work in progress

The last few weeks have been packed with activity. (Personal. Professional. Political.) I’ve been pulled in lots of directions with a variety of projects, and a few things haven’t quite gotten finished.

When my mother visited for Thanksgiving, one of our planned activities was to make gingerbread houses. We are not ones to buy a kit with a pre-baked house. We make the dough from scratch, and each design our house. (Or structure, which is not necessarily a house. Last year I made my town’s Town Hall building. This year my mother made a Japanese gate.) In any case, the way we do things, it’s a multi-day process.

gingerbread1-ingredientsHere we put together the ingredients for the dough. My photo library tells me this was November 30th. I then mixed each batch up to let it chill overnight. (Possibly a few overnights.)

gingerbread2-modelWe all designed prototypes for our structures using cardboard. I used a stack of leftover political mailers.

gingerbread3-cutThe cardboard/cardstock cutouts then served as the stencil for cutting out the baked dough.

gingerbread4-hardeningThe cut pieces then needed to dry out some more before assembly. They smelled amazing, but the particular gluten-free blend of flours I used was a bit fragile and persnickety.

gingerbread5-part-builtMy house took a while to assemble, as there were some breakages that needed repairing.

gingerbread6-undecoratedAlso, the thickness of the baked pieces meant that my walls and roof didn’t quite fit together as intended. I improvise by making a tower to cover for a gap between the walls. I was quite pleased with the new shape. All that was left was to decorate and embellish (and cover my messy seams), and my gingerbread house would be ready to display.

The trouble is, this project isn’t exactly the only one that I’ve been working on. The big “distraction” was a conference deadline, and three of the research groups I am involved with were planning to submit. The deadline for a 4-page paper was December 21st. (The deadline was then somewhat extended such that an abstract, title and author info could be submitted on the 21st, but the full paper could be edited until January 3rd before being sent out to reviewers.)

The loosening of the deadline left a bit more breathing room for things like holiday shopping and political protests. But in spite of getting our tree up and decorated right  after Thanksgiving, I haven’t managed to put up many other decorations. We are the one house on our little street without festive lights and/or other outdoor decorations. I find it amusing that my little gingerbread house is leading a parallel existence.

gingerbread7-with-candy-pile

Tonight I hope to do some decorating. Of the gingerbread house, not the real house. (The bulk of our Christmas decorations are staying in bins this year.) Phoebe still had plans for landscaping her gingerbread house that she didn’t have time for, so I am using that as an excuse to make up a batch of the appropriate icing so we can get to work. (But I’m also  prepping for Christmas dinner, need to excavate our dining room table, and need to wrap a big pile of gifts…So we’ll see.)

petty potato predicament

discoball-colander
My colander (in which I rinsed my potatoes) looked rather like a disco ball in the bright morning light.

We had Thanksgiving dinner at our house this year, which has become a tradition in recent years. In addition to my family of four, plus my mother-in-law (who is in assisted living in a neighboring town), it has also become a tradition to invite a friend of mine and her two boys.  This year, we were happy to have my mother join us from California, bringing our grand total to 9.

I know that many people host big gatherings of 20 or even 40 people, which honestly sounds totally exhausting to this quiet introvert. (I’ll stick to my table for 9, thank you very much.)

While this relatively small and very comfortable gathering tends to be pretty low-key, I do go a bit crazy with the side dishes. For me, the “side” dishes are actually the main event of the meal. (My immediate family doesn’t eat turkey, and I’m not able to eat the Tofurkey that the rest of my family eats.) So we tend to have lots of different things: various roasted vegetables, stuffing (my famous “stuffed pan”), mashed potatoes, veggie gravy, cranberry sauce(s), as well as simple vegetables like corn and green beans. My mother and I spent much of yesterday chopping and prepping veggies. I went to bed feeling like we were in pretty good shape.

However, going through my mental list as I lay in bed, I got stuck on the potatoes. I intentionally hadn’t prepped the potatoes, as I didn’t want them to brown. But I also hadn’t really counted them.

Doing my mental calculations of person-to-potato ratios, I suddenly became convinced that I didn’t have nearly enough potatoes. It was almost midnight, and I knew that stores would be closed in the morning. (This didn’t stop me from searching online for various grocery stores and checking their hours). I mentally reconfigured the quantities of potatoes in the roasted root vegetables (in which they traditionally play a key role) and considered what remaining potatoes could be left to mash. I imagined rationing out the paltry portions of potatoes to family and guests.

