Tag Archives: Christmas

Dreaming of Christmas

I should be planning our Thanksgiving dinner right now but all I can do is think about Christmas.  It doesn’t help that several houses in my neighborhood already have their Christmas lights and trees up.  One even left their pumpkins outside mixed into the Christmas decor!  I mean, do we call that Christgiving?  Or Thanksmas? 

My Christmas dreaming started earlier than normal this year.  Some of that has to do with the fact that this will be my baby grands first Christmas and I’m picturing all the photos I want to take of her already.  But these days, I also think we are all looking for something to bring a glimmer of hope into our lives with the current pandemic.  When the local radio station started their Christmas music rotation at the beginning of November, I tuned in.  Usually I hold off until after Thanksgiving but there were a few days in early November where I just needed to hear those songs while driving in my car and I also needed to sing along.

A few of the Hallmark items I’ve already bought for Christmas 2020!

Then there’s my love of Hallmark.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again…I blame my mother for this!  When we lived in Westmont, Illinois, she started to work at a little Hallmark shop called Sentiments and Sweets.  That was my introduction to Hallmark.  I remember getting off the school bus from high school near her shop to walk to my afternoon part-time job at the nearby White Hen Pantry convenience store.  I would always stop by so she knew I had gotten off the bus.  Then I would reach around the front counter display of Fannie May candies, and grab a chocolate mint meltaway before heading to my job. That little shop was always so cute and I loved going there to visit my mother and see the displays she had created, especially at Christmas.

It also doesn’t help that I’m constantly drawn to the Hallmark channel and their non-stop Christmas movies.  We all know the storyline of those movies, right?  Woman goes from the big city back to her little home town for some family emergency, bumps into the guy she used to love, they reconnect in an unusual way – like they have to save Christmas or something, they drink tons of hot cocoa, have a snowball fight and THEN…there’s THE misunderstanding.  And 6 minutes before the end of the movie, it all gets resolved and they live happily ever after.  We know all the formula and yet we still watch. 


The perfect book for someone hooked on Hallmark!

Hallmark’s Home and Family show is also high on my list of guilty pleasures making me think about Christmas.  I find myself taking photos of the tv screen to remember décor or crafts I want to try, or a recipe I want to make.  Then yesterday I found their Countdown to Christmas book at Target and naturally, I had to buy it!  My Sunday afternoon plans are to start reading that book on my deck.  I should probably make some hot cocoa in keeping with the Hallmark theme, shouldn’t I?

Meanwhile, our Thanksgiving this year will be small and social distanced…just me, my hubby, my son and daughter (who live here) and my mother.  We will have the traditional foods as always, just not as much.  Although my mother has already informed me that I should make enough for left-overs!  Of course, I will comply with her request because Thanksgiving leftovers are my favorite too!  Then on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I will begin my Christmas decorating while I will watch Hallmark Christmas movies, listen to Christmas music and sing along. 


Two of the nativities I found at the thrift store today!  Score!!!

Two of the nativities I found at the thrift store today! Score!!!

Tis the season!  I love placing my nativities each year.  I place one on the buffet in the dining room…this is one I’ve had for a number of years.  The other nativity is one my late mother-in-law used to display each year in her home.  I place that one in the living room on a sofa table.  Both mean so much to me.

This is the nativity from Sojourns in Birmingham - that I bought for my daughter for her first married Christmas!

This is the nativity from Sojourns in Birmingham – that I bought for my daughter for her first married Christmas!

I have several other smaller nativities that I’ve bought over the years.  I found several at Sojourns, A Fair Trade Store, in Birmingham, Alabama.  I always love the things that my friend, Melissa Kendrick, has at her store!  This year I found a beautiful musical nativity in wood that plays silent night when you turn the star.  I gave this one to my newly married daughter to set beside her first tree.

I love the look of this nativity I found today...so special!

I love the look of this nativity I found today…so special!

Today I was Christmas shopping and since it’s Wednesday, I decided to pop into my neighborhood Salvation Army Thrift Store to see what I could find.  Wow!  First of all, Wednesdays at special discount days and since it’s the Christmas season, they are doing even more to bring people into the store.  All Christmas items were 50% off and everything else in the store was 25% off.  I got there early – around 10:30 – as I was heading to the mall to make a few final Christmas purchases.  Wow…I couldn’t believe all the things I found today!  In particular, two nativities…

The first one I found was made of wood and has middle eastern faces – with dark hair and skin.  I loved it the moment I saw it…  I bought it for $1.  Since historians agree that Jesus was of middle eastern descent, this nativity makes perfect sense.  I also love the rustic feel of the whole scene.

