Monday, December 31, 2007

It's Almost Over

So I finally managed to get a picture of this year's tree, albeit not a very spectacular one. I don't think this shot does our happy tree justice. Nor does it reflect my Snippet in a very flattering light. But she's a little stupefied by the Wii right there so I guess it's understandable.

Now that I look closer, that tree is looking rather bedraggled. It's no wonder, what with the three large dogs trying to crawl beneath it, the Nerf darts being shot into it and the countless hits it has taken from people standing a little too close to it while playing baseball, tennis, or bowling on the Wii. Oh well, it was never meant to be a prissy or fancy tree.

The ultimate comfort food, in my estimation. Once things quieted down around here I was overcome by the need to clean up, sit still and decompress. Shepherd's pie and beer seemed the perfect tools for such a task. They tasted better than anything has in a long time.

That is, until I took my first bite of my friend's Irish grandmother's Bread Pudding. He made this for me last year and I demanded he give me the recipe. I made it for the first time the other night and it was so heavenly! And so quick and easy to make! The perfect follow-up to the shepherd's pie. You can see in the front right corner where I had begun to nibble away at it. I had to test it before I served it, after all!

I think I'm slowly becoming ready for school, work and life as we know it to resume. I am not looking forward to saying goodbye to my sisters and niece, but we need our routine and it's better for us to be sleeping, eating and functioning normally. I'm planning on changing all the bed sheets, giving the bathrooms a good scouring and pounding out some clean laundry in the few hours left before our last night of Festivities tonight. We're having a very small, very informal New Year's Eve party here, our last Hurrah before facing reality once more.

So, we will laugh, play and feast some more before we pack up, clear away, wipe down and reset our calendars and minds. We'll say goodbye to dear ones and the old year now receding into the past and we'll look ahead to the year before us with it's adventures, pains, joys and sorrows.

Have a Happy New Year. May it be a full and fruitful.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Coming Up For Air


**Well, that is a bit of a load of crap, but I did edit, adding captions to some pics to prevent rioting in the streets due to the confusion. Just scroll down if it means enough to you.**

Just popping in for a moment for a quick chat. I'll make this short as I really don't want to take much time away from my glorious whirlwind of Holiday activities. You know, benefit galas, charity dinners, ship christenings, film festivals, amnesty tours, the usual.

I am a little tired.

But seriously? I've been spending my days with my sweat pant- or pajama-clad bottom making a nice, permanent dent in the recliner while laughing and talking with my sisters, holding my niece, and playing video games. Oh, and taking breaks to eat obscene amounts of Holiday treats. Lots of treats. By last night we all were literally craving a large, multi-colored, many-vegetabled salad. That should tell you something.

Sisters are in town with a niece and two large dogs the size of small horses in tow. My house is full and messy beyond comprehension, but we are having the best time ever. We got the kids a Wii so, of course, the adults have been spending every available moment playing with it and making the kids sulk in the corners. We've been up way too late way too many nights, talking and laughing, playing board games and gazing at our Magic Baby.

Have I mentioned the Magic Baby, more commonly known to you all as Baby Bee? She is magic, no doubt about it. She is sweet and lovely all the dang time. And she's beautiful. Seriously. Seriously beautiful. Look, I'll show you:

It's a little grainy, I know, but she's still beautiful. All we do all day (when not playing the Wii or stuffing our faces with pie, cookies, candy and the like) is look at her and laugh at her.

So, we only have 4 more days with my sisters and niece so I need to get back. I am hoping to record a lot more Christmas memories once we're into the New Year, but for now, just a few highlights, the explanations for which will have to wait until later.

Red Headed Snippet and The Viking in costume for the Christmas play at church. Did I mention the Christmas play at church? My Snippet played Allie the Alley Cat and The Viking played Grandpa Tom, the wise, old benevolent cat who shows wise-cracking, street-wise Allie the error of her mouse-chasing ways. And also fills her in on the real meaning of Christmas. The play was cute and my lovelies did a fine job. I thought my Viking looked so sweet with his rosy cheeks and whiskers, too!

All spiffed up for the Christmas Eve service. Or was this Christmas Sunday? I really can't remember as they wore the same clothes both times. Either way, they looked quite dashing, don't you think?

Magic Baby Bee looking a little drunk on Christmas morning. This is exactly how her mother, Dharma, looked in 90% of all pictures taken of her during her childhood so it's only fitting.

