My father didn’t cook. I can’t even recall him ever making a sandwich, much less cooking. He did chop the onions and celery for stuffing on Thanksgiving (the only time I ever saw him chop anything) and late in life he did start making bouillabaisse occasionally – a dish with which my mother resolutely refused to be associated.
Of course, being a middle-class American male, he did the outdoor grilling (although my mother prepared anything that was going on the grill). I can still envision my father dousing the coals, lighting the match and flinging it from as far as he could manage. The grill would practically explode in flames; my father used gasoline, not lighter fluid to start the fire. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as lighter fluid until I was an adult out on my own.
You’d think that having watched my father blow up the grill on a regular basis growing up that I would have a good sense of the power of gasoline. Three weeks ago, after the last measurable snow, I got my snowblower out for the first time this winter. It was given to me by a neighbor who moved to Chicago; he left his gas can to me as well. As I was adding gas to the machine I noticed that the spout had sprung a leak and to keep the gas from running all over, I held the spout together with my gloved hand. Since my glove was now wet with gas, I pulled a second glove from my pocket and pulled it on over the first.
When I got all done and went inside, I pulled off the gloves along with all my now-sweaty clothing and threw it all in the washing machine with a few other dirty items from my hamper. Now some of you are probably already shaking your head, but I was still clueless until I opened the washing machine later to the overpowering small of gas. If I had known I was about to do something stupid, it would have been easy to find online advice about gas on clothing. But since I hadn’t known, now I had a washing machine full of gas fume-filled clothing.
It took me a full week and at least six washings (some with just vinegar and water, some with detergent) before I was willing to put the clothes in the dryer and even then I ran the dryer on air dry for over an hour. Now that it’s been a couple of weeks, I’ve lost track of what clothes were in that load but I’m still feeling compelled to smell things as they come out of the washer. (Oh, and I threw the gloves away when I realized what I had done.)
Done anything foolish recently that could have been avoided with a bit of advice?
For my entire life, I have put away the holiday decorations on New Year’s Day. This season I felt like I wanted to jump the gun and it took me a bit to realize that New Year’s has always been a day off. This year with pandemic and furlough, every day is a day off. So we decided to put everything away a couple of days earlier than usual.
We both like a live tree. But even with constant watering, six weeks (plus whatever amount of time between cutting and the Bachman’s lot) is just too long for a tree to stay supple and resilient. Taking the lights off always means a mess, especially since I like to “bury” the lights, but as should have been expected for 2020, it was much messier than usual this year. In addition to the little sprigs of greenery all over the floor, after I took the tree to the curb, the front porch, front steps and front sidewalk were covered with the tree detritus.
Broom, dust bin, trash bag and vacuum just to get started. Then, of course, dusting is needed on all the horizontal surfaces that have been covered with assorted holiday décor. Everything is now all put away and cleaned up; the living room and dining room seem empty, sort of naked.
I wish that cleaning up the holiday was a great metaphor for the coming new year. While I’m hoping for the 2020 dumpster fire will be extinguished, I think it will take longer than we would all wish for. In the meantime, at least the house is clean.
Live tree or artificial? When do you like to put the holiday decorations away?
Last summer (not this past summer), YA and I had dinner with friends at their apartment in Uptown; they served us Moscow Mules. I enjoyed them quite a bit, in fact YA drove home!
YA must have remembered that night as she gave me a set of copper cups for Solstice. It’s a pretty set and includes a shot glass (which is good, since I didn’t have one) and little copper straws and even some coasters. I made a stop at the liquor store the next morning for ginger beer and vodka. Turns out I needed some vodka lessons. I ended up choosing a local brand – chosen mostly because I liked the label – but the gal at the store said it was a good brand, and good value for the price! Then I stopped at Kowalskis for limes.
I haven’t actually made a Moscow Mule yet – I have one more day of my wine advent calendar. The idea of wine and then vodka on the same day doesn’t seem like the best idea. Although the more I think about it, 2020 has been a year that cries out for all kinds of alcoholic consumption!
Do you have a favorite cocktail? Beverage? Have you been indulging more this year?
I’ve always loved lights at this time of year. When I was a kid, my family always drove around during this time of year and admired other folks holidays lights. (We used to leave little notes of thanks in people’s mailboxes if we really enjoyed their lights.)
