Friday, December 28, 2007

Some More HoLiDaZe PhOtoS

When all the grandkids arrived, I tried to get a shot of them altogether. From L to R: Joshua, Garrett, Noel holding Anastasia, Lisa holding Joli. As you can see, there's always one in every crowd. Nonny wasn't up for a group shot. I love how Joli is staring, probably thinking "What is WRONG with you girl!" (of course Joli had her moments as well)

A few days later it was Nonny's turn to stare at Joli as if to say "What are you doing with that bowl!"

It was fun to dress up the kids for the Christmas Eve unwrapping of gifts bacchanalia. Doesn't Joli look adorable in this black velvet drop skirt and beribboned shoes!? She reminded me of one of those American Girl dolls.

Nonny looked just as adorable in pink velvet with a wisp of tulle flirting out underneath her hem. She's even sporting an elusive smile - probably because I let her sit on the table (which I'd not allowed her to climb on earlier) so she'd sit still to get her picture taken.

Even the boys cleaned up nicely with fresh, clean shirts. Here they're sporting the new wooden swords and sheaths I gave them. And I know what you're thinking, maybe even saying outloud at this very moment. What everyone said when I mentioned buying these for the kids (including one for Nonny since she'll want one eventually). "They'll hit each other with those!" I'm sure they will. I'm sure they'll get them confiscated by mom on a regular basis. But oh, what fun they'll have! The evil pleasure of being a grandmother. Hey, I lived through my kids creating swords, bows and arrows, and all manner of other noisy and pointy playthings. I think a childhood is sort of barren without a bit of good ol' heathen, politically incorrect fun. And I bought them rubber shields as well.

Some people, let's say.... my son Joe, are harder to dress up for the holidays than others.

Hubby dressed up in a new Hawaiian shirt I found for him. He spent a rather large chunk of the evening enjoying the festivities with his eyes closed. Rosie thought that was a good plan as well. At least they didn't snore. When he wasn't snoring.. er, sleeping, he was opening a rather large collection of monkey gifts (he likes monkeys) and draping himself with them and the accompanying ribbons and then posing with a goofy grin. I might have a photo or two of that frightening scene to upload later.

One more cute grandbaby photo. This girl is all about cute hats. She wanted one of the giant candy canes decorating the maple tree and her daddy obligingly got it down for her.

If you'd like to see decorations instead of people, I've put up a few posts of my holiday decor on my studio blog.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Elves at my House

We've had a house full of family since the 20th and there's more coming and going until well past the New Year, so I haven't had much time to post or read blogs. I'll probably still be posting holiday photos until midJanuary, but I had a quick minute to throw up a few photos of the small things running about my house this holiday season.

Here's Joli outside playing in the "snow". We went up into the mountains and played in some serious snow later but this was really more her speed anyway. Charlie was happy to wander around the yard with her, the cats love when we're outside. Do you like her hat? It says "I'm 1!". Lisa made it for her first birthday, which was earlier this month.

A little flower child, wandering around with the lawn ornaments grandpa was supposed to put in the garage weeks ago. Do you like her handmade quilted snow jacket? It belonged to her daddy. I found it used at a thrift store or maybe a garage sale, can't remember that many decades ago now. I didn't have a clue about quilting at the time but all that work, even then I could tell a lot of love went into the making of it. It's so fun to see her wearing the clothes I remember from when I had my own babies.

Here are the two grandsons, Joshua and Garrett. The kids were fascinated with this book for days. Of course only at my house do we read Halloween books at Christmas time.

Rosie keeping Sam's.... er, jeans warm. Sam injured his back just before coming over the mountains and he spent the first couple of days flat on his back with heating pads (and warm chihuahuas) placed at strategic points.

One more wee granddaughter, Nonny. She's clutching a beaded scarf that is supposed to draped over the ugly white naughahyde ottoman behind her. Turns out she's ALL ABOUT dressing up. So this was her princess cape for most of a day. I'm going to have the sew the beads back on now, but I couldn't bear to de-robe her, she loved it so.

That's it, just a quick pop in. I was uploading photos from my son's laptop (since I haven't had time to figure out how to use my new external hard drive to fix my photo storage issues yet) and I got restless with my nose stuck in the computer when there's still a cute little baby to entertain me. I'll try to put up more tomorrow. Hope this tides over some of my more impatient readers. Like my mom, who's been anxiously awaiting great grandbaby pics. Hi mom.

Monday, December 24, 2007

World Peace

And good will towards men (and women... and children... and animals.... and oceans.... and clouds.... and stones.... and.... everything.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Moment of Calm

Wee Nonny perfecting her one-finger touching technique on the tree.

Hey, Pyro Girl! I wouldn't wave that match too close to your beautiful bonnet!

Everyone's here except Sam, who will arrive tomorrow. And as you can see, I can take photos again. (Hubby surprised me with a new SD card so I wouldn't have to worry about moving photo storage around until after the kid's visits are over.) I have a few small necessary errands listed for tomorrow and a handful of things I'd like to do but which I'll happily play by ear. Other than that, I'm all caught up. And it's only 2 a.m. I might get more sleep tonight than I have in the last three nights. Probably not, but it might happen. At least I'll get more sleep than I did last night, that's for sure! It feels great to be out from under the holiday frazzle. Knock on wood.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Welcome Baby Sun!

The longest night of the year will soon be over and we'll great the sun, happy in the knowledge that the days will grow a bit longer each day. I put up a Yule altar last night, talk about the last minute. I'm really pleased with it, it has almost a creche-like feel to it,with the animals and elements laying gifts at the feet (er, rays?) of the new sun.

In person it has more of the feel of the close up photo, but I wanted to show you the entire tableau. Hopefully the cats will leave it untrampled for at least a day or two. (P.S. My son Sam made the twig gazebo for me when he was a young teen. I just love it and usually it's displayed in the most inaccessible-to-cat location possible as it's showing signs of age. But I love showing it off here.)

May you all have a Joyous, Peaceful, and Blessed Yule!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Yule Eve

Some of us are working really hard this Yule Eve. And...

