A visit from the Christmas baking elves

It had to be the elves because there's no way I did all that work over a weekend.  If my back and legs weren't so sore, I'd believe in those elves, you betcha!

This weekend, I decided to do a cookie bake and share with our friends and neighbors.  It's such an easy gift for people we know, but we don't really know well enough to know what they want for Cmas.  Everybody wants a Christmas cookie!  Well, almost everybody.

I baked oatmeal cookies and lace cookies and spritz cookies and frosted sugar cookies, and yesterday, the weirdest batch of fudge ever that got hard and grainy in the pan while it was cooling and I had to re-melt it to pour it.  

More than 22 dozen cookies in total.  Rob brought me a sandwich for lunch and by 1:30, the oven was off and the first round of dishes were washed.  Then, came the frosting.  I took over the dining table.  

Rob took a candid shot of me, focused on that piping bag.  I'm getting pretty good at it and I learned a lot about frosting and frosting consistency and piping bag tips.  I did the outlining in a thick frosting that held it's shape and then filled in with a thin frosting that spread out and filled the shapes.

And, I frosted cookies all afternoon and well into the evening while we watched a movie, and then started again early yesterday morning and by 10 a.m. the frosting bags and food coloring were put away and the dishes had been washed...for the thirty thrill-ianth time and I was able to get around to some other chores.  

I bought some green plastic leftover type containers at the store and packed about 3.5 dozen cookies in each one and while I made dinner last night, Rob distributed them to the neighbors.  

This kind of Cmas cookie baking was not my family tradition.  We didn't do a lot of frosting and after frosting all those cookies, I can see why.  (but I'll do it again!)  Our holiday baking was things like the oatmeal cookies and cookie bars and candies that didn't need frosting...but if you think about it, a batch of divinity takes as much time as frosting cookies does.  I'd like to get a group together to set up multiple stations and bake cookies, where everyone brings their ingredients, we get together and do the baking, then everyone takes home a dozen of each kind of cookie.  That would be fun!

In a sudden change of direction, I was sad to see the Camelia blooms are fading.  Usually this is blooming up a storm at Christmas, but I lost so much of it last year in that hard freeze and got a lot fewer blooms this year.  They were beautiful, tho!  

Sydney's Cmas cactus is going like gangbusters.  I wouldn't have chosen this pink, but she did and when she moved, she left it here.  The squirrels got in it one year and ate all the roots and I had to start over with cuttings.  This is the first really good year since.  There are several pots of these in the greenhouse, including one that's almost purple.  I hope to bring in those smaller pots to put around the house on the big day.  

Even Bella is getting into the Cmas parade.  Who could resist that cute face??  

This is for all of us grown-ups.  I've got some kids I work with that I might actually share this with.

Everybody have a great week!  I'm busy buying last minute gifts for people I forgot about earlier.  Because there's nothing like trying to pick up leftovers after 350,000,000 people have shopped on Amazon.  Today, I get my booster jab.  Tomorrow is going to be iffy, but I know I'll be recovered by Christmas.  And, if I'm not, they can bring my gifts to my bed with a helper to open them.  

Be well.  Love your loved ones.  Celebrate the holidays in whatever way you enjoy and remember that you don't have to do it that way just because you've always done it that way.  Make some new memories instead of trying to re-create the old ones.  And, most important, find a room with a good lock on the door and sit yourself down in it and take a breath.  The holidays are a marathon, not a sprint.  Run too fast and you'll fall down.  

Happy Holidays!
Lane, Rob and Sydney


The highest priorities

I'm definitely having to prioritize this holiday season.  Not only am I trying to do the regular holiday stuff, but I also had to re-plant the garden.  Decisions have had to be made about what gets done and what does not.  Rob and I always pick one Saturday to go shopping together and we knock out all our shopping in a go. We've already picked up all the things we need and these trips are for things we find and decide we want.  It's always fun and we shop at places where you never know what you're going to find, which adds to the excitement.  

