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The Misadventures of Mrs. B

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The Misadventures of Mrs. B: 2010-12-05

Cook. Writer. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Klutz.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Oh, Christmas Tree

I'm so happy to be sharing this series of Christmas tree memories with my friends over at Company Girl Coffee today! Pay a visit - you won't be disappointed!

There really is something about just sitting at night, looking at the tree.  It takes me back to my younger days, and the annual Christmas tree decorating which took place at my parents' house.

When I was little, we'd put the tree a couple of weeks before Christmas.  This was always the most magical time of the season.

Or so you'd think.

We'd always use the same fake tree.  I can't tell you how long the first tree I remember lasted...decades, I guess.  Back then they made the trees well, as they did with everything else.  So Dad would bring the pieces up from the basement and with each trip, the excitement increased.

Then the stand would be place in its spot of honor, and the center pole in the middle.  Screws would be tightened to hold the pole in place, and then Dad would wrap a piece of twine around it and nail it to the wall - I'm assuming that the tree must've fallen at one point, back in the day? A wire hoop went around the pole, to hold the branches out to their desired fullness...and then the rows of branches would go on, one by one.

At this point, the tree never seemed tall enough.  Is it possible, I'd wonder annually, that I remembered it taller than it actually was? Did it grow in my memory? But then the top piece would slide home, and that top branch was just as high up as I knew it to be in my heart.

Then.  Oh, then.  It came time for Mom to "shape" the tree - you know, spreading and arranging those many bristly branches until there weren't any empty spaces and the tree looked good and full.  This...was a little stressful for all of us.  And now, upon remembering this, I know where my "you're only saying it looks good so I'll stop" attitude (which pops up every now and again) comes from.  Because I'm pretty sure I just quoted her directly.

Then time for the lights.  I liked to make myself as invisible as possible as Mom and Dad snipped at each other worked together like a real team over the spacing of the strands as they progressed down the length of the tree.  It was uncomfortable super fun.

Finally.  Finally once my mother was completely and totally emotionally drained from the strain of shaping and then stringing the lights, it was time to hang ornaments.  This was where my brother and I would come in, and after many years, my sister and my other brother.  To this day, there's still the rush between Jason and I to get our "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments on the tree first, and in a position of more prominence.  Pushing and shoving would ensue as we clamored to get our ornament just one branch higher than the other.  One year not long ago I came home to find my ornament on the back of the tree.  So mine replaced Jason's, and his was turned backwards.  Mine then went in the trash.  It's a good time.

But it's all okay in the end, because I was the first born and therefore have more "This baby is awesome" ornaments than he does.  That's just the way it goes.

Nowadays, I don't decorate the tree with the family.  I decorate my own tree with my husband.  And this year we were fortunate enough to decorate two trees - one in the living room, one in the den.  We might not have the annual "who can find their ornament and get it on there first" cage match, but we do carefully unwrap our own precious ornaments...the ones from our honeymoon and from each anniversary...the "Our First Christmas, 2006" ornament which we so treasure...and put them on the tree together.

I hope that one day I'll watch, lovingly, as my own children clump all the ornaments together in the one spot of the tree they can actually reach, the way Jason did when we were small.  They'll go to bed and I'll fix things when they're asleep.  And maybe through the years we'll be adding more "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments long after I thought I ever would, the way my parents did when the younger pair were born.  Maybe they'll clamor to hang their own favorite ornaments and through the decades will turn it into a good-natured rivalry which only happens once a year.  And I'll remember putting up the tree long ago with my family, and how even my parents' strained nerves were a part of the ritual.

And I'll smile beatifically through it all, my composure maintained, my sanity firmly in place.

See, we use pre-lit trees now.  It's a better day.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Biggest Nerd of All

Sometimes I feel like...

...the biggest nerd.

...I have nothing of importance to say. one would want to read/hear what I have to say anyway.

...I constantly have to think and re-think my words to people, because I might say the wrong thing. overanalyzing only makes things worse.

...pulling the covers over my head and starting again tomorrow.

Do you ever feel this way?


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Stupid Elf In My Head

I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching lately, and it all revolves around the holidays.

