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.

 

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.

 

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.

Go see me in a concert!

stop-motion-tree1

I missed posting yesterday, because I was getting ready for a concert. Actually, what I was doing was putting together my late submission for the The Eleventh Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, graciously hosted by Neil at Citizen of the Month. Go check out all the songs and photos! (And look for my stop-motion video doodling, accompanying a recording of “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” )

 

half-baked

The cookies in the photos are fully baked, but only about half of yesterday’s dough has been baked into cookies. Of those cookies that have been baked, some number were eaten before being decorated, and many more were eaten after being decorated. In all, the cookies were more than half-eaten. (Or at least more than half the cookies were fully eaten.)

This post is half-baked because I just spent far too longer organizing and deleting photos in order to do a new photo import to my laptop, because I’ve gone and filled up my hard drive yet again.

It’s beginning to look…marginally more like Christmas

I love the festive trappings of Christmas–the trees, the bright decorations, and especially the lights. In the long dark nights, it is so cheering to see the bright and colorful displays. However, getting things to look festive takes time and energy. These are things that I don’t have in excess just now. We managed to get our tree on Sunday, before rushing off to a recital, but had no time to put it up. (As I headed out to the garage before driving in to work, I was happy that John had remembered to take the tree off my car.)

We also picked up a little dangling ball of Christmas greenery. These probably have a name, but I don’t know what it is. I hung it out on our front porch, on a hook helpfully left by the previous owners. If I had to do anything more than that, the festive ball would probably be dangling less festively from a doorknob.

Our new neighborhood is much more of a neighborhood than our previous one, which was really more of a road through the woods with houses on it. And the new neighborhood apparently goes all out for holiday decorations. I feel like the neighbors might be a little disappointed that we aren’t joining in the spirit. But I can point out the ball, right?

In this photo, I was trying to capture the drips of the oh-so-festive freezing rain we had today.

And in zooming in to check the focus on my drip, I was amused to see my reflection, awkwardly hanging on to the porch pillar as I tried to get a better angle on the ball without stepping out onto the treacherously icy steps.

Ah, ’tis the season.

smashing pumpkins (or smashed pumpkins, really)

It is an American holiday tradition to decorate with pumpkins for Halloween, and carve them into jack-o-lanterns. Some pumpkins never quite make it that far…

This pumpkin was not the belle of the pumpkin patch.

There is also the less widely appreciated tradition of stealing pumpkins of other people’s front steps, and smashing them onto the ground. The closest I have come to this tradition is taking our post-Halloween pumpkins to the compost pile, and throwing them down.


Pumpkins actually don’t tend to smash in these circumstances. A compost pile is a rather soft bed of leaves and other squishy organic materials.


These pumpkins are more smushed than smashed. (I confess I am amused by the distorted faces of the decomposing pumpkins.)

These are from 2009, 2012 and 2013. It is totally normal that I have accumulated a collection of photos of smashed and/or rotting pumpkins over the years. I’m sure you can say the same, right?