There is no reason for me to do a retrospective of the big things in my year. My blog serves as the daily diary of big and small things that happened. Instead I decided today to enter all my data from my fit bit into a spread sheet and see how I did no my one big goal of 2014 – to walk 20,000 steps a day. Now in all honesty I did not make that my goal until the end of January, but that hardly makes a difference.
I walked t total of 6,006277 steps that were counted when I wore my fitbit, in 2014. I almost always had it one and only once or twice was it uncharged, so over six million is fairly accurate. My numbers say that I walked a total of 2627 miles.
Sounds like a lot, but it is no even close to reaching my goal. I average 16,455 steps a day so I was just over 80% of the way there. That meant I walked an average of 7.2 miles a day. Only in the month of February did I actually walk an average that was over 20,000 steps a day.
I started the year 22 pounds heavier than I got at my lowest point. If you are reading between the lines you can figure out that I gained weight at the end of the year. I tried a terrible experiment of letting myself eat whatever I wanted between Thanksgiving and Christmas and walking just as much as I wanted to see what would happen. Eight pounds is what happened and an average of only walking 10,000 steps a day.
That experiment is officially over. I started eating like a judge a couple of days ago and today will be the first day I will get my 20,000 steps in, thanks to lots of time doing spread sheets to see how badly things can go when I am not vigilant.
My new goal is to do 20,000 steps a day as an average in each month. That means that if I am going on vacation and know I will be sitting on a plane, unallowed to get up and roam the aisle I am going to have to bank steps in advance. If I am sick one day I will have to make it up in the next couple. If I have an all day meeting I will have to stay on my treadmill later into the night.
I also am going to keep my spreadsheet as I go along and not have one big data dump day. This way I can track in real time. I know that I am not a person who can eat holiday food without consequence. I also know that I need to keep moving if I am to lose even eight pounds. No fun, no fair, tough luck, that’s me.
So Happy New Year to you and yours. I hope that holiday eating and sitting around did not do to you what it did not me. I know that most of the world will be on some sort of diet come tomorrow. Welcome to my life, as I should live it. Not living clean is clearly not an option. Hopefully it won’t take me longer than it took me to put it on to get it off.
For the last few days Russ and I have been driving to and from Cary to watch Carter’s team play in a basketball tournament. Since we have to pay $8 each to get into every game we think of this tournament as a big revenue generator for the host school. It started the day after Christmas with no break to get away for post Christmas family time, but his was the commitment we took on when Carter made Varsity.
The team is small in number and short on players with lots of years of experience, but long on heart and sticktoittiveness. The coaches are tough, but the lessons learned from just being part of this group are invaluable.
Earlier in the season I was sitting in the stands with my friend David Beischer who is a parent of a boy who plays basketball as well as a basketball playing alum of DA. While watching the girls in a very tough match against a team with a much deeper bench of seasoned players on their way to D-1 basketball scholarships he told me about an old DA Physics professor whose name I can’t remember, who created some theorem that said, once a girls team was down eleven points there was no way they were coming back to win a game.
During that particular game the girls were down by 14 points, came back to being one up and in the final seconds let their defense down and lost the game. It was a miracle that they came back by that much in the first place, but heart breaking. To me the good news was that they had proven the 30-year theorem could be broken.
The Holiday Invitational started out with DA girls winning their first match up handily. The second game was much tougher and they could not pull out the win, but during that game one of the captains of the team, junior Cha’Mia Rothwell made her 1,000th point as a DA varsity player. The amazing thing about this is basketball is not even her best sport, you should see her run track.
Today was the final game against a tough team from Fayetteville. If you have never been to Fayetteville you have no idea how tough it is. The DA girls were in a shoot out to see which team would take 3rd in the tournament.
The game started badly and quickly went sideways for our girls. In the third quarter they were down by 21 points. A fellow parent, an ex-professional football player, who I sat with during the whole tournament muttered, “Just get to down 14 and we will be happy.” It seemed like a big ask to me, but we all prayed.
The forth quarter started and all I could think of was whatshisname Physics Professor’s Theorem – down almost double his theory there was no way. But the little team with lots of heart did not know they could not win this game. Slowly they started chipping away at Fayetteville’s lead. Suddenly three’s were being hit and free throws were all being made. With seconds left, Cha’Mia, better known as Cham on the court got us tied up and them closed it down by making a free throw in the very last second. The crowd went wild. My heart was beating so hard it felt as if I had just run a marathon. Fittingly after the game was the planned cake celebration of Cham reaching her 1,000th point in the previous game.
It was heart breaking for the Fayetteville girls who were sure this was their game when they were up by 21. That old teacher might have been a great Physics Prof, but he did not know this team of girls. Congratulations to the little team with the big heart, their great coaches Krista and Robert and all the friends and family members who came out to support them at each and every game. Watching you come together as a team was worth more than double every dollar and hour spent.
In an effort to alleviate any guilt I have about Holiday eating, slouching about and lack of productivity I got back on the horse today. I could have waited until January second like most people who have a resolution they want to fulfill, but I feel like waiting is just an excuse.
Back on the treadmill early in the day I knew was the only way to deal with my lost good habits. While walking I paid all my bills, sorted all my deal-with-it-later mail, entered all new Christmas card alerted addresses in my electronic address book, (boy did a lot of you move this year) and put away all the Christmas wrapping. That only accounted for about a thousand steps.
I tried, but was quite unsuccessful at hand writing my thank you notes while I walked. I figured my handwriting while still was bad enough and I don’t want anyone to think I’m coming down with Parkinson’s when they receive a long over due thank you note.
I turned to my never ending to do list… The biggest thing that has been on it the longest is completing my scrapbooks from our African trip. Now I have scrap books from years back that are not done, I am yet to even consider our past two spring break trips, but those were not actually written on the list, they just remain in my list in my brain. I decided to tackle the more than half finished double volume Africa books.
I have one great excuse why they were not finished. My computer was so full of so many photos that it was not working correctly. Russ fixed that by getting me a new computer for Christmas. No more excuses. I opened the I-photo program and tried to walk and decide which of the 8,000 photos to put where. It was clear that I cold not do this job while walking so I flipped a coin and decided that sitting and finishing the books was a better use of my time.
Amazingly it only took me about five hours to place all the photos and them go back and write all the copy. I had Russ proof read them and then very un-editor like I did not reread them, instead just pressed the “Buy Book” button and sent off one South Africa and one Zambia book. Come the middle of January I am sure to carrying around these books to show anyone who wants to look at them.
Back on the treadmill by seven PM I may still be able to get my 20,000 steps in before tomorrow comes. It feels great to get these big things checked off my list. I think I am going to like starting 2015 without much of a hangover. If only I could drop the Christmas weight I gained. I think it will take me the whole month of January and at least half of February to do that.
December has been a rich food eatapalooza. Now it’s time to pay the piper. Considering that the house is still full of normally forbidden food I need to begin retraining my mouth, brain and stomach back to non-holiday food. Russ and I started out the day with a big walk for Shay Shay. The walk helped get on the right path although I was not ready to go cold turkey back to arugula salad for lunch and dinner. I decided that a good taboubli like salad might be an easy way to wean my mouth from holiday food. I had quinoa that I used instead of bulgur wheat.
1 C. Quinoa
2 c. Vegetable stock
1-pint cherry tomatoes
1 ½ English Cucumber
2 Handfuls fresh Mint
2 Handfuls Cilantro
1/3 c. minced Red Onion
3 cloves of garlic
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 T. sherry Vinegar
2 T. Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Put the quinoa and vegetable stock in a saucepan bring to a boil and cover it and cook on simmer for fifteen minutes. Remove from heat and chill in refrigerator.
Cut the tomatoes in half and put in big mixing bowl. Cut the English Cucumbers in half and scoop out the seeds and discard. Then cut each half a cucumber into six strips and chop into ¼ inch pieces. Add the Cucumber to the big bowl.
Remove mint leaves from steps and chop. Add to bowl. Do the same with the cilantro. Add the red onion then finally mince the garlic and add that.
Add the lemon zest and juice, vinegar and olive oil. Add the cooled quinoa. Salt and Pepper to taste.
I hope this is going to help.
