12/26/2013 Merry Christmas and Boxing Day

Merry Christmas! and Happy Boxing Day!
I actually did start writing this on Christmas, but then I decided to finish it later. I woke up with a nasty sore throat on Christmas Eve, and spent the day mostly sleeping.
Over the weekend we had our Solstice open house, so most of last week was spent getting the house ready for that. Let’s face it, I tend not to see anything unless I’m looking for it, so my housekeeping skills are rarely used. When I do look, I’m generally appalled and the state of the house. The living room was still full of many of the bins that were removed from the pantry when it was re-done (just as the west wing hallway is still full of boxes removed from the upstairs bathroom). The pantry and bathroom look great- but we still haven’t figured out where to put the stuff we took out, or convinced ourselves to throw it away.
The living room is now looking pretty good- although we do hope to switch rooms with the “dining room” sometime. It’s the biggest room downstairs, and I think computers go better with the wii, and we can fit the dining room table and buffet into the front room- but when we do that, the plan is to get one room (at a time) empty, and refinish the floors- also repaint the walls. It’s going to be a huge project and just wasn’t happening before Christmas.
Good enough to get the junk out of the way so people could get to the chairs and tables, and get the third Christmas Tree up. Yup- we have three trees this year- the table top one we put the home-made ornaments on, the big one for the glass ornaments, and a tiny one (I found for $3) that’s hanging from the kitchen ceiling decked with only edible ornaments: various cookies, popcorn and cranberries, candies, etc. Sadly, because it’s hanging from a beam its branches spread over the table, and take up half the space where Kat usually sits. She is SO looking forward to that one coming down!
Kat spent much of Thursday and Friday finishing painting the woodwork in the front hallway. We theorize that it wasn’t mixed properly because coat after coat it continues to be translucent. It was SO frustrating! But we wanted to finish it so we could take down the masking tape that’s been there since summer. It was also a bitch and a half taking the masking tape off the stairs- we should have taken it off back when we got back from Fourth of July!
Willow spent all day wrapping presents- both the mini-gifts she’d gotten for the party, and the accumulated presents for our family. This year she did the little gifts in “brown paper tied up with string”, which was fun. Every year we plan to wrap up the gifts as they are acquired (when we wrap them we write them down in a holiday record book), so we’ll know when there’s a gracious plenty, and STOP. It’s far too easy for me to not remember something you sent for, even if it’s arrived and you’ve “stuck it away”, and think that one of the kids is “light” and buy more. Next year for sure! One of the things that gets in the way of this is not wanting to put up the tree too early. If the tree were up, we could put the gifts under it. In our house we feel that if you can’t fit the gifts under the branches, there are too many. Ah well.
Willow also continued to get orders for blankets, and making them and sending them out. She got another today I think. And Kat had a lot of trouble with her Billy and Zoe story this year; I don’t think she finished until Christmas Eve. I think the effort was worth it- it’s really creepy. This year she was dealing with the tradition of watching old specials because you always do, I’m not sure I like it as much as The Elf on the Shelf, but it’s good. I would love her to put them out as a collection.

I got diverted for a while by the first Planning Committee Meeting for Changing Times-Changing Worlds Thursday night. Several people had suggested using something called “Google Hangout”, which is something like a conference call, only with a video feed. It’s supposed to be easy, but didn’t turn out to be as easy as we’d hoped. Some people’s computers (like Jane’s) were too old to support it, some people’s internet access (I should know the word for that) wasn’t fast enough. For a while, I just called Jane and relayed everything to her via my hands-free telephone, but eventually everyone got on Facebook and just typed our “chat” in. I dislike “chat” because when I respond to something someone has said, often other people have typed two or three messages that I have to read to catch up by the time I’ve finished typing and clicked send. But we did manage to get through our agenda in the 3 hours we’d allocated, and there’s another technology we’ll try next month. I cannot tell you how excited I am to have a bunch of people working on next years conference. It’s like the light at the end of the tunnel. I think I/we may have started something that will continue without my having to do so much, and I am SO looking forward to that. I’ve seen too many people- the Sheeleys, Charles Butler, etc. just try and do it all themselves, and while what they did was fantastic and needed, I want to learn from watching them and not have it become a burden. If we can share the duties it shouldn’t be hard on any of us.

