Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ringing It In

This time of year prompts summaries of the milestones and memories from the past twelve months. But I am leaving all of that to news anchors and snarky commentators because I am so excited about our plans for tonight!

A whole gang of friends is coming over for New Year’s Eve and the occasion is especially exciting because we hardly ever get hang out all together. We all worked at a camp in the Pocono Mountains within the past five years where we forged amazing friendships. Nowadays, we’re scattered all over the place so it’s hard to make schedules coincide and we grab any chance we can, even to help each other move. Tonight is just one of those chances and I am looking forward to it so much.

Because I need to continue the trend of stuffing my face during my time off, there will be a ton of food. Thanks to JG, the fridge is full of dips (taco, spinach and artichoke, and seven-layer) ready to be baked and the new chocolate fountain is ready for its debut with marshmallows, pretzels, and graham crackers playing supporting roles. Towers of Tupperware are packed with jumbo chocolate chip cookies, sour cream cookies, brownies, and a batch of surprise birthday cupcakes for one of our friends. Everyone is staying the night to watch the Penn State bowl game tomorrow and I’ve prepped two crock pots full of yummy chili. It’ll stew slowly after we crash for the night, making the house smell amazing, so that we can devour it over baked potatoes during halftime. I love any excuse to make chili! I mean, I love seeing my friends and making chili for them…

We’ll play games (including The Best Game Ever, hopefully), catch up on our lives, watch the ball drop, and then cheer on Penn State to a victory against Tennessee. It will be a blast and I can’t wait.

May your celebration be as bright! See you in 2007!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Wishful Pictures

Sure, we took the normal Christmas photos of the dinner table all laid out, the whole family in front of the tree and various “ooh, look what I got!” poses during present-opening. I don’t know about you, but there are times when I wish I could create a print of whatever was going on. Sometimes it’s a camera in my eye; I would say, “click”, in my head and the resulting photo would be as sharp and spontaneous as it appeared to me regardless of things like lighting or talent. At other times, it would be some third-person photographer who just happened to be around to capture, say, JG and me bustling around to make Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, these are all figments of my imagination and the following great moments do not exist on film or in digital form, but it would be so great if they did.

  • The spread of appetizers provided by my non-cooking sister that included seven-layer dip and crabcakes. We were all duly impressed.
  • Me falling on the kitchen floor, gasping with silent laughter, thankfully out of sight, while my dad parsed out the details of the new Bond flick with my exasperated sister:
    Dad: You know how the girl told James Bond that the tuxedo was “custom”? What does that mean? How did she get his measurements?
    Sister: I don’t know, Dad, it’s just part of the movie.
    Dad: What is she, a psychologist?
    Sister: …
  • JG’s face when he thought we had received a third slow cooker.
  • JG’s face when it turned out to be a chocolate fountain!
  • My sister in each of her three outfits for Christmas Day. No exaggeration.
  • The amoebic pancakes – due to a strangely runny batter – that graced our Brunch Extravaganza. We also had eggs, sausage, fruit, coffee, juice, and an enormous coffeecake that I had to ration out to the rest of the family just so it would be eaten.
  • The hundreds of poinsettias we saw in the conservatory while taking in the holiday display at Longwood Gardens. Also, the gorgeous all-white tree in the topiary garden.
  • My dad scraping out the last bits of JG’s jambalaya out of a giant bowl. It was that good.
  • My mom throwing her hands up and whooping with delight that she beat all of us in Apples to Apples.
  • Me during Catch Phrase, with an intense, incredulous expression, while describing incomplete pass to my sister and mom: “This is when, in football, the quarterback’s throw is not caught by the receiver. … It’s not caught! What is that called?! Okay, what’s the throw called? Pass, yes! So, when it is not caught… it’s unfinished! Not done yet!” If they hadn’t figured it out after all that, I would have had to bust some heads.
  • My dad’s look of ecstasy when JG demonstrated the glory that is surround sound and my mom’s shifty, worried expression when she entered the living room and asked, “What’s all this ruckus?”
  • “The most awkward hug ever” as described by JG after he misinterpreted my grandmother’s indication to shake hands and went in for the embrace.
  • A quiet, clicking scene that should have qualified us for Electronics Anonymous: immediately after waving off my parents and grandmother, JG turned on the football game, I checked e-mail, and my sister and her boyfriend tapped intently on their Blackberrys. I am not sure that we could have stopped any time we wanted to.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

In the Quiet Afterward

We did it! We successfully hosted Christmas! My parents and grandmother left after breakfast, I just waved off my sister, and JG and I finally had the house to ourselves. Of course, the first thing we did was fire up the computer and check e-mail.

