"Someday's gonna be a busy day..."

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Memorable Moments of Christmas 2008

Song: "Shimmy Down the Chimney" - sung rather lasciviously by D thoughout the holiday season, but most often when I am trapped in the car with him. I never realized how suggestive that song actually is, which is just wrong for a Christmas tune.

Food: Chinese food on the 24th. Shortbread that tasted like disappointment (wretched cookie press!). Crisp gingerbread biscotti that Neko got the burnt ends of. Thanks to Jaime, I whipped up her grandma's recipe and recreated the taste of my childhood with some peanut butter balls. First time I've done holiday baking in a few years - but Someday's big, airy kitchen lends itself nicely to domestic activities so I think I'll be baking again next year.

Sound: the scary, powerful, relentless winds that have pummelled Someday almost daily since November.

Smell: pine, cedar and fir, thanks to Mr. Christmas Tree and various fresh branches we hung throughout the house.

Annoyance: Neko gobbling down not only D's king-sized Mr. Big chocolate bar (right out of his stocking!) but also his sacred bag of Lindt chocolate almonds. Naughty doggie.

Gifts: D's fancy new hockey stick from Dad, which he clutched like a kid whilst watching the Junior World Cup game. Dad's new hockey bag, which will replace the decrepit, vile thing he's been carrying around for the last 20 years. Our snowshoes, a study in irony as it rained buckets for three days and melted all the snow. My pendant, a memento of Rose, with rubies for each month she was with us.

Laughs: C not bothering to change out of his barn clothes and wearing the same grubby purple sweatshirt for Christmas Eve supper, Christmas Day brunch and Christmas evening supper! (I'm pretty sure he did it just to bug me) Attempting to take a photo with Neko wearing a Santa hat; dogs just aren't meant to be clothed. Playing highly competitive games of crokinole with brother & sister in laws. Knowing my nephew woke my sisters up at 5:30am to unwrap his gifts. Putting the last deocoration on the tree, gloating over its turquoise and silver beauty, then realizing I'd forgotten to put on lights.

Memories: walking with D through a deserted Blair's Grove with Neko on Christmas night and feeling like we were the only living souls around for miles. Watching old home movies of the boys and their family. Making breakfast for the Lowry clan on Christmas morning and watching D and C pay the price for gorging themselves on crepes (they're more filling than they look). Teaching D to play cribbage on the old table at Dad's and letting him feel smug when he beat us. Waking up on Christmas morning together for the first time in our bedroom at Someday.

Monday, 29 December 2008

I'll have a blue Christmas...

Christmas can be a strange and beautiful time. On one hand, feelings of love and warmth and goodwill flood the heart. It's a time for generosity, family, food, drink and laughter. But there's always that brief but poignant stab of longing for people who are no longer present, for old times and old traditions no longer practised.

I have been missing Rose and Nana quite a bit; the first Christmas "under the sod" is always the hardest. It's hard to watch my husband's neice enjoy her first Christmas without wanting to stand up and shout, "Rose should be here too!" She'd be eight months old. I stood in front of our tree yesterday and I swear I could see her, reaching for the ornaments, crinkling tissue paper in her tiny fists, grinning over her first present. We probably would have stuffed her in some ridiculous Christmas outfit like most parents are wont to do and taken pictures. There are still times when this house feels miserably empty without her.

I always think of my mother at this time of year as well - the queen of all things Christmas. Her supper table was a masterpiece of red and gold and white each year, heaped with delicacies like her cream-cheese-dilled-mashed potatoes and mashed turnip so delicious I would eat it cold the next day for breakfast. I tried to honour her memory a little bit by decorating the dining table lavishly and making crepes on Christmas morning for D and his family. Mom always did like to make a splash on the 25th.

And no Christmas thoughts are complete without dear old Nana. I'm thankful we spent at least one last Christmas together last year before she died. Her birthday is Dec 24th and this year I coaxed D to get Chinese take out, as Nana used to like doing that around the holidays. My shopping list felt strangely short - for the first time since I was little, I wasn't racking my brains trying to think of the perfect gifts for a 96 year old lady who had everything. And boy, did I miss it.

My beloved sisters (and nephew) are spending the holidays together in Australia this year and I miss them too - even when they call long distance in 35 degree weather to inform me they're heading to a resort for an afternoon of cocktails by the pool. Humph! (I hope the mosquitoes got you - hee hee)

Snuggling with D on the couch on Christmas afternoon, watching some old home movies of his family from the 60's the 70's, chopping down and decorating our tree, taking Neko for her traditional Christmas evening walk - these are all good things that I cherish. Yet it's funny how a few unhappy memories seem to skitter across one's brain at this time of year, unwanted and uninvited. For example, I was wrapping gifts the other night when an image of worst Christmas of all time (2004) interrupted my moment of Santa serenity: after a miserable holiday feast at my then-husband's family's house, where he'd seemed ill at ease with everyone and me in particular, he confessed that he didn't love me anymore. Ho ho ho indeed!

