Joyful, Joyful

It was an excellent weekend.

On Friday, J had her first gymnastics meet of the season. Ugh, watching a gymnastics meet can be stressful. The meets take literally hours (about five, on Friday), with only, oh, about five minutes of actually watching your child doing something. And those five minutes, my heart’s in my throat. I’m not hoping for a fabulously high score so much as praying that there won’t be a disastrous and humiliating fall. To make it worse, we’d compelled M to attend this meet. Most of the rest of the meets will be out of town, often in direct conflict with soccer tournaments, so we figured that this was the best opportunity to show a little family support. M had other things that she would have rather done. This was mentioned. Repeatedly. So that was unpleasant. But once we arrived, the meet itself went well. It helped that I realized that if I jumped up and danced every time M complained, it helped her to stop complaining. She was appalled that I had no shame. I assured her that being “really old” is excellent for liberating a person from shame.

Anyway, more important, J was mostly happy with her meet performance. She did very well on beam and vault, not-great on bars, and okay on floor. I’ve talked before about how meets can be a time of massive joy or major sorrow depending on how your kid did or even just how she thinks she did. J’s first meet ever felt like torture, the next year she finally had a fabulous day, and all last season, the meets were tough. Through the various meets, I’ve started to gauge it by whether my child clanks. You see, most of the time the kids will get a medal if they place relatively well in a particular event. With vault, bars, beam, floor, and all-around, that means that some kids are walking around with five medals clanking around on their chests. We’ve been to meets in which J won zero medals, and when that happens, I walk around with a smile plastered on my face curbing the inner beast that would like to launch itself out of my gut and grab all those stupid medals on all those flat little-girl chests and hiss into the girls’ ears, “Just. Be. Quiet!” So, it’s become my standard wish: please, just let J place in two events, so she can clank. On Friday she walked out of the meet clanking four medals. In fact, as we were putting on jackets to leave the building, she started to take off the medals to put into her gym bag, and I expressed surprise that she didn’t want to hear them clanking as she walked along. She agreed and put them back on, and then she walked with a particularly jaunty step, so that it was perhaps the loudest medal-clanking I’d ever heard. Heading around the building toward our parked car, we were catching up to another little gymnast, and I found myself hoping that she was sporting medals, too, and that her mom wasn’t restraining herself from telling my kid to put a lid on that clanking.

Beyond just the happy clanks, though, J’s attitude about gymnastics is so much better this year. Recently she told me about doing a practice bar routine: “It wasn’t that good. I fell off the bars twice. Well, I guess, besides that it was pretty good.” At first this made me laugh, because those routines are so short and falling off the bars is uncommon enough that falling off twice in a single routine is pretty awful. But then I realized what a miraculous change it was for J that she wasn’t beating herself up, talking about how she’s terrible at gymnastics. That’s excellent.

Then, for Saturday, we’d planned a 9:30 am viewing of the new Star Wars movie. Cute W was so excited that there was talk of playing hooky from school on Friday to go see it, but lobbied for Saturday morning so that, if the meet didn’t go well, she’d have something fun to take her mind off of it. Driving home from the meet on Friday, J was ecstatic. After last year’s season of not doing well at all, she was excited about how she’d done at the meet. She was also pumped that Cute W was picking up take-out Indian for dinner, and then I reminded her about our Star Wars plans, and she was super-psyched.

Cute W was excited, too, but he was trying to keep his expectations low so that he wouldn’t be disappointed. In our house, we call this hazard of getting really excited about something that everyone has said is spectacular “Forrest Gumping.” As in, “I’ve heard that that movie was really awesome, but I don’t want to Forrest Gump it for you.” Luckily, Cute W and the rest of us loved the new Star Wars movie. Enough said, to avoid spoilers.

On Saturday afternoon, the girls decided that they wanted to cuddle and hear stories from when they were little, and we were under blankets on the couch for literally hours before it was time to motivate and go to our neighbors’ Christmas caroling party. All in all, a pretty great couple of days.

Candy Cane Wreath

When my very-thoughtful sister arrived for a visit, she brought along the directions and all the supplies that I’d need for a very adorable candy cane wreath. I was a bit intimidated, because the instructions came from Martha Stewart, and I’ve found that her projects and recipes are sometimes on the challenging side (with the notable exception of the adorable paper ornaments that we made last year). But this was pretty easy!

