So Long, 2016

I wrote 14 posts this year. Sometimes I wonder if I’m still a blogger.

What can I say? It’s been a hell of a year. A lot of this is known to people; we all heard about the election, and no matter how you feel about the results, it was a big damn deal. We all know about the celebrities who died; Carrie Fisher’s passing hit me particularly hard.

For us, we’ve had a triathlon to train for (Mr. Sandwich) and support (Baguette and me), multiple IEP meetings, changes in leadership at Baguette’s school, lost teeth (the sixth came out this week), family drama that warrants assessment, and lice.

Oh, the lice.

We were supposed to travel to visit my dad and stepmom for Thanksgiving. But I had a bad cold, and based on much prior experience of making that trip sick, we decided not to. As it turned out, that was a wise decision. Because on the day we would have been driving, I discovered that Baguette and I had lice.

We called a service to come over to the house that night and comb all three of us, and scheduled the follow-up for the Monday after the holiday. But as it turned out, we couldn’t wait that long, so we also went to a lice-combing salon on Friday for an additional come-through.

There are, by the way, a lot of businesses providing this service in Los Angeles.

That was our hair; we also commenced on an astonishing amount of laundry, washing and drying on hot things that we often don’t even put in the dryer. We vacuumed and lint-rollered and bagged and froze and did everything we could think of to halt this in its tracks.

It was exhausting. It was not a vacation. It was not a break. But ultimately, we were successful–although we now are completely fixated on checking our heads on a regular (and probably unnecessarily frequent) basis.

We delayed our trip, planning to visit the week after Christmas. And then I got bronchitis. So we didn’t go. But we did have Christmas dinner with Mr. Sandwich’s parents, as planned. That was nice for a bit, and then discretion is the better part of valor, and also of family harmony on Christmas.

Now we are two weeks into Baguette’s three-week winter break from school. In case you were wondering, three weeks is too long. It’s not that I don’t love and value the time with her–it’s that we don’t have any other care for her, which means we have to take more days off from work, and it means that her routine is significantly disrupted in ways that are very difficult for her. And with my bronchitis that first week of the break, we didn’t do a great job of creating a different routine. We’re getting into one now, but that still doesn’t keep us from having rough days.

Long story short? I am ready for a new year. So Happy New Year to all of you!

And know that while I may not be able to stay up the whole time (among other things, Baguette got me up at around 4:00 this morning), I am definitely feeling this:

Finessing Christmas

When I was young, our Christmases were extravaganzas. My parents weren’t Clark Griswold/Christmas store-style decorators, but we had lights on the house and a big, full tree that was overdecorated and surrounded by piles of presents. On Christmas Eve, we’d don pajamas and curl up on either side of my father so that he could put his arms around us both as he read The Night Before Christmas.

On Christmas morning, we’d get up as early as my brother and I could persuade my parents to wake; make tea and coffee; go through stockings; have breakfast; go to Mass (when we were very young–later we switched to Christmas Eve Mass); come home; and open presents.

When we lived within driving distance of grandparents, we would spend the afternoon with my mother’s parents and the next day or two with my father’s. When we didn’t, my mother’s parents often traveled to spend the holidays with us (this is its own story).

We would spend the whole day at home with each other and our new gifts, playing board games and reading books–and watching movies, once VHS technology had been invented and acquired. And we’d cook our traditional Christmas dinner.

Times have changed, as they do. Most years we trade off holidays, so that we’re spending one with my side of the family and the other with Mr. Sandwich’s. Our own trees are smaller, often in height and always in diameter. I keep forgetting to locate the copy of The Night Before Christmas, and I never remember to buy stocking stuffers. Mr. Sandwich goes on an early run, as is his family’s tradition, and we eat some breakfast. We haven’t been to Mass in years.

The presents don’t all get opened on the same day. Baguette enjoys opening a few, but then loses interest, so we open one or two of hers a day until we’re done. Or we don’t. So far? Not done.

But there are 12 days of Christmas, right? So I figure there’s no rush.

Keeping the Holiday Stress in Check

Impossible, you say? A lot of people would agree with you; the Washington Post reports that holiday stress makes this the most challenging time of year for many women.

I have wonderful memories of childhood Christmases. There were always lots of gifts.

There were decorations–lights on the house, and a tall, full tree festooned with ornaments, and tinsel. There were cookies–my mom’s shortbread cookies remain some of my favorite Christmas cookies, even though I haven’t had them in years. There was a big meal–roast prime rib, Yorkshire pudding, creamed spinach, and baked potatoes, with gingerbread for dessert.

But none of that was what made those Christmases special. Fun, sure, but not special.

No, what made them special was the love. The time we spent together, taking turns exploring those gifts. Making dinner. Watching movies. Playing new board games.

That’s what I want to give Baguette. And I want to make those elements part of her childhood, too. But that doesn’t mean I have to make it stressful. My secret? Setting boundaries.

