Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to YOU!

Click to enlarge

From our house to yours, we wish you the merriest of Christmases
and happiest of New Year's!

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Visit With Santa

I finally took my daughter to see Santa Claus last week. For the past month or so, she's been asking for a "big girl bicycle," so this was her chance to discuss it with the big man himself.

My not-typically-shy child got very quiet when she saw him. I suppose he is a rather imposing figure when you meet him in person. Thankfully, there weren't many people waiting in line on a Wednesday morning, so Santa was able to take some time to talk to her and make her feel comfortable. In fact, they shared some sort of secret whisper-talk, and I have no idea what actually transpired. But she seemed happy, and finally got to ask for her "big girl bicycle."

Santa has sent her a couple of messages via video, so she knows that in order to qualify for the bicycle, she needs to be a good girl and eat all of her food (my daughter barely eats enough to keep a small bird alive). It's a tough assignment, but she's working on it.

It helps to have a little push from Santa.

I'm pretty sure that a big girl bicycle will be waiting for her under the tree on Christmas morning.

*   *   *

Photo by whoever the photo people are at the mall, December 15, 2010.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Friday, December 17, 2010

Best Bytes for the Week of December 17, 2010

Big news this week seems to be the announcement of the next season's line-up of celebrities on NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are." While I can't say that I'm super-excited about watching any of these folks, I'm sure I will watch the show just to hear them talk genealogy. My hope is that they were all selected because they have interesting family history stories.

Also, I'm hoping Steve Buscemi is as much of a character in real life as he is in some of the movies in which he's performed.

In the News:

Today is the 75th Anniversary of the Plane That Changed Everything

If you're traveling to a Spanish-speaking destination, or need to translate Spanish-English or English-Spanish documents, you need this iPhone app - Word Lens: Augmented Reality App Translates Street Signs Instantly. I can see lots of uses for this, once they release a few more languages!

A train-wreck in motion - Yahoo Has Hit Rock Bottom And Is In "Absolute Disarray"

Kind of interesting, from a historical perspective - Cultural Evolution Could Be Studied in Google Books Database

Print at home? Print at Costco? - Calculate Whether to Make Prints at Home or Through a Printing Service

If you love maps, check out this post (and the whole site!) - Mapping American Slavery

UPDATE: I forgot to add these yesterday! King Henri IV's head has been very busy lately: Scientists ID Head of France's King Henry IV, Suspected Henri IV Head Back With Heirs, and video here.

From the Blogs:

A terrific post about the misrepresentation of African American history - "Old Tom" in Grant County. A Disappointment and an Opportunity from My Ancestor's Name by Angela Y. Walton-Raji.

Do not operate heavy machinery after drinking this! And Now… for your Holiday Nogging Pleasure: The Eggnog Recipe from The Family Curator (thank goodness Mr. Curator found the omission!)

A very interesting series about how a scientist looks at genealogy - Applying The Scientific Method to Genealogical Research (Part 6) from Steve's Genealogy Blog by Steve Danko. Start with Part 1 here.

As much as I love technology (and want a Nookcolor for Christmas!), I still worry about this stuff - Books Are Your Friends from Random Notes by Leah Kleylein. Anyone who has tried to open an important, old file on obsolete media will understand.

Maybe this is why I can't find Louise Rudity/Redsuty/Redsouty/WHATEVER - But I KNOW My Great Grandma's Name! So Why Am I Stuck? from Olive Tree Genealogy Blog by Lorine Schulze

Because I loved Part 1, and "showing is better than telling" - Interviewing while looking at photo albums (Part 2) by Susan Kitchens of Family Oral History Using Digital Tools.

How genealogy can save the world - Family History--What's in it for me. from The Chart Chick by Janet Hovorka. Seriously though, Janet is so very awesome, a fact that is not lost on the Utah Genealogical Association.

If you can translate Swedish, Jennie could use your help - see Swedish, Anyone? on They Came To Montana. Too bad Word Lens doesn't do more than Spanish!

A possible case for The History Detectives? OTIS V. GRAY: A HISTORY MYSTERY from West in New England by Bill West.

Because I love a good scoundrel ancestor story - The Brooklyn Midnight Assassin from The Virtual Dime Museum by Lidian.

The Last Byte

More big news this week was the announcement of nominees for Family Tree Magazine's 2011 40 Best Genealogy Blogs. While I have mixed feelings about this whole thing, I do want to thank (again) whoever took the time to nominate Little Bytes of Life for this honor. I'm happy that you read this blog, and I'm happy that I'm not always talking to myself... like I usually am at home.

I started this blog because I was a lonely, isolated, stay-at-home mom, and I needed to talk grown-up talk with somebody, anybody, even if nobody out there was listening. I assumed in the beginning that I would be a "mommy-blogger." Sitting in my pajamas, I was just going to write about life, dull as it was, and hope to be struck by inspiration. Frankly, I never intended for this to turn into a genealogy blog (hence the odd title), mainly because when I started blogging, I didn't know that there was such a thing as a genealogy blog.

What I found out later was that there was this amazing group of renegades people out there who shared my passion for genealogy, and were already blogging about it and sharing their knowledge. I accidentally stumbled across this group one day when I Googled my way onto Bill West's blog, West in New England.

I'd found my genea-soulmates!

Much has changed in the genealogy blogging community in the past 3 years. It's taken seriously now, and is no longer a "frontier," trail-blazed by renegade genealogists using this strange thing called a BLOG. I mean, what sane person puts personal stuff like genealogy out on the internet like that? It's just UNHEARD OF (or so I was told)!

I kind of miss the frontier days... but alas, that's a post for another day.

