Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Rockin' New Year's Eve

Is not really something I've ever had. Memorable ones, yes, but not necessarily Rockin'.

Let's see, in high school I worked almost every New Year's Eve at a local restaurant. The tips were usually awesome that night, but some of my coworkers left much to be desired. I don't remember doing much afterward to actually ring in the New Year, though.

In college, they were mostly spent with friends, drinking in some form. I think my least favorite was the millennial New Year, where I was a mere 4 days shy of legal drinking age and couldn't go to the bar parties the rest of my friends were going to at the Mall of America. So I hung out in the hotel room. Not that it really mattered much, we had done our fair share of celebrating beforehand, and most people wandered back to the hotel by 12:30, too drunk and/or tired to stay out much later.

I had high hopes for 2006 - we had booked a trip to London in May of 2005 with NYE to be spent in Trafalgar square toasting in 2006 with the other revelers. It would have been amazing had I not gotten pregnant in July of 2005 and instead was 30 weeks pregnant, unable to toast and, due to a tube workers strike, forced to walk from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Station (a few miles) in order to find transportation back to our hovel of a hotel. It was certainly memorable, and something I'll always be able to say I did, but definitely not what I had envisioned when we booked the trip.

Ringing in 2007 wasn't much better - the hub and I were blindsided by a nasty stomach flu the day after Christmas and spent much of that 24 hours in the fetal position at my ILs trying desperately to keep down saltines. We were feeling good enough the next day to drive home with the kiddo (10 months old at the time), who came down with the yuck the next day. We went to a low-key affair at a friend's house and even left before the ball dropped because we were so tired. The kiddo was still sick and we ended up taking him into the ER two days later because he was so dehydrated from not being able to keep anything down.

Celebrating 2008 started out shakily; we went to a friend of the hub's and hung out. Another friend and I totally kicked ass at Pop Culture Trivial Pursuit. But then the night was ruined by a complete and total asshat who managed to piss off at least 3/4 of the people at the party in some form by making asinine comments about everything. We left that party before midnight (had the kiddo with us) and convened back at our house with some other friends who had kids. The kids were put to bed and the adults sat around, chatted, played fun games (Apples to Apples!), drank and called other friends who lived in different states. So even though the first half of the night wasn't the best, it ended well. Though, I was too busy putting the kiddo to bed that I got my midnight kiss about 5 minutes late.

This year looks to be another bummer. The hub is sick with who knows what (no yakking, thankfully, just fever/headache/tiredness) so he's on the fence about going anywhere tonight. One of the couples that came to our little post-party party last year is hosting a kid-friendly party this year, so at the very least I can take the kids and hang out for a bit. I think I'll bypass the NYE kiss, though. I don't want to be next in line with the sickness!

Someday I'll have a Rockin' NYE with Dick Clark (he'll still probably be alive then, right?). But I guess I'll just have to watch the festivities on the TV in the meantime.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Hangover

I love the holidays.

I hate the letdown when they're done. And the mess.

It seriously looks like Toys 'R' Us threw up in our house. There are toys and boxes and stuff everywhere. Compound that with being gone the previous four days, so there are also piles of laundry, random boots and shoes in the entryway and pine needles everywhere from our not-quite-dead Christmas tree (I could have sworn we watered it before we left!).

And now we succumb to the Christmas Hangover. You know, that feeling you get after the presents are all unwrapped, the last cookie has been eaten, the last carol has been sung. The deflated, "now what do we look forward to" feeling.

Thankfully, the kiddos aren't old enough to feel that yet. I remember growing up, I used to try and make Christmas last as long as possible. We'd make mom keep the decorations up until Epiphany (which also happened to be our oldest sister's birthday). I would play my Christmas music in my room until I had to go back to school.

I don't mind winter, but January-March is just so bland without the cheeriness of the holidays.

I do have a birthday coming up, though. It's a big one, too. Hello Thirties!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Hangover

I love the holidays.

I hate the letdown when they're done. And the mess.

It seriously looks like Toys 'R' Us threw up in our house. There are toys and boxes and stuff everywhere. Compound that with being gone the previous four days, so there are also piles of laundry, random boots and shoes in the entryway and pine needles everywhere from our not-quite-dead Christmas tree (I could have sworn we watered it before we left!).

And now we succumb to the Christmas Hangover. You know, that feeling you get after the presents are all unwrapped, the last cookie has been eaten, the last carol has been sung. The deflated, "now what do we look forward to"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The stockings were hung...

