December 31, 2008

Some things are just too beautiful...

Since the image is too big you'll just have to trust that you really do want to click on this link to find out what exactly is so beautiful.


One of the best prank ideas I've seen in a long time.

Thoughts on Christmas and getting it all done

I thought I'd get a start on some of my thoughts about the Christmas season. First of all I want to say that in certain respects this Christmas was rather smoother than last one. Allen and I really tried to communicate clearly about our own cultural expectations of Christmas (ie how it was celebrated growing up, and how we'd like to celebrate now.) That doesn't mean that we didn't discover a few zingers under the surface. That's just married life I suppose. We were able though to get on the same page about a few thing like approximately how many presents belonged under the tree.

In many ways this Christmas was about me learning to manage expectations and priorities. I really can't do it all. I couldn't do it last year when I was at home all the time, and I certainly can't do it now with a job and various other commitments. But I sometimes liked to pretend I can. Those were the days I came home late, tired, and cranky. On the whole though, cookies, crafts, and decorations that couldn't be fit in on a particular day were pushed to another day or trimmed altogether. I still overworked myself and stressed out about how much I was getting done, but I really don't think to the extent I would have if I hadn't been looking for ways to actively manage how much I expected to do on any given day. One day in particular I had to relinquish my plans for the good of others when I really, really didn't want to even think about doing so. It all came out ok though. There really wasn't anything I didn't do that will much matter in ten years.

Things I think I would change to help with Christmas next year:

Make several lists: Sometime in early Nov/late Oct I think I should sit down and make a list of everything I want to get done -looking at my expected schedule for the month and where I think everything could fit. Then I think I should look back at that list and make two more off of it -things I would least mind cutting if time doesn't allow and things I would most like to add if time does allow. I should probably get a list from Allen too. This might sound like make-work, but I tend to loose sight of priorities when I get busy ie trying to get something done a week before I should when there are other things that really needed to get done first. Having some sort of list/time-line would possibly help.

Cook early/make smaller batches: I made about 30 cheese balls sort of at the last minute before Thanksgiving. It was a lot of work, took more than a few hours, and now my freezer is full of cheese. That is easily something I could make in smaller batches a week before Thanksgiving and a week or so after if needed. Ditto for various cookies etc.

Plan meals better: Fortunately I had plenty of leftovers on which to glide through the week or so before Christmas. Week after Christmas when I'm plenty tired and could use the help? Nah. So next year I want to plan to have more leftovers/freezer meals available so that I have more time/energy for continuing the celebration on towards Epiphany.

Really plan for Christmas Eve: By this I mainly mean plan not to have lots of dishes in the sink and stuff strolled around on the floor. Christmas Adam all my plans hit the fan which meant that when we left to go see my cousins not only were things not done, but I didn't really have a chance to clean up from the things I did. Carry that over to Christmas Eve when I ended up going to work, running a last minute errand, wrapping presents, and baking/decorating cookies. Need I mention that Christmas Day the apartment was hardly sparkling? And in the natural relaxing that follows a big effort I've sort of lost momentum here. The apartment, I regret to say, is still not sparkling. For that reason I think it'd be wise to really try and plan to have things cleaned up by at least noon Christmas Eve and henceforth not to pull out anything we'd be too tempted to leave on the counter overnight. This isn't because I don't think you can have fun and celebrate until everything is perfect but because it's hard to find your traction when things have sort of piled up, and you're tired from planning/doing/celebrating.

I have more thoughts on Advent and Christmas that I want to get up later. For now though I need to eat.

Hopping John

Can anyone please explain to me why anyone would want to make hopping john with tomatoes? Here's what you need for hopping john:

black-eyed peas
ham bone
bay leaf
chopped onion
maybe some hot sauce/Worcestershire sauce

See tomato or chili peppers in any combination on that list? Didn't think so. Also, it's not a soup. If there's broth then you're doing it wrong.

This reminds me that I need to swing by the store and grab a ham bone. Can't have New Year's Day without black eyed peas.

December 29, 2008

Gotta dash, but...

Just wanted to stop by to say I hoped everyone is having a wonderful Christmas season, and that their Christmas Day celebration was everything they hoped it would be. I have various thoughts about the season rattling around in my head that I'd like to get put down in words sometime, but for me the aftermath of the Christmas rush had been a free-fall into spending as much time as possible reading and/or playing computer games. Andrew has gotten me hooked on Kingdom of Loathing (accordion players ftw!), and Allen bought me Team Fortress 2 for Christmas (love playing pyro). Add to that a stack of library books up to my elbow, and you have a very chilled out Natalie.

To be honest I think I'm still catching up on my sleep. Allen and I stayed up until 5:30am on Christmas Eve baking cookies, watching movies, decorating gingerbread, and wrapping a few last presents. Christmas day I work up around 8:30. It was a lot of fun, but it does throw off your sleep. Playing new computer games can do that too. Better stop typing. I'm making myself tired.