This year the Winter Solstice was actually on Saturday, which is always good for having the Solstice Feast. When it’s during the week, we just take whichever weekend is closest, and have the party then (and light the candle for ourselves on the actually longest night). But it’s good to share the holy day with friends. We didn’t ever get the raised bed gardens out of the driveway, but John shoveled as close to them as he could get, and Willow even parked her car between the woodshed and the beds, to maximize parking.
According to the guestbook, this was the 40th Solstice Feast, so I’d sent out invitations to everyone I could think of who’d been to one before, and while many of our friends are scattered from Australia to India, (and it’s a really busy time of year for everyone), we had more friends show up that in recent years. We still decided to do it as an open house over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Given the busy season, it’s easier if people can drop in whenever they can find a hole in their calendars. We don’t get the 30 people we’ve had at some (good for playing games like “The Minister’s Cat”), but with fewer people at a time, I can get a chance to actually talk with people. Not that I stop cooking to do it. I really have never gotten the hang of not doing anything, even while I’m talking. I think that’s why I like party games.

Anyway, Friday night, even though we had a few people not make it because they got sick, we had Ruadh, Heidi and Abby, also Willow’s gaming friends “Evil” and Frank, Saturday Joanie, Raye & Cody, came, and Lee stopped in for a while too. Brian came by both Friday and Saturday night- he’d been going to go to Vermont Saturday but the driving got bad, so he came back instead. Corwin came by- in his new armor!  Zoë came, and Danamas, with his dogs, Jack and (oh, I forgot the lady dog’s name!). Saturday Gwynedd came, although Cassandra couldn’t make it. Another old friend from Carolingia, Dulcy came Friday and stayed over- sadly, we no longer have any good place to put people up overnight. Steve was the only one who made it on Sunday.
We do it as a pot luck, and Bear and Lee brought a really incredible meatloaf. Dulcy brought a spicy mac and cheese, Gwenydd brought a pesto tortellini, and Danamas brought a really nice sourdough that he could trace the lineage back to frontier days. Someone brought a stollen with marzipan in it (I’ve GOT to learn to make that!), other things included truffles, one of those chocolate oranges that splits apart, and various drinks. I made Stormbrew (mostly gone), a turkey on Friday, a ham Saturday and a beef Sunday. I did get a few pork-pies made eventually, but I was doing potatoes, and other stuff, and I don’t know if anyone got them. I tried a new recipe- a Russian beet salad: cooked beets, potatoes and carrots, with raw onion, pickle and apple. You mix it and in a day or so the whole thing turns beet colored. I should figure out how to make colored sugar with beet juice. It’s really strong. You serve it with sour cream. I really liked it, and it’s gorgeous.
Bear had to rush home after he got “poisoned”. He’s allergic to artificial colors, but he’s color blind and usually someone’s watching for him, and didn’t notice his trying the Loki cookies- that have red sugar around the edge. He took Benydryl and headed home for his preferred medicine. I felt badly, and he was embarrassed too.
The other bit of excitement was when they called Willow and I because the pile of presents was on fire. Apparently they got too close to one of the candles. Not a big deal, it was only one present and Ruadh stomped it out. Didn’t even break the toy (it was a gun that lights up and shoots bubbles- very cool in a darkened room). So we gave it to him. Willow likes having little gifts to give out. There’s nothing like toys to bring out the “play” in adults. Mostly they are dollar store finds, with the occasional mathom we can’t figure out what else to do with thrown in.
We played Fluxx and Apples to Apples. Good thing we cleaned both the dining room and living room because I’d totally forgotten that Raye has a problem with dogs when I told Danamas he could bring his. They were some of the best behaved small dogs I ever met, apparently he’s really a good trainer. He taught me some things- for example, if you get down to the dog’s level, which seems polite to me, you’re reducing your size, which it dog language, means you’re submitting to them. But if you meet their eyes, you’re challenging them, so when you do both, you confuse them.  Apparently only the owner should look the dog in the eye. Live and learn. Anyway, all we had to do was close the curtain to the living room and they stayed on one side, while Raye stayed on the other. Whew! Had they been less well trained it could have been a problem.

I do know people ate cookies. I didn’t have the two dozen I was aiming at, but we had, I think, a good variety: Candy Cane Cookies, Finnish Butter cookies, Ganesha’s Treats, Wishing Stars, Mint Chocolate Trees, Linzer Cookies, Gingerbread men, Tiny Sugared Stars, Russian Balls, Lemon slices, Loki’s, Peppermint Brownies, Nurnburg Lebkuchen, Danzig Peppercakes, and Thor’s Peppernuts (we still had some Anise Peppernuts left from last year), the Angeletti in anise and lemon flavors and Spumoni cookies I got from Goody, also she inspired me to try the Rum balls, Chocolate Clusters, Almond Toffee, Cream Cheese Mints. Sadly, I forgot to send some off to Liz and Uncle Charley, and now that the holidays are over, Liz is dieting.
(it all turns beet colored, and while the sour cream is delicious, it doesn’t make it look better onDSC00836ce it starts to become pink)