Look at him all shiny with anticipation. He has no idea it's just a suitcase, poor thing. I really should have put it in a smaller box to keep him from getting too excited. But he handled it pretty well and actually seems to think it's cool.

It's all about the right shades, baby.

This one was more exciting: a tabletop pinball machine he asked Santa for. He likes it a lot.

Santa was kind to Red Headed Snippet, too, bringing her a new field hockey stick bag. It has lots and lots of useful pockets and hopefully will prevent me having to run up to the practice field with forgotten cleats, shin guards, mouth guards and shorts 3 days in any given week. So, really, it's more of a gift for me.

And, because there just can't be too many pictures of the Sweetest Baby On Earth, another one of Baby Bee, "opening" her Christmas ornament. Of course you know Dharma opened it and Baby Bee just tried very earnestly to eat the paper. Which was also cute.

So there you have it.

Until next time, Happy New Year to one and all.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Dreams

I must come clean: that isn't our current Christmas tree. Our current Christmas tree is still lying, hog-tied, on our front porch, waiting to be propped up and bedecked with lovely things. This tree is from 2 (or perhaps 3) years ago. I don't seem to have any pictures of our last two trees. And our trees don't look all that different from year to year, so I figured it's not cheating too much to post a pic of this one.

I am getting tired of all the things I have to do. Each day hurtles by in a blur of stress and obligation and with each one that passes I get more and more Scroogey, thinking of all the things I want to do that are being crowded out by the things I have to do. I want to spend hours baking cookies with the children in my warm, spicy-smelling kitchen with my sleeves rolled up and flour dusted across my nose. Instead I'm spending hours in my old, beat-up car, littered with fast-food wrappers, carting my children through horrendous traffic to and from basketball practices, choir rehearsals and festival concerts. I want to graciously adorn my home with ornaments and decorations collected throughout the years, lingering indulgently over each one and savoring the memories attached to them. Instead, I'm looking dejectedly at the still-unpacked boxes of ornaments sitting in the corner, waiting in vain for me to summon the motivation to first clear away all the papers, toys and piles of laundry cluttering up the living room. I want to spend an evening strolling through quaint shops with my husband, purchasing treasures for all our dear ones before tramping back home to wrap everything up in bright paper with pretty ribbons. Instead I'm buying things on the fly at Target, either alone, with two bored, whining children in tow, or during stolen snatches of time on the computer when I should be getting much-needed sleep, and stashing the gifts in numerous squirrel holes, leaving them to be wrapped in a last-minute, bleary-eyed frenzy on Christmas Eve. I want to bask in the soft candlelight glowing from our windows as we pull into our driveway each evening. Instead, I cringe as I drive up to the house as half of the windows don't even have candles in them yet. I want Christmas music, eggnog, strong, hot pots of tea, Christmas movies on tv and this:

I want a hearth with a roaring fire blazing in it. I want to sink gratefully into a squashy, comfy chair with a new magazine or crossword puzzle book and put my feet up in front of the fire. I want the crackle, the smell of woodsmoke, the gentle glow of the flames. I want a mantle complete with a clock and a box for The Viking's pipe and tobacco. I want to drive home and see the welcoming curl of smoke from the chimney beckoning on a cold night. And I want to walk inside and see this:

A boy and his dog, playing on the rug in front of the fire. What could be better, especially at Christmas?

Instead, I've had 2 concerts, 2 basketball games, 3 dress rehearsals, 2 Bible classes, one Mother-Daughter tea, a PTA meeting and a Christmas play, with more of the same this week only with the basketball team's spaghetti dinner, Man-Cub's class Christmas party (I'm a Room Mom) and cleaning for overnight guests thrown in. We've been so busy with all our obligations we haven't had time to eat properly or get to bed on time, let alone indulge in any of the happy Christmas traditions we usually enjoy. I have yet to bake a single cookie, wrap a single present or write a single Christmas card. I still have shopping to finish, a feast to plan, songs to rehearse, and, of course, my regular duties involving keeping my family clean, clothed and fed. And time is running out.

I know all the necessary things will get done. And anything that doesn't just isn't necessary. And I know most of this is my own fault. I set such high ideals for myself, dreaming of the perfect romantic, fantasy Christmas, that I can't possibly meet my own expectations and wind up feeling disappointed.