For my entire life, I’ve been that person who waits all year long for Christmas to come around once again. The sheer magic of the holidays does something to me. I can’t explain it, but the thought of it sends delighted shivers up my spine. And I’m thrilled to say that my enthusiasm towards this time of year has rubbed off on my husband, who is quickly surpassing me in Christmas spirit. It does my heart good to see it.

So I’m sort of “that person”. The one who discreetly listens to Christmas music on her iPod in early November. Who thrills at the appearance of the first Christmas commercial on TV. Whose heart skips at beat the sight of the first decorations.

I’m also the naive girl who made it her mission in life, one year, to have homemade eggnog with her family on Christmas Eve (I hadn’t learned about tempering eggs yet…and had to skim out the little bits of scrambled while fighting a sense of disillusionment). The girl who once stayed up until 3 in the morning, baking cookies for coworkers (because I didn’t start making them til I got home from work that night - it was a bad idea). The idiot who bought I can’t even tell you how many skeins of yarn on year in order to make afghans for extended family (I completed a total of ONE of them, by the way – sometimes I can do more in my head than I can in real life).

Over the years, though, this feeling of “I can accomplish every ridiculous idea the neurotic little Christmas elf in my head comes up with” has left me…exhausted. Irritated. Frustrated. And it has drained me, slowly but surely, of my Christmas cheer. I find myself loving the idea of the holidays more than the holidays themselves. I look forward to cookie baking, but the act of it leaves me annoyed and stressed. My spirit of joy is dying by inches with each passing year.

Hence the soul searching. Why is this happening? And can it be stopped?

Then I saw something this morning which made my jaw drop. I wish I could remember where I saw it – on a blog? In a comment? On Twitter? For the life of me I can’t find it, and if I did I’d thank the person who typed it out even if it wasn’t their idea.  And even if my interpretation wasn't what was intended.

It’s literally as if the little elf in my head started screaming and jumping up and down and banging pots and pans to get my attention, because he recognized the answer to the problem immediately.

“Do Less. Be More.”

Whoa. Stop the presses. What’s this? You mean I can actually do LESS and be MORE?

Up til now, when I’ve thrown a holiday party, I’ve felt compelled to go from-scratch all the way. Literally the biggest shortcut I’ve ever taken was using canned crescent rolls for pigs in a blanket (and seriously, who wouldn’t? They’re the most delicious things ever) or a pre-made pie crust. And that’s pretty much it.

In most cases, it’s really a matter of economics – over time I’ve learned, as most of us do, that there’s a convenience charge involved with even the most everyday items. So why pay extra for a bag of shredded cheese when I can spend less for a block and grate it myself? Why buy candied nuts when it’s a snap to make a glaze for plain old nuts on the stove? Why buy slice-and-bake? A tub of hummus? A jar of sauce? I can make all of these things by myself.

Thing is…when you’re hosting a party and there’s a bunch of things to be prepared, it may be a good idea to take not only dollars but time invested into consideration as well, and how much of It you’re spending not enjoying yourself and your guests. Lord knows I can’t remember the last party I threw where I wasn’t too exhausted to enjoy myself. Case in point: Last New Years, when I slept through 2 hours of the party. True story.

So the lesson here, at least my interpretation of it, is that I need to do less fretting, less from-scratch preparation of every single thing, less stressing over the perfection (or lack thereof) of everything in my domain…and more being there. More connecting, more sharing, more actual listening to what a friend is telling me as opposed to keeping an ear out for the oven timer. To be more of a hostess and less of a Martha wannabe. I need to tell myself that people are showing up not just for the food (although let’s not kid, they’re coming for the food) but to be with me and my husband.  And the best thing I can give them is the gift of my attention to them.

Because at the end of the holiday season, no one will give me a medal for Most Cookies Baked. No one will care that the delicious dip I served up came from Trader Joe’s and not my food processor. Or that I made my own eggnog or crocheted everyone’s gifts or stood at my counter/stove/sink until I wished my feet would fall off because after 7 hours they

What they will care about, at least I would hope, is that we got to spend time together in a lovely, festive atmosphere…while I was actually awake.

And eating pigs in a blanket.

What about you? Do you set high standards for yourself during the holidays? Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to share?

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever


Really, are there any three words which go together so perfectly? Any three words which stir the soul the way those three simple words can?

