Wednesday, December 24, 2008

This is Not a Drill!

Here we go! It's Red Alert, all systems go, everybody MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE!

Ah, Christmas Eve, that blessedly serene evening of silence and calm. Maybe, if you're a priest serving in a small village in Austria in 1816 (as was Fr. Joseph Mohr, writer of the poem, "Stille Nacht," which became our beloved "Silent Night". But not if you're a disorganized, dumpy American woman with a short attention span and even shorter fuse preparing Christmas Dinner for 8 people.

I guess it could be worse. Heck, I know it has been worse! But I've got one hour left in which to finish 4 pies and dry 3 lbs of bread cubes. So what on earth am I doing sitting here? Relax, I'm eating a very late breakfast and the bread cubes will dry while we're at church anyway.

We have to be at church tonight at 4:00 as The Viking and I are singing for both services. I know it will be fine, but it's taking up 5 hours of precious time I'd rather use in preparation for tomorrow. Sigh. The price of fame, darling. KIDDING.

But TOMORROW...oh I'm squirming in my seat in anticipation! There are so many surprises for the kids I just cannot wait! It's been very hard for me to not tell you what they are, but Redheaded Snippet occasionally reads this and I don't want to take any chances of giving it away! But it's gonna be GREAT!

So, I must get back to my pies, stuffing and cranberry sauce! Then tonight after church I will chop, dice, slice, peel and get Mr. Tom ready to be roasted.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Back to Reality

I don't know what kind of fantasy land I was living in the past few days, but I've returned to the real world with a spectacularly rough, nasty landing that rattled my teeth and snapped me back to my senses.

A short time after my post this morning, I had decided to astound my family on Christmas Day with the most delectable beef tenderloin they have ever tasted. I was even contemplating making Yorkshire pudding with it. I spent hours sipping peppermint tea and happily scrolling through recipes on, lost in reverie, imagining the squeals and gasps of delight when the main course was set on the heavily laden Christmas table.

But then, my children came home from school and my dreamy bubble burst. Redheaded Snippet began peppering me with demands involving her all-consuming social life.

"So-and-so is having jailbreak tomorrow night, can I go? He needs an answer."
"I need to go get Christmas presents for all my friends. Tonight."
"BFF needs me to come over tonight to help her make a card for her sort-of-boyfriend."
"Youth group is going Christmas caroling tonight and I haven't been there in like a month."

How on earth did she expect to go shopping, Christmas caroling, and over to BFF's house all in one evening? The girl is almost as delusional as her mother!

Then, horror of horrors, I took the kids shopping. Redheaded Snippet had to get all her friends gifts tonight because tomorrow is the last day of school before Christmas break. And since she hadn't gotten anything for The Viking yet we decided to get that done as well. And since my mom is in Chicago visiting with Dharma and Daria and The Viking was at the fire station tonight, I had no choice but to take Man-Cub with us.

I have never wanted to hogtie my son more than I wanted to tonight. You know that mother you hear at the store repeatedly hissing at her child to stop touching that, get over here, just knock it off? You know the one? The one you can't wait to get away from, the one you roll your eyes at as soon as you're out of her line of vision? I was that mother tonight. I was so embarrassed. You would think my son had never been allowed out in public before, the way he was behaving. He was grabbing everything, pestering his sister, jumping into the cart, wandering off, trying to climb shelves...and when he wasn't doing any of those things, he was calling my name about 75 times a minute, "Mommommommommommommommommom"!

Somehow, we got the shopping done and I managed not to attack anyone. But now it's 11:00, The Viking still isn't home, Redheaded Snippet is still at BFF's house (BFF's parents are bringing her home), I'm exhausted and still have the entire downstairs to tidy for a new friend who is coming to visit tomorrow morning, I have yet to buy a single item for Christmas dinner and Man-Cub, who was supposed to be asleep hours ago, is still calling to me from the stairs. My head is pounding so bad I gave in and let him bring his blanket down to the couch.

So, in this glaring light of reality I have realized my folly in thinking I was going to be able to create an all-new, fancy and special menu for Christmas Day. Who am I kidding? I'm just going to suck it up and make a turkey and the rest of Thanksgiving Dinner Redux. Now I just have to hope I can find a fresh turkey somewhere tomorrow afternoon. With my kids in tow. Again.

Where's the eggnog and brandy...?

Porridge and Other Comestibles is a porridge day! Now, from late Spring to mid-Autumn here in southern New Jersey, the air is so thick with humidity that it resembles porridge. But, in the winter, it gets nicely frigid enough to necessitate eating porridge in order to fortify oneself properly for the long, cold day ahead. Today is just that kind of day. It's 17 degrees outside and the wind is blowing with an angry bluster all about the house. The wind actually woke me a few times in the night and keeps making the wreaths on the outside of the windows (which, miraculously, have not blown away) scratch furiously against the glass, startling me.

But I have nowhere to go today and am snuggled up with my cozy slippers, my warm, red plaid robe, a big bowl of porridge and a hot cup of tea. Of course, the tea. I drink tea even in the summer. But it is especially lovely in the winter. Do you like porridge? I know, I know, we Americans call it oatmeal. But, to me, "oatmeal" calls to mind images of little envelopes of dried-up, overly-sweet, over-processed, preserved flakes of cardboard that get soggy and lifeless when you pour a little water from the kettle on them. You know what I mean, right? I hate that stuff. It tastes terrible.

