December 30, 2011

Meal Ticket


After hosting Christmas for both families this year, my father-in-law challenged me to detail just how many meals I served up. We had people coming and going over a good five day period. At our most “populous” we had 13 people around the table. Thank goodness it came with two leaves. We had to turn the table diagonal across the room to fit it. Pops, this is for you.

 
Breakfast:
One quiche, one giant potato omelet, two pounds of bacon, two pounds of sausage, 30 muffins, 18 bagels, 6 donuts, 18 biscuits, rivers of juice, and pots and pots of coffee fed a total of 47 people.

Lunch:
Pounds of cold cuts, chicken salad, and piles of leftovers (see the dinner list for details) fed a total of 50 people.

Dinner:
A lasagna capable of feeding 20 people, antipasti salad, loaves of bread, a 14lb turkey, gravy, green beans, stuffed mushrooms, sweet potato casserole, cranberry, homemade applesauce, stuffing, six homemade pizzas, coleslaw, and beef stew fed a total of 46 people.

Dessert:
Pecan pie, 24 cream puffs (think ├ęclairs, but round), peanut butter swirl bars, chocolate cringles, white Christmas cookies (also known as Mexican wedding cookies), and banana cream pie, all made from scratch, also fed a total of 46 people.

That’s a grand total of 189 plates of food. This was only possible with the generous use of my neighbor Stefanie’s extra refrigerator while she was away. Stefanie, you rock.

Other fun Christmas numbers:
  • Josh left the casino $5 up. I left $65 down. Nothing says Christmas like getting Dover Downs to open a blackjack table for the exclusive use of your slightly to extremely drunk family.
  • H is now the proud owner of two stick horses. You know the kind where it’s a horse head on a stick. She drags them around head down and tries to break my windows with them.
  • As a family we won about $8 back from both Texas and Dover scratch off lottery tickets, which probably totaled a $48 investment. FAIL.
  • We got one number from all our tries for the Mega Millions lottery. Maybe next time. Gotta work up to all those numbers at once.
Most importantly, we spent the holiday with all of our parents and siblings, my grandmother, a great friend from college, and Josh’s sister’s boyfriend, who was forced unceremoniously to meet them all. Considering that two people work for the Air Force, this was a miracle in and of itself.

What do I take away from all this? Next year someone else is hosting!

December 18, 2011

The Twelve Days of Air Force Christmas


I really felt like I owed myself, and you my loyal readers, a goofier, happier Christmas post. Having read Elmo’s version of The Twelve Days of Christmas 87 billion times until I have it memorized, I decided that perhaps this song could lend itself to yet other genres. This seems especially appropriate considering that Josh has been gone a total of 8 months this year, and my nerves actually are quite shot.

So, with very little ado, here is my version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. I’m going to save some space by just typing up the last verse. You can fill in the blanks.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... 
12 nerves a-frayin’ 

11 flight suits drying 

10 year commitment 

9 PCS-es 
  
8 German coo-coos 

7 minute phone calls 

6 rugs from Turkey 

5 tax free months 

4 month deployments 

3 cute kids 

2 week long trips 

And a spouse flying C-17s! 

We’re very thankful to be together as a family this year. I know that not everyone has that luxury and to you I wish a very merry whenever-you-manage-Christmas-together. We’ve all been there, and it teaches us that dates are much less important than the spirit of the day.

Merry Christmas!

December 17, 2011

The Remains of the Day


Synopsis
Stevens, the butler of the grand English house, Darlington Hall, spends his vacation driving around the English country and reminiscing on his career. He reflects on what qualities create a great butler and whether he fits the bill. He thinks a great deal about his former colleague, Miss Kenton, whom he is on his way to visit.

It turns out that he and Miss Kenton could have been an item, but that Stevens was too sunk in his professionalism to allow anything real to grow. Miss Kenton eventually leaves to marry a man she does not love. Stevens recently received a letter from her indicating that she had left her husband and that she missed Darlington Hall. Stevens takes off on his “motoring trip” to see if she might come back to Darlington Hall and solve his current staffing problem. (He’s romantic that way.)

Stevens also spends a good amount of time thinking about his former employer Lord Darlington. He worked for Lord D until his death a few years before. Now he is working for an American gentleman who bought the house and the help along with it. Stevens truly felt that serving Lord D was part of being a great butler. Lord D tried between World War I and II to broker peace and understanding between the English and German people. He had noble intentions, but the result was that he ended up as a pawn of the Nazi regime. After the war it was clear that he had been played a fool and he died in minor disgrace.

Stevens finally meets with Miss Kenton only to discover that she has gone back to her husband. She admits that it took her many years to grow to love her husband, but that she does love him and that his is a kind man. Miss Kenton also reflects that some of the unhappiness she has felt throughout the years and communicated in their sometimes correspondence has been in part due to her wondering what her life might have been like if she and Stevens had ended up together.

