Monday, December 17, 2012

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. These days, you just 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 curiosity.

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

*   *   *

This post is part of the "2012 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories," and was originally posted on December 17, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Saturday, December 15, 2012

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. :-)

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This post is part of the "2012 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories," and was originally posted on December 15, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Friday, December 14, 2012

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.

*   *   *

This post is part of the "2012 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories," and was originally posted on December 14, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

*   *   *

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 10, 2012

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 part of the "2012 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories," and was originally posted on December 10, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Sunday, December 9, 2012

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.

About 3 years ago, I attempted to make Divinity myself 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.


*   *   *

This post is part of the "2012 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally posted on December 9, 2009. Slight modifications have been made. It was also published in the Geneabloggers Holiday 2009 Cookbook, which you can still download for free from

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Saturday, December 8, 2012

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 highly allergic. It's amazing - and scary - how many foods contain some form of peanuts.

*   *   *


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 part of the "2012 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally posted on December 8, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Monday, December 3, 2012

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

My daughter showing her newly-unwrapped ornament.
Notice the look of excited appreciation on her face.

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 lack of 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 suppose 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 if she ever cleans it enough to fit a tree in there. Or I'll 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, "5th Christmas" seems to be the limit, so I have to be more creative now. I hang those low on the tree where she can see them. We also have several family pictures on the tree, which she enjoys.

Last year, I was sick as a dog at Christmastime, and finally dragged myself out of bed about 2 days before the Big Day. I let my daughter decorate the tree mostly by herself while I "supervised," so all the ornaments were hung down low. It was hilarious seeing a 9-foot tree with all the ornaments on the bottom half, but I honestly think it's been my favorite tree so far.

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!

*   *   *

This post is part of the "2012 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally posted on December 3, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Sunday, December 2, 2012

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 different things at the same 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 as easy as the grandmas made it look.

My maternal grandmother made the best stuffing with her turkey. I think this was my favorite 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 a grown-up) might consider "yucky."

This past Thanksgiving - after 9 1/2 years of marriage - I learned that my husband likes raisins in his stuffing. Ick. I told him I'll have to make a special batch with raisins in it for him next time.

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 3 years ago, and found it very difficult to make, probably due to our humid conditions here on the California 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 want to check your horoscope and a Magic 8 Ball first, too.

My paternal grandmother 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.

*   *   *

With the exception of this past Thanksgiving, I haven't had to prepare a big holiday meal in a several years, thanks to family members who've invited us to dinner. 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 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.

Honestly though, 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 discovered last month that my daughter is also a "pie person," like her father. And I'm horrified to say that she actually likes that nasty cranberry sauce blob from a can... you know, the one that still looks like a can when you take it out of the can? Yeah. Gross. She's Daddy's Girl all right.

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. Chocolate of any variety doesn't last long in our household.

Quick breads are also a favorite of mine (banana, date, pumpkin), and sometimes I'll toss in some rum balls just 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 "help" me cook now; she even goes into her play kitchen to try to "cook like Mommy." 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.

*   *   *

This post is the first in the "2012 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally posted on December 2, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Central Coast Genealogy Calendar - December 2012

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.   ~Burton Hillis

Sunday, December 2
Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County
1:30 - 3:30 PM
Getting The Most Out of - Crista Cowan
Annual Chanukah and Membership Renewal Party with Genealogical Gifts

Thursday, December 4
Monterey County Genealogical Society
6:00 PM (Doors open at 5:30 PM)
Annual Christmas Potluck

Tuesday, December 11
Conejo Valley Genealogical Society
6:00 - 8:45 PM
Christmas Potluck and Installation of New Officers

Saturday, December 15
Ventura County Genealogical Society
12:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Annual Christmas Party

Saturday, December 15
Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society

No meeting in December
San Luis Obispo County Genealogical Society

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Please send me an email if you would like to have your event included in this monthly calendar series.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Day 1: The Christmas Tree

Our Family Christmas Tree, circa 1976. Notice the tinsel.
I still have this chair, although a lot less new-looking.

Getting our Christmas tree was one of the holiday highlights for me. We always had live trees, usually about 6'-7' tall. Or maybe they just seemed tall to me because I was smaller at the time.

In my younger years, I vaguely remember going out to a tree farm somewhere to get our trees. We would tramp around in the bitter southern California cold (ha!) until someone declared that he/she had found the perfect tree. The tree-cutter-person would cut down the tree for us, and we'd haul it home... probably in my father's pick-up truck, but I don't really remember. It was a looong time ago.

Once we got the tree home, my father would stand it up in a bucket of water in the garage, and meticulously pull out all the dead pine needles. He would give the trunk a fresh cut on the bottom, and then bring the tree inside.

