The Twelve-ish Days of Christmas

I had this really good idea. I was going to post something every day, starting on December 1st, until we left for Christmas vacation on the 13th.  It was going to be so fun!  Updates from our crazy house every day!  Getting ready to leave, getting ready to spend the holidays with our families… so much to talk about!  I was all jazzed up after NaNoWriMo- so jazzed because the “novel” (let’s not call something I squeezed out in 30 days a “novel”, shall we? Let’s call it a novella.  A practice novella.  A pranella. Ah, yes.  There we are.  A pranella) really got me into the habit of writing nearly every day.  Well, every day starting on the 16th or so.  Yes, that’s right.  I frittered away the first half of the month and *technically* wrote the novel in 14 days or so.

I wanted to do this because THERE IS SO MUCH GOING ON.  I mean, none of it is important, of course.  But seriously.  It’s like a motherfuckin’ beehive up in here.  So I’m obviously five days behind, so here is what I WOULD have published on those days had I gotten to it:

DECEMBER 1

The first thing is I finished my novel.  And then I shook Sherman Alexie’s hand.  In that order.  Okay, there was a two minute shower and a fifteen minute walk to the bookstore (shortened to ten because I manically walk-jogged the whole way… ) which, given my velocity, my damp hair, and a recent (bad) dye job, resulted in a crested yellow wave on my forehead tenuously wobbling while I shook the hand of one of my literary heroes.

But I did it.  I finished.  I didn’t just finish, either.  I wrote some good stuff.  Some good scenes.  It was an ambitious undertaking.  My topic wasn’t light and fluffy.  There were no vampires or teenagers involved.  This was the real deal.

I spent the rest of the day puttering around, thumbing through cookbooks to get ideas for that elusive Seventh Cookie.  Every year I bake the same six cookies and every year I add a seventh that acts as the wild card.  I was arrested by the image of a flaming (shit was ON FIRE) chocolate cake in one of those vintage cookbooks and on the next page was the recipe for Springerle )pronounced SPRING-ur-lee, but which I insisted on pronouncing like I was Baron von Trapp).  Anywho, the directions read something like this: beat egg and sugar for ONE HOUR.  No joke.  An hour.  I was like, lemme check the copyright date on this thing because I sure as hell hope the KitchenAid was around when then this thing was published.  An HOUR?  And I need to do things like wrap the dough and refrigerate it and use a special rolling pin and then let the cookies air dry before I bake them?  Oh, and the better rolling pins cost upwards of eighty dollars? SIGN. ME. UP.  Because I am a special kind of cray-cray and nothing less then fifteen steps to make TEN whole cookies will do.  Oh, and make sure the cookies are highly breakable and that the USPS will be sure to turn them to dust on their way to their recipients.

The cookbook also spelled cookie “cooky” and it bothered me to no end.

Also, I don’t understand how any man fed from these cookbooks did not grow up to be an angry, anemic, soft-toothed, sallow-skinned loner.  I mean, enough with the Jell-o molds and aspics already!  Where’s the fucking beef?  Men of a certain age, how did you grow up with ANY meat on your bones?  I’m making some grand presumptions here, but I’m pretty sure it was the woman doing the cooking and the men hanging his hat in the foyer and sitting down in a suit and tie to a dinner of fucking “salad apple ring” and deviled ham.  I don’t understand how you all didn’t die of malnutrition.  I mean, I guess ham and gelatin (and ham IN gelatin) are sources of protein… but, still.  I find MYSELF getting hungry reading these things, not because I found any of it particularly appetizing, but because I’m like WHERE IS THE FUCKING FOOD?  Stop doing the cutesy shit with the carrot curls and black olives and show me where the nutrition is.  Burdy asked me, “What the hell was wrong with American cuisine back then?” And the answer?  Everything.  If one were to judge from these books alone, I would say that the shelves of supermarkets fifty years ago were stocked EXCLUSIVELY with canned ham, jello, American cheese, mayonnaise, coffee, tea, canned baked beans, and canned pineapple.  There wasn’t mention of one fresh fruit except as decoration and the occasional toss-in for a bagged lunch.  The big focus was on this big showy spread.  Candelabras and soup tureens and the like.  When pressed, you wouldn’t be able to find a fresh herb in the house.  Or fruit.  Or something NOT studded with pimentos.

