On Giants' Shoulders

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Presents

Last year Danielle Bean had a guessing game on her blog (she did this year as well). One of the places that the gift could come from was a store that had kitchen type implements, and if I recall correctly a meat grinder was one of them. Someone allowed as how that would be a terrible sort of gift. I didn't think so. I thought that if you had a big family something that helped save money on meals wasn't a bad gift at all. Of course, the fact was that I really wanted a meat grinder/sausage stuffer myself. We have so much lamb in our freezer, and making our own lamb sausage out of it is something I actually like to do. In the past I've been limited to bulk type sausage out of the lamb that the butcher ground (either country or Italian style). Well no more. Now I can branch out and make lamb kielbasa, link sausage, and sausage out of other meats. I can even make hot dogs. Because I got a meat grinder for Christmas!

This is no wimpy little thing like my mother had. This is no attachment to the mixer. This is a heavy duty piece of equipment that will handle pounds of meat easily. It has several different size sausage attachments, there's a local source for casings that I wasn't even aware of. Now all I have to do is get a book with lots of sausage recipes in it (I have a few) and I can really go to town. No more sausage buying for me, now I can do it myself. That means controlling the fat content, controlling the source of meat, controlling the type of meat, controlling the spice ratio.

As my husband pointed out, it also means we can make our own hash. It also means that when I make plum pudding next year I can run the suet through the meat grinder and avoid having to fish stringy bits out of the food processor. I'm sure we'll even think of other things to grind. My mother used her grinder for things like relish making. David is getting some different plates for it so that we can grind to different fineness than the one that came with it.

Now a lot of people would think that was a lousy Christmas gift. They'd prefer clothes or necklaces. However, my husband knew that this was something I'd actually been wanting. Call me a freak, but kitchen equipment like this is really something I like. He also got me a marvelous little pot for melting butter and chocolate, a bigger cast iron skillet, a magnet that gives metric/English conversions all the way down to 1/16th of a cup, some proper margarita glasses, and other kitchen type stuff. My son got me a new (and very heavy duty) blender. So the kitchen is better stocked today than it has been, and I have some new toys to play with.

My daughter, of course, took care of the more feminine and intellectual stuff. She got me a book I'd been wanting, some Father Brown DVD's, some lovely bath and body stuff, and some terrific socks from my new favorite socks market. Her best beloved got me a beautiful angel for the mantle and a lovely new ornament for the tree. I'm sure I'm forgetting some things because I'm not actually looking at the piles at the moment.

There are also those not so tangible gifts, like David doing most of the cooking on Christmas Day (with Gabe's help on the stuffing for the goose). The food was great and I was so glad that I'd done some things (like Auntie's tea cookies, the fruitcakes, and the plum pudding) ahead of time. One of the fun things for me was that I actually had food gifts to be able to give out. Over the course of Advent I made two batches of Marty Franklin's peanut clusters (thanks for the recipe Kris), and they made great presents for people. Some people were SO impressed with homemade candy. I felt guilty taking compliments because the recipe is SO easy. Of course we still have some peanut clusters left for us...

Oh, and I guess I should mention that it's nice to be a size 6 at Christmas. I"m going to have to go back to counting points next week, because I've let a couple of pounds creep on since Thanksgiving, but I decided that as long as it wasn't more than that, that this year I was going to feast when feasting, then fast when fasting like the Church teaches us to. However, since last year a size 6 was still a far off pipe dream, I guess I really can't complain about a couple of pounds. It's just nice to know how to take them back off again. A size 6 is my Christmas gift to me.

Now, as soon as the last Amazon package gets here, I can send a box of to Missouri with Christmas/Birthday/Epiphany gifts in it. I found one item that will make my niece laugh, but it also will tie her to her mom's and my past. This is a year when she's transitioning. She's finishing college and she's getting married. It's a good time for her to have some things that tie her to the past, as well as some things that prepare her for the future. I'm attempting to give her gifts that will do both.

