Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Christmas Miracle

Even though we aren't celebrating our family Christmas until the weekend, when it's the House on the Corner's turn to have the newlyweds under its roof, just seeing Dec. 25 on the calendar is a good excuse to bring out heavy artillery, calorie-wise. That's why I got up while the children were sleeping (all snug in their beds, so to speak) and made Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls, from scratch, for our Christmas breakfast.

I'm a pretty good baker, if I say so myself, and they turned out spectacular. Caramel-y, cinnamon-y, ooey-gooey deliciousness on a plate with a cup of cranberry wassail to wash them down.

As I took the rolls out of the oven, though, I noticed the top element seemed to be drooping--a screw had un-screwed itself and needed to be replaced. In my caramel-induced euphoria, however, I forgot this until the afternoon as I was setting the dinner rolls to proof.

Not a problem--Boy#2 is just two years from a doctorate in electrical engineering at one of the nation's most prestigious universities. This means he can fix a stove, right? Well, no. It means he can tell me exactly how the transformers and switches work on the stove, but for actual repairs it's best to call the Sears guy. That was the conclusion I reached immediately after I saw flames shooting from the control panel. (Two says they were only electrical sparks--potato, potahto.)

And that's when the Christmas miracle came in. In the past, I have been known to be just a touch...brittle? shall we say? when it comes to going with the flow. I have my plan mapped out in my head, and the plan does not vary. If circumstances such as a non-functioning oven cause the plan to need amending, those sparks coming out of the control panel pale in comparison to the mighty fireworks shooting out of the top of my head.

But yesterday, when I knew I had rolls AND a ham AND a corn casserole on the menu, I was the kitchen equivalent of Mary Lou Retton in my flexibility.

"Not a problem," I told Boy#2, Husband, and Boy#3, who by now were clustered around the (unplugged) stove looking worried. "Let's wait until tomorrow and call someone to fix it."

I know! Who was that woman, who was not wringing her hands and weeping? Instead, I grabbed the roaster oven and set the ham to glazing, then made the first of several dozen trips up and down the basement steps to where our canning stove had sat unused for a couple of years. Only 20 minutes after its original scheduled time, with just one pan of rolls inedible because I hadn't figured on the substitute oven's warm enthusiasm for its task, Christmas dinner was on the table.

Christmas miracles come in all shapes and sizes. I do believe my unaccustomed moment of good attitude in the face of unexpected circumstances may have been one of them.

Merry Christmas, to you and yours!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas Eve!

Why, hello there, and Merry Christmas!

I know, I know. the last time I wrote was approximately the day after Thanksgiving but you know what? Time really does go faster as you get older. December has FLOWN.

And what has happened since I left you staring at my garish new lipstick?

1. Many of the Boys are home! Wooo! The House on the Corner is once again awash in laptops and shoes. Parents of toddlers and teenagers, take heart. This is the best stage ever, and so worth any angst that preceded it. The only ones missing are...

2. Boy#1 and Lovely Girl, who are winging their way this direction today, but not to the House on the Corner (yet). We've entered the era of shared holidays, so our family Christmas will be Sunday, which actually is fine with me. I am completely inflexible on the matter of giving thanks on Thanksgiving Day, but Christmas? The longer it lasts, the better, because that leaves me more time for...

3. Baking! I do love to bake, and my trusty KitchenAid doesn't even get put away these days. So far I've made bierocks, bread bowls (for the traditional Christmas Eve soup following church), and many gallons of peppernuts. Still to be kneaded up today are breakfast rolls (a new recipe) and dinner rolls for tomorrow. I'm almost out of flour, though, so I'm sending a Boy or Boys to Wal-Mart for provisions, which brings us back to...

4. Many of the Boys are home, and they are old enough to fight the Christmas Eve crowds at Wal-Mart so that I don't have to.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bad to Worse

There apparently is something about this Christmas season that is making me lose my ever-lovin' mind when it comes to my appearance.

First it was the hipster glasses, which I'm actually coming to like quite a bit. My brutally honest friend said they were "Awesome!" and that "They make you look younger," which we all know is second only to "They make you look thinner" in the hierarchy of wonderful compliments. Then my hip and cool designer friend said she thought they were great, and not nearly as hipster-looking as she had thought they would be which may be a little bit of a back-handed compliment when I think of it.

But I'm getting used to looking at myself in the mirror and not recoiling, which is the first step toward acceptance. I did, however, notice that the new and bolder look meant that my pared-down make-up routine was not working so well. Put a set of tortoise-shell frames on top of an un-made-up AARP-eligible face and the face disappears entirely.

"You know," I thought yesterday as I looked in the mirror without recoiling and saw only tortoise-shell, "what I really need is some bolder lipstick. Or some lipstick, at all."

Because, yeah, I tend to forget my lipstick on a daily basis.

So while I was spending $300 at the grocery store last night (yay! The Boys and a Lovely Girl are coming home!) I threw a lipstick into the cart. It was red and on sale for $5.99, so I figured I was all set.

Except that when I went to put it on this morning, I noticed that the name of the color was "Hot Passion." A clue, maybe? In the next four seconds I went from this:

To this:

Even after wiping off as much of the color as I could (see used Kleenex above, which I can add to the phrases I never thought I would use on my blog) I feel as if I'm the female version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, except that instead of my nose it's my lips that are capable of guiding Santa's sleigh tonight.

Please, don't shout out with glee when you see me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ten (Or Eleven) Books While I Wait

In exactly two hours I am going to the home of my one of my dearest friends, perhaps the only dear friend I have who pulls absolutely no punches. She is going to tell me if my glasses look terrible or if I'm overreacting and am actually the hipster I thought I was when I ordered them. This is a terrible thing, to have to wait for news, so I'm distracting myself with a challenge that came on Facebook from another dear friend.

