giving.

For this project, I got the idea here on Pinterest from The Crafting Chicks.  All the ingredients and a free printable are available on the link.  But, I’ll give you the CliffsNotes version.

Gather all your ingredients and Ball jars.  I always purchase my Ball jars at Jabo’s Ace Hardware because they have the best selection and I can use the $5 off coupons they send me in the mail for being a reward customer (and if you use Rakutun they reward 2.5% back to you).  I purchased the cinnamon sticks at Fiesta International Market and sourced the cloves and cinnamon in bulk from Whole Foods.  The cranberries and oranges came from my local grocery store.

Then I got to work bagging up the spices into small snack size ziploc bags.  I placed the oranges and cranberries inside first and tucked the spice bags to the side.  Your little children could help with counting each orange and cranberries that go into the jars.  Note: I didn’t slice the oranges, per the recipe, because I wasn’t sure when people would make their potpourri.

Once the jars are filled, I wrote messages on black scrapbook paper and cut the paper into oversized circles to place over the top of the jar seal, and then finished with the Ball jar rim.  I tied the printable around the mouth of the jar with baker’s twine.  Your older kids could write the message in gold paint pen.

Now, pile the jars into a basket and take your little ones with you for deliveries.    Your friends and family will delight in seeing their faces bring a gift to fill their home with the smells of Christmas that was made with love!

Mrs. Twist’s Jolly Mix – Spotify Playlist for the Holidays

I love Christmas music. I start my season of holiday tunes November 1 every year.  If they had Thanksgiving music, I’d enjoy it, but they don’t so I go straight to my happy place.  I created my own playlist this year and I am sharing it with you on Spotify.*

103 tunes from classic to modern and everything in between.  I included some my favorite artists like Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis, but I’ve also added in a few twists.  I hope you enjoy it while baking, wrapping presents or entertaining guests.  Having just a little Home with a Twist in your homes makes me happy!

Merry listening!

 

*Go to www.spotify.com and search Mrs. Twist’s Jolly Mix. It will pop up and you can save it to your phone or in your Spotify library.

How to be a Wrap Star with Wirrwarr Wraps!

My friend Karen posted a beautiful photo of a gift she wrapped and shared that she learned how to do it at a Wirrwarr Wraps class led by Cassie Kruemcke. It immediately conjured up sweet memories of my early days learning to wrap gifts with my mother.

When I was in elementary school Mother set up a gift wrapping station in our guest bedroom, during the month of December, to prepare the presents for under the tree.  Rolls of beautiful wrapping paper, tissue paper, boxes, bolts of ribbon, gift tags, and other supplies filled the top of the guest bed and she set up several card tables around the room.  My job was very clear: Wrap each gift, no two alike, and I would earn 25 cents per package.  Back then, we didn’t have the “bow and go” method.  Gift bags were not a thing, every gift was wrapped in tissue paper, placed in a box, wrapped with paper, tied with a bow and labeled with a gift tag.

I gladly accepted my assignment and went to work setting up a pretend department store gift wrap boutique and I was its chief wrapper. I placed a check-in desk at the door of the guest room, had make-believe conversations with “customers” taking great care to ask them who the gift was intended for and their preferred style of wrapping.  I’m sure the conversation went something like, “Oh, what a lovely gift for your daughter. How old is she? What’s her favorite color?  Shall we do pink and green toile?”  I wrote invoices for each gift and placed them around the room ready to get to work. Since I was the only child at home (my siblings were grown) pretend play was a big deal.  I learned to be extremely entertaining!

Looking back, I am sure the packages weren’t perfect, but I love the fact that Mother didn’t care.  She was okay to release that part of Christmas, affording me the chance to be creative and boost my self-confidence while giving herself a break. An important lesson for all of us mothers who think we have to do it all so it will be perfect.

When I saw my chance to relive those days of wrapping presents, I quickly signed up for Cassie’s class.  Our workshop was set up with supplies and each attendee received a kit including a cute tote bag for us to keep as our party favor. Fixe provided sips and deviled eggs to nosh while we worked on our packages.  I want you to experience her class first-hand, so I won’t reveal all her secrets, but I will hit the highpoints.

#1 Tissue Paper — Cassie led us through the proper way to place tissue paper in the gift box using a pinch pleat – happily, I already do this so I was feeling good about my skillset. She made a great suggestion that I will try and that is sticking bright-colored labels to close the tissues halves together.