...some of us are not. Didn't know you could fit six cats on a loveseat, didja?

I put in a long day today and have, oh, I don't know... let's say... 80% of my to-do list accomplished in preparation for family arriving tomorrow. It's hard to assess because some of the tasks on my list took 30 seconds to complete - call the nursery to see if they have more of the red ribbon for the tree, for example - and some tasks took an hour - drive out to the nursery and buy the red ribbon. I probably could have managed the drive and purchase in half that time but there was that extra bit where the owner of the nursery, her mom, and I spent a half hour leaning on the counter discussing our favorite holiday movies and our respective trips to London. All in all, I'm very pleased with myself. And all on less than five hours of sleep. Hopefully I'll get to sleep in a bit this coming morning. But not too long, I still have some boxes to drag out to the garage now that I've run out of room to put up decorations, and having managed to make about two thirds of the gifts left on my list (I bought some last minute replacements for the rest), I've got more wrapping to do.

One of the things I'd hoped to do this year is make a Yule Log. A Buche De Noel. That didn't happen. But I do have a nice round chocolate birthday cake for the sun's birthday. It came free with my supermarket shopping yesterday. That's probably all we'll manage. We usually have a cake and some years I try to plan my Yule menu to include all round and sunny colored foods. I bet the pizza we had tonight fit the theme nicely. So did the round cookies I just polished off. BURP. Yum.

There's no Yule Log but I can offer you some nice photos of a warm, crackling fire in our winter's fireplace.

Brrrrrr. it's supposed to get down in the single digits tonight. Feel free to put your hands up towards your monitor and warm them by the fire. Aren't the purple flames magical looking!? And if you look closely, you can see fire fairies (some people boringly call them sparks) dancing above the flames.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Just a Quick Pop-in

I don't have time for a decent post today, nor do I have new photo capability yet (although there's progress on that front - I broke down and bought an external hard drive today to store jpgs, now to just figure out how to transfer stuff onto it), but I thought I'd pop in and say hi.

We went to the tea room for lunch. It will be closed after the weekend so this was the last visit of this year. My daughter-in-law was really bummed that it will be closed the whole time they'll be here for a visit, she loves the place as much as we do. And, it would have been the first opportunity for her to take my son there.

I didn't take this photo today, this was from a week or two ago. I just thought it looked festive even though the only thing holiday-ish about it were the two tiny candy canes.

"Chestnuts roasting on an open firrrrrre..... Jack Frost nipping...", er, rewind. "Chestnuts resting on a market shelffffffffff!" So, yeah. But they still look great, don't they? I always buy a bunch of nuts for the holiday gatherings. Chestnuts, walnuts, almonds, filberts.... stick them in a big bowl, stuff a couple of nut crackers into the center, and set it out for people to enjoy. I think it must be a Midwestern thing as I remember it from my childhood but I don't think I've ever seen anyone else set out a bowl of nuts since I've been an adult in California.

Speaking of nuts, it's a nice segue to mentioning that things went a bit nutty today. Lots of cleaning and decorating and shopping and .... suddenly everything went into overdrive. I'm really missing my regular blog visiting time. I know there's so many lovely images and touching or funny stories out therre, and I don't have time to read them! I like to stretch the holiday out into the new year when things slow down and there's time to relax and reflect and enjoy the quieter aspects of the season, so I look forward to catching up with everyone then. I'll be able to post a bit while the family is here, but probably not as often as I'd like, but I'm betting a lot of you will be just as busy as me. Oops, it's late - off to bed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Absentee Bloglord

You might have noticed - I HOPE you noticed - that I haven't posted in almost a week. I know a few people have noticed, most of them related to me. They've called or e-mailed to see if I'm okay (I tend to get quiet in my rare but most serious of drepressions) or if my computer broke or if the power lines have all failed. Lisa suggested I should resort to using smoke signals to communicate if I found blogging too difficult.

But no, none of those things have gone awry. I'm just here, wandering in circles, panicking about the close proximity of Dec. 21 and Dec. 25 and the confusion and chaos (some of it cheerful and merry but some of it just necessary and not particularly fascinating) that are my attempts at getting ready for the holidays. Or rather, I'm sort of lethargically thinking of panicking. Not really having enough adrenalin or energy to actually panic yet. It's more along the lines of muttering "Look at this mess!" "I'll never be ready!" "It's hopeless!" "I can't decide what to do next!" And then thinking maybe a good next task is to get in the car and drive to Starbucks to get a peppermint mocha latte and hope the caffeine will kick in and make miracles happen.

It's not that I'm in a particularly bad mood. I'm sort of modestly cheerful. And I'm modestly productive too. I'm way ahead of a number of friends who have called wailing about their own list of things still undone and many of them have far less discretionary time left to get it all done in. I've spent a ridiculous number of evenings wrapping and I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I've mailed all my cards and parcels. My tree is up although the decorations keep dropping to the ground, like ripe holiday fruit. Hubby finally braved the cold and redid the outside lights which were up but not lighting up because of a rebellious string of lights in the middle of the things. My holiday dishware is in the cupboards. (A cat broke a mug this morning - pout.) Last night I even got a start on organizing and putting out other holiday decorations.

But the guest readiness of my house is still only a fantasy goal on the far horizon. And a number of gifts I'd planned to make are still unmade and I'm beginning to whittle the list of things I'm going to get made down to a few necessities and considering storebought options for the rest of it. Hubby is now on holiday for the rest of the month but his idea of home for the holidays involves a lot of "resting" and not so much "decorating" or "baking" or other traditional December activities. Eventually I'll make an announcement that there needs to be some "helping", probably in the form of "cleaning", on his part. But I'll let him continue with his busy schedule of "resting" for the time being. I do expect panic to eventually overcome even my well seasoned and sophisticated denial methods and then I'll rally the troops. Even the teenager will be forced to pitch in and help.

