Friday, December 21, 2007


The tree is up and ornamented, stockings have been de-boxed and are waiting to be draped over the fireplace the Children drew on a cardboard box (it's quite a good fireplace actually and certainly did the trick on St Nicholas's day). An enormous number of almonds have been blanched, skinned, toasted and candied and a reasonable number have even survived the inevitable nibbling so they can be given away. There are possibly some Christmas crackers stashed somewhere for pulling on The Day so the entire family can be suitably adorned with an ill-fitting paper crown (until they tear/crumple/fall off which is also traditional). Shopping is complete - but then I said that several days ago and I have been to at least one store every day since.

It is the last day of work, the last day of school before the holiday really begins. Time for a deep breath; time for the fuss and bother to subside.

This year we will be staying home on Christmas day. Children 1 and 3 are going to a winter encampment starting on the 26th and Child 2 has a house-sitting job that will cover the same time frame so there will be a fair amount of packing and scrambling but hopefully also a lot of peace and simple quiet.

Christmas Eve will be spent at the Grandparent's house. Their neighborhood is a major attraction on that particular night because each house lines its walkways and drives with dozens of luminarias. We spend the afternoon setting out the brown paper bags and dropping a single candle into each one. Just at dusk the Children go out with long candles and lighters and carefully set about lighting. The trick is to light the candle and seat it firmly in its sand bed without scorching yourself or setting the paper bag on fire. The Children are always eager for the challenge.

Already the streets will be lined with slow-moving cars; it's impossible to get in or out of a driveway until midnight. Inevitably several of the tourists will take pictures of the flickering lights using their flash cameras. I always wonder what they think when they get home to admire their beautiful photos of rows of brown paper bags.

Some of the neighbors will bring out portable fire pits and groups of people walking the streets will gather around for a few minutes to warm their hands and talk. Many of the homes will be hosting parties and the doors will open now and then and let out bursts of laughter and the enticing smell of posole or tamales. The Children will run in and out of the various houses: Child 1 dragged next door by two young admirers, Child 2 disappearing with its friend and the friend's beguiling puppies, Child 3 buzzing indiscriminately from one to the other to see which offers the most entertainment at the moment.

At some point my mother will bring out the small leather strap of sleigh bells and round up as many bodies as possible to walk the crowded streets. As the Children have grown the attraction of the tour has changed: the simple pleasure of thousands of warm candle lights with each child having stop at every bag and peer down at the candle inside, the delight in finding bags that had caught fire and were burnt down to their sand base, the fun of shouting the first verse of any number of carols only to subside to a mumble as soon as the second, unfamiliar verse is reached. Now, full circle, they are old enough to love the charm of the lights themselves again.

Finally after too many cookies and too much cocoa, when the candles in the bags are guttering out one by one we will drag Child 2 away from its friend and round up the scattered coats and gloves and hats. The streets will still be half full of cars as we make our way back home and the Children will be chattering and laughing half the time, then lapsing into silence unexpectedly. At home the stockings will be artistically arranged, then rearranged and probably bolstered with notes or clever drawings. Child 1 will head maturely to its bed, Child 3 will pester Child 2, throw cushions, erupt into sudden and inexplicable noise and will finally be stuffed firmly into its room and have the door shut on its exuberance. Finally peace will descend.

Happy Holidays all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


What do you keep when you lose someone? We're still figuring that out.

When we moved a month after Kirk went missing it was so chaotic, so horrible, that I was hardly thinking straight. Anything belonging to the kids that they really wanted to keep we kept; absolutely everything of Kirk's was carefully packed up. My own things didn't matter. Furniture was given or thrown away. Twelve boxes of books were simply donated to the library en masse. They were, after all, only things.

Gradually, and it took ages, I was willing and able to begin to sort through Kirk's possessions. Many of his clothes were given to family members, and it's been wonderful to see my father wearing Kirk's sweater or our son using his coat every day. There are many other things though that we still have, things that are tangible pieces of story. A few of them are in our tiny house - the Venetian masks he brought back from Italy, the division coin he was given in Germany - but most of them are packed away in boxes.

Every now and then though I come across one unexpectedly and still the memories are so immediate, so strong. The other day I saw this in the garage lying next to the tool box:

And immediately I was back when we were dating. Kirk was a dedicated hiker and camper and this knife went with him on every trip. I think he bought it after he came home from Thailand because if you look closely at the blade:

You can see where he inscribed it with several lines of Thai script. It's an icon really of who Kirk was at that moment twenty years ago. Some day it will be handed on - to the Male Child perhaps, or even some day to a grandchild.

