Tag Archives: Happy Holidays

Boughs of Folly

 

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The holidays are all about extremes. Peace on earth! Goodwill to men! Black Friday mobs! Road Rage over hour-long back ups!

But that’s life, right? Every high is balanced by a low. And over the holidays, I combine the two like that last cocktail you didn’t really need…shaken or stirred…mixed or mingled…blended or beaten within an inch of its life… While I love this season-long celebration, I’ve never been very good at knowing when to leave the party.

When we were first together, Chris and I would host an annual holiday party AND attend many others as guests – often several in one night! Now, we are lucky if we can take turns dropping by a “grownup” party held within our own neighborhood. Holiday parties are fun and festive (HIGH!)…but beware the corresponding low… At one such event last year, holiday cheer (and far too many Moscow Mules) moved me to sing along with my favorite tunes on the host’s playlist. Really – you haven’t lived until you’ve heard me sing Little Feat at the top of my lungs. If you’ll be my Dixie Chicken, I will BE your Tennessee Lamb.

You know you have arrived as an adult when your day-after memories of a super fun-night out are less “SUPER FUN!” and more “I did WHAT?

Then, of course there are the annual photos in front of the Christmas tree. Each year I line up my children, marvel at how beautiful they are – how much they’ve grown – and then start barking at them like a Hollywood director about to lose the evening light. “Look happy!” “Move closer!” “Stop making that face!” “You’re DOING it wrong!” …All things that have come out of my mouth while arranging a joyous holiday tableau.

Both of this year’s attempts – first in front of the kids’ tree the day after Thanksgiving, and then in front of my tree on Christmas eve – ended in either tears or injury. Actually, the latter ended in both.

There was a lot of this going on…

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…and everyone was having a great time…

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…then I finally got this shot…

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…which was okay… But I thought I could do better. Sadly, three seconds later, Oliver decided to squeeze the twins to his chest and accidentally gave them an impressive head knock. Poor kid – he really doesn’t understand how strong he is and was more surprised and upset than they were. Though it was hard to tell with all of the wailing and “Oliver did that ON PURPOSE!” accusations. It’s clear that we have officially entered “The Lenny Years” and will have to keep a more serious eye on the roughhousing.

But don’t worry! Everyone was fine ten minutes later when I announced that they could all open a present. And I was only mildly thrown by the unexpected drama since I’m currently walking through life in a constant state of damage control.

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A more recent addition to our holiday traditions is Charlie, our Elf on the Shelf. The kids love that elf and charge out of bed the second they wake up to see WHERE he will be today!

As someone who regularly forgets to follow up on Tooth Fairy duties, I’m a bit less enthused about the elf. Sure, it’s very convenient to point out that “Charlie is watching,” when someone (George) is being particularly bad. But that in no way compensates for those mornings when I have to use my best roller derby moves to elbow past my kids on the stairs before they find the elf we forgot to move.

By December 15th we’re usually scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to identifying new perching spots. One night Chris actually suggested doing something creative with props and I thought my head would explode, “What are you thinking!? Then they’ll start expecting ANOTHER one of those scenes the next day…and the next. Don’t raise the bar! NEVER raise the bar!” It’s like a universal truth of parenthood – always consider how your actions will impact the future. Charlie sticks to high cabinets and chandeliers – end of story.

I breathed a sigh of relief on Christmas eve when it was time for our elf to fly back to the North Pole. Though Alice seemed a little reluctant to let him go.

Charlie and Alice

Sorry Charlie!

But anyone who has been reading this blog long enough knows where things really get ugly. I’m a horrible person when it comes to “my tree.”

I have written at length about my Christmas trees and the difficulty I’ve had in relinquishing sole custody of the decorating process. First, I imagined an unpleasant future of haphazard ornament placement, heavy on the preschool projects. The following year, I compromised and gave the kids their own tree. Then the pressure was on, and I had to be very strategic about keeping “my tree” to myself.

Last year, I had a love/hate relationship with our tree. As soon as it was set up, we could see that it was undeniably crooked. This is a risk that accompanies Chris’ tradition of taking one of our children to pick out a tree each year – I have NO control over the selection (just a long list of requirements and deal breakers).

And I had such high hopes for Eleanor! My color-within-the-lines girl was the perfect candidate to find a “perfect” tree. At first glance, it seemed she did. But no matter how many times we tried to fix the obvious leaning, there was always something off.

Eventually, I just put on the lights since that takes at least an hour (well, for ME it does). Then after getting the kids to bed, I decided there must be a way to make it appear straighter. Obviously, I assumed Chris would be 100% on board with this additional adjusting – so imagine my surprise when he announced that it was “good enough” and turned in for the night. I would have agreed if good enough meant leaning at a 45 degree angle…but I felt his perception of Christmas tree adequacy was a few notches lower than mine.

He may have been willing to concede symmetrical defeat, but I stayed up to fight the good fight. And I only spent a few minutes feeling annoyed with him. The truth is, he was holding me back anyway.

That tree almost fell on me at least three times. And it’s a miracle that my children didn’t find me trapped underneath it the next morning. But I couldn’t let that happen. I mean, SOMEONE had to move the elf to a new location.

