Random Christmas musings

I have tried to write two posts in the last week, both of which have ended up who knows where. Here is my third attempt. We shall see if it actually happens.

Superwoman is felled by nasty common cold virus.

Sick two days before Christmas with the nastiest cold I have had in a long time. I could barely raise my head from my pillow. There was still a mountain of gifts to be wrapped in the basement, hardly any of the food for the Christmas Eve Party was made, the house was a mess…I was panicking, when I could think straight. Finally, on Christmas Eve morning, I felt like taking a shower and getting dressed, but I knew there was no way I could complete all of the party foods on my extensive menu, so that was my first red pencil act, slashing the new appetizers I had planned to try, and trimming some of the cookie choices (thank goodness I had made some in advance). Then the hard decision of uninviting our friends and former neighbors, and the family who bought our old house. They were very understanding, and made offers of help, which I turned down. I knew I would barely be able to be presentable for my family, much less for anyone else.

I managed to get the pork shoulder browned on the grill and into the Crockpot, and spent the next five hours wrapping gifts, hoping that our son and grandsons didn’t show up too soon. I made it through the pile, and got everything organized for the Eve openings, and the gifts to be opened at home. There was plenty of food, even enough to send home with our son, and to take to my in-laws the next day. David just had a told-you-so look on his face, because he had tried to get me to cut back even before I got sick. My face just said shut your pie hole.

Macs are wonderful until they’re not

We’ve had this MacBook for four years, and had never had a moment’s trouble with it, except having to replace a battery about two months ago. Until last week. Because of my cold, I thought I had better clean the keyboard before handing it over to David on Christmas Eve morning. Forgetting everything I knew (my brain was a little muzzy from the snot buildup), I used a disinfectant wipe on it without turning off the computer. Big NO-NO! David since surmised that it’s possible that all of the errant and random keystrokes must have made it lose its mind. Things were going everywhere. Screens jumping back and forth, losing posts and comments in the middle of writing them, the screen getting larger and smaller all on its own, and other weird happenings. It was impossible to control, so I just gave up and hung my head in shame. It still isn’t quite back to normal. I’ve had a bit of a challenge getting this post written, as it randomly jumps the cursor to a different place in the text while I’m typing, so if you see some random words inserted in places where they shouldn’t be, don’t blame me, blame the Clorox wipe.

Christmas happens whether you’re ready or not

Thankfully, I managed to get the bare minimum done, and stayed on my feet until all the gifts that I spent five hours wrapping were opened in fifteen minutes by six insane kids. Well, the older four did theirs in that time, the two younger ones were overwhelmed and had to be helped. They had plenty of that, because the older ones had nothing to do after they tore through their own piles. By this time the toddler was showing signs of being sick as well. We had to start his asthma breathing treatments, so he wouldn’t end up in the emergency room. By 9:00 p.m., he and I were out like the Christmas lights.

On Christmas morning David and I always go to his parents. They don’t like to travel in winter, and we don’t want them to be alone on Christmas. When we had talked about going a week before, the toddler overheard and started jumping up and down, saying, “Go to Ge-ma’s and Ge-pa’s house! Go in car!” Of course, he thought we were leaving that minute, so it took a bit of convincing that we would take him along when it was time.

So, not having had time to get anything ready in the days before Christmas, we had to pack clothes, food, and gifts (which I didn’t even get wrapped, but they don’t care anyway) into the truck. At the last minute, Kaitlyn decided that she didn’t want to be left at home (a decision that she would later regret), so we had to wait for her to get her things ready, and decide which toys she would take. All the while, Joshie (the toddler) is standing at the door yelling “Ge-ma’s and Ge-pa’s house!” over and over. And it was raining, so David couldn’t even take him outside to run off a little steam.

We finally got on the road, and as usual on Christmas day, there was no traffic. There were also no restaurants open for a three hour trip, except a Pizza Hut Express in a truck stop. I faintly remember the same thing happening the previous year, but not in time to plan accordingly. The pizza was awful—too much cheese that wasn’t baked thoroughly, the sausage was gross, just ugh. We ate enough to keep from starving, and put the rest in the back of the truck to take to the in-laws. They think frozen box pizza is just fine, so…

When we arrived at the in-laws’ house, and after graciously handing them the plastic bag wrapped gifts, I had to immediately throw myself into dinner preparations. My father-in-law wanted lasagna, which was sounding less and less appealing, especially after the “Italian” lunch we had just had, but I soldiered on and finally produced a reasonable facsimile of his beloved lasagna by 6:30. By then, everyone was starving, because they’re used to eating earlier, so it was highly praised, except by David and me (we could barely stand to look at it), and Kaitlyn, who decided plain noodles looked pretty good to her. Joshie just ate some cereal and some of the bread.