We surveyed the wreckage and, thankfully, it’s not that bad. We have a big plastic container of leftover London broil (we’ll have cheese steaks and fried rice aplenty), a pile of presents, and linens waiting to be washed. All in all, it was a good experience to host a family event and I would much rather do this than travel all over the place, but it is tiring. It’s a relief not to have to ask people if they need a drink or if they’re too warm or cool. I’ll be glad to wash all of the towels and replenish our dangerously-low supply. Running (and emptying) the dishwasher twice a day was not so fun, but it certainly helped our sanity level during the past few days.

Despite my tired feet and tendency toward yawning, it was a great Christmas. There was something about opening up the house, telling stories about the ornaments, and sharing baked goods that triggered a dormant hostess hormone in me. JG and I buzzed around the house, whipping up dinners, setting out cookies, distributing towels, and placing gifts under the tree. We worked well together and chuckled softly when my family made funny-without-knowing-it comments. I’m glad that we both emerged relatively unscathed from the holiday, not dreading the thought of seeing my family again but still enjoying the quiet respite of an empty house.

For now, I plan on lapsing into a nap while the laundry cycles through. We confirmed earlier in the day that JG’s mom and siblings are arriving tomorrow morning to visit us for a short while, so we’ve got to re-make up those beds tonight. I might be kicking myself for committing to so much later on, but for now, it’s just right.

Monday, December 25, 2006


When I was a senior in high school, I auditioned for and got a solo in the annual Christmas show presented by the chorus. I sang “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and did a tap dance number with Rudolph, or as much as a tap number as can be faked in sneakers or a reindeer suit. That year, one of my best friends, Kip, played Rudolph and we had so much fun with the song. He and I had always been in the same classes since fourth grade and even though we were polarized in terms of interests and temperament, we spoke the same language. I reminded him of when our assignments were due and he got me to loosen up, but most of all, we made each other laugh. Being friends since the fourth grade gave us plenty of fun times and being Rudolph & Girl was another one for the books. Somewhere, there’s a picture of the two of us from that performance, and I really wish I had a copy.

Kip’s birthday fell on Christmas Eve and one of our rituals was that he would tease me about how I’d never given him a gift for his birthday or Christmas. He knew that on the day before we got out of school for winter break, I’d hand him a candy cane taped to a Christmas card and say with a healthy dose of attitude, “Happy Birthday. Merry Christmas. Happy, now?” Kip would punch me, I would roll my eyes, and everything was how it should have been.

Just a few days after my twentieth birthday, I got a phone call at college with news that Kip had committed suicide. I boarded a train to go back home, where I wept silently during the funeral, and his parents cried when they hugged me. All I could think of was that however badly I was feeling, it must be so much worse for them. I ached with the knowledge that they were trying to comfort me. The anniversary of that week is still raw for me.

This morning, after reading a particularly poignant blog post, I sighed to myself, eyebrows furrowed. In response to my husband’s questioning eyes, I said slowly, “Yesterday was the first Christmas Eve that I didn’t remember that it was Kip’s birthday. In maybe fifteen years. And that makes me a little sad.” I hope I’m not on the path to forgetting, that the anniversary will go by and it’ll be just a regular day. I’m grasping at the memory, kicking myself for not remembering last night and having a quiet moment to reflect on it.

