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I went to bed after midnight last night, made a feeble attempt to see the lunar eclipse in the middle of the night (failed due to clouds) and then woke up again sometime after 4am and could not get back to sleep.  I finally got out of bed around 5:30 as J was getting ready (this is practically unheard of) because I started panicking that we didn’t have enough forks for everyone and needed to count the number of available forks, immediately, in case we needed to rent silverware.  I thought we had 16, more than enough, but could not be sufficiently certain to put my troubled twisted mind at ease.  So I counted, was relieved but simultaneously sickened by my deteriorating mental state.  J said it’s Ambien for me tonight.  I won’t argue.

 

J was flying home last night and was delayed due to  mechanical issue (isn’t it great that they only “discover” the issue once everyone was herded on the plane ready to take off?).  While that sucked, there was an upside – since I didn’t have to leave to get him from el aeropuerto I was able to really, truly, and in a meaningful way accomplish just about each and everything I set out to do yesterday.  Which was insane.

I made eggnog custard base for eggnog ice cream; stuffed and froze shells for christmas eve dinner; made dough for cinnamon rolls, made marshmallows, fudge, granola, sugared pecans and meringue cookies; did laundry, washed and ironed napkins; relocated the cats’ litter box and ran errands to Target, Publix & Pike’s.   Oh and managed to shower somewhere in there.  It was pretty satisfying to cross everything off my list even after I had resigned myself to not getting it all done.  Airport delays – bad for J, productive for me.

To do this week – go insane.  But in a good way.

With less than a week to go the guilt and panic are starting to set in.  I woke up at 4:30 this morning (it’s a Sunday) and could not go back to sleep because my thoughts were racing so.  I finally got up, made lists and sorted laundry while watching “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”   If that’s not obscene I don’t know what is.  I’m panicking because not everything is going to get done to my satisfaction (I’m working very hard to prepare myself for that reality and to “let go”) and I’m feeling guilty because my obsession is, well, shameful.  I am very much about spending good times with family and friends and while I am not necessarily materialistic in things I want I am very much in the throes of a consumerist orgy with the decorations and food and whatnot.  I know, intellectually and emotionally place settings are not what matters, it’s being with the people you love.  But at the same time I have this terrible drive to have everything be perfect even though it can’t possibly be.  (For the record, this applies to a lot in my life – I am very awfully type A but only about stuff that doesn’t matter).

Anyway, in my doomed quest for perfection I spent yesterday morning and this morning running errands to strange places – like a specialty baking store in Tucker which only sort of had what I needed.   I made my last trips of the year to Michael’s and Garden Ridge.  Sawicki‘s in Decatur for pimento cheese.  Dancing Goats for coffee.  Target and Publix this morning for the basics.  And Pike’s Nursery for a lemon tree.  Because when you can’t find lemon leaves in Atlanta to make white chocolate poinsettia leaves the only reasonable thing to do is buy a lemon tree in order to harvest its leaves.

I’ve got trips to Whole Foods, Star Provisions, Toscano & Sons and Materotainment Bakery ahead of me but I’m fairly well stocked up and don’t have that much left to get.  My fridge and pantry are bursting, yet, paradoxically, there isn’t much to eat.   The house is clean, J comes back tonight and from here on out is a baking marathon.  I’ve got doughs for sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies in the freezer.  Today I’m making and stuffing pasta shells plus a whole host of other sweets.  I won’t get everything done on my list but I’m prioritizing and making peace with that.  People will not notice if I don’t have homemade marshmallows for their hot chocolate and no one would probably miss the eggnog ice cream if I run out of time considering I ordered a red velvet cake, have a cheesecake sitting in my freezer and will be making a chocolate cake as well.  No one will care or even know but me (and you, but it’s our little secret).

Once people get here and I can relax the spirit will find me again, of that I’m certain.  It’s just gonna be a little frenzied for now – but let’s be honest, I kinda love it.

 

It’s amazing what deadline panic can motivate one to accomplish.  Most nights when I come home the most I can hope to achieve is to make a decent dinner – and lately even that has been a major challenge I usually fail.  So it’s funny that over the past several nights I’ve tested at least two different buche de noel recipes, made two stockings (pictures to come) and managed to somewhat clean the oven.  There was a time in my life where I would have really been into cleaning the oven at eleven o’clock at night.  That time has passed.  It sucks.  Especially when it hasn’t been properly done since we moved in.

