What Color Ornaments Do You Have Hanging On Your Tree?

Christmas ornaments Now, before you go getting your diaper in a knot because you suspect I’ve breached an impropriety by asking a question that is far too personal, just hold on.  It is, after all, Christmas and the season for festive decor.  By festive decor I do mean festive and, well, just look about.  It is everywhere.  The decor at this time of the year is bright, colorful and nearly overwhelming.  I have to admit, some of the decor is even nauseating.

In my younger years, I was totally into the decorator trees. You know, pick a color theme and go with it.  My ex, however, simply could not see his tree decorated in such a manner.  He was into the multi-colored decor.  You know what I’m talking about.  All the different colored lights, tinsel and balls ornaments strung willy nilly on the tree.  The tree ends up looking like someone puked candy on it.

I always had a hard time putting more than three colors on my tree.  Actually, two colors was pushing the limit.  I’m a bit of a monochromatic scheme girl myself since the tree itself lends so much strength, vigor and color to the entire situation in its natural state.  Why hide a good thing with grotesque coloration?  Would you tattoo your tree? No?  Too many varied colors on the tree makes me wonder if the tree is sick or dying or something dire. It certainly makes me feel a bit queasy looking at something like that. A tree with too much ornamentation or the wrong color ornamentation is just wrong.  The tree ends up seeming dwarfed by the decor; diminished behind the ornaments.

427730_31826638 Another problem with tree decorating can be found with the choice of the ornaments.  Color is so critical, don’t you think?  I mean, gold balls ornaments are nice.  They indicate a sense of peace and rest.  They represent prosperity and wealth.  They embrace a position of satisfaction and contentment.

Silver ornaments on the other hand are hard, cold, unfeeling and unyielding.  Brrrrrr! Want that hanging on your tree?  What on earth do silver things do but reflect a coldness to the brightly wrapped boxes under the tree.  Might as well have a white and frozen tree.  Not much fun there.  Cold, icy, painfully un-giving. 

Green ornaments?  Eww! Moldy. Decaying unused, sick.  Good if they turn a different color with some tender polishing and loving care, but if they are permanently green?  Something seriously must have died on that tree. Or maybe the ornaments are just discolored permanently669015_26888462 due to negligence or lack of use. 

Purple or pink ornaments?  Give me a break! Or….give them a break!    

Red ornaments?  Hmmm, now we’re talking a color that ignites The Wild Mind’s imagination.  It seems there’s a nice balance between the luxuriously contented peacefulness of the gold ornaments and the passionate, energetic, passion of the red ornaments. 

Blue ornaments?  Seriously?  Do I need to say anything more?

What color ornaments are hanging on your tree, this holiday season? 

Rethinking The Holidays

j0431277 Around Halloween, I announced to my kids that the 2 Christmases (one in each of their two homes) that they’ve known the last three years wasn’t going to happen this year.  I can’t afford it and they don’t need a massive haul or even a minor one at both houses. I told them I am rethinking how I do Christmas in the “off years”; those years where they are at their other parent’s house for the holiday and I get them for New Year’s.  In the same breath I also mentioned I wasn’t even going to decorate this year for the holidays.  “After all, I explained, you will all be at your dad’s and it is just going to be me.” 

Number 2 piped up sarcastically with, “Yeah, because Christmas can’t happen if there are no presents!”

Out of the mouths of babes, I guess.  Her comment stopped me cold.  She wasn’t saying she was unhappy about the no presents deal at our house this year. That surprised me.  She was basically expressing distaste at my perspective that if we can’t do “presents” then let’s just scrap Christmas altogether. She nailed me, and rightly so.