For now it will go back into the storage box but the memories, refreshed and strengthened, will stay.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Losing My Mind One Sequin at a Time


I did confess at one point that I do make things. It is not a pretty thing, mind, and not something I'm proud of because by and large the things I make are not things I actually would want to own. Furthermore, when I do make things it is for one of two reasons: a) I get some wild idea and decide to see if I can make it work b) I need to give something or do something and for some reason figure that hand-making some incredibly time-consuming project is a brilliant and wise choice.

Here is an example of option b.

A friend of our family has a small daughter who is half-German. She goes to German lessons on weekends, visits her German grandparents whenever possible and yes, she is thus aware of St. Nicholas's day. So my delightful children voiced the opinion that we should send C something for St. Nich's. All well and good until... I figure that naturally we should pack a stocking [note, for accuracy it should have been a shoe, but I wasn't going to go all cobbler even for this charming child] and heck it should definitely be hand-made. Right. This is about ten days before the 6th.

Keep in mind that this photo was taken when the stocking was still half-finished. It still needed lining, a bit of detailing, and finishing at the edges with blanket-stitch.

I told you I was nuts.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hung by the Chimney With Care

In a comment down below somewhere I promised (sort of) a craft-related post. Well... the picture I need for said post is still inaccessible at the moment so this is the interim craft related post which is really a total cheat because any actual crafting took place long, long ago.


My mother made stockings for my sister and me when we were kids. They were knitted, mine of pink wool with yellow designs, my sister's of yellow with pink. They brilliant thing about knitted stockings is that they stretch beautifully. We helped this process by taking them down from the mantle and wearing them around the house a lot.

When I married Kirk she knitted another stocking for him out of odds and ends of yarn so its all done in stripes. When my sister married she went all out and designed a themed stocking for the new Superior Uncle. Uncle is a research chemist so the stocking had a test tube... knitted in an interestingly peachy-brown colored wool so that Uncle took one look at it and spluttered "What is THAT??" I believe a certain amount of discussion might happen each year now over who gets to have the penis stocking. (Isn't that fun? I got to use "penis stocking" in a Christmas post and now my Google search results are going to be veeeeery interesting!)

For the first couple of years with children we didn't fuss much about stockings. Kirk and I didn't bother putting them up for ourselves, and Child 1 could make do with my old one for a little bit at least. For some reason though when the Children were around 5, 3 and 2 I decided we needed real stockings, and since three small children, two parents in full-time work and school AND the upcoming holiday weren't enough I naturally had to make them myself.

I made three quite different designs which naturally meant that the two girls endlessly squabbled over who got the "best" stocking and who was stuck with the inferior one that year. Unfortunately the "best" stocking was in a box that was sent through the mail recently and, along with an interesting assortment of other items* it was lost. However, here are the remaining two:

Terrible picture - and this is post-Photoshop but...

I didn't use a pattern because they are so simple. The cuff on the pink stocking is linen trimmed with beads, the dark red one (honestly, it's a lovely dark red in real life) is velvet with silver snowflakes free-hand embroidered on it.

The missing stocking was cream satin with an embroidered garland across it (sage green with ribbon-roses - I had recently read a ribbon-embroidery book as I remember)

Fascinating, wasn't it? But wait! As soon as I rescue the missing picture... yup, just keeps getting better.

*Interesting other items include: 1 scale-mail doublet, 1 home-made trebuchet (disassembled) and 1 pair fuzzy blue slippers. I would love to know what the lost-and-found post office people are making of that. It's possible that they confiscated the package under homeland security believing we were planning a medieval invasion of some sort (some sort meaning "with very warm if slightly Muppettish toes").

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

O Tannenbaum

Yesterday I (finally) managed to purchase our tree. However! Procrastination was clearly necessary to the whole process because:

1. There was only one tree of the kind I wanted left in the store (yes, it is fake, yes I will use it for years, yes it cost about the same as a real one, YES it comes with the lights already on it praises be!)

2. It was ON SALE (a lot. A really lot. So I got the one I liked and not the one that looked like it had been attacked by rabid squirrels)

3. Did I parenthetically mention it has the lights already on it??

4. It fit in my rather small car! (after a few tense moments and a very worried check-out guy)

5. It fit in my rather small house!

6. It was (just) possible for me to wrestle the box into the house on my own.

7. The male child was exactly the right height to put the top section on AND fluff the branches (although fortunately its more perfectionisty sibling is not tall enough to evaluate the fluffing job)

So we had a happy evening of tree-decorating. When Kirk and I married we decided to buy an ornament each year, a special ornament that would be memorable for every Christmas. We didn't think about the fact that we would have a very, very bare tree for the first... oh... twenty years or so if we only did one, but we filled in nicely with lesser ornaments. However, it's the special yearly ones that I still love, and that we take out carefully and hang up with stories about where we bought them and how we all remember them.

