Thursday, December 30, 2010

Memories of the celebrations

This year, we managed to get Christmas Eve just right. No last minute wrapping or frantic anything, really. A leisurely day with enjoyable preparations leading up to an evening spent in front of the fire.

Smoked salmon to start, then a dinner of swordfish, asparagus, and couscous. With homemade cookies for dessert!
My favorite part of the evening was Dean's sudden inspiration to draw -- that, and honoring all our usual traditions of stories read, Advent calendars finished,

(with Santa always being the last piece placed on the homemade version), and stockings hung with care. The wealth of Christmas is surely in all the layers and layers of memories. I think of childhood Christmas Eves, and ones spent later at my dad's and his wife's after my parents were divorced, and ones with Ken before Dean came along and then the glorious 12 with Dean so far.
It's a matter, for me, of finding the balance between the pleasure of memories and just a nod to the sadness of what's past, and acceptance, embracing of what the new traditions are. Dean is totally a holiday person, and he spent the day (as he always does) happy and excited from morning til night.

Nothing quite like the magic of Christmas morning, and finding that Santa has been here.

Stockings filled to overflowing, as always, and

the glory of the tree. What a pleasure it was to know we had the day to ourselves, and not to have to rush through any of it.
Our traditional breakfast of eggnog french toast, and a finale of

sauerbraten and rosti and mushrooms and rolls for dinner (and Christmas crackers, too!). I struggled with some sadness during the day -- the first Christmas without loved ones who should still be among us to celebrate holidays and everything else. My mom was such a Christmas person (those white crochet snowflakes hanging up above were made by her), and I thank her for sharing that wish to make one day so spectacular.

We're still in full holiday mode here, looking forward to our New Year's Eve celebration. At this point I am really trying to simply look ahead. May your own celebrations be joyful and healthy and safe!

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Dean and I have come to feel that it just wouldn't be Christmas without a couple of gingerbread houses. I think this is my 11th year at it, and he's been involved one way or another all along. It's a lengthy process, taking at least part of three separate days, and one of these years we may get more ambitious in our plans and have the need for an extra day.

Dean's gotten to be a real experimenter, and you can see that he tried sprinkling the butterscotch bits (used to create the window panes) all over the outside of his pieces for a sparkly effect.

My house in mid-construction. Dean was eager to try these trees this year; fun, but I wished I'd waited until I'd completed construction before placing mine because it would have been easier not to have to work around it. (Although I feel the need to let you know that I got through the entire house-building process without uttering a single profanity, which could be a first.)

Dean is still a real process guy. What he most enjoys is digging into it, trying new things, experimenting with the pastry tips, enjoying the process of making without worrying much about what the outcome is going to be. I admire his freedom, his openness, and his pleasure in the moment and when he's all done.

Pretty much says it all!

Dean's house from the front. He's done a little more on it since, but this is the general idea. I love that he sprinkled the sparkly sugar over his tree and house while the icing was wet -- looks gorgeous.

My finished house. Dean didn't want lights inside his house this year, but I love the way these look when they are lit from within. (Definitely use a small strand of LED lights if you decide to try this -- they won't heat up and melt the royal icing.)

I love the way these smell, and the mingling scents of gingerbread and pine from the Christmas tree probably creates my favorite aroma in the whole world.

We're pretty much ready. One more batch of cookies to bake up, some vacuuming to do (sugar sprinkles are EVERYWHERE!). We've even had just a little bit of snow to shovel, so a White Christmas is looking like a real possibility.

I wish you every joy of the season, some moments of calm and quiet to savor, and a chance for reflection. And to all, a good night!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bits and pieces

I have been slowly and reluctantly going through what's left, physically, of my mom's life -- a few boxes of things tossed together and sent to me. It's hard, to see a life come down to what any casual onlooker would glance at and pronounce: trash. Bits and pieces of things.

In her ragtag shoebox of jewelry I come across fragments, mostly. She was perhaps more adept at losing a single earring than anyone, and it seems that she had a particular knack for losing just the good ones. So I can match up pair after pair of inexpensive jingles and jangles, but the few that I find that I know to be of value and quality -- those are doomed to be ones of a kind.

I had to laugh, and experience an odd kind of chill, when I came across several Christmas ornament hooks and a tiny Christmas ornament, because I can find those exact same items in my own jewelry box (although mine isn't a shoebox). Well, you know, there's that whole business about the acorn not falling far from the tree.

I did also come across this tiny, tattered nativity set. No piece is even half an inch tall. They were rattling around inside a box with no protection at all, so I'm actually surprised they are as intact as this. She loved Mexico, and the arts of Mexico, and in particular the religious art of Mexico, and I'm sure she treasured this little set that she probably picked up for pocket change back in the 1970's.

