Currently viewing the tag: "Christmas"

with Michael Betteridge

Prediction: Christmas Will Come Early This Year

Here in December, many of us are out shopping for Christmas gifts for our loved ones. Flush with the delicious smells of the Thanksgiving kitchen and basking in the glow of tryptophans, we pull out the wrapping paper, ribbons and bows and we start wrapping the special presents first.

For Frederick County football fans, we’ve selected the gift, chosen the paper and now we’re looking for the right ribbon to finish that perfect gift. Heading into the first round of the Maryland State football quarterfinal tournament, the gift has been selected.  We see a historic presence emerge from our region. With only ten high schools in Frederick County, seven of them are in the tournament, now that’s some special wrapping paper. Granted three of those teams are there because of the new 4A/3A and 2A/1A divisions, but it’s still one for the record books.

Our own hometown Catoctin Cougars tie a ribbon around an amazing run through two higher seeded teams on the road in an improbable story of injury, disappointment and last second victory. Their season ended in the quarterfinal in Frostburg, but what a Cinderella story. Fifth in their division, only three wins on the season, they pull off back-to-back stunners. They beat Loch Raven at their house and then they traveled ninety-one miles – all the way over to Patterson Mill – to pull out a last-second-win on a nifty Shaymus Stull quarterback sneak to stun the Huskies. Ask wide receiver Logan Malachowski how it felt to go there in 2021 and beat them on their own baseball field as the underdogs and then to do it again in 2023 wearing a football jersey. Patterson Mill wants nothing to do with the Catoctin Cougars for quite some time. 

The Cougars are certainly in good company with their Frederick County neighbors: Walkersville, Oakdale, Linganore, Frederick, Middletown and Urbana made the playoffs too.  I think we can all say that Frederick County football has arrived as a predominant force in Maryland high school sports. Montgomery County has thirty (30) high schools and five (5) in the playoffs. Prince Georges County has four (4) schools in the playoffs out of twenty-four (24). Baltimore City has thirty-seven (37) high schools with four (4) schools in the playoffs. Our only true rival is Allegany County with three (3) out of three (3) schools in the playoffs, but they are all in the 1A up against Catoctin. No wonder it’s so hard to win a football championship in the 1A for Catoctin and Brunswick.  They have to face those big, corn-fed mountain boys with nothing to do up north but play football all year. The road to Annapolis in the 1A always goes through Western Maryland. Is that incredible? Frederick County, one of the smallest counties in the number of high schools has 7 out of 10 schools playing in a Maryland State football quarterfinal!

What is the most precious Christmas gift you ever received? Can you remember way back to when you bolted down the stairs Christmas morning and began tearing through the wrapping paper and boxes? Then, in the corner of the room leaning next to the tree, you saw it! You felt a lump in your throat. Could it be? Are my dreams and prayers about to come true? You began to tear open the paper exposing the box and YES! there it was. The lettering on the box gave it away. A Sears Silvertone electric guitar with an amplifier built right into the case! I was fourteen years old and I was certain that this was the beginning of my career as a rockstar guitarist. Alongside the case was a brown and black velour turtleneck long sleeved shirt. I still have that picture of myself standing there next to the Christmas tree looking like I was a part of the British Invasion right down to the braces on my teeth, smiling and ready to form my own eighth grade rock band.

Frederick County high school football fans feel about this postseason the same way I felt about my first electric guitar – ecstatic! Because, we are almost guaranteed, after a four-year drought, Frederick County is bringing home a trophy. Last year, we had only one team in the State championship: Oakdale and they lost to the dreaded Damascus Hornets. Linganore lost the championship in 2021. No football in 2020. Catoctin and Middletown won the 1A and 2A in 2019. Four long miserable years with only two teams in State and they both lost.

Here’s why I compare this football season to the most incredible Christmas present you ever received. It’s almost 100% certain that Linganore and Oakdale will meet in the 3A State football championship. Can you imagine what the stands at the Naval Academy will look like filled with Hawks and Lancer fans? Neighbors will look across the field at each other. They will meet at the snack bar. Some will wear black, some will wear red. And if Walkersville can make it past a powerful Huntingtown team, we will have three Frederick County teams vying for two Maryland State championships in the 2A and the 3A just like 2019! Wow, Frederick County football is for real.

