New Stuff Day

Yesterday was like Christmas Junior, mostly because we started putting Christmas presents away and enjoying said presents.  It was pretty fun.  I don’t even mind washing dishes when they’re new glasses and things that need to find a spot in the kitchen.

One of the happy post-Christmas changes included a bathroom cabinet face-lift thanks to some new hardware.

Old hardware:

IMG_3358 New hardware: IMG_3363And of course, there had to be some celebratory cooking.  We went with our new-found Chinese Dumplings recipe.  Turns out we still have some practice to do with that recipe.  I’ll adjust it just as soon as I know where we went wrong.  But at this point (the point of ingredients on the island), everything was right in the world:IMG_3366And here at the “put stuff in the dumpling wrappers” step, things were still going well:IMG_3375 Then things fell apart somewhere in the pan-frying phase.  Hmm.  On the bright side, our second batch was about 10 times better than the first batch.  So we’re learning.  That’s a happy way to start the year, right?  I thought so.

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The Perfect Imperfect Christmas Tree

We had the best intentions.  We were going to pick out a Christmas tree together this past weekend, but time got away from us, and it was dark before we even got close to a Christmas tree farm.  Thus, Scott was solely responsible for picking out our Christmas tree this year.

Did that make me nervous?  Not really.

Scott might not care about the decorative nature of many things, but he does care about picking out a good Christmas tree and chopping it down himself.  So here it is, folks, the official 2014 Christmas tree:

treeWhat do I love about it?  Well, it’s a cedar, which is kind of fun and different.  And even though it’s mostly perfect, it has that one little leaning leader at the top just for me.

I’ve always had a penchant for the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, and there is a pretty large gap between CB’s tree and Scott’s dream tree.  Scott somehow managed to make all parties entirely happy this year, and I’m impressed.  Well done, sir.  Well done.

Get Them a Book for Christmas

I haven’t bought a whole lot of books as Christmas presents this year, which is surprising.  Nine years out of ten, I buy a whole lot of books for Christmas.

photo from teleread.com

Photo from teleread.com… Christmas shopping heaven, if you ask me.

Why so many books?  Well, I’m a professional book pusher, so that’s part of it.  But honestly, I think that books are the perfect gift for lots and lots of reasons.

1) A book can fit into almost anyone’s budget.  You can find a rare book if you’re feeling spendy.  But if you’re on a budget like most folks, you can get a great new book for $10-20.  Or a super inexpensive new book for $2.  Or even a used book for as little as $0.50.  I’ve received used books as gifts before, and I didn’t feel bad about it at all.

First edition Jane Austen books for probably a truckload of money…

or Barnes and Noble’s “Fiction Under $5.

2) You can find a book to fit any person’s personality.  That makes it a thoughtful gift.  It can also be a general gift if you don’t know the person too well.  Get them a book that you suspect they might enjoy or just a great classic that they could return if they’re really not into reading a great classic (boo for that).

A book for your favorite people watcher…

humansor a book for your dog watcher (assuming he or she actually likes dogs).

puppies3) Your Christmas present could actually change someone’s life.  Reading fiction makes you a more empathetic person, thus say the scientists.  And I can pinpoint a few books that have certainly impacted who I have become as a person.  That’s some powerful Christmas present buying.

4) How often do you find a present that can be inspirational, educational, and a source of entertainment and joy all in one?

5) Books are easy to mail and probably won’t get damaged in transit, even in your suitcase.

Do you see what I mean?  Books are the perfect present.  If left to my own devices, I would probably buy everyone on my list a book every single year.  Fortunately for my friends and family (or unfortunately), I know that they have mixed likes, so I try to also mix up presents to match their preferences.  You can’t go wrong with a book though.

I wouldn’t recommend getting my dad a book about the Jonas brothers, but with a bit of thought, you can’t go wrong.

Return to the Land of Books

Sometime in the past few years, I forgot what it’s like to work in a library.  You’re constantly (or semi-constantly) helping people find books or making lists of books or sorting through new books.  So if you’re someone who likes to read, it’s natural that you’ll find at least one book a day that you want to read.

Can you read a book a day?  Because I can’t.

Which means that every day, my reading list gets less reasonable.  In a week, I will have picked out more books than I can read in the next five years.  Approximately.  It also means that I can bring home books any old time.  Today’s choices were an assortment of gardening books for Scott and for me.

books

I bet you can pick which books are for which person.  Except that there’s a curveball in the stack.  Outwitting Deer is for all three of us (Peanut being the third).  He needs to learn how to lure the deer to our house so we can have endless venison in our freezer, even if Scott is doing well on that front by himself.  Peanut could always learn some new deer luring skills.

If that isn’t enough reading for the night, the retail industry was thoughtful enough to mail us seven catalogs today.  Seven!  I love a good catalog, but seven seems excessive to me.
catalogs

It is a helpful reminder that we’re supposed to get our shopping lists together within 24 hours of Thanksgiving OR ELSE.  First come the turkey and parades and football (and thanks!).  Then the mild list-induced panic.  Then Christmas Eve, which is my favorite.

Homemade Goodness and Pecan Spinwheels

Yesterday was Christmas baking day, but I didn’t factor in time for the dough to do its thing and for the oven to preheat and bake and bake some more, and for me to then take care of the trillion dishes that baking produced.  My kitchen looks like a disaster area or an example of a hundred and one health violations.  Don’t worry, it was sanitary before the baking happened.