The snow that the weather forecaster had promised several times fizzled out before getting over the mountains and today's "big storm" is coming down as rain. I'm normally happy not to have the added inconvenience of stormy weather to deal with during the holidays, and I know there are a lot of people in the midwest and east who would gladly send their storms my way if only it was in their power to do so, but still, I'm in the mood for some ..... mood. In the form of white fluffy flakes falling slowly, prettily from the sky - preferably during daytime hours so I can see it come down. The caffeine alone, even spiked with chocolate and peppermint, isn't working. I need snow.

Last but far, far, far from least, my computer photo program storage is all filled up. I did an end run around the problem a few months ago by going out and buying a 1 GB memory card for my camera and using my card reader to upload directly onto my blog. But now I've gone and used that up and it seems crazy to go buy another card. I need to do something about my photos. I've put off the task because I'm not sure WHAT I want to do about them. Just put them on CD storage? Upload them to online storage? Get photographs printed of the best of them? Two or three of these things? It's overwhelming and confusing and ultimately, regardless of which choices I make, it will be time consuming, and so it's not done and now, with no extra time whatsoever, it's become a critical decision. Even if I don't have a camera for my blog posts, holiday and family visits are imminent.

But my point here is that one of the reasons I haven't blogged is because I don't have photos to go along with the words. And it's hard for me to blog without photos. It's like trying to talk while sitting on my hands. It's an Italian thing. We can't talk without using our hands. And yes, I know, I'm not Italian. But two of my children are part Italian. And I used to be part of a big ol' Italian family. And I was probably Italian in a past life. So just take my word for it, handless talking is HARD! In the same way photoless blogging is HARD. Even just going around town without my camera is difficult. I feel like I'm making do without one of my senses.

Ironically, I've had a lot of things I wanted to blog about. I'm not sure if it's the photos thing or a mild case of Reminiscing Blues (a traditional part of everyone's holiday, yes?) or feeling guilty that I should be spending the time doing something more critical, but every time I've sat down to blog I just feel restless and without an entry point. And then I play online Sudoku instead. Or get up and make a meal.

So, that's about it. I've got to go round up a few gifts that I need to wrap for a friend I'm meeting for dinner in an hour. And tonight I'll see if there's any good old holiday movies online and get back to my merry muddling.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pajama Party!

Being that I'm such a night owl, it's quite an honor that Julie has awarded me this lovely little blogger's award. I am so smitten with her description of the pajamas that my blog has inspired in her mind. You can read it here in her post. Or, if you've got a hot date and you're in a hurry, I'll quote her here:

"Next my thoughts turn to Laume at BeachTreasure, hers would be warm, comfortable, with pithy sayings that automatically rotated (somehow magically or something), they would also be eclectic looking, maybe some velvet, some rayon, some cotton, some boa feathers or fringe, something sparkly too, you get the idea. Boho/gypsy, yet just mom enough."

Don't they sound fab-you-luhs?! I am sooooo gonna make myself (or maybe find myself) a pair of Boho/gypsy mom p.j.'s.

The reality is that my p.j.'s usually consist of flannel or stretch knit pajama bottoms matched with a long sleeved comfy knit shirt. It's all about comfort as I am the fairytale princess from The Princess and the Pea story. I can't sleep on a wrinkle or with a fold or twist underneath me. Nothing binding. No cracker crumbs. The blankets can't be too heavy or too uneven. Pillows must be "just so". If you don't believe me, ask my poor long suffering hubby who, despite getting very little sleep as it is, has been awakened and asked to get up out of bed so I can "fix the mattress" because it's a couple of inches crooked.

I have quite a few Halloween themed p.j. bottoms, a flannel snowflake pair, and a great stretchy blue pair with creative inspiration sayings written all over them. Hey, that's sort of like Julie's image of them, huh! Alternatively I wear leggings and shirts. In warmer weather (which isn't much of the year up here in the mountains) I've got a few short nightgowns but usually it's boxer shorts and a tank top. Especially in the last few years when I never know when a power surge (aka hot flash) will strike.

But moving on, here I'll quote Julie (who is quoting Deb):

"The idea is to award it to bloggers whose blogs you enjoy, saying what sort of pajamas you think that blogger would inspire a store to sell."

The funny thing was that I had just a few days earlier seen a pair of pajama bottoms that I knew HAD to be inspired by Natasha, so she definitely gets an award. In fact, I even took a photo of them.

If you visit her blog you'll see why these reminded me of her. She makes these very scrumptious cupcakes and sells them. And although she certainly has a more flamboyant, cowboy hat wearing side, mostly everything about her blog is soft and girlie and pastel. She'd have to go to bed in something as dreamy and feminine as her art work. She's one person who deserves sweet dreams.

The next person that came to mind for the award is my friend Deirdre. I'm probably cheating as I've actually seen her in her jammies but I think it's safe to say her blog reflects her personality. She's creative (and messy - I've seen her studio too!) but what one remembers more is that she's way more organized than me and has sort of a cool, classy exterior. So I'd picture her not in the night shirt I recall she wore, but in something both comfortable AND elegant. Not glamour girl elegant. More Audrey Hepburn elegant. I saw some p.j.'s just the other day at a store that would work well. Traditional button down shirt and trousers, like men's pajamas, only in a deep cherry red and black pinstripe silk. I might change it to a dark purple or blue though, to match the colors in her new bed quilt. I'm tempted to put her in a pink bunny onesie footed pajama suit, just to see the look on her face, but she might find a way to injure me even though she's all the way across the continent from me.

However my next awardee would probably gleefully accept, and WEAR, a pink bunny onsie footed pajama suit. My daughter-in-law Lisa loves to let her inner child out to play. And now that she has an outer child as well, they play together! She actually owns footed jammies. I've seen them. Only hers have footballs all over them. Her blog is all about being a mommy, so of course I'm thinking some two piece jammies would be more practical. But they need to be fun. How 'bout a pair of p.j. bottoms with snowmen and snowflakes all over them with a color coordinated tank top (she lives in San Diego and even though she claims 60 degrees is COLD (Sheesh!), she really doesn't need anything terribly warm). Most importantly, baby Joli would have matching snowman jammies only hers would have a nice warm matching top since she tends to kick off her covers.

