Thursday, December 31, 2009

Retrospective

Some days, when I was in a hurry to get to an appointment, feeling flustered because I had a lot on my mind and tons to do, I found myself experiencing major road rage. I tended to tailgate, mutter unkind words as a speeder passed by, or honk loudly in irritation at the guy who cut me off. Even if I resisted my dark impulses, you can bet I was thinking ugly thoughts about the rude drivers around me.

Other days, when I had plenty of time to run my errands and was feeling calm and organized, I was the world's nicest driver; it didn't bother me one bit if someone drove too slowly—I stayed three car lengths behind and passed at my leisure. If someone tried to pull in front of me, I slowed down and waved him in. I didn't worry about grabbing a parking spot close to the entrance before the minivan racing the other way; in fact, I parked at the very end so I could walk a little.

Inept, clueless, and passive-aggressive drivers dot the roadways. There's always going to be someone who crosses three lanes without signaling, a teenager on her cell phone, and the couple with a big dog in the back of their Subaru driving 20 mph . . . it's only my attitude that's ever going to change. My outlook determines whether or not I enjoy my journey.

Here's hoping that your path through 2010 is wide and smooth, and that you're able to take your time and enjoy the ride. Try not to freak out too much at fellow travelers, even when they're hogging the road. I'll do the same.

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Dinner last night: short ribs, sweet potatoes, broccoli



Exactly one year ago today:



Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Blog to Book

The following is not an advertisement or paid review of any kind, just a note to fellow bloggers who, like me, distrust the Internet and might want to transfer a portion of their blogs into an album or book.


My mother-in-law does not own a computer, but I thought she might enjoy looking at some of my blog entries. I tried this Christmas to design a "blog book" for her through my iPhoto program that would feature my top posts, but it was taking literally hours of my time. I checked out various photo album programs, which were fine for all my photographs but didn't allow much space for text. I had just decided to give up on the project when I ran across a comment somewhere suggesting Blurb. I looked over their website and decided to give it a try . . . so much easier than anything I had attempted!



You download their free bookmaking software onto your computer and do all your work there, so everything is private and protected. The program will automatically stream (no cutting and pasting!) however many posts you want from your blog into your choice of several book templates—the designs are fixed, but you've still got flexibility in fonts, resizing and repositioning your photos, etc.



When you've got your blog book looking the way you want, the program will upload your project to Blurb's website to print and ship it. I thought the prices were reasonable, ranging from $13 to $75, depending on size, soft- or hardback covers, number of pages, etc. Standard shipping was an additional $5. I paid around twenty bucks for something really special.


My mother-in-law loved the book and called me in excitement, thinking I had actually been published. I tried to explain that I just made the one book for her as a gift, but I don't think she believes me. The book looks that professional.



Dinner last night: spaghetti, corn on the cob



Monday, December 28, 2009

Debriefing

My favorite moment of Christmas occurs just before midnight on Christmas Eve. I'm the only one up. I've finished cleaning the kitchen, wrapping the presents, and stuffing the stockings, and am ready to head up the stairs and fall into bed. The house is quiet and dark, except for the sparkling lights on the tree.

Reverence. Gratefulness. Anticipation.


The kids were so excited about their gift for me that they made me open it FIRST!

It's a blanket! A backwards robe! No, wait . . .
it's a Snuggie!


I was really good about not going overboard on the gifts this year. Part of it was finances, part of it was experience. I bought my 3-year-old twins two toys: a farm animal set and . . .

this little car, which they have not stopped playing with since they ran into the living room on Christmas morning and spied it under the tree.


It wouldn't be Christmas without our best friends and their family over for dinner.

This year, it's official. We've turned into our parents . . .
the children have been assigned to a kid's table!


I hope you and your families all experienced a wonderful holiday together. Now, throw out the cookies and fudge and pies and cakes. And candy canes and toffees and truffles and peanut brittle. The High Festival of Butter has ended. It's time to get serious and lose some weight. Yeah, yeah, I know. Starting January 1.



Dinner last night: leftovers and cookies



Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Gentle Readers

Wherever you may be . . . whomever you're with or without . . . whatever your circumstances . . . I pray that today you will feel His love and peace.

Joyeux Noël






Dinner last night: prime rib, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, green salad, dinner rolls, chocolate cake and ice cream


Exactly one year ago:



Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's Go Time

Alright, team. It's the final week of Christmas. Are you ready? Me, neither.