December 20, 2008

The week before Christmas

So here we are hard upon our third Christmas together, and slowly things come together. My decorating is a tad more polished than it was our first two Christmases together. Things are more intentional. Goodness knows what I'm going to do with the extra ornaments though...maybe time to clean out that closet before putting everything back. It's funny how things happen. Last Christmas I was frustrated that I was too tired/sick/depressed to get much done in the way of baking. This year I'm frustrated that I'm too busy to get much done in the way of baking. It's still frustrating, but I'll call it progress. Better to be too tired for gingerbread after a day of working/running errands/helping at church/babysitting/etc than to wake up tired and go to bed tired from the sheer weight of living. Even though I'm not always doing what I like, I'm certainly doing much more than I was. It's funny. Last Christmas when I didn't have a job or many obligations I was too depressed to really do the things at home that I wanted to do. Now that I have a job I find myself craving time at home to do all those things I never did. I have to wonder what it's going to be next year. I daren't think that I'll finally get it all together. At any rate all this has made the search for traditions somewhat difficult. Traditions take time, space, and energy that it's often hard to muster. A large breakfast on Christmas Eve sounds great. I'd even love to try making homemade donuts sometime. But who really wants to clean up the dishes? It's a lot easier with four women in the kitchen than one. And what if your idea of a good morning is not having to be up at a certain time? It's little stuff like that that makes traditions hard. I know that I only have so much energy. Do I spend it cooking, shopping, cleaning, crafting, or generally making Christmas? My list can only be so long, and I often need to make it shorter.

That said, here are a few things we have enjoyed doing:

Helping Mamaw decorate for Christmas. It really is one of the highlights of Christmas for me. We always have the best time down there with her, and she appreciates it so much.

Planning a Christmas outing. Allen and I have heard the Messiah, been to a jazz concert, seen Trans Siberian Orchestra, and gone to see an old movie. It's always been something different, and we've always enjoyed it.

Watch Christmas in Connecticut. It's one of our favorite Christmas movies. My family always enjoyed watching Christmas movies together, and every Christmas Allen and I pull out a few we especially like -including A Christmas Story and We're No Angels. Allen's not such a fan, but I may have to find a copy of Scrooge to watch. The music is just so good.

Christmas Eve looking at lights. This is one left over from my family. Every Christmas Eve Allen and I get Arby's and drive around looking at Christmas lights just like I used to do with my family. Pringles are important.

And of course we go visit various grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins on various sides of the family.

But my favorite tradition is Christmas Day. In the morning we pack up our presents and go over to his parent's house for breakfast and presents. Then we drive down to the farm for more presents and all the food we can possibly eat. It's wonderful fun.

December 17, 2008

you'll shoot your eye out!

If you've never seen A Christmas Story you really should give a try. It's not to everyone's taste, but you need to see it at least once. Allen and I went with our pastor and his wife to see it at the Alabama Theatre last night and really enjoyed it. You don't often get a chance to see these old classics on the big screen and in such a beautiful theater. One of the fun things about the Alabama Theater is that before the movie they always bring up their organ and have a sing-a-long before the show. Christmas music on a Wurliter is another thing everyone needs to experience at some point in their lives.

It was fun seeing A Christmas Story with someone else who had grown up with it. Allen is rather a newcomer to the movie, but apparently Tom grew up listening to Jean Shepherd telling stories on the radio his dad kept blaring at night while everyone else slept. And Tom understands about the marathon TNT/TBS does every year. On Christmas Eve after you've opened your new Christmas pj's everyone sits down with their hot cocoa and watches Ralphie trying desperately to convince someone that a Red Ryder BB gun is the perfect gift for a certain nine year old boy. Then, on Christmas day, after the presents are opened, we'd turn on the tv and watch a scene or two, clean up or get something to eat, turn it on again to watch a scene or two, and so on through out the day. One thing that makes Tom so cool is that he gets it. Watching A Christmas Story two or three times a season has been a part of my Christmases growing up that not many other people understand, and my pastor gets it. There is just something so neat about that.

December 12, 2008

Mamaw moments

Going to visit Mamaw is like pulling up a rocking chair to an especially cozy hearth and snuggling down on a misty day. Which is not to say that Mamaw owns the hearth in question but only because she is that cozy corner. She is simply the warmest, most comfortable, most loving person I have ever met. Well last night Allen and I went down there to help her decorate for Christmas. We did it last year, and I've been looking forward to it ever since. Unfortunately we got down there sort of late because Allen has been helping his mom with some computer work she needed done for her new health shop. But we put up her tree and set out all the little houses on her tables. We even strung up some lights outside that I'd found on sale last year and been waiting for a chance to put up at her place ever since. It looked so cheerful when we drove away with those colorful lights swagged across the porch and around the window and doors. After we were done we went into the kitchen for beans, casserole, and sweet potatoes. For good old cooking you can't really beat Mamaw's beans. They are amazing. Before we ate thought Mamaw wanted to see us dance. So Allen put on an Andrews Sisters cd, and we showed off some of our Charleston in the tiny space between the island and the kitchen table. Of course she was delighted, and I remember thinking that these are the sorts of moments that make life sweet. Colorful lights shine outside on the porch, and a tree twinkles in the window while over the great old tv stand the houses of tiny cottagers glow like a picture storybook. Inside the kitchen trumpets softly blare as the grandmother laughs with delight over her two grandchildren dancing just for her. Those are the special moments you only get with someone like Mamaw.

