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An Odyssey of Baking Cinnamon Rolls to Warm an Old Heart

By Nancy Fagan December 10, 2018 Lifestyle

With the holiday season in full swing, my house is decorated, cookies baked, gifts wrapped, and holiday cards sent. With one final thing to check off my list, I saved the most challenging for last – buying a Christmas present for my dear husband.

Finding the right gift for him isn’t easy. When I probe to get ideas, he delivers the same speech each year, “I don’t need anything, so I don’t want you to buy me anything. Just get me a can of nuts.”

The Panic of Fear

With the 12 days of Christmas countdown quickly approaching, I started to fear I’d have nothing to give him. And then, one morning while we were enjoying breakfast at a beachside café, I realized the perfect gift had been right in front of me all along.

As I bit into a warm, sweet pastry, my husband smiled and told me that I would have loved his Mom’s cinnamon rolls. A hint of sadness peeked through his expression, “I really miss her sometimes.”

Sadly, his Mom, Mrs. Murphy, passed away a few years ago, and for the longest time he barely mentioned her name. But for some reason, on that chilly morning, he felt comfortable reminiscing about her funny idiosyncrasies, her love for wildlife, and the adventures inside the Murphy home.

Finding Inspiration in Sad Eyes

My heart broke for him as I saw his strong Irish eyes show a vulnerability I don’t see very often. And with that, I thought of something that would bring him joy – a new family tradition – adding his Mom’s cinnamon rolls to our Christmas morning breakfast.

As excited as I was to share the idea with him, I decided to keep quiet. The challenge was getting a hold of the recipe. Heck, I didn’t even know if it existed. His sister, Patricia, would know.

She responded to my don’t-tell-your-brother e-mail with bad news, “I’m out of town until the New Year.” But the note ended with a glimmer of hope. She’d asked her neighbor to go to her house and take a look around.

The Recipe Search

Mrs. Murphy’s spirit must have helped in the search because the very next day, Patricia sent a scanned copy of the recipe, written in his Mom’s handwriting. It was fantastic.

She had keywords underlined and asterisks emphasizing key points – test with two fingers, grease pan, double in size, warm to the arm. She even drew a picture of a rectangular shape of the type of pan to cook the rolls in.

I was overjoyed, knowing the happiness this gift would bring my husband. As I looked at the recipe, I wondered if I would be able to find a designer to turn it into a piece of wall art to hang on our kitchen wall.

Naturally, I turned to Google. Within minutes, I was on the phone with a local company discussing what I had in mind. To make his present extra special, I wanted to include a facsimile note in his Mom’s handwriting.

Excitingly, I was told this could be done quickly by pulling the individual letters from the handwritten recipe. Wanting to keep the note genuine, it took me over an hour to find the perfect eight words Mrs. Murphy might have written.


A little taste of home.

Love, Mom

As a last-minute thought, I had the designer add a photo of my husband’s Mom and Dad (on their wedding day) as well as fun images of cinnamon rolls and cinnamon sticks. It was perfect.

The next day, I picked up the incredible creation, had it framed, wrapped it in shiny holiday paper and placed it under our Christmas tree.

As much as I would love to tell you how this story ends, I can’t. I’m writing this blog before Christmas. What I can do is share my plan of action. On the morning of the 25th, I’m going to bake Mrs. Murphy’s cinnamon rolls without telling my husband I’m attempting to make his Mom’s recipe.

I hope that he’ll recognize the taste and say something like, “You know, these taste a little like my Mom’s.” I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the taste is similar. At that point, I’m going to hand him the present.

Enriching My Husband’s Life

For me, giving a gift to my husband has nothing to do with how much it cost. It has to do with giving him something that will enrich his life in some way.

This year, I’m taking his loss and turning it into his gain. And best of all, the memory of his Mother will be hanging on our kitchen wall for him to feel connected to her all year long.

Stay tuned. Following Christmas, I will post an update in the comment section below to let you know how things turned out.

What kind of sentimental gifts have you given to your partner? What lengths are you willing to go to so that you gift him (or her) something special and memorable? Let’s chat about our stories below!

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The Author

Nancy Fagan, M.S, is the founder of, a coaching service that utilizes scientifically-based solutions to get your life back on track She is a nationally-recognized relationship expert and the author of multiple books including Shake Boredom in Retirement.

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