Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

Wishing you and yours a safe, healthy, happy, and peaceful 2016!

We're celebrating here with Lego Dimensions game,  puzzles, crochet, "chocolate thumbprints," and sherbet punch.

Tomorrow, there will be black-eyed peas, greens, cornbread, and football.

Happy new year!

Truth.



**Because she inspired me when I was 7 watching SW for the first time.  Because she inspires me even more now in SW7 and in responding to trolls.

Second Christmas

We had our second Christmas Eve and Christmas day all rolled into one last night.  We started by taking Gommie and Pop to a local Italian place--not just pizza and spaghetti with meatballs, but a place with duck and boar and such.  Mama and I had been once before and had a great meal but some unfortunate experiences (I got too warm, felt sick, shifted in my chair, and pulled a muscle in my back, ending the meal early)--I was glad to replace the memories.

And it was great food--white bean and sauteed tomato dip, spinach and mushroom crepes, butternut squash ravioli, short ribs, spinach salad with warm goat cheese fritters and a poached pear, shrimp with pasta, sole with pasta, lobster ravioli, mushroom ravioli, chicken marsala, s'mores creme brulee, Nutella cup, apple caramel crumb, almond tart, cappuccino, and espresso.  The atmosphere was lovely; we sat near the fireplace, which warmed our poor thin-blooded Texans (I wore a plain t-shirt under a sweater so as not to overeat per the earlier meal.)  Delightful.

The kids didn't even rush us, though we were opening presents afterwards.  Another sign they're growing up.  We did have fun opening presents, a flurry of wrapping paper all around.  There was kung fu souvenirs straight from China for Bud, some jade and a name chop stamp for Sis and me, and books for Gommie, Pop, and Mama.

Bud got one extra surprise:  he lost a tooth!  And the holiday Tooth Fairy brought him a couple of Lego Dimensions figures (just as the same crazy-generous Tooth Fairy gave Sis a Lego on Monday morning--it's been that kind of week.)

And now Christmas is really pretty much all over.

Let the new year begin.

Happy 2016, y'all!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Whirlwind

Happy post-Christmas!

We've been quite a buzz since Friday or so.  I'm not even sure I can remember what all.  Not that it was eventful per se--we didn't go to kung fu or ice skating, to any parties or big outings.  We mainly stayed home and played with toys and games and watched tv and such, slowly creeping back into the real world of laundry and garbage and such.  By Sunday, some of us had been together non-stop for nearly five days, which is a long time, and there was the usual post-Christmas tension from too much activity, too many late nights, too much greasy and sugary food, too much off-routine, too much excitement, too much clutter, and, quite honestly, too much togetherness, what Pop used to call, sarcastically, "family fun at its finest."  It didn't help that three of their computer games crashed mid-game in one afternoon, momentously frustrating.   But we got over it quickly enough and re-set ourselves by Monday.

Which is the day Gommie and Pop arrived.  The kids could barely contain their enthusiasm which I couldn't even damper with frequent request to "pick that up" or "take that upstairs" and the like so that the house was reasonably inhabitable by two more people (though they sleep at a hotel, they spend all day here.)    Gommie and Pop were here by 4 and there was a whirlwind of showing off Christmas presents--BB8s and SW books--and performing--piano, "Just Dance" routines.   I think they even squeezed in a game of Scrabble and some puzzle-work.  We had baked chicken and the fixings for dinner and they stayed pretty late considering they'd been up at 4 something.

And lo and behold, their very first night in CT and it snowed!  Just a dusting, but it's the first snow we've seen since March or so.  Pop, particularly, was  happy.  Even if they were late getting to my house because the scraper wasn't in my van!  Who knew it was going to snow??  We stayed in most of the day--once they did a morning doughnut run to our knew favorite place--that is, until dusk.

Mama had to work Tuesday but she was meeting us at the movie theater for--yep, you guessed it--STAR WARS!  We played more at home and then showed them Return of the Jedi to get ready.  Of course, Gommie had seen it 32-odd years ago when she took me out of school to go see it, but she'd pretty much forgotten most of it.  Though, they both remembered the Ewoks.  And neither knew about the prequels.  Lucky them.

We got to the theater about an hour before showtime and it was more crowded with longer lines than we'd seen it at the other two showings.  I guess the weather brought people out.  There was even a line of people waiting an hour to see the Chipmunk movie . . . ???  Who does that?  We got our popcorn, got our seats, and settled in for another great viewing  I won't give any real SPOILERS here, only to say that Pop actually got teary at one point, which made me extra-teary.  Gotta love Star Wars.  And I think they really did.

We went out for sushi afterwards, for a late-dinner treat at Bud's favorite place.  He and Mama shared the big sushi boat, while Sis, Pop, and I sat on the "chicken" (i.e. teriyaki and katsu) end of the table.  Gommie ate some hand rolls and had some sake.  And we tried not to say anything spoiler-y outloud. We even had mochi for dessert.  Then we separated in the parking lot til morning.