#2 Shirt Boxes — it’s amazing how nice your gift will look when it’s wrapped in a proper box – like a shirt box. Do department stores offer shirt boxes anymore?   Here’s a resource for shirt boxes.  Cassie taught us the proper way to measure your paper so you don’t waste it trying to make it fit your box.

#3 Must have beautiful paper – This convinced me to stock up on a variety of wrapping papers.  I chose a bold animal print, but she also had lovely prints, stripes, polka dots, and solid colors.  The point is mix it up!  Maybe come up with a color scheme that is your signature color and print.  Mine for sure would be animal print with aqua and hot pink.

#4 Go Big with your Bow or Go Home – This is the secret sauce to making your packages rival those of Martha Stewart. I finally know the secret on how to make those bows with all the ribbons.  Cassie set out several bins of ribbon – all sizes and colors, some even faux fur –  and a silver tub full of glass ornaments and walked us through how to first tie the regular bow, then add all the strips we cut of mismatched ribbon. The last step was the jingle bells and I chose a signature ornament – a bucket of bubbly!

#5 The Final Touch – She pulled out packages of scrapbook alphabet stickers for the finishing touch. These were placed at the corner of the box and the initial can represent the recipient.  Since I was wrapping this for myself (of course), I put a big scripted “M” on mine – a nod to my favorite TV character, Mary Tyler Moore.

I left with a beautifully wrapped present, a tote bag of supplies, and a new friend in Cassie.  She is a delight and was as bubbly as the sips we enjoyed during the class.  Follow her on Instagram so you don’t miss her upcoming classes. And, we might just cook something up for Home with a Twist followers!

Happy wrapping, y’all!

What Would Holley Wear: Jingle All The Way

Wondering what the fashion forecast is for the festive season….anything that shimmers.  In other words….a whole lot of jingle!

Party people, get ready to glisten in a stunning metallic skirt.  Are you willing to think outside the box? Then think about pairing a metallic skirt with an oversized sweater or a sweatshirt.  And “oh what fun” it is to add a pair of strappy heels or booties!  

Gold lame’….it’s back!  So here’s what I’m thinking….if it was good enough for Elvis, then it’s good enough for the rest of us!  Right? Loeffler Randall’s bow heels in gold lame say one thing to me….“Ready or not, holidays…here I come!”  And don’t you think Neiman’s gold lame cocktail dress by Halston has Studio 54 written all over it!  

What sparkles and goes with anything from jeans to sweat?  That would be sequins…of course! We love how Anthropologie features a sequined skirt two ways…with a lacey top and with a turtleneck sweater.  To add a little jingle to a casual holiday ensemble….a sequined blazer or blouse paired with jeans will definitely give you a dashing look!

When it comes to shimmering Christmas hues….red and green are at the top of my list.  If you want to ring some sleigh bells, think about wearing a sequined skirt with a red sweater.  For a holiday ladies luncheon, red heels and a shimmering green pleated skirt will add a little “ho, ho, ho” to your party style!  

If you’re headed to an elegant black-tie gala or cocktail party during the holidays, just know, you will be the shining star in a jumpsuit.  We’re loving a few sparkly black ones from Dillard’s on our Pinterest board. And their silver metallic jumpsuit with cape sleeves by Eliza J. looks fabulous coming and going!  Jingle all the way!  

I typically do not style dogs but would be happy to do so if asked!  Speaking of “making spirits bright”….I have to admit, I’m smitten with two pups wrapped in gold tinsel.  Just add a bow or a reindeer headband and your babies will shine in the family holiday photo!  

From shimmery frocks to everyday gold tinsel….one way or another, be sure to add a little “jingle” to your holiday attire!  

Holley Williams is a personal stylist specializing in closet inventory, seasonal shopping, and wardrobe consultation.  Be sure to check her Holley Williams Style on Pinterest.  Contact Holley at [email protected]

Mrs. Twist Reads This Book Club Selection and Fun Workshop in January

Mrs. Twist Reads This is taking a hiatus from meeting in December, but we are still moving ahead with reading an inspiring book to prepare us for 2020.

The Moment of Lift is a debut novel from Melinda Gates, a timely and necessary call to action for women’s empowerment.

“How can we summon a moment of lift for human beings – and especially for women? Because when you lift up women, you lift up humanity.”

For the last twenty years, Melinda Gates has been on a mission to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs, wherever they live. Throughout this journey, one thing has become increasingly clear to her: If you want to lift a society up, you need to stop keeping women down.