"Porridge" is quite a different animal altogether. The very word sounds more homey and cozy. There are no "instant" or "peaches-n-cream" (which tastes nothing like peaches or cream), or "weight-loss" or "reduced sugar" varieties. It is just pure, unadulterated, perfect-in-their-simplicity oats. You have to boil it, whether for an hour or just a few minutes, and its smooth blandness provides the perfect opportunity for personalization. You can add almost anything you want to it, your taste buds are the only limitations! The Viking likes it sweet and chunky with nuts, dried fruits, maple sugar and/or honey. I like it creamy and salty, like the Scots eat it (so I hear). A big dab of butter and a liberal sprinkling of salt are all I need to be in porridge heaven.

I used to buy Irish or Scottish steel-cut oats, which, in my opinion, are the Rolls-Royce of porridges, but they do tend to be expensive so I've compromised by buying the store brand of Old Fashioned Oats. They are, to be truthful, not steel-cut oats, but they are a far cry from instant, ridiculously flavored dust envelopes.

Now, I have heard that you can make perfectly blissful porridge practically effortlessly in the Thermowell of any Chambers stove. Allegedly, before you go to bed at night you can just dump the oats with a certain amount of water or milk (I always use milk; there just is no point in eating porridge made with water) and salt right into the pot, lower it into the well, put the lid on and go off to bed without even turning the gas on. And, also allegedly, the oats magically cook themselves simply from the heat of the pilot light while you are in sweet slumber, dreaming of the smooth, silky, sexy oats plumped by a nice, long milk bath that will greet you first thing in the morning when you lift the Thermowell lid. I have yet to try this wonder. I agree it is scandalous that I have had this stove for two winters and have never utilized its magic porridge-making capabilities, but, obviously, the problem lies not with the stove, but its owner. I admit, I am not organized enough to make preparations for breakfast the night before. I know it would make my life so much easier, would increase the likelihood of the entire family being able to sit down to breakfast together, and make me feel like Mother of The Year, but I can't do it. I can barely make sure there are clean clothes and towels for the next morning and see to it that homework is in folders and in backpacks before dragging myself off to bed. But I am getting sidetracked...

Usually, I think of putting oats in the Thermowell as I'm turning over to fall asleep. And by then, only the smoke alarm or the wail of one of my children can pry me from my bed. Oh well...maybe someday.

So, now that I have written an entire post about the wonders of porridge, let's move on to what can only be a more scintillating topic (there's nowhere to go but up, am I right?): Christmas dinner!

What are you having for your Holiday feast? What is the traditional menu in your home? Is it Prime Rib? Rack of Lamb? Honey-Glazed Ham? Turduckin? Or Thanksgiving Dinner Part II like in our family?

We have always had the same things for Christmas Dinner that we just had a short month ago for Thanksgiving Dinner. I never understood that, personally. There was never any variety! Never! I understand having to have turkey for Thanksgiving; I could never imagine that any other way. But Christmas? Christmas seemed like an opportunity to something else special.

It may, perhaps, be related to my general taste for turkey. I know it's unAmerican, but I'm not wild about turkey. Oh, I like it enough to enjoy one day a year, but if something were to go dreadfully wrong and, say, the dog ate half of the turkey before it made it to the table, or the bird turned out to be otherwise ruined and Thanksgiving had to go on without it, I wouldn't complain. Unless I had been the one to spend $30 on the ruined meat.

Which brings me to my other point. If I'm going to spend $30plus on meat, maybe I want to spend it on meat that I would actually order if I were in a fancy restaurant. I have never ordered roast turkey when eating out, not once. I don't like it enough for that. So why would I spend that kind of money on something I'm just kind of ambivalent about?

I know, I know, I'm not the only one eating on Christmas Day. But, I've actually asked around this year and no one seems to be horrified at the idea of having something in place of the turkey. Especially given the possibilities of alternatives I am considering.

If I were a more experienced cook, I would consider a roast goose. I've always wanted to try it, it sounds so festive and Charles Dickens-ish! But I've heard it can be gamey and I don't think I want to experiment too much on Christmas Day.

I was leaning very much toward Prime Rib before The Viking informed me he doesn't like it. I was all astonishment, I must say. What red-blooded Viking man doesn't like Prime Rib, I ask you? But, he doesn't like it, and as I cook largely to please his palate, it was sadly eliminated.

Then there's lamb. I find this terrifyingly intimidating. I love lamb (not to be confused with I love lamp) but turn all puddly when faced with even the notion of preparing it. Probably because it is one of The Viking's all-time favorite foods on the planet ever. He had a Henry VIII-sized hunk of lamb at a pub our first night in England and every meal since that fateful day has been measured against that one...and come up painfully short, I might add. He was never more Vikingish than he was tearing into that lamb.

Our final nominee is the just-as-tasty, just-as-fancy, but much less intimidating Tenderloin of Beef. And, I can't help but think, "Arise, Sir Loin of Beef. Arise, Earl of Cloves. Arise, Duke of Brittingham. Arise, Baron of Munchhausen. Arise, Essence of Myrrh...Milk of Magnesia...Quarter of Ten." Somehow, Beef Tenderloin seems a bit of a cop-out to me. I know, I must be crazy. Beef Tenderloin has done nothing to deserve such malignment. Who doesn't love Beef Tenderloin? I know, vegetarians, but we don't have any in the family so that is a moot point.

