Tony, Help Me Out

Amid all of the shortbread baking and de-cluttering, I went into a minor panic on December 23rd when I couldn’t find a bunch of gifts. I don’t know about you, but in the month before Christmas, I’m constantly squirreling things away into various hiding spots around my house. I might put a ton of thought into camouflaging something huge while the kids are away at school, grab an arriving package out of their hot little hands and tossed it up high, or wedge a shopping bag somewhere as I’m walking into the house. And then, at some point, I have to find all of that stuff again. A few days before Christmas, I wanted to wrap a present for each girl to put under the tree, but I couldn’t find M’s. And then I couldn’t the next day. Or the next day.

In fact, on Christmas Eve Eve, it began to dawn on me that, along with M’s biggish one, I couldn’t find several other small presents. I checked all of my spots, and then Cute W checked everywhere, and then I checked it all again. I was progressing from bemused through stumped and straight into freaked. What the hell? Was I going to have to shop for this stuff again? It was too late to order from Amazon Prime! This was ridiculous.

At this point, you might wonder why I hadn’t yet done what any normal, reasonable person who’s searching for something would do, and it’s kind of a funny story.

Well, first of all, the normal, reasonable thing to do in this situation would be to pray to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.

St. Anthony and I go way back. When I mentioned this story to a sister, she recited a rhyme from our Grandma, which was something like Uncle Tony, look around/Something’s lost & must be found. I grew up praying to St. Anthony when something was lost, and I still do it today (like when I lost my diamond). This always makes Cute W roll his eyes, because he doesn’t believe in, well, pretty much anything.

In fact, one of my favorite vacation stories is when Cute W and I went scuba diving. On the boat out, he chatted up one of our guides. Among other topics, she mentioned that she’d just completed a special search-and-rescue scuba diving course. Forty-five minutes later, we were all underwater as Cute W gestured to his empty ring finger: in the ocean chill, his wedding ring had slipped right off. Our guide signed that she’d keep looking, and not much later she popped from the surface, triumphant. Cute W asked, “So, did you use any of your new search-and-rescue techniques?” as he slid the ring back on his finger, and she laughed: “Nope! I just prayed to St. Anthony!” I felt like high-fiving her.

So, why hadn’t I asked Uncle Tony yet? Because I was expecting a St. Anthony medal to arrive at my house that very day. Yep: my nephew had asked for one for Christmas after his old one fell into the garbage disposal (note: he didn’t lose it, he just couldn’t reach it anymore).

anthonyKnowing that the medal would arrive at any time, I felt like I should hold my prayers until I had the medal in-hand. Wouldn’t that make my prayer more powerful? It seemed like it.

But as the day passed, I became increasingly desperate, and I finally went ahead and prayed. Within the hour, I noticed that large box that I’d strategically hidden in plain sight in our storage area. Something bulky had arrived in it, but there was plenty of extra space, so I’d consolidated a bunch of smaller gifts into the box. Then I’d put it somewhere that everyone could see, but I made it so inconvenient that I’d bargained that no one would bother with it. Here, it’s the long cardboard box that’s balanced weirdly for no good reason:

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Hooray! The box was found and Christmas would continue on schedule! Thank you, Tony!

 

Update on the Pre-Holiday Frenzy

I know. It’s been forever. First we were busy with Christmas and visiting relatives in Vermont. And Cute W’s been home from work, so we’ve been on extended vacation mode. We’ve been doing things like learning how to play our new cooperative game, Forbidden Desert, binge-watching Modern Family, and testing which chocolate chips produce the best results when combined with the homemade mint ice cream from my new ice cream maker.

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It’s some pretty serious business, people. It feels a bit like we were sucked into a time vortex for a while, but I believe that that can occur if the entire family wears pajamas into the afternoon. Sadly, it’s back to reality for everyone tomorrow, but with this ridiculous sloppy weather, I feel pretty confident that there won’t be much venturing out for today, at least.

From the above description, you might have the idea that we’ve been complete slobs, but that’s not true. You’ll remember that prior to Christmas, we were de-cluttering, and that effort has continued. For example, now that we’re well into the 21st century, we’ve said good-bye to mountains of cassette tapes.

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I also tossed out a massive pile of tri-folds full of (mostly M’s) scholarly work. I’m sharing this as a tip, actually, to those of you with younger kids. What I should have done was to take photographs of these presentations immediately upon completion, then recycled them about a month after they came home. Then I would have a record of all of that fine work in mint condition, and I’d still have closet space. Instead, we stockpiled these little gems long enough for the glued pieces to detach, the paper to tear, and, in some cases, for mold to form. By the time I took photos last week, much of the splendor had faded.