Okay.  Maybe "I love you".  But "chocolate chip cookies" absolutely has to be #2 on the list.

It just so happens that I'm married to a lover of the cookies with the chocolate chips, so when I'm baking Christmas cookies, chocolate chip have to be knocked out right away just so he can relax and quit asking me when I'm making them.  Sheesh.

It helps when making dozens upon dozens of cookies that a recipe be easy.  And this, I'm sure you'll agree, is a pretty darn easy recipe.  It's not all fancy pantsy and filled with crazy add-ins.  Just straight up buttery, chocolate chip goodness.

It also happens to result in what are probably the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever made.  This, friends, is what we call a "win-win".  And who wins? You do.

And whoever gets to eat them, of course.

Note: I know that everyone and their mother has their own favorite recipe which they call "best ever".  Don't listen to them.  Listen to me.

Just kidding.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream together the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda and salt, then add to the butter mixture and thoroughly combine.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Drop by large spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake for 15-20 minutes in preheated oven.**
* This is purely a matter of taste.  I don't like too many chips in my cookies and feel that 2 cups is way too much.  You may feel differently!
**15 minutes is usually enough to get that beautiful golden brown color, but some ovens (like mine) require 20.  So keep an eye on these babies and make sure they don't burn!
Do YOU have a favorite cookie recipe?

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Monday, December 6, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...

I know this is a different sort of post for me, but it's something that's been on my mind today.  While sitting on the train this morning and observing the people around me, I witnessed an everyday occurrence which sparked a memory. And immediately, all of the old feelings came rushing back – the embarassment, the confusion, the ickiness. Instantly, I thought “This is something I will teach my daughter about one day”.

Should I have a daughter, I’ll tell her this story because, really, a girl needs to know these things. I hope my sister reads this too, just in case!

There we sat, my best friend and I, eating crabs and drinking beer. It was a few days after my 21st birthday and this was my first time *in* a bar and drinking. I felt so grown up! Of course, in the back of my mind danced “So…this is it? This is what you’ve been waiting to be able to do? The Big Deal?”, but I pushed it aside. It was a big deal to me. I was in a bar and legally, to boot. And eating crabs. Back then you could smoke in Philly establishments, so the swirling smoke only served to heighten the atmosphere. It was all so mystical.

Of course the bar was only around the corner and a few streets down from my parents. Baby steps.

Towards the end of our evening, we left our table and made our way over to the bar, where my friend suggested we do a couple of shots. As we were both pretty much stone sober at the time (literally, I think we split a pitcher of beer and didn’t even finish it), and she promised to know of some tasty concoctions (she being a year older than me and therefore the elder statesman of bar stuff), I agreed.

We perched ourselves on a couple of stools and commenced with the shot taking – buttery nipples, if I remember correctly. They were really good. And before long, we had attracted a small bit of attention from a couple of older guys who were sitting catty corner to us. They started to chat us up, along with the bartender, and we went along with it. Just benign banter.

Now, I’ve always been a friendly person and I have no problem carrying on a conversation with a stranger. I’m pretty sure we talked about the fact that I was returning to college the next day, and that I was moving into my old dorm room with my roommate from the year before. Perfectly reasonable stuff. Plus these guys were, like, ancient as far as I was concerned – mid 40’s at the youngest, all blue-collar types workingman types, and I figured it was just a way to pass the time with two newcomers, since they all seemed to be fairly at home belly-up to the bar.

Then the inevitable happened, though in my mind it was hardly inevitable. One of the guys offered to buy me a drink. But again, I was totally innocent. I had not been indoctrinated in the subtle dance that takes place seven nights a week in every bar in America. I figured, what the heck, a free drink. Count me in! So I accepted – I don’t remember what my friend did or if she was included in the offer. But I enjoyed my drink and we continued talking about random things.

Eventually it was time to leave. I had started getting a weird vibe at this point from the man who had bought me the drink so I was all too happy to go. Every time I glanced his way I saw him looking at me from beneath lowered lids. Now, I might have been innocent when it came to very many things, but the icy shiver up my spine told me straight-up what that look meant. I didn’t understand why he would look at me that way. I was just a kid, and he was a grown-up, probably my father’s age. I think I might have murmured something about it to my friend, about how he was weirding me out and I wanted to go. So we said goodnight and got our things together and walked out.