Well, considering this is Monday, December 22 and Christmas is a scant THREE DAYS AWAY (how can this be??? It was just Halloween!) I'd better get my rear in gear! Maybe any of you reading this can help me out...I think I need a poll! You may have seen it already and wondered, "What the...?", it's up at the top of the page, up there on the right. Got it? Let me know what you think, especially if you know me and my capabilities and limitations!

On that note, I'm off to wallow in the miseries of my woeful time-management skillz, or lack thereof. I want to find a stellar pie crust recipe and make several to have ready for pie baking tomorrow afternoon. I need to make beds, clean the bathrooms and sweep the floors. I will probably wander around aimlessly trying to decide what to do first before escaping by taking a nap or playing some mindless game like Spider Solitaire and hate myself the rest of the day. It's anybody's guess, really.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I really need a working camera

Okay, I've been putting things off blog-wise because I'm in a sulk about not having a way to post photos.

But enough is enough and even I know you can't put something off forever.

So, please bear in mind this post would be so much more interesting, nay, exciting even, if I were able to make use of visual aids. And forgive me, in advance, for boring you stupid.

First, the Christmas gift crafts are done! Oh yes they are! And I am experiencing much wailing and gnashing of teeth, on the inside, because I can't share photos of these. They turned out so well!

We made silhouettes of the kids for my in-laws. I think I got the idea here (and more on this link later). They are impossible to buy for because they have everything and look down their noses at everything. Oh yeah, and they do not like me and like to passive-aggressively vent those feelings by being at their absolute worst at Christmas. They're such a delight. And yet, I slaved over a homemade gift for them, one that I would actually rather keep for myself now that it's finished and is so gorgeous (don't you wish you could see it?). I like to give them gifts that use the theme of their grandchildren because a) they are the one good thing I have done and can get credit for and b) even they won't make any disparaging remarks about a gift that is largely comprised of images of them.

I took profile photos of the kids (using Redheaded Snippet's camera before it died), cut them out, traced them on good-quality black paper, mounted them on good-quality white paper, and put them in a fancy black double frame I got at 50% off (hello, Michael's). They look terrific. Absolutely spiffing.

We also made ornaments for everyone else we need a "token" gift for. The kids have lots of aunts and uncles, a few great-aunts, and two great-grandmothers so we usually have them make something (with a lot of help). Again, who can complain about a homemade gift from a child? And it's good for the kids and can be lots of fun if you time it right.

I got a recipe for Cinnamon Ornaments from Martha Stewart. You mix together heaps of cinnamon with a bit o' cloves, a bit o' nutmeg, some applesauce (yes, applesauce) and a smattering of good ol' fashioned Elmer's glue. Yes, that's right, glue. So don't eat the dough. Although I can safely inform you that Man-Cub was able to determine with absolute certainty that it will not hurt you if you do. He would be that kid in Kindergarten who eats the paste.

After kneading the dough until it resembles slightly sticky modeling clay, and discovering a latent but decided allergy to cinnamon (fun!) in the process, roll it out between two pieces of wax paper until it's about 1/3 inch thick. Did you know there is no measure of 1/3 on a ruler? Do you know how much that bothered me the entire time I was making these things? Anyway, then you cut the dough into whatever shapes float your boat. We happened to have a set of Christmas-themed cookie cutters so we used those. Then you let them dry for two days. Or, if you're like me and are impatient and/or running out of time to finish the project, you can stick them in a 200 degree oven until they're dried out, being sure to turn them over regularly so they don't warp or get nifty little grooves from the cooling rack on one side. Fortunately, I have a super-spiffy oven (I'm rubbing it in a little) so I just heated the oven to 200 degrees, turned the gas off and left the rack in there while I went about my business.

After the drying process was finished, we got out our little cheap paintbrushes and some acrylic paints and painted all 49 of the little suckers. Everyone helped and we all had fun! And I haven't even told you the best part! There is so much cinnamon in those things, they smelled up the entire house for days! And the ornaments themselves smell like cinnamon! Obviously I haven't tested this theory yet, but I've heard the smell lasts for years and can even be refreshed with a light sanding or application of cinnamon oil on the backs of the ornaments. Cool, huh?

So, I finished attaching raffia to them (after The Viking accommodatingly drilled little holes in all of them for me) and packing them in tissue paper and cardboard boxes last night so that project is also done. How I wish I could share photos! They turned out so cute and it's so much fun to see the different ways the kids decorated them! I might make another batch over the weekend, to leave hanging around the house unpainted for maximum aroma. I might even make a few to hang on my rear-view mirror or tuck under the seats in the car!

The other reason I am bemoaning the absence of a working camera is MY FAIRY DOOR ARRIVED! It came two days ago and I tried to get joyous pictures of it, but the battery died just as I was clicking away...wah. It is adorable and I love it and it even brought a smile to The Viking's face.

Linda over at Restyled Home (see? I told you we'd be revisiting this link) sent it along with a lovely card and a bonus silvery, glittery Eiffel tower ornament thrown in. Redheaded Snippet was especially taken with that and I have a feeling she might steal it when she gets the chance. And just to refresh your memory, here's another shot of it, before it made its trip south of the border.

I can happily say it looks just as lovely in my home as it does in this photo. The trip did not damage it in any way.