Usually, I'm very organized when it comes to the holidays. My secret is ballet class. My 9- and 11-year-old daughters have always taken a dance class on Saturday mornings. Starting in September, I've had one hour every week to devote to Christmas. I drop the girls off, then head out to shop. You'd be amazed at how much I can get done when I'm focused on a task. Once I've collected gifts for everyone, I use my Christmas hour to sit in the car, listen to music, and write Christmas cards. By November 30, I'm ready to put up the tree, decorate the house, and throw a cookie-decorating party. I'm a well-oiled Christmas machine.

This year, my 9-year-old broke her left wrist at the beginning of the school year, so we let her sit out ballet for the year. Then, my 11-year-old begged to be freed of pliès and tendus. In addition to entering 6th grade, which at her school is notorious for its amount of homework, her soccer team is training for Regionals, so she simply doesn't have time for ballet this year. Those impudent children ruined my Christmas schedule . . .

. . . not to mention their Christmas portrait.



Dinner last night: chicken tostada



Friday, December 18, 2009

Rut or Tradition?

Last week, I turned to my husband and sighed. I had recently been told by an enthusiastic friend about her plans to serve a "dry-aged prime rib" for Christmas dinner. Evidently, it sits in the refrigerator for two weeks wrapped in cheesecloth, which is changed every day. The meat breaks down or something, and is absolutely delicious and tender after roasting. I've been making the same Christmas dinner for as long as I can remember: a big ham with scalloped potatoes as the main side dish.

"Should I make something different this year?" I asked my husband, already knowing what his answer would be. "You make it, I'll eat it." He's not picky. I continued any way. "Prime rib? Maybe I should make a fancy prime rib. Brisket? You like brisket. Or we could do something like crab legs. What about a goose or duck? That's Christmas-y." He grunted noncommittally, then muttered, "If we don't have ham, you won't be able to make ham-potato bake with the leftovers. I like that." Hrumph. I decided in my mind that I was going to make a luscious prime rib AND crab legs. I'm going all Martha Stewart on my family's heinies this year.

A few days later, out of the blue, my 11-year-old daughter pipes up from the back seat of the minivan, "I can't WAIT for Christmas dinner, Mom! It's my favorite meal of the year! HAM! And SCALLOPED POTATOES!" She was practically giddy. "Oh, honey. I was just talking to Dad about that. I think I'm going to make something different this year." "Nooooooo!" she wailed. "I look forward to this dinner all year. Pleeeeease, Mom."

How could I resist? It's the ONE meal she looks forward to ALL YEAR. So it's ham and scalloped potatoes for Christmas dinner again. Somehow, I don't think anyone will mind one bit.





Dinner last night: Santa Fe chicken strips



Thursday, December 17, 2009

I've Turned into My Grandma

So my husband actually picks up the phone and calls me from work to ask what the deal is. "How come you're not blogging anymore? What's wrong? You're not going to post any thing all week?" Dude. I'm a little busy over here, what with the flurry of school activities and the writing of Christmas cards and the consuming of an entire tin of fudge.

Breathe a sigh of relief, Internet. I haven't been buried in a snowdrift, although we certainly have received enough snow in the last few days to cover my exhausted body should I fall over in the back yard and decide to just stay there and take a nap.

It's crazy. Every evening after work my husband comes home and fires up the John Deere to clear another 6" from the driveway and the road. I make hot chocolate for everyone, serving it in teacups and saucers so my daughters think it's fancy. After dinner, I make my husband drive me to town in his 4-wheel-drive truck so I can shop, while he waits in the parking lot like the crowd-phobic man that he is.

After tucking the girls in for the night, I climb into bed wearing my long flannel nightgown and soft fleece socks; I settle into my pillows that I've arranged just so and begin reading The Time Traveler's Wife with my magnifying glasses perched on the end of my nose, but I can't get past the first chapter because I keep falling asleep.

And I'm pretty sure I've started snoring.

Baby, it's cold outside.
I think I'll go in and blog.



Disclaimer: Daisy's eyes are not a weird, glowing green. They have a red-eye function in iPhoto . . . where's the green-eye function, I ask you.




Dinner last night: beef stew, cheddar-onion breadsticks


Exactly one year ago today:



Friday, December 11, 2009

Living in an Ansel Adams World

The woods surrounding our house look like something out of a black and white photograph, with thick hoar frost on limbs contrasting against the darkness of tree trunks and fir needles . . .

. . . stark,

. . . lonely,

. . . peaceful.



Dinner last night: Hawaiian pizza



Exactly one year ago today:



Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mesmerized

I shudder to think what crotchety sort of curmudgeon I'd become if I didn't have my four little girls around to remind me of the delights attached to childhood and the simple joys to be found this time of year. The twins, especially, are amazed by the sights and sounds of Christmas. We grown-ups forget how special, how really wonderful, colored LIGHTS are. Or ANGELS! On top of trees!




