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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

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The spirit of the holidays gets buried under a pile of crunched-up wrapping paper.
The spirit of the holidays gets buried under a pile of crunched-up wrapping paper.

How do you teach young kids about giving?

My kids are 5 and 6, and at this point, the holidays are about one thing: ripping open presents. They wholeheartedly still believe in Santa (along with a Jewish gift-giver we made up named "The Chanukah Man"), and although they asked for a reasonable number of gifts, they only understand one side of the holiday coin: the receiving side.

To introduce the concept of giving, I took them holiday shopping a few times, and mentioned how fun it is to buy gifts for other people. However, I’m not sure how much that message got through. I wondered if they sensed my internal nervousness over spending more money than I really have, or the fact I was more annoyed by the crowds than enjoying the present-shopping experience.

So, I am wondering what else I can do to stress the importance of giving at the holidays. When they are older, I will consider volunteering for a meal program, but I think they’re a little young for that now. But surely there are ways to demonstrate giving to little kids, right?

"Honey, how about a set of Legos instead?"
"Honey, how about a set of Legos instead?"

My kid wants something illegal for Christmas

A couple weeks ago, I asked my 6-year-old kid what he wanted for Christmas. I thought he would say the "Wall-E" movie, or more slot cars or maybe a video game system of some kind. I wasn’t prepared for his answer.

"I want to drive the car," he said.

Unfortunately, I started to laugh, which made him mad, and he stomped away. I asked him again a few days later and, again, he said he really wanted to drive the car. This time, he tried to bargain with me, "Just in the alley?"

I told him he was too short to drive the car, and that his feet wouldn’t touch the pedals. I expected him to suggest he could sit on my lap and drive, but he didn’t. Instead, he looked at me in silence for a few seconds, blinking slowly and clearly processing what I had said.

"OK," he said. "Can I get a cell phone?"

Did this guy miss a memo? Nobody likes a skinny Santa!
Did this guy miss a memo? Nobody likes a skinny Santa!

Who the hell is St. Nick?

Tonight, I'm told, St. Nick is flying over Brew City, filling shoes or stockings with heavenly edibles. As a kid, I wished my family celebrated St. Nick because most of my classmates did, but apparently, my Italian and Russian ancestors didn't dig ol' Nick.

Personally, I'm not even sure if St. Nick and Santa are the same person. If so, how does Santa find time during what must be an insane work month to make a worldwide journey just to plop a few  Hershey's kisses in sneakers?

And if Santa and St. Nick aren't the same person, how was it decided who got to make the big journey on the 25th and who got stuck with the early December  mini-tour?

All musings aside, I'm just wondering if I should celebrate St. Nick with my kids, or just skip it, like my folks did. Sure, it's festive and fun, but do they really need more trinkets or sugar bombs? Maybe it's because I don't have a history with the holiday, but I clearly don't get it.

The tasty Tom and Jerry hot holiday cocktail.
The tasty Tom and Jerry hot holiday cocktail.

The Tom and Jerry: My new favorite holiday drink

I drank my first Tom and Jerry yesterday -- well, my first since I sipped my grandma's about 25 years ago -- and I am a believer. I am not sure why I haven't had one before, considering I am a big fan of egg nog, brandy and rum. It's hot, sweet and potent -- the perfect combo to dull the drone of yammering relatives and hookey holiday ditties.

My smitten-ness with this classic holiday cocktail drove me to Wikipedia, where I learned a sports writer named Pierce Egan coined the phrase in a book around 1820. To Egan, "Tom and Jerry" means fighting, drinking and causing trouble. I don't know about you, but that's what I like to toast at Christmastime.

Here's a basic recipe for the Tom and Jerry:

Ingredients:

  •     1 egg
  •     1/2 oz. simple syrup or 1 tsp powdered sugar
  •     1 oz. dark rum
  •     1 oz. Cognac or brandy
  •     hot milk or hot water
  •     grated nutmeg for garnish

Preparation:

  1. Separate the egg white from the egg yolk and beat them separately.
  2. Fold the beaten eggs together and place into an Irish coffee glass -- or any mug.
  3. Add the sugar or simple syrup, dark rum and brandy.
  4. Fill with hot milk or hot water.
  5. Stir well.
  6. Sprinkle with nutmeg.