David’s cousin George and his wife Linda, one of my best friends, stopped by while we were eating, and stayed for a few hours. I hadn’t seen them in quite a while, so I was happy for their visit, but I wasn’t able to clean up the kitchen, and Joshie had to have his breathing treatment, which makes him wild enough to shoot at. So, after having only a five minute nap in the truck, five minutes before we arrived, he was up, running around like a little banshee, until they left at 9:00 p.m. It took me another hour to get him settled down enough to go to bed. I managed to get a cover on the lasagna pan and get it shoved into the fridge, and get the plates into the dishwasher before I laid down with him. I fell asleep before he did, while he was still chattering away about airplanes and monster trucks and goats and Santy Caus and Let It Go (lay it go in toddler speak.)

Frozen is just another word for mind control

We made the mistake of letting Joshie watch the Disney movie Frozen a few weeks ago. Now it’s all he thinks about. “Watch Lay It Go!” We hear this at least ten times a day. He’s two and he knows a lot of the songs, and sings them, in tune. We have to watch it at least once a day. Aimee took him for his annual well-check on the Monday before Christmas, and his doctor was pleased with how smart he is and how he’s growing, and he cautioned that he should get no more than two hours of screen time a day. He asked if we were sticking to that guideline, and Aimee agreed that we were. At home, she added, “If you don’t count Frozen.”

I understand his fascination. I’m kind of in love with the movie myself. I’ve always loved a good musical, and this one has some very good songs. Memorable songs. The kinds of songs that wake you up at three in the morning with the lyrics running through your brain on a constant loop. Did I mention mind control? And this Disney princess movie is based on a story by Hans Christian Anderson, The Snow Queen. It doesn’t have just one princess heroine, but TWO, and they’re beautiful. One funny and clumsy, one sad and tragic, but loving and sacrificing for her sister. I have to confess, when it’s on, I sing right along with them, and catch new little nuances every time. The writers and artists were very clever in that.

Really, I’m almost done

So, I survived another Christmas. I’m hoping I can invite my friends over on New Year’s Eve for a few of the things that I wasn’t able to make for Christmas Eve. I’m not inviting them yet, because I don’t want to jinx things. I’m nearly back to normal, whatever normal is, and the toddler is off the treatments, and back to his toddler self. Unfortunately, I think one of us gave Ge-ma our cold. She seemed to be starting symptoms last evening, when David called to let them know we arrived home safely. I feel guilty about that. But then it wouldn’t be Christmas without some kind of guilt floating around me.

Here’s wishing all of you a belated Merry Christmas! And a very happy New Year!

Pinterest is gonna be the death of me

Salted-Caramel-Sauce-11

Photo courtesy of Two Peas and Their Pod blog

I love Pinterest. I really do. It’s as addictive as Facebook. I’ve pinned hundreds of recipes I’ll never try, redecorating ideas I’ll never enact, quotes I’ll never remember (thank goodness Pinterest reminds me when I try to post one I’ve already posted), and crafts that I’ll never have time to make. It’s a great repository of someone else’s achievements and luscious pictures of great-looking food.

I have found some very good recipes there, and yesterday I tried a seemingly simple one:  Fleur de sel caramel sauce. Fleur de sel, meaning flower of salt, flaky, delicate sea salt, combined with caramel, what’s not to like about that? Four ingredients: sugar, butter, heavy cream, and fleur de sel. Couldn’t be simpler, right? Wrong!

My first mistake was deciding to double the batch. Most recipe authors include a warning if this is a bad idea, but there wasn’t one, so I figured I might as well get it over with in one mess. Second mistake was in not tripling the size of the saucepan, instead of doubling it. Third mistake was not letting my butter and heavy cream completely come to room temperature, and by room temperature, I mean close to the boiling point of the cooked sugar.

In the recipe, the author did give very detailed instructions. and what to watch out for. What they didn’t say was this is going to be extremely messy and time-consuming, not to mention that the failure rate is probably extremely high. They make it look so easy in the perfect photos.

The moment I started cooking the four cups of sugar (doubled, remember?), I knew I was in trouble. The whisk that they said to use was useless. I needed to use a wooden spoon, but by this time the sugar was starting to clump up in the whisk, and I didn’t want to lose any of it. Ha! If I had only known!

