Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Recap

I am a homebody.

There, I've admitted it!

I feel so light, so unburdened.

OK, maybe not.

The Holidays are a time I always look forward to, but often with mixed feelings. While I love my extended family and miss them, I've come to terms with the fact that my love for them does not override my distaste for travelling during the Holidays. Especially after last year's travel nightmare, it may be a handful more years until I entertain the notion of boarding a plane to travel thousands of miles through winter weather anytime from December 1-January 12.

As such, we had a lovely Christmas this year! Although I took on too much (crafting), and happily decided to not finish everything I started, I felt 97% prepared for Christmas to come.

We had a slow start (Big Sis must be the only kid on earth who sleeps in on Christmas morning!), but really enjoyed taking our time opening presents. We ate yummy cinnamon rolls for breakfast, stayed in our PJ's ALL day, and whiled away the afternoon playing with our new gifts, snacking, and eating an early dinner (our usual prime rib roast - YUM!). We capped off the night by watching A Christmas Story. It was a perfect Christmas Day.

Big Daddy and Big J enjoying a story in his new chair.

Racing with his new dragster - a well-chosen gift from Big Sis.

LEGOS! Big Daddy was so excited to share the joy of Legos with his boy.

A favorite gift (although she seemed to love everything this year -WHEW!)

Hope you had a lovely Christmas.

Sending Happy New Year Wishes to you wherever you are.
2010 has GOT to be better!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Cooking

Upon reflection, I think I was a little ambitious with this year's Holiday cooking.

First, I made caramels.
Never done it before.
First batch was good. A little pale, but soft & chewy - exactly how I like them.
I used my largest saucepan & came dangerously close to sugar coating my stove, so the next batches were cooked in a 5.5 quart pot.

Big Mistake.

My 2nd batch was hard & chewy, like Sugar Daddies.
My 3rd batch was nearly done, then burnt.
My 4th batch (a 1/2 batch cooked in the small saucepan) burnt so badly that I had to open all the doors & windows & light a Yankee Candle. My candy thermometer also feel victim to the muck, shattering when I tried to pry it out of the acrid mess still clinging to the bottom of the pan.

Yep, 5 hours later, it's still soaking in my sink.

On a happier note, I made marshmallows!!
I used this recipe from Bon Appetit.

Blooming the gelatin.
What's that?
You smell hooves?
Me too.
There's a reason the comments mentioned GOOD QUALITY VANILLA.
Read the recipe comments. Those people know what they're talking about.
(I used Costco vanilla. When I make these again, I will either need to make peppermint marshmallows with a kicky red swirl, or invest in better vanilla).

(TO BE CLEAR - I love Costco vanilla & this is my go-to for baking. But take a whiff of that bloomin' gelatin, and you'll want to pick up some Tahitian Bourbon Vanilla, too!)

Hot Mess.

Hotter Mess.

Marshmallow fluff.

Pour it in the pan & let it sit all night.

Messy, but not as bad as I thought.
Lots of powdered sugar & a serrated knife helped to make them cut-able.
I tried cutting shapes with a cookie cutter, but that was a little much for this year. Maybe in 2010.
They taste yummy - not at all like hooves.
I'm saving some for hot chocolate on Christmas, but I also set a few aside & partially dipped them in dark chocolate.
Say it with me: Mmmmmm.......
Then I made peppermint patties with the world's easiest recipe from The Kitchn. I LOVE The Kitchn.

Dipped in dark chocolate and ready to be consumed at our Christmas Eve gathering. They are really yummy, and are a near match in texture and taste to the commercial version. I was fortunate to find a candy supply store just down the street, and they had good quality chocolate at a low, low price. No tempering required.
Tomorrow I am supposed to make jam cookies, cherry cheesecake bites and artichoke dip (all for Christmas Eve).
(Yep, my New Year's goals are totally going to include some much needed gym time!)
Happy Eating!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Gingerbread" House

Growing up, we did not have many traditions surrounding the holidays.

There was never a specific day to trim the tree, or a night to go caroling.

We didn't have a special ornament to hang or nativity to set out.

There were no candies or cookies that we made without fail.

When I envisioned myself as a mother, I pictured changing all of that. And while I realize that reality sometimes gets in the way of that vision of perfection, I am - slowly.

The tree is trimmed with care (and with the breakable ornaments carefully hung out of the reach of almost-2-year-old hands).

We're not big on caroling, but I do love to listen to Christmas music almost every day and night.

We have many special ornaments (including many from my childhood), and look forward to growing our collection.

I do love to cook, and enjoy trying new cookie and candy recipes, always refining what we like & when to make them. This year's experiments include caramels, peppermint patties, marshmallows, and maybe even cake balls.

One thing I've always wanted to cross off my Holiday Mom List was making a gingerbread house. I know better than to dive in full-force, so I started off small with a graham cracker version and dollar store candy.