After I got the tree looking marginally better than it did when Chris gave up, I decided that I had reached my own “good enough.” The secret to my success involved stuffing the tree stand with some plastic cups and emptied prescription bottles (which make surprisingly good wedges!) Feel free to pin that tip.

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Before tidying up, I went into the kitchen to wash my hands (both of sap and the entire fiasco), and when I returned, I found that half the lights had blown out.

Then I dragged the damn thing outside and beat it to death with a snow shovel.

Of course I didn’t do that! For one thing, we don’t own a snow shovel. But more importantly, I had put way too much time into that tree to give up. Instead, I took a deep breath and set about checking each strand. Luckily, there were only two that had to be removed and I was able to replace them with a couple of spares. TOTALLY worth another 30 minutes of time that could be spent sleeping.

In the end, we had a lovely, only slightly crooked tree.

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This year, it was George who picked out the tree, and he surprised us all by selecting a SMALL one. Well – not exactly small, but much smaller than the six to eight foot trees his siblings were bringing home. Apparently, he told the tree guy that “size doesn’t matter as long as it’s fat.” Oh George…

So small and fat arrived, and most decidedly did not fit into our tree stand. The trunk was too short, so I sent Chris out to get a smaller stand.

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And starting right there, the smallest tree we’ve ever had became the BIGGEST pain in the ass.

It was next to impossible to get it to stay up straight in the new stand. And beyond that, it was never really secure regardless of how much we tightened the screws. This should have been the first sign of impending calamity. But Chris declared it good enough, and I could at least adjust it to look straight… So on went the lights!

This all happened after the kids were in bed and it was pretty late when I finished, but I decided to try to power through and do the ornaments too. That way the tree would be done before little, grasping hands had a chance to manhandle the boxes of holiday decor. I could even tell them that Charlie did it! How could they object to Santa’s snitch not letting them help? You better not pout indeed!

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It was a good idea, but a bit ambitious. I gave up around midnight and went to bed. So the following morning was flooded with enthusiastic offers of help and ornament retrieval assembly lines. I have never been so happy to see the school bus.

That Monday was “early dismissal day” so I only had a few hours alone. And right before my children were due home, I stepped back to bask in the glory of the sweetest little Christmas tree I had ever seen. George chose well – it was possibly my favorite tree yet. Absolutely perfect. Perfect and…moving? Just like that, everything switched to slow motion as I watched the stand sliiiiide forward and the angel drop back out of sight. CRASH! The entire thing hit the floor in a crunch of breakable ornaments (my favorite kind!)

If I were a more emotive person, I would have screamed. Instead, I stood frozen in horror. Wondering what I did wrong…was it possible that I overdid it on the ornaments?…or perhaps this was some kind of punishment for extreme Christmas tree hubris… Either way – I had children to collect from the bus and a play date to host. So I propped my now disheveled little tree up against the wall and resigned myself to figuring it out later.

Luckily, the damage was minimal and only a few of my heirloom ornaments were broken. And come on – even I knew there were FAR worse problems to have. I just practiced some deep breathing and tried to restrain my snarling when children came too close to my wounded baby.

Much later, when the kids were in bed, I came downstairs with the intention of getting Chris to help me figure out what happened and how we could fix it. But before I had a chance to ask, he informed me that, “the tree fell again.”

I must have blacked out at this point, as I have no memory of the next 20 minutes. BUT it all worked out in the end.

Just as I started collecting plastic cups and prescription pill bottles to wedge around the trunk, Chris decided that the top heavy tree really did need a sturdier stand. The solution was to saw off the lower branches (something I hadn’t even considered since the tree was already on the small side) and make it fit into our bigger stand.

Then there was sawing, lifting, near misses with pine needle blindings, multiple attempts at tree straightening and screw tightening…and  just a little bit of swearing.

Finally we stepped back to see a very straight, very secure, slightly smaller Christmas tree. We could also see that the branch removal effectively made what I decorated as “the front” of the tree a better candidate for “the back.” I employed more deep breathing and big picture priority checking to get myself to as serene a state of mind as I could manage…then I removed ALL of the ornaments and redid the WHOLE ‘EFFING TREE!

Done! Finished! No more lesson-learned moments thank-you-very-much! I had officially exceeded my limit for Christmas tree decorating mania.

Which of course, meant it was time for Christmas tree PHOTOGRAPHING mania!

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I think I have more pictures of this tree than I do of my own children on Christmas… I’m not kidding. Wonder how many people unfriended/unfollowed me after the Christmas tree reign of terror I inflicted over social media…

Next year, we’re going as a family to pick out our tree. It’s time for a new tradition. The kids are old enough now to work as a group and compromise on something they ALL like. AND to know that from now on, we’re getting the tree that I want.

WISHING YOU ALL THE BEST IN 2014!

Holiday Weekend

First – a PSA on behalf of all holiday novelty items that relatives may consider sending to our children: “Don’t. Please.”