Basically, you glue a bunch of candy canes together in heart shapes and glue those together for a wreath shape. If you don’t have a glue gun, you should just buy one, man. Seriously. You can buy a little one for less than $10, and as soon as you own a glue gun, you’ll realize that they’re useful for all sorts of stuff (like Halloween costumes and general crafts), and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one. Except that you’ll burn yourself once or twice. But it will be worth the pain.

And kids love a glue gun. I know it’s scary and hot, but the good thing is that you can warn them that it’s scary and hot, and then if they actually burn themselves, there aren’t really any consequences. It just hurts for 15 or 20 seconds, and look, they’ve learned a valuable but non-life-threatening lesson. It’s not like they’re going to cut a major artery or anything. So if you can trust your kids not to do anything aggressively stupid, like spurting hot glue into their baby brother’s eye, you’re golden.

 

glue for candy canes

There are a few modifications that I’d make to Martha’s directions.

First, I’d glue the hell out of this thing. After we first hung ours up, we had a few issues with, um, structural integrity. More is more.

Second, even though Martha’s creation looks very adorable everywhere, in every way, ours looked a little off-kilter in the center. Just, not all of the candy cane ends lined up in the most aesthetically pleasing way. So I covered it up with a little centerpiece. I just took a scrap of ribbon, cut it into a heart shape, and slapped it over the ugliness. Looks like I totally planned it that way.

And finally, the most challenging part of this task as directed by Martha was tying little knots around each candy cane with twine. Tying them together absolutely helps with the structural integrity issue, but it’s also a pain in the neck. I think that you could skip the twine-tying and go for some lovely decorative washi tape or masking tape instead.

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It’s a cute little project.

If you’re looking for more cute holiday crafts, recipes, and activities, you’ll find links here.

New Fun Games

Once we realized that we were going to be hosting family for Thanksgiving, Cute W and I swung into action.

I went out and bought a bunch of wine and two matching table cloths so that I could turn my two mismatched tables into a single banquet table.

Cute W ordered two new games.

Then the rest of the family sort of laughed at him. Because of course that’s what he did.

Poor Cute W is trapped in a family of people who like to play some games sometimes. He, on the other hand, would like to play almost any game almost any time. Ideally, he loves games that are all strategy instead of luck, involved enough that they could take hours to play a single game, and complicated enough that the games include cheat sheets to remind players of what to do in each turn. But, in his gaming-averse family, he’s more than willing to compromise.

He is always on the hunt for games that the whole family will embrace, and it’s a tall order. M will form a quick and strong opinion about certain games, and if you try to coax her into playing a game that’s not her favorite, she acts like you’re asking her to drive toothpicks under nails. J is enthusiastic about many different games in theory, but once she starts playing, she gets so discouraged if she’s not kicking everyone else’s butt that it’s no fun to be around her. I support the concept of family game-playing, but I am easily confused and will make ridiculous rookie mistakes like forgetting a key rule or taking a basic action that everyone else realizes will hand victory to someone, and then, when they all gasp, I look up and say, “What?” because I genuinely have no idea what I’ve just done.

So Cute W hunts for quick, luck-focused and/or cooperative, and uncomplicated games in a desperate attempt to suck the rest of the family into his gaming zeal, and along the way, if there’s a complicated, high-strategy game going for a super-awesome price, well, he finds those pretty tough to pass up, too. Thanksgiving presented an excellent opportunity for playing games, because some of our relatives share his game love. So while I was counting silverware, he was picking games, and both games were a hit.

Camel Up

Camel Up  is a board game that’s pretty quick to play–about 40 or 45 minutes–and mixes a little bit of strategy with a bunch of luck. Several camels are racing, and players bet on which camel will win each leg of a race that’s complete when they make their way all around the game board. A lot depends on the roll of the dice using a cute little pyramid contraption, and the camels themselves can stack on top of each other, adding to the drama and confusion of exactly which camel is going to win. It took us just about one whole game to get the hang of it, but once we did, everyone liked it. Even better, when Cute W played with relatives at Thanksgiving, he was all set to quit and our guests wanted to play one more time. Other people urging Cute W to play more is pretty much unprecedented in our house. And yes, it totally looks like the game should be called Camel Cup based on how the box looks and the fact that they’re running in a race, but no, it’s Camel Up. The recommended age is 13-15 years, but 11-year-old J followed along just fine.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a cooperative game in which one person is sitting at a computer (potentially with people breathing over their shoulders) and one or more people in the room who are not allowed to look at the computer at all, but may read a special manual. On the computer, you see a bomb like this one:

