Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

While I like to think I'm my own person, travelling along at my own pace and on my own path, happy with who I am, there is a part of me that wishes I was more. Why else would I look forward to January 1st every year? The promise of changes for the better, a new year and a clean slate fill me with hope and excitement. The Captain never makes resolutions for the new year, claiming it's melodramatic and we should be working on our stuff all year round. The Captain is a party pooper.
I've been giving a little thought to what I want to accomplish in 2009, and here's what I've come up with:

1. Organization: This year I will finally gain control of my space. We are overloaded with all manner of crap, the worst offender being the boxloads of books we've lugged from province to province since we were university students. The Captain is partial to his books, so getting rid of any of his collection is out of the question. However, I have many that could go. Craft books I'll never use, novels I've read and won't read again, even the odd cookbook. Thelma, the Karaoke Queen, and I are planning a joint garage sale in May. At 25 cents a pop, I'm hoping the books will fly off the table and find a new home where they'll be used and enjoyed. If not, I'll take them over to Value Village and drop them in the donation bin, then have a small thrift store spree. Either way, it's win-win. And for those books left here, it's time for a new organization system. A few new bookcases for the living room, perhaps a few tubs and bins for my crafting area, maybe I'll even get around to organizing the closets! Yes, 2009 is the year of order and method around here. I can feel it!

2. Productivity: I spend a lot of time mentally lamenting how much more crafting I'd like to be getting on with. As much as I like to think it's a time problem, it's really only partly a time problem. It's also a time management problem. With Rosemary's Baby starting nursery school one morning a week next week AND still taking a nap in the afternoon, there's really no reason I can't get the boring housework done and have a little time left over to make some cards, knit my kids sweaters or do a little beading. And I do already know the way to accomplish this. After I've checked my email in the morning (and updated my blog, of course!), the computer needs to stay off. No more floating around cyberspace while I have another cup of coffee, reading about the profound religious beliefs of celebrities, looking at ballgowns I'll never have occasion to wear, or checking out new card and earring designs I could try (okay, maybe I'll still do that one on occasion). The internet is a colossal time-waster, and I need to start using it only to my advantage. Web Sudoku probably doesn't fall into that category, does it?

3. Newness: The Captain commented a few evenings back that this blog is the first new thing I've tried in years. I argued back that I used a different fruitcake recipe this holiday season (it was dry and dreadful), to which he replied that this was not exactly what he meant. And it's true. If we don't try new things, we do run the risk of our brains turning to jello, so I plan to make a conscious effort to look for new and interesting experiences in 2009. I've made a good start by ending 2008 with my first trip down a toboggan hill in over 20 years (Firstborn laughed all the way down. I screamed like a girl.), and I have begun to explore the world more with my new camera. Feel free to make suggestions, but I refuse to jump out of anything or encase myself in a barrel. Let's keep the new experiences at least physically safe, shall we?

And I think I should stop there. That's not very many resolutions, but they're all pretty involved, and I'd like to be successful this year.
I hope my (3) loyal readers are successful in their New Year's resolutions, and have a happy and healthy 2009. Restrain yourself, people. It's January!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot

When I was a little girl living in England, New Year's Eve was the best day of the whole year. We always spent Christmas at home in Essex, but on the 31st, we'd pack up our enormous family, hop on the train for the 3-hour trek to Oxford and stay overnight with our grandparents, Nanny and Bampy, who had a party every year without fail. New Year's Eve also happened to be Nanny's birthday, so I'm thinking that probably had a lot to do with this tradition as well. However, I cannot ever remember seeing a birthday cake or hearing anyone sing Happy Birthday to her. I don't even remember ever bringing her a gift (though I seriously doubt my mother would've turned up without one). But there was often a gift from Nanny for us.
On New Year's Eve 1981, I received my first knitting book. My sister got her first cookbook from the same series, and we both still have those books to this day. My knitting book was full of patterns for toys, doll clothes, handy kitchen items, a patchwork blanket, and (thrill of thrills!) a bag with a buckle closure!
Nanny was a master knitter. I remember her making clothes for my Sindy doll. I was enthralled by how she could come to the end of a coat or dress and have it hanging off the needles looking almost like the finished product, hardly needing anything in the way of sewing-together. Whenever I saw this, I aspired to one day be a skilled enough knitter to do the same thing. And guess what--now I can do it too.
My mum taught me to cast on, knit and cast off when I was seven. Nanny showed me how to purl, and how to make the pretty, lacy pattern that adorns the bottom of Sindy's first wedding dress (Sindy had a couple. In this day and age, a girl must be realistic). Often, when I'm knitting, I wonder how far back these skills went and where they originated in my family history. I'm glad to be able to carry them on for one more generation, but wonder if it'll stop here, since I don't have any girls of my own (not that knitting is only for girls, of course). For the time being, I'll keep knitting and loving it and perhaps one day I'll have the opportunity to pass the skills on to someone else, paying it forward and keeping an old tradition alive.
If my math is correct, Nanny would have been 94 today. Tonight, I will remember to celebrate her as well as the ringing in of the New Year.
Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve, everyone!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Big Recap

