A Year of Smiles – Day 360: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #26 (Reason to SMILE #360): THE AFTERMATH

Crumpled wrapping paper,

unraveled bows,

countless opened boxes,

piles of toys, books, clothes, electronics and more,

a myriad of candy wrappers,

crumb-filled paper plates,

happy children and

pooped-out parents –

Oh, the aftermath of Christmas!

Sure, the mess creates more work for the weary but it is also evidence of a Christmas thoroughly-enjoyed.

And when you turn off the lights telling yourself the mess can wait one more day, the SMILE you find is oh, so sweet!

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A Year of Smiles – Day 356: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #22 (Reason to SMILE #356): THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

There’s something about this time of year that brings out the best in people. Children begin behaving, doing their chores without complaining, offering to help around the house – mostly to secure their place on Santa’s “Nice List”! Families set aside differences and grudges and gather together sharing, laughing and embracing freely and wholeheartedly. Even strangers stop on the street, at the stores and in restaurants to greet each other and wish happiness and joy to all those around.

Sure, the holidays can also bring out the worst in some people. Crowds at the mall, busy city streets and noisy public venues can test anyone’s patience and place a damper on Christmas cheer. But with every “Merry Christmas” I hear as I navigate this busy season, I am reassured that the spirit of Christmas remains alive and well. And when I return each greeting with a warm SMILE and a Christmas blessing of my own, I am doing my part to spread love and joy to a world longing for Christmas Spirit and longing for the Hope and Peace it brings.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our Christmas Spirit endured all year round?

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

– “Let There be Peace on Earth” by Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller

A Year of Smiles – Day 355: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #21 (Reason to SMILE #355): THE GIFTS MADE WITH LOVE

Some gifts are found in a box on a shelf, mass-produced and packaged for the general consumer.

Others come from the heart of one who knows you best, fashioned with your happiness in mind and packaged in the warmth and comfort of love.

Hand made Christmas

Aren’t these Christmas Ornament Placemats and Christmas Tree Coasters the cutest? They were made by the loving hands of my mom. These sure do make me SMILE!

Have I ever told you how incredibly awesome my mom is? Yep, I wanna be just like her one day. Hmmm. I guess that means I need to learn how to quilt! 😉

A Year of Smiles – Day 348: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #14 (Reason to SMILE #348) THE COOKIES AND CANDIES

Reasons why we all make the resolution to loose weight every new year:

Sugar cookies shaped like Christmas Trees, Reindeer, Candy Canes, bells and Santa

Chocolate Chip Cookies made from the Nestle Tollhouse recipe on the bag

Gingerbread men (I don’t care for gingerbread but the cookie makes me SMILE so…)

Peanut butter and Hershey’s Kisses cookies

Pecan Crescent Cookies

Shortbread cookies

Divinity

Candy Canes

Peanut butter balls (or Buckeyes)

Chocolate covered cherries

White Chocolate Peppermint Trufflesshortbread cookies

Boy, oh boy! I’m gaining weight just thinking about all these delicious Christmas treat. (Actually, I’m probably gaining weight from eating this tin of shortbread cookies while I’m writing but why would I admit that? 😉 )

There are so many treats to choose from at Christmas and everyone has their own special sweets that they look forward to making or eating during the Christmas season. For me, it’s two things: peanut butter cookies and strawberry candies. I don’t make either! But my mom does and they are my favorites of all her wonderfully delectable creations.

Now, first things first. Peanut butter cookies. Unless they have the criss-cross on the top, they are not worth eating. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? After the cookie dough is prepared, it’s rolled into a ball and placed on a cookie sheet. Then, the back of a fork is pressed down onto the ball and then again in another direction to make a criss-cross pattern on the top of the cookie. Kind of like a culinary hashtag!

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Sorry folks but if the cookies don’t have the criss-cross, they’re not real peanut butter cookies. 😉

The other of my two favorite Christmas treats is Strawberry Candies. This is a sweetly delicious soft candy made with strawberry flavored gelatin, sweetened condensed milk, pecans, coconut and a few other ingredients you can find in the recipe below. They are addictive. I don’t have a picture of my own for you because, well, I’ve never thought to snap a picture of my mom’s strawberry candies at Christmas. I’ve only thought to eat them! Here’s a picture courtesy of a blog called, “Urban Drivel”:

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Don’t they look scrumptious! They’re easy to make and if you love strawberries, this is a candy you definitely want to try.