I agonized over the potatoes. I seriously lost sleep. It was not so much a potato panic as a ponderous potato pessimism.

In the morning, I counted the potatoes. The situation was less dire than I’d imagined in my late-night ravings. But still, I apparently could not let it drop. While walking the dog, I persisted in pondering about potatoes. I texted my friend who would be joining us for dinner: “Do you have any potatoes?”

This is, of course, a totally normal question to ask a friend out of the blue.

potato-greeting

The story has a happy ending. My friend brought along her potatoes, and I added a few of them to my boiling pot of potatoes. The resulting mashed potatoes were of respectable quantities. No garments were rent over tiny potato allowances.

In the end, the meal and the day were successful and fulfilling. I am feeling full of both gratitude and potatoes.

And I have to laugh at myself for getting so worked up about such small potatoes.

 

perennial poppies

This past August, I visited Australia. Being in the southern hemisphere, it was winter there. (Or, as I called it, since the weather was still quite temperate, “winter.”) In any case, there perhaps weren’t as many flowers blooming as there might be in other times of year. But we did come across this field of poppies near the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.

These particular poppies were knit and crocheted, many sporting buttons or beads. I’m not sure when these particular poppies were planted. I believe that they are likely part of the 5000 poppies project:

From its association with poppies flowering in the spring of 1915 on the battlefields of Belgium, France and Gallipoli, the poppy has become a symbol of both great loss in war and hope for those left behind

As a crafting community contribution to the Centenary of Anzac Commemorations, the 5000 Poppies project “planted” a field of nearly 300,000 poppies in heart of Melbourne as a stunning visual tribute to Australian servicemen and women for more than a century of service in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

From 500 Poppies: https://5000poppies.wordpress.com/media/

spider, bird, party

You might be wondering about that seemingly random list of words: spider, bird, party. In my head, they aren’t random, though. They have a sort of roundabout connection.

For a start, our house is still decorated for Halloween. We kind of went all out this year, as the kids hosted a bit of a party for some friends a couple of weeks ago. And one of our major Halloween decor themes is spiders and their webs. Here’s a sample.

spider-and-web
Giant spider and web.

We also tend to have a lot of bird-related things. For Halloween, we have some various crow, raven and black bird items, such as the wreath below.

bird-halloween-wreath
A wreath of black birds.

But aside from that, the connection between the words for me is a bit more of a tangle. Yesterday’s photo of a bird statue with a spider web reminded me that the words for bird (ptak) and spider (pająk) in Polish are two that I have gotten mixed up before. In case you are wondering why I have had the occasion to mix them up at all, I’ve been casually studying Polish using DuoLingo. (I had a conference in Poland last year, and I started the study as a bit of preparation for the trip. And I’ve just been continuing, with no concrete goals aside from learning some of a new language.)

But thinking about the various ptak and pająk items we had up for our party also reminds me of the most surprising word I’ve learned so far in Polish. The word impreza means party. It just so happens that I have been driving an Impreza (a Subaru Impreza) for the last 14 years, and had no idea it was a party.

Below is a photo I happened to have in my phone of the impreza.

impreza
Impreza: a party?

(I sometimes take a photo of my car in parking garages to remind myself of where I’ve parked. Usually I delete it afterwards, but I happily I still had this one. Because what’s a party if you don’t have photos to show for it?)

So there you go.

fashioning a fascinator

I’m rather fascinated by the term fascinator. It’s a much more fanciful expression than “funny little fancy hat.” In any case, I fashioned myself a fascinator from a fluffy little friend. Well, really, I just took one of our many spider decorations, and fastened it atop my head. I felt it worked just fine.

spider_fascinator

I don’t often post photos of myself on this blog, but when I do, there tends to be some sort of creature on top of my head.

entering the holiday whirl

holiday-whirl

We got our Christmas tree this weekend, which is remarkably early for us. We even managed to put it up the same day. (There have been years when the tree sits outside for a few days before coming inside.) I got a few photos of the kids decorating the tree, and this one was my favorite. The motion blur was completely unintentional, but it made such a beautiful circular pattern. As one friend commented on Instagram, it captures the feeling of the holidays.