But finding this Learning Fair project form when M was in third grade made me chuckle:

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Third grade! My small girl had attended several fairs and observed other kids showing off their pets or their drum sets, displaying American Girls and LEGO creations, and surreptitiously handing out M&Ms, but she was determined to do a cheerless report on Japanese internment during World War II, complete with stark black & white photographs. I’d encouraged her to dress it up with some props (maybe luggage with the few belongings she’d take if someone decided to intern her?) or an interactive quiz or some colorful borders, but she had a plan, and it was all about the facts. Maybe because it seemed more grown-up? I don’t know, but she had a plan, and she learned, dammit. So cute.

Anyway, all of this de-cluttering was in service to our big Christmas plan. Neither girl had given us many ideas for Christmas gifts, and a couple of ideas that were offered were rejected (a puppy and a kitty were mentioned frequently). The girls are tough. Neither of them actually wear earrings or other accessories very often, they don’t like frills or make-up products, and I’ve realized, over time, that when I get them kits, the kits stay tucked away on a shelf unless I take charge and do the activity with them. In the past, they’ve paged through catalogs (I’m a big internet shopper, so I get tons of catalogs), but I feel like when they circle those, they’re pretty much just manufacturing “needs” out of nowhere, and that’s frustrating. So we were pretty stumped.

We decided to go with a basement playroom re-do. The girls have long enjoyed our playroom, from way-back-when it included a play kitchen as well as for long hours of Barbie play.

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The girls have pared down their toys quite a bit, but there are still plenty down there: blocks, American Girl dolls and accessories, craft supplies and more. But they’re getting older, and we’ve been meaning to make a shift to a more tween-to-teen style hangout. Plus, we thought it would be great to have a tv down there. Our house is pretty small, and with the designated homework spot in the dining room, it can be annoying when one daughter’s still doing homework and the other daughter has a small window of tv-vegetation time before heading off to some practice or other.

We decided to focus our Christmas gift-buying efforts on playroom decor that would make the room seem more fun. In order to make room for new stuff and let the room look more grown-up without denying the girls the toys that they still love, we set to work on one of the storage areas, trashing old stuff so that it could become a walk-in toy closet. And meanwhile, we attempted to act like we were just de-cluttering for the heck of it so that it would be a surprise.

It was tricky. For example, I’d faux-casually ask the girls how they felt about certain things in the room to gauge whether they could be trashed. One tough one was our glider and ottoman, left over from when I was pregnant with M. The upholstery was pretty trashed (here’s the ottoman):

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Cozy, but ugly, and all in a faded, splotched denim blue that didn’t work with all of the turquoise furniture the girls had acquired over the years.  In fact, I mentioned just over a year ago that the girls kept buying trendy turquoise furniture that didn’t match the yellow playroom walls.

But, back to the glider and ottoman. M wanted it gone because it’s so ugly, but J strongly wanted to keep it, or to keep the ottoman, at least. I sighed and said that I wasn’t going to keep just the ottoman without the rocker, and we were at a bit of a stalemate. So I had to get creative with that one.

The glider issue is funny, though, because I remember that when we bought it, we went with the denim upholstery because it seemed the most non-nursery-neutral. I had the idea, as we plunked down the cash, that once the kids were beyond the rocker stage, we’d move it into our living room or something. Because a rocker is the sort of thing that grown-ups have in their living room. Which means that 13 years ago, I was still under the delusion that something magical would happen that would make me fundamentally change my perspective on everything from its current state to that of a grown-up. I thought that some sort of chemical balance would shift that would make me become a person who wants to sit in a rocker instead of slobbing all over the loveseat we’ve owned for more than twenty years. It’s having children grow up, I guess, that’s made me realize that I’m never going to feel like a “grown-up” grown-up, like the ones I knew when I was a kid. Right now I feel like a 20-something matryoshka doll encased in an outer shell that someone’s painted with stray grey hairs and squinting lines, and at some point, we’ll both be trapped inside a shell with saggy breasts and hot flashes, and my children will have no idea that the real me is still trapped in the damn thing.

Oh, well.

Speaking of which, on my last grocery trip before Christmas, I noticed that Hannaford was getting people ready for hardcore family quality time:

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That’s right: flasks! I resisted. I’m afraid of flasks, actually, and have been ever since I foolishly took a sip of something from my sister-in-law’s date’s flask at Cute W’s ex-girlfriend’s wedding. It was shortly after college, and I had a pretty high tolerance, but after that fateful sip (chug, maybe?), things quickly turned ugly.

