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25 Days of Christmas

Rather than 25 days, this series is really going to be 24 days of Christmas, I guess, since I won’t be posting tomorrow in favor of spending time with my family and playing with my new toys. (Or, knowing me, reading my new books is probably a more accurate prediction.)

I’m curious to see if we’ll get oranges in the toes of our stockings this year. This is a tradition that’s been going on for a long time, which seemed silly to me for a long time, but now I sort of look forward to it. Usually Dad’s the one who eats the oranges, unless they’re clementines, in which case it’s a fight to the death.

Picture of table crowded with presents.
Find the Christmas Orange!

The Christmas brunch menu is still under consideration, but I’ll be sure to take pictures and share them, plus final images of all my holiday knitting products. Happy holidays, everybody!

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Christmas at Home

I’m home safe and enjoying my break tremendously so far. After getting up at 4 am for an early flight out of BWI, and having an eventful trip (two gate changes, one plane change, one in-flight medical emergency, one lecture from TSA official on how my sweater really counts as a jacket, and countless incidences of turbulence), I managed to squeeze in a trip to downtown Evanston for Chicago style pizza and window shopping with a good friend and even a trip to the local public library. I also discovered a Star Trek film marathon on SyFy, and watched some Top Chef with my mom and sister, activities that really makes me miss cable in the rest of my life.

Today promises to be busy as well. My sister and I are going for brunch (probably more like lunch by the time we get to it) and a movie, then drinks at The Whistler with our parents, followed by dinner at Revolution Brewing’s pub. So many reasons to love Christmas in Chicago.

Christkindlmarkt in Chicago's Daley Plaza
Christkindlmarkt in Chicago’s Daley Plaza

I got up early and wrapped most of my presents already, so it’s starting to get a little crowded under the tree. Speaking of the tree, there’s a few spaces without ornaments yet. Better get on that, or Santa might think we’re not taking Christmas seriously and decide not to stop here!

Feels a lot like Christmas

I’m scheduling this to post the 22nd, since I’ll be travelling that day and will inevitably fall asleep on the sofa the moment I arrive home and probably forget to post. I don’t have a lot to say, except to show off probably the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received:

Toddler with teddy bear.
Me & Oski!

This is my teddy, Oski (of the University of California Golden Bears), a gift from graduate school friends of my father. As you can tell from this picture, Oski and I have made quite a pair for almost 30 years now. He’s in Baltimore with me, but due to some, um, structrual integrity issues, no longer really travels back to Chicago. In terms of longevity, cost-per-use, and general adorableness, he’s been a pretty hard one to top.

Oski, me, Dad
Oski, me, Dad

Travel/Travail

I’m going home. Tomorrow.

In well less than 24 hours I will be on a plane to Chicago. Between now and then I have to work a full day, plus commuting, plus packing and cleaning and getting our cat sitter set up with keys and all kind of other stuff. You may also have heard that the Midwest is in complete crazy-state due to this little thing called “snow” that has almost ruined my holiday plans in many a recent year. I’ve got my boarding pass printed, but I’m prepared for a stressful and possibly quite long day tomorrow.

Snow on house & bushes
Snow on house & bushes, 2007

Travel around the holidays is obviously stressful for everybody, and I’m luckier than most. I’ve largely worked at or been in education environments most of the years I’ve lived away from home, so I often have a reasonable amount of time in which to travel. My parents are still together – in fact, for 39 years this month – and have been in the same house since 1986, which makes it all very straightforward. My sister and I are sufficiently independent to be able to travel home without extensive negotiation (we’ll see about next year, I suppose). I have easy access to airports, or in years when I have more time than money, a reliable car and toll pass. Even with all this convenience and luck, it can still be (and usually is) stressful to worry about things like weather that we can’t control, stand in insanely long airport security lines, and all sorts of other pieces that have to fit into place just so.

Instead of spending the next 18 hours agonizing about travel, I’m going think about the better times – a glitch-free family Christmas trip to Costa Rica in 2008. There was temperate weather, there were cocktails at dusk overlooking a volcano, there was ziplining and rafting and kayaking, all manner of beasties with fur and scales and feathers, most importantly:

Resplendent Quetzal
Resplendent Quetzal

Travel safe, everybody!

Feast

Feasting is a really great holiday tradition – the time and the luxury to work on really involved or rich dishes without feeling (too much) guilt. A few Christmases ago my family had a real treat when my foodie aunt and uncle visited with a tin of homemade truffles, a year-plus abroad in Italy, and The Berghoff Family Cookbook as accompaniments. We feasted, indeed, on Berghoff creamed spinach, penne with mascarpone and walnuts, beef Wellington, and a variety of other delicacies.