I could have hugged her on the spot.  Even now, the thought that a sixteen-year-old young lady (who really loves getting presents as much as the next person) can have the insight to see that the holidays are about so much more than the stuff brings tears to my eyes.  The fact that she was also more disappointed about not decorating than not getting presents also impressed me.

j0434131 I’ve worked hard the last three years and I’ve plowed through a mountain of debt, that by all rights wasn’t mine, in order to avoid bankruptcy and have a more financially secure and debt-free life.  The journey in many ways completely sucks, but the lessons, are valuable.  I’ve come a long way.  I’ve learned how much of my former existence was based on appearances and image instead of what really matters.  While living my former existence, I knew this was true and I hated it at the time.  What I didn’t realize was how deeply ingrained the obsession with image for image’s sake was in my life and how deeply stuck I was in it all.  From my views on money to what’s important in parenting and in relationships, I’ve had to scrutinize my thinking and real beliefs about it all.  I’ve experienced so many occasions where I’ve been knocked flat on my figurative seat in the last three years: emotionally, financially, relationally. I’ve found myself in places I NEVER thought I’d ever be.  Places where in my former life I looked down my nose at people in the very situations I now found myself.  It was more than humbling.  At each of these times, I’ve had to do some serious soul searching and remind myself of what was really important.  I’ve been shocked and horrified on many occasions to learn how really shallow my thinking has been. This recent episode with my daughter was another such moment of truth.

I am now once again  rethinking The Holidays and my approach toward them.

j0422249 For a number of years now, it has bothered me that my children can spend Christmas Day at one parent’s house and get a big haul of presents then go to the other parent’s house after Christmas for a second Christmas Day that year.  I’ve hated the temptation to give in to that desire to “compete” with the other parent in the gift giving arena, even though I’ve been completely unable to.  This inability, instead of creating angst for me, ended up providing freedom and relief.  Because I don’t have it to spend and everyone knows it (meaning the kids), the expectation for my participation in these areas is lowered.  That’s okay by me. I have debt to pay off and I am doing it.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and so far it hasn’t been an oncoming train.  I need to maintain my resolve and stay focused. I just can’t continue doing what I’ve always done at The Holidays where gifts are concerned.  If can’t pay cash, it can’t be purchased. Simple as that.

My daughter’s words struck a chord in me.  In the end, she’s totally spot on.  Christmas is about celebrating love and the people we invest our love in.  It is about hope, joy, peace and all good things.  It’s about being with the people you love not out giving the the people you no longer live with. Kids understand about what is real and what is genuine. None of this has anything to do with getting and there are gifts that can be given that don’t come done up in ribbons and bows with a bill attached. I needed to be reminded of this.

Thanksgiving 2009 040 This weekend, two days after Thanksgiving and a good three weeks before I usually can muster the energy or the spirit, we decorated our entire house for Christmas.  In fact, I was in the back room typing a blog post while Number 2,  was out in the garage, climbing ladders and pulling down the infamous plastic red Rubbermaid boxes.  She pulled out the Christmas tree with the help of her brother (Number 3) and together she and Number 3 and Number 4 began putting the tree together.  I came in just in time to help shape the fake tree.  I really didn’t do much except instruct and that, only occasionally. They got out the decorations and put them on the tree, set up the stocking hangers with stockings, and arranged all our other decorations.  They had a blast doing it and by dinnertime we had a house that in spite of it’s diminutive size looked festive and cheerful.  Number 1 even had a couple of her friends over and the lot of us listened to Christmas music, played board games and ate pizza by the fire.  It was a cozy, warm and happy time and it cost me nothing but a few minutes of my time and a few dollars for pizza delivery (something I never ever do). It created a wonderful happy and positive memory for my children and I.  I could be wrong, but I think it kind of says something when a college child chooses to bring her boyfriend to our little home instead of going out somewhere for the evening. I couldn’t have done that at her age.  I’m pleased that this is the kind of home we’ve built.  I’m pleased that my daughter got on my case and called me out this time.  I’m glad the decorations are up and we have over a month to enjoy them.  