Christmas tree, Baguette, and Ernie

Tree: I want to have a tree. But it doesn’t need to be the 8-foot-tall Balsam I grew up with. We’re just as happy with a 4-1/2 foot Noble fir (Mr. Sandwich and I like trees that have layers of branches, the better to hang ornaments). In fact, we only had a tall tree once–and that was because we were so late in buying our tree last year that the tree lot was out of the small size we’d hoped for.

Decorations: Mr. Sandwich strings lights on the house each year. I love them. But we don’t need to go all Clark Griswold in the process. (I have plans to make a door wreath of buttons. I’ve had this plan for years. Someday, it’ll happen.)

Gifts: We don’t need to give a lot of them to each person. We just need to open them together.

Food: Well, I do like that traditional meal. But, really, it’s not that hard to make, and it’s pretty easy to plan it so that everything comes out hot at the same time.

Cookies: I don’t make Christmas cookies. I want to, but what I really want to do is make them with Baguette, and she’s not quite ready to do that. Maybe next year. I feel like next year’s going to be a big one.

So our Christmas may be smaller-scale than many, but we’re spending it together, with our focus on each other. And that really is all I want for Christmas.

Deck the Meme with Boughs of Holly (updated)

This holiday meme was stolen from Katherine of Somewhere in the Middle. Enjoy, and pass it on.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot chocolate, definitely!
2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Neither–Santa leaves unwrapped gifts in our stockings.
3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? The more colors, the better.
4. Do you hang mistletoe? No, but I used to want to when I was younger
5. Tacky holiday sweaters: yea or nay? Nay! (Apparently I left out #5–thanks to Blogging With Mittens* for this one!)
6. What is your favorite holiday dish? Yorkshire pudding, part of my family’s traditional holiday feast.
7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? Making egg-carton ornaments with my dad and construction-paper garlands with my mom.
8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? No idea.
9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No, we wait until Christmas morning.
10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? Lights and eclectic ornaments. I grew up with tinsel, but we don’t use it because of the dog.
11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Love it! Largely because we live in Los Angeles–if we see snow, we’re on vacation.
12. Can you ice skate? Badly, and not for long.
13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Slippers. It’s not a lame gift if your feet are always cold.
14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you? Spending time with family.
15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? My mother’s shortbread cookies.
16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Dinner.
17. What tops your tree? A clear star I bought the first year I had a tree of my own.
18. Which do you prefer: giving or receiving? Giving!
19. Candy Canes: Yuck or Yum? Yum, until the mint upsets my stomach. Then yuck, clearly.
20. Favorite Christmas show? How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
21. Saddest Christmas Song? I’ll Be Home For Christmas. (Because you can tell, no, they won’t.)
22. What is your favorite Christmas song? Joy to the World.

And you?

Update: You know what? I’m going to tag a few people.

Blogging With Mittens*

Confessions of a Semi-Domesticated Mama

Don’t Forget to Feed the Baby

Expatria, Baby

Katie Is a Teacher

Life Ever Since

Wish List

Gifts under the Christmas tree

The other day, my dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told him that I had thought of something a few days earlier, but I’d forgotten what it was.

This is typical for me. When I was a kid, I would come up with six or seven ideas. In June. In the fall, when my mother would ask what I wanted, all I could remember was that there had been something.

As an adult, I’ve become a big fan of the useful gift. One year my brother gave me a blender. The next year he gave me a paper shredder. A couple of years ago, he and my sister-in-law gave me a gift card that helped me get a KitchenAid stand mixer. I’ve forgotten a lot of gifts, but I remember these, because they rocked. And the only one I’m still not using is the paper shredder, because I used it to death.

When my dad and stepmom went on a Mediterranean cruise a few years ago, they came back with gifts for everyone. My sister-in-law, my step-sister-in-law, my stepsister, and her daughter all got jewelry. Before I got my gift, my stepmom said, “This is your father’s doing. He insisted.” I opened up my bag and yelled, “Olive oil soap! Awesome!”

Before Mr. Sandwich and I were engaged, Christmas rolled around. He said, “What do you want me to get you?” I said, “Oh, I really want slippers.” He said, “Are you sure?” I said that I was, and pointed out that in fact slippers are a very romantic gift: “My feet get cold, and every time I put on these slippers, I will think, ‘My boyfriend gave me these, and now my feet are warm.'”

When you are living in a New Jersey winter, you really appreciate having warm feet. In fact, even though I’m far from New Jersey, I still do.

What’s on your list?

Holiday Traditions: Opening Gifts

I’ve written about what we eat, and how we’re trying to balance different gift-giving philosophies. But what about the actual gifts?