This morning, Gommie and I went for coffee while Pop played with the kids (or, more likely, watched the kids play--"they only let me cut a couple of pieces of fruit," he said, referencing Fruit Ninja.)  Gommie and I brought home dominos and checkers home, since these are two games Pop plays. Sis just wiped the floor with Gommie at checkers; there's talk of a tournament.  And Bud impressed us all with his use of "adept" in Scrabble.  I didn't notice the outcome of the two dominoes games.   I'm shocked to see this; in 18 years of living at home and all the time since then, I've never known my dad to play games!  But he's already played Scrabble, two types of dominos (42 and Moon), and checkers.  I'm dumbstruck.

We also watched Inside Out, while Pop napped on the couch, with Mojo curled up on his lap.  Mojo likes yarn and Pop had at least two afghans on--I can't turn the heat up high enough for these thin-blooded Texans, and that's with their thermals on!

Now we're biding time til dinner reservations at the Italian place at 6 p.m.  I'm stretching my back and blogging upstairs with two cats; the kids are introducing Gommie to the "Great British Bake-Off."  I imagine Pop is back under his blankets.

After dinner, we'll do Christmas gifts, which gives us more to do for the next few days.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Gift!

We hope you had a very merry holiday.  We did and so there's a lot to tell, so let's break the last few days down into bite-size chunks.

Wednesday:
The kids had a half day of school, so I ran the last bit of my errands and then finished wrapping presents.  I delivered the pink scarf I made to my friend for her daughter and we shared a coffee.  Otherwise, it was a lot of traffic and rain.

At some point, I lost the tv remote control.  I had been wrapping presents (about which I am very proud--it's been a long time since I could sit and to the wrapping, but I could this year), answered the phone while pausing my annual viewing of Love Actually, and then couldn't find the remote later to unpause the show.  I joked on FB that I must have wrapped the remote into a gift.  Wrapping gifts in silence was an interesting exercise, for awhile.

The kids got home in jovial spirits--the real holiday had begun!  They stayed up til midnight, a kind of free-for-all, playing games and such.  See, they didn't need the tv remote to play their games.  I bribed them with extra screen time if they could find my flipper, to no avail.

Mama couldn't find it later either.


Thursday:
Merry Christmas Eve!

It didn't feel at all like Christmas, except maybe Christmas in Texas, very warm and wet.

Mama was off to work long before the rest of us even woke up but only had a half-day.  At home, we wrapped some gifts, had a deli lunch, and watched some Doctor Who--not only were we counting down to Christmas but to the Doctor Who Christmas special as well.

Mama got home midday and did a lot of her own wrapping, helped me make gumbo, and watched some Simpsons Christmas specials.  We also had a long nap, while the kids played Minecraft.

Then it was church for carols and candlelight, one of our favorite Christmas and Unitarian Universalist traditions.  We sing lots of songs (I love "In the Bleak Midwinter"), hear a few short and uplifting remarks, light each other's candles during "Silent Night," and eat some cookies.  It's a nice, quiet pause in the middle of the chaos of the hectic holiday, as encapsulated in this reading:

Christmas Prayer by Lois Van Leer 
Let us still the world for a moment
Let it be blanketed by a soft darkness that quiets
Let us be brought to our knees
By innocence
By hope
By peace
In this night
Let something be born in us
That heals all brokenness
That does not bow down to hatred and fear
But rather meets them gently and offers them love
Let us chose all the gifts of life we are offered
Tonight is about the impossible
But no more so than any other impossibility
That fills our days
So let us embrace a story, a myth
If for a moment
Let us be carried away in its arms
Held tenderly, rocked, comforted
Let this night, these stories transform our hearts
That we may become
Joy
Hope
Love
Peace
Enfleshed
Incarnate.
May it be so. Amen.


It was the first Christmas Eve in a long time that we didn't have Goo, who had to work the day before and the day after Christmas.  With all the food made and all the gifts wrapped, we didn't have much to do, except straighten up for Santa.

Ah, Santa.  He's been the topic of discussion several times this season.  It all started with the "sad, nostalgic" hug Bud gave me at Old Sturbridge Village, which I believe he meant in reference to growing older and not believing anymore.   Since then there have been more indirect queries and discussions.  On Christmas Eve, another one arose.

It was actually a double-whammy.  We were sitting listening to the soundtrack of Fun Home, break from carols, when Bud turned to me and asked, "How do two men have sex?" in reference to the song about the father and his high school crush.  Deep breath.  And I calmly explained the simplest of mechanics, to some discomfort.  There was a question about how that would feel good and I basically said that if sex didn't feel good--that it made them mentally or physically uncomfortable when they were older--that they needed to stop, because they were dong it wrong.  It was about pleasure.  Sis quietly leaned over, "So then how do two women do it?"  It was only then that I blushed.