Okay! So the basement playroom’s done, and I’ll have a “reveal” post, along with whether the kids were okay with some redecoration instead of a kitten, coming soon.

Shortbread=Life

Last night I was pressing shortbread dough into molds, Cute W was applying orange frosting to blue cupcakes in preparation for Monday Night Football, and we were catching up on news of the day. Cute W said, “A girl I went to high school died. I didn’t know her well. Cancer.” I gave a little sympathy moan.

“Yeah,” he said. “Carpe diem.”

Now, I hate that. Don’t tell me to seize the day when I’m in the middle of doing something that’s unbelievably mundane.

“Well,” I harrumphed. “If shortbread is the meaning of life, then I’ve got it all wrapped up.”

I’ve been making quite a bit of shortbread lately. It’s one of many Christmas recipes that’s a must-have holiday tradition each year (here are links to more of them). I made my first batch because we must have a multitude of cookies in tins at Christmas. That’s just how we roll. And then I remembered that I used to always give Mary her own whole shortbread, and I couldn’t shortchange Gene on his first Christmas without her, so I dragged the molds out again. And then yesterday, M arrived home with candies, a hat, and other goodies gifted by her friends. I’d asked her about gifts for friends before, and she’d pooh-poohed the idea, but I saw an opening now:

“Don’t you want to reciprocate?”

“That depends,” she said. “What does reciprocate mean?” We ended up settling on wedges of shortbread tied up with pretty ribbons. And so I’d clambered up to the cabinet above our refrigerator again to haul the molds out. The first two times this month I’d brought them out, I’d caused a small bakery-item avalanche from that cabinet. I was lamenting to J that I was silly to even bother putting the molds away again before Christmas. Each time I use them, washing up is meticulous, because little smidgens of crust like to linger in the mold’s details. This year I had the brainstorm to scrub it with our mushroom brush, so that’s an improvement. But then they have to dry and get put into their special boxes and set up and out of reach.

“Why don’t you put them someplace easier to reach?” J asked.

“Well, once Christmas is over, they’ll be tucked away until next year,” I explained. She made it clear that she thought I should keep them handy for the foreseeable future.

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So, as I pressed dough into a mold for the sixth time this season and pondered other items on my to-do list, it sure as heck felt like I wasn’t seizing the particular day. I consoled myself with the thought:

What if the meaning of life is, indeed, shortbread?

It’s a piece of history from my childhood that I’m passing on to my children.

It’s just a few simple ingredients–butter, sugar, flour, vanilla–put together to make something that feels like a little bit of perfection.

It’s easy to make–with a mixer I can crank out the dough almost without thinking. But it turns out best with some care and attention.

When I first purchased the special shortbread molds, it felt like an investment, and now I can’t imagine not having them all of these years.

It feels like I get better at making shortbread every year, but there’s always a risk. When I flip one of those half-cooled ceramic pans over, there’s that dramatic pause while I hope that all will be well. And there’s almost always one spot that’s just a bit crumbly, so the best I’ve achieved is almost perfect.

This fancy picture is from Brown Bag
This fancy picture is from Brown Bag Cookie Molds

When the shortbread comes out, it is a crisp and golden thing of beauty. Delicious? Of course. But if you take the time to really observe, that ordinary, yummy shortbread is a thing of splendor. I first bought my shortbread molds many years ago, and when I saw the intricate designs,  it reminded me of the details in the cathedral where I used to give tours. I’d lead puffing tourists up winding stairways into the arcade below the rose window and advise them to look into the shadowed corners rarely seen. There, too, were intricate carvings, and in the tour I’d liken them to the gorgeous colors and spirals one might find deep in the ocean, more evidence of the Grace of the universe, present even when we’re not present to observe it. With the shortbread’s delicate botanical whorls and ridges, its images of thistles and flowers, it makes baking feel like efflorescence.

So I wiped down counters and washed dishes and considered that continuing this family history, investing effort and patience for something good that I can share, finding beauty in all that is ordinary. . . could my drudgery possibly be considered seizing the day? Maybe? I don’t know.

But, in any case, if shortbread is life, life is sweet.

 

 

 

 

 

Pickled Pumpkins

Among the many, many foods we ate during our Thanksgiving, we tried something new: pickled pumpkins. My sister had made them, and she offered them up as an appetizer, placed on a lettuce leaf with a bit of cheese and gussied up with pumpkin seeds and a fancy-pants pomegranate syrup that she made from reduced juice. At the time I was too busy eating to take a picture, but I recreated something similar later:

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Those pickled pumpkins were good. And what’s weird is that I don’t actually like pumpkins under normal circumstances. But these were strange and delicious at the same time: spicy and sweet, and especially great with a little Romano cheese for contrast. She got the recipe from AllRecipes.com. Cute W was a huge fan, too.

