There were a couple more photos from yesterday’s trip to the Christmas tree farm that didn’t make it into yesterday’s post. There must have been a bit of rain yesterday (though I don’t remember it), as some of the trees were nicely decorated with beads of water. The little tiny pine cones also made for some cute embellishments.
The kids and I did finish decorating the tree today. While we did find some of the little fuses for the old strands of lights, we ended up adding a long new strand that I’d bought a couple years ago in an after-Christmas sale light-buying spree. Then we added strands of beads, and then the other miscellaneous ornaments.
Strands of beads were never part of the Christmas trees of my childhood, but I have grown to appreciate them. I like the way they add the lines zig-zagging and draping around the tree. Plus I do love their added shininess.
I have recurring lab meetings on Fridays, for a couple of my various research/teaching projects. My colleagues suggested that we could still meet as usual, since none of us would be travelling this year. I, on the other hand, suggested that I’d prefer to skip the meetings. Our family had pencilled in a sort of meeting of our own.
What with this year being so challenging, with things like family visits and travel and fun summer activities mostly cancelled, we have really been looking forward to the home-focused activities of our traditional Christmas. Whereas I know quite a lot of people who have been decorating for Christmas early, we decided to wait until after Thanksgiving. But we did want to jump right in today. And that first jump involves getting a tree.
For the last several years, it’s been our tradition to go to a tree farm in our town. We’ve brought the dog with us most years since we’ve had him. John and I were both feeling a bit tired today, and thought that maybe it would be a bit less stressful to leave the dog at home. However, as soon as I started putting on my shoes to go, the dog put together a very compelling argument as to why he should come. I mean, look at that face.
So we bundled him and ourselves into the car and started on our way for the quick drive across town. And then turned around at the end of our street to go back home for another mask. (For John. The dog doesn’t need to wear one.) And then we were off again.
The farm was really busy today, but we went after our spy network let us know that things had calmed down. It took us a while to find a tree that met our specifications, but we persevered.
We didn’t get around to putting up the tree until quite a bit later tonight. And then we brought down some of the bins to start decorating. We started with the topper, and started putting on strands of lights, working our way up from the bottom. Unfortunately, half of our usual strings of lights seem to have given up the ghost since last year. (I spent more time digging through bins trying to find the little fuses, but gave up for tonight.)
So, the tree is only about half lit for now. Tomorrow, we’ll either see about replacing some fuses, or bringing down some different lights. But it does look pretty festive, if rather bottom-heavy.
As I mentioned in passing, my daughter headed to boarding school this fall. (Those of you who have been reading my blog for many years may be shocked to learn that time has passed, and that Phoebe is now high-school aged.) When we first worked out this plan, over a year ago, the world was a completely different place. Since Phoebe was only looking at schools in New England, we expected that we could have some weekend visits. What with COVID restrictions, though, the school wanted to bubble as much as possible. This meant that the plan was for the kids to stay at school (and not have visits from family) between drop-off in September, and collection in November before Thanksgiving break. This was a very long time for us to go without seeing Phoebe. Something like 2 and a half months. To help us to mark this time, Theo and I made a sort of advent calendar to count down the days. We made little fall-themed paper cutouts, one for each day. Mostly simple leaves, but a few acorns and oak leaves (for weekends) and some other shapes for holidays (a pumpkin for Halloween, and a squirrel for John’s birthday.) We put each cut-out up in the windows in the breakfast nook on one side of the room, and moved them over to the windows on the other side of the room for each day that passed.
Since it seemed sort of creepy-stalkerish to have it just be a countdown to seeing Phoebe, we made our calendar run up to Thanksgiving. So our final paper cutout was a little turkey. This morning the turkey crossed over to the other side. (In this case to the next window over.) And so the countdown is complete.
Today I spent most of the day cooking, and we had our small family feast tonight. Well, the family was small. The feast was rather large.