I found a piece of fabric to bind the hand quilted Christmas quilt.  I wanted a red binding but could not find that shade of red, so settled for a gold/beige that will look nice.  I got the binding made and am hand sewing it to the quilt.  I had to mark the straight line on the quilt and also mark my 1/4" stitching line on the binding.  I'll get there, but like everything done by hand, it takes a while.  

Most of the week was spent studying plants.  I made a list of most of the plants in the garden and started learning about where they'd be the happiest.  A few that weren't dug up for the fence got moved, plus everything I'd already dug up and was trying to get back in the ground before it gets cold.  As I learned, I started moving pots to new locations and figuring out how much space each was going to need and I slowly filled in around them with smaller eye catchers that will grow in most conditions.  I still have a few evergreen structural plants, like liriope and cast iron plant (aspidistra) that I'll use to fill in some spaces at the end.  I also have some specimens that I intend to leave in pots so I can try to show them off a little.  I have plenty of brick to build some small pillars to display special plants on.  

Since I started gardening in this yard, it's been mostly shady.  But next year, there's going to be very little shade so I had to create a bit of a shady spot for some shade loving plants.  We'll see how it goes.  It's the only spot in the yard where I stand a chance of creating any shade.

Anyway, everything I've moved seems to be doing well.  A nurseryman acquaintance of our family when I was a kid said you can transplant anything, anytime if you give it enough water, so I've been watering the heck out of everything and it seems to be paying off.  

Still lots of cleaning up to do, but I'll get there.  I'm going to be decreasing my surplus of violets and using them for a more specific purpose and not letting them spread like ground cover.  Once those root balls get established, they're the devil to get out.  I plan to use violets as a border along the stone pathway.  I'll focus on that when I pull up the stones and rebuild that pathway.  That's definitely winter work, but I have to do it before it starts to rain in March and the garden turns to a large clay pit that tries to steal my shoes.  

We had a slight freeze Saturday night, so the firebush started to turn purple.  It will turn purple/red and be beautiful for a while, then all the leaves will fall off and it will die to the ground.  With all the sun the yard will get next year, this will get big as a house.  

I also did some baking.  My mom mentioned making tea cakes (a sort of sugar cookie from my childhood) while I was there and while we didn't make them, it got me thinking, so I made a batch of Aunt Ruby's tea cakes.  I couldn't remember the whole oil the bottom of a glass and press the cookies.  I couldn't get them to not stick to the glass and finally gave up and mashed them with a fork like peanut butter cookies.  If I'd made them with my Mom, she could have shown me again how that works on this particular recipe.  No matter, they're delicious!!

And, I finally made poor Rob that apple pie that I promised him the weekend after Thanksgiving.  We hate a soggy pie bottom so I studied par baking the bottom crust and tried it on this pie.  I can share that as of last night (day 2), the pie bottom was still flaky and firm, so I'll be doing that going forward.  Around the edge of the pan, I pinched the bottom crust at the edge and then lined it with parchment and filled it with pie weights and beans.  That kept it from sinking into the plate and when it was partially baked, I loaded it with the sliced apples and a top crust.  I also did some things to reduce the amount of liquid that would cook out of the apples and that affected flavor a little bit, but I can do that better next time.  

This neighbor always does a big display at the holidays.  He has a whole set of "when pigs fly" Christmas decorations and this year, he expanded to a full set of Star Wars Christmas inflatables.  It was so cute that I had to share it.  

I also wanted to mention the passing of Anne Rice, author of so many books that kept the hell scared out of me when I was younger.  I still love her books and re-read my favorites every so often.  I think I'll have to try something from her that I haven't read, as a memoriam to a great author that played a predominant part in my younger years and gave me and my friends so much to talk about.  

Everybody have a great week!  Remember to relax.  Holidays are marathons, not sprints and you need to take care of yourself, especially if it feels like you don't have time for that (the more it feels like you don't have time for it, the more you need it!)



A day late

Did you miss me yesterday?  I was in the car, driving home from a quick visit to see family.  All of last week was focused on trying to find ways to help them and the last section of fence, so no fun quilt progress.  