We were psyched when my sister gifted us with a jar to take home. Except that I put it into my carry-on because I was afraid of breaking the glass, and it didn’t occur to me that all of those cubes of pumpkin were swimming in just enough vinegar to make a bomb. Or so the TSA feared. I refused to abandon those lovely little autumnal jewels, so the rest of the family sat waiting while I backtracked, drained the jar of pickling liquid, and got back in line. A woman with a little boy was near me in line, and he was clearly curious about the lonely woman who was flying with only a jar full of orange stuff. Now, personally, I’d never heard of eating pickled pumpkins before, but when I explained my predicament to the boy and his mother, she said, “Oh! Pickled pumpkins! I love them. Absolutely worth going through the line again.”

Yep, she was right.

 

Ready for Christmas?

I’ve been wavering between feeling downright euphoric (I’ve actually squealed at the piles of boxes waiting for me to open and squirrel away, and I was super-excited when I scooped up something the girls will like thanks to my oh-so-clever friend C) and going into a minor panic at what I haven’t done yet.

Did I tell you about what happened last year? We were at our Christmas Eve church service when J leaned over and said, “I wonder what Santa’s going to get for Madison.” Madison. You know, our goldfish. As far as I was aware, Santa had made no provisions for Madison the Goldfish at all. Which is ridiculous, because he always gets some things for Isis the Cat. So, on Christmas Eve, after the kids were in bed, I headed out to Target hoping to find some fake kelp in the pet section. So, first? Whatever you and I might think about Target on every other day of the year, Target at 10 pm on Christmas Eve is an utterly joyless place. It’s a bunch of disorganized, stressed-out people and children who should have been in bed long ago. Plus, the fish offerings in the pet section consisted of fish food. Nothing festive. Santa ended up picking out some window gels to put on the tank. Hopefully Madison enjoyed that. J thought it was cute. Anyway, I feel pretty confident that Santa was clever enough to hit the pet store hard and early this year, so that’s one less worry.

Holiday preparation-wise, today was not my most successful. I had two main items on the to-do list. First, send off a package to Grandma, then head to the (gasp!) mall in search of just a little something more for one of my daughters. Have I mentioned that my daughters have given me almost zero ideas? It hasn’t been helpful. M started by asking for a phone and a dog. That’s not happening, and she most downgraded to a kitty. I’ve pointed out that the reason that we own our cat is because she couldn’t get along with the other feline at her previous adoptive home. J started with “I don’t know” and has most recently declared that she only wants a pull-up bar and some chocolate. Our small, old house doesn’t appear to have a single doorway in which a pull-up bar can be installed. But I bet she’ll score some chocolate.

Anyway, Cute W drove our new Rogue to work so that he could bring home the large-ish gift that had been delivered to his office, which left me with his car.  So my first challenge was that I couldn’t find the damn keys. I’ve been so spoiled by the Rogue. I just need to have the keys somewhere in the general vicinity, and I love that feature. It didn’t seem like that big a deal when we bought the car, but it has changed my life. Except not this morning. Eventually I found the keys, but by the time I got to the counter with my package, I realized that I didn’t have my wallet with me. I’d dumped it out of my bag while I was searching for the keys.  Then I was told the package probably wouldn’t arrive by Christmas. Well, good effort.

Then it was off to the mall. Cute W had driven away with the GPS stored in the Rogue, too. I’m sure that you remember that I am crippled by a complete lack of directional-sensing abilities. So much so that I’d looked up and written down the directions to the mall. On a sheet paper that was cast aside during my frantic search for keys. Well, I reasoned, surely I could make it to the mall. I’ve lived in the area for 12 years, and I’ve been there many, many times. Yes, well. My ability to get lost is well-nigh heroic. If getting lost were a superpower, I’d totally be wearing a cape right now. I ended up having to park at a random Hannaford to run in to the bathroom and check the GPS on my phone. Tragic.