This is the first year the hub and I have been married that we're spending Christmas Eve at our house.

Growing up, Christmas Eve was the big night for us. We would spend the day finishing up things around the house and mom would make our traditional soup supper. When we had a foreign exchange student live with us when I was in high school, she taught us the Finnish tradition of rice pudding, and we've continued it since.

After our soup supper, we would head to church where we would attend Christmas Eve service, which was capped by a candlelight singing of Silent Night. We would file out of church, get our goody bags of peanuts in the shell, an orange, an apple and two mini candy bars.

When we got home, it was big present opening time. As kids, we never questioned why Santa came while we were at church - that's just what he did. And we were special, Santa came again overnight to fill up our stockings.

So this year, it's just us and the kiddos tonight. I was running around, late as usual, delivering goody plates to a few friends and doing some last-minute shopping. (Christmas Jammies! How could I not give them Christmas Jammies!) So, while we had a very yummy potato soup for supper, it was quickly eaten so we could get to church. The kiddo was very wound up (which may or may not have had anything to do with the frosted sugar cookie he had right beforehand) and didn't want to sit still. Other than that, the service was nice. It was the kids' program, but it wasn't the usual dress-em-up-as-angels-and-shepherds, it was just a retelling of the Christmas story with a lot of carol singing.

We finally made it home (the kiddo was still hopped up on sugar and kept running between our Pastor and the hub, tackling them and giving them hugs), gave the kids their Christmas Jammies, set some cookies and milk out for Santa and read the kiddo all the Christmas-themed books he owns. A few carols and kisses and he's [hopefully] off to dreamland. The hub just finished giving the kidlet her bedtime bottle and she's down for the count as well.

Now, it's time to put together the train table, set the rest of the presents out, fill the stockings, do the dishes, fold the laundry, pack for the rest of the weekend -- tomorrow we head to my sister's for my family Christmas, then it's off to the ILs for the hub's family Christmas on Saturday -- and do everything we neglected to do earlier this week because we were crazily running around finishing things up for Christmas.

Whew! Aren't they cute, though?

To my few readers, have a wonderful, blessed Christmas (or whatever you celebrate). May you spend it with those that are closest in your heart.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ten HUT!

I have a small army of gingerbread men hanging out on my dining room table, waiting for their frosting to dry so they can be put away in their barracks (and by barracks I mean tupperware) until I'm ready to either eat them or give them away.

I finally did more Christmas baking today. I'd been putting it off and putting it off because it's kind of a hassle to attempt to roll, cut and bake 8 or so dozen cookies with two little ones vying for your attention.

And I was just feeling really lazy.

But the hub entertained the kiddos at various times today so I could get the dough made and the cookies baked.

I made [yet to be frosted] sugar cookies, gingerbread men and peppermint bark. So the peppermint bark isn't technically a cookie, nor is it baked, but it does require the oven to melt the chocolate, so it's close enough.

The sugar cookies I make is the same recipe my mom used while growing up, and the same recipe my sister uses (at least I think she does). It's a recipe my mom's mother had, and she got it from someone else. My mom's recipe card is titled "Gen. Heald's grandmother's sugar cookies" so the entire time I was growing up, I thought it was some old recipe passed down from a Civil War general or something. Come to find out, when my grandma wrote out the recipe for me it's actually Genevieve Heald. Huh. I like my imaginary origin better.

It's a slightly unique recipe, because there's nutmeg in the dough which adds a nice flavor. It's what I grew up with, so it's what I like, anyway (though, really, I'm never one to turn down a good frosted sugar cookie. Or any cookie for that matter.)

The gingerbread recipe is straight outta Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. It's tasty and easy, so I stick with it.

Only the gingerbread men are decorated, though. I figured that 11pm was a tad too late to start frosting and decorating the sugar cookies. Those will have to wait until tomorrow. I need to bake another batch of poppy seed bread and make super easy peanut clusters. Some of those, along with the things I made today, will go to the kiddos daycare. I'll also make up a few plates to take to friends of ours, just because.

You know, I thought I might start losing some of the baby weight once I went back to work and wasn't eating all the live long day. You would think I would know better; I can never control myself around the holidays - there's just too much good stuff to eat.

Oh well, January 1 isn't too far away. I can work on the diet then.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let it snow?

One thing we're used to from growing up in the Midwest is to expect the unexpected when it comes to weather.

That's why when we start hearing cries of Winter Weather Advisory! we usually just shake our heads and say "yeah, right."