"In your status, post 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and don't think too hard. They don't have to be 'right' or 'great' works; just the ones that have touched/impacted you. Tag 10 friends, including me, so I'll see your post."

Oh, dang. Even laying aside the detail that "impacted" is my least favorite of all verbs, seeing as how "impact" is NOT A VERB BUT A NOUN AND I HATE THE VERBING OF NOUNS, this seems like a daunting task.

I am a reader. I have read insatiably since I was old enough to hold a book by myself, and picking 10 books out of the thousands I have read will be tough. Fortunately, I am an OLD reader, and not only can I not remember punchlines to jokes, I can't remember what book I was reading yesterday much less which one I read a decade ago. So I will be following the prompt to the letter and not thinking too hard about it. 

Before that, though, a disclaimer: Quite obviously, the book that has touched/impacted me the most has been the Bible. But I don't consider the Bible a book. (I would be glad to go into this in more detail, but this is not the right post to do that.) 

So here's my list of 10 books that have stayed with me:

1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I read this while I was a Peace Corps volunteer, when books in English were few and far between, and it blew. my. mind. What is quality? 

2. To Kill a Mockingbird. If I could have written one book, this would have been it. So simple, so complex.

3. Babies and Other Hazards of Sex. Dave Barry. The Elvis of funny writing.

4. Tom Sawyer. I put this one in because it's the earliest book I remember reading. I told my mother she had the wrong version of Tom Sawyer; she had the one written by Samuel Clemens instead of the one written by Mark Twain.

5. Harry Potter. I loved the books in this series for themselves (such wonderful use of the language) but they will have a spot in my heart forever for the hours I spent reading them to the Boys. Hours and hours and hours.

6. The Five Little Peppers. Our next-farm-over neighbor, a spinster who lived by herself in a house with no electricity or running water, gave this series to my sisters and me when we were children. The books were under her candlelit tree when we opened the gifts on Epiphany and I can still conjure up the smell of the kerosene heater by thinking of the Peppers and how they grew.

7. A Wrinkle in Time. Oh, how I loved this, and love it still. Meg, with all of her self-perceived flaws, was my hero and tedious car trips still make me long to tesser.

8. I'll Love You Forever. This children's book was given to me after the birth of one of the Boys (either #3 or #4, I don't remember) and I SOBBED as I read it to the older ones. Then Much Younger Sister pointed out how badly the family dynamics in that family are out of whack, and now I roll my eyes at the sight of the cover. 

9. Tess of the D'Urbervilles. This book is on here because it made me realize that I have terrible taste in literature. My high school English teacher told me I would LOOOOOOVE this book, that it was WOOOOONDERFUL, and would make me CRYYYYYYY. Instead I found it BOOOOORING and wanted to shoot Tess for her inability to wake up and smell the coffee. Boooo, Tess.

10. Becoming a Woman of Excellence. This Cynthia Heald book/study was the gateway drug to small group Bible study, and changed my life. I'm going to cheat and piggyback Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby on this entry, because it was the study that had the most influence on the way I, well, experience God. 

And there you have it. I have now free-associated 10 (11) books that have stayed with me, and since I can't tag everyone on Facebook (not knowing your names, as I do not), go ahead and leave a comment: 

What 10 books (or 5, or 1) books have stayed with you?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Do You See What I See?

I have new glasses. I do not like them.

I'd had same glasses for several years--four years? Five?--and styles change, so when I went to pick out new frames the optician suggested I needed a new look.

"Styles are bolder today," she said. "You should think about making a statement."

I decided to go for this look:

Unfortunately, when I picked up the new specs on Friday I realized the statement I would be making was "Yo! If it were 2003 I'd look really cool, but instead I look like the kind of person who says 'Yo!' And also, the only person over 30 who can pull this look off is Tina Fey and you, doofus-face, are no Tina Fey."

This impression has been underscored and bold-faced by the reactions of those who know me and cannot avoid seeing the mistake on my face. So far every single person who has commented on the frames has done so in that way that makes you thank their mother for reminding them to not say anything at all if they can't say anything nice.

"Oh! You look...studious."  and "Huh! Very...academic." "New glasses? It's always kind of a shock to have a new look, isn't it?"

Well, MomQueenBee, you are thinking, just wear your old glasses.

Unfortunately, the new pair has a slightly changed prescription, and even though I don't really like the way I'm looking, I like very much the way I'm seeing.

When I told Boy#1 about my glasses, he thoughtfully provided links to some folks whose choices in eye wear were even worse than my own. There's former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Gunther Cunningham, for example. The actual caption under this picture was "It was only after he left Kansas City that Gunther Cunningham was told his yellow glasses did not give him special coaching powers."
There's also former U.S. Senator from South Dakota and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle:
Notice what they have in common beside their wacky glasses? Yup, it's the word "former."

I think I'll steer clear of my boss today.

Friday, December 13, 2013

No Time for Small Talk

You remember this woman, don't you? It's Alexandra, my body double who always models my chenille robe for me because I'm not the kind of person who would take a selfie. Alexandra also is the one I call on to defend my relaxation habits, because Alexandra knows the value of some down time and a good nap.

She is a very wise woman, one who has perfected the smokey eye.

Alexandra is here today because I don't have time for the intense effort that I put into Friday Orts and Blurbs. What? You thought those just were a lazy way to wrap up every week? Well, pffft to you. I spend HOURS jotting down ideas that occur to me while I'm watching Project Runway and drinking coffee.