Christmas just might come three weeks early this year!

It’s Party Time!

by Valerie Nusbaum

Let me start off by wishing each and every one of you a happy fall season, or as my Aunt Faye would have said, “Happy Fall Y’all!”

I might as well wish everyone a happy Halloween, too. October 31 will roll around before we know it, followed by Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and all the other fall holidays. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m just not ready. Maybe the horribly hot summer had something to do with that. I’m definitely ready for cooler temperatures, but all the work that goes into all the holidays has me feeling exhausted just thinking about it. Instead, I’m thinking about past good times and relishing the fact that I don’t have to work any harder than I choose to this year.

Randy and I, and my parents before us, have always enjoyed a good Halloween party. I’m reminded of several parties we either threw or attended, where one thing led to another and things got out of hand.

There was a work party years ago when Randy and I both worked at a local bank. Roxann and Harry Welch and Randy and I got the bright idea to wear a joint costume. Randy suggested that we all go as a hand, with each one of us being a finger, and carrying the thumb along. We made the costume out of carpet padding, and that thing weighed a ton. We had to lie down and wriggle up into the fingers and then we had a terrible time getting upright.  Not to mention that we had to crowd into an elevator and no one had a hand free to push the buttons. We’d cut holes in the finger pads for our faces, and so we could breathe, but we wore plastic masks so that our co-workers wouldn’t recognize us.   Needless to say, we came out of the hand as soon as possible, which was a good thing because we had to run all over Frederick in the dark finding things for a scavenger hunt. Randy and Harry may or may not have done something illegal. That’s all I’m saying.

Once, my family rented a huge building and had a very large party.  At our parties, guests can wear anything they want, and they don’t have to come in costume at all if that’s not their thing. Randy and I spent all day doing elaborate decorations, even creating a maze for guests to walk through. It was pretty great. One person even suggested that we open it to the public and charge admission.  We didn’t do that. We did, however, do a murder mystery that year. Every guest had a part to play. It got a little crazy because, as we all know, people can’t follow directions or stick to a script.

Our friends, the Heffner-Joneses, throw a themed costume party almost every year. One year, the theme was Downton Abbey. It was fun dressing in 1920s attire that night. Another time, the theme was Harry Potter.  Randy went as Farmer Brown and I was a black and white cow because those were the costumes we had on hand. Mind you, Randy had to re-write one of the Potter novels to include those characters, but our hosts were so impressed by Randy’s invented story that he won first prize in whatever contest was being held. 

Last year, we were instructed to come dressed as our favorite country or rock and roll act. Naturally, we went as The Village People. Yes, I know there are only two of us and six Village People. Randy was the construction worker, and I was the cowboy. We carried small versions of the other four. Most of the guests didn’t get it, and Randy’s mustache wouldn’t stay on.

Another year, we hosted a party here and invited my cousins and elderly aunts. My mom was with us then, too. We had to call the paramedics for that one, and the party ended earlier than intended.

It’s always fun when hosting a Halloween party to come up with delicious-tasting but horribly gross or scary food. I’ve created werewolf fingers and bloody dipping sauce, a Jack o’lantern that threw up guacamole, tiny sandwiches shaped like bats and ghosts, and Jack o’lantern pepperoni pizzas.

There have been other Halloween/fall celebrations, such as the time we had a scarecrow-making contest. That one got combative pretty quickly, and the prize was only a box of candy. 

One year, at the Murphy’s house, Mr. Murphy dressed up as Pippi Longstocking and Aunt Gladys was a gorilla. This was notable because both of those folks were older then than I am now. They were good sports, but they did have a few problems playing charades while wearing their costumes.

My brother, our friends, and I used to go to our Grandmother Ella’s house in West Virginia to help her out with trick-or-treat since she had hundreds of kids come by each year. We’d dress up and decorate the yard and scare the kids, and our grandmother would have treats inside for us. She used to make homemade gingerbread with a warm lemon sauce to pour over it.  Delicious!