Today I realized that I still had a Christmas gift for someone that works at our house. I feel badly that I had not seen him in the last few weeks to give him his gift so he would have it before Christmas. I texted him as much to make sure that he knows I have not forgotten about him, but I wish I had realized this the day before Christmas and not the day after. There are some people I give gifts to who really don’t need another thing, but others for whom Christmas giving is vital. Those are the ones I hate to mess up with.
Now that Christmas is over I have just a few days to start thinking about making our year end charitable giving. Russ, as a small business owner also has to close out his yearend books and do all his yearend distributions. I wish that the government could pick a date other than December 31 to be the financial yearend. It really ruins taking time off during the holidays.
Not that we have any time off since Carter has a basketball tournament that started today and goes through Monday. I do like watching her team play and they had a great first game today. My only issue is that sitting in the bleachers is no exercise for me, not as long as cheering does not count as an aerobic activity, and I am not able to do finical work in the gym.
I make it sound like I am giving away a lot of money; sadly I am not. I wish that I had more to share. What I do have is a lot of requests. All year whenever I get a phone call from an organization asking me for a donation I tell them all the same thing, “Please send me something in the mail and I will consider you in our year end giving.” Some think it is just a ploy for me to hang up on them and they don’t bother sending me a request, but others follow through. Now I have a giant pile to sift through and decide if I can help them.
There are others in line in front of new donations, our schools, church and The Food Bank. I use Charity Navigator to help me determine if an organization is a good steward of money to begin with. The hardest part is that the Food Bank gets such a high rating with 97% of all the money it collects going right back out in food and support of feeding programs that I have a hard time giving money to another organization that only puts say 65% of the money donated into support of the programs that further their mission. Charities that have staff that are too highly paid don’t need my little bit of money.
So it takes much more time that just the moments it takes to write a check or donate online, which is my new favorite way to give because it also saves me a stamp and helps the organization keep processing costs down. Researching non-profits could be a full time job and one I should have done right when the requests came in and not waited until the last few days of the year.
Giving to non-profits makes me happier than giving money to the government so I will happily get the job done before the bell tolls midnight on the 31st. For most non-profits this last month of the year is the make it or break it time in donations. If you have anything extra this year please consider sharing it with an organization that does good work to help others in your community. I can only speak about the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC, but I tell you they work tirelessly to feed over 650,000 people all year. For those people the Food Bank is better than Santa, but the Food Bank needs lots of elves to help them out.
If you want to see how easy it is to give online to the Food Bank just click here Food BankCENC.org. It’s never too late to give, but if you wait until 2015 you will have to wait another whole year to take it off your taxes.
I’m shocked there is no cartoon about the sadness of Christmas night. So much build up – awaiting the birth of Jesus. The shopping and wrapping, the cooking and gathering of family from near and far. The sleepless night on Christmas Eve, no matter your age or anticipation of a filled stocking. The over indulgence, making sure you have all the gifts you bought ready to give, ripping open the paper, and then in a blink it’s over. The days of making grocery lists, buying food and cooking, then gobble, gobble it’s gone.
The baby is born, hooray. Now the real work starts. Jesus did not come into the world a grown man, ready to do great things. He came as a baby, needing to be cared for, raised and taught. Yes, the Christmas story has those wise men traveling from far off lands following the star to bring the savior gifts. But really, it took them a few months to get there and until they arrived Mary and Joseph were there with this little mouth to feed and no pampers were in sight. When those kings arrived I’m not sure how much good that gold and frankincense and myrrh really were. What about a jogging stroller?
Even if you got exactly what you were hoping for this Christmas, the excitement of waiting for it is more fun to me than owning it. Now it’s time to find a place for all the new, to put away the sparkle and get back to regular life. Granted the tree and the lights, ornaments, wreaths and bows aren’t coming down tonight, but I look at them as already spent, used and finished with for at least eleven more months.
There is no more excuse to eat the decedent holiday food, although I was quite happy that my father requested pasta and salad. He asked me today as I was serving the Cannelloni how I knew that was secretly what he was hoping for, but did not want to ask me to make since it is such a complicated dish. That was a minor Christmas miracle that I guessed the right food. Unfortunately, my parents got too worn out to wait for the dessert of Apple Pie Cake I made, at least my sisters and Sophie stayed for that treat.
Tomorrow I will start to pay for Christmas naughtiness. That makes me sad to think of all that I ate in the last few weeks and that it is over until next Christmas. No more cookies, or kringle, candy bacon or pasta. Back to clean eating and the discipline of living like a monk.
If I can keep in mind how hard those first few months of taking care of baby Jesus were for Mary I might be inspired to live a clean and restrained life. Perhaps there is a new diet fad in this, the “I’m raising the son of God with no real help” diet.
I hope you had a Merry Christmas with your loved ones around you. I hope that no fighting and bickering have broken out at your house. I hope that the let down of Christmas being over does not make the long dark days feel darker. Mostly I hope you are not alone and have love and joy in your lives. Merry Christmas.
I’ve written this blog for 960 days in a row. That means this is my third Christmas Eve. I only ever missed posting myself one day, a year ago tomorrow when I was so sick on Christmas that I slept through the whole day, missing all the celebrating. On that day my family posted for me so that I could keep up my streak of posting something everyday.
I am beginning to fear that I am repeating stories, something I am famous for doing in person. Russ has my most repeatable stories numbered by popularity. What that really means is that the low numbered stories are the ones he is most sick of hearing. To ensure I did not write that same thing this year as I did in the last two I went back in the archives and read what I wrote on Christmas Eve’s past.
Both years were poems about cooking and eating decadent holiday meals that we were going to be enjoying with our Christmas Eve dinner friends. Well, I am in no danger of being repetitive since our standard dinner was canceled because our friends were going to be serving a meal at the shelter.
Replacement for that heavy and fattening meal Carter and Russ wanted a new tradition that they started last year on Christmas day when I was sick in bed, Chinese food for Christmas. Since my family is coming for Christmas day dinner and I have been cooking up a storm for that one holiday meal I happily agreed to this new way of celebrating.
Yesterday Russ called the restaurant to ask them if he needed a reservation and was met with the expectable, “Of course you do!” gruff response. Christmas is a big time of year for Chinese restaurants. Despite needing the reservation so badly, he was able to get one right away.
Today I got a Christmas miracle call from our regular Christmas Eve dinner guests. They had made a mistake and were not serving dinner at the shelter tonight, but had to do it yesterday and were now free for dinner. Hooray! Chinese Christmas Eve for us all.
Perhaps this will be our new tradition. No one has to cook. No one even has to eat the same things. We decided that you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Chinese food at Christmas. So God bless us everyone and pass the fortune cookies!
It’s official. Thursday as the day that Christmas falls on is the worst possible day. What? You say. It has got to be the best. You get to take a really long weekend after Christmas. No! I say. And here is my reasoning and evidence.
With Christmas on a Thursday, kids get out of school on the Friday before Christmas. That means you have six whole days before Santa comes with kids losing their minds waiting to see if they made it on to the good or the naughty list. With each passing day out of school they are inching further and further off the right list and closer to the switches and coal.
Why would this affect me? I don’t have a little child who is worried about such things. She is not bugging me every fifteen minutes about how much longer it is until Santa comes. Let me continue.
With Christmas on Thursday Grandparents from far off started arriving at their grandchildren’s homes on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday. By today, Tuesday the parents of said grandchildren are losing their minds with so many extra mouths to feed in the house and well-intentioned in-laws to find activities to do with them that don’t cause any fights.
Now that Christmas is two days away the serious cooking of Christmas Eve roast and Christmas Day goose is really ramping up. What do parents with little children and visiting grandparents do to try and get ahead on all this cooking, as well as present wrapping and laundry washing, and mother-in-law pacifying? Send the Grandparents out to the store with all the kids in tow so that the mother can have a few moments of silence since her husband had escaped to work since it is only Tuesday. Again, you wonder why I care about this?
Here is why Thursday is the worst day for Christmas and why it affects me so much. Every food store, from Costco to Fresh Market are filled with very, very old people, dragging very, very young people around stores they are completely unfamiliar with. These familial groups walk five abreast aimlessly up and down aisles of stores they have never been in before looking for ingredients they have never heard of all in the name of some mother finding an excuse to get them out of the house.