Sadly, we did NOT make it until the sun came up on the “Long Night”. Ben suggested we blow the horn before dawn (as they were giving up, around 3 am), and let the echoes “hang around” for dawn, but we’d forgotten to bring it in from the Great Hall, so we let it go. The sun seems to have come up anyway, so I guess someone else must have done the correct rites!
I loved seeing my friends, chatting, and stuffing them with food, but I was not unhappy to just relax Sunday. Steve helped me FINALLY get the glass ornaments on the big tree. He enjoys it, as do I. I’m afraid Zoloft does too- she has a special affinity for all things dangly, and sparkly, but luckily I haven’t caught her knocking anything down. (yet)

DSC00839    With only Steve here, we relaxed, and watched Reefer Madness- the Musical, which he hadn’t seen, and then Rare Exports, and it’s 2005 sequel that Brian had shown us Saturday night. Apparently they took this weird little short film and made a full length film of it in 2010, so Steve and I each caught that on Netflix during the week. The basic premise is that Santa Claus is a variety of wild animal that can be trained to behave the way we expect Santa to behave, but that they are really dangerous. In the full length movie, they are digging up the very Krampus-like original  from a burial mound. We enjoyed it, but if you don’t like the little seven and ten minute shorts, you probably wouldn’t like the movie. I did. But then, I’m a big fan of Krampus, and I can deal with subtitles. Still I think I went to bed around 9. Intentionally slept in to try to catch up on my sleep, watched Rare Exports, read, cleaned up the house (we really didn’t get too messy), and turned in early again.
We did tape together a “Festivus pole” out of the coke cans from the party. I think it was mostly because the Fox News people complaining about Festivus brought it into our consciousness. I never actually saw Seinfeld or Friends or whatever show it came from. After having been bitchy cold and then dumping 10″ or so of snow on our driveway, so we had to shovel it, as soon as it was over, the temperature went up to the 40s, and it was foggy, foggy, foggy, and the snow started melting away. As happens.

DSC00855   Sadly, I didn’t manage to catch up on sleep fast enough, I ran a fever and had a sore throat on Tuesday, treating it with more rest, and garlic tea. Thank goodness that seems to have worked and I felt pretty good on Christmas. Among our excessive presents we each got a new nightgown. Kat and I got sleep caps too, which are welcome in a farmhouse with no upstairs heat.

DSC00850    Willow spent Tuesday using her mad blanket making skills to make us each a stocking. Wherever we put the stockings away two years ago, we still haven’t found them. But Willow’s stockings are quite fun. John’s is traditional, Kat’s has her “death kitty”, Willow’s has roses, and I’ve put jewels on mine. While it’s sad that we don’t have our traditional ones, these were fun. (I went to bed around 8:30.)

Christmas was very traditional. We had our usual breakfast: a pound of bacon, scrambled eggs, cocoa, OJ, and Fattigman Bakkels. Kat and I each got pocket knives in our stockings. Mine is iridescent. Willow got the American Girl mini-dolls of Marie-Grace and Cecilia for her collection (and spent her afternoon dusting her action figure collection). John didn’t drop any hints, so he got candy and an orange in his stocking. After cleaning up after breakfast we opened our presents (because we aren’t comfortable with how many presents we got, we refer to it as the “Greed fest”). Kat and Willow’s big presents are Kindle Fires. Kat spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how it works. I got a new fur hat to replace the one I lost at CTCW. John got 15 dvds- Marvel comics, Mel Brooks, and classic SF B movies like Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still. This is a typical example of losing track of what we’ve already gotten. DSC00858
Dinner was also traditional, Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding (or rather, popovers so that we could have the pan drippings for gravy), and mashed potatoes. We invited Steve to join us, but he didn’t feel up to the trip. There is something really comforting in knowing exactly what’s coming. We decided that what we care about is cookies, music, and seeing our friends.
DSC00861 DSC00864

In the evening, I’d planned to do my podcast show even though I doubted anyone would be listening and I didn’t have a guest, but when I tried to sign on, it turned out there were no shows scheduled for Christmas. If they’d told us, somehow I missed the memo. I’d been planning on finishing this letter after the show, but was disgusted (and tired), so I went to be early.

The other thing I did on Christmas was make another batch of cookies- Kat had given me a shortbread mold with snowflakes on it. It actually worked pretty well. If you count the fattigman, I’m sure I’ll have done 2 dozen before the season is over. Liz called me, and I called Kitty and Trish (Kitty spent Christmas with Trish and Dana); I tried to call Dan in Vegas, but didn’t get through.
DSC00872   I think we did pretty well at keeping our Christmas scaled back this year, but hope that we can do better next year. (BTW, the Solstice is Sunday next year, so our open house will be the 19-21st- pencil us in as soon as you get your new calendar up.)

I hope you’ve had a great year, and will have another next year. I have great faith that we can make the world better by working on it.

“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly” – Andy Rooney

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