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It started with a guest.

When your house is small, like ours, you learn to be flexible with your space. The playroom is an alcove in the living room. The laundry room is our linen closet. Our office is wherever we sit down with a laptop. Our guest room is…Sam’s room.  If you come to stay with us, we’ll put you up in a tiny room covered with dinosaurs and a twin bed.  Sam, meanwhile, goes to have a sleepover in Annabel’s floor on the old crib mattress.

So that’s what we did when my mother came to stay for a few days a bit before Christmas.  She stayed in Sam’s room and Sam and Annabel had a giggly sleepover. But after she left, he didn’t want to go back to his room. And Annabel didn’t care, so he stayed there, on her floor, for days.  Every night it was the same thing, “Annabel? Want to have a sleepover again?” “Yeah!”

Travel at Christmas broke up the routine and things went back to normal. Then, after a few nights: “Annabel, want to have a sleepover?” There we were again, two kids, one room, one in a bed, one on the floor. Again and again and again. After a few weeks of this, there was really only one solution.

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It’s cozy, sure, but at least we have a playroom now.

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Okay, that part’s still a slightly messy work-in-progress.  But that giant box of Legos is no longer in my living room alcove and we’ve now got a full-size futon for guests. So we’re going to call this a win.

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Oh, hi, internet. I’ve had a very busy summer. I have a lot to tell you. But not today. Today I had a request for my apple cake recipe and while I would like to tell you about hiking, gardening, housebuilding, and kindergarten, first I need to do this.

I discovered this recipe a few years ago and it exists on a very strange, very small website that I don’t even understand. I don’t know how I found it; I don’t know who these people are; I don’t know if this website has been updated since 1996. What I know is this is a great apple cake. Full credit, however, goes to them.

But, of course, I am incapable of making any recipe without changing it to within an inch of its life–usually by healthifying it. So first is the regular recipe. Then is the version I usually make and which I feel is healthy enough to give a kid for a snack.

Apple Cake (unhealthy version)

4 cups peeled and diced apples
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup salad oil
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
2 eggs, well beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix apples and sugar thoroughly. Add oil, nuts, eggs and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients together and add to apple mixture. Bake in a greased 13×9 inch pan for 45 minutes to 1 hour (check after 45).

Serve frosted or unfrosted. This cake is one of those that you can pretty much finish and serve however you like. If you want to frost it, a sour cream frosting is very nice. Whipping cream or ice cream go very well with it, too. My favorite way to eat it, though, is with no frosting at all.

Got that? That’s a lot of sugar, right? I don’t think I have ever made this recipe with TWO CUPS of sugar. I can’t even imagine it.  It is plenty sweet with half that. Wait, am I scooping myself? Whatever, here’s what I do:

Apple Cake (Cherie’s healthified version)

5 cups peeled and diced apples
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup applesauce
2 eggs, well beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup water
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

Follow directions as above.  The whole wheat flour that I use is very dry, so I add a little water to the batter to offset it.  You may need to adjust accordingly. If you bake a lot, you will notice that this batter…looks weird. It’s very thick and full of apples and kind of hard to spread in the pan. Don’t worry. It will be okay.

My family is anti-nuts in baked goods, so we don’t do that. But that would make this an even healthier kid snack so if that’s your gig, try it.

And she’s totally right. You absolutely do not need to frost this thing. At all.

Annabel launched into a impromptu soliloquy about bees during the morning drive, so I made it into a poem for you.

I like bees.
I like the music they make when they hum.
I like that they land on flowers and make more flowers.
They don’t sting if you don’t bother them, Sam.
Yep.
I like bees.
But not wasps.

I am not lying when I tell you that our tree is…what’s the word, what’s the word…homely. It’s homely. It’s homey, too, but definitely homely.

It started out okay at the tree farm.

tree
While I was taking this picture, everyone was yelling at me to help.  I did. Eventually.

But then we decorated. And our decorations are, really, quite bad.

We’ve got more kid-made ornaments than you can shake a stick at:
handmade
I was actually trying to just take a picture of one, but they were packed in so close it was just easier, and more point-proving, to grab all three at once.

We’ve got relics of Michael’s childhood, which always seem to involve basketball and Charlie Brown characters.
basketball
This wins my vote as the most bizarre Santa I’ve ever seen.

We’ve got ornaments that make no sense to anyone not us:
phone booth
No, we didn’t go to London one year. THAT would make SENSE.

And we have, as promised, the world’s most bizarre star.
star
Yes, that’s a picture of Annabel on her trip home from the hospital glued onto a paper star that has since been decorated with glitter paint and I could explain it but, frankly, the story is less interesting that the star.

And that’s not even going into the knitted garland, the half-broken lights, or the angel who looks like a hooker from 1864.

