Loose Ends

Loose Ends

the creative impulse gone awry

Friday, December 30, 2011

vacation time

One thing that I love about vacation (that i don't so much love about being back from vacation, but you know) is that parenting can take a little vacation too.  I don't mean that I cease to parent and love my kids, but we can relax rules, we can soften our tone, we can indulge where we otherwise would stay firm.

Because my kids have never been great sleepers and the excitement of *so* many grandparents in such a short period of time kind of winds them up into a frenzy, I often have to spend a lot of time getting them mellow enough to sleep when we are in Maine.  This would normally drive me insane.  At times I feel like I've spent most of the last 4+ years trying to get one or the other to sleep.  But on vacation, I don't have my to do list, I have all of those grandparents helping, feeding me and letting me nap, and instead I can enjoy a rare moment.
It's times like these where I think about how many times I really get to rock my girls to sleep.  Most nights, honestly, it seems like too many.  But then I look at this picture all of a sudden life is traveling at warp speed. 

Monday, December 26, 2011


How happy am I that Hannukah is nice and late this year so we can celebrate properly with Mimi and Grandpere.  I was given a new lens for my camera for christmas and I'm having the greatest time seeing just how little light I need.  These were all taken by candlelight alone, amazing.

 Happy Hannukah!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Magic of Maine

Driving up Thursday afternoon, I packed as a "just in case" a pair of snowpants for Clara and a snowsuit for Zoë.  I mean, it was 55 while we were packing the car and for most of the drive- only when the sun went down did the temperature approach something resembling the week before christmas.

Imagine my surprise when we woke up to snow!  It was perfect snow for playing, heavy and wet and only 5 inches or so.  Not so much that Zoë had a hard time traipsing through it, but enough to make a snow person.

Magic.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Part 4a...? this is getting ridiculous- COOKIES!

You all have seen us making and decorating cookies before.  Clara, being 4(!!!!) is quite capable of cranking out 2 dozen perfect toy soldiers at a time.  She is almost ready for rolling out the dough totally unassisted, thanks to the rolling pin that Grandpère made her.  Her ability to control how much flour she uses, is kind of not there yet.

I told you yesterday my plan of making new kinds of cookies each year, and we did.  But when making new things I find it's best not to take pictures that way I can just allude to the tragedies later without photographic proof.  This year we tried vanilla crescents: which were awesome, delicious and we needed to make two batches because we *inhaled* the first one- recipe here.  Also Molasses spice cookies, which are good and crispy but I think next year we'll try for a proper gingerbread instead.

My plan was to make (but not decorate) some traditional sugar cookies - we'd do the decorating later. We've made these cookies about 5 billion times, so when the Zone woke up early from her nap (we had just finished making the dough) I thought, what the heck, we'll forge ahead.  What's the worst that could happen?

Oh boy did I underestimate how much that girl loves cookie dough.

Our yield was slightly less than in previous batches.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Part 4: Insane amounts of food

In my head Christmas presents work like this: kids get toys, grown-ups get snacks, grandparents get pictures of their grandkids.  I think it works.  Really, big people can get their own stuff, kids just need some spoiling (right?) and grandparents, really our children *are* their gift and the photos help in those moments when they can't be right there.

So at our house we make a massive amount of treats and give them out to friends.  This is good for two reasons: 1) it gives the kids and I something fun, delicious and messy to do and 2) I get to give most of it away so Josh doesn't complain too much that I'm trying to kill him with sugar and fat.  I have this magical idea that every year we'll try a few new things and then by the time the girls are heading off to college I'll be a pastry chef. 

In my perfect world I try to attempt these projects when one of the kids is out or asleep.  Somehow the idea of two kids and molten sugar that hardens to your flesh and continues to burn freaks me out a little, so I like the mellow vibe that happens when it's just me and *one* of the girls.  On this particular morning, the zone was taking a wee nap:

just look at that little head:

So my plan was chocolate peppermint bark and some toffee if we had time.

First we get Clara occupied unwrapping two boxes of peppermint candy canes.  This takes a while, get a cup of coffee, check facebook, have a nap.
 Next about 4 cups of chocolate chips get all melty
and smeared on some parchment on a cookie sheet.  If you are able to wait for a cold day, then you can use your porch like a giant free refridgerator:
Then we get Clara set up to beat the tar out of the candy (and pray it doesn't wake up the little one!):
Just look at that face!
Once the candy is all broken into bits, time to melt about 4 cups of white chocolate, stir in (most of) the candy cane debris and smear it all over the dark chocolate.  Then sprinkle some leftover candy cane bits on top.
Then back on the porch for a little chill:
Then, pressing your luck, you'll decide to do the toffee- I mean the smashing candy canes didn't wake up Zoë, so why not?