In other, numbingly boring, news, I have to take the kids out shopping this afternoon and I'm not looking forward to it. I really hate shopping. I did most of the Christmas shopping online this year and, trust me, that is the way to go if you can. No cranky people in long lines or fighting over parking spaces, no horrifying Christmas music that makes me want to break things, no wandering through overheated stores staggering under the weight of my wool coat or trying to keep track of my squirrelly seven-year-old. But this afternoon, that's what I get to immerse myself in. Man-Cub, who actually felt bad when he finished his daily counting of the presents and found himself to have more gifts than his sister, has asked me to take him out to get her something. This should be good. Normally, he acts like he hates her, but when he decides to get a gift, he's remarkably sentimental about it. Good thing I have a clean hankie in my purse.

Redheaded Snippet also has some shopping to do. She needs a gift for The Viking and, of course, wants to get little things for her BFFs. Which means I get to go out twice with two different children today. But I guess that's better than embarking on one marathon shopping expedition with both of them.

Oh yeah, and somewhere in all the last minute preparations I have to undertake (planning for our trip to NY tomorrow, practicing our duet for the Christmas Eve Service, finishing the tree, cleaning the house, wrapping the presents that have yet to arrive in the mail, planning and shopping for the feast), I have to figure out what we're going to eat on all the other days besides Christmas and go get the necessary supplies. I guess I'd better get to my menu planning and get some shoes on.

Once again, I apologize for the sad lack of photos. Maybe Santa will bring me some batteries for Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Flashback to a Week Before Christmas

*I wrote this several days ago, but the computer went screwy when I tried to publish and then I promptly forgot about it until today. But I'm going to post it anyway. Just think of it as a flashback!

Alright. It's one week until Christmas. But I don't need to tell anyone that, though, do I?

Are we all ready? I'm not, but I'm getting there! The shopping is done, even if the packages haven't all arrived yet (beginning to get a wee bit nervous, although I just spied the Mail Man heading down the other side of the street so I'm crossing my fingers). The gifts being made are almost finished being made. And the feast has been planned. I still have the shopping to do for the feast, but that can't be finished until shortly before the big day.

The Viking and I instituted a tradition of having a big, special Christmas brunch with just our immediate family when we were married. Dinner is always with extended family (mine), but Christmas morning and brunch is always just us. You see, The Viking specializes in brunch. I don't know how he does it, but no one makes eggs, bacon, sausage or fried potatoes like he does. I am the Mistress of Pancakes, one of the few foods I seem to have a supernatural knack for, but everything else is The Viking's. I always tell him he could put a sign out in front of our house every Saturday morning, "HOME-COOKED BREAKFAST. MADE TO ORDER. WHILE YOU WAIT." He'd make a fortune. And now that our children are 13 and 7, brunch has truly become a tradition, one they look forward to and cannot imagine Christmas without.

So, in the interest of simplifying Christmas this year, we have pared down the brunch without making it any less special. The Viking is making the eggs, of course, but I, instead of making my famous pancakes, am making my newly famous sausage rolls. Okay, in all fairness, they're not my famous sausage rolls. The recipe is actually Bob Evans'. But I didn't know that when I first made them. I make them all the time for Daria whenever we have one of our tea orgies and now they've earned a spot in the Christmas brunch menu, Bob Evans or not! Would you like the recipe? It's wickedly easy (one of the reasons I make them so often). Sure you would!

Wickedly Easy Sausage Rolls

1. Take one tube refrigerated crescent rolls and unroll without separating the pieces, pressing the perforations together to make a large rectangle of dough (Pillsbury now makes their crescent dough in one solid piece like this; I guess someone tipped them off). Turn rectangle so a long side is facing you (so...horizontally?).

2. Open one log of loose sausage meat (such as Bob Evans or Jimmy Dean) in whichever variety you prefer and spread it evenly on top of the dough, leaving a 1/4 to 1/2 inch edge on one of the long sides.

3. Roll the dough horizontally toward the long side with the edge and press to seal.

4. Cut with serrated knife into 1/2 to 1 inch slices, being careful not to squish slices.

5. Place slices on cookie sheet (prepared with either cooking spray or parchment) and bake according to directions on the package of crescent rolls or until dough is lightly browned and sausage is no longer pink.

Best enjoyed with a pot of tea and a freshly-baked scone with clotted cream and lemon curd.

You know, that gives me an idea: we always have cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, but I'm getting tired of making them from a can and my last attempt at making them myself was less than spectacular (unless you consider it a spectacular disaster, which it was) so I'm thinking maybe I'll just make scones instead! I make deadly good scones, especially if I add a little lemon zest or ginger to them...oooooohhhh yeeeeeeees I think that's just the thing.

Well, I must be off. I have more I'd like to share, but I have absolutely no camera access lately and, honestly, it depresses me. The situation will probably be rectified by Christmas as I can't imagine The Viking getting through a holiday without a working camera, so hopefully, I will be able to catch up soon.

Until then, I'm off to do laundry, tidy up and continue to paint some ornaments...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Whew, my head is spinning!

Okay, I'm too worn out to be brilliantly amusing this evening. You'll just have to do without.

It's been very busy around here (as I'm sure you can all understand, except you annoying people who had all your gifts bought, wrapped in vintage wrapping paper, trimmed with homemade gift tags and arranged artfully underneath your beautifully decorated, sparkling Christmas tree by November 28th).

