Holiday Memory: Gullan’s Glögg

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson on December 23, 2013

Every year, as a tribute to my dear mother, Julia Looper Rex, I republish this blog post that first appeared on the Five More Minutes With website in 2011. It always makes me smile as I recount this beloved holiday memory of Mom. I hope you will enjoy it, too!

And if you are interested in making Glögg at home, here’s a video from New York City’s legendary Aquavit Restaurant. Looks pretty yummy!

A Holiday Memory of Mom

When I was a child, one of my mother’s dearest friends hailed from Sweden. Desperately homesick and longing for her country’s unique holiday traditions, each year around Thanksgiving Gullan would show up on our doorstep with a batch of homemade pepparkakar (pepper cookies) and a bottle of Glögg.

Our family soon learned that Glögg is a popular winter-time beverage in Sweden, made from an intriguing mix of what seemed to us (at least during the innocent days of the 1960s) some pretty exotic ingredients: red wine, Aquavit, Madeira, whole cardamom, cinnamon sticks, candied orange peel, raisins, and blanched almonds.

My mother, a dyed-in-the-wool teetotaler at the time, looked askance at the annual bottle of Glögg. But, in deference to her friend’s beloved homeland, she took a few tentative sips of the warm, sweet wine punch. And then a few more.

As I remember things, Mom always got a bit tipsy while my father enjoyed his cup of holiday cheer along with Mom’s merry mood.

Gullan’s husband was transferred back to Europe and Mom passed on seven years ago, but my mind often wanders back to those simpler, more innocent days and the warm, soothing drinks of winter like hot chocolate, hot toddies, and, of course, Gullan’s Glögg.

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Mom

Holiday Memory: The Green Tartan Night Gown

Written by Laurie on December 20, 2012

Two years ago, this holiday memory submitted by Laurie, a regular contributor to Five More Minutes With Web site was the winner of our first-ever Holiday Memory Contest!

Her first story for us, A Whiff of Perfume, documented the ineffable memories she had when she smelled her mother’s perfume.

The House on Sylvan Lane chronicled her happy childhood in a very special home.

In The Green Tartan Night Gown, she again weaves a compelling portrait of family life as she was growing up. As with her two previous stories, I can’t read it without shedding a bucket full of tears.


Everyone has his own way of celebrating Christmas. In our house, these “family traditions” had to be adhered to year after year. My mother was the producer of Christmas and the keeper of the rules.

On Christmas morning, we took coffee or hot chocholate and a special Christmas Danish to the fireplace to open our stocking gifts. These “treasures” were anything from candy and cosmetics to kitchen gadgets and school supplies that we wrapped in red or green tissue paper. We took turns unwrapping them one at a time.

In an attempt to make the day last as long as it possible, we took a break to get the turkey in the oven, dress up for the day, and slowly gather around the Christmas tree for the gift exchange. Dad was Santa and passed around the colorfully wrapped presents. We watched as each opened a gift and, made appropriate oohs and aahs.

Selecting, wrapping and giving gifts was very important to my mom. Christmas wasn’t Christmas unless you had packages under the tree with your name on the gift tag.

As time went by, the mantle passed to me. I became the producer of Christmas in my home, but my mom still was the enforcer of the traditions. On this particular Christmas, we all had to bend the rules to accommodate my mom’s treatment for ovarian cancer.

I now lived in Florida where my parents spent their winters, so we were able to arrange for mom to come as usual and continue with chemo. She was so weak when she got off the plane. I got them settled in their condo about five minutes from my home, bought a miniature live Christmas tree, and tried to make it as festive as possible.

To make it easier on mom, I set up the stockings turning their kitchen bar into “the fireplace mantel”. On Christmas morning, I drove to their condo for coffee and Danish and the familiar stocking gift ritual which my dad and I kept alive.

Later in the day, a very frail mom wearing her crooked wig came to my house to finish the Christmas traditions around my tree. The gifts were there, but this year’s pile wasn’t as big and I expected nothing from my mom except the gift of her being with us that day.

This time, I was Santa. She directed me to a package with my name on it in her handwriting beautifully wrapped. I opened the box and pulled out a full length flannel night gown in a green tartan pattern.

