Saturday, November 29, 2008

The holiday season

The holiday season is officially in full swing around here. As evidenced by the pictures in previous posts, Thanksgiving is past, and the Christmas season has arrived.

The tree is up, and as I type I can see it twinkling in front of me. It's filled, as it is every year, with ornaments that are really just symbols and memories, as that's how I like it. Nothing on the tree matches, but each ornament reminds me of someone or of some experience. There are so many given to me by Carolyn, Susan, and Corina over the years; there is the one from my first trip with Ryan (to the southwest; we traveled well together and I thought "well that's a good sign!"); there are "baby's first Christmas" ones with the date 2003 on them. The list is long - we can't fit all of the ornaments on the tree anymore - and happy.

Tomorrow I'll take down the Tibetan prayer flags (I don't know what they say, so I imagine that they are prayers for peace: personal peace and world peace) and put up the lights. Tessa is gleeful that our home is becoming so decorated, and wore her Santa hat with pride today.

I am intensely grateful for these small pleasures. These rituals and traditions are so important to me in the holiday season, and they keep me grounded in the middle of the consumerist drive that has taken over so much of the holiday season.

This year, I won't be much of a consumer. We are doing everything we can to cut back our holiday spending, and we hope and pray that we don't offend anyone in the process. I'll be baking and sharing the baked goods; there will be small hand made items; there will be time shared with friends and family. What there will NOT be is giant piles of expensive presents under the tree, but this is a-okay with me. Really and truly it is. I'm being forced - and feeling happy about it - to pay attention to the love and peace and festivities of the family season, and not pay attention to the compulsion to shop, shop, shop.

So I will take time to visit holiday carousels, to read "A Child's Christmas in Wales" aloud with the family, to drive around seeing the holiday lights, to go ice skating, to make fancy cookies, to watch an old holiday movie, to share wine with a friend. We will feast on Christmas day with family, we will attend Christmas Eve service, and hopefully we will be filled with gratitude all the while.

As for me, I'm grateful to be alive. There's an edge to saying that, because I still feel the fragility of life much more closely than I wish to. My every day is interrupted by thoughts of cancer, and all of the zillion side effects that I continue to experience. But the silver lining is that I approach every holiday like a little kid. I'm filled with wonder that I get to drag a tree inside my house, bake cookies, and sing songs. I'm grateful to be alive, and that is saying something. It's bigger than it sounds.

And ho ho ho!

(I hope no animal rights activists are looking at that last picture. Mo has ALMOST forgiven us, because we promised to never do it again.)

Gobble Gobble Pictures

It was wonderful - every bit of it. We're FINALLY done with all of the dishes - we ran many loads, and washed many by hand. The stock is done and waiting for me to turn it into turkey soup; that will be dinner tonight.
The hand made turkey place cards were my favorite part. Each person got one at their place, customized and individualized by Tessa. ("Bopa" is Tessa's name for Grandpa Surface.)

Deck the Halls

Today we deck the halls!

The three of us, in Santa hats, put on our warm coats and headed to the Junction for an outdoor lunch at Bakery Nouveau and Christmas tree shopping. We ended up buying a beautiful Frasier Fir - less expensive than a noble fir, with silvery undersides to the needles, but the same beautiful shape - with our coupon at True Junction. Then, we loaded it up into the wagon, and we walked home, eliciting smiles from everyone we saw. Shep came along, and the four of us were playful and joyful and simply full of the good day.


Now, we're getting ready to set it up in the living room....but first we must make cocoa and popcorn. It just sounds right, don't you think?

Deck the halls - fa la la la la!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Not done being thankful

The statistics:

Pies: 3 (pumpkin, pumpkin streusel, razzleberry)
Cranberry sauce: 2 (regular and meyer lemon)
Potatoes: too many to count
# of servings of stuffing Kristina ate: 4 (yes, 4. Over two days.)
# of guests throughout the day: 11
# of us at the dinner table: 7 + 1 (Leif didn't sit at the table, being only two weeks old, but he gets included somehow!)
# of loads run in the dishwasher: 3
# of bottles of sparkling cider left: 6

Thanksgiving was all that it should be. Mom Surface helped me peel potatoes in the kitchen, Ryan and Dad Surface watched some TV, Tessa ran around filled with excitement, Steven shared wine, and we all adored Sarah & baby Leif. Surface7 came by - all of them! hurrah! - and visited before the meal. The day was wonderful.

The food was pretty good too, if I may say so myself. The turkey (which I brined this year) was super moist, the "new" Meyer Lemon Cranberry Dressing was a hit, the pumpkin pies turned out (which was a concern - I'm more of a cook than a baker), the new dressing (bacon, carmelized onion, and apple with sage) was a hit, the potatoes were fluffy (thanks, Mom, for mashing them!), the gravy wasn't lumpy.

But I'm still feeling grateful for all that is in my life. Mostly, I'm grateful FOR my life. I do not take it for granted that I am alive, that I've been healthy enough to cook a nice meal.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's that time of year!

Cranberry Nut Bread time, that is.

Here's my recipe - back by popular demand

Cranbery Nut Bread

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons shortening
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 egg, well beaten
1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl. Zest the orange first, then squeeze the juice; top the juice off with the required quantity to reach the 3/4 cup total. Stir in orange juice, shortening, orange peel, and egg. Mix until well blended. Stir in cranberries and nuts. Spread evenly in loaf pan. Bake for one hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

My notes: the original recipe calls for chopping the cranberries; I find that this just muddies the batter and denies the eater that wonderful burst of tartness from a whole cranberry, so I leave mine whole. The original recipe calls for 55 minutes in the oven, but mine have never taken less than an hour. I ALWAYS double this recipe, as it goes quickly once it's out of the oven! I use one 12 ounce bag of cranberries for two loaves, even though that's more than the fruit called for in the recipe. Since the recipe doesn't say how to add the butter, I've always cut it in using a pastry blender thing, but I suppose melting it might have the same effect.

ENJOY! Right now our neighbors have one loaf, and I have five more in the oven, and one cooling on the stove. Mmmmm yummy. :-)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Busy, busy

Another busy weekend has passed. Ryan spent all day Saturday at the Habitat for Humanity site, helping to build a home that is partially sponsored by WSUU. I am so proud of Ryan's involvement in this project, and I hope that as Ryan nurses his aches and pains (they moved 32 yards of fill dirt as one of their tasks - not light work!) today he remembers the joy of having done good deeds.

Thinking about Habitat has made me so much more grateful for our home. I love our home - it is home in the truest sense of the world. As the holidays approach, I look forward to filling our home with family, friends, laughter, good food, and the like. I am grateful to live in a home that has become a center of gathering for so many people; I like how people here tend to show me that they're comfortable by joining in the fun, bringing a potluck dish, and the like. Home is where the heart is, they say, and it must be true because my heart is here.

Our church service was one of thanksgiving - not the holiday, but of actual giving thanks. Lovely thoughts; reminders of the blessings of our lives. Afterwards was an amazing potluck feast and time shared with the congregation. I am grateful to have become a part of this community.

Yesterday I got a blissful afternoon and evening to myself. I went downtown and met with Susan, and we wandered through shops without really buying anything (except a couple items from the Japanese bargain store where everything is $1.50), and then had dinner at Palomino's happy hour (what a bargain!). We talked, talked, and talked....and it was wonderful.

And today? Morning rush, then snuggles with new baby Leif, our neighbor, and now I'm scrambling to get the Thanksgiving menu in order, run ot the store, and get housework done in time to pick up Tessa from early dismissal. (Hmmm, what am I doing checking email and blogging, then? Better get running.)

Happy Turkey week!