I'm picturing my next awardee, Laura, in chocolate pajamas. Not very practical, I know. Although, hmmm, maybe her hubby Sebastian would appreciate them - in fantasy anyway. In real life they'd be seriously, uhm, messy. But wouldn't it be nice if they were special made of magical nonmelty chocolate? Instead of having to reach for her chocolate stash stored in her nightstand drawer (oh, wait, that's ME with the bedside stash), if she got hungry in the middle of the night, she could just nibble on her sleeve. Okay, so maybe I'll just picture her in a nice pair of chocolate brown colored p.j.'s. Oh, I know! With an orange tank top. She likes orange with her chocolate. Oh, and she'd need magically big pockets so she could stash all her reading and writing material in them.

Last (it's almost 5 a.m. - time for me to stop writing about jammies and get IN some jammies!) I'll award Stephanie over at Rodrigvitz Style because I adore the vibrant colors and love of life her blog inspires. I think she needs some comfortable jammies. The bottoms would be like a pair I have with little Day of the Dead skeleton people dancing joyfully all over them with a tee in a bright (or maybe black) solid. But wait, there's more! A hand made robe. It would have oversized sleeves and a flared skirt and a sash woven in bright rainbow stripes. Let's make it a rayon cotton blend and it's been hand painted with bright sunflowers along the bottom and then a row of her little spirit houses above that. Blue roosters cavorting up and down the lapels perhaps. She'd wake up each morning and waltzing around the kitchen with a hot cup of coffee and her twirling robe, start her day out with a smile just like her blog makes me smile.

And now I'm off to bed. I'd like to at least start out sleeping in the dark!

Oh, and over on Laume's Studio I'm participating in a blogger's Holiday Open House. Pop on over to see some photos of my tree decorations. And if you'd like to see more holiday homes, you can find links at the hostess Karla's blog, Karla's Cottage.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Desperately Real Housewives

There are a lot of gorgeous blogs out there this time of year, filled with images of smiling children, beautifully handcrafted gifts, and gorgeously decorated homes. I ooh and ahhh at the pretty snow scenes and sigh at the glittery soft edged vignettes of holiday trees. These posts inspire me. They make me want to jump up and make my own home look just as beautiful. I want to have the perfect holiday too!

But life isn't really like that. Every once in a while I stumble upon a post where someone admits that they don't have it all together yet. Or that they're feeling overwhelmed and depressed this time of year. Psssst. The truth is that the reason many blogger's photos are upclose is because if they weren't cropped you'd see the laundry on the floor next to the pretty table top display or the trash can that fell over just out of sight of the snowy winterwonderland. And of course don't forget someone has to go shovel all that wonderland eventually. And do that laundry.

I'm guilty of portraying a pretty, but incomplete, picture myself. The post and photos I did of the uptown Tree Lighting night in our small town. It was as fun and it was as magical as I wrote about it. But on the way back to the car I ended up following a family where the husband and wife screamed profanities at each other over the children's heads for two blocks. Sigh. A not so perfect ending to what had been a perfect day. I left that part out because, why ruin it for the rest of you.

It's like that scene in Practical Magic where Sally and her aunts are walking through town. Aunt Jet is trying to be nice to people but everyone is avoiding them.

[Aunt Jet:] Hello. Hello, darling, how are you?
[Aunt Frances:] Oh, Jet, just give it up.
[Aunt Jet:] Never.
[Sally:] All I want is a normal life.
[Aunt Frances:] My darling girl, when are you going to understand that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.
[Sally:] Well, it's what I want.
[Aunt Jet:] You see this couple here? He's having an affair with the babysitter. And she can eat a poundcake in under a minute.

We know that normal isn't... well, normal. Under the surface things aren't always what they seem. I know for example that several of my friends who seem to be able to do everything, have maid service or a secretary or far fewer family members to appease. I know that the family my son Joe as a teen used to always compare our family to unfavorably (their mother cooked anything they wanted to eat, their family had lots of money, their family had a Victorian house that could pass a white glove inspection, their family had a full sized Christmas tree in every room), is now split apart and many of the family member's lives are in shambles.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with painting a rosy picture of things or in striving to create one. Not at all! We all need inspiration and we need fairytales. It helps us to get through facing the scary dragons in our lives and times of wandering frightened and alone through dark forests, when we can hold fast to the idea of a "happily ever after" to come. And some days we really do feel we've pulled it all together. For one shimmering moment, we're in the center of our "happy".

But there are days when all those pretty pictures don't inspire us, they only make one feel inadequate. Despite everything we do, there's that one child that continues to pout or we notice the windowsill we thought we'd cleaned has brand new muddy paw prints on it. The cake turns out lopsided and the husband is grumpy and no one wants to hear you sing holiday carols because they're trying to listen to Family Guy. Why does everyone else have a handsome prince or a shiny (and clean) castle and a perfect life and not you? Or so it seems.

Sometimes we don't want another reminder of how far from perfect we are. Somedays, instead, we need to to find other less than perfect companions, fling our arms around each other's shoulders and sing a round or two in fallen-from-grace fellowship.

If you're planning a pity party and need the perfect tune, I found it here. Make sure you listen to the MP3 so you can sing it to yourself next time you're elbow high in dishes while everyone else is watching the football game. I am so going to memorize this one so I can annoy my family.

And yet, this lovely little ditty is really more my style. Tell me your life doesn't feel like this video some days!

Last but not least, here's an article that suggests that us messy people are the new chic. It's probably true, I've always been one or two steps ahead of the crowd when it comes to trends.