As I look back on all these good times, I’m especially grateful for good friends and a wonderful family, and also that I’ll probably be at home in my pajamas this year.

This past Christmas, the Thurmont Lions Club had the opportunity to give the residents at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home a smile during Christmas.

During these difficult times, many nursing home residents do not have the opportunity to receive the love they normally would. So, the Thurmont Lions Club wanted to show them some love during the holidays.

In November 2020, Santa deputized special elves to fill stockings and deliver them to the residents. Lions Marci Veronie, Gayle DiSalvo, Joyce Anthony, Susan Favorite, Allison Hazen, and PDG Paul Cannada answered the call. They scampered around town looking for treats to place in 72 stockings and delivered them in time for Christmas. It was a warm, fun time to spread a little Christmas cheer to folks who have had a really tough year and can’t be with their families. On December 23, 2020, PDG Paul Cannada and Lion Joyce Anthony delivered the stockings to St. Joseph’s Nursing Home. The staff was overwhelmed with generosity, and they were so thankful for the kindness and thoughtfulness of the Thurmont Lions Club. Three large boxes of Russell Stover candy were also delivered—a box for the nursing station on each floor.

James Rada, Jr.

Emmitsburg’s annual Evening of Christmas Spirit had little spirit this year because of COVID-19.

About a dozen people were on hand for the lighting of the town Christmas tree in front of the Emmitsburg Community Center on the evening of December 7, 2020. Christmas music played during the brief event that usually draws a crowd and has local students singing carols.

Mayor Don Briggs thanked the small group for coming out. He acknowledged the problems that COVID has caused this year, and said, “Sometimes you’ve got to go with what you can.”

Briggs asked Dacosta Wivell, 12 years old, and the only child at the event, to assist him with the countdown. Then the pair flipped the switch, and the lights came on.

In the past, “An Evening of Christmas Spirit” at the Carriage House Inn has followed the tree-lighting ceremony. The event typically draws hundreds of people both inside and outside of the restaurant who come to enjoy free food, music, crafts, hayrides, and Santa’s visit.

None of that happened in December. For the first time in 32 years, it was canceled. State restrictions on restaurants and gatherings because of the virus forced the closure.

Mayor Don Briggs and Dacosta Wivell congratulate each other after lighting the town’s Christmas tree.

Photo by James Rada, Jr.

by Valerie Nusbaum

Okay, my friends, I hate to call anyone out, but quite frankly, I’m tired of all the whining and complaining about being forced to stay home and spend time with family. Yes, this pandemic situation has gone on way too long, and, yes, we’re all tired of not being able to live our lives the way we’d like, but this is the way things are going to be for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, I’m taking it upon myself to offer some instruction and tips for surviving the holidays in quarantine mode. 

First, let’s discuss gifts and shopping. Most of your holiday shopping should be done online to avoid crowd situations. In order to ensure that your family’s gifts will arrive in time for Christmas morning, you should order them in April. What? You didn’t do that? Neither did I. My family is getting gifts from Dollar Tree. I recently found out that I’m getting a Halloween throw for Christmas from my mom. She ordered it in July, and it just arrived. I’m also getting a lovely green quilt that Mom ordered for her own bed, only to find out that it was too big and heavy for her to deal with. In return, I get to buy my mother a bedspread more to her liking. At least now I know what she wants.  Don’t you feel silly for complaining about YOUR situation?

Another great gift idea is to give the gift of sanitation. Who knew that toilet paper and hand wipes would be the gifts we’d be asking for? A nice basket filled with all sorts of soaps and cleaning products, paper towels, and PPE is sure to elicit smiles and sighs of pleasure.

This year, it might also be a nice idea to thank the essential workers in your life, and I’m including the folks at the grocery stores, the fast food drive-thrus, and the postal workers, as well as medical professionals, law enforcement, and firefighters. Say “thank you” to anyone who’s helped you get through this mess. I’ll gift as many as possible even if it’s just handing out individually wrapped and sanitized candy canes.

