Monday, December 29, 2008

Snoopy and Mr. Christmas

I don't know if this is a small town tradition, or if our suburban neighbors do it too, but during the Christmas season Nathan and I drive around the several neighborhoods surrounding our little apartment in search of pretty or outrageous lights displays.

We have seen several of both. One of my favorites is the house in which strands of white lights are draped over the driveway, beginning at the top of the garage and streaming downwards to either side of the driveway. However, there are two that take the cake for us.

The first we saw last year as we were driving around. I'm not usually one for inflatables, but I am a big Peanuts fan and the sight of this inflatable just made me happy. It's an inflatable Snoopy on Sopwith Camel with rotating propeller (said just that way as quickly as possible.) Nathan also gets a big kick out of it. The house's owners also put out a little blinking runway for him. Unfortunately, every time we go to see him, we forget the camera and when we went around taking pictures today, he had already been taken down.

The second favorite house is one Nathan affectionately calls "Mr. Christmas." We didn't see this house until this year and his title didn't occur until we were looking at lights with Elizabeth and noted that for a few blocks on almost all sides of this house, there are very few lights. "Must be another rolling brownout from Mr. Christmas," Nathan commented. A nickname was born. It truly is a fantastic sight. Every time we pass it I want to laugh. Of course, the pictures don't really do it justice. He has cut outs of the Flintstones in the front yard...I'm still not sure what they have to do with Christmas.
There were also lights strung across the sides of the house.

It's impossible to see in these pictures, but there was a functioning Ferris wheel, as well as two miniature villages set up inside.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


We had a wonderful holiday and we hope you did too. Our Christmas always starts Christmas Eve morning, when the two of us celebrate our own holiday with the presents we bought each other. Because we heard they were cancelling "Pushing Daisies" and it's one of our favorite shows, I got the first season for Nathan.

Every Christmas, Nathan feels the compunction to cover me in the bows we used on the packages. Observe. He was going for a "stegosaurus" feel this year.

Christmas Eve we always go to Mass in Pecatonica, the town my Dad grew up in and then we go to one of his brothers' houses for dinner. This year we also had a white elephant game. It got quite wild. The overall theme seemed to be alcohol and lotto tickets (our group came home with a twelve pack, a six pack, four individual-sized bottles of wine, and Irish creme liqueur.) But the best part of the evening was when my dad and his older brother Mike opened their gifts, they both ended up with harmonicas. It is much funnier when you know the two of them and know how similar they are, to the point of dressing alike without knowing it.

Christmas Day we spent the morning with my family and the afternoon with Nathan's family. We had a great Christmas Day, and yes, for those who are concerned, Santa did bring Nathan "Wall-E." We received many wonderful gifts, I got all the books I asked for and more besides and a board game from Nathan that is a great deal of fun. We got several movies other than Wall-E, I even got a John Wayne movie, which begins to restore my faith in Santa Claus because I know my mother would never buy it for me.

Christmas afternoon we spent with Nathan's family. His mother always creates a theme for her tree. This year her theme was blue and white with blue lights and this year, matched her wrapping paper to the tree more or less. It was beautiful. This year, for the third year in a row, Nathan asked his mother for shoes. But now he has new work, dress, and tennis shoes, so I hope next year Nathan gives her a new idea.

The hat Nathan is wearing is actually a Christmas present from his sister to his father. Music was all around at Nathan's parents' house with Nathan playing the piano before he his sister got there, the CD player going while we opened presents, he and his sister playing the piano after we opened presents and Pam also taking a turn at the ivories.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cut-out cookies...or not

Elizabeth came for a visit this past weekend and in anticipation I bought Christmas cookie cutters, so we could bake. As it turned out, our weekend was full with looking at Christmas lights, seeing a movie, and talking and we didn't actually get around to making cookies.

After she left I thought I would make the cookies myself, after all, I made scones from scratch this past October. How hard can cut out cookies be?