Thanksgiving 2009 068So in an effort to reinvent a more sane lifestyle, where competition with the ex’s and buckling to human greed isn’t the driving force and resisting the feeling that I am what I can purchase, I am rethinking things. I want to work on creating more memories like this Thanksgiving weekend.  I wonder if it wouldn’t be a better idea on the years that the kids are with me for Christmas to have the traditional (though modest) celebration with gifts and on the off years, get one gift for all the kids to share…like a computer or a Wii, or whatever we come up with together? During the off times, those times when the children aren’t residing with me, I’m playing with an idea, a dream really of hosting a party for single parents who are without their children for the holidays. Maybe we could meet together at my place, go caroling, donate money or canned goods to a local charity and then afterward come back to my place for eggnog, wassail and games.  I don’t know. It’s a dream. But I’m wondering about it. This just might be the year to make that happen since I will, after all, be alone for The Holidays.   Thanksgiving 2009 064

I’m thinking, especially after this Thanksgiving Weekend, where my kids had their friends over for games and food and had a great time, that maybe that’s the kind of memory I should work on creating more and more rather than stressing about gifts.  It will cost me in terms of energy and time, but not in terms of money.  It’s something I want to do.

After all, The Holidays are what we make them not what our budget makes them or what the presents under the tree make them. 

What great ideas do you have for celebrating on a shoestring and making the season less about the stuff and more about the people you love? 

P.S.  After reading this post to Number 2, she has asked me if she can have a Christmas party here.  In her words, “I’m so excited to have a Christmas party!”  Yeah!  Stay tuned!

Thanksgiving 2009 in Review: Screwing Up Fine American Traditions One Recipe At A Time

j0407467Never before have I been aware of the great lengths we Americans go to in our efforts to conceptualize, create, concoct and consume food on this particular day of the year.  Sure we say the day is all about family, but I think the day is all about food. Even more accurately, I suspect it isn’t even about food but about consumption. Better even, I believe it is about food, consumption and our competition to best each other in both realms.  Family, holiday and tradition simply legitimizes our desire to compete with each other in our desire to satiate our gluttonous tendencies.

Alright, alright.

Maybe that is a bit extreme, maudlin, or even harsh. Maybe it is unfair. Maybe I am just all sour grapes today.  I have reason to be. After all, I’m a lousy cook.  I can’t boil water without ruining a pan. Why would this day, of all days, the day we worship food and it’s preparation, even be a fun day for me? It isn’t.  It’s an ordeal.  It doesn’t ever start out this way for me.  I actually end up looking forward to making the attempt to enter into this realm of celebration, but somehow, some way disaster stalks me in the kitchen and always has his way with me.

A New Reality TV Show?

I’m notorious for screwing up completely wonderful UDSA approved food products in an attempt to take them from the state they were purchased in to a form that quasi resembles cooked and edible matter.  Delicious?  Ha!  That word NEVER is uttered at my table. I can blow a microwave TV dinner, I’m that good at screwing up anything food related. I can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich taste like something that should be used to pave roads.  Better, I can make it BE something that should be used to pave roads.  In fact, I’ve often considered pitching Hollywood for a new TV reality show called “Cooking With Cat: Screwing Up Great Cuisine One Recipe At A Time”.  Hell, I don’t even need a recipe. I can screw it up without even looking at the directions.  Really.  I am that good.  

The Way To A Man’s Heart?

If the adage “The  way to a man’s heart is through his beachtoesstomach” is true, I’m doomed.   This would totally explain why, as incredibly attractive as I am, I still remain single…well…that and the four kids…and the fact that I live in the Wild Wild West where mostly cavemen and cowboys reside, but details, details.  I keep hoping that, there really is something else more enticing to men than food.

Clearly, a holiday centered around boasting of one’s culinary clout is not one that I’m going to revel in let alone experience much success with.  Unless, of course, we measure success by my standards which is “She with the greatest disaster wins”.  (And, yes, I do have a scoring rubric to determine the greatest disaster.) This Thanksgiving had all the markings of an unmitigated disaster. Try as I might to maintain a respectable presence in my kitchen I was courted and consumed by disaster almost from the get-go.