As for the dessert – I think I’ve finally got a plan.  J really liked an espresso mascarpone filling I used for one so I think I will incorporate that into a layer cake as a filling with either a buttercream or ganache frosting.*  If I can pull it off I’ll add some white chocolate leaves meant to look like a poinsettia but that’s iffy.  I’ll make a buche de noel for the side and, to triple hedge my bets, I just ordered a red velvet cake from Metrotainment (very southern).

The stockings actually didn’t come out too badly.  I think J had very very low expectations when I told him my plan and was surprised they turned out as well as they did.  I am a very sloppy sewer – I don’t chalk, baste or pin (I’m not even sure I truly understand what basting means) and I tend to measure once and cut twice.  That being said I’m happy with the stockings (although they could probably have been excellent had I taken my time and not cut corners).  I’ve only made two and that just may have to do – they don’t take too long (I managed to make one per evening in between other activities) but my schedule for the next week is pretty ambitious.

Speaking of which – holy crap we’re only ten days out.  I have a lot of plans that won’t get finished – I’ve been preparing myself for that reality.  Not everything will be perfect.  I will not get done everything I want to get done.  I will not get every specialty item from every specialty store that I want.  I’m trying very hard to be ok with that.  It’s not easy – I’m still mildly manically optimistic at the moment.  That will probably change by this weekend where I have a lot scheduled.  It’s probably a good thing J is out of town because it most likely won’t be pretty.  Oh, and dear Atlanta weather, you’re not helping.  Cut it out, you’re really starting to suck.

Once I can get a non crappy photo of the stockings I’ll post it.  I may also screenshot my notes – it’s a funny process I go through.  But that may be revealing just a little too much.

*My love of food and cooking goes way back to watching cooking shows on PBS as a kid – the Cajun Chef, The Frugal Gourmet, etc.  I also really loved Great Chefs of the City (not a PBS show) even though the chefs hardly spoke and recipes were more guidelines (as it should be, really).   The chefs were often from other countries and there was usually a narrator and words like “coulis,” “sabayon,” and “ganache” repeatedly came up.   I fell in love with those words and learned to make those things just so I could throw them around.  Yeah, I’m pretentious, I get it, but they’re fun words to say – try it!  Also, can we go back to cooking shows where the chefs were real chefs who ran a kitchen and didn’t talk too much?  I miss that.

I have had a string of (mild) defeats lately.  Not so much defeats, maybe more setbacks.  I will recount those for your (mild) amusement in a moment.  First, a disclaimer to (mildly) assuage my (half-)white guilt.  This blog is intended for fun and to chronicle my attempts to host a big holiday.  I was listening to NPR on my way home today , like I usually do, and heard a story about an art design student in Detroit attempting to manufacture coats made of insulation and army wool for the homeless.  While heartwarming, the story also managed to make me feel like I’ve wasted my life and spend my time on frivolous pursuits.

And it’s true.  The frivolous pursuits part, at least.  I understand my petty problems are luxury problems, in that because I’m not consumed with having to scramble to meet my basic needs, I am forced to create issues and challenges for myself.  Because I am a lazy person who lacks vision, those issues and challenges are largely selfish and of little worldly consequence.  My biggest “issues” are trying to find the perfect gift for people who already have what they need and, largely, what they want; trying to find décor in my color selection when inventories are low due to a poor economy; and mildly disappointing desserts.  J and I, for the moment, have decent jobs, good health and a measure of security (as secure as anyone can feel right now, of course).  We are lucky and I’m grateful.   For the moment we don’t have to worry about how we’ll pay our mortgage or power bill or buy food.  And that is a great privilege.  And I truly recognize that.  I understand this blog may come across as insensitive – me bitching about a lack of color selection or cakes not coming out exactly right is, to be sure, the very definition of petty and frivolous.  I admit that and I try to write this blog in a way that lets you know I’m poking fun at myself.   It’s not important life or death stuff.  I deal with important stuff all day long; sometimes it’s nice to take a brake and laugh about the sillier things.  So I hope this blog is read in the spirit it’s intended with the understanding I recognize in the big scheme of things, I ain’t doing so badly.