The original intention was to make two batches (doubling the recipe doesn’t really work out in this case), so there are some extra ingredients and things scattered around the kitchen with all of the other mess.  Only one batch made it to completion, which brings up the next issue.

I have 3.75 loaves of stollen to show for my labor.  I assumed I would have 7.75 loaves at this point (that last quarter loaf is for necessary quality-sampling purposes and because you can’t take bread out of the oven without eating some).  Do I go for another round of baking?  Do I sacrifice several good hours of sleep tomorrow for the sake of tasty food?  I’m reasonably certain the answer to that question is going to be “no” this year.  Sorry, friends.  Several of you were slated to receive stollen in the next few days, but it looks like I’m going to have to be selfish with my meager baked output.

With all of that beautiful baked bread/dessert at home, I still managed to buy Little Debbie Pecan Spinwheels today at the grocery store.  I consumed two of them within twenty minutes of the purchase.  Spinwheels have been a long-term favorite.  They’re totally sweet and desserty, but they’re just on the okay side of the junk food spectrum.  They’re kind of a natural color, after all.  You could pretend they’re not bad for you, unlike most of their Little Debbie cousins.  (Swiss Cake Rolls?  Not even remotely close to being healthy.)

Enough of a reverie about food for one day, right?  I promise I have other interests.  Sometimes I think about friends and books and other things between thoughts about food.

Speaking of other things, I recently watched Saving Private Ryan for the first time.  It was a fantastic movie–sad and powerful and all of that.  I did have to watch it in small doses though, and it was the TV edited version.  I have a hard time watching war movies with semi-contemporary weapons now that my brother is in the army.  The end of the movie threw me off, too.  If it was trying to make me feel better about all of the sadness of the first 95% of the movie, it totally failed.  If it was trying to portray the brokenness of the world, it achieved that goal.  I’ll be on a strict regimen of comedies for the next week to recover from all of that.

Letters to Santa

photo from the British Postal Museum & Archive

It’s snowing outside, and I just sent off my annual letter to Santa (via email).  It’s pretty exciting, people.

Yes, I’m twenty-six years old.

This is how it went down in my family.  My parents didn’t want to lie to us and tell us that certain things were real when they weren’t, so I was that annoying kid who went around telling all the other kids that Santa wasn’t real.  Or I was smugly thinking to myself, “I know the truth.”  Either way, I was probably obnoxious about having that piece of information.

While they were keeping us solidly grounded in truth, my parents also put out stockings and cookies on Christmas Eve.  And then they left presents in our stockings and ate the cookies off of the mantel.  It became a game that we played instead of something that we believed in.  I guess that’s true for a lot of kids who kind of know that Santa isn’t real from the start and go along with it anyway.

Somewhere along the line, I think when I was about 15, the Christmas Game expanded to include letters to Santa.  It’s my favorite part of the “faux ho ho.”  I write, and he writes back.  His handwriting is mysteriously similar to my dad’s handwriting.

The real excitement began when Santa left a few cigarette butts on the cookie plate and some stuff in the letter about how he was desperately trying to quit.  It was the beginning of the not-so-jolly Santa.  Then when I studied economics in college, Santa talked to me about outsourcing and elf labor.  I think we also covered topics like the best place for a post-Christmas vacation and some less than flattering details about the reindeer.

We just have a good time with it.  I write a letter to Santa like he’s an uncle I talk to once a year (you know, an uncle who flies around the world delivering presents to people), and he writes me back in a grumpy, no-nonsense way.  It’s awesome.  If Santa did exist, I hope he would be like the Santa my dad has created over the years.  I’m excited about what he has to say in 2010.

Extra Free Time

I don’t know about you, but when I find myself with more free time than I thought I had, it’s awesome.  It’s like skipping class in college combined with finding free food at any point in my life.  Or at any point in my life that involved paying for my own food.  So the past eight years.

Tonight happens to be one of those nights.  My normal Thursday night commitment fell through (which is kind of sad, because I missed it for other reasons for the past few weeks).  I’m going to ignore the sad side of that and skip right to the happy.

I’ve been theoretically excited about Christmas 2010 since December 26, 2009.  It’s a season/day that I love.  But today is the first day that the perfect storm of holiday spirit has descended.  I have several free hours at my house with nothing scheduled, it’s December (and thus I’m allowed to be holiday spirit-ish), and there are probably at least six horrible Christmas movies on TV at one time.  Perfect storm.

While all of that bliss is going on, I’m also going to work on a new philosophy of mine.  Work is getting more stressful.  I thought it might just be a short-term trend, but I think it’s going to last.  It’s actually a good thing, since increased stress comes from increased responsibility and work load.  I like both of those things.

But what am I going to do about the stress?  I’m going to start running again so that stress-eating doesn’t turn me into a blimp, and I’m going to make a point of enjoying my free time even more.  I feel like I’ve earned free time when my work days are stressful.  My right eye is twitching as I type, and that’s okay.  In an hour and a half, I’ll be raising a warm mug of apple cider to a totally free evening.

This is that lucky time of life when I’m just responsible enough to be a full-fledged adult, and just irresponsible enough to have a night filled with absolutely nothing once in a while.  No homework, nothing gnawing away at me from my to do list.  I hope you’re enjoying whatever free time you find for yourself, too.  I know relaxation can be in short supply these days.