Turns out, very. As with every time I try to make them on my own, even after chilling them and putting confectioners sugar everywhere so the dough doesn't stick to everything, it was almost melded to my kitchen table. I pulled handfuls off and mad them into drop cookies. And they ended up not making them to work, like I had been hoping.
Unfortunately, when I cook and things don't go my way, I get very temperamental and Nathan gets upset. I was determined after this debacle to give away all our cookie cutters. But I think instead I just won't try to make them without supervision for quite a while

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Woman Without a Country

Ever since my siblings and I were very young, my parents have encouraged us to read. We could stay up later at nights if we were reading and the Easter Bunny always brought us candy and books.

I think that's why these days, if I'm not working on at least one book, I feel rather like a woman without a country. I feel lost and only partially there. This is why, a week before Christmas, with several books on my several lists, I went to the library. I had finished "Dragon Waiting" which I recommend if you're into alternate historical fiction and I couldn't get through "The Real History Behind the Knights of the Templar." I returned them both to the library and picked up "Reading Lolita in Tehran" something I had wanted to read for a while.

I don't know if I'll finish it before Christmas, but I couldn't bear to go a week without reading something.

Books on my Christmas lists:
The Tale of Despereaux--read it, loved it, have to have it
A Lion Among Men--Read the first two in the series, love them, have them
Peter Pan--One of my favorite books of all time

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Newsings and Musings

I haven't been feeling quite myself lately, so I figured my cardiologist appointment on Monday was not going to go well. The problem is, it went badly in a completely different direction than I was expecting.

The last time I was at the doctor, about 18 months ago, he said my right atrium, which was connected directly to my lungs when I was seven has become distended, after 17 years, I wasn't surprised. He said I would have to have another surgery to correct that, but we decided to let it go for a little while.

At this appointment, he didn't even mention that problem. What came up this time is my malfunctioning left ventricle. Apparently, all the walls of my left ventricle, which is my only ventricle, are not pumping at the same time. This is a problem. I have to have a series of blood tests checking the levels of a hormone which indicates heart failure. He mentioned if the level is high enough, we might have to look into getting a pacemaker. This totally threw us all for a loop. We had never talked about a pacemaker before. We had talked about more surgery, transplants, and whatnot, but never a pacemaker.

In other news: Nathan does not make the holidays very easy. He almost never comes up with anything he wants. So, I have to scavenge for ideas and then when he actually gives me real ideas, I give them right to my mom or his mom because I always get caught in between, "What does he want?" "Well you live with him, what does he want?" People seem to think living with someone means they tell you things...

Elizabeth is coming for a visit. She feels bad for not getting to know the cats very well, so she's coming to see us. We're going to see a movie and out for dinner, to make cookies, and probably some shopping as well.

I have most of my Christmas shopping done and wrapped and under the tree. Ironically the only thing I have left to buy is Nathan's stocking stuffer. That's right...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Oh, Roddy...

I think that somewhere deep down inside, I must be a horrible person. I have lived in this state for all but three months of my life and I know as much as everyone else who lives here about the corruption that has always existed at the top levels of government.

That is why, today, when Governor Blagojevich was arrested at his home, I spent the whole day feeling slightly giddy. Every time it came up I giggled. I also happen to be something of a news junkie so I spent an inordinate amount of time at work looking up news stories on the events of the morning.

The reason I have very little sympathy for this man, is because he seems to be spurred on, almost entirely, by his need to increase his own power and finances. Reportedly, the CEO of a children's hospital (probably either Hope or Children's Memorial) would not contribute $50,000 to his campaign and he threatened to pull the hospital's $8 million state funding.

I do feel bad for my lack of pity, but every time I hear about it I just get kind of giggly. I do feel bad for his wife and daughters, though.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Immaculate Conception

There is something about Marian holy days, they almost always inspire me. I love the verses about her life and the songs I've known since I was a young child. The feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the pure, sinless birth of the Blessed Virgin to St. Anne and St. Joachim.