What made the gift so special is that my mom made my dad drive her to the mall so that she personally could pick out the gift — something to keep me warm since she knows I always get cold. The tears came down my cheeks as I tried to hide them behind the warm comfy night gown which reminded me of my mother’s love and the importance of celebrating Christmas her way.

That was our last Christmas, but the gown comforted me and brought back warm memories of a lifetime of Christmases with my mom. They are never the same without her.

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Mom

Five More Minutes With Our Pets on the Rainbow Bridge

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson on December 17, 2012

Anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet (which I suppose we are now supposed to refer to as “companion animal” if we want to be politically correct) knows how difficult that can be. Animals give us unconditional love and ask for hardly anything in return.

Unlike relatives and friends, they don’t bring a lot of emotional baggage. They are (often) pure sources of joy and wonder.

So when the following poem crossed my desk at 9:42 one morning, I couldn’t help but read it and shed a tear.

Here’s to all the wonderful animals in our lives cats such as Bo-Bo, Jasper, and Henry-san, and dogs like AmandaTimmy, Matchin, and Lucius who are no longer with us physically, but will always live on in our hearts and minds.

And here’s to meeting again to cross the Rainbow Bridge.


Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.

There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.

There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.

The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance.

His bright eyes are intent; his eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again.

The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

Author unknown…

My Memorial for My Mother

Written by Braiden on December 3, 2012

The following is the the two-page document I shared with the people who attended my mother’s small memorial service in Austin, Texas, on August 17, 2005.

Welcome to this memorial for Julie Rex. Any of you who knew her knew she was from the South, and so had many “interesting” view on life and death, particularly on funerals.

Which puts her family in a funny place after her death last Saturday. Mom didn’t want any “doings,” and by that she meant a lot of pageantry, pomp, and circumstance. But those who knew her knew how much she loved a good party, so instead of calling this gathering tonight to celebrate her life “doings,” let’s call it a party. So. . .welcome to the party.

As my husband Spencer and I were flying here from Seattle on American Airlines’ red-eye flight on Saturday evening and Sunday morning, I had many quiet hours to think about Mom. As is my pattern as a professional writer, I wrote down my thoughts quickly, recklessly, in their raw form once we landed in Dallas and had a two-hour layover.

I cleaned my notes up a bit, edited and organized them, and tonight I’d like to share my thoughts with you.

Mom’s motto in life was to “Live each day gloriously.” I’ll say it again: Live each day gloriously. Mom was a relentlessly upbeat person who never saw the glass as half empty, but always as half full. She took delight in simple things—a perfect pink rosebud in a crystal vase, a homegrown peach sliced into cold milk, the baby sparrows that landed on her beloved bird feeder.

Within the last two years, the physical limitations of her body—the defibrillator, almost total blindness, severe arthritis in both hands and one knee—would have killed most mortals. But, up until her last week to 10 days, Mom kept up a brave front, until I think she just could not see the glass as half full any more.

I grew up in suburban Philadelphia in the 1960s, where Mom was the prototypical good mother. Some of the things I vividly remember from childhood:

–Going to the farmers’ market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, where the Amish people pulled up in their horse-drawn buggies to sell us everything from fresh-killed chickens to shoofly pie. As the author of six books on the Pike Place Market, this exposure to farmers’ markets from an early age has had a profound effect on my adult life.

–I remember her bringing cupcakes for the entire class when it was my birthday—white cake and pink icing, of course.

Rock-hunting for rubies and sapphires in North Carolina one summer vacation. She had a beautiful ruby-and-gold ring specially designed for me from our discoveries and I still wear it to this day.

–Her orchids painstakingly hand-pollinated and nurtured under black lights.

–Science projects that took over the laundry room.

–Her outdoor garden with specimen rose bushes, dahlias, peonies, and her beloved (being a true Southern belle) magnolia trees. People in Pennsylvania never could understand how those fragile trees could survive the harsh winters.

–Car trips through Mom’s beloved South with stops at places such as Mammy’s Barbecue in South Carolina (those were less politically correct times) and The Deck in Brunswick, Georgia, with the best fried shrimp and hush puppies.