What hasn't changed is the people. Genealogy bloggers are still the most caring, helpful people you'd want to meet anywhere... not just on the WWW. And they're a lot of fun in person, too!

And I'm still blogging in my pajamas, wiping noses and bottoms in between posts.

So, that being said... if you like this blog, I hope you will consider giving it a vote (or two!). The fact that you even took the time to read this post is much-appreciated!

*   *   *

Please note that "Best Bytes for the Week" will be on hiatus for the next 2 weeks in observation of Christmas and New Year's.

To subscribe to my Google Reader shared items (where there are many more cool things to read), please visit my Google Profile. Be sure to check out the weekly picks of Randy Seaver, Diane Haddad, Megan Smolenyak, Susan Petersen, Greta Koehl, Donna Pointkouski, and the Follow Friday posts listed on Geneabloggers. Happy reading!

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Blogger Offers Mobile Templates (It's About Time!)

When I logged in to my Blogger dashboard this morning, I was greeted with a little pop-up notice saying that mobile templates were now available for Blogger users. Would I like to turn them on now?

As a fanatical regular iPhone web surfer, I do appreciate sites that are specifically formatted for mobile users. Mobile internet service has improved drastically in the past few years, and one no longer needs to walk away and make a sandwich while waiting for a site to download. However, some sites - my own, included - are still often painfully slow to load.

So, of course I clicked yes, that I would like to try out the new mobile template.

Here's what Little Bytes of Life looked like on my iPhone before the mobile template was installed.

Pre-Mobile: Lots going on for such a small space.

After the mobile template was installed, the clutter went away, and the page loaded much more quickly. Posts are shown in "snippet" view, with one picture, as a teaser.

Post-Mobile: Less clutter, more focus on posts.

The author's About Me photo and bio-blurb appears at the bottom of the page.

Hello from the bottom of the page!

Clicking on a post link shows this view:

A post, in mobile format.

You can't see it from the picture, but if you scroll down, the entire post, including comments, will be revealed. The About Me section is again at the bottom of the page. There are also links to browse older and newer posts.

If, for some reason, one needs to return to the slower cluttered regular format, there's a link to "view web version" at the bottom of each page.

To give the mobile template a try, go to your Blogger dashboard and click on Settings > Email & Mobile (formerly just Email). Click the radio button for "Yes, On mobile devices, show the mobile version of my template." Don't forget to click SAVE SETTINGS at the bottom of the page.

A few clicks, and your mobile template is installed!

See that QR code on the page above? I scanned it, and it goes right to Little Bytes of Life. I haven't figured out yet why they put it there, unless they expect me to cut the graphic out an paste it on something. Anyone know why that's there?

The mobile template is noted as being in "beta," and I believe the may only be available for users of Blogger in Draft. If you don't have Blogger in Draft set as your default dashboard, you should consider doing so. If I remember correctly how to do this, log into your dashboard at and select the option to make Blogger in Draft your default dashboard. All the cool, new stuff from Blogger is released in draft first, so don't miss out!

For the record, I have tested lots of "mobile your blog" web sites, and have not been happy with ANY of the results. Blogger's mobile template is by far the best - and easiest! - option I've tried for Blogger blogs. Wordpress users have had a mobile plug-in for quite a while, so this offering from Blogger is long overdue, in my opinion.

More about Blogger's mobile templates from the Blogger in Draft blog.

Give the mobile template a try and let me know what you think! Or, if you've found something better, please tell me about it!

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Day 17 - My Old Friend Santa Bank

As I was unpacking the Christmas decorations a few days ago, I was greeted by an old friend whom I hadn't seen in several years: Santa Bank.

I don't remember when Santa Bank came to live with us. He's been a part of the family for as long as I can remember.

I also don't know where Santa Bank came from. I assume that he was a gift to me when I was a small child. His left foot says that he came from "Mexico." I wish I knew how he got from Mexico to me.

He's got a few cracks and chips, and part of his nose is missing. He's obviously been well-loved.

Somebody raided Santa Bank a while back (probably me), as you can see from the injury to his backside. He's still got some coins rattling around inside, but I just leave them there. You never know when a few extra coins might come in handy.

Santa Bank hasn't come out to visit for quite a few years. He's old and fragile (like me), and I was worried that he wouldn't survive my daughter's curiousity.

Hopefully Santa Bank will survive long enough for my daughter's children to forget where he came from.

*   *   *

This post is the seventeenth in the "2010 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally published on December 17, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit the official blog of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Day 15 - Holiday Happenings!

Because time itself is like a spiral, something special happens on your birthday each year: The same energy that God invested in you at birth is present once again.
~Menachem Mendel Schneerson
In tribute to the ancestors whose birthdays and anniversaries may have fallen through the cracks during all the holiday chaos.

The birthdays

Mary Irwin
Luvinia (Swanay) Martin
Fethias Smith
George W. Swanay
Joseph F. Brown
Mararet (Delaney) Harms
Almina (Hughes) Blanton
Sarah Jane (Swatzel) Dunn
Margaret (White) Kopp
Hannah Thompson
Serena (Baxter) Brown
Myda McGraw
Mary Jane (Grogan) McGraw
Eliza Jane (Thompson) Swatzel
Mary "Polly" (Hays) Swanay
Polly (Brown) Hartman
Susan Dunn
Peter Swatzel
Susannah (Kiser) Swanay

The Anniversaries

Malinda Taylor and Patrick Erwin
Melissa Cunningham and Barnett Baxter
Susannah Kiser and Albert Swanay
Mary Brown and William Walker
Ann Long and Nicholas Haile
Julia A. Blanton and Samuel M. Dunn
Martha Thompson and Barnett Babb
Hannah "Bridget" Grogan and Peter Bradley

A special happy birthday "aloha" to my cousin and her husband and daughter, all of whom celebrate December birthdays. Also, birthday greetings go to a certain first cousin, once-removed, and her husband; and anniversary greetings to a special couple who shall remain unnamed. Hopefully you all know who you are.