Occasionally the weather forecasters do a pretty good job and manage to hit the storms right, but most of the time they don't. Which, I guess, is kind of the nature of weather - to be somewhat unpredictable, right?

We're supposed to be getting this Big Sleet/Snow/Ice storm right about now. First it would hit around 3 pm. Then they changed it to after 6. Now it's after 8 pm and we're just starting to see the first hints of sleet.

Supposedly we're to get 3-8" of snow overnight and through the morning. That means we'll either get dumped on with a foot of snow, or we'll get barely a dusting. That's how things usually work around here.

It was lots of fun when we had a big snowstorm growing up. If the electricity went off, dad would go out and hook up a tractor to the generator so we'd have one working outlet. Sometimes they'd move a TV to the outlet and we'd all cozy up and watch a movie. Sometimes we'd light a fire and cozy up around that. When it was all over, dad would dig out the driveway and paths around the feedlot and we'd have a nice, big pile of snow to climb and slide on. There were no sidewalks to worry about; no plow trucks going by at 3am; no work to get up and go to the next morning.

I'm just glad it snowed earlier this week, too. At least we're having a nice, white Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Operation Christmas Spirit: Phase Four

I've started my Christmas baking. Nevermind the fact the only thing I've managed to bake so far is poppy seed bread because it's insanely easy, but I've started.

Growing up, we made the same four things every year: peanut clusters, almond bark cookies, decorated sugar cookies and poppy seed bread. I still make those now, and if I'm feeling ambitious, will add gingerbread men and peppermint bark to the mix.

Our poppy seed bread is unusual because 1) we make it with almond extract rather than lemon and 2) it's baked in soup cans, so it's round.

But it's oh so delicious, especially with the orange juice/sugar/butter/almond extract glaze that soaks in the first 1/8" of the bread and then makes the yummy sugary crust. We've already gone through one loaf and are quickly making our way through the second.


Poppy Seed Bread

3 c flour
1 1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t baking powder
2 1/2 c sugar
1 1/2 c milk
1 1/8 c vegetable oil
1 1/2 T poppy seeds
3 eggs
1 1/2 t vanilla
1 1/2 t almond extract

Generously spray at least 6 (16oz) soup or vegetable cans*. Beat all ingredients until well blended. Fill cans half full (do not overfill or cans will run over when baking). Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes. Roll bread in glaze while still warm. [to remove bread from cans, wait until cans are cool to touch. Gently remove bread by tapping sides of can with hand and sliding the bread out.]

Glaze:
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c orange juice
1/2 t almond extract
2 T melted butter

* Do not use the vegetable cans with the white enamel coating inside. The soup cans with the self-remove lids don't work well, either, because the opening is too small to let the bread out once it's done baking.

I think I'll go have another slice. Yum!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Operation Christmas Spirit: Phase Three

I used to sent out regular Christmas cards like everyone else. Nice, boxed cards you could buy at Target or Hallmark, and put in a letter detailing what we'd done the previous year.

Then, when the kiddo was born, I decided to do a photo card. Of course, with the resources I had at hand at my job, I couldn't do a plain one. I had to make it creative.

This is how the first one turned out:
You will not believe how many photos I had to take of him holding those letters to get three [halfway] decent ones. I think it was somewhere around 150. He wasn't exactly in a cooperative mood. And I don't think the kiddo appreciated the sweater as much as I did.

I'd seen some cute pictures using strands of Christmas lights, so the next year I'd decided to try something like that. That photo session was much more abbreviated due the kiddo not wanting to sit down for more than 3.2 seconds. I got maybe 7 photos total last year, and did some fanangling in Photoshop to make it more like I'd envisioned:
You can't even tell, though. That's the beauty of Photoshop. Those are LED lights, too, so I didn't have to worry about them getting hot to touch.

This year I didn't have any great ideas. And it's hard to come up with something that both a 2.5-year-old and a 2-month-old can "do" for lack of a better term. Thankfully, the kiddo loves his baby sister and I figured just a simple picture of him holding her would work just fine. And it did:
He's making kind of a goofy face, but hey, he's almost always making kind of a goofy face. He's just keepin' it real, yo. I just hope snapfish can get them done on time. Our letter will be fairly short this year because, really, the only thing of note that happened during the year was the kidlet's birth.

I've also been tasked with making the Christmas card for my sister the past few years. But I'll let her share those if she wants. Oh the joys of being the family member with access to graphic design programs.

I have high hopes of making some poppyseed bread and maybe even gingerbread men today. Hopefully the chitlins will cooperate (or I can make the hub watch them for a few hours while I bake).