The Immaculata Prayer, by St. Maxmilian Kolbe

O Immaculata, Queen of Heaven and earth, refuge of sinners and our most loving Mother, God has willed to entrust the entire order of mercy to you. I, (name), a repentant sinner, cast myself at your feet, humbly imploring you to take me with all that I am and have, wholly to yourself as your possession and property. Please make of me, of all my powers of soul and body, of my whole life, death and eternity, whatever most pleases you.
If it pleases you, use all that I am and have without reserve, wholly to accomplish what was said of you: "She will crush your head," and "You alone have destroyed all heresies in the whole world." Let me be a fit instrument in your immaculate and merciful hands for introducing and increasing your glory to the maximum in all the many strayed and indifferent souls, and thus help extend as far as possible the blessed kingdom of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. For wherever you enter you obtain the grace of conversion and growth in holiness, since it is through your hands that all graces come to us from the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Allow me to praise you, O Sacred Virgin
Give me strength against your enemies


Sunday, December 7, 2008

What's great

One of the things that's great about my mom is her foresight. When she and my dad got married, they had very few Christmas decorations. She had to ask her mom and mother-in-law for them for years before she had a nice collection of them. She didn't want that to happen to my sisters and I so when were a little older she started collections for us. I started collecting angels, Anne started collecting snowmen, and Elizabeth collected Santa Clauses. Which means of course that nearly all my Christmas decorations are angels, but they are very beautiful.

One of the things that's great about my mother-in-law is her talent. She has an eye for crafts and decorations that I definitely don't. She planned the pew bows and made the table decorations for Nathan and my wedding and they were beautiful. Every year her Christmas tree is themed and every year she made one ornament for Nathan and one for his sister. She gave us the box with the ornaments and a record of what year it was, what the theme was, and what the ornament she made was. It's an incredible treasure.

She also made ornaments out of our wedding favors. We used the little gauze bags and put M&Ms and Hershey's Kisses in them with a little favor tag. She baked clay in the colors and shapes of M&Ms and made foil wrappers in the shape of Kisses as ornaments. I absolutely love them.

This is the first ornament she made for Nathan in 1981. It was for her tree with soft ornaments and hung near his sister's ornament which had pink wings and a bow.

Advent and a few other things

A friend of mine recently pointed out the significance of Advent. It's not a season I really have ever thought about much before now. I was also struck by it's importance in Mass today. Before it was always the season we had to get through before Christmas. I hope I'm coming into a greater understanding of the season as a time of hope and preparation. Not just for Christmas Day as a day for family and friends, but also in joyous anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

My first memories of having an Advent wreath are from when I was a bit older, but I've always loved them. I fell in love with one when my mother and I were out shopping not long before Nathan and I got married and they gave it to us for our first Christmas. It is one of my favorite parts of the season.

Hecate seems to think of the tree skirt, at least, before yesterday, as her own personal blanket, it seems like every time I turned around, she was messing with it. Nathan walked through the living room and started laughing. I went to see what was so funny and had to go get the camera.

I love wrapping presents, so our tree already has a bunch under it, and Hecate is without her blanket.

A jumpstart on the season

I know I've been talking about traditions a lot lately, but last week I decorated for Christmas, an event which is for me, fraught with tradition. First I helped decorate at my parents' house and handed stockings and nails to Anne, because it is her job to hang them on the mantle. At Mom and Dad's decorating is traditionally an all day event, minus the Dickens village lately, thank God.

Then Nathan and I came home and decorated our own little apartment, keeping in mind some of my own new traditions. Every year while I decorate, I watch my absolute favorite holiday movie "The Muppets Christmas Carol." I watched parts of it three times this year. I can't help it, the music always gets me. Last year we got Hecate a stocking and while we have a second cat, Nathan insisted they don't need their own stockings so they share one.

Nathan's stocking is the blue one, mine has the angel, and the cats' is the red one. For our first Christmas together, in 2006, my parents got us a Nativity set. Mom said my dad picked it out and I love it. I had to put it in a kitten-proof spot this year because Hyperion is much less careful than Hecate was.

After this picture was taken I realized I had put out the Christ Child a little too early and removed him from the manger. I would probably have the wise men elsewhere for the time being too, but we don't have that many kitten-proof places.

