Monday, December 31, 2012

Cooking Frenzy

I love to cook. I love reading food magazines, I love trying new recipes, I love cooking old favorites, I love planning my weekly menu...I just plain love to cook. In the winter on Sundays, when I can take the time, I usually cook for a few hours to prep food for the next week and make a big Sunday dinner. Growing up, Friday night was pizza night and Sunday night was big dinner night. I can honestly say that we have pretty much stuck to that. Not by conscious choice...I think it was what I was used to and just kind of happened when we had our family.

Unfortunately, it has been a sick ward here all week...and most of us were in our pj's for days, unable to get off the couch for more than an hour. Yesterday, though, I finally felt better and I spent 4 hours cooking. It was a cooking frenzy in here! I decided to make a bunch of stuff to freeze so that we can easily pull healthy stuff out of the freezer for each week.

I made homemade sauce, Auntie's Karen's sauce to be exact. Technically she is my cousin but the kids call her Auntie. She came to visit 2 years ago and spent the week whipping up covers for my screen porch cushions, covering two hassocks for my bedroom, and then whipping up living room & dining room curtains. In between sewing her fingers into nubs, she taught Mimi how to sew, spend time cuddling with our then newborn bunny Ivy, and taught me how to make her sauce. Everytime we have pasta the kids look hopefully at me and and ask "Is it with Auntie Karen's sauce?"  Well, now I can say yes. This week we will have Auntie Karen's sauce & pasta and Friday night we will have homemade pizza with Auntie Karen's sauce. And I have 4 more servings of sauce on deck in the freezer.

Also hanging out in the freezer at the ready is chili - both individual servings for lunch for Tim and I but also a big batch for either dinner or lunches on an upcoming weekend. In addition, I made 2 butternut squash lasagnas...likely the kids won't eat them but Tim and I can have them for dinner one night when the kids just want cereal. I also made butternut squash puree so I can easily make butternut squash risotto, one of our favorites. So. Stupid. Good.

I cooked a whole chicken in the crockpot (it comes out unbelievable) and then shredded the chicken and bagged it into a few week's worth of chicken caeser salad for lunches for Mimi and I. I also made a chipolte pork and shredded up for nachos for a few dinners.

Finally I made the Pioneer Woman's broccoli cheddar cheese soup which is ridiculously good. We had that for lunch today....my kids don't even really like broccoli yet they gobbled it up.

And then when everything was cooked and everything was washed, we ordered out for dinner! I couldn't cook anymore...yet think about cleaning another dish or spatula. Kind of ironic, huh?

I'll be giddy for a few weeks now when I can just pull something out of the freezer and have an awesome meal already made.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Family Feud

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I love finding just the right gifts for people. I love seeing the surprise on their faces when they open that gift and absolutely love it. I love the Christmas carols. I love when it snows at Christmas (yeah to a white Christmas this year!). I love Christmas parties. And I love a good swap.

Now, my family has an adult swap that we started a few years ago. But, traditionally it has been a bummer because no one swaps. They just open the gifts they pick and keep them....even if they want another gift...they won't do it to each other. Two years ago I took something my mother said she loved. I don't think she talked to me for a week. Could she have swapped for it in the end....sure...but did she...no. Makes no sense to me. This year, Tim and I had to again, explain the rules and tell everyone that we weren't going to put up with everyone being polite. I will say, almost everyone did swap this year, and I ended up with my own gift,. Which leads me to one of the key rules in a swap: Don't buy anything you don't want to end up with. Although, in all honesty, we typically buy one funny gift and one that I wouldn't mind ending up with.

I was first introduced to a "real" swap when I got serious with Tim and was invited to the family Christmas party. Back then, there were about 20-25 people in the swap. Although they say there are no rules, the "guidelines" are simple. First, number 1 is the best number to get because you go first and then again, last after all the gifts are opened. Number 2 then selects & opens their gift and then can choose to keep it or swap with #1...and it continues that way until the end. There have been some "enhancements" to the rules since I began going....such as, you can shake but you can't put your hand in and feel the gift inside a gift bag. I can neither confirm nor deny that this rule was created because of me. I am known to be a shaker...and I openly admit that I man-handle all the gifts before I make my initial selection. Buyer beware, right?

Apparently my first swap was ground breaking for several reasons. First, I guess that people generally approached the swap like my family. There wasn't a ton of swapping and everyone was polite. If you showed a lot of interest in a gift, no one would take it from you. It was the right thing to do. Well, no one had explained that nuance to me. Instead they said one of the "guidelines" was to take whatever you wanted. I apparently missed the unspoken rule of "except if that person is your future mother in law"....who, by the way, was a bit of a swap aficiando. No one explained this to me either. I honestly don't think it had ever come up before so there was no need to discuss that. That was when things changed in the swap.

