It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….

I went home to IL after work on Sunday to help my family put up the Christmas decorations for the first time since 2006.  We have a fake tree (we had a real tree one year but mom got sick of still cleaning up after it in July, so she swore never again…) and about 5 or 6 boxes of ornaments and other decorations.  My mom and I supervised while the brothers put the tree together, making sure to teach them how to properly fluff the branches, of course.  Mom’s big plan is to have them ready to put it up by themselves next year so she doesn’t have to be involved lol.  It wasn’t that I’d forgotten how much I loved Christmas and all related (non-religious) things, but that night definitely brought it to the forefront of my mind. 26 more days!

 

PS: My credit card balance is also reflecting Christmas….. I don’t buy presents for many people outside of my immediate family, but that stuff adds up.  I’m trying to be proactive and get everything except giftcards now so that there’s no mad scramble on Dec 23rd.  We’ll see how that works……

Sensory Memory

You know what I like about cooking?  Oftentimes, you’re not just making food or goodies, you’re making memories.  It’s funny how sensory perception and memory are so intertwined, but I know that for me some of my most vibrant memories revolve around food, and cooking for Thanksgiving made me remember some of my favorites….

Chocolate chip cookies:  My Grandma C always used to make huge chocolate chip cookies.  I was allowed to have half of one with lunch, and though I was never really allowed to help make them, I remember watching her do it and feeling the melting chocolate on my tongue (she would always warm it up before serving it, because that’s the most delicious way).

Grilled cheese: Continuing with the above, the lunch I had to eat was always grilled cheese, browned to perfection on both sides.  And I could never eat until the Price is Right ended at noon.

Spaghetti: If I was at Grandma C’s house for dinner, it was spaghetti noodles with parmesan cheese for me, and another half-cookie if I was lucky 🙂

Macaroni, hot chocolate, and Hungarian Butterhorns: These were the trademarks of my childhood with Grandma D.  She taught me how to make these the authentic way, from scratch.  No Kraft macaroni or Swiss mix for me.  I’m actually going over to her house on Tuesday to make the Butterhorn cookies.  We used to make them every year on Christmas Eve, but then I was busy working at K12 and then I went to college and then we just didn’t…..

Ritz Crackers with American cheese: Yet another trademark of Grandma D.  I remember sitting at the foot of her rocking chair as we shared a sleeve of crackers, running into the kitchen a couple times to get extra slices of cheese, though we always started with the best intentions of stopping after just one or two each…

Stuffing: I’d actually never eaten stuffing until EK’s mom gave me a plate already loaded down with it in 2009, so this food will always trigger memories of the two years EK’s family was kind enough to have me over and fatten me up  with amazingly delicious food (for the record, the stuffing this year came from a box and paled in comparison… :))

Cheesy bread: I happen to be eating this right now.  You just make a cheese sandwich with two slices of American, pop it in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, then peel the bread slices apart and enjoy the gooey, melted cheesy bread.  This was my mom’s breakfast/snack of choice for a few years during my childhood and whenever I was good she’d make me a sandwich too 🙂

Cupcakes:  Back in the days before schools became paranoid about homemade treats, my mom and I would always make cupcakes for my birthday.  My favorite were the vanilla cupcakes that you swirled either pink or blue icing into after you poured the batter into each cup.  Mom may have been super busy with vet school and work, but she always made time for this.

Banana Bread: Before I discovered apple bread, my go-to was banana bread.  I remember waking up to the smell of it baking whenever my mom would get her late-night/early morning cravings.

Chocolate cake: Okay, so this one doesn’t have anything to do with actually baking the cake, but every time I see a piece of chocolate cake with chocolate icing, I think of the time I came home from school when I was 13 and told my mom that I’d just gotten my first period.  She happened to be eating a piece of chocolate cake from Applebees and her first words were: “I’m sorry.  Here, have some cake.” 😀

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope everyone had a great time and great food today 🙂  Thanksgiving was kind of a two day affair for me this year.  It started yesterday when I picked up Jacob and Sydney for a sleepover. We hit the Science Center, had lunch at McDonald’s (with a playplace, of course), snuck drinks and candy into Arthur Christmas (it was a cute movie, but nothing spectacular or must-see, imho), played an 18-hole round of glow in the dark putt-putt golf, then headed back to my apartment so they could watch some movies and relax while I made the pie crust which had to chill overnight.  Kids are a lot of work and require constant entertainment (easier said than done when you don’t have a house full of toys), but we had an awesome time.

I woke up early today to finish up the pie and make two kinds of sweet potato casserole. It was the first time I’d ever made a pie (surprising, given how much I love baking) and I was a bit nervous about the homemade crust, but it turned out awesome (see picture—I forgot to take a pic of the sweet potato casserole (which was also a first)–both kinds of which were also delicious). After a couple hours of baking I loaded up the kids and headed home to help mom clean the house and prep some more of the food (we always host my mom’s side of the family at Thanksgiving, though over the past few years it’s dwindled down to just my family, my grandparents, my great-grandpa, and my Uncle Mark, Aunt Jean, and their two kids.  Thirteen people may seem like a lot, but when we’re all together at Christmas it’s more like 20).  The meal was delish.  I had turkey, green beans (with onion and bacon), stuffing, cranberry sauce, a little of each sweet potato casserole, some miniature hot-dog thingys, and a croissant.  For dessert I had a small piece of pumpkin pie and a small piece of apple pie, because it was just impossible to choose between the two and, as my sister so succinctly informed me, “It’s Thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving, you eat pie.”  Truer words have never been spoken.

After everyone else left, my mom, my siblings, and I went to go see The Muppets (dad had to work :().  I’ve never been a huge Muppets fan, but the movie was very entertaining and I would highly recommend it.  After the movie we dropped by to see my dad and then I dropped them off and headed home.  Overall, it was everything I could ask for for Thanksgiving.