Isn't the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve the best one of the whole year? You have a perfectly good excuse to hit the stores (because the sales are so great) AND a perfectly good excuse to stay home (because it's the holidays). There's still New Year's Eve to look forward to (the food, the outfit, the HANDBAG!) and, most importantly, the insanity we parents call "Santa" has passed for another blissful year!
So, here are the highlights of our crazy Christmas. I doubt there will be any heartwarming made-for-tv movies based on it next holiday season, but it was all ours and we liked it just fine.
The kids let us sleep in until 8 yesterday, and they were still pretty excited about the moderate number of gifts under the tree this year (we pared back all-round in an attempt to not set a precedent of shameful excess for future holidays). Firstborn's favourite stocking stuffer, the lowly whoopie cushion (a name he was simply unable to grasp, preferring the more obvious "fart bag") only lasted an hour before someone sat on it with a touch too much enthusiasm and split the seam. Frankly, no one was that disappointed.
Firstborn did his Christmas shopping at a kids' Christmas party at our local MFRC, where volunteers had raided the thrift store. The Captain was thrilled with his "I Love Bingo" mug (I'm pretty sure the Captain has never actually PLAYED Bingo) and I'm looking forward to a quiet evening watching my VHS copy of "Save the Last Dance" starring the lovely and talented Julia Stiles. I think this hilarity may have been the highlight of my Christmas.
The turkey was delicious (dark meat, anyone?!), but it became apparent 5 minutes before dinner was served that we had no more jars of my homemade cranberry chutney in the pantry, and no fresh or frozen cranberries to even whip up a quick batch of homemade sauce, so we had to make do with extra gravy. The Captain sarcastically thanked me for ruining Christmas and life went on, sans canneberge. A search through the fridge later turned up 3 tbsp in the bottom of an old jar. Note to self: clean out fridge more regularly.
After our early Christmas dinner, we all waddled back to the living room, stuffed to the gills, and flopped onto the couch. I enjoyed a pleasant read of my new knitting magazines (thanks Mom!), the Captain faded in and out of consciousness, and the kids plotted world domination. Or something.
By the time Rosemary's Baby's bedtime rolled around, we were all ready to put this Christmas behind us. I've never seen Firstborn so lippy. Both kids, in gorgeous new fleece pyjamas from Sister #1, went to bed crying, completely overstimulated and without dessert, not that any of us had room for it anyway.
And this is where the fun began. We poured ourselves a drink, flopped back onto the couch (I'm hitting the treadmill today. Seriously.) and watched some of the new TV the Captain brought back from his course with him. I was already enamoured with Alton Brown, so it was fun to be reacquainted with him, and to learn how to make a decadent 4-layer coconut cake. Then I was introduced to someone new to love, and his name is House. I'm not sure what took me so long to see this show. I've also for many years loved Hugh Laurie. The English, silly, funny Hugh Laurie (fun fact: Hugh Laurie and I were born in the same city). But this is a whole new Hugh Laurie. Brash, arrogant, American. You'd think that might be a turn-off, but I found myself completely besotted. Who knew?!
And now the celebration continues. We have almost a week of working up to the big par-tay, which will include a fake countdown to midnight at 7PM for the benefit of the children, and then several hours of the Captain and me desperately trying to stay awake in front of the TV to ring in the new year properly. We have failed 2 years in a row now, so despite the mounds of food and drink I have planned, we'll need something really good to keep us up that late.
I'm putting my money on House.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All I Want for Christmas...is a Bunch of Unattainable Pipe Dreams!