Anyway, it suddenly occurred to me yesterdayt that CHRISTMAS IS COMING. The annual panic set in, and with one week to go (HOLY COW!) I realize I haven't finished the gifts I intend to hand-make. Or started them.

So today I'm taking a vacation day (hooray for full-time benefits and no more major deadlines until January) and working on those projects. Or rather, I'm thinking about working on those projects.

When Husband left for work this morning, he patted my chenille-robe-covered shoulder and said "I hope you're not still in this when I come home tonight."

That's when Alexandra told him to mind his own beeswax, that I was going to be a blur of activity and might have come full circle and be back in the robe by the time he got to the office, prompting him to shake his head sadly and mutter something about retirement and the boatload of fun he expected his wife would be when she reaches that Promised Land.

Then Alexandra urged me to take a nap, so I don't have time for Friday Orts and a Blurb. Later she's going to show me how to do a smokey eye.

I love Alexandra.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Party Girls

I am such a bad partier that I did not even take a picture of my own dipped pretzels.
In my grumpy old age, I've settled into a Christmas routine that suits me nicely. I don't over-decorate, and I rarely go to a Christmas party I'm not truly excited to go to. Last night was the first of these festive occasions, an end-of-the-year get-together with my Wednesday night ladies' group. I've mentioned before that we call ourselves the Free Space because it's like that spot in Bingo that you don't have to earn, you just land on it.

There are oh, so many things I love about this party. It has a defined beginning time (6:30 p.m.) and end time (8 p.m.), which is appropriately brief and gets us home in time for early bedtime. There simply is not enough time to have a bad time.

We have a white elephant/Yankee swap exchange, which leads to much lively debate. Oh, no, not over the gifts--over the rules of the game. We are the kind of sweet little old ladies who endlessly "You go ahead of me," and "No, no, no, you first, my dear," but are Xena: Warrior Princess when it comes to deciding whether a gift may be stolen more than three times.

We wear ugly Christmas sweaters, which in some of our cases (mostly mine), means we don't have to change clothes after work because we believe there is no such thing as an ugly Christmas sweater. Those who are believers in ugly Christmas sweaters are perhaps the most festive as they have to use their imaginations to come appropriately decked out. My two favorites were K., who pinned enormous glittery bows all over her sweater and looked gorgeous, and S., who came in costume as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Yes, she did. Down to the captain's pips on the collar. She looked just like this, except with lipstick and a really cute haircut.

We also each bring something to eat and unlike most times when women get together, we are highly non-competitive when it comes to what we throw on the buffet table. I made peppernuts but they didn't turn out right in spite of the fact that I've made maybe sixty-four entillion peppernuts during my life. So I threw some almond bark in the microwave and dumped in a half bag of pretzels and voila, off to the party. It's bachelor cooking at its finest and no one is judging.

So we sort of dress up, yell at each other about bad gifts, and stuff our faces with food other people cook, then we go home in 90 minutes or less and as we leave we agree that it may be the most fun we have during the entire holiday season.

Merry Christmas, Free Spacers. I believe we've pretty much perfected this holiday party thing.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On His Shoulders

My earliest memory of my father is from when I was two years old. In those days when Much Older Sister and I were their only children, my parents would make our bedtime routine a game. Each of them would grab a girl to race up the stairs to our bedroom--MOS was always Mama's Girl, and because I was younger and slower I was Daddy's Girl. While Mama's Girl held Mama's hand and they pounded up the steps, Daddy swept me up onto his shoulders and the race was on.

I'm sure there was an equitable distribution of who would come in first in each race, but I don't even remember the winning and losing part. What I remember was how I felt up there on my father's shoulders. I was invincible, on the team of this strong, determined man, and we laughed as we flew toward the goal.

Today my father turns 87 years old. I've written here often about what it's like to have the strongest, most determined father in the world. I wrote about his place in the Greatest Generation, how he left for the Navy when he was 17, and was loading torpedoes in World War II's Pacific battlegrounds before he was old enough to shave. I've spoken of how his vision for vocational education was the driving force behind an institution that has changed thousands of lives, thousands of families. I've made note of his multiple swimming championships in three state Senior Olympics competitions this year.

These days I don't see my father nearly as much as I wish I did. He lives a state away and between his schedule and my schedule (mostly his schedule), it's often a month or two between hugs. But that doesn't mean I don't see reminders of him.

I come across the picture of him lighting a fire in the fireplace, with 18-month-old Boy#1 watching intently. I hear Boy#3 talk about his first months of teaching, and remember that he is a musician today largely because he loved hearing Grandpa play the trombone. I see my children involved in church activities and know my dad was part of the godly heritage that was modeled in their grandparents. I look at my marriage and appreciate the 58 years Dad and Mom were married. Every day I have moments in my professional life when his modeling of commitment to the right thing influences my decisions.

He is still strong and determined and part of my life, every day.

Happy birthday, Dad. We're still on your team and standing on your shoulders.

Monday, December 9, 2013

What I Would Have Said to Liesl

(Alternate Title: Reflections After Watching The Sound of Music Live!)

(Second Alternate Title: Why I Don't Have Girls)

Oh, hey, Liesl! Yes, we're back! Yes, we had a great time, but I am exhausted. I can't wait to have the nearest frau draw me a nice hot bath and soak in that puppy for about three hou--what? You want to talk? Right now? Oh. Okay. Sure!

What do I think of Rolf? Huh. Well, why do you ask? You've been doing WHAT in the gazebo? Oh, for heaven's sake, Liesl. What are you thinking?