*   *   *

This post is the fifteenth in the "2010 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally posted on December 15, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit the official blog of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Day 14 - Fruitcake (It's in the Genes)

Holiday Lament (The Fruitcake Song)

On some level, I think even fruitcake knows how awful fruitcake is.

Dislike of fruitcake supposedly dates back to the American Revolutionary War.

Legend has it that Commander-in-chief George Washington approached Benjamin Franklin one day to ask for barricade ideas to stop advancing British forces. Franklin suggested using his mother-in-law's fruitcake... apparently his uncle had broken a tooth on one the previous year.

It is doubtful that Washington took Franklin's dubious advice.

Another legend proposes that George Washington, upon hearing from one of his men that they were out of ammunition, suggested that they fire fruitcakes at the British. Apparently many British soldiers were killed or maimed that day.

Finally, there was the story published in the New York Times in 1983, which tells of Russell Baker, the lucky man who inherited a family fruitcake that had been baked in 1794 as a Christmas gift for George Washington. Washington apparently sent it back with a note of thanks, explaining that "he thought it unseemly for Presidents to accept gifts weighing more than 80 pounds, even though they were only eight inches in diameter."

Mr. Baker coined the phrase, "Fruitcake is forever."

*   *   *

I can only guess that my Colonial ancestors also had an aversion to fruitcake, since I have such a supreme distaste for it, myself.

If fruitcake is forever, then dislike of it must be in the genes.

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This post is the fourteenth in the "2010 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally posted on December 14, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit the official blog of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

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Funny song from the original holiday musical revue, "That Time of the Year." See

"Fruitcake is Forever," Russell Baker, New York Times, December 25, 1983, Section 6, p. 10, column 3 (subscription required to view the article).

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Got Splogged

 Actually, I got splogged twice. In one day. And neither of these sites have anything to do with genealogy (do they ever?). In fact, I have no idea what they are about since neither is written in English or any language I can partially figure out.

Special Agent 234 is scraping up Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories posts right and left. Weird, because the picture in the header is of a soccer ball and feet.

Download Ubuntu Theme, Icons and Stuff is scraping up all sorts of genealogy-related posts. For what, I don't know. Actually, it looks like a search result page, but since no search was performed (by me), it's hard to tell where it came from.

I suggest that you take a look at these sites to see if any of your posts have been splogged. It's also a good idea to set up a Google Alert with the name of your blog, your blog URL, your name, and anything else that might alert you to the fact that someone is stealing your stuff.

FWIW, there is apparently a Wordpress plug-in to prevent splogging: Anti-Splog. If any of you use this, I'd love to hear your thoughts. If there's anything comparable for Blogger, I'd love to know about that, too.


Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

A-Blog Caroling We Go: Christmas Time is Here

I posted this one last year, but it remains one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs.

This year, my daughter and I watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" together, all snuggled up in bed. When this song came on, she looked over at me and asked, "Why are you crying, Mommy?"

It's hard to explain melancholy to a 4 year-old.

Christmas Time is Here

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

Christmas time is here
We'll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year...

*   *   *

"Christmas Time is Here" by Vince Guaraldi. Released on Fantasy Inc., Jan 16, 1992.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Voting is Open for the Family Tree 40

Congratulations to the many outstanding genealogy blogs that have been nominated for the 2011 Family Tree 40! There is some truly amazing talent out there!

You can vote for your faves by visiting this link. For a complete list of nominees, visit DearMYRTLE's Genealogy Blog. You'll want to check out each and every one of the nominated blogs, as they are all wonderful.

Voting is open until 11:59 p.m. on Monday, December 20, 2010. You may vote as many times as you would like (even on the same day!).

The 2011 Family Tree 40 will be published in the July 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

Little Bytes of Life has been nominated in the MY FAMILY HISTORY category. I would like to thank whoever took the time and effort to nominate this blog - it is much appreciated and such an honor to be nominated!

Oh... and if you like this blog, and you have a moment, I hope that you will consider giving it a vote!

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Friday, December 10, 2010

Best Bytes for the Week of December 10, 2010

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get this finished today, but here you go!

If you missed the 100th Edition Carnival of Genealogy, you need to go check that out. Don't walk, run over to Creative Gene! Right now! Now, now, now!

(I apologize. I need to remove the Mom Hat for the remainder of this post.)

In the News

Got a bone to pick about the 2010 Census? Here's your chance - Have Your Say: 2010 Census Records!

Cemetery's lost veterans found and honored'

1000Memories Now Captures The Lives Of Departed Loved Ones In A Single Glance

Another reason why young people need to be involved in genealogy, genealogical societies (and lineage groups) - Genealogical society dissolves after four decades

Ok, how come I've never seen any of this stuff? Graveyards at Disneyland? Weird Finds at the 'Happiest Place on Earth'

There's still time to participate in NARA's Bill of Rights Twitter Contest. Every day, from December 6 to 15, tweet about the #BillofRights, and you could be a lucky winner!

NARA's web site is getting a makeover. Check it out here (I kind of like it!).

In case you haven't heard - Google eBooks: E-Reading Takes To The Cloud.

Sometimes you find things in the most unlikely of places - Project unearths genealogy

Note to cemetery vandals: Big Brother is watching you - Satellite Images Show Disappearance of Armenian Artifacts in Azerbaijan.

