Christmas Menus

A’Dell beat me to it, dammit!

Santa Picnic:

We’re going to see Santa this Saturday, and I think since it’s at 11 and it’s outside, we’ll have a little picnic, which will consist of whatever looks delicious in the refrigerator case on Saturday morning at Trader Joe’s.

Cookies:

Last year we did No Knead Bread and Pear Jam as neighbor gifts, this year I think we’re going to make lemon bars and easy toffee bars.  There’s a metric ton of lemons on our lemon tree and I can get Erik to make the lemon bars which works out well for me because I don’t like non chocolate desserts anyway and I’m about as interested in baking them as I am in eating them.

Christmas Eve:  We’re going to do fondue for Christmas Eve with the fondue set that Erica sent me, because she is awesome.  I have three fondue recipes from Janssen but I’m thinking that the premade stuff at Trader Joe’s looks really really easy.  Anyone have any opinions on that stuff?  We’ll probably dip bread and veggies in the cheese fondue.  I’m having a hard time thinking of things to dip besides bread.  Then we’ll have chocolate fondue for dessert with fruit and marshmallows and graham crackers.  Dried pears sounds good.  Mostly I intend to eat champagne.

Christmas Morning:  We are going to stuff our faces with dim sum.  I am already excited.

Christmas Dinner: I am going to make a big vat of Riesling slushes, because pink and frothy just seems like Christmas to me.  I might have a few random appetizers (crab stuffed mushrooms and Union Square Cafe’s Bar Nuts, maybe?) sitting around for people to nibble on (and by people I mean me) and then I am going to make roast beef, salad, mashed potato gratin, maybe macaroni and cheese, maybe rolls.  (The frozen Rhodes Rolls?  Throw some butter on there and bake em up and they are the BOMB.) If they have a Buche de Noel this year at Trader Joe’s we’ll have that for dessert, otherwise we’ll probably just have whatever random frozen chocolate cake they always have.  At $6.99 it’s cheaper and more delicious than anything I can make at home.

Here’s my Christmas dinner Pinterest board, just in case you feel like having an emotional breakdown over the fact that no matter what you cook you don’t have floating ivory pillar candles hanging over your dining room table.

 

 

Advent Day Six and Seven, Otherwise Known As How Mr. E Tried to Ruin Christmas

Advent Day Six was “Watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  The deal was that the three of us would watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas after dinner was over and Katie was in bed.  I made a delicious dinner of chili and cornbread and salad (that I grew myself!).  I semi successfully tried not to lose my mind as my kids threw cornbread all over the floor, and even though I was really not in the mood I dealt with a flurry of emails and did bathtime and Mr. E got everyone into their Christmas pajamas that St. Nicholas brought and he made some very delicious hot chocolate without even being asked! (Although as god is my witness next year we will be having that hot chocolate in some vintage Santa Claus mugs, oh yes we will.)

Then, we had a little…let’s say…incident.

I finally closed the computer just in time to hear Erik say that he had told Eli that he could play car racing on his Ipod instead of watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and I’m sorry, but what? WHAT? Have you…MET ME? In THIS lifetime? Did you actually just tell our child that he could play video games instead of spending time doing an advent activity with his parents? HA HA HA NO.

I mean, seriously? I love all these people with my whole heart but sometimes it just gets tiring being me.

Anyway, after I reminded everyone of the MOTHER GRABBING WONDER OF CHRISTMAS, we sat down to watch How The Grinch Stole Christmas and I GASPED OUT LOUD IN HORROR as soon as it was revealed that Erik had not in fact recorded the beloved animated classic version of the Grinch but rather the wretched pile of dreck known as the live action version of the Grinch starring JIM CARREY, one of my least favorite people ON EARTH.

Blargh.

Luckily we also had a copy of Charlie Brown’s Christmas in the can, and although that is a strange and unusual little piece of animation, I do enjoy it, and we all had fun watching it, and it was short, and it does not contain any appearances by one Mr. Jim Carrey, although I am sure sometime in the future he will find some way to ruin that too, because that’s just what he does.

Anyway.

Advent Day Seven was “Make A Gingerbread House.”

