Ooh, if I thought the 6am wake-up was bad yesterday, today’s 5am wake-up was even worse. I somehow rolled out of bed without once hitting the snooze, shuffled up the stairs and took a shower, tried to give the kittens enough attention (because mornings are Snuggle Time, according to Rupert) so that they would leave Richard alone, and then headed off to Davis to pick up my older sister. And I did this all without the benefit of even a single drop of coffee.
Luckily after picking up my sister, the next stop was the bagel store, where I also got the largest cup of coffee they could give me. Mmm, caffeine. And then, fortified with coffee and bagels, we headed off to Vacaville to meet my mom and our younger sister at the outlet stores, just in time for the doors to open and the post-Christmas shopping to begin.
I knew I didn’t need much this year, since we’ve somehow acquired several never-ending rolls of wrapping paper, but I did need to pick up a few additional boxes of cards, and while I was at the first store, I also found some great things for stocking stuffers for next year, and could not resist adding a cute new sweater to the cart, just for me, since it was such a great price. After that, it was off to the fabric store, although by the time we got there, there wasn’t much in the way of Christmas stuff left, so we instead wandered around looking at fleece, and helped my older sister pick out just the right patterns for her to make Snuggies for a few additional people.
I suspect at some point, when we were all much younger, we probably could keep up this shopping thing for longer, but these days, usually after the second store we’re all tired and more than ready to trudge to the nearest coffee shop and try to suck down enough caffeine to keep us awake for the rest of the day. So after a quick stop into a nearby craft store, we decided to call it quits.
A few phone calls to the men, who’d been left behind with the kids, and then we were all on our way up to Sacramento to meet for lunch. After that, it was off to our house, so that those who hadn’t yet met the kittens could meet them, and everyone else could see how much they’d grown. Rupert does not know the meaning of the word ‘fear’, so he was perfectly happy to play with anyone and everyone, but Ingrid has always been a little shyer than her brother, so we compromised by allowing her to stay downstairs in the guest room where she was obviously happy, and having people come down to play with her in twos and threes so she wasn’t overwhelmed.
My dad dozed off on the sofa, but the rest of us settled into a rousing game of Curses, since Richard and I figured that was something all ages could enjoy. And it turned out to be a rousing success, since by the end most of us were laughing so hard it was all we could do to keep from crying (or worse), and the kids sure seemed to have a blast as well. The only problem with the game (as we’ve run into in the past) is that it has a tendency to go on a lot longer than people really want it to, so the remaining four people called it a draw.
I whipped up a triple batch of pizza dough and set that to rise on the counter and my dad and Richard went to the grocery store to pick up cheese and sauce and drinks, and then once the dough was ready, we cut it up and had everyone make their very own pizza (a technique which cleverly bypasses the inevitable problem of feeding pizza to a large crowd – trying to figure out what people want on their pizza). Luckily one of the things I picked up this morning was several packages of paper plates, since we actually don’t own enough real plates for my entire family, so the only dishes left from dinner were the pizza pans and the silverware, all of which my brother-in-law very nicely washed for us. There was ice cream for dessert and lots of people more than willing to play with all the cats who were being social, but eventually it was getting late and everyone headed home, leaving behind an extremely worn out little kitten (Rupert), a pair of equally worn out humans, some leftover cheese, and the remnants of a container of peppermint stick ice cream. Phew.
We figured (and rightly so) that the kids would all be up bright and early this morning, seeing as how it’s Christmas and they all still (or at least they claim, that is) to believe in Santa). So Richard and I got up at 6am, and made it to my parents’ house by 7. My older sister and her family came a bit later, just about at the point where we were all thinking we might just have to start breakfast without them (and that’s a pretty big thing, since Christmas breakfast is always homemade cinnamon rolls) but they arrived in the nick of time, yawning, and bleary from not enough sleep. We’d at least had the foresight to make coffee at home this morning, so Richard and I had already gulped down one cup each on the drive from Sacramento, which was good since my dad’s little coffee pot doesn’t make a lot of coffee at one go, and for some bizarre reason, my dad drinks mainly decaf (even in the morning!) and that was all that was available when we arrived (at least until my little sister came out and took care of the situation).
Once everyone had arrived, we all crowded into the family room and opened our stockings. The kids all got excited to see that Santa had eaten the cookies and drunk the milk they left out for him (and if any of them noticed that Santa’s handwriting looks suspiciously like their grandfather’s, they were smart enough not to say). Once more coffee had been made (and promptly consumed), the whole family moved into the dining room, there to inhale great quantities of cinnamon rolls. It used to be that there would be enough leftover after breakfast for us to have the next day, but those days are apparently long gone (either that, or whoever’s hosting Christmas needs to start making a whole lot more rolls – heh), because there were only a few left, and those were slowly nibbled away as the day progressed.