Christmas preparations are progressing nicely. I do not yet feel that urge to crawl into a hole and hide until January 5th. But we're down to the last 10 days so if things are going to get really hairy, it's going to happen any moment.

We had a hideously busy week last week with two double-header basketball games, a Winter Concert and other things I had to attend but kind of sleep-walked through. I really hate all the obligatory activities we seem to have no choice but to be involved with every year at Christmas. Every organization one has any affiliation with has to have a Christmas party and one has to attend them all, lest one be thought of as a Scrooge or snob or loser. Well, maybe it's about time to just let people just think we're losers cause The Viking and I decided last night to institute a Thank-You-But-No policy for Christmas parties from this point henceforth and forthwith (whatever that means, it sound official). But that won't really help us because the biggest offender of the crime of stealing my precious time at Christmas is the school and we can't drop out of that. Cause if I homeschooled my kids, they'd be morons!

This week is a bit better but not by much. And we have to go visit with the in-laws at the end of the week so that casts a definite pall over every day leading up to it. I'm making their gifts so, obviously, I have to have them finished by Friday night and that will take up any time I'm not running Redheaded Snippet back and forth to and from the school.

The good news is we've gotten our tree, most of our shopping is done and, as soon as The Viking returns from the grocery store, I'll have all the ingredients I need to start making our Christmas crafts! I wanted to get the ornaments baked tonight so they'd be dry in time to paint them before we go away Saturday, but if he gets back too late, I may just have to do them tomorrow.

We've managed to do what we've always said we're going to do and have simplified things this year. The kids aren't getting much, but they're getting things they really want. I'd tell you what those things are, but Redheaded Snippet likes to read this from time to time so I can't take any chances (Hi, Sweetie, and nice try)! We're preparing a smaller feast, a smaller Traditional Christmas Brunch and are making more of the gifts this year (though I don't believe for a minute that it has saved us any money--if I told you what we spent at Michael's today...).

All I have left is my Secret Santa gift (I have my BIL, Lenny), one gift for Man-Cub, a few stocking stuffers, a gift for EGOD, the ornaments to bake, my in-laws gift to finish, and the Christmas Dinner Menu to prepare, but as that is very similar to the Thanksgiving menu, that will be pretty easy.

Hmmmm, that actually sounds like a lot! I guess I'm not as ready as I thought I was! But it's better than I usually am, so that's progress!

Well, it's that time again. Time to log off and get something productive done around here. I think I hear The Viking in the driveway which means it's baking time for me!

Off to scurry around my Christmas workshop!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

You'll never believe what I heard!

So, last night was the first basketball game of the 2008-2009 Season at our school. Redheaded Snippet is Captain so I went with great anticipation to see her play. There was so much excitement in the air, our girls won (39-20 I believe), and Redheaded Snippet scored 21 points! It was so much fun!

Sitting on crowded bleachers at a basketball game is always interesting because I always overhear things. Sometimes I catch up on the latest in-school drama. Sometimes I hear not-so-nice things about other people I really would rather not hear. But sometimes I get to hear nice, flattering things about Redheaded Snippet (thankfully, the only things I've ever heard about her have been good things).

Last night was one of those times. I happened to sit among people who didn't know who I am or whose mother I am, so their comments were completely uncensored and unsolicited. And by the time the game ended, I was fairly bursting with pride. Redheaded Snippet played excellently and there were lots of comments about her skill, speed, talent, and how much she's improved. But those weren't the comments I was proudest of, though they were nice to hear.

What made me well up with grateful tears were the comments I heard about my Snippet's character. I know, at a basketball game, people were talking about her character. One man said something about her speed and the woman next to him added, "And she's humble, too. I heard her Captain's speech and she told the team they can come to her about anything, even if it isn't about basketball. She's really sweet." Then, another woman, sitting elsewhere, made a comment about how she handles the ball and her friend said, "She's the one who is really nice to the younger girls."

It might not sound like much to you, but to me it was sweet music to my ears. There is a long, sad history of our school's team captains being arrogant, rude and disrespectful. Instead of displaying good sportsmanship, supporting the coaching staff and encouraging younger players, our best athletes have used their captain status as an excuse for prancing around strutting their stuff, making sure no one forgets they are better than everyone else because they are Captain. They undermined the authority of the coaches, picked on younger or less skilled players, and played their sport with the aim of getting as many goals, baskets or runs as they could.

Two years ago, when Redheaded Snippet suffered so much at the hands of the field hockey, basketball and softball captains, she decided she was going to do things differently when she got into eighth grade. And now, she's doing it. As one of the senior members of the teams, she refuses to tolerate any bullying of younger players. She makes a point of helping those with less skill and encouraging those with less confidence. She keeps her ego in check and reminds everyone on the team that they are all equally important. And, on the court last night, they played as a team, not as an insecure group of girls all vying for control of the ball.

Maybe the team will go all the way to the championship this year. Maybe Redheaded Snippet will set a personal record for points in a basketball game, or even a school record. Maybe she'll be named MVP. All that stuff would be great, and I would be proud of her, but as far as I'm concerned, all that pales in comparison to what I now know her reputation to be. I just couldn't be prouder.

Oh the things you overhear sometimes!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

You want photos? I got photos!!!!

Well, we're getting into the Holiday Mood over here at our Wits' End!

We've started putting up decorations, a wee, leetle bit at a time. I've gotten a big tin of Christmas tea and we've been sipping cups and cups of it while singing along to Christmas music and placing Christmas knick knacks here and there!