This last tradition has been in place ever since I was young and could help decorate the Christmas tree. My favorite color is blue, so my Baby's First Christmas ornament, which is quiet heavy, always hangs in a place on the tree with enough room for it, underneath a blue light. (Which you can't really tell in this picture).

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bella Wants to be a Dentist

Elizabeth has been accepted to Southern Illinois University's dental program for next school year. I would have been much more excited when she called and told me, but I am currently battling a migraine that could take down a buffalo.

Other things I was thankful for this weekend:

A holiday which celebrates both family and good food
Getting to spend four days with a large part of my family
All my friends, those I spoke with and those I didn't
Finding Hecate (twice--see next post)
Christmas season's arrival
The relative good health of most of my family
Our jobs and apartment
The fact that nearly all my Christmas shopping is finished and now I get to do the fun things, decorating, wrapping, and sending out cards

One Very Bad Kitty

Because we were home last weekend longer than a normal weekend, my in-laws consented to us bringing our cats Hecate and Hyperion to their house so they weren't left alone. We warned them before we came that Hyperion has a habit of hanging out near the door and venturing out onto our landing when we're not looking.

My mother-in-law fretted about how to keep him from the door or using a different door, because their front door leads directly out onto the porch. It turns out we all should have been worrying in an entirely different direction.

We were leaving my parents' house Friday to return to Nathan's parents' house for the evening when his mother called very worried because she couldn't find Hecate, our little black cat. My in-laws live in a big beautiful old farm house, with about a million and a half different places for the cats to hide. I wasn't too worried, I figured she had just found somewhere unusual to hole up for a little. We arrived and I started looking for her immediately. I went into their office, which is at the bottom of a staircase leading to the upstairs and closed off to the main floor by two doors. I called for Hecate and heard a tiny meow. I called again and realized she was upstairs, where the cats weren't supposed to go. I found her in my mother-in-law's storage room. Apparently both cats had gone upstairs earlier and Hecate had slipped into this room unnoticed. Problem solved.

Sunday as we were packing to leave I put Hyperion into his crate and called for Hecate. She didn't respond and she didn't come. I called again and still nothing. At about 4:30 we started looking in all her usual hiding places in the house, including upstairs. We could not find her. While my mother-in-law, Nathan and I were in DeKalb, my father-in-law had returned to the house and left, and my sister-in-law had been there. I realized the possibility of her slipping out undetected could have been large. I began to panic. As the snow fell, Nathan and I took flashlights and went out into the dark, searching along the road, in the ditches, in and around the barn across the street.

We did everything but turn the house upside-down and shake it, every room was checked at least four times. Finally, two and a half hours after we started looking, my in-laws found Hecate who must have been stretched across the inner frame work of the couch. I don't know how many times we looked under the couch, Nathan and his father even picked it up and looked under it.

You can't tell me that after more than a year Hecate doesn't know her name. I called fairly loudly for her in the house a few times, there is no way she did not hear me. She was being willfully disobedient. I picked her up from behind the couch and dropped her in her crate, so mad I didn't care whether or not she had been pinched when my in-laws used the couch's reclining features to find her.

But I am glad she was safe and found and I have since examined her and she seems okay.

Black Friday

I've mentioned before how important tradition is to my family. Well, here's another big one. Every year, my mom and sisters drag me out of bed at five thirty and we begin the annual Black Friday shopping extravaganza. It always starts out the same way, we hit up one of DeKalb's bigger stores, this year it was Target. Then we head across the street to Panera for breakfast (it's always Panera). Where, because I don't like bagels, the nice people behind the counter make me a sandwich at 7 a.m.

From there we bop around DeKalb. Always hitting Kohls, Carson Pairie Scott, and JC Penney's. I actually bought more this year than I had thought I would, but I was dealing with a touch of illness and was very grateful to not have to be trying on clothes.

We save that for the day after Christmas.

Then we went home and Anne and I made Spritz cookies while listening to Christmas carols. If you've never made Spritz cookies I recommend you try them. It's pretty easy, the whole recipe consists of about four sticks of butter and half a bottle of almond extract. It wouldn't be Christmastime around my parents' house without them.