So, I spent a few hours looking at recipes, and then the rest of the day haunting thrift stores for this elusive rolling pin, which I SWEAR I’ve seen before at garage sales and now am kicking myself for not buying.  Ah, well.  They’re not in the stars.  It’s back to Plan B, which shall go unnamed until it is executed.

DECEMBER 2

Today was the day I got my life back in order.  I coiled up the cord from my bone-colored, non-USB ergonomic keyboard and I tucked it back into the closet where it lives for 11 months out of the year.  It’s my special NaNo keyboard, the one that makes the very satisfying clicking sound that makes me feel like a real writer.

I also paid my credit card bill and responded to emails that had been languishing in my inbox for months.

I started the Christmas cookies. It seems weird to STILL have Thanksgiving leftovers in the ‘fridge (my God, it’s not even been a week yet.  Thanksgiving felt like ten years ago) and to be baking for the NEXT holiday, but such is the Roman calendar.  We have eleven days to go before we’re outta here and these cookies aren’t going to bake themselves. I did the peanut butter and the chocolate chip and it felt wonderful to be a machine for a while.  Roll cookies, put on tray, put tray in oven.  Set timer.  Take cooling tray from stovetop to kitchen table and place on cork pad.  Unload cookies from fully cooled sheet onto cooling racks.  Take cookies on rack and place into giant cookie tin. Bring empty cookie sheet to kitchen counter.  Repeat.

I love it. I really do.  I prefer to bake alone.  Lots of people over the years have, after they hear the tall order of 700 cookies, nearly fall down backwards with the shock of it, but honestly, I come from a long line of huge families and it’s in my DNA to cook for no less than forty people at a time.  I can’t imagine baking ONE batch of cookies.  Some might say that maybe, three hundred might be a more reasonable number… but, I say if you’re going to bake 300, just bake the whole damned 700.  Why not?  You’ve got your hands all sticky anyway.  What’s another hour and a half in the kitchen?

See what I did there?  With the math?  Breaking down an additional 400 cookies to a quick hour and a half in the kitchen?  That’s what saves me every year.  Also chilling the dough and then cutting it with a big cleaver into the dozens it’s supposed to make.  I take the guesswork out of the “pinching off a one inch piece and roll it into a ball” (per the recipe instructions).  Math all the way, baby.  Symmetry.  That’s what keeps you sane in the midst of 10 popcorn tins full of cookies.

DAY 3

Today was nuts.  I thought I was being clever by waking up early and baking before I went to Zumba, but something wasn’t right.  That math I was bragging about up there in that previous post?  Yeah, I skipped it.  Why?  I don’t know.  Not enough caffeine.  Too little protein for breakfast.  Something.  I don’t know.  I DON’T KNOW.  I WISH I KNEW.  I turned what was supposed to be 5 dozen cookies into something like 9.  I can’t explain it.  I divided wrong.  Sometimes odd numbers get me.  I feel ashamed.  This is what happens when you commit your life to writing: when you screw up, the whole world gets to read about it.