Excitement is high around here today. Firstborn is back to talking about wanting Santa to bring him a Jack-in-the-Box (do you have any idea how hard it is to find a Jack-in-the-Box in the year 2008?!) and Rosemary's Baby is running around without any pants on (nothing new there). It has been decided that Santa will be treated to a mince pie and a beer this evening, and no one seems to have any worries about him getting stuck in the chimney and having to be pulled out by the RCMP, so it's all good.
I know I've already posted my Christmas wishlist, so I won't regale you with more consumer-driven gift requests. But here are a few other things that I think would come in really handy right about now.

1. Polygamy. No, I'm not talking about the creepy stuff going on in BC with all that victimization of young girls and whatnot. Eww. But an extra husband around the place could potentially be really helpful. Between the truck that still needs a new turn signal, and the 2 broken vacuum cleaners in the garage, another husband could potentially double the productivity around here. Of course, since the Captain's return home, the mess and clutter have also doubled, leaving lots more work for me. It's actually kind of like having another child. So I guess it's really a double-edged sword...

2. Six More Hours In My Day. Oh, to have just a little more time. The cards I could make! The sleep I could get! If it was a toss-up between more money and more time, I'd take the time, hands-down.

3. Immunization from all Winter-Related Illnesses. What is it about this time of year? The germs run rampant at school, and they all seem to make their way back here. Last winter, I got three stomach bugs. It was gross, and completely unheard of for me. It may not have helped that we had a four-month-long kitchen renovation in the Captain's convenient absence, but the introduction of school into our lives hasn't helped matters either. Life's a whole lot easier when you're healthy. More fun too.

4. Toilet Training. Firstborn was a slow toilet trainer. He was well on his way to four before he started showing any interest, but once it happened, that was pretty much it--toilet training was taken care of. I didn't expect Rosemary's Baby to be any different, and he still has a few months to go before I expect him to start showing a bit of interest. But after five years of cloth diapers, I'm starting to feel a little impatient. Recently, Rosemary's Baby informed me "Mu-mee, I wan go pee!" The excitement! The jubilation! The 20 straight minutes of watching him grin naughtily at me as he sat there on the toilet doing absolutely nothing! I'm pretty sure he did it on purpose to get a reaction. He's good at that.

5. Peace on Earth. Sounds like an honourable Christmas wish, right? No, I'm just being selfish. I absolutely recognize the need for Canadian troops to be in places like Afghanistan, protecting those who can't protect themselves, and who didn't ask to be placed in the horrific situation they're in. However, what I'd really like is for the world to kiss and make up so I don't have to wave goodbye to the Captain (and many of our friends) as they head into a war zone next year. I'd like the friends we have overseas right now to come home safely and be with their families for Christmas.

None of this will be under my tree tomorrow, of course. But that doesn't mean I won't get some really meaningful gifts for myself. The kids' excitement when they realize Santa did indeed come, the fun of watching them open their gifts, and the playing-out of the various traditions we've created for ourselves over the years will fill me with Christmas cheer. That other stuff would just be a really nice bonus.
Merry Christmas, everyone!!

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's A(nother) Celebration!

