Today I’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day with one of my favorite traditions, baking and decorating heart-shaped sugar cookies with my daughter. Typically I don’t do much, if any, baking for Christmas, instead saving my baking and decorating extravaganza for Valentine’s Day. We’ll use my favorite recipe, one that was given to me by my Grandma Christiansen and that I’ve used for at least twenty years.
The first batch of cookies baked and decorated is always reserved for Grandma. Gillian and I spend at least an hour decorating the cookies that we’ll deliver to her. Grandpa’s cookies are easier, as he likes his plain, crispy and a little burnt. I always overcook one batch just for him. I don’t know if grandma still waits for my Valentine's Day cookie delivery like she used to. I only know that after forgetting one year (1999 to be exact. Gillian was only four months old and I was overwhelmed and distracted with the new demands of mothering) I’ll never forget again.
Baking often reminds me of my grandma. I have many fond memories of time spent by her side in her kitchen helping her bake cakes and cookies. Even though I was very young, I vividly remember helping her make my dad’s favorite raisin filled cookies. Although I couldn’t stand how they tasted, and was always disappointed that we couldn’t make something I liked, even then I understood that for her the act of baking something special for someone she loved was an act of love. It’s a lesson that’s stuck with me, and is probably the reason I enjoy baking birthday cakes and treats for the ones I love.
I’ve learned many valuable lessons about love and caring for family from my Grandma Christiansen (Grandma Chris to all of her grandkids), and every one of them was taught by her quiet example. I’ve never walked into her house without feeling completely enveloped by love as soon as I enter. She makes every one of her grandchildren feel so special that I’m positive every one of us thinks we’re her favorite!
My Grandma Chris has been there for me through every stormy, traumatic, scary, happy, sad, and memorable moment of my life. For me she’s always been a shelter from the storms of life. No matter what I’m going through, when I’m with her I feel like everything is going to okay. Because I’ve been on the receiving end of so many of her kindnesses, I’ve learned the value of a perfectly timed note sent in the mail for no reason, a hand-written thank you card, a small gift picked up just because it’s the perfect thing for someone, a beautifully wrapped present and how to make guests always feel welcome.
Many years ago I gave my grandma a wooden plaque with a picture of a cat on it. My dad has told me stories of hobos coming to the back door of their house when he was young and my grandma feeding them. Hobos used to leave signals--carvings on fence posts and trees, as messages to other hobos passing by about places to rest and eat. A picture of a cat near a home indicated that a kind-hearted lady lived there. I’m certain there was such a signal outside my grandma’s home, because she is the epitome of a kind-hearted lady.
Making Valentine's cookies is one of my most cherished traditions. There’s something about using my grandma’s special recipe, passed down from her to me, that I’m now using with my daughter, that’s such a tangible representation of the connection between generations. I treasure that connection. It’s why when I was pregnant with my first and only child I didn’t find out whether I was having a boy or girl. I already knew I’d be having a girl. I had to, because I’d always planned on having a daughter that I would name after my grandma. And so I did. Gillian Marie was given the middle name of her great grandma, Gloria Marie Christiansen, and her great-grandmother before her, Marie Proctor.
When I turned 40, I corrected an omission my dad made in naming me, and legally changed my name to include the middle name of Marie. The gesture might seem small and unimportant to some, but it was very important to me. It was a way to recognize and honor a woman I love and cherish with all my heart.
|Me with my grandparents - Summer 2009|
|Gillian with her Great Grandpa Christiansen|