It took forever and a day for the sugar to liquefy and finally to turn the amber color that I was supposed to look for. Meanwhile, I’m whisking furiously to get out all of the clumps of undissolved sugar. There’s sugar cemented to the sides of the pan that I know is never going to dissolve, but at this point I just had to go for it. I decided to stick my finger in a little to make sure it didn’t taste burned. OMG, not a good idea!!! Ouch, ouch, ouch! Hot, burning, taffy sugar! I knew this, and still did it, because I’m a moron and forgot this would happen.

Then it was time to whisk in the three (yes, three) sticks of butter. This is where getting the right size pan is crucial. It does not incorporate willingly. The butter was sloshing everywhere, including all over the pants I was wearing. Good lord, will this experiment never end??? Of course, this step takes forever, too. Next comes the heavy cream. I knew when I picked up the container and felt a bit of coolness that my trouble was seriously going to intensify, but I was in too far now, and had to continue. Oh, lordy, what a mess! The mixture seized up, as you probably had already guessed, because that’s what hot liquid sugar does when it comes in contact with cool liquid. More furious stirring and whisking, trying to get out all the clumps, which, by the way, never completely happened.

I finally managed to get it fairly smooth, actually pulling out some of the larger clumps of solidified sugar, then I let it settle for a few minutes. I filled five half-pint jars without too much of a fuss with only minor sediment at the bottom. The teachers who are the recipients of this incredibly awful, but incredibly wonderful tasting concoction, will just have to deal with it. Maybe they’ll just think that it’s salt crystals in the bottom.

My kitchen looked like a caramel bomb had exploded in there. The cleanup was so much fun, and I kept finding little bits of caramel all day that I had to lick wash. Even the top of the coffee maker. What?

The caramel sauce does taste amazing. Will I ever make it again? No. Way.

See you soon,

Susan

Addendum: Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had the same trouble with their sauce. I went back to the post and read some of the 200+ comments, and there were several whose experiences sounded exactly like mine. I was a little peeved that these concerns weren’t addressed by the blog authors, but anyway, I guess they’re too busy coming up with other seemingly simple recipes to post. 🙂

I will try it again, using a couple of adjustments that I gleaned from an old recipe of mine, because I don’t like a recipe getting the best of me, and after eating some warmed over vanilla ice cream, I was blown away by its deliciousness (see my reply to Natalie in the comments.)  Mainly, I will add a small amount of water to the sugar prior to cooking. I’m pretty sure that will solve the clumping issue in that stage. Also, I will make sure that my butter and cream are at a warmer temperature. My room temp is probably much cooler than is required, and hopefully this will cure the problem with the seizing up.

Random musings

P1010456

 

Elf on the Shelf

In a moment of madness a couple of weeks ago, I succumbed to the current craze of Elf on the Shelf and bought one of the little buggers from a display at Kroger. I was inspired by all of the photos and ideas that people have posted on Pinterest. I was pinning cute and clever Elf ideas right and left—hundreds of them. Literally. Some of them sure to wow my live-in grandkids, especially if they thought I came up with the ideas myself, and who would be crazy enough to disillusion them? Then I started running into blog posts about how the Elf nearly drove the parents crazy. They would be settling into slumber, having finally gotten the overexcited and overstimulated youngsters into their own beds for the night, when suddenly they would realize that they forgot to set up the new Elf scenario for the following morning! So, they would have to get up and create some elaborate Elf shenanigans so that Junior wouldn’t be disappointed when he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.

I hadn’t yet taken the Elf out of the clever hiding place in the car, and I still had the receipt. I decided right then and there to save myself the month-long aggravation, and I returned the Elf to his rightful retail owners the very next day. The kiddos will never know any differently, unless, of course, they read my blog, and I don’t imagine that happening until they are well out of their Elf on the Shelf years.

Letting go

Decorating the Christmas tree is usually an activity that I look forward to each year. I have lots of beautiful glass ornaments that I have collected over the years (some are just memories), and I like to place them just so. I have to admit that I haven’t been quite as eager to get it done the last few years for various reasons. We got a new tree this year. A 9 1/2 foot tree to replace the 6 1/2 foot one. Yes, they’re fake. The last cut tree we brought home, meaning we went to a farm and cut it ourselves, got so dry by Christmas Day that the needles fell off by the handful if you accidentally brushed by it. The possibility of it catching fire and burning down the house scared me so much that I haven’t bought a “fresh” one since.

