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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.

“We are completely out of pasta, tomato sauce/products and juice.”

Doesn’t stuff like that just irritate you? They aren’t asking for the world here. The food pantry needed pasta, tomato sauce, and juice. They needed it so badly they sent out a plea on Facebook and it was forwarded here, there, everywhere.

It’s not a particularly exciting or creative plea, but I think that’s what was so appealing about it. For months now I’d been trying to think of a way to explain charity to Annabel. It’s hard to think of a way to introduce the reality of the world to a preschooler, at least in a way that doesn’t break their heart. Or yours. Annabel is a particularly concrete thinker, too. If she can’t see it, she doesn’t get it. Which brings me back to pasta and juice.

Annabel is four. She gets pasta and juice.

Unfortunately, Annabel is four. Which means she also gets privileges removed for poor behavior, which is why we didn’t get to take our trip to the grocery store in February as planned. And by the time the next weekend rolled around the food pantry’s status read, “Thanks for all the pasta and juice!”

*grumble*

Well, they always need food, right? So the next weekend we headed off. Instead of just doing pasta and juice, we consulted the list of needed food pantry items that the store keeps handy and instead we bought pasta, tomato sauce, tuna, soup, canned vegetables, raisins, and rice. Fifty bucks worth. We dropped it off in the donation bin and had a talk about how sometimes people need a hand.

Did she get it? Hard to say. She liked picking out her favorite pasta shapes and soup flavors to give away. She liked looking in the bin at all the other donations. She liked taking a special trip to the store, even if it was a week late.

We’ll do it again. After all, everyone needs pasta and juice.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can catch up on the Fifty Bucks thing here. January’s Fifty Bucks is here.

I have fifty bucks.

I did the budget, crunched the numbers, paid the piper, accounted for the accountable, and what I have left at the end of it is fifty bucks.

It’s fifty bucks that I told Michael I wanted.  Fifty bucks that I was hoping to find.  Fifty bucks that I don’t want to go to groceries, or day care, or the mortgage, or new socks.  Not to new toys or hair bows or the hospital for the birth of the kid who is almost two (yes, there’s a lien on Sam).  I want fifty bucks to give to someone else.

I’m tired, you see, of not having fifty bucks.  I’m tired of passing by opportunities to help a family, help the food pantry, help some woman across the sea with a starving child.  We give to nonprofits, but our giving is scheduled, planned for, considered, and frequently not cash.  I want to have the opportunity to just give as things come up.  To say, “Hey, that’s a really good idea.  Here’s fifty bucks.” Or maybe, “I’m really sorry this is happening to you. Here’s fifty bucks.”  Or possibly, if I’m feeling frisky, “Fifty bucks! Woohoooooo!”  But I live and die by our budget and our budget didn’t have fifty bucks.

I’m not, in general, much of a spontaneous person but there are some kinds of non-spontaneity that are rather soul-killing.  At least that’s what I’ve found.

So I figured it out. And now I have fifty bucks every single month.  If nothing comes up, I’ve got some favorite stand-by charities that can have the $50.  But it will be nice, for me and my soul, to be a little spontaneous about my fifty bucks once in a while.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Annabel has been very into Mary Poppins recently.  I am okay with this.  We got her started on it about a month ago, in yet another attempt to wean her off the documentary Babies, her previous obsession.  I am a fan of Babies; I had no problem with that movie either.  I actually found it quite sweet that she would request a simple film about babies over any other cartoon or child-appropriate entertainment at her disposal.  If you haven’t seen Babies, you might not understand that it really is a movie about babies.  Just…babies. Doing their baby thing all over the world.  Apparently, Annabel found those babies completely irresistable.

So, yes, it was cute that she loved the babies that much, but at some point (25th viewing? 33rd viewing? 58th viewing?) I felt like it was time to move her along.  Maybe to something with an actual plot, say.