Sigh.  Not the Christmas Eve discussion I thought I'd be having.

Then, in less than five minutes, Sis asked me, "Is Santa real?"

I think I liked the sex question better.

I asked if they really wanted to know.  Bud said unequivocally no.  But Sis did, so I took her into the kitchen and said.  "There is no one Santa.  All the adults in your life are Santa.  We all make the magic of Christmas.  And now you are growing up and can help make the magic, too.  But don't tell anyone the secret; it's part of the fun and the responsibility."  I reassured her that nothing would really change--we would still do cookies, and oatmeal for the reindeer, and stockings.  Christmas was still Christmas.

She said she'd guessed a few years ago because she found the "Santa" wrapping paper.  I knew it!  I knew she'd guess from the paper; she's just so observant.  We had tried to keep them separate and specific, but we must have faltered.  She wasn't upset though, just curious.  "So who buys your Santa presents?"  And her eyes grew wide--with envy perhaps?--when I told her that we bought our own presents!  She also wanted to know who ate the cookies.  We do, of course.
And Albus helped.

At some point, Bud peeked in but didn't really want to listen.  He knows but doesn't want to know.  Fine.  He's struggling with a lot of big emotions about growing up right now and there's no need to push.  He fears loss now that he better understands crisis and mortality (my surgery, the deaths of Aunt Sis and our friend Sunny) and struggles with change.  Last night, he looked at a selfie we took in front of the tree--"my face has gotten thin.  I'm not chubby anymore."  He isn't quite ready to get bigger.

So, we did Christmas Eve just like all the others--books and pajamas, cookies for Santa, reindeer food, staying up too late.  We eventually tucked them in and finished up Christmas prep.  There's always the last few gifts to locate and worries about whether it's all balanced (quality vs. quantity, you know.)

And then we got to go to bed, too.

Oh, it was our 7th wedding anniversary, but we don't pay much attention to this one.  The August 23 date is more our celebration time.  But we do try at least to remember we got legally married, in CT anyway (at the time not federally recognized, until 2014, then nationally legal in 2015.  Which doesn't include our Civil Union date in October 2005, a week after that was legal), on Christmas Eve.


Friday:

Christmas Gift!  (as my dad's side of the family says.)

The kids slept in, or more specifically waited patiently and quietly, until 7 a.m. to get us up.  Ma, Gong, and Goo arrived shortly thereafter and we all circled round the glowing tree.  We actually had some of the windows open and had discussed turning on the AC; it would get above 65F, with high humidity.  Most of us were in t-shirts.  And our only fire was a video on the tv!

But the warm weather didn't melt the spirits.

We started with stockings as we always do (when I was a kid, we read the biblical verses of the nativity, but since we hear those at evening service, we don't read them again now.)  And from the very beginning, it was a Star Wars:  The Force Awakens Christmas, just like I had a few times as a child; with five of us really devoted and all of us having seen it, everyone but Ma got some SW stuff.   Throughout the day, there would be SW ornaments, SW figures, SW magazines, several SW books, SW Legos, SW trading cards, SW, car windshield cover, SW measuring cups, SW micro-machines, SW Infinity figures, SW wall lights, SW t-shirts, SW bobbleheads, and, the two biggest of all, real flying Millennium Falcon drones and actual robotic BB8s.

There were some non-SW things.  I think.  Lots of Warriors books and horse-themed gifts (pillow kit, painting kit, plaque) for Sis; the Doctor Who Lego and a refurbished iPad for Bud; a Lego Dimensions game set for the kids; a Playbill organizer for theater programs and Shaun the Sheep and Felines of New York book for Mama; and some Great British Bake-Off books and Mandala coloring book for me.  As a family, we also got a guidebook to Colonial Williamsburg, where we'll be going for a slightly extended February school break.

And I got a Tile, which is a GPS-like locator system to avoid losing things.  Like the remote control.  Which Goo found wedged behind the small couch, where we'd already unsuccessfully looked.  But, yay for him! And for me.

We laughed about the Tile, now intended for the peripatetic flipper.  And about the empty gift I got.  Mama had gotten me an iPad stand for when I cook from the computer.  Except when I went to look at it, the box was actually empty!  We thought this was funny and referred to it again and again; she took it well, though was aggravated by now having to go deal with the store.  And I celebrated each time Mama opened a gift that she didn't know about (you know, since we buy our own presents.)  I think there were three--Playbill binder, Shaun the Sheep, and  Felines of NY.  That's a good year.  We also continuously pelted her with paper "snowballs" (since it certainly wasn't a white Christmas), because she was sitting next to the recycling box.  I'd say we rarely made the box, mostly on accident.