These people are already a little sick of each other, though they would never admit that, but you can tell by the way they ignore bad behavior from the littlest child who is throwing a fit in front of the 1000 piece-six foot-long Barbie extravaganza. No peppermint is pulled from a grannies pocket to pacify her little darling. No, just an eye roll and a flick to the hearing aid, turning down the volume just a bit. “Hey Grandma, We all don’t have that hearing aid option.”
It seems like Costco could open early for regular customers so we don’t have to fight those who are just using the store as entertainment. There could be a test at the front door where you would have to identify exactly what part of the store held the Kirkland toilet paper, how many apples came in the Granny Smith Apple ballistic plastic container and how much an executive membership card cost. Only real and true-hard customers could pass the test and be allowed in to shop unaccompanied so as not to block up the aisles with unnecessary onlookers.
Next year with Christmas on Friday is not going to be much better, but maybe Grandparents will have learned that five days before Santa arrives is just too long to spend in their daughter-in-law’s home. It is best to show up on Christmas Eve when everyone is still excited and you will be a novelty to help distract small children from the big event. Or if Grand parents do come to visit, offer to stay home and do the cooking and send the shopping experts out into the world alone.
In the 80’s when I lived in Washington DC we used to go to a really fancy Italian Restaurant on King street in Alexandria when we wanted the best Italian food we could find outside of Italy. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant now, but I do remember everything about my favorite dish there, veal cannelloni. I have never experienced a lighter, but more flavorful triple ground veal, spinach and cheese filling wrapped in a thin crepe with both béchamel and marinara sauce.
When my dad requested pasta for his Christmas day lunch my mind went directly to that cannelloni and I began my quest to recreate that meal. I bought a new crepe pan, went to the new Fresh Market to see what the veal situation was and discuss my desire for triple grinding and I purchased six kinds of cheeses. All prep for all these parts of the dish has to wait until at least Christmas Eve, but I could make the marinara today.
Since pasta by itself does not usually make the holiday meal top ten list in our house I wanted to make sure that what I am going to make is Jesus worthy. I studied the recipes of many fabulous Italian cooks and then went to work amalgamating all that I had in my head into my own recipe. I knew that if this version was not perfect I still had time to make other versions.
After cooking for half the day I tasted the product of my study and am writing the results down right now since it was the most superior sauce I have ever made. I did not try and lighten my version, but I must say that any evil ingredients are so small in amount that their inclusion is mandatory. I also used the right tools for the job. I knew there was a reason I owned a food mill.
If you are still searching for something to make over the holiday that will make everyone happy this sauce is a great place to start.
¼ c. Olive Oil
½ pound minced Pancetta
3 large Yellow Onions – chopped
3 large Shallot- minced
8 cloves of garlic minced
5 – 28 oz. cans of San Marzano peeled tomatoes
In a large stockpot on medium high heat pour the olive oil and add the Pancetta. Cook stirring every so often for about five minutes. You are not browning the pork, just starting the rendering process.
Add the onions and shallots and stir them around and cook another 8 minutes. Add two big pinches of salt. You do not want to brown the onions, just soften. Then add the garlic, stir and cook three more minutes.
Open all the cans of tomatoes—spring for the Italian ones, Trader Joes sells them for $3.39 a can. Place a food mill over the pot and pour the cans, one at a time into the food mill and turn the crank until all the tomatoes have been pushed through the sieve. At the end of each can scrape the bottom part of the food mill into the pan since that is the really good part. Repeat until you have done all five cans. The food mill will probably still have some seeds and the cores of some tomatoes in it that you will just throw away.
Bring the sauce up to a simmer and add a little more salt. Once the pot is bubbling a little turn the heat down just a bit so that the sauce is just bubbling. You are going to cook this for about three hours, stirring the pot every 15 mins or so.
Taste to see if it needs more salt.
You can keep this sauce in the fridge for about 4 days or freeze it if you are keeping it longer.
Your family will think you have an Italian grandmother tied up in the basement. This is worth the time and effort.
Months and months ago my friend Cooper made a reservation for a Mother Daughter Christmas Tea at the Carolina Inn. Our daughters are the best of friends and the mothers are lucky to adore each other too.
After weeks of prep for exams and the actual dreaded tests themselves finally over Christmas break could not come fast enough. This tea was the perfect respite for the friend group without having any work hanging over them. It was also a great time for Moms to catch up, reconnect and enjoy each other’s company. The only sad part was that two girls were already away celebrating the break in far off lands. It seems like it is a good excuse for us to have another mother daughter tea in the New Year so we all can be together.
Carter loves going to tea as much as her mother so she did not eat anything all day in anticipation of the big scone, savory, sweet filled afternoon. With such a large group our server had us order six different pots of tea to share with names like, “Comfort and Joy,” “Candy Cane” and “Silent Night.” After the company the actual tea was the best thing we had. I sampled three of the six types and each one was better than the last.
After filling ourselves to the brim with so many normally forbidden goodies we went out and took our photos in the beautifully decorated lobby of the Inn. Perhaps we should have done our pictures before we ate so much, but then that would have been before we had spent two hours talking, laughing and enjoying each other. I love spending time with my daughter, her friends and their moms, who I feel lucky enough to call my friends too.
Carter and I continued our fun after tea by coming home and making our gingerbread house and then fudge. Now we are snuggled on my big bed and watching the Sound of Music. The holidays are bringing out the best in all of us.
In my guilt free simplification of Christmas this year I am working on how to not lose my mind while creating a memorable holiday. It started with my giving up on Christmas cards– well, at least on sending cards. I do love getting cards from so many far-flung friends. I love reading Christmas letters that summarize people’s lives into one or two pages. The ones that go more than two are not quite as fun to read; yet I still can’t seem to put them down.
Our friends who we were supposed to have Christmas Eve dinner with canceled when they got noticed that they had signed up to serve dinner at the shelter that night, which they had forgotten. Now I could have volunteered our family to join them, but I work on feeding people all year and really try to take Christmas off from that. I don’t think it is too shellfish to take two weeks off when I spend the other fifty devoted to hunger relief. I’m sure someone could take me to task on that and I would have some choice words for him or her.
When Carter found out the regular Christmas Eve plans were off the first words out of her mouth were, “Could we please have Jewish Christmas and go to a Chinese Restaurant on Christmas Eve?” Since Jesus was a Jew and I knew that this would be Russ’ first choice too I gladly agreed. One less meal for me to cook and that many fewer leftovers in my house to tempt me.
My family is coming on Christmas day to celebrate at our house. Much easier for me not to travel. I called my father this week to see what he was making them for Christmas Eve dinner so I could coordinate my menu not to repeat theirs. “You tell me what you want to have,” my Dad said. “I’ll make something different than you.” Practically before he finished saying those words he added, “I would like you to make pasta and a salad.” So much for me deciding what to make, but so much easier that he made the decision for me. Nothing on earth could be less effort than pasta and a salad and again, something Carter and Russ would vote for.
Normally I go all our on wrapping my presents with a theme for the year. The wrapping is usually all coordinated with Neiman Marcus quality paper, fancy bows that sometimes cost more than the gifts and artist quality homemade gift tags, suitable for framing. I love when you look at the presents surrounding my giant tree you think you have stumbled upon the White House Christmas tree in the Reagan era.
Yesterday I gathered all my gifts and sorted them by recipient to ensure I had exactly what I needed. Then today I cleared off my walking desk of all the mail that has piled up in December and got out the ribbons from the wrapping closet in the garage. While I was doing that I noticed the gift bag drawer was over flowing with bags I had received from friends and family in the last few years. Some were beautiful, others clearly had been reused a couple of times. There were the traditional red and green, but then there were silver and pink and slick Duke blue. None of them matched and some were down right ugly.
What the hell I decided. I grabbed a huge assortment of different sized bags and some off color tissue paper and brought them all in my office where I bagged up all my gifts in less than half the time it took UNC to walk over Ohio State in basketball.