I like to call this picture “The Island of Misfit Christmas Decor Characters”

Pictured: Hallmark Snowman (unmasked to reveal that he’s really a robot), Nutcracker ornament with
a broken head, one-armed Dancing Santa and nose-less Frosty the Snowman
Gone but not forgotten: singing Douglas Fir, Hallmark Moose with colorful string of lights and
Coca Cola Polar Bear playing the bass (I’d like to buy the world a Coke…)

Run Dancing Santa! Run as fast as those jolly little legs can go!

Don’t let them take your other arm.

But enough about the plight of the Hallmark holiday crap that my children have mauled over the past few years… Sunday was Christmas! Here is what ours looked like:

BEFORE

AFTERMATH

And here is bonus picture of Chris very carefully pouring the buttermilk I bought for making biscuits into the quiche pie crusts (he thought it was heavy cream).

Fun fact: buttermilk doesn’t ruin quiche – but it’s definitely a little different.

It was a good Christmas. Both sets of grandparents were here, as was my brother. A few friends dropped by to visit. And there were minimal displays of poor behavior on behalf of the children. Or at least, we thought they were fine and everyone else talked about us behind our backs. Both scenarios suit me well enough.

Yesterday the tree started smelling and I was all set to take it down. But the public outcry against dismantling the tree before New Year’s day convinced me to live with the smell of old cheese for the rest of the week. Then my mother came to the rescue with the suggestion of pouring some bleach in the water, and the day was saved! Of course there is nothing to do about the fact that needles sprinkle to the floor every time one of our neighbors walks up or down their stairs…so we’ll just have to live with threat of a fire hazard for the rest of the week.

All in the name of holiday cheer. As it should be.

Hoping that all of you who celebrate Christmas had a very merry one – and that everyone else enjoyed a fabulous “thank god it’s almost over” Sunday!

See you in the New Year…

Repost: THE COOKIES!

Happy Holidays to you! (see below for update)

A long time ago, my friend Nancy and I offered to make desserts for a holiday party we were attending. She suggested that we use a cookie recipe she got from the Italian grandmother of one of her childhood friends.

We made the cookies, and then life as I knew it changed forever (as far as cookies go, that is).

We continued to make these cookies every holiday season after that. Even now that we’ve lived in different states for many years (and for a while on different coasts), we still maintain this holiday cookie baking tradition. As far as we know, the cookies don’t even have an official name. We call them Italian Christmas Cookies – but that’s not really accurate. They are not supposed to be holiday specific – we just choose to reserve them for holiday baking.

The cookies have become famous among people that know us and know of us (and are usually referred to as “the cookies”). And the coveted recipe has been gladly provided to anyone who requests it. We are also famous for our generosity.

I mentioned these cookies recently in one of my posts and wasn’t surprised to receive requests for the recipe. Instead of e-mailing it out upon request, I thought I’d just post it on my blog. So in honor of the season of giving, I’m giving you…the gift…of Italian Christmas cookies. I know! Last week it was Redneck Neighbor, this week it’s cookies, every week it’s December giveaways… What can I say? I’m a giver.

But back to those cookies…

Italian Ricotta Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine the following in a bowl (in order):

1 stick (8 tbs) and 1 tbs butter
*Note: Cream butter before adding other ingredients.

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg

1 cup sugar

2 cups flour

½ tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda


Arrange tsp size drops on cookie sheets (space 2 inches apart)


Bake for about 10 minutes
*Notes: The original recipe states 15 minutes. But it came from an old Italian lady who was probably working with a 1950s oven, so I doubt more than 10 minutes is necessary. I’ve found that my cookies are done in 6-8 minutes. They can burn easily so make sure to check them early. Since all ovens are different, I suggest doing a test batch of a few cookies the first time you try the recipe. They should remain pale on top but will be firmer to the touch when done. If you notice them browning a little – they are definitely done.

Makes approximately 48 2-inch cookies


Icing (optional – but HIGHLY recommended)

Warm 1 tbs and 1 tsp of skim milk in a sauce pan

Add 1 cup of confectioners sugar and ¼ tsp vanilla



Once the mixture has thinned (should be thin enough to drizzle over cookies), it is ready to use.


*Notes on icing: This icing dries very quickly, so you have to use it immediately. I’ve had the best results when I’ve kept the saucepan over a very low heat and held cookies over the pan to ice them.


Just watch your fingers. Molten sugar can give you a nasty burn. Also try to be exact about the measurements – whenever I add a little extra milk, the results are disastrous. If it’s too thin it won’t dry. Finally – I usually make a double batch of icing for each single batch of cookies. I’ve never been able to stretch the original icing recipe enough to ice all 48 cookies.



Enjoy!

UPDATE: I attempted to make these on Sunday and something went horribly wrong. They were flat-ish and tasted a little salty. Not bad necessarily – but definitely not right! Since I followed the directions carefully, I knew I didn’t confuse ingredients or amounts. But then I remembered that I had a similar experience with some buttermilk biscuits I tried to make a couple of weeks ago (disclaimer: this all makes me sound like some expert baker – but the biscuits are super easy to make – I should blog about them…) With a little deduction through comparing common ingredients, I’ve decided that I need new baking soda (apparently it doesn’t last for fifty years – who knew!?) So if you have anything like this happen while attempting the recipe above, check your baking soda expiration date!