And can you believe "genealogy" didn't make the cut? Google Released The Most Searched Terms in 2010

From the Blogs

Almost as much fun as the one about being descended from and Indian Princess - Your Family's Name Was Not Changed at Ellis Island by Leslie Albrecht Huber of The Journey Takers Blog.

And we secretly wish they had - If Our Ancestors Wrote Christmas Letters: Dreadful Greetings by The Family Curator.

Amazing that they even survived the trip - Wordless Wednesday, almost: The Dunbrody, a famine ship by IrishEyesJG at 'On a flesh and bone foundation': An Irish History.

Help for those of us who can't even remember ONE password - Online Security by Denise Olson at Moultrie Creek Gazette.

I liked this one last year, too - Advent Calendar : The Best Christmas Gift (DAR and Genealogy related, of course) from Life From The Roots by Barbara Poole.

Sage advice - Where's the Pepper? by Gena Ortega on Gena's Genealogy.

Been there, done that - HURT FEELINGS AND FAMILY FEUDS: ARE YOU COPING WITH CRITICISM OF YOUR HARD WORK? from Irish Genealogy: Help! The Faery Folk Hid My Ancestors! by Deborah Large Fox.

A sad story with a sad ending - Baptism, Marriage and Death on the Same Day by Apple of Apple's Tree.

As one who has merged with way too many people's GEDCOM's, I needed this - Standardizing Place Names - Using FTM 2011 to Merge Place Names by Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings.

The Last Byte

Are you all Christmas'd out yet? Hopefully not because it's caroling time! Blog Caroling, that is. It's ok if you sing out of tune - visit The FootnoteMaven's Tradition Of Blog Caroling for the lowdown. Oh, and don't forget to bring the eggnog.

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To subscribe to my Google Reader shared items (where there are many more cool things to read), please visit my Google Profile. Be sure to check out the weekly picks of others, such as Randy Seaver, Diane Haddad, Megan Smolenyak, Susan Petersen, Greta Koehl, and the Follow Friday posts listed on Geneabloggers. Happy reading!

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Day 10 - Christmas Gifts

My father is the type of person who just decides to do something... and then does it.

Now, I'm not talking about simple things. I'm talking about big, complicated projects, things about which he has little or no knowledge of how to do prior to doing them. Like, "Gee, I think I'll make ships in bottles now." Or, "Hey, I'm going to make a stained-glass, Tiffany reproduction lamp now."

That sort of stuff.

One year - probably around 1978 - my father decided that he was going to build a banjo. To my knowledge, he'd never built a banjo - or any type of musical instrument - before. He'd done other kinds of woodworking: wooden candy dishes, gavels, ship-in-bottle stands, and such. But never a musical instrument.

For months I watched as a banjo began to take shape. I remember the wooden skeleton hanging from the garage rafters waiting for its"guts." Dad meticulously carved out the ebony fingerboard and peghead, where abalone and mother-of-pearl would carefully be inlaid. A detailed design was carved into the wood on the back of the neck. A small, mother-of-pearl swan (representative of our last name, Swanay) was carved and inlaid in the heel.

I had seen my father work on lots of projects before, so to me, this was just another of Dad's many hobbies. I assumed that he was building himself a new instrument; after all, he was the banjo-player in the house, so it made sense.

However, on Christmas morning, I was stunned when Dad handed me a large, black instrument case. Inside was the banjo, and inlaid in mother-of-pearl on the peghead were my initials, "EMS."

All along, he'd been making this instrument for me.

*   *   *

At the time, I had no idea why my father gave the banjo to me. After all, I didn't know how to play it (although I did try to learn afterwards), and I really didn't like listening to banjo music. I suppose that not many non-banjo-playing teenagers would know what to do with such a gift.

Dad told me later that he'd wanted to give me something special that he made himself. Something I could give to my children one day.

Thirty years ago, I didn't get it. But I do now.

And if I forgot to say it then... thank you, Dad. I love it.

To this day, it remains the most special Christmas gift I ever received.

*   *   *

This post is the tenth in the "2010 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally posted on December 10, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit the official blog of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Day 9 - Divine Divinity

Divinity, done right, is divine!

Nearly every year at Christmas, my grandmother would serve a strange, white confection called Divinity.

What is Divinity? It's kind of a cross between fudge and a meringue cookie. I did a little research, hoping to find that it was an old, French-Canadian treat handed down for many generations, but I was disappointed to learn that it's actually thought to be American in origin:
Although recipes for various nougat and sweet meringue-type confections (with and without nuts and fruit) can be traced to ancient Turkish and 17th century European and [sic] roots, food historians generally agree that Divinity (aka Divinity fudge, Divinity candy) is an early 20th century American invention. Why? One of the primary ingedients in early Divinity recipes is corn syrup, a product actively marketed to (& embraced by) American consumers as a sugar substitute at that time. Corn syrup was affordable (economical), practical (shelf-stable), and adapted well to most traditional recipes. Karo brand corn syrup, introduced by the Corn Products Refining Company in 1902, was/is perhaps the most famous. It is no coincidence that early Karo cooking brochures contain recipes for Divinity (from The Food Timeline).
I never much cared for Divinity as a kid. My grandmother - who supposedly got the recipe from her mother-in-law "Zee" (Faivre) Dagle - made it in a loaf pan and served it in slices. I didn't like it this way; it included nuts and candied cherries, and reminded me too much of fruitcake. I prefer Divinity in small "dollops" like cookies.

With Divinity, a little dollop'll do ya.

*   *   *

Keep in mind that Divinity is NOT the easiest treat to make. There are many factors to consider besides ingredients: weather conditions have to be absolutely right, the planets perfectly aligned, your chi unblocked, etc., etc. You might want to check your horoscope first, too.