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pa rum pa pum pum

I love Christmas music. It's some of my favorite music, especially choral/instrumental music.

Growing up, we always had to listen to Manheim Steamroller while opening presents. It never failed, we'd get home from Christmas Eve service and head to the living room where we'd see Santa had miraculously visited while we were at church (hey, that's what we did in our family). Dad would bust out the old school video camera (you know, the kind you used to have to put over your shoulder) and one of us girls would turn on the Manheim Steamroller.

I think my very favorite, though, is Harry Simeone's Sing We Now of Christmas/The Little Drummer Boy. We had the original LP, which looked like this:
But by the time I was old enough to listen to it, it had been replaced by the tape version, which had been renamed The Little Drummer Boy and looked more like this:
I don't know how many times we'd listen to that tape during the Christmas season. It was a mainstay during decorating and cookie baking and often I'd play it on Saturday afternoons in December just to have some festive background music.

I'd missed listening to it once I moved out of my parents house. My dad had tried to buy it on CD, but the one he found wasn't the original. A few years ago I did an Amazon search and found the *right* one (I checked the comments to make sure) and got it. Now I can listen to it any time I want.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Operation Christmas Spirit: Phase Three

So the tree is up and trimmed (and unsuccessfully put on a timer by the hub who thought he had it figured out but actually set the reverse of what he wanted - so our lights will probably go on at noon and shut off at 5pm), the mantel is bedecked with garland and Santas and Baby Jesus is safely in his mothers arms, surrounded by shepherds, sheep, wisemen and a lone camel on top of the piano. I even wrapped the lighted garland around the exterior stair railing before the ice storm hit yesterday (though it's still not plugged in).

Our house is about as Christmas-y as it's going to get this year.

Now it's on to shopping for presents.

The past few years my sisters and our husbands have just been drawing names to exchange gifts instead of buying something for everyone. It's much easier this way (and easier on our wallets now that we've become a two-kid household). This year our parents are even in on the exchange.

I think I know what we're getting for our respective recipients (can't share, though, because they both read this and I don't want to ruin the big surprise. Question: is it really a surprise when it's something from their list, anyway?) so my lunch hour today is going to be spent at the mall hopefully procuring said presents.

For the kiddo, we eventually found the train table that ruined my Black Friday experience (hoo boy, I didn't post about that. Long story short: I went to Toys 'R' Us at 6:30 on BF to get a train table for the kiddo, which they were sold out of. Opted to get the next expensive one after conferring with the hub. Got my ticket and stood in line for over an hour to check out. Check out and proceed to the pickup counter to get said train table. Only the bastids didn't have it in stock. Why they had a ticket but no table in stock was beyond me, and I'd wasted that hour waiting in line for nothing. They were supposed to call us when they got another one in stock but that didn't happen either. And they conveniently raised the price when they got the new shipment. Our local TRU gets a big, fat thumbs down from us.)

Anywho, as the train table is a rather pricey item, he's only getting that and two puzzles I'd bought way before we decided on the train table. He's 2.75, he doesn't care how many presents he gets.

The kidlet kind of gets the shaft. She's getting clothes and books and maybe a toy or two. It's hard - what exactly can you get a 2-month-old who already has a shload of toys from her older brother?

The most difficult is going to be the hub. Last year I surprised him with an iPod. This year I don't have any great ideas. He wants a toolbox for his pickup truck, but that's not really fun. Nor will it fit under our Christmas tree. I told him not to really buy me anything - I took advantage of a deal on a used camera bag and lens not that long ago.

Ugh. I don't mind shopping for presents, it's just so much easier when I'm shopping for things for me!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Operation Christmas Spirit: Phase Two

I'm home this morning with a semi-sick kiddo (yakking yesterday, but seems okay today. Still have to keep him out of daycare today) and starting some of the decorating.

I think I will enjoy this process much more when the kids are older and not as bossy. The kiddo says to every ornament I get out "mommy, don't hang it up YET!"

And I'd forgotten just how many ornaments we actually have. Our tree, though tall and lovely, also has some spindly, flimsy arms, which make it more difficult to hang ornaments.

I've finished putting the garland (fake, lighted) on the mantel and the piano and set the WillowTree nativity up on the piano. I even managed to find our stockings in the black hole that is our attic and hang them up.

We have an interesting assortment of stockings. Two (mine and the kiddos) my mother-in-law made and are nice, quilted and "country-esque". I like those very much; they're a lot like the ones my mom made for us when we were growing up.