–Finally, the numerous cats we adopted, beginning with Diamond, the tortoise-shell Persian, when I was six and Brad was three.

To wrap up, I’d just like to say that Spencer and I went to see Mom at the funeral home on Monday. I was worried that she might be ravaged by all the pain she may have experienced during her last moments, but we were relieved to find instead her face beautiful, unmarked, without a wrinkle. In death, as in life, her bearing was regal, her hair neatly combed. She looked like a movie star.

Most importantly, she looked totally, completely, at peace.

So instead of mourning her death with pretentious “doings,” it seems much more appropriate to celebrate her life with a gathering of her favorite friends and family. Because anyone whose credo was to “Live each day gloriously,” wouldn’t have it any other way.

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Mom

Tribute to a Tough But Talented Teacher

Written by Braiden on November 29, 2012

Braiden’s sixth-grade photo, with Dr. Zucaro and 28 classmates; Braiden is in the back row, third from the right; Winky Miller Merrill is in the front row, right-hand side

When I came upon the faded, slightly dusty class photo from sixth grade, I knew that one day I’d have to write about it.

The Grade 6C photo was taken sometime in 1967-1968 in suburban Philadelphia at Gladwyne Elementary School, which still happily houses and educates 560 students from kindergarten to grade five.

Looking at this particular photo  brings back both pleasant and unpleasant memories. I was such a gangly and self-conscious youngster, often teased and even bullied by the other kids. Yet I loved going to school because I wanted so desperately to learn about new ideas, places, and things.

It’s so weird. . .I can’t remember what movie I saw last weekend or the person I had lunch with two weeks ago, but as I look at the young faces peering out from this photo, I can name practically every one.

There’s Betsy Fink (the flirt) and Tim Roach (the brain). Eddie Ludwick (the sensitive nerd) and Tina Waldo (“the frog”). Nancy Bowden (athletic and popular) and David Carey (hip). Sonya Villalba (quiet and beautifully ethnic) and Tony Cocoa (the bad boy). If memory serves, Tony (who was from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak) wore a black leather jacket and used to stand outside the gymnasium and beat up kids and smoke cigarettes. We all thought he was sinister and way cool.

Dr. Blaze Zucaro, a tough but talented teacher

Our teacher was Dr. Blaze Zucaro, a.k.a, Dr. Z. Other than our gym teacher, Mr. DiBatista (“Mr. DB” for short), Dr. Z was the only male teacher in the school and probably one of the few teachers who had earned his doctorate.

He was knowledgeable about every subject, but especially liked science and ancient history. One day he made us all stand outside in one of the playing fields while he drove by in his car honking his horn to prove the Doppler effect of sound.

He also taught us about Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Rosetta Stone. That world seemed so strange, foreign, and fascinating to my young mind.

He taught me so much and opened up my mind in so many ways. . .he was truly ahead of his time.

Dr. Z. knew a lot and expected a lot from the students in his class. A compulsive sort, and a chain smoker, I remember him always neatly dressed in a button-down white shirt and black pants. He was clean shaven with dark eyes and glasses; his curly hair was always neat and closely cropped.

When I e-mailed the only sixth-grade classmate I’ve remained in contact with over the years–Ella Warren Miller, a.k.a “Winky”–to tell her I was reminiscing and writing about Dr. Z., our memories were much the same:

“Here is what I do remember. He called me “Ella W.” I sat in the front row center (I was short) and Cathy Brandt sat behind me. He would pace across the front of the room and when he walked by me, he’d grab my nose between his index and middle finger. I used to worry that snot would come out on his hands!!

“We had Tina Waldo in our class and he kind of picked on her. He definitely played favorites and I was on his good side.

“He would brush his teeth in the sink in the back of the classroom after lunch. After tests, he had us read our grades out loud while he recorded them and we had to use Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog and Easy. Many kids were humiliated when they had to say their grades out loud.

“He taught us about Mesopotamia, and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. He loved ancient history. He was a hard teacher, but not if you took notes, studied (memorized), and paid attention. I got straight A’s that year from him – of course that changed when I hit seventh grade!