Yesterday I walked in the kitchen, and Katie was sitting on the kitchen counter with a bag of noodles in her lap.  Penne pasta, I think, to be specific, and as Eli ran streaking back and forth in front of her, she reached into the bag over and over and whipped noodles at him as fast as she could. Girlfriend has quite an arm on her.

It will most likely come as no surprise when I tell you that we waited until naptime to build our gingerbread house.

I used a kit I bought at Target for $8 dollars, and I would like to take this moment to tell you that while I am fan of a great many modern inventions, things like washing machines and moving pictures and frozen meatballs, I am absolutely positive that nothing holds a candle to the invention of the Gingerbread House Kit.  As someone who once attempted to follow the directions in the Joy of Cooking to make my own from scratch and still shudders at the memory of cracking gingerbread and failing icing, I urge you – do not under any circumstances attempt this project without a kit.

Our deal is that I build the house, squirt as much frosting on the thing as one small cookie house can hold, and Eli sticks on the candy, eating approximately half of it in the process.  (FYI, the candy is disgusting and old tasting but the frosting is DELICIOUS).  And honestly, so far this year, I think this is my favorite advent activity.  It always work and it turns out beautifully and it’s a great team effort.  And if I were doing this by myself I would be over in a corner for hours petting the thing and trying to make it look EXACTLY as it does on the box and stressing over every tiny squidge of icing slightly out of place and wondering if you can buy gingerbread furniture on Ebay.  Instead the four year old is gluing four doorbells to the front of it and so I can let that all go.  It’s so far from perfect and yet so perfectly perfect that I just don’t care that it looks nothing like the picture on the box, and the fact that at least this particular activity is BETTER because I am doing with WITH Eli – well, I just love that. I really do.

 

Advent Day Five: Leave Your Shoes Out for St. Nicholas

When I was a little girl, I was always SO jealous of other people who did the St. Nicholas shoes thing.  I would NEVER remember to do this without the advent calendar, so it’s paying off already, because I LOVE this tradition. It’s a little introduction to Christmas and where the idea of Santa Claus comes from, all wrapped up into one.

We talked about St. Nicholas earlier today, although Eli does call him Mrs. Ticklas.  We talked about who he is a patron saint of, and Eli said “I’m the children” when we got to that part.  (I left out the part about prostitutes, maybe we’ll save that for next year).  Then I told him that we’d leave his shoes and his sisters shoes by their bedroom door, and maybe St. Nicholas would leave candy or presents in the shoes, and sometimes he leaves coins because in the olden days St. Nicholas would throw bags of coins in people’s windows.

When I was done with this fantastic history lesson, Eli stopped me and said “Is HE going to sneak in our house? And then break our windows?”  That’s when I suspected that the story of St. Nicholas had gotten away from me.

Anyway, here are the shoes.  If nothing else, this endeavor meant a trip into Sees for me, and I think we can agree that any activity that leads to Sees is a winner.

 

 

Advent Day Three and Four: Get and Decorate the Christmas Tree

First of all you should know that the fetching of the Christmas tree is a total and complete emotional minefield for me.  When I was growing up in Oregon, we always cut down our Christmas tree, mostly from Christmas tree farms but one time from an old lady’s front yard, after my mom marched up to her front door and told her that her trees really needed thinning and she’d be happy to do it for her.  True story.

Anyway, in my family, growing up, we ALWAYS cut down our Christmas tree.  Now my mom has moved back to Vermont and she’s raising chickens and she cooks bear on a wood stove and she got a chain saw for her birthday.  I have no idea where she’s getting her tree this year but I’m guessing she’s doing it in the most vermonty manner one can possible get a tree.

Like by sleigh.  Horse drawn sleigh.  Yes.  Probably that.

Erik and I have cut down our fair share of Christmas trees, but then we had two kids and we just got tired.  We wearied of paying $65 dollars for a tree that we had to cut down ourselves while everyone else on our street had perfectly lovely trees they’d gotten at Home Depot.  So now we get our tree at Home Depot, and it costs $25 dollars and it’s a two minute drive and it is a nice tree and so easy.  And plus my kids are 4 and less than 2.  They won’t even remember this.  When it counts and they can remember, maybe we’ll go cut up the mountains and cut down a $65 tree, but for now, I take the easy and cheap way out.