We crossed the street and I was literally, honest-to-God just opening my mouth to express my relief at having gotten out of there, when I heard “Jen?” from behind us.

I turned around and couldn’t believe it – he had followed us out. I didn’t know what to do, but I didn’t want to be rude (there I go again, not wanting to be rude), so I hissed at my friend to please stay put, and I crossed back to where the man waited.

“So… you said you were going back to school tomorrow…do you think I could have your number? Maybe we could get together, see a movie, maybe you could show me where you live?”.

I had no idea what to do. This had never happened to me before. Let me give you a little more background: At that point I had never had a boyfriend, had never casually dated anyone, had never been picked up by a guy, anywhere. Just my luck that it happened for the first time in this way. What a disappointment.

And because I had never had the experience of turning a guy down, I had no idea what to do. I was lost. I was shocked. I just wanted to melt into the ground. Add on to that the fact that I was also disgusted by this turn of events. This was a man who was easily twice my age and then some, and who bore a distinct physical and personal resemblance to Louie DePalma on “Taxi”. This is what I was dealing with (and for what it’s worth, his age concerned me more than his appearance...but at the time I wouldn't have so quickly turned down, say, Antonio Banderas, so...).

I had no practice in letting someone down easy, so my instinct was to back out gently. First I tried to tell him that I didn’t know what my dorm room phone number would be (lie). Then I told him I wasn’t sure if I’d have any time free (lie). But, bless his heart, he would not be blown off course that easily. Finally, he asked me for the number to my parents’ house so he could find a way to contact me later (yeeeeah, that would have worked out really well, until my dad killed him). Pen and paper poised and ready, he looked up at me. And what did I do? Did I flat-out tell him that this was not a good idea, that I didn’t know that his offer to buy me a drink meant anything, that I certainly didn’t mean anything when I accepted it and carried on our conversation? That I wasn’t interested and that I was sorry if I gave him the wrong idea?

No. I lied one more time and gave him a fake phone number.

Then I promptly turned on my heel and, with my friend beside me, speed walked the couple of blocks home. The entire time we muttered “I can’t believe it” and “Ew ew ew ew” to each other.

I literally felt sick, in that way a woman (or man, I reckon) feels sick when given attention by someone from whom attention is the last thing they want. And I think this is something that all people, men and women, need to understand: It’s not flattering when it’s coming from someone you don’t want it from. When someone comes on that strong, shoots you “the look” from across the bar, asks for your number so you can “show them where you live”…it’s not flattering one bit. And you’re left feeling like a deer in headlights, especially if you’re the sort of person (like me) who doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. It would be one thing if I could have just blown him off, called out “Sorry, not interested” from across the street, then waved and walked away. That’s not me.

And when I sit on a train and see a pretty woman standing on the platform, and see a man very clearly crossing the line with his words to her…I think about how I felt 10 years ago, and how I've felt since then in such situations. Please don’t mistake me – I don’t consider the above experience to be harassment, just unwanted attention and the resulting discomfort, which result from harassment as well. There is nothing like that feeling. And I’ve felt it since, many times – I don’t consider myself a good-looking woman and even so I’ve been blatantly harassed, and come-on to inappropriately. Not to mention the once or twice I’ve been groped on public transportation by unsavory characters and still haven’t said anything for fear of the repercussions. I like to think that I'll be strong in such situations…but when you’re in it, it’s a different story. You just want to disappear, to be anywhere in the world but right there at that time.

So I know that if and when I have a daughter, I’ll make sure to explain “how things work” when it comes to being out in mixed groups and dealing with strangers, especially in a bar or at a party, so she doesn’t have to find out for herself.  There are, after all, rules to the game which are being followed even if you don't know about them (especially when the person you're unknowingly playing the game with is playing by rules which may have gone out of style by now).

And I’ll make sure to tell her that she doesn’t have to accept being harassed, that being silent and “taking it” will only make her feel worse in the long run. That there’s a difference between being rude and being respectful but assertive.

What about you? Have you ever dealt with unwanted attention or harassment? What did you do?