We used a 6-pack holder as a base, with cardboard for sub-roofing.
(shout out to the neighbors for providing the foundation of our gingerbread house)

Work in progress.
Cutting graham crackers is much easier with a serrated knife.
And patience. That helps, too.

The finished product.
Next year I will: make more royal icing, buy more candies (including gumdrops and Nilla wafers), and not bother creating red icing. I will also spread the process over a few days. It seems best to assemble the house one night & decorate it the next.

I feel like I've completed a rite of passage as a mother.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December 16

How did it get to be December 16th? I've been laboring under the delusion that today was the 14th. No way could it be the 16th - with just 9 more days until Christmas.


I think this perfectly defines my recent state of mind. My days have careened between masterful accomplishment (take that, to-do list!) and a near catatonic state of exhaustion. I've had insomnia, a fever, pale skin, a cough, a stuffy nose, and eyes so red that I look like a white rabbit. And then there are hours where I feel fine. I blame Michigan and its utterly confusing weather. December 16th and not a trace of snow to be found. Moving 30 miles from the border of the Great White North, I seriously thought we'd be in for some wild winter weather. But so far it's been icy, cold, rainy, gloomy, cloudy, rarely a peek of a sunny morning, and of course windy, with traces of hail, a few snowflakes, and not a partridge in a pear tree to be found.

My point?

Big J is 21 months!

He's displaying shades of a 2 year-old already - complete with temper tantrums and moments of tender sweetness.

He's at his best in the morning, and will even stop to cuddle and kiss me.

He's inquisitive and loves making new discoveries, from foods (Dried mango + berries? Yum!) to toys (Lego blocks that you can build up & knock down? Yes, please!). He loves to dance, to howl, to antagonize his sister (who is still the moon & stars to him).

He is obsessed with our iPhones and any time our backs are turned, he will happily grab one, unlock it and select his favorite game to amuse himself.

He is adorable and trying and sweet and irritating and loving and intolerable. He's our Big J & we love him so much!

Trip to Nevada

It was jacket weather, with highs in the 50's, and lows in the teens.

We did a little hiking.
Bringing the backpack & not the stroller was the smartest decision I made on this trip.

New favorite activity: throwing the ball for the dog.
Even if it only went 3 inches, she was a great sport about it.

Quality time with Grandpa.

Working on our Bon Appetit Thanksgiving dinner.

Sage Butter-Roasted Turkey with Cider Gravy
Sourdough Stuffing with Sausage, Apples, and Golden Raisins
Baked Sweet Potatoes
Green Beans with Walnuts and Lemon Vinaigrette
Pioneer Woman Rolls
Cranberry Sauce
Deviled Eggs
Harvest Pear Crisp with Candied Ginger


The leftovers were just as good as the dinner.

They may act like animals sometimes, but I really do try not to cage them up.

This was the dog's place inside the house. Once he discovered how much he liked her, this become his favorite hang out.

One of about 54 Christmas pictures.

Think it's tough to get the "perfect" shot of one kid? Try two.....

(There's a reason I will never be a professional photographer.....)

We miss you, Grandma & Grandpa!!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The New Mink?

Several years ago, my grandmother was moved into the long-term care area of her retirement community. She had to give up her apartment at the same community & her possessions were divided among my aunt, uncle & mother.

Although there were many antiques, oddities, and heirlooms, my aunt had long-ago laid claim to The Mink Coat. Given that she and my grandmother are most similar in height and build, it made sense - plus my mother was much more interested in the cut glass & silver. I'm glad it stayed in the family, and I appreciate the sense of continuity and family history that my aunt probably feels about the coat.

While I don't know anything about the particular history of this coat, I do know that minks - and other furs - are a long-time status symbol surrounded by mystique and misgivings. From the primal to the privileged, fur has been adorning humans since we first became conscious of the need to do so. As history passed, fur became the general provenance of the wealthy or royal. Although now fur is controversial, not so long ago it was a sign that you'd "made it" or were celebrating a milestone of particular significance. I personally don't ever see myself in a mink, but I can still appreciate the cut and swing of a beautiful vintage fur when I see it.

For the once-booming middle class, homes and cars have often been used as a way to indicate success and financial security. In the past few decades, bigger seemed to be better - as illustrated by the explosion of McMansions and the popularity of the Escalade. The mink coat sends a slightly different message ... it's a bit otherworldly. You must wear a mink coat - you can't let it wear you. And unlike my favorite fleece, it's not a garment that most women would throw on for a milk run. To me, it says "I enjoy and appreciate luxury. I am elegant. I am confident. I don't care what you think of my coat, I am incredibly warm and I think it's utterly fabulous."

Driving home from my morning errands, I stopped behind a white Dodge Charger with the vanity plate "My Mink". Although there is a huge disparity in cost between the two (Dodge Charge = $30,000, good quality mink coat = $10,000) I don't think a Dodge Charger sends the same message as a mink coat.