Step 1 To Screwing Up A Great Meal:  Plan Ahead then Screw Up The Plan

I’ve heard that a key ingredient to a good meal is advance planning.  I really took this to heart this year.  When I went out to buy groceries for the month, I planned ahead.  I actually planned on cooking a Thanksgiving turkey this year instead of hoping beleaguered friends or relatives would take pity on my children and invite us over for the big meal.  You see, this works for me because then I can just bring a bottle or two of wine and call it good.  That’s really how I prefer to do my cooking. 

j0430498 This year, though, I decided to step up to the plate and attempt to be a “real” mom. I planned ahead and bought a 21 pound turkey at the beginning of the month.  Got it home, stuck it in the freezer and made a mental note that I’d have to take it out and put it in the fridge on the Sunday before Thanksgiving so it could thaw.  See?  Planning ahead.  I even remembered (the Sunday before Thanksgiving) to take the turkey out and let it thaw.  Never mind that it seemed a little bit smaller than the turkey I purchased a few weeks ago, but being as I am a tired, frazzled (can’t you hear the violins playing now?) single mom, I didn’t think much of it at the time. 

I thought a great deal about it when three days later I went out to the other freezer to get ice cream for the kids, pulled the door open and saw this huge 21 pound turkey stuffed in there.  I wondered, “What is this huge turkey doing here?”  Then panic struck and I wondered, “If that’s the turkey I bought at the beginning of the month then what did I stick in the refrigerator to thaw?”  I checked the refrigerator and, sure enough, the thing I put in the refrigerator was a much, much smaller bird.  “ Oh no!” I sighed in dismay, “We’re gonna be havin’ Thanksgiving chicken this year, I’m afraid.”

So, step number one to screwing up your Thanksgiving meal is to defrost the wrong bird.

Step 2 And Beyond:  Lose Your Camera

I trudged on valiantly hoping to make the best of things.  I even googled “How to Cook a Turkey” so I could get it right. I mean, after all, I can read.  How hard can this really be? I found some great recipes, complete with cooking times and seasoning recipes.  I followed all the directions for cleaning the turkey, seasoning it and getting it in the oven.  Everything seemed to be going well, until, about 45 minutes before the time went off I began smelling smoke.  I thought maybe something was up with the fireplace but, no, this smell was coming from the kitchen and, yes, there was a fine smoky haze in my kitchen.  I quickly opened windows and checked to make sure I hadn’t accidentally put the oven in self-cleaning mode.  (Don’t even ask!) The turkey appeared to be fine.  I could detect no reason for the smoky haze in my kitchen. Eventually the haze dissipated through the open kitchen window and we went on about our day preparing for the disastrous time when the turkey comes out of the oven and everything else goes in (rolls, bean casserole, etc.) and potatoes need to be boiled and smashed. 

thermometer_in_turkey_in_panMost experienced cooks would have been proud of me at this point.  I even had a meat thermometer and I used it.  The chicken turkey was right on schedule and when the timer went off after three hours I checked the thermometer.  Everything read the right temperature so I pulled it out and let it sit while I quite effectively did the following:

1. Got Child Number 1 to do the mashed potatoes (that way if everything else got ruined at least the potatoes would provide nourishment until we could ruin the frozen pies we bought for desert).

1a. Got Number 2 to do the stuffing.  “Just read the directions on the back of the box.” I told her.  “Use this pan,” I instructed as I handed her the really nice and muy expensive saucepan my other daughter bought for me last Christmas.

2. Had a glass of wine (after all the most stressful part of the meal had begun). 

3.  Realized the chicken turkey looked great and I needed to take a picture to post on my blog so the world could see that, yes, even I can cook a great turkey!

4. Realized I’d lost my camera.

5. Went off looking for my camera and after looking everywhere and not finding it, went into panic mode and began hyperventilating.

6. Got Child Number 2 to abandon the stuffing effort and get involved in the search for the lost camera.

7.  Realized a short while later that something was again on fire. 

8. Discovered that the stuffing was now blackened stuffing.  Does that fit under Cajun style cooking?

9. Downed another glass of wine (was I supposed to be using that for the gravy?).

10.  Remembered about the gravy and the bean casserole.

11.  Left Number 2 to continue looking for the camera, while I tried to forge ahead with the meal.

12.  Got Child Number 4 to set the table, Child Number 3 to prepare the bean casserole.  At this point there were four of us in my tiny galley kitchen going back and forth.  Seriously?  Hell’s Kitchen had nothing on me! 