You are SIXTEEN! Sixteen years old. That is not even old enough to get a driver's license in most states, and don't give me any baloney about how that doesn't matter because he has his own transportation. Wait a year or two until you have triplets you're trying to fit into the basket of that bicycle along with the telegrams and you'll wish you had one of those nice big caretaker cars, even if that caretaker car doesn't have any interior wiring because some well-meaning nuns yanked it all out.

Darling, let's look at this for just a second. He is only seventeen. He still wears shorts during the winter, for heaven's sake, and do you want to hitch yourself to that fashion star for the rest of your life? You're a good-looking girl, Liesl--you could do so much better.

Has your father never told you anything about seventeen-year-old boys? Well, sweetheart, it's a good thing you have me here now. Seventeen-year-old boys are nothing but hands and hormones. I know he looked adorable in the moonlight in the gazebo....What? THERE'S NO GAZEBO? WHAT HAPPENED TO THE GAZEBO?

Anyway, seventeen-year-old boys, especially seventeen-going-on-eighteen boys, are roues and cads. No, I am not going to define those for you. Perhaps you should have been studying for your SATs while we were gone instead of burning down the gazebo? Let's just say that when he offers you food  and wine, you'd better make sure to have a food-taster. Someone who has joined the NAZIS definitely would not be above a little date-rape-drugging.

You are sixteen, Liesl. One of these days you may grow up to be a nun who is savvy enough to grab yourself a rich older navy captain with an enormous house and servants and children who have perfect pitch. When that day comes, grab that navy captain and tell him to put a ring on it.

But until then, dear, you're grounded.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Orts and a Blurb

And welcome to another Friday! A full work week later I'm still agog about my spectacular and timely Christmas decorating. In fact, I even decorated my office this year. Yes! I did! I grabbed a Santa doorknob cover, the elastic of which has been permanently destroyed by storage in our attic, and I threw it into my office plant. See evidence above. And for any of you who think a Santa doorknob cover does not exist, you obviously do not have my late mother-in-law's love for Christmas decorating. Speaking of decorating...

The lovely Idena asked in a comment if decorating more than one room was even a thing. Wow. Idena, do you live in a Grinch-apocalyptic Whoville? I'd say if Facebook is any indication I may be the only person in Small Town who only decorates one room. Of course, there may be others such as myself who aren't bragging about our Grinch-homes on the internet. And I must say...

My comment about holiday hand towels being "dumb" (perhaps not the most reasoned of descriptors) certainly hit a nerve. There is apparently no middle ground on this issue, as everyone appears to  LOOOOOOVE holiday hand towels or to HAAAAAATE holiday hand towels with absolutely no "meh" middle ground. Who knew?

The season of high demand for us semi-competent accompanists is upon us, and last night that did not please me. It was 13 degrees and snowing when I left for Christmas choir practice, and I wanted to watch The Sound of Music Live. Imagine my delight when I got home two hours later and could read the entire hilarious Tweet-storm that TSOML provoked without having to sit through the three actual hours of the production+WalMart commercials. One example:

"Julie Andrews is spinning around in her grave." "Julie Andrews isn't dead." "She will be after she watches this."

I am not judging whether or not the production was good (LISA) but Husband finally had to tell me to either pipe down with the snark-produced giggles or go to another room.

And now, a blurb for Small Town folks. Everyone else can go back to reading Sound of Music Live tweets.

Husband and I ate in the new restaurant on Main Street last night, and people, our meal was really good. I had a delicious caprese half-sandwich and a cup of black bean soup. Husband had a rustic pizza. We shared (free) appetizers of homemade bread with herb butter. Yummmmmm.

But what made my heart go pitter-pat was that the restaurant/emporium sells SALSA LIZANO! Salsa Lizano, as my Tico-phile friends know, is the taste of Costa Rica. Without it you cannot make the foods that taste like my Peace Corps years on a fork. Gallopinto. Huevos con tomates. If you've tasted Salsa Lizano you know of what I speak.

I've been surviving for 30 years now on the kindness of travelers who risk the contents of their suitcases to smuggle me back bottles of this delicacy, but I always have doled it out as if it were the nectar of the gods and the gods were no longer producing nectar.

Please, Small Towners, go have a sandwich or an espresso or something at the Chef's Kitchen. You'll get a great sandwich and I'll have a continuing supplier of non-contraband condiments.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

He'll Be Just Fine

The guy who works in the next office came in this morning carrying half a dozen of those big plastic candy canes that people stick in the ground for general Yuletide festivity at this time of the year. This did not seem to fit his usual decor vibe, but we still applauded the spirit behind the effort.

"Candy canes! Great!" we huzzah-ed him.

"Not so great," T said. "Yesterday C (his five-year-old son) was here for a music lesson and he kicked over and broke the ones outside the performing arts building."

T and his wife, who are truly good parents, insisted that C write an apology note, then they took him downtown to withdraw his own money from his own bank account for the replacement canes. In spite of these stellar examples of How To Deal With Childish Anarchy, T remained worried.

"I can understand if he had broken just one, because he didn't know it would broke if he kicked it, but he went on and broke FOUR. What kind of a kid does that?"

I laughed and laughed. Obviously I had never told him about the time I Boy#1 and Boy#2 were about C's age.  They were playing outside and I was vacuuming when the doorbell rang. It was an irate woman, one whom I'd never met.

"DID YOU KNOW THAT YOUR CHILDREN ARE THROWING ROCKS AT CARS?" she screamed at me. After I ascertained that none of the rocks had actually hit their targets (yup, they have my athletic genes), I apologized profusely and promised I would "take care of it." I was mortified that my children, the loves of my life, could be such utter hooligans.