In the pot goes some butter and sugar and salt, yum.  Digital thermometers are really great for teaching numbers- tell me when it gets to 285!
The magic of thermodynamics when applied to butter and sugar and salt:

When it gets to the magic temp for me and my pot- 290, pour it on a cookie sheet with a silpat - seriously don't screw it all up like me and just use wax paper.  oh did I forget to take the pictures of me painstakingly scraping all of the wax paper off of the toffee, my bad.  just imagine my joy.  okay?

Now, I'm no food blogger, and you have to move a little quickly at this stage to get the chocolate chips on top so they stick in and get melty and magically incorporate themselves into the toffee so when you smash it to bits the chocolate doesn't come flying off.  You will have to move *so* quickly that there is no time for taking pictures.  So some magic happens and you end up with this:

I think that I need to make this the new background on my computer. mmmmmm. 

The toffee has heat to spare so when the chocolate is all melty you spread it out.  yum.

total success!  These things all get broken into something resembling bite sizes and tossed into some containers and into the fridge.  Next we make cookies, lots and lots of cookies.  tomorrow you will see!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Part 3: gift giving

Around here we love to give presents.  I mean, who doesn't love picking out the perfect thing, wrapping it just so and watching the person unwrap.  It's fantastic.  I am normally a person who keeps very few secrets, so this time of year is always a little challenging for me.  For instance, Josh and I have both- already- ruined eachother's surprises.  My reason for spilling the beans was totally practical, if I had a snowball's chance in heck-o of finishing his sweater then I had to knit on it in front of him.  Of course, I blew it by telling him what I was doing.  Apparently I knit large enough variety of things he didn't recognize it despite having picked out both the pattern and yarn.  I should have kept my mouth shut and he would have been none the wiser.  Now that I know I can knit surprises in front of him have been rescued from the many many late nights trying to knit in secret.

Clara loves mostly the wrapping of presents.  She's starting to get into the choosing as well, having just picked out an adorable Ernie doll for the Zone for christmas.  She went through a phase this summer where she was gift wrapping everything she could find with one of her babysitters.  Not thinking too clearly I gave them one of my boxes of gift wrapping supplies in the morning and when I returned that afternoon it was empty and they had a pile of presents- such delightful things as crumpled up paper, pens and markers, cars, rubber bands...  It was adorable- but unexpected.  Next time I just gave them a pile of plain paper and markers (make your own wrapping paper!) and a bunch of tape.  They could wrap to their hearts content and I could save the wrapping paper for gifts!

Clara and I love wrapping presents together- I measure, she cuts, I fold, she tapes, she chooses and affixes the bows.  Really, we are a great team. 

Zoë not so much.

Oh well, there's always next year! 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Part 2: The tree

I love a christmas tree, I love the smell, I love the whole act of getting the tree, I love eggnog and decorating while listening to cheesey christmas music.  Every year right before christmas we trek up to maine to spend the holidays with our parents so I like to get a christmas tree as soon as it's socially acceptable.  Let's be honest, you don't see to many christmas tree farms open in September, so the weekend after Thanksgiving is the time we go.  Having grown up cutting down our tree ourselves with our own tools at the 'U cut $5' place, I have a hard time going to a parking lot and paying for a tree.  I like to drive somewhere and cut a tree down.  Of course liability laws, sigh, mean that it's hard to find a place where you can cut down your own tree around here. So I have to settle for a place that cuts down the tree for you or at least a place that has trees living in the ground nearby.

Two years ago I was googling for another christmas tree place (as the place before had been kind of a disaster: loud holiday music piped everywhere, trailers with giant cardboard cutouts screwed to the side to make them look like Santa's sleigh and an actual Santa on site... a little too much cheese, even for me.) and found a tiny place called The Shire Christmas tree farm.  Well, any Lord of the Rings reference makes me happy- so we went.  Somehow I'm always deciding we have to do these things at 3:30 in the afternoon and I was not yet used to the time change.  The drive was long and it was getting dark.  Josh was skeptical, Josh's mom was amused (this being her first outing ever to get a christmas tree) but I was smitten.  The place is tiny- they have a little grove of trees you can look at and then fresh trees on a lot.  It was the first tree that Clara had a hand in decorating, and really she loved it.  I thought the whole thing was a grand success.

Josh is a bit of a scrooge and while he enjoys the tree, finds the pomp a little tiring, so last year the girls and I went in the afternoon the week after thanksgiving while he was at work.  I went back to the Shire, they net the tree and tie it on the car for free- so I could manage it with a small mobile toddler and even smaller non-mobile infant.  But again, it was getting dark when we arrived and totally dark when we were driving home, in rush hour, with a tree strapped to the roof of my tiny car and two hungry screaming kids in the back.  Um, less successful?

