Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

Although I know it is not literally true, in my memory it seems as though I spent all the new year's eves of my youth at my best friend's house, having a sleep-over. Of all the blessings one may have in childhood, near the very top is having your very best friend live right next door to you, and your blessings are multiplied when she's from a big family so there are always lots of kids to play with. The Collins family lived next door to us a long time, then they moved to the suburbs for a short while, then they bought a house back on our block. Really the new year's eves I remember most are in that last house, where Mr. and Mrs. Collins still live. They had a great, finished basement with a wet bar (although as a kids' domain it was alcohol-free) and we'd spend the night down there, drinking hot Dr. Pepper with lemon (which for some reason was all the rage), calling in our requests to the local radio station, waiting to be called upstairs to see Dick Clark and the ball drop in NYC, then heading back down for another hour of revelry before ringing in our own new year. My own blessings are exponentially multiplied now, given that I still know and am in touch with my first best friend and her family, and I am thinking of them all today and remembering our shared traditions fondly. Edited to add: except that I'm pretty sure that Pat, like me, has never touched a fruit slice gummy candy (they were made to look like perfect little fake fruit slices, in orange and lemon and lime, but they were made completely without fruit -- just lots of sugar and gelatin or something) since that one year when they were living in Arlington Heights and we picked some up to eat on new years....

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fresh starts

My dear friend Natalie's birthday is today. If you are reading this, I hope that you will go over to her blog and wish her a happy birthday. You'll be doing yourself the favor, actually, if you haven't been to her blog before, because she's a wonderful writer and great photographer -- you'll like what she's up to.

Yup, still playing with the camera. This was the least-blurry photo I could get of our house last evening (I felt as though my heartbeat prevented me from holding the camera still enough). The huge black shapes looming at the front door are arborvitae gone wild -- they'd be as tall as the roof by now if Ken didn't vigorously trim them back every year. Some years we (well, ok, Ken mostly) string the white lights on those monsters, but it takes a lot more lights, a ladder, and heavy gloves. By the time we decided to do lights this year, there was already snow on the ground so Ken rightfully decided to do the small, bare lilac bushes instead. In New England, the electric candles in the windows at Christmas are just kind of de rigeur. It was warm enough yesterday to melt some of the snow off the bushes in the foreground, but the forecast is calling for another 6 to 8 inches by this time tomorrow, so it'll be all solid white again.

I want to be a better person in 2008 (with the idea being that the new me carries forward from there!). I want to be less judgmental, more forgiving, and I want to figure out how to take the friendliness that's within me (and that seems to come out easily enough online, with friends I've never met) and let it out more easily with the people I do meet, in person. Truth is, I'm pretty socially inept in person; I assume that people have better things to do with their time than listen to me, but the result is that I come across as kind of cold and distant. I don't mean to be that way -- not at all -- but I need to learn how to just relax and be friendly when I get to know people (and not let it take the years and years that it sometimes can for me to relax and be myself, because frankly most people aren't willing to give it that much time). I need to reach out more. I need to be more willing to make mistakes, and to keep trying. I also really, really need to get my house organized and clean up the utter and complete mess that is the craft room/guest room. I need to follow through and finish up projects. Seems like enough to start with, since biting off more than I can chew is also a lingering fault....

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sew-it-up Saturday

It's a day of snow fog here; warmer than it has been for a while, so the snow starts to melt and evaporate quickly enough to create fog. I stepped out the front door this morning in my slippers and jammies to take this shot; I am still having endless fun playing with the camera Natalie sent me, figuring out the settings and thinking about how it changes everything to be able to have instant access to a photo.

Toying with the idea of some theme days for my blog, but not sure how long I can be consistent with it. I've long been a fan of these photobooth Fridays and I'm enjoying wordless Wednesdays, so I'm tempted. In case I do manage to pull this off, I think Saturdays are a good day for sharing crafty things -- sew-it-up Saturdays? I give you these ancient embroidery designs for camels it that spirit today; I'm also thinking about Three Kings' Day coming up January 6, and these camels seem the sort that could have been carrying kings....

