Friday, December 28, 2007

A Really Lovely Christmas

Emphasis on the "love" part of that.

I had decided previously that this was going to be my "slacker" Christmas.  Gifts were already bought, so that wasn't an issue.  But skipped having tons of different cookies for just the ones I made for the cookie swap* and our traditional gingerbread.  

*chocolate-peppermint biscotti and chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies 

By Saturday morning, practically everything was done, part of a bargain we'd all made with each other that if everything was ready for Christmas by then, we could take a one-night trip to a neighboring town for lights and fun.  We did.  It was fun, and stress-free.  I mean, except for the one obligatory "don't make me turn this car around" moment.

Was everything perfect?  Um, you're aware I have 4 kids, right?  A glass of beans helped ...

My kids were off the week before Christmas. The Sunday before, I was thrilled, and ready to write a letter to the school board thanking them for this scheduling. By Monday afternoon, I was ready to write a letter to the school board threatening to burn down their homes if they do this scheduling again.

But I'm back to happy about it. And all because of a glass of beans.

I filled up a glass with dry beans. I put a sack next to it. Every time I had to break up a fight, or deal with whining, or argue with someone or, or, or .... it took away from my time and/or energy. And I took beans out of the glass.  Once the glass is empty, I explained, we can't go. Not punishment, just a visualization of reality. If the stuff isn't done, we have to stay home and do it.

The effects were magical.  For the most part, anyway.  And if LW shrieking "No, Ma Ma, don't take out beans!"-- at a restaurant when I asked her to not bounce on her seat -- is the price, well, that's okay.

And the presents ...

Well, we're not really trying to buy things, are we? The kitchenaid mixer is the promise of healthy, delicious food. The board games are a promise of warm, happy evenings as a family. The PDA is the promise of a stress-free, organized life.

And that's all fine, as long as our expectations are in line with what we're buying. That weight set isn't going to give you a great body unless you can also "buy" the time to use it.
So ... we bought the idea of the family playing together in the living room.  Not board games -- have you ever tried to play Monopoly with a 2 year old running around?  Or any board game with multiple pieces?  It doesn't work.

So ... we got a Wii.  No crazy midnight lines or paying twice the price ... I just googled "how to find a Wii" and found out that Amazon posts their new stock on Wednesdays at noon.  12:06, I had a Wii in my cart for normal price.

The Husband and I are feeling good about it.  We can all play -- even Little Warrior.  And while I won't go so far as to call it exercise, it does make you get up off the couch.  

The Boy wanted to get LW a very special present, something that would thrill her.  "Money is no object," he pronounced grandly.  (He socks his money away like a miser, so this was a real offer.)  After walking up and down the toy aisles at least twice, he decided on a giant stuffed dog, bigger than LW, and highly cuddleable.  He hugged it through the store and beamed when buying it.  He had that wonderful feeling when you just know that you've bought something someone is going to love.  He was right.

The most significant and extravagant gift cost the giver no money at all.  My mother-in-law (or mother-in-love, as I've called her since The Husband and I married), presented me with a gorgeous blue topaz necklace.  "This was my mother's," she explained.  Her mother died right after The Husband was born.  "She would have loved you and the children.  I spoke to the girls (her grown daughters) and told them I was going to do this.  I want you to have it."  

Ms. Kitty has been pondering mothering a grown son, one who is married.  I will (hopefully) face this some day.  I couldn't have a better role model.  My MIL met me when I was 20.  Her boy loved me, so she loved me.  It was that simple.  He married me and she encouraged him to cleave unto me.  She never gives advice unless asked, and perhaps equally important, she has asked our advice on various matters.  She and I can (and frequently do) stay up late into the night talking on her visits to our house, or ours to her condo.  And if she thinks I'm making any mistakes with the kids, she's never given any indication.  

So, our gifts are more than the things themselves.  Like a very special necklace that says, "You are valuable.  You are loved.  You are family."

A really lovely Christmas.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Coquito -- My New Favorite Holiday Drink

It's kind of like a pina colada eggnog.  Absolutely delicious.  Very rich.  Please note, you use coconut milk, in the Asian section, not cream of coconut from the drink section.

Coquito (Puerto Rican Coconut Milk-Rum Christmas Drink)
Adapted from a recipe courtesy Maricel Presilla

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (14-ounce) can condensed milk
2 egg yolks
2 cups fresh coconut milk or 1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
Pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon good cinnamon
1 cup Puerto Rican white rum
Ground cinnamon

Place all ingredients in a blender and process for 3 minutes at high speed until frothy. Put in the freezer til slushy – or, make the night before, freeze, then break it up with a fork, add a touch more rum for blending ease, and whizz in the blender before serving.

Serve in small glasses dusted with a little cinnamon.

Monday, December 24, 2007

It is Christmas Eve

Officially. At least in my time zone.

A few cookies have been made. There are still gifts to be wrapped (thank you, former self for making gift bags.) Cinnamon rolls to be made for Christmas morning.

But tamales are made. Chili is done. We even took a quick 36 hour trip to a neighboring town for a special night of lights and gingerbread pancakes.

If I don't get back before the holiday ... for those who celebrate it, a very happy Christmas. We don't know what next year may bring. It may be sad, it may be absolutely wonderful, beyond our wildest dreams. But we have this Christmas. Whatever it is ... a solitary day of peace, a wild and raucous day with family ... I send to you a wish for smiles, a wish of peace in your heart.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Let's Talk About Cookies

I was already thinking and planning my Christmas cookies, but Kinsi has me thinking about the all-important "experiment" cookie that you try, along with all the regular "must haves."

Our must-haves are typical -- gingerbread, butter cut-outs -- this is my experiment from last year, which met with much acclaim. Hmm ... I think I've decided what I'm going to do for this year's cookie swap:

Raspberry Lemon Thumbprint Cookies
Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2003
1/2 cup raspberry jam or jelly
1 tablespoon Chambord or kirsch
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter 2 large baking sheets.

In a small bowl, combine the jam and Chambord. Stir to combine.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk to blend.

In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Beat in the egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla. Add the flour mixture in 2 additions and beat just until moist clumps form. Gather the dough together into a ball.

Pinch off the dough to form 1-inch balls. Place on the prepared baking sheets, spacing 1-inch apart. Use your floured index finger or 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon to create depressions in the center of each ball. Fill each indentation with nearly 1/2 teaspoon of the jam mixture. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

What are your must-haves?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas Projects

There are "crafty" mothers out there -- the ones who scrapbook and knit and make cool homemade gifts for everyone.

That ain't me, but hats off to 'em.

Nonetheless, at Christmastime, I get a peculiar urge to engage my children in doing some kind of project. Today, it's refurbishing ornaments. We took a lot of our hand-me-down glass ornaments -- the ones that are looking a bit worse for wear -- painted on some watered-down school glue and dipped them in glitter. They don't look like they came from Macy's, but they look better than before. And with a mother's eyes, they look positively beautiful.

This must be a genetic thing, or a going-back-to-my-roots thing. My mother also eschews the crafty side of life, but come December, she gamely had me painting wooden ornaments or wood-burning another set of ornaments, or making salt dough ornaments. A good sport, she is.

So, we now have clothes hangers hanging around the house, holding drying ornaments. And now it's time for the kind of craft I like -- cooking. Today is our tamalada. The pork is simmering with the chile, onions and spices as I write.

Christmastime is here ...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ring Bell! Salivate, salivate ...

Rough draft is complete, only minor tweaking needed tomorrow. Am suddenly having a craving for pancakes and sausage ... it's been 20 years since I began undergrad, but some things carve little places for themselves in your gray matter. Like going for midnight breakfast after completing a paper ...

4 kids asleep, and an already-overweight bod, so that's not an option. But hey, back then I couldn't (legally) have a lime-raspberry martini thing that The Husband just concocted for me. Times change.

Oh, and to summarize my paper ... using objectivity, love, authority and written policies, you too can ethically deal with a difficult person.

But I say it in 10 pages. With a lot of sources. Including the Bible and Dalai Lama.

Another Christmas gripe ...

When people say "Donner" rather than "Donder." But I'm not the only one.

LE ... who needs to get back to work on her Christian Ethics term paper, "The Ethical Balance in Ministering to the Difficult Person." Not that I'm a difficult person. Unless you say Donder. Or sing the modern version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Great Holiday Movies

I should be working on my term paper. "The Ethical Balance of Ministering to the Difficult Person." But here I am, writing about some of my favorite holiday shows.

I won't take the time to do cool links. You can google 'em in you're so inclined.

10. And you can't get this anymore, or at least not a decent version. It's Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory with Geraldine Page. The voiceover was done by Truman Capote himself, although they had to slow the tape -- his voice was so high, they felt it would be too distracting. It can even make you want fruitcake. The movie, not his voice.
9. Miracle on 34th Street ... and now, blasphemy: I actually prefer the modern version to the Natalie Wood version. Not that I don't like the classic, but the modern version has more character development, more fun. And even a hint of loving marital sex! Whoo-hoo!
8. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Because I'm twisted, that's why. Ohhhh say can you see ...
7. White Christmas. (romantic siiiiigh.) Because my two elder daughters will sing "Sisters" together. And The Boy dies laughing when Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye do "Sisters" in drag. And I love Snow ... (the song).
6. Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas. A beautiful muppet-style story with an understated ending.
5. The Year Without a Santa Claus. The original one, of course. "I'm Mr. Heat Miser ..."
4. The Polar Express. Beautiful story, beautiful movie.
3. Elf. Don't tell anyone, but I tear up at the end when everyone starts singing together and it creates Christmas Spirit that powers Santa's sleigh. Shhh.
2. It's a Wonderful Life. Because I'm a sap. And I am totally in love with the concept of realizing how freakin' wonderful your flippin' ordinary life is. (And I was even before LW got sick.)
1. A Christmas Story: there's two kinds of people in the world ... yeah, I know, but for the sake of argument, go with me ... those who choose It's a Wonderful Life for their #1 and those who choose A Christmas Story. I've been pretty clear about preferring reality to romantic, haven't I? So, of course, this is my favorite. OH FUDGE!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Eschable, anyone?

Earthbound's comment about hating Winter Wonderland reminded me of another annoyance that pops up this time every year ...

Has anyone ever run into the word "eschable"?

When I was in high school, I was in choir.  I very distinctly remember singing "Winter Wonderland" as "we'll frolic and play, the eschable way" (not "eskimo") and our teacher explaining that eschable was an old English word meaning friendly.

I have never run across the word since.  Even with the Internet.

I swear I didn't do drugs in high school.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (or, "Shut up, Frank")

I knew I'd be adding more to the list.  Blame Earthbound Spirit, whom I keep (good-naturedly) arguing over the "best" version of Christmas tunes.

I love "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and my favorite version is the original, done by Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis.  I get slightly cranky when I hear versions based on Frank Sinatra's request to "jolly that up for me."  But Frank gets what Frank wants, so the lyrics were changed from:

Someday soon we all will be together
If the Fates allow
Until then, we'll just have to muddle through somehow
And have ourselves a merry little Christmas now.


Through the years
We all will be together
If the Fates allow,
Hang a shining star
On the highest bough ...

Kudos to James Taylor who went back to the original. "I always sort of thought of this song with these lyrics from the movie," he said. "And it resonates more with me this way, with the sort of sadder, more melancholy lyrics. I like it better."

Friday, December 07, 2007

I'll be buying "Joy"

Got the phone call.
All clear.

Let the wild rumpus start.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Two Ornaments

There were two ornaments in the hospital gift shop today.  Both were gold stars.  One said, "Hope."  The other said, "Joy."

I told The Husband that after our followup appointment on Monday, I'll be buying one of those.

I hope it's "Joy."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Gifts for Kids

Little Warrior, chocolate-smeared, is on her third bowl of pudding. It follows scrambled eggs and leftover latkes. Scans are at 11, and she can't eat in the morning. So I'm stuffing her like the Christmas goose tonight.

"Are you nervous?" asked The Boy. "I'm always nervous before scans," I replied. "Me, too," he said somberly.

Since I can eat -- surreptitiously -- tomorrow, I have no need to stuff myself. So I'll resist the urge by addressing, "Things to get/not get for kids if you want to make both them and their parents happy."

The reason for the length of that title is because I don't want to hear from the "well, just teach your kids to be grateful for whatever they get" crowd. Well, duh. And my kids are always grateful, or at least they fake it well. But I've had child-free folks ask this question, wanting to get something really good, so here we go ...

#1 Rule: Do not purchase something that requires adult assistance unless you yourself are willing to give it. Yes, I know that it's an absolutely fabulous educational experience to put together the 563-part zigamathing. And really, I'd love to participate with my child. I'm just going to put it in the closet next to the other 4 adult-required gifts for now ... we'll have more time in the spring. Summer. Well, maybe I and my grandchild can do it.

#2: Find out if it needs batteries, and include them. Christmas/Chanukah/Solstice is not the time to preach against immediate gratification.

#3: Buy age appropriate. Look online if you don' t know what that is. Both sides of this are unfortunate. A bicycle for a 4 year old is going to frustrate your two year old nephew. And a toy that is below age for your 13 year old niece is going to make her feel that you see her as a kid.

#4: Buy things that are in line with the parents' values. The holidays are not the time to prove your alpha-dog status by buying a toy gun, a Bratz doll, etc, when you know the parents don't like that. You might not agree with them ... but you're not the parent.

