Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bah Humbug?

My Mama made this for me last  year!
As most of you probably know (unless there's a lot more people reading this than I think), I'm a fan of Christmas. In fact, my friend Adorable Nurse would (and has) term it an obsession. To be honest, she may even be right. After all, last weekend my husband and I put up our Christmas decorations, because we both love it so much. We even got to put Christmas lights up around the porch!

A common complaint I've heard all my life is how Christmas keeps getting pushed back earlier and earlier. And to a large extent I agree--the year I walked into a Walmart in August and they already had their Christmas section set up was more than a bit much. But, once again, as most of you know I've always considered everything from Halloween forward to be the "Christmas Season."

Growing up, the general rule in the family was that we'd decorate the day after Thanksgiving. It was just the Way Things Were Done. Even after I moved out on my own, that's the way I did it. Last year, however, my Sammy and I were having a pretty rough time of it, so we decorated the first or second of November, and didn't take the decorations down until well into January. We held out longer before putting them up this year (we'd made it to the teens of November!), and I doubt we'll keep'em up past New Years.

But why? I mean, why did we put up the Christmas stuff before it's even Thanksgiving? The simple fact is that, for me at least, the Christmas season always reminds me of everything in life that I am thankful for: family, friends, a roof over our heads, kitties sleeping on our heads, and, most importantly, the Savior whose advent we're celebrating. So, in a strange way, putting up the Christmas stuff helps get me into the Thanksgiving mood.

Not to mention all of that Christmas-y stuff makes my home feel warmer and brighter. It adds festive cheer to activities that otherwise can feel like drudge work. (Just try rocking out to TSO's Carol of the Bells while vacuuming cobwebs off the wall/ceiling. It helps. Really.)

Additionally, once again from my perspective, Christmas is the time of year when caring for your house, baking tons of goodies, taking pictures of family and friends, making crafts, having people over for food and drink, and generally being domestic and showing good will towards all men is not only acceptable, but often expected. Which, as I've discovered over the past year of being a stay-at-home wife, is a blessed relief. The things that I enjoy doing most are more sociably acceptable at this time. So that lends a certain amount of selfish charm to the idea of Christmas as well.

But, most importantly for us, it's a daily reminder of "the Reason for the Season," Jesus Christ. 

So, yes, I am one of those people who have their lights on, their trees up, and music celebrating the birth of Christ at full volume, even though Thanksgiving is next week. And I understand if you prefer to save all of that until the week of Christmas. But let me celebrate in peace and love, and let me try to hold on to the magic and wonder as long as I can.

We could all use a bit more Christmas cheer! :-D

Friday, November 12, 2010

Check it over before you take a bite...

Sometimes, I like to close my eyes and call forth a memory and try to remember as much detail about it as I can. Initially I started doing this as a part of a game of "What if?" that I'd play. For example: what if my brother had gone to college instead of into the Navy? or what if I hadn't gotten strep throat in 7th grade and hadn't missed all those pre-algebra classes? How would it have changed my life?

In order for the game to work correctly, however, I'd have to pull forth as detailed of memories as I could of certain incidents before I could begin imagining how things would have turned out differently. I found that the more I would play my "What if?" games, the more I spent time just trying to stretch my memory and recreate exact scenes.

Sounds like it should be easy, doesn't it? But I've found that because I love pictures so much, that often times all I can remember of an event, place, or person, is the pictures I have of them, instead of the actual memory. And then, I had the thought earlier today that perhaps I could, from time to time, try and write out one of these memories that I'm trying to recreate.

So, here's one memory:

I'm in the lunchroom/all purpose room of my elementary school. From my perspective, it's a huge room, with a half-a-dozen lunch tables set up in it--one for each grade that takes lunch there, plus one for the teachers. I'm seated at the table closest to the teachers, because I'm in the first grade. Early spring sunshine comes through the windows in the east wall behind me, but it's cool and almost watery. The lunch table is covered with a brown, fake-wood laminate. The bench seats are connected to the table and can be folded up on top of it, and the table in turn can then also be folded in half for storage.  I'm small enough that the toes of my sneakers just barely brush cold linoleum below.

This is me at 6, before the tooth fell out.
I can't recall who's sitting next to me--I could make good guesses based off of who was in my class, but I can't actually visualize them. In front of me is a pea-green plastic tray, with flecks of grey and white. The tray is divided into six sections--a long thin one on the left side for silverware (fork and spoon--no knives for grade schoolers!), a larger rectangle for the main entrée and a medium circle for our potatoes are at the bottom of the tray, and across the top are three squares--one for our fruit, one for our veggie, and one for our carton of milk. I have chocolate 2% milk (it's before the school went to skim milk), a greasy, pale brown potato cake, lukewarm canned pineapple chunks, an ice cream scoop of sour coleslaw (yech!), and a large hot dog on a bun.

My left incisor has been loose for a week or so, and my parents keep saying it'll come out soon. This is a scary thought for me, because I know when my dad goes to the dentist to have work done on his teeth, he always complains about how it hurts. The prospect of having a tooth pulled out (because I didn't understand the difference between baby teeth falling out and adult teeth being pulled out) terrifies me.

The hot dog is a shriveled, reddish-brown thing, drowned in a sea of ketchup and cradled in a hot dog bun that was fresh maybe at the beginning of the semester. Maybe. I listen to all of my classmates chattering around me as I reach down to take a bite of the hot dog.

After taking the bite, I immediately realize that something is very strange. There's a weird popping sensation, and mouth feels strangely warm--and not due to the hot dog. As soon as I finish swallowing, I realize that my tooth is missing!