Keep Talking

There is spooky, you’re-probably-going-to-die-soon music and a countdown clock going, and the bomb contains puzzles that you can only solve with the help of the manual which you’re not allowed to see. Instead, you have to describe what you’re seeing to whoever’s got a manual, and then they try to talk you through what to do to defuse the bomb before the timer runs out. For example, Computer Person might say, “I’ve got some wires here. . . ” and then Manual Person will ask about how many wires there are and what color they are and what order the different colors are in, and based on that, they’ll say, “Okay, cut the third wire,” and if all went well, you’ve solved that part of the bomb, but if someone’s messed up, well, you might accidentally explode. Cute W had M and me try this game on our own first, and we thought it was really super fun. The first time you play, it’s completely disorienting, but you start out with very easy challenges and progress from there. I like that it’s a cooperative game and a bit of a brain teaser sometimes. But when we asked J to play later, she was overtired, and she was stressed out about the concept of exploding even though–just so we’re clear–the explosion part is imaginary, and she hasn’t tried it since.

Come to think of it, maybe I’ll try to get her to play with me this weekend while Cute W and M are at a soccer tournament. Honestly? The two of them can get a little. . . intense sometimes. But while J’s always worried about “failing” games, I’m the one who usually actually messes things up, maybe we’ll be a match. Anyway, I think this game’s great. In fact, I was just thinking that it would be a terrific travel game, because these days you tend to take your laptop with you wherever, but then I realized that maybe the folks at an airport would not love a pretend bomb game. Okay, never mind.

But it would be a great game for a party or a group. Oh my gosh, it would be a pretty good drinking game. But you would probably explode. Excellent for adults playing with the hard-to-please tweens and teens. As for youngsters, you need to be able to read, count, and follow directions. Oh, wow, it could be fun for teachers because it’s like, follow the directions or we all die. Except, again, people are not that into bombs in school these days. Jeez, another reason to be upset about terrorism.

Anyway, if you need gift ideas, these games are both great. If you’re looking for more gift ideas, here’s a list of favorite books and games.

 

Ayelada

I finally made it to Ayelada, the new frozen yogurt place on Route 7 between Niskayuna and Latham. I’d been hearing rave reviews from friends.

As expected, it’s yummy. I’d heard that it tastes more yogurt-y than your average frozen yogurt, and that’s absolutely true. All of the flavors I tried (I may have abused my “first time visitor” tasting rights, but the very polite young woman at the counter showed no sign of it) had a tangy this-is-yogurt note to them. The owners of Ayelada opened their first yogurt place in Pittsfield, MA, after getting addicted to the homemade yogurt that they’d tried as customers elsewhere, and I can understand how this stuff gets addictive enough to drop everything and start making it full time.

 

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Unlike most of the trendy yogurt places these days, Ayelada is full-service. A server pours your cup and then adds any toppings that you’d like. You pay a little extra for one or two toppings, but after that you can just go for “loaded” and have them pile it on for the same price. Of course, they tend to pour a reasonable amount on, so I can’t do that thing at Stewart’s where I basically add more chocolate sprinkles than ice cream. Or maybe she would have made my yogurt swim in sprinkles, but I was too embarrassed.

In other more important difference from the rest of the frozen yogurt crowd, the batches of yogurt are made fresh on the premises from scratch each day, using locally-sourced ingredients. And it totally tastes fresh and delcious. It’s a welcome change, let me tell you. At our house, we drew the short straw because the only fro-yo within walking distance is TCBY and blegh, that stuff tastes like chemical paste. Ayelada is much, much better. I have heard a few people say that it’s too “yogurty” for them, but between the creamy deliciousness and other flavors thrown in, I can’t quite relate. Each day the Original flavor, which serves as the base for all of the other varieties, is available, plus a changing selection of three other choices. You can check their website or their Facebook page for up-to-the-minute reports of what’s available. On my visit, I finally settled on Nutella. Because Nutella.