Peruvian nativity that also has a place for a votive candle in the back.

Peruvian nativity that also has a place for a votive candle in the back.

Next, I spotted a Peruvian nativity that has a place for a votive in the back.  Now, I have a few Peruvian Christmas items and this just fits in perfectly with the rest.  I got this was for $1.50.

I’d say I did pretty well with my Christmas thrift store shopping today, wouldn’t you?

Family Traditions

Odom cousins - Thanksgiving 2014 - on Mimi's swing in Jasper, AL.

Odom cousins – Thanksgiving 2014 – on Mimi’s swing in Jasper, AL.

Family…like branches on a tree, we all grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.  I love this quote…

This time of year, I start thinking a lot about family traditions.  I’ve often thought that some day I would write them all down from what I remember doing as a child and add all things we did when my own children were little.  The one constant though all this is family.  Whether the tradition remains today or has morphed into something different…we do these things because we want to connect as a family and make it a part of our story.

Family traditions can bring you comfort and strengthen the bond you have with your family.  They teach you the value of immediate and extended family and how to take the time to be together.  Creating and maintaining traditions is easier when your children are young.  It becomes a little more challenging when they get older and get married or move away.  It definitely becomes a juggling act at that point!  Some traditions run their course…like breakfast with Santa and going to the annual lighting ceremony at the local mall.  These traditions are driven by age.  Others change because the dynamics of your family change.

For my Zuniga family, Thanksgiving has always been the major holiday to celebrate.  Before my parents moved to Alabama, I would make the  trip to Chicago every Thanksgiving to spend the week with my sisters and parents and do so many of the things we always did together over the 10 years that I lived there.  Traditional activities ranged from shopping at Oak Brook Mall and hoping there would be a little snow, getting up to watch the Macy’s Day Parade while the turkey was still cooking, then fighting to get the first taste of stuffing from the turkey.  This was always a battle with my youngest sister.  I would sneak into the oven with a spoon and sample the dressing when no one was looking – beating my sister to the punch – although I’m sure my mother knew!  At some point during the visit, we would watch WGN’s family classic movies.  Those movies were the staple of every Sunday afternoon in the Zuniga household when I was in high school.  Certain sounds and smells bring it all back.  Certain music does too as we would gather around the piano and play and sing along.  All the Zuniga sisters were in choir and we all knew the same music.  My grandmother used to say we could have been the Lennon Sisters – she and my grandfather loved Lawrence Welk!

My husband (Eddie) has always been adamant about attending the traditional Odom family Christmas lunch each year.  It was the one time of the year we got to see his father’s extended family all at once.  The lunch was originally pulled together for his grandmother (Mama Odom), and when she passed away, the Aunts decided to continue the tradition.  Eddie made sure we were represented each year.  If one of the kids had a conflict due to sports or scouting activities, he would take the kids available and make the trip to the lunch and see everyone.  Now so many of the children are married with children of their own – a whole new generation of Odoms are enjoying the gathering.  I do hope it continues…

My sister Kanista with my girls, Emily and Anna Marie – Thanksgiving 2004 in Birmingham, AL – having a girls lunch at Cantina at Pepper Place.

On the Zuniga side, when all my sisters used to travel to Alabama for Thanksgiving with their young children, we would spend Wednesday before Thanksgiving having lunch and shopping and then come home to get things ready for our big dinner.  The husbands would take the kids to a movie and spend the day with them and give he moms a break.  As the nieces and nephews got older my sisters began staying home – they all live out-of-state.  Soon it was just me, my mother and my aunt (mom’s sis) and my girls having lunch and doing a little shopping.  When my Aunt passed away, we just stopped going.  It just didn’t feel the same.  In recent years, my mother has mentioned missing the “old days” when we all used to spend that day together.  I understand her longing for something that held such great memories.  It’s hard to move on sometimes, especially when something was so enjoyable.  We resurrected the tradition a bit these past few years with mom and my girls and added something new.  We’d come back to my house and get turkey preparing lessons from mom.  It’s been fun for my girls and I know my mother has been thrilled to pass along her turkey making expertise to all of us!

Making Thanksgiving turkey with Nana! My girls learn how to make stuffing!