In this moving and compelling book, Melinda shares lessons she’s learned from the inspiring people she’s met during her work and travels around the world. As she writes in the introduction, “That is why I had to write this book―to share the stories of people who have given focus and urgency to my life. I want all of us to see ways we can lift women up where we live.”

Melinda’s unforgettable narrative is backed by startling data as she presents the issues that most need our attention―from child marriage to lack of access to contraceptives to gender inequity in the workplace. And, for the first time, she writes about her personal life and the road to equality in her own marriage. Throughout, she shows how there has never been more opportunity to change the world―and ourselves.

Writing with emotion, candor, and grace, she introduces us to remarkable women and shows the power of connecting with one another.

When we lift others up, they lift us up, too.

Here is a special surprise – we will unpack what we’ve learned when we gather in January and review the seven lessons Melinda learned while writing her book.  Join me on Saturday, January 4, 2020, from 10 a.m. – Noon for brunch and a very special workshop entitled 2020: What’s Your Vision in the Next Decade.

Together, we’ll look back at 2019 to review your wins and misses, and we will look ahead to focus on your hopes for the new year. You’ll go home with a list of new intentions, a personal success mantra, and a special keepsake reminder of our time together.

Event is free for Book Club members; Non-members: $10 (includes brunch and materials).  To register, visit this link. Space is limited.  This would be the perfect Christmas present for a girlfriend or your mom.

Want to join our book club? If you are local to Fort Worth, feel free to join us.  Even if you aren’t local to my area, you can join our book club, membership is free, through Bookmovement.  By signing up, you will receive notifications on our upcoming meetings and the books we will be reading.  Plus, you can create your personal queue of books you want to read outside of our group and find out new releases and trends in all genres of books.  Friends are always welcome.

No matter where you live, we’d love to have you join our community of women spending more time reading and less time using technology.  Join our movement!

Happy reading!

What Would Holley Wear: “The Best of Holley” Thankful Edition

We are running a “The Best of Holley” post from Thanksgiving 2016 when baby Eli – who is now a very big three-year-old – was born!  From all of us at Home with a Twist, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

I’m pretty sure one of the reasons Thanksgiving is the most popular holiday is it’s less stressful (unless you do all the cooking and cleaning up afterward).  We gather together with family and friends to share a meal and to consider all that we have to be thankful for!

Two things you need to know about me:

  1.  I love everything about the Thanksgiving tradition
  2. …and I love sharing that special day with family and friends!
miller-tote
Sole Society Tote

Our Thanksgivings are always casual. Some years we “motor” to our hometown, Smackover, Arkansas! (true story…real name…Google it).  This year, we will walk across the street to share a lovely meal with our friends and neighbors, the Moses. I will miss my family this year, but the Moses are our family in Fort Worth.  They are a BIG family, they all live in Fort Worth, and they all come to the Thanksgiving dinner.  The first year we were invited to a Moseses Thanksgiving meal, I noticed all the women brought Tupperware containers to take their leftovers home. Brilliant, right?  That gave me the idea to bring a big tote — filled with Tupperware — to future Moses family meals!

So let’s talk totes!  There are many choices these days.  Three totes I covet are the Bazar Shopper by Balenciaga, the cube-printed canvas tote by Pierre Hardy, and a large Sophie Hulme tote. Unfortunately, these are not in my fashion budget, but the good news is there are many reasonably priced totes to choose from.  Longchamp has a lot of colors and since they are nylon, they are easy to clean.

madewell-tote
Madewell Tote

Madewell has a great selection of totes and you can have them monogrammed.  If you are crafty, think about making totes out of old blankets or men’s suits.  These would make fun holiday gifts as well.

recycled-blanket-totes
Recycled blanket totes

bubbe-bagBut, back to the Moses…for their dinner I have a few wardrobe options in mind. One possibility is to wear a pair of black skinny jeans, a white blouse tied at the waist, a long brown suede jacket, and black booties. Depending on the weather, another option would be a midi floral skirt, quilted jacket, belt and green bomber jacket, and gray ankle boots. Though here’s the deal, whatever I wear will be paired with a black nylon Tory Burch tote filled with Tupperware…of course!  That way, if a little dressing or gravy spills out, all I have to do is wipe it off. I even came up with a name for my Thanksgiving tote, “The Bubbe Bag,” in honor of the matriarch of the Moses family, Beverley Moses (Bubbe was her grandmother name).  Beverley is no longer with us, but she always made my family feel welcome.  And for that, I am thankful!