Sorry for the downer dose of reality, now on to the bitching!  So, my recent setbacks, in no particular order:

Dessert.  I like to bake.  In most cases (not all) the things I bake taste fairly good.  I bake from scratch without mixes.  I am stubborn about that.  I turned down two offers from my mother and mother-in-law for cheesecakes because I insist on creating a “show stopping” dessert.  I did a test run tonight on a buche de noel.  The results were mixed.  (The cake was dry).  I have a long way to go to “show stopping.”  Right now I’d be content just to avoid flop sweat.  On a more positive note, the filling was very good.  So I’ve got that going for me.

Décor.  My theme this year is elegance in violet and silver.  Apparently, violet is not in this year because I am having the damnedest time finding things I like in my colors.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, it is impossible to purchase a tree skirt or stockings in colors other than red or green (unless you want some garish show-girl sequined thing) – ANYWHERE.  To whit, here are stores I’ve searched in vain to find violet stockings and turned up empty:

Pier One, Target, Wal-mart (I’m never going in there again, by the way), Michaels, Jo-Anne’s, Hobby Lobby, Gardenridge, Burlington Coat Factory (yes, really), Cost Plus World Market, Belk’s, Kirkland’s, a Hallmark store, Bed Bath & Beyond, Hancock Fabrics, Costco, Home Goods, plus all the stores I’ve searched online: Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Amazon, Etsy (which has become a backwater hellhole of crap, by the way), and plenty of other places the memory of which I’ve suppressed.  Nothing but ugly cheap locking stockings and tree skirts.  Oh, there was the gorgeous offering at Neiman Marcus, which I adored.  I did not adore the $160 price tag, however.

The only reasonable course of action was, of course, to make my own.  This entailed traveling to no less than five fabric stores (Whipstitch, Forsyth Fabrics, Gail K, Jo-Anne’s and Wal-mart, for those playing along at home).   So far I’ve managed to cut out the pattern and snip the outer fabric for one pair (a lining and cuff are involved, as well).  So there’s a good chance these won’t be up in time for Christmas.  I think I’m ok with that.  I mean, I’ve made peace with the realization I may just have to live with ugly stockings (from several years back during my red and gold holiday).  We all have our demons.

Also, in other positive developments, I have my holiday playlist set.  Amazon has tons of free holiday music and Target offered a free download of 14 songs as well.  I also downloaded the Glee Christmas album which I’ve yet to listen to but am in great anticipation.  I’ve cleaned out the pantry and the freezer (even made chicken stock in the process!).  Tree and living room are decorated.  My gift shopping is done and most everything is wrapped (except for J’s presents which have all been delivered to my office or my parents’ house to be wrapped while he is out of town this weekend).  Squid for J’s grandmother’s stuffed squid dish (always served on Christmas Eve, they do the Italian fishes thing) is in the freezer ready to go.  Gigantic prime rib has been ordered.  Placemats and napkins (14 each!) in plum have arrived.   I made my last Costco run and stocked up on candy and sparkling water (that no one but J and me will drink).   Lists have been made.  Xanax has been prescribed (ok, I wish).  Despite the modicum of progress we’ve made the panic is starting to set in as my in-laws arrive in a little more than a week and I don’t feel prepared despite the fact I’ve been “preparing” (or thinking about preparing) for nearly a year.  Oh well, at least the booze is here.  If nothing else, we can all be merry, right?

I think I'll save the angel table-topper for next year

Soon I'll be wearing sweatshirts with bedazzled cats - that I made myself

I have no qualms about admitting that while I’m all for the good cheer and family and friends part of Christmas, I’m also really into the consumerist frenzy impossible ideals run yourself ragged trying to make things perfect Christmas fantasy, as well.  I make no apologies or defenses – it’s just what I am.  But I think I’ve reached some new levels of crazy.

Exhibit A: I’ve managed to bring not only my crazy cat lady tendencies to new levels I’ve also managed to merge it with my holiday scheming madness to create a new meca-catmas madness.  I have two cats which I adamantly refuse to de-claw.  My husband, for some reason, prefers to see his furniture intact and not turned into an expensive scratching post.  So I use SoftPaws, a soft plastic nail cap you glue onto the cats nails to prevent destruction.  They work fairly decently, for the most part, the cats sort of tolerate them and things get destroyed…less.