We have no small children who might be tempted to lift up the corner of the tissue and peer inside the bag. I brought all the presents up and put them around the tree and did not bat an eye that nothing matched. I was just happy that it all was done. Only Santa has things left to wrap. This has to be some record in my Christmas house. There will be no staying up late on Christmas Eve tying that last lavish bow that may be appreciated for a second or two. The fancy ribbon will keep until another year when I might care again, or maybe not.
Tonight our family went to Home for the Holidays at our club with our friends the Toms and the Peruns. It is an annual tradition for us to spend time together at Christmas. Even though we start by sitting as family units around the one large round table we quickly move seats. The mothers sit together, the girls sit together and the fathers with poor Drew, the only male child are thrown together.
For our girls it is the first down time they have had since they all just finished exams today. For the fathers it becomes a discussion about where the best new food and drink spots are that have opened recently and when the three of them can go visit them as a triumvirate. For the moms it is a lot of catching up since life has us pulled in different directions.
I took a picture of the girls by the Christmas tree tonight. I quickly was reminded of a trip we took to New York at Christmas time seven years ago. We talk often about that trip. To me it feels like it was just yesterday, probably because I still wear the same clothes. In fact while looking at the pictures I realized I just got the coat I wore on that trip dry-cleaned. The mother’s have not changed much.
But seeing our daughters go from nine or ten to sixteen and seventeen is a big change. Not only have they become adults and matured in looks, but the conversation has changed from mother’s telling them things, like which way is uptown and which is down to discussions and opinions about what is going on in the world.
Tonight during a conversation about kids the girls babysit for and the differences in behavior Carter said she was going to be a strict mother and not put up with any trouble. I turned to my friend Stephanie and said, “Well, she was trained by me.”
“Yeah, Mom. I can’t believe that every time I wanted candy or gum from a gumball machine you told me that it said it was broken.”
“Carter, it worked. I never had to give you candy.”
It was much easier back then. Santa was always watching. The store could be “out” of cookies. The vending machines could all be broken. I don’t care how little sleep you get in those early years of childrearing, it is easier then than it is when they are older. But I have to say that it is much more fun to have a conversation with your grown up child about philosophy, or literature or what is happening in the news.
The years go quickly, I hope in the next seven years we will still be gathering at Home for the Holidays dinners with our friends and our kids. The kids can get older, but us parents will stay just the way we have always been.
As Carter was taking her second exam today in a week filled with exams I sat happily stitching with my needlepoint friends at my Local Needlepoint shop’s Christmas celebration. The table of food groaned under the weight of the ham biscuits and eggnog and requisite Christmas cookies. Three of the Stitcher’s Table Advisors were also celebrating December birthdays so we also had a Southern Pecan cake. I had thrown in the healthy eating towel last week and now am just enjoying the holiday like a normal person.
One of my friends Elizabeth said she was thankful that she never had to take another exam. Since all at the table could qualify for AARP we quickly agreed. Just as we were celebrating that small win for being old one member corrected us.
“No, I have one exam I still need to take,” Vickie said. “It’s the one they give you when you want to get into a retirement community.” One of the birthday girls, Ann, who is about my mother’s age agreed, “that is a much harder exam. You have to remember a list of five things they tell you about ten minutes after they told them to you.”
Suddenly fear overtook me. I am years away from a retirement home, but I already am not so good at remembering a list of things you just told me. Now if you want me to tell you the names of all my teachers in grade school I could do that in the blink of an eye, but not the five items Russ asked me to get at the grocery right before I left the house.
Exams have never been my thing and I thought once I left school I was free from the pressure of studying for them, but no… Apparently I have the next twenty five years to study if I ever want to pass a retirement home exam so that someone can wipe the drool from my face in my waning years I am going to have to start practicing memory tests now. Next time you see me ask me for this list of items to see how good my memory is: Scissors, ribbon, Bourbon, the Mississippi River and the color green.
If only the examiners would ask me what the winning Mah Jongg hands were, I could do that all day. Oh no, I’ve already forgotten what was in the list and I just wrote it.
Today was the first day in the last two weeks that I really had a normal, not planning, shopping for, cooking, giving or attending a Christmas party in the last two weeks — That is not all together true, yesterday was a funeral. But today I just got up and went to workout, then to play Mah Jongg and came home to see my child in the surround of exam study.
I have done a good job of ignoring the present side of Christmas and should have spent today dealing with that, instead I just played. When I got home Shay Shay, who got her Christmas haircut, which is a little too short and thus needs to snuggle closer than usual to steal body heat, wanted me to sit on the sofa in the living room with her. I promise that is exactly what she signaled me to do when she jumped up on the sofa and gave two little barks and shook her head twice at me.
Since I had been gone all day the guilt trip Shay was laying on me to sit on the sofa and pet her belly was not something I wanted to fight, so I just did it. It did not take long for the exhaustion of so much Christmas reverie to overcome me and before I knew it I was sound asleep sitting straight up on the sofa with a happy puppy next to me. I imagine I also had my mouth open as old people who just pass out sitting up often do.
I can’t remember the last time I fell asleep at three in the afternoon. Sadly the phone rang and woke me. Oh how nice that little nap was. The early darkness of these very sort days of December are made for snuggle snoozing. Forget exercise and productivity. Give me lazing and lounging.
I have no idea if I was dreaming anything in my short foray into the uncurious, but I awoke to the realization that I have not gotten teacher or coach gifts and school is out in two days. I have Russ’ office Christmas party tomorrow night and I have to provide something for the white elephant exchange. The pressure to be clever, yet still come up with something people can take home on an airplane is enormous.
Then there is the little thing about presents for my family. I think that if I could just go ahead and knock out all the presents on my list I could take a much longer nap without guilt or fear that I was sleeping through something important — as long as I remember to turn the ringer on the phone off. Maybe the nap will have to wait until after Christmas, but then it’s time to get back to exercise to get off the holiday pounds. I guess I don’t see any rest in my future unless my puppy demands it.
Shay Shay, please beg me to snuggle, I need the rest.
When I was a very young child my Dad made a good friend while riding home on the train from NYC to Connecticut in the bar car every night. Eventually this ‘Train friend” became a real friend when he and his very beautiful wife invited my parents to a party at their house. One party lead to another and soon these real friends were bringing their little boy to our house for Christmas Eve dinner. Their names were Dick, Mimi and Rich Beatty.
Over the years we spent a lot of time with the Beatty’s, going to the same church, belonging to the same club, celebrating holidays together. I remember my parents coming back from a trip to Italy and saying that they even ran into Dick on the Spanish steps in Rome. When they developed the photos in their tiny Kodak Instamatic there was a picture of Dick Beatty in an action shot coming down the steps. He was there to shoot commercials, but he could have been the star of the ad from the picture my parents took.
Mimi was the hostess of the century. She could cook anything and always looked so fashionable in a Gucci Scarf and Hermes belt. When I was in eighth grade and Dick’s niece Anne needed a place to live, Mimi did not blink and eye about adding a teenage girl just a year older than Rich to their family. I would go to spend the night at their house a lot those years that Anne lived with the Beatty’s. Rich was like the brother I never had.
Mimi liked having girls around to talk girl things with. I was lucky enough to get to go on vacation to Nantucket in the summer with Mimi, Rich and Anne. I can’t remember who Rich brought as his friend, but I do remember loving the freedom to walk down to the wharf and scope out other teenagers hanging out.
I did not see the Beatty’s much when I was at boarding school or college since they had moved to Lake Forest, but then one day when I was out of college and living in Washington they showed up at a party at my parents house. They were all exactly the same, loving a good party. They stayed in our lives ever since. Rich eventually came to work with me and Russ and my Dad in London and then he and Russ started their own company together, CMG Partners.
Mimi and Dick moved to Southern Pines and opened a Bed and Breakfast called Knollwood House, where the entertaining continued. Four years ago Dick passed away and last week Mimi went to join him at that big party in heaven.
Russ and I went down to Southern Pines today for Mimi’s funeral. One of Rich’s best childhood friends, who was also a friend of mine, Larry was there from NYC. I had spent many a day hanging at the Beatty’s house with Larry and Rich while Mimi made us something yummy for dinner always perfectly dressed.