There is the fishing pole that I bought when Kirk first caught salmon fever in Alaska, along with the beautiful wooden fish. There is the painted egg my sister gave us when we were expecting Child 1 and the stacking St. Nicholas we found in a Wienacht market in Frankfurt that Child 2, our Germany child, always gets to hang on the tree. From California we have a white heron with a bobbing head - a particular favorite of mine, and a set of glass octopi with goggly eyes that aren't really ornaments but get perched on branches anyway because we love them.

We have a collection of moose ornaments as well, a legacy of Alaska really, but I still add to it when I find one I love (found one at Target this year - the only one on the rack). One is a garish painted thing with the moose wearing sneakers; it's not something I would ever have bought myself but when we were leaving Alaska a group of my friends gave it to me at a going-away party and I love it because I think of them. The most treasured moose is a little metal ornament with moose heads arranged in a circle - it looks like a snowflake from a distance until you look closely and realize it's antlers and beautifully modeled moose noses.

This year's ornament is actually being used as a tree-topper. We've had several over the years. In Germany we bought a box of dark green glass ornaments that included a glass spire for the very top. Kirk loved it; I did not. To counter it I flung together an angel (sort of - no wings) from a porcelain doll's head and hands, an antique pillowcase and a strip of dark red fabric. I quite liked the effect; Kirk did not. Finally a few years ago we compromised on a multi-pointed gold star which we both could bear but neither really felt strongly about one way or another. But as I was choosing the tree, I turned around and found the perfect topper. It's certainly not traditional, but it looks whimsical and beautiful and somehow right with our moose and our fish, our birds and globes and hand-made popsicle-stick trees. This year our tree is presided over by an owl.

I think we can all use a little wisdom.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Snow Day

I wish.

No, really, I truly do wish. I stopped a colleague in the mail room and asked it if was wrong to still hope for snow days if you're not in school any more. That particular colleague seemed to think it was, but then confessed that she was looking blissfully down 5 weeks off and wasn't entitled to comment. I've since done a poll and the result is that 11 out of 12 adults still watch the weather with half an eye on the snow-day potential (NOTE: we do get snow days at my work place, usually linked to the city or the local schools).

Yesterday we had rain all afternoon - solid, meaningful, REAL rain that did more than just dribble out of the clouds - and by the time I scooped Child 3 out of the Apple store it was slushing-not-raining. Things looked good for a snow day. We even stood in the living room and did the snow-day chant (okay, we had a half-hearted chorus of "we buhLEAVE" which might or might not have involved sub-vocal "jeez moUHM").

And today? Not a sausage.

No, I lie. No snow on the ground when I dragged out of bed in the dark, no snow when I peered hopefully out at the cloudy morning, but when I had reluctantly cleaned, brushed and dressed and was heading out the door? SNOW! Pelting down - as though it had gotten up late and was desperately trying to make up for lost time.

Too little, too late.

Stupid snow.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wish List

Attention: Jolly Old St Nick,
The one who's trying hard to pick
The perfect present just for me
To tuck beneath our Christmas Tree
I thought I'd send a little list
Reminding you of what you missed
From last year's visit (you remember
The one you made just last December).
I'm not complaining, by the way,
I know it's hard to pack a sleigh
With all the the things the world's demanding
(you know, like peace and understanding).
But if you're puzzled, Mr. Claus
As to what I wanted was,
Here is what I need the most
A modern wish list blogger post:

Patience first (it's hard to find
But the elastic is worn out on mine).

Children who pick up their clothes,
I wouldn't mind a few of those
But if it means the ones I've got
Must disappear then better not.

Instead please from your magic bag
Pull out a more effective nag,
One that makes them think before
They strew their socks across the floor
Or walk away from unwashed pans,
Sticky counters, full trash-cans.

Next a bridle and some reins
Fitted for my tongue and brains
It would be nice to sometimes manage
To think before I do the damage.

Finally a little quiet
I've heard of it, I'd like to try it.

That's it, that's all I'm asking but

... I won't say no to chocolate.

DISCLAIMER: written entirely in my head while walking to work from my car. It was very, very early in the morning and I have no shame. That is all.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Yesterday I smiled:

In delight at the sound of a fat baby chuckle coming at high speed towards me

In sympathy as the basket rounded the corner and I learned the mother was sprinting as fast as possible towards the bathroom because the laughing delighted little boy in the cart had plunged both hands into his dirty diaper and was happily trying to wipe the result on her chest

In sheer joy as I contemplated the fact that my Children have now all been toilet trained for over 13 years

Thursday, December 06, 2007

How Cost Plus Saved the Holidays

1. They not only had chocolate coins, they had four different kinds so I could choose the currency.

2. They had tons of German Christmas stuff I remember so well (although I never buy it, I just like to LOOK at it)

3. They had cans of light coconut milk! Hooray! Curry for dinner (yes, not terribly festive but very yummy)

4. The basket-filling bins were stuffed with the cutest, weensiest, most dimpled little bottles of things like dipping fudge and maple syrup I've ever seen. Made me completely ignore the fact that no one in their right mind wants a TINY jar of dipping fudge.