Generally speaking, Ayelada feels like it should totally be the moms’ choice yogurt. First, it is actual food without over-processed yuckiness in it, but also, the full service bar is just. . . nicer when you’re going out for yogurt with the kids. Because when you’re all lined up against that topping bar and some kid with a dripping nose reaches in for those cookie crumbles just ahead of you, well, that’s no fun. Or when your child is helping herself and she dumps in hot fudge and you’re screaming inside your head, “Do you realize how heavy that crap is?!?” and then you approach that scale hoping that you will have the massive amount of cash necessary to acquire legally what the kids have just packed into their yogurt cups without a second thought. At Ayelada, it’s healthful and clean, with an easily-predictable price. Sigh. That’s better.

And if you’re just dying to go for a little self-serve, their are extra self-serve toppings available, too:

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That local honey is a great indicator here, too. First, they know that yogurt and honey are a beautiful match made in food heaven. Incidentally, my pediatrician has said repeatedly that her healthiest patients eat yogurt with local honey regularly. But it’s also part of the whole friend-of-the-farmer, we-love-local vibe here, too. If you walk around the place, along with glowing reviews, they’ve posted some lovely photographs from some of their local sources of tasty flavors. So you can eat some frozen yogurt and still get the warm fuzzies.

 

Holly, Evergreen. Or at least for now.

I totally caved. The other night I took Holly the Elf and stuffed her into a plastic bag and put her on a top shelf and just decided to drop the whole thing.

This went fine all morning, while J was at gymnastics. Then, in the afternoon, she started looking for Holly. It was tragic. She was looking hither and yon and Cute W was making Significant Eye Contact with me, like, now what? I think he thought that I should have had Holly leave a note, but I didn’t have it in me on Friday to do anything graceful. At one point during the search, both girls asked me point blank if I thought that Holly had packed up and gone to the North Pole, and I was like, umm, how should I know? I’m not the boss of that magic elf.

But that poor child. J stopped looking. She tried to carry on with other activities. She was both heartbroken and stoic. And I caved.

I grabbed Holly and made her “hide” behind the small Christmas tree that J has set up in her room. I crossed her little elf arms to make her look like she was taking a pissy little time out.

Then, how to get J to look again and find it, without giving away the fact that I totally knew where she was? I asked J  if she’d looked around the Christmas tree, because, as a Christmas Elf, that’s probably her favorite place. Yes, J moaned. She’d tried there. I was hoping that she’d have a brainstorm about the little tree, but she did not.

A little more time passed, with continued sorrow and no more searching. I went down into the playroom and begged M for help. M played along, briskly coming upstairs, announcing that she was done with the game she’d been playing and was now ready to help J search the house top to bottom. Starting from the top, of course, because she’d been clued into the fact that Holly would be upstairs in J’s room.

A few minutes later the angst was over.

But tonight, J left a heart-wrenching little note apologizing to Holly for doubting her ability to bake brownies given her teensy size and mitten hands. So tonight I not only had to put Holly in a new spot, but I had to compose a little note assuring J that she was forgiven, along with a reminder that they shouldn’t underestimate each other because they’re both small and mighty. And then I went to recycle the paper scraps to cover my trail and I accidentally crumpled the damn note. And then I wrote a second note, but in the process of working on my other prop (Holly was going to eat one of the cake pops that J had made today, but I honestly didn’t need the extra snack, so some of it was finding its way into the trash), I accidentally threw away the second note. So then I set Holly up with her cake pop remnants on a Christmas napkin/picnic blanket, and I was like, where the hell is the note? It is easy to lose it because it’s very teensy. I scavenged in the garbage and managed to find it again. Phew.

So it looks like I’m in for the season. I think that Holly’s going to leave a farewell note at the end of the year, though. Maybe she can ask J where she thinks she might be needed, or hint that she’d be happy to help the girls spread holiday joy? Well, I’ve got time. I’ll come up with something.

