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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On Hiatus

Between finishing up graduate school, working on a bazillion projects, dealing with the holidays, quitting all my part-time jobs, packing and sorting my house for the move, handling kids with emotional and anxiety issues, and just living, I have no energy for blogging or writing right now. As soon as we're settled in our new house, I'll be able to pick it up again.

Between now and sometime in February, I'm putting the blog on hiatus. Have a merry Christmas and a happy new year, everyone! Stay safe and keep reading good books.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Our Favorite After-Christmas Tradition

Christmas morning comes after days and weeks of building excitement. Children rush to the stockings and the tree to see what Santa brought. Fanciful wrapping paper is ripped from boxes and bags. And in a matter of a few hours (we drag it out at our house, opening presents one at a time), Christmas is reduced to bags of torn wrapping paper and opened presents. The excitement is done until next Christmas. The after-Christmas blahs set in with a vengeance. You know, that vague disappointed feeling.

We found a cure. We celebrate Hogswatch sometime after Christmas but before New Year's Eve. It's total silliness based on a book by Terry Pratchett, the Hogfather (now a motion picture!). The book is hysterically funny, especially if you read it out loud. The movie is pretty close to the story, too, and also very funny.

It's the story of the Hogfather being kidnapped right before Hogswatch. Somebody has to take his place, so Death steps in to fill his boots.

We celebrate by making all the kids go into another room and pretend to be asleep for 15 minutes so the Hogfather can come. Loud, horrible snoring noises are encouraged. Meanwhile, the adults leave large black paper bootprints around the fireplace, if you have one, and assorted imported treats or Christmas leftovers on the counter. The children get to run out and eat whatever they like while we get the gift exchange ready.

The first year we did this with just our own kids. I went to the grocery store and found some bizarre items, like a lemon juicer and an ice cream scoop and envelopes and biscuit mix and pineapples and other random cheap things, and wrapped them up from the Hogfather. The kids thought it was funny. No expectations of anything good or expensive. It was pure silliness.

Hogswatch evolved into a no-holds-barred white elephant gift exchange. Anything ugly or weird or unwanted that you could wrap ended up in the pile of presents. The nicer the wrapping job and the larger the box, the more the gift was fought over. Until it was opened. Only a few were still fought over after opening because they were useless or ugly and definitely unwanted for a reason. The hideous Santa plate made the rounds for several years. So did the awful angel fountain. It sounds much prettier than it was. The encyclopedia set was passed around for almost an hour before someone finally opened the box. Good times.

We haven't done it for a couple of years and I miss it. Maybe this year we'll find a space big enough for all the families that like to celebrate it with us. Last I counted we had at least seven large families involved.

It's something to look forward after Christmas that has no expectations tied to it except to have fun. It's just silly.

Pass me the pink sugar pigs and I'll read you The Hogfather...

Monday, December 14, 2015

Another Christmas Tradition

I grew up in a large family. I've got eight brothers and sisters. Each year, we would draw names for Christmas presents. We only had to get one present instead of trying to find presents for each of our siblings. Since my parents were funding most of it, I don't blame them for trying to keep things simpler and easier on the budget.

We kept that tradition with our own kids. Every year, usually Thanksgiving weekend, we scrawl names on slips of paper and take turns drawing one from the pile.

My family eventually phased it out. We're a large group and scattered across the US. It includes multiple generations. Half of us are grandparents. Keeping track of it just got too complicated. For a while we switched it to just the siblings and sent family gifts. But even that got too complicated after a while. We don't do an organized gift exchange. I kind of miss it.

We still do it with our own kids. We set a price limit but other than that, anything goes. Silly or serious, it's up to the gift giver. We've had some pretty fun presents over the years and since I usually fund the shopping expedition, it helps keep Christmas on budget.

How do you do present exchanges with your family?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thursday Recipe - One-Pot Alfredo Noodles

My son does these all the time and he's getting really good at making them. It's not really alfredo sauce, but it's close. It only uses one pot, a colander, and a spoon, so it's easy on the dishes. And it tastes great.

One-Pot Alfredo Noodles

1 lb uncooked macaroni or noodles, whatever shape you want (bowties, elbows, shells, etc.)
1/4 c. butter
2 T. flour
2 c. milk
1 t. salt
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/2 t. dried oregano
1/2 c. shredded cheese (or more if you want it cheesier), this can be parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, or any cheese you want to use
1/2 c. chopped salami (optional)
1 c. steamed broccoli or frozen chopped veggies (also optional)

In a large saucepan, bring 2-3 quarts of water to a boil. Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.

In the same pot, melt the butter. Stir in the flour. Cook and stir for a minute or so until it's smooth, creamy, and bubbly. Stir in the milk with a whisk. Make sure you whisk it long enough to smooth out any lumps. Add the salt, pepper, and oregano. Cook and stir until it comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from the heat. Add the cheese and stir until the cheese melts.

Add the noodles, salami, and veggies. Stir gently to coat. Serve with extra cheese to sprinkle on top. Serves 2-8, depending on who is eating it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Christmas Traditions

Christmas abounds with traditions. We have lots at our house. I think I'll share one a week until Christmas, then it's time to start packing up the house. Hopefully we'll have somewhere to move to by then.

One of our favorite traditions is the twelve gifts of Christmas. We start December 12, at least with the gifts part. I start several days earlier. The idea is to have twelve gifts, wrapped and ready, by the evening of December 12. We open one gift a night. Each gift is a small treat for the family to share, something simple like a box of chocolates or cookies or some other special treat. On the outside of the present is a scripture reference. Before we can open the present and share the treat, we read the scripture and discuss the gift God has given us. It brings a more reverent feeling to our Christmas countdown and reminds us why we celebrate Christmas.

What family traditions do you love at Christmas?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thursday Recipe - Orange Ginger Pork

I had a big pork roast the other day and a bunch of assorted leftovers. So I did what I usually do and improvised. I loved the taste of this one. It makes a great pulled pork. The orange and lemon gives it a nice tang and the ginger gives it a mild kick.

Orange Ginger Pork

about 2 lbs boneless pork roast, cut into large chunks (5 or 6 big pieces)
1 orange, sliced really thin, don't peel it
1/2 c. fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
2 T. fresh ginger, chopped fine
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. brown sugar
2 t. salt
1/2 t. fresh ground black pepper

Stick pork into a 2 quart slow cooker. Stuff the orange slices between the pieces of pork. Mix together everything else. Pour over the pork. Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours.

Remove the orange slices and discard. Take two forks and use them to pull the pork apart. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Cover and cook on high for another 30 minutes.

Serve over rolls, mashed potatoes, or rice. Add a green salad and baked yams for a complete and yummy meal.