The other two (the hub's and the kidlet's) are made by my mother-in-law's mother. They're of the craft-store felt-and-sequin variety and lovingly handmade, for sure, but definitely not my personal taste. I know the hub likes his because it's what he grew up with, but at some point it would be nice if they were a little more coordinated.

Oh joy. I gave the kiddo the stuffed Santa that plays my college fight song because it's about the only Santa I have that isn't breakable and he's now practicing his mixing skills with the song. The hub is really going to love that when he comes home to take the afternoon shift.

Tonight will be decorating the mantel and the few other spots that are mostly out of toddler reach with Santas. We're supposed to have a winter storm today -- we'll see if it actually happens. This is one of those days where it would be great if our fireplace worked. What's the point of having a cool old house with a lovely wood-burning fireplace if the darn thing doesn't even work? We keep saying we're going to have the chimney cleaned and the flue fixed so we can use it, but in the five years we've been married and lived in this house we have yet to do it. That will come as no surprise to anyone who knows us.

Do you think the kiddo will let me get in the shower yet? The last two times I've tried, he's been very adamant I stay downstairs. ("Actually, no. You NOT get in the shower yet.") Oh my funny boy. Did I mention the other day he told me we were going to get in a helicopter and fly to Jesus' house? Comedy people, pure comedy.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Operation Christmas Spirit: Phase One

After reading my sister's post on her Christmas memories from growing up, I decided I needed to de-Grinchify myself and try and get in the Christmas spirit. So I told the hub we could go get a tree from the tree farm today after lunch.

The kiddo had a great time running around in the snow. We cheated, though, and didn't pick and cut down our own - too difficult with a rambunctious 2.75-year-old and a sleeping 2-month-old in 25 degree weather. The farm we go to has pre-cut trees in their barn, though, so that's what we got. A 9' spruce. At least I think it's a spruce. I know it's not a white pine at least. We picked up a wreath, too, so the outside of our house looks a bit more festive.

And, after dragging it home and setting it up to warm and spread, I must admit it does look (and smell) lovely.

I'm still not too excited about digging around in the attic for all the Christmas decorations, though. That can be a job for the hub.

Yesterday I also found two of the Santa books I have by Jeff Guinn:

How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas
and

The Great Santa Search

I have The Autobiography of Santa Claus somewhere, but I fear it's been sucked into the black hole that is our basement shelves and I may never see it again. At least not until we move and are forced to clean out the basement.

I started How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas earlier today when I fanangled some alone bath time. It's nice to actually read a book again. I'd like to read them both, plus the book of Charles Dickens Christmas stories the hub got for me one year from one of his company's book fairs, before the end of the year.

So hopefully tonight I'll turn on my Christmas playlist on iTunes, make the hub drag down the lights and ornaments, decorate the tree and start feeling a little more in the Christmas mood.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Grinchy McGrincherson

I'm in serious need of some Christmas spirit.

Even with the snow on the ground, I can't seem to wrap my head around the fact that it's December already. I guess spending two months of your life stuck on the couch in your own little world will do that to you.

I used to love Christmas. I loved decorating the house. I loved baking all the holiday treats. I loved listening to Christmas music all day long. I loved how cozy and quiet everything felt with a sparkling layer of snow on it. I even loved the crisp, cold weather.

I still enjoy Christmas but I haven't had the passion for it the past few years that I used to have.

I used to deck my house all out, like this:
I collect Santas and have somewhere around 500 of them (including ornaments). Growing up, we would take the weekend after Thanksgiving to decorate the house. Turn on the Manheim Steamroller, lug all the boxes up from the basement and go to town. When we moved into our own house, I kept the tradition of decorating the weekend after Thanksgiving (only now we have to lug all the containers down from the attic). Around the second week of December, we'd go to the Christmas tree farm and pick out a fresh tree to put up and decorate.

But now, especially with two kids, it just seems like such a hassle to do all that decorating. Last year, with the kiddo being only 21 months at Christmas time and into everything, I opted to not put a tree up and only decorated the mantel, piano and radio - places where he couldn't reach easily.

This year, the hub is making me decorate, though I don't really feel like it (maybe if I procrastinate long enough I won't have to). I don't even want a tree again this year. There's no point - we're never home on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and I never get my presents wrapped beforehand (half the time I'm lucky if I even have them bought by that time) so nothing gets set under there anyway. My Christmas wish lists consists of gift cards to two stores and two DVDs.

I don't know what happened to my Christmas spirit, but I'd like some back, please.