Here at 2kids, 2dogs, we like to celebrate the little things. And this last week, I got quite a lot done. Granted, those sewing projects I swore were my top priority still exist only in my head, and I have yet to set foot in Michaels, but I did accomplish a couple of things I'm happy about.
For the last 12 Decembers, the Captain has been nagging me to create an angel topper for our tree. He had one growing up that he thought I could replicate pretty easily, and I promised I'd get on it...12 years in a row. Well, I finally got around to it. I'm ashamed to admit it only took about 2 hours in total to complete. It was a piece of cake, and now it sits atop our tree as if it had always been there. So, to reward myself (because when it takes you 12 years to complete one simple task, don't you deserve a reward?!), I made myself a pair of pretty beaded earrings with some tiny grey swarovski crystals I got on sale this past fall, using some tree ornaments I made as my template.
And in even bigger news, the Captain has something to celebrate too, other than his lazy wife taking 12 years to make him the only crafted item he's ever requested of her.
For those who don't know him, the Captain is a lot like Eeyore. He's perpetually gloomy. He also gets a little blustery when I share personal information about him on my blog. And when I say "personal" I mean terribly sensitive things like how his return home after months away might create a little short-term friction while we all adjust, or that he likes to grumble about things. Sheesh. You'd think I was telling the world that he likes to cross dress, or eat kittens for breakfast (he does neither of those things, just in case you were wondering).
So, he'll undoubtedly want to give me a lecture after I share this exciting piece of news, but it's no big deal. When he starts up, I will mentally retreat to a place he likes to call "Cut-And-Paste Land", where cards and beaded jewelry designs dance through my head until I become aware that he's stopped talking, and take the cue to nod solemnly and agree with whatever it was he was just telling me.
The Captain, being the Captain, isn't big on tooting his own horn. So it should really come as no surprise that he waited until days after his return home to casually mention to me that he finished his course this month with the notable distinction of being "Top Candidate". In the army, they like to rank people. It's an army thing. So being ranked number one out of 14 is like getting an A+. It means he worked hard and did an exceptional job. For most of us, it'd be fun, perhaps even a little thrilling. For the Captain, it's something he'd just like to keep under his hat. So, lucky for him, he has me to do all the shouting and celebrating, or no one would ever know.
In celebration, I will make something good for dessert. Something HE considers good. Something a pastry chef would make, that doesn't involve pouring melted caramels over Ritz crackers (I was not born in North America, but I have enthusiastically adopted the North American culinary tradition as my own, much to the Captain's food-snob dismay). The kids and I will attempt to sing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" as dessert comes out, and he will roll his eyes, grumble a little more, then dig in, wishing he hadn't told me anything, but hopefully at least knowing that we are proud of our Top Candidate.
We will undoubtedly find more to celebrate as the holiday season continues. We have a few friends dropping by for a meal and some fun tomorrow night, and my stylish (read: expensive--thank goodness for vision coverage) new Calvin Klein glasses will be ready for pickup on Monday. Stay tuned for my riveting musings on such topics as Santa, turkey-stuffing, new year's resolutions, and whether or not the Captain and I can break our 2-year streak of falling asleep on the couch by 11:30 on the 31st. Never a dull moment.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Not Going to Jail at Christmas for Murdering Your Spouse? Priceless.

I've mentioned in the past that the media makes a big fat lie out of the military reunion. Those unaccustomed to the reality of the situation see the hugs and kisses and miss the part where he messes up the house with his stuff and causes fights and arguments with his inability to just blend into the life we've created without him.
It's not that I'm not glad he's home. And in a week, we'll all be back to normal. The mess won't be so irritating. His need to comment on every little thing I say or do will have died down a bit. We'll both have mellowed some (because I admit, it's not just him). But for right now, I'm having to strongly resist the urge to hit him over the head with our cast-iron frying pan.
So, what's a girl to do when the Captain comes home and presses all the wrong buttons? Luckily for me, the answer is a fun one. I'm going shopping!
That's right. Having been through all this before, I anticipated these problems and made sure of two important things: we have no groceries, and I still have a little Christmas shopping to do. Check Mate!
So, tomorrow I will head out the door early in the morning, coffee in hand, leaving the Captain in charge of Firstborn and Rosemary's Baby. I will undoubtedly come home to find everyone still in their pyjamas, the breakfast dishes piled high, and evidence of some messy new project of the Captain's all over the counter, but no matter. For the few hours I am out of the house, listening to whatever I please on the radio, shopping wherever I like, and picking myself up a few bucks' worth of small, fun items, knowing that I don't have to be back by a certain time, my brain and body will return to its long-forgotten zen-like state, probably reducing my chances of having a heart attack this Christmas by half.
I'll make a few stops at places I normally wouldn't bother with if I had the kids with me, like the wine-making store and the liquor store (is anyone sensing a theme to my festivities this holiday season?). I might even get a rare, uninterrupted trip around Michaels! And if I time it right, I may even cap off the outing with a quick, delicious trip through the Burger King Drive-Thru on my way back out of town.
Hmmmm...better forget that thing I said about the heart attack.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Celebrate Good Times...C'mon...