We found a video of Mary Poppins at the library book sale for 25 cents, which was cheap enough to encourage us to dig the old VCR out from its hiding spot and hook it up.  Ever since, we’ve been on a Mary Poppins binge, which is also fine and enjoyable, even if I have to listen to butchered, three-year old versions of “Chim Chim Cheree” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” at various points in the day.

The best part of this movie for me, forever, is, of course, that word that you say when you don’t know what to say.  I’ve got a sort of potpourri of blog topics that I could write about, but they aren’t really particularly interesting on their own but all mashed together they might serve as a post.  In the spirit of Mary Poppins, I’m just going to toss them out there and see where it takes me.

Even if the sound of them is something quite atrocious.

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My car has begun making the low, rattly, growling noises of an exhaust leak.  I’ve tried pointing it out to Michael several times, but he stubbornly refuses to hear it. I can’t tell if he’s purposefully trying to make me feel insane or if he truly just can’t hear the demon that is humming directly under the gas pedal.

The problem with this sort of thing is that he is the fix-it guy in the household.  And so I usually defer to his judgment in such matters.

But, although he is the mechanically inclined one, I am the child of a mechanic.  A mechanic who used to give long, detailed, excruciating lectures about certain telltale sounds a car will make when things are not correct.  A mechanic who made me spend a lot my of childhood laying on a piece of cardboard under a car, holding the flashlight as various pieces of an exhaust system were banged in or out of place.  Therefore, I declare my experience to be superior to his natural-born talent.

Hence, in this matter, I am absolutely correct and he should just get down under there and look.

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This week I was privy to one of the weirder snobbish conversations I’ve ever heard.  I’ve spent much of my adult life mocking music snobs. You know, the ones who argue that U2 is the most horribly overpraised band of the twentieth century, especially since everyone knows that crown belongs to Accordanius, the Romanian zydeco band that has been heard by exactly two people in the history of time.  I really dislike those music snobs.

I don’t have much more love for movie snobs, who like to point out that Casablanca is really a hack job of an Italian silent film made in 1923 and starring a St. Bernard named Extolio. His performance was so stunning it can’t even spoken of without tears.  What, you haven’t heard of it? Hmmm…interesting.

And then there are the literary snobs who believe that any literature read in translation is a mockery of the author’s efforts.  Or the internet snobs who have been blogging since 1954.  Or art snobs who spend hours flinging bizarre insults at each other (“You are the dirt under Picasso’s nails! Your rendering of a dead fish is both derivative and hopelessly irrelevant!”).

These are all qualifiers for the Crown of Annoying Snobbery.

However, on Tuesday night I spent about half-an-hour listening to three grown men argue about which type of food source/finishing technique/butchery technique will produce the  most ethically superior meat that also contains the most marbling.

Food snobs, that conversation was a point for your side.

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Last night was a pretty chilly night in our area.  It got down to around 25-30 degrees and there was a pretty significant frost on the cars and nearby fields when we awoke.  It was chilly in the house this morning, about 58 degrees, but, much to the chagrin of our Floridian houseguests, I refused to turn on the heat.

Lots of Mainers play this game, where we try to out-tough each other each fall.  Once the heat goes on, it’s on until May, so we like to see who can go the longest without giving in.  Some refuse to consider it before November 1, but that seems a little late to me, especially with little kids in the house.  I personally go with October 15th.  Going later than that definitely gives you a higher score towards whatever final prize absolutely no one is offering.  I’m not sure how late you go before you win.  But turning it on before October 15th means you definitely lose.  Of that I am certain.

Sorry, Florida folk.

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I lost my cell phone for four whole days this week.  I barely noticed it was missing.  When I finally located it Wednesday night at the bottom of the library bag from Saturday, I had only five missed calls (all Michael) and one text message from a poor soul who thinks I actually text.

Smoke signals might better.  In case you were wondering.  But actually, none of you tried to call me so never mind.

Hey look! It’s ringing now! Oh, it’s Michael again.

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I think that’s all I’ve got.

Unless we want to go down the dociousaliexpiisticfragilcalirupus road.

But that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?

Onward.