I don't even remember what the gift was, but I remember that I wanted it, and my mother in law had it. I had a higher number from her...so I swapped with her. She shrieked and yelled "No!". The entire family applauded. It all seemed like fun. Little did I know I was 1) taking something that someone loved which really wasn't done in the past, 2) it was from my future mother in law and that was a no-no and 3) she is known as Mean Jeanne....that should have been enough of a warning for me....but it all seemed like good fun at the time. Especially when I got applause...who doesn't think things are going well when people applaud them??

This year, the swap was started by Uncle Johnny reviewing the rules, of which #1 is "there are no rules". Throughout the swap people break into song, have hysterical side conversations with their neighbors, engage in "after hours" swapping when all is said and done, and occasionally share their favorite swap memories. Twice this year, people mentioned their favorite swap memory was the year I had the "balls" to take Mean Jeanne's gift and forever change the course of the swap. I wouldn't say it was balls...just naivity and stupidity. Little did I know that for years people had wanted to take her gift away but hadn't dared. I had NO idea what I was doing. Although I'm always happy to advance a good cause

Turns out this year was payback, Baby. I have had the extreme pleasure of having been #1 twice throughout the lifetime of my Nealon swap history. It is a HUGE deal when you get #1. Especially this year when we had a record breaking 54 people participating in the swap. This, however, was my WORST year ever. Well, technically the worst number to get is #2. This year I was #3. It might as well have been #2. It felt that bad.

I love this swap. I love so much about it. I love this big family that is full of loud, singing, loving, hugging people. I love getting together at Uncle Tommy & Auntie Anne's house, inevitably ending up in the Foul Line, their downstairs pub, looking for nothing but trouble. I love that every time you go, you have such great conversation with so many different people. I love how the relationships change over the years. I remember when Dave's fiancee first came as a shy, quiet, non gift taking lady and ended up doing a somersault into the gift pile last year...with a skirt on. Yep, she is going to do just fine in this family. I remember when Andy was just a quiet college kid and now we are usually separated because we cause too much trouble together. I love the hugs you get from Uncle Tommy all night long and I love my life lesson conversations with Auntie Lo. I love the digs people give each other - from their hair gel choices to their clothing picks. It's all in good fun and only based on the love we have for each other. I am truly blessed to be a part of this family.

Except for maybe this year. First, I'm number 3. Second, number 1 is a relative newbie. If it were a veteran I would have been more accepting but the fact that I had a crappy number AND number 1 went to a newbie didn't sit well with me. Then, we are asked to speed things up because we had so many people, which meant, no man handling for excessive periods of time. So, I gave into pressure and went for the big gift. And here is where everything just went horribly wrong. Are you sitting?? I ended up with a handicap toilet seat. Yep, someone bought that. And yep, I picked it. I love this G. D. swap and this is how things roll for me?! It was not my best year by a long shot. Well, actually ever. Oh, and did I mention that the gift was from my partner in crime, Andy? Earlier in the night he said "Wait until you see what I got! Some sucker is going to be very unhappy!" Insert picture of my face with the word sucker on my forehead.

Was I a sore loser? A little bit. I did pout, I'll admit it.  But I know it's all part of the fun. Will the toilet seat come back in a future year? Oh yes, it will. And one day someone will be shaking their head, trying to comprehend how they ended up with a handicap toilet seat, just like I am this year.

But more than anything, I take away the same things I do each year, regardless of the swap number I get. Great memories. I wouldn't trade them for the amount of love, fun, and camradarie that is had this night each year for anything...not even a toilet seat.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Homemade Christmas 2012

As you know, one of my most favorite things about Christmas is our tradition of making each other a homemade gift. Getting to this point this year was a little more difficult than in years past. Apparently the kids told a few people that they don't like doing it....which was surprising to me because they have always seemed to love it. Maybe they haven't always enjoyed trying to think up things to make but the items they come up with have been so creative over the years.

When I heard that they didn't want to do it, I called a family meeting. I told them I had heard the rumors and asked if they wanted to stop doing it. They said they still wanted to....but likely only said that after I explained how it was one of my favorite things about Christmas. A little peer pressure never hurt anyone. I then went on to say that I wasn't going to keep reminding everyone to make their gifts and then I gave them a deadline to ask for supplies. Let's just say that this Sunday was like Santa's workshop....saws were buzzing, mod podge was drying, and the hammer and nails were in full swing.

Each of us have a little tree in our bedrooms. Admittedly, mine is the cutest one around. It's a driftwood Christmas tree decorated with Lilly Pulitzer decorations. We then put the homemade gifts under our trees and on Christmas morning the kids come in and we open our homemade gifts before anything else. And once again, I was not disappointed in our tradition. Everyone was so clever!