thanksgiving-table-settingSpeaking of family tradition, I will always cherish the years growing up in Smackover and the Thanksgiving dinners at my grandparent’s house.  The way I remember it, the table setting was very elegant…china, sterling silver, linen napkins, and crystal. The kid’s table was either in the kitchen or the den, but still just as lovely.

sweet-potato-cups
Taste of Home Sweet Potato Orange Cups

We also dressed up which meant for me wearing a beautiful new dress made by mom.  The guests included my family of five, my three cousins, aunt and uncle who lived next door, Ma-Maw and Pa-Paw and Aunt Bessie (Ma-Maw’s sister). My favorite Aunt Bessie quote was at a Thanksgiving meal when she announced, “One thing I know for sure, President Kennedy and his family are not eating this well today.”

I think it was the sweet potatoes topped with roasted marshmallows and served in orange halves that made her say that.  Trust me, there was no wine!

floral-dress-with-bootsMaybe your family is like mine was “back in the day” and you get dressed up for your Thanksgiving meal and go to a fancy restaurant or to the country club.  So, please let me share some stylish suggestions that will even impress the country club crowd.  One look I love for fall is a floral dress with boots… so cute!  Pleated metallic skirts are so on trend this season and all you need to add is a bulky sweater and boots.  Even with your country club look, the whole idea is to look stylish but just not like everyone else.faux-fur-wrap-sweater-2A faux fur-trimmed wrap sweater from Banana Republic will allow you to create an array of fabulous looks.  Wear it with a pencil skirt, a pleated midi skirt, or with tailored slacks and later with a pair of jeans.  All you need now is to accessorize it with a very large Bubbe Bag to discreetly take your Thanksgiving leftovers home!

Visit Holley’s Pinterest style board with fashionable ideas to get you ready for your Thanksgiving guests.

Holley Williams is a personal stylist specializing in closet inventory, seasonal shopping, closet organization, and wardrobe consultation.  Contact Holley at [email protected]  

A Message of Grief, Hope, Gratitude and Thanksgiving

Social media is a great tool to connect people, make us laugh and learn something new, but it also sends messages we must achieve perfection in order to be happy.  Every once in a while someone will say to me, “Your life seems so perfect.”  My life is full and abundant, but I work at it each day.  There have been a few times in my life when I wasn’t sure I could face another day.  Thankfully, God has given me a reprieve, at least for the moment, from sadness, loss, and grief. 

I hope you will take time today to hear my personal story, revealing things about me you may not know, along with practical tips that have been helpful to me in learning to move through my grieving.  It’s a faith journey that has not been easy, but along the way, I’ve learned a lot about life and God’s love for me.  It’s about finding gratitude in the pain. To all the people struggling with loss and emptiness during this week of Thanksgiving, I will say a prayer for you.

My grief journey began with the stillborn death of my son, John, on Thanksgiving Day 1998.  I hadn’t been feeling movement like I should.  I went in for a checkup and my husband and I were told the devastating news. There was no heartbeat.  I was sent to Labor and Delivery to be induced.  I remember watching the nurse place a “falling leaf” on the door as a symbol to others entering our room that this was not a celebratory moment for us. I had also suffered two miscarriages prior to John’s death so this was our third baby to lose.

Following John’s death, I suffered from depression and my world — which had stopped turning — was dark, very dark.  Time stood still like I was living in a silent movie.  Deafening with quiet.  I couldn’t function.  I couldn’t get out of bed without great effort.  I felt disconnected from anything pleasurable.  I was empty and I had nothing left inside of me.

This scripture from 2 Corinthians 12:10 says, “when you’ve done everything you can do, that’s when God will step in and do what you can’t do.”

I told God, “I need you.  I can’t do this by myself anymore.”  This was the first time in my life for me to say these words.

In 2006, my very active, vibrant Mother had a stroke.  Because my dad was blind from macular degeneration, we agreed as a family that my parents would come to live with me, my husband and our daughter.  For the next six years, we would be caregivers to my parents.