Seriously though, humidity and barometric pressure play a big factor.
Why does Divinity sometimes choose not to set? "Divinity is a tricky confection to make under the best circumstances--almost impossible under less than good. The recipe in one community cookbook advises a short consultation with the local meteorologist: "Please remember candy doesn't set unless the barometer reads 30 in. or over; doesn't make a difference whether it's raining or not, just watch your t.v. for the barometric pressure." Divinity like most other Southern canides shows up around the winter holidays. It is sort of a companion piece to fudge in Christmas gift boxes. ---Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, Bill Neal [Alfred A. Knopf: New York] 1996, p. 138 (from The Food Timeline).
My advice: mix, mix, mix some more. And just when you think you can't hold the mixer any longer... keep on mixing. But, be careful not to mix too much. There's a very fine line between too much and not enough mixing of Divinity.

I never said it was easy.

Last Christmas, I attempted to make Divinity for the first time. Unfortunately, my first attempt did not go as well as I'd hoped. The first few spoonfuls weren't firm enough and spread all over the wax paper like big, gooey cookies. After beating for a few more minutes, the mixture firmed up quite a bit, and finally began to stiffen.

Yucky goo is not divine!

Also, with humidity at 89%, and barometric pressure at just 30.14, our weather conditions were not ideal for Divinity-making. Sadly, my Divinity refused to set properly, and is just a bit too soft on the outside for my liking.

Strangely enough though, it tastes exactly like I remember my grandmother's Divinity tasting. One bite, and I was transported back to about 30 years ago.

It was a divine taste of Christmas past.

*   *   *


2 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup chopped nuts
red and green sugar (optional)
Also optional: candied fruit pieces, chocolate chips, crushed peppermint pieces

Mix sugar, corn syrup and waterh in a heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar is completely dissolved; then cook without stirring to 260⁰ (a little dropped into cold water forms a hard ball).

Remove from heat and pour, beating constantly, in a fine stream into the beaten egg whites. Add vanilla and continue beating until mixture holds its shopa and becomes slightly dull. Fold in nuts and other optional items (if desired).

Working quickly, drop from a greased spoon onto waxed paper in individual peaks. If it flattens out (like gooey cookies), beat the mixture for another minute or so. Do not overbeat or mixture will be too stiff. Top with red and green sugar (optional). Makes about 48 pieces.

Alternatively, fold in candied cherries or other goodies and pour into a loaf pan. When firm, serve in slices. OR, spread in a greased pan and cut into 1" squares when firm.

Store tightly covered to keep the humidity out.


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This post is the ninth in the "2010 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally posted on December 4, 2009. Slight modifications have been made. It was also published in the Geneabloggers Holiday 2009 Cookbook, which you can download for free from

To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit the official blog of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Strong Woman: There's One in Every Family - Part II

"The Drunkards Progress: From the First Glass to the Grave"
Note the woman and child standing under the bridge.

This article has been difficult for me to write. As a genealogist - and a descendant of the main characters - I wanted to do justice to the story. I think we're always looking for "one more": one more vital record, one more news article, one more photo, one more book... one more anything that will shed light on what really happened. At some point, we need to stop looking and just write... which can be harder than it sounds.

And while I'm still looking for one more, I need to just write.

Read The Strong Woman: There's One in Every Family - Part I

*   *   *

From "The Daily Times"
(Portsmouth, Ohio)
February 25, 2899
On February 6, 1899, Louise Faivre's life as she knew it was about to change. Unbeknownst to her, husband Andrew and a few of his buddies shared a bucket of beer in the shop after work, and then headed out to the local saloons for a few more drinks.

Several hours and several bottles later, Andrew and a buddy boarded the train for home. Andrew supposedly got off at the correct stop, but in his intoxicated condition, fell down and spent the night in a snow drift. And it was an extremely cold night – some reports say as cold as 10 below zero. Andrew was badly frozen by the time he was found the next morning (one newspaper reported that he had been frozen to death). His fingers and toes were badly frostbitten, requiring amputation of all of his fingers, and at least one of his toes. He got to keep his thumbs.

Having no fingers would certainly make his job as a tailor difficult, if not impossible.

The temperance movement was in full swing at this time, and there was a law on the books allowing a wife damages against "persons who sold her husband liquor against her wishes, causing him to suffer permanent injury." In March 1899, Louise filed suit against three of the saloonkeepers for $10,000 in damages.

After all, she had warned them. And she meant business.

From "The Des Moines Leader"

(Des Moines, IA)
April 13, 1902

The case went to trial, and was anything but easy. After two mistrials, Louise eventually asked for a change of venue, claiming that there was so much influence from the liquor industry in Woodbury County that it was impossible for her to receive a fair trial. The judge agreed. The case was moved to Onawa, in Monona County, and after a few preliminary battles, went to trial.

On May 3, 1900, after three days of lawyers putting up what was called "one of the hardest fights in the history of Monona County," the jury ruled in Louise Faivre's favor. She was awarded $6,000 in damages, although only two of the saloonkeepers were found guilty.

The saloonkeepers were not going down without a fight, and immediately filed a motion for a new trial.

However, almost two years later, in April of 1902, the Iowa State Supreme Court would uphold the lower court's ruling, and again award Louise $6,000 in damages against the two booze-giving saloonkeepers.

In late November of 1902, Louise would finally receive compensation of $7,123 (the extra $1,123 was for "costs and interest," since the unpaid initial judgment of $6,000 had been due in May 1900).

A drop in the bucket, even for those times.

This trial was watched closely by many people, particularly the liquor industry, and made headlines in newspapers across the country. The case is featured in several scholarly articles and books, including Manhood Lost: Fallen Drunkards and Redeeming Women in the Nineteenth-Century United States(which I received from last week).