Anyway, decorating the tree has been the sole occupation of myself since day one of our marriage. Until this year. The live-in grandkids wanted to help. The oldest is thirteen, then there’s the eleven-year-old, the nine-year-old, and the toddler. The toddler was safely napping, so I said what the heck. Have at it. I knew I would micro-manage, so I took my knitting and a cup of tea and sat in the living room while they did the decorating with some help from their mom and her boyfriend. It was the most relaxed I’ve ever been during tree decorating, and I must say, they didn’t do too badly. They took into consideration that the toddler(s) would be VERY interested, and placed delicate ornaments up high or in the back, and sure enough, the toddler has since decorated the bottom third of the tree several times. Every day, actually. But it’s okay. I’m chill with it.

Speaking of knitting

I’m trying to teach myself to knit. It’s painful sometimes, both literally (carpal tunnel and arthritis) and figuratively. I’ve found a very helpful video series or two, but they can’t see what I’m doing and correct my mistakes. There’s a knitting class at the library, but it’s held at an inconvenient time for me to attend, and I don’t know anyone who knits who could help me, so for now, I’m on my own. I started out using a knitting loom, which is kind of fun and really fast, but it’s not real knitting, you know. I want to hear the click of the needles as I whirr speedily through a scarf or hat or mittens. I think I’ve mastered the garter stitch, and I’m attempting a scarf for Nathan, the eleven-year-old. He wanted bright orange, his favorite color, but I had this crazy bright ombre with orange in it, and he went crazy for it, so that’s what he’s getting. It’s coming along pretty well, but I dropped a stitch on one side the other day and couldn’t figure out how to pick it back up, so it’s a little funky right there, but Nate didn’t mind. It’s also quite sturdy, and I’m not sure why. It could be I’m knitting too tightly and the yarn is a bulky one, so maybe I should be using larger needles? Well, too late to go back and start over with bigger ones. I’m halfway done. If it doesn’t work out as a scarf, he can use it as a snuggly at bedtime. He’s very into soft, snuggly things. He never carried around a “bankie”, so I suppose he’s making up for it now.

There’s music in our house

We have two music students living here. Kaitlyn is taking piano lessons on a piano that we bought from the previous owners for $100, because they didn’t want to pay to have it moved. It’s kind of beat up, but it has a very nice sound. We love her teacher, Miss Emily, whom I found on Facebook before I quit going there. She’s been taking lessons since the first of October, and already had her first performance. It was last Saturday at the local art league. Miss Emily is a member there, and all her piano students performed for the people who were wandering through the open house. Mostly the audience was made up of proud parents and grandparents and siblings, some of whom are also taking lessons. The piano there is even older than ours, and in worse shape. The middle C sticks, so Kaity was a little frustrated while playing Jingle Bells and We Three Kings, but she handled it with aplomb, and Miss Emily kept smiling through the whole recital, so everybody was happy.

Our other music student is Nathan. He has not been a joiner of things. He hasn’t liked sports ever since he tried soccer when he was three, and wouldn’t go out onto the field, because he didn’t want to fall down in front of people. We’ve tried to encourage him to try different things without so much as an “I’ll think about it.” I’ve been talking up band for a couple of years. About how much fun it is in high school to ride the bus to football games and competitions. Of course, I left out the part about freezing your butt off during the games, but he’ll find that out in a few years. I enthusiastically waxed poetic about the idea of being part of an organization, and how you sometimes make lifelong friends. Anyway, something I said worked, or some of his friends were going for it, or something, and he decided he wanted to try band this year in sixth grade.

Nate wears braces, and he wanted to play clarinet at first. We went to the music store and one of the clarinet experts demonstrated one for him, but I think he was discouraged by the complexity of it. The young lady working out front also happens to be a trumpet player and asked him to give it a try. We were concerned about his being able to play because of the braces, but she and his band teacher assured us that he would be able to adjust. The clincher was the fact that Ohio State only has brass and no woodwinds in their marching band.

At first, as with most novice band students, the sounds coming out of it were enough to make one want to stick one’s head under a thick pillow. After about two weeks of band class, Nate was getting very discouraged and wanted to quit like some of his classmates had done, but we encouraged him by telling him that every music student goes through this and that it would get better. It wasn’t a week until the sounds coming out of the horn actually started sounding like music! He was playing MUSIC! Now he loves it, and the band had their winter concert this week. They sounded great, actually better than my lame high school band sounded back in my day. At the end, the band director even let them play “Let’s Go Band!”, which is their favorite, because they get to shout the title at the end of each stanza. It was awesome, and he is truly hooked. Let’s go band!

See you soon,

Susan