I called One and Two in and prepared to give them what-for. In the case of One, this was unnecessary. My tenderhearted rule-follower already was in tears, and sure whatever what-for he was going to be given would involve a spanking. Or jail time. Younger brother Two had true regret in his eyes--but his regret was that he had not hit the moving car. No amount of lecturing or explaining that he could have DAMAGED SOMEONE ELSE'S STUFF made a dent in his lack of remorse.

"And in spite of that," I reassured my colleague, "Two has grown up to be a fine, compassionate, ethical man who has never been in jail. You're handling this just right, and C will be fine."

What kind of a five-year-old kid breaks something just because it's there and it makes a thoroughly satisfying crack when it breaks?

A boy kind, and someday T and his wife will laugh about this. Not today, but someday.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I Am on Top of It

If you are a faithful reader of this blog, or if you know me in real life, you know that competence is not my strong suit.

I'm not being modest about this, or fishing for compliments. "Oh, MomQueenBee, you are SO competent," said no one ever, but I value my own talents. My strong suits are willing semi-competence, and an ability to produce quickly under deadline. Oh, and the ability to correctly use the words "compose" and "comprise," but that particular strong suit is sadly under-valued.

Anyway, my Christmas competence is even more semi- than most of my other competences. I am always the last one to have my decorations up, the final house on the street with no lights peeking through the front windows, the obvious slacker when it comes to ho-ho-ho-ing.

But this year? On the second day of December, in the Year of Our Lord 2013, the House on the Corner is Christmas-ed!

Boo to the yah to all of my (imaginary) detractors who didn't think I could do it, with a special fist-pump for those who have warned me Santa Claus will not stop at our house on Christmas Eve if I am screaming up the chimney "JUST A MINUTE! THE TREE IS ALMOST UP!"

Of course, decorating for Christmas is not what it used to be. Over the years my holiday prettify-ing of the entire house has shrunk like the Grinch's cold, hard, heart, until the pretty is now all contained within the four walls of the living room. I'm not criticizing you if YOU want to throw holiday spirit into every corner of YOUR house, but two things: l) holiday hand towels are dumb, and 2) don't come crying to me when you're still picking holly berries out of the guest room carpet in July.

And if you are one of those who has posted on your Facebook page "The first of our six trees is up and decorated!!!! I love this time of the year so much!!!!!" I am not judging. Good for you, I say, even if the use of multiple exclamation points indicates I am saying it with just a bit of sarcasm. I will love visiting your house, and truly, I will admire those themed trees.

Just don't expect me to be doing anything similar. Ever. Notice the still-unlit spot on our tree where the pre-lit lights decided this year not to light? Semi-competence is enough for me.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Martha Stewart, eat your heart out. Also your gizzard.

And so it's December! After waiting all year for the Best Day of the Year, said day has come and gone and was truly lovely. But before we move on, a few random observations to clear out of the observation tower:

Observation #1: This is the first year in my long series of preparing Thanksgiving dinner that I tried brining a turkey and roasting it in a roaster. I was an Oven Bag early adopter and never looked back from the convenience and ease--until this year, when all the cool kids were brining and roasting. 

The brining was not exactly easy, what with the need to clear out refrigerator space for a 23-pound bird marinating in a plastic bag containing three gallons of salty flavor, but I worked around this issue by using an ice chest on the deck in 33-degree weather. It also was convenient to have the gizzards in advance so that I could make my special gizzard dressing, which is MINE AND ONLY MINE AND NO ONE ELSE WILL EAT IT! MWAHAHAHA!

However, I had never realized how long a turkey takes to roast when it is free-range and un-bagged. The exact time for this step is "forever, plus two hours." Holy smoke. At the moment the turkey was scheduled to be set on the table, the meat thermometer was reading 130 degrees, which is approximately the temperature at which Ralphie's mom would be telling his dad "You'll get worms!" (YouTube failed me when I tried to find a clip from this seminal moment in A Christmas Story.)

I had the joy of telling Husband "Yes, that looks done to me" with each slice he carved off the carcass of this reluctant feast, so next year it's back to an Oven Bag. 

Observation #2: Slow cookers are my friends when it comes to preparing Thanksgiving for a crowd. How many did I have plugged in? Let's see--one for the un-special dressing (What? You didn't think I'd leave all the non-gizzard eaters without dressing, did you?), two for green bean casserole, one to keep the gravy warm, one to keep the mashed potatoes warm, one to keep the rolls warm.

And since I seem to be making a lot of non-solicited endorsements of Reynolds products today, their stock probably rose last week thanks to my multiple purchases of slow cooker liners. I'm a huge fan and so are the people who did the dishes while I rested my tired feet on an ottoman Thursday night.

Observation #3: Do Cyber Monday deals seem to not be quite as spectacularly amazing as they were in the past? I offer as proof the following deal that thought would induce me to hand over my credit card number this morning:
Product Details
OXO Good Grips 3-Piece Silicone Spatula Set
  • $11.99 $11.95
  • Order in the next 7 hours and get it by Tuesday, Dec 3.
  • More Buying Choices

Really You think I can be bought for FOUR CENTS? Well, considering that I just endorsed two different Reynolds products and Reynolds paid me no cents at all, you may be overbidding.

Friday, November 29, 2013

2013 Best Day of the Year

I took this picture right before we sat down to eat.
I'm wearing sweatpants this morning, which is indicative of two things: I don't intend to set foot out of the house today (you're welcome, Small Town eyes that might have been blinded by the sight), and  it was a wonderful Thanksgiving in the House on the Corner.

This year's gathering was smaller than many we've had in the past. We missed my mother and my mother-in-law, who were probably baking heavenly rolls together and laughing at the really terrible gravy I made. We missed two of my siblings, one working in Australia and one called away by an emergency. We missed two of the Boys and Lovely Girl, who were together but not with us. We missed several of the next generation who spent Thanksgiving with the "other" sides of their families this year.

