Notes to Self — Open November 1, 2013

My brain is a sieve,
With, alas, widening holes…
…………..What was I saying?

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Every year at the holidays, I have to re-learn, remember or re-argue something that I’m so sure I told myself not to forget the year prior, but clearly did. So this year, I’m writing it all down with plans to read it ahead of the year-end craziness.  Here it is…

Notes to self

The Honey Baked Ham store does not require you to reserve a ham. Frank is always right about this. Stop humiliating yourself by insisting each year he is wrong, storming to the internet, only to find out he is right.

The Honey Baked Home store is open on Sundays during the Holidays. Again, Frank has the memory of an elephant here – let him have it.

You will debate with yourself as to whether you’ve bought too much or not enough for the kids at least 5 times.  Don’t think that this year is worse than last. They are all the same. And yes, you bought too much, but you always figure it out before Christmas Day.

Frank will be of very little help in the “did I buy too much or not enough” saga. He will simply witness the several debates you have with yourself that you insist having him present for. Don’t expect him to do more than nod. Again, this one works itself out in the end.

At their most limbic level, kids like empty boxes, no matter what the age. Simple is better.  Remember this when ordering presents on-line.

Don’t waste all the best Buddy the Elf on the Shelf hang out spaces early in the season.  It’s a looooong December.

You put the C7 lights on the evergreens and the mini bulbs on the roses. You wrapped only the red bud tree, not the birch. It requires every flipping extension cord you own.

Volunteering to holiday-sit the class gerbils always sounds cooler than it really is. They are just more things you have to keep alive. Think twice.

No matter what the witch-y voice in your head says, you haven’t been the only one doing things for the family for Christmas.  Give him some credit.

The Costco sized, 18-sleeve box of Ritz crackers will seem like a good idea December 1. Shortly thereafter, it will seem like a colossal waste of space. And then in the blink of an eye you’ll look in the box and find only 3 sleeves left. It’s a good call. Buy it and stop debating it with yourself.

Consider this year having a fancy Christmas Eve evening meal, instead of Christmas Day evening meal.  Or be ready to ditch that put upon feeling that comes around 4pm Christmas Day when everyone else is lounging around recovering from all the ruckus and you have to (wait, want to, remember?) cook.  Christmas Eve might just do the trick, and left over standing rib roast is still amazing…

Try to wait a little deeper into December before cutting a Christmas tree.  The week before Christmas 2012 ours had the moisture of a cocktail toothpick… not good.

Please add to this list each year, as I have a nagging suspicion I’ve forgotten something…

The Power of Giving Up

Peace comes easily
When you listen, act, accept
Truth over worry.
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It is a little early for Lent, and, well, I’m a little not Catholic, but I’ve been reflecting on the power of giving up. I’m not talking about giving up when the going gets tough. When I’m working out and my arms are begging me to stop yet I know I have 3 more reps in me… I won’t give up. When my daughter complains because everyone else on the basketball team makes baskets but her (not true, by the way), I won’t let her give up.

I’m talking about who gives a shit other than the pissy-little-tyrant-in-my-brain ‘giving up’. I’m learning a lot from this brand of release.

I experienced this a few months ago. A devoted audio book listener, I had heard an enthralling book by David McCullough about the year 1776 in the Revolutionary War. Each night after listening to it during my bedtime bathroom routine, I would crawl into bed and tell my husband how amazing the book was and how I couldn’t believe we actually won the war. This foray into history long forgotten (had I ever learned it?) made me long for more about our Founding Fathers. Up next, Ben Franklin’s biography.

Oh jesus help me. It was horrible. I could have lived through the dry points in the story where it took the author nearly 6 hours to fully describe a few simple things about his early life — that he fled his brother’s apprenticeship for Philadelphia where studiousness , daring and little luck helped him on his way… But the narrator would have made Fifty Shades of Gray un-listenable. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how people like him get and keep these jobs. Doesn’t anyone listen to his work? Have they spent even 5 minutes trying to understand how someone can read a sentence with action and intrigue and still make you want to take your own life?

I was a solid 9 hours into this book (it was 24 hours overall) when something amazing occurred to me. Why did I need to finish it? Who would care? No teacher would scold me. No book report would go un-written. Not a single bad thing would happen.   Yet, if I stopped listening, I realized that several good things would happen. I would no longer want to smash my iPod player. I would stop telling my husband what a horrible listen it was. True, I wouldn’t have any new and interesting tidbits about our earliest years as a country to share with others, but… It just didn’t matter.

So I returned the book to Audible. They gave me a partial credit. No one mocked me. No one sneered. Such new territory I was treading.

Today my daughter asked me, “Mom, have you ever quit a book before?”

I replied that I had… and asked why she brought it up. Given she reads almost nonstop, this was an interesting question.

“I quit a book today,” she said sheepishly. “The Hobbit. Just didn’t want to keep reading.”

“I totally understand. That’s a tough one to get into. There is nothing wrong with quitting a book.” And with that, she was done worrying. Oh to have had that role modeled for me early in life.

So I began reflecting on what else I could just “give up” without anyone noticing or caring. And it came to me. I can give up holiday baking. For many years, I baked away an entire weekend, making tons of cookies and candies for our friends and relatives. But I haven’t really done a mega-baking fest in years yet I allow a ton of guilt to overtake me in early December when I realize I can’t fit in two days of baking in a now kid-filled life.  I feel horrible. So tonight I decided I am no longer a Christmas baker.  I’m done, I’m over it. I will continue to make Bourbon Balls, because frankly it is the only thing everyone remembers about my baking anyway, and it’s fun to get a little tanked while I make them.  And I’ll likely keep making caramels. But I am giving up the rest. All the guilt associated with a  no-longer-relevant tradition is released.