My tongue instantly goes to the place where the tooth should be, and I feel this weird dangling flap of skin. I start panicking because I don't know where the tooth is and I've figured out that that's not ketchup but blood in my mouth and I've never lost a tooth before and all of the other kids are staring at me wondering what's going on and oh sweet baby Jesus why doesn't someone help me?!

As soon as my classmates realize what's happening, they get down on the floor, looking under the table and across the linoleum trying to locate my tooth. The teachers are flustered because probably a quarter of the students in my area are out of their seats, but after a few minutes they manage to get the kids to sit back down, despite the fact that nobody came across my tooth. I leave to rinse my mouth out with warm water, and before long I return to finish my lunch, quietly bemoaning the fact that I have no tooth to leave for the tooth fairy.

Sitting down, I pick up my half-eaten, soggy, limp, shriveled-up hot dog, and as I go to take another bite, I realize that buried in the pink, inner meat of the hot dog, is my little white tooth staring up at me.

To this day, whenever I eat a hot dog, I still find myself checking to see if I've left one of my teeth behind.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jalapeños and Rubber Gloves

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to try and make chili for Sam and I.

My Mama has made chili for the family every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember. It's just One of Those Things(tm). If there's no chili, it's not Christmas Eve. (A post on various other Christmas traditions will be forthcoming at a later date and time.) And my Mama has always used Williams Chili Seasoning to make her chili.

Williams Chili Seasoning is such an ingrained part of my family's chili experience that periodically my parents will send my brother a package for Christmas that contains nothing but dozens and dozens of Williams Chili Seasoning packages. Scott is unable to find it out in his part of the country, and thus considers it a fantastic Christmas Present whenever he gets it.

Needless to say, my inclination for our chili was to get a seasoning packet and go to town.

When I casually mentioned to Sam that I was contemplating making us chili, he immediately lit up like a child on Christmas morning when they're finally allowed to open all of those presents. (I'm taken to understand that some families force their children to wait until after Christmas Dinner to open their presents. That was not how I was raised. But again, that will be a post forthcoming at a later date and time).

"You're going to make it from scratch? Right? I mean, I've never really cared for the prepackaged mixes, and you're so good at making stuff..."

That was Sam, by the way.

Also, that may or may not be an exact quote of what he said. But that was the general gist.

Anyway, I started crying on the inside, but unwilling to show fear to my beloved, I replied: "Of course I am going to make it from scratch! That's totally how I roll!"

Again, that may or may not be an exact quote of what I said.

Next grocery trip we made, I started gathering up the ingredients I was going to need. Tomato sauce, kidney beans (light red and dark red), hamburger, sausage, diced tomatoes, and so forth. Then I had to figure out what spices to put in. I had done a wee bit of research online, and had quickly determined that there are as many different recipes for chili as there are people who make chili. After consideration, the set of spices I opted for consisted of spices I already had, save for coriander.

Feeling good about my plans, we continued on our merry way, until we got to the veggie section. I wanted to toss a red bell pepper into the chili, and Sam suggested adding jalapeños and Serrano peppers to the mix. I had never worked with either (though I had eaten my fair share of jalapeños over the years), but I was confident I could figure it out.

Next day, I decided to go ahead and make the chili in the crock-pot. I figured that jalapeños and Serrano peppers were like bell peppers in how one prepped'em, so I lopped off their tops, cleaned out the seeds with my fingers, cut out the white stringy stuff, chopped'em up, and continued on with the cooking. Not long after I had everything cooking in the crock-pot, a couple of my friends kidnapped me to go up to the city with them and help them repaint their old apartment.

As the day went on, I noticed that underneath a couple of my fingernails there was a burning sensation going on, but if I was applying pressure (like when holding a paintbrush) it wasn't really noticeable, and so didn't think anything of it.

Sam and I greatly enjoyed the chili that evening, and continued to eat off of it for the next three days. We enjoyed it so much, in fact (and it was so cost effective), that we decided to make chili again a week or so ago, especially since it had gotten colder and our heater wasn't working properly (it's working better now).

I made a few minor adjustments to the spices I used, but pretty much did everything the same way again. This time, after I prepped everything and threw it into the crock-pot, I immediately noticed that my hands had a burning sensation--much more intense than what had happened the first time. I tried washing my hands, and that helped a little bit, but it was certainly aggravating. My hands had turned bright red, and it felt as if hundreds of needles were trying to get out from under my skin. After an hour or two, it finally faded away, and by the time Sam got home that night it had passed from my mind.

Today, I came across a blog post from Scott Adams of Dilbert fame, talking about his beginning adventures in cooking. I highly recommend it, as it is completely hilarious (as one would expect of Scott Adams). However, I did learn something very important:

That burning sensation? The one that Scott Adams described as

Imagine turning a broom upside down, so the pointy bristles are facing up. You take your hand, palm facing down, and bounce it on the pointy bristles. Can you imagine how uncomfortable that feels on your hand? Okay, good.
Now imagine that a giant troll sees you playing with the broom. He snatches it out of your hand, chews the handle into a point and shoves it so far up your ass that you can taste it. Then he uses you like a huge flyswatter to kill a nest of porcupines that are living in his salt mine. My hand hurt like that.

Yeah, that's from the jalapeño juices.

So, if you ever decide, my dear friends, that you want to chop up and use a jalapeño in something that you're cooking, please, in the name of all that is good and holy, wear rubber gloves! 

This message was sponsored by the Angel Cole Learn from My Fail department.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Most days, I make the bed right after breakfast...

And then some days, some days that doesn't happen. It's usually after lunch. Why, you ask?

That's why.