And now, as per the usual, I’ll end this post with a list of things I’m thankful for:

I’m Thankful….

….as always, for my family,  They may not be perfect (I’m looking at you, Albert….), but they’re mine and I love them to pieces.

….for my friends.  Same reason 🙂

….for the internet.  Not only does it make daily life infinitely easier, it allowed me to make the delicious pie and casserole and take some of the load off my mom. 🙂

…for my job (at AAA….not so much the theater) and all the opportunities I have before me.  Yeah, I work hard, but in a market like this you can’t discount a little luck, and I’ve been very fortunate.  My coworkers and I rant a lot, but we all know that we’re the lucky ones.

…that I never have to worry about how much is in the bank.  I’m careful with my money, but when I agonize about a purchase, be it a computer or a jar of peanut butter, that’s my inner Scrooge taking over, and has nothing to do with what I can actually afford. I work hard to keep it that way, but I’m thankful all the same.

…for my health.

…for hockey.  It truly helps keep me sane by giving me an escape.

…for the library.  Without it I’d either be broke or mentally bored and depressed.

…for Starbucks.  Not only for the delicious drinks, but for the fact that it gives me a place I can go to decompress for a few hours each week.  For me, it really is a “Third Place.”

…for chocolate.  And tea 😉

Freedom!

I was supposed to work at the theater tonight, but I ended up giving the shift away and am soooo happy, because now I have three (count ’em…three!) days where I don’t work at either job.  Luckily those days are full of things I want to/need to do, other wise I’d have absolutely no idea what to do with my free time 🙂

Brian, a coworker from AAA, convinced me to give up my shift with a very simple observation– extra money is nice, but my free time isn’t worthless. In the midst of my eight straight shifts, I’d calculated that I was giving up my entire evening and sentencing myself to work double shifts the next couple days on 4 hours of sleep all for $35-$40 after tax.  While that’s $30-40 per night I didn’t have before, I’d been neglecting to balance that against the opportunity cost of that lost time and sleep (economics minor, why are you failing me now???).  I ended up having to exercise at 6 in the morning (my poor downstairs neighbors….) because not working out for 5 days straight was unacceptable, but the result of this was that I was tired and had less time to do Russian and Japanese.  Not cool.  When you look at it that way, it’s definitely not worth it.   I’m seriously considering quitting after the holidays unless they majorly cut back on my hours so I’m working the promised 2-3 shifts per week instead of twice that…

 

Anyway, today I have a slew of things to do.  Right now I’m at Starbucks, then I’m going grocery shopping, doing laundry, cleaning the apartment, working out, and catching up on hockey.  Tomorrow I’m picking up Jake and Syd for an amazing day filled with the St. Louis Science Center, McDonalds (with the playplace, because I am just that awesome of a sister), Arthur Christmas, Monopoly, and whatever else we feel like).  Thursday morning I’m making pumpkin pie and sweet potato casserole and then we’re all heading back to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving (my first with them since 2007).  I can’t wait for the good food and family….but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad I’m not going to EK’s 😦

A little more than I bargained for…..

One of the reasons I haven’t blogged much lately is that thanks to AMC, I’m working 60-70 hour weeks between my two jobs, which is definitely not what I signed up for.  When I was hired, the offer came with a caveat from them: I would probably only be getting a shift or two a week.  That was fine with me, as it still added up to an extra $150 or so per month.  For the first couple of months that held true.  But for the past couple weeks that 1-2 has changed to 4-5, with me currently about to report to the second of eight consecutive shifts (technically my Saturday night shift is “call in,” which means I call I see if they need me, but still…).  On the one hand, the extra money is great.  On the other hand, the hours are not…..  Of course, the simple solution would be to give away shifts or change my availability, but the greedy masochist in me doesn’t want to give up the revenue stream, especially with Christmas season almost upon us.  But come January some things may have to change, because there’s no point in running myself ragged for a minimum wage job….

Day Trip

Yesterday I took a trip up to Champaign to see Emily and her new apartment.  She moved up there in September for a teaching job, and this is the first chance I’ve had to visit.  I left just after noon for the horribly boring 3 hour drive through endless cornfields.  I happened to get there just as she got home from work and we hung out for about an hour before heading to the library to rent a movie (side note: my job has made it impossible to me to be a passenger in a car…. Emily’s windshield wipers are broken and it was raining so she volunteered to drive us in my car.  In an 8 minute drive we almost got into 3 or 4 accidents.  I took over after that….).  For dinner we went to a Korean BBQ place and I had a tofu taco which consists of tofu, sweet and sour sauce, and several green leafy things.  I’d never had tofu before and I’m not a huge fan of spicy  food, but it was actually really good.  After dinner we wandered through some stores before going back to her apartment and watching Eat, Pray, Love.  This morning we had breakfast at Panera and then went our separate ways – her to work and me home.  Not a long or eventful vacation, but a pleasant interlude none-the-less 🙂

Fall is in the air

I haven’t had a day off from both jobs since before I went to San Francisco (and won’t until next Tuesday, when I requested off AMC to go visit Emily), so I’ve been short on time to get out and enjoy the unseasonably nice weather.  Yesterday I headed over to Forest Park before my shift because I was going a little stir crazy, and I’m soooo glad I did.  Changing leaves are gorgeous, and I’m particularly fond of deep reds and oranges (although yellows are pretty too), and there’s just something incredibly satisfying about kicking your way through ankle-deep leaves.  Since the zoo is right there (and free) I figured I might as well stop by.  It happened to be my lucky day because I saw both the new baby lion, Imani:

And the new baby elephant, Kenzi:

Aren’t they adorable???