Ironically, today is not a day in which I'm feeling overwhelmed despite the fact that I'm at least a month behind in what I'd hoped to accomplish by this date, despite the fact that I've just rounded the corner on the realization that once again there's no way in H.E.Double Hockey Sticks (don't you just love how I use the word "Fuck" but spelled out the word "Hell"?) I'll be able to get everything done on time. Maybe I'm feeling good because I've reached the point of letting go of the fantasy holiday and embracing the messy, chaotic real holiday. That's why this this all makes me laugh today instead of cry. And now, more irony, I'm off to attempt a whirlwind catch up on several fronts - wrapping, decorating, and cleaning. I might embrace reality but I still like to chase the dream.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Golden Compass

I went to see The Golden Compass last night and mostly it was exquisite. An epic story. A feast for the eyes. The characters looked the way I had imagined them to look. I adored seeing the daemons. The visual of the daemons was something that was even better than in the book, in the way that watching Quidditch on the big screen was better than reading about it in the Harry Potter books even though the books were of course better than the movies.

But, I have a few issues. Some piddly minor ones and one BIG one. And I want to talk about it all SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO badly. But I can't. Because there's no way to do so without spoilers. And you all know how I feel about spoilers. So, sigh.

His Dark Materials, which is the collective name of the trilogy, The Golden Compass (or in the UK it's called The Northern Lights) being the first book, is amongst my top hundred favorite reads. Maybe even in my top ten favorite reads. I read the books aloud to William about seven years ago. I reread The Golden Compass this last week so I would remember it well before seeing the movie.

Now I'm not sure if that was a good idea or a bad one. No matter what I did, my expectations were probably impossible to meet. Perhaps if I'd waited to reread the book until after I saw the movie, if I hadn't had all the details so clear in my head, I wouldn't have been so critical of the movie when I saw it. Maybe I would have seen the movie more as the rest of the audience was probably viewing it. But then again, maybe it would have just confused me that things were..... changed.

Okay, I'll ever so cautiously tell you what my one big issue was with the movie. I'll try to do it in a way that won't reveal anything. But if you're nervous, just skip this paragraph. They left off the very end of the book! The end of the movie clearly set the audience up for the next book/movie, which is fine. They didn't change the ending, they just didn't include it! Well, okay, so that changed the ending. But the whole of the first book leads up to what is revealed in the final chapter and the movie stopped just before there! This makes it a much happier ending. But, it's as if they got you all the way up to the scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where they find the Goblet but haven't yet touched it and then..... end the movie. UHM! WHAT!?! Yeah. So, maybe if you've read the book and know this in advance, you'll be a little less disappointed and surprised. Since it was obviously left for their to be a next movie, they'll have to eventually tell the ending the book in the beginning of the next movie or the plot can't move forward. So I guess I'll have to wait to see how they handle it. But waiting through the entire movie to see that final scene and then having them withhold it. I was left.... unsatisfied. I hate a cliffhanger anyway. It feels like cheating. To pay for a movie ticket and then end up getting a beginning, middle, but not an end.

A smaller issue I had with the movie had to do with the "dumbing down" of the religious references. Can't spoil this for you as it's in all the news. Big controversy. I understand why they had to do that to make it a viable commercial success but to me the story didn't attack faith so much as blind loyalty to a rigid patriarchy so I didn't see it as attacking Christianity. Still, I don't care too much. It works the way they changed it. I just thought a couple of places the dialogue was so vague that it probably confused the audience if someone didn't know the original lines.

Another issue - they took out almost all the deaths. Yes, it's a "family movie". But so is Harry Potter, and they didn't clean up the story for those movies. Actually, Philip Pullman has been quoted as saying he did not intend the books to be for children but because two of the main characters were pre-adolescents, they chose to market them as Young Adult. They are really more like The Lord of the Rings - something precocious child readers and young adults readers would enjoy, but sophisticated enough to really be adult literature.

An even smaller issue was that some of the later scenes are shown out of order. It makes sense to me why they did that now, knowing they wanted another scene to be the grand finale. But it was confusing when I was watching it.

Still, I loved the movie. The characters were amazing. Oh, I adored Pan! I was spellbound being in Lyra's world. The special effects were probably the most realistic I've ever seen. The special effects in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe were amazing but they sometimes seemed computer generated to me. The Golden Compass effects were flawless.

Oh, and the witches! They don't play as large a role in the movie as in the book, but the scenes they are in are awesome. I wasn't sure how'd they portray some of their abilities, but they did an even better job than my imagination. There's a scene where it brings tears to my eyes, just like the scene in Practical Magic where the women all clasp hands around the circle. That sort of emotional reaction. Although I think it was because I knew more of the story from the book than from the actual scene.

I had one name pronunciation wrong. I actually had pronounced Lyra's name incorrectly when I read the book. Hubby and I disagreed. I pronounced it "Leer-rah" and he said it was "Lie-rah". He actually wrote to Philip Pullman and got a lovely handwritten response! Hubby was right. So I'd corrected that in my mind already. But I had been pronouncing Iorek as "Eye-or-eck" and it's not, it's "Your-ek" or if you prefer "Ee-or-eck" said really fast. I had everyone else's name right in my head.

If you go to The Golden Compass movie website and click your way along to "Daemons", you can get your own daemon. I tried it three times and wasn't totally convinced I'd found mine yet, but it's a fun activity.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Wish List

Everyone is making up their Wish Lists at this time of year and making sure they fall into the right hands, be those the be-mittened hands of Santa or the broken-nailed, busy fingers of moms. My family does this every year although I stubbornly refuse to use the lists until I get down to the last few days and the last few difficult people. Not that they're difficult people, I mean finding a gift idea for them is difficult, usually because I'm not geographically close enough to pick up on the small every day cues of what they might need or enjoy at this point in their life. I muddle through without lists every year because I firmly believe that an important part of gift giving is the effort involved in thinking about the person and coming up with something that fits both the person and your relationship to them.

Handmade always makes a gift extra special but that's not always the right thing to do or practical in these harried days. There's a wonderful Pledge going around to Buy Handmade. I'm totally on board with all the reasons listed on their website. But realistically, if a teen wants new snowboard boots or the latest CD by My Chemical Romance, it's unlikely I can whip him up a homemade version of either of those things. So, I do as much homemade as I can but concentrate more importantly on making sure the gift reflects some forethought and attention and that it serves it's main purpose, making the receiver feel loved and special to me.