It was a big, indulgent, materialistic Christmas; the kind we actually always talk down but often seem to then create.  I figure it won't last much longer, as the kids' wishes for toys decrease (though Mama's wishes increase.)  It also brings so much pleasure to Mama to spoil the kids.  And that makes me happy.  We just try to throw in extra charitable donations and acts of kindness to somewhat balance it out.  All the while, talking about it.  Not ideal.

I will say that one of my favorite gifts was actually unwrapped today:  handmade gold-painted pasta ornaments in the shape of symmetrical mandalas with the kids' photos in the middle, which they made at school this week.  LOVE these.  We don't have many school ornaments and so these are extra treasured, along with the ones from preschool.

We ate, too, though it's never the focal point of Christmas.  I gave up the big roast dinner a few years back and have been much happier ever since.  We had a corned beef hash and also orange biscuit breakfast, followed by gumbo and muffulettas later in the day.  Not many snacks, just some Christmas cookies.  And cheesecake.  A big, delicious, plain cheesecake that I bought a few years ago  from a friend at an auction for another friend but didn't collect until now (the cheesecake is not years old; the idea of the cheesecake is.)  And it was so good!  Best part was the crack, seriously, which signified the crack in the Whovian universe for us, perfect on the day of the Whovian Christmas special.

After opening gifts and eating, we spent the rest of the day playing with said gifts.  Ma and Gong helped Sis put her horse puzzle together.  Bud put his Doctor Who Lego together.  Mama, Gong, and co flew the drone outside.  Everybody drove BB8s around the living room, intriguing the cats.  Goo played video games with the kids.  I read and crocheted.

And at some point, Sis went outside to the neighbors and took a rope climbing lesson.  In short sleeves.  Our neighbors are Jewish and were having a non-Christmas gathering of family and making a lot of food.  So they invited us over for some; we took cookies and cheesecake.  And Sis got a lesson in rope climbing from the dad of the house.  I can't explain exactly what she did--there were clamps and belaying lines and carbiners and a full-torso harnass and she was supposed to bend a knee while extending an arm, then stand up on a rope and start again. Harder than it looked, I'm sure.  But she had a good go at it and then swung around and hung upside-down.  Goo tried it too, but Bud took a pass; I didn't even think about it.  Some of the other kids and adults tried, too.  And all we could all talk about was how warm it was.  Most were in a single layer, not a coat in sight.   The mom was even in flip-flops!  It was a quirky but welcome addition to our Christmas day.

The cats stayed mostly upstairs, though, when Albus and Hermione did venture down, they were rewarded with the big cardboard cat tree Mama had made for them.  Mojo eventually came out and sat in his spot in them middle of the couch  under a crocheted blanket most of the day.  At one point, he somehow slipped out from underneath his blanket and Goo gamely remarked, "You left the cat open."   Mr P couldn't handle any of it and hid on our bed upstairs.

Ma and Gong left soon after and ran into a ton of rain that never made it to us; they did get home safely, though.  Goo stayed until Who-time, playing games and eating dinner.  We're so glad he could join us.  He really makes the holiday special and is an integral part of our family celebration, for both Mama and I and the kids.

And then it was Doctor Who time.  The return of River Song, after too many sad episodes saying goodbye to Clara (who, thankfully, we learned in the last of three episodes, didn't actually die.)  It was great to see Alex Kingston in the role again and it was delightfully funny, with some great one-liners but also some touching twists and speeches.  The only tears were happy ones.  (Yep, I'm still hormonal.  Cried at carols on Christmas Eve, cried reading my SW magazine, cried watching DW.  Blah.)

The kids stayed up late, as part of their Christmas celebration, playing with their toys and snacking all  over again.  I think we were all asleep after midnight.

I don't know how many magical childhood Christmas we have left.  It definitely changes as children age, not bad and in many ways perhaps less frantic and more reflective, just different from the joy and exuberance (and yes, greed) of the first decade or so.  But this year at least, they still didn't sleep and they still squealed and hugged in gratitude and laughed and were merry the whole time.  And that, for us (since we aren't Christians anyway, but Unitarian Universalists celebrating family and the wonder of every child), is the reason for the season.

Merry Christmas to All

...and to all a good night!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thick 'n Thin 'n Quick

My friend asked me to make a scarf for her daughter, knit or crochet.  We went to the craft store last week and perused the yarns.  My friend isn't a yarnaholic and so I got to choose--a nice chunky, thick and thin, wool-acrylic blend, in pink, the daughter's favorite color.

I tried to knit it in stockinette on large needles, but the edges curved too much (because I forgot a selvage or border to combat that.)

I tried to knit it in garter stitch, with the same large needles, but it was too chunky and dense.