Next were the lights. When those little "twinkle lights" came out, we all thought they were so beautiful. Unfortunately, putting them on the tree could be such a chore. Back in the day, if one, single light bulb was burned out, the entire strand refused to light. Dad would carefully unroll the lights, and we would all hold our breath and pray that they would light up when plugged in. But it never failed that at least one strand would have a bad bulb, and Dad would have to test each light with one of those light-tester-thingies to find the offender. Back in those days, if one bulb failed to work, the whole strand failed to work.

This could take hours.

Once the lights were on, we were finally free to add the decorations. I remember that there was a specific order in which the decorations should go on: the "balls" would go on first, with the large balls at the bottom of the tree, medium balls in the middle, and smaller balls towards the top. The "unique" decorations would go on next. These included various doo-dads I'd made in school, as well as some that my mother must have bought. I don't actually know where they came from, but I still have many of them.

One of my school doo-dads. Even as a kid, I was not a talented crafter.

The finishing touch was always the tinsel. Back in the day, this was considered very stylish. I remember there being two types of tinsel: one was a plastic variety that would stretch when pulled, and flew off the tree every time anyone walked by. The other was a metallic sort, that stayed on the tree, but frequently fell apart in your hands. I preferred the plastic kind, even if it did fly off with the slightest breeze.

Actually, I hated tinsel, but it was going on the tree, whether I liked it or not.

There was a definite "technique" to applying tinsel. Like most kids, I suppose, I liked to grab a handful and throw. This method was, unfortunately, frowned upon by my mother (and most other adults). The "correct" method of applying tinsel was one strand at a time. ONE STRAND AT A TIME. One strand. At a time. One. Strand. At. A. Time.

It took FOREVER to cover a tree "correctly" with tinsel. But even I had to admit that it was kind of pretty - in a weird sort of way - once it was finished.

The final touch was the angel on top. She wore a gold, fuzzy dress and had a halo of lights behind her.

Our tree would go up well before Christmas and would stay up until at least New Year's Day. After that, the decorations would come off, and the tree would mysteriously disappear. It was depressing.

The Christmas tree smell that filled our house was heavenly. I hated artificial trees and swore I'd never have one.

*   *   *

Our Christmas Tree, c. 2008 (2012 isn't up yet).
No tinsel. The chair is in the next room.

Fast forward about 30 or so years. Ironically, my family now uses an artificial tree. We bought it the Christmas after my daughter was born, and strangely enough, I love it. It's 9 feet tall, and very realistic-looking. It even has fake dead needles that we don't have to meticulously pick out.

There were several reasons behind our decision to go artificial, but the main reason was allergies. I have them, and so does my daughter. No need to be miserable at Christmas if we don't have to be. Plus, it came with all the lights on it already, eliminating a step that I never enjoyed much anyway.

Unfortunately, my husband HATES this tree, if only because he has to lug it out of the garage and put it together each year. Poor baby. He's lucky that we don't have to tramp around in a Christmas tree farm in the bitter southern California cold. He wants a 2-foot tall tabletop tree (that ain't gonna happen, Grinchy).

The ugly school doo-dad is still on our tree (usually in the back).
My daughter thinks it's hilarious.
The gold bells and snowflakes were made by my grandmother.
 The red bows were made by my mother back in the '70's.

After my mother and grandmother passed away, I inherited nearly all the family Christmas ornaments. You will still find many of these on my tree each year. I have also collected ornaments of my own, most of which represent something that happened in our lives during the year (like "new home," "baby's 1st Christmas," etc.). These serve as special reminders of our lives together.

The artificial tree doesn't have that wonderful Christmas tree smell. But that's what pine-scented candles are for, right?

*   *   *

This post is the first in the "2012 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series, and was originally posted on December 1, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

NGS 2013 Family History Conference - Attendee Registration Now Open!

Are you "all in" for the 2013 NGS Conference yet? I am so looking forward to attending this conference, which will be close the the "left coast" for a change! Be sure to also check out the NGS Conference Blog for up-to-the-minute news and information.

*   *   *

Registration is now open for the NGS 2013 Family History Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. The conference will take place 8–11 May 2013 at the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. For additional information and to register online, go to (NGS members are entitled to a discounted registration fee).

The hotel and conference center are under one roof. The LVH is ten minutes from McCarran International Airport and is convenient to I-15 and I-515. Visit for detailed information about the hotel.

The conference will include programs for all skill levels of research experience and will feature tracks on DNA, ethnic research, the law, migration, methodology, the West, women, and more. More than seventy-five nationally recognized speakers will provide over one hundred and fifty lectures on a wide variety of topics. The conference registration brochure, with complete details, is online as a pdf file ( and the lecture schedule is available on the NGS website in a searchable format (
This year the NGS Family History Conference will feature an extra-large lecture hall, Thursday morning breakfast gatherings, and an Internet café.

An exhibit area with more than one hundred exhibitors will be open Wednesday through Saturday and will feature the latest in genealogical software, online research providers, and DNA testing services.
Tours and meals have limited seating, so register early!

We look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas.

NGS Staff and Board

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Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal