Christmas Crime Scene

7:30 am

Paul was enjoying coffee on the couch and getting his computer up and running to check his work calendar for the day.  Conference calls and expense reports loomed large, but for at least a few moments there was quiet and he could relax a bit.

Suddenly a black and white blur flew by his feet toward the tree and disappeared underneath it.  He could hear the tinkling of ornaments as the cat passed under the lowest branches and settled int he corner behind the tree.  He leaned over to get the cat in his field of vision and admonish him for being in what is certainly a forbidden zone when, to his astonishment, the cat wiggled his back end (as cats do) and launched himself up and into the middle of the tree.

The weight of the cat more than halfway toward the top tipped the balance of the tree and in slow motion Paul watched the tree come down, as he helplessly tried to reach it in time.


I awoke upstairs to a crashing sound, a yell from Paul, and a moment later, the sound of the cat tearing through the cat door into the bedroom.

I came down the stairs and helped as Paul righted the tree.  There was candy cane and colored – ball carnage all over the living room.  The pearls hung all cockeyed and forlorn off the branches, the snowflakes in catastrophic disarray.

Water was everywhere; the tree skirt was sopping wet.

It took quite awhile to get the tree somewhat straight again (it’s not ever going to be quite right) so that we could clean up around it.

Luckily we didn’t lose as many of the precious ornaments as I had feared; mostly it was the colored glass balls and candy canes which are easily replaced.

But we weren’t taking any chances this time.  Before re-decorating the tree we had to be sure this wouldn’t happen again.

We found a stud in the ceiling, moved the tree under it, and anchored that SOB with wire.  Oh yeah, we don’t fool around.

Fortunately the lights are still working; had they not I may have killed the best and cuddliest cat I have ever had.   The lights were a total P.I.T.A.  (we had to exchange brand new boxes back to the store because they didn’t work – it took forever).

The tree is all fine now and we are back in business.

The cat owes me big time though.


A New Tree-dition

For the last thirteen or so years, we have had an artificial tree for Christmas.  This, believe me, was not my idea.  I grew up with real trees every year, and I adore the smell and look that only a real tree can give you (despite the 8 billion Christmas Tree – scented Yankee Candles I’ve used through the years).

Paul has always been pro – artificial.  It’s cheaper in the long – run, they’re supposedly safer, and they are easier to set up and take down.  I countered these points by saying that fake trees are less environmentally friendly – they will rot in a landfill forever, whereas a real tree will biodegrade, and tree farms re – plant new trees constantly.

At any rate, the artificial tree argument won out for the entire time we’ve had children.  Until, inexplicably, this year.  I still don’t know what caused Paul to finally relent and agree to allow me a real tree this year, but whatever it was, I’m glad I did it.

Family tradition calls for the tree to be put up and decorated on Black Friday every year.  It was obvious my kids had never decorated a real tree before; they kept hanging the ornaments on the very ends of the branches, weighing the tree down pretty badly.  But, I managed to fix that small problem, and despite a bit of a “lean” the tree looks quite nice, if I d say so myself.  It’s been a lovely way to ring in the Christmas season and welcome winter.

We went with red and white lights to match the tree skirt I made a few years ago.  I’ve never been one to use multi – colored lights, but I am really liking the red and white together.

And the smell?  Heavenly!!!!

Turkey Day Recovery Mode

Have you all recovered from the Thanksgiving debaucheries? We are currently couch – bound, still trying to recover from the delectable over – stuffing we did yesterday.

Thanksgiving has to be my favorite holiday, and that is really saying something.  I am sure my dad can’t quite agree with all of my reasoning (as he had to be in the kitchen all day!) but seriously.  We don’t have to buy anyone any gifts on Turkey Day.  There’s not a ton of decorating to be done (and then to take down afterwards).  We can wake up late and sit in front of our tv watching the parade all morning from the comfort of the couch.  And best of all (sorry Dad): I can sit on my butt and drink and knit all day.  Then, sometime in the mid afternoon, a marvelous feast of my favorite foods magically appears on the dinner table. (Also I do get to sample all day long because he knows just how much I appreciate his cooking).

Every year we enjoy two turkeys: a roast turkey and a fried turkey.  I ate way more than my share of fried turkey skin, I can assure you.

Uncle Daddy playing Vanna.  What, you don’t have any relatives with weird nicknames?

We spend a lot of time in the driveway waiting for the deep fried turkey to be done.  Thankfully it’s almost always nice out.

This is perhaps the most important moment of the day: scraping the roasting pan out so he can make the gravy.  I feel sorry for all of you who have never had my dad’s gravy.

Fried. Turkey. Skin.

Then there’s the uber – juicy roast turkey.

This little stinker took up a spot in front of the fridge where all the drinks were kept.  Whenever someone wanted one, she CHARGED them for it. A buck a drink.  Not only that, but my family are such suckers, they actually PAID her.  She and Oona made like $16 between them.

Then the magic happens. Creamed pearl onions with peas, roasted brussels sprouts. Roasted and fried turkey.  Mashed butternut squash with cranberries. Cranberry chutney. Dad’s incredibly amazing stuffing.  Mashed potatoes.

Oona “liked the Coca Cola best!”

This is the stuff of dreams.  I could eat this every day my whole life.  I’d be big as a house, but still.

Thanks to my still – temporary tooth, I was eating still after everyone else had moved on to unbuttoning their pants and snuggling the cuter participants.

And before I could even take a breath, Uncle Eric pulled out the Pumpkin Creme Brulee.  Let me say that again. PUMPKIN CREME BRULEE.  Oh yeah.  This family knows how to do dessert right.

Of course, don’t for a moment think we had to forgo pie.  Perish the thought.

This is why we are still spread out on the couch the morning after.  We were all so stuffed we felt like we may never eat again and we are still waiting to get over that lovely feeling.

Now excuse me while I go break into the leftovers.




The Trouble With Sunday Sewing

I’ve been desperately trying to follow the example of my friend Marie Grace and make Sundays all about sewing.  There always seems however, to be something going on that needs my attention and so yesterday was the first Sunday that I was able to throw down roots in the craft room and say “Sewing Only!”

It went more slowly than I would have liked.  This was mostly because I had to clean a path to the sewing machine and neaten up my space a bit.  This is problem numero uno with having your craft room in a corner of the playroom.

I managed to finish a dress I had started a month or so ago for Oona (pics later) and I started on a simple throw quilt for the couch in a christmas-y pattern that matches my tablecloth (who doesn’t love a nice red and white toile for christmas?).  All that it is composed of is two lengths of coordinating fabric with some wool batting sandwiched between and some top – stitching.  No piecing to do, no applique.  I am using an old “Favorite Things” pattern called “French Bedroom“.

Which brings me to my second problem with Sewing Sunday.  I always seem to have “help”.  Especially when working on a cozy wool – filled blanket.

See there in the background?  Occasionally a paw will reach forth and grab at my work, making for slow going.  Then, this happens:

He makes himself comfortable right where I need him NOT to be.

As “helpful” as all this is, it is still an improvement over his “help” earlier in the day.  You see, I started off Sewing Sunday with him knocking a full glass of water into my lap as I sat at my desk getting my sewing supplies in order.

Anyway I got a fair amount of work done on the quilt before retiring to bed, where the cat promptly deposited himself on my face for the night.

The end.

The Tooth of the Matter

Have I ever mentioned that all of my front top teeth are fake?  I’m sure I must have.  They are all crowns, put in the year before Oona was born, both to make my smile nicer and also because my real teeth are pathetically soft and prone to problems.

When I was pregnant with Oona I had that awful condition where you want to vomit for nine months straight.  For the first trimester I lived with it, considering that with the first two kids the nausea subsided by about the fourth month.  But, after three months or so of constant sickness I had lost enough weight that my doctor became concerned and had me take a wonderful anti – nausea drug so that I could actually keep down food and water for myself and the baby.  The vomiting stopped, but the acid reflux and the nausea never quite went away.  You can imagine what none full months of stomach acid swimming around your mouth does to your teeth.  Especially when the taste of toothpaste makes you nauseous.

This is all to say that I wound up with cracks all along the back of the newly installed crowns.  They held up admirably the last few years, waiting to be patched and fixed and replaced as can be afforded (and let’s face it: who has enough money in this economy to be constantly dropping thousands of dollars at the dentist?).

This week one of my front crowns decided it had had enough, and while eating a mouthful of spaghetti, it cracked and fell right out.  Crown, tooth and all.  I was horrified.  I’ve had nightmares like this.  And here it was, fully realized.  I refused to let anyone see for more than a quick flash to prove what had happened, and was thrilled when I got an appointment first thing the next morning for a quick fix.  Fortunately there is enough tooth left in the gum that the crown can be saved (he used temporary cement to glue it back on for now)  and I don’t have to go for an implant.  UNfortunately, I have only the temporary save until the new molds and posts and whatnot can be done and so I have to be very, very careful while eating, lest I knock it back out.  Thanksgiving isn’t going to be easy. I have been very paranoid about it falling out again before my next appointment for the permanent replacement.

Teeth and dental issues are one of those things that make me unreasonably angry and fired up.  With all of the talk in the news about health insurance, where’s the push for better dental insurance?  Let’s face it, almost everyone I know has put off dental work because of the expense.  People sacrifice their teeth as long as they can before having them fixed. It’s not like teeth are unimportant to our health, either.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we got 3 sets of teeth?  The baby teeth, the set we grow as children, and another set in our 30’s?

When I haven’t been hiding my hillbilly-esque smile from the world this week I’ve been busy with some super – secret knitting.

Between the holidays coming up and friends with new babies and friends expecting babies I am busier than ever.  I can’t imagine where I’ll find the time to get it all done; and I haven’t been over ambitious this year, either.

We’re also enjoying cozy season by bubbling large pots of chicken carcases to make stock.  I love the way the whole house smells after a day of slow – boiling the chicken with herbs and vegetables, and it’s most enjoyable to sit by the fire and knit all day while it simmers and sizzles on the stove.

Oona likes cozy – season food as much as I do.  Soups, stews, pies.  Tonight I am making a chicken pot pie and she is more thrilled than you could believe a four year old would be for such a thing.

These are definitely the days I live for.   But with better teeth.

Weekend Run – Down

Now that I have a moment to breathe and check in, I can tell you how packed my last few days have been!

It all started last Thursday when I met part of my book club at a sushi restaurant to talk about an “extracurricular” book some of us had read this year: The Hunger Games.

It’s a trilogy that’s been out for a few years now aimed at young adults, but almost all of my adult friends have read it.  They’re making it into a movie coming out in 2012, so if you haven’t read it yet, I HIGHLY suggest you do!  I don’t know anyone who’s read it that did not like it.  Both Emily and I read all three books in about the same number of days.

And now that I have mentioned it, I am craving wasabi again.  Go figure.

Saturday was an early day.  Caroline and I took a class through the local Cooperative Extension dealing with processing meat birds.  I’ve been thinking for awhile I might like to raise my own meat chickens and turkeys for the cost and health benefits, but I’ve been squeamish about it and not sure I could actually do it.  When this class popped up it seemed like the perfect time to see if I was ready.

No, I didn’t take any pictures.

Yes, I did process a chicken all the way.

This is what it came down to: there was a chicken in a killing cone (the bird is put upside down in an inverted cone to hold it in place and keep it calm) in front of me.  If I didn’t kill it, there was a line of people behind me ready to do it.  So….I apologized and thanked the bird, and I sent it to its maker. After that the rest was easy.  Anyone who’s cooked a full chicken or turkey for dinner could easily have done it.

After the bird is killed (as humanely as possible, I should add), the head removed, and the blood drained, the carcass is scalded for one minute to loosen the feathers.  Then the legs are removed and it is put into a Whiz-Bang feather plucker.

With the feathers gone all that remains is to pull out the organs, wash out the cavity, and package it for the freezer.  This part took some practice, but Caroline and I cleaned out several birds and it gets easier every time.

All class participants got a fresh chicken to take home for their freezer.

