Going Beyond Memes

 

Starbucks

 
If you’re like me, you’re sick of seeing these cups.  You’re sick of the “controversy” surrounding them and the blog posts and memes pushing back against the ridiculous notion that Starbucks having plain holiday cups is a war on Christmas. All of these memes and blog posts remind us that helping and giving this holiday season is more important, and more Christ-like, than bitching about cups.  There’s a problem with these reminders, though.  Clicking like or share on Facebook or retweeting lets us off way too easily.  In an instant, we are able to declare to the world that we are morally superior to people trolling Christmas because we get it.  And that’s the end of it.  Now we can dust off our hands and begin updating our wish lists. 

  Source

But, of course, it doesn’t and shouldn’t end there.  If you are a Christian, Jesus calls you to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those who are in jail.  Other faiths call for the same.  Those without faith in the supernatural are called by their conscience and faith in humanity to do what is good and right.  Simply put, if you’re able, you should be helping your fellow man.  So let’s all make sure that this holiday season, and beyond, we don’t just post memes about how helping others is more important than the design of Starbucks’ holiday cups, but that we actually DO something to make a difference. You can donate to Toys for Tots, to food pantries, and other charities which allow us to help on a continual basis, like World Vision.  You can volunteer in a soup kitchen or shelter or anything on the front lines that puts you face to face with those in need.  You can help the animals with whom we share this earth, giving one of them a loving home or helping them to find one.  You can choose gifts this year which are ethically sourced, like fair-trade chocolate, or that give back to the people in the organizations who make them.  You can choose not to avoid eye contact of the person sitting by the road with signs asking for help, ignoring lame excuses like, They’ll probably just use it to buy drugs.  If you’re like me and never have cash on hand, you could do what my friend Sarah does and keep a supply of food in her car, which she hands to those standing by the road.  You can take the time to ask what the person outside of Target, the grocery store, or Starbucks needs and go get it for them.  Imagine how that could make a plain red cup reveal the joyous giving of Christmas.

Spiced fudge

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I know posts have been sparse lately. Preparation for the holidays, recovery from the holidays, and the simple fact that it’s winter have made it hard for me to give two shits about the blog. I feel like I’ve been in a constant fight to stay awake for the last few weeks. My brain has also been extremely foggy, making it virtually impossible to make good words for those things that put good words together for the looking at words by the people. But I’m sitting on something that makes my body like an L and those pointy things on my hands are touching those squiggly things that make words. And I can’t close my eyes for sleepybys because I have to go see the lady who will fix the seeing part on my face because something is stuck and it gives me the ouchies. So let’s talk about yummy chocolate squares I make during the cold time, when people put up green, pointy triangles and blinky, shiny things.

(No, my fog isn’t that bad. But I did have a meltdown because I couldn’t remember what to call gelato bowls. So that was fun.)

Cookie-making is a big deal in my family. It was a fun tradition my siblings and I had with my mom every Christmas, and it’s a tradition I’m passing on to my girls. I feel horribly that I didn’t manage to make as many Christmas cookies as I normally do. I still have all the ingredients. Peanut butter kiss cookies in May? Why not?
One of the desserts I did manage to make was fudge from the recipe my mom gave me. It makes a lot of fudge, it’s edible straight out of the freezer, (and sometimes is even better that way) and it’s perfect for a nice, homemade Christmas gift for someone. A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to give the fudge some more dimension. I took my cue from the ancient Mayans and added spices, specifically cinnamon and cayenne. It gives the fudge a nice kick and dials down the sweetness so you don’t immediately go into a sugar coma. I put in the amount of spice that makes me happy, but you may certainly adjust the recipe to suit your taste.

Spiced Fantasy Fudge
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened and cut into chunks
2/3 cup (5 1/3 oz) evaporated milk
1 12 oz pkg milk chocolate chips
7 oz marshmallow creme
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Combine sugar, butter, and evaporated milk in a 2 1/2 qrt heavy saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat to medium and continue to boil, stirring constantly, for approximately 5 minutes or until a candy thermometer reaches 234 degrees. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate chips until melted. Pour into a large bowl and add the marshmallow creme, vanilla, and spices. Beat the mixture until well-blended. Pour the mixture into a 13×9″ pan/dish. Cool at room temperature.

Once set, (it will take a few hours to overnight) slice into cubes. For less mess, easier slicing, and better structural integrity, freeze before slicing. Fudge is best stored in a zip top bag in the fridge or the freezer.

