changing of the garlands

We’re starting in the Christmas decorations a bit early (for us) this year, trying to get the most of the Thanksgiving visit from my mom and having the kids home from school. Lest you think we are totally on top of things, we only just finished taking down the Halloween decorations. Today Theo swapped out the black garland for the tinselly ones in time to welcome in the tree.

It’s a start. A few decorations in the background, and at least I put some water in the tree stand. Maybe we’ll get around to putting on the lights tomorrow.
While this photo was from October, most of the seasonal decorations stayed in place until this morning.
Brodie was very helpful protecting us from any trees trying to invade our home.

We got the tree in, but that’s as far as we got. I’ve been trying to get some work done today, as I haven’t found as much time to do work as I’d hoped. And tomorrow is a big day, driving up to Vermont and back.

Seeing the forest for the trees

I’m not totally sure where today went, but I guess a lot of today involved trees. We had a couple of excursions, plus I wrote a bunch more postcards for Georgia. (I got a lot of help from my mom, plus Phoebe and her friend helped with some, too. Which is good, because today was the mailing deadline for the big project I signed on for.)

This tree was very orange.
I liked the way the top and the little branches curved.
This tree isn’t totally dead. I thought the peachy orange tips of the branches looked kinda neat.

In the evening, we headed back out to go the Winterlights at the Bradley estate in Canton, MA. Again, there were colorful trees that caught my eye. This was an event we hadn’t been to before, but it sounded like it would be a fun thing to do with the kids and other guests. It was quite pretty, and happily the weather was pretty mild.

Light-wrapped tree trunks lining the path at the Bradley Estate.
I enjoyed the colorful pseudo-trees at the Bradley Estate.

On the topic of trees, I use an app called Forest to help me track my time on projects, as well as to keep me focused in my tomatoes. I like that it plants little virtual trees in my virtual forest for each chunk of time that I dedicate to a task. But that’s neither here nor there, though it is in the screenshot that is here (or there). What amused me and inspired me to take the screenshot was that my phone’s predictive text clearly knows what I’ve been up to. (I guess I’ve been logging a lot of time writing postcards for Geogia.)

Ah, phone, you know me well…

Of course, my phone also made a pretty unexpected suggestion in the predictive text in a message I was sending. Note that the tree farm starts with the letters “vand.” For the record, I don’t remember every making plans to vandalize in the past. So maybe my phone doesn’t know me so well after all.

Interesting suggestion, phone. Not quite the family activity I had planned…

A plethora of preparations

Very long day again, largely filled with home and family things.

We are fortunate enough to have a cleaning service come to clean our house every other week, which helps us fight back the chaos. We typically spend quite a bit of time before they come decluttering and organizing, basically trying to expose surfaces that potentially could be cleaned. To make things less stressful on both the people who come into the house and on the dog (who is very anxious), we get ourselves out of the way when they come. For the last couple years, at least since the pandemic, the tradition when the kids have been home has been to bundle us all into the car, and then go to the Starbucks drive-through in a nearby town. (Before the pandemic, Brodie would go to doggie daycare and John and I would typically go to work. But this stopped when quarantine shut everything down. The doggy daycare presumably reopened after not too much time, but we didn’t get back into that pattern. And now Brodie hasn’t been socializing enough with other dogs to manage that kind of thing. He didn’t really like it that much in the first place, but it was good to get him to socialize with other dogs. But I digress.)

Brodie in the morning, biting a poofy platypus.

Anyhow, the morning was spent cleaning and organizing, then we had the brief excursion, and then back to the house for more preparations. I’m still trying to find the dining room table, which I believe to be the surface under the months worth of accumulation of papers and other work and project-related items.

A freshly cleaned sink with an appealingly-arrayed assortment of glassware.

Phoebe then had a couple of friends coming over, so we all took Covid tests to make sure we were safe. (Of the friends has a medically vulnerable family member.) Then I walked Brodie again around 3:30. (Afternoon walks have to get earlier and earlier, as the sun sets a little after 4 now.)

Brodie looking majestic in the golden glow of the setting sun.

More cleaning and organizing followed. Then dinner (take-out, happily), and then food prep for tomorrow. Various vegetables were washed and cut, and I made my traditional pumpkin custard. (Effectively a crustless dairy-free pumpkin pie.) My mom and the kids helped with lots of the vegetable tasks. Tomorrow will involve more cooking and food preparation, and the final push to make the dining room presentable for guests. (Happily, the friends who are coming know us and our home well enough that they won’t be too alarmed the by a bit of clutter. Or more than a bit of clutter, as the case may be.)

