Saturday, December 29, 2007

Holiday conundrums

Why does it take four days to put the Christmas decorations away when it only took two to put them in place!

And, my storage closet must be akin to a Tardis because when I haul out all the containers to store the decorations, the pile of boxes looks bigger than the inside of the closet, and I know they fit in there!

This is where that Christmas village starts looking less and less attractive. The longer it takes to wrap and pack up houses and accessories for storage, the more I question why I'm doing it. Good thing there's eleven months to forget the misery before I haul it out again.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's Christmas -- someone in the house is sick. As usual.

Let me tell you, there is NO WORSE way to wake up in the middle of the night. The sound of my husband upchucking slowly pierced through my sleep addled state. So I got up, stayed with him, got him drinks of water and generally did all the steadfast wife stuff (only once retreating to the other bathroom to be a little sick, myself -- sorry, it got to me). Finally, his stomach calmed down and he could get to sleep. I will make him stay in bed and ply him with Gatoraid and 7-Up as soon as his stomach will take it. He's probably dry as a prune after that bout.

I knew one of us would end up sick before New Year's Day. It always happens. We had conscientiously Purell'ed ourselves after every foray out of the house, wiped down shopping carts with wet wipes, stayed far away from anyone with as much as a sniffle. All to no avail. At least 75% of the last 15 Christmases, and all of the last five, one or both of us have been sick.

I hoped that after we retired it would be easier to stay well. And, all through the year it had been. No colds, no sore throats, no stomach viruses. Since I wasn't spending my days anymore sitting in the cubicle next to the guy with two small children who seemed to be peerless germ factories (infecting his wife, him and then everyone they contacted!) it had been easier. Husband's been home full time since spring, and managed to get through outpatient hospital visits this summer without catching something, a feat in itself.

I must have gotten cocky. Now, I just have to keep Lysol-ing the bathroom and pray it doesn't find me next. But why oh why do we have to be sick during the holidays?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday homeowner curse redux

The garage door opener finally died completely and the repair guy just left after relieving me of $50 for the parts alone, plus installation. Let's see.......December 19th. Right on schedule. Nothing in my house breaks except near a holiday.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cookie Avalanche

Christmas is a perfect excuse to exercise my love of baking and of feeding people. So, for the last fifteen years at least, I have been making up holiday cookie baskets for my neighbors, the mailman, the trash guys (the best way of guaranteeing good service from public works - schmooze them), my hairdresser, the lawn guy, etc.

These aren't the usual six chintzy little cookies in a cellophane bag with a bow. Oh, no, I make lots and lots of cookies. LOTS. I baked for two solid days this weekend. There were chocolate chip, oatmeal chocolate chip, spritz (in four flavors), molasses, chocolate sour cream drops, lemon-raspberry, pecan sandies, snickerdoodles, thumbprints, oatmeal raisin. There were probably more, but I'm so tired my memory is starting to go. Then I wrap up 4 or 5 dozen of them per gift bag. It's probably several pounds of cookies.

And they're all good. I personally taste test them. (Can't let inferior merchandise go out, can I?) So, between all the mixing and baking and testing by the end of the baking weekend, I can't stand the smell of sugar. I roasted a chicken for dinner and all I could think was "Oh, thank heavens the kitchen doesn't smell like COOKIES!"

Everyone seems to enjoy them. Sometimes I get requests - my neighbor likes brownies, so I did a pan of them for him last Christmas. I included chocolate fudge with the cookies boxes for my hairdresser and her business partner this year and mentioned that the candy may get too soft at room temperature and may need to be refrigerated. They responded, "Oh, it won't last that long."

I just added two new neighbors to the cookie list this year. One couple moved in two doors down last spring. The husband has health issues and they have been having some bad times. It really seemed to take the wife aback that someone she only speaks to at the mailbox and waves to as she drives by would do this. It's such a little thing, it amazes me that people are grateful for the gesture. The new neighbors in the house behind mine will get their first holiday cookie drop tomorrow. I think they're Muslim, but a good spritz cookie is ecumenical.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas candy fiasco rescued

Well, I was trying to make fudge, but I just may have invented the home-made Three Musketeers. I called Mom for her Million Dollar Fudge recipe, and evidently I misunderstood the amount of marshmallow cream to use because the fudge turned out light chocolate and soft and spongy, instead of the usual dark chocolate and smooth and fudgy. And tasted only of marshmallow cream. Too raw and rich. What to do? Because I have a lot of money sunk into this 9 x 13 pan of chocolate marshmallowy stuff.

I let it set in the refrigerator while I did two batches of spritz cookies (which turned out very well) and then cut it into 3/4" cubes. By this time the flavor had mellowed and tasted like the filling of a Three Musketeers bar. I ate another one this morning and the effect is more pronounced. So today I will go to the grocery and get some dipping coating, half white and half chocolate, and make fancy dipped candes with nuts and coconut and chopped pecans on the top and everyone will think I am a master candymaker, when all I am is a person who obviously can't transcribe a recipe!

Wait, wait, an addendum: My mom made the fudge yesterday and it didn't set up either (it NEVER fails for her, what the heck?). She couldn't sleep, so got up in the middle of the night and tried to dip the candy cubes like I also thought of, and it didn't work. The candy just melted into the dipping coating. She didn't freeze the fudge centers, though. So it may just work if you freeze them first.

However, she did come up with a solution. She put the cubes of too-soft fudge back in a pan, melted in another 12 ounce package of chocolate chips, and then beat in 3/4 cup peanut butter. The fudge then set up and looked properly chocolate-ty. I tried this too, and am waiting for the new pan to cool. It looks like it will work. It's also the most chocolate thing you ever tasted.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

My Christmas Village needs zoning restrictions

Well, folks, I've done it again. The world's most complicated Christmas decoration has been installed. I'm talking about my Christmas village. It takes up four shelves, a round table and the the writing surface of the secretary desk in the foyer. The round table sits under the shelves, adjacent to the secretary desk, so all six vignettes flow together. The secretary desk surface was this year's addition. I need to enact some serious expansion restrictions; there's nowhere else to go in the foyer, and when I suggested expanding to the shelves in the living room my huband just rolled his eyes.

This village started with a three ceramic houses from the Bi-Lo grocery about 12 years ago. They were about 8 inches tall, lit by a night light bulb, cutely detailed and on sale for $3.99 each. I bought them and set up a little mini-scene on the television cabinet with quilt batting for snow. Addictions always start small.

After Christmas I bought a fourth house at the Bi-Lo on a clearance sale for even less money. The next year the village had four buildings and some small pine trees from a Colony 21 store in the mall that specializes in these miniatures. The year after that I bought a set of carolers and a tiny park bench.

After that, well, it just got nuts. I now have fifteen buildings, from a church to a town hall, a community Christmas tree, a statue in the town square, two bridges, two skating ponds, farm animals, a Christmas tree stand, postmen, rock walls, a train track, cars, street signs, villagers - everything from a produce seller to a street sweeper, a lighthouse and a wharf!

The wharf was the most inspired addition. I saw a lighthouse at Wal-Mart and had to have it. Then I had to work it into the scene. So, I took three layers of foamcore board and made a base which steps down to the seashore. It sits on the round table under the shelves. The top of the slope has a gas station and a house (I say it's the lighthouse keeper's cottage). On the bottom at one side is a marina and at the other is the lighthouse. The wharf stretches out from the marina and has two small ships tied up. Workers roll barrels and carry bags from the wharf up the hill. An old sea salt sits on the marina porch and tells tall tales. There's a creek that drains into an inlet at the seashore with a frozen skating pond and a stone footbridge on the path from the house to the marina. Up by the gas station, the harbor master is helping some children make a snowman while an SUV is filling up at the pumps (ha ha, couldn't help it) and the greengrocer has set up a produce stand. He is filling the bins while his assistant argues with a chef about the produce.

Every part of the village is filled with little scenes like this, each one with a story. That's the part I love about it. It's not just a bunch of ceramic figures. As I put it together each year, I can vary what the citizens of my little world are doing. There are always some constants. The farmer is next to his barn, tending his cattle, the carolers are at the community Christmas tree next to the church, and three little boys congregate outside the high school, balancing their books on their heads and goofing off.

I can add street barricades and make road construction if I want. I can vary if the ambulance is in front of the hospital or on the road. The Pepsi delivery truck may be parked at the drugstore or it may be at the gas station. The vacationing couple with binoculars is at the inn out in the woods this year, but next year they may stay in town at the hotel. The raccoons are getting into the trash cans beside the brick barn, but they've gone to the farmhouse before.

It's all great fun. Every year I start browsing at the Ace Hardware to find a new addition to the village. Since there's no more room for building, I find new small accessories to create more detail. This year, I found small woodpiles, perfect for the farmhouse yard, and snow sleds which I leaned against the buildings near the front porches. It always snows in my village at Christmas and now the kids can go sledding. The boys next to the high school also now have bicycles to ride.

But the finishing touch came not from accessories I can buy for the village but from my sister-in-law's gift. She found a Christmas tree ornament at Hallmark of a Santa in an old Woodie convertible. He now sits at the railroad crossing on Main Street, waiting for the train to pass.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Why I hate car security systems

Through circumstance, we have ended up with the second car parked in the driveway under a car cover. This is not optimum, just required for the time being. This car wasn't being driven much anyway, so we parked in on the side of the driveway under the oak tree and I bought a cheap (read, not waterproof) car cover to keep the bird offerings and tree drippings off its paint.

Bad car owner that I am, I don't check on it much, just leave it sitting there under its gray cover. So I've let the battery run down --- twice. (So sue me.) I found it was dead the second time when I went outside Sunday to retrieve some CDs from the 10-disc changer in the trunk and there wasn't power to eject the CD holder from the changer. So, Monday afternoon (AFTER having a flat tire on my other car and the garage door opener acting up again (see previous post) -- great car day!) I stripped off the car cover to put the trickle charger on the battery and found both front windows rolled down. The day after a rain. Rats. No apparent cosmetic damage to the interior thanks to the shelter of the oak tree, but now the passenger window switch doesn't work right.

Now, when I covered up the car, the windows were closed. I would be willing to swear to it. So I scratched my head and tried to find out what happened. I asked my husband for the keys (it's his car, nominally) which he keeps on the security system remote keyring. After the charger had run awhile, I started the car after dinner and let it idle in the driveway. It was OK: "Fresh Air" was on public radio and the heater worked just fine, so it was quite cozy. I mean to drive it today when I go to the bank, and since wasn't sure how the buttons worked on the remote, I looked it up in the owner's manual. The writing wore off the remote years ago, so you have a large gray button and three small black buttons, all the same size.

That's when I found out that you can roll down the front windows with the remote. WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO DO THAT? My husband carries the remote in his pocket, and at least twice a week sets the car alarm off by leaning on it and accidentally depressing the remote control buttons. It seems that last week, he leaned a little too long on the button and rolled down the windows. Which I couldn't see because of the car cover. Which allowed the rain to come in and wreck the power window control.

Oh, yeah. The remote also allows you to turn on the dome light. Which I also wouldn't see under the car cover. Which might explain the low battery.

As of today, he has a new keyring.