So what is the new mink coat? Picture yourself preparing to celebrate a landmark anniversary. To you, what would say "I've made it"? And please, don't be practical.... I want to hear about your most selfish, superficial desires.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A List of 10: Surviving Winter

Surviving Winter can be tough stuff. Short days, long nights, and bitter cold all conspire to make us wish Winter passed by as quickly as summer seemed to. Here are a few things that make the season a little more bearable for my family and I.

1. Lined Jeans: Take your pick from fleece, flannel or jersey, but lined jeans are the way to go. Whether inside a chilly house or running errands in the frosty cold, lined jeans keep my kiddos toasty warm.
2. Mitten Clips: I grew up in SoCal, so I am lacking in knowledge within the realm of winter accessories. Luckily my friendly neighborhood Wal*mart is there to show me the way. Mitten clips have maintained the integrity of many a pair of finger warmers, and for just $1.00/ pair, these babies are a MUST for the under 10 set.

3. Neutrogena Norwegian Hand Cream: I hate the dry, tight feeling my hands get when exposed to the chill of winter, and it's made even worse by the dreaded doing of the dishes. Norwegian Hand Cream to the rescue! It's thick but not greasy, absorbs quickly, and lasts a long, long time. Also works to soothe chapped cheeks and flaky lips, too! Trust me, your hands (and cuticles!) will thank me.

4. Cashmere Socks: I know, a luxury in the true sense of the word, but they are crazy cozy. If you can hold off until after Christmas, deals will abound.

5. Hot Chocolate: Whether homemade or purchased, sipped from a delicate porcelain cup or chugged from a mug, whipped with water or frothed with soy, left bare naked or crowned with cream and chocolate shavings, every winter we consume our weight in hot chocolate. Is any snowy day really complete without imbibing a little hot, chocolaty goodness?

6. Slippers: While my favorites are equipped with a rugged sole and a snuggly sheepskin lining, almost any type of slipper will do. If your home is blessed with hardwoods, you are doubly in need. We tend to keep the home fires burning a little low in the winter, and so slippers are triply necessary. Warm toes = happy heart.

7. Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream: Winter's freezing temps coupled with the wind whipped prairies of Iowa and the breeze blown shores of Lake St. Clair have given me a new-found respect for an emollient face cream. My skin tends to be a tiny bit oily, but Jack Frost's touch leaves my pores dry and taut. This cream is rich yet absorbs quickly, and does not make me break out. Thanks to Costco's low, low prices, you won't have to ransom your children to afford it.

8. Sheepskin Car Seat Covers: When you're already chilled to the bone, the last thing you want to do is plop yourself into an icy vinyl seat while you cup your hands over the heating vents and count the days until spring. Until we can afford a car equipped with bum warmers, our sheepskin seat covers have us (at least our bums) covered.

9. Down Comforters: I cannot tell a lie.... I don't know how I would survive from October-June without a down comforter on my bed. Although we have a lovely collection of quilts, they are mostly brought out to build forts or snuggle on movie night. Down is fluffy, down is light, and down is WARM. Turn down the heat and snuggle up with your sweetie. You might never want to leave your bed again.
10. Exercise: While I am much too skittish to pull a Sarah Palin and head out for a jog during an Alaskan winter, I do think snow is fun! Have a snow ball fight, break out the shovel, or get down and roll around in it. Even just a few minutes of bracing air and icy temperatures will bring a sparkle to your eye and a little pink to your cheek. Someday I'd love to try snow shoeing and cross country skiing.... but I think I need to break away from the big city first.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Fab Friday: December 4

I've always believed that it's the little things that can make the biggest difference.

Like marshmallows in hot chocolate.

Or snowflakes on Christmas Eve.

And I can't forget the tiny jolt of pleasure from downloading a new song to get my groove on.

One of the more pedestrian "little things" in my life is my inane pleasure at using Hefty Gripper garbage bags.

That's right, this post is about to extol the virtues of a TRASH BAG.

What can I say? I actually find a little happiness in my trash (can).

Finding the right kind of trash can is difficult, but finding the right bag is almost as challenging. First, you have to make sure you buy the right size (hey, sometimes it's not as easy as it sounds!). Then, if you choose unwisely, you are stuck with 30-60 bags near-useless bags.

My sweet husband actually discovered these gems. Yes, he's a keeper.

Now, for the question burning at your brain: Why do I like them?

Mostly because they do what they say - they Grip. A stretchy, elastic-y ring around the top allows the bag to fit snugly around the top of the bin. No more dirty hands from reaching into that disgusting pit when the bag caves in from the weight of an empty Diet Coke can. I also like these because they have an extra bit of Odor Block - perfect for those too-warm summer days which turn my bin into a cesspool of stink.

Although these are not on my Christmas list, feel free to gift yourself with some. They can be found at your local Wal*Mart, as well as other fine retailers nationwide.

Ho Ho Ho.