5. There were not only large bottles of flavored syrup, there was an enormous selection of sugar-free flavored syrup (What? Italian sodas are VERY holiday-ish. Darn, just realized the Children will see this and now I will have to share)

So, Cost Plus, because the Children woke up to genuine South African gelt this morning, because there is still a lovely lunch-sized bowl of green curry in my fridge, because I got to try to smell pfefferneusse through the cellophane, I am willing to forgive you for the three versions of "Little Drummer Boy" you played in the 1/2 hour I was in the store (even the one where the singer kept saying "perrrRUMPaPUMPpum" in a whiny nasal voice).

Now I just need to find a use for these miniature bottles of basil oil...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

'Tis the Season Darn It

I'm normally a quite Christmassy person. I appalled my father when he realized our family tradition was to put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving. I have to stop myself from pulling out the Christmas CD's throughout the year, realizing that not everyone will be interested in Wassailing in the Bleak Mid-Summer (note, in my defense our Christmas albums are mostly Robert Shaw Festival collections and are really, truly beautiful and worth listening to year round). I love ginger and spices; I have a favorite Gingerbread recipe (we make gingerbread moose cookies - doesn't everyone?) and a favorite spiced nut recipe and I firmly believe that hot chocolate should include a drop or two of peppermint every single time.

But this year? Not so much. Maybe it was that there were Santa clauses and humorous penguins facing off against the morose plastic jack 'o lanterns three weeks before Halloween at Target this year. I know, it's nit picking, but I've always felt that October was just a little early to start pushing the Hooray! It's the Spendiest Time of the Spenderiffic Year Folks! stuff.

We don't have a tree up yet - we don't have a tree at all honestly. The box of decorations and ornaments is still sitting in the storage room unopened and unloved. We have no lights up, no cookies have been baked and don't even ask about Christmas cards because honestly? Not going to happen this year.

In an effort to inspire some stirrings of holiday cheer Child 1 has played Christmas music all this week, two nights ago Children 1 and 2 watched The Nightmare Before Christmas (because NOTHING says Christmas like a podgy villain filled with creepy-crawlies) and last night they all watched one of the two family must-see's for the season: Boris Karloff narrating The Grinch (don't even mention Jim Carrey, thou shalt not blaspheme my Seuss). Me, I'm still not feeling it.

However, we do have our Germany Child and so tonight we will, ready or not, be putting out shoes for St Nickolaus. Some traditions, after all, are non-negotiable. One of those is that into each shoe must be placed a bag of gelt - chocolate coins. In pursuit of these I went to Target the other day. Seven aisles of Christmas and not one sniff of chocolate coins. Two days later I finally found them - in the dollar section. There was a choice: Spongebob Squarepants or Dora the Explorer.

I might just have to break up with Target.

But only for the holidays.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Missing Britons

There is news about five British men who were kidnapped in Iraq in May. A video of the men dated November 18th was broadcast on Al-Arabiya television.

You can read the BBC article here.

Monday, December 03, 2007


When I was a kid we would walk to the grocery store and along the way we would pass a particular tree. It was far enough away that I wasn't able to get there on my own so it was a special occasion when I saw it. It was, I was convinced, the coolest tree in the world because it produced these amazing seed pods: purplish-brown, long, flat and twisty.

There was always the issue of how many seed pods I would be allowed to trundle home. Forty, I felt, was a good number - two was my mother's limit.

We would walk home to the steady buzz of my maraca pod - the dried seeds rattling rhythmically in their cases. The sheer joy of noise-making could last for over an hour, but finally I would have to give in to temptation and break the pod apart. There were ten or so seeds inside - beautifully smooth and hard enough to make a satisfying "tock" when they knocked against each other in my pocket. They were gold doubloons, the rajah's jewels, desperately needed medicine that would cure all ills.

The house next door to us has one of these trees, and for the last several weeks it has been shedding thousands of these foot-long pods onto the driveway and into the narrow space beside the house. They are too heavy to sweep properly, too flat to rake easily. Every time I drive up to the house I can hear the pods cracking and shredding beneath the tires, grinding into the pavement so they have to be painstakingly picked off by hand. I glared up at that darn tree the other day and realized it had only shed about half of its load despite the heavy winds we have had; I just know it's waiting until I have everything all tidied away to release the rest. I have thought some dark and horrible things about that tree.

On Friday afternoon I saw the neighbor's kid outside. He had two pods stuck into a scarf he had tied around his head, another one acting as a tail and several more clutched in his hands. He was careening around the yard, a wobbly, loopy dance done to a steady rattle. Dizzy, he fell over on the prickly, dried grass and shrieked with laughter, still shaking his hands wildly.

Everyone should have a tree like that.