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Valentine’s Day: You can be in love and still sorta hate it

14 Feb

I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day, and yet I collect vintage valentines. It’s a weird dichotomy, I know. A few years ago, I inherited a bunch of old scrapbooks from my great aunt. She had amassed some beautiful cards, letters, and valentines throughout her long life and had the foresight to keep them neatly organized in a scrapbook. She didn’t set out to collect vintage things, but she was born in 1898 and it just so happens that the stuff you collect in the early part of your 89 years  eventually becomes “vintage” shortly after you die. Funny how that works. But I love everything about those old valentines. I love their designs and colors, their fonts, even their inscriptions.

So, why do I have this “bad blood” with Valentine’s Day? I mean, I have been married for 13 years, I love my husband, I always get something nice from him every Valentine’s Day. What’s my problem?

1. The holiday is exclusive. One might say, well, Valentine’s Day isn’t just a day to express romantic love. Bullshit. People are throwing it in your face all day long, usually young couples or old ones who feel the need to validate their crumbling relationships through your uncomfortable discussion with them over top of the four dozen roses teetering on the edge of their desk. Yes, I see them. I can barely see YOU, but I see the flowers.

2. It makes your dating (or general relationship) life a living hell. Did you get (or give) wayyy to much stuff…or too little. Is it too early in our relationship to celebrate? What does it mean if we don’t celebrate? I mean, it’s just a mess.

3. I don’t like that there is a day to do what you should be doing all year, every day. Tell people that you love them or like them any day. With or without a conversation heart to help you out.

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4. The onslaught of social media photos and broadcasts of gifts and sentiments is unbearable. For the record, I am really happy when people are in solid relationships, I am. In fact, I wish more people were in healthy, stable relationships. I probably even like the fact that you received special things today because I love you and you are my friend! I just feel that posting about all the things you got or how much you love someone is inconsiderate to so many others today. You should enjoy it. You really should. Bask in it, bask the shit out of it. But you should also enjoy it privately. It’s yours. Think of all the people you know that don’t have anyone, or are going through a difficult divorce, or recently lost their husband or wife. Celebrate your love, but think of others who don’t have anyone. You wouldn’t go tap dancing around a wheelchair convention, would you?

My son Paul's favorite part of the holiday is eviscerating a shoe box with a knife to accommodate classmate's cards and treats.

My son Paul’s favorite part of the holiday is eviscerating a shoe box with a knife to accommodate classmates’ cards and treats.

Now there are things about Valentine’s Day I like. I enjoy buying my family little gifts. I like helping my kids prepare treat bags and seeing all the valentines they bring home. I like funny and super awesome Valentine’s Day cards. I even–yes–like to get gifts (gasp). But really, I just like collecting old valentines.

This one just sounds like a threat circa 2013.

This one just sounds like a threat circa 2013.

Some of the valentines I’ve collected are funny, others just beautiful. The following valentine always intrigued me, since it totally alluded to gettin’ it on–olden days style. However, I could never quite figure out what “sterilize” might mean in this context. Who was the “speaker” in this situation? Is the woman or the man initiating the request to “get busy”? What were “sterilization” methods for each gender around this time? Did this “procedure” take place in Salem, Ohio? So weird.

Be My Sterile Valentine

Be My Sterile Valentine

I’m hoping any reproductive rights specialists or just some crazy polymath can shed some light on this little card.

Oh, and Happy February 14th!!! I love you!

Gold, frankincense, and…soup.

7 Dec

Originally posted: Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 1:58am, but you’ll enjoy it more this year. I promise…

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My favorite holiday decoration is a hand-carved wooden Christmas pyramid, a gift from my father bought during his trip to Germany. It is such a neat little piece, bought shortly before he died…a wonderful reminder of him around the holidays.  It has a sweet little nativity scene at the bottom, angels armed with their trumpets looking out from on high, and then the shepherds and wise men rotate around JC and the fam when the heat from the candles hit the top propellers just right. We love watching it go around and around, it’s a magical little toy. Whimsical, really.

I  take a long time setting it up. I carefully unwrap all the pieces that I lovingly put away last year. I take the time to talk to the boys about all the little characters, from the angels to the sheep. Tonight, I was talking to the boys about the wise men and asked them if they knew what their gifts were. I pointed to wise man #1’s gift and said “gold,” then onto #2, “frankincense,” they seemed to be interested and said the names along with me with some prompting. But then I pointed to #3, there was a pause. Surely they had been talking through these in their Catholic CCD classes? This one wouldn’t be so hard, right? Larry, Moe, Curley…Barbara, Louise, and Irlene…bacon, lettuce, and tomato…gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Any third item of a pop culture triumvirate should come easy. So, after a second or two, my son looked at me, then looked at the last wise man’s gift, raised his eyebrows with excitement, then looked back at me and shouted… “SOUP!”