Here is what we all made for each other:

Jack made Mimi homemade bath salts in a little jar. He then wrote her initials on the top and then the date he gave it to her on the bottom. He made me a new camping log since I'm almost at the end of our current one. It's pink, of course, and he wrote inside "Each sticker represents a trip that we have been on. And we are excited to add some more stickers to the list!" For Timothy, Jack made jeep coasters. The funniest thing was that he asked Tim for all the supplies for them but he had no idea he was buying parts of his own gift.

Mimi made Jack a sports ornament. She hand painted all types of sports equipment from the sports he loves on a clear glass ball. She made Timothy lemon foot scrub...she found the idea on Pinterest, of course. She then attached some loofah gloves to go with it. Then she made me a pink and green polka dot fabric covered light switch for my closet.

I made Jack a board for his running numbers and medals. It has hooks for the numbers, an old spool as a hook for the medals, and there is a quote in a frame that says "Every day you run is a good day". Thanks for that idea Pinterest! For Mimi, I made a piece of artwork/nail polish holder. I got 4 white frames and hung them on her wall and then placed all of her nailpolish inside and on top of them. It's like her own little salon. And for Timothy, I took some of his favorite matchbox cars from when he was a kid and attached magnets so he can display/use them on the fridge.

Timothy made Mimi a Jeepster log. He bought her a light yellow Jeepster last year (because every twelve year old needs a car....) that they are going to restore together. So, the log is a picture book of the progress of their restoration. The first few pictures are of the Jeepster filled with its own parts...good thing he gave himself four years to complete this project. For Jack, who loves to decorate his room for Christmas, he made a sports themed wreath. First, he went out and cut down the grapevine and then he fashioned it into a wreath. He then attached all kinds of sports things like little baseballs, etc. Then for me he found a little driftwood frame at a yard sale this summer so he put in a picture of me and two of my good friends....at my favorite place...Race Point Beach in Truro. Then he glued a starfish on it that we found on that exact beach last Memorial Day Weekend.

Now you understand why I love this so much, right? Everyone puts so much thought into coming up with the ideas and it is always so exciting to see what everyone made for you. I'm glad we continued the tradition and I hope we never stop doing it.

I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas today!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Don't Be Like Putty...You Need a List

Recently we were out to dinner with some friends and the topic turned to our "lists". No one loves a good conversation about lists better than me. I have a lot of lists. I have daily personal and work lists, weekend lists, a list of things I want to look for the next time I go to Brimfield, a list of music I want to put on my iPod, a list of books I want to read...the list of my lists could go on forever. I'll be honest...some of my lists have sub-lists.

I need my lists, otherwise, I wouldn't remember what I needed to do. Have you ever met someone and the minute they say their name it goes out of your head? That happens to me with everything. I'll think "Oh, I have to remember to do that..." and then 2 minutes later I can't remember what that was. Some people don't need lists because they have a good memory. And apparently some people don't need lists because they don't plan on doing anything. Case in point, our friend who we went out to dinner with.

His wife asked what was on our lists for the weekend. Tim and I both rattled off a dozen things that were still on our lists that needed to get done. My friend said "On my list is to have him finally take out the air conditioner" ...and she motioned to her husband. I should note that it was November when we went out. I'm just sayin'...."So, when I asked him if he could do that he said, 'That wasn't on my list of what I wanted to get done this weekend'. She then asked him what was on his list and he said "Well, nothing. I don't have a list." Let me clarify. It wasn't that he didn't have a list that weekend. He just NEVER has a list.

Who doesn't have a list?! This was essentially our entire dinner conversation. Did you ever see the Seinfeld episode where Elaine and Putty are going on a trip and Putty is literally staring at the back of the airplane seat in front of him. When Elaine asks him what he is doing he says "Nothing" and she gets completely annoyed and yells "You are just going to sit there and stare at that seat?!" This is what I imagine people look like when they don't have a list. They just stare straight ahead with nothing going on.

When we dug deeper my friend said that he doesn't have a list on the weekend because he does so much during the week at work that he just wants to relax and not be constrained by a list. I wanted to pat him on the head and say "It's okay...lie to yourself however you need to, Buddy." Cut. It. Out. I don't want to be constrained by a list either but the fajizzle has got to get done, people. The Christmas tree isn't going to put itself up...my car isn't going to drive itself over to an oil change....and I am 100% positive that  no one in my family is going to start raking leaves on their own.

Here's part deux to this....if you don't have a list, at least do the things that your spouse asks you to do. You can't be selective with the things you are asked to do if you don't have a list. It's one thing if you don't have time because you have other things on your list that are a higher priority. Again, I'll pause here a minute and just say that you can't have "cleaning the garage" as a priority on your list every weekend....and spend all your time out there...moving piles of garage stuff from here to there. That does not count. I'm just sayin'.

I know I'll never convert my friend to be a list maker...it's not for everyone. I'm just sayin'...if you don't have your own list, by default, you are going to have to do the things on your spouses' list that need to get done. My suggestion, Buddy, is start coming up with your own list and "prioritizing".

What's on your list these days?