As for the killing:  I am not sure I could do it if I had raised the birds from chicks.  Fortunately Paul is willing to do that part if I handle all of the cleaning.  Fresh, free – range, drug – free chicken is a beautiful thing, and with any luck we’ll have our own flock of them going in the early spring.  I can also tell you this: raising your own food (and killing it) makes you much more thankful and mindful of every bite you eat.  It’s very hard to mindlessly shovel it in when you’ve worked hard for it and an animal’s life is forfeit by your hand.

Emily won’t be thrilled.

Sunday was also an adventure.  Susan had arranged for Caroline and I (we make a pretty damn good team, she and I) to drive to Manassas, Va to pick up her “Rent – A – Ram”.  Every fall, she leases a male sheep from another farm to breed with her ewes so we have lambs in the spring.

Paul built a fantastic crate to go in the back of the suburban, and Caroline and I were on our way to pick up Solomon, a beautiful Cormo Ram. Since it felt like we were cramming a Ram into the truck I got into the habit of calling it “Ram Cram 2011”.

It was a beautiful day and a beautiful drive up through rolling farmland (it killed me, every bit of it.  I need my farm already!).  We got Solomon and loaded him up in no time and were on our way with nary a hiccup.  We got him back to the farm as the light was failing and introduced him to his new pasture – mates.

I couldn’t have had more fun if I tried.  I didn’t get any pictures, though, so I blatantly stole this one from Caroline:

That’s Solomon being sniffed – up by one of my boys.  I can no longer tell Frodo and Finnegan apart.

He’s going to make some beautiful lambs!!!!


Halloween Hijinks, Part Two

This year’s Halloween Extravaganza was pirate – themed!  Almost everyone joined in and got piratey, except a few of us who chose to go all non – conformist (READ: Those of us who could not get it together in time).

Can you guess what I was?  A few people couldn’t, though most got it straight away.

Hint: Those are birds stuck to me.

Since you can’t read it, Paul’s label says : “I could not afford a Halloween costume this year.  I am the 99%”

Emily made her own costume this year.  She’s some sort of Japanese fictional character.  I don’t know either.

I think she looks like Esmerelda from Bewitched here, but not everyone agreed.

The kids filled up on sweet party treats, I filled up on too much………fun.  Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

Elizabeth’s husband led us all in a fun party game of Pirates vs. Villagers that was a lot of fun for adults and kids alike.

I only got lynched twice.

Halloween Hijinks, Part One

Happy Belated Halloween!  Did you all have a spooktacular weekend?  We did!

We attended our friend Elizabeth’s annual Halloween party, had a fun pumpkin carving evening with scary movies, spent the school day of Halloween watching Halloween movies, and went out into the night to gather candy with our friends Jessie and Keith and their family. I *may* have had too much Kraken rum that night.  But sea – monster themed rum seemed a perfect fit for a creepy night of fun!

There’s plenty of photographic evidence of the weekend’s festivities, but I am starting out here with the fruits of our pumpkin carving efforts. It took several hours for us all to be done, and thankfully Paul ordered pizza or we wouldn’t have had dinner until well after midnight.

Emily’s owl pumpkin.  She and Maddie decided to try patterns where much of the design is etched, rather than punched out.

Maddie’s “Flying Dutchman” ghost ship took the longest, but is very impressive.  I don’t know how she’ll manage to top it next year!

Oona did not do any carving, but she approved the pattern I used and emptied all the guts out.

Greasy Grimy Pumpkin Guts!

Mine and Oona’s Headless Horseman.  I am really happy with how it turned out.


Neve’s Graveyard scene.  She did all of the pattern tracing and all carving but the most delicate areas.

Paul did some of the shaded areas on the ghost ship with Maddie.

Oona and Maddie definitely engaged in some pumpkin – gut hijinks.

We set out our pumpkins Sunday night and lit them, and Monday morning found the chickens on the front porch pecking at them.  We managed to save them and keep the chicks away (mostly) for the day, but by the afternoon following Halloween they had pecked away all of the designs.  Since Halloween had passed we simply threw all of the jack o’lanterns in with all the chickens and let them eat them.  They did a fair job of it, exceeded in their efficiency only by the goats last year.

Next up: the annual Halloween party!