I'm one of those people that have a much easier time giving than receiving. Well, maybe that's not exactly what I mean to say. It's just that I enjoy the process of giving and I don't really feel like receiving is the other half of the equation. For me the pleasure of giving is in the excitement of knowing I scored a direct hit on the person's happyometer, not in anticipating a gift in return.

Don't get me wrong. Receiving is nice. I like gifts. Especially when they're given in the spirit of "I was thinking of YOU" that makes them special instead of of just an obligatory "I don't know. I guess we could just buy her a shirt." I'm often told I'm a difficult person to buy for (to gift) and I find that very odd. I think I should be one of the easiest people to give a gift to as I have so many things in this world that delight me. And not necessarily just material things, although certainly there are plenty of examples of those, but also experiences. I told my son last night that the best gift he could give me was his smiling face at my door for the holidays and I totally meant it.

I consider many ordinary, daily things gifts. When my kids call just to say hi. When William tosses out yet another witty comeback. When my husband brings me coffee. When my daughter and daughter-in-law take the time to send me photos of my grandkids so I don't miss them quite so much (or maybe miss them just a little bit more.) When a blog visitor leaves a comment for me. When Rosie jumps with joy at my return home (even if I only went out to the car to retrieve a pair of gloves). When a waitress remembers my regular order and puts up with my Meg Ryan (When Harry meet Sally) style of ordering. When people drive the speed limit on our busy little street. When my friend Shelly listens to me ramble on about worries or maybe nothing special at all and shares the same with me. When the sun shines for me or the wind whispers for me or the snow falls for me. These are all wondrous gifts.

But since most folks want something they can wrap up and hand to someone, I thought I'd make my very own wish list this year, something I can't remember doing since.... oh, probably early adolescence. My kids don't read my blog (except Lisa - waving - hi Lisa! and she already bought me a gift for the holidays) so this is just for my own pleasure.

Wish List 2007

First of all, let's get all the obviously most important things out of the way:

World peace
A clean environment
health for all my loved ones (including myself)
financial security
peace of mind
my cats to stop peeing on the kitchen floor
my own personal chef, secretary, accountant, gardener....
anything else in the top tier of importance that I forgot

Okay, now that those are out of the way, moving on:


If not Paris, some other trip. I've already got my passport ready if it's international. Some good alternatives to the City of Lights - Ireland, Indonesia, Toronto, New Orleans, Barcelona, Greece. That's probably enough ideas.

Ocean - preferably I'd like it moved about an hour's drive from my house.

House cleaning elves

Good theatre - preferably in Susanville but why can't they at least have something regularly playing in Reno! Hmmmm?

A walk in closet of my very own

A fountain. Not some tabletop thing that breaks in a month. I want a REAL fountain. Nothing cutesy. I really like the ones with the lion's head like the one at the Chalice Well. Wall fountain or free standing. Anything that looks old.

A new camera with an even stronger zoom lens so I can take sharp photos from a thousand miles away. (or at least from a hundred yards)

KitchenAid Mixer. In a really neat color. Or maybe black would be cool. I'm getting old. Mixing by hand has lost it's appeal. Hey, I might even do more baking from scratch!


Some new jeans that actually fit. Probably only Santa could pull this one off.

macarons - And I don't mean macaroons, those American cookies with coconut. I mean French macarons - one "o". I've been salivating onto my keyboard ever since I've seen the first photos of them on assorted blogs. And to think I was there, in Paris, and didn't know to find and eat some.

This box of stamps.

Or this one.

chocolate which includes, in any combination - nuts, caramel, fruit. Dark chocolate is best.

For my local community college to offer a Beginning French class. Also, an ASL class would be nice too. And would it hurt to offer a Introduction to Photo Shop class. (and no Deirdre, an online class isn't the same - I need a real teacher in a real room with real classmates to force me to take it seriously)

Monk's Blend tea - I haven't been able to find it for awhile.

Any tea really. Love tea.

Homemade yummies.

William to go to the movies with me because it's a nice thing for him to do for his mother and it hurts my feelings that he never wants to go to the movies with me any more. Sniff.

handmade soaps (although honestly, I have a lot of them now. But I still love them.)

A scarf. Crazy about scarves. Particularly if they're made of natural fibers and are beautiful and flowing. Warm and funky is good too.

A Halloween toothbrush

books, new or used

In particular - an antique and collectibles guide with lots of glossy pictures

or the table top book My French Life (in paperback version, no sense paying extra for hardcover)

a pinking shears

New personalized banner headings for my blogs

plain necklace chains to slip my charms onto. I've managed to break almost all of mine.

a zest maker

a pastry cutter

some cooking spoons that aren't rusty and bent

pez candies - not the container, I've got several of those - just lots of the candies

Well, I guess that's enough for now. I'm sure I'll think of more just as soon as I upload this post. If you post your Wish List, let me know so I can come read it.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Taking a Break

Today just floated by without really getting anything on my To Do list done. Not that I don't have hours left to redeem myself, but I'm thinking of making a complete vacation of it. The weather finally turned stormy. Well, rainy and windy. Nothing like they've been getting pounded with north of us in Oregon and Washington. But enough to be moody and dark - just my cup of tea.

And speaking of tea, this morning was eaten up with little catch up phone calls and e-mails, I'm still behind but at least not more so, but I decided to play hooky this afternoon. I went to the tea house, by myself and a day ahead of our weekly visit. I was craving a spot of tea and some of the scrumptious peppermint scones we had last week. I had good intentions. To mask my indulgence, I intended to sit and write out some of my holiday organizational lists while I was there. This being a small town, instead I ended up bumping into folks I knew and chatting across tables and then talking tea with the owners. It turns out they hadn't made any peppermint scones today but they had a special - fish and chips! How could I pass that up! Ah well. I'll call it what it was - a little holiday gift day to myself. And tomorrow the employees are going to have an applie pie contest and the customers get to be the judges. Good thing I hubby and I will be back there for our date.