Sure, why not.

The poor king who had to lug the hot pot of delicious soup to Bethlehem.

 

 

So, in honor of my Dad, and the historical license that is afforded with such things, the gifts of the Magi (in my home) are now, and forever will be: gold, frankincense, and soup.

I like to think it was a nice lentil, or perhaps a corn chowder. Thanks again, Dad.

Santa is not a “first responder.”

6 Dec

Every year around this time, our local fire department (one of three in the township) drives a big fire truck around the streets; sirens blaring, lights flashing, and Christmas music playing. That would probably be cool enough for my kids, but, there’s something even more awesome to this scenario, something even better: Santa is standing up on that fire truck! Waving! Ho Ho Ho-ing! Big spotlight on him! BIG! When we hear the sirens within about a 3 mile radius we are like Navajo Wind Talkers trying to figure out how close or far off the engine is. When he (HE) finally arrives, the kids excitedly run up to the road, talk to Santa for a minute or two, and get a few candy canes. My husband and I usually duke the firemen a little to cover gas, or beers for later. Whatever, we don’t care. It’s awesome.

The only problem with this event, is that this fire department doesn’t come past our house with Santa on an engine every year. Our township is huge, and in many parts pretty sparsely populated. I understand it’s probably tough to get to every street every year, I understand. The worst thing, though, the absolute WORST, are the years when the bedazzled engine crosses over our road at the corner and just keeps going. They don’t turn on our street, nary a stop at the stop sign. The crossroads is about 200 yards away…so the kids could run for it, but they’re usually just too busy freaking out that the engine isn’t turning. For as fun as this happening is some years, other years it is just torturous.

Santa in front of our house, 2008.

So last night on our way to Cub Scouts, there, at the end of our street we saw *gasp* a fire truck with lights a blazing! This was it! The big guy was. On. Our. Street!

Finally. Our turn.

So, being mother of the year, I roll down EVERYONE’S windows. We’re gonna see him. We’re gonna talk to him. He’s *our* road’s Santa tonight!

Now, as we approach the engine, the boys are really having at it. Screaming: “SANTA!! IT’S SANTA!!!!! HE’S HEEEERREEEE! WHHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!” Loud. I mean, Santa’s not gonna miss us this time.

Then, as we get a little closer, I notice that the truck isn’t moving. Hmm, I figure Santa’s just inside the engine, doing some last minute primping. Getting candy canes in order. Texting the missus. Brushing his beard. You know, Santa stuff. But those lights are still going. He has to be in there!

Finally, we’re right in front of the engine, and–boy this is weird–it’s in MY lane? Facing me. Parked. Now, the kids are still screaming. And they’re still loud. They’re not letting Santa pass them by this year. I will also add that they are now unbuckled and halfway out of their respective windows. Whooooo! Throw caution to the wind, this is Santa!

At this point of the story, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincerest apologies to the family at the end of our street who may (or may not) have been dealing with a very serious emergency last night when *that* fire engine was parked right outside of their house. With the engine’s emergency lights on. Red and white lights spinning.

On an emergency call.

When we were screaming with joy out of the Blazer’s windows, we really, I mean really, didn’t know that someone inside might have, oh, say, just had a heart attack, or that maybe your basement was on fire. I swear. And I really hope everything’s OK today. I sincerely do. And please, I don’t want you to think that we were celebrating your hardship, and subsequently booing for any reason other than our disappointment that Santa was not on that engine.

I’m sure you understand, right? When I drove past you and your family members (slow motion movie scene style) and you were all glaring at us from your front porch, I could see a glimmer of understanding.

Hope you duked the drivers…

I sincerely hope to see you again in 2011, big guy.

Saint Nicholas Day: a parent’s guide on what *not* to do

6 Dec

Growing up, we didn’t celebrate Saint Nicholas Day. I remember certain kids coming into school talking about this cool and mysterious holiday. All I could gather was that they put their shoes out one night and got little gifts in them the next…and I did not. I’m not (that) bitter, but that’s about all I remember about the holiday.

Recently, my mother and sister took a trip to Holland for my beautiful cousin’s wedding. They brought us back these awesome wooden shoes. Now, I guess we found out the rule for fitting wooden shoes a little too late: take what your shoe “looks” like and then buy a pair of wooden shoes TWICE that size. The older boys (kind of THANK GOD) couldn’t wear theirs, but the youngest took full advantage of clogging around in a pair.

Since the shoes were just so beautiful (and let’s be honest: super annoying), we decided that the best use of these art pieces would be to set them out for Saint Nicholas Day.

So, like I explained earlier, I didn’t grow up with this tradition, so I rely on the internet for all the backup (i.e. country of origin, date to place out shoes, etc.). My kids don’t mind that I’m pretty vague about it, they just know that they’re getting some stuff in their shoes. However, one of my kids was very curious this year…

Carmen: “So, where does Saint Nicholas come from?”

Me: “Germany.”

Carmen” “Does he speak German?”

Me: “Yes.”

Carmen: “Well how does he sound?”

Me (in my best 11th grade German): “Ich bin blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Carmen (after a thoughtful pause): “I’m kind of…freaked out by Germans.”

Me: “Well, Germans aren’t scary. AND, Saint Nick has helpers. Maybe helpful and friendly ghosts will help deliver the gifts. Maybe Pap Pap!”

So, the kid is slightly appeased. But, let’s break this down: I basically just told him the ghost of HIS DEAD GRANDFATHER was coming into the house to deliver his goodies.

What is wrong with me?

I mean if GERMANS freak him out, what is the thought of a ghost in the house going to do?

I really did have good intentions, but fast forward about five minutes. He comes out crying. He doesn’t want a German OR a ghost bringing absolutely anything into the house. We talk. We compromise. We decide that the shoes can go outside. He was pleased with this idea, and he was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

One more punch in my kid’s future therapy card.

Happy Halloween: Cookie Edition

1 Nov

Some people meditate. Others paint along with Bob Ross. Me, my self-prescribed therapy is making and decorating sugar cookies. I’ve always appreciated beautifully decorated sugar cookies. As I kid, I remember one of my favorite parts of any holiday prep and anticipation was rifling through my Mom’s cookie cutter collection. President’s Day cookies? Bust of George Washington and axe cutouts, check.

While I always loved making and decorating sugar cookies, I was a novice. I only started my way to mastering the art with the guidance of my friend Eric. You see, there are sugar cookies…and then, there are *Eric’s sugar cookies.* I had only seen the type of cookies that Eric would make in magazines. Glossy magazines. And how lucky was I that he took me under his little sugarcrafting wing and taught me his art? Very.

I enjoy every part of the process. And it IS quite a process: usually a three day one. I make the cookie dough on day one, day two is reserved for baking, and then, I finally decorate the shapes on day three. Sometimes, there is a day four: when the cookies call for packaging, either individually cello wrapped, or in boxes with clear plastic covers. Oh, and bows. Lets not forget bows.

I like the almost zen state that I enter when I decorate. I like the solitude. I like the meticulous nature of the work. I like the process of creativity. I like the steps taken to make these beautiful little works of art out of staples found in my kitchen. I dig the whole thing.

Cookie making is a passion. Wait, truth be told (if that last paragraph is telling in any way), it’s really a bit of a compulsion. Along with the praise and delight elicited when I give people my final products, my gifts have also been met with quiet disdain and not-so-faux mocking. I am called “Martha Stewart”…and this is not meant to be “a good thing (TM).” I think people feel like I have spent entirely too much time on something that will be consumed. And to be honest: they are super annoyed. I get it. I see the eyes rolling. I feel a strange guilt. I have been told that I am crazy. (Well, they could be on to something there, but, that’s for another post.)

Usually the negative nellies come around after they realize my cookies are meant to make other people happy, not make them feel like less of a baker or mother because they don’t go nuts like I do. We are united in our joy after they take their first bite. They get over it. I confess that I think they are crazy people for their copious knitting projects! We hug. We bond over our obsessions that others judge. We share recipes. We laugh over people that have taken up a mid-life roller derby crisis. We talk about never really liking the movie “The Polar Express.” We are united in cookies!

One of my favorite holidays for cookie making is Halloween. Silly, fun, bright, and overall awesome for treats. The last few years I have been doing the same designs. I order many of my cutters online (www.thelittlefoxfactory.com and www.thecookiecuttershop.com) and have bought them at my local bake shop, Make-A-Cake. I use a really simple cookie recipe (substituting one cup of butter with butter flavored Crisco), and always use Martha Stewart’s recipe for royal icing. Here are my Halloween cookies…look out for the next holiday, it’ll be equally as insane.

Yours in crazy cookie making,

-Allison

Spooky Halloween Soup!

30 Oct

Leaves are falling, the sweet smell of burning wood is making its way up chimneys and wafting throughout the neighborhood, the kids are all hopped up on sugar from the 17 parties they have attended while dressed up as giant hot dogs: yup, must be Halloween time.

Along with Halloween comes the beginning of soup season. Soup season is a frame of time that runs concurrently between the months of October and March. Not that soup can’t be enjoyed outside of soup season, but it seriously helps.

Why not make some chicken noodle soup and add a special little touch for Halloween: spooky cutout dumplings.

Start with a basic broth. I boiled a few chicken breasts in a pot with bouillon, carrots and onions. Next add some noodles. Barilla makes these cool little noodles like the kind you find in those little Mrs. Grass chicken soup boxes.

Next make the dumplings. I put 6 eggs, 3 cups of flour, salt, and some Italian seasoning into a food processor and mixed using the dough hook. Add flour until you get a piece of dough you can easily roll out. You don’t need a food processor for this step, but it definitely helps.

After you make the dumpling dough, roll it out onto a floured surface (to about 1/4 inch thickness).

Next, you’ll need some miniature cookie cutters. These cutters are also used to cut decorative pieces for pie crusts. I used ghosts for this particular soup. If you don’t have cutters, you can cut a few out by hand, but it’s not going to be easy.

After you cut a bunch of ghouls out, put them into the boiling soup.

We also put the “extra” dumplings parts into the soup (the large “holey” pieces left over from cutting out the little dumpling shapes) and pull them out to eat separately. My kids especially love to eat these pieces (see below).

Let the dumplings boil for about 2 minutes; they’ll be done when they float to the top of the soup.

The kids really enjoyed helping to make the little ghost cutouts and they loved to eat the finished soup. This “spooky” soup would be a nice dish to serve at a little Halloween get together for friends and family or a meal for the kids before trick-or-treating.


Enjoy your spooky Halloween soup!

O Tannen “bomb”

27 Jan
Friday, January 14, 2011 at 4:56pm

I’ve been commuting to work for well over a week with a spent Christmas tree in the back of my truck. I get scared sometimes that it’s going to fly out like a massive projectile when I’m driving. I also fear that little animals have decided to live in it now, nestling between the prickly Fraser fir and the wheel wells, hiding under the 5+ inches of snow that has accumulated in the last few days, and noshing on whatever foodstuffs that might have been deposited into the tree by my children while it was still “im haus” (perhaps an errant french fry, a missed candy cane decoration, ABC gum, or, yes, even a burrito).

Exhibit A: The GMC truck with a delicate ecosystem (allegedly) thriving in the bosom of a 5-week-old untethered Christmas tree.

Tonight, one of two things are going to happen:

1. Tonight We’re Settin’ the Woods on Fire.

I’m going to grab Amy B. (Visiting! Yes!), a sixer of Bitburger, drag it out of the truck with my girl, take it into the back 40 and “relight” the Christmas tree: West Deer style. Look out for the flames over on Kaufman Road. And please, as per usual, be cool and don’t call the fuzz.

OR

2. The GMC Traveling Nature Preserve.

I’m going to contact the PA State Department of Environmental Protection, the PA Game Commission, and the Honorable Governor Ed Rendell and we’re going to christen the first ever protected wildlife sanctuary/state game land on wheels. Perhaps this could qualify me for some sort of “clean and green” status and I could get a PA gas card or something. Maybe extra fuel perks? I don’t know, think about it. I would, of course, immediately hire some sort of educator on rodents and/or birds and call it “Just Trucky Animal Encounters” or “Pennsyl*VAN*ia”, I mean, that is if I can get a bubble or something to cover the bed “Biosphere style” to make the truck look more van-like. Or, maybe I’ll just spray paint “Treedom Tour 2011!!!” on the side of the truck, with, like, a state seal next to it. Like I said, I’m spitballin’ here.

Your input is highly valued…I mean, at least from a taxpayer perspective on option #2 (only if you live in-state)

However, this song might sway your opinion in favor of option #1:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3hzYRVAkUs

Regardless of the outcome, beers will be had.

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