But the weird thing is that on Thanksgiving, it's as if we're all together. People who weren't here for the turkey, we missed you but we included you as well.We talked about what you probably were doing at the moment we were digging into the cranberry salad and scooping up slabs of pecan pie. We reminisced about how the absent brother can really carve a turkey.

"It's probably a good thing the little kids are at their other grandparents' houses this year,"we said when the turkey took a full two hours longer to cook than I had anticipated it would. We exchanged "wishing you were here" text pictures with the Boys and Lovely Girl in the nation's capital as we all happened to sit down to eat at the same time.

We were thankful for so many things this year, including the gorgeous day after several days of nasty weather.

But most of all we were thankful for those we love, the ones who were here and the ones we were missing.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Yup. That's How It Is.

I'm showing the internet the inside of my refrigerator. Wow.
Boy#3 and Boy#4 arrived home for Best Day of the Year vacation last night, and it is wonderful. I would, of course, prefer that Boy#2 and Boy#1 and Lovely Girl be here as well, but neither beggars nor the overblessed who have spent time with all of their farflung children during the past month can be choosers.

Three kept me company this morning while I was finishing up the pre-Thanksgiving cooking. This is an actual transcript of our conversation.

Three: So, what have you already done this morning?

Me: I've brined the turkey in a salt solution, cooked and mashed the potatoes with cream cheese and butter and cream, baked the sweet potatoes, cooked the syrup for the sweet potatoes, and refrigerated all of it for final baking tomorrow.

Three: In other words, cooking for Thanksgiving means you take a lot of healthy foods, and make them unhealthy?

I think he's beginning to see why this is the eve of the Best Day of the Year

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Have I Mentioned This Before?

This morning as I (tra-la-la) worked my way down my to-do list (boil brine for turkey, stir up first batch of rolls, etc.), I thought to myself, "Self, you really should tell your fabulous reader(s) about the cranberry sauce that's the best part of Thanksgiving, except for the family being here and the turkey and the dressing...well, the cranberry sauce that's a really nice part of Thanksgiving."

So I photographed the six easy steps to the perfect cranberry sauce, the sauce that has sauced the holiday table of the House on the Corner for the past quarter century. I rinsed the four cups of cranberries (snap a picture), added water (snap), boiled until they popped (snap), etc., etc. through the sugar, raisins and walnuts.

Then I sat down to write this little chapter in the annals of the Best Day of the Year. I transferred the pictures to my laptop, opened the editing program and noticed something strange: The pan in the pictures was not the pan I used to cook the cranberries this year.

And that's when I remembered that whoops! I apparently have written exactly this same post before, because I have TWO sets of the exact same photos of cranberries topped with picturesque mounds of sugar, then bubbling merrily for 10 minutes, the same shots of my disembodied left hand tipping two cups of walnuts into the mix. Only the pans are different; even both left hands are eerily similar in their need of manicures.

Huh. I must really like this cranberry sauce. But I'm here to warn you--the Ocean Spray people may be pulling your leg when they say the antioxidants in cranberries are good for the memory.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Check It Off

Recipes, both virtual and printed, plus coffee
I know what you're thinking.

"MomQueenBee's on her annual Thanksgiving-week vacation," you're thinking."She's probably sitting around home drinking coffee and watching a Project Runway All Stars marathon."

Well, okay, you are absolutely right about that. At this actual moment I am drinking coffee, and those back-bitey designers are biting backs and creating weird "clothing" for me to make fun of.

But I am rocking and rolling on the Thanksgiving-ness, too. So far this morning I have made a list, without which Thanksgiving cannot happen. In fact, I have made three lists--to do today, to do by dinnertime on Thursday, to buy. On today's list were 1) clean out refrigerator, 2) get a haircut, 3) find Thanksgiving recipes, 4) grocery shop, 5) blog.

Not even on my list was 6) have lunch with Husband, but when I hit the publish button, I will have crossed off all six items on my list and it's not even mid-afternoon

Boom! Bring on the Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Orts and a Blurb

Oooh! Pretty!
Last week the Small Town Friends of the Library asked me to talk to them about oversharing on the internet, and I had to accept the invitation. I love Friends! I love the Library! I'm a champion oversharer! They were just as wonderful and welcoming as I had expected, but then one lovely new Friend told me she watches my blog to see what I'm currently knitting.


I do not do a good job of keeping my "what's on my needles" section up to date. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever updated it, so all of you who have arrived here through the promise of a Five Hour Baby Sweater, I apologize. That sweater was finished and delivered and the baby who wore it is now in kindergarten.

My current obsession is shawls and I've finished three of them in the past six months.The first was intended to be part of my Mother of the Groom ensemble, but when I asked Much Older Sister if it was looking a little ripple afghan-y, she (correctly) told me it was, so it became part of my rehearsal dinner ensemble instead.

Shawls are lovely for those of us who are of a certain age, because they are easily removed when the power surge comes upon us, as it is wont to do. I've just finished the Maharashtra Silk shawl pictured above but it is not yet blocked, so that model is not me. (You may have already ascertained that, because COLLARBONES.) It was quite fun to knit, though, and the yarn has a lovely hand feel. The pattern is linked under the picture, for all of you knit-wits.


I made a startling discovery this week. I pulled some pennies out of my purse and while the heads of Honest Abe were still predictably on one side...

...the tails sides were different.


If you haven't yet had your awwwwwww moment today, go ahead and pre-shape your mouth.