But I also know that disappointment will evaporate the minute my sister's car pulls into the driveway and I will be reminded, once more, of what really matters at Christmas. Being reunited with loved ones, spending time with family, catching up, laughing, playing, feasting, talking. Fire or no fire, cookies or no cookies, fluffy guest towels or none, we will all be together, we will be happy and it will be a very Merry Christmas.

So, I think I am going to have to close for the Holidays. I have too much going on to be distracted by this silly blog of mine, though I know I will miss it. I may find myself with an unexpected windfall of time and, if that be the case, I may pop in and say hello or post some photos or something. But in the event that doesn't happen, I would like to wish everyone a most Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

Wishing you days that are merry and bright and heavenly, peaceful nights,
Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas Fruitcakes

Well, we are slowly but surely getting ourselves ready for Christmas. And I am slowly but surely losing my dang mind.

Two weeks until Christmas, folks. That's right, 14 short, little days. I just don't think I can stand it. There is just so much to do.

Okay, before I lose it and descend into full-blown panic, let's reassess here. I have gotten quite a few things done recently. Sunday, I managed to track down what I wanted to by for Daria (I'd been searching for weeks) and ordered it online. Then I spent the rest of the day shopping with Mom. I found these great boxes to serve as both gift wrapping and gift supplement to the candles I bought for my in-laws,

this Viking nutcracker for, who else, The Viking,

and this pair of darling black pumps for me!

I also got a gift for Cindy Lou Who (a set of realistically moving and sounding toy kitchen appliances, all pink!), one for our nephew who has everything and is immensely difficult to shop for (a handsome dresser valet), a pair of fleece pj's and slippers for EGOD and another pair of shoes for myself (brown, high-heeled booties) but I couldn't get pics of those. I think I ran out of time or something and just decided to sit down and blog, darn it!

Then, after my triumphant raid on all manner of shopping emporiums, we settled down at home and made a gingerbread tree. No, it's not a house. And, no, it's not homemade. You've probably seen the kits at A.C. Moore and thought, "what kind of poor sap loser would buy such a thing," and now you know. I'm the kind of poor sap loser who buys them.

But, we had fun! Getting the kids to cooperate for pictures wasn't easy, but I got a few presentable ones.

What expresses true Christmas spirit like a headlock?

Why, another headlock, of course (okay, an attempt at a headlock, she's still quite a bit bigger than he, and she is clearly not amused)!

They did manage a cease-fire long enough for me to get a pseudo-nice shot. Don't you just love their pasted-on fake smiles? And Red Headed Snippet's high-as-a-kite eyes? She's just high on Christmas cheer, folks, so don't leave scathing comments or anything.

So, I guess in spite of all I have left to do and all the obligations I have to fulfill, things are still progressing nicely. This week should see the end of all our required parties and, hopefully, this weekend we'll get our tree and put it up and maybe even decorate it! And at some point I intend to get some pics of the outside decorations and the finished inside (The Viking did some nice work and my fears were thankfully unjustified). But no promises. This is the last two weeks before Christmas, after all.

And now, I'm off to bed. I have a new Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion magazine, the last quarter-pint of Dove Unconditional Chocolate ice cream, fresh, clean flannel sheets and a hot-water bottle calling my name!

To all a Good Night.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Decorating in Fits and Starts

Ugh, I'm having motivational issues today. Who am I kidding, I've been having them all weekend! I'm not entirely sure what the problem is, except that I've been feeling cranky, slightly crampy and cannot get enough sleep or chocolate. Hmmm...sound at all familiar? I think I recall feeling this way juuuust about 30 days or so ago. Ick. Hey, but at least it'll be over before Christmas, not like last year, but we won't go into that...

Yesterday we joined what seemed to be 75% of New Jersey residents and spent the day blowing leaves and putting up Christmas decorations. I had to run an errand while The Viking was communing with the new leaf blower and saw no less than four other men on our street alone doing the exact same thing. Stopped in at my mothers and saw three more men doing it. I guess it was National Blow The Leaves And Deck The Halls Day! I felt like a lemming.

Because of problems I am not very enthusiastic about the decorating. Plus, The Viking decided to just decorate the outside of the house however the heck he wants to and that worries me (I have yet to go outside to see exactly what he did). We had a silly argument about colored vs. white lights and I went to bed trying not to worry about what the house might look like. I mean, come on, it's silly, right? So why does it bother me so much?