For a few years Child and I always visited the Minnesota Zoo in December for their “Bright Lights Winter Nights” festivities. All around the zoo lake and paths close to the zoo buildings, there were lots of lights, mostly in shapes of various zoo animals. Walking around seeing the lights on crisp winter nights was almost magical. Inside there were usually crafts and hot chocolate. You didn’t actually see any real animals, but it was still a great holiday treat. After four years, they quit doing it – when I called the zoo they said that it cost more to put on the show than they brought in. Sigh.
When I got the email in November about a light show at the zoo, I knew not to get my hopes up… there was no way they were going to replicate Bright Lights during pandemic. The light show is called “Nature Illuminated” and is a drive-through event running through mid-January.
YA and I are zoo members, so we were able to sign up for the first week of members-only viewing. There was a per-car charge that I might normally balk at, but since there weren’t any other holidays festivities on the horizon, I coughed it up. We got to the zoo at the appointed time and got our car in line. There was an audio tour available online – luckily I had YA to get that going. The tour took about 25 minutes with lots of over-sized inflatables, fabulously lit up. The audio was pretty good too, although there were a couple of “commercials” that I could have done without – especially since we’re already members. I thought it was interesting that not all the illuminated animals are represented at the Minnesota Zoo – but I’m not complaining about seeing polar bears!
It was nice – not nearly as much fun as I remember the old light show, but without any other concerts, parties or gatherings this 2020 holidays season, it will probably be the most fun activity we do outside the house!!
YA and I had decided that we didn’t need to make as many cookie varieties this year; although we are still putting together cookie trays (vet, library, hardware guys, milkman, boss), we don’t have all the parties/functions to which we normally take cookies. We made our list and then the next day, YA said “what about speculaas?”. Then I found the recipe that Edith had given me for lemon lavender shortbread. Before we knew it, we were up to 13 on the list and we couldn’t compromise on what to take off, so 13 is it! (Anna’s M&M, White Chocolate Macadamia, Lemon Lavender Shortbread, PB/Chocolate Fudge w/ Heath Bar, Frosted Sugar, PB Blossoms, Speculaas, Gingerbread Raspberry Thumbprints, Mint Surprise, Cream Cheese Snickerdoodle, Milk Chocolate Fudge, Pecan Meltaways, Ting-a-Lings)
I always do the frosted sugar cookies last because it’s quite a production – double recipe, lots of cookie cutter options, frosting, sprinkles…. The last few years I’ve had to do these all by myself but this YA volunteered to help with the decorating. The photo above is the disaster area we created!
As I was relaxing afterwards, I found a Christmas Cookie quiz online – one of those things that I normally ignore, but since I could still smell all the sugar on myself, I threw caution to the wind. Turns out that based on just 5 questions, I am Gingerbread – fond of my traditions and a little old-fashioned. I didn’t make straigh-up gingerbread this year, and it’s not even my favorite, but I guess I can live with this categorization.
You have to pick a cookie to represent yourself. What will it be?
Apparently it’s not just about how I like the lights nestled into the tree.
After I put the lights on, I set them to slow fade on/slow fade off. Not sure why I love that particular setting, but it’s very restful for me. YA informed me that just plain lights on is better. When I came down the next morning, the settings (on all three strands) were set to on. No fading. I set them back to fade.
Later that morning, I put on al the ornaments, including the crochet snowflakes and my favorite – the red wood bead strands. I love them lopped on. When YA came down, she informed me that they are “crooked” and proceeded to straighten them. After she went back upstairs, I put them back the way I like them.
I bet you can tell where this is going. Yep, a passive-aggressive battle over how the tree is decorated. It’s been five days and it looks likes she has given up on the snowflakes and red bead garlands. However when I came down this morning, the lights were changed to full on. I might have given in on the flakes and garlands, but I’m not sure I can give in on the light settings. Sigh.
Have you ever given in on something for the greater good?
For the first time ever, it’s just me and YA today. Even though it’s just the two of us, YA is determined that at least the food will be the same as always. Normally all I ever bring to Thanksgiving dinner is my Sage Sourdough Stuffing (vegetarian) and sometimes a dessert. With at least four or five other families, everything else is covered.
I did find some nice platter-sized paper plates and matching napkins along with a paper table covering at The Dollar Store, so we’ll have a festive table. Here’s the final menu:
Sage Sourdough Stuffing
Scalloped Cheesy Potatoes
Mashed Potatoes w/ Vegetarian Gravy (YA making)
Sweet Potato Casserole
Green Bean/French Fried Onion Casserole (YA making)
Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake
Any plans for the day? In a particularly difficult year, is there a way you are maintaining any gratitude?