I am unable to embed Baby Panda's First Steps, but it's worth clicking over to it, even though it looks disturbingly similar to my own getting-out-of-bed-in-the-morning routine.


 Blurb of the Week

Husband and I have been watching Hostages, a CBS drama new this year. We seldom are able to sync our schedules well enough to start a series together, so we were excited to be able to watch a water-cooler-moment-worthy show FROM THE BEGINNING. We've hung in there through the first six or seven episodes, in spite of school board meetings on Monday nights that occasionally force Husband to play catch-up in the middle of the week. I wish I could say we chose wisely and have discovered a new Mad Men  or Downton Abbey, but while I may exaggerate for comic effect, I try to never out-and-out lie in this space.

People, this show is terrible. It is not terrible on the terribleness scale of Two and a Half Men, but that show revels in terribleness. Hostages is trying to be serious and riveting, and make you tune in week after week because you CAN'T WAIT until Monday night rolls around again to find out what's happening. It wants to be 24 and instead I find my brow furrowed with exasperation at the ineptitude of everyone surrounding the President of the United States.

Which, I guess, is the way I spend most of my time anyway, so that's kind of like real life. Everything else about this show is not like real life and leaves us incredulous and drop-jawed. (Brow furrowed and drop-jawed--we are PRETTY when we watch Hostages.) The (grown-up/professional) members of this family really cannot find or borrow a phone to call someone and get help? The life-saving surgery the leading character performed on her husband on the dining room table was so spectacular he healed in a single day? Wow. I know some hernia repair surgeons who need to take lessons.

So thumbs down, way down, for Hostages. Unless you're planning to bond with a loved one over the unbelievability, you can keep your Monday nights free.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reality Check

Oh, y'all! You dear, sweet things. So very many nice comments on yesterday's post that every time I checked in on my Facebook profile I gasped. Seriously, you are too sweet, and I have a little backtracking to do.

Husband and I are not the cooing lovebirds I may have misled you to think. In fact, we are such oldlyweds that we celebrated the first evening of our 31st year of marriage by raking leaves, then going to Sonic. ("Forget the cholesterol! It's our anniversary!") But we did those things together.

So romantic, these two.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Still the One

Leaning against the wall of the master bedroom in the House on the Corner is a portrait-sized copy of the picture that illustrates today's post. We did not order this enormous print, but the photographer had used it as a display model in his studio and when he went out of business he sold it to us for the cost of the frame.

In my mind I named this portrait Young Bride and I've always loved it (even though we've never bestirred ourselves to find a nail and hang it up) because it is composed of 90% sentiment and misty dreams and 10% of what was running through the bride's mind: The bride was thinking "Un-focus your eyes--that's how you get that wistful gaze going" in a most calculating manner. I had waited 29 years to be the blushing bride, and that girl with the un-saggy neck might look young and naive, but she had known exactly what she wanted in a husband and had waited a long time for him.

I wanted a husband who was smarter than I am, and who did the right thing even when it was inconvenient or difficult. I wanted someone who made me laugh. I wanted a man who worked hard and followed through. I had waited for a partner who thought I was the bee's knees and wasn't embarrassed to tell me so. I had looked for someone who would be a good dad, even if the prospect of that role was scary to him. I wanted someone who treated his mother well, because that's a good indication of what kind of husband he would be.

I wanted someone who made my pulse pick up when he walked into the room.

Thirty years ago today I walked down the long church aisle toward the man who fit all of these requirements, but Young Bride didn't know that man came with bonus attributes. She hadn't specified warm hands, perfect for holding. She didn't consider how safe she would feel riding with a husband who was a good driver. She didn't consider how important it was that he be a sports fan, but not a fanatic.

When Boy#1 and Lovely Girl were married a couple of weeks ago, they asked their two sets of parents to write blessings that would be read at the ceremony. They gave us a 250-word limit to sum up everything we wished and hoped for them--obviously they knew I could have gone on and on until the candles had guttered out--so I tried to condense what I've learned in 30 years of marriage into one pithy thought. It turned out that the pithy thought is this:

Marriage is not always sentiment and misty un-focused eyes. Sometimes it's messy and difficult, because marriage involves human beings and their messy, difficult feelings and needs (and hormones). But any bit of effort put into building a life together (even if that life is occasionally messy or difficult) is worthwhile and never wasted. This life, this marriage, is worth it.

Young Bride, you were right to wait for the right one. 

Happy anniversary, Husband. You're still the one.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Better With Age

Selfies at the theater. Is Husband a good sport or what?
When I was younger--much younger--I was convinced that the success of any particular year rested upon whether I had a good birthday or a not-so-good birthday to kick off that particular year.

Folks, this is a weighty responsibility for a single date on a calendar, especially a date that is somewhat capricious, if you believe that eating Chinese food or driving over railroad tracks can bring on labor, which the internet apparently does. Nonetheless, I spent all of my childhood and much of my early adulthood thinking that as Nov. 16 goes, so goes the year.

Unfortunately, a bad birthday was almost inevitable when I was in that stage of life. I mean, how could a day live up to the pressure? When a single hurt feeling or not-exactly-perfect present can throw off AN ENTIRE YEAR and my thin skin at that point meant I rarely went an hour without hurt feelings, much less a whole day?

It's only been in the past decade or so that I realize how inconsequential birthdays are. Not only does the day not determine how happy I will be in the coming year, each moment does not determine how happy I will be in the rest of the day.

BUT (and this is a big but, as I always think when I try on jeans) having a birthday gives a person permission to say poo-poo-to-you to the ought-to's and shoulds of a day.