But the memory stings today when it's clear that not all of the tears are spent.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Night Before

I can hardly believe it, but everything is done. After I woke up at 6am and was unable to go back to sleep – very unlike me – I spent most of the day in the kitchen, wearing slippers and my new pajamas (thanks, JG’s mom!), while I measured ingredients and whipped mint icing and dipped finished products in chocolate. But I’m finished! Boxes of cookies are stacked up and a cheesecake is quivering in the fridge.

Tonight, per my request, JG and I will watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. It cracks me up to watch Lucy insist on being the Christmas Queen and that Schroeder should buy “pretty things for pretty girls.” I also laugh out loud when all of the kids sing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and they tilt their heads backward and open their mouths really wide – in unison! The best part, though, is when Linus takes the stage and says, “Lights, please.” Oh, I can’t wait.

Aside from the excitement of hosting Christmas (like a real adult or something) I’m savoring the time alone with JG most of all. Christmas brings out the contemplative in me, what can I say? It all reminds me of a certain strip from Calvin and Hobbes, my favorite comic. In 1989, Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, so cartoonist Bill Watterson wrote a poem for the occasion, framed by a single-panel, color illustration of Calvin leaning up against Hobbes in front of a toasty fire. I may not have a fireplace or a stuffed tiger, but I have a comfy couch and a wonderful husband, and the lines are pretty close to what I’m feeling now. From our quiet, cozy living room, I leave you this poem and the warmest wishes for a great Christmas.

On window panes, the icy frost
Leaves feathered patterns, crissed & crossed,
But in our house the Christmas tree
Is decorated festively
With tiny dots of colored light
That cozy up this winter night.
Christmas songs, familiar, slow,
Play softly on the radio.
Pops and hisses from the fire
Whistle with the bells and choir.
My tiger is now fast asleep
On his back and dreaming deep.
When the fire makes him hot,
He turns to warm whatever’s not.
Propped against him on the rug,
I give my friend a gentle hug.
Tomorrow’s what I'm waiting for,
But I can wait a little more.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

It's Crunch Time

There are two dry-erase boards in the kitchen: one is just for grocery store items and a larger one is for working out math problems (JG) or compulsive list-making (me). I derive great satisfaction from swiping my thumb across a task with a ringing “Done!” in my ears and a list of to-do’s that looks that much emptier.

Today calls for a Big List. We’ve jotted down all of the things we need to do before my family descends upon our house on Christmas Day and even though it’s not as bad as it could be, it’s still a little intimidating. It’s the last push, the final cram session! Thankfully, the majority of my list is baking. Between my family’s expectations and my church’s Christmas Eve festivities, I committed to quite a bit. By Sunday afternoon, I will have produced:

  • 8 dozen cookies (3 varieties)
  • 4 dozen brownies
  • A pumpkin cheesecake
  • A loaf of bread

Aside from a clean house and piles of baked goods, I’m looking forward to a prize at the end of it all. JG had the forethought to add “snuggle during a movie” to the list, so that’ll be a nice reward to successfully erasing off things during the day.

Here we go…

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

False Advertising

Last week, while celebrating JG’s birthday, I encountered a ridiculous product that I won’t ever use again. It’s a public service announcement, really.

After we ate our Chinese takeout and JG opened his presents, I set off to frost the cake. I have zero cake-decorating experience, so when I was at the grocery store picking up supplies, I spied something called Easy Squeeze Decorating Icing. Ooh, you just screw on one of their handy decorating tips and off you go! I bought a tube of white and blue (flavors unknown, I guess) and I was all set. I wasn’t worried that I had left the actual decorating to the day of because, really, how long was it going to take? My plan was to write, “Happy Birthday” in white, do a nice thick, scrolly border in blue, and then I’d make random white flecks across the border to satisfy the “lots of frosting” request from JG. Simple enough, I thought:

Okay, so the writing should be narrow. Here’s the smallest tip. Threading it on was easy enough. So, I’ll just squeeze it out and write out the words. Maybe in cursive? That would be fancy. Man, I’m squeezing really hard and nothing is happening. Oh, I see, I have to squeeze hard enough to get the tip to fill up with icing, too. Okay. Good, here’s the icing coming out! Now, I can start my letters!