Ingredients:

3 packages strawberry gelatin
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup coconut
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients.
Mix in condensed milk and vanilla.
Cover and chill for at least one hour.
Shape into berries using about a teaspoon each.
Roll in red sugar.
Dip top of berry in green sugar to create the leaf.

That’s it! I hope these strawberry candies make you SMILE as much as they do me. And if they don’t, feel free to send any unwanted candies my way. 😉

A Year of Smiles – Day 347: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #13 (Reason to SMILE #347): THE YULE LOG

It’s amazing what you find out when you do a little research. I’ve discovered that the practice of burning a Yule log goes back to before the 12th century and people actually burned a log in the fireplace. They didn’t just light candles that were placed on the log. I’ve also learned that the remnants of the Yule log, a small piece kept to light the Yule log the following year, were also thought to have powers that could ward off evil spirits, unfortunate circumstances and poor health. How about that!

I’m pretty sure my family Yule log has no magical powers – at all. But it is pretty awesome! Take a look:

yule log

That’s 39 years of candle wax right there. C’mon. You’ve gotta admit that’s cool!

For my family, the tradition of “burning” the Yule log began in 1978. The log came from the woods surrounding our house. I can’t say I remember burning the first candles of our Yule log but I can say that every Christmas I do remember, the Yule log was there with candles burnin’ and wax a-drippin’.

Now that I think about it, there may just be a bit of magic in this Yule log for it sure does invoke so many happy memories of Christmas traditions, family and love. And it always conjures up a SMILE.

A Year of Smiles – Day 343: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #9 (Reason to SMILE #343): THE WISH LIST

Do you remember making your Christmas wish list as a child? Did you make a list for your parents or did you write a letter to Santa? Although I may have when I was very young, I don’t remember writing letters to Santa. I always had a Christmas wish list, though! Well, actually, it was more like a catalog – the Montgomery Ward catalog, that is.

Every year, my brothers and sisters and I would flip through the Montgomery Ward catalog (or Monkey Ward, as we called it – I have no idea why!) and mark all the toys or clothes we wanted for Christmas. I loved flipping through each page, seeing all the new toys and the latest electronics (like boom boxes – Haha!) and drooling over the coolest fashion trends. I knew I wouldn’t get everything I wanted for Christmas but dreaming of all the possibilities while turning each catalog page made it all seem so magical.

No one flips through catalogs anymore, do they? Nowadays, my kids make a wish list on Amazon and then share their list with me electronically. They find the items they want, add that particular item to their list and forward it to me. Then, I decide which items I can afford, add them to my cart and click, click, click, the shopping is done. It’s not quite as magical as it used to be. Convenient and less time consuming, I suppose, but missing so much of the wonderment and excitement I remember as a child. (Maybe that’s because I’m footin’ the bill!)

Who knows. My kids may feel just as much magic creating their wish lists online as I did flipping through the pages of the “Monkey” Ward catalog. After all, a wish is a wish no matter how it’s made. And where there’s a wish, there’s always hope. And where there’s hope, the SMILES can’t be far behind.

What are you wishing for this Christmas?

A Year of Smiles – Day 342: The SMILES of Christmas

Adobe Spark (54)Christmas SMILE #8 (Reason to SMILE #342): THE PICTURES WITH SANTA

The lines may be long. The kid behind you might be screaming and throwing a fit. The parent in front of you might be talking too loudly on her phone and completely ignoring her child who is eating the plastic candy cane decorations. Your own kids may be antsy and whiny and doing everything within their power to test your patience. You may have to promise an early Christmas present to convince your kid it’s okay to sit on the lap of the creepy old man reaching out to grab him. You may have to jump up and down, make silly faces and wave a favorite toy above the photographer’s head to get your baby’s attention or stop your baby from crying. But nothing, and I mean nothing, will deter you from having your child’s picture taken with Santa.

Pic with Santa

Awww! So cute!

Wait a minute. The only one SMILING is Santa!

Yep. And momma wasn’t SMILING, either. 😉

A Year of Smiles – Day 325: Thanksgiving Countdown

Reason to SMILE and BE THANKFUL #325: THE AFTERNOON COMA

Plates have been emptied.

Bellies have been filled.