I'll never forget the awful gifts he gave me that year either, which made sense after his yuletide confession. They were absolutely devoid of any sentiment or affection: a set of measuring spoons, a hideous huge apron that didn't fit, and a purple laundry basket. Sure, I was just starting up my preserves business, and yes, my favourite colour at the time was purple, but I mean, REALLY - Merry Christmas wife of almost 10 years - here's a bunch of utentsils & a laundry basket?? I should have skewered him with the sharp end of a broken tree ornament. To top it off, he stuffed a can of Pepsi in my stocking, knowing full well that I loathe Pepsi and adore Coke. No one deserved a lump of coal thrown at his head more than my ex that year.

Thankfully, memories like these, although still slightly prickly, no longer have the sting they once had. It's next to impossible to linger on nasty bits of my past now that I am blessed with the love of a good man and his family. So I paused in my wrapping (purple paper, which must have triggered the laundry basket incident) just long enough for a head shake, an eye roll and a rueful giggle.

I truly am blessed these days, and it's good to remind myself of this daily, but the holidays do give one time to pause and consider the past, savour the present and turn hopefully toward the future.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

More random musings on boys

One gets a yet another peek into that weird and wonderful thing called the male psyche around Christmas, especially when there are only two shopping days left. Quickly - while I wait for D to return from picking up his brother C so we can all head to Goderich for a last-ditch attempt to buy some gifts - I thought I'd share a few observations I've made over the past two December weeks.

1) Guys do not shop ahead. D and C are panicky and irritable because they haven't finished (started?) their Christmas shopping yet. Neither of them made time to go to "the city" to do a big spree, which means they are left with the less-than-thrilling shopping destinations of Goderich or Hanover (heaven forbid they actually shop in KINCARDINE!). While I am sorely tempted to lecture/mock/flaunt all my purchased gifts in their faces, I stay quiet and just shake my head a lot.

2) Guys like to eat. A LOT. Especially at Christmas. Witness the three batches of Christmas cookies I made. No sooner were they on the cooling racks than a good quarter of them had disappeared into the boys' eager gullets. If I hadn't stopped C from snorking down my peanut butter balls straight out of the fridge while the chocolate was still setting, I'd have none left! While I'm flattered they like my cooking, it gets tiring trying to keep up with their appetites. I have no idea how my mother-in-law kept her sanity raising and feeding 3 boys.

3) Guys like to get the Christmas tree, and put up the Christmas tree, but they don't like to decorate it. (Although they seem to have lots of opinions when it comes to how other people do the decorating).

4) Guys are more sentimental around this time of year than any other. My normally crusty bro-in-law showed up earlier in the week with his 4 wheel drive to take me to town (my Kia won't go in the deep snow) to run errands, and brought over his "101 Strings Christmas" CD compilation - which he proceeded to make me listen to for 20 minutes before we could set foot outside. He looked blissfully happy, sitting in D's leather chair, listening to the orchestra play all sorts of traditional tunes at very high decibels. And my husband hasn't wanted to do much more than cuddle on the couch under the glow of our Christmas lights - which, to me, is all I really need to make my holiday complete.

Merry Merry everyone!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

k.d. on a blustery day

No, not the orange kind that comes with a so-called "cheese" sauce - I mean k.d.lang. The wind is blowing the snow into those whirly things you see on the prairie with dust - snow devils? - and we can't even see the end of the laneway. So I'm holed up at Someday farm doing Christmassy things, and I needed a soundtrack for my activities. I recently bought k.d.lang's "Hymns from the 49th Parallel" and it's just perfect for a day like today. The album is made up of covers of various Canadian artists, and many of the songs have a distinctly winterish flavour to them.

Anyways, there's biscotti to be made (unlike recipes that require cookie presses, you really can't screw up biscotti), presents to be wrapped, a dog recovering from a kennel hangover to attend to, and a turkey apricot stew to concoct. I leave you to fill in this stormy winter's day however you see fit...and Merry Christmas, in case I don't feel bloggy before the 25th!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Cookie Press or Torture Device? You decide.

I have a small group of girlfriends whom I love. We drink together, we laugh together, we commiserate and rant together. We do not, however, bake together, and that's likely what has kept our friendship so stable.

You hear about women who congregate annually and form group baking coalitions in someone's kitchen. Dough and hilarity ensue. Dozens upon dozens of different cookies are baked, and then shared amongst the group. Everyone goes home and smugly fills their freezers to the brim with holiday baking.

In theory, this sounds very nice. Sometimes I sigh and wish my sisters and friends lived closer so we could have our own bake-bonding session. Then I attempt to bake something on my own and the burning smell snaps me back into reality: I am not a kitchen-sharing kinda gal. Nor am I a baker.