It is hard to believe that someone who has been in my life as a friend and a role model is gone. Outside of people who are related to me she probably has known me longer and better than most anyone else. It’s a real end of an era now that Dick and Mimi are gone. They are the last of the generation of real life Mad Men and wives. Rich, you are welcome to be in the Carter family now. We always have room for any Beatty’s.
Every once in a while I have a day that likens back to my roots of my pre-diet comedy blog writing days to what could only be called a Food Porn day. A tiger really can’t change their stripes and try as hard as I do to just eat healthy and exercise the month of December comes along and reminds me that I love food, I love feeding people and I love reading and watching things about food.
Working backwards in my day…I just came from Crooks Corner where chef Bill Smith and Vivian Howard from the Chef and the Farmer and star of the PBS series A Chef’s Life were having a preview of the TV show’s Christmas special which benefited the Food Bank. I was lucky enough to be an invited guest to represent the Food Bank in the small affair. Vivian was incredibly gracious to us by donating the proceeds from the evening to help feed people who probably have no idea who she is.
The guests got to dine on the same items that are featured in the Christmas special — corned ham, hopin’ john and ambrosia. Now I may be a North Carolina native, but obviously not far enough east because I was unfamiliar with corned ham. OMG, I think I have discovered what I am going to make my family for Christmas day dinner.
Before going to meet Vivian Howard I stopped in to visit my friend who had the operation. She was in great shape so I was not worried about her having to reheat the dinner I brought her. It was just good to see her up and smiling. I hope she recovers quickly so she can be back to playing with me soon.
The highlight of my day was my lunch for my needlepoint group, which I have renamed the Stitcher’s Table Advisors. I made business cards for each person that I used as our place cards. My needlepoint group love to discuss many things while stitching, from books, movies and TV shows we are enjoying to dogs and food, not necessarily in that order, thus the advisor title.
I had planned on making a healthy salad for lunch, but changed my menu after making pizzas for my luncheon last Friday. I am glad I did because nothing makes most people happier than the smell of seven kinds of melting cheese when they walk in the door. It was a Christmas celebration with the exchanging of gifts and so it warranted the serving of another Crack Pie. The advisors had not been privy to the addictive dessert before and no one left disappointed.
Knowing me as well as the Stitcher’s Table Advisors do they gifted me the most beautiful cookbook Plenty More from the famed Israeli chef and owner of the great London restaurants, Yotam Ottolenghi. Now, after eating way more than I should have today I get to settle into bed with a good book, one with pictures just the way I like, pictures of beautiful food.
It’s Christmas and no amount of advance preparation is going to enable me to get done everything I wanted to do in 2014. Today is our neighborhood luminary festival where all 800 houses are supposed to put our candles in white bags along the fronts of our properties. My friend Margaret Jones started this tradition here about four or five years ago and then up and moved to Minneapolis. In her honor we have carried on.
I ordered my luminary kit, which is a joke in itself since a “kit” is white bags and candles, early this year in anticipation of tonight. What I did not think about was that I was throwing three parties in six days; the last one being tomorrow and that Carter starts exams Tuesday. I also volunteered to bring a friend who had an operation dinner tomorrow as well as attend a Food Bank event. Let’s add to it that my extroverted self after going to a Christmas party last night and out to dinner could not go to sleep until 2:45 in the morning because I was looking at flights for spring break. I woke up late this morning, missed church and thought something’s got to give!
Russ is very busy with work and had been writing all weekend, Carter was off at a friend’s house studying and I realized that I had only been getting about half my steps all week. I was throwing in the luminary towel, sorry Margaret. It seemed like the right plan at two this afternoon. I did not have time to go get the sand, fill the 75 bags my frontage needs and put the candles in as well as clean it all up in the morning before my lunch.
I also have not done anything about a Christmas card and I really have no idea exactly what presents I have and for whom, just that my present hiding place is full of bags and boxes. At least nothing is wrapped so I can look at it and divide it up.
As I was making a homemade soup for my recovering friend I looked out the window and saw that my neighbor, who has historically but their luminaries out an hour after the whole thing starts, was doing it two hours early. My plan about what I am throwing in changed right then.
I went out and got the sand and did the whole lumen-freaking-deal. In the middle I decided Christmas cards are what’s going to give. I write a daily blog, who needs to get a card from me? If I did send it card here is what it would say, “Year went well, all still alive, no new pets, children, jobs or homes. Hope you have a happy holiday.”
I wish that what I could give up in these last ten days before Christmas was eating because I seem to be making more merry than I can stay ahead of, but then the season would just not feel as happy. If I am going to be a slacker I am going to do it full on. January is the time for deprivation and self-loathing.
As far as I can tell there are two kinds of people in the world, those who like their Christmas tree decorated exactly the way they want and those that just want a decorated Christmas tree. I of course am the former. I have a plan for my tree, I think about it, I design it, and I execute it. Yes, I get help with the heavy lifting part, but when it comes to light placement, and lighting density that is all up to me.
Then there is the decoration plan. I have a definite look I am going for, the you-can’t-see-the-tree-through-the-ornaments look. My tree is the overwhelm scheme. I am basically hitting the viewer square in the face with a big screaming Christmas.
Getting this look from my brain to my house is best done through my own hands perhaps with a kitchen tongs for placement on the ornaments on the top of the fourteen-foot tree. Curating this look starts by decorating the tree from the top down, not because that is how I envision it, but because it is the only way to decorate the tree without knocking ornaments off the tree. See if you are standing on a twelve foot ladder leaning into the tree to reach the top you can’t have anything other than lights on the bottom of the tree.
Tonight we went to our friends the Hannan’s house for their annual Christmas tree decorating party. Mick has a rule that no tree can go up in their house until there are double digits in the month of December. This party is Hannah’s way of having a Christmas party without the worry of having all her decorating done before hand. It really is quite a brilliant plan if you are someone who is happy to let many hands create your tree.
Tonight they had a beautiful real tree with all the lights already on it. Hannah had put some of the more fragile ornaments on the tree before people got there so they would not break, setting out the others in baskets so guests could put them on the tree. Oh, how I wish I was someone who could let other people decorate my tree putting things on in a willy-nilly way, but it is just not in my DNA.
I did my part to get that tree done in a way that would be aesthetically pleasing. I tried to space the ornaments in a systematic way, and balance the colors so that there was not a big clump of red ornaments in one place, a hole of no ornaments and them a clump of gold. The hardest part is finding the strong branches for the heavy ornaments so they are not pulling the tree down.
In the end I am sure that in the light of day tomorrow Hannah may have to move some things around, but is more or less happy with the tree her friends create for her. It is kind of like a Christmas surprise. There is something to beautiful about enjoying the gift your friends give you when they decorate your tree. I wish I liked surprises.
The sign of a successful party is a totally trashed kitchen after all the guests have gone home. My friend Lynn, who I have co-hosted a Christmas party with for the last ten years, is a more-the-merrier-type-person so this year we were very merry. Thanks to some dear friends who were not ready for the party to ended and got the whole thing cleaned up in record time and still had time to visit and rehash the party while sitting in the living room.
I have a history of giving Christmas parties with friends that become staples of the holiday season. When I lived in Washington I used to give a big party with my friends Tom and Chuck. We would rotate whose house the party was at every year. It started as a way to get together with our close friends and eat some really good food.
That party was where I developed my tenderloin black bean chili recipe. It started out as the way I used up left over catering tenderloin from all the holiday parties I was catering. Each year the list of guests would get bigger and bigger. Finally we had to start to put a governor on the guest list because I no longer was able to feed the party with just left over tenderloin chili and I was having to buy two whole extra tenderloins to grill and make into chili. People used to beg me to sell them that chili. I told them that there was no way they would ever pay what it actually cost to make it.
Pairing down the invite list was quite tricky. Finally we came up with a rule to follow; In order to be invited to our Christmas party someone would have had to invite at least one of us to their house in the previous year. Not all our friends entertained at home, so we had a caveat that if someone had taken us to lunch or dinner that also qualified them for the invite list. It did not seem like unreasonable criteria, but when our usual night for the party came around and some people who had been invited for years were not invited back they were not happy.
