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.