It doesn’t matter though.   Every year my mom asks about our tree  and every year when I have to tell her we picked it up in the Home Depot parking lot, I cringe.  A lot.  This year I think my cringing was coming across loud and clear on the phone because she actually said to me “Hey, you don’t have to justify it to me.  Just because you’re a complete sell out.”

So yeah.  Too lazy and tired to go cut down the tree, but still emotionally manipulated into feeling like a jerk about it.

Obviously, the tree fetching was a total disaster.  It was so terrible I honestly felt like I was living a cliche as it happened.

Katie had been up all night long the night before, and collectively Erik and I had gotten about three hours of sleep.  She slept all day, ruining all our plans to get the tree early and go out to breakfast, and she was still in a terrible mood when she finally woke up and she cried all the way to Home Depot, all through the parking lot, and all the way home.  I still had delusions about what a wonderful time this was going to be, so I insisted that we stop off at Starbucks on the way there so I could be sipping something delicious as we meandered happily through the tree lot, and I brought Eli in with me and VERY CLEARLY explained that I was getting Katie a cake pop and that he could get a cake pop too OR something else but he could not have both, and so of course he chose orange juice, and then spent the entire time we were picking out our tree LOSING HIS DAMN MIND over the fact that he didn’t have a cake pop and his sister did.   Erik almost had a throw down with some lady who had chosen the busiest Christmas tree getting day of the year to buy five trees, throw them down in the middle of the parking lot, and declare herself “in line”, and at various points through out the experience Erik and I had fights about when to go, what the kids would wear, who would drive, whether or not to go to Starbucks, what tree we should get, who should take what screaming kid, how to unwrap a christmas tree, where the line was, how to get the tree on the car, why that weird dude was giving us weird looks (can’t imagine), how many pointsettias to buy, citrus tree fertilizer, white lights, and whether or not we should just call off Christmas all together.  Blargh.

Oh, it was a terrible day.  A really terrible day.  Here’s a visual representation, for you non verbal learners:

Decorating the tree on Sunday was better.  Erik finally wrestled it into the World’s Worst Christmas Tree Stand and put the lights on and when I got home from shopping with Amy, the second I walked in the door there was Eli, screaming “We can decorate the tree now! Mom’s home!”   This was the  most excited I’ve seen him for any Christmas thing ever.  He actually helped hang ornaments on the tree, and he’s never wanted to do that before.  It wasn’t quite the “hot chocolate popcorn christmas carols” extravaganza I have in my head as the Christmas Tree Decorating Ideal, but it gives me hope that we’ll get there, someday.  All the low branches with the three ornaments crammed onto the ends are pretty adorable too.  Eli is VERY proud of his ornament hanging, and in fact at the end of it told me, thoughtfully: “Hmmm. Mom, I am much better at this than you are!”  Awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

Books I Read In October and November

144.  Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  I enjoyed it.

145. Divergent.  You know, I was prepared to hate this book, because I am SO VERY TIRED of crappy dystopian young adult fiction, especially ones where the clueless narrator just can’t figure out that making everyone eat the same lunch meat every day is a VERY BAD THING, but I liked Divergent a lot.  The characters were believable and I liked the romance aspect of it.  Recommend.

146.  Whatever that Last Twilight Book is called, I’m not even going to look it up.  I just.,,I don’t know, guys.  To this day I have no idea how everyone doesn’t see how incredibly terrible these books are.  And I’m a sucker for a cheeseball romance, I am!  I mean, I can do a lot of things. I can even do bad writing, sort of.  But bad writing AND interminably long?  I can’t do. I just can’t.

Anyway, every two years I forget how bad these books are and how much I personally don’t enjoy them, and I figure there must be SOMETHING there and I try again, and every year I’m just…confused all over again.  Anyway, I only made it halfway through this.  Once Bella turned into a vampire (OMG SPOILER) and started talking about how empty her head was, I was done.   But please rest assured that stopping halfway through means I still read something in the range of 90 million pages.