I have this memory of myself as a teenager making a chocolate cake out of an ancient cookbook I still use to this day for my mum's birthday. It might be good to mention here that, until I met the Captain, cooking of any kind was limited to heating up something in the microwave. My mum wasn't big on it. Having been forced at a horrifically early age to cook for her family, then going on to have a husband and seven children of her own to feed, cooking never felt like much fun. So the first time I went over to the Captain's place and watched him make me french onion soup, my jaw dropped. He never even picked up a can opener!
You can imagine what this cake ended up looking (and tasting) like. The icing was too runny, so when I tried to spell out "Happy Birthday" in red, on a sheet of green icing, what I ended up with was a drippy brownish blur. Between that and the fact that the cake had the consistency of a brick, by today's standards, I'd have considered it a disaster. But my mum at least acted thrilled (it may have been the sugar rush), saying no one had ever made her a birthday cake before. I like to think that my skills both in the kitchen and in the area of homemade gifts have vastly improved since that time.
And, in a completely unrelated story, today the Captain makes his victorious return home! The kids are beyond excited and I'm going to have to find a way to keep them occupied until after dinner, when we can finally go pick him up. I guess it'll be good practice for Christmas Eve. Groan...
So, today we have two reasons to celebrate. Happy Birthday, Mum! I hope you like the knitted nativity scene. And welcome home, Captain! Please don't dump your crap everywhere and drive me crazy for the next 3 weeks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It Just Isn't Christmas Until You Insult an Obnoxious Celebrity

Firstborn is home sick today, and Rosemary's Baby decided it was time to get up and come jump on my bed at 4AM, so I'm a little dizzy this morning (or is it afternoon?). Since the day is obviously a write-off, I thought I'd get started on my end-of-year greeting letters. Here's what I've come up with so far.

Dear Mr. Cruise,

Can I call you Tom? On second thought, let's not get too familiar. I'm a little afraid you'll lure me into the Scientology Celebrity Center and my friends and family will never hear from me again.
First there was the couch-jumping incident. Then came the forcing of your adorable third wife to give birth to her first child with no drugs and in complete silence (you really ought to have been there when, after 26 hours of labour and 4 hours of pushing, Firstborn's enormous head finally emerged, ripping half my insides out with it, to understand how truly and deeply this offends me). Recently I read that you showered your toddler with a Manhattan penthouse of her very own (I just picked up a great pair of dollar store binoculars for Rosemary's Baby's stocking!). Before the days when we all knew your opinions on...everything, I was naive enough to believe that there might be a celebrity or two out there who wasn't completely, utterly and outright CRAZY. Thank you for setting me straight.

Sincerely,
Someone who has no patience for your nonsense.

P.S. Please reconsider your stance on Ritalin. I think it could really help you.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Best Gift of All is Time

Am I the only one who feels like there just aren't enough hours in the day anymore? No matter how focussed I am on getting all the drudgery around here completed, turning off the computer so as to completely avoid all time-sucking distractions, it just seems like there's always one more thing to do before I can move onto anything fun.
Well, yesterday, I decided it was the season of giving. And what I wanted to give myself was a new apron (I know how uninspired and pathetic that sounds). I've been wearing the same filthy, homemade denim apron in the kitchen for about 5 years now. When I put it on, the Captain never misses the opportunity to make fun of me. The thing is a little too short (or so the Captain says--this doesn't actually bother me since I rarely slop soy sauce on my legs while cooking), and it's covered in all manner of things that never came out in the wash. I realize that's the point of an apron, but for a while now I've felt it was time for a new one. And then, in an unexpected turn of events that found Firstborn swinging Spiderman-style from my hanging apron and suddenly landing with a crash on the floor, apron left securely hanging, but apron-strings still firmly grasped in his hands, the need for a new one became a little more urgent (thanks, Firstborn!).
So, instead of folding my 40th load of laundry yesterday, I dropped everything and headed downstairs to my craft area for a little fun with the sewing machine. As I've mentioned before, crafters seem to end up with a lot of stuff. And, as such, I have a couple of tubs of fabric that need to be used up. As it turned out, once I'd picked the polka-dot fabric that would protect my clothes from the inevitable circles of grease that always seem to mysteriously land on my stomach, regardless of what I'm making, the whole project didn't even take me an hour to complete. And, as with all successful sewing projects, I now feel I'm on a bit of a roll. I've caught the bug, so to speak.
I have some lovely, bright crepe-backed satin downstairs that my mom sent me some time back to make some dressy tops for the Captain's various formal events. I did make a couple but I didn't use up all the fabric. So today, I'm in the mood to make something a little festive. Something dressier than my usual t-shirt, but that can be worn with jeans or pants to a casual holiday party. Something a little like this, or maybe this. I've already gone through the ridiculous number of patterns I own and I have some ideas, so I'll let you all know how it turns out.
If this one ends up being a success, there's a good chance I'll spend the rest of the week in the zone, sewing and crafting to my little heart's content. Then, on Friday night, I'll realize I'm less than 24 hours away from the Captain's triumphant return home, and the craze of scrubbing and sweeping will begin. I will have come full-circle and be right back where I started, needing just a few more hours in my day to get me through.
But until then, let the sewing frenzy begin.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Part 3