I'm sorry the depth of field is so shallow in the photo, but I know that if I wait to set up and take the shot in better light and with a wider focal plane, it'll be Easter time and the moment will have passed.

Anyway, I'm so happy to have found it, and to have it displayed on our mantle.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Choir of angels

Another successful winter concert at school under our collective belts! Dean's thinking that *maybe* in the spring he'll volunteer for a solo or highlighted role; everyone at our school who requests a stand-out part in addition to being part of the chorus gets the opportunity, and everyone is in the chorus (once you're 8 years old).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Let there be lights

We won't be able to have lights up outside our house this year, but that's OK.

See, it went like this: we were hearing a squirrel on our roof, and it was really annoying. BUT, it took on a whole new level when said squirrel figured out how to get from the roof into the attic. Ugh.

I took a little time figuring out the best course of action, and decided to call a roofer. (What would be the point of having someone come to trap the squirrel, since legally you have to release them within a distance that any squirrel this clever was going to find no barrier to getting right back into our attic?) So Mr. Roof Guy tells me that the 15-year shingles on our 21-year-old house are but one of the issues on our very bad roof.

Ah. Three weeks before Christmas is really NOT when you want to hear you need a new roof, but looking on the bright side we haven't had snow yet -- so we got the new roof.

But see, during the time they were working on the roof was our only realistic window of time for putting up the outdoor lights on the bushes, and that didn't seem wise given all the work being done all over the place. So, no lights.

That's OK. And these words came out of Ken's mouth: "Well, the roof and the furnace were the last things that were going to need any attention, so the roof's all set and luckily the furnace is in good shape."

You know what happened this morning, right?

It was 3 degrees f. last night (yes, that's *three*), and the house was awfully cold this morning.

Ken had to miss Dean's winter concert at school to wait for Mr. Furnace to arrive. But arrive he did, thankfully, and we now have a new transformer and a new motor on our furnace. And heat.

But no lights outside. That's OK. I'll just keep looking at my pictures from Disney World, where they do outdoor lights up in a big way.

And I share with you this priceless nugget from over at Pea Soup: "Also, just when did Christmas become women's work, or has it always been and I've not consciously noticed it until now?"

Welcome to the sisterhood.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Sounds of laughter shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Our tree

In the 20 or so years that we've lived in this nook of central-ish Massachusetts, we've seen a dismaying number of small farms close down. Not only do we lose the access to fresh produce and the glorious acres of rolling farmland, but we unfortunately gain large housing developments that strain resources and change the very nature of the area.

So we strive to support the farms that do remain. Harvey's has been a local family farm for 6 generations. We've been going there regularly all this time, and it has been a favorite destination of Dean's ever since his first visit.

I treasure the fact that whenever we arrive, and whatever we're there for, Dean asks for $1 for a bag of food to feed the animals. Each bag has one package for the ducks, and one for the farmyard animals.

Last Sunday, a cold a blustery day, Dean wondered if we'd wasted the dollar; as we approached the bridge over the duck pond there was not a duck in sight. But the moment our feet hit the bridge, a chorus of duck chatter exploded from underneath, and a flock of very hungry and eager ducks called to Dean to throw the food. The ducks can be a little blase during the summer when children and bags of food are plentiful, but this day they were deeply grateful for the attention and treats.

As was the pig. And the goats. Dean chatted with and fed them all.

Amongst other things on our list was a Christmas tree. Each tree in the lot had a name tag, which made the usual hunt even more entertaining. (These are fraser firs, distinguished by those thick, rich swirls of needles that go all the way around each branch.)
We didn't get it at first. The tag on the tree we liked best simply said, "Your." Hmmm, I said -- maybe they meant to write "Yours," or meant to add another word and just forgot?

But no. When Mr. Harvey came over to cut off a bit from the bottom of the trunk and help us load onto the car, he said, "Ah, I see you've found Your Tree!" Indeed!

There is always some measure of guilt in our hearts about buying a real, cut-down tree. But I believe that supporting Christmas tree farmers and their farms is critically important; this is their cash crop, and if everyone stopped buying them then these farms, too, will disappear and become housing developments.

Your Tree smells glorious, and awaits lights and decorations.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hello Kitty!

Actual holiday gift-making is underway! Rather than wringing my hands about not having time to get through my entire list of gifts I'd like to make, I'm just jumping in, doing what I can, and enjoying the results.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Scenes from the day

I realized that this was our very first Thanksgiving with just us three, and it was wonderful.

(I have been cooking our turkey on the grill for over 22 years and it comes out perfect every time -- juicy, flavorful, golden. AND you get the use of your oven for everything else! If you want instructions just let me know -- it can be done on a charcoal covered grill [with a dome top -- a Weber] or on a gas grill -- again, as long as the lid is big enough to close down over the bird.)

Dean declared it to be a pajama day, and so for him it was.