I want white candles, simple wreaths, and maybe some white lights entwined with garland. He wants net lights on the bushes, white or colored, whatever combination he happens to find, colored light bulbs in the porch lamps and strings of lights wrapped around the tree trunks. Just the trunks. I am cringing just thinking about all that. I am dreading what I'm going to find upon nightfall this evening. I fear I won't be able to resist the temptation to redo the decorations the way I want them or may just have a complete meltdown about something as inconsequential as fairy lights, neither of which is wise.

I do have a few pics of Holiday cheer to share, however.

This is, roughly, what our kitchen porch now looks like. This is actually a shot from last year, but it varies little from year to year so I don't feel like I'm cheating by showing this pic. It's just too cold for me to venture outside to get a current one right now. I'll tell you what's different, though. The white chair has been moved elsewhere, a vintage desk is in its place, and I have not yet wrapped the packages to put out there yet. Once we've unpacked our Christmas decorations I usually wrap up a few of the empty boxes (some with a brick or two inside to keep them from blowing away) in whatever wrapping paper we're using this year and display them on the porch. It saves me from having to haul the empty boxes back down to the basement and looks pretty, too! That's one of my brighter ideas, which isn't really saying much, but there it is.

I love this sled. Love it. It was another yard sale find. Have I mentioned my love of yard sales? Do you see why? Really, it's because my mother is the Yard Sale Queen. No, really, she is. She is the Go-To-Girl if you want a yard sale bargain. People call her from all over to have her take them yard saling. She's amazing. Some day when I have lots of leisure time I'll do a post just about her incredible finds, but not today. Maybe on her birthday. Anyway, someone had given me a pair of ice skates for Red Headed Snippet several years ago and I promptly wrapped them around this sled, no doubt denying my poor Snippet years of figure skating enjoyment and possible fame and fortune all for the sake of a charming vignette. Ah, such is life.

In case you were wondering what that sign says. We put this up every year even though it clatters horribly against the siding when the wind blows and startles us all to bits. You'd think we'd get used to it, but no.

I think I've made a decision about the dining room centerpiece. Everyone in the house has voted this one as their favorite, but I still find myself eyeing it critically whenever I walk through the room. It just seems to need a little something...

This is one of my prized possessions, a vintage Santa Claus bank my father gave to Man-Cub for his very first Christmas in 2001. It was given to my father by his grandfather for his first Christmas back in 1948 so it has great tradition and sentimental value. My mother always brought it down ceremoniously from the attic and put it in pride of place on top of the piano each Christmas and we were never, never, never allowed to touch it! I remember loving it as a child and getting close enough to breathe on it, but never lay a finger on it, so I could admire it. I was thrilled to pieces when it was handed down to Man-Cub and now I bring it out with the same pomp and solemnity as my mother did. I admit, I'm a little nervous about having it out in such an accessible place, which might be what's bothering my about having it there, but I want to be out where it can be enjoyed. Man-Cub has been stowing pennies in it, though he doesn't know the plug is long gone. There's going to be a great pile of pennies sitting on that tray when we lift the bank to put it away!

That's all I have for now, decor-wise or Christmas-wise. The kids and I are supposed to finish putting the rest of the stuff out, but we'll see. The Snippet has basketball practice and I have to get caught up with laundry and grocery lists, but hopefully we'll get to it.

I leave you today with photos both sweet and discomfiting. Red Headed Snippet had her school's annual Snow Dance last night. I may be a wee bit biased, but I think she looked smashing and way older than her years. As one friend put it, The Viking better start carrying around a big stick!

Here's my not-so-little girl in all her splendor:

Have I mentioned she's twelve? Yes, we know we're in big, bad trouble.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hooray for Marshall's

First of all, I feel I should mention that the above photos show the tragic results of 3 consecutive half-days of school combined with unlimited access to 2 bags of M&Ms. The half-days were due to Parent-Teacher conferences this week. The M&Ms were my doing. I thought it would be festive and fun to have some of the Holiday variety in the house. That was yesterday. Both bags are now gone. And while I confess to doing my part in obliterating said bags of kiddie crack, I did not do it alone. Suffice it to say Man-Cub has spent the better part of the past two days pinging about the house and getting himself scolded at surprisingly frequent intervals. And I am tired. When will I ever learn?

On a happier and slightly escapist note, I managed to unearth a few lovely trinkets at the archaeological dig that is the clearance rack at Marshall's the other day.

These pine-scented candles and candle rings are just the thing for my wedding-gift silver candlesticks!

Christmas crackers can be hard to find, but this year I stumbled across a bunch that even match my decor!