This year I warned Josh in advance.  This weekend we are getting a tree, Saturday or Sunday, I don't care, we're going back to The Shire (Josh rolls his eyes).  I try to get us out the door early, so it won't be dark.  We had snacks, things to amuse the children and of course I would drive so Josh wouldn't have to think about it.  Josh still wasn't convinced, and it didn't help that I got confused and took a wrong turn.  The GPS re-routed us and we passed a different, larger, tree farm.  To appease the situation, I said, hey, here is a tree farm- let's go. I'm trying to be flexible, which I'm somewhat famously not.  We park and I try to get the snot and granola bar off of Zoë's face- knowing the upcoming photo op.  Josh inquires about the pricing of the trees and when we all meet up, we pet the enormous dog who lived there and start to walk to the trees.

The place is huge and there is a stream and a gazebo and Josh tells me the prices of the trees.  I'm a little annoyed because they are more expensive than my little Shire.  But, eh, it's only $10 let's keep walking. And then I see the sign just past the barn- netting $3.  really?  

So I turn to the sweetie and tell him, really, the other place is just 7 minutes away and it's less expensive, mellower and the netting and car-tying are free and there is no stream for Zoë to go swimming in (when she saw it she said, "SPLASH!" and tried to squirm her way free.)  He agreed and back to The Shire we went.  We still had enough light to take some awesome shots of the girls running around pointing at the little trees and we scored a beautiful tree.

We weren't home before the sun set, but I think I am finally getting the hang of this tree-procurement thing.  It was off the car, in the stand and in the house without any stress.  Josh found some christmas music he didn't mind and the eggnog was flowing.  Zoë adorably piled all of her ornaments in one spot on the tree and then took her shirt off and danced.  Clara decorated like a mad woman and then sat in her rocking chair and admired her work.  It was a total success.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Part 1: Where I inadequately explain things and try not to offend you

I have struggled in the past few years with the holidays.  Trying to find traditions that didn't feel hypocritical to our everyday kind of agnostic existence has been difficult.  Especially when I have a completely inexplicable cheeseball love of christmas.  I love a tree, I love love love christmas music, I love the food, I love winter and snow and and and!  But don't identify myself as Christian.  As an adult I tried to do christmas but felt like a poser which I hate, so I just tried to deny the christmas love.  We didn't have a tree for a few years, not even for Clara's first christmas.  We exchanged presents, and celebrated with our parents, but we didn't do anything in our home.  I admit, I did secretly listen to christmas music in my car, but heck, I do that in July, so that wasn't all that strange ;)

I do *love* family traditions and with Clara's arrival I was eager to try again.  I was raised Christian and a lot of my happiest memories are of our christmas traditions.  Josh's mom is Jewish and his dad is catholic and he celebrated both christmas and hannukah growing up.  I also love hannukah.  The intimacy of Jewish traditions makes me swoon, I love how much of it happens in ones' home. Playing the dreydl is pretty darn fun, also I love fire, also the food- did I mention the food?  We toyed with doing a little of both but it seemed so odd when we are not religious in any other way.  At one point I gave up and decided we should just celebrate the solstice because it was a completely observable event- yay science!

But somewhere I decided that it was okay, that I can love a cultural tradition without having to love everything.  I hope if I am mindful that we are borrowing some of these traditions that we can build rituals that work for our family and aren't hypocritical or offensive.  So we decided to take the pieces we like- charity, trees, piles upon piles of delicious food, time with our family and gift giving.  This year at Clara's request we're adding Santa into the mix, but I'm trying hard to avoid the whole naughty and nice aspect of it.  It has always just felt like a way to threaten your kids to behave well- not exactly how I like to roll.  So Santa will visit us and fill our stockings for the first time this year regardless of how many tantrums we have and whether or not we go to bed on time.  Thank goodness, because otherwise my stocking would certainly be empty!

So in the next couple of posts I'm going to talk about what we like for the holidays (in a totally secular way.)  Starting with the tree.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The little box that saves my bottom

Or at least the box that saves the bottom of my socks, and the cuffs of my sweaters and anywhere else the little stupid moths in my house like to nibble.  A couple of years ago I decided that I didn't really want to keep all of the leftovers of my knitting projects.  But you know, accidents happen, and if you really love a pair of socks, eventually they will need repairs.  So I got a little file box and started saving just little butterflies of yarn from my knitted projects.  It really cuts down on how much I have to store and really, you don't need a whole lot of yarn to fix most problems.
So on Saturday morning when I put on my favorite socks and noticed a hole on the ball of my foot I could just hop down stairs, pop open the magic box and find just what I needed.
A few duplicate stitches to cover the hole on that sock and a few on its mate in the same spot (when one goes often the next isn't far behind) and I could wear them happily knowing that they have many many more days of life left. 

Eventually I may need a larger box, as things are pretty jammed in there as it is.  But I have been so happy with my system.  The larger leftover balls of yarn go to my Mom in law who knits amazing creations using millions of scraps of yarn.  I'll post some pictures of her work soon- it's amazing!

How do you keep track of your old projects and leftovers?