It’s shocking to think of it, but but it was more than ten years ago now when my parents hosted our extended family (including two dogs, an unheard-of circumstance in our house) for the holidays. It was, I think, the last Christmas I spent with my paternal grandparents. One of my uncles made some kind of crazy meat pies for Christmas brunch, and for either Christmas or Christmas Eve dinner my mom made boeuf bourguignon for the masses. I remember they slipped a little bit of the beefy wine sauce into one of the dog’s bowls, probably the best Christmas present she ever got.

In recent years my sister and I have taken to making brunch for the family on Christmas morning. While traveling around New Mexico in 2005 I purchased a cookbook for my mom as a souvenir  featuring recipes from the top B&Bs in the region, and it’s been quite a hit for brunch at home recipes. I can’t find a online reference since I don’t quite recall the title, but there’s a spicy egg casserole and a fruit smoothie that have been hits in our family. Another hit that I almost exclusive make at home are these pesto latkes, which are baked in a muffin tin rather than fried. I can use Mom’s food processor to shred a lot of potatoes, though I never quite get them dry and crispy enough.

One of the best things about leisurely holiday eating, for me, is the opportunities for nibbles before the meal. Without the rushing and hecticness* of typical meals, there’s time for a plate of little noms and if I’m really lucky perhaps a fancy cocktail. Traditionally this would be a sour drink of some kind, either whiskey (a Mom classic and Grandma favorite) or pisco. We’ve been really spoiled since my cousin opened his fabulous Chicago bar, The Whistler, a few years ago. As you can see from their cocktail menu**, they have an amazing array of cocktails, and occasionally he mixes up a batch of something new and different for family events.

With any luck, in 48 hours I’ll be greeted by a sight something like this:

Snackies!
Snackies!

 

* Not that holiday meals aren’t hectic; anybody who has seen my sister and I in the kitchen at the same time can tell you that.

** Pro tip: the picture from the Whistler Blog is from my proud aunt & uncle’s Hawaiian honeymoon!

Holiday Crafts

Holidays happen to be a great time for crafting. I will confess to being a tad bit behind on my Christmas knitting, although there are many other crafty activities this time of year – baking, making ornaments, etc. Obviously I can’t show you what I’m making for people, since nothing has been presented yet, but I can show you what I’m making these gifts with:

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I also created a Pinboard for future holiday crafts and activities. The apple cider sangria recipe turned out quite well, and there’s a few things I’m hoping to try next year.

Wine Bottle Cork Crafts, including an adorable little reindeer:

cork_reindeer

Christmas Tree Skirt, ideally something felt-y and polka dot-y, like this one from Crate and Barrel:

cheers_tree_skirt

Christmas tree ornaments like these clear glass ones, which would allow me to have tinsel that’s marginally less likely to get eaten by kitty:

tinsel christmas ornaments

And finally, more knitting & cork related crafting!

corkforest1

Christmas Tales, Part 2

Just as some movies “feel” like Christmas even when they’re not necessarily “about” Christmas, the same can be true for books. There are books I always feel like reading this time of year, and not just because it’s winter and all I want to do is read or bake. (And not just “The Hunger Games”, either, which I would re-read anytime.)

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper: A winter tale of a battle between good and evil, centered around a boy on the cusp of his 11th birthday. Part of a series, but the action of this particular title all takes place around Christmas.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis: The cover on the edition I have is a faun in the snow, with an armful of packages. The wintery nature of the tale feels very Christmas-y, and they do talk about Narnia being a land where it’s always winter but never Christmas.

If you have time, and  you haven’t already, I’d suggest curling up with these good books over the holidays!

Christmas in Baltimore

Anti-Grinch

I read a lot about news, current events, politics, and so on, and all the rest. T can tell you I frequently get agitated and hiss and spit at my computer when I read something upsetting or displeasing. While there’s certainly plenty of bad news around the holidays, just like any other time of year, I feel like “the media” also highlight a lot of positive human interest stories, random acts of kindness, things that fit into the holiday spirit.

I remember last year, there were a lot of stories going around about people paying off stranger’s layaway balances – here’s one good example from The Consumerist: “Reader Pays Off Strangers’ Layaway Tabs, Becomes Santa Claus“. I try to be a generous person, and I certainly donate to a wide range of charities, but I’m always impressed and a little bit humbled by people who can be so spontaneously kind.

One apparently recurring story is when people drop gold or other coins worth more than their face value into donation buckets, as happened recently in Elmira, NY.

And even kids can get into the action! One boy from Owasso, OK requested toy donations instead of gifts for his 8th birthday party, and ended up with donations of 500 or so toys to a local Toys for Tots drive.

I realize these acts of kindness don’t just happen this time of year – when T and I went to adopt Cookie this fall, there was a family where the son had requested pet toys, food and other donations for the Franky Fund at the animal shelter. I just appreciate that these kinds of stories seem to get extra attention when they happen around this time of the year!

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