At this point, we should talk about holiday refreshments and libations. I would not recommend that you add liquor to your eggnog. A few years ago, we got into trouble with that. There is a very nice drink called a Kris Kringle, made by adding cranberry juice to Prosecco. It’s pretty and looks like sparkling grape juice, which is what you can tell the kids you’re drinking. Shop smartly, though, and have a bottle or two of the grape juice on hand. Kids aren’t as dumb as you think.

Since we’ve been eating like little piggies all spring and summer long, maybe we should rethink the huge holiday meals and the baking frenzy that we traditionally associate with this season. Let’s make a nice tossed salad, grill some fish or chicken, and eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry. I’m only messing with you.  Eat all you want and enjoy it. We have the added bonus this year of not having to wear pants at home, so it won’t matter if they don’t fit.  The grocery stores have done a good job of keeping shelves stocked and keeping food available in these difficult circumstances. It was dicey at first, but things have improved.  You’ve probably racked up lots of grocery points, so grab a free turkey and a cheap ham and make soups and casseroles to get you through the winter months. Randy is trying his hand at baking, and he’s doing a lot more of the cooking around here. He’s getting better at it, and I’m enjoying a nice break from the kitchen.

Decorate your home with whatever you have on hand. Use fresh greens from your yard (or the neighbors’ yards if you’re stealthy) and fruit and nuts from the markets. You can do all sorts of arts and crafts with the kids. Last year, Randy made some Christmas trees out of green wired tomato cages. They were so silly that I laughed every time I saw them. 

Randy and I have been very busy filling orders this season since more people are shopping online.  We created a tree ornament in the shape of a face mask, and I’m working on a Dr. Fauci bobblehead doll. If you push the little button on the bottom, you’ll hear the good doctor’s voice rasping, “Wear your mask @#%$&**!”  If you can sew, you might make some masks for your friends and family.  I don’t sew well, but I’ve made dozens of them. Some of them are painful to wear, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I feel certain that Randy will don his Santa suit on Christmas Eve, as he does every year. This year, though, he will likely only wear the jacket, wig, beard and hat. Pants, as always, are optional.  He may or may not take his annual midnight walk through the neighborhood this year, but if he does, I hope he remembers to cover himself. No child wants to remember Santa that way.

I want to give a shout-out to Jen Shesman, who took the time to write some very nice things about my column, and I truly appreciate it. Thank you, Jen!

My family and I are wishing all of you a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season. I’m hoping we all get through it and can find some things to laugh about.

by Denise Valentine

Hello, everyone. I hope everyone is healthy. With recent reports that the pandemic is reaching crises levels again, more people are looking for projects to do at home.

I thought it would be fun to share a recipe that is interactive with the children or grandchildren. Everyone loves cookies. These Candy Cane Cookies are perfect for Christmas. Enjoy them yourself or make them for gift-giving.

I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas.

Candy Cane Cookies

½ cup butter or margarine, softened
½ cup shortening
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 egg
1½ tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. red food color
½ cup crushed peppermint candy
½ cup granulated sugar

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix thoroughly butter, shortening, confections’ sugar, egg, and flavorings. Blend in flour and salt. Divide dough in half; blend food color into one half.

Shape 1 teaspoon dough from each half into 4-inch rope. For smooth, even ropes, roll them back and forth on lightly floured board. Place ropes side by side; press together lightly and twist. Complete cookies one at a time. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Curve top down to form handle of cane.

Bake about 9 minutes or until set and very light brown. Mix candy and granulated sugar. Immediately sprinkle cookies with candy mixture; remove from baking sheet and cool completely on wire rack.

Thurmont Business Bucks is a gift certificate program to encourage those seeking a gift to keep the money local. Thurmont Business Bucks is a gift certificate program that are sold at the Thurmont Town Office in increments of $25 and $50 certificates. When you purchase Thurmont Business Bucks gift certificates, you receive a booklet with over twenty-five local businesses, from which the certificates are redeemable. Businesses include hair salons, restaurants, car service, and retail. The goal is to keep the money in the community. Studies show that for every $100 spent at locally-owned independent businesses, $68 remained in the community, versus $43 for chain stores. When you spend dollars locally, they are spent again in the local economy, another five to seven times, creating the multiplier effect. Local businesses are financially invested in your community’s future, contribute to a lower tax base for residents, and are a life line to non-profit organizations. Did you know non-profit organizations receive an average of 250 percent more support from smaller locally owned business owners than they do from large businesses? Thurmont Business Bucks makes the perfect gift, not only at Christmas, but all year long. View the advertisement on page 20.

by Valerie Nusbaum

No matter which occasions you celebrate, the holidays are filled with all kinds of traditions, rituals, and gatherings.