What the heck?! Why isn’t the icing sticking to the cookie?! I guess I need to apply more pressure, but my hand is already killing me and the cake only says, “Hap”. That’s not even a word! Maybe the narrow tip is the hardest one to squeeze. I’ll try the biggest one for a little bit. … Oops, I can only fit “Bday” in with this one. Argh! It’s still not sticking! Whatever, I’ll just pick up the “y” and put it in place. There.

I’m sure it’ll be easier to do the border, so let me break into the blue. Okay, and I’m using the second biggest tip… Here we go. What is the blue stuff leaking out?! Agh, it’s all over me. No, not on the cookie…! Too late. I’ll dab that off with a paper towel. All right, let’s give this a try. I’ve seen people make those little wavy humps to make a pattern, so maybe I can do that. More leakage! What in the world! And the more I squeeze, the more it leaks! But my hand really hurts. This isn’t working. I hate this stuff!

I ended up flipping the tube of icing over, slashing it open with my kitchen shears, and glopping the icing along the cake’s edge with a butter knife. But then I studded it with extra chocolate chips because I’m classy like that. An hour after I began, I presented the mangled thing with aching hands. JG liked the end result, but I felt like the whole thing was mocking me. Stupid icing. Unless your day job consists of testing those tension dolls with pop-out eyes, those ridiculous tubes are not easy to squeeze. I shake my fist at you, Easy Squeeze Decorating Icing! Never again!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Bubble Burst

It all started when we heard “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on the radio.

Radio: All of the other reindeer…
JG and RA: Reindeer!
Radio: …used to laugh and call him names.
RA: Like Pinocchio!
JG: Like Funny Face!
Both of us: What did you say?
(Meanwhile: “They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games”)
RA: Like Monopoly!
JG: Like football!
Both of us: What?!

Those echoes aren’t really something to debate reasonably, even if you are well-informed adults, if we do say so ourselves. We just learned them in different ways, so the logic ended up being really sophisticated, such as, “How would Rudolph play football?!” and “His nose didn’t grow, so Funny Face would make way more sense!” We ultimately agreed to disagree and mused about how some things are simply left up to regional differences.

A few days later, JG said out of the blue, “So, I surveyed the other teachers in my lunch at school about the whole Rudolph thing. (Oh great, I thought, everyone thinks football is a reindeer game.) Half of the people had never sung the echoes before and half of them agreed with you!”

Oh, wow. I win?

He continued, “I still can’t believe no one had even heard of calling Rudolph Funny Face.”

JG seemed so disappointed at this recent disillusionment that I didn’t have the heart to rub it in. I didn’t even launch into the “I Told You So” dance from Will and Grace, even though I do love any excuse to break that one out. But that would not be in line with the Christmas spirit, huh?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Tree Nostalgia

It’s a little bit strange to have a Christmas tree that’s not my parents’ artificial one, sitting in the back of the living room by the piano. It’s odd not to unwrap the old funky ornaments that I made in grade school or the ones with zigzaggy trim that my mom made when my parents were first married. I felt a little disoriented last year without my familiar Christmas surroundings. Now that it’s our second married Christmas, though, I enjoy the feeling that JG and I have started to establish our own little traditions, and it all started with the ornaments.

In the summers between semesters at college, JG and I worked at a summer camp as lifeguards and counselors, where one of the traditions is to have a staff reunion at the annual New Year’s Eve party. Every year, any engaged couples from the course of the year receive an ornament shower to furnish their first Christmas tree, and two years ago, JG and I were the recipients. I appreciated it so much because our tree features the ornaments we received that night and we may not have had many ornaments otherwise. Some of them are pretty generic, but that’s okay – not everyone knew us well. We really like the snowman made up of ice cubes and the Noah’s ark, but we don’t remember who gave them to us. Others are amazingly personal and I have loved unwrapping and hanging them on the tree.

