Saturday, December 29, 2018

Style By Gracie 

My dog, Gracie, undoubtedly has a strong visual aesthetic and a keen eye for details.

That’s the only explanation I can find for the way she artfully places her beloved rawhide chips here and there around the house. Sometimes she leaves them layered in the bed covers, or peeking out from under a couch,  or tucked under a pillow. This one (shown above) positioned in harmonious arrangement with the rug at the foot of my bed, picks up the color of the nearby throw and adds a lovely detail to one of her favorite sleeping spots.

My dog, Gracie, is a clever little stylist and that is just one of the many things I love about her.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

My Dining Room

My dining room is a busy place at Christmas time. Full of meals, snowflakes, and holiday decor, it’s a space with stories to tell.


^ After a night spent roaming around the internet and looking at china cupboard Christmas vignettes, I convinced myself that I couldn’t live without several hundred dollars’ worth of new serving pieces and an onslaught of shimmering baubles that would make even Santa blush. I filled several online shopping carts to the brim, but stopped short of pulling the triggers and decided to sleep on my bright ideas.

The next morning, I impulsively emptied out my cupboard, took my three favorite platters and centered them on each shelf, from smallest at the top to biggest at the bottom. Inspired by a set of wooden bowls and a pair of brass deer I had bought over the summer, I realized I had the core components of a forest vibe.

Within an hour, I had shuffled through my storage cabinet, selected a handful of other pieces that fit the theme, finished off the arrangement, and found inner peace.

Then I went and deleted every single one of those shopping carts that I’d filled the night before, and enjoyed my make-it-work moment.

^ To anchor this flurry of snowflakes in the window, I sent my husband out to the yard and asked him to find me a big stick.


And I think that’s a good start to any project.

^ The dining room table often turns into my gift wrap staging area and this year was no exception. What did happen differently was that I was late to the gift-wrapping game and my fore-thinking daughters had knocked back our gift wrap supply to shockingly few leftovers.  Rather than having my choice of the peach, gray, and glittering whites that we picked out before Thanksgiving,Ii was left with a few rolls of odds and ends, and a heap of scraps.

Ditto that on the ribbon selection.


Laying aside any expectations of grandeur, I worked with a passionless determination to get every box wrapped in something and tied up with anything long enough to tie into a bow.

Only when I laid my stash out in the table and took in the sight as a whole did I realize that somehow, the scrappy and uncoordinated presents were beautiful together. What a fun surprise.

^ Every year, I tell myself that I’m going to buy a proper luxe bouquet for Christmas. Maybe some stunning red roses, or a mixed bouquet with white lilies, white hydrangea and red berries, or even something dramatic featuring tall spiky brown branches. I dare myself to buy something unexpected, unpredictable, and maybe even downright unique.

But I never do.

Every year, I buy red tulips for my Christmas table and I am always glad. They make me happy. .

^ Look among the heaps of gifts I bought this year for my family. See the brown tissue paper package in the lower right corner?

That is a gift for me.

This may be purely selfish and quite out of step with the true spirit of the season, but while I’m Christmas shopping, I often stumble across some beautiful thing that I cannot live without. And even though I feel a wee bit bad about it, I buy it.

And somehow it helps soothe my guilty conscious if I tuck it away till Christmastime, and then wrap it up and give it to myself as a proper present.

Love your neighbors as you love yourself, right?

Inside this year’s package was a white quartz coaster from Anthropologie. It’s now unwrapped and sitting on my nightstand, where I use it every night for my glass of water.

And every time I look at it, I remember that I gave it for myself as a Christmas gift.

I have zero regrets.

^ Of all the holiday treasures that pass through my dining room each Christmas, the paper snowflakes must be my favorite. Magic can be worked from humble paper and string and a bit of tape.

And if you don’t believe me, I invite you to come to my dining room and see for yourself.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Sugar Cookies

My youngest daughter has been itching to decorate some Christmas sugar cookies. 

So I whipped up a double batch of my mom's favorite recipe and went to work with a rolling pin and a handful of our favorite cookie cutters. As the cookies cooled, I pulled together a bowl full of buttercream frosting. 

Then I left my daughter alone in the kitchen. Armed with three squeeze bottles and four bottles of food coloring, she went to work.

I'd say we make a pretty good team. 

Eating My Way Through Christmas Day

This Christmas was a little different at our house. My third-born managed to make her way home from South Korea several days ahead of Santa but my second-born is stiuck in Ohio until the 27th.

Which led us to postpone our gift-giving ceremonies for a few days

Which meant we had a few holes in our normal Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities.

Which we decided to fill with food.

Alright, admittedly, at our house - and probably yours too - food is a big part of every Christmas. But this year, we pulled out all the stops to treat ourselves to some extra yummy meals. And while we all know that food can never fill in the empty space of a missing loved one, we gave it our best shot.