And, of course, the snow helps...

That's right, SNOW! It's no winter wonderland, but it was certainly enough to dust the region with a lovely layer of sparkle and charm. Snow before Christmas is always news here in South Jersey! How I wish I had photos!

Speaking of photos, gueeeeeeeeeess what else has helped tremendously to encourage that festive spirit?

Snow Dance Photos!

There they are, in all their glory! That's The Date. He's very nice boy from a very nice family. And don't I just sound like a mother?

It's blurry, I know, but something was wrong with Mom's camera. Here, you get a general idea of what her dress looked like. And can you make out her sparkly silver shoes?

The back of her dress. The straps were a bit long and kept slipping down her shoulders so I went to a thrift store and bought a rhinestone brooch and used it to clip the straps in the back. It worked like a charm and looked like it was made that way! Pay no attention to the load of laundry behind her (at least it's clean)!

A blurry close-up shot for your enjoyment. Even through the blur, isn't she lovely?

From blurry to grainy...this is one of the few that caught her at a candid moment when she wasn't concentrating on hiding her braces.

The Hair. Mom did it. Amazing, huh?

I don't think you can tell in this shot, but she had little rhinestones "screwed" in among her curls.

The Date was pretty nervous and both of them quite obviously felt very awkward, but they had a good time. They must have because he invited her to the mall yesterday (she declined) and they've been IMing all day long. But she insists they're just friends!

Being announced at the dance.

Thankfully, I taught her how to take a gentleman's arm and walk in heels.

There they are, the eighth-grade graduating class of 2008. I told you it was a small school!

The Fab Four at the pre-dance party...

...showing us the backs of their dresses...

...and a little leg...

Being 13-year-old girls...


Can't you just tell they had a blast? They were a little weepy as this is their last big dance before they leave for high school, but they didn't let it ruin their night. Part of me is glad it's over and another part is feeling wistful myself. I remember most of those kids from Kindergarten and now they're growing up. Ah, I sound so old!

Well, the week ahead is tremendously busy with basketball dinners, double-header basketball games, winter concerts and the first of our inevitably many Christmas parties. Plus, the hockey team is being recognized at this month's Board of Education meeting on Tuesday and I have to bake 4 dozen cookies and cupcakes for the concert Thursday night!

Tonight, I have to catch up on laundry (it never ends) and do the week's grocery shopping so we can hit this week head on and prepared!

I'd better go finish my lists!

P.S. Blogger's spell-check isn't working so I apologize for any typos or grammatical faux pas I may have missed!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Tonight, Tonight, Won't Be Just Any Night...

Oh, there is excitement in the air! The very dust particles seem to be vibrating with it!

Tonight is the Snow Dance. Our school has a big, fat, important dance every year the first week of December for the junior high fry. The girls get manicures and sparkly shoes and fancy dresses and the boys wear suits and some of them even pair up and "go together". You know, corsages, boutonnieres, "I'll pick you up at 6:00," "Will he hold my hand," that sort of thing. And it's tonight.


We have, of course, been preparing for weeks and Redheaded Snippet is beside herself with anticipation. Her dress is shimmery midnight blue, her shoes are sparkling silver and she has a very nice date, but they're going as friends even though she's pretty sure he likes her. You know, likes her likes her.

Much of the eighth grade has paired up and watching the rituals has been most amusing. And adorable, but don't you tell any of them I said so. The girls are, obviously, traveling in packs and doing everything they can to scout out willing young gentlemen and encourage them to ask this or that girl who would be the perfect date for them. But, you know, the boys are not above using this tactic either. Friends have been playing scout and messenger all week long.

"Hey, I hear you're going to the Snow Dance with__________!"

"What? No, I'm not..."

"Well...would you if, you know, he/she, like, asked you/wanted you to ask her or something?"

"Sure, I guess" (OR, "Uh, not really...I'm just going with my friends.")

Conversations like these have been taking place all over town.

So, Mom is doing Snippet's hair, she did her mani/pedi last night and I have to run all over the county today looking for last-minute necessary items and make sure the house is clean enough for pictures when The Date and his parents arrive this evening (cause it will be too dark for outside photos).

I assure you, I will have scads of photos to share. Mom always sees to that. And The Viking will have the personal motivation to email them to his parents so he will see to it that they get into the computer.

I admit, I'm a little excited myself!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


So, I've been feeling rather schlumpy since the passing of Thanksgiving, but things seem to be turning around. Of course, it is Wednesday, so things can't be all that great today, but a turn-around is still a turn-around.

Last night, I fell asleep while "reading" to Man-Cub. He was actually reading to me (I LOVE when he does that, it's adorable and I just get to gaze at his adorableness uninterrupted while he impresses me to my very toes with his mad reading skillz) so it was very easy to just slip into peaceful slumber. My last conscious memory was of him mumbling, "That's enough reading," as he rolled over onto his belly. I fell asleep smiling.