147.  Next to Love.  This was a perfectly decent and entertaining read.

148.  The Leftovers.  Man, I hated this book.  Everyone in it was an unmitigated butt face.  No thank you.

149.  In the Garden of Beasts.   Mostly I don’t do non fiction, but everyone just LOVED this book, so I thought I’d try it out.  It turns out that not only do I not like non fiction, but I REALLY don’t like non fiction when I already know how it turns out, and how it turns out is bad.

150.  The Marriage Plot. I loved this book. I still think about it all the time.  I wish I were still reading this book.   I only wish I could remember what it sort of reminded me of, but still. LOVED.

151.  How to Save A Life.  Ok, so in general, I am not a fan of Sara Zarr, even though I have tried. I really have tried.  However, this is by by far my favorite of her books so far.  I really really liked it.  A few of the abject generalizations got a bit old and cheating in YAF gives me an icky feeling, but this wasn’t an egregious case of either of those things, those are just my minor quibbles if we’re getting into minor quibbles.

152.  Lucky Break.  This was ok, but I wish it had been better.  It reminded me a boring version of Valley of the Dolls.

153.  Bitter in the Mouth.  This book was so weird and so beautiful and evocative.  As soon as I read it I reserved the author’s first book, A Book of Salt.  It was one of the most well written books I have read in a long long time.  But it is strange, be forwarned.  Although I’m about as white bread as they come, so if I can take it, it’s not THAT weird.

154.  The Death Cure.  Seriously, I hate myself for reading this whole stupid trilogy.  It was fine, I guess. Unlike the middle book, which was the biggest stall job in the history of stall jobs, at least this one moved right along and finally concluded the damn thing.  I wasn’t blown away by any of the answers we got at the end though, which is always my complaint with SO MUCH MYSTERIOUS lead in.  The ending is NEVER going to hold up to all of that.

155.  The Lover’s Dictionary.  Someone (The New York Times or Amazon) called this one of the best books of 2011.  I found it interesting, but I wouldn’t go that far, let’s put it that way.

156.  Tabloid City.  Oh my lord, no. This was like one giant overwrought cliche, set on a loop.

157.  This Burns My Heart.  I just…no.  “Poor me I am super rich and I married the wrong guy and now I live a life of misery” has tired, for me.

158.  I Think I Love You.  One chapter into this book, I was unimpressed.  It was coming across as a dippy middle reader.  I almost gave up but after the first few chapters it REALLY improved, and I ended up liking it a great deal.

159.  Half Empty.  I love David Rakoff! I really love him on This American Life.  But I got this book on loan from the library, on my Kindle, and I had to wait forever for it and I almost just bought it because that’s how much I love David Rakoff and let’s just say that I am really really glad that I didn’t buy this book.

160.  Stupid Fast.  I couldn’t get past the super weird and constant use of the word “retard.”

161.  The Violets of March.  Ha ha ha, no.

Ok, so, I have to read 19 books in what’s left of December to make my goal.  That’s going to be tricky, but I am going to try! It will help if I can finish the Night Circus which I have been reading for 100 years.

Advent Day Two: Write a Letter to Santa

Yes, we “do Santa” at our house.  Mainly because the idea of not doing Santa sounds really tiring.  There seems to be a lot of explaining involved in not doing Santa.  And also honestly it just never really occurred to me.

I have great respect for people who have thought this thing out enough to have a stance on Santa, especially when it’s because they plan never lie to their kids.  I’m just kind of winging this parenting thing over here, and also? I lie my ass off to my kids! I totally do! I lie to them on an hourly basis, basically.  Just this morning I told them that the inside of McDonald’s was closed for the winter and we HAD to go through the drive through.  You can feel free to sit inside at McDonald’s whenever you want.  I’ll be over here in the drive through, lying my ass off as usual!  And also eating fries.