By the time I made it to the mall, there was a big flashing sign suggesting that I might drive to a different entrance, but I’d barely made it to the ramp I’d found, so I ignored that.  The parking lot was a horror show. I was way too hesitant for some mad-dog shopper who blared her horn into me as I hesitated between near-left and far-left lane. Being at the mall was a bit like visiting a wake as I mourned the loss of M’s favorite store (Delia’s) and J’s favorite store (Ruum). There was so much inventory that I wished I had the girls with me to do some serious shopping, but anytime that they’re free is a time when the mall is likely to be even more crowded, and as you can tell, I barely made it through my trip on a weekday morning, so. . . no. Maybe we’ll try after Christmas. Anyway, purchases were made. Also, chocolate was acquired. I managed to get things home and hidden away before J was home. Which means that I’ve swung, once again, from despair to optimism. Maybe I’ll get it all done.

Hope you’re all ready.

De-cluttering

I’ve been de-cluttering. I know: you thought I might be running around shopping or decking halls or some such, but cleaning out some storage is Christmas-gift-related. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

But I’ve been uncovering treasures and not-quite-treasures. It was a pretty epic purge, if I do say so myself. In one time capsule, I unearthed ribbons from a preschool gymnastics meet (blue for first, natch), a junior prom souvenir wine glass, and (wait for it:) my first bra. All went into the garbage. . . impressive, no? Those were the easy ones. Tougher to send into recycling were multiple notebooks full of history and French from undergraduate and graduate school. I got rid of about 85% of it. At one point I was hesitating at the recycle bin, but then I saw one of my papers from graduate school. The grade was a B, and I’m not kidding: immediately I flushed with a little bit of rage and a big dose of shame. I could feel my heart beating more quickly. And so I tossed it, and everything else from that class. Phew! That felt good. But here’s some stuff that I’m keeping:

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Wow. I had no idea that we’d gone to Chuck E. Cheese so often! Especially surprising since it’s one of my least favorite destinations ever. But there’s something  mesmerizing and magical about that draw-you-a-picture machine, isn’t there? I think that we will keep these forever.

 

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This picture requires some notes.  It’s from November of 2007, so M was 5, and she meticulously drew all of the items on my grocery list while we walked around Hannaford. Afterward I did my best to label what was what on the back side of the paper. In the top right you’ll  see a smiling M. To her left, in the top middle, are two bananas. The bottom-left circle with 4 circles inside represents oranges, and just above and to the right is a little rectangle with a cow on it: that’s butter.  By this time I had J, too, and I was a more experienced mama, so I realized that labeling for Future Memories was a good idea. It’s a bummer looking at the old pictures and they’re basically two smudges–like, what the heck was that?

And here’s where you can tell that I needed a writing outlet: I documented our early sibling struggles in a preface to a compilation of sticker charts that I had created for M.

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That’s right: each of these smiley faces represents a day in which M refrained from smacking J upside the head or grabbing J’s stuff from right out of her hands. Let’s just say, every day was not a sticker day. But it worked for a while, at least.

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Speaking of the poor, abused younger sister, what about J’s stuff? We have so much stuff for M, the first daughter (and first granddaughter on her Dad’s side). Did we save anything of J’s?

Nope.

Aw, c’mon! You know I’m kidding. Here are two well-documented pieces from a particularly formative time in the artist’s development, what I like to call her The Sun Looks Like A Spider period:

 

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On the right, you’ll see a portrait of me holding J’s hand. A portion of this work of art has been torn away, and while there exists hearsay evidence that it’s because another resident artist used the space to scrawl, “I hat you!” However, this cannot be proven, since the ripped-off paper is not extant. On the left, you’ll see the artist’s very first attempt at writing her name.

Speaking of formative artistic periods, this painting is an early work by another up-and-coming young artist:

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This piece is by my little brother, John Szlasa, who got an MA in Fine Arts from Yale and will soon be appearing in the American Academy of Arts and Letters Invitational Exhibition. In case you aren’t familiar with the Academy, this is an unbelievably big deal. A seriously huge honor. As in, possibly I should pull this out of the cardboard box that it was in with my moldy 7th grade Home Ec cross stitch (trashed), because if I keep it in climate control and find the right buyer, maybe we can retire, living on this!  And in case you think I don’t know art when I see it, I do have five of his other paintings hanging around the house–I’d forgotten about this one.

We had tons of cards, and I think this one may get tossed, but I wanted to point out the adorable mouse choir singing in front of a penis house:

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Wait, what? You don’t see it? Maybe I’m getting a little punchy from inhaling mold spores.

Ah, and finally, never to be tossed:

 

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The cache of letters between Cute W and me when we were both abroad for a semester. Those were the days before email, folks. One of the girls started to take an interest in these, and I successfully maneuvered them away from her, saying that they were probably full of mush. I have no idea, really: I haven’t read them in at least twenty years. And I didn’t open any of them for fear of getting sucked in. I have too many other boxes to sort.