Is anyone sick of me making lists yet? Because I've spent the last day or so wandering around the house taking pictures of a few of my favourite already-received gifts from Christmases past, and a few other occasions. And here they are:


Bags of all sorts, from homemade (note the red dog print lining on the black tote!) to functional to fun. Some people just know what I like.


Things that make me feel like I'm eating out, when I actually live 45 minutes from the nearest restaurant, are always a good bet. The napkin holder was made by Sister #3 in shop class when she was a wee thing, and graces my holiday table every year without fail, despite the fact that no one in this pig pen would ever actually think to use a napkin.

Books (or gift cards that allow us to buy books--thanks Brother #1!). Where would we be without them?

Some groovy shoe-gifts from the Captain.



Nothing says "I Love You" like a homemade gift from the heart!



I never leave the house without these.



And there are many more, of course. The camera I received on my last birthday couldn't be photographed without me having to include myself in the mirror-shot, and you should see what I look like right now. No. No you shouldn't.
I hereby promise to lay off the lists for at least a couple of days.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

...And These are a Few More!

Oprah has nothing on me. One special a year on her favourite things? Come on. I could do this all month!
Of course, what I couldn't do is give everyone thousands of dollars worth of my favourite things to take home. So I guess we'll say Oprah and I are even. For now.
I've gotten to a point in life where I don't actually ask for Christmas presents anymore. The Captain likes to come up with his own stuff for me, and I have various agreements with various family members on what our gift exchange should look like. Sadly, none of those agreements result in me getting to ask anyone for expensive booty. I think that's called being a grown-up.
Anyway, as I may have mentioned, I'm all about the lists. So, without further adieu, here is a list of items Santa would leave under my tree if I wasn't on his Naughty list:

The Grey Handbag: A few days back, I came across a picture of my latest dream purse. Like Alice after the White Rabbit, I followed it through cyberspace until I came to its present abode. A little place called Nordstrom. And that says it all. I can't, nor will I ever be able to, afford a $950 bag. But the good news is that I'm not snobby about these things! I like the fashion magazines, and one thing I find fun about them is that I can find something I love for a horrendous, wasteful amount of money, and then recreate the look (more or less) with a quick trip to GT Boutique, the Superstore and Wal Mart. I like to think of it as ingenuity.

The Cuttlebug: I go back and forth on this. Every time I walk down the paper craft aisle at Wal Mart, I ask myself "Should I?" Thus far, the answer has been no. I'm not doing enough cardmaking at present to justify spending the money. Between Christmas, kids, dogs and life, I haven't had a lot of time for crafts. That will change at some point, and eventually I'll get my Cuttlebug. But for now, I'm like the kid with his nose pressed up against the store window, dreaming about some toy and how it'll transform his life.

The Long Sweater: Those who know me say I'm tall. I'm no Amazon, but I do have a little trouble finding tops that reach low enough not to show off my flabby belly and stretch marks if I need to raise my arms upwards or lift a toddler onto my hip. So, when my beloved fashion magazines started featuring women in dress-length sweaters, I was overjoyed. I hit the Superstore to find one just chunky enough to look chunky but without all that added bulk that a woman my age simply doesn't need. Sadly, that sweater was nowhere to be found 50 feet away from the cabbages and slabs of cream cheese. I fear I'll have to venture into the mall to find what I'm looking for, perhaps during the January sales.