13.  Began carving the turkey at the designated 20 to 30 minutes after taking it out of the oven.j0427604

14.  Realized about 3/4 of the way through the carving project that the chicken turkey was NOT completely cooked.  (Yes, you heard me chicken turkey was undercooked in spite of 185 degree readings in several places from meat thermometer).  I should have gone with the 3 1/2 hours instead of the 3 hour time.  Sigh.

15. Wrapped the turkey up in foil and put it back in the oven to finish cooking while we ate was there was of our pathetic meal.  (No, I didn’t tell the kids anything about that so, shhhhh!)

16.  Put what could be salvaged of the “chicken” and stuffing on the table along with the mashed potatoes and green bean casserole which actually survived the ordeal and made it to the table in edible fashion.  Please note, those were the two dishes I let someone else prepare and left them alone to do it.

The Final Step:  Clean Up the Mess and Try Again Tomorrow

By the time we all sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, I had a great deal to be thankful for.  We did have something to eat.  Two parts of the meal actually ended up being edible.  The house didn’t burn down and I did find the camera.  Well, Number 2 found the camera. I did lose a really nice saucepan in the chaos though.   

j0443829 Now you understand why I was sour grapes about the whole Thanksgiving Feast thing. I mean, really, when it comes to putting food on the table, I’m lucky if it even makes it in edible form, forget it tasting good and looking good.  I simply had to forget the Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray cuisine and table settings everyone else was Face booking about on Thursday. I was simply glad to have made it through my meager attempt at celebrating in my own very unique way and still actually eat.  And losing one muy expensive saucepan in the fray was an improvement for me. 

In spite of it all, I’m still hopeful that I can pull off a tasty “chicken” noodle soup with the carcass and scraps. 

All’s Well That Ends Up Getting Eaten

As I sat down battle weary to yet another successful kitchen disaster (being this bad at cooking is really hard work!), I looked at my starving progeny.  They waited patiently in their chairs until everything was on the table. Their eyes gleamed at the mounds of fluffy white potatoes with butter melting unrestrained on top. The creamy gravy (little did they know then it would taste like paste) at least appeared tempting in its boat.  The “chicken” sliced with my new electric knife gleamed with the soft white juicy tenderness that the outer layers of an almost cooked bird can have.  The bean casserole provided color to an otherwise monochromatic culinary palette. And the soft, doughy rolls?  I completely forgot those, so we did without.  Sweet potatoes?  Nope.  Cranberry sauce?  None.  Other side dishes or soup?  Glaringly apparent in their absence. It was just me, my meager offerings, my hungry kids, some sparkling grape juice for them and a third glass of wine for me.

j0442231 In spite of my incredible lack of skill in creating ambiance and mood (at least a positive and inviting one) through food, my kids ended up eating until they were stuffed.  Not one of us ended up with food poisoning. The dismal state of our cuisine’s presentation didn’t dampen our gratitude and joy that day one bit.  We all worked together to clean up the mountain of dishes then retired to the living room where we ordered Four Christmases on pay-per-view while digesting our dubious dinner.

In all, the meal may have been a disaster but the day was alright.  The very best part of it all was the chilling realization that my daughter was completely accurate when she said, “Seriously!  Hollywood should so come in here and just film us!  We wouldn’t have to memorize a script.  We wouldn’t have to change a thing and people would watch us!”

Move over, Jon and Kate plus Eight!

Take Some Christmas, A Warm Fire, and Two Glasses of Reisling and Call Me In The Morning

I just want to write something happy tonight.  My last few posts have focused on the somewhat drearier side of existence.  I’m ready for happy.  I’m usally ready for happy.  I also have all my Christmas decorations up and my house is clean.  I also have only two more days to work this week.  Well, that’s not really true, I get pulled out of the classroom for some district work on Friday and after dealing with tons of elementary school kids all day everyday, going to adult meetings is like taking the day off. 

There’s a warm fire burning in my woodstove.  The lights on the tree, the ledge and the window mirror in my entry way look absolutely inviting.  It isn’t a monstrous palace I live in, but it is warm and cozy and inviting most of the time. It is especially so at Christmas. 