I couldn't pass up these sparkly beaded strawberry ornaments. Now, I'm just trying to decide whether to put them on the tree or keep them on display in the dining room year-round.

And finally, these boxes of be-sparkled beaded fruits. I've decided they're going to mingle with a delightful array of pine cones as part of a most becoming centerpiece arrangement. I just haven't decided which container to use.

I could use some opinions on the matter. Should I use this vintage Coca-Cola tray my mom got for me at a garage sale?

It is currently being used in such a manner for my Harvest centerpiece.

Or should I use what I did last year and pile everything up in this lovely compote (also a garage sale find from Mom)? I truly cannot decide. Any thoughts or suggestions?

While we're on the topic of deciding things, I also need to find something to go along with these candles as Christmas gifts for my in-laws.

These candles are amazing. My second cousin makes them herself, they're soy so they burn clean and the wax left in the jar washes out easily with just soap and water, and they smell exactly like they're supposed to. The lilac smells like lilac, the jasmine smells like jasmine and the lemon oatmeal crisp...well, you get the idea. I bought several for our home and decided they'd make great Christmas gifts for those people I never know how to shop for. I bought one each for The Viking's mother, sister, sister-in-law and niece, but I think they need to be paired with something else to make a suitable gift. I'd like to find something homemade, but am not sure where to look. I did think about baking something yummy to go with them, but most of my in-laws have food allergies so edibles aren't usually a good way to go. I would be most open to any ideas!

On that note, I must be off. The Viking was peeking over my shoulder as I was editing this and seemed a little put out that I didn't share with him the pretty things from Marshall's I'm so excited about. So, I'd better go show them to him.

Besides, The Office is on. Even if it is a re-run...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Aftermath

Mmmmmm...leftovers. This is all that I have left to show for my efforts. As you can see I don't like to invest in glamorous storage containers for food. Two bags of turkey bits, a half-pan of dressing, small bowls of both mashed and sweet
potatoes, one sorry slice of chocolate pie and most of the second pumpkin pie (YES). The first pumpkin pie and the pecan were obliterated pretty much immediately, as were the gravy and Brussels sprouts, go figure.

Well, we've enjoyed the feast, braved the crowds, hit a few Holiday sales and now we've settled down into our traditional Thanksgiving weekend stupor. We've rented dvds, slept late each morning, played lots of computer games, eaten what we want when we want, left dishes waiting to be put away (some are still in the dishwasher),

and let the children leave their stuff all over the dining room table (among other places).

There is, of course, much more evidence I could show you, but I don't think any of us have the time or courage for that. Suffice it to say those pics were the only ones I felt I could share without irreversibly incriminating myself.

Thanksgiving itself was very much a success. No one misbehaved, nothing got burned, dropped or splattered, conversation was easy and laughter was abundant. It was all good. But I think my favorite part was the making of the Appetizer. I decided it would be a character-building experience for the children to be forced to prepare at least one dish for the Thanksgiving feast. They weren't crazy about the idea, but I think they will look back on it someday and be grateful. And as far as slave labor goes, it wasn't bad. They were given everything they needed, all the ingredients, explicit, easy-to-follow instructions, and the careful supervision of a benevolent parent and guide (that would be me, breathing down their necks the entire time).

Here they are, assembling the Orange-Almond Bites appetizer out of Triscuits, Brie, orange marmalade and sliced almonds.

Man-Cub, who is nobody's fool, remained resentful to the end, but Red Headed Snippet decided to go with the flow and enjoy herself.

She even went as far as to sprinkle leftover almonds all over the plate for presentation. Ta-da!

Those bites were yummy.

My contribution to the group effort was taste-testing the Brie.

And The Viking? Well, in between helping me in the kitchen, blowing the leaves down the driveway and running to the store for last-minute items, he managed to accomplish this:

That's right! The coat cupboard is in! It still needs doors and a few finishing touches, but our stuff is contained and corralled! It felt so good to be able to tell the kids, "Hang up your coats," when we came home last night. I told you my husband is a marvel, right? Didn't I tell you?

So, I know that's a lot of pictures to take in at once, but before I go, I'll leave you with one more. I didn't get any pics of the actual feast or the motley crew assembled to partake of it, but I did get this one that I think captures the essence of Thanksgiving just about perfectly:

Little Cindy Lou Who, who is no more than two, sucking down a plate of homemade whipped cream.

Hope your Thanksgiving was just as yummy.