After we'd decorated, danced, and eaten our fill we hugged Mamaw extra tight, told her we loved her, and drove away into the drizzling night leaving behind one of the warmest homes I've ever known.

December 10, 2008

four kids 5 and under

Every time I have a "mommy" experience I start to realize how big of a hug these women deserve. Today while babysitting for one of my friends I ended up picking up three kids from school while toting around the baby. Then home for lunch and "please just nobody die/play time" until one mom came to pick her two up and my friend came home. Now you must understand that none of the kids were actually being bad. The baby was protesting a little and dumping her cheerios on the floor but otherwise ok. The three year old was trying to help with the baby and tag along with the "big kids." The two oldest were irritating each other as only a five year old girl and boy can irritate each other when one wants to play one thing and one wants to play another. Then, after the two girls had been picked up, I went and cooked supper, made another casserole type dish to put in the fridge for later, rinsed/washed my dishes, and played hungry hippo with the middle child before heading home. I realize, naturally, that this isn't a tithe of the work most moms do in a single day, but my hat certainly goes off to all the moms out there. You certainly do a lot, and you deserve all the help and support you can get.

December 8, 2008

Grown ups and Christmas trees

Part of my life lately seems to concern finally figuring out how grown ups do things -like wear make-up and decorate Christmas trees. In former years I have been firmly in the "just pile it all on" school of Christmas tree decorating. But this year....I did not put every single ornament I own on the Christmas tree, and I think I owe a lot of that to watching my friend Jennifer surveying her vast mountains of Christmas ornaments and pulling out the colors she wanted. I must say that I rather like the effect. Sure there's a hodgepodge of gifts from Granny and Mamaw, our first Christmas ornaments, childhood ornaments from Allen's mom, hand painted (me) ornaments of the twelve days of Christmas, and of course my apple ornaments. What you don't see though are the indigo and periwinkle glass balls with snowflakes on them or the snowflake design ornaments. I just looked up at my tree with it's array of ornaments and realized it really didn't need any of those ornaments. The result is a rather pleasing (if eclectic) assortment of red, greens, whites, and golds. Speaking of which, since this is the first large tree I've had since Allen and I got married I didn't have enough garland to decorate it, so I ended up twirling some red plaid ribbon from the top. Really looks nice. My tree topper is an origami star Allen folder for me either last year of the year before. Love it.

December 6, 2008

Christmas is coming...

Allen and I bought our first live Christmas tree! I'm so excited. That little tree I've got was fine for a third story apartment, but now I'm so glad we're going to have an actual live tree. It's a big one too. About 7' tall I'd say. It's out on the patio right now. I think we'll leave out there for the night and decorate it tomorrow sometime either before or after church.

Lindy Hop Christmas

Went to the Christmas dance. Had a blast. Brain too tired to make much more sense of anything than that. Swing out!

December 3, 2008

Tired and then more tired

Well Advent has opened with a bang of sorts. Monday I went to work, spent about an hour picking up and delivering a friend's child, went dancing, and probably did something else I don't remember. Yesterday I spent six hours at a friend's house babysitting, driving kids around, baking cookies, and helping her get Christmas decorating underway. Then I went home and cooked supper. Today I went to work, ran errands, went downtown to hang out with kids from a housing project near our church, baked two apple pies which I took to community group, came home, did laundry, and picked up a bit. Tomorrow I'm going to go to work, run errands, pick up my friend's daughter from school, help out a little, drop this same girl off at dance, and then hopefully spend a few minutes pulling out a few of my own Christmas things. Friday I have work and our Christmas dance. Saturday I go back to my friend's house for more decorating, cooking baking, hanging out fun. Sunday? I think I will plan to do nothing whatsoever. And lest it sound like my friend is taking advantage of me I want to point out a few things: A. she pays me to come help her out. B. I enjoy doing it. C. I know I can say no whenever I need to -whether I actually do or not is my problem and not her's. All this to say I've been very busy and am quite tired. I really don't think I'm staying up much longer. Hopefully things will slow down a bit soon.

December 1, 2008


Funny how life happens. I think last year we put up our tree the first Sunday in Advent. This year Advent opens to find nary a bit of tinsel around my little home. But tonight at I church I saw the children come forward to hang their ornaments on the Jesse tree and felt my spine tingle when the congregation broke into "Hark the Heralds, Angels Sing!" for the first time this Christmas season. So tomorrow looks like it will be busy, but bit by bit I'll start unpacking my Christmas decorations and setting them about. I honestly think a bit of my tardiness has to do with pre-Thanksgiving business combined with Black Friday exhaustion. I'm usually not a mob shopper, but Black Friday has proved a convenient time to fill in my Christmas list. However 8-10 hours of shopping on 5 hours of sleep is not a great way to start a productive weekend -especially when you're trying to pile more family time of top of it.