Nigella Christmas: Don't you love Nigella? I swear by her baking book. It's literally my baking bible. Everything in it is what food tastes like in heaven. Or so I imagine. So when I saw this new book being advertised, then heard that Sister #1 has actually bought it, my inner foodie started jumping up and down, yelling "Can I have it? Can I have it?" Then my inner mom snapped back irritably "No. You can wait for a scratch-and-dent!"

The Cluster Ring: Ever since I saw Sleepless in Seattle, I've wanted one of these rings. They're big(ish), sparkly and look-what's-on-my-finger pretty. Let me reiterate here that I'm no snob. Sterling silver and some cubic zirconias will do me fine. I can pull off fake. I'm just that fabulous.

So now I either need to trick the Captain into thinking he came up with these ideas on his own, or find a way to justify buying them myself. Or, I could find myself a wealthy benefactor who wants to shower me with gifts, just for being me.
C'mon Oprah, whadda ya say?


These are a Few of My Favourite Things

Well, we're in holiday mode here on the farm. The house smells like baking (and sometimes diapers), the last of the Christmas mail has gone out, and Firstborn is excitedly adding an ornament to the advent calendar every morning, feverishly awaiting #13, the snowman, because he knows that this is the day Daddy comes home. By early next week, we should have a Christmas tree and a decorated living room. We have kid-oriented celebrations to attend both this weekend and next, with a grown-up party to get me out of the house in between. Christmastime is here!
Now, you know I love a good list. It's the nerd in me. I was reading a magazine last night that suggested I make a list of all the things I love about Christmas and focus on those, getting rid of the stresses and things I do only out of obligation or a feeling that I should, because I always have before. Though I think we can all agree that eliminating the Christmas stress is unrealistic, it doesn't mean we can't all make an effort to lean towards the parts of the holiday that make us happy. So, with that in mind, I give you my favourite things about the holidays:

Food and Drink: I'm not much of a drinker, and this only changes slightly over the holidays, with the occasional glass of wine after the kids are in bed, or at a party if I'm not driving. But there's something decadent about knowing I can slip a little Baileys into my morning coffee or drink fatty eggnog spiked with rum in front of the TV on Christmas Eve, sans guilt. I do go a little overboard at Christmas with the baking. Sometimes at Easter, we're still forcing down Christmas fruitcake that would otherwise make a lovely doorstop. But, despite the tragic no-more-sweets pleas of the Captain as he slips into a diabetic coma, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without shortbread, mince pies, squares of all kinds and steamed pudding with custard. The fact that I also add a lot of deep-fried finger-foods to the menu on New Year's Eve does not help my waistline, or my marriage. But it keeps the self-indulgent, overstuffed spirit of the season alive until I wake up on January 1st, swearing I'll never go that mad again.

Gifts: No, I don't mean the ones addressed to me. I'll save that topic for my next post! I'm talking, of course, about the look on Firstborn's and Rosemary's Baby's faces at about 5AM on Christmas morning. The stockings waiting to be emptied, the overflowing pile under the tree, and the giggles and squeals (and impromptu dance numbers) that stem from a month of anticipation in the brains of little people who still think it all got there because a chubby guy in red squeezed his butt down our filthy chimney. Magic.

Music: Have I mentioned we got Sirius this year?! There's a whole station dedicated to Christmas numbers. It's been going since Halloween, and if I hear one more version of Grown Up Christmas List, I'm going to cancel Christmas altogether. But when I opened up the box of decorations this week, I found a whole bunch of mysterious, shiny discs. They were small, almost compact. That's right! The age-old CD's have come back out to play, so to speak. Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, various choirs and orchestras. Nothing ushers in that festive atmosphere for me like the Christmas music I grew up with. Besides, the satellite radio was starting to smoke from overuse anyway. I can abuse it again in January.

Crafts(!!!): I've made a point of making my own cards and ornaments for the last few years, and my skills are slowly improving. Actually, to confess something a little embarrassing, I already have some of NEXT YEAR'S cards made. I love it that much! Last night, Firstborn and I decorated a large paper ornament for the school theatre with our family name and some punched snowflakes and glitter. It was a fun way to spend time together, and I only glued my fingers together once. Okay, fine. Twice. I'm klutzy.