So, I crocheted it with a big hook and lots of spaces--and in a fraction of the time the knitting was taking (I wanted to get it to her before Christmas, which I never would have if I knit it.)  And I think it will be great.




Chunky Cowl/Infinity Scarf
1 1/4 skein Buttercream Thick n'Thin (from Jo-Ann's)
Q hook

Chain 80 (or approximately 5'+ foundation)


Row 1: chain 2, half double crochet, ch 1 and skip ch, *(hdc, ch1 and skip space)* repeat to end, ch 2, turn.

Row 2:  hdc in each chain space of row 1, ch 1, *(hdc, ch 1 in chain space)* repeat until end, ch 2, turn.

Row 3-5 (or until width desired):  repeat Row 2

Finish off by leaving long tail.  Use tail to whip stitch ends together to make infinity scarf/cowl

inspired by My Blue Bike 101

Pre-Holiday Dinners

It often amazes me that I have to cook dinner even as I prepare for big events like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Sometimes the daily grocery list gets lost among all the other items and errands.  But I've done rather well for the last two days, without a lot of effort or planning.  Both were eaten by everyone in the family and would be meals I would make again.  And we have enough for lunches and leftovers, which just makes life easier.

One is Wildtree, again, from the slow cooker workshop.  I've talked to my friend and rep Miss L about becoming a rep, too, if only for the discount and the recipes!!  It would be easy to host a slow cooker workshop or two a year.  Stay tuned.



Mock Italian Wedding Soup
1 lb ground turkey
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (I use Penzey's Tuscan Sunset)
1 egg
8 cups chicken stock
garlic powder and dried shallots to taste
1 cup carrots, chopped small
1/2 box ditalini or other small pasta
4 generous handfuls fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese


Bring chicken stock to a simmer.  (Optional:  you could start by sauteing garlic and onion, but I was in a hurry and just added some dry.)

Combine ground turkey with seasoning and egg.  Drop small meatballs into strongly simmering stock.

Add carrots and pasta until cook til both meatballs and carrots are done.

Add spinach and parmesan cheese and simmer until cooked through.

Serve.


Wildtree Turkey Breast, Adapted
2-3 lbs turkey breast or cutlets
3-5 yukon gold potatoes, cubed
20 baby carrots
1 package Wildtree Ranch Dip (minus 1 1/2 Tablespoons)
2 teaspoons Wildtree Blazin' Buffalo Dip mix (I would leave this out next time)
(I also added about 1 teaspoon each Wildtree Garlic Galore and Rancher's Steak Rub after I added the water, which seemed to wash the other seasonings off the turkey)

Layer ingredients in slow cooker (I put carrots and potatoes on the bottom), seasonings, and add 1/2 cup water.  Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours.

Kindness with Cookies

Our Girl Scout troop had it's big holiday party last night, which also doubled as part of their Bronze Award for community service.  We've been learning about food insecurity in our town (one of the priests who organizes the soup kitchen visited and talked to them, wonderfully, about the issue) and prepping to help the local interfaith soup kitchen at their annual Christmas celebration.  Each girl baked at least four dozen nut-free, chocolate-free cookies and brought them to last night's party, where we packaged them up with some candy canes, a homemade card, and  an angel ornament they made a few weeks ago.  This morning, I delivered the containers to the church (with extras going to the teachers' lounge at school) and, tomorrow night, the girls will help out and maybe do some caroling, which they practiced karaoke-style to an old VHS Disney show my co-leader had.   Like the priest kindly said, and I paraphrase, the girls are doing kind and good work which is the best way to face difficult issues.  We'll help again in February for Valentine's Day to complete our Bronze Award hours.

-=-=-=-=-=-
Aunt Banana's Punch, Adapted
2 liters of Sprite
8 zinger tea bags--I had a combo of Wild Berry and Raspberry (Red works great, too)
2 containers raspberry sorbet

Put 4 tea bags in each Sprite bottle, re-cap, and refrigerate.
Serve hours later, with sorbet.


Snickerdoodles (with cinnamon on outside of cookie)
yields 6-7 dozen

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening (or coconut oil)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

For cinnamon-sugar:  1/2 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon (if desired, use colored sugar; Sis used red and green, splitting the mix)

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the shortening and sugar till smooth, then beat in the eggs, again beating till smooth.

Beat in the vanilla, cinnamon baking powder, then add the flour, mixing slowly till combined.

Place about 1/2 cup cinnamon-sugar in an 8" or 9" round cake pan or in a zippered bag.

Drop the soft dough by teaspoonfuls into the pan with the sugar, about 6 to 8 balls at a time. Gently shake the pan to coat the dough balls with sugar. Place them on a lightly greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between them. Using the bottom of a glass, flatten each cookie till it's about 1/2-inch thick. Repeat till you've used up all the dough.