Daddy passed away in 2011 from complications related to his diabetes. To illustrate to you how much my faith had grown since the death of my child, the first emotion I felt after Daddy’s death was “joy” which may sound strange.  You see, I had four years to watch him deteriorate, become frail and slowly lose the ability to do things he once found enjoyable.  I had done much of the grieving during my caregiving — something called “anticipatory grief.”  I had also journeyed with him, and my mother, during his time in hospice.  Of course, I was sad, but the joy I felt was from knowing he was in heaven, free from illness and pain, and free to do all the things his physical body could no longer do.  Plus, I had my mother to think about.  I felt like I couldn’t grieve openly because I needed to be strong for her.

Two months later, my brother Jim, killed himself.  Jim had struggled most of his entire life with depression.  Losing my dad was probably more than Jim could bear.  I still cannot put into words the exact emotion his death left me with.  Suicide is so different.  It’s a raw pain, like someone pulling off a bandaid over and over again.  And the support you receive from others is different after suicide.  People just don’t know what to say.  In my heart, I wish Jim could have chosen a different solution, sparing his wife, son and my mother the pain of taking his life.  I will never forget the phone call I received from the police notifying me they had found my brother’s dead body, nor my mother’s face when I had to tell her that her child was dead. Again, because my mother had lost her husband of 64 years and her 59-year-old child within weeks of each other — I felt like my mother needed my strength, not my sadness.

In 2013, my mother died very suddenly from a brain aneurysm. We were literally telling each other “I love you” in the kitchen one minute and five minutes later I was calling 911.  That was a hard loss for me.  I had plans for many more years of living to do with her.  I hurt as deeply when I lost her as when I lost my son, John. My mother was the first person that loved me, held me close, and knew everything about me. After she died, I felt like I lost all of that.  Right after she took her last breath, I remember this intense feeling of love I had for God.  Thankful that He gave my mother such a grace-filled ending to her life.  She died surrounded by her family with a tear and a smile on her face.  I am grateful God left me with that image of my mother’s beautiful face.

But, after her death, I was left with three losses I needed to process and I crashed.  I was no longer a daughter or a caregiver — I struggled trying to figure out who I was anymore.  And, there were times I wasn’t sure I wanted to live anymore.

To put it into perspective for you, in two years’ time, I lost half of my immediate family.  Before I had time to process one loss, I was dropped into another, then another.

Okay, let’s set all that aside and talk about some things that have been helpful for me.

In 2006, an author named Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a memoir called, “Eat, Pray, Love” that was made into a movie.  She tells her story of the year she traveled to find herself again after a devastating divorce.  My suggestions are an adaptation of her story…

Eat — Feed Your Soul

Grief can be isolating.  Expect the opposite of who you normally are for a while, but it will get better.  Surround yourself with resources, attend a support group and rely on close friends.  Journal, sing, meditate, go for a walk, or just be still.  Sometimes if we are “doers” we think we should be replacing our grief with things to keep us busy.  But grieving will consume your free time.  Just because you aren’t actively doing something doesn’t mean you are not being productive.  Your productivity right now revolves around grieving.  If you are a “to-do list” maker — plan on putting the word GRIEVING right at the top of your list every day for a while.  Be diligent in telling yourself “it won’t always be like this.  There is a better tomorrow waiting for me.”  This is an especially important message for you to tell yourself each night before going to bed.  Your brain needs this reassurance.

Pray — all the time

I prayed for sleep, I prayed to get out of bed, I prayed for strength, and I prayed for hope.  If praying is hard for you, or it’s not something you normally do, start small.  God already knows what’s on your heart before you even say it.  As my mother was laying in the hospital bed, I was alone in the room with her overnight.  The room was full of hospital sounds and smells.  I suddenly felt like I was going to be physically sick.  I was so overwhelmed with the reality of what was going to happen.  I closed my eyes and I just started saying over and over again, “God, please replace my anxiety with your peace.”  I must have said it 100 times.  I could feel my anxiety melt away and I was able to regain my composure to face the next moment.  On the days you feel like you can’t live because the pain is greater than you, for me those were the days I prayed the most.

Love — Love Yourself

One of the biggest emotions we struggle with after loss is guilt.  I should have known.  I should have noticed.  I should have taken the time.  I should have said something.  Did she know I loved her?  This is all normal, but remember to be kind to yourself.  We all do the best we can with what we have at that moment.  We cannot see the future, we leave that up to God.