  • A miniature, scaled lifeguard chair that one of JG’s eventual groomsmen created just for us
  • A chubby moose on skis, based on a joke that JG is a “fat moose”, when he is super-skinny in reality
  • A bejeweled glass ornament crafted by a former camper who happens to be an art major
  • A handmade collage of scenes from The Emperor’s New Groove, our favorite movie, which we forced our fellow staffers to watch several times
  • An “Our First Christmas” picture frame ornament from the other engaged couple that year; we attended their wedding almost exactly a year after our own

With help from our parents, JG and I have supplemented our initial collection with sentimental ornaments from our childhood like JG’s “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament and my building block with my initials. We both love the patchwork tree where it’s all mixing and not really matching – not like those pre-planned trees that you see in catalogues. I like to think that it’s like a photo album that spans all of the years, and it’s always nice to flip through the pictures and recall the fun times.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

An Unreliable Narrator

I realized this week that I was in the middle of a memoir streak – three in a row. In my running loop of a reading list, I usually try to alternate fiction and non-, but this trend caught me by surprise. In two weeks’ time, I’ve gone through Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris; ’Tis, by Frank McCourt; and Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs, with varying levels of affection. That is, I liked them all except the last one, which I read in the past twelve hours with the compulsion that comes from watching a train wreck and wanting it to end. I’m interested in how others may have felt about these books, but that’s not this is about; I don’t pretend to be a literary critic.

As I read both Me Talk Pretty One Day and ’Tis, I thought, “This is what my professors meant by showing, rather than telling.” I could picture David Sedaris’s strange performance pieces and shuddered at the awkwardness when his parents attended. I was next to Frank McCourt when he swept floors at the Biltmore and shared his sadness when he returned to Ireland for a less-than-joyful family reunion. Their stories were captivating because they were true and, sometimes, that very fact made their sadness and pain much more acute. I wanted to absorb the authors’ fluidity of language that made the words actually convey what happened, instead of producing a dim shadow that leaves the storyteller muttering, “I guess you had to be there.”

I’ve been struck by the idea that perhaps this phase of reading has been spurred by my entrance into the blogosphere. What are bloggers doing, if not creating a memoir of sorts? I’m interested, even invested, in the blogs I read because I know there is a real person typing out that story with any bias, background information, and baggage that might come along. I know memoirs have gotten the shaft lately because they may or may not be true and that makes me a little bit sad. It might be na├»ve, but I would like to take memoirs for what they’re worth and believe that they’re true accounts. What can you do? Even with the best of intentions, we all write from a point of view and unfortunately, none of us can assume the third-person omniscient one. I’m one of countless unreliable narrators, like Nick from The Great Gatsby.

My recent reading has challenged me to think of this little blog as a modern memoir. I don’t have delusions of publication or even slightly widespread renown – it’s just a collection of memories where I try my hardest to show and not just tell.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Party Time!

What do Nostradamus and Patty Duke have in common with my husband? They were all born on December 14! Which is today!

After I race home from work, it’s an evening featuring some of JG’s favorite things for his birthday celebration:

  • Eating Chinese takeout
  • Opening presents
  • Having chocolate chip cookie cake, with “lots of frosting”, per his request
  • Watching Survivor and CSI

It’s a school night, so it won’t be too wild, but it’s all about him, and that’s what really matters, right?

Happy Birthday, JG!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


“Try this,” I commanded, sticking a cookie in front of JG’s nose. I had detected an error in my execution and wanted to see if the batch was salvageable. It was Sunday and fairly late in the evening for making cookies.

He took a bite. “Um, I think it’s fine. What’s wrong?”
“An extra stick of butter! I forgot that a stick was a half cup, and I used an extra stick of butter!”
“Well, it’s moist, all right.”

My office has an annual cookie swap for the holidays and I thought it would be nice to send a batch of snickerdoodles, my swapping cookie of choice, to our headquarters in San Francisco. This crepe-like batch was supposed to be for my co-workers out west and I could not send them the fat-laden cookies with a clear conscience. I tipped the unbaked balls of dough into the trash, along with the cookies that had spread from their own continental drift. I had baked Pangaea on my hands, extra-fatty.

“I am such a baking failure this weekend,” I complained dramatically.
“That is so not true. Two out of the three things you baked this weekend came out right.”