Finally, the first pair of elf shoes I made from Jenny's pattern (I reduced it down quite a bit). I see that I need to do a better job of planning so that the knots end up under the uppers and not visible in the back of the shoe, but that's what practice is for. I'm wondering, though -- would everyone know what to do with the gift of a pair of elf shoes? Would you open them and think, "oh, what an adorable pair of elf shoes that I can put out with my other Christmas decorations!" Or would you think, "why did she send me this weird pair of doll shoes?" Would it make sense to attach them to some ribbon so they could be hung on the tree?

I'm also very fond of little wooly felt baby shoe patterns and wonder if I made them up and added some wintery embroidery and put, oh, some Hershey's kisses or something in them, would that be a good gift or would someone wonder why the sam hill I was sending them baby shoes? I guess I could just include a little note, or -- aha! -- send them early as St. Nicholas Day gifts and then the whole shoe thing would make a little more sense. Right? Yes, I worry too much.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

It was time to get out into the world today, after being happily snug at home since Monday. Dean had a gift card that was burning a hole in his pocket (a lot of other people seemed to be suffering similarly out there) and so we made a swoop to get some fresh air, some post-Christmas bargains, and some lunch. Had to stop at the bookstore, of course. "Um, are you going to be taking pictures now of everything we do"? Dean asked. Well, yeah!

I had thought how cool it would be to take a picture in the drive-through car wash we were planning to drive through, but the sleety rain and slush coming down made it seem like a trip for another day. I have so many new projects in my head that I'm finding it hard to buckle down and DO anything; that, and I'm enjoying that so many bloggers are now picking up where they left off online before Christmas.

Any big plans at your house for New Year's Eve? We're going to try to pick up some nice fish (salmon, maybe) and will try out some of our new games (so far we like Set, which is a card game) and watch a movie or two before checking out the drop of the big ball in Times Square. I am STILL not used to living on Eastern Time; growing up, when Dick Clark shouted "Happy New Year!" it meant that you still had an hour to go before it was real. I'm always caught off-guard and feel weird that when he (or will there be a replacement this year?) says it, it is for real. Is it time to start talking about resolutions yet?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Our Christmas Miracle

It was about 4:30 in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. While Ken took a well-deserved nap, Dean and I snuggled on the sofa and I read him the last few pages of Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory. It's a beautiful, bittersweet story and the last paragraphs are hard to read aloud without choking up (for me, anyway). We went to pick out another book, and stopped by the windows to look outside at the dusky sky and snow-covered yard. Dean said, "I really wish I could open just one present," and I stopped myself from giving the grown-up answer ("there will be plenty of presents to open tomorrow"). Instead, I thought about it for a moment and answered honestly, "me too." I suggested that we put on coats and boots to take a walk out to the mailbox, just in case anything had been delivered. Not that I thought there would BE any presents out there, but I thought there might be some cards (there were) and that the fresh cold air would perk us up.

As we stepped past the bushes in front of our house, the little white lights on them clicked on -- it seemed magical, as though our steps had alerted the lights that it was time. We walked carefully down the icy driveway (really -- I think it would be possible to ice skate on it) and could see that the door on the mailbox was just slightly open, indicating that at least something had been put into it. Well. We're still in awe of what we found! A package from Natalie and her family that included the incredible digital camera she gave me, and also a perfectly wrapped Lego set for Dean and a music cd and the makings for our own Mexican hot chocolate and a card and letter that left us all just speechless (Ken came down from his nap just as we were opening). "I can't believe something this good just happened," Dean said. Ken and I agreed.

I charged up the battery, read the instructions, and tried a few test photos this morning, including that one up there of some of our snowglobes. Here's Dean with his first working roller coaster construction from the jumbo K-Nex set he'd been wishing for that Santa brought:

I will try not to go completely crazy and posting eleventy million photos with each post, but it won't be easy!