I feel lighter already. I’m serious… this is a joyful feeling. I must explore giving up more things (or more guilt). Try it yourself. Instead of giving something, give up something. Best gift under the tree.

The next best gift under the tree is Bourbon Balls. Recipe below. Enjoy. I plan to in a few weeks.

Bourbon Balls

3 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers (about 75) (one normal sized box)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup finely chopped pecans
¼ cup cocoa
½ cup bourbon (get the good stuff… and sometimes I do closer to 3/4 cup)
¼ cup light corn syrup
Granulated or powdered sugar

Crush the wafers by putting them in a double layer of zip bags and beating/rolling the crap out of them with a rolling pin. Mix the crushed wafers with the powdered sugar, pecans and cocoa. Stir in bourbon and corn syrup. Shape mixture into 1 inch balls as you watch a good movie. Roll balls in granulated sugar. Eat several as you go, just to be sure they are good enough. Refrigerate the ones you haven’t scarfed down in a tightly covered container several days before serving. Open the fridge a few times a day to get a wiff of the Bourbon and to sample them to be sure they are mellowing nicely. Yield: About 5 dozen cookies minus two dozen or so you have eaten in advance.

“The Best of” our Christmas holiday (or how weapons, a hand mixer and underwear made for a great few days)

Christmas joyfulness
Cupped in my hands, warm, fragrant,
To be savored, shared.

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The buzz of Christmas is giving way to the reality of normal life. Before it gets away, let me share some of the more notable happenings around the Howard household these last few days.

Most surprising: It was one of our best Christmas’s ever. I usually fret each year that the kids won’t like what Santa got them; they will ask “is that it” at the end of the frenzy… that they’ll mention the one gift they had secretly wished for, which I didn’t know about…. All of which would break my heart. I was determined that this year I would be “relaxed and groovy” about everything. And you know what? A funny thing happened. I was relaxed and groovy and so was everyone else. Coincidence? I think not.   It was a wonderful day full of gratitude and love.

Most ridiculous cooking instruction:  Mix for 5-7 minutes until combined.  Are they kidding me? Combined means it is all one color and that takes about 30 seconds.  What happens after that is a waste of time.  I made it 4 minutes and gave up.  The cake was wonderful. 

Best timed cooking mishap:  My hand mixer, which held up so nicely in the agonizing 4+ minutes of cake batter (not to mention the other things I cooked Christmas Eve), died later that same evening. Just as I was finishing Santa cookie dough, one of the beaters stopped working. The other one died a few hours later as my husband was working on homemade yeast rolls.  Lucky for us, that was the end of the need for the hand mixer.  And this is what after Christmas sales are about, after all.

Proof I have the best kids:  At 7:30am Christmas morning, both kids galloped  into the bedroom ready to go. My husband turned over and said “it isn’t 8 o’clock yet. Go back to bed!” and you know what? They DID! Both retreated to their rooms and slept/read/played quietly for 30 minutes. I was astonished. Best kids ever.

Best answered prayer: Christmas day was warm enough that the blasted Cars 2 Splash Car Color Change Track wet-o-rama could be set up outside.  That was a complete mess. If you don’t know what this is, just know that ice cold water and hot water are both required for it to work. No way will that ever be set up inside. Whoever designed that does not have children, hates mothers and lives in a room with a drain in the center of the floor.   

Funniest moment:  My 5 year old boy got an Imaginext T-Rex, which launches projectiles (aka weapons).  My 9 year old girl got a hu-mungo Littlest Pets tree house thingamajig complete with a dozen wacky animals (aka peaceful). I walked in on the boy, T-Rex in hand, stalking the tree house chanting “I’m going to shoot you down… pting, ptchow” and launching all matter of pretend spears at the little creatures. It was like a replay from Avatar – the militant brutes against the tree loving aliens. Classic boy play.

Best quote – unbelievable:  “I can’t wait to try on those shoes,” spoken by my husband, seriously, when the large box from Zappos arrived. I was astonished and didn’t reply for several moments. I plan to remind him of this quote at a future time beneficial to me.

Best quote – concerning: “Mom, can I have 4 skewers?” spoken by my daughter, who was playing with her younger brother. As she disappeared upstairs with them, she shouted over her shoulder “Don’t worry, I’ll be safe, I won’t poke him!” Yeah, right, I thought.

Best quote – embarrassing:  While standing in the crowded checkout line at Macy’s, intimate apparel in her hands, my mom loudly declared: “You know, I haven’t bought underwear in 12 years.”  If silence made noise, the place would have been deafening.  I watched eyes bulge and ears prick, could hear brain cells working, asking themselves “did that woman just say what I think she just said???” My reply: “Mom, why did you feel compelled to declare that in front of this large group of strangers?” at which point everyone laughed out loud. A slightly racy conversation ensued where people speculated as to why my mom hadn’t purchased any underwear in such a long time.  I crept away slowly…

Prettiest scene: My table set with lovely Christmas china, my wedding silver and wedding crystal. I just don’t use this stuff enough, and yet when I do, I enjoy it so immensely.  I even lit candles – long tapers in lovely silver candle holders. It was so peaceful I lit them again for the leftovers tonight – it made an average meal feel special and calm.  Highly recommended.

I would love to hear your stories.  And I hope you had a memorable Christmas with those you love and that you can keep the feelings present well into 2012.

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