Next on the schedule (actually the only thing actually written on the schedule for today) was a meeting with William's English teacher to see what was causing his grade to hover around "just sort of passing through without caring". Turns out it was simply a matter of a little bit of this and that - not turning things in on time, tardies. Nothing serious. In fact she said when he's in class he's one of the kids who participates regularly and when he focuses he gets A's and B's on his assignments. So we all agreed he'd spiff up his act. I'm glad to know there's nothing major to worry about. I wondered if he was struggling with his spelling. Turns out not. That's nice to hear.

Are you all totally loving the Sci-Fi Channel mini-series Tin Man as much as we are!? We haven't been given such a wondrously new fantasy escape in years. Not since The 10th Kingdom. Or The Mists of Avalon. Or Dune. I think Zooey Deschanel (loved her in Elf) is the perfect Dorothy. I'd say the scarecrow (Glitch) is my favorite but honestly, I think all the main characters are spot on.

I'm also zooming through a second read of The Golden Compass before I catch the new film. It's one of my favorite books (well, the His Dark Materials trilogy is) and so I'm rather amazed at how much I had forgotten or didn't catch on the first read. I can hardly wait to see what they've done with it on the big screen.

Between Tin Man and The Golden Compass, my dreams have been very fantastical and odd. I keep getting my family mixed up with characters from both and in particular, Rosie mixed up with Pantaliamon. The sound of the wind and rain outside my bedroom window lends a surreal soundtrack to my dream plots, such as they may be. Phone calls usually are my alarm clock and they shatter any hold I have on remembering them. I'm left with disconnected vignettes or vague memories that I was going someplace or I'm supposed to be doing something....

Do you stop during the day and make a mental round up of all your loved ones? I do it all the time. If I'm feeling anxious or scattered it helps me feel like everything is back under control. I count off people and pets, when did I see them last, when did I last talk to them on the phone or online, where are they now? It doesn't help in any real way, I know that, except it mentally sets my internal worry clock back to zero. Let go of residual worries, start from scratch.

Let's see - hubby is at work. He just called to say he'd be home tonight after all. William is in his room playing video games, I can hear his music blaring. Rosie is usually curled up on my neck or under a blanket or sweater if she can manage, but she's sleeping at the end of the bed for some reason. Haven't heard from daughter in Washington in a couple of days, maybe phone lines are down up there with all the rain and wind and flooding. One son called about an hour ago to tell me about some real estate plans. Another just called me from an island out in the Pacific wondering where his wife was and why couldn't he get hold of her. So I tracked her down, she's in Yuma visiting her grandparents. Joshua left me a feather on the walkway today. My mom e-mailed me that she's busy putting up her tree. I assume my sisters are both at work or no, at this time of day, home making dinner. The cats are asleep here, there, and there, and there, and over there, and over there as well. It's like living with tribbles. Buck's in his doghouse, keeping out of the rain.

Okay, enough rambling. Maybe I'll go work on some gifts. Or maybe I'll just heat up my leftovers from this afternoon and get back to my book. They're just about to reach Bolvangar. And that's not a spoiler because you only know what that means if you've read it already. Or maybe I'll drag in some holiday boxes and make even more of a mess in the living room. Hmmm. Yeah. Put on the soundtrack to Elf. Or maybe see if there's any holiday decorating shows on HGTV. Whatever. Today's all about just going with the flow.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Biscotti Baking Bonanza

There's always a million holiday tasks to tackle. Which to do first!? I was in the mood for some baking.

What? This doesn't look like biscotti. You're right. These are peppermint bark cups. And duh, I took the photo and then put the pretty peppermint sprinkles on top. Imagine them all aglitter.

I always bake the traditional anise flavored biscotti. They might look a little blah but the taste and texture are scrumptious. I've never found another biscotti I like as much as this one. I got the recipe from my ex-little-ol'-Italian-mother-in-law. Usually I just triple the recipe and make enough to last through the holidays. People are always impressed that I bake my own biscotti. The honest truth - I hate admitting this - they really aren't difficult to make. Just a bit time consuming.

This year I thought I'd try some experimenting. I quadrupled the basic recipe and then split it into four batches before adding any flavoring. The first batch I made up into the traditional cookie. The other three I tweaked into new recipes. I had a few moisture issues when adding liquid flavors or fruit but they weren't major. I think a lot of it was caused by being impatient and not cooking each batch separately or long enough. I made up for it by leaving the cut cookies in a bit longer on the second bake and they all turned out just fine. In fact, more than fine.

These are almond flavored with sliced almonds. They were the most bland of the three newcomers. Next time I'd add more almond flavoring. Don't get me wrong, they'd still be great with a hot cup of coffee or tea. They just didn't have the little extra zing of the other flavors. I added a topping of vanilla almond bark and that did the trick.

These cranberry pecan biscotti look less well dressed but they are really yummy! I used half white and half whole wheat flour and so these have a real rich "muffin" flavor.

Now these.... oops, these aren't biscotti. These are my boxes of chocolates from the Chocolate Festival. They look rummaged through in this photo from last night. Uhm, you should see how crumpled and pawed through they look now!

Ah, here we go, back to biscotti. These are my favorite of the three new flavors. They are orange pecan. And orange loves dark chocolate. I started by dipping one end of each cookie, which looked nice but predictable. Then I got this striping technique down and voila! I call these Orange Tabbies. Oh, I'm sooooo clever! I'm feeling very smug about how pretty they turned out.

The biscotti eating family won't descend upon us for several weeks but I make them so early because biscotti are such a long lasting treat. They are best accompanying a good hot cup of your favorite beverage. Hmmmm. I think I'll go put on the tea kettle.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Lots of Local Jolly

I hadn't planned it. One thing just sort of led to another and before you know it, it was a day full of holiday.

It started midday when I suddenly remembered reading in the newspaper last night about a craft fair that was going on Friday and Saturday at the county fair grounds. I had missed last year's big local holiday craft fair - I was off in San Diego watching my granddaughter come into the world, so that was definitely the better choice - so I was excited to go to a craft show this year. They had a craft show at the fairgrounds over the 4th of July this year and it was a small thing, barely visible from 50 yards away, much less from satellite, so I wasn't sure if this show would be much of anything. I figured I'd go find out for myself.