For my family, one that stands out is the annual Christmas Eve party at Grandma’s house. My grandmother was several inches shy of five-feet tall, and she lived in a tiny house near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. My brother and I could literally sing “Over the River and Through the Woods” whenever we went there.

Attendance at Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve was mandatory.  Her three grown children, their spouses, and all eight of us cousins crowded into what Gran called her “peanut shell.” Grandma’s brothers and sister, and their families, were always included, as were her neighbors. It was hot as blazes in there, and by the end of the evening, we had all shed our church clothes and were stepping outside on Grandma’s front porch to cool off. The noise and laughter spilled out into the yard. It didn’t hurt that Grandma always served two bowls of punch—one spiked and one “safe.” We found out years later that she spiked both bowls, but no one ever got mad at her. That explains why the kids were never given punch from the bowls, though.  She kept a pitcher in the kitchen for us.

Her little house was decorated from top to bottom with all manner of shiny, glittery things. If it sparkled or lit up, chances are it was hanging from a doorway or the ceiling. As I said, Gran was short and she never hit her head on anything. Such was not the case for me and my brother, but we were the tall ones in the family.

Anyone was welcome at Gran’s, and over the years, there were lots of friends, significant others, and occasional strangers, who walked through that front door. Eventually, all eight of us kids got married, some more than once, and the great-grandchildren started arriving.

One year, my family hosted two missionaries for Christmas. Those boys were a long way from their homes, and Mom invited them to stay with us. We took them to Gran’s, and then to midnight church. When those boys started giggling and singing loudly, well, that’s when we caught on about Gran’s punch. Yes, it was a horrible thing to do, but for once, I was completely innocent. Dad gave Gran a stern talking-to and that was that.

Another year, Uncle Lewis had a little too much of the festivities. He grinned glassily at everyone and sat back to light his cigar. Everything was fine until my mom realized that he had lit his finger instead, and she yelled for him to put out the fire. Uncle Lewis stuck his finger in the bowl of egg nog. Every year after that, one of us kids would dig through the box of Halloween fake body parts and throw a plastic finger in the egg nog. Uncle Lewis was not amused.

Our grandmother loved her Christmas trees, and she frequently changed her mind about what type of tree was best. Sometimes she had a real tree, and sometimes it was artificial. She had one of those silver trees with a color wheel, too. Another year, she sent my dad out to cut a branch for her, which she covered with cotton and hung ornaments from.

Knowing that she treasured her collection of ornaments, I decided to make a set for her. I carefully painted and lettered the names of all the family members onto glass balls and added a lot of glitter.  Gran loved them, and as the family continued to grow, she’d remind me to make new ornaments. As I said, there were a couple of divorces in the family. Now, when divorce happened, if Gran liked the “ex” then that person’s ornament got hung from the ceiling instead of on the tree with the family. If Gran didn’t like the “ex,” the ornament was hung from a tree in the backyard. To my knowledge, only one ornament was ever hung in the yard, and I won’t name names.

Gran made her famous sausage balls with a spicy cheese dipping sauce every year. There was always country ham, too. I was usually in charge of cookies, because she said I decorated them better than she did.  I knew she didn’t really like baking cookies. Pies were her specialty, and there were always a lemon meringue and a coconut cream.

Usually in November, after she got her retirement check, Gran would give Mom some money to shop and buy gifts for us. Gran liked to wrap them herself and put them under her tree to hand out.  We pretended to be surprised every Christmas. We’d get an extra gift, too—one that Grandma had chosen.  She bought extra gifts for guests and wrapped and put those under the tree, too. She didn’t have a lot of money, but she so enjoyed doing this.