The book ends with Stevens on his final stop before going home. He shrugs off his memories and begins to think of how he might better serve his new employer.

Other Thoughts
  • I find it exceedingly interesting that a person of Japanese descent wrote this novel (from Nagasaki too). It’s set in post-WWII England. I wondered as I was reading it if I would see some shading related to his cultural origins. If anything, I would say that in thinking of the novel in that light I can see similarities between the dignity Stevens tries to maintain and the importance of respect in Japanese culture. Stevens spent a lot of time trying to maintain face

  • Why must we be so long winded? Why? And so formal? I don’t know that there is ever a mention of Stevens’ Christian name in the entire novel. The long winding memories of past glories were somewhat bewildering at times because you weren’t sure quite where he was going or what the ultimate goal was.
 
  • It seemed like Stevens in the end did achieve his goal of being a great butler, but at the expense of the rest of his life. He claimed that part of being great was to completely inhabit the professional persona so that nothing could rattle you. You had to be a butler at all times unless you were totally alone. The result is that he either completely missed or willfully ignored the fact that Miss Kenton liked him. Her repeated efforts to flirt were shot down. I would have left too if I had been Miss Kenton and had spent years trying to crack that shell. Stevens ends up alone, with no friends, no wife, and no “great” employer.
 
  • One of my favorite movies is the remake of Sabrina. There’s a scene where the housekeeper brings Sabrina’s dad tea and some flowers “to brighten your room.” He asks her if she’s been reading The Remains of the Day again. I always wondered exactly what it was he meant. Now I know. Miss Kenton tried on several occasions to bring Stevens flowers for his office, to brighten the room. He considered it infringing on his turf. It’s sort of nice to cross that little item off my list of unanswered questions.
 
  • I’m not really sure of the overall point of the whole novel. Stevens doesn’t get his way. Miss Kenton doesn’t return with him. His memory trail seems to imply that he is less than satisfied after all with the supposedly great Lord Darlington. The best I can see is that he learns that he shouldn’t live in the past. The very last scene sees Stevens being advised by his companion on a park bench to enjoy the evening of his life (the remains of the day), maybe even retire, and to look forward to what tomorrow holds. But then, negating that advice, the novel ends with Stevens formulating a plan to improve his bantering skills to please his new boss. So who knows.

The library was out of Gone with the Wind. I skipped ahead to Crime and Punishment. It’s over 500 pages, so it’ll be a while before you get a post on that.

December 7, 2011

This Christmas


This is not your regular Christmas. There are so many wonderful things I have to look forward to. My husband is passed out after an extremely happy homecoming from his deployment. He may have only been gone two months this time (on deployment number four), but it’s following a six month TDY (temporary duty for you non-military), so it feels much, much longer. Both our families are piling into Dover to celebrate with us. One of my best girlfriends is planning to stop by a few days after Christmas. That doesn’t even include H’s first ever Christmas Pageant, or the fact that she almost, kind of understands the season. Imagining her joy on Christmas morning tickles me.

H has a Fancy Nancy Christmas book that she got last year. We’ve been reading it a lot lately. Nancy talks all about decorating and putting up the tree. She is devastated (I paraphrase, “It’s like being upset only a zillion times worse”) when the tree topper she had spent all her birthday money on is broken when she accidentally knocks into the tree. Grandpa comes to the rescue, and they make a new topper. On the last page Nancy is getting a kiss from her little sister, who is wearing Nancy’s leg warmers. If you read the tag on the wrapping paper, it says that Nancy is giving her an “heirloom.”

That page kills me. I actually try not to look too closely at it when I read. H should have had a baby brother or sister for Christmas this year.

The baby I lost in May had a due date of December 7. In my guest room are tiny Christmas newborn sleepers that I picked up at a clothing exchange no more than a week before I lost that pregnancy. They were in fact, sitting in a laundry basket at the top of the stairs during the miscarriage. Putting those tiny garments into the drawer is by far my worst laundry-related incident, if such a thing exists. I kept them because I couldn’t bear to do anything else with them. Losing the baby was bad enough, giving away the clothes he/she never wore is still unthinkable. Neither can I go in that drawer. Thankfully there’s no reason for me to go in it.

On our tree this year is a special ornament. It’s a hand-painted heart with angel wings on one side and an inscription of “Angel Baby Dec 2011” on the other.

I wish that was the end of it. But it’s not. Hanging next to that ornament is another that reads, “Two Souls, One Heart March 2012” for the conjoined twins we lost in September. I was so comforted by the thought of a big pregnant Christmas belly—that at least there would be the promise of a younger sibling. But there is no baby this Christmas.

