Dec. 12: Local Acknowledgement & Adventures in Holiday Baking

Monday, December 12, 2011
Waning Moon
Uranus DIRECT (as of Saturday)
Jupiter Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Sunny and cold

It looks so pretty with the frost on the grass!

What a weekend!

The exciting news is that ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT was included in the CAPE COD TIMES’S column of “Books to keep you warm on Cold Cape Cod Nights”. I had no idea, and was thrilled to open the paper and see it. To be mentioned in the Sunday paper’s book section — with a cover photograph — I was thrilled!

Saturday morning was the holly walk — the first thing I did when I moved to the area last year, and still something I love to do. It was so much fun, and it’s fascinating to see how the Sanctuary evolved through the year. Got some holly boughs (yes, it’s part of the walk, I didn’t just take them) — will try to use some of the berries (well, the seeds in the berries) to start some hollies that are descended from these trees. They’d have special meaning.

Came back, baked 5 dozen tollhouse cookies. Tried the thumbprint recipe – which I’ve successfully used before — and it didn’t work. That’ll teach me. Instead of using my beloved Land O’Lakes butter, which I usually use for baking, I’d bought cheaper butter in bulk at Costco, knowing that I’d be doing hundreds of cookies this year. Well, the butter didn’t cream properly with the sugar. Didn’t matter the temperature, didn’t matter the type of utensil — wooden spoon, paddle attachment, regular mixer. I wound up with a streusel-like substance instead of creamed butter and sugar. It was fine with the tollhouse cookies, but the thumbprints couldn’t be imprinted — they simply shattered. Adding liquid just made them melt into puddles.

So the thumbprint cookies are not an option this year.

Prepped 5 dozen molasses spice cookies for the next day’s baking. The molasses took care of the streusel effect, and it was not a problem.

Sunday, after reading the papers, I baked the 5 dozen molasses spice. Perfection. I prepped the dough for the eggnog angels, the only rolled cookie I planned for this year. Again — streusel effect, even with the eggnog. I put the dough into the fridge to chill, hoping that would help. Then, I baked 3 dozen oatmeal raisin cookies (the replacement for the thumbprint) and 5 dozen banana-walnut-chocolate chip cookies. The oatmeal raisin cookies can be a little crumbly, and the mashed banana helped smooth out the butter.

When I tried to roll out the dough for the eggnog angels, no dice. You could roll it, but as soon as you used a cutter, they shattered. So I used the same method used for the molasses spice — rolled into balls, dusted with sugar, flattened with a glass dipped in sugar. It made a lot more than the cutouts would be, and they’re round instead of angels, but they taste good. Hopefully, the icing will still work on them. Without using the sugar to roll and flatten, they fell apart.

Okay, I’m convinced, Land O’Lakes forever more! 😉

Today, I have the mini-lemon bundt cakes and all the glazes/icing to do. Tomorrow, the platters are packed and go out the door. The rest of the packages also have to be wrapped and packed today, and go out the door tomorrow.

In the meantime, I had to spend time with students, read a friend’s manuscript, and then a client project came in for immediate turnaround. This is not the client’s usual MO, so, while there’s definitely the rush fee attached, I’m not refusing the job. I’m also working on my business plan for next year. I want to change a certain amount of things. This was the first year I had a chance to really see what it was like to work without the pressures of scumbag landlords and Broadway commute. What I learned from this year, I can apply moving forward, to shape my work like into what I want AND what meets the financial needs. In order to do that, I have to tweak some things and radically change others.

And then there was The Stroll. The Village Holiday Strolls are a HUGE deal on the Cape. Every village has on. If you live there, you damn well better get out there and STROLL, or you hear about it all year. I was too tired last year, having moved here a few weeks before, and I’m STILL getting flack about it! So I stopped everything, showered (dough in the hair is not a good look for me), dressed, and off we went.