But Christmas trees have one redeeming quality and it’s this: if you plug in the lights, step back a bit, drink a cup of really strong eggnog, and don’t pay too much attention to any one thing, they still manage to look kind of pretty.

tree

And, yes, blurry. That’s probably the fault of the eggnog.

P.S. You think this is bad? Check out the year we actually screwed extra branches into the tree. A live tree. I am not making that up. We did that.

Who wants a Friday phone-it-in post? I do! I do!

Thanks to Ginger I get to have credit for posting while still doing very little work. This is an excellent system and I approve. Also, holiday spirit, yada yada.

Presenting the holiday meme:

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Egg nog at Christmas, hot chocolate the rest of the year.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Santa wraps, in his own paper. Until a couple years ago I didn’t know Santa didn’t wrap sometimes. I think that variety of Santa is a bit lazy, frankly.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
White. Colored lights make the ornaments look weird.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
No.

5. Tacky holiday sweaters: yea or nay?
Nay. I do wear red sweaters but for some reason I do that a lot anyway.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?
Food other people make that I eat. Food that I make that I eat. Food that I eat. Food.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? The family fight around whether the tree was straight which always ended up with it falling on my swearing father’s head. What? We are that kind of family. I treasure that memory so much that Michael and I recreate it each year.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I read too many Nancy Drew novels and tried to make my mother submit a handwriting sample so I could do a full graphological analysis. So she just told me. Right after she stopped laughing. I think I was 9ish.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
I think we did sometimes? We were pretty inconsistent on Christmas traditions. But it’s something I’d like my kids to do. I think it’s fun.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
With a lot of really tacky ornaments we’ve collected/made over the years plus some ancient lights plus the world’s most bizarre paper star on top (I’ll post a picture this year). Last year I knit a red wool garland that was pretty awesome. Basically it’s like a summer camp’s arts and crafts session threw up on a tree. It’s great! [Aside: I’m thinking of entering the lifestyle blog market. What do you think?]

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
I don’t mind it really, especially if I don’t have to drive in it. At least until March or so which is when I’m over it, done, go away snow. (Please note that some years the snow doesn’t go away until May.)

12. Can you ice skate?
Yes, though not with any fancy moves.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
Uhhh…not really. I remember getting a ten-speed bike one year. That was exciting. (This is also why I try not to sweat over getting the perfect gift for my kids. Few people seem to remember this.)

14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you?
You know, I think this gets lost in a lot of places, but we are so far north that I really feel in tune with the celebration of warmth and light that surrounds this time of year. When it is dark and cold by 3:30, I will take a crackling fire and some twinkly lights, yes, please.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
Pumpkin pie. Hands down.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Swearing aside, I really like decorating the tree.

17. What tops your tree?
As mentioned above, a truly ridiculous paper star with glitter paint and a picture of baby Annabel on it. I’m not kidding. We may change that this year. But probably not.

18. Which do you prefer: giving or receiving?
This is one of those trick questions designed to reveal my true self, isn’t it? Forget it. I am committed to remaining an enigma.

19. Candy Canes: Yuck or Yum?
*gag*

20. Favorite Christmas show?
The Grinch. Naturally.

21. Saddest Christmas Song?
Saddest? As in the lyrics are the saddest or it makes me the saddest to hear it? I’m going with the latter: The Little Drummer Boy. That song is looooaaathesome, pa rum pum pum pum.

22. What is your favorite Christmas song?
Silent Night. Or Carol of the Bells, which I always find enchanting.

Well, that was interesting.

And by “interesting” I mean I WON I WON I WON.  By a lot.

My version was Version C, which took in a whopping 65% of the vote. I mean, I never doubted I was right, but it’s still nice to win.

Michael’s Version A came in second with a measly 21% and Annabel’s Version B was scant 3%.  (I am willing to consider that she merely was repeating it incorrectly because, in case you didn’t know, four-year-olds are highly unreliable narrators.) Interestingly, 11% said you had yet another version and I think I can sum that version up this way: cheating.

The point of Eenie Meenie Miney Mo is to resolve disputes in an entirely fair and impartial manner, at least until the point when you are old enough to understand how it always comes out. (And I suppose one could hope that by then the involved parties would be old enough to find another way of reaching consensus.) Those of you who did an optional second verse if the first verse didn’t end the way you wanted? Are you kidding me with this?  That’s unethical Eenie Meenie-ing and I won’t stand for it. Mostly because I never thought of it when I was 7.

But there you have it. I win, Michael loses, and some of you had very questionable playground behavior. If I look at you askance from now on, I think you’ll know why.

I had planned to close voting tonight on the Great Eenie Meenie Miney Mo-off of 2012, but Michael insisted I leave the poll up for another day. I think he’s trying to get South Floridians off the beach and onto the internet or something. So, if you haven’t voted, do so. I’ll tally it all up on Saturday.