So Saturday, when I ought to have been cleaning out my frozen-over flower beds and should have been scrubbing the kitchen floor, Husband and I were taking in a double-header movie in the Big City. We saw TWO movies I've wanted to see, including our very first foray into 3-D (I know! What century have we been living in?) and seeing a movie that critics say is a Sure Oscar Contender before it's released onto video (I know! Who are these people?).

For the record, the movies were Gravity,which I highly recommend if you've never seen tears floating out of Sandra Bullock's eyes and over your head into the theater, and 12 Years a Slave, which I highly recommend if you'd like to die of the weight of social conscience pressing down on you. (After the second one I texted Boy#2 and requested that he tell me a joke, quickly, before I slit my wrists from depression. "What did one snowman say to another snowman?" he texted back. I had no answer. "Do you smell carrots?" Hahahahaha! New favorite joke.)

Then, when we were stuffed with popcorn and despair, we stuffed ourselves again with hummus and warm pita and dolma as we dug into the deliciousness that is the Mediterranean food at my favorite restaurant. That's because this had been my lunch:
Yes. French fries and a Hawaiian Delight sundae. Because it was my birthday, and I'm a grown-up!

Birthdays are so much better when you're a grown-up.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Wedding Orts and a Blurb

Okay, I seem to have come to the end of the wedding stream. Yesterday, after the lovely Idena asked for More Wedding! More Wedding! I sat down and opened a new-post window and...nothing. Nothing left to burble about except the lovely view outside our window at the historic hotel, and I couldn't make a whole post out of that.

(It was lovely. The end.)

Oh, wait. There was one more thing about this view: If you turned 180 degrees, you saw the opposite of lovely. Want to know what happens when you put a family-of-six in a couple of adjoining rooms two hours before they become a family-of-seven and tell them all to change clothes RIGHT NOW BECAUSE WE'RE GOING TO BE LATE? Whoa. It looked like The Men's Wearhouse exploded in there, especially if you throw in a couple of remote controlled helicopters that were the perfect groomsmen gifts but came with a LOT of packaging.

Anyway, you can all be grateful that I did not photographically document that scene. It was not pretty.

Husband and the Boys don't dress up in tuxedos all that often. Although, as I think about it, they put on fancy duds more often than I do, since one of them attends presidential inaugurations and one of them plays Real Music that properly requires formal attire. Don't believe me? Once again I have photographic evidence.

This photo is a screen shot of the taken of the television coverage during the first Obama inauguration, when Boy#1 was on the FRONT ROW when Barack and Michelle had their first dance. He is wearing a tuxedo. (I mean Boy#1 was; I assume Barack also was but I have no photographic evidence of this.)

But my point was that Husband and the Boys needed a bit of assistance in figuring out whether they should wear the suspenders (Me: "Boys, no. Husband, yes.") and how to affix the shiny accoutrement that accompany formalwear. That meant I was scurrying when it came putting my own self together, but hey! Worth it!

They clean up nicely, don't they?
And finally, a wedding blurb.

This Band
This band. May I say once more that they were the biggest surprise of the entire weekend? I thought the church would be lovely, I believed the chaplain would be terrific, I knew the ceremony music would be fabulous, and I was right on all of those points. But I was afraid the band would be one of Those Wedding Bands that play too loudly when you're trying to eat, and have their dance set that goes from A to B to C without a thought to what's happening on the dance floor. That was not this band.

Multiphonic rocked in every way possible. They played songs that I liked, and songs that my 87-year-old father liked, and songs that the age-appropriate dancers liked. When they played the first dance song for our newlyweds I was misty-eyed as I lost myself in both the lyrics and the tenderness of the moment, even though I'd never heard the song before. They gauged the energy on the dance floor and calmed it down or amped it up as necessary.

If you have a chance to crash a wedding where this group is playing, don't hesitate to put on your rented tux and pretend to be one of the guests. Multiphonic turned out to be a way better alternative than my suggestion for the post-dinner entertainment. Go figure--I thought nothing could top board games, but I was wrong..

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Beautiful Girls

You can't tell me you honestly thought I was done talking about the Wedding of the Century, did you? Because how well do you know me? Considering how many words I can generate about pantyhose, if you thought I was moving on from this topic you apparently do not know me very well at all.

Anyway, among the things about the WotC that make me smile is this picture of the four bridesmaids. I snapped it while these beautiful young women were waiting for their turn with the real photographer, and I LOVE it. They are so themselves in this picture; not one of them in that current-century girl pose that makes me gag just a little. (I'm telling you, people, that pose is the gateway drug to wearing national costumes in the Miss Universe pageant.)

What are my favorite memories of these funny, smart, poised young women who looked so CUTE in their turquoise bridesmaid dresses? Well, the maid of honor's toast was one of two moments in the entire day that made a tear roll down my cheek. (I know! Who was this woman, who normally cries at Folgers Christmas commercials but made it through her own son's wedding almost tear-free?)

Perhaps the best moment, though, came in the church basement as we waited for the wedding coordinator's signal that it was time to start the show. The flower girls, the bridesmaids, the parents, and the happy couple had been sequestered down there long enough that the youngest members of the group had lost their occasion-appropriate sense of awe and were beginning to squirm. And poke each other. And swing their pomanders around as if they were wrecking balls in spite of the florist's explicit instructions that included DO NOT SWING THESE AROUND.

So the bridesmaids distracted the moppets with a rousing game of "Two Reals and a Whopper" (also known as "Two Truths and a Lie" in circles where the L-word is used more casually). They had gone through three rounds of the game when the most sarcastic of the young professional women challenged the antsy girls.

"Okay, I live in Missouri, I like potato chips, and I have never punched a five-year-old. Yet."

For some reason, this calmed the little darlings right down.

She's going to be a great mom some day.