How to Make a Christmas Baby Feel Special

Do you know anyone who was born on Christmas Day?

I do, and my mother, Marialyce (aka Rusty), is one of them. Maybe that’s why she made such an effort to make birthdays such a celebration for her children. Because December 25th was never just her birthday. As a child, her parents put a candle on a mincemeat pie for her birthday cake, and many of her gifts were combined Christmas and birthday presents.

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I started making birthday cakes for Mom with an Easy Bake Oven some time around age 6 or 7. After a molasses cake was a flat fiasco, I turned to Mom’s Julia Child cookbooks. For years, I made an orange chocolate cake with mocha frosting (Le Glorieux with Chocolate-Butter Icing, which just happens to be gluten free). A few years later, we began separating the occasions; opening up Christmas presents in the morning and birthday presents with cake in the evening.

Although she planned parties for many, birthday parties for Mom were few over her lifetime (she could count them on one hand). So when she turned 75, we decided to surprise her.

That Christmas, Mom and her husband planned a visit to my sister’s home in Alabama for the holidays. On Christmas Eve, my husband, our two kids and I flew into town, rented a car, and drove to my sister’s house. Posing as carolers, we rang the door bell about 9:30 pm. As we sang “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” my sister called Mom to come see the Christmas carolers. As she came into view, we switched to “Happy Birthday” and watched her smile changed from delight to incredulity.

I’ll never forget that Christmas and what fun it was to surprise her. We’ve all heard that sometimes it’s better to give then receive, and that year, it definitely was.

Merry Christmas! Or should I say, “Happy Birthday!”?

Trip taken December 2004.

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When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).

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Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.

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Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.

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Ribs, Hushpuppies, and Fried Okra

On our trip down south, we ate a lot of barbecue. After all, that’s what the south is known for, right? We tried the local spot, Smokey’s BBQ, in Madison, Alabama, and the chain restaurant, Sticky Fingers, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Pulled pork, roasted chicken, country style ribs, cole slaw, baked beans, and corn bread. Smoky, sweet, vinegar, and mustardy sauces. Our party tried them all. And except for the corn bread, everything was gluten free.

Sticky Fingers BBQ

Combo Plate: Sticky Fingers Carolina Sweet

But while everyone else ate the ribs and pulled pork, I tried the Brunswick Stew. At Smokey’s, sweet strings of pulled pork competed with potato and peppers in the warm and mildly spicy broth. The stew was not thick but chunky. The meat distinct from the potatoes.

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Brunswick Stew

I ordered fried okra. Dipped in a batter and deep fried, cooked okra has an unusual texture, somewhat slimy between the crispy fried outer later. Definitely not for all. Because we were there at closing time, our party was served the restaurant’s leftover peach cobbler and corn bread. Both yummy.

I ordered Brunswick Stew again when we dined at Sticky Fingers in Chattanooga. Though the ingredients were similar, the Brunswick stew was thicker, its meat strewn throughout the stew, its pieces less distinct from the other ingredients. We liked the sauces so much at Sticky Fingers, we bought a sampling of their barbecue sauces (the Memphis Original sauce is particularly good). Both restaurants offer stuffed potatoes: a baked potato filled with pulled pork. Huge and satisfying.

Though it’s atmosphere was unassuming (looking more like the inside of the fast food place it is), the food at Smokey’s relies less on its sauces than Sticky Fingers. The pulled pork and the ribs, were flavorful on their own. But don’t get me wrong. I’ll go back to Sticky Fingers next time I’m in town or to one of its other locations (there are Sticky Fingers in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida).

If you’re hankering for hushpuppies or catfish with your barbecue, you might want to check out the Old Greenbriar Restaurant located in Madison, between Decatur and Huntsville, Alabama. Unlike Smokey’s and Sticky Fingers, the Greenbriar Restaurant is rustic and full of local atmosphere.

Trip taken December 2013.

Rockets in Huntsville

Drive down Highway 565 through Huntsville, Alabama, and you’ll get a clue as to why so many PhDs reside in its city. An illuminated rocket stands tall against the sky, and through glass, you can see the Saturn V Rocket.

Illuminated Rocket

Home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and the Redstone Arsenal, the sprawling city of Huntsville is located in northern Alabama, just a 2-hour drive from both Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s the home of Space Camp, and the home of Earth’s communication with astronauts doing research on the International Space Station (ISS).

Residents may drive by it every day, but to tourists like us, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is a big draw. On past trips, we’ve spent hours reading displays, watching an Omni film, and taking photos outside next to some of the rockets. This trip, instead of entering the main museum, we took a bus tour ($12 in addition to the price of museum admission) of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center at the Redstone Arsenal.

ISS Sign

After showing our identification, we boarded the bus for the Redstone Arsenal, a short drive from the museum.

Tour Bus

During our 2 1/2 hour tour, we saw and visited the test launch sites of the first rockets.

Historic Sign

Redstone Test Site

Through glass windows, we watched employees of the Huntsville Operations Support Center (aka Payload Operations Instruction Center) and learned that they are NASA’s primary science command post with the ISS.

Payload Operations

We learned more about the astronauts and their habits in space.

ISS Model 1

After the tour, we stopped at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration and checked out a real Saturn V Rocket.

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If you go, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time. It would be easy to spend a full day at the museum, including the displays, a tour, the rides, and a movie.

Trip taken December 2013.