Pumpkin custard, fresh from the oven.

The other big task that needs to happen this week (by the time the post office closes on Friday) is the writing of another 80 or so postcards to Georgia. As is my way, I committed to the sending of a lot of handwritten postcards. After the Georgia runoff was announced, a couple of my friends contacted me expressing interested in writing cards for the runoff. When I was in DC (actually, having a rest on a bench in the National Gallery), I got an email with details on a project with a mailing deadline of 11/25. I optimistically signed up for 500 addresses. I contacted the 2 friends who’d first expressed interest, and then reached out to more people. I got permission from the group organizing the postcards to get mailing addresses printed, and very quickly the 500 addresses were claimed. So I requested more addresses. And then I reached out to more people, and requested more addresses. I spent quite a bit of time over the last couple of weeks printing labels, assembling packets, contacting people, and doing a few deliveries. In the end, I requested a total of 1150 addresses, and distributed 1040 of them to friends and acquaintances. Which is a lot, and fantastic. But, if you do the math, that leaves a not insignificant number for me to get written. Happily, my mom is lending a hand with the hand-writing, and I plan to recruit others in the household as well. Maybe even after the feast tomorrow.

A postcard penned with an intermediate level of care. The writing isn’t my neatest, but I drew a peach. Not all 110 will get peaches. But I do enjoy drawing the peaches!

Off to bed for me now, as tomorrow will be a full day.

pumpkins present, past, and presently passed

These dramatic weather shifts (warm, frosty, and warmish again) take their toll on a pumpkin. Especially one that has been carved and left to sit on a porch.

We carved our pumpkins quite late, only a couple of days before Halloween. Even though we haven’t been getting trick-or-treaters in the last couple of years (no more small children on our street), I still put them out with their lights on Halloween.

And then, as it is wont to do, time passed. Mostly I would forget the pumpkins. I would walk out past them in the morning when walking the dog, and mostly they looked okay. And then I returned from my trip to DC, and they definitely had passed over into a next stage.

A couple more days passed, and again, the pumpkins mostly passed right out of my mind. Until I was putting out a crate full of postcard packets on my porch for people to pick up. (I’m not even trying to be alliterative!) And then I noticed how very smooshed the pumpkins were looking. Yesterday morning, I attempted to carry one of the pumpkins from the porch to toss it into the woods as I headed out with the dog. It did not go well.

The pumpkin started to fall apart in my hands, and I just dropped it on the lawn. (And went back inside to wash my hands before walking the dog.) And then I went about the rest of my day.

Today I finally resorted once more to using the snow shovel to help the pumpkins pass on to their next phase. (Also glad that no one was watching me. In my attempts to get a photo of the pumpkin in the shovel, I managed to drop the contents of the shovel onto the grass once more. It was not pretty.)

On another note, observe that my traditional pumpkin was reborn once more into a new pumpkin body.

Good-bye little pumpkin. Until we meet again next year.

pines adorned with beads

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.

Nicely decorated tree at the Christmas tree farm.
I do love me some water drops.

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.

Our (possibly) completed tree.

an appointment with a Christmas tree

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.

replete, complete

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.

The first few days of the calendar.
2 days worth of leaves moved over, in September. Note how green the background was.

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.

Why did the turkey cross the window?
The completed Thanksgiving countdown calendar.

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.

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.)

3 disconnected photos

Today was a largely mellow day involving continued cleaning up from yesterday’s dinner. I spent some time putting together some ingredients for rather elaborate (and decidedly silly) blog post that is still only half-baked. Since I don’t want to stay up too much later, I foraged through my photo collections for a few morsels I’d been saving. I came across this set. Well, that’s not exactly true. I came across a similar set of photos: 1) the three little tomatoes in a blue bowl, 2) the 6 red potatoes in a colander and 3) 2 photos of cranberries in a little white bowl. One had 3 cranberries, which went nicely with the 3 tomatoes. But since I took the potato picture last December, I couldn’t go back and only put in 3 potatoes. (And I didn’t think to take any new photos of potatoes as I was prepping them yesterday.) The other photo of cranberries in the bowl had 7 cranberries. And it bothered me that it gave me a set of 3, 6 and 7. So then I realized that I still had half a bag of fresh cranberries in the fridge, and a little while bowl sitting empty on the table. So, yes, I staged the 3rd photo to have the bowl contain 9 cranberries so I could have the photos contain 3, 6 and 9 oval-shaped red produce objects. A much more satisfying number sequence.