Parking was a nightmare, because there isn’t any. They block off the streets that actually have parking lots, so you’re off trying to find a side street with no lights on and park on the edge of someone’s property. Everything dead-ends, but there’s no room to turn around, because the streets are narrow, filled with parked cars, and more cars are coming at you all the time, but there’s no exit. And everyone’s in dark colors, darting around the streets, so you’re worried you’re going to run someone over. Only the dogs have reflective collars on.

And there ARE dogs — tons of them. Which is very cute. The dogs stroll as seriously as the people. And they’re so well behaved, with all the chaos and the noise and the smells and the other dogs. They don’t even try to steal the hot dogs!

The historic houses and everything else are all decorated to the hilt, the streets are blocked off so people can wander, and tables are set up with hot chocolate and hot dogs and baked goods and all kinds of stuff. There are donation buckets set up — not quite sure for what. And teens running around with buckets asking for donations for the needy. I’m such a cynical Manhattanite that I assumed it was a scam, but I was told it’s actually true. It’s fun and festive, although there were too many teenagers who’d consumed too much sugar racing around, shrieking. But they weren’t doing any harm, and they were having fun. It’s not like they were wilding or anything. Teenage conversation here is so different than in Westchester, where all they did was whine about their parents not paying for enough. Here, they actually go out and do stuff and talk about what they’re doing and want to do, and make up actual adventures, and then go HAVE them. They’re much more aware of and engaged in the world, which is nice. I think they’re smarter, too — probably because their parents aren’t all over-medicated and aren’t over-medicating them.

It was lovely, but such hell getting in and out with the parking situation that I may just risk local wrath an NOT do it again next year! They could use the shopping center parking lots on Rt. 28 and then take those historic trolleys they’re so proud of and shuttle people back and forth. But they won’t change, because “this is the way it’s always been done.”

And then the microwave died. Billowed smoke, got very hot, smelled weird. Unplugged it, cooled it with ice, will have to get rid of it. No microwave popcorn for me for a bit! Well, I don’t use it that much anyway, so it’s not THAT big a deal, but, after the holidays, I’ll probably get a new one.

I’m behind where I’d like to be on the cards — I wanted to have them all out today — not happening. But I’ll get them out in the next few days. And then I have to worry about the party invitations! 😉

I’m doing a live chat tonight at 7 PM over at Savvy Authors, talking about short stories in general, and my 5 in 10 short story workshop that starts in January in particular.

This week, I also have the Writers’ Association Holiday Dinner and a yoga party. Busy, busy!

And I figure, if I’m lucky, I’ll finish decorating the house by Christmas Eve!

Back to the page, and onward.

Devon

Monday, December 6, 2010


Winterberry

Monday, December 6, 2010
Waxing Moon
Uranus DIRECT (as of yesterday)
Neptune Retrograde
Cloudy & cold

What a fun weekend. Really busy, but tons of fun.

Found my way to the Ashumet Sanctuary on Saturday morning. It’s lovely. I was a little irritated at some of the people — out of towners — who came up, paid their fee as though they were doing the walk, then greedily stuffed their shopping bags with holly boughs and waddled off without doing the walk. You know what? Go to the holly fairs for that, okay?

The group that stayed for the walk was a nice, mixed group, the guide was terrific and knowlegeable, and it was a lovely way to spend the morning. I had no idea that there were over 150 types of holly (there are 65 at the sanctuary). Turns out the mystery bush in my backyard is one of the varieties of holly! It has berries, so it’s a female bush, which means there must be a male bush somewhere in pollination distance!

It’s a lovely sanctuary, formerly a farm, then a holly farm, now a sanctuary specializing in the the types of holly from the time it was a farm. It also has a lovely kettle pond (no inlet or outlet) with all kinds of fascinating vegetation and wild life.

I learned how to recognize winterberry and inkberry (types of holly). I still have no idea what actual bayberry looks like (not a type of holly).

There’s a lot of lichen around, and I learned that lichen only grows when there’s excellent air quality. Guess that explains why we had none where I lived, especially after the scumbag landlords started using pesticides again and all kinds of toxic materials in the building.

At the end of the walk, we filled our bags with pruned boughs (everyone left was very considerate of each other), chatted, and had a good time.