I close with two tips for you. First, it is wonderful to have a notebook in which to record all your holiday/special meals -- jot down who was there, what you served, what you did. I started mine the year we were married, 1989 (that's Thanksgiving 1989 on this page), and have notes from pretty much every year:

(sorry -- I make all low-res images to ease loading, but it makes this hard to read..)

And next, I have a binder with copies of all the holiday meal recipes I use, along with my notes on them. This makes it easy to pull out the recipes you need for the particular event, and to have all your favorites in one place. I include recipes for using up leftovers, too.

I feel so joyful about the season on which we have embarked!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I don't usually take too many pictures in the kitchen; the lighting isn't conducive and I'm generally so wrapped up in the doings that I don't think to record them.

But Dean, at the stove, making his world famous cranberries -- that was worth recording. And I kept going for a little while
at various points in the happy chaos
with too much going on at once but everything going well. I've cooked the Thanksgiving Feast every year that we've been married (21) and quite a few before that as well. Ken and Dean like the menu just as it is, although I made chocolate chip gingerbread bars for dessert because Dean isn't an apple pie guy and three people did NOT justify two desserts (I do have some restraint).

Dean's cranberries are ready for tomorrow, and so am I.

Love and joy come to you!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

And now, we return to sanity

I'll admit it.

For the first time ever ever, I was seriously contemplating getting out super early on Friday to do some shopping. Joann Fabrics tempted me with a flier filled with those "door buster" specials designed to get you into a shopping frenzy.

It helped me to read an article about how retailers trick you with this stuff; when the fine print in the ad says "limited quantities" they often are REALLY limited, so that you are almost assured of finding that the crazy unbelievable deals will be sold out (unless you're willing to camp out overnight, which I most certainly am not). That they dazzle you with deals on stuff you don't really need, and get you into the buying state of mind so that you really rack up the bill at check-out time so that you feel it was worth your while to get out so early.

Instead I will be where I belong. Home, maybe in bed, maybe up with my first cuppa, and maybe even setting out to make some things with the unbelievable amount of crafting supplies I already own. We've designated Friday as "At Home" day (another reason not to sneak out!), and we're going to relax and enjoy and not feel guilty about all the stuff we're not getting done. We'll live off the fat of the leftovers and maybe even get a fire going in the fireplace.

Sounds better than having to vie for a parking space at 5:30 a.m.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What makes it "Thanksgiving"?

I've been mostly having the conversation inside my own head, because really it's so much quicker and easier.

What is it that constitutes the Thanksgiving Experience, especially given that Thanksgiving this year will be the 3 of us at home?

I decided that polishing silver and ironing table linens still mattered (much to the amusement of Ken). Butter pats are molded, in the freezer, in the traditional acorn and leaf molds (because, really, what's not to love about a pat of butter in the shape of an acorn?). An olive tray didn't make the cut, because it was mostly the company that went for the olives, and Dean helped me decide that placecards really weren't completely sane.

Spanikopita didn't make the cut mostly just because of how labor intensive they are, although I think I will get them on the appetizer tray for Christmas.

Otherwise, although I'll attempt to cut down some of the portions, the menu is pretty much what it always is. I can't give the boot to cranberries, or stuffing, or turkey and gravy (of course!), and then once you're there you've got to have the mashed potatoes and the sweet potatoes with the specially made pecans on top are my particular favorites.

We're still going to spend Wednesday cleaning the house, although I imagine I'll have to work past a certain number of, "but it's not like anyone else is coming!" comments; well, Ken will mostly handle the cleaning while I mostly handle the cooking.

I think it's important for your own little family to know that they are the reason to celebrate, and that the effort gets made whether others are coming or not.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Around the World

We've returned from a brief trip, one that we planned when we felt that we all needed something to look forward to, one that we planned at a time when taking Dean out of school for a few days didn't seem too daunting.

We really wanted to get some Christmas on, to jump-start the holiday season with a bang.
We also really wanted to see some new scenery, experience some warmer temperatures.

We wanted to enjoy some great art and architecture, and alsoSee some wildlife up close.

We also wanted to eat a wide variety of foods, and Dean in particular wanted to expand his fish and vegetable intake.

We were up for a little shopping, browsing, seeing what was what in the shops.

We wanted to immerse ourselves in local cultures, even when we were a little weary from all the walking.

Are you on to me? We escaped to Disney World. It was our best trip ever -- largely, I think, because I've learned to relax and when I'm relaxed, the ripple effects are tremendous.

Now we're getting our Thanksgiving on, which will be a holiday at home for the three of us. We're fairly giddy about it. I'm loving all the joyful sights of the holidays all around blogland; for now, everyone seems to be reveling in preparations and anticipation, even if we didn't *ahem* quite get the year-long jump we'd dreamed of.