“I also remember him driving by leaning on his horn to demonstrate the Doppler effect. Do you remember that he had to leave school one day in an ambulance because he had a kidney stone? He had a bad back, too.

“We would come to school and ask one another, ‘Is Dr. Z. in a good mood or a bad mood?’

“We were totally tuned in to his ups and downs. When he was angry, he would ball up his fists by his sides and his eyes would bore into the offending person. He would yell and throw chalk when he was pissed.

“He had a great deep laugh, I remember him always wearing a white shirt and baggy pants like the Marx brothers. Mr. Fetter (the school’s principal) dealt him all of the troublesome boys because he was the only male teacher in the school except for Mr. DB.”

Dr. Z. married our dental hygienist, they had two sons, and later divorced.

Years later, I heard through the proverbial grapevine that Dr. Z. died of a brain tumor.

Sadly, I never got a chance to go back and thank him for being such a tough but talented teacher.

Do you have a Dr. Z. in your life, a favorite teacher who helped shape, guide, and inform the person you are today?

If so, isn’t it time to write a tribute to him or her. . and thank them for all they did in your life?

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Teacher

Is Five More Minutes With Your Cup of Tea?

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson on November 8, 2012

Since officially launching this Web site on March 26, 2010, I’ve had many people reach out to tell me they think it’s really an interesting idea, but they just can’t see themselves submitting a story.

Fair enough. As I mentioned in a prior post, this will not be everybody’s cup of tea.

But for others, Five More Minutes With has proved a real tool to help them deal with, and ultimately overcome, their grief.

One of these people is Carole, my friend, fellow writer, and total food professional. Here’s what she said about her experience of writing not one, but two stories for FMMW.

“Truth-be-told, I’ve had these two stories rumbling around in my head for a few years—a fretting kind of thinking, troubled and unresolved. Your new project was just the impetus I needed to write them down.

“I completely understand the woman/friend and the relative/man you mentioned (in one of your posts) who don’t want to/can’t contribute. No doubt their memories are either painful or just too emotional. Writing them down isn’t always cathartic; it can really hurt. But in my case, writing the stories at this point in time is hugely therapeutic. You have no idea how huge.

“I am not exaggerating when I say that it’s like a light bulb went on or a stuck door opened or a spring rain poured down, and now the sun is out after a storm and the world seems fresh and new.

“Seriously. I probably could not have written these stories a year ago. It is nothing short of providence that brought you to me at the precise moment that I was ready to, and had a reason to, finally write these stories down.

“In fact, I almost blew it off on Monday figuring I’d get to it sometime next week until you responded in ALL CAPS that you WOULD LOVE THAT (if I sent them in).

“So I stopped what I was doing and wrote them down and I cried the whole time (happy tears, tears of understanding, tears of ‘ah-ha’ I-get-this-now, and I can put these thoughts away and stop fretting).

“Today it feels as if a heavy, heavy weight has been lifted.

“So if anyone needs to be thanked, it is me who needs to THANK YOU for allowing me the opportunity to get it all out.

“So thanks! And keep up the good work.”

More stories from: Editor's Notes,Featured Story

A Young Man with Curly, Light-Brown Hair

Written by JoAnn Looper on November 5, 2012

Lee Looper FMMW

Top Photo, Lee and his fiancé, Cathy.

My Darling Lee,

I have chosen you because you were one of the middle children of four.  You arrived early, weighing only 4 ½ pounds so you were rushed to Chattanooga Children’s Hospital to stay until you weighed 5 pounds.

I remember the dear Swedish nurse who taught me how to care for you before bringing you home.  You were the only child who looked like my side of the family.

Thank you dear Lee for having such a sweet spirit and caring heart.  You rescued so many hurt critters and brought them home to nurse them back to health.  The one I remember most vividly was the darling little raccoon that you named Bandit.  You were the only one who could touch him.

The last Christmas that you were home, you helped me take down the Christmas tree and store the ornaments. Then we chatted in the garage as you were getting ready to return to the University of South Carolina for your junior year in college.  I cherish those last moments and big hug before you drove away.