Savannah

We spent Thanksgiving in Savannah, visiting my parents and my sister and brother-in-law, who all live there. It rained almost the entire time that we were there. When it wasn’t raining, the kids were riding around on my parents’ golf cart, which is always a big highlight of our trips down south. I went to a hot yoga class with my sister and just barely managed to not pass out: yay, me!

One day our little family of four went exploring downtown, where Cute W had us follow the Yelp reviews to Zunzi’s for sandwiches. It was super-yummy. We all ordered different things and shared around, because we are good at sharing. The two favorites were both chicken, the Conquistador sandwich, drowning in special sauce that made it a mess to eat

DSC00359and Gabriella’s Zesty Chicken, which had just the right amount of zest.

 

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Even though I’m occasionally bummed out that the girls don’t love all vegetables more and that they’d always, always, choose fried meat options around the house, I have to admit that they pretty much rock at trying new things at restaurants. It’s like dining with grown-ups: you don’t have to pick the chicken fingers or something to ensure that they’ll survive, and I appreciate that.

The rest of the time we walked around, it was mostly Cute W walking very quickly down the sidewalk, M at his side, until they’d pause and double back to find J and me poking along. He’s all about efficiency, which can be wonderful, but tourists aren’t efficient. As people who have been residents of a tourist-heavy city (New York), especially one that can be a bit hostile to tourists, I think it takes a bit of self-discipline to force yourself to stop and look around. It feels vaguely embarrassing. It was easy for me, in part, because I wanted to defend J’s right to look around, so I tended to go just slightly slower than her. And then I’d say things like, “Come on, honey! Let’s embrace our inner tourist!”

One of the stores that called out to J was the Savannah Bee Company:

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We love samples, and there were plenty of honeys to sample. By the time J and I had chosen our favorites, Cute W and M wandered back, and we all decided that we needed the rich and creamy Winter White Honey, which tastes a bit line honey frosting. There was also a cute little beehive-style fort, which I tried to take pictures of for you, but it proved impossible to get it properly without including random children.

We had a fun week, and it wasn’t even too bad to say goodbye since we know that we’ll be seeing the family again at Christmas.

What else is going on? Well. . .

M just said that she thought that perhaps she should get a belly button ring.

“Huh. You really wanted your ears pierced long ago, but now your ears are pierced and you never, ever wear earrings. I don’t think that you really need to acquire another empty hole.”

“But Mom,” she countered. “Belly button rings are much cooler than earrings. I mean, who doesn’t want a belly ring?”

“I don’t.”

“Well, that’s because you’re an oldster instead of a hipster. I love you, Mom, but you’re not the hipster in this family anymore.”

I’m pretty sure that she thinks that hipster is the same as hip, so I choose to take this as a compliment, that perhaps, once, I was hip.

Also, the girls have opened up a stand on in the upstairs hall. They’re reaching outside their windows to break off icicles and scoop up what they’re calling “purified snow” and charging money for it. And I’m so pleased that they’re playing together happily that I plunked down 35 cents for a medium-length icicle. I also asked about the purification process for the snow. “Oh, I’m afraid that that’s a company secret. It’s a very complicated, secret process,” was the answer. I guess that means that they check for debris. They’ve also got two jars, once for charitable donations and another “to help our employees go to college and keep them off the streets and off drugs.” A worthy endeavor. I threw in an extra dime.

 

Crafts

It was a beautiful day to hunt down and bag our Christmas tree!

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We ended up going with the widest tree we’ve ever had. M has named it “Plumpy.” The girls found the tree and I was skeptical but unwilling to quash their enthusiasm. “That one’s really nice, girls, ” I said. “Did you see the two that Dad and I saw? Or what about that one over there? . . . Or. . . .” Nope. They had their tree. It’s going to be a little bit difficult to open our front door for the next few weeks, but you know, whatever.

Now it’s decorated, the stockings are hung, we’ve polished off a bottle of prosecco and two bottles of sparkling juice, and the girls are hunkered down in front of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Hooray.

Over the weekend, J and I attended not one, but two crafting sessions.