Books: The Captain and I always order a huge box of books from Book Closeouts at this time of year. We also usually stick a new magazine in each other's stocking for fun (um, thanks for Women's Health last year dear, but can I suggest a fashion or crafts mag?! Love you!!). And then we spend the whole holiday drinking coffee and reading while the kids break all their new toys. Heaven!
***
Reading back over that, I realize what a North American consumption junkie I must sound like. So, to clear things up, I should admit that what I'm looking most forward to this year is having my little family together, just relaxing at home and enjoying what we have, not needing expensive gifts, and creating memories to last us until the next one. For Christmas 2009, the Captain will be in Afghanistan, so I plan to make this one count.
Happy Holidays!


Monday, December 1, 2008

The Season of Giving is Here!

Sorry to the two or three of you who actually read this stuff and expect a new post in a timely fashion. The end of November/beginning of December is crazy around here. Between the mail-outs, preparing for the Captain's triumphant (and likely noisy) return home, and Rosemary's Baby turning three this past weekend (yes, it's true. Be very afraid), the posts that have been forming in the back of my mind have had to stay there temporarily. But fear not, I have lots in store this holiday season!
In the interest of paying it forward, I must tell you about a blog I love. It's called 2BKrafty and it is the brainchild of the fabulous Janine, who just happens to live in my old stomping grounds of Southwestern Ontario. Now, I'm about to risk sounding like an exciteable 12 year-old at the Twilight premiere here, but this lady's creations are AWESOME!! She is a serious stamper and her blog inspires and amazes every single day. This week Janine announced that she was hosting a cookie recipe exchange, and up until I saw this, I was having serious difficulty figuring out what the heck to give Firstborn's teacher for Christmas. After a devastating experience with a bad batch of apple butter this past fall, I decided that no one will be receiving my trademark jams and pickles this year, just to be on the safe side. And having been a classroom teacher in my former life, I wasn't about to load the poor woman down with her umpteenth scented candle or dollar store coffee mug (not that those things aren't appreciated). So, when I read Janine's post, I got straight to work.
Being a recycler of everything, I set myself up a little challenge of sorts. As many crafters can attest, being crafty and having a whole lot of stuff go hand-in-hand. So I decided that for my projects this holiday season, be they knitting, paper crafts or beading, I will only use what I already have at my disposal here--no running out to buy anything new! I used a burgundy-coloured, child-sized shoebox, to which I affixed 2 different lengths of blue ribbon (which also covered up the unsightly brand name logos all over the box!). I then attached a tag I made with some cardstock and a punch from Stampin' Up, some gold card that came in a bar of chocolate (yeah, seriously) and I punched out 3 snowflakes from a paint sample I've had kicking around that just happened to match the colour of the shoebox (Janine, I hope you're not having a heart attack yet). I finished it off with 3 dots of gold glitter on the snowflakes (I really wanted some gold brads here, but that's the problem with setting up no-buying rules beforehand) and one of my own homemade beaded Christmas ornaments. It's definitely not the professional quality I've grown accustomed to seeing on 2BKrafty, but I'm pretty sure Firstborn's teacher will be suitably impressed.
As for the recipe, I've also veered off in my own direction and decided to include 2 different baked goods (and I'm considering squeezing in a third if I can find the time to do more baking), one being a basic fudge brownie recipe, and the other being New Zealand Shortbread, which is a Christmas tradition in our house, and an old family recipe. I'll assume you can read between the lines here and guess that when I say "family", I mean the Captain's family, since my family is just as happy to hit the grocery store and pick up a jumbo tin of custard creams.
For anyone out there interested in making herself a small batch of New Zealand Shortbread (and I do highly recommend them), I give you the recipe:

3/4 cup butter, softened
6 tbsp confectioners' sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Mix well and press 3/4 of the mixture into a buttered and floured 8x8 baking dish. Set aside remaining mix.
Combine the following and cook either over low heat or in the microwave until the mixture is smooth:
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tbsp corn syrup
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
Pour mixture over shortbread in the pan and crumble remaining shortbread mix over condensed milk mixture. Bake at 350F for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. When completely cool, cut into 16 squares.

This recipe can be doubled, and if you don't want to find yourself sneaking spoonfuls of the remaining 1/2 can of condensed milk when no one's looking, I suggest you make a double batch. They do freeze well.
So there you have it, I've participated in a fun recipe exchange and figured out a great gift for a deserving teacher. Not bad for a day's work!