Making Thanksgiving turkey with Nana! My girls learn how to make stuffing!

One of the first Mimi Swing Photos I took of the Odom cousins...

One of the first Mimi Swing Photos I took of the Odom cousins…

When my youngest child Emily was just a year old,  a major tradition emerged with the Odom children.  I began taking pictures of my three children (Charlie, Anna Marie and Emily) and my twin nieces (Kate and TJ) on their grandmother’s outside swing.  We would take “the Mimi’s swing” picture at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas – any holiday when we’d all get together.  But for some reason, Thanksgiving was the one holiday that really stuck.  Over the years, we’ve added the older Odom grandchildren, great-grandchildren and significant others to the photos.  This year at Easter, we even added my niece TJ via iPad when she couldn’t make it home.  It was that important for the kids to have everyone present and accounted for on the swing no matter what the holiday.  I love this swing tradition so much and especially at Thanksgiving!  Seeing the way the family has changed and grown over the past 21 years is priceless to me and I know it is to my brothers-in-law too, as we all get older and look back.

The Odom cousins in Mimi's swing - Thanksgiving 2014 - TJ, Kate, Anna Marie and Emily - Charlie always standing in the back!

The Odom cousins in Mimi’s swing – Thanksgiving 2014 – TJ, Kate, Anna Marie and Emily – Charlie always standing in the back!

One thing is for sure, family traditions evolve and change, that is a given.  But I have a feeling we will always be taking a swing picture of the Odom kids at Thanksgiving.  And for that, I will always be thankful…

Ten years of swing photos - I had this framed for my mother-in-law (Mimi) and it hung into her house until she passed away in 2011.

Ten years of swing photos – I had this framed for my mother-in-law (Mimi) and it hung into her house until she passed away in 2011.


Leaning how to make mom’s Thanksgiving turkey with my girls in 2013. Mom and I had just finished stuffing the turkey!


Thanksgiving turkey making shenanigans with Nana…although I don’t think my mom knew what they were doing in the background!

Finding Tesoros in Austin, Texas

Beside Tesoros in Austin, Texas...this painting of the Virgen of Guadalupe is clearly visible from the street.

Beside Tesoros in Austin, Texas…this painting of the Virgen of Guadalupe is clearly visible from the street.

I went to Austin, Texas two weeks ago with my husband.  Eddie had a business conference and I went along since this place is on my “must visit” list.  Quite eclectic!  I mean, when your motto is “Keep Austin Weird,” I guess you kind of have to be eclectic!  We arrived early on Sunday and after checking into our hotel we immediately started exploring Austin.  First lunch at Annie’s, explored the Pecan Street Festival, checked out Mexic-Arte Museum, snacked at Walton’s Fancy & Staple, walked through the Texas State Capitol and finally had a light dinner at Second Bar & Kitchen.  Whew!  Exhausted but exhilarated!

I always do a little research before we travel looking for “off the beaten path” type places to check out.  Aside from restaurants, thrift stores and historical sites, I wanted to find some unique shopping.  I figured in Austin I would find a number of stores with Mexican art  when I stumbled upon Tesoros in the hotel magazine.  Located on South Congress (or Soco), I could have stayed there all day and not seen everything!  What a treasure trove – hence the name Tesoros!  (Duh!)  Outside the store there is a huge painting of the Virgen de Guadalupe.  So iconic and easy to spot.  Thankfully, there was parking behind the store – because parking can be a bit of a challenge in Austin!!!!  And they back into parking spaces there which is new to me…

Overwhelming display of Day of the Dead items at Tesoros in Austin, Texas!

Overwhelming display of Day of the Dead items at Tesoros in Austin, Texas!

The Tesoros website states that they are a retailer and wholesale distributor of folk arts and crafts and traditional items from over 20 different countries.  They definitely had a large supply of items from Mexico!  I naturally gravitated toward the Day of the Dead items and couldn’t believe the selection and variety.  There was a section on Frida Kahlo and I kept coming back to the Frida Retablo.  I knew I would come home with that one at least.

The Frida Kahlo display at Tesoros in Austin, Texas

The Frida Kahlo display at Tesoros in Austin, Texas

Next I found the Mexican tin ornaments.  I have picked up tin ornaments over the years and they are heavily featured on my Mexican Christmas tree at home each year.  I ended up picking up quite a few – putting them all out on the floor to see which ones I really wanted.  That’s when one of the sales people brought me a basket.  I knew I was in trouble now…

Mexican tin Christmas ornaments...this was just side one!