There is too much good to make it my worst Christmas, but too much heart break to make it my best. God willing, maybe H will be able to help unwrap baby’s presents next year. And from the tree our three angel babies will shine down on us, now and always.

November 24, 2011

Being Thankful


It’s been a rough year. When I first saw several people joining in the 30 days of thanks on Facebook, I just couldn’t be positive enough to join in. I was feeling quite unthankful.

Today I am seized by the spirit of the holiday. The truth is that I have a very long list of things to be thankful for. It’s almost embarrassing. I have wonderful family and friends, a loving husband, a beautiful daughter, security, safety, really cute shoes, etc. But the one thing that I am most thankful for today is the opportunity to try again.


For example, today I made cupcakes from a DC Cupcakes recipe. Caramel apple cupcakes. It’s an apple cupcake with caramel filling and cream cheese frosting. You make your own caramel to fill the cupcakes. Making the caramel was actually what I was most excited about. I’ve make cupcakes plenty of times, and I always make my own frosting (instantly makes it taste like you’ve been slaving for days, but it’s super easy). But never have I made caramel.

I made it twice today. The first time I didn’t plan ahead well enough and at the last minute I was standing at the stove, frantically stirring my sugar and yelling for my dad to bring over butter and vanilla. The directions said to add in the heavy cream to achieve “a beautiful golden brown caramel color.” Mine was really dark brown. At first I didn’t think much of it.

Thankfully I tasted the caramel before putting it into 24 cupcakes. It was dark because I had burned the sugar. The stream of expletives I longed to spew nearly choked me. H was in the next room, and two is a little young for that number of F-bombs.

Once you burn the sugar there’s no saving it. The whole thing had to be thrown out, and I did it again. Thankfully, I had enough cream and butter. This time I kept the heat much lower. It was so low that I nearly ruined it a second time. I was stomping upstairs to get my shoes for a mad dash to the store when my mom pointed out that a little extra heat might solve the problem and dissolve the lumps that had formed. She was right.

I haven’t gotten to eat a whole cupcake yet. But I tried a little bit of a core with some caramel and icing. Heaven.

I share this story because it’s a nice metaphor for 2011. Complete and total shit followed by a bumpy but (we hope) ultimately successful comeback. So I am thankful for do overs. I am thankful that it’s not over until I say it’s over. I’m thankful that I have a team that will back me up. I’m thankful that there will be more tomorrows.

Also, I’m thankful for this brandy slushie I’m about to consume. That’s good too.

Happy Thanksgiving.

November 14, 2011

Grief


There is no timeline for grief which you can set. This is why it so discomfits the people around the griever. You cannot predict its wanderings. It comes into your life and stays for however long it sees fit. You become a prisoner of sorts. You breathe in and out. You get out of bed. You cook food and eat it. You take care of your children. You even go out with your friends. Meanwhile, Grief forces you to live as if you were in a cage that is almost tall enough to stand in and almost long enough to lie in. You can’t actually stand up, and you can’t actually lie down. Most of the time you crouch and are generally uncomfortable. You long to be free, to run, to not feel the pressure of your little cage of grief. To not fear turning around too fast and smacking into a wall of grief.

Your little cage follows you to school and work and home again. You stand up too quickly and jam your head into grief. Someone bumps you and you collide with the wall. Grief hammers you from all sides until you learn to stay very very still inside your cage. You learn how to move inside it as if you were playing Operation. You don’t touch the sides, the grief doesn’t ring the buzzer, and you have another moment of peace. That’s all well and good, so long as nothing surprises you or changes quickly.

You can keep your old life, but not actually take part. You watch yourself eating, playing, and laughing. You wonder how you do these things. Why there is a necessity to keep moving. Why you do or do not feel joy. Whatever the answers, you wonder if that’s normal. Grief just smirks at you.

Grief eventually gets bored of you. You fail to react quite so spectacularly to its prods and pokes. It becomes so familiar that you think it’s normal and perhaps even begin to ignore its presence. The cage gradually gets bigger, roomier. I’ve been told that one day you’ll stand up and find that you are standing erect. You’ll lie down and find that you’re comfortable. You’ll step into your life and it will feel as if it is again fully yours. You look around with astonishment to find that your jailer has left.

Grief, though, is a terrible packer. When it leaves, it always manages to forget a sock or hat. When you find it, you trip and fall flat on your face. It can take all of your effort to throw the vile thing away from you. Yet, you can never throw it out, because it isn’t something you can control. It belongs to Grief.

But after a while, even that smelly sock can’t trip you. You learn how to avoid looking at it too closely, how to kick it aside while tacitly ignoring it. You walk on. You actually walk on.

Or so I’ve heard. Grief has not yet left me. It’s sitting just over there, and it seems rather amused with me at the moment. It taps its watch to remind me that it will be here all night, and when I wake in the morning, it will be there too.

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