* * * * * 

^ Christmas Eve Dinner 

My oldest daughter suggested a change from our traditional appetizer buffet: Chinese take out. Mad genius. We placed an order at a neighborhood restaurant called Lotus and picked up our food on the way home from church.

Lo Mein
Orange Chicken
Kung Pao Prawns
Beef + Broccoli
Egg Rolls
Steamed Rice

A fun way to kick off a day of serious eating, and we’ll definitely do it again next year. Our only regret? When it comes to American Chinese delicacies, there’s a clear champion. Shoulda just gone to Panda Express.

^Christmas Breakfast

What do you do when half the family wants French toast for Christmas breakfast and the other half wants waffles? I’ll tell you what you do; you make both. And a big ol’ heap of bacon to go with.

No regrets.

^Christmas Lunch

Charcuterie boards are the post-modern solution to a quick and delicious meal. Grab an assortment of meats, cheeses, crackers, spreads, fruits, and nuts; style your heart out; and serve.

We didn’t think we were hungry but we pretty much demolished the entire arrangement.

^Christmas Dinner

We take our holiday food traditions quite seriously and do not tamper unnecessarily with the menu or the recipes.

Grilled flank steak
Roasted green beans
Macaroni + cheese
Green bean casserole
Mashed potatoes + gravy

Predictable, perhaps, but thoroughly enjoyable.  I ate every bite.

^Christmas Dessert

Gone are the days when my young daughters began consuming candy at nine o’clock on Christmas morning and by dinner time, had zero appetite for sweets. Not that there’s anything wrong with eating handfuls of peanut m&ms while still wearing your pajamas but now we can enjoy swanky treats like this chocolate cake with white chocolate ganache filling and raspberries on the side.

And that’s fun too.

* * * * *

So although we are still counting down the days till we are all together again, and we watch wistfully as our presents sit under the tree for a few extra days, we definitely made the best of it by eating our way through Christmas Day in fine style.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Christmas Absurdities

At least the tree turned out to be darn near perfect. And Gracie hasn’t pooped under it. Yet. 

“Well,” I mused as we climbed from the car at the Christmas tree farm, “here we are, about to embark on a peaceful and idyllic holiday tradition.”

There were just the four of us - my husband, my full-grown fourth-born, Gracie and me. No teenage temper tantrums to soothe, no diapers  to change, no hotly contested negotiations about which type of tree to buy. Surely, this trip to the Christmas tree farm would be blissfully serene and darn near perfect.

As Gracie and I strolled along the widely mown paths, her tail happily wagging as she sniffed the air, I contemplated the photos I would take, posing my photogenic dog among the firs. Scouting the perfect tree, my husband and daughter soon gained a considerable lead on us and I smiled to see them eagerly exploring the far corners of the farm. I happily followed at a distance, knowing that once they agreed upon a tree and I had given my approval, I would then be free to wander about and fill my camera roll with adorable shots of our Christmas bliss.

At that exact moment, I glanced down at my dog who had suddenly stopped dead in her tracks in the middle of the busy walkway and was now - there is no delicate way to say this - taking a giant poop.
I froze in horror.

At the risk of sharing too much information, when wandering in the wilds with my dog, I’m a master at tucking unsightly piles into quickly dug holes or tossing the offending items into deep brush far off the beaten trail.

But this time, there was no way round it. I needed a doggie bag, and I needed it fast.

In the instant that it took these thoughts to flash through my mind, a family of five came walking along the path. I quickly stepped up to the offending heap, protecting the three small children from any mishaps. The youngest toddler was fascinated with Gracie and in normal circumstances, I would have invited him to pet her while I kept a sharp eye on my dog. But not this time. I couldn’t afford any distractions.

The toddler eventually wandered off. I watched my husband and daughter surveying trees far beyond earshot. I willed them to see me, to guess my plight, to run to the car and bring me one of the bags I keep in the car for occasions such as this. But they merrily plodded on, examining trees and moving farther and farther away from me.

In desperation, I pulled out my phone and called my husband.

He didn’t pick up.

Now it all came down to my daughter and praise the lord, she answered my call.

And so a plastic bag was finally delivered to me and my dog’s duty was removed from the path. It’s only fair to mention that the bag had a tiny hole in it so I was treated to the olfactory delights of her work for another fifteen minutes while we paid for the tree and strapped it to the top of the car.

There was no wastebasket at the tree farm so we had to drive off with the offending load inside the car. At the first gas station, my husband pulled over and disposed of it, once and for all.

I did not take a single photo at the Christmas tree farm this year.

Not one.

Though I suspect I will remember this outing for a long time because i was reminded quite thoroughly of an important lesson

There is no such thing as a perfect holiday outing.

And the sooner I get over my disappointment about the inevitability those fantasy-busting imperfections, the more I can laugh at the endless absurdities of a real-life Christmas.

* * * * *

Ready for more stories about Christmas tree outings, both good and bad?