Mexican tin Christmas ornaments…this was just side one!

I walked around the back of the display and there were more ornaments including the Loteria (lottery) ornaments and quite a few hearts – some plain tin, some painted red and others with mirrors.  I could have bought them all…but I needed to be mindful of getting everything back on the plane!  One of the funniest items I found was the Michael Jackson sugar skull complete with silver glove!  I really should have bought one…

Michael Jackson Day of the Dead ornament! I wish I had bought it now...

Michael Jackson Day of the Dead ornament! I wish I had bought it now…

The last item I bought at Tesoros was a vinyl table-cloth/oil cloth.  I know that sounds boring but these tablecloths are so colorful and really create a traditional Mexican scene when you are setting a Mexican table.  I kept picturing my Fiesta dishes on the tablecloth.  They had so many colors and designs, it was hard to decide but I’m typically drawn to turquoise so that’s the one I got.

Here is a slideshow of some of the items I brought back…I think I’m going to need a bigger Mexican Christmas tree this year!  Oh…and I photographed them on a thrift store Mexican blanket I found for $5…

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Tamales…Deliciousness in a Corn Husk!


Tamales…so much deliciousness in a corn husk!  (NOTE: You don’t eat the corn husk!)

These little tasty meals have become synonymous with a local nonprofit I’ve been involved with for over 10 years by the name of HICA…as in “OH!  You’re on the HICA Board?!  I love your tamales sale!”

HICA’s tamale sale is back this year after a little “siesta” last year.  If you live in the Birmingham, Alabama area, you can pre-order right now until August 1st through the HICA website.  After that, the next window to order will be November 22 through December 11 through the website.  You can choose from three types of tamales:  pork with red sauce, chicken with green sauce and (my favorite!) pepper & cheese tamales.  The cost is $30 per dozen or $18 for 1/2 a dozen.  (Remember…this is a fundraiser!)  Tamale pick up will be at the HICA office on December 18th.

Not having the tamale sale last year was a big decision for the board and fund development committee.  HICA had just purchased a building – a new home –  in Homewood, AL, and there was so much happening to get the building settled and also pulling together our 15th anniversary event – or quinceañera – with the Birmingham Barons last June.  We just didn’t see how we could pull it off successfully with so much going on so, after much discussion we decided to cancel the sale in October and notified our tamale supporters of this decision.  We know people were disappointed but they understood and we promised to bring the sale back this year.  Personally, I’m so glad it’s back because pulling this fundraiser together is a true labor of love for those of us who’ve been involved over the years and have seen it grow.

HICA Volunteers making tamales one year in partnership with the Culinard.

HICA Volunteers making tamales one year in partnership with the Culinard.

HICA started the tamale sale 13 years ago around the Christmas holiday time as a fundraiser for the organization.  That very first year, supporters, board members and Hispanic community members got together in a volunteer’s kitchen and made hundreds of tamales into the wee hours of the morning to sell to the community at large.

The idea was to bring a little bit of Mexican culture and food to Birmingham.  In addition, tamales are a tradition around Christmas time to Mexican families.  Many people who have been exposed to the HICA tamale sale over the years have embraced tamales as their own tradition now too!

I have so many stories to tell about the tamale sale which I will do throughout this year leading up to the tamale pick up date on December 18.  I’ll also share a few tamale recipes along the way.  But for now, you have 8 days to pre-purchase your tamales!  Go ahead…you know you want to!

HICA has been grateful to the Piggy Wiggly in Homewood for many years for supplying grocery bags to contain the tamale orders.

HICA has been grateful to the Piggy Wiggly in Homewood for many years for supplying grocery bags to contain the tamale orders.

Here are a few fun facts about tamales from the HICA Website in case you need a little more encouragement to try them:

  • Tamales date back to the time of the Aztecs
  • Tamales can be sweet with fillings such as cinnamon and raisin or fruit.
  • There are around 1,000 types of tamales available all around Mexico.  Every region has its own variety of tamales.
  • In Mexico, tamales are often eaten during festivities, such as La Candelaria Day (Feb 2), Mexican Independence Day, Day of the Dead, Las Posadas and Christmas.
  • A Mexican tamale called the Zacahuil is three feet long and weighs about 150 pounds.
  • Tamales are not only part of Mexican culture, they are also part of Latin American culture.