Mr. Sandwich’s family would get up and go for a run. If you don’t think this sounds traditional, then you don’t know the Sandwiches–and has he got some stories for you. After that they’d open presents going one in turn, have breakfast, and loll about until it was time to go to the theater and see whatever uplifting and light-hearted holiday movie had been selected for the day. (Standouts include “Platoon,” “Das Boot,” “Empire of the Sun,” and “Dune.” The year they saw “Working Girl” marked a real sea change–although not so thorough a change as to keep them from “The Crucible” years later.)

Across the country (or halfway across, depending on when exactly we’re talking about), my brother and I would insist on a ridiculously early wake-up time, actually waking up two hours earlier, convinced that someone was breaking into the house to steal our presents. (We had a similar fear about the Thanksgiving turkey.) We would hide and play in my room until it was time to get our parents up. Then we would all head downstairs to the living room.

We’d open stockings, each pulling out one item in turn, and then have breakfast. After that, we’d move back to the living room and open gifts one at at time, with hugs for the giver after each. The rest of the day was spent playing with toys and board games, watching movies, and reading books, followed by preparing our traditional dinner. Unlike the Sandwiches, we never left the house. It was a lovely, cocooning day with immediate family.

Tomorrow morning will be our first real Christmas morning in our home; the others have all been spent with one or the other set of parents. We’re still figuring out what we want to do–open gifts? Save them for later when we’re at Mr. Sandwich’s parents’ home? Some of both? I don’t know if we’ll settle on something that is the start of a tradition. But that’s okay. Traditions take time.

Have a Holly, Jolly, Blurry Christmas

I’ll probably post again before the weekend, but as we’re midway through our various celebrations, this seems as good a time as any to hurl holiday cheer into the Internet void.

This past weekend, my side of the family came to town for a visit. We went to Baguette’s day care holiday performance (I am conflicted about the existence of such an event, relieved that once again she was not traumatized, and won over by how cute toddlers are), bought a tiny, tiny tree, and cooked a lot of food. Sunday was our Christmukkah celebration (even though Hanukkah didn’t start until last night), which started off with breakfast (apple bread, scrambled eggs, bacon, turkey sausage) and quickly moved on to opening gifts. After that it was time to make dinner:

  • Roast prime rib
  • Yorkshire pudding
  • Maple-glazed carrots
  • Betty Crocker Potatoes Au Gratin

That last was a nod to my recovery from surgery; while I have a recipe for potatoes au gratin that I love, it is somewhat labor intensive. So I asked for suggestions, and the boxed solution was brought up as an alternative. Let’s just say I wouldn’t do that again.

This weekend we’ll have a Pirate Christmas gift exchange with some sort-of-local cousins, and we’ll spend part of Christmas Day with Mr. Sandwich’s side of the family. We’re still figuring out which part, though, so we’re not sure if we can count on eating crepes or tri-tip.

One of the things we struggle with each year is the deluge of gifts. We are by no means minimalists (which you probably guessed by seeing the random assortment of crap in the background of the blurry photo), but we are finding that our holiday gift-giving style is a bit on the lean side.

I came from a family of bounteous Christmases. It took me far too long to figure out that when people asked what I got, I shouldn’t name every gift, because no one else was getting that many. There were reasons for why my parents (particularly my mother) went overboard, and I understand them. But as time passes, that is less and less my style.

Mr. Sandwich’s family gives fewer gifts per person, and I’m finding that to be more comfortable. Sometimes the pile of gifts under the tree can feel like an impending avalanche. And I want Baguette to be aware of what she gets, not just have a vague memory that there was a lot of stuff. At the same time, I know that my family just wants to give gifts, and I’m certainly not going to tell them that their generosity isn’t welcome–because it comes from a really good place, and that’s more important than some arbitrary limit on gifts that makes me feel in control of the day.

But I do really like this idea, from Frugal Mama–stockings filled with messages rather than gag gifts!

Oh, and this rings true, from The BadAssMama Chronicles.

Holiday Traditions: Food

Growing up, we ate nothing in particular (well, something, not just anything specific) on Christmas Eve. Christmas morning was usually sour cream coffee cake with eggs and bacon. For Christmas dinner, though, we pulled out all the stops:

  • Roast prime rib
  • Yorkshire pudding
  • Creamed spinach
  • Baked potatoes

Then my mom passed away, and I married Mr. Sandwich, and my dad remarried, and my brother got married. So we wound up being a completely different family. An awesome one, but completely different.

That doesn’t mean we have to give up all of the tradition, but it does mean that it ought to reflect who we are now. Two years ago, therefore, we worked together to identify which parts of the meal were essential, and which could be changed. We wound up with:

  • Roast prime rib (alternate for those who don’t eat beef: grilled salmon)
  • Yorkshire pudding
  • Maple-glazed carrots
  • Rosemary Au Gratin Potatoes (I use less cream and add ricotta)

No dessert. There’s no room for dessert. That tradition hasn’t changed.