After breakfast, it was time to tackle the pile of presents under the tree, with lots of crinkling of paper and oohs and aahs and excited thank you’s ringing around the room. Richard and I got all the kids books, since all three of the niece/nephews have become voracious readers. My older sister made all the kids and all the women a Snuggy, which was a lot of fun, because as creepy as the Snuggy commercial might be, the concept is actually really a nice one, and by making them herself, she could pick patterns that matched everyone’s personality (mine, of course, is covered in cute little cats). She didn’t make any for the guys, since she hadn’t been sure if they’d want them, but if the little noises all the guys made after we all opened ours were anything to go by, I think there’s a pile of more manly-patterned Snuggy sewing in her future.
The afternoon’s been fairly low key. Some of us curled up wherever we could find a corner and took naps (or tried to at least, kind of hard to do in a house full of people), since Christmas started awfully early this morning! Everyone where you looked there was usually at least one or two people camped out in a chair or on the sofa, lost inside a book. Later, after lunch, we all went outside and the kids set off goofy little balloon helicopters that had been in their stockings. That turned out kind of exciting, mainly because apparently the resident hummingbirds who have ‘claimed’ the feeders my parents have out there, must have thought that the little balloon contraptions were rival birds, and they would come diving out of nowhere to hover determinedly in front of ‘their’ feeders, to make sure no one else could drink there. My older sister has a fancy new camera and ended up getting some marvelous shots of one of the hummingbirds (and yes, the irony of one of the least nerdy family members currently possessing the coolest electronic gadgets has not escaped the rest of us).
Dinner was the traditional Christmas meatloaf (this tradition started years ago, back when my sisters and I were not much older than the niece/nephews are today, when my mom asked us what we wanted, and since most of us were not fans of ham and Thanksgiving was too recent for us to want turkey, we all immediately insisted upon meatloaf, and thus it has been meatloaf ever since). And then after dinner, the evening concluded with pie, and an amazingly out-of-key performed concert of Christmas tunes. My little sister and I, representing the Winds section of the band, pulled out recorders and tried very hard to remember how the fingerings for the flats. The Brass section consisted of the oldest nephew on his trumpet, his dad on the trombone, and my dad on his old French horn. The remainder of the band was made up of Richard on a goofy little water whistle, my younger sister’s husband on a lovely new Irish drum, the youngest nephew on the triangle, and the niece who promptly grabbed the duck whistle (which, when blown, sounds just like a duck squawking), while my older sister took over the piano and our mom pulled out a kazoo. We all tried tuning in the beginning, but that really ended up being a big exercise in futility, so we all decided to heck with that, and just gleefully set off to do the best we could. I suspect that the best I can say about our little ‘concert’ was that we all started and stopped on time, and usually the melody was pretty recognizable, which is saying a lot, considering that there was a lot of giggling and wincing at wrong notes and peering cross-eyed at music as we all gamely sight-read our way through the songs.
My older sister set her camera up to record for each of the tunes, so when she finally gets a chance to upload the videos I will link to them from here. I think Silent Night ended up everyone’s favorite, if only because it turns out that the niece turned out to be a master Duck Whistle player, and really, Silent Night punctuated by crazy duck squawking really is something more professional musicians ought to consider incorporating into their repertoire.
Happy Christmas Eve! It’s been a long day and I am just about ready to pass out, especially since I know I have to get up at 0-dark thirty in the morning the next few days, but I’ll sneak in a quick entry anyway.
This morning we got up and puttered around, packing up cookies in various tins, making sure all the presents were wrapped and sorted into various bags and piles and boxes, loading things into our cars, and so on. We got another CSA box this morning, so had to take some time to sort through everything in that (more satsumas! more leeks! good grief, more bok choy!) and stash it in the fridge, where it will likely not be touched until next week some time. And then Richard headed off to his parents’ house for their traditional Christmas Eve festivities, and I headed off to my parents’ house for ours.
My youngest sister and her family flew down last night, so my niece answered the door when I rang the bell and there was hugging and bouncing (mostly on her part). I apparently missed all the excitement with the tree – it had been leaning precariously forward, but a day or so ago it fell completely over, and in the process of trying to right it again, my dad and brother-in-law discovered that the tree stand was slightly cracked, so there had been some leakage (all things that make me more and more glad we finally switched to the fake tree a few years back!). By the time I arrived it was still leaning forward, but at least it was no longer in any danger of crashing down again.