Consequently, I was awake and feeling dandy before the alarm clock went off this morning! Of course, the beeping of The Viking's fire scanner helped roll things along (there was an accident about 2 blocks away at 6:45). So, he bounded out of bed to rush to the fire station and I rolled to the middle of the bed to enjoy hogging all the flannelly goodness for an entire 15 minutes! I did hit the snooze once so I could luxuriate just a few minutes longer--nine to be exact, which brings up a question I've always had, why are all snooze buttons set to go off after nine minutes? It's a pretty precise number so some marketing committee had to decide on it after much deliberation. Why nine? Why not eight or an even ten? Have studies shown that the human body does not function optimally if allowed to resume sleep for more than nine minutes at a time? Or that any less than nine causes breakdowns in the brain and nervous system? It bugs me. Nine minutes!

Anyway, once the kids were off to school, I went and stripped the beds, tidied our bedroom, threw a load of laundry in the washer, folded a load out of the dryer and one that had been waiting on the couch since last night, did the dishes AND put them away, cleaned the sink, wiped down the counters and Mrs. C and by 10:00 I was sitting down here at the computer desk with a plate of sausage and eggs and a nice, hot cuppa. I love when I can blog guilt-free! I still have lots more to do (it being Wednesday and all) but dinner tonight is a no-brainer (my interpretation of a Kidz Meel: homemade burgers and tater tots) and the kids have a half day (which, really, is more trouble than it's worth: Man-Cub is done at 12:45 but Redheaded Snippet is after school for dance committee until 2:00, has to be back for basketball practice at 3:00 and then needs to be picked up at 5:00. I will have been up to the school 4 times when this day is over).

Once the dryer stops I'll have to put laundry away and then I think I'll tackle the pile of Halloween costume items which have been shuffled between the library and our bedroom for over a month now. I have to dig into the "attic" (a glorified closet at the top of the stairs), haul out gigantic plastic bags, and then stuff them back in again. And it's cold in there! Then it's the showers for me, one more load of laundry, making the beds and catching up on my reading for tonight's Bible study. I have two weeks worth of reading to do today, but I read fast.

Speaking of dinner (I did mention it a paragraph ago) I think I've missed two weeks of Menu Plan Mondays now. I blame Thanksgiving as I'm blaming it for everything I don't like right now. That's one good thing about the busyness and stress of the Holidays, you can blame it for everything. Forgot an appointment? Oh, dang Holidays! Abandoned your diet and gained 5 lbs? Stinking Holidays! Didn't call that "friend" back who always calls only to brag about her latest antique purchase or fabulous vacation? Drat those Holidays!

Well, considering those danged, dratted and stinking Holidays are upon us (a scant three weeks away, but who's counting?), I'd better get moving, huh? I've got some online shopping to do! Nothing like shopping in jimmy-jams and fuzzy slippers, am I right?

Right. Another cuppa and I'm set.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thanksgiving Report

Okay, I have written and re-written, and edited and deleted and cut and pasted and I just am not happy with the way my post-Thanksgiving post is going. But this will just have to do...

I guess this is what happens when you take (nearly) a week off for a major Holiday. It was nice, but now there is so much to get caught up on, I'm just feeling so far behind!

It has taken quite some time, but I think I've gotten my house back together. Our gathering wasn't a rollicking, foundation-rocking, black-out-inducing Thanksgiving bash, requiring hired hands and a Haz-Mat team to clean up afterwards, but it did flatten me for a few days (incidentally, my fancy, comp'ny dishes--though clean--are still sitting in tidy stacks on the dining room table and I still haven't put the pie plates away yet).

Feast-wise, everything was a triumphant success, especially the turkey! The Viking usually spearheads that endeavor, but, this year, I took over, having decided to use my stove to full advantage and cook the turkey the Chambers way. Having never done it before, I was wary (and The Viking and Lenny were downright skeptical), but let me tell you, I will never cook a turkey any other way!

In addition to being absolutely delectable, it was the easiest thing in the world to prepare! WHY don't they make stoves/ovens like this anymore? Wait, I bet it's because they're not as easy to keep clean. But still, what's a little elbow grease and upkeep when you've got the world's meanest cooking machine at your disposal? Wanna see her again? Sure you do:

Marvelous. Simply marvelous. All I had to do was start with a fresh bird ordered from my favorite Amish/Mennonite market, dry salt it (valuable life lesson learned: wear rubber gloves when dry salting, OUCH!), leaving it to wallow in the fridge overnight, rinse and dry it well the next morning, sprinkle inside and out with fresh salt and pepper, rub the skin with some oil, nestle it in the roasting pan, uncovered, in a wee bath of half a cup of water, and preheat the oven to 500 degrees for 10 minutes.

And here comes the best part: 45 minutes after sliding the turkey in the oven, I came back into the kitchen and turned off the gas. That's right, TURNED IT OFF. And crossed my fingers.

I was a little uneasy as our precious main entree cooked away on retained heat in dark secret for three hours while we wiped dishes, peeled potatoes, braised sprouts, dusted shelves, ironed table linens and set the table. But when the moment of truth arrived, lo! and behold! we found ourselves with the most perfect Norman Rockwellesque turkey I've ever seen! Moist, tender, juicy, flavorful, with a perfectly brown and crispy skin, that bird was pure poultry heaven! And with gravy pronounced, "Phenomenal," by Lenny, who lives with Grand Mistress of the Kitchen Lobelia and doesn't give culinary compliments lightly.

So, do I have photos? No, I do not. My family would have brained me with the potato masher if I had suggested we cease for a moment so I could take a picture of the turkey. That's just how they do. Besides, don't you think that's enough about the turkey? I mean, honestly...