I’m cleaning up the vomit from Christmas fever

We’re back home after our visit with Mike’s family. We managed to pull off a magical Christmas for the girls, which is amazing, considering that we accidentally left half their presents at home. We didn’t want the only things Rachael had to open/be from Santa were books and a coral growing set, so Mike and I upheld his family’s long-standing tradition of going out on Christmas Eve to buy last minute presents. I felt horrible, being a reason for someone having to work; I made sure to profusely thank the woman who rang us up at the toy store.

Of course, my ever precocious Rachael said that she already had the best present she could ever ask for: her family. That, coupled with the genuine gratefulness of our children on Christmas morning, just made Mike and I fill with joy and feel like we forgot the rest of the toy store to give to them. We. Are. Suckers.
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How do you say no to that?

Zoë won Christmas, getting a pretend makeup set and a letter W. Why W? We have no idea. She’s extremely attached to the letters of her name and the letter W. When she opened the W her grandparents gave to her, it was like those videos where kids find out they’re going to Disney World.
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Much more subdued Zoë, as she succumbed to her cold.

As for her pretend makeup set, Zoë immediately put it to good use, giving everyone makeovers.
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I make Pa Pa pretty.

Anyway, real posts are in the hopper, including spiced fudge and a gingerbread TARDIS. And I hope everyone else’s holidays were as wonderful and magical as a 3 year old receiving her W.

Thinking, grace, and other annoying crap

I’ve been completely out of commission since Tuesday night. I started off feeling nauseated and ended with a trip to the ER a couple days later. I still don’t feel great. I’ve been swallowing old anti-nausea meds and TUMS like candy, but at least I’m sorta kinda back to solid foods. Having the sniffles really sucks.
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“When it’s stomach stuff, you just say ‘under the weather’ or people start picturing you doing unspeakable things.”
(Note: must get GIF maker so I can use the exact scenes I’m thinking of. Why doesn’t the Internet anticipate me?)

So last night, with a giant Sprite in hand, Mike and I stood in line at the store to get my Christmas present: an upgraded phone. Naturally, because I felt like crap, the upgrade counter was understaffed, one staff member was having trouble porting someone else’s phone, and there was someone else in front of us in line. Someone in front of us in line shouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but of course she had brought along her big ole bag of crazy. She would only deal with one salesperson. She had a laundry list of questions for the sales associate who was managing the the queue because she, evidently, had never heard of her owner’s manual or the Internet. It was like she was having phone therapy. I went from being amused to wanting to throat punch her as she took up valuable time asking inane questions. She took her sweet time picking out a case for a newly acquired phone. The sales associate, with a look of slowly dying and desperation in his eyes, quietly asked the associate who was helping us to help with a data transfer. There was a condition, though. The customer had requested that he not get any fingerprints on her shiny, reflective, chrome phone. Naturally, our associate laughed, asked if this was a serious request and threatened to kick the phone down her throat, while the other associate pleaded with him to be cool.

In the meantime, we had my phone set up, traded in my old phone, and rang out the sale. Phone woman was still there, standing off to the side, reading through papers with a look that I recognized. You’re looking at the papers, but you’re not really reading. Nothing is being absorbed, but you want everyone to think that you’re reading it through like the intelligent, well-informed person that you are. By that time, pretty much everyone was aware of phone woman and was laughing and rolling their eyes at her. I’m sure she knew everyone was laughing at her.

In that moment, I began to feel sorry for her. I looked at the woman whose hair was messily pulled back and yoga pants barely hung on to her tiny butt and I wondered. She looked melancholy. With no ring on her finger, perhaps she was unmarried. (And no, I’m not suggesting that one needs to be married in order to be happy.) I started to wonder. I wondered if perhaps, at this time of year when togetherness with family and loved ones is so important, she was alone. Maybe the sales associate for whom she was waiting is the most stable thing in her life. Could the conversation about keeping fingerprints off of her phone have been the most interaction she’s had in awhile? I started to humanize her, to think about her background, to let her off the hook a little for being such an annoying person. I was no longer able to reduce her to her behaviors and laugh away her existence.

And THAT is annoying as shit.

Christmas is coming. Run away! Run away!

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU *deep breath* UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKK *cough cough* *sputter*

Ahem. Now then, that’s out of the way.