Sending the Elf Packing

Just so we’re clear, I pretty much hate that stupid Elf on a Shelf. I know that there are parents who love making unbelievably creative little elf scenes, and God bless ’em. It’s not their fault that posting pictures of their own Parenting Splendor makes me feel crappy about myself. I get it: that’s my issue.  What I really hate about the elf is that it offers up daily opportunities for failure. But it’s parenting, you know, so I guess I should say that it offers additional daily opportunities for dramatic failure. Because any day can be the day that you lose it and yell or accidentally let slip what you really think of that teacher’s homework policy or realize that you packed zero vegetables in your kid’s lunch. But with the elf, you can yawn yourself awake and suddenly, with a start, realize that you’ve already failed for the day without even getting out of bed. That sucks.

But children love the damn elf. And it’s magical childhood fun. I was talking with someone recently about the drama of Santa, how the really awful thing about Santa is that he’s magic and all kids are deserving of magic. You can explain to kids that you’re not willing to let them have a phone yet or that you refuse to spend a huge amount on birthday gifts for children who already have everything, and they may not like it, but they can understand your reasons. Maybe even, someday in the distant future, appreciate your choices as valid (well, maybe not, but a mama can dream). But how do you explain it away when children are ignored by magical, all-knowing, very-conscious-of-which-children-are-deserving, creatures? It’s a conundrum. So we’re dragged into the elf.

And it’s work. Even if you don’t reorganize your days around creating scenes, you’ve gotta remember that elf every damn day. Once or twice a week, our elf would appear with a little gift: candy canes she’d hung on the tree, a few chocolate truffles, maybe a pair of Christmas-themed socks. Holly is a sweet elf.

But this year. Ugh. On Monday I’d gone grocery shopping, and I’d bought a little bag of the special soft candy canes that I buy every year (you know, the ones like Bob’s or King Leo? So as I unloaded groceries, I tossed them into the dirty laundry pile on my washer, because that’s a place that does not interest my children at all. The plan was that they’d be Holly’s gift for the next day.

Except a few hours late, smug little Josie said, “I’m going to eat some candy canes tomorrow.”

“What?” I asked.

“Oh you know,” she nudged, those candy canes in the laundry.” She had a little smirk. She’d nailed me.

I said, “Well, why didn’t you go ahead and eat one? You don’t need to wait until tomorrow.”

“Oh,” she smiled, I figured that I’d eat one tomorrow.”

Pretty freakin’ irritating.

So Holly brought nothing the next day, but on Thursday, I needed to bring some brownies to event. So I baked them secretly, while I was alone in the house, and I hid a few away for Holly to bring the following day. This morning.

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There she was, that adorable elf. Delicious, homemade brownies on a little plate. Some brownie crumbs artfully distributed on Holly’s cheeks and her skirt and her little hands.

“Mom,” J said first thing in the morning. The little shit. “When did you bake brownies?”

“Yeah, Mom,” M piled on, “When did you bake brownies?”

I insisted that I had no idea what they were talking about.

“Sure,” said J.

“Right,” said M.

Those little shits.

After J left for school, I was tidying up, and M offered to help. I passed her the recycling container to bring outside. “Why, look what we have here!” M crowed. “A box of brownie mix!”

I am so mad at them. I’m trying to decide what to do next. Does Holly just disappear? Do I act like a good sport and just keep this charade up for the last year? Does Holly disappear and leave a note saying that she’s requested a reassignment to another household after filing a negative report? Do I draw magic marker Xs over her eyes and show her stabbed with an icicle ornament or hanging by the crook of a candy cane? No, of course I’m not going to do that last one, but a little part of me is tempted. I’m bitter. I’m pretty sure that little elf is going to disappear. Tonight.

Sincerely, Scrooge-for-the-Night-Mom.

Going With the Holiday Flow

One of the latest viral photos is a pretty dang adorable one that I just shared on the KidsOutAndAbout Facebook page:

snoozing Santa photo
AP Photo via Donnie Walters

Holy cow, that’s cute. According to the article, the dad couldn’t manage to keep the baby awake while waiting in line for Santa, so he asked to go ahead and take a sleeping shot. And presto, with the help of a truly excellent Santa, the result is a picture which is way more wonderful a keepsake than anything they could have produced with their eyes open.

This picture feels like a lesson to me.

It’s a serene scene, but you know that if the lens widened, we’d likely see a very overstimulating place. I think of those before-photo moments, with the parents trying to keep the kid alert, the war between the desire to document that very first Christmas and, well, actually surviving that very first Christmas.