My Grandmother passed away in 1994. Aunt Shirley moved into the house, and to this day, those of us who can make it still travel to the peanut shell in West Virginia on Christmas Eve. It seems like the right thing to do.

Happy Holidays to all of you!  Randy and I hope none of you find coal in your stockings.

by Valerie Nusbaum

I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that the holidays are almost here. A few minutes ago, we were sweating and wishing for a break from the heat, and now we’re thinking about Thanksgiving dinner and what to buy Uncle Frank for Christmas. Still, with Thanksgiving approaching, I should acknowledge some things that I’m thankful for.

Randy and I do a little traveling in the fall. In recent years, we’ve done mostly day trips. Though, things don’t always go as smoothly as we’d like. One night, I glanced out the window and saw Randy’s truck pulling up out front. The door flew open, and I looked up to see a scowling, fuming man.

“When did we change our PIN for the ATM?” he fired off.

“We didn’t,” I replied.

My hubby had gone out to run some errands around town, one of which was to get us some cash for our trip to Pennsylvania the next day. He went on to explain that the ATM had spit out the card twice, with the message that he was using an incorrect PIN. He ranted that for the last twenty years, he had been using the same number and now that number wouldn’t work. I asked what number he’d used and he rattled off four digits ending in “9”.

“Well there’s the problem, dear. Our PIN ends in “3”. You just had a brain freeze. Happens all the time to me,” I laughed.

We argued for a while, with each of us sticking to our story; however, in truth, neither of us could say for certain what our PIN number really is. I went upstairs and searched through our old rolodex in the hope that years ago I had written it down. I couldn’t find it there or in the file cabinet. Then my brain turned on, and I looked at Randy and blurted out the correct number. Both of us had been wrong before. His face cleared up, and he agreed that I finally had the right number. We eventually got the mess straightened out.

I’m grateful that our memories aren’t totally gone, that we’re still able to get around, and that the ladies at our bank don’t judge us.

Perhaps we should just give up on using the ATM; on our next outing, we stopped by the bank for some cash. Randy was driving my car. He got a little too close to the building and scraped the tire. I bit my tongue and glared at him. He scowled back at me and proceeded to drop the ATM card out the window. He couldn’t get the car door open far enough to retrieve the card, and the swearing started. There was a car behind us, so we couldn’t back up. I got out, walked around my car, wedged myself between the car and the bank, and picked up the card. I called Randy a bad name, and I apologized to the person behind us. That person shook his head and did not look happy.

We got our money and then drove over to McDonald’s to get some drinks for the road. Randy ordered two senior Diet Cokes. When he pulled around to the window to pay, the young lady took his money and said, “You don’t look like a senior, but ok. Congratulations. You’re doing well.”

Randy spat out, “What the heck does that mean? Should I have said, ‘Why, yes, I’m upright, I’m mobile, and some days I can make water!’” I just looked out the window, hoping that our day would get better. After all, the young woman at McDonald’s hadn’t told me that I was doing well. Evidently, I do look like a senior citizen.

I’m grateful that we’re able to take these trips, that we have a little cash in the bank, and that some businesses give old people a discount.

I am also grateful for MapQuest and GPS, even though Randy often argues with them and tells them how wrong they are.

A nice lady (whose name I didn’t catch) visited us in our booth at Colorfest. She saw our names on our tent banner and wanted to know if we were “that” Randy and Valerie from The Catoctin Banner. I’m always hesitant to admit it until I find out if I’m in trouble, but this lady said she enjoyed reading about us. That same day, a nice gentleman named Russell visited us and told us that he, too, likes reading my column in The Banner.

As always, I’m grateful and amazed that anyone wants to read the things I write, and I’m grateful for my relationships with The Catoctin Banner, Catoctin Colorfest, and the Town of Thurmont.

I’m grateful that my mother and my in-laws are still with us, and I’m thankful for the years I had with my dad. I appreciate my friends—old and new—and I’m grateful for family near and far. Food on the table, clothes on my back, freedom to come and go, and so much more, are things I’m grateful for. Most of all, I’m grateful to have a partner who muddles through life with me. And, of course, I’m thankful for Bill Blakeslee.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you all have much for which to be grateful