Here are three important points:

  1.  Grieving is a full-time job and is very draining
  2. Lower your expectations of who you think you should be right now
  3. Accept that fatigue is to be expected

Jesus came to help the broken.  I am learning to live my life reaching out to God’s loving arms.  I am learning to find my gratitude through my brokenness. Every moment I choose to be grateful for the time I had with my son, John, my dad, my brother and my mother, is time I am not anxious or afraid about the future.  Because gratitude and fear cannot co-exist at the same time.  Just like He’s done for me, He will see you through this. It’s God’s promise to give you hope and a future.

 

Since the death of my son John, I was faithful in my promise to God to help others heal, find a sense of hope to move forward in their grief journey and to develop skills to help others in the future.   For 18 years, I have served as a lay facilitator for our Grief Support Ministry Team at Arborlawn United Methodist Church, in Fort Worth, Texas, where we have worked with hundreds of people by offering year-round grief support groups.  For more information, please contact Arborlawn United Methodist Church, (817) 731-0701.

Mrs. Twist’s Guide to Thanksgiving: Breakfast Recipes

Since we eat later in the day on Thanksgiving, I like to prepare a breakfast we can enjoy while finishing up the last minute cooking and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television.  Today I am sharing four tasty, Twist-Lab tested recipes that are wonderful!

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Cranberry Christmas Cake

The taste-testers in the Twist Laboratory love this recipe for Cranberry Christmas Cake which you can find here on my Pinterest board.

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It’s starts with a 12 oz bag of these ruby jewels.  During the fall and winter season I stock up on fresh cranberries because they freeze really well.  Tip:  If you freeze them don’t wash them first or they will get soggy.  Just keep the bag intact and tuck inside a ziplock bag and throw into the freezer.   You can add a handful of cranberries to your muffin recipes and throw a palm full into your oatmeal while it cooks on the stove.

Cranberry Christmas Cake

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour *
12 oz fresh cranberries

* Gluten Free Substitution:
1 1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1 teaspoon xanthan gum

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With a mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar until slightly thickened and light in color, about 5-7 minutes. The mixture should almost double in size. The eggs work as your leavening agent in this recipe, so do not skip this step. This mixture should form a ribbon when you lift the beaters out of the bowl. Add the butter and vanilla; mix two more minutes. Stir in the flour until just combined. Add the cranberries and stir to mix throughout.

Spread in a buttered 9×13 pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until very lightly browned and a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean. (I baked mine for 43 minutes.) Let cool completely before cutting.

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It wasn’t even cooled when the Twist Lab assistants converged onto the cake.  They both ate two slices and said this was a winner!  And, for a twist, I made a smidge of powdered sugar and cream icing and drizzled a little on a slice.

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This cake is a MUST for your holidays.  I could easily see this cake divided into two 8×8 square disposable pans, tied with ribbon — perfect as homemade gifts!

The next recipe I just tried when Sister Bee was here for a visit is this recipe for Egg, Potato and Sausage Skillet from Six Sisters’ Stuff.

It was easy and delicious and a nice change from the traditional breakfast casserole.  What I liked about it is you put everything into the skillet and let it cook while you finish up the rest of breakfast.  It makes alot, too.  There were six of us and we had a few servings left over.

You can’t go wrong with the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for cinnamon rolls.  I found this recipe several years ago and make them all the time.  Even if you have never made cinnamon rolls, you can duplicate this recipe with ease and be so proud of yourself! And, as you can see, it makes about 6 pans of rolls you can freeze for company or as gifts.

Pioneer Cinnamon Rolls

And last this retro dish that I just love — Hot Curried Fruit.  I mean what says retro more than pears and maraschino cherries!  This is a recipe similar to one Mother used to make for her famous brunches.  Look at the bubbly, buttery brown sugar sauce!

Hot Curried Fruit

Recipe:

1 29-oz can cling peaches

1 15-oz can pineapple slices (I used chunks)

1 29-oz can pear halves

5 maraschino cherries without stems, halved

1/3 cup butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar

4 tsp. curry powder (I only used 3 tsp.)

Preheat oven to 350.  Drain fruit.  Pat individual pieces of fruit, with paper towels, until thoroughly dry.  Arrange fruit in a 1 1/2 quart baking dish.  Melt butter.  Add brown sugar and curry.  Spoon over fruit and bake 25 minutes.

This can be made a day ahead, refrigerated and then baked.  It serves 10-12.

If you missed previous posts in my “Mrs. Twist’s Guide to Thanksgiving” click here for Part One and here for Part Two.  I’ve got more to share so be sure to sign up for my newsletter on the right-hand side of my webpage.  My posts will be delivered right to you email in box each morning!