I mentioned earlier in one of my posts either here or on my other blog at http://cabsplace.wordpress.com that I just wasn’t feeling the Christmas spirit.  I wasn’t.  I haven’t been.  It took a while to ignite. 

First, there was the haggling (in my mind) about whether or not to go with a fake tree this year.  I’m such a real tree lover (not hugger, lover).  I was concerned that getting a fake tree would be a disappointment to the kids.  There are some real valid reasons for wanting a fake tree though.  One is that the cost over time is something I really need to consider.  Throwing $30-$60 away on a tree that’s going to be dead by Christmas every year is not a good thing.  I also have a wood stove and the tree and the wood stove are not that far apart.  Remember, my palace is small.  Very, very small.  So tree and woodstove in the same room equals insurance claim waiting to happen…hmmmm.  

I also live right in the middle of Christmas tree land. Getting a permit and going out to the woods to cut my own tree is not a real tough thing to do.  I could do it.  However, cancel out another day out of my life that I desperately need to use to do laundry and cleaning.  I’d be doing it alone or with only my youngest which is fine, but again, it means something else vital doesn’t get done.  The worst part is getting the thing up on top of my 4×4 alone.  I could do everything else, but that might stymie me.  I usually enjoy going out in the woods and making a day of it with friends, building a big fire and hanging out after the trees are found…but again…not many couples enjoy having a single 5th wheel around and this year my single friends made other arrangements.  I just opted for the easy way out this year.

I’m glad I did.

I bought a $68 special at Wal-Mart.  After three attempts back and forth from Wally World, I had the thing up and lit.  And there it sat…for nearly a week.  I just dreaded the idea of going out and pulling down the decorations from the rafters in the garage.  I don’t know why.  Each day after school, I’d tell myself, toinght we’re going to do this.  Then my energy to do it would just evaporate.  Finally, I just gave my two older girls control of it.  So, Sunday evening they set about decorating the tree while I prepared dinner.  I deliberately stayed out of it.  I wanted it to be their thing. They did their thing and it is beautiful!

It looks like a decorator tree!  Well, almost.  I definitely need to work on getting some more of those specialty ornaments, but with the money I’ll save next year on buying a tree that should be no problem.  Next year. 

This year, I want to add one new thing to the outside light display.  I only have lights across the front of my house and a rope light up the walk.  Pretty boring.  But, hey, like I’ve said all over the place here, it’s been tight.  Things are getting better.  I think this year I might wait till the day after Christms (since I won’t have any kids) and go to the stores and get a few things for the outside of the house…and maybe for the inside too.  But not too much, just a few things.  In a few years of behaving like this I”ll have more Christmas than I could have imagined.

Anyway, I was pondering all this last night and feeling really at peace with the world. It is hard not to feel this way when your kids aren’t squabbling, the Christmas tree looks spectacular, the kids are fed and the dishes are done and the house is clean.  There was a warm fire in the woodstove and all was very well in my world.  It was so nice, that after I sent the younger two to bed, I slipped into my p.j.’s, poured a glass of my favorite Reisling and curled up on the couch to enjoy the ambiance. Before I knew it, I’d dozed off.  I awakened only momentarily when my two oldest girls entered after their holiday dinner theatre rehearsal.  I said a few groggy, loving words to them, they headed to bed themselves and I added a couple of  logs to the fire. 

I think I woke up about midnight and headed to bed after throwing the last few logs on the fire for the night.  The house is lovely, clean, cozy and warm.  My kids are fed and clothed.  We have a roof over our heads and we have Christmas in our hearts as well as our home. It could be a whole lot worse than this that’s for sure.  And, even though, I really have only one more week till my kids vanish for the Big Holiday, I’m going to enjoy every minute of it with them…and I’ll even enjoy the time without them too (I know, blasphemous thing to say, but, remember, I’m one who is with kids 24/7.  It’s nice to be alone after that sometimes). 

As long as the decorations are up, the fire is crackling warm and I can pour a glass of Reisling, life is good.  Not perfect, but still very, very good.