On Friday, it was  the elementary school crafting night. I said that I’d help at one of the craft tables, but I couldn’t be extra-early. You know what that means, right? As volunteers arrive, they  I could only arrive, gravitate to crafts that are (1) adorable or (2) easy or, ideally, both. Those of us who arrive late get crafts that are slightly less adorable and/or high-maintenance. Considering my arrival time, my assigned craft wasn’t too bad: dream catchers. Okay, yes, there was quite a bit of tying, but neither glue nor sparkles, so that rocks. And I thought the craft was pretty cute. Here’s what we used:

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Our superb volunteer organizer had already done quite a bit of prep work. She’d cut the middles out of paper plates, punched holes into them, and tied a little ribbon loop to the top. So we had literally stacks of the prepped plates, plus tons of feathers, beads, and rainbow yarn. We could have used from scissors–I swiped a pair from another table and everyone did a good job with sharing.

To make the dream catcher, the kids just tied one end of yarn to one of the punched holes, like so. . .

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And then went across the paper plate and poked the yarn through another hole, then moved over one hole to pull the yarn back out. . .

 

 

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. .  .  and then they kept going back and forth until they’d gone to all the holes. Huh. Now that I’m writing this, I’m realizing that my sample would have looked better if I’d gone straight across and looped once over the right in that first move above. Well, whatever. Also, our kids generally ran out of string before they ran out of holes, and then panic would ensue, but really, they just needed another piece of string. Once they’d strung hither, thither, and yon, they tied their string to keep it secure. Then I’d have them hold the plate by the hanging loop so that they could figure out where the bottom was, and we’d take a shorter piece of yarn and make a “U,” putting each end through one of the bottom two holes.

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Then they added a few beads to one of the ends of yarn and tied the yarn around a feather or two, then repeated with the other end of yarn (trimming it if it was too long).

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Then, ta-da! They were ready to catch some dreams!

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On Saturday, it was our church’s Homemade Holidays event, and my favorite new craft were paper sphere ornaments that the organizer had prepared after finding it on Martha Stewart’s website. I often expect Martha to be way too complicated, but once in a while she has a real gem, and this craft is simple and elegant. You need paper that you cut into strips (she suggests cards, but I think we used scrapbook stock, and it worked out great), a hole punch, and paper fasteners.

Start with paper cut into strips with holes punched on each end. Stack them up so that the patterned sides are all facing the same way, and then  use a paper fastener to attach them together on each end.

 

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At our craft station, we were using little pieces of pipe cleaner to make hanging loops, but I think I’d like a bit of thread or an inconspicuous hook better. Once both ends are attached, you can just gently pull the strips apart into a sphere shape. If it’s not pretty easy to do, you just have to loosen the paper fasteners.

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Look how cute!

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We just put these on the tree, and they looked even prettier with the lights–someone settled the pink one so that a pink light happened to settle inside, and it made the interior glow. So that we took the yellow one and set it on a yellow light on purpose, and the overlapping paper makes a pretty star shadow. And when it’s time to put them away, we can put them back into little stacks of paper so that they won’t get crushed.

Oh! Here’s a link to my tv appearance.

If you’re looking for more holiday crafts, I have links on this page.

 

Updates

I’ve updated the events page.

If you don’t “like” my Facebook page, you may have missed my review of The Secret Garden at Capital Repertory Theatre. We really loved this play, but it’s not necessarily a good choice for little kids. You can read the review for details.

I’m going to be on Newschannel 13 Live at Noon tomorrow (Friday) talking about free holiday fun around the Capital District. If they post the segment on their website later, I’ll share it with you, of course.

Holly brought some candy this morning. About damn time that elf started spreading holiday cheer.

Holly Returns

On Monday, J sighed and said, “Do you think that our elf is going to come back this year?”

Dammit.

Holly the Elf is, like, the bane of my existence in December. I tried to find one post for a bit of back history for you, but there were tons of references to Holly the Elf, mostly my struggle to remember to move her, or my scares when J would come downstairs after bedtime and see her hanging around in my laundry basket, waiting for me to come up with something to do with her. This just isn’t one of my high-skill areas, parenting-wise. J’s still in that territory where she doesn’t quite believe in everything anymore, but she still wants to believe. And so, when she’s asking for Holly, I’m going to do my best to give her Holly.

But it ain’t easy, yo.

First, where the hell did I put the damn thing? The trouble with Holly is that she can’t be stored with all of the other Christmas decorations. She’s supposed to be at the North Pole! And sometimes J helps me unpack the storage boxes. So when J asked about Holly, already mildly disappointed that she hadn’t shown up for December 1st, the traditional first day of Household Observation, my face smiled while anxiety flooded from my heart and pooled in my abdomen. “I don’t know if she’ll come back, hon. I guess we’ll see.” I continued to pack J’s backpack while taking mental inventory of my various hidey-holes around the house.