From Manhood Lost: Fallen Drunkards and Redeeming Women in the Nineteenth-Century United States, p. 3

It is also thought that this case, and others like it, were contributing factors in the passage of the 18th Amendment – Prohibition.

(Interestingly, Iowa was the 31st state out of 46 to ratify the 18th Amendment, doing so on January 15, 1919, almost 20 years after Andrew Faivre's fateful freezing.)

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Needless to say, Louise's life could not have been an easy one. She persevered through what must have been an unhappy marriage, the loss of so many children, her husband's alcoholism, permanent injury and loss of income, as well as 4 very public trials, including one at the Supreme Court level.

When her husband couldn't perform his duties as the "man of the house," she stepped up to the plate.

And oddly enough, through the good, bad, and ugly, she and Andrew stayed together. One Connecticut newspaper reported the headline of "Drunkards Wife Gets Divorce," but that never happened. Census records show that Louise and Andrew were still together, still married, and living in Union County, South Dakota, in 1920.

Only a very strong - and very patient - woman wouldn't have kicked the bum out.

Andrew Faivre died on November 11, 1928, at the age of 75. No mention is made on his death certificate of any illness related to drinking. Hopefully he learned his lesson and gave up the bottle.

Louise died at a hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, on June 15, 1942, at the age of 87. She was still living in South Dakota at the time of her death.

Both are buried together at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Sioux City.

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You can bend but never break me
'Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
'Cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul

I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong

I am woman

"I Am Woman"
By Helen Reddy and Ray Burton

Written for the 100th Edition Carnival of Genealogy: "There's One in Every Family!" Read Part I here.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Day 8 - Christmas Cookies

Snickerdoodle Cookies
Photo of Snickerdoodles by Flickr user Evening

My mother wasn't much of a baker. In fact, I'm fairly certain that she didn't like to cook at all. That being said, if she ever baked Christmas cookies, I don't remember her doing it.

When I got older, I started doing some baking on my own. Each Christmas, I would make fudge, rum balls, and various quick breads (banana, date, pumpkin) to give as gifts or to help pack on the calories at home. I would also bake one of my favorite cookie recipes: Snickerdoodles. While not specifically for Christmas, they do taste wonderful, and with a few red and green sprinkles tossed on before baking, they look very festive on your holiday table. Plus, there are no peanuts (or nuts of any kind), to which my daughter is allergic.

This year, I'm hoping to start a cookie-baking tradition with my 4.5 year-old daughter. She's fascinated by watching me work in the kitchen, so this seems like as good a time as any to get her involved. I'm thinking of making up some sugar cookies and letting her "help" decorate them, but if you have any suggestions for fun cookies (or other baking projects) that a little one can help make, please let me know!

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3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsps sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375⁰. Grease a cookie sheet. Stir together flour, soda, cream of tartar, and 1/2 tsp salt. Beat butter for 30 seconds; add the 2 cups sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs, milk and vanilla; beat well. Add dry ingredients to beaten mixture, beating until well combined. Form dough into 1-inch balls; roll in a misture of the 3 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon (and sprinkles, if desired). Place balls 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet; flatten slightly with the bottom of a drinking glass. Bake in a 375⁰ oven about 8 minutes or until light golden. Makes about 66.

(From the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, Ninth Edition, 1981, p. 162.)

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This post is the eighth in the "2010 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally posted on December 8, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit the official blog of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Speak Into the Pen Please, Grandma

In this morning's email, I received my usual list of sale items from Costco. One item in particular caught my eye today: the Swann DVR-421 PenCam Mini Video Camera and Recorder.

On sale at for $49.99 (with free shipping), it's part camera, part pen, and part something out of a James Bond movie.

Just imagine the uses! Grandma Susie is too nervous to talk about her childhood when you point that camcorder in her face, but get her talking and she won't even know the pen is recording! Lay your pencam on the table during Christmas Eve dinner and let the fun begin - no one even needs to know!

(I'm sure there are plenty of other creepy uses for a gadget such as this, but I won't get into those.)

The customer reviews are mixed - people love it or they hate it. The biggest complaint was that it either took lousy video or none at all (kind of defeats the purpose).

My question is: with no viewfinder, how do you know exactly what you're recording? Are you getting Grandma Susie's face, or some other body part?

What do you think? Useful oral-history-gathering-tool for reticent family members? Or creepy stalker device?

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The Fine Print: I am not an affiliate of Costco or I just thought this was an interesting gadget.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Remembering Pearl Harbor (and Sales)

Click to enlarge
Today we remember the day "that will live in infamy."

On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawai'i, killing more than 2,400 Americans and wounding over 1,200.

The U.S.S. Arizona was completely destroyed and the U.S.S. Oklahoma capsized. The attack sank three other ships and damaged many additional vessels. More than 180 aircraft were destroyed.

The following day President Franklin Roosevelt, addressing a joint session of Congress, called December 7th "a date which will live in infamy." Declaring war against Japan, Congress ushered the United States into World War II and forced a nation, already close to war, to abandon isolationism. Within days, Japan's allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States, and the country began a rapid transition to a war-time economy in building up armaments in support of military campaigns in the Pacific, North Africa, and Europe.

On this National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we honor the lives lost in that horrific attack and salute the veterans of World War II.

Let's take a moment out of our busy holiday schedules to remember what happened that day.

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In honor of National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, our friends at are making some of their World War II collections free during the month of December:

On December 7, 1941, the United States suffered the most shocking military defeat in its history at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. The Japanese surprise attack caused over 3,000 casualties and sank or damaged many ships including all eight battleships anchored in the harbor. Though the attack severely incapacitated the US Pacific fleet, it united a previously divided America and committed a nation to war.