#5: Ignore all the rules, if you have a very good relationship with the parents and they say it's okay. (A polite, tepid "that's fine ..." means No.) If your sister has said she really wants a zip line for the kids, even though it will mean she will have to assemble and put it up, go right ahead. If the toy says "appropriate for 3-4" and your niece is really brilliant (and the parents concur), go ahead and get it. And if the parents say, yeah, we don't normally let the kids have 'crap cereal,' but it's fine to get a fun treat from the grandparents ... we'll that's fine.*

Batteries ... well, unless your brother has solar charged batteries and morally refuses to use anything else -- bring the batteries.

*All real experiences from my family.

Real Gifts that Lizard Eater Endorses:

* Legos. I'd like to say something non-plastic like Lincoln Logs or Tinkertoys, but really, my kids play with the Legos 10 times as much as the other. And once you get past the choking age, Legos are ageless. Especially if you're fabulously wealthy and bought one of the older children the Lego Mindstorms.

* Polly Pockets. I hate these damn things, but Goddess help me, my daughters love them. But ask first.

* The Board games you loved as a kid.

* Books. But make sure it has a cool cover that will entice the kid in. Save the "you can't judge" lecture for some other time.

* For a little one: Fisher Price Baby Gymtastics Bounce and Spin Zebra. LW has loved and gotten so much use out of this, we bought a new one to donate to the cancer clinic.

* Boxes. No, not the cardboard ones that Grandpa always swore he was going to give to the grandkids next year. Boxes for special treasures. The ballerina jewelry boxes, or special wood boxes, or those combination lock "banks." Kids LOVE boxes. Actually, so does everybody, come to think of it. Dance, monkeys, dance.

* Lastly, I can't give a personal review on this yet, but I've read enough reviews that I'm getting some for The Boy ... carnivorous plants. If you're a catalog shopper, you've probably seen the "carnivorous plant kit" that comes with a terrarium and seeds. Well, go read the reviews on Amazon. Apparently, it's awful. Tons of work, and then they don't germinate.

Instead, go to Looks good.

And lastly ... the gift that my parents, bless them, always send the kids. It doesn't thrill the kids right now, but it does us, and eventually, they'll truly appreciate it. Each kid gets a savings bond, every birthday.

And that doesn't need batteries.


Look at your holiday list.  What's something you really don't want to do?  Cross it off.  Cancel it.  Don't do it.

I just did.  It feels terrific.  

Monday, December 03, 2007

"Dere's a monsser coming, save me!"

squealed Little Warrior, laughing and flinging herself at me.

And like so many mamas, I hugged her and instinctively said, "I'll always save you."

And then my thoughts went to Thursday and the scans to see if a monster has returned, inside her.

10 Songs of the Season

I can't say 10 songs of Christmas, because they're not all. But these are my 10 favorites of the season. That I can remember right at this moment.

10. Oh No, It's Santa -- Jingle Punx. Because it's fun to mosh on Christmas, too. "OATMEAL COOKIES!!! OATMEAL COOKIES!!!"

9. O Holy Night: Because it's my mama's favorite and one of the first I learned on the guitar

8. A Christmas/Kwanzaa/Solstice/Chanukah/Ramadan/Boxing Day Song -- Christine Lavin & The Mistletones. Because there are many reasons for the season.

7. Christmas Canon -- Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Do I love this song or hate it? Hmm. I think I love it. It's beautiful. Pachebel's Canon with a Christmasy twist. But I always cry. When LW was in the ICU, we had a 40 minute version of Pachebel's Canon looping 24/7, to try and block all of the noise. She had made it through surgery. She was alive. She still had functioning (though considerably trimmed) kidneys. But she was still critical. And we were so tired, we were walking into walls. So ... profound gratitude, fear, emotion ... and Christmas. I guess I love it. That's life. All mixed up together.

6. Christmas Wrapping -- The Waitresses. Because I was an eighties teen.

5. Santa Baby -- Eartha Kitt. Purrrrr.

4. Light One Candle -- Peter, Paul and Mary. Chanukah song; a friend and I performed it the Chanukah after 9-11. Very powerful.
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
But light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemakers' time is at hand

3. Baby, It's Cold Outside -- Ray Charles and Betty Carter. Toe-curling good.

2. Christmas -- Blues Traveler. Because it touches on not feeling the spirit, but wanting to, diversity, and finding your Christmas spirit after all.
Now excuse me if i'm not being reverent
But i was hoping for a miracle to hold me, wash me
Save me from my righteous doubt as i watch helpless
And everybody sings
If it's chanukah or kwanza
Solstice, harvest or december twenty-fifth
Peace on earth to everyone
And abundance to everyone you're with

1. Merry Christmas from the Family -- Robert Earl Keen. I like reality.