All of which reminded me of my own experiences. And I’m speaking as someone who once stuffed her completely-asleep one-month-old into a plush jack-o-lantern costume and paraded her around the neighborhood because I didn’t want to miss any special moments. I was remembering how great my children were at sleeping during the day and how poor their sleep performance was at night, and how so much depended on timing things exactly right. I was remembering my own attempts to navigate all of this while enjoying all of the holidays I’d loved as a kid and wanted to share with my own family, and I remembered that it could be tough.

Given that context, this photograph illustrates some serious parenting wisdom.

Parenting often feels like a challenging spiritual practice, and one huge example of that is parents’ utter lack of control.

On one level, there’s that fear of catastrophe, that there will be a previously undetected brain aneurysm, an abductor, a terrorist, a drunk driver, or a lightning strike. But there are so many smaller things that you just can’t control. I really can’t make my kids love a musical instrument, get excited about my favorite book, wear a shirt that I thought that they’d like, or enjoy tomato sauce. They’re their own people. Sure, I’m the parent, so I can punish them if they’re being unkind or disrespectful and I can nag them about homework or discarded socks, but ultimately, they’re in charge of themselves. Choosing battles, knowing when to step in or step back, can be confusing and exhausting.

And, really, so can the holidays. Because parents each have their own childhood memories and extended-family joys and challenges, and ideas about what a holiday “should” be as they’re growing a family. And then the damn kids have their own thoughts about what they value and what makes this time of year special, too. Or, sometimes, they just need some freakin’ sleep.

So what I like about that picture is that the parents didn’t fight newborn sleep, a recipe for misery if e’er there were one, and they didn’t grudgingly concede defeat, giving up to go buy a hot pretzel or standing next to Santa with the sleeper (which I’ve totally done). Nope: they went all in. They embraced it wholeheartedly and found some surprise joy.

In the holiday rush, that’s a talent. Pausing, looking around, re-adjusting, appreciating. Like stopping when you stumble upon a choir sing in the train station or running outside into the first snow, even if it’s not on the list and you have places that you need to be.

This year, I hope that I have the wisdom to scrap the plans and go where the kids and a little bit of Christmas wonder take me.

 

Switching Holiday Gears, Fast

Happy December!

After overcoming early setbacks, we ended up hosting a pretty great Thanksgiving, if I do say so myself. The first family arrived on Wednesday, and I dropped off the last guest late Saturday, so we turned it into a pagan festival, and we were pretty exhausted by the end, but it was all fun.

Food-wise, Cute W’s turkey was fabulous, as expected, and his mashed potatoes were particularly delicious, even though he was stymied by a wife who bought an incorrect and insufficient supply of potatoes, requiring one last grocery run. My green beans and broccoli-stuffed tomatoes could have used a bit more cooking, while the stuffing suffered from a bit too much time staying warm in the slow cooker, but my vegetarian gravy was a triumph, if I do say so myself. Next time I’d double the chocolate mousse recipe. We also picked up a pecan pie from Grandma’s Pie Shop. It was our first time getting anything there, and I thought it was really good. Cute W picked up the pie, and when he came home he couldn’t stop talking about the stacks upon stacks of pies all over the place, making me wish I’d gone myself and him wish that he’d taken a photo.

The girls got plenty of awesome cousin play time, Cute W played many, many games, and I enjoyed my favorite combo, wine and chit-chat. We weren’t quite sure what we’d do on Friday, but we ended up getting an impromptu visit from my cousin and his family. They’d been on the West Coast for about a decade, so the grown-ups had last seen our kids as babies and toddlers, and now those kids are grown and they brought their own babies and toddlers. Of course we grown-ups looked exactly the same, probably better, but all those kiddos were evidence that plenty of time had passed.  It was great to have some extended family around, since our Thanksgiving meal group was only a dozen, which is quite a modest number for our family.

On Saturday we said our goodbyes and began piles of laundry and consolidated leftovers and fell asleep early. We needed our rest, because at our house, the Christmas season was starting promptly on Sunday.