Dinner last night: spaghetti




Monday, December 7, 2009

Trimming the Tree

My husband threw me for a loop when he announced last week that he wanted a real tree this year. I guess he's finally recovered from our first Christmas together as a married couple.

We lived in a tiny apartment on the University of Alaska campus in Fairbanks. There are many wonderful things I could say about Fairbanks, Alaska, but for the purposes of this post, you just need to click on over to today's temperature in that part of our state. So, on a bright, chilly December day in Fairbanks, my brand new husband and I drove out into the Alaskan hills somewhere and cut down a little tree that looked cute outdoors but appeared decidedly frightful standing inside our shoebox of a home. The very next day, our Christmas tree dropped all of its needles and we were left with a naked, brown monstrosity adorned with a strand of lights and a few ornaments. Being the stubborn, broke newlyweds that we were, we let that Charlie Brown tree stand in all its glory until Christmas morning.

I have no idea if I snapped a photograph—I hope I did and that some day I'll come across it so that I can prove how pitiful it looked—but if I didn't capture that joyous piece of Christmas cheer on film, the vivid picture in my and my husband's minds will last a lifetime. In fact, when we reach our late 90s and are in the midst of full-blown dementia, that "real, live" Christmas tree will be our one remaining memory we will describe over and over to the coat stand in the corner that we mistake for a nurse's aide.

We bought fresh trees for a few years after that, but at some point in the early 1990s, after our cat climbed up into one and knocked it over, sending needles flying throughout the room that I was still vacuuming up the following February, we gave up trying to fill the air with the scent of fresh pine and purchased an artificial evergreen. It's served us well over the years as each of our four little girls has made her entrance into our family. They've been able to crawl around the living room floor and touch the tree without impaling themselves. Dragging out the box and putting all the pieces of our tree together has become as much a tradition for our family as skiing out into the forest to cut down the perfect tree has become a tradition for the classy families of the world.

Only 18 days left until Christmas . . .
get that tree up and decorated!




Dinner last night: stuffed pasta shells, green peas



Thursday, December 3, 2009

Can You Tell I Went Out on Black Friday?

I'm Alaskan, so I know what it feels like to walk shivering and miserable through ice fog while people zip by in their toasty warm cars. Much of my youth was spent hunkered down in my parka, trudging along the side of the road, on my way to school or the library or a friend's house. My consequent sympathy for pedestrians has turned me into one of those annoying drivers who stops in the middle of a parking lot to let people walk in front of her. I'm in a warm car; they're not—I don't mind waiting a second while they cross to a heated building's welcoming arms. Sometimes, though, I'm sorry I've bothered to slow down.

It really chaps my hide when a guy literally swaggers in front of my car like he's the coolest cat in the world. He won't make eye contact with me; in fact, he acts like I'm not even there and he's got all the time in the world to stroll through the cold. He's a tough guy. No coat in the middle of winter, but he doesn't have to hurry. No sirree.

Then there are the teenage girls who purposely slow down once I've stopped to let them cross. Almost like they're proving what a sucker I am. Burn! We rule, you drool. Watch us sashay and talk on our cell phones while we completely ignore you, old lady.

But most of the time, people are really appreciative. They'll flash me a smile or mouth, "Thank you." Oftentimes they'll send me a friendly wave or even break into a little trot just to let me know that they don't want to keep me. Those are my kind of peeps. Offer them a little kindness, and you'll receive a little back.

So if you're ever walking across a busy parking lot and someone stops for you, let them know you've noticed. You don't have to fall prostrate on the ground and raise your hands in worship. A brief nod is more than sufficient, and your small acknowledgment just might determine whether that driver ever makes a friendly gesture again.




Dinner last night: turkey soup, rolls



Exactly one year ago today:



Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Time to Break Out the Advent Calendar

Can you believe it's December 1 already? What is happening to the time–space continuum? I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that an entire year has passed since I posted about our family's Christmas traditions, like the advent calendar that we put out on the first of the month . . .


The girls take turns opening up each day's tiny door, taking out an ornament, and hanging it on the knob.


The secular and religious symbols provide lots of interesting topics for conversation—the toy soldier, for example, reminds us of The Nutcracker that we attended over Thanksgiving weekend, while the angel gets us discussing the role of heavenly messengers in the Christmas story. There's a Santa and a baby Jesus, which help us talk about who should get the most emphasis during this holiday season.


I also like the deep base, which is just right for storing the wonderful cards, letters, and pictures we receive from family and friends throughout December (hint, hint).



Dinner last night: Italian sausage and spinach pie