It turned out to be a rather nice show. It filled three fair buildings. I bought a few small gifts and sampled all those great craft show edibles - nuts, cookies, candy canes, seasoned oils and vinegars, olives. No problem that I hadn't had anything but a cup of coffee.

Another thing they had going was a holiday display contest for local groups and organizations - y'know, Boy Scouts, Cattlemen's Association, 4-H, the Garden Club. I got a kick out of the local flavor of all the displays.

This one was put up by the Indian Casino. Yep, a big pile of firewood, a modern tent, and an old fashioned Christmas tree really represents the Native Americans of this community. Hehe. The firewood though is SO Susanville. When we moved here thirteen winters ago, the large majority of homes and businesses were still heated primarily by wood heat. We only got a gas heater last winter.

And being a ranching area, here we've got Santa on his tractor, about to mow down those pesky elves. They sprout up like dandelions all over the place y'know.

This display was put up by the Lassen Teen Court. You can't tell it but it's all lit up. Yessirree bob, nothing says Christmas like a garland wrapped gavel!

Of course Santa works the rodeo circuit during his off season.

And what doesn't bring back holiday memories like a festive beef garland.

When I was done shopping at the fairgrounds, I decided to go uptown to check out the local arts council Chocolate Festival Event. They've sponsored it for years and I've never managed to make it to one. Since I'm now a member, I figured it would be nice if I at least put in an appearance. There was music.

Everyone there was in the holiday spirit.

But more important than who was there, was WHAT was there. Chocolate!

Lots and lots of it. Five tables of it. For $5 you could buy a plate and sample to your hearts delight OR you could buy a half pound box and fill it to take home with you. I bought two boxes and filled them with chocolate of every kind - dark, milk, white, semi-sweet - combined with everything and anything - nuts, coconut, brittle, more nuts, liquor, fruit, cookies, more nuts.

After I filled my boxes and chatted with friends for a bit, I headed across the street to visit with my friend Shirley the bead shop owner. More and more people passed by on the street outside. It was the evening of the uptown tree lighting holiday kick-off. I've always read about them in the paper but never attended. The shops all stayed open late. There were activities all up and down main street - carolers, dancers, radio hosts coming live from the festivities. Starbucks had a booth set up and gave out free hot cocoa and coffee.

Here's a crowd of people watching the cutest little dancers, kids about kindergarden age, doing a routine to Baby it's Cold Outside. And cold it was. NIPPY. Since I hadn't planned on being out so late, I wasn't at all prepared. Fortunately I had a big coat in the back of the car, and I had my sweater and scarf wrapped tight, but no hat or mittens. All the shops were warm so I kept wandering in and out. Most of the shops also had trays of food and big pots of spiced cider which was nice since I still hadn't sat down for a meal yet all day.

It was a good thing I was having fun because, not knowing there was going to be a parade, I parked on Main Street before they closed it off so I was stuck uptown until they reopened it. After an hour or so of shopping and nibbling and enjoying the crowds, the parade finally came marching up the street. In the dark. Lots of people marching with banners - and it was too dark to read them. Funny, but small town fun was being had by all. Some of the parade entries thought about the whole dark thing and came with their own lighting.

I liked this old fashioned fire truck.

And the Cat in the Hat was bouncing around tilting the tree on this float. Unfortunately my batteries chose mid parade to conk out so I missed taking a photo of the grand finale - Santa on his sleigh pulled by eight tiny..... uhm, actually it was the shape of a giant sleigh done up in lights on the sides of a huge cherry picker, Santa on top. And more strings of light attached it to the eight tiny quad dirt bikes that were "pulling" the cherry picker. Now that's small town redneck decorating at it's finest. The best though was as Santa passed by he called for everyone to come with him to light the tree and the crowd, thousands of people, all streamed off the sidewalks and followed the parade the block or two up to the top of town. I felt like I was an extra in a Disney movie! It gave me big ol' warm fuzzies through and through even out there in the dark and cold.

The crowd counted down and then TADA! Big tree full of lights. You can get a sense of how tall it is if you know that the blue light to the left is on top of a three story building on a hill slightly behind the tree. That's one BIG tree. And no, it's not the one that I saw heading the other way down main street a week ago. This tree grows here year round. In fact there's another one just as large just to the left of that building. I'm about a half block away taking this photo. I didn't know there would be fireworks! I didn't get a shot of the best of it. If you click to open the photo, you can see it better.

After the tree lighting they set up a big chair for Santa in the middle of the street for kids to sit on his lap and there was more singing and dancing and deejays playing music. There were crowds in the street all up and down the block I was parked on so I obviously wasn't going home yet. I went in search of a bathroom and settled in to keep warm at the book store until the crowds thinned and the street was reopened.

The local bookstore sells new books in the front of the store but if you wander back, you find the used book section. The front is tidy but as you can see the back of the shop is all about digging for treasures.

My favorite spot in the whole store is this red velvet chair in the mystery book room.

Eventually every dance troupe in the county had done a routine, including the high school cheerleaders, and some older dancers that did a bizarrely sexy dance to the song Joy to the World, and the frosty nosed people all started to wander away and I was able to jump in my car and do a quick u-turn to go home. Picked up a couple of U-Bake pizzas on the way.

And now William and I are sitting on the couch surrounded by cats and blankets and one teeny chihuahua, watching cheesy holiday specials. And speaking of cheese.... we've eaten pizza. And chocolate. Let's not forget all that chocolate I brought home! We've taken a bite out of almost every piece and there is a surprisingly large number of empty candy wrappers that lead me to believe we might have finished off one or two (or ten?) of them in their entirety. My favorite might be the chili chocolate balls! We may pay for all this gluttony later, but right now life seems pretty darn comfortable.

Oh, and if that's not enough holiday for you, guess what just started coming down!? Yep. Snow flurries. The first of the season. Ho Ho Ho!