Okay, fine. It had been a highly domesticated weekend for me and it wasn’t all bad. I made another loaf of no-knead bread (now informally dubbed “weekend bread” at our house) that came out all crusty and wonderful; it sacrificed itself to give us top-notch grilled cheese sandwiches yesterday. I also experimented with miniature pumpkin cheesecakes intended for my family at Christmas. I’m pretty good at regular-sized cheesecake and individual portions of anything can be so darn cute, so I couldn’t resist. They ended up quite tasty, but I just don’t think cheesecake is a finger food. JG and I peeled off the cupcake wrappers and weren’t sure what to do with it. Just shove it in your mouth? It seemed rather coarse for what I had thought would have been a dainty finger food. What was the point of mini cheesecake if you have to get a fork to eat it? I may as well just make the normal big cheesecake since I know what I’m doing.

Then the buttery snickerdoodles. I was irritated primarily because I’ve made those cookies since nursery school, rolling the balls of dough with my mom at the kitchen island. Shouldn’t I know how to make them by now? I love watching the cookies rise up into little cinnamony hemispheres and then crumple back up later on, giving the impression of a perpetually furrowed brow. Baking is a mysterious alchemy to me; you start with humble ingredients and end up with something totally different and delicious from the properties of gluten and protein. JG chuckles at me crouching, entranced, in front of the oven door. But this time, I had to wash a sinkful of dishes, an additional source of annoyance, for cookies that ended up unbaked and in the trash can.

That’s how, today, I ended up making my third batch of cookies in three days. I shipped out yesterday’s batch out to San Francisco and tonight’s four dozen are packed up for the cookie swap on Thursday. Tomorrow holds yet another workout for my mixer, but making JG’s chocolate chip cookie birthday cake should be fun. If nothing else, I look forward to an adventure with frosting...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Metal and Carbon

I look at my engagement and wedding rings a lot ... three times in an hour is probably a low estimate. I imagine that someone seeing the frequent gazes at my finger – maybe passing by my desk at work or standing behind me at the pharmacy – might think that I'm a brand-newlywed, but I'm okay with that.

The rings lure my eyes so easily but they're very simple. My wedding band is a plain, white-gold band and it sits snugly behind my engagement ring, which is a thin, white-gold band with a round-cut diamond. My sister commented that I had “gone way traditional” when she first saw it, but that’s what I think engagement rings look like. I don’t have a rock that will blind someone across the room, but I’m a small person, and I wanted something in proportion to me. When I look at it, I remember the first time I realized how amazingly reflective diamonds are. I was sitting at my computer and my hand drifted into the sunbeam that fell across my desk. Tiny points of light danced on my wall, and I moved my hand slightly, transfixed at the spots’ movements. I was stunned that the ring on my very own finger could create that much light and play. I still like to see how lamplight is reflected within and outside of the stone, but that’s a bit of the inner geek talking.

Sometimes, for just a few minutes, I take off my rings and wear one at a time. I feel like they embody different stages of my life. The engagement ring is anticipation: wearing it alone brings back the excitement of wedding planning, showers, and the pleasure of telling how JG proposed. The wedding ring is contentment; the solitary band is modest and symbolizes a long, strong commitment. It’s uncluttered and quiet, the way I’d like to be in the future. My rings give me aspirations of optimism and serenity and I like them together because of it.

Pragmatically, I know that these pieces of jewelry are just metal and carbon and these cold, hard materials do not intrinsically inspire affection and awe. What is it, then?

Ah, it’s the giver. Yes, I think of anticipation and contentment when I see them, but most of all, I think of JG. I remember him down on one knee and at the altar. I remember saying yes and saying vows. That’s a lot to handle, and somehow, all of it is compressed into these two rings. No wonder I look at them so often. Maybe I’ll be able to wrap my head around it one of these days.

Until then, I’m satisfied to look my rings periodically, and occasionally flutter them in front of JG and say, “Look how pretty!” as he shakes his head. He knows I love them and him, but not in that order.