Since I have purchased these SoftPaws online I frequently get e-mails about the new and exciting “fashion” colors as they become available.   I usually ignore these (really) but this time I paid attention – new glitter colors, just in time for the holidays?  It can’t be.  But oh yes, it’s true.  But I click on the site and the glittery colors are “Pre-Order.”  Hello, is that not false advertising?  How can you lure me with with promises of glittery plastic nail caps and then NOT HAVE THEM READY TO SEND TO ME RIGHT AWAY!?  This is Amurica, dammit, we get things like yesterday!  So, I do something I seldom do, I picked up the phone and called.  To check on the status of some glittery plastic nail caps.  For my cats.  To her credit, the customer service woman didn’t laugh out loud when I spoke with her (do you think retail stores dealing with potentially extremist nutty people have special training in empathy?)  Anyway, I ordered the nail caps.  In silver glitter and purple.  Because my cats will be on theme during the holidays.

 

I do a vast majority of my shopping online.  This is pretty well documented.  A. I’m lazy and B. I hate people and C. I ESPECIALLY hate a lot of people in a confined space all trying to do the same thing I am – buy stuff.  Hence, the online shopping.  I almost never pay shipping (shipping charges are for SUCKAS!) and usually end up with some sort of discount either via direct e-mail (I sign up for all newsletters at my most-frequented online stores and funnel them into an e-mail account specifically set up for commerce) or just via googling (usually store name + “discount code” or “coupon code” or some combination thereof).

Anyway, there’s been a constant stream of free shipping and discount offers coming through my inbox lately.  Some examples:

Godiva is currently offering a discount of 20% online and in stores, plus free shipping for orders over $40.  Code is “Elf” and is good through December 13, 2010.

Ann Taylor Loft is offering 40% off almost everything for a limited time plus free shipping on everything until December 13, 2010.   Code is “Holiday”.

Petsmart is offering 15% all in-store purchases through December 12, 2010 – can’t forget our pets – they deserve holiday joy, too!

Anthropologie is offering free shipping on orders over $150 (ok, maybe not the best discount, but if you’re making a large purchase there you go).

Free shipping at Urban Outfitters for orders over $75 – use code “wrapitup” through December 13, 2010

Bloomingdale’s – extra 20% off Holiday Sale items with code “winter”.

Fresh is offering free shipping on any $20 order with code “holiday”.

Obviously this is just a small example.  I can’t post my holiday gift ideas in case my family reads this – not that there are any surprises, but I don’t want to be too on the nose.  My trouble with holiday shopping is that while I absolutely LOVE getting thoughtful gifts for people I agonize over my choices endlessly.  Plus, I usually end up “window” shopping at the places I shop year round, which means while I see tons of cool stuff *I* would enjoy it doesn’t necessarily fit onto my gift list.  Yeah, the food-related gift round-ups I see everywhere are awesome – for me.

And, not to get all preachy, of course, one can’t forget charitable giving.  I try to give year-round but I make  special effort to give during the holiday season, particularly to local charities.  A group of friends and I decided to make donations in lieu of gifts this year and I actually had a hard time finding local aid agencies in Atlanta that serve underprivileged people since I knew need was great and resources were low.  I already gave to the Atlanta Community Food Bank at Thanksgiving and not that they still don’t have great need but I wanted to spread my (relatively small amount of) charity dollars around.   All my other pet causes are national/international (or serve mildly selfish purposes)* and while serve worthy causes, I wanted to try to address those most in need in my community.  I settled on Open Hand (formerly Project Open Hand) and feel comfortable with my choice.   I wish I was awesome enough to volunteer but I’m pretty selfish with my time so, for now, a small amount of dollars will have to do.

* I’m not so giving that I give to all these causes every year but these are organizations I have supported several times over the years.  I’m no philanthropist by any means but I try to give as I can.

ps:  I’m working on a post full of my crazy.  There’s a lot of it and I really want to “paint a picture” here so give me a day or too to catch up on my odyssey.