There is a lady in my Zumba class who a) always comes late b) tries to talk to me while I’m WORKING OUT and b) REEKS of patchouli.  I can’t decide which of these things makes me the angriest.  First of all, being a creature who craves consistency and order, I have stood/danced in the same damned spot on the gym floor for going on three years now.  When this woman comes in, she looks all confused, like all the spots are still up for grabs even though class has been going on for five minutes and the front oft the gym is pretty packed.  In my mind, I scream at her to move to the back of the gym where there are still spots, but she insists on being near me.  After a few minutes, the patchouli comes wafting over to me and I have to work not to gag.  I don’t really have any negative associations with the scent- in fact, one of my favorite teachers in high school wore it. But, something about this particularly toxic combination of cheap patchouli and her obliviousness to the RULES makes me want to kick and punch the air in front of me.  Oh, and then the talking?  DURING class?  CAN YOU NOT HEAR THE DEAFENING SAMBA RATTLING OUT OF THE SPEAKERS? DO YOU THINK I CAN HEAR YOU OVER THAT?  You have reduced me to a shouting in all caps almost middle aged lady, patchouli woman.  Your witchy powers have done something to me and I don’t like it.

DECEMBER 4

I worked all day today.  I had great intentions for the evening: I was going to go to a friend’s pop-up artisan craft fair and instead I just got on the bus.   I’d had a long day, it was pitch black outside when I was done, and I just couldn’t see myself walking the few blocks to the fair.

Seattle has been experiencing a wild cold snap for the last few days and today was what we used to call “bitterly cold” back east. It was literally freezing.  Like, the air was just about 30 degrees.  I kinda loved it.  People have been sort of dazed and red cheeked around here because we don’t normally get a whole week of freezing temps, but this kind of extreme weather is the sort I thrive in.  I put on my big puffy jacket and my insulated gloves and my fleece lined hat and I carry on like it’s no biggie.  The sun has been out in a cloudless blue sky nearly every day and that has made this weather feel incredibly beautiful to me.

In the end, the bus was twenty minutes late, and then, when it showed up, it was so packed the bus driver wouldn’t let any of us on.  I was trying REALLY hard not to shake my fist at the sky for having given me a sign that perhaps I SHOULD have gone to that fair despite the dark and the cold because I wound up feeling like my blood was starting to freeze in my veins waiting for the bus ANYWAY.

All day long on Tuesday, I listened to NPR.  The announcers kept refreshing the weather report which went from “possible snow” at 8 am to “no accumulation” by 3 pm.  It was a little sad to hear the excitement fade from their voices as the day wore on.  Everyone in Seattle, DJs included, get a little crazy for a bit of snow. We don’t get much of it in the city, so when ANYthing accumulates, it’s a big deal.  There has been frost on my car every morning and I am tempted to take a picture and post it to Facebook with the caption “SEATTLE SNOW STORM”.

DECEMBER 5

This was a good day.  I wrote in the morning, I Zumba’d at noon (next to, of course, patchouli lady, who was late AGAIN and who noticed, in her slow, witchy way, that the class was markedly moved back from its normal position.  WHAT?  Just get here on time, patchouli lady, stake your claim, and the world won’t seem to you like a Picasso painting.  Geez) and then I met up with two different girlfriends for some serious lady talk time.  I don’t mean that we talked about our lady parts (though, in a roundabout sort of way with BOTH of them, that DID come up…). I just mean that we gabbed the whole time and it was marvelous.  I drank no less than three cups of (decaffeinated- still healing the guts!) tea, and it was lovely.  Like, just what I needed.  Later on, I told one of my girlfriends about my encounter with Sherman Alexie, and, in the way that besties do, she squealed appropriately and hugged me and even cried a little.  This is what writer-friends do. They get emotional at the literary equivalent of getting a peck on the cheek from Donny Osmond.  Shit.  Is that too dated a reference?  Um…okay. The literary equivalent of getting twerked at by Justin Bieber? Shit.  I’m no good at this.  Does Justin Bieber twerk?  Can you direct your twerking AT someone?  Is my computer’s spellcheck spasming right now because it  recognizes NONE of those words?  Anywho, best friends are fucking awesome and holy crap did I need some girl time.  And some high fives and hugs.  And tears.  And then clothes shopping.  Yes, we did that too.  Because I am a lady, and genetically wired to solve the world’s problems while finding a bargain-priced pair of pants.