Friday, December 8, 2006

The Nerdiest Gift (So Far)

Because my husband is a math teacher who loves his subject like most people love chocolate, I tend to give rather nerdy gifts. A good example might be The Colossal Book of Mathematics, a collection of Scientific American articles, which JG has called "the best book ever" without even a hint of sarcasm. But this year, I may have outdone myself.

One of JG’s birthday gifts this year was a year’s membership to the National Scrabble Association (NSA). That’s right, there’s an association. With it, the lucky recipient gets eight issues of the NSA newsletter, a nifty membership card, and best of all, lists of handy words for slaughtering opponents. These lists contain categories like “2-letter words that start with J” and “3-letter words that can become 4-letter words”. I’m afraid that I have made my Scrabble-playing life much, much harder.

I was going to present this token of geekhood next week in a neatly-wrapped box containing a correspondingly-nerdy tree ornament and the list of membership perks. But no, the darn newsletter had to come in the mail today and JG found out about it prematurely. Curses! So I scrambled around to grab the list and the ornament – neither wrapped, grr – and give them to JG so that he could break into the newsletter. Happy early birthday, I guess.

Well, any worries about this gift being too over the edge were clearly unnecessary. While I watched Barefoot Contessa, he sat on the couch, contently reading the newsletter, taking note of tournaments in the Philly area, and skimming the word lists, all the while making thoughtful hmm noises. I leaned over and asked, “Do you like it?”

He smiled and said, “Yeah. After I get my master’s, I might consider studying for real so that I can compete in the tournaments.”

Oh, my. This may be more than I bargained for.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Practice Christmas

On Saturday, we had a practice Christmas dinner. I try to practice whatever I’m about to do whenever possible. I walked through my route around campus the day before my freshman classes started. I had a wedding rehearsal, and thank goodness for that. This particular dry run was motivated by the fact that I am paranoid about trying new recipes with company, and even more so when that company includes a mother who cooks everything from scratch and a grandmother who has high expectations of a Christmas celebration that has the gall to located somewhere other than her house. Oh, boy.

Together, JG and I made an approximately two-person-sized version of Christmas dinner and I was pleasantly surprised that we did it with very little slamming into each other or usurping kitchen equipment that the other wanted. We ended up very full of yummy London broil, garlic mashed potatoes, and green beans with pancetta. Half of my satisfaction was derived from simply reporting to my mother that my practice run went well, so ha! Let’s hear it for no disasters!

Oh, wait. There was a disaster, but not with the food. Saturday also included the ritual of Cutting Down the Tree and I don’t think it can be Christmas without an amusing tree story. This one balances out the wild success of the dinner dry run, I’m afraid.

Around mid-morning, JG and I went to a local Christmas tree farm to find The One with the trusty bow saw in hand. JG got it for his birthday last year for this express purpose. At least we weren’t the weirdos wearing Santa hats or the psychos with the chainsaw.

We eventually found the tree, and after JG posed for the mandatory picture of him brandishing the saw at it, he cut it down and we made our way to the parking lot. I was carrying the little end of the tree in the back of the operation, so I couldn’t see where I was going at all. Suddenly, in front of Mr. Santa Hat and Son, I felt my ankle give way in a little hollow in the ground, and I thought, “Oh, no! The tree! Who cares about the tree?! Am I falling in mud here?” And down I went. Fortunately, the tree and I made it home in one piece, and JG proceeded to put it in the stand with very little trouble. We gloried in our good fortune and proceeded to lace it up with lights and ornaments galore.

Just before heading to bed, we heard a soft whooshing sound. JG and I turned to watch the tree crash down and hear that faint burble of the tree stand pouring itself onto the carpet. I stood paralyzed while JG ran over and yelled, “Grab the presents!” I rescued the boxes wrapped solely for the purpose of having something under the tree once we got it decorated and we began the sad process of recovering the tree. Ornaments were scattered around the living room – amazingly, none broke in the fall – the tree had to be re-positioned in its stand, and we tried to soak up the big water spot on the floor. After spending however many hours putting the whole thing together, it was very demoralizing to start over, especially since we had no idea what made the tree fall down after six hours of successful standing. I only just recovered and finished redecorating the tree tonight and I think it looks pretty good. It’s a little crooked, but it hasn’t fallen down in three days, so I think we’ll take what we can get at this point.