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“Christmas is cancelled,” one of the paralegals, with whom I used to work, said it at least once a day in the run up to Christmas. I never fully understood that until this year. I think I must feel like a lot of people this year; the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has been way too short. Every day, I feel chased by a feeling of panic. I’m not really sure why. The shopping is pretty much done. I don’t have an inordinate number of things to do. But December 1st hit, and so began the anxiety, depression, panic, brain fog. It’s like I was thrown into the sarlacc pit of mental health. It seems fitting that this is what my Charlie Brown Christmas village looks like.
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As I’m being slowly digested over this month, my family is getting the shit end of the stick at times. I’m easily losing my temper. Although, seriously, the girls deserve it sometimes. I don’t know if it’s the negative energy in the house or perpetual anticipation of Christmas, (particularly by Rachael) but they seem to have lost their damn minds. Everything seems to involve them screaming or melting down. The other morning, Rachael whined that she didn’t want to wear jeans because she doesn’t like wearing dark blue on a cold winter’s day. The ability to listen also seems to have left them. Some days, I just want to run from the house screaming. Of course, I wouldn’t get too far, what with how sore and fatigued I’ve been. Oh. Also, I love my kids.

I honestly don’t know that I can write more than that. Not many words are actually formulating into coherent thoughts at the moment. But I don’t want to leave the post on a completely negative note, so please enjoy the letters I arranged in Target the other day.
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I was 2/3 of the way to spelling “merkin”, but Zoë kept running off. I decided to be a good mother and not confine her to the cart so I could finish spelling naughty words in Target.

Homemade gingerbread houses

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Yesterday and today have been snow days for Rachael. We had sleet and freezing rain on Monday and a couple of inches of snow that hit during rush hour today. Since the government is closed, Mike is working from home. So we were able to all go outside as a family and play in the snow for a bit.
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They named him Olaf.
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I am unbelievably sore from playing outside. It was not helped by the fact that Mike tackled me to the ground during a snowball fight. Yes. He tackled the woman with fibromyalgia to the ground.

I decided that yesterday and today would be perfect days to make gingerbread houses with the girls. I wanted to make them from scratch, rather than using a store bought kit, for a few reasons.
1) Store bought kits can be really expensive.
2) The “gingerbread” in the kits is stale and gross.
3) The candy in the kits can be stale, too.
4) The pouch the icing comes in is really difficult to use.
5) A kit a friend bought ended up having a couple of maggots crawling inside the box. Just..eww.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say this process is quick and easy. If you really just don’t care about eating the house and want to make the house in quick order, (although putting together a kit isn’t a super fast process either) then just get a kit. But if you want to inhale the wonderful warm smell of orange and spices as you assemble your house, knowing that you’ll have a fantastic snack for later, a Christmas party centerpiece, or even a gift, this is for you.
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It’s a Christmas-themed snack.

Gingerbread

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 2/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp + a tiny pinch kosher salt

2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup dark molasses
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

Sift together into a separate bowl the dry ingredients, flour through salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, molasses, and orange juice. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and orange zest. Beat until smooth and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.

Mixing on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Scrape the bowl to fully, making sure to check the bottom of the bowl, as necessary. Add the molasses mixture to the bowl. Mix until all ingredients are fully integrated, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary.
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Divide batter in half and wrap each portion in plastic wrap. Try to make the batter uniform, patting it into a flat disc. Refrigerate for one hour.
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Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Take out one portion of dough from the refrigerator at a time. Flour a clean surface and knead some flour into your dough. When you take the dough out of the fridge, it will be firm, but still wet. Kneading some flour into the dough will make it manageable when you cut out your pieces and lift them off of the counter. Roll out the dough to approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. (The thicker the dough, the more difficult it will be to bake it uniformly and use for assembly.) Cut your pieces using a sharp knife with a smooth blade. I used these templates from Martha Stewart’s website: 1 and 2. Use a metal spatula to lift the pieces. If the dough is really wet and not coming off of your rolling surface easily, knead more flour into your dough and try rolling out your dough again.

Bake your pieces at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Smaller pieces will only need 8 minutes, while larger pieces may need 10+ minutes. If the middle of your large piece still feels extra soft to the touch, it may need some more time. Once out of the oven, allow your cookie sheets to cool on racks for about 5 minutes. Transfer pieces to cooling racks to cool completely. The larger pieces will be fragile, and require the use of a very large spatula, (I used a pancake spatula) for the transfer.

So, you’re going to need some glue to hold this all together. Enter royal icing. It’s super simple to make.