Today, I'll finally do some Christmas cards. Because, after all, Christmas is a season, not just a day. I'll sit in front of the Christmas tree with the lights on. I'll sip tea and eat homemade fruitcake and ignore healthy guidelines for a couple more days. I'll grab the Wise Men out of the box and let them begin their trek towards the creche. So while the secular world is back to business as usual and looking towards New Year, I've still got more Christmas to celebrate. Now if I can just figure out sausage recipes that would go with some of these feast days... Well I'm all set.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Worst Christmas Ever

That's what my daughter dubbed it yesterday. She had some justification in that she'd been running a fever ever since Saturday (up to nearly 102), had no appetite for all the Christmas goodies, was dizzy, and was too sick to even go to Mass (which just NEVER happens around here), and was anxious about missing work today because her boss apparently made a big deal about this week being mandatory.

I said that I agreed it was a pretty lousy way to spend Christmas, but that it wasn't quite my worst Christmas ever. Ironically, my worst Christmas (thus far, anyway) was the year I was her age. My father had died just a couple of weeks earlier, my mother and I were staying temporarily with my aunt. I got pleurisy apparently from sleeping in a too cold bedroom, and I'd just realized I had to distance myself from my best friend because the religious group she was involved in bordered on the cultic. Oh, and I was unemployed because I'd given up my job to take my parents to Gerogia for the winter (my dad died within days of our arriving there). I wasn't sick, sick, but it was a Christmas with a lot of heartache.

Within weeks, however, my mother bought a new place to live, I found a new job, and moved to a different town. A year later I was married and celebrating a truly wonderful Christmas. What a difference a year can make sometimes.

Alice Lawhead wrote a book years ago, titled simply The Christmas Book. In it she points out that there are those unique Christmases that for some reason simply have to be endured. They are the out of kilter Christmas when someone is sick, or just died, or a house burned down, or someone is in the military far away. On those Christmases celebration seems out of whack.

With this sort of Christmas you do your best to muddle through. It helps to remember why you're celebrating in the first place, but it also helps to remember (as my mother-in-law would have pointed out) that it's just one day and that Christmas is actually something that we as Christians should be celebrating all year long.

So while we had goose, and roast beef, as well as plum pudding, and all the other special trimmings yesterday, while the people we most wanted here were (other than relatives too far away to make it), while the gifts were lovely and the day peaceful, it was still an out of whack Christmas. In the final analysis, however, what's really important is that the King has come and, out of whack Christmas or not, the world will never again be the same.

Friday, December 14, 2007


7 dozen Peanut clusters -Done - with no tears and only a couple of drips on the floor.
1 freezer emptied of ancient freezer burned stuff
200+ pounds of lamb distributed between two freezers (one at home the other the locker in Wallingford.) But I didn't have to drive because David went with me in the truck.
2 beds made (well actually Abby finished the second one after I changed the sheets and pillowcases).
4 loads of laundry done (although the last load is still in the dryer)
2 loads of dishes through the dishwasher
1 trip to the grocery store in anticipation of a winter storm
1 casserole made for dinner
24 rows of knitting done on one sleeve of a purple sweater.

So if that's all I did today why am I now so sleepy???

Thursday, December 13, 2007

If That Table Could Talk

Today I was cleaning off the table in my kitchen in preparation for a session of candy making. As I scrubbed it to get the newspaper that was stuck on from my dd's baking session last night, I thought about this particular table. It has seen a lot of baking sessions through the years. This table was in the kitchen of the house I lived in as a 4 year old helping my mother make Christmas cookies. It was the table I made my first cake on. It was the table I made my first batch of raised doughnuts on. It was the table we ate supper on when I was in high school (but not breakfast or lunch- that was in the kitchen). I did a lot of my early sewing on this table. It moved to an apartment in Tunbridge with me and I served dinner to guests on it. It moved to a trailer when we were first married. I sewed on it again, my babies took baths in an enamel bath tub set on it, we ate on it, one child had to be constantly restrained from climbing on it. I made loaves of bread and the kids learned to twist pretzels on it. For a long time it was upstairs in our house. It held a drum carder for awhile and a computer for awhile. Now it's back in the kitchen and has become a place to roll out pie crusts, make bread, cool cookies, and form peanut clusters.

If the table could talk it could tell many a tale (some of which I'd just as soon censor, thank you very much!). It's a constant that links a lot of different homes together. It's not a very pretty table anymore. It's got scars, burn marks, and it wobbles a bit. The leaves that used to go in it to allow for more diners got lost somewhere along its travels. Consequently it rarely serves as an eating table except when we use it to extend our dining table. It never was a fine dining table, it's always been more ordinary than that. We always had another table that we used for big meals when I was growing up. It was round with claw legs. This table is just a plain rectangular table with 4 straight legs. It's never been anything special.