Belts have been loosened.

The afternoon food coma has begun.

As the miserable groans of overeater’s remorse begin to replace conversation, there’s nothing left to do but retreat to the living room and kick back in the recliner or relax on the couch. As a collective, my family doesn’t care much for “the game” (Unless it’s golf, which I don’t understand at all.) so our afternoon recuperation usually involves watching a movie. Let me clarify – a movie suitable for kids.

Yep. All of us from grandparents down to the kiddos sit together and watch the latest children’s movie. It’s fun to see who laughs the most, who makes it through to the end, who falls asleep and who bails on the family time first by pulling out their technology. I would name names but I do have to spend the entire day with these folks tomorrow so…

The afternoon food coma – it’s a SMILE that begins with the blissful agony of being stuffed to the gills, continues with a restful time of movies and relaxation and always ends with,

“Okay. Who’s ready for pie?”

My belt has no more notches (Heck, I’m not even wearing it anymore.) and my eyes are swimming in gravy but “Me, me, me! I’ll have a piece of pie!”

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And the SMILE of the Thanksgiving afternoon food coma keeps on giving. 😉

A Year of Smiles – Day 324: Thanksgiving Countdown

Reason to SMILE and BE THANKFUL #324: THE STORIES

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We all have them – stories about ourselves that only our families know, stories that our siblings use to hold us hostage or blackmail us into doing their chores or keeping their secrets, stories that will forever haunt not only our dreams but also our every waking moment. These are the tales of our past mistakes or those silly things we did when we were too young to know what we were doing. These are the anecdotes parents tell when the new boyfriend is introduced or the in-laws are invited to dinner. These are the stories we long to forget. Still, these stories are told over and over again.

Every.

Single.

Year.

Yeah, but isn’t it fun to sit around the dinner table, tell each other’s stories and laugh at each other’s embarrassment? And what better place to laugh at each other than at the Thanksgiving table?

Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without our annual reminiscing sessions. Since there are six of us kids, there are plenty of stories to remember and retell and, therefore, plenty of opportunities to relive the humiliation, embarrassment or hilarious frivolity. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy remembering the time her older brothers held her down and tickled her til she couldn’t breathe from laughing so hard? Hmmm. I still don’t think that was a fun moment. That might be why I chased my brothers around the house with a baseball bat!

Family stories – even if they’re embarrassing, they’re still fun to remember. And there wouldn’t be quite as many SMILES at the Thanksgiving table without them!

A Year of Smiles – Day 323: Thanksgiving Countdown

Reason to SMILE and BE THANKFUL #323: FAMILY

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It’s unbelievable that I’ve gone all year without writing about such a fantastic SMILE! I’m glad I haven’t, though, because Thanksgiving is the perfect time of year to reflect on the blessings of family.

I’m not sure I’d characterize my family as the typical family. We’re a larger family than most – two parents, three sons and three daughters. (“The Brady bunch, the Brady bunch, that’s the way we became the…” Sing it with me! Hehe! I couldn’t help myself!) We’re not a blended family. My parents have been married for 56 years. (Woohoo, Mom and Dad!) And of the six children, four of us are biological and two are adopted.

My siblings and I are all grown up (at least, physically – Hahaha! Gotta get those jabs in somewhere!) and have kids of our own. But we don’t all live close enough to see each other regularly. Although keeping in touch is not our greatest strength (I’ll be the first to admit that I’m horrible at it!), holidays give us the chance to either gather together or talk with each other over the phone.

Of course, my favorite times are when we can all get together.  I cherish those rare occasions. The picture below was taken at my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary (six years ago). Most of us were there; we were only missing one of my sisters and her kids.

Family

Awww! Look at those little munchkins! Where does the time go?

One thing is certain about my family. When the Jones clan gets together, you never know what will happen. It’s always loads of fun, especially when we start playing games. (You can read about that at A Year of Smiles – Day 123.) No matter what we do, though, even if we’re just napping on the couch after a wonderfully scrumptious Thanksgiving meal, our time together is always, well, interesting (Yeah. That’s a good word to describe it! 😉 ).

Sure. We have the usual family frustrations. We get on each other’s nerves and we make each other angry from time to time. What family doesn’t? But I would’t trade these folks for anything! Family is a precious gift, one that brings so much joy and so many priceless SMILES!