Friday, December 26, 2008

It Makes Jam

For Christmas my husband's parents gave us a bread machine. The tag said "For Russel and Rebecca," probably because even though they knew I'd be pushing the buttons, he'd be enjoying the results.

I haven't had a bread machine for many years. My last one served mostly as a bread dough mixer. I never baked the bread in the machine because I did not like the tough crust, the strange shape of the loaf, and that funny paddle that always got stuck in the bottom. I would mix the dough in the bread machine, then pull it out and put it in a pan to bake in my regular oven. Then, when the bread machine died, I did not replace it.

For many years I made my homemade bread using my Bosch to do the kneading- that way I could make two loaves at once. Then my fourth child started half-day kindergarten and my bread baking ceased. Whenever it was time to punch down the dough or put it in the oven it seemed I was heading out the door to pick up children from school. Result - dead bread. So I gave up and bought a few extra loaves at the store every week to make up the difference.

This year I thought I'd have time to bake bread again, but when the weather cooled off in the fall I was in the middle of an intense writing project. If an unfortunate loaf of bread happened to be rising on the counter it had to wait until I came back from seventy years in the post-apocalyptic science-fiction future before it got baked. After a few loaves full of giant caves, or collapsed from over-rising, I gave up again.

But now I have a bread machine! Now I can throw in all the ingredients, walk away, forget about it, and still get fresh, hot bread three hours later! And the technology has certainly improved. The pan is a more normal shape for a loaf of bread, and it even beeps to tell me to take the paddle out before it bakes. "What should I bake first?" I asked. "Banana bread!" my daughter shouted. Was that an option? Sure enough, this bread machine has a "quick bread" setting. The banana bread it baked on Christmas day turned out very well. At any other time it would have been gone in ten minutes, but it came into the world in a kitchen full of pies, cakes, cookies and other goodies, so we still have some left.

The bread machine even makes jam! I tried that feature today. We were out of strawberry jam, so I gave it a try. I put in the strawberries, sugar, and pectin. Then for an hour or so the machine made periodic low, mechanical grunts. Finally a high pitched beep told me the jam was done. I poured it into a container and put it in the fridge. I'll let you know if it sets up.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Two Inches Too Short

After a year of lying in my upstairs hallway, that beautiful roll of vinyl flooring finally came downstairs to be measured and cut. I went all around the upstairs bathroom with a tape measure and drew a nice diagram with all the lengths labeled. Then I got my big long yellow ruler out of the garage and a green sharpie and transferred my measurements on to the back of the vinyl. I knew I didn't have to be perfectly accurate because I was supposed to cut it three inches wide all around and fit it exactly after it had a day to lie on the bathroom floor.

So I measured and drew and cut, then went upstairs with the piece of flooring. It looked great with the pale lavender walls. I fit it around the toilet pedestal and carefully unrolled it.

"It isn't long enough," my husband said.

"That's just because that corner is supposed to be three inches further in," I said, pointing to where the cabinet jutted out from the wall. But somehow I wasn't so sure anymore. We spread the vinyl out on the floor and to my horror it was an inch too short to reach the wall on both ends!

"How did this happen?" I said. I thought I'd cut it wider than my measurements! It was only a thirty dollar piece of sheet vinyl, but I had been saving it for over a year! All year I had stubbed my toe on it in the dark, rolled it out of the way to vacuum, yelled at the kids to stop using it for a balancing beam - I was attached to the thing! And now I had ruined it.

In a few minutes, Russel came back upstairs with the answer. "How long is your long yellow ruler?"

"Eighty inches."

Russel shook his head, "It's only seventy two."

"Owwh!" I'd slid it along once and counted it as eighty inches when it was only seventy-two. If I cut three inches wide on each side I'd still be two inches too short.

Oh well. Back to the home improvement store.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Twelve Days of Christmas

I had heard of people leaving gifts on others' doorsteps, one for each of twelve days leading up to Christmas. It sounded like a lovely idea, something that would be fun for the children, something I might want to try someday.

I never had any idea how much fun it would be to be on the receiving end!

Twelve days before Christmas, a small wooden model of a stable appeared on my doorstep. For so many years I wanted a nativity scene but did not have one. My brother Jon made me one a few years ago, but it is so fragile I can't let the children touch it. My mom gave us a toy one this year, but the kids play with it all the time and switch the plastic costumes on the figures until the shepherds are wearing crowns and the wise men have angel wings. So far no one has put a beard on Mary - at least they have that much respect. But I was pleased to at last have a traditional manger scene for my home.

Then the next day, ANOTHER stable appeared on the front step. Two! Of all the people in my neighborhood doing twelve days of Christmas by leaving nativity scenes one piece at a time, how was it that TWO picked my family? The children were delighted. Now they could set up one in each of their rooms. Well, that idea didn't last long because I said they'd have to clean up their desks first. Instead I put one in the dining room and one in the family room.

The snow came. I felt bad for the dear people who had committed to come to my house once a day for twelve days, right before Christmas. If they were doing several families, which I suspected they were, that was a 30 minute to 1 hour chunk of time a day! What if they got sick? What if their kids got earaches and they had to go to the doctor? These organized people must have their shopping already finished or something.

In the quiet, magical snowfall I heard a knock on the door. I opened it and saw a trail of small footprints dashing off through the snow, then looked down and saw the day's arrival at the manger scene. "There's footprints here if anyone wants to follow them!" I shouted, more for the benefit of our benefactors than for my children. "Merry Christmas!" I bellowed into the snow.

I watched all day long, checking the porch for the piece from the other scene. Sadly I thought that maybe they'd had to miss a day due to the bad weather. Then the next morning when I went to get the mail I laughed for surprise and joy to find a wise man sitting there on top of my junk mail and Christmas cards. Wise man? More like wise guy. I brought him in and placed him in the stable to wait for Baby Jesus.

So I guess I just want to say thank you for all the fun and excitement. We feel loved. I hope to do something like this for others in the future - though my suggestion that we give these manger scenes away to other families next year in the same manner met with loud howls of protest from the children. They love them and want to keep them forever as a reminder of our magic twelve days of Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Cards

Some years I've had time to write a personal note in every Christmas card I sent. This year I had to stay up late one night just to stick on the stamps and labels. I want all of you to know that I enjoyed thinking of every one of you as I peeled those stickers off and plunked them on the envelopes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rebecca's Reviews: One Magic Christmas

While you're all snowed in due to the marvelous winter weather we've been having, I recommend watching this marvelous family film. You'll recognize the parallels to "It's a Wonderful Life," but the film "One Magic Christmas" carries its own weight. The last time I saw this film I was too young to appreciate the great writing and the surprisingly honest characters. It is the story of a young mother who can't find the Christmas spirit. Hard to blame her since her husband was laid off from work six months ago and their family is being forced to move out of their home in a week. But through a series of tragic events, and through the courage and faith of her seven-year-old daughter, she realizes what's really important and learns that having her own Christmas spirit can make a big difference.

In today's gloomy economic climate, the film is poignantly relevant. If you've seen it before, watch it again. If you haven't seen it, check it out!

Merry Christmas, everyone! Happy Snow Day!

And if you haven't seen this film, watch out, there's a minefield of spoilers posted in the comments (yes, Kimberly, you're still my favorite person of the day, too).

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Homemade Christmas

Now that I have my Christmas decorations out I want the house to be clean all the time so that everything looks beautiful. With toys and papers everywhere, I can hardly see the Christmas stuff!

Only trouble is, I keep having ideas!

Saturday afternoon when I could have been cleaning I got the children together and made this gingerbread house instead. This year I wanted to try a dormer window. My daughter did the cardboard engineering to make the pattern, and just look at how it turned out!

We cut a hole in the base before we built the house so that I could put lights up inside and take full advantage of the sugar candy windows.

I might have had some time to clean today, but then I remembered those delicious chocolate cookie peppermint ice cream sandwiches that I like to make this time of year. After that I hit on an idea to make a star for the top of our Christmas tree using a cereal box, tin foil, and a string of lights. The children got in on the project too - my nine-year-old drew the circles with the compass and stuck them onto the foil, while my daughter scored the fold lines for the triangles and helped with the hot glue gun.

I'd been talking about popcorn chains, so the children insisted that we spend the evening making them. They look just charming on the tree, but it took nearly two hours to string them and then there was popcorn all over the floor.

I'll get it all cleaned up by Christmas.