The only other things notable about our Feast are, in no particular order:

  • Lobelia's complete and utter abandonment of all decency and decorum in using my step-back spatula to write a colorful word in the whipped cream atop my chocolate cream pie. It was a very descriptive word, one that suggested what other brown substance the chocolate in the pie resembled. Redheaded Snippet now thinks Lobelia is the Bad Ass Aunt, sorry Daria. I think, perhaps, Lobelia has a bit of a fixation. There was a, "poo," cake incident last year that I made mention of in my old blog:

  • "Lobelia brought her chocolate cake which was divine. She frosted it with
    homemade fudge frosting that looked exactly like poo, so she delighted us all by
    writing the word, "poo" on top of it. So, after dinner, we all retired to the
    drawing room, to view the photos from the trip abroad, enjoying our coffee and
    luscious chocolate cake with "poo" scrawled across the top. Hee!"--June 2007

  • Lenny, Lobelia, Redheaded Snippet and The Viking's kitchen brawl that resulted in the breaking of our computer desk's keyboard drawer and the bruising of poor, little Redheaded Snippet's tender neck. I don't know what was wrong with Lobelia that day, but I hear she was the instigator and ring leader. Apparently, she was able to talk Redheaded Snippet into IMing all her friends at once (by means of an, "I bet you can't IM all them at once," dare) and then enlisted the men to immobilize Snippet while she, Lobelia, then sent all kinds of absurd, random, and, no doubt embarrassing, messages to Snippet's friends, making them think they came from Snippet. I honestly don't know what Lobelia could write (other than words having to do with poo) that would seem more absurd or random to anyone who knows Snippet well, but it seems Snippet was desperate enough to stop her that she took a flying leap across the room and landed on the keyboard, thus breaking the drawer. I was in the other room, but I hear it was awesome.

  • Mom brought her International Students with her as promised. There were three of them, not two, and they were from Taiwan and China. Things were the slightest bit stiff as Taiwan and China are not the friendliest of neighbors, and EGOD is quite the bigot. The two girls from Taiwan loved Man-Cub, seemed only a few years older than 13-year-old Snippet, despite their 24 years, and were very nice and giggly. The woman from China seemed watchful and suspicious, which could not have been helped by the fact that my mother grilled her on politics, religion, atheism and communism the entire time she was there. The poor woman did not seem to be offended, in fact, she enjoyed talking with Mom so much, they're getting together for coffee again next week, but she did seem a little uncertain. Thankfully, EGOD likes to put on a very dramatic martyr pose and refuse to speak to anyone when she's offended by someone of another race or color being in close proximity so dinner was the best we've ever had with her! Her only crime was dismissing the women with a wave of her hand upon being introduced to them with a, "Yeah, yeah, Ching, Chang, Chung..." and shuffling off to her seat. Fortunately, Mom had previously warned the women about her, telling them she's old, crazy, and often nasty.

  • On Black Friday, Redheaded Snippet and I done lost our minds and met Mom for shopping at 6:30 in the morning. We didn't witness any scuffles or stampedes, nor did we come away with any breath-taking good deals, but I did manage to score quite a few things I've been needing for a while (a watch, two pairs of pants, comfy slippers, a new coat, and a coat and mad bomber hat for Man-Cub).

    After a much-needed nap, we set out for an evening in Philly with Lenny and Lobelia. We did this two years ago on Black Friday and decided to make it an annual event. We take the train into the city, we go out for a fabulous dinner (Vietnamese again this year), then we walk to the Wanamaker building to see the Dickens Christmas Carol display and the famous light show. Then we walk to our newest favorite place on earth, Naked Chocolate for dessert!

    Heavens above, if you like chocolate, or are wild about it (like I might be), this is where you will go when you die if you're very, very good. Metaphorically speaking. Please don't send me messages about blasphemy and doctrine! You know how the French, in their luxurious and decadent heyday, enjoyed drinking chocolate as a special treat (or even for breakfast as the case may be)? They even had chocolate pots like this one:

    Or this cute little Dutch model:

    And fancy china chocolate sets like this one:

    Well, the stuff I had the pleasure of sampling Friday night is the kind of stuff Marie Antoinette herself would delight in! In a flash I could see myself sitting on a pouf, serving steaming, little cups of sinfully exquisite chocolaty goodness in one of those delicate china chocolate sets. This was no Swiss Miss, let me tell you!
    It was, however, the perfect way to cap the evening.

    The rest of the weekend was spent in rest and relaxation, at least for me and the children. The Viking buzzed around the entire time fixing, painting, tightening and weatherproofing things. He's unstoppable so I just don't try anymore. But I now have a finished coat cupboard, a mounted paper towel holder and slightly warmer rooms in the house!

    I guess that about wraps up my Thanksgiving report. I've still got some turkey stock to turn into soup for dinner tonight so we'll still be enjoying the fruits of our labor, but in all other ways we have turned our weary eyes toward Christmas!

    We won't be decorating for another few days yet (probably this weekend) and we still haven't settled the when-to-put-up-the-tree question (an annual debate), but we've been playing Christmas music with loud and wild abandon ever since Black Friday and have even bought a few gifts. But most of our to-do list still lies unfinished.

    Including the town's Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony which is this evening and for which The Viking and I are singing. We've done it the past 2-3 years and we always do the same songs, but we still need to brush up on intros and the right keys and the like. And I've got to have dinner ready before we go to set up at 6:00 so I'd better fly.