Second-Hand Christmas Tree

(A Christmas memory by Gail and Clyde’s daughter, Virginia Allain)

Some families face a spartan Christmas, particularly if they are out of work. Thinking of that brought to mind a Christmas where the generosity of others saved our family from a bleak holiday.


An earlier Christmas in the Martin home – Cindy and Clyde. I’m sure Dad made the rocking horse in the picture.

My dad had been in a car accident and was hospitalized for almost six months. My mother was expecting and with five children to care for, she couldn’t go out and work. It looked like there would be few gifts and certainly, money couldn’t be wasted on a Christmas tree when there was barely food for the table.

When our school closed for the Christmas break, my fifth-grade teacher brought the tree from the classroom to our house. Also that week, some kind soul left a box filled with holiday foods on our front porch.

It must have been a frightening and sad time for my mother trying to cope with it all. I’m thankful that the second-hand tree and the food brought some Christmas spirit to our home that year.

When I shared this memory with my younger sister, Karen, she said,

“I would have been 5 that Christmas. Don’t remember any of those things! That was in the days when kids weren’t allowed to visit in the hospital, so I remember not seeing Dad for a long time. The father of another kid in the neighborhood was an over-the-road truck driver–I remember thinking maybe that’s what my Dad was doing since he was gone for so long.”

Make Giblet Gravy

My mom wrote her instructions for making giblet gravy and posted them on the eHow site back in 2004. Here’s that article.

Here’s my way of making gravy for serving with the turkey for special meals and Thanksgiving.

Things You’ll Need:

  • giblets (liver, heart, neck, gizzard)
  • water
  • flour
  • a shaker
  • crock pot
  • turkey dripping
  • salt
  1. When the turkey is thawed enough, remove the packet of giblets stored inside. If they are difficult to remove, run cold water into the turkey.

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    The giblets are inside the turkey.

    Remove the giblets from the wrapper and place the heart, gizzard, liver and neck in a pan of water. Boil until tender. The liver can either be removed before the others, as it cooks more quickly or placed in the pot near the end when the others are almost done.

  2. Remove the giblets and neck into a pan to cool. Turn off the heat. Save the broth.
  3. When they’re cool, cut all into small pieces and add back into the broth. (I usually eat the meat from the neck while doing this. You can pull it off the bone and put it into the gravy if you want to go to all that trouble.)
  4. Heat all to boiling and add a cream sauce made of water and flour prepared in a shaker. I use a Tupperware shaker. (1/2 full of cold water, add 4 heaping large-serving-spoon size of flour). Shake it vigorously in the shaker to blend the flour and water. While pouring the cream sauce from the shaker into hot broth, stir vigorously.
  5. After the gravy thickens, I pour it into a preheated crock pot. When the turkey is cooked, my husband drains the drippings into one end of the pan and we add that to the gravy for more flavor. Add salt to flavor.
Tips & Warnings
  • This makes enough gravy for a crowd. We’re usually feeding 20 or more.
  • If you don’t make the cream sauce in a shaker, you might have lumps in your gravy. You can pour it through a sieve to remove the lumps in that case.
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Clyde Martin carving the turkey

This is the kind of shaker used for the cream sauce that goes into the gravy.

Sell Nuts for Extra Holiday Income

Medium sized black walnuts

If you have nut trees, here’s how to make extra money selling the nuts at Christmas time.

Things You’ll Need:

  • a source of nuts
  • sifters
  • white pan
  • tweezers
  • tins and mugs
  • foil cupcake liners
    • Where to sell them:
      We had great success making spiced black walnut nutmeats which our family and friends praised. We then decided to go one step further. We sold them at the farmer’s market. You could also sell them at a flea market or even online like on eBay.
    • How to increase sales at holiday time:
      Around the holidays, we fixed the special nuts in tins and mugs that we found at garage or estate sales. Look for ones appropriate for the season. Look for clean, rust-free, undented tins. People particularly like ones with holiday scenes on them, but other designs make nice gift tins too. Don’t spend too much on these, or you will have to raise the price of the nuts.
      We advertised in the local Shopper’s Guide and people flocked in to buy these unique gifts.
  • Sort the nuts by size:
    To get the biggest nut meats for the spiced nuts, my husband used different strainers with different size grids, large and medium. The large grid let everything go through except the largest pieces. Those large nuts worked great in the spiced nut recipe.
  • Continue sifting using smaller and smaller grids:
    Now he had lots of smaller sizes of nut meats. Really just bits and pieces. So he shook them up in a strainer with a smaller size grid. The smaller grid lets the tiny pieces of shell and other debris fall through. Then these can be run through a strainer with even a smaller grid for the best results.nuts-med-strainer
  • Make sure they’re free of shells:
    Clyde dumps them into a white baking pan and searches for more shells that slipped through. Some tiny pieces of the shell stick to the nut meat and can be removed with tweezers. No one wants to bite into a piece of shell in their spiced nuts or Christmas baked goods.

    Clyde Martin preparing the nuts.

    Clyde Martin preparing the nuts.

    The shaking in the strainers seemed to bring out the oil in the nut meats, making them shiny and tastier. We loved the results of shell-free goodies. It brought return buyers who knew they could count on our product.