Christmas day was lovely and mellow though different from what we expected; Ken's parents decided that morning not to come because his mom didn't want to come up our stairs (she prefers to walk through our yard and up our back steps, but there's a good 4 feet of snow and ice there because all the snow from the driveway gets plowed into that area). It was too bad -- we'd done a lot to prepare for the day, the meal, all that stuff, but Uncle Bob still came and the 4 of us had a blast. We were able to eat our big meal later than we usually have to (Ken's parents like to have the option of getting back on the road while it's still light out, which means Christmas is normally a marathon for me in order to make it all happen quickly) and play with our toys.

I used to get kind of blue on Christmas day -- all those weeks, months of effort and it goes by in a flash. But I've started instead to think of Christmas as everything that happens all month, before AND after the day, and even today it feels like we're celebrating. I know I am, thanks to Natalie and her family.

Monday, December 24, 2007

May your day be merry and bright

Dean and Santa, Disney World, December 2006

And so we prepare for the big night. I'll do the rest of the cooking that can be done ahead, and will prepare our scallop, sugar snap pea, and angel hair pasta dinner for tonight, which we'll eat in front of the fireplace. We'll start early, so there's plenty of time to let the fire die down (although we know Santa is well-prepared and can deal with fireplaces blazing or not). We'll hang our stockings and finish the advent calendars just before we go to bed.

I've been taking my own good advice for a change and have not been working myself into a frenzy. Dean and I decided to put the gingerbread house dough into the freezer so we can make our house after Christmas and in time for New Year's Eve instead. Paper napkins for Christmas dinner (hey, they do have Christmas trees on them!). A spiral-sliced honey ham that only needs to be reheated. It's all good.

I hope you are finding a moment for yourself today at least, if not tomorrow -- I'm listening to Christmas music, drinking my coffee, watching the full moon (I think) set as the sun comes up, feeling happy anticipation. Oh, I've got some notes to take for next year; Ken and I were up late wrapping last night after I'd sworn we'd wrap as we went this year so we could avoid the marathon session. And I've got to work on making some festive fabric bags over the course of the year that we can reuse and thereby cut back on some of the paper. Can do.

Have yourself a very merry Christmas. Thank you so much for stopping by, thanks even more for leaving comments, and here's to a new year of connections and conversations.

Friday, December 21, 2007

One, two, three...

I could not resist adding just a little more polar bear to this Christmas, and yesterday made a vest for Dean with polar bears on it. Simplicity pattern 9498 has both a very simple vest pattern and a hat pattern as well that I've made bunches of times out of fleece -- great projects, fast, and they'd be good for beginners who want to start using their machines to make clothing items.

Dean and I started our school vacation break yesterday by going out early so he could do his Christmas shopping. Now, I'd been asking him since early November if he wanted to spend a day in Boston with me when we could get his shopping done, go out to lunch, have some fun in the city -- but he was never up for it (if ever a boy loved staying home...). But yesterday was the day and while we couldn't go to Boston (more snow was falling, and Boston is a MESS during snow and after snowfalls -- they still don't have the streets cleared from last week's snow) we went to Framingham/Natick which is strip-mall heaven (or hell, but you know what I mean) so he could pick out a tie for Ken and a Webkinz for me (sigh -- it IS the thought that counts). I did try to convince him at the start of all this that handmade gifts would be most appreciated, but he is at that age when it's important to him to be able to spend money on things -- it's that point in childhood when you feel like since all you've ever done is MAKE things for people that you need to be big and save up your allowance to buy things instead. I do understand. We had a delightful lunch out together, and worked on his mega snow fort in the yard when we got home (after he wrapped and hid his purchases). Ken had his office Christmas party last night so we never even saw him. We shared a mac and cheese dinner in front of the tv (!), snuggled up under a blanket, and watched one of the shows we recorded about Disney World. Man, life is good.