Sometimes I feel like that table. I too am pretty ordinary. In the course of the years I've gotten pretty beat up looking too. I've got scars on my face from falling down stairs. I've got stretch marks and sagging skin. My hair is getting grayer and there's not as much of it. Like the table, there are lots of memories, but I'm still functional as well. Unlike the table I hope I've grown in grace and wisdom, however. Sometimes it would be nice to have a spanking new table, just like sometimes it seems like it would be nice to be a brand new adult. However, a new table would have none of the memories attached to it, and I wouldn't really want to go back and do my twenties over again (at least not unless I could take the accumulated wisdom with me on the journey).

There isn't a whole lot in my house that dates back to my childhood. Even most of our older furniture comes from a different time and place. The table is really the one piece that has been there through it all. It's seen me from a pre-schooler to now. So no matter how beat up it looks, no matter that some people think it should be thrown out or replaced, I sort of like having it around. It reminds me that I too still connect back to that 4 year old who put silver balls on the bellshaped cookies while listening to the radio to see if Santa Claus read her letter on the air. Madeleine L'Engle once said that she was all the Madeleine's of her life, not just the older adult she was then. This table reminds me that I'm still all the me's of my life as well, just as the table is the same table, just more beat up than it was 50 + years ago.

Now if I can just get someone to tighten its legs up, it might last another 50 years.

A Quiet Advent

That's what I aimed for and it's what I seem to be having thus far. I'm not sure whether I'm really simply stuck in the throes of procrastination, since I've done very little shopping, but I have certainly been feeling more peaceful, for the most part...The last two days I had to shop for ingredients for a Mexican dinner last night. On Tuesday the challenge was that just as I was about to begin the grocery shopping (after a very frustrating visit to Michael's for supplies for a Christmas gift project) it started sleeting. I rushed around the grocery store trying to get everything before the roads got really slippery. First, I couldn't find a couple of ingredients, then the lines were long. Of course, when I got home I discovered that I'd forgotten the pinto beans (found some in the cupboard), and found that my adobo chili powder was nearly 3/4 gone and I hadn't been able to find adobo chilis at my grocery store. I also forgot to get the stuff for dessert. So it was off to the store again yesterday, only to find that no store had the adobo chili powder anymore. Fortunately, one store did have the dried chilies. Mexican meal = success.

Unfortunately, I have to go again today because no store I went to yesterday had the almond bark I need to make Marty Franklin's peanut clusters for gifts. I simply didn't have time to go to the one place where I knew they'd have it and still get back home in time to begin dinner preparations. So while I've done NO shopping for actual completed gifts (except for 1 puny online order), I've done a lot of shopping in grocery stores...

The winter weather we've been having has been part of the reason for my quiet Advent. I refuse to venture out for unnecessary stuff if the roads are bad. What I also know is that I never seem to "get in the mood" to shop until closer to Christmas itself. I have the added problem that I get annoyed with Christmas lists and frustrated with no Christmas list. I finally came up with ideas for my dh yesterday (he's the no list person in my life), but I'm equally frustrated with lists that limit my selections (so don't allow for a creative thought on my part). Consequently, I seem to be staying in the mode of putting off the inevitable shopping in favor of reading, praying, baking, knitting, etc.

Just to add drama to the whole thing, we sent 5 sheep to slaughter last week. Consequently I have to drive 45 minutes each way tomorrow to pick up the meat, then drive 35 minutes each way in the opposite direction to take the meat to the freezer locker. I just hope the weather cooperates. I'll put a CD in the player and try to maintain peace in the car at least. Thankfully one of those sheep was sold to someone else, so I only have to find boxes for 4 animals worth of meat. The new ownership of the slaughterhouse hasn't accumulated any boxes yet, so it's a BYO situation. On the up side the new owners are markedly nicer to deal with than the old ones.

So here's kudos to those organized people out there who already have their shopping done and their gifts wrapped. I'm still waiting for the adrenaline to kick in, but I certainly have enjoyed the quiet Advent.