  • Offer a variety of flavored and plain nuts:
    With the medium-sized nut meats, we made candied nut clusters. Click on the link to get my recipe for these. We also sold a lot of plain nuts for people who liked to bake. Some would get the smaller nuts for this, but many wanted premium nuts to use in their Christmas cookies. The price of the plain nuts reflected the work we put into sorting and the demand for the holidays.

    sugared nuts for Christmas

    Treat your loved ones to homemade sugared nuts. (photo courtesy of Pixabay)

  • Store them: We stored the spiced nuts and the different candied nuts in the large, empty ice cream buckets until we were ready to fill gift tins and mugs.
  • When we filled the tins, we divided the different candied and spiced nuts using foil cupcake liners.
  • For the mugs, line one with plastic wrap and fill with nuts. Pull the loose ends of the wrap up to twist. Tie it at the twisted area with colorful Christmas ribbon. Use scissors to curl the ribbon.
  • When someone responded to the Shopper’s Guide advertisement, we set out a display of the different nuts in tins and cups on our dining room table. Try to make it festive and appealing.
Tips: These also make great gifts for the family. Fill some of your own fancy dishes that are sitting in the cupboards collecting dust. It’s one way to pass on an heirloom piece of china to your grandchildren.
Cinnamon Star cookies with lots of nuts for Christmas

Cinnamon Star cookies with lots of nuts for Christmas

Christmas Crafts with Gail Lee Martin

“I think mom, Gail Lee Martin made fabric balls like this one Christmas. Reminds me of the many Christmas projects both Dad and Mom worked together on. Like the yarn candy cane and the Santa head. Both were very nicely put together. They had to start early in the year to get them all made.”  – Cynthia Ross


Here’s a YouTube video tutorial for making these no-sew folded fabric ornament balls. They give a quilted look but there’s no glue or sewing required. Just cut, fold and pin the fabric.  

Here are more of Gail and Clyde’s Christmas crafts:

Make a Candy Cane Wall Hanging from Yarn. This is an earlier blog post, in case you missed it.  It uses yarn to create a huge candy can to hang on your door or on the wall.


This reindeer ornament is made from gluing 3 wooden clothespins together. Two serve as the legs and the one pointing upwards makes the antlers. Glue on felt to serve as the tail, the nose and a bit of Christmas holly. Some googly eyes and a string to hang it. Really cute!

I’ll post Mom’s complete instructions for this tomorrow. She wrote about it for the eHow site.


Candy cane reindeer with pipe cleaner antlers and googly eyes. Made by Gail Lee Martin.

You don’t need much explanation for this candy cane reindeer. It’s pretty clear how to assemble it. It’s a fun project for kids during the holiday season.

You can get a package of wiggle eyes from Amazon or check your local craft store. Click on the photo to see the details or to look for other wiggle eyes, candy canes, pipe cleaners, felt, wooden clothespins and other craft supplies on Amazon. 

Easter for the Grandkids

Gail loved holidays, so I scouted out some old pictures from the 1970s of her grandchildren enjoying the holiday. Paul looks quite dapper in his little suit, Robin’s wearing the lavender crocheted outfit and April is the toddler with the Easter bonnet and the bouquet of flowers.

In the 1972 black-and-white photo, the kids are pictured with their Aunt Shannon.

scrapbook susan

Easter Scrapbook Page Made for My Sister

Make a Candy Cane Wall Hanging from Yarn

An article rescued using the Wayback Machine. Mom wrote it for eHow back in 2010.

Making pom-poms from yarn is easy. Connect them together to make a giant candy cane. This makes a marvelous Christmas decoration. Here’s how to make one for your wall.

Things You’ll Need:

red yarn & white yarn
wire clothes hanger
small square of cardboard (3 inches by 2 inches)

One of Gail and Clyde's giant candy canes made from pom poms.

One of Gail and Clyde’s giant candy canes made from pom poms.

1 Take a wire coat hanger. Untwist it and straighten it to the full length. Bend the top part into the shape of a shepherd’s crook. Fold each end back on itself (to keep the pom-poms from sliding off).
2 Make the pom-poms: Wrap the yarn twenty times around the three inch length of the cardboard. Slide the cardboard out. Using a separate piece of yarn, tie the loops of yarn in the middle. Leave enough extra of the tie to tie the pom-pom onto the wire.
3 Make as many red and white pompoms as needed to fill the wire cane. We double wrapped, then tied with a square knot. Cram the pom-poms together to make a fuller candy cane.
4 We found some yarn that had glitter entwined and that made even prettier canes. I also sprayed clear shellac and quickly sprinkled glitter on plain yarn to get the same effect.
5 We added plastic decoration up near the curve by tying it with yarn. Big red, velvety bows look great on them too.

Added decoration on the pom-pom candy cane.

Added decoration on the pom-pom candy cane.

6 A wire loop was added to the back side for hanging. We double wrapped some yarn, then tied it with a square knot to the wire for extra strength.

This looks great hanging on a door during the holiday season. We made both big candy canes and small ones. Store the candy cane carefully so the yarn isn’t crushed.

Feeling My Orphan Status

I found myself an orphan at age 64. Being past the stage of needing an orphanage, if such existed anymore, it was up to me to find my way in a world without my mother’s wisdom.

In the last few years of my mother’s life, her daughters haphazardly converted into caregivers. They mothered their mother by being sure she had food and taking her to the doctors. They dealt with problems and gave her advice.

Being half-way across the country, I missed the day-in-day-out adjustments that might have trained my heart and mind to let go of being mothered. Via phone calls and twice a year visits, I could see things changing. I worried about her welfare, especially after Dad died. She seemed so lost without him by her side.

Time passes and I think I’m adjusting to being motherless. Still I find myself wanting to ask my mother things. I rue the times that I only half-listened to her repeated family stories. I find myself trying to remember one of her folksy sayings.

Perhaps the annual rituals of Mother’s Day makes me feel my orphan status more keenly. I see my sisters struggling, each in their own way trying to adjust. It is like losing an anchor in your life.

Here we are together. I actually don't have that many photos like this. Usually I'm the one with the camera in hand.

Here we are together. I actually don’t have that many photos like this. Usually I’m the one with the camera in hand.