We usually have Thanksgiving dinner in the formal dining room. But this year, with just the four of us humans, we decided to eat in the breakfast nook. For one thing, I’ve been using the dining room as an office and a voter postcard distribution center. So I was fine with not dismantling that set-up. Plus the breakfast nook is looking so festive with all its leaves.
I also decided that we could skip the fancy dishes this year. I love to use the formal china, but it is a lot more work, especially since it’s not dishwasher safe. So, maybe not as fancy as some years, but still festive and bountiful.
As an aside, I’ve realized something rather funny about this blog. Because I have a tradition of blogging daily in November, our Thanksgiving plans have been remarkably well-documented every year. Much more so than other holidays and events. For most of the rest of the year, my blogging about life is rather sporadic.
In any case, much as I say this time every year, I am currently feeling very full, both of food and of gratitude.
This year, our Thanksgiving will be a smaller affair. While we’ve never had a particularly big gathering, we have traditionally shared the day with at least one other household. For years, we would always go down to my in-laws’ house. More recently, we started having Thanksgiving at home, and my mother-in-law would join us. Then we started having over a friend of mine and her two sons. There have also been years when my mother has visited, and one year (4 years ago), when my sister and nephews also visited in addition to my mother. That was our biggest gathering, with a total of 12 people.
This year, our number will just be the 4 humans who live in our house, plus our doggo. The plan is still to have most of our usual feast items, but maybe in slightly smaller quantities. (Although it is possible that we will still have copious quantities of potatoes. You know how I hate the thought of being short on potatoes.) One standard we have is a pumpkin custard that I make, which is basically a dairy-free pumpkin pie without the crust. I can’t remember when or why I started making it without the shell, but it works for us. And I typically bake it in a square pan. Which reminds me of the old “pie are round, son” joke. (You can find a version of the joke here, which was possibly my first Pi Day post, from 2008.)
On other pumpkin related topics, here Theo and I put together a fall display on our breakfast nook table. I have a growing collection of glass pumpkins, plus we have a few other decorative pumpkins of other materials. Then the CSA I’ve been participating in this year provided me with some rather pretty squashes. And then we joked about all the varieties of pumpkin in our display, so decided we should add the canned pumpkin, too. And then the goofy jack-o-lantern bucket.
Carving pumpkins is a favorite Halloween tradition in our household. For me, as well as the kids. I guess there have been some years when I haven’t carved my pumpkin, but I think I do most. And more often than not, I seem to do variations on the same expression. Here was this year’s pumpkin:
And here is last year’s:
It’s a little like my pumpkin gets reincarnated each year. Except that as a vegetable, re-incarnation is probably not quite the right term. It’s not flesh, exactly. Reinvegetation, perhaps?
I do wonder how many similar pumpkins I’ve carved over the years. The earliest version I could find was this little guy from 2009. It even got its own blog post.
This year’s pumpkin has left for now–sent off into the woods to reconnect with nature, as it were. Until we meet again next year, little pumpkin.
I’ve been wanting to make a Peep diorama for years. I remember making a diorama (of the Peepless variety) for a 6th grade school project, and I really enjoyed the process. (Wish I photos of that–it was of a scene from a Nancy Drew book.) Anyhow, I may possibly not have made another diorama since then.
A few weeks ago, I decided this was the year. And I had the idea I wanted to go with. I may have told a few people that my biggest fear* was that someone would beat me to the punch with the idea. (*Not actually my biggest fear.) And I’ve been working on it here and there for about the 3 full weeks. (I ordered the Peeps on Amazon, since I wasn’t sure we’d be able to go out to get them.)
One of the things that also pleases me about this project is that is was almost entirely made from materials we had around the house. The only new items were the Peeps. There are a few items that were small toys, but most of the things I made from materials from our recycling and scrap fabric.
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.
Here 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.)
We all designed prototypes for our structures using cardboard. I used a stack of leftover political mailers.
The cardboard/cardstock cutouts then served as the stencil for cutting out the baked dough.
The 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.
My house took a while to assemble, as there were some breakages that needed repairing.
Also, 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.
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.)
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.
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.