Turns out today, with Ken now home on his break, too, that there's a whole plan afoot for us to go see National Treasure: Book of Secrets; not long ago, we rented the first National Treasure movie and all absolutely loved it. I was extremely impressed -- while it's not for little kids, they did actually make a movie that appeals to and is appropriate for kids and adults. Dean loves US history, and the movie did a nice job of raising his interest (and savvy) even higher. We'll finish up a few more errands, get the rolling salt box (car) washed, and while Ken and Dean do more snow fort work, I'll get cookie dough going and some wrapping done. It feels like the right place to be, with 3 days to go. Sure, I wish I were done with the wrapping and had the housework underway, but I know from experience that we will manage. I JUST had the brilliant idea to perhaps use festive paper napkins on Christmas rather than ironing the big stack of cloth ones; I'd rather cut some corners than decide I don't have time to go to the movies.

I hope this finds you making the decisions you need to make about what gets done and what doesn't, and that you are not driving yourself crazy trying to do it all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Do you recognize this pair? Tempted as I am to make it a contest, I won't. They are St. Nicholas and Krampus, respectively. If you're hip to Krampus, give yourself a pat on the back, or thank the Austrian relative who turned you on to him. I was all excited to be able to give you the link so you could get your own set if you were so inclined, but House on the Hill no longer carries them. I had Austrian grandparents on both sides of my family, but I think I learned more about these guys as an adult.

So the deal is you know all about St. Nicholas, of course, and you're probably all set with December 6th being St. Nicholas Day. Well, in Germany and Austria, St. Nick's traveling companion is Krampus. You've probably already got a bad feeling about him, given the horns on his head. He's the one in charge of dealing with the bad children. As my great little info sheet (that came with when I bought the cutters) says, you can think of them as a good cop/bad cop pair. I try to make an even number of each out of our favorite gingerbread recipe, but sometimes I make more of Krampus just because. You know -- maybe if we honor the bad cop, he'll overlook any transgressions....

Monday, December 17, 2007

Beary Christmas

OK, here's the thing. I am just ridiculously pleased with how this polar bear came out. What the scan doesn't show you is that he is 3-dimensional -- he has 4 legs, and a gusseted head. I'd been making the dogs, as in my last post, from a pattern, and last night when I couldn't sleep, all I could think about was how to adapt the pattern to make polar bears. I'm just going to tell you right now that 2008 will be the Christmas of polar bears. This first guy, of course, is for Dean. But I am picturing them with more elaborate saddles -- all embroidered up with flowers and snowflakes and stuff. I can see putting a string through the tops to make ornaments. I am thinking about adapting the pattern for smaller and larger sizes, so I can make whole families. Polar bears everywhere. It feels good to have a plan AND a year to carry it out.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Yo ho ho

It has been a week. I won't drag you through the whole mess of it, but it has been a week. I've been hanging on thanks to the incredibly wonderful thing that managed to happen -- being one of the winners over at Natalie's 1000th post giveaway. (I still can't believe it!) Gives me faith that there is NOT some divine being trying to force me completely off the road. I may actually be able to post pictures, taken recently, and could show you the snowflakes in my kitchen window, even (I'm trying, Leslie!).

Dean's Winter Concert at school today was also a wonderful thing -- the sight of 30 kids singing Straighten Up and Fly Right would put a smile on any face.

We had about 7" of snow fall yesterday; I need to count at one of my blessings here that we all got home all right, given that it took some people we know 5+ hours to do what should have been an hour's commute. Big mess. More coming Sunday, they say, but please cross your fingers that the very expensive tickets I bought for the candlelight carol concert don't go to waste because of the weather. Tomorrow this little pocket puppy dog, along with a sleigh (or station wagon) full (sort of) of gifts goes with us to visit family and do the first of our holiday exchanges and celebrations. I get this weird sense of unreality -- we look forward to this season all year and then it goes in a blur of things sometimes done right but otherwise just kind of cobbled together best we can with a lot of Christmas music and food mixed in. Life, right?