We all ate lunch and my niece played Christmas songs on the piano and we all chatted and I did a little knitting while she read her book. The older sister and her family showed up a few hours later, and I got to play with her shiny new Droid phone (I want one, but we aren’t due for upgrades for a while longer, so alas, we have to wait) and at some point all the kids went outside to run around and play, while most of us adults remained inside where it was warm and mostly quiet.
There was dinner and then it was time to bundle everyone into cars and head off to an early Christmas eve service. After that was done, the rest of the family headed back to my parents’ house to hang stockings and so forth, but I instead headed back home. I’d forgotten I was supposed to make pumpkin bread, so the instant I got home, I zipped immediately into the kitchen and threw a batch together. Only once that was in the oven to bake did I finally have a chance to open presents from his side of the family, and to sit down and pay attention to all the cats who were desperate for attention because we’d gone off and left them for the day.
The bread is now cooling on the counter, presents are piled haphazardly all over the dining room table, the cats are all (temporarily) sated (we gave them wet food, mainly to keep them from pestering me during the baking process), and I am barely able to keep my eyes open, so I’m off to bed. Christmas morning, when there are little kids in the family, comes far too early.
Happy Christmas Eve eve! Today I am pleased to report that I did not knit a single stitch, because yesterday I finished the giant knitting project of doom and wove in all the ends. It is now washed and folded neatly into a box, safe from prying kittens , ready to be wrapped and handed off to its intended recipient.
I’ve been looking forward to finishing the project because up to this point I have done next to no holiday baking at all. Okay, granted, last weekend I broke down and whipped up a batch of fudge, which I then foisted on all of my and Richard’s coworkers, but aside from that, nothing. However, I was tasked to bring gingerbread men to the family Christmas gathering, and I also have had a yen for some Russian teacakes, so this morning when I got up, I mixed up the dough for the teacakes and tossed that into the fridge to chill, and I spent a few hours doing all manner of non-knitting things, like cleaning the house and working my way through laundry, and reading books. And then this afternoon I made gingerbread men.
It has been a few years since I last made gingerbread men, so near as I can figure, I must have made a half batch the last few times. Because one batch makes a WHOLE LOT of gingerbread men. Richard had to run off to the store to buy raisins for the eyes (the only time of year where I ever voluntarily put raisins on food I intend to consume, even though any time I actually *eat* a gingerbread man, I first pluck off the horrid little raisins and feed them to someone else), and then as I rolled them out on the counter and put them on pans, he decorated them with raisin eyes and red hot noses. I might have felt bad about consuming several cookies still warm from the oven, except that we have two huge cans of cookies now, sitting on the counter, waiting to be foisted on our respective families, so it’s not like we’re in any danger of running low.
I realized this evening that we had forgotten to buy one last gift. So after we ate dinner, we both hopped in the car and headed off to the grocery store, since I knew we’d be able to find what we needed there, and then on the way home we wove our way slowly through the streets of the residential neighborhoods nearby, looking at Christmas lights. We obviously weren’t the only ones with this idea, as there were lots of other cars, all driving very slowly down the roads, and scores of people walking down the sidewalks to admire all the lights as well. There was nothing quite quite as spectacular as the crazy little neighborhood light display just down the road from where we live (and nothing quite as disturbing as this), but it was still bright and pretty and the fact that one house, in which they were obviously in the middle of doing some renovation, had actually hung lights on the portapotty sitting in the driveway, really just made it that much more fun.
Because today was one of those days where nothing exciting except knitting (and oh by the way, the knitting project of doom is DONE DONE DONE!) and drinking coffee and poking randomly at the computer happened, I instead give you the letter we sent out with the Christmas cards, all of which finally got into the mail today (phew).
Dear friends and family,
Yet again, here we are at the end of the year, wondering where it went. This year was, as always, a mixture of good and bad, with ups and downs all along the way.
Both of us continue to be in good health, though Jennifer suffered a bout of carpal tunnel syndrome which was easily resolved with a month or two of Ibuprofin and a wrist brace. Richard’s allergies and asthma are fortunately largely under control at this point, which is certainly good for his work schedule.
There hasn’t been much in the way of travel this year. Jennifer hosted her sisters at our house for their annual sisters’ weekend this year. While they toured Old Sacramento on Segways and gorged themselves on sweets, Richard headed down to Monterey Bay to explore Cannery Row and the Aquarium. And this summer, we flew up to Washington to spend time with Jennifer’s youngest sister and her family.