How unreasonable. If you consider that they might had been invited for the previous five years and had a dinner that was priceless and had not reciprocated why should they think they should be invited back?
Since those days in the go-go 80’s when I threw multiple big parties all year I had no problem letting people know it was a one time deal if the only time I saw them was at my house. I think that everyone knew I was serious and always wanted to come for the best meal they would eat all month.
I’m a little more lax now. If our guest list were up to Lynn we would have hundreds of people at our annual Christmas lunch, including her baristas at Starbucks and the check out boy at the Harris Teeter. I am not as free as Lynn, nor as rigid as my 80’s self. I just love to have people sit around a table, enjoy some good food and laugh and tell stories. If it always happens at my table that is just fine. I like my cooking and my stories too.
My new measurement to get invited back is not just have I been to your house, or out to dinner with you, but were you helpful when you were at my house? Staying to clean up counts for more than most everything. So to those nice people who cleaned my kitchen today I can pretty much guarantee you are on the list for next year.
It started innocently enough, a call from my editor Andrea, “The Blakemere company is doing an Afternoon tea for the holiday, would you like to go?” Andrea knows my weakness is English Afternoon Tea so the question was not really needed. Although I was not personally acquainted with the Blakemere company, if Andrea was inviting I was going. I justified this holiday eating extravagance as a work event since our staff photographer Brianna was coming too. It is most important for the success of Durham Magazine that the three of us get together at least a couple of times a year and our best thinking happens over tea.
The Blakemere is the business of Devon U.K. native Amanda Fisher who in 2011 started producing real Devonshire clotted cream in Chapel Hill along with lovey jams, curds, scones and yummy English pastries and cakes. Amanda produces her goods out of La Residence restaurant so that is where I met up with my friends, ‘er… I mean work colleagues for our Tea, oh I mean meeting.
Anyone who has read this blog more than ten times knows that Tea is my favorite meal, but also that it is so fattening I have to limit myself to it just a couple of teas a year. Unfortunately most Teas seem to come around Christmas, when all other goody tasting, naughty eating, diet busting gorging goes on.
I planned my whole day around this celebration. I got up a little later since I did not have to drive anyone to school. I spent the morning prepping the next Christmas party I am throwing tomorrow. I ate an egg in the late morning as the only other food I was going to allow myself outside of the Tea. In my mind I felt like I could justify all that I would eat if I considered it almost all my meals, save an egg, rolled into one.
Just after noon I started to feel a little hungry so I decided to get dressed up in my tea party clothes, go get my nails done, which means I could not even touch food and stop by the needlepoint store so I could stitch a little away from food. That part of the plan worked well. Finally 3:00 came and I met my friends at a cozy table by the fire at La Residence.
My editor Andrea had met Amanda before, perhaps for a story that was in Chapel Hill Magazine or at a previous Tea she had brought her grandmother to, whichever it meant that we had the most gracious of service from the owner of the Blakemere.
Amanda served us a plate of lovely tea sandwiches with out first pots of tea. Bri is having an issue with eating pork these days, not because she is pregnant, but due to something she got from a tick bite, so Amanda gladly substituted the ham with Cumberland sauce puff for another sandwich. There is nothing more British or satisfying than an egg cress finger or a coronation chicken when you have not eaten much all day. I don’t remember if there was any conversation during that first plate since I was savoring the savories.
Once my blood sugar levels had returned to normal I was able to slow down the pace and enjoy the company of my two young friends. We caught up on all the goings on of work and our lives just as the best part of Afternoon tea arrived, the scones three kinds of homemade jam a lemon curd and the star of the show, the homemade clotted cream. Nothing disappointed, in fact the scones were outstanding, having just been baked the hour before.
If I were a smart woman I would have stopped eating right there and then, but smart is not my thing. So we continued with the dessert portion of the tea, the cakes, tarts and sticky toffee pudding. In my mind the scones are a dessert, but the English insist it is just a precursor to the sweets. Everything sugary and sweet was fantastic, but the sticky toffee pudding was the real bomb.
After photos and hugs the best work meeting of my year was over and I had to get back to reality… Time to walk off the day’s “meal.” The only problem is there are not enough hours in this or the next three days to undo the damage that has been done, but isn’t that what January is for?
At Mah Jongg today my friends were looking at a picture on Facebook of another friend’s child who was just not happy to be visiting Santa. That got us reminiscing about our own histories with meeting the jolly ‘ole elf and those of our children. My friend Christy and I shared our favorite Santa situations. Christy’s son Trey and Carter are the same age and have grown up in the same neighborhood their whole lives. No wonder that they both visited the same Santa as their first experience.
We used to have a mall called South Square right near us. It was not the best shopping experience and has been torn down long ago and replaced with a Target. Although the shops were sad there the Christmas experience for the kids as top notch. First there was a whole chorus of singing bears, not big scary bears, but toddler sized bears a la teddy Ruxpin Iike guys and they were animatronic so they not only sang, but moved too. At the caroling bear show there were dozens of tiny red and green wooden chairs and Carter would sit for hours playing with the chairs and singing with the bears.
Christy reported that Trey too loved the bears and since we were mothers of toddlers we both remembered spending hours of time watching the bears during the dark days of December when we had two year olds. Although our kids liked the bear show, neither seemed that interested in Santa. Carter was quite suspicious of the old man in the red suit and cried her eyes out before I made her sit on his lap. Really that was good instinct on her part to be fearful of strangers. Despite her initial fear that Santa had some kind of magic because after she was quite gleeful.
Christy said that Trey too would not go sit with Santa despite her visiting him everyday, just to listen to the bears. One day when the Santa line was really slow and Trey was the only kid in the Mall the Santa got off his big Santa throne and went and sat with Trey on the tiny toddler chairs in front of the singing bears. After Trey had gotten used to Santa he pulled out the book “T’was the night before Christmas” and read the whole thing to tiny Trey. That was it. Trey had made a new friend in Santa. For the rest of the holiday season when Trey would come through the Mall for his daily visit to the bears, Santa would call out to him, “Hi Trey!” And they both would wave at each other.
I don’t know where that Santa went after South Square closed but I hope that he continued to be well employed. He was the best representative of what Santa can be for children, the nice guy who loves you and makes you feel safe and special. I hope that all children everywhere have someone in their life that makes them feel that way. They may not remember the exact moment it happens, but I think the magic stays with them, at least it did stay with the mothers.
Today is one of the great days in my life as a dog. See, I really like when people come to visit me and I know that everyone who comes to the door of my house is here just to see me. My Grandmother, that’s the loud lady named Dana, was running around the house this morning, putting out plates and lots of glasses. She is my Grandmother because her daughter Carter is my Mommy. When Dana picked up my bed from the kitchen and put it downstairs by Carter’s room I knew that we were going to have a party. My bed only gets moved when there are going to be a lot of people in my house. And Iike I said already, I like Iots of people.
Soon after my bed disappeared four other ladies showed up carrying boxes and pans, with food drink and ice in them all. They scurried about talking about what time lunch would be served and they all pet me and snuggled me and said what a good dog I was. I would have been fine for them to come without the boxes and pans as long as they hugged and petted me.
While everyone else was sitting in the living room I stood at the front glass door and watched as many other ladies who looked like my Grandmother came up the walk way carrying wreaths and cakes and other treats, for me? I got lots of snuggles, but not one treat. I did not care, visitors are the treat I like best. Suddenly I realized it was very loud in my house with lots of ladies standing in the kitchen and breakfast room talking and drinking, so I went in the living room and sat on the sofa when no one else was. There to tell me no.
After a while all the talking quieted down and I went back to the big room where that giant bright tree was growing inside. I saw my Grandmother standing in the middle of the room while all the other friends sat in a ring around her. One other skinny lady was carrying a cake and Grandmother Dana was calling out numbers and names and pointing at people. It was kind of like the way she plays ball with me. She throws me the ball and I catch it and bring it back. When she was finished calling out the numbers the skinny lady gave the person who Dana last pointed at the cake, then everybody clapped.
I thought they were clapping for me so I came up to the big room and sniffed around at the cakes and presents sitting on the floor. Nothing was made of liver or beef heart so I jumped up on one nice ladies lap and let her get happiness petting me.
This calling out numbers thing went on for an hour and then suddenly everyone got up and went to the dining room where they got plates of salmon, orzo, salad, rolls and tarts. Nothing I wanted so I just went to snuggle with my grandmother.
Before I knew it the ladies were kissing me good bye and carrying out all the cakes and wreaths and presents. I was left with the four original friends who washed the dishes and put away the glasses and laughed and talked. Still no liver for me, but lots of ear scratches and back rubs.
Grandmother got my bed from downstairs so I could lie down in the kitchen. I closed my eyes for just a minute, exhausted from all the friends who came to see me. When I opened them again the house was silent. No glasses were clinking, no friends were laughing, no numbers were being called out. I guess I have to wait another two years for my grandmother’s garden club Christmas auction to come to our house and bring back my friends to visit me. Next time I hope someone brings a freeze dried liver wreath. I would bid all I have to win that. Even if it never happens I think I like having the friends in my house loving me best of all.
Tonight as I was going to a meeting Carter texted me from basketball before practice started. “Do you need me to stop at the store on my way home?” It was a new feeling for me; a child who is offering to do the shopping.
Since Carter turned 16 on Sunday she had to wait one day to get her drivers license. This morning I picked her up from school during her free period and she went and took her test. Despite a scary test giving DMV employee she passed. After she dropped me off at home and drove herself back to school all alone for the very first time.
Around 7:45 Carter walked in the kitchen with the grocery bags and a bouquet of roses. “I got you these to thank you for taking me to get my license.” Having her offer to do the shopping was gift enough, but the flowers almost made me cry. I guess she really is grown up enough to have her license.
Now that I am not needed to drop off at school or go and wait around at basketball I am planning on having way more fun in my life. It was a good thing she passed her test today because I already have my calendar packed with fun of all kinds. Of course it helps that it is the holiday social season.
Right after Carter dropped me off at home I had to change and get ready to go to my friend Mary Eileen’s 50th birthday lunch at our friend Kathi’s house. Everything was just beautiful, especially her table and the cake I was forced to have in celebration.
After lunch it was time to rush home to prepare for my garden club’s annual Christmas auction and lunch that is being held at my house tomorrow. The decorating was done days ago, but I needed to set up the serving table, drinks station and make the food. The extra hour I gained from not having to do school pick up or stop by the grocery store was well needed.
Carter asked me if I was ever going to get up in the morning ever again, now that she was driving herself. The idea of sleeping in sounds great, but it is going to have to wait at least a week. After tomorrow’s lunch, I am hosting another on Friday and third on Monday. Three big parties in six days is going to require me to get up early everyday, but not having to drive means I can actually pull it off. Thanks Carter for passing your test, but mostly for being such a sweet daughter.
I don’t know about you, but I find that when I am having a craving it is usually not just for salt or sugar, but for salt and sugar. Nuts are my favorite snack treat since just a few will make me happy and they feel like they are better than a cookie or a chip. My friend Sara brought some pecans to a get together and they had Rosemary in them which I had never thought of before. So in a nod to her I added Rosemary to this recipe that includes, sweet, salt,and spicy.
1 cup of pecans (raw, not slated and roasted ones)
1 T. Melted butter
1 T. Brown sugar
1 T. White sugar
1/2 T. course Salt
1/4 t. Cayenne pepper
1/2 t. Cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl pour butter and brown sugar over the pecans and mix well. Line a cookie sheet with foil and pour the pecans on and bake in oven for 5 mins.
While baking mix everything else back in the original bowl. After the pecans have cooked for five minutes take them out of the oven and pour them back in the bowl with the spice mix. Stir to coat and pour them back on the cookie sheet and place them in the oven to bake for another 8 mins.
Store in an airtight container.
I’ve never actually written my blog on my phone before so please forgive any major or minor typos as I attempt this.
Russ and I are sitting on the corner of a French Restaurant trying to drag out our dinner over the course of Carter’s three hour birthday party at the same establishment. 25 of Carter’s nearest and dearest are seated in a private room and it is killing me not to be allowed to eavesdrop on her party.
Long gone are the days of snow princess birthday parties where little little girls dressed in their Disney Princess costumes twirled in our play room. Now boys and girls sit at long tables engrossed in cocktail conversation sans the alcohol. In all actuality this is the easiest birthday party I have ever thrown.
I spent the last 24 hours in Charlotte watching Carter play two incredibly tough basketball teams. This was the first team road trip. Just like this party I was relegated to being an unnecessary fly on the wall. The team took a bus down Friday afternoon and I drove alone in my car arriving at the first school to discover my friend Roberta had come because the team brought her daughter Grace up from JV to help the team since one of their Captains was away at a conference.
After watching our girls lose Carter came and gave me a hug before going off with the team. Roberta and I went to have a late dinner together in advance of retiring to the hotel where the team was also staying. I noticed the girls in the corner of the lobby having a team meeting while I checked in. I did what I was not supposed to do and went to say hello, then went to my room.
While I was snuggled in my big bed writing my blog Carter texted me that she was going to take a shower and then come say good night before turning in at the coach appointed hour of eleven o’clock. It was nice she even thought to visit me since I was not going to be seeing her again until 1:00 today when I showed up at the next school for an even tougher game. Although they were playing the past five year state champs with a six foot three inch sophomore, Carter played her best defense of the season.
My reward and purpose for driving and staying alone was to get Carter back to Durham as fast as possible so she could prepare for her party.
And here we sit. The kids all seem to be having a great time, as they report to me on their way past my table to use the facilities. Russ told me that there are old risqué french postcards on the wall of the men’s room, but so far the boys have not made a big deal about that and have remained at the tables talking to the real life girls.
Aa the mother of a sixteen year old Russ and I are relegated to being the payers. I guess this is exactly what we have been working for.
Today I offered a woman a dollar not to buy a donut. Before you think I have come up with a new diet scheme based on paying people not to eat let me tell you what this is all about.
Carter’s school advisory is involved with a “share your Christmas” situation that precipitated ten kids and their teacher needing to go to Walmart this morning. As room parent I volunteered with my friend Cooper to drive the gang to purchase the presents a ten year old boy wanted for Christmas. On a slow Tuesday in the middle of February I don’t want to go to Walmart, but on a Friday at the beginning to the month in December I would rather put needles in my eyes than go there. But I was just the driver, right?
In the car on the way there Carter asks me if I could buy her hair elastics since she had two big basketball games today and tomorrow and was out of hairbands. Get the needles out, I thought, but in Carter’s defense she had let me know two days ago she had run out of hairbands.
While the kids divided the gift list and went their opposite ways in the store looking for sheets, books and a tennis racquet, I went to the hair care aisle and bought the “shit load” of hairbands Carter asked for. I double checked with her friend Libby about exactly how many a “shitload” might be and she told me 30. Amazingly enough the packages come in 10 or 30 hairbands. I could have guessed that 10 was not the right number.
With my one item in hand I went to the checkout ocean. At least twenty checkouts were manned with lines of three or four people all with huge overflowing carts in them. I searched for a self checkout lane, something I usually avoid because they take longer than a checkout professional, but there were none to be found. I settled on the 20 items or less lane. Twenty seemed like a lot, why were their no 5 items or less.
I found out that no Walmart shopper can count since the woman in the front of the lane had at least 50 items and the next one had 40. For some reason a not-to-be-found-onsite-manager put all the untrained checkout people on the 20 items or less lanes. When the 40 items in her cart woman got through cramming all her stuff up on the tiny little counter, you know you don’t need a belt for the fast lane, the checkout person miss rang one item.
“Oh no,” Mrs. 40 Items, screams at the checker. “You can’t charge me $4.59 for one donut.” It was clearly a mistake, but one the checkout person could not figure out how to fix. After calling over the other trainee they had not been able to void the $4.59 dozen donuts but had added a nonexistent cantaloupe to the bill.
This is when I offered Mrs. 40 Items a dollar not to buy her donut. She told me that it didn’t matter now since they had to subtract both the dozen donuts and the fruit. I left the lane and went and stood behind someone with a giant cart full of stuff, but a real belt to put them on. Eventually I was able to buy Carter’s three dollar hairbands.
Just as I was finishing my transaction the advisory kids came up to check out. The teacher handled the Christmas stuff, but of course many of the kids had found candy they wanted to buy. Sure we might never get out of the store before the new year I convinced Carter just to buy everything all the kids wanted in one transaction. As we were leaving the store I walked past my original lane and Mrs. 40 item was still there. Moral of the story, if someone offers you a dollar not to buy a donut, take the money and run.
In the hunt to find meaningful Christmas gifts for a family who really has more than they need and nothing they want I search through the oddest of catalogues that seem to be appearing in my mailbox this month.
I am thankful that these small and odd retailers can’t afford to send catalogues more than once a year because it pains me to receive so much paper I normally just toss into my recycling. But as the pressure to find something original for my sisters and parents comes pushing down on me with each day of December ticking off I find that I am opening the pages with covers that read, “Gifts that make a difference,” or “Hundreds of unique gifts.”
Really how unique can the products be if they are offered in a catalogue? They can’t be one of a kind that is unless they are in the Neiman Marcus Christmas book. SO far I have not found one thing that I feel anyone in my family, let alone anyone that I even know needs. Really I am finding quite the opposite.
In a catalogue I received today with the headline “Sweet inspiration” I came across probably the most distasteful gift idea I have been presented with, the “GO GIRL.” I bet you would never think of giving this product to anyone, let alone buying it for yourself. If you have not figured out what in the world it possibly could be here is a hint, it was in a travel tool section. Still stumped?
Word for word here is the description… “No more acrobatic squatting! Woman can now go to the bathroom while standing. Constructed of washable medical-grade silicone. Includes storage tube, tissues and a bag. Reusable. Made in the U.S.A. $12.95.” Well thank god it was made in the USA. I would hate to push some foreign medical-grade silicone up against my girl parts so I could pee standing up.
Now my sister does travel to some sketchy parts of the world where I am certain the facilities are less than perfect, but hell if I am going to give her this as a gift. I love that it says “reusable.” If there is just a hole in the ground as a toilet do you think there is a sink with clean water to wash that thing off with? As far as I am concerned the “Go Girl” is a “No, Girl.”
So the search for a meaningful but slightly less personal gift continues. If I have to spend all my time sifting through things that are clearly this disgusting I am going to give up and give everybody a $100 dollar bill.
The other day I had a meeting with someone I know fairly well and see semi-often. After the normal middle-aged woman greeting of hugs and air kisses we sat down and before I could ask her a question she said, “ I read your blog every day so I know everything that has been going on with you. Let me tell you EVERYTHING that is going on with ME.”
For the next thirty minutes she talked, almost without taking a breath. Although I was listening I got to counting how words I was able to interject in the way of questions, but mostly exclamations, like oohs, and ahhs. The total in the whole half an hour was twelve.
Before I knew it, our time together was up and she was off in a dash, practically in midsentence, but she had to run off to see her next victim, oh I mean friend. I stayed in my seat and enjoyed another glass of iced tea and thought about what I had just experienced. I like this woman, so it was not that I was not interested, but I think I had just experienced a live blog show.
Now I am a big time talker from way back when. When I was in school I used to say that my only talent was talking, I could not sing, was not really great at critical analysis, my reading comprehension was fair, scientific theories did not come easy to me, I had no athletic ability, but give me a topic, something I may or may not know anything about and I could talk about it convincingly. Given that history it is very unusual for me to just sit and listen for a big block of time and not get a chance to ask questions.
Here is the thing about writing a daily blog, people feel like they know everything that is going on with me. Of course, you are reading a story I write everyday. What I think this friend does not realize is that my blog is usually a snap shot of one small thing that happens in my day. People are free to read it if they want, but I don’t assume anyone is reading it religiously everyday and if it is boring you can just stop reading in the middle, and it will make no difference to your life.
The difference between the “Live Blog” I had just been enrolled into was I was captive. I could not stop “reading it.” As is the case in many one-way conversations I get into my mind started to wander. The major theme I came away with is that now that I write a blog I get to spend a lot more time listening to other people, but I am not as active a listener if the conversation is a data dump.
I actually learned quite a bit about how to be a better listener as well as a more generous talker in that one half an hour than I have in many years. Face-to-face human contact needs to be a give and take. Story time is for little children you are trying to put to sleep. The best conversations are between two people. I think that blogging has made me a better listener because by blogging about anything important to me I have already told that story and don’t feel the need to retell it in person. I wish I had learn to blog when I was younger, I probably would not have bored so many people with my story telling.
I wish that I had learned to caramelized pears when I was in nursery school. No, I was not allowed to use sharp knives or the oven when I was four and no, we probably never had any fresh pears when I was four, and no, no one had even heard of caramelized pears when I was four, but if I had learned then I would have actually learned how to do it right every time.
Caramelizing pears is not that difficult. You just thinly slice a pear and lay it on a cookie sheet sprayed with Pam and slowly bake it in the oven. I know this, I know how long it takes, I know how to do it on different temperatures and I even can tell how long based on the ripeness of the pear. The problem is that knowing it and paying attention to it while I am doing it are two different things.
I can’t tell you how often I forget I have a pan of pears in the oven and forget about them. The real problem is that by the time I can smell them they are over cooked, and not just a little brown, but black and inedible. Even if I set a timer, and I can hear you now saying, “Just set a timer.” I still make a mistake and leave them in the oven too long, or worse take Shay out for a walk and forget about them.
This would not be such a big deal if caramelized pears were not such a mainstay of my diet. My daily salad of arugula, pears, chicken and blue cheese is vital for keeping my weight in check. If I go up a couple of pounds I eat that salad twice a day and with Thanksgiving and the crack pie I made for the holiday showing up on the scale I must eat two salads a day on all the days I am not throwing a party or going to Afternoon tea.
Just looking ahead to my Christmas party calendar I may even have to cut out the blue cheese from the salads if I am going to survive the holiday eating. What does not help is that there is not enough time to prepare for or enjoy a party and get all my exercise in so something has to go. If I am to be at all in a presentable mood what cannot go is mush food so I have to make really good choices. Pears are vital to my good choices!
Somehow I had a completely open day today, no meetings, no parties, no work. Some special god must have been looking out for me and not let me fill my calendar up with things that could wait until January. I used today to get things organized in my house for the holiday entertaining extravaganzas that are coming up.
Before any Christmas parties can happen I first have to celebrate Carter’s 16th birthday, which is Sunday. How can it be that she is 16? I am thankful that she agreed to let me have a party for her at a restaurant. At least someone else can do the cooking. Not that I get to attend the party, just be at a table outside the party room.
I spent most of the day cleaning things, moving things around in my house and doing the fall chores I had let go, like planting bulbs and pulling up dead plants from my vegetable garden. The good news is that real housework is a real work out.
I finally got to the giant pile of white linen napkins that needed to be ironed. I stood at the ironing board in front of the TV and did a little dance while I ironed 65 small white squares. Heel, step, heel step. Suddenly I had a huge flash back to seventh grade. The ironing dance I was doing was called “the Fad.” I don’t know if it was a real dance or just one made up by the man who ran the cotillion like dancing school in my town, named Walter Schalk.
The Fad was a favorite dance of us Walter Schalk students back in the seventies. It was the only “modern” dance in the repertoire. Although I think I liked the jitterbug better, it was definitely not a dance any of us kids would do at “dances.”
As I got on the treadmill to write this afternoon I Goggled “Walter Schalk,” certain that he must be dead since he was so old when I was a kid, amazingly he is still alive and running The Walter Schalk school of dance based in Wilton. He has expanded from just Wilton and New Canaan to add Darien and Greenwich. I wonder if he still corals every 5th grader, both girls and boys into the gym at the middle school on Monday nights and teaches them the same waltzes and Cha cha’s that he did when I was a kid?
I was going to say some tough things about him, but since he is still alive and I don’t want to get sued I will keep my opinion about him to myself. That should say enough.
I don’t think I can remember the whole “Fad” dance, but it certainly helped me get some steps in while I was ironing. I may not be a great dancer today thanks to Mr. Schalk, but at least I am able to keep a beat while doing something else.