Turns out the wife of the guide (who’s the director of the Long Pasture sanctuary) is a costume designer who used to work for a well-known rep theatre outside of Boston. So we had a LOT to talk about, and will get together when Costume Imp comes after the New Year. In fact, Costume Imp and I are thinking of having a little Twelfth Night soiree to gather together the various theatre people I’ve met on the Cape who’ve somehow all come into contact with me, but don’t yet know each other. And we might toss some others into the mix.

Anyway, came home, had lunch, we headed out to look for small trees for the front of the house. I want real ones, not artificial. Found a lovely garden center over in Marstons Mills — absolutely top quality merchandise, but more expensive than I felt comfortable with. I fell IN LOVE with a wintergreen bush, but it was way out of my price range right now. But, goodness, did I want it. I can do all kinds of stuff with wintergreen. Again, the quality’s worth it, but I have to watch my budget. There’s still a lawn mower to buy and furniture for the deck. Went to a nearby hardware store to pick up some stuff I forgot, but didn’t like the vibe, so I left. I’ll go back to Osterville on Monday instead. Went to the big Christmas Tree Shop by the Sagamore Bridge to get replacement bulbs — I’ve already knocked over one of the candle lamps. I’d like to blame a cat, but they’re more careful than I am!

Made ratatouille, tuna steaks with lemon caper sauce, and rice for dinner. Just barely had time to put the dishes in the dishwasher, change, and put on a little makeup, and we had to leave for the concert.

It wasn’t very far, about a ten or fifteen minute drive, up at a lovely church in Barnstable. And it was fun to see how people have decorated. One house on 6A looks like a carnival, but most of it is very understated New England — candle lamps in all the windows, lights on outdoor trees, some oversized candy canes up the walk, etc. And I noticed that, this year, many, many of the trees out front are small in proportion to the size of the house, which makes me think I could get away with it out front.

The concert was performed by Thom Dutton, and it was absolutely lovely — readings from A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES alternated with Cornish, Welsh, and Breton carols sung and performed on a variety of harps. I love harp music, so it was such a lovely way to spend a Saturday evening. Just wonderful.

Drove home and discovered one of my rear lamps is half out. Poor little thing. I have to call the VW place in Hyannis when they open this morning to see if they can fit me in some time in the next few days. I planned to go to the DMV tomorrow to get that all sorted, but if my light’s not working, I need to get that fixed first.

Watched some TV, read a bit, went to bed at a reasonable hour. Up early Sunday morning (the cats were playing on the bed and Iris rolled off), yoga, meditation, etc. New moon on Sunday.

Got the Sunday papers. Imagine my surprise when I turned to the local section of the local paper and there was an article about yesterday’s holly walk (great) with a picture of me (not great). First of all, we had no idea the walk was being covered for the paper, and I certainly was not approached to give permission to use my image. I would have said no — I have a “no photos” policy, period. Also, as the male photographer should know, you do not photograph the neck of a woman over 40. Period. It’s rude. Fortunately, unlike Nora Ephron, I do NOT feel bad about my neck, I have no reason to yet (it doesn’t yet give away my age), and, since the photo is of the bottom of my neck as I’m staring at the Tallest Holly, I’m not that easy to identify. Plus, the article (although on the bland side) is good for the organization, and it wasn’t done out of maliciousness. So I’m not going to pitch a massive fit, which will only draw more attention to it and me. I will ignore it. I bet it the perpetrator was the Really Loud Guy I tried to avoid for most of the walk because I didn’t like his vibe. Lots of people had cameras, and some people brought multiple cameras. It never occured to me that they were for a newspaper article, and we are required to be told about this kind of thing.

Finished up the workshop. One of the students asked if I’d teach a workshop on creating believable settings (I’m always going on about “place as an additional character”). I pitched a workshop along those lines to the program director, she accepted it, and we’re sorting out when to schedule it. Not a bad way to land an assignment!

Wrote and designed the Yuletide letter. I never do the annual letter thing, but with the move and everything else, it makes sense this year. I’m still handwriting individual stuff in each card, but I’m also including the letter with the information about the move, the freelancing, the books coming out next year, etc. My mom did two versions of her letter, one in German, and one in English, that I typed up and printed off for her.