Once she was off to school, it was time to start ransacking the house. With my enthusiasm so low, the last thing I wanted to do was buy another one of these overpriced dollies. But I knew I would. First I checked official hiding places. Then I tried to reconstruct what might have happened last year.

Usually, I reasoned, I stuff Holly into the laundry area on December 26th. Then she lounges among the miscellaneous laundry debris (pennies, hair elastics, wadded-up receipts, etc.) for a week or so before I come up with something better. But, last year, did I ever come up with anything better? Maybe not.  In which case, I would have stuffed her into a plastic bag and flung her up somewhere that was too high for J to reach. And from there I checked out the messy shelves above my washer and dryer . . .

 

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. . . and moved that crate filled with the iron that only comes out for crafting projects because I don’t actually iron clothes; as well as a gallon of distilled water that I bought for something–maybe the iron, once?–and kept in case I’d need it for something else, then forgot about for three or four years;  along with miscellaneous rags, which tend to gather because I am far better at putting holes in socks than I am at cleaning the house with spare rags. And once I’d moved all that aside,

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there she was! Nestled between the cheap plastic deli platter I think I might use someday and the bleach that lasts months at our house because I seem to be incapable of doing a bleach wash without putting a spot somewhere in the breast vicinity of whatever top I’m wearing. Hooray for Holly!

Now, in the process of dismantling my piles of junk in the name of Elf Excavation, I managed both to re-discover and to puncture the gallon of distilled water. So my moment of triumph was marred by the epic spill all over myself and my immediate vicinity before I put the leaky gallon container into a large bowl.

Then, I had to come up with someplace to put Holly so that it would appear as if Holly were in the house this morning and no one had found her. I helped her build a small fort with the tree skirt that’s awaiting our tree

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and tucked her into it with a board book, so she could read up on her Elfin Duties.

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Crap. According to the literature, apparently she and I are going to have to make some Christmas balls to hang on the tree. Add it to my “to do” list, I guess.

J was excited to stumble upon her later that evening, even if she didn’t arrive bearing gifts.

Then yesterday, I set Holly the Elf next to our spider plant, because I wanted J to notice that we’re actually getting flowers or spider babies or something.

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The plant success is amazing, because we’ve had this plant for years, and it’s always been somewhat sickly. It had brown leaves and it always looked droopy. Recently I trimmed it and put it somewhere else, and it’s suddenly revitalized. In fact, I was looking into exactly what was going on with this plant the other day, and I found an encyclopedic page full of questions and answers about the care of spider plants. You will never guess what the cure for brown-tipped leaves is! Switch from regular water to distilled for watering!  I am not even kidding. All of this actually happened. So I salvaged that last cup of distilled water and put it in a new container, which I then tossed up into that crate, where I may or may not forget it.

And then, this morning, guess where Holly appeared?

. . . . .

Sitting on the lamp, next to the spider plant. That’s right, folks. It’s only December 3rd, and I’ve already forgotten to move the damn elf. Do you know how it feels to wake up all snuggly in your bed ten minutes before you actually have to get out of the bed, and you’re excited that you’ve got a little extra snoozing time and you start pondering your day and then you realize that YOU’VE ALREADY FAILED TODAY’S PARENTING without even having gotten out of bed or interacted with anyone?!?!

I will tell you.

It feels bad.

Cute W has now set a daily alarm on his watch to help with the Holly effort, but meanwhile, of course, people who are much better and more enthusiastic parents than I am have taken pictures of their clever Elf High Jinks and posted them on Facebook and no matter how lovely these people are, if they were actually in my presence, I’d have to restrain myself from pinching them very, very hard. Because, this morning, they brought their children Joy and Wonder and I brought my child Low-Level Disappointment and Resignation.

Meanwhile, all of those parents who were feeling so self-satisfied about their Fabulous Elf Antics have been knocked off of the Most Awesome Parent podium because all the truly cool parents have moved on to Kindness Elves. I mean, come on. If the Kindness Elves weren’t so kind, they might tell those stupid elves who spent last night toilet-papering their host kids’ bathroom to go suck it. The Kindness Elves appear to be composed entirely of organic materials, and they do wonderful things like  successfully move every night, traveling in a festive group, bringing inspiration for thoughtfully planned little projects to spread love and good cheer to others, all assigned with long, adorable notes so that the entire family can bond with each other while laboring to make the world a better place with their own small efforts. Surely such elves will cultivate the best possible human beings in whatever household they visit. I mean, it’s a wonderful, wonderful idea.

But that won’t happen here. I can barely manage to move my trendy, self-absorbed, materialistic elf.