Royal Icing

Ingredients

4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp meringue powder
5 Tbsp water, plus more for thinning

Combine the ingredients in your mixing bowl, fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low for 5-7 minutes, until the icing is no longer shiny. At this point, your icing is going to be too stiff for decorating. Add a small amount of water, about a teaspoon at a time, until you are able to pipe it through a piping bag and tip. If you add too much water, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it back up. When not in use, keep the icing covered in a air-tight container. If the icing is already in a bag, wrap the tip with a damp paper towel and place the bag in an air-tight container. The icing will keep on the counter for 1-2 weeks. If you want a color other than white, you can tint it with gel food coloring. Liquid food coloring will thin the icing out.

Assembly

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You’ll need to pipe a line of icing and settle the front piece into the icing. Have a can ready to keep your pieces standing until the icing hardens. Allow the bottom pieces to set before attaching the roof pieces. Use your candy of choice to decorate, using the royal icing as glue.

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Gingerbread recipe adapted from Alex Guarnaschelli, Food Network.
Royal icing from Annie’s Eats.

Christmas giving

It’s only December 4th, and I’m already exhausted by Christmas and all that it entails. Parties and shopping and baking; it’s all piling on like the tinsel that you still find strands of in your house in mid-March. I realized today that I’m already tired of buying shit, and I’ve only just begun Christmas shopping. I’m also overwhelmed by all the charities that need help. I want to pick them all up and squish them in a big hug that absolutely fixes everything. I hate the idea of choosing, knowing that giving my money one place means that someone elsewhere may go without. SOLUTION: Do nothing and hide under the covers until December 26th!

*peeks out from under covers* No. Of course not. A choice needs to be made. Perhaps you are on the same quandary and need assistance in choosing where you’d like to help this holiday season? The list below is by no means comprehensive, but is a good place to start.

World Vision
You can do more than sponsor children through World Vision. You can donate to help provide medicine, clothing, food, clean water, and micro loans. There is even a special category for giving to women and girls who need education, career training, and help because of sexual exploitation. Last year Mike and I each gave our parents chickens. Or, rather, we donated chickens in their honor. Just think of the possibilities! You can tell people that you gave someone a goat for Christmas!

Hill Country Hill Tribers
“Hill Country Hill Tribers works primarily with refugees from Burma, members of various Burmese hill tribes who now starting new lives in the Hill Country of Texas. Forced to leave their farms and villages, sometimes with very little warning, these artisans carried bamboo looms through the jungle to safety, dedicated to continuing the traditional art of backstrap weaving that has been passed down for generations from mother to daughter.
In Austin, these weavers are joined by other skilled artisans to make up Hill Country Hill Tribers. By crafting beautiful products in their homes and gathering together often, these artisans are weaving a community in Austin that is rooted in their past and reaching toward a new future.”

Check out the work of these women. It’s absolutely gorgeous! You can give someone, (or get yourself) a fabulous gift and help others.
You can also find some amazing things through the fair trade organization, Ten Thousand Villages.

Thistle Farms
If you have someone on your list who loves bath and body products, consider Thistle Farms. Women recovering from prostitution and trafficking make these products. All proceeds go directly back to the women who make them.

Project Night Night
This organization provides homeless children with security blankets, books, and a stuffed animal. So often, the focus is on providing solely physical and material needs. This organization takes it a step further by providing for the cognitive and emotional needs of children.

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I found these while shopping for Christmas cards today at Hallmark. Purchase of these cards donates to UNICEF to provide 108 doses of Vitamin A to boost the eyesight and immune systems of children.

Finally, chocolate. I have to admit that it was really hard to walk past all of the gorgeous gems of Christmas candy at the mall today and not snag some for stockings. Our family is slowly making the switch to fair trade chocolate. And to be honest, it’s not easy. Unless someone knows where to find fair trade mini M & M look alikes with which to decorate sugar cookies? It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s worth a try. I had no idea until last year that the cacao harvested for companies like Hershey and Nestlé is generally done through the use of child slave labor. I know it costs more to buy fair trade, but clearly there’s a reason for that.
Where can you buy fair trade? A lot of American markets are beginning to carry fair trade chocolate bars. I usually find it in my market’s specialty organic section. But you can also find it online on a company’s website or even Amazon.

Divine Chocolate
The great thing about them, aside from being fair trade, is that they actually have baking bars, too! Christmas confection is saved! And they’re really not any more expensive than buying bars of, say, Ghiradelli baking chocolate.

Green and Black’s
Really delicious, with a lot of unique flavor combinations. I can personally recommend the milk chocolate, the mint, and the dark currant and hazelnut.

So, what’s your favorite charity?

ETA: Found M&Mish candies!