I got a few color changes on the afghan.  I'm still not a fan.  It's nice and I hope some youngster will enjoy it.  But, there's no 'keep or donate' debate going on for this one.  Now I know the pattern, I think I'd enjoy making another one in some of my favorite colors.  But, afghans are not conducive to dogs and cats that like to climb on you and we will always have pets and I hope they always want to climb on us for a nap.  

The builders installed the last section of fence along the back of the yard, between us and our new neighbor.  We'd just found out the builders would be there Thursday, and Wednesday night we saw someone at the house flicking on lights in a way that only a new owner would, so we walked over and knocked on the door (they weren't expecting visitors so it took them a long time to answer the door).  We introduced ourselves and told her the fence was coming down on Thursday and ended up standing there and having a very nice chat for 10 minutes and then, because we're not intrusive, we said good night and went back home and waved at them from our dining room window because you could see straight in that house after the remodel.  The fence fixed that.  We went as high as we could legally go.  

My fence coordinator, Rob.

When I was home, I did a little drive around to see what's changed.  I ended up by the high school.  I sat in the parking lot where the church I grew up in had stood and the only thing that I recognized about the school was the auditorium.  It's been that way since my Mom went to school there.  The only thing that's changed is the doors.  

My folks really do live in a beautiful place.  But, goodness the stories they tell about the wildlife around them sounds like they're still carving a homestead out of the wilderness.  Every kind of creature I can think of, some dangerous.  We dug a couple starter plants out of her flowerbeds and pulled some undesirable plants out by the roots. Her dirt is so soft.  I've been digging in my yard for weeks to get everything out for the fences and my soil is hard compacted clay that was dry and digging in it was work.  No matter how much organic matter I add to the soil, it's always going to be clay based.  When I stuck the shovel in my Mom's flowerbed, I did it with the force I'd have used at my house and the shovel sunk all the way to the handle.  I looked at her kind of embarrassed and we laughed and I complimented her very nice dirt.  

When I got there, I found that everything was not as dire as I'd thought it was.  In fact, my Dad's organization was inspiring.  He let me look at his filing cabinet where everything is in a labeled folder with an instruction page on top with helpful phone numbers and what to do and who to talk to and which folders to start with.  And I was ashamed because I thought he needed help and because my own paperwork is not nearly as organized.  He talked to me about his personal business and how it's set up and honestly, I couldn't find anything I knew enough about to try to help with.  And, he has an appointment with an attorney today in case there's anything he forgot.  I have made a lot of important decisions in my life and made some of the same choices my Dad made.  They're safe and fiscally conservative and I don't regret any of them.  And, now there's something else I can model after the way my Dad did it.  

My family's favorite pastime is bickering.  (And, waiting until everyone is standing up with their keys in their hands and who's riding with who has been decided and then making a totally different plan.)  I've never seen anything like it and it makes me very anxious because when Rob and I talk to one another like that, we're mad.  But, they don't appear to be mad.  It's just the way they communicate.  And, unfortunately, in the last 15 minutes of my visit, I let my anxiety get hold of my mouth and I was not my normally nice and jovial self.  Because it was the end of the visit, it's what everyone will remember.  It's unfortunate and I regret it.  

I remember being like that.  Rob remembers me being more like that than I am, but not as much as I was at my worst.  I was the master at snarky comments.  But, living in a bigger city, I learned pretty quick that people that aren't raised around bickering won't put up with it and I had to change how I addressed the world.  It's taken a long time and the biggest changes came at the beginning, when an older co-worker named Betty sat me down and told me in no uncertain terms that I couldn't talk to and about people like that, and after Syd came to live with us and I started to hear my words come back to me.  I like myself better and the world likes me better too.  I walked around the hotel I stayed at and everybody was so happy.  Smiling, speaking, chatting in the elevator, talking to and about small kids over breakfast, making jokes with the housekeeping staff.  That's the world I'm used to interacting with now, and that's how I interact with it.  

They say you can never go home again because you go back as a different person.  I can say that for me, that is true.  I go back as a different person and have trouble finding my place in their day to day interactions and familiarity.  But, I keep trying.  

Be well.  Hug someone you love today, even if it's virtual.