I could see you on the screen of my imagination returning to the little rented cottage on Lake Murray.  You were able to keep your little boat and trailer as well as your beloved dog, Buckshot.  Your love of nature was evident in the choices that you made.  That has made me appreciate our beautiful rivers, mountains, sunsets and all the wonders of our world even more.

I often see a little green car, a guitar, or a young man with curly light brown hair and think of you.  We found your camera filled with gorgeous snapshots of the rising and setting of the sun over Lake Murray.

You and Cathy were making wedding plans even though you were not quite 20 years old.  It was exciting to hear the two of you making plans for your future.

That same weekend, the Lord called you and sweet Glenn Home in a terrible boating accident.  Our world fell apart and my heart melted within me.

I would not have survived if God had not comforted me with His precious promises.  I remember the Apostle Paul writing, “ …absent from the body and present with the Lord”.

I believe that you and Glenn were escorted into the presence of the Lord by angels.

I can’t wait to see you again, as well as your Dad and brothers!  And there are so many others!

I understand more clearly now that children are a gift from the Lord.  You were such a special gift.

We were so blessed to have you almost 20 years. I shall love you forever.

Editor’s Note: This story has particular importance and meaning to me. Lee Looper was my cousin. Gone too soon.

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Son

Five More Minutes With Mother

Written by Anonymous on September 6, 2012

If I had five more minutes with my mom, I would tell her how sorry I was every time I rushed her off the phone.

I would tell her how sorry I was that I didn’t help her with my dad.

I would tell her how much I was going to miss her, that she meant so much to me, that she taught me everything, that my life would not be the same without her in it everyday.

And I would touch her. I would hold her hand. I would touch her cheeks with mine. I miss that so much.

I would brush her hair because I know how much she loved that.

And I would thank her for being my mom–mine–who loved me more than anyone in this world.

If I had five more minutes with my mom, I would beg her for five more. And five more after that. Because it’s never enough.

There is never enough time to spend with your mom.




More stories from: Featured Story,With My Mom

Chelsea Hanson Tells Us How to Make Life Full Again

Written by Chelsea Hanson on May 24, 2012

In today’s blog post, our frequent guest columnist, Chelsea Hanson, founder of With Sympathy Gifts, wants us to make a promise to ourselves after the death of a loved one. . .that our lives can be full again. Thanks for the encouragement and wisdom, as always, Chelsea.

Make a Promise to Yourself….Your Life Can Be Full Again

“When a man takes an oath… he’s holding his own self in his own hands.” ~ Robert Bolt

After losing someone close, do you believe a full and joyful life may be possible for you again? Perhaps your grief is too fresh and the pain is too strong for such a belief to be more than a fleeting thought. When I first lost my mother, I never dreamed this was possible.

It is possible though; you will find joy again – if you make the commitment to seek it out in the small moments of the day. Those small moments will be as seeds in the garden, and soon they will multiply in number. Life’s garden will once again be bountiful. Have trust…there will come a day when you wake up, and your loss won’t be the first thing on your mind…you will look to the day for the treasure it is.

Go ahead. Why not make the promise to yourself that life can be full again? After all, your loved one would want only the best for you…to live your life fully, deeply and, joyously.

Here are some resources that Chelsea suggests to help you see the beauty in life each day:

One Joy Scatters a Hundred Griefs

Coping With Grief: How to Handle Your Emotions

Virtual Book Tour – Interview with Chelsea Hanson, Author of the Sympathy Matters Collection

Memory of Mom: Thoughts and Even a Video!

Written by Joy Ware Miller on May 5, 2012

This Memory of Mom comes from Joy Ware Miller, who also submitted our first-ever Memory of Mom video! Thanks for both your submissions, Joy!

I grew up with such a rich heritage. I was in my early twenties and all my grandparents and parents were still with us!

The life and God lessons they taught and lived are what truly continue to inspire me today!

In turn…I now can attempt to live the legacy with my children…because we never know, when we will only have Five More Minutes! Thanks for allowing us to share!

P.S. I created a “Proverbs 31 in Modern Day” video on YouTube! I would be delighted if you choose to share it….and I believe others blessed!



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