Our cat population has had some significant changes this year. In August, we lost our 19 year old cat Sebastian to kidney disease. We miss his friendly demeanor and his loving nature, but not his habit of yelling at the top of his lungs at all hours of the day for no discernible reason. And then, just over a month later, we lost our 14 year old Tangerine to endocarditis, an infection of the heart. We’ll miss her friendliness and her playfulness as well.
After losing Sebastian and Tangerine, we decided that our house felt too empty with only four, so we adopted two new kittens: a gray tabby that we named Rupert, and a gray tuxedo kitty that came with the name Ingrid. Both kitties are extremely energetic and full of enthusiasm (you can see a picture of Ingrid lurking in our Christmas tree in the at the top of this letter, and she and her brother are the reason we’ve not done much decorating indoors this year!) and keep us quite entertained with their antics. The remaining four adult cats thankfully remain in good health, if not as enamored of the adorable newcomers as we are.
Both of us have enjoyed successes in our creative endeavors this year. Jennifer has been baking and canning up a storm. She began participating in the monthly Daring Baker challenge, and has made streudels and milano cookies and many other delicious goodies that Richard has been happy to help consume. And aside from the usual jams, jellies, and butters, this year she also tackled pickling and pressure canning. She also is still just as obsessed with knitting as before, and has been doing a lot of test knitting for several designers. This summer she took Second Place at the California State Fair with a knitted lace shawl, and also had an original sock pattern published in the knitting journal Knotions. Richard, for his part, completed his self-imposed project of writing a short story a week, having written a total of fifty-three short stories in a one-year period. He also had a short story, “The Bride Price”, published in Issue #10 of Shimmer magazine (check out Shimmer at http://www.shimmerzine.com).
Both of us participated in National Novel Writing Month in November this year, and we both reached the goal of completing a 50,000 word novel in that period of time. Richard’s novel Code Monkey (which can be found at http://www.mossroot.com/codemonkey if you’re interested in reading it) is still a work in progress, as is Jennifer’s own untitled novel.
Our foray into gardening continued this year. We planted regular tomatoes, several varieties of cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and potatoes, as well as some berry bushes. The regular tomatoes and the cucumbers produced pretty well, but we were totally overwhelmed by our cherry tomato harvest. Each week produced an average of at least four pounds of cherry tomatoes, and one week we brought in nearly ten pounds. Fortunately Richard really likes cherry tomatoes, as do his coworkers. And since Jennifer enjoys canning and jarring vegetables, we now have several jars of pickled cherry tomatoes for our enjoyment.
The pickled economy, though, did take its toll on us. We both still have our jobs, thankfully, but are both on reduced hours, at least for the time being. Hopefully, this should only be a temporary situation for both of us.
So overall, it’s been an interesting year for the Crawford household. We hope that 2010 is a joyful and prosperous year for all our family and friends.
I seem to have acquired a bad habit of not taking very much vacation over the past, oh, ten years or so, and it’s gotten to the point in this particular job where I have accumulated a rather disturbing amount of it. So I decided to take this week off, if only to try to use a little bit of it up. Of course, then the whole ‘reduced hours’ thing happened, and to make a long story short, this week off won’t end up reducing my hours very much at all. Oh well, it was worth a shot. Plus, knowing that I had this week to finish all the last minute Christmas things is one of the big reasons why I thought I could tackle the giant knitting project of doom in the first place.
And speaking of that, the end of the giant knitting project of doom is in sight, which means that it is getting harder to focus solely on the knitting and not let myself get distracted by a million other, shinier things. I say this because this morning I really should have gotten up and just sat down immediately and started knitting, but instead I made apple butter cinnamon rolls for breakfast and I did a bunch of laundry and I made pizza dough for dinner, and allowed myself the luxury of reading a book. Richard, meanwhile, has been trying to finish off his 2009 Nanowrimo novel, mainly because he’d been posting chapters of it online for all the world to read, and people have started pestering him to finish the story already. So while I was busy in the kitchen with flour and butter and yeast and dough, he was busy at the computer, working on our annual Christmas letter. Ah well, if we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing, at least this, too, wasn’t a total loss.
Today was cantata day, which means I was off to church in the morning, then came home, thought briefly about knitting but instead took a nap because for some reason I was completely exhausted, and then headed back for the evening performance. My parents came to that performance (as did Richard), so we all went out for frozen yogurt afterward, and then I came home and did some knitting after all.