Monday, December 4, 2006

I Guess I'm It

Here we go – I've been tagged by Janet to identify six weird things about myself. It was a little bit of a challenge to separate the many, many geeky things about me from the almost as many weird things, but here we are:

  1. I love to dance in my kitchen, which is a small isthmus of hardwood in a sea of carpet. Turning pirouettes in my socks is one of my great joys in life. When JG gives me the inevitable eye roll, I always respond matter-of-factly, “Kitchens were made for dancing.” Okay, and maybe cooking and other stuff, but definitely dancing!
  2. My favorite movie is The Emperor's New Groove (not the straight-to-video sequel or the superlame television series) and I have seen it over 35 times. I probably say, "This is my favorite part!" twenty times throughout the whole thing. What, you haven't seen it? C'mon, you'll love David Spade in llama form. But I’ll warn you that it takes about three viewings to appreciate the quirkiness.
  3. I subconsciously anagram words in my head, producing gems like:
    - "You know what Madden anagrams to? Damned." – while watching football
    - "Mutiny plus I-M equals immunity, you know." – while watching Survivor
  4. If I'm writing with a pen, I only use blue ink if I can help it. My logic tells me that I'll be able to tell that my version is the original because blue photocopies to black. Because forgers and counterfeiters only use photocopiers, or something.
  5. Foods people usually eat by the handful I eat one at a time. Chips, Goldfish crackers, Smarties, and even Nerds. The one time I tried to tip the Nerds box backward into my mouth, I started to choke on one of the little buggers – that'll teach me! Since then, I've eaten them one at a time out of my hand. By size. Littlest first.
  6. I can lie on my stomach and arch my back so that my feet go over my head and are flat on the floor. And then I can stand up. This little ditty usually trumps all of the ear-wiggling, tongue-nose-touching human tricks in the room and it came in really handy during a game of Cranium when I had to act out "contortionist".

And…what do I do now? Eh, I tag whoever reads this, if you haven’t already done it…

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Bread Failure No More

I’d read all about Jim Lahey's famed No-Knead Bread and ogled pictures of a recipe said to be fool-proof – the answer to everyone’s bread woes! Say goodbye to finicky yeast and that rising and punching down business, they said. I love to bake, but bread kind of scared me. This seemed like a nice challenge, so I ran out to get myself some rapid-rise yeast and set to work.

Not once, but twice, I managed to make myself some no-knead bread…soup. When I got to Step 2 and tried to fold my dough, it was like trying to fold oatmeal. It spilled all over my board and brief, panicked images of The Blob ran through my head. I sadly poured my so-called dough down the drain and then I felt a little sadder because I was able to pour it. It doesn’t feel good to be the fool against whom a recipe should be proof.

Downcast, I wrote an e-mail to Deb and Luisa in case they had time to troubleshoot my bread-making woes. Because they are lovely people (or perhaps because my plight was that pitiful), they both commiserated with me sympathetically and had two collective suggestions: try incorporating bread flour and add water gradually, even if I didn’t add the full listed amount.

I got myself some bread flour and waited until this weekend to try out the suggestions. I used half all-purpose flour and half bread flour, tentatively added water to the dry goods, and lo and behold! Dough! Shaggy and sticky, just like the recipe said! I gave a little whoop and stopped myself from compulsively adding the rest of the water, even though it makes my eye twitch a little bit to mess with baking recipes. I think it’s the chemistry person in me.

Twenty hours later, I pulled out my hand-me-down Corningware casserole dish from the oven containing a squat, square-ish loaf of bread. The bread made pleasant but unnerving popping noises as it cooled and when tapped, the crust echoed with a nice hollow sound. After letting it cool for a while (“I can hold it now; can I cut it?”), JG busted into it with the bread knife. He slathered his chunk with butter and pronounced it good. The request came quickly for two, no, three loaves to be baked for Christmas. I raised an eyebrow and crunched into my own piece of yummy bread. I did a little victory dance in the kitchen – success!