See more about the Pearl Harbor Attack and WWII

Interactive USS Arizona Memorial
Leave a tribute to a World War II Hero.

Pearl Harbor Muster Rolls - Free during December
Personnel assigned to ships based at Pearl Harbor.

A Narrative of Events During the Attack
Spotlight from the World War II Diaries.

'Attack on Pearl Harbor' Footnote Page
See documents and more about the Pearl Harbor Attack.

The World War II War Diaries provide a day-to-day record of operational activities and sometimes administrative activities as well. Free during the month of December

Explore the entire World War II Collection

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Just as an aside, I noticed yesterday while noodling around on that is giving a 50% discount on their subscription services to current subscribers of That's a 1-year subscription for $39.95 (which is as good as their Cyber Monday sale a couple weeks ago). If you're an subscriber who wants to take advantage of's services, now is the time!

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The Fine Print: I am an affiliate of both and, which means that if you decide to subscribe to their services by clicking on the little ads to your right, I make a teeny, tiny commission, for which I would be most grateful. Thank you!

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Friday, December 3, 2010

Best Bytes for the Week of December 3, 2010

My daughter has been interrupting me about every 8 nanoseconds all day today, and I am no longer capable of putting together a coherent thought. I hope you enjoy this week's links.

Seriously though, how does someone with so little life experience have so much to say? It's just mind-boggling.

In the News

Right in my own backyard (but I was sleeping and missed it) - Secret Space Plane Finally Lands; Twin Preps for Launch.

Almost in my backyard - Matriarch of music in SLO dies at 98. She was the last known survivor of Pancho Villa's 1916 New Mexico raid, and what a fascinating life she must have had!

Can't argue with that - Not enough people document their lives, archivist says.

Google is offering Call credits for military families this holiday season.

Another reason to love Firefox - Find Copyright Violations with a Right Click in Firefox.

Generators for Generations: Online databases for mtDNA

A sale I missed this week - 'Star Spangled Banner' sheet music sells for more than $500,000.

Do all e-readers have this problem? Or just Kindle? Why the Kindle Is Losing Me.

Registration for the NGS 2011 Family History Conference is now open for business.

From the Blogs

Margel, of 2338 W. Washington Blvd, offers a decorative suggestion for what to do with those old pots and pans in Holiday Fun for Genealogists. This one will be hard to top!

Deb Ruth, of Adventures in Genealogy, offers some great tips for finding the meaning of surnames in Surname Saturday - Meaning of Given Name.

Most cell phones these days have a record feature, but if you're still telephoning the old school way, check out Recording Long Distance Oral Histories by Anderson SF on the blog.

James Tanner has been doing an interesting series of posts about digital photography and the like on Genealogy's Star. His most recent post is Part Two: More on DPI, PPI and LPI for genealogists. You'll want to check out Part One, as well as the other posts in this informative series.

Isn't this just the most frustrating thing? Greta Koehl shares You Are Missing Out on All of the Best Stuff on Greta's Genealogy Bog.

Just because I liked it (and I live vicariously through Barbara Poole) - Wordless Wednesday -- DAR Cover at Life From the Roots.

You just have to see it - A Cow on the Roof and a Bullet in the Head from the Nebraska State Historical Society.

If you have baseballers in your family, check out Heather Rojo's Baseball and Genealogy Research at Nutfield Genealogy.

Something I'll never see in real life - Wordless Wednesday: Artisans and their work: Old Waterford Crystal Factor.

We get so caught up in telling the stories of our ancestors... do we remember to tell our own stories? Paula Stuart-Warren gives a great reminder in Genealogists, who are you! at Paula's Genealogical Eclectica.

And oldie, but a goodie - Cleaning Mother's House by Michael Neill of If my daughter turns out to be a Charlene, you can bet that I'll be coming back to haunt her.

I don't normally feature posts that are written for carnivals or memes, since I know you'll read them there, but there were a couple that really stood out for me this week. These should whet your appetite for when the 100th Edition Carnival of Genealogy is posted!

I would do just about anything for a family album like this: The Scrapbook Belonging to Great Aunt Doris by Susan Kitchens of Family Oral History Using Digital Tools.

Also The Strange Tale of Uzza Robbins; or His One Hanging, Two Murders, Three Exhumations, and Four Burials (awesome title!).

The Last Byte

Arsenic has been big news this week. Earlier in the week, it was announced that NASA scientists have discovered a new extreme-loving microorganism in California's exotic Mono Lake and Mono Lake bacteria build their DNA using arsenic (and no, this isn’t about aliens). Does this mean that aliens are among us? Or life can exist on other, extreme-enivronment planets (think: Jupiter)? You decide.

In other arsenic news, Gena Ortega shares Arsenic: It's not Just for Rats in the 19th Century. Kind of like the 19th century version of Botox. Except you eat it.

And from the Department of Eeeewwww - Arsenic and Tom Turkey. You'll be eating ham for Christmas, trust me.

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To subscribe to my Google Reader shared items, please visit my Google Profile. Be sure to check out the weekly picks of others, such as Randy Seaver, Diane Haddad, Megan Smolenyak, Susan Petersen, Greta Koehl, and the Follow Friday posts listed on Geneabloggers. Happy reading!

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Day 3 - Christmas Tree Ornaments

My daughter adding a new ornament to our tree last Christmas morning.

It's no secret that I love Christmas tree ornaments. I must wind up with at least a dozen or more new ones each year. Some I buy - I'm addicted to those Hallmark Keepsake ornaments - and some are given to me by friends and family.

Needless to say, we've amassed an extensive collection of ornaments!