On Sunday morning we picked up bagels at Breugger’s and headed to Bob’s Trees to bag us an evergreen. After several days of broad hints from J, Holly the Elf also  reappeared on Sunday morning bearing a CD in her little plush arms that’s another family essential for the cut-your-own-tree process, John Denver & The Muppets’ A Christmas Together.  We found our tree with minimal hand-wringing and drama, then Cute W and J took turns sawing it down so speedily that it was a new family record. In previous years we’d linger, checking out deer or Santa or shopping the kissing balls or buying some hot chocolate, but the kids are now officially over all that. The essentials now: bagels, Muppets, tree, and home again.

 

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Then it was a busy day of groceries, cookie-baking, soup-making and digging out decorations. J was particularly funny because she knows where everything goes, so she was all business, getting that little needlepoint Santa mounted in the downstairs bathroom and hanging the bell wreath on the door, then negotiating with M over who would get which stocking hanger this year (we have a tree, a snowman, a reindeer, and a “Noel,” and each year there are strong opinions on who should get what).

By late evening we were completely exhausted, but luckily Cute W managed to stay awake long enough to see the entire dramatic Broncos game. The rest of us made do with highlights in the morning. I still need to make a wreath, but I’m feeling slightly ahead of schedule, holiday-wise, which feels pretty good.

Don’t forget, I’ve got a Christmas page and an Winter Fun page for you.

 

Thanksgiving Preparations

The bathrooms are cleaned, the rugs have been vacuumed, and I’ve counted out plates and napkins. So far I’ve made cheeseball, lemon squares, chocolate mousse, and vegetarian gravy. Between us, we’ve made three trips to the grocery store, just today. But it’s coming along. I’m a little bit worried that we’re not on our “A” game. On Sunday we had a favorite soup, Hearty White Bean and Pasta Soup, for dinner, and it seemed tasty enough, but possibly missing some je ne sais quoi. J took some in a thermos for lunch, and it was only when she got home that Cute W and I found out what the problem was: we’d forgotten the beans. You know: the “hearty white beans” that give the soup its name? So, I’m not sure we’re doing so great.

Just writing this reminded me that the bean-less bean soup was really just one of our culinary missteps lately. On Monday I decided to make pickled pumpkins for the first time, which I’ve been meaning to do since they made me a security risk almost a year ago. So I was following the recipe, but then I decided that I needed to boil the pumpkins for a little bit longer, since the recipe had called for the pumpkins to be chopped, but mine were more chunked, to mimic how my sister had done it. And then I forgot about it for a little while and the pumpkin pickling liquid turned into a veritable vinegar syrup that mysteriously overflowed itself (since I’d forgotten about it, I wasn’t there to witness this part, hence the mystery) all over my stove. Which would be okay–sticky and messy but okay–except that the stovetop then overflowed and I had pumpkin pickling syrup running down into my oven and onto the floor.

I felt like I was going to be needing my oven over the next few days, so this was a problem. I yanked out that drawer underneath the oven in order to access all of the oozy bits, and the terrible thing about moving something that is hardly ever moved is that, next thing you know, you end up finding all sorts of grotesqueness. Which I typed in thinking that I would get a spell-check, because “grotesqueness” sounds slightly too awkward to actually be a word, but if you are wondering what it means, just look under your well-used appliances and you’ll have your answer. Anyway, an hour after I’d finished my comprehensive cleaning, I found about two tablespoons of syrupy stuff that had made its way through some cranny of my oven at a more leisurely pace, and that’s when I knew that I’d have to do a more comprehensive cleaning, which involved purchasing some kind of cleaner that was clearly produced with absolutely no consideration for the next seven generations. It involved gloves and breath-holding.

Today I baked lemon bars. Or, I started to bake lemon bars, and then as I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, I realized that the stupid oven still smelled like chemicals. The smell would screw up the lemon bars. I decided to jack up the heat to 400 degrees and put a pan of juice into the oven in an effort to exorcise the chemical smell. It actually worked. Things started to smell like delicious juice. Hooray. I popped in the lemon bars. When the time was up, I removed the lemon bars and realized that I’d never re-adjusted the temperature. They looked edible but unsatisfactory. This was happening just as J arrived home from school. I let her taste the stuff and she yelped, “You’re not throwing it all away, are you?” The girls have since assured me that they can choke down the sub-standard lemon bars, but I made a new batch, anyway.

We’ll see how tomorrow goes.