These simple facts were reinforced last week when I roped my mother-in-law into helping me make shortbread cookies. She is a kitchen goddess - she bakes, she stews, she cans, she preserves, she roasts, she does it all. So I figured with her help, I couldn't possibly screw up the sacred shortbread recipe bequeathed to me (after much coaxing) by an older colleauge. Boy, was I wrong.

My aforesaid girlfriends are not without a sense of humour. A few Christmasses ago, they gave me a cookie press. They know I don't bake very well, but they also know I love to try. They also know about my weird obsession with Martha Stewart. She's a bit wacko and her projects are often astronomically unattainable, but I love her anyway. I'd enjoy being her for a day (sans the prison record and scary smile). A cookie press is the ultimate in Martha-ness: it's a beautiful concept, but mere mortals don't have much of a chance of making the damn thing work.

My mother-in-law is used to being the master of her kitchen domain. Unfortunately, I am used to being the master of my kitchen domain. This does not bode well for an evening of community baking. But we like each other and both of us made an effort not to assert any kitchen-nazi tendencies. We unpacked the cookie press, took it apart, admired the different patterns. We read and re-read the recipe, measured the ingredients for the dough and mashed everything together with our hands.

Things were going swimmingly until we jammed the dough into the press and attempted to mould our first cookie in the shape of a wreath. I clicked the trigger of the press three times and looked down at the cookie sheet. Nothing. My mother-in-law tried. Still nothing. I shook it, smacked it around a little and tried again. Nada.

Upon further examination, the instructions on the cookie-press box warned us not to use a cold cookie sheet (not a problem, as my MIL's house is always 80 degrees), and not to use a non-stick surface. Well, who the hell owns a cookie sheet these days that isn't non-stick? We looked at each other in disgust.

Finally, after taking out all the dough, adding a little water to the mix and stuffing it back in again, we got our first cookie out. It looked like it had been a victim of radiation poisoning. We changed the pattern to the tree and tried a few more. They looked like little Charlie Brown Christmas trees. And so it went.

Three dozen cookies laster, I discovered that the worst part of all this baking humiliation was not that we burned the cookies (we had trouble getting the oven to heat up, so overcooking wasn't a problem) or even that we never got the hang of the press (eventually, the cookies kind of resembled the shapes they were meant to). It was that they tasted AWFUL. Kind of like butter mixed with sawdust. Even the cute little mini-m&ms and candied cherries we used to decorate the tops couldn't save the flavour. My husband tasted one; he chewed, and chewed, and chewed, then fled to the fridge for some milk to wash the cookie down. "Gahhh," he said after a mighty swallow, "not my favourite.

So now I have 3 dozen nasty tasting shortbread cookies in my freezer. And a cookie press that is going back where it belongs, in the dark forbidding far corner of my least-used cupboard. And I know exactly what I'm giving my girlfriends for Christmas.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Flu, Someday style

My husband's adorable 6 month-old neice, whom I've christened "germ-baby," visited for the family Christmas extravaganza this past weekend. How someone so small and so darling could manage to infect 5 of us with the flu, I'll never understand. I thought I'd escaped the curse, but it serves me right for being smug when everyone else got it. This morning, I woke up and knew one simple fact: the toilet and I would become very, very good friends today.

Thankfully I only have a mild dose of old Influenzie. D's dad got it and threw up four times during the night. (D told me that when the old man retches, the whole house shakes.) D's brother got it and actually missed work for the first time in years. So I count myself lucky to work at home and be in close proximity to the porcelain god.

The worst thing about having just a mild case of the flu, in my opinion, is not the stomach pains, the inability to keep anything down or the shakes: it's the BOREDOM. OH, the boredom! I hate TV (and we don't have a connection yet anyway), I've read every book I can think of, not to mention every Sears/Home Hardware/Agricultural flyer I can find, I've stared out every window of the house, and I've napped until my back aches. Neko keeps groaning and sighing at the bottom of the stairs but I can't stray far enough away from the bathroom to take her for a walk. The second worst thing? Not being able to eat anything delicious. Yesterday was D's birthday, and there's a whole rack of chocolate cupcakes taunting me from the counter. But alas...I'm attempting to follow the flu-related "BRAT" diet, which consists of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. I feel like a four year old.

Things, of course, could be worse. I could have a raging case and be retching my guts out. Or D could have it and we could both be sick at the same time, something not conducive to marital harmony. So I'll just keep spooning applesauce into my mouth and shut up. After all, maybe D will bring me a movie and some ginger ale when he comes home. Or better yet, maybe he'll stroke my hair as I lay prone on the couch and say, "Aww, you poor thing." THAT makes being sick all worth while.

RIP, Mr. Marmalade

Well, I don't know if Mr. M kicked the bucket, or if Lois took it upon herself to come up and trap him for me, but I'm happy to report he's GONE! My kitties can eat their dinners unmolested and I don't have to worry about buying barn cat food in the 40lb bag instead of the 25lb one now. Phew. RIP, Mr. Marmalade. We hardly knew ye.