A friend sang “Wexford Carol” as a solo during the evening performance, accompanied only by the string quartet. As we were chatting later, she mentioned that while she liked the version she sang, her favorite arrangement of the piece is the one done by Allison Krauss and Yo You Ma, so naturally when I got home I had to look it up on Youtube.
I had all these very grand plans for spending the entire weekend knitting (giant project of doom on needles, must be finished by a certain holiday that is approaching quite rapidly, you know, the usual drill). But the choir director for the church we used to attend called and recruited me to come sing in the cantata, because with all the instruments, he really needed extra voices. So this morning, instead of knitting, I drove off to Dixon and spent three hours rehearsing. Luckily I am not unfamiliar with this particular piece of music, although the last time I sung it, I was singing tenor, not alto, and amusingly, the guy who was the only other tenor with me that time is now singing bass, so he and I were both in the same boat, trying to remember which line it is we were supposed to be singing this time around.
This afternoon it was all knitting, all the time, but this evening, another break – off to see Avatar with friends at the local Imax theater. Since the movie’s just come out, all the shows were selling out pretty much immediately, so the friend who got us tickets was lucky to find seats for all of us, right next to each other. The only problem was that they were in the very front row. And also, we were seeing the movie in 3-D. So…basically I spent a decent chunk of the movie – or at least any time there was a whole lot of fast moving action – with my eyes closed, silently willing my stomach to please calm down enough that I could open my eyes again and see what was going on (thank you, stupid sinuses that make me annoyingly susceptible to this sort of thing).
Luckily the movie was almost 3 hours long, so I was able to catch a majority of it, at least enough to be extremely impressed with the special effects, and with the world that James Cameron has created. The plot is pretty predictable, but luckily (with only a few minor exceptions) it was not so sufficiently eye-rolling as to distract from the overall vision. And I wouldn’t mind seeing it again, if only to try to catch all those scenes I couldn’t watch the first time around – just as long as I can see it without having to sit in an Imax theater, wearing 3-D glasses, in the very front row.
We’ve been thawing a turkey in the fridge for the past several days, so this morning Richard helped me wrestle it into a pan, and then into the oven. Turkeys are one of those things where I am never entirely sure how long it will take to cook, so it is always better to err on the side of caution. Naturally this meant the thing was done precisely by lunchtime. Ah well.
Aside from cooking a turkey, however, today has been all about the knitting. Oh, and also the hysterical laughing, as I sat in the living room and heard rustling beside me and looked to see that Ingrid has finally joined her brother in his latest escapade.
A while ago, when Neil posted the sign-up sheet for his fourth annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, I thought, oh how fun. And then, just for kicks, I signed my name up and bookmarked the initial entry and then completely lost track of when it was actually *due* until the email came in this morning that if I still wanted to submit something it would have to be done that evening, because good grief, December is now officially halfway over, gah!
It is a good thing Richard was going off to a writers’ group last night because I’m not sure I could have done this with him in the house. I get nervous enough just trying to practice my music for Vox when he’s in the house, so toss in the combination of singing and playing the piano and also trying to record myself doing it, and the only way that had a remote chance of succeeding was if I was all by myself.
I dragged out the music for the song I wanted to do, and I played through it a few times so I could at least do it without playing the melody line. I own another, nicer arrangement of the song, but it would have required turning pages, and that’s kind of hard to do when you’re all by yourself, so the simple version had to suffice. My initial thought had been that I could record just the piano accompaniment and then do the vocals separately but I wasn’t entirely clear how to mix the two together once I had them (because I am a web/database nerd, not a sound technician), so I figured my best shot was to do it all together and just cross my fingers and hope. Richard has a little digital voice recorder, but he’s long since lost the manual and I didn’t have time to try to figure it out blind, so instead I set my little camera to the video setting, turned it so it faced away from me, hit ‘record’ and then dove right in. And as fascinating as a blurry video recording of my piano might have been, I instead found a handy little download that let me strip out just the audio and save it to an mp3, so that’s what I submitted. It’s not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the best I could do while nervously trying to play, sing, and most importantly, distract the kittens (who kept wanting to attack my fingers / the music / the strap on the camera / my hair) all at once.
I should note in passing that if I am this nervous recording myself singing, when I am all alone and there is no one around to look at me, and just in audio, not in video as well, that the June concert, in which there will be singing of solos in public, in front of actual, live people, is going to reduce me to a quivering wreck. But we will deal with that little panic attack much, much later. In the meantime, the full concert is available for perusal here (I’ll let you all find my contribution all on your own).