Advent wasn’t a thing at my house growing up. In fact, I didn’t really know what advent was all about until I was out on my own. Of course, any thing that I can use to amp up the holiday season has my name all over it.
For many years I had an advent wreath with candles (until it caught the tablecloth on fire). When YA was young, we had a window cling advent calendar (until she pulled all the pieces off the window – I still think that maybe some of the pieces may have gotten eaten by a dog or even flushed). I made a big advent calendar out of little tins and lots of holiday paper; it was finally retired a couple of years ago when YA informed me that she didn’t really need to be “doing that” any more.
Two years ago a wine advent calendar hit the Aldis shelves for the first time. I heard about it right before Christmas – too late. So last year, I did some research and was dismayed when my friend who works at Aldi’s HQ here, said that the wine advent calendar isn’t sold in Minnesota due to the liquor laws here. No alcohol sold in grocery stores. I looked online and found a couple of other wine calendars but they were much more expensive than Aldis and then there was the shipping to Minnesota issue. YA and I did score an Aldi’s cheese advent calendar and enjoyed it so I decided to try again this year for the wine.
I left the house yesterday at 6 a.m. and headed to River Falls (the closest Aldi’s carrying the calendars). Arriving at 10 minutes to 7, I saw that four other folks were already there. We all huddled in our cars until someone drove up at 10 after 7 and got out of her car. At that point, we quickly started lining up outside the store. Even though I had thought the process through a little bit, bringing a stadium chair, I neglected a coat, gloves or blanket. I was VERY happy when the sun finally got above the tree line. Store employees came out with “tickets” at 8 a.m. There were wine advent calendars, beer advent calendars and hard seltzer calendars that required tickets and had limits. It looked like the employees had about 50 of each type of ticket. By the time the store opened at 9, there were probably 125 folks in line… all down the outside of the store, around the corner and down the whole parking lot. I can’t speak for other parts of the line, but at the very front, we had a party vibe going right up until opening. In addition to the wine, I also managed to get to the cheese calendars before they were gone.
Since we know we’ll be having a different kind of holiday season this year, at least we’ll have fun with our cheese and wine every night of advent.
When have you gone out of your way to get something you really wanted?
This has been a great week to enjoy the leaves. Everywhere I walk with the dog, there are leaves gathered up along edges of sidewalks and in many places folks have been raking so there are little piles all over. Since it’s been dry for at least a week, it is marvelous to crunch through them as we walk.
During my first autumn at Carleton, one Saturday a bunch of us cut through the wooded area behind the library on the way to the football field. There was a hollow that was completely filled up with leaves and on a lark, we jumped into the leaves and threw them around for a bit. The following fall, three of us met up and created another leaf pile on the “bald spot” on campus. That started a tradition that has continued through the years. A few friends get together, make a big pile of leave and then jump in. Normally YA and I scout out locations that morning and then afterwards, everybody adjourns to our house for potluck. If the weather is bad (or has been bad and leaves are wet), then we skip the pile and go straight to the potluck. There have only been a couple of years when my travel schedule has kept us from gathering. It’s almost a much fun at this dog has:
Of course, this year there was no leaf pile and no potluck (although YA still wants me to make my chili and leaf cookies) so I’m having to get as much enjoyment from walking through leaves with the dog!
Any spontaneous, impromptu gatherings in your past?
Friends asked me. Facebook folks asked me. I saw the question online in multiple places. Even Nonny asked me. “What are you doing for Halloween this year?” Nobody wants to just give up on Halloween but at the same time, nobody wants to be taking any chances either.
We decided to do a slightly modified evening. Normally the kids come up on the steps, I stand just inside the porch (with a dog gate up) and put two or three pieces of candy in each child’s bag. But somehow that didn’t seem quite right for me to handling candy that I’ve just touched.
I found some cute orange and white bags online and I filled them with four pieces of candy each and some inexpensive Halloween stickers that I found last month at Michaels. I tied them up with orange ribbon that I had on hand. The bags have been “quarantining” (or should it be “sheltering in place”) in my closet in a bag for the last three weeks. Tonight I will dump all the bags into a big orange bowl and when (if?) the kids come up I will hold out the bowl and say “take one”.
I don’t even know if we will have trick-or-treaters. For the past 10 years I’ve had between 20-24 visitors; I made 30 little bags because that’s how much candy I had. The big change this year is that I only used candy that I like so that if we have bags leftover, at least it will what I like!
Are you giving out candy this year? Do you give out what you like or don’t like? Anything special you like on Halloween?