Bake the snickerdoodles in a preheated 400°F oven for 8-11 minutes.  They'll be set and just starting to turn golden. Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool them on a rack.

adapted from King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent Activities: Christmas Prep

It was our "down" day today . . . so we did everything but relax!  (And my hormones were raging--have all month--and so there was some grumping and crying and then apologizing over dinner.)

We made 5 dozen spritz cookies which remind me of the ones my Aunt J would make (using a friend's recipe, to see if it was a softer, easier dough)--hers were frosted; Gommie made long flat ribbon ones which were super-crunchy and my paternal grandfather's favorite.  

We made 6 dozen snickerdoodles as part of Sis's Girl Scout Bronze Award, not pictured here.

I knitted and pulled out a foot of stitches and started again.  
We wrapped presents, cleaned the house, played Minecraft, watched "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," napped, cleaned the garage because we couldn't find the tree stand.

We found the tree stand.

So we decorated the tree.  Our approach is what you might call horror vacui.  Some branches have two or three ornaments.  

We ate dinner and then watched "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."



Pressed Butter Cookies

Ingredients:
         2 ¼ cups flour
         ¼ tsp baking powder
         1 cup butter
         ¾ cup sugar
         1 egg
         1 tsp almond extract
         Colored sugars and sprinkles

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375. 
Whisk together flour and baking powder in small bowl.
Cream butter and sugar thoroughly in a large bowl. Beat in the egg and almond extract.
Gradually blend in dry ingredients.
Fill cookie press, and form cookies on ungreased sheets.
Decorate with colored sugars and sprinkles.
Bake 6-8 minutes. 
Carefully remove at once to cooling racks.

Makes about 6 dozen


Miss RM's recipe         


Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent Updates

Well . . . we haven't used our sock Advent calendar once yet, though we've been doing a bunch of our usual holiday activities.  I think we all miss the ritual of the socks but just don't have it together yet.  We still have a week to go, so maybe I can figure something out.  I imagine we'll get a few of these done before Christmas Eve . . . .

POSSIBILITIES
  1. Build gingerbread houses
  2. Stay up late, a la Solstice Camp Out the night of last day of school
  3. Make a snowman (weather permitting; if not, turn fridge into a snowman)
  4. Deliver gifts to vet, pediatrician, etc.**
  5. Choose family holiday charity (seals?  owls?  cat project?)**
  6. Deliver ELF bags to friends in need of holiday cheer**
  7. Sew buttons on Christmas stockings
  8. Drive around looking at lights
  9. Make origami ornaments for tree
Other ideas:  make candles or soap; follow UU Advent Calendar from Alice the Chalice;  look for Snowy Owls; make a card for my hospice patients; watch It's a Wonderful Life

DONE

  1. Piano recital (Dec 6)
  2. Go to Cookie Cafe (Dec 5)
  3. Make latkes on first night of Hanukkah (Dec. 6)
  4. Watch "Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas" (we actually did this last night!)
  5. Make holiday wreath (well, we bought one from a neighborhood Boy Scout)
  6. Create and send family Christmas card
  7. Office holiday parties
  8. Celebrate my birthday at Old Sturbridge Village candlelight
  9. Watch original A Miracle on 34th Street
  10. Host cookie party (Dec. 18)
  11. STAR WARS!!!!! (Dec. 17)
  12. Begin reading A Christmas Carol
  13. Make cards for teachers, babysitters, etc.
  14. play with Lego Christmas village

Advent Activities: In Pictures

House decorations


Baking cookies--6 dozen!


Our only snowflakes this season



Waiting for Star Wars 7

Kindness Elves appear, getting ready for our cookie party




Sis's cookies

Making a scarf for a friend's daughter





Thursday, December 17, 2015

We Saw It (No Spoilers)

The Force is still with us.

(more--still spoiler free--tomorrow.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sock Fun Left and Right


We had our Mother-Daughter Book Club holiday party last night, which was loads of fun.  Each family brought a read-aloud book and a wrapped pair of fun socks.  After reading several of the Christmas picture books--Sis had me perform Cajun Night Before Christmas in my best Cajun accent--the girls exchanged the socks by playing a special game.  They sat in a circle while the host read an adapted Twas the Night Before Christmas with the words "left" and "right" included, directing the girls to pass their wrapped socks either way.  By the end, they all had a different pair of socks.  Sis got the pink ones, above, having brought the long red-striped ones to her right.  Then they ate cookies and hot chocolate.  It was a sweet night, simple but fun.

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Here's the amended story, in case you need it for a gift exchange.  Cute idea.