So my plan is that by Monday it'll all be good -- I'll be back on top of my game and ready. Meanwhile, here is the easiest, tastiest fudge you'll ever make:

Foolproof Fudge

3 cups chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt

Lightly butter an 8 x 8 baking dish, or line it with foil.

Slowly, gently, melt the chocolate chips (microwave or stovetop, whatever's comfortable for you). Stir condensed milk into the hot melted chocolate, and add the vanilla and salt. Once it is all combined, pour it in the dish and flatten out the top. Refrigerate for 3 hours. Slice and serve.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Let it snow

A number of years ago, my mom crocheted for me a flurry of snowflakes. I treasure them, and each year think about where to hang them for optimal viewing pleasure. This handful still needs to be pressed and hung. I put a bunch up in my kitchen window last night and it made me smile to walk into the kitchen this morning and see them there.

I sound like my mom today -- this is not a good thing. Her low, raspy, gasp-for-breath voice comes from years of smoking; mine is the last vestiges (I HOPE) of this cold I am trying to shake. I need to get better and get my energy back again. Now. Dean's recovery has been faster than mine, fortunately. It makes all the difference when you are still growing and your cells are doing all that hard work already.

Wow. Two weeks from today. I just noticed.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Fat man in the red suit

We have a wonderful collection of Christmas books; we spend the entire month of December reading them at bedtime. There are the classics, the books received as gifts, the ones carefully chosen from the bookstore. Then there are the little gems picked up from yard sales, from used book sales, that we especially treasure. The Mole Family's Christmas, by Russell and Lillian Hoban, is one such gem. You can get it used from Amazon for as little as 50 cents, apparently, and if you were going to add one book to your collection (or start one) this year, this would be my recommendation.

Dean and I are both suffering from nasty colds at the moment, so it's a relief that we've already done everything "out in the world" that we needed to do this weekend and can just be at home today. Just two more boxes of decorations to bring up from the basement. A mountain (really, a mountain) of laundry to fold, a bathroom to clean, some serious dusting and vacuuming to do, but we'll get there. Next weekend we have a lot more going on -- relatives to visit, the candlelight carol service to attend, a stroll through Boston's North End for some Italian Christmas treats -- so our plan is to be healthy and caught up by then. At Christmas time I miss Chicago for so many reasons; first, of course, simply because it was 'home' and the place of all my childhood Christmases, but then for the Swedish shops in Andersonville and all the German restaurants and bakeries where my own family's heritage is connected. There was never much of a German presence in Boston, so we're without Bavarian gemutlichkeit and I feel its absence.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Egg-drop Soup

Have you ever made egg-drop soup? Did you know that it's got to be the easiest, fastest, most comforting last-minute thing to make?

4 cups (1 quart) chicken stock
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 scallions, sliced thinly on diagonal

Bring broth to a boil, add soy sauce. Slowly pour the eggs into the broth, in a stream, and add scallions. Turn down heat and let cook about 5 minutes. Serve.

This is my little gift to you -- this instant meal for a time of year when a quick something to eat is just the ticket. What's your favorite emergency meal?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Good news

This is the center part of a mini-quilt (roughly 8.5 x 11") going out in a day or two; trying to get all the gifts mailed this week. I'm even thinking about finishing my own mini-quilt. Having the time to consider getting a project done for myself feels like the ultimate accomplishment at the moment.

Dean and I spent some time this morning putting ornaments on the tree, since school was delayed for 90 minutes because of the overnight dusting of snow and ice. "Do you know how Jesus died," Dean asked. "Well yes, Dean, I do know." "Really horrible," Dean said, "I hate to even think about it." There were a few moments of silence and I said, "but he rose again, Dean -- he didn't really die -- that's what Easter is all about; we celebrate that he rose from the dead and has eternal life." Dean just stared at me in awe before saying, under his breath, "sweeeeet!"