The bugaboo was the new return address labels. We’d bought pretty labels with a wintery house design by Geo-somebody on Avery labels. I should be able to plug in my name and address, format the label and be done. Only in order to do that, there’s special software from Geo-bastards and/or Avery — and it’s only for Microsoft, and not for the version that goes with Mac. Bite me, assholes, that needs to be on the packaging. Don’t say I can get everything I need from your effing website when I can’t, especially Geo-bastards, where you can’t get to the stuff to download without going through 47 layers of them trying to sell you crap.

So not having it.

It took me an hour and a half to wiggle fonts, sizes, and spacing, but I finally tricked the effing labels into ding what I want and looking good. That’s an hour and a half of time that could have been spent writing cards.

Not amused.

And, of course, Customer Disservice from both companies was non-existent. Couldn’t get anyone by phone or email or anything.

Geo-bastards — not happy with them, but never heard of them before, so not particularly surprised. I expect more from an Avery product, though.

By this time, we had to stop for lunch, and then get out the door. Drove to Brewster, to the Natural HIstory Museum, who just happened to be having an open house (everyone is so busy here), but we nipped through the festivities to the gift shop and picked up a few outstanding presents. “Outstanding” in the sense we still needed them, and that they are really cool. As usual, the staff went above and beyond to be helpful. Best shop on the Cape, as far as I’m concerned!

On the way back, stopped at Tobey Farm. They were having a live tree sale — I got my two live trees for the front — three times the size I could have gotten at any other center I’ve seen so far for that price. Don’t they look cute, in front of the house?

I still have to decorate them with ribbons and maybe garlands and lights, and put a bow on the wreath on the front door, but the entrance looks more festive now. They’ll look great sitting there until spring (if I can keep them alive), and then I’ll put them out back, probably in bigger pots. They didn’t fit in the hatchback, so I had to put them on the floor in the back of the seats and drive with my knees up to my chin. It was an interesting challenge.

Things slowed down on the way home because Yarmouth was having their Holiday Stroll. And let me tell you, these people don’t lope or stride or walk — they STROLL. They take the “stroll” thing very seriously. Like I said, they’re very busy around here. And they take their Holiday Strolling very seriously. It’s amazing how many people turn out for events here.

Dropped off the trees and the stuff from the Museum, then headed to the 1856 shop — which was Very Busy — to get a few more things, and then to CVS for a couple of other little bits and bobs.

Except for a couple of things still to get for my mom, I am DONE with my holiday shopping. Done, done, done! Most of my shopping was done locally, from local artisans, and is totally unique. I ordered a few things, but the bulk of the stuff is all locally created.

It’s been a very long time since I was done by December 5. It feels good.

I got the pot roast started, and we sat down to write the overseas cards. I got mine finished before dinner, then went to wrap up the deconstruction workshop, then went back to wrap an overseas present that has to go out today, and a Hanukkah present that has to go out to today. And took care of a few things on the computer.

By the end of the day, I was ready to curl up and fall asleep on my lovely new rug in the office!

Today, I’ve got to try to slide the car in for repair, get to the post office to mail the overseas cards and those two gifts, and work on the yard. I’ve also got to finish the assignment for Confidential Job #1, finish and review something for A BIBLIO PARADISE, look over a media kit and come up with questions for another Biblio spot, work on the article due soon, send some questions to my publisher, invoice an editor, work on the guest list for the party, and start writing the domestic cards. The filing is starting to eat my desk, and I’d like to unpack some kitchen boxes, some bedroom boxes, and some office boxes. I need to nip to Osterville Hardware to pick up a few things and . . .well, the list just keeps on going. But I’m behind and I need to catch up.

And, of course, I need to get some writing done.

Last night was St. Nicholas’s Night, so we left our shoes in front of the fire and they were filled with goodies this morning. Minus some the cats pulled out to play with. One of my favorite traditions of the season!

It’s Very Busy. 😉

Devon