Twas The Night Before Christmas Story

Twas the night RIGHT before Christmas
when RIGHT through the house
Not a creature was LEFT stirring, not even a mouse—
The stockings were hung RIGHT by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be RIGHT there
The children were nestled RIGHT snug in their beds,
While visions of sugarplums danced Right around in their heads
And mama LEFT in her kerchief, and I LEFT in my cap
had just settled RIGHT down for a long winter’s nap,
When RIGHT out on the LEFT lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang RIGHT from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the RIGHT window I LEFT like a flash;
Tore open the RIGHT shutters and threw up the LEFT sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
LEFT the luster of mid-day to objects RIGHT below
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver RIGHT lively and quick;
I knew RIGHT in a moment it must be St. Nick
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came;
And he whistled and shouted, and called them RIGHT by name:
“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On Comet, on Cupid, on Donder and Blitzen!
To the RIGHT top of the porch! To the LEFT top of the wall!
Now dash away, dash away, dash RIGHT away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly
When they meet RIGHT with an obstacle,
mount RIGHT up to the sky,
So RIGHT up to the housetop the coursers they LEFT flew,
With a sleigh full of toys and St. Nicholas, too.
And then in a twinkling, I heard RIGHT on the roof,
The prancing and pawing of each little RIGHT and LEFT hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around
Down the LEFT side of the chimney St. Nicholas
came with a bound. He was dressed all in fur,
RIGHT from his head to his LEFT foot,
And his clothes were all LEFT tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he flung RIGHT on his back,
and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His RIGHT and LEFT eyes, oh how they twinkled!
His dimples? Oh how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was LEFT drawn up like a bow!
And the beard LEFT on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held RIGHT in his teeth,
and the smoke– it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a round little belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was RIGHT chubby and plump,
a RIGHT, RIGHT jolly old elf,
And I was LEFT laughing when I saw him in spite of myself.
A wink of his LEFT eye and a LEFT twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing LEFT to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went RIGHT straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; LEFT to RIGHT,
then turned with a jerk
And laying his finger to the LEFT of his nose,
And giving a nod, he LEFT… Up the chimney he rose.
He sprang RIGHT to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all LEFT like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, as he LEFT—out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all—to all a good night!”

Monday, December 14, 2015

Another Wildtree Recipe Hack

So, a week or so ago, I converted the Wildtree Pollo Asada Bowls into chicken tacos to great success.  Tonight, I made the Chicken Bruschetta Salad into a pasta dinner:  simply spoon the chicken (shredded, cubed, or whole) over pasta.  Bud had 3 bowls!  I think the same base would work with meatballs instead of chicken.  Yum!!

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Bruschetta Chicken Pasta
1 1/2 to 2 lbs chicken breasts
28 oz. diced tomatoes
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons Wildtree Bruschetta Blend
2 tablespoons Roasted Garlic Grapeseed Oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup water

Combine ingredients in slow cooker and cook on LOW 6-8 hours.  Serve over pasta.

Mommy Hungry via Wildtree

Birthday Weekend

It was a wonderful birthday weekend, made special by family and friends.  Thanks to Gommie, Aunt Banana, and Lambeth for calling with birthday wishes.  

Friday:
I had a little holiday coffee Friday morning, inviting many friends over for treats.  I don't like to be all alone around my birthday and have long hosted my own little get togethers.   Only a few friends could make it, but we had a jolly time together, setting the spirit for the whole weekend.

That evening was the annual big holiday party.  Mmm, mmm good:  
  • Steak, green beans, baked potato, slab bacon, with Peter Luger sauce 
  • chicken tikka 
  • spinach dal 
  • chicken taco 
  • corn and mushroom taco 
  •  Italian sausage pasta 
  • spinach pizza 
  • prosciutto, mint, and mozzarella pizza
  • pesto orchiette
  • Turkey and stuffing bread 
  • porchetta slider
  • cheese burger
  • Smoked tofu noodles
  • chicken sausage and pancake corn dogs 
  • scrambled eggs with tater tots 
  • s'more doughnut
  •  cappuccino doughnut
  • homemade Twinkie 
  • homemade Ho Ho
  • homemade chocolate cream Ho Hos
  • Captain Crunch marshmallow treat
  • Fruit Loop marshmallow treat
  • homemade malomar bar
  • Concord grape pop tart
  • alcoholic creamsicle drink
  • alcoholic holiday julep drink
Saturday:
We awoke early to head to Boston where we would see the exhibition, Class Distinctions:  Art in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.  I have always loved Dutch 17th-century painting and even minored in it as part of my graduate school studies, taking classes even with Simon Schama (who broke his leg during our semester!)   Genre paintings are my favorite and so knew there would be a lot to like in this show.

We got there around 11 a.m., and went straight to the exhibition.  It was crowded, as expected, but not so much as to be unenjoyable.  We talked to the kids about the 17th century, the rise of the middle class, Dutch trade and merchants, conventions of landscape painting (the brown-green-blue progression) and portraiture (pendants, status markers), and practiced "reading" what was happening in the various genre paintings.  There were many wonderful paintings--not only Vermeer and Rembrandt, but by Hals, Ter Borch, de Hooch, Steen, Maes, Metsu, van Ruysdael, etc.  The names meant little to the kids, but they liked some of the paintings.  Mama and I felt like we were walking through an art history text!  We had a midday snack before looking at some of the 20th century works by Pollock and Picasso at Sis's request and then browsing the bookstore.  Had to get the heavy art catalog!  

Then it was off to our second stop:  early dinner at the Publick House, where we'd eaten the before our Girl Scout overnight at Old Sturbridge Village in March (four days before my surgery.)  Again we sat by the huge and lovely fireplace, unlit in our remarkably unseasonably-warm December weather.  I had a full turkey dinner plate with butternut squash soup and Indian pudding; Mama and Bud had lobster pie and clam chowder and raspberry tart, while Sis had chicken pot pie with apple pie.  It was a lovely meal sitting in the old space cheerfully decorated for Christmas, setting the mood for our next outing.



Yep, Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village!  We hadn't been since 2012, having been three years in a row, so it seemed new and unfamiliar to the kiddos.  But for Mama and I, it was much the same;  tastings of cider, gingerbread, plum pudding, roasted chestnuts; demonstrations of tinsel making (but we never found the cornucopia making); riding the horse-drawn carriage; and watching the roaring bonfire (and each practicing taking photos.)  I liked the carol-singalong, which was a first for us this year.  Sis and Bud loved watching the potter at work, making cups and candleholders out of lumps of clay.  The potter had a wonderful kinda grumpy rapport with all the kids standing around--saying that he wasn't an artist and only made things to be useful not beautiful, that no farmer wanted to find clay, that he would have rather been a sailor, and so forth.  All the while his fingers pressed and worked the slippery stuff.  We each got to select a free clay ornament:  teapot, bunny, goose, and heart.   

We stayed much longer than we expected, almost closing the place at 9 pm, which means we got home very late.

Sunday:  

We were up early for church; I was the assistant RE teacher.  After that, we had a seafood lunch and . . . Mama and I slept for 3+ hours while the kids played!  We didn't mean to nap the day away.   Later, we finished the day with dinner and the original Miracle on 34th Street.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bittersweet

It was a bittersweet morning doing Christmas cards.  I keep a long spreadsheet of addressees and like looking over it, even if I've lost touch with many of the people and no longer send cards.  I took the radical step of paring down my list considerably; just don't feel the need to send cards to so many anymore, which makes the task more pleasurable.

But this year, it wasn't quite a pleasing walk down memory lane:  two people I've sent cards to for years died since last Christmas, my beloved Aunt Sis and my friend Sunny.  Sad not to write their names on an envelope and send them holiday wishes.

I'll keep their names on the list so that I can remember them at this time each year.  And I know it will sting a little less each year, but this morning it was hard.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Three's (Dinner for) Company

Another month, another Wildtree slow cooker workshop!  Yep, I've been to three in as many months. But you know I love cooking with a Crockpot and I like my Wildtree rep friends and their products.

It's been hit or miss, recently, though.  None of us liked the Hoisin Chicken Wraps.  Maybe because we're used to Chinatown hoisin.  Sis loves the WT Rancher's Steak Rub on roasted potatoes or even roasted broccoli.   And we've eaten several of the WT Big Meatloaves.

And now, I've had a hit with Chicken Tacos!  I thought Sis would balk at the visible tomatoes . . . but at least I didn't add the can of black beans that the original calls for!  And we love cheddar cheese and taco shells.  I can even see this as a meal I could take to someone in need.

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Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos a la Wildtree


1 1/2 to 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
1⁄2 medium onion, diced or 1 tablespoon dried shallots
15 oz can of diced tomatoes

12 oz frozen corn
2 tablespoons Wildtree Spicy Carne Asada Seasoning 
1⁄2 tablespoon lime juice (provided at workshop)
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 cup water 


Combine all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours.  Serve, perhaps using slotted spoon, in taco shells with all the fixings.

adapted from Wildtree Pollo Asada (rice bowls)


Big Meatloaf
1 lb ground beef or sweet Italian sausage
1 lb ground turkey
1 cup oatmeal or WT meatloaf packet
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup milk
ketchup for the top

Combine first six ingredients (I do add a squirt or two of ketchup to the mix.)  Top with ketchup, barbecue sauce, or even slices of bacon.  Bake at 350F for approximately an hour, until internal temperature reaches 165F.

Note:  kids might like chunks of cheddar cheese in the mix.  This would also work as meatballs or mini-meatloaves.

adapted from Wildtree Just Like Mom's Meatloaf Packet