As I mentioned in my Day 1 post about Christmas Trees, I inherited quite a few old, family ornaments when my mother and grandmother passed away. There are many that are in bad condition, and I should probably just get rid of them. But then, most were handmade by family members and have sentimental value, so I keep them, even if I don't use them.

And yes, I suppose I hang onto them for all the wrong reasons, but I just haven't been able to let them go. No need to report me to "Hoarders," though, I promise.

But there are many other heirloom (to me, anyway) ornaments that I do use each year. One year, my grandmother decided to go with a gold and white themed tree, and made all of her ornaments by hand. I still have her gold bells, snowflakes, and icicles, and I use them each year.

Back in the late 1970's, my mother made dozens of red bows from a wired, velvet ribbon. Quite a few of them have survived, and I put them on the tree each year for a blast of red color. Plus, they're like little reminders of my mom on my tree.

Probably my favorite old ornaments are the "icicle men." They're these odd-shaped, clear, plastic figures, with sharp, pointy heads and red noses. They are not cute. When I was a kid, we would hide them deep inside the tree (presumably because of their non-cuteness?) and make a game of finding them. I still do this, although for years, I've been the only one who cared to look for them later. I'm hoping my daughter will want to play along this year.

I have several ornament "collections" to which I add each year. In my younger, single days, I collected the Hallmark Barbie™ Christmas ornaments. I stopped collecting them (and hanging them on the tree) when I married my husband; he thought they were much too silly and girlie. I'll eventually give them to my daughter when she gets a little older, or let her put them on a tree in her room. Or put them on the back of the tree where no one ever looks.

For my husband, I buy an airplane ornament each year. He really could care less, but I thought there needed to be some ornaments that had some meaning to him on the tree. I also pick up whatever moose ornaments I can find. My husband has been a moose-collector since he used to regularly travel to Newfoundland on business.

A few of our special ornaments.

My daughter has received those "Baby's 1st Christmas," "2nd Christmas," etc., ornaments every year since she was born (unfortunately, this will be her last year receiving one, as "5th Christmas" seems to be the limit). I hang those low on the tree where she can see them. We also have several family pictures on the tree, which she enjoys.

We have many cherished ornaments on our tree each year. I'm looking forward to seeing them again... as soon as my husband brings in the boxes from the garage!

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This post is the third in the "2010 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally posted on December 3, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit the official blog of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy Hannukah

Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening's forehead o'er the earth,
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.
~Emma Lazarus, "The Feast of Lights"

I would like to wish all of my Jewish readers a very happy Hannukah. May you and your loved ones always be blessed.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Day 2 - Holiday Foods

I was unable to find any old photos of holiday foods-past, 
but I did find this picture of my cousins and I 
having breakfast in Christmas bibs, c. 1967.
That's me in the front with the creepy doll.

Unfortunately, I really don't have many memories of special holiday foods from when I was young. Is that odd? I guess you could say I've always been a girl who eats to live rather than the other way around, so food just doesn't stand out in my memory.

However, I do remember a few things. My grandmothers were both fantastic cooks (aren't they all?). Watching them cook was fascinating to me; how could they make so many things at one time? It was amazing to see everything come together in perfect precision. Ding! Dinner is ready, and on the table... just like magic!

I've since learned that this is NOT an easy thing to do.

My maternal grandmother made the best stuffing with her turkey. I think this was my favoriate part of the meal. She never did give me the recipe, but I've managed to find one that comes very close. It's the only stuffing I'll make, and thankfully it does not contain necks, gizzards, oysters, or anything else that a kid (or grown-up) might consider "yucky."

This same grandmother - and my mother too, I think - also made a delicious, white confection called Divinity (which I will write about in an upcoming post). I made this for the fist time last December, and found it very difficult to make, probably due to our humid conditions here on the coast. Trust me: the weather must be ideal, and the planets perfectly aligned with nothing in retrograde in order to make the best Divinity. You might check your horoscope first, too.

My paternal grandmother, Reba, was an expert pie-maker. She made many different types, but her pumpkin pies were always my favorite. I have fond memories of standing in her kitchen "helping" her bake cookies. Mmmm... the smell was heavenly.

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I haven't had to prepare a big holiday meal in a several years, thanks to family members who've invited us to dinner, but when I do, I typically prepare the same things each time. Turkey and stuffing, "loaded" cranberry sauce (loaded with bourbon), sweet potatoes with extra marshmallows, mashed potatoes, rolls... the whole deal. I'm a terrible, awful piemaker, so I'll usually buy a pie and maybe a cheesecake for dessert. If I'm feeling very adventurous, I'll make the cheesecake myself.

Actually, I'm more of a "cake girl." My father loved him some pies, but I just couldn't get into them myself (except for pumpkin). I suppose there are "cake people" and "pie people," kind of like how there are "cat people"and "dog people." If you're wondering, I'm a dog people person.

I used to do a lot of baking at Christmastime. When we were particulary short on funds, we would give baked goods as gifts. We found out the hard way that these cost a bundle to mail, so there wasn't a huge financial savings with this strategy.

I found a great recipe for fudge that you can make in your microwave in about 5 minutes (and, it tastes good!), so we enjoy a lot of fudge. My daughter discovered chocolate last year, so I don't imagine it will last long in our household.

I also love to bake quick breads (banana, date, pumpkin), and sometimes I'll toss in some rum balls for fun. The rum balls are great to take to work for those days when you really don't feel like working. Pass them around the office and let the holiday cheer begin!

My daughter loves to watch me cook; she even goes into her play kitchen to try to "cook like Mommy." I've started letting her help me cook this year, and she gets so excited when something "she made herself" comes out of the oven.

And enjoying these holiday foods through her is what truly makes Christmas special for me.

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This post is the second in the "2010 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally posted on December 2, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit the official blog of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal