my quote of the moment: "if you can attain repose and calm, believe that you have seized happiness." ~julie-jeanne-eleonore de lespinasse

December 28, 2010

dividing the holidays

in this age of divorce and remarry and strangely split families, how you spend the holidays can get very tricky. at least, ever since i've had children it's gotten that way for me. not that i'm saying that my parents and my hubby's parents weren't wondering where we would be on the big days, but now it's seems that it's gotten to be a bit more important when there are little ones to entertain and impress.

the last few years, since we moved to where we are living now, we've always done christmas day with my dad. well, it's more like we do christmas eve with my dad, because the traditions that we've continued (yeah shrimp) are important to me. then i take the kiddies home and they get to wake up in their own beds for christmas morning. while they play with their toys i always make something for breakfast. after breakfast, it's back to my dad's for more presents and then dinner. we hang out in the afternoon until it's time to go to my mommom's (my dad's mom's) house. after that long day of fun it's back to our house to bed. the 26th has traditionally always been christmas at my mom's. christmas with my hubby's side gets pushed back to new years, which we always celebrate with them. it's also a chance for his mommy to make him a cake as his birthday is january 3rd. and because they don't get to see us on christmas, we've always done thanksgiving at my in-laws.

so that's the way the holidays go since we live down here. now, before we moved so close to my parents, we lived near j-town by his, so the first two years of the boys' holidays were reversed. still, i get questions about what we're doing on what days and with who, even though this has been the routine for a few years now. also, some years are worse than others for various reason, and so there end up being a lot of phone calls and reassurances that all the grandparents will get to see the kids on their assigned days. that might sound harsh or strange, but trust me, assigning days is the only way i'm able to get through all of the holiday stress in one piece.

now though, my hubby and his parents are wondering if we could switch things up next year. his mother really would like to see the kids on christmas, instead of having to wait a week. the most important thing for me is to have the kids wake up in their own beds on christmas morning, because that is part of the tradition i'm trying to establish for them. just like i always read "twas the night before christmas" to them before they go to bed christmas eve. talking with my hubby, i am realizing that driving up the day of christmas is actually feasible. and honestly, with everything that they went through this year, with going from place to place to place, they were very good, so maybe a three hour car ride in the middle of christmas day would give them a chance to calm down and recharge.

if we left christmas day after a morning at home, then we'd still be able to do christmas eve with my dad, so i suppose all the present getting and crazy celebrating could be pushed to the 24th. the only hitch would be doing christmas with my mom, so i'd have to see if she'd be ok with having all of us for thanksgiving or new years, something i still have to talk to her about.

i know i'm one of the crazy people, but i look forward to thanksgiving way more than christmas, and being able to spend a thanksgiving with my mom would be better in my eyes. though perhaps after reading this you can get a sense as to why christmas is just one big ball of stress for me. it's not that i don't love the holiday, but with the presents and the kids hyperness and all the pressure of trying to make things special, i'm also trying to deal with making as many people as happy as possible.

in the effort of being fair to all, i sometimes feel like i'm losing out. then again, christmas is really a holiday that's supposed to be all about my kids, making sure things go well for them is the most important thing. and so far, i've accomplished that goal this year.

December 24, 2010

merry christmas from this side of the crazies

tomorrow is finally christmas. i have to say that fact doesn't fill me with the sense of excitement and wonder that it did as a child. no, mostly i am filled with a sense of relief over the fact that the holidays are almost over.

ok, so maybe the holidays aren't really that close to being over. but tonight i think is the official start. all the preparation and planning will come down to how smoothly i can get through tonight and the next few days. all the buying and wrapping and cooking and baking, all the thoughts to outfits and travel and logistics of stashing things places so all the surprises remain a surprise, all of that is all behind me. i'm past the point of planning, i am finally into the action phase.

i think tonight is such a relief because i can finally just sit back and watch all the plans unfold. i get to watch all my hard work shine as things go smoothly. i get to reap the fruits of my labors. for someone as obsessive as i am, going over things again and again, trying to make sure everything was prepped and ready, making contingency plans if things went awry, it was a lot or work behind the scenes. and hopefully it was enough to ensure that i'll be able to enjoy myself, that everything was successfully taken care of, that everything is lined up and ready to go.

tonight all the wheels start turning, this great holiday machine starts moving, and i get to sit back and enjoy the ride. hopefully.

i'm sure i'll still find things to obsess and worry over. and i know things will go wrong somewhere along the line, because they always do. but i also know that i did everything i could to make things go smoothly. for once i am confident that i put forth my best efforts, that there really wasn't anything else that i could do. everything left is in fates hands, and i just need to accept that.

so i think i'm done today. i know later will be a whirl of activity, and tomorrow will too. and sunday is also going to be busy. the rest of the week will be finding spots and spaces for all the new toys. then thursday i get to start preparing for our new years journey uptown to visit the in-laws. but really, i'm trying to put that out of my mind, because i know i have to get through this weekend before i worry about the next one.

so yeah, i'm done now. with my preparing and planning, because everything that i could do ahead of time is done. and i think i'm done with this crazy rambling rant. if none of this made any sense at all, i blame the holiday stress. if any of this actually did make sense, then i'll bet you're in the same boat as me. hopefully you brought an extra paddle, i'd hate to end up a creek without one.

December 22, 2010

bad ideas

some time before thanksgiving i believe i mentioned how all the food blogs i follow and all the cooking shows i watch had me convinced that i just had to throw a dinner party.

most of the rest of the post was me lamenting that reality had me convinced it was a really bad idea, though i really didn't like that line of thinking.

well now, with the holiday season in full swing, all the food blogs i follow and all the cooking shows i watch have me convinced that i just have to throw a holiday party. something that's swanky and festive, with tons of yummy appetizers that are totally suitable for piling on cute little plates and eaten with one hand while sipping a tasty beverage, perhaps a holiday inspired cocktail.

i've already started collecting recipes in my head. i've gone so far as to plan out a menu, with some things served hot and some cold. i've figured out the things that i can make ahead, and what i'd need to have prepped and standing by to throw together when all my guests arrive. i've even thought about what bar essentials i'd need to assemble so that if people don't like whatever festive punch/cocktail i settle on serving, they'd be able to mix their own.

of course i've also planned out the decorations, things that are fun and seasonal. i want things bright and colorful, not all just red and green, and especially not those ultramodern black and silver and white affairs. no, i like my rainbow colored twinkle lights, maybe some cute and crafty ornaments hung in random places. i'd try and put together a happy, jazzy music mix, mostly instrumental stuff with a few traditional classics thrown in. and i'd definitely have the fake fire thing playing on my tv.

my guest list is what really trips me up, though. and honestly, i could totally throw a holiday party if i was able to get everybody together that i'd want to. most all of my friends and family get along well enough, and i think they all have a great sense of humor so i'm almost positive that we'd all have a great time. the problem lies in the fact that my friends live in one place and my family in another, with a two and a half hour drive separating them.

so even though i have the perfect party planned out, i know it will never happen, simply because no matter how absolutely wonderful i think it will be, i doubt anybody would drive almost three hours just to attend.

December 21, 2010

what's in a name?

because it's somewhat seasonal, i figured i'd take today and explain my lovely children's random nicknames. just like everything else in my life, there is a back story here.

i'll start with why we call fishie fishie. or rather, why i call her fishie, because it seems like most everybody has their own random nickname for her. when she was a little baby, there were times where she would just cry and cry. and most of those times i was a rather frazzled mommy. and like most stressed-out mothers, i didn't always act rationally. so, while my beautiful new baby was crying, and she wasn't hungry and she wasn't wet and she wasn't tired, i didn't know what else to do, so i would ask her "fishie, why are you crying?" this quote is a modification of one said at the end of finding nemo, when darla (the evil little girl) comes in and shakes the bag nemo is in and says "fishie, why are you sleeping?" so my baby girl became known as fishie in this house. it also fits now that she likes to splash and kick when she gets her bath. i'm also seriously considering throwing a finding nemo party for her first birthday, with more fishies and less shaking.

next i will tell the short and not so sweet story of lumpy. when he was little and just learning to walk and run, he would fall down. a lot. he was like those little puppies with huge paws that just have trouble controlling their limbs. watching him walk was like watching a baby giraffe take its first steps. he is now huge, so i guess you can say that he grew into his body, but those first months and years of movement really did a number, and his head still has lumps and bumps to prove it. thankfully lumpy's real name lends itself well to a real sort of nickname, but he'll always be my little lumpy. and my little puddin' pie, but that's a very long and random story for another day.

now though, i shall explain my lovely bumble's name. when he was around three months, he had a funny cry. it sounded much deeper than any baby cry should. it was also december, and all the great old claymation christmas specials where on tv. while watching rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer my hubby and i realized that our dear little baby was crying exactly like the abominable snowmonster. calling a baby abominable seemed a little cruel, so instead we settled on calling him what he's referred to after he becomes nice and helpful: the humble bumble. still, there were some in the family that thought any reference to something that was once a snowmonster could lead to bad things, though honestly i'm not sure how, so we shortened his nickname to bumble. now there are some that think he's bumble like a bee, and just call him bee, but really he's my bouncy humble bumble, and he knows the truth. if you ask him, he's proud to be named after the fuzzy helpful creature that puts the star on santa's tree, it's just the kind of kid he is.

December 20, 2010

let's start with friday....

i was going to post about how crazy and awful last week was for me, but i just don't feel like dredging everything up to talk about it (first no heat then frozen water pipes then burst water pipes). so instead i've decided to move on and i'll talk about my weekend instead, starting with friday.

so, a friend came down to visit on friday, which was nice and slightly unexpected. we, me and him and hubby, all hung out friday night, drinking adult beverages and watching adult comedy shows and just acting like grown ups. it was super nice, and not something i get to do too often, what with dealing with people who are seven and younger for most of my day.

saturday we had a birthday party for lumpy, as he turned six on friday. we went bowling, which was fun and amusing. of course my boys decided half way through the game that they were tired and hungry and wanted to stop, but we made them play the whole way through. i'm trying to teach them that it's not good to start something if you're not going to finish it, especially when you are playing a game with somebody. it's hard to teach life lessons to kids, but if i get to bumper bowl while doing it, that makes things easier on me.

after we were finally done with bowling, we all went back to my dad's for the actual party. really, it's hard to call it a party when my boys were the only kids there. i think it was more of a birthday gathering for the family. one day i'd like to throw lumpy an actual party, invite kids from school and everything, but with the holidays all around, it would take a lot of work and planning and i just wasn't able to do it this year. that and i have no idea who he'd want me to invite simply because every time i ask him who his friends at school are, he can't remember names, or he gives me a different list of kids every time. and his teacher never sent a class list home so i'm not exactly sure how many kids are actually in his class.

so anyway, i did the best i could for him on saturday, i tried to make his birthday feel some what special. i even made him a replica of the portal cake from the video game portal (don't know? then google it), though that morning he told me he really wanted a transformer cake after it was way too late to make him one. still, the cake was delicious, and not a lie!

saturday night the boys stayed with my dad and i was able to wrap the rest of their christmas presents. sunday morning my hubby and i went out and bought all the little things i want to put in their stockings, so i actually think i'm done with all my shopping. all i have is a few things left to wrap and then i'm all set for saturday.

let me just say that it is so weird to think that christmas is on saturday. like it seems like it's so close, i can't believe it's less than a week away. and yet i'm already done with present buying, there are just a few little odds and ends of things i need to finish. so in that respect, i can't believe i have so much time left. it makes me wonder if i forgot anything, because i still have time to fix it. though with my luck, if there is something i forgot, i'll remember on friday and have to rush around and fight the crowds to get it finished.

speaking of getting things finished, there is one thing i need to do this week that i purposely left until the last minute. this week is candy week! yup, i'm finally making all the christmas candy that i've been planning on doing all month. i didn't want to start too early, because i wanted things to remain fresh, but now with the big event only a few days away, i've gotten started.

i actually started making candy yesterday. i knocked out two types of fudge yesterday afternoon while my boys were still out and about with my dad. in the evening we went to my moms' house so my hubby could watch football with people who actually care about watching football. as in my moms and sister and not me. no, i stayed in the kitchen and made chocolate peanut butter meltaways. and dinner. and then after dinner came the fun of making peanut brittle.

every year i make peanut brittle for christmas. and every year i burn myself. honestly, that's why i only make brittle once a year. no matter the precautions i take, i always burn myself. the problem with making brittle is cooking the sugar to the right temperature without burning it takes alot of time and diligence, it's almost an hour process of standing near a stove and watching a pot boil. but i make that candy because the people i love really love the stuff. i watch my thermometer and stir and try and keep the kiddies away. the very end is when things get somewhat dangerous. the reason brittle is so brittle and not just a crunchy toffee is because at the very end you dump in a little bit of baking soda. the soda reacts with the hot sugar and everything bubbles and foams, and you have to stir quickly and then dump the mixture on a baking sheet so you can pulls the candy into a thin, uniform mass to break when cool.

it's the process of mixing the foaming sugar that burnt me last year, but it was the dumping onto sheet trays that got me this year. i'm as careful as i can be, and yet i always burn myself. the worst is that the sugar is up to 300 degrees at that point, so it's much worse than just a scald from boiling water or steam. now i have some very nasty looking blisters on my hands, but i know i'll heal. from all the jobs i've had in various kitchen, no one was lining up to give me a job as a hand model, and the scars from these burns will blend nicely in with all the rest. weirdly enough, my hubby really freaked out and said i'm not supposed to make peanut brittle anymore, though by next christmas he'll forget my burns and only remember the deliciousness of the candy. and hopefully next year i'll remember why i don't make the stuff with him around, i have enough trouble with the kids in the kitchen, i don't need his over protectiveness hovering behind me. all he needs to do is eat and enjoy. and wash the dishes when the time comes.

December 14, 2010

'tis the season.... part two

i know this is supposed to be a happy time of year, especially for children. all the anticipation for the presents they know are coming, combined with all the special holiday treats that are only made this time of year. my boys also love all the holiday specials that play on tv and all the fun christmas music that they try and sing along to. and if it actually snows and stays on the ground long enough for them to play in, well that's just total heaven. it's the best time of year to be a kid.

how i wish i was just a kid and could enjoy this time of year again. for me, the holidays always mean extra stress for all the work and preparations that come along with the approaching "big day". trying to make sure everything is ready and as absolutely perfect as possible is a lot of responsibility for someone as scatter-brained as me. and this year i have the added pressure of trying to give fishie a wonderful first christmas. it's just all too much sometimes, i feel like my head is going to explode from the stress.

is that possible? for heads to explode like that? if my head does somehow explode and flying bits of brain matter land on the walls, does that count as decking them? probably not, but it would be nice to think that my last act on earth helped to check one more thing off my to-do list.

anyway, i'm already done buying the presents, so that's at least one huge thing done. most of them are actually wrapped, too, which is amazing and a personal best. and i count my house fully decorated, though truth be told, not all of the christmas boxes were unpacked; i think i'm the only one that actually knows which decorations are missing though, so i still think it counts as being done. most of the cookies are baked, and the few that still need done are the ones that are for my in-laws, who we aren't going to see until new year's weekend, so i've got plenty of time to finish them. today i even found a cute little christmas dress for fishie, thankfully i had lumpy along or i would have been standing in the store all day trying to decided between the gold one or the red one or the red and green one. we/he decided on the red one. and bumble has a new tie to go with his new shirt, and lumpy can just wear the ones bumble wore last year. if i could find him a cheap clip-on tie, then he could have a new one also, but i just can't see spending money on a whole suit when he has one that fits and he only wears it once or twice a year.

so i think all i have left is to get a few things to fill their stockings, which usually consists of candy and chapstick. and i want to try and find dress shoes for fishie, though she's just getting into wearing shoes, so i might just try and find christmas tights and leave it at that. i also have to get all the stuff my hubby needs for the boy scout christmas party next monday, which he just reminded me about tonight. so wednesday i'm off to find a small present for the gift exchange, and glue and a table cloth and everything else he needs for the ornament making station he volunteered to run at the party. and sometime before christmas i still need to finish shopping for everything i need to make candy, and then get to the actual making of it. and i almost forgot that next week both the boys are having christmas parties, and somebody thought it would be a good idea for the kindergartners to have a cookie exchange so i have to send 26 cookies in a container with lumpy to school.

and did i mention that lumpy turns six on friday, so there's all the fun of throwing together a birthday party for him. and taking him for his yearly physical. and fishie is overdue for her nine month check up.

only two more weeks or so until christmas, right? because i for one can't wait until it's over.

December 13, 2010

"always look on the bright side of life"

life is hard. life sucks sometimes. and is a struggle. and sometimes it doesn't seem worth the fight. life can kick you when you're down. and rub salt in your wounds. and spit in your eye. life sometimes gives you lemons. life can ruin your best laid plans. life is what happens when you're hoping for something else. life is sometimes getting up after getting knocked down just to get knocked down again. life is not fair. life is picking up the broken pieces and putting them back together when things go wrong. life can be a puzzle with pieces missing. life can be trials and tribulations. life is pointless. life is ever moving and ever changing and we just have to try and keep up.

but sometimes... sometimes the little things make life worth living. we just have to grab those moments when we can, and hold onto them in our minds and in our hearts. and hope that will be enough to get us through. because life is what you make of it.

December 8, 2010

i'm at it again

maybe i'm just a gluten for punishment. maybe i'm addicted to sugar. or maybe cooking, and especially baking, calms me. so what if i made a cake yesterday and plan on making cookie bars today? it's not like i plan on eating everything all by myself. "plan" i think is the key word in that sentence, but i have this magical thing called will power that will help me prevail. i hope.

anyway, it's been a tough week or so. or at least since we came back from visiting during the thanksgiving holiday. the christmas rush has really started, so there's a huge list of things i need to buy and do and make sure are taken care. and the buying part always causes extra stress because there is always the fun of trying to figure out where all the money needed is going to come from. then is trying to find the time to get to the stores and hide the gifts so nosey little boys don't find all their presents and ask why santa is storing gifts at our house. plus the decorating, and making all the food and special things i want to give, and just finding the time to get everything done.

and of course, all that is in addition to all the normal day to day chores that make up my life, the food shopping and the laundry and the cleaning, the homework and making meals and general taking care of the children and hubby and house. so getting sick last week not only kicked my butt and kept me in bed, but it really threw a monkey wrench into my time table, and now i feel totally behind on my list of things i need to do.

add to that the extra fun that has come along into my life at this moment. mostly it's random "tests" that need to be performed on my father-in-law and on bumble, nothing at all to do with the other except that there is something going on with both of them and nobody is quite sure what. bumble's issues are more of a behavioral and developemental thing, but my father-in-law's are a very serious health thing that he's going back out to pittsburgh to see his specialists about, and hopefully with all the tests their doing today, we'll all get some answers tomorrow.

so yes, the normal fun of life and the stresses of the holiday season and the unknown elements of random issues have all come together just as i'm getting better from my cold. i think life just wants to see how much i can take before i break. but i will not go down without a fight! or baked goods. and so i'm at least doing the one thing that i know i can do. sugar might not make all the bad things better (i'm not crazy enough to think that), but in my kitchen there are good things happening, no matter the insanity of the outside world.

December 7, 2010

the sweetest time of the year

every year for christmas i make my family holiday treats instead of giving more traditional store bought gifts. maybe it's because i can never think of what to actually buy for them, or maybe it's because i'm cheap (and poor), or maybe it's because one of my not so secret skills is candy making, and it's during the holiday season that people welcome with open arms three or so pounds of sugary goodness. as opposed to other times of the year when they either think you did something wrong and are trying to apologize without having to actually say what you did, or there might be something wrong with the candy gift, and they're more test subjects then recipients of something nice.

anyway, even though i'm not totally over this awful cold i've been struggling through, i knew i needed to get started on my lists or i would fall way behind on my preparations. yes, lists, as in multiple, many, more than one; i am a girl that loves her lists. mostly i love lists written on steno pads, but then those closest to me know my affinity for those lovely little tablets.

so yesterday i sat down and wrote down all the kinds of candy that i wanted to or had to make. i usually only make and give candy as my special gift to people, because i make dozens of cookies with my mom every year and giving cookies is kind of her thing. and i make random kinds of cookies throughout the year, so cookies aren't exactly special in my book anymore. candy is something i only make one or two times a year, something reserved for a very special treat, and around the holidays i try and make a few of my more popular varieties to share with family and friends.

not that i'm saying i've created any new candy recipes or anything, i'm not quite that good. no, i stick to mastering the techniques of candy making, using a thermometer and heating the sugar up through the crack and balls stages, almost up to caramel. one of these days i'm going to try my hand at making a chewy caramel, but hot sugar is like the napalm of the kitchen, it burns like crazy if spilled and sticks to everything. even after all these years of playing with cooked sugar, i still get nervous and at least a few blisters and burns from working with the stuff.

what i like best, though, is the alchemy of making brittle, and peanut brittle is one that's always asked for, so it's one i always make. and one i don't mind making, because i honestly hate the stuff, so i don't feel any urges to snack on the product. i also have a chocolate fudge recipes that produces a candy very similar to those after dinner mints you sometimes get. that's another favorite that i don't really see the appeal of, but then i'm a crazy girl that likes to keep her chocolate and mint separate. then there are always peanut butter meltaways, something so ridiculously easy to make, i sometimes feel guilty giving it away and calling it a worthwhile gift. usually i make sugar spiced nuts, another super easy favorite to prepare, but this year i'm going in a different direction. i'm not sure if it's the lure of all the food blogs i've been reading, or all the cooking shows i've been watching on tv, but i'm going to try my hand at fudge this year.

not that i haven't made fudge before. there is of course the chocolate mint kind i make every year. and a very simple chocolate peanut butter recipe i got off my mother years ago. this year, though, i'm going to try a few different kinds of fudge, and a few different recipes that i've never tried before. they seem sound, and i trust their sources, so i'm not going to try make sample batches before the big day. or at least, with how i'm still feeling, i'm not planning on making any sample batches. maybe if i can round up a few kitchen helpers/guinea pigs, i might go for a test run or two.

so now that i have my list of candy that i'm making, i've also broken it down into ingredients and came up with a shopping list. next i just have to get to the store and buy the butter and the sugar and all the different types of chocolate. and some cup papers for the chocolate to sit in. and some pretty boxes to put the finished candy in so i can give it all away. and maybe a gift tag or two so i know who is supposed to get what box. yeah, i think i still have a bit of work ahead of me. but the sweet, sugary rush is one of my favorite things about this time of year.

December 3, 2010

'tis the season

i feel obligated to explain why i haven't posted much this week. especially since last week i wasn't able to post at all. well, as is my luck, i am sick. i would go into the gross and gory details of how much fun i've had hacking up a lung all week, but i'm still not 100% better yet, and am having enough trouble stringing together words to make coherent sentences.

anyway, not only am i sick, but it is the first week in december. and you know what that means? well decorating of course. and there's nothing more that i'd love to do than string lights and hang ornaments. other than curl up with a cup of tea and watch some trashy romance/dramas on tv. or eat some soup. or take a nap. or stop coughing. sadly, i think take a nap is winning this race of things i want to do.

well, my hubby, lovely as he is, has to find busy work around the house when he gets nervous or upset or worried, as he is about me at the moment. usually it involves cleaning and scrubbing and laundry (i knew i married him for a reason), but this week it has been decorating the house. our house is not big, and so there's not terribly much to decorate, but he got up early yesterday to let me go lay down (it was probably all of my coughing keeping him up), and when i woke up the tree was already set up and strung with lights, the train set was already put together, and the only things i had to put out were my special christams candles. he even had the nativity set placed under the tree.

so even though i've been sick all week, my house is looking pretty festive. tonight my boys are going to help hang all the ornaments, something bumble has been looking forward to all week. or maybe he's just looking forward to the hot chocolate and listening to the christmas music he knows will be happening too. either way, should be fun. as long as i can stop coughing long enough to enjoy myself.