Also, I will just say this.  I wouldn’t say I had the best childhood, although I certainly did not have the worst.  But before the divorce and the yelling and the going to court and that wondrous moment when my father told me, at ten years old, that childhood was a myth perpetrated by the liberal media, I can honestly tell you that coming downstairs on Christmas morning to a metric ton of presents and having it come from a fat man in red suit who demanded nothing more than my childhood belief was one of the very best parts of my whole growing up.  It was, in fact,  so unbelievably purely great that finding out that Santa wasn’t real doesn’t touch it at all.  At least for me.

Furthermore, not to start a religious feud or whatever, (let’s talk about breastfeeding next!) but I grew up in a very religious household and Santa didn’t diminish the reverence of the season at all.  When I stood in that church at midnight and breathed in that incense and thought about a teenage Mary giving birth to the Son of God, with all the wonder that entails, Santa wasn’t the smallest part of that.  Kids are smart.  I fully believe they can do Jesus and Santa, no problem, with no diminishing of either one.  Just saying.

I don’t care if you do Santa, but we are big liars who love stuff, so there you go.

Anyway.

This morning we wrote a letter to Santa.  In order to get my beloved child to quit watching Shaun the Sheep for the ten thousandth time and come do this magical activity with me, I had to bribe him by telling him that we could use permanent markers.  You’re probably over there thinking that I should just tell him calmly that tv time is over and that it’s time to do something else, in which case you have a way higher opinion of my parenting skills than you should.  Threats and bribes, people, threats and bribes, that’s all we’ve got going on over here.  Oh, and the lying! Don’t forget the lying.

Luckily to a four year old a permanent marker is like crack cocaine, so Eli was all about this activity.

I believe the annual Letter to Santa is traditionally where the child comes up with 14 gift ideas that he has never mentioned before, mere minutes after his parents have finished purchasing the last of the other things he has been requesting during the months of January through November.  Luckily Eli’s saving that up for our official visit to Santa, and he asked for a bike (yes! purchased!), Hot Wheels tracks (check!) and a surprise (check!). I also reminded him to ask for a typing machine because I didn’t fend off all those hipsters on Ebay for nothing.

Here he is after I told him to smile for the camera and pretend to be working on his list for Santa.  He’s just so photogenic, you guys. I think it’s time I start entering some kid photo contests.  (That’s a chocolate milk mustache, btw.)

Then he said “Take a picture of this!” and thus concluded our Advent Activity.

Advent Day One: Plant an Amaryllis Bulb

Here’s the advent calendar all ready to go.  (True story:  When I think about how much work this was, I feel sort of ill.) I hung it on the inside of the front door so I can save it in a fire. Kidding. Sort of. Anyway.

I wrote out the activities two nights ago while sitting in front of my calendar (some of the things have to be done on a specific day or a weekend), but I reserve the right to move them around.  Eli has no idea what’s written on the cards at this point in time so I can always fudge things a bit if I’m not in the mood to decorate cookies or what have you.

Day One was “Plant An Amaryllis Bulb.” I figured we should start with something sort of fun, but not HUGE, and besides if I want the thing to bloom by Christmas I need all the blooming time I can get.

I got our amaryllis at Home Depot for $5.98 a few weeks ago.  They had giant stacks of them, but fair warning, the Home Depot kit comes with a super ugly plastic pot.  The ones at Target are more expensive but come in a nice ceramic pot. I don’t really need any more ceramic pots though.

At one point when I was trying to get Eli to come home from the neighbors and do this activity with me, he screamed at me “I HATE PLANTING AMARYLLIS BULBS!”  God, four year olds.  They’re just so AMAZING.

Anyway, it was reasonably fun and it took about five minutes. Everyone’s favorite part was adding the warm water to the weird soil cookie that comes in the kit and watching it expand.

Actually the coolest part about the whole thing was that I didn’t even think to include Katie Dubs and so she just climbed right up on the stool and joined the party.

When Katie really looks like a boy Erik and I call her Brian.  She’s totally a Brian, don’t you think?

Here’s Little Brian and Eli thinking about the magic and wonder of Christmas, and how it’s all really because of their fabulous mother that they experience it so fully.

Here’s Eli when I told him to smile and act natural